(Calvin on Hosea, part 22)

Lecture Twenty-second. 
    We were not able in the last lecture to finish what the Prophet 
haa said in the seventh verse; that is, that whatever hope the 
Israelites entertained would be deceptive and fruitless; for they 
imagined many deliverances as arising from nothing. He had before 
condemned their wandering and perverse circuitous courses, now 
flying to Egypt, then to Assyria, in order to seek assistance, and 
at the same time overlooking and neglecting God. He therefore says 
now, that they would have to gather fruit corresponding with what 
was sown: "They had sown the wind, they shall reap", he says, "the 
whirlwind". And by this figure he signifies that their confidence 
was vain, that their counsels were frivolous. 
    He afterwards adds, that there would be no stalk; and pursuing 
the same similitude, he says, "The bud shall yield no meal; if so be 
it yields, strangers shall swallow it up". The meaning is, that the 
Israelites went astray in their counsels, and had nothing real; it 
was the same as if one had sown the wind. Then follows the harvest 
of the whirlwind; for their seed would not spring up, no corn would 
grow which would yield meal; but if their counsels attained any 
fruit, or if they reaped any thing, strangers would devour it; for 
the Lord would at length cause that their enemies would scatter 
whatever they thought that they had attained. It further follows - 
Hosea 8:8 
Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a 
vessel wherein [is] no pleasure. 
    He uses the same word as before when he spake of the meal, and 
says, that not only the provision of Israel shall be devoured, but 
also the people themselves; and he upbraids the Israelites with 
their miseries, that they might at length acknowledge God to be 
adverse to them. For the Prophet's object was this - to make them 
feel their evils, that they might at length humble themselves and 
learn suppliantly to pray for pardon. For it is a great wisdom, when 
we so far profit under God's scourges, that our sins come before our 
    He therefore says, "Israel is devoured and is like a cast off 
vessel, even among the Gentiles", when yet that people excelled the 
rest of the world, as the Lord had chosen them for himself. As they 
were a peculiar people, they were superior to other nations; and 
then they were set apart for this end, that they might have nothing 
in common with the Gentiles. But he says now that this people is 
dispersed, and everywhere despised and cast off. This could not have 
been, except God had taken away his protection. We hence see that 
the Prophet had this one thing in view - to make the Israelites feel 
that God was angry with them. It now follows 
Hosea 8:9,10 
For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: 
Ephraim hath hired lovers. 
Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather 
them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of 
    Here again the Prophet derides all the lahour the people had 
undertaken to exempt themselves from punishment. For though 
hypocrites dare not openly and avowedly to fight against God, yet 
they seek vain subterfuges, by which they may elude him. So the 
Israelites ceased not to weary themselves to escape the judgment of 
God; and this folly, or rather madness, the Prophet exposes to 
scorn. "They have gone up to Assyria", he says, "as a wild ass 
alone; Ephraim had hired lovers". In the first clause he indirectly 
reprobates the brutish wildness of the people, as though he said, 
"They are like the wild animals of the wood, which can by no means 
be tamed." And Jeremiah uses this very same similitude, when he 
complains of the people as being led away by their own indomitable 
lust, being like the wild ass, who, snuffing the wind, betakes 
himself, in his usual manner, to a precipitant course, (Jer. 2: 24.) 
Probably he touches also, in an indirect way, on the unbelief of the 
people in having despised the protection of God; for the people 
ought not to have thus hastened to Assyria, as if they were 
destitute of every help, because they knew that they were protected 
by the hand of God. And the Prophet here reproves them for regarding 
as nothing that help which the Lord had promised, and which he was 
really prepared to afford, had not the Israelites betaken themselves 
elsewhere. Hence he says, "Ephraim, as a wild ass, has gone up to 
Assyria"; he perceived not that he would be secure and safe, 
provided he sheltered himself under the shadow of the hand of his 
God; but as if God could do nothing, he retook himself to the 
Assyrians: this was ingratitude. And then he again takes up the 
similitude which we have before noticed, that the people of Israel 
had shamefully and wickedly departed from the marriage-covenant 
which God had made with them: for God, we know, was to the 
Israelites in the place of a husband, and had pledged his faith to 
them; but when they transferred themselves to another, they were 
like unchaste women, who prostitute themselves to adulterers, and 
desert their own husbands. Hence the Prophet again reproves the 
Israelites for having violated their faith pledged to God, and for 
being like adulterous women. He indeed goes farther, and says, that 
they hired adulterers for wages. Unchaste women are usually enticed 
by the charms of gain; for when adulterers wish to corrupt a woman, 
they offer gifts, they offer money. He says that this practice was 
inverted; and the same thing is expressed by the Prophet Ezekiel; 
who, after having stated that women are usually corrupted by having 
some gain or some advantage proposed to them, adds, 'But thou 
wastest thine own property, and settest not thyself to hire, but on 
the contrary thou hirest wantons,' (Ezek. 16: 31-33.) So the Prophet 
speaks here, though more briefly, "Ephraim", he says, "has hired 
    But it follows, "Though they have hired among the nations, now 
will I gather them". This place may be variously expounded. The 
commonly received explanation is, that God would gather the hired 
nations against Israel; but I would rather refer it to the people 
themselves. But it admits of a twofold sense: the first is, that the 
great forces which the people has on every side acquired for 
themselves, would not prevent God from destroying them; for the verb 
"kabats" which they render, "to gather," often means in Hebrew to 
throw by a slaughter into an heap, as we say in French, Trousser, 
(to bundle.) And this meaning would be very suitable - that though 
they extended themselves far and wide, by gathering forces on every 
side, they would yet be collected in another way, for they would be 
brought together into a heap. The second sense is this - that when 
Israel should be drawn away to the Gentiles, the Lord would gather 
him; as though he said, "Israel burns with mad lusts, and runs here 
and there among the Gentiles; this heat is nothing else than 
dispersion; it is the same as if he designedly wished to destroy the 
unity in which his safety consists; but I will yet gather him 
against his will; that is, preserve him for a time." 
    It then follows, "They shall grieve a little for the burden of 
the king and princes". The word which the Prophet uses interpreters 
expound in two ways. Some derive "yachelu" from the verb "chal", and 
others from "chalal", which means, "to begin;" and therefore give 
this rendering, "They shall begin with the burden of the king and 
princes;" that is, They shall begin to be burdened by the king and 
princes. Others offer this version, "They shall grieve a little for 
the burden of the king and princes;" that is, They shall be 
tributaries before the enemies shall bring them into exile; and this 
will be a moderate grief. 
    If the first interpretation which I have mentioned be approved, 
then there is here a comparison between the scourges with which God 
at first gently chastised the people, and the last punishment which 
he was at length constrained to inflict on them; as though he said, 
"They complain of being burdened by tributes; it is nothing, or at 
least it is nothing so grievous, in comparison with the dire future 
grief which their last destruction will bring with it." 
    But this clause may well be joined with that mitigation which I 
have briefly explained, and that is, that when the people had 
willingly dispersed themselves, they had been preserved beyond 
expectation, so that they did not immediately perish; for they would 
have run headlong into destruction, had not God interposed an 
hindrance. Thus the two verses are to be read conjointly, "They 
ascended into Assyria as a wild ass"; that is, "They showed their 
unnameable and wild disposition, when thus unrestrainedly carried 
away; and then they offer me a grievous insult; for as if they were 
destitute of my help, they run to the profane Gentiles, and esteem 
as nothing my power, which would have been ready to help them, had 
they depended on me, and placed their salvation in my hand." He then 
reproaches their perfidy, that they were like unchaste women, who 
leave their husbands, and abandon themselves to lewdness. Then it 
follows, "Though they do this", that is, "Though having despised my 
aid, they seek deliverance from the profane Gentiles, and though 
they despise me, and choose to submit themselves to adulterers 
rather than to keep their conjugal faith with me, I will yet gather 
them, when thus dispersed." The Lord here enhances the sin of the 
people; for he did not immediately punish their ingratitude and 
wickedness, but deferred doing so for a time; and in his kindness he 
would have led them to repentance, had not their madness been wholly 
incurable: rrhough then they thus hire among the Gentiles, I will 
yet gather them, that is, "preserve them;" and for what purpose? 
That they may grieve a little, and that is, that they may not wholly 
perish, as persons running headlong into utter ruin; for they seemed 
designedly to seek their last destruction, when they were thus 
wilfully and violently carried away to profane nations. That is 
indeed a most dreadful tearing of the body, which cannot be 
otherwise than fatal. "They shall", however, "grieve a little"; that 
is, "I will so act, that they may by degrees return to me, even by 
the means of moderate grief." 
    We hence see more clearly why the Prophet said, that this grief 
would be small, which was to be from the burden of the king and 
princes. It was designed by the Israelites to excite the Assyrians 
immediately to war; and this would have turned out to their 
destruction, as it did at last; but the Lord suspended his 
vengeance, and at the same time mitigated their grief, when they 
were made tributaries. The king and his counsellors were constrained 
to exact great tributes; the people then grieved: but they had no 
other than a moderate grief, that they might consider their sins and 
return to the Lord; yet all this was without any fruit. Hence the 
less excusable was the obstinacy of the people. We now perceive what 
the Prophet meant. It now follows - 
Hosea 8:11 
Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto 
him to sin. 
    The Prophet here again inveighs against the idolatry of the 
people, which was, however, counted then the best religion; for the 
Israelites, as it has been said were become hardened in their 
superstitions, and had long before fallen away from the pure and 
lawful worship of God. And we know, that where error has once 
prevailed, it attains firmness by length of time: hence the 
Israelites had become hardened in their perverted and fictitious 
worship. They thought that they did the most meritorious deed 
whenever they sacrificed, while at the same time, they provoked in 
this way the wrath of God more and more against themselves. And as 
they had become thus hardened, the Prophet says, "that they 
multiplied for themselves altars for the purpose of sinning, and 
that there would be altars for them to sin". It was (as I have 
already said) most difficult to persuade theme that their altars 
were for the purpose of sinnings and that the more attentive they 
were in worshipping God, the more grievously they sinned. 
    We see how Papists of this day glory in their abominations. It 
is certain that they do nothing but what is accursed before God; for 
there reigns among them every kind of filthiness, and there is no 
purity whatever: they therefore continue to offend God as it were 
designedly. Put at the same time it is their highest holiness to 
multiply altars: the same also was the prevailing error in the 
Prophet's time. This was the reason why he said, that "altars were 
multiplied in order to sin". Who at this day can persuade the 
Papists, that many chapels as they build, are so many sins by which 
they provoke the wrath of God? But the faithful ought to be content, 
not with one altar, (for there is now no need of an altar,) but they 
ought to be content with a common table. The Papists, on the 
contrary, build altars to themselves without end, where they 
sacrifice; and they think that God is thus bound to them as by so 
many chains: as many chapels as are under the papacy are, they 
think, so many holds for God, and that God is there held inclosed. 
But if any one should say, that so many fiends dwell in euch places, 
we know how furiously angry they would be. 
    It is then no superfluous repetition, when the Prophet says, 
that "altars were multiplied in order to sin"; and then, "that 
altars would be for sin": for in the second clause, he speaks of the 
punishment which God would inflict on superstitious men. In the 
first clause, he shows that their good intentions were frivolous, 
and that they were greatly deceived, when at their pleasure they 
devised for themselves various forms of worship. This is one thing. 
Then it follows, "There shall then be to them altars to sin"; as 
they would not willingly repent, nor embrace salutary admonitions, 
God would at last really show how much he valued what they called 
their good intentions; for now a dreadful vengeance was at hand, 
which would prove to them, that in increasing altars, they did 
nothing else but increase sins. It then follows - 
Hosea 8:12 
I have written to him the great things of my law, [but] they were 
counted as a strange thing. 
    The Prophet shows here briefly, how we ought to judge of divine 
worship, and thus intends to cut off the handle from all devices, by 
which men usually deceive themselves, and form disguises, when at 
any time they are reproved. For he sets the law of God, and the rule 
it prescribes, in opposition to all the inventions of men. Men think 
God unjust, except he receives as good and legitimate whatever they 
imagine to be so; but God, as it is said in another place, prefers 
obedience to all sacrifices. Hence the Prophet now declares, that 
all the superstitions, which then prevailed among the people of 
Israel, were condemned before God; for they obeyed not the law, but 
had spurious and perverted modes of worship, which they had invented 
for themselves. We then see the connection of what the Prophet says: 
he had said in the last verse, that they had multiplied altars for 
the purpose of sinning; but so great, as I have said, was the 
obstinacy of the people, that they would by no means bear this to be 
told to them; he then adds in the person of God, that his law had 
been given them, and that they had departed from it. 
    We hence see, that there is no need of using many words in 
contending with the superstitious, who daringly devise various kinds 
of worship, and wholly different from what God commands; for they 
are to be distinctly pressed with this one thing, that obedience is 
of more account with God than sacrifices, and further, that there is 
a certain rule contained in the law, and that God not only bids us 
to worship him, but also teaches us the way, from which it is not 
lawful to depart. Since, then, the will of God is known and made 
plain, why should we now dispute with men, who close their eyes and 
wilfully turn aside, and deign not to pay any regard to God? "I have 
written" then, the Lord says: and to give this truth more weight, he 
introduces God as the speaker. It would have indeed been enough to 
say, "God has delivered to you his law, why should you not seek 
knowledge from this law, rather than from your own carnal judgment? 
Why do you wish thus licentiously to wander, as if no restraint has 
been put upon you?" But it is a more emphatical way of speaking, 
when God himself says, "I have written my law, but they have counted 
it as something foreign"; that is, as if it did not belong to them. 
    But he says, that he had written "to Israel". He does not 
simply mention writing, but says, that the treasure had been 
deposited among the people of Israel; and the worse the people were, 
because they acknowledged not that so great an honor had been 
conferred on them, for this was their peculiar inheritance. I have 
written then my law, "and I have not written it indiscriminately for 
all, but have written it for my elect people; but they have counted 
it as something extraneous." For the word may be rendered in either 
    He adds, "The great things", or, "the precious", or, "the 
honorable things" of my law. Had he said, "I have written to you my 
law," the legislator himself was doubtless worthy, to whom all ought 
to submit with the greatest reverence, and to form their whole life 
according to his will; but the Lord here extols his own law by a 
splendid eulogy, and this he does to repress the wickedness of men, 
who obscure its dignity and excellency: I have written, he says, the 
great things of my law. "How much soever they may despise my law, I 
have yet set forth in it a wisdom which ought to be admired by the 
whole world; I have in it brought to light the secrets of heavenly 
wisdom. Since then it is so, what excuse can there be for the 
Israelites for despising my law?" He says, that they counted it as 
something foreign, when yet they had been brought up under its 
teaching, and the Lord had called them to himself from their very 
infancy. Since then they ought to have acknowledged the law of God 
as a banner, under which the Lord preserved them, he here reproaches 
them for having counted it as something extraneous. It then followa 
Hosea 8:13 
They sacrifice flesh [for] the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat 
[it; but] the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their 
iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt. 
    Interpreters think that the Israelites are here derided because 
they trusted in their own ceremonies, and that their sacrifices are 
reproachfully called flesh. But we must see whether the words of the 
Prophet contain something deeper. For the word "havhav" some rightly 
expound, in my judgment, as meaning "sacrifices," either burnt or 
roasted; it is a word of four letters. Others derive it from 
"yahav", which signifies "to give gifts;" and hence they render 
thus, "sacrifices of my gifts;" and this is the more received 
opinion. I view the Prophet here as not only blaming the Israelites 
for putting vain trust in their own ceremonies, which were perverted 
and vicious; but also as adducing something more gross, and by which 
it could be proved, that their folly was even ridiculous, yea, to 
profane men and children. When we only read, "The sacrifices of my 
gifts," which they ought to have offered to me, the sense seems 
frigid; but when we read, "The sacrifices of my burnt-offerings! 
they offer flesh", the meaning is, So palpable is their contempt, 
that they cannot but be condemned even by children. How so? Because 
for burnt-offerings they offer flesh to me; that is they fear lest 
any portion of the sacrifices should be lost: and when they ought, 
when offering burnt-sacrifices, to burn the flesh, they keep it 
entire, that they may stuff themselves. Hence they make a great 
display in sacrificing: and yet it appears to be palpable mockery, 
for they turn burnt-offerings into peace-offerings, that the flesh 
may remain entire for them to eat it. And no doubt, it has ever been 
a vice dominant in hypocrites to connect gain with superstitions. 
How much soever, then, idolaters may show themselves to be wholly 
devoted to God, they yet will take care that nothing be lost. 
    The Prophet then seems now to reprove this vice; I yet allow 
that the Israelites are blamed for thinking that God is pacified by 
sacrifices which were of themselves of no value, as we have had 
before a similar declaration. But I join both views together - that 
they offered to God vain sacrifices without piety, and then, that 
they offered flesh for burnt-offerings, and thus fed themselves and 
cared not for the worship of God. "The sacrifices" then "of my 
burnt-offerings they offer"; but what do they offer? "Flesh". Nor 
does he seem to have mentioned in vain the word flesh. Some say that 
all sacrifices are here called flesh by way of contempt; but there 
seems rather to me to be a contrast made between burnt sacrifices 
and flesh; because the people of Israel wished to take care of 
themselves and to have a rich repast, when the Lord required a 
burnt-offering to be presented to him: and he afterwards adds, and 
they eat. By the word eating, he confirms what I have already said, 
that is, that he here reproves in the Israelites the vice of being 
intent only on cramming themselves, and of only putting forth the 
name of God as a vain pretence, while they were only anxious to feed 
    It is the same with the Papists of our day, when they celebrate 
their festivals; they indulge themselves, and think that the more 
they drink and eat, the more God is bound to them. This is their 
zeal; they eat flesh, and yet think that they offer sacrifices to 
God. They offer, then, their stomach to God, when it is thus well 
filled. Such are the oblations of the Papists. So also the Prophet 
now says, "They eat the flesh which they ought to have burned." 
    "The Lord", he says, "will not accept them". Here again he 
briefly shows, that while hypocrites thus make pretences, they are 
self-deceived, and will at last find out how vainly they have lied 
to God and men: "God will not accept them." He here repudiates, in 
the name of God, their sacrifices; for whatever they might promise 
to themselves, it was enough that they devised for themselves these 
modes of worship; for God had never commanded a word respecting 
    It then follows, "Now will he remember their iniquity, and 
visit their sins". The Prophet denounces a future punishment, lest 
hypocrites should flatter themselves, when God's fury is not 
immediately kindled against them, for it is usual with them to abuse 
the patience of God. Hence Hosea now forewarns them, and says, 
"Though God may connive for a time, there is yet no reason for the 
Israelites to think that they shall be free from punishment: God 
will at length," he says, "remember their iniquity." He uses a 
common form of speaking, which everywhere occurs in Scripture: God 
is said to remember when he really, and as with a stretched-out 
hand, shows himself to be an avenger. "The Lord now spares you; but 
he will, in a short time, show how much he abominates these your 
impure sacrifices: He will remember, then, your iniquity." 
Visitation follows this remembering, as the effect the cause. 
    "They shall flee", he says, "to Egypt". The Prophet, I doubt 
not, intimates here, that vain would be all the escapes which the 
Israelites would seek; and though God might allow them to flee to 
Egypt, yet it would be, he says, without any advantage: "Go, flee to 
Egypt, but your flight will be useless." The Prophet expressed this 
distinctly, that the people might know that they had to do with God, 
against whom they could make no defense, and that they might no 
longer deceive themselves by foolish imaginations. And though the 
people were blinded by so great an obstinacy, that this admonition 
had no effect; yet they were thus rendered the more inexcusable. It 
now follows - 
Hosea 8:14 
For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah 
hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his 
cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof. 
    Here the Prophet concludes his foregoing observations. It is 
indeed probable that he preached them at various times; but, as I 
have already said, the heads of the sermons which the Prophet 
delivered are collected in this book, so that we may know what his 
teaching was. He then discoursed daily on idolatry, on 
superstitions, and on the other corruptions which then prevailed 
among the people; he often repeated the same threatenings, but 
afterwards collected into certain chaptera the things which he had 
spoken. The conclusion, then, of his former teaching was this, that 
"Israel had forgotten his Maker", whilst for himself he had been 
"building temples". He says, that he forgot his Maker by building 
temples because he followed not the directions of the law. We hence 
see that God will have himself to be known by his word. Israel might 
have objected and said, that no such thing was intended, when he 
built temples in Dan and Bethel, but that he wished by these to 
retain the remembrance of God. But the Prophet here shows that God 
is not tryly known, and that men do not really remember him, except 
when they worship him according to what the law prescribes, except 
when they submit themselves wholly to his word, and undertake 
nothing,and attempt nothing, but what he has commanded. What then 
the superstitious say is remembrance, the Prophet here plainly 
testifies is forgetfullness. The case is the same at this day, when 
we blame the Papists for their idols; their excuse is this, that 
what they set forth is in pictures and statues the image of God, and 
that images, as they say, are the books of the illiterate. But what 
does the Prophet answer here? That "Israel forgot his Maker". There 
was an altar in Bethel, and there Israel was wont to offer 
sacrifices, and they called this the worship of God; but the Prophet 
shows that each worship was accursed before God, and that it had no 
other effect than wholly to obliterate the holy name of God from the 
minds of men, so that the whole of religion perished. 
    Remarkable then is this passage; for the Prophet says, that the 
people forgot God their Maher, when they built temples for 
themselves. But what was in the temples so vicious, as to take away 
the remembrance of God from the world? Even because God would have 
but one temple and altar. If a reason was asked, a reason might 
indeed have been given; but the people ought to have acquiesced in 
the command of God. Though God may not show why he commands this or 
that, it is enough that we ought to obey his word. Now, then, it 
appears, that when Israel built for himself various temples, he 
departed from God, and for this reason, because he followed not the 
rule of the law, and kept not himself within the limits of the 
divine command. Hence it was to forget God. We now apprehend the 
object of the Prophet. 
    Though then they were wont to glory in their temples, and there 
to display their pomp and splendor, and proudly to delight in their 
superstitions, yet the Prophet says, that they had forgotten their 
Creator, and for this reason only, because they had not continued in 
his law. He says, that they had forgotten God "their Maker"; by the 
word "Maker", the Prophet alludes not to God as the framer of the 
world and the creator of men, but he applies it to the condition of 
the people. For, as we well know, the favor of God had been peculiar 
towards that people; he had not only made them, as a part of the 
human race, but also formed them a people to himself. Since then God 
had thus intended them to be devoted to him, the Prophet here 
increases and enhances their sin, when he says, that they obeyed not 
his word, but followed their own devices and depraved imaginations. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we have already so often provoked thy 
wrath against us, and thou hast in thy paternal indulgence borne 
with us, or at least chastised us so gently as to spare us, - 0 
grant, that we may not become hardened in our wickedness, but 
seasonably repent, and that we may not be drawn away after the 
inventions of our flesh, nor seek ways to flee away from thee, but 
come straight forward to thy presence, and make a humble, sincere, 
and honest confession of our sins, that thou mayest receive us into 
favor, and that being reconciled to us, thou mayest bestow on us a 
larger measure of thy blessings, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 23...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-22.txt