(Calvin on Hosea, part 19)

Lecture Nineteenth. 
Hosea 7:7 
They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all 
their kings are fallen: [there is] none among them that calleth unto 
    The Prophet repeats what he had said before, that the 
Israelites were carried away by a mad zeal into their own 
superstitions and wicked practices, and could not be allayed or 
quieted by any remedies; and he shows at the same time that this 
malady or intemperance raged in the whole people, lest the vulgar 
should accuse a few men, as if they were the authors of all the 
wickedness. He gives proof of their frenzy, because they could not 
have been hitherto amended by any corrections. "They have eaten", he 
says, "their own judges; their kings have fallen; and in the 
meantime not one of them cries to me". What the Prophet says here I 
refer to good kings, or to those who were able to uphold an ordinary 
government among the people. He says that judges as well as kings 
had fallen; by which words he means, that the Israelites had been 
deprived of good and wise governors; and this was a sad and 
miserable disorder to the people; it was the same as if the head 
were taken from the body. He says, in short, that the body was 
mangled and mutilated, because the Lord had taken away the kings and 
judges. We indeed know that kings in continual succession reigned 
among the Israelites; but we must consider of what kings the Prophet 
here speaks. 
    But let us now notice what he says: "Judges have been 
devoured". Some hold that the people through their wantonness had 
risen up against their judges, and, as if freed from all laws, had 
by main force upset all order; but this seems to me strained. The 
Prophet, I doubt not, means that the judges had been devoured, 
because the people had through their own fault made, as it were, 
entirely void the favor of God, as it often happens daily. God 
indeed so begins to do good, that he intends to continue his 
benefits to us to the end; but we devour his benefits; for we dry 
up, as it were, the fountain of his goodness, which would otherwise 
be exhaustless and perpetually flow to us. As then the goodness of 
God, which is otherwise inexhaustible, is in a manner dried up to 
us, when we allow it not to approach us; it is in this sense that 
the Prophet now complains that judges had been devoured by the 
Israelites; for through their impiety they had been deprived of this 
singular kindness of God; and they had consumed it, as rust or some 
other fault in brass destroys good fruit. We now comprehend the 
meaning of this verse. 
    God first shows that the Israelites were so ardent, that their 
frenzy could not be corrected or quieted. How so? "I have tried," he 
says, "whether their disease was healable; for I have taken away 
their kings and governors, which was no obscure sign of my 
displeasure: but I have effected nothing." Then it follows, "'ein 
kore' bahem 'elai", "There is no one, he says, among them who cries 
to me". He had said that all were burning with the lust of 
committing sin; now, accusing their stupidity, he excepts none. We 
hence see that the whole people were so seized with frenzy, that 
when chastised by God's hand, they did not yet cry to him. It is 
indeed certain that the Israelites did cry, but without repentance; 
and it is usual with hypocrites to howl when God punishes them; but 
they yet direct not to him their supplications and their groans, for 
their heart is locked up by obstinacy. Thus then ought this clause 
to be expounded, that they repented not, nor fled to God for mercy. 
Then it follows - 
Hosea 7:8 
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake 
not turned. 
    God now complains, that Ephraim, whom he had chosen to be a 
peculiar possession to himself, differed nothing from other nations. 
The children of Abraham, we know, had been adopted by God for this 
end, that they might not be like the heathens: for the calling of 
God brings holiness with it. And we ought to remember that memorable 
sentence, which often occurs, 'Be ye holy, for I am holy.' The 
Israelites then ought to have been mindful of their calling, and to 
resolve to worship God purely, and not to pollute themselves with 
the defilements and filth of the Gentiles. But God says here that 
Ephraim differed now nothing from the uncircumcised nations. He 
mingles himself, he says, with the peoples. And there is an emphasis 
to be noticed in the pronoun demonstrative, "hu'", "Ephraim 
himself", he says: for surely this was unworthy and by no means to 
be endured, that Ephraim, on whom God had engraven the mark of his 
election, was now entangled in the superstitions of the Gentiles. We 
now then see the drift of the Prophet's words, "He, even Ephraim, 
mingles himself with the nations". If the condition of Israel and of 
all the nations had been alike and equal, the Prophet would not have 
thus spoken; but as God had designed Ephraim to be holy to himself; 
the Prophet here amplifies his sin, when he says that even Ephraim 
had mingled himself with the nations. 
    He then adds, "Ephraim is like bread baked under the ashes, 
which is not turned". This metaphor most fitly suits the meaning of 
the Prophet and the circumstances of this passage, provided it be 
rightly understood. And I think the Prophet simply meant this, that 
Ephraim was in nothing fixed, but was inconstant and changeable; as, 
when we in vulgar language notify their changeableness who are not 
consistent with themselves, and in whom there is no sincerity, we 
say, "Il n'est ne chair ne poisson", (It is neither flesh nor fish.) 
So also in this place the Prophet says, that Ephraim was like a cake 
burnt on one side, and was on the other doughy, or a crude and 
unbaked lump of paste. For Ephraim, we know, boasted themselves to 
be a people sacred to God; and since circumcision distinguished that 
people from other nations, there seemed to be some difference; but 
in the meantime the worship of God was corrupted; all the sacrifices 
were adulterated, as we have already seen and the whole of their 
religion was a confused mixture; yea, a chaos composed of Gentile 
superstitions and of something that resembled true and legitimate 
worship. When, therefore, the Israelites were thus perfidiously 
mocking God, they had nothing fixed: hence the Prophet compares them 
to a cake, which, being placed on the hearth, is not turned; for on 
one side it must be burnt, while on the other it remains unbaked. 
    The Prophet here anticipates what the Israelites might object; 
for hypocrites, we know, never want pretenses. The Israelites might 
then bring forward this defense, "Thou sayest that we are now 
entangled in the pollutions of the heathens; but the heathens have 
no circumcision; among them the God of Israel is despised, there is 
no altar on which the people can sacrifice to the true God; we, on 
the contrary, are the children of Abraham, we have the God who 
stretched forth his hand to deliver us from Egypt, and the 
priesthood ever abides with us." As then the Israelites might have 
introduced these pretenses for their superstitions, the Prophet 
says, by anticipation, that they were "like bread baked under the 
ashes", which, being thrown on the hearth, is not turned, so that 
the baking might be equal; for then on the one side it would receive 
heat, and on the other there would be no proportionate temperature. 
"Ye are," he says, "on one side burnt, but on the other crude; so 
that with you there is nothing but mere perfidiousness." We now 
understand what the Prophet means. 
    But this similitude might also be referred to their punishment; 
for God had shown before in many places, that the Israelites were so 
perverse, that they could not be subdued nor brought to a sound mind 
by any distresses: and he again repeats this complaint. The meaning 
of the words may then be this, That Ephraim was like a cake, which 
was not turned on the hearth, because he had been sharply and 
severely chastised, but without any benefit; being like reprobates, 
who, though the Lord may bruise them, yet continue obstinate in 
their hardness. They are then on one side burnt, because they are 
nearly wasted away under their evils; but on the other side they are 
wholly unbaked, because the Lord had not softened their 
perverseness. But what I have adduced in the first place is more 
suitable to the context. 
    We now then understand what the Prophet says: in the first 
clause God accuses Ephraim, because he had made himself profane by 
receiving the rites and superstitions of heathens, so that there 
was, as I have said before, a confused mixture. In the second place, 
he answers the Israelites, in case they pleaded in their favor the 
name of God, for it was usual for them to make false pretenses. He 
therefore says, that they were in some things different from the 
uncircumcised nations, but that this difference was nothing before 
God, for they were like bread baked under the ashes, which is 
neither baked nor unbaked on either side; for on one side it is 
burnt, and on the other it remains unbaked. It now follows - 
Hosea 7:9 
Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth [it] not: yea, 
gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not. 
    The Prophet follows the same subject, that is, that Israel had 
not repented, though the Lord had in various ways invited them to 
repentance; yea, and constrained them by his scourges. It is indeed 
a proof of desperate and incurable wickedness, when God prevails 
nothing with us either by his word or by his stripes. When we are 
deaf to his teaching and admonitions, it is quite evident that we 
are wholly perverse: but when the Lord also raises up his hand and 
inflicts punishment, if then we bend not, what can be said, but that 
our sins have taken such deep roots, that they cannot be torn away 
from us? Hence God in these words shows that the Israelites were now 
past all remedy; for after having been so often and in so many ways 
warned, they did not return to the right way; nay, they did not 
think of their sins, but remained insensible. And Paul says of such 
that they are "apelgekotas", ("past feeling," Eph. 4: l9,) that is 
void of feeling. When men are touched by no grief in their 
distresses, it is certain that they are smitten by the spirit of 
giddiness. Notwithstanding, the Israelites no doubt felt their 
evils; but the Prophet means, that they were so stupefied, that they 
did not consider the cause and source of them. And what can it 
avail, when one knows himself to be ill, and yet looks not to God, 
nor thinks that he is justly visited? Hence when any one cries only 
on account of the strokes, and regards not the hand of the striker, 
as another Prophet says, (Isaiah 9: 13,) there is certainly in him 
complete stupidity. We hence see what the Prophet had in view when 
he said, that "Israel did not understand while he was devoured by 
strangers, while hoariness was spreading over him"; for he attended 
not to the cause of evils, but remained stupid; nor did he raise up 
his mind to God, so as to impute to his sins all the evils which he 
    He says, that "his strength was eaten by strangers". God had 
promised that the people would be under his protection; and when 
they were exposed to the plunder of strangers, why did they not 
perceive that they were deprived of God's protection? And this could 
not have happened, except their own sin had deprived them of this 
privilege. Hence the Israelites must have been extremely blind and 
alienated in mind, when they did not perceive that they were thus 
spoiled by strangers, because God did not now defend them, nor was 
their patron, as he was wont to be formerly. 
    He adds, that "hoariness was upon him". Some understand by 
this, that the Israelites were not improved by long succession of 
years. Age, as we know, through long experience, brings to men some 
prudence. Young people, even when the Lord invites them to himself, 
are carried away by some impulse or another; but in the aged there 
is greater prudence and moderation. Many hence think that the 
Israelites are here condemned because they had profited nothing - 
no, not even by the advance of age. But the Prophet, I doubt not, 
expresses the greatness of their calamities by this mode of 
speaking, when he says that "hoariness was sprinkled over him"; for 
we know, that when any one is grievously pained and afflicted, he 
becomes hoary through the very pressure of evils; inasmuch as 
hoariness proceeds not only from years, but also from troubles and 
heavy cares, which not only waste men, but consume them. We indeed 
know that men grow old through the suffering of evils. And here, in 
my judgment, the Prophet means, that "hoariness had come upon 
Israel," - that is, that he had been visited with so many evils, 
that he was worn out, as it were, with old age; and that, after all, 
he had derived no benefit. We now perceive the truth of what I have 
said before, that it was the constant teaching of the Prophet, that 
the diseases which prevailed among the people of Israel were 
incurable, for they could by no remedies be brought to repentance. 
It follows - 
Hosea 7:10 
And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not 
return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this. 
    The Prophet now confirms his previous doctrine, and speaks 
generally, that "the pride of Israel shall bear testimony to him to 
his face", or shall humble him to his face. The word "'anah" means, 
in Hebrew, "to testify," and often, also, "to humble," or "to 
afflict," as it was stated in the fifth chapter; and the words of 
the Prophet are now the same, and both senses are appropriate. I do 
not, however, make much of this, for the design of the Prophet is 
clear; what he means is, that God had so openly chastised the 
Israelites, that they must have perceived his hand, except they were 
blind indeed, and that, being at the same time warned, they ought to 
have suppliantly humbled themselves. Whether then we read, "to 
testify" or "to humble," the sense will be the same, and the design 
of the Prophet will appear to be the same. "The pride, then, of 
Israel will humble him to his face," or, "the pride of Israel will 
testify to his face:" for the Prophet means, that however fiercely 
the Israelites might rise up against God, and be uncourteous to his 
Prophets and however perversely they might reject all teaching, and 
also excuse their own sins, yet all this would avail them nothing, 
since they were so cast down by their pride, that the Lord regarded 
them as convicted as much so as if their crime had been proved by 
many witnesses, and their mask now taken away; in short, there was 
no longer any doubt: this is what the Prophet means. 
    "The pride", then, "of Israel testifies", or, "humbles him to 
his face"; that is, though Israel had appeared hitherto inflexible 
against all admonitions, against all punishments, they were yet held 
as convicted; and, at the same time, "they return not", he says, "to 
their God, and seek him not for all these things". We now perceive 
what I have said, that the previous complaint respecting the 
diabolical perverseness which so reigned in the people is here 
confirmed, so that their salvation was now past hope. And he says 
that "they returned not to Jehovah their God"; for they were running 
constantly after their idols, as we have before seen; yea, they were 
possessed with that inordinate zeal of which the Prophet speaks in 
the beginning of the chapter; but they returned not to Jehovah; they 
were wholly taken up with the multitude of their deities, and at the 
same time had no regard for God. 
    And when he says, "their God", he conveys a strong reprobation; 
for God had manifested himself to them; yea, he had made himself 
plainly known to them by his law. That they then did not return to 
him, was not simply through ignorance or error; but through a 
diabolical madness, as if they wished of their own accord and 
deliberately to perish. God then calls himself here the God of 
Israel, not for honour's sake, but that he might the more expose 
their ingratitude, and enhance their perfidiousness, because they 
had fallen away from him, and would not seek him. 
    What he means, when he says, "For all these things", is, that 
every kind of remedy had been tried, and hence that their disease 
was wholly incurable. When we can do nothing in one way, we often 
try another. Now God had not tried in one way only to bring Israel 
back to himself, but he had tried all remedies. When no good 
followed, what was to be said, but the people were lost, and past 
all hope? This then is what the Prophet means here. It now follows - 
Hosea 7:11,12 
Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, 
they go to Assyria. 
When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring 
them down as the fowls of the heaven; I will chastise them, as their 
congregation hath heard. 
    The Prophet here first blames Israel for foolish credulity, and 
compares them to a dove; for they had invited the Egyptians and sent 
to Assyria for help. Simplicity is indeed a commendable virtue, when 
joined to prudence. But as everything reasonable and judicious in 
men is turned into wickedness when there is no integrity; so when 
men are too credulous and void of all judgment and reason, it is 
then mere folly. But when he says that Israel is like a dove, he 
does not mean that the Israelites had sinned through mere ignorance, 
but that they were destitute of all judgment; and this folly is 
opposed to the knowledge which God had offered to them in his law: 
for God had never ceased to guide Israel by sound doctrine; he had 
ever exhibited before them the torch of his word; but when God thus 
gave them light, Israel was so credulous as to give heed to the 
delusions of Satan and of the world. We now then perceive the 
meaning of the Prophet. 
    Some render "potah" by "turning aside:" and its root "patah", 
no doubt, means "to turn aside;" and it means also sometimes "to 
persuade:" hence some give this rendering, "a persuasible," or, "a 
credulous dove." But the Prophet, I doubt not, means, that they were 
enticed by flatteries, or deceived by allurements, which is the same 
thing. Israel then was like a dove, deceived by various lures. 
    How so? Because they ran to the Assyrians, they invited the 
Egyptians. If Israel had attended to the law of God, they might have 
felt assured that they were not in danger of going astray; for the 
Lord keeps us not in suspense or doubt, that we may fluctuate, but 
makes our minds fixed and tranquil by his word, as it is also said 
in another place, 'This is rest.' It was then determined by the 
Israelites not to fix their feet as it were on solid ground; and 
they preferred to fly here and there like doves; and their credulity 
led them to many errors. How? Because they chose rather to give 
themselves up to be deceived by the Egyptians as well as by the 
Assyrians, when yet God was willing to guide them by sound 
knowledge. We now understand the design of this accusation of the 
Prophet to be, that Israel wilfullly refused the way of safety 
offered to them, which they might have followed with confidence, and 
with a tranquil and composed mind; but in the meantime they flew up 
and down, and became wilfully erratic; for they suffered themselves 
to be deceived by various lures. 
    Now this place teaches us that men are not to be excused by the 
pretext of simplicity; for the Prophet here condemns this very 
weakness in the Israelites. We ought then to attend to the rule of 
Christ, 'To be innocent as doves, and yet to be prudent as 
serpents.' But if we inconsiderately abandon ourselves, the excuse 
of ignorance will be frivolous; for the Lord shines upon us by his 
word and shows us the right way; and he has also in his power the 
spirit of prudence and judgment, which he never denies to those who 
ask. But when we despise the word, and neglect the Spirit of God, 
and follow our own vagrant imaginations, our sin is twofold; for we 
thus despise and quench the light of the word, and we also wilfully 
perish, when the Lord would save us. 
    But a denunciation of punishment afterwards follows, 
"Wheresoever", he says, "they shall go, I will expand over them my 
net, and will draw them down as the birds of heaven". God shows that 
though the Israelites might turn about here and there, yet their end 
would be unhappy; for he would have his expanded net: and he follows 
up the simile he used in the last verse. He had said that they were 
like doves, which are carried by a sudden instinct to the bait, and 
consider not the expanded net. If then the dove sees only the lure, 
and at the same time shuns not the danger, it is a proof of foolish 
simplicity. Hence God says, I will expand my net; that is, I will 
cause all your endeavors and purposes to be disappointed, and all 
your hopes to be vain; for wheresoever they shall fly, my net shall 
be expanded. 
    This is a remarkable passage; for we hence learn, that the 
issue will always be unfortunate, if we attempt any thing contrary 
to the word of the Lord, and it we hold consultations over which his 
Spirit does not preside; as it is said by Isaiah ch. 30 and 31, 'Woe 
to them who weave a web, and draw not from my mouth! Woe to them who 
take counsel, and invoke not my Spirit!' This passage wholly agrees 
with the words of Isaiah, though the form of speaking is different. 
It belongs then to God to bless our counsels, that they may have a 
prosperous and the desired success. But when God is not favorable, 
but even opposed to our designs, what end shall at last await us, 
but that whatever we may have attained shall at length be turned to 
our ruin? Let us then know, that whatever men do in this world is 
ruled by the hidden providence of God; and as God leads by his 
extended hand his own people, and gives his angels charge to guide 
them; so also he has his expanded net to catch all those who wander 
after their own erratic imaginations. Hence he says, "Wheresoever 
they shall go, I will expand over them my net"; and farther, "I will 
draw them down as the birds of heaven". 
    The Prophet seems to allude to the vain confidence, which he 
mentioned, when he said that Israel had bound wind in his wings. For 
when men presumptuously undertake any thing, they at the same time 
promise to themselves, that there will be nothing to prevent them 
from gaining their object. Inasmuch then as men, elated with this 
foolish confidence, gather more boldness, yea, at length furiously 
assail God, and seem as though they would break through the very 
clouds, the Prophet says, "I will draw them down as the birds of 
heaven"; that is, "I will allow them to be carried up for a time; 
but when they shall penetrate to the clouds, I will draw them down, 
I will make them to know that their flying will avail them nothing." 
And we must notice from whence the Israelites had been drawn down. 
For who would not have thought that so much protection must have 
been found in the Assyrians or in the Egyptians, that they could not 
in vain expect deliverance? But the Lord laughs to scorn this vain 
power of the world; for whatever hope men may conceive when they 
alienate themselves from God, it will entirely vanish like smoke. 
    And he afterwards adds, "I will chastise them", or, 'I will 
bind them:' for the verb "yasar" means both "to chastise" as well as 
"to bind;" so that either sense may be taken. If the word, "to 
bind," be approved, it will well agree with the metaphor, as though 
he said, "I will hold you fast in my nets." For as long as birds are 
allowed to fly, they think the whole heaven to be theirs; but when 
they fall into nets, they remain confined; they are then unable to 
fly, and cannot move their wings. So then this sense, "I will bind 
them", is very suitable; which means, "They will not be able to 
break my net, but I will hold them there bound to the end." But if 
one prefers the other sense, "I will chastise them", I do not 
object; and as far as the meaning is concerned, we see that there is 
not much difference which sense we take, except that the word, "to 
bind," as I have said, harmonizes better with the metaphor. 
    He says, "According to the hearing of their assembly". Nearly 
all so render this, as if God had said that he would punish them as 
he had threatened by Moses, and as if it was also an indirect 
accusation of their carelessness, because they did not become wise 
after having been long admonished, but even despised those 
denunciations, which constantly resounded in their ears. For God had 
not only prescribed in his law the rule of a religious life, but 
also added heavy and severe threatening, by which he gave a sanction 
to the doctrine at the law. We know how dreadful are those curses of 
the law. Since then God had even from the beginning thus threatened 
the Israelites, ought they not to have walked more carefully before 
him? But they were not terrified by these denunciations. Hence God 
here indirectly reproves this great madness, that the Israelites did 
not sufficiently attend to his threatening, by which they might have 
been recalled to the right way; for Moses did by these put a 
restraint even on the furious passions of men, if only there 
remained in them a particle of sound understanding. Still further, 
the same admonitions had been often pressed on them by the Prophets; 
nor had God ever ceased to arouse them, until the ears of them all 
had become deaf to his voice. He therefore says, 'I will hold them 
fast bound,' or, 'I will chastise them, according to the hearing of 
their assembly;' that is, "The punishment which I shall inflict must 
have been long ago known to them, for I have openly commanded my law 
to be promulgated, that I might thus testify my people by severe 
threatening; I will now then execute the judgment, which they have 
not believed, because I have hitherto spared them." 
    As I have already said, interpreters nearly all agree in this 
view, except that they do not consider the design of the Prophet; 
they do not perceive that the Israelites were upbraided for their 
hardness; but they only speak of punishment, without any intimation 
of the end or object for which God had promulgated maledictions in 
his law, and renewed the recollection of them by his Prophets. 
Jerome brings forward another meaning, even this, that God would 
punish the people according to the report of their assembly; that 
is, that as they had with one consent violated the worship of God, 
and transgressed his laws, so he would punish them all. I will at 
the same time add this view, that God would chastise them according 
to the clamour of their assembly, so that the Prophet points out, 
not only a conspiracy among the people of Israel, but also their 
violence in eliciting one another to sin. As, then, they had thus 
tumultuously risen up against God, so the Prophet in his turn 
declares, that God would punish them; as though he said, "Your 
tumult will not prevent me from quelling your fury. Ye do indeed 
with great noise oppose me, and think that you will be safe, though 
addicted to your sins; but this your violence will be no hindrance, 
for I have in my power the means of chastising you." 
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou sees us to be so prone to all 
the allurements of Satan and the world, and at the same time so void 
of judgment, and carried away by mere levity, - O grant, that by thy 
Spirit leading us, we may proceed in the right course, on which we 
have already entered under thy guidance and directing hand, so that 
we may never go astray from thy word, nor by any means turn aside 
from pursuing towards the mark which thou hast set before us; and 
though Satan may attempt to draw us aside, may we yet continue 
steadfast in thy service, and thus proceed, until we arrive at that 
blessed rest which, after the warfare of the present life, thou hast 
promised to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 20...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-19.txt