(Calvin on Hosea, part 14)

Lecture Fourteenth. 
Hosea 5:5 
And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall 
Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall 
with them. 
    The Prophet having condemned the Israelites on two accounts - 
for having departed from the true God - and for having obstinately 
refused every instruction, now adds, that God's vengeance was nigh 
at hand. "Testify then shall the pride of Israel in his face"; that 
is, Israel shall find what it is thus to resist God and his 
Prophets. The Prophet no doubt applies the word, pride, to their 
contempt of instruction, because they were so swollen with vain 
confidence, as to think that wrong was done them whenever the 
Prophets reproved them. It must at the same time be observed, that 
they were thus refractory, because they were like persons inebriated 
with their own pleasures; for we know that while men enjoy 
prosperity, they are more insolent, according to that old proverb, 
"Satiety begets ferocity." 
    Some think that the verb "'anah" means here "to be humbled;" 
and this sense is not unsuitable: "The pride of Israel shall then be 
humbled before his face." But another exposition has been most 
approved; I am therefore inclined to embrace it, and that is, that 
God needed no other witness to convict Israel than their own pride; 
and we know that when any one becomes hardened, he thinks that there 
is to be no judgment, and has no thought of rendering an account to 
God, for his pride takes away every fear. For this reason the 
Prophet says, "God will convict you, because ye have been hitherto 
so proud, that he could effect nothing by his warnings." 
    But he adds, "Israel and Ephraim shall fall in their iniquity". 
He pursues the same subject, which is, that they in vain promised 
impunity to themselves, for the Lord had now resolved to punish 
them. He adds, "Judah also shall fall with them." The Prophet may 
seem to contradict himself; for when he before threatened the people 
of Israel, he spoke of the safety of Judah, - 'Judah shall be saved 
by his God, not by the sword, nor by the bow.' Since then the 
Prophet had before distinguished or made a difference between the 
ten tribes and the kingdom of Judah, how is it that he now puts them 
all together without any distinction? To this I answer, that the 
Prophet speaks here not of those Jews who continued in true and pure 
religion, but of those who had with the Israelites alienated 
themselves from the only true God, and joined in their 
superstitions. He then refers here to the degenerate and not to the 
faithful Jews; for to all who worshipped God aright, salvation had 
been already promised. But as many as had abandoned themselves to 
the common superstitions, he declares that a common punishment was 
nigh them all. "The Jews then shall fall together", that is, "As 
many of the Jews as have followed impious forms of worship and other 
deprivations, shall not escape God's judgment." We now then perceive 
the true meaning of the Prophet. It now follows - 
Hosea 5:6 
They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the 
LORD; but they shall not find [him]; he hath withdrawn himself from 
    The Prophet here laughs to scorn the hypocrisy of the people, 
because they thought they had ready at hand a way of dealing with 
God, which was, to pacify him with their sacrifices. He therefore 
shows that neither the Israelites nor the Jews would gain any thing 
by accumulating burnt-offerings, for they could not in this way 
return into favor with God. He thereby intimates that God requires 
true repentance, and that he will not be reconciled to men, except 
from the heart they seek him and consecrate themselves to his 
service; and not because they offer brute beasts. The faithful, no 
doubt, expiated their sins at that time by sacrifices, but only 
typically: for they knew for what end and purpose God had made the 
law concerning sacrifices, and that was, that the sinner, being 
reminded by the sight of the victim, might confess himself to be 
worthy of eternal death, and thus flee to God's mercy and look to 
Christ and his sacrifice; for in him, and nowhere else, is to be 
found true and effectual expiation. For this end then had God 
instituted sacrifices: so the faithful, while offering sacrifices, 
did not suppose any satisfaction to be done by the external work, 
nor even imagined it to be the price of redemption; but they 
exercised themselves in these rites in faith and repentance. 
    The Prophet now, by implication, sets oxen, and rams, and 
lambs, in opposition to spiritual sacrifices; for a contrast is to 
be understood in the words, "They shall come with their sheep", &c. 
What bring they to God's presence? They bring, he says, only their 
rams, they bring oxen; but God commands what is far different: he 
commands men to consecrate themselves to him, and that in a 
spiritual manner, and as to external rites, to refer them to Christ, 
and to the true expiation, which was yet hid in hope. Since then the 
Israelites brought only their oxen and lambs to God, they in vain 
expected him to be propitious to them; for he is not pacified by 
such trifles; inasmuch as every one who separates the outward 
sacrifice from its design, brings nothing but what is profane. 
Indeed, the true and lawful consecration is by the word; and by the 
word we are guided to faith in Christ, we are guided to repentance: 
when these are neglected and disregarded, and men securely trust in 
their sacrifices, they do nothing but mock God. We hence see that 
the Prophet exposes not here without reason this folly of the 
Israelites, that they sought God with their flocks and their herds. 
    And he says, "They shall come", or shall go, "to seek God". By 
this sentence he intimates that hypocrites sedulously labour to 
reconcile God to themselves; and we even see with what zeal they 
weary themselves; and of this there is a remarkable instance at this 
day in the Papists; for they spare no diligence, when they seek to 
pacify God. But the Prophet says that this labour is vain and 
foolish. "Let them go," he says, that is, "Let them weary 
themselves; but they shall do so without profit, for they shall not 
find God." But when he says, that they would come to seek Jehovah, 
he is not to be understood as saying, that they would really do so; 
for hypocrites turn aside from God by circuitous courses and 
windings, rather than seek access to him. But yet they propose it as 
their final intention, as they speak, to seek God: they do not 
indeed come afterwards to him; nay, they dread his face, and shun it 
as much as they can; and yet when one asks them what they intend by 
sacrificing and by performing other rites, the answer is ready on 
their lips, "We worship God," that is, "We desire to worship him." 
Since then hypocrites are wont to boast of this, the Prophet speaks 
by way of concession, and says, "They shall come to seek God, but 
shall not find him". 
    The Papists of this day pursue a similar course, when they go 
round their altars, when they gad away to perform vowed pilgrimages, 
when they whisper their prayers, when they hear and buy masses; for 
to what purpose are all these things, but by interposing these veils 
to escape God's judgment? They know themselves to be exposed to his 
judgment; their conscience forces them to pacify God: but what do 
they in the meantime? "I will find out a way in which God will not 
pursue me: let this then be the price of redemption, let this be a 
compensation." In a word, we see that the Papists mock God with 
their ceremonies, that they have nothing else in view but to seek 
hiding-places: and hence the Lord by his Prophet complains, that his 
temple was like a den of robbers, (Jer. 7: 11:) for men securely 
sin, when they publicly offer such expiations. Nay, the Papists, 
when they mutter their prayers, say that the final intention is 
pleasing to God, though they may wander in their thoughts: for if, 
when they begin to pray, it should come to their minds, that God is 
prayed to, though they may not attend to their prayers, though they 
may pollute themselves with many depraved lusts yet, if with the 
mouth they utter prayers, they maintain that the final intention 
pleases God. -  Why? Because their design is to seek God. This is, 
indeed, extremely sottish and puerile: but, as I have already said, 
the Prophet does not press this point, but concedes to the 
Israelites what they pretended, "Ye seek God; but yet ye run not in 
the right way; and these circuitous courses will not lead you to 
God." How so? "For ye recede farther from him." So Isaiah says, 'She 
will greatly weary herself in her ways:' but in the meantime she 
followed not the right way, but, on the contrary, turned aside after 
various errors, and thus receded from the Lord, and came not to him. 
    By saying, that "God had removed or separated himself from 
them", he intimates that he is not propitious but to the faithful, 
who think not so grossly of him, as to seek to feed him with the 
flesh of oxen or other sacrifices, or to pacify him with 
disagreeable odour; but who seek him spiritually and from the heart, 
who bring true repentance. It now follows - 
Hosea 5:7 
They have dealt treacherously against the LORD: for they have 
begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their 
    He says that "they had acted perfidiously with God", for they 
had violated his covenant. We must bear in mind what I have said 
before of the mutual faith which God stipulates with us, when he 
binds himself to us. God then covenants with us on this condition, 
that he will be our Father and Husband; but he requires from us such 
obedience as a son ought to render to his father; he requires from 
us that chastity which a wife owes to her husband. The Prophet now 
charges the people with unfaithfulness, because they had despised 
the true God, and prostituted themselves to idols. 
    And he also aggravates this crime by saying, that they had 
"begotten strange children": for he intimates, that their condition 
had become so vitiated, that there remained no better hope as to 
their posterity. Some explain the words, that they had begotten 
strange children, in this way, - that they had taken wives from 
heathen nations, contrary to the law. But this sense is very frigid. 
Others understand, that they had begotten spurious children, because 
they brought up their children badly, having, from their infancy, 
attached them to depraved superstitions. This is indeed true, but 
the prophet, as I have already said, looked further; he meant that 
the Israelites had not only become alienated from God, but had also 
taken away every hope as to the future. It may indeed be, and it 
sometimes happens, that men for a time abandon themselves to many 
vices, and afterwards return to the right way; but when corruption 
has so prevailed that the children are infected with the same vices, 
and impiety itself takes full possession of them, then the state of 
things is past recovery. We now then see that the Prophet means, 
that the Israelites were not only covenant-breakers with respect to 
God, but that they had also led their children into the game 
perfidy, so that there was no hope of repentance. 
    He therefore subjoins the punishment, "Devour them shall a 
month together with their portions." Some restrict the word, month, 
to the times of the new moon, or to the new moons; and these days, 
we know, were festivals among the Jews: but this seems too 
far-fetched and strained. The Prophet therefore, I doubt not, takes 
here a month for a short time; and so the Hebrew scholars explain 
it, and yet they do not sufficiently unfold this form of speaking. 
Now, the Prophets are wont to use various figures, when they intend 
to mark out a short time. Isaiah says, 'Yet for three years, as the 
time of a hireling:' for hirelings were wont to hire themselves for 
three years; hence he says, This is the time fixed by the Lord as 
the appointed day. Contracts, also, we know, were then monthly, as 
they are at this day yearly, both with reference to the interest of 
money and other exchanges. Since, then, they usually made agreements 
for single months, the Prophet here, I have no doubt, takes a month 
metaphorically for a certain and fixed time. I do not therefore 
agree with the Hebrew scholars, who say that only a short time is 
expressed by the Prophet, but he expresses not only a short, but 
also a fixed time; and he did this that the Israelites might not 
vainly look for any deferring or respite, for hypocrites ever 
procrastinate and extend time by vain delusions. The Prophet 
therefore says here, "A month shall devour them", which means, 
"Vengeance is now suspended over their heads, and this they shall 
not escape." 
    And he says, "with their portions". He intimates here, no 
doubt, that though they then overflowed with abundance, yet nothing 
would be a help to them to keep them from being destroyed, for the 
hand of God was against them. We indeed know, that as long as men 
are well furnished with provisions and protection, they are not very 
solicitous about their state, but heedlessly despise whatever 
dangers there may be in the world: therefore the Prophet says, that 
though they were opulent and well supplied, though they possessed 
every kind of defense, yet nothing would avail for their safety, but 
a month should devour them, together with all their wealth. It 
follows - 
Hosea 5:8 
Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, [and] the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud 
[at] Bethaven, after thee, O Benjamin. 
    The Prophet speaks here more emphatically, and there is in 
these words a certain lively representation; for the Prophet assumes 
here the character of a herald, or he introduces heralds who declare 
and proclaim war. The truth itself ought indeed to storm not only 
our ears, but also our hearts, and be more powerful than any 
trumpet: but we yet see how unconcerned we are. Hence the Lord is 
constrained here to clothe his servant with the character of a 
herald, or at least he bids his servant to send forth heralds to 
proclaim war everywhere throughout the whole kingdom of Israel. This 
was not, properly speaking, the office of a Prophet; but we see that 
Ezekiel was ordered by the Lord to besiege Jerusalem for a time, - 
and why? Because his whole teaching, after the Jews had been a 
thousand times threatened, became frigid: God then added visions, 
which more effectually roused torpid men. So also does Hosea in this 
place, "Shout with the trumpet in Gibeah, blow the cornet in Ramah, 
and sound the horn in Beth-aven"; for God, as we have said, is 
pursuing Israel, and will not suffer them to rest; so that the 
Israelites might know that God threatens not in vain, that his 
reproofs are not bugbears, but that he deals in earnest when he 
reproves the ungodly, and that execution, as they say, will follow 
what he teaches. In the same manner does Paul also say, 'Vengeance 
is prepared by us, and is in readiness against all those who extol 
themselves against the greatness of Christ, how great soever they 
may be,' (2 Cor. 10: 5, 6.) As, then, the ungodly are wont to make 
this objection, that the Prophets preach nothing but words, Hosea 
here testifies that he did not in vain terrify men, but that the 
effect, as they say, would immediately follow, unless they 
reconciled themselves to God. 
    Now, as we perceive the Prophet's purpose, let us take care to 
receive by faith that peace which the Lord daily proclaims to us by 
his messengers. For what is the Gospel but what Paul declares it to 
be? 'We discharge the office of ambassadors,' he says, 'for Christ, 
that ye may be reconciled to God, and in Christ's name we exhort you 
to return into favor with God,' (2 Cor. 5: 20.) We then see that all 
the ministers of the Gospel are God's heralds, who invite us to 
peace, and promise that God is ready to grant us pardon, if with the 
heart we seek him. But if we receive not this message and this 
embassy, there will remain for us the dreadful judgment, of which 
the Prophet now speaks, and our impiety will procure for us this 
awful doom. As though God then were now declaring war against all 
the ungodly and the despisers of his grace, the Prophet says that 
they shall find that God is armed for vengeance. 
    Moreover, the Prophet doubtless has here mentioned "Gibeah, 
Ramah", and "Beth-aven", because in these places great assemblies 
usually met; and it may be also that they were strong fortresses. 
Since then the Israelites thought themselves unconquerable, because 
they had invincible strongholds against their enemies, the Prophet 
here expressly declares war against them. Everywhere then sound ye 
the trumpet, or blow the horn, or blow the cornet, especially in the 
chief places of the kingdom. 
    "After thee, O Benjamin". Benjamin is here to be taken, by a 
figure of speech, for the whole of Israel, because he was a brother 
of Joseph by the same mother: the tribe of Benjamin is therefore 
everywhere joined with Ephraim. It is at the same time certain, that 
the Prophet confines not here his address to one tribe, but 
includes, under one tribe or one part, the whole kingdom of Israel. 
It follows - 
Hosea 5:9 
Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke: among the tribes of 
Israel have I made known that which shall surely be. 
    Here the Prophet asserts, without any figure, that their 
chastisement would not be slight or paternal, but that God would 
punish the Israelites as they deserved, that he would reduce them to 
nothing. God, we know, sometimes spares the ungodly, while he 
chastises them: signs of his wrath daily appear through the whole 
world; but at the same time they are moderate punishments which God 
inflicts on men; and he in a manner invites them to repentance, when 
he thus mercifully chastises their sins. But the Prophet says here, 
that God would no longer act in this manner; for he would destroy 
and wholly blot out the whole kingdom of Israel. They had been 
already often warned, not only in words, but also in deeds and had 
often felt the wrath of God; but they still persisted in their 
course. And now, as God saw that they were wholly stupid, he says, 
"Now, in the day of correction, Ephraim shall be for desolation"; as 
though he said, "I will not correct Israel as heretofore, for they 
have been before in various ways chastised, but have not repented; I 
will therefore now lay aside those paternal corrections which I have 
hitherto used, for I have in vain applied such remedies: I will then 
henceforth so correct Israel, that they shall be entirely 
destroyed." We now comprehend the Prophet's meaning. 
    But this is a remarkable passage; for men are always slow and 
dilatory; even when God pricks them, as it were, with goads, they 
remain slothful in their sins. God adds corrections, one after the 
other; and when he sees men continuing as it were out of their 
senses, he then testifies that it is no time for reproof, but that 
final destruction is at hand. We hence see that every hope is here 
cut off from the Israelites, that they might not think that they 
would be punished in the usual way for their sins; for as soon as 
the Lord would begin to reprehend them, he would destroy and blot 
out their names: Israel then shall be for desolation in the day of 
    He then adds, "through the tribes of Israel I have made known 
the truth". Some regard this sentence as spoken in the person of 
God, and refer it to the first covenant which God made with the 
whole people; and so consider this to be the sense, "I do not now of 
a sudden proceed to take vengeance on the Israelites; for I have 
begotten this people, nourished them, brought them up to manhood. 
Since this is the case, there is now no reason for them to complain, 
that I am too precipitant in taking vengeance." This is one meaning: 
but I rather incline to their opinion, who regard this as spoken in 
the person of the Prophet; I do not yet follow altogether their 
opinion, for they suppose that the fault of the people in being 
unteachable is alone set forth: I have made known the truth through 
the tribes of Israel, as though the Prophet had said, "This people 
is unworthy that God should chastise them in a paternal manner, for 
they have hardened themselves in their wickedness; and though they 
have been more than sufficiently taught their duty, they have yet 
openly despised God, and have done this, not through ignorance, but 
through perverseness: since then the people of Israel have blinded 
and demented themselves, as it were, willfully, what now remains, 
but that God will bring them to desolation?" So they expound this 
place. But it seems to me that a protestation is what suits this 
passage: I have made known the truth through the tribes of Israel, 
as though he said, "This is fixed and ratified, which I now declare, 
and it shall certainly be; let then no one seek any escape for 
himself, for God threatens not now, as often before, for the purpose 
of recalling men to repentance, but declares what he will do." 
    That this may be better understood, the mode of speaking in 
familiar use among all the Prophets is to be noticed: they often 
threaten, and then give hope of pardon, and promise salvation, so 
that they seem to exhibit some sort of contradiction: for after 
having fulminated against the people, they come at once to preach 
grace, they offer salvation, they testify that God will be 
propitious. At first sight the Prophets seem not to be consistent 
with themselves. But the solution is easy, for they threatened 
vengeance to men under condition; afterwards, when they saw some 
fruit, they then set forth the mercy of God, and began to be heralds 
of peace, to reconcile men to God, and make an agreement between 
them. Thus our Prophet often threatened the Israelites; and had they 
repented, the hope of salvation would not have been cut off from 
them. But after he had found them to be so obstinate that they would 
not receive any instruction, he then said, "I have announced the 
truth through the tribes of Israel", that is, God does not now say, 
"Except ye repent, you are lost;" but he speaks positively; because 
he sees that the well known doctrine has been despised: this then is 
the truth. It is the same as if he said, "This is the last 
denunciation, which shall be fixed and unalterable." 
    And Jeremiah also speaks in the same manner: his book is full 
of various threatenings; and yet they are conditional threatening. 
But after God had taken the matter in hand, he began to act in a 
different way: "I now call you no more to repentance, I contend not 
with you, I do not now set forth God as a judge, that ye may flee to 
him for mercy; all these things are come to an end; what remains 
now", he says, "is the last command, to show that you are now past 
hope." This is the true and real meaning of the Prophet here; and 
whosoever will consider the whole context, will easily perceive that 
this was the Prophet's intention. He had said before, "Ephraim shall 
be for desolation in the day of correction," that is, "The Lord will 
no longer reprove Ephraim as heretofore, but will entirely destroy 
him:" then he adds, "I have promulgated or published the truth 
through the tribes of Israel:" "Now," he says, "know ye that 
vengeance will come shortly, and that it is ratified before God; 
know also that I speak authoritatively, as if the hand of God were 
now stretched forth before your eyes." Now follows - 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are already by nature the children 
of wrath, and yet thou hast deigned to receive us into favour, and 
hast set before us a sacred pledge of thy favor in thine 
only-begotten Son, and that as we have not yet ceased often to 
provoke thy wrath against us, and also to fall away by shameful 
perfidy from the covenant thou hast made with us, - O grant, that 
being at least touched by thy admonitions, we may not harden our 
hearts in wickedness, but be pliant and teachable, and thus endeavor 
to return unto favor with thee, that through the interceding 
sacrifice of thy Son, we may find thee a propitious Father, and be 
for the future so wholly devoted to thee, that those who shall 
follow and survive us may be confirmed in the worship of thy 
majesty, and in true religion, through the same Jesus Christ our 
Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 15...)

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