(Calvin on Hosea, part 24)

Lecture Twenty-fourth. 
Hosea 9:6 
For, lo, they are gone because of destruction: Egypt shall gather 
them up, Memphis shall bury them: the pleasant [places] for their 
silver, nettles shall possess them: thorns [shall be] in their 
    The Prophet confirms here what is contained in the last verse, 
that is, that the Israelites would at length find that the Prophets 
had not in vain threatened them, though they at the time heedlessly 
despised the judgement of God. "Lo", he says, "they have departed": 
he speaks of the exile as if it had already taken place, when it was 
only nigh at hand. The Israelites were then dwelling in their own 
country, he yet speaks of them as having already gone away. But he 
sets forth the certainty of the prediction by this manner of 
speaking, that profane men might cease to promise themselves 
impunity when God summons them to his tribunal: yea, he shows that 
he was already armed to take vengeance: "They have gone away," he 
says, "on account of desolation." Then he adds, "Egypt shall gather 
them". To gather here is to be taken in a bad sense; for it means 
the same as trousser (to pack up, to bundle) in our language; and it 
is often taken in this sense by the Prophets, when mention is made 
of destruction: and this appears still clearer from the word, 
burying, which the Prophet immediately subjoins. Egypt shall gather 
them: He certainly speaks not of a kind retreat, but declares that 
Egypt would be a sepulchre to them, in which they should remain shut 
up: and thus he takes away from them any hope of deliverance. The 
Israelites expected that they should find shelter for a season in 
Egypt, when they bent their course there for fear of their enemies. 
The Prophet now shows that they would be disappointed in dreaming of 
a return, for they would remain there gathered up; that is, a free 
return, as they imagined, would not be allowed them, but a perpetual 
habitation, yea, a grave. 
    'Egypt will gather them, Memphis will bury them.' There is a 
striking correspondence between the words here used, "kavar" and 
"kavats". By the first the Prophet signifies that they should be 
shut up, so as to be, as it were, bound and fixed to a place; and 
then he adds that they should be buried. 
    He then says, "The desirable place of their silver the nettle 
shall possess, as by hereditary right, and the thorn", &c.; some 
render it paliurus; but I follow what is more received, "the thorn 
then shall be in their tabernacles". The meaning is, that the 
Israelites would be exiles and sojourners, not for a short time, but 
that their exile would be so long that their land would become waste 
and uncultivated; for neither nettles nor thorns grow in an 
inhabited place. Hosea then declares that their land would be 
deserted and without inhabitants, for nettles and thorns would 
occupy it instead of men. Now it tended greatly to increase the 
sorrow of exile, that the hope of return was cut off from them; and 
God had also declared that Egypt, where they had promised a refuge 
for themselves, would be to them like a grave. And thus it happens 
for the most part to the ungodly, who retake themselves to vain 
solaces, that they may escape the vengeance of God; for they throw 
themselves into deep labyrinths; where they think to find a harbour 
of rest for a time, and a commodious habitation; but there they find 
either a gulf or a grave. This is the meaning. Let us proceed - 
Hosea 9:7 
The days of visitation are come, the days of recompence are come; 
Israel shall know [it]: the prophet [is] a fool, the spiritual man 
[is] mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred. 
    The Prophet, by saying that the days of visitation had come, 
intended to shake off from hypocrites that supine torpor of which we 
have often spoken; for as they were agitated by their own lusts, and 
were in a state of continual fervour, so they hardened themselves 
against God's judgement, and, as it were, covered themselves over 
with hardness. It was then necessary to deal roughly with them in 
order to break down such stubbornness. This is the reason that the 
Prophet repeats so often and in so many forms what might be 
expressed in this one sentence - That God would be a just avenger. 
Hence he cries out here, that the days of visitation had come. For 
when the Lord spared them, as sacred history relates, and as we said 
at the beginning, (and under the king Jeroboam the second, the son 
of Joash, their affairs were prosperous,) their pride and contempt 
of God the more increased. Since then they thought themselves to be 
now beyond the reach of harm, the Prophet declares that the days had 
come. And there is here an implied contrast in reference to the time 
during which the Lord had borne with them; for as the Lord had not 
immediately visited their sins, they thought that they had escaped. 
But the Prophet here distinguishes between time and time: "You have 
hitherto thought," he says, "that you are at peace with God; as if 
he, by conniving at the sins of men, denied himself, so as not to 
discharge any more the office of a judge: nay, there is another 
thing to be here considered, and that is, that God has certain days 
of visitation, which he has fixed for himself; and these days are 
now come." 
    And he again teaches the same thing, "The days of retribution 
have come". He uses another word, that they might know that they 
could not go unpunished for having in so many ways provoked God. For 
as the Lord disappoints not the hope of his people, who honour him; 
so also there is a reward laid up for the ungodly, who regard as 
nothing his judgement. "God will then repay you what you have 
deserved, though for a time it may please him to suspend his 
    Then he says, "Israel shall know". This is the wisdom of fools, 
as it is said even in an old proverb; and Homer has also said, 
"pathoon de te nepios egnoo", (Even the foolish knows when he 
suffers.) The foolish is not wise, except when he suffers. Hence the 
Prophet says, that Israel, when afflicted, would then perceive that 
instruction had been despised, and that all warnings had been 
trifled with, at least had not been regarded. Israel then shall 
know; that is, he shall at length, when too late, understand that he 
had had to do with God, even when the time of repentance shall be no 
more. The meaning then is that as the ungodly reject the word of 
God, and obey not wise admonitions and counsels, they shall at 
length be taken to another school, where God teaches not by the 
mouth but by the hand. Whosoever then does not now willingly submit 
to his teaching, shall find God to be a judge, and shall not escape 
his hand. 
    They who join what follows elicit this meaning, "Israel shall 
know the Prophet to be foolish, the man of the spirit to be mad"; 
that is, Israel shall then understand that he was deluded by 
flatteries, when the false Prophets promised that all things would 
be prosperous. We indeed know that they catched at those prophecies 
which pleased their ears; for which Micah also reproves them; hence 
he calls those who gave hope of a better state of things, the 
Prophets of wine and oil and wheat, (Micah 2: 11.) The world wishes 
to be ever thus deceived. Since then there were many in Israel, who 
by their impositions deceived the miserable, he says, Israel shall 
at last know that he has been deluded by his own teachers. If we 
receive this sense, there is then here a reproof to Israel for 
thinking that the vengeance of God was in some way restrained, when 
the false Prophets said that he was pacified, and that there was no 
danger to be feared. For do not men in this way stultify themselves? 
And how gross is their stupidity, when they think that God's hands 
are tied, when men are silent, or when they perfidiously turn the 
truth into a lie? And yet even at this day this disease prevails in 
the world, as it has prevailed almost in all ages. For what do the 
ungodly seek, but to be let alone in their sins? When mouths are 
closed, they think that they have gained much. This madness the 
Prophet derides, intimating that those profane men, who have such 
delicate ears, that they can bear no words of reproof, shall at last 
know what they had gained by hiring prophets to flatter them. We 
hence see, in short, that the adulations, by which the ungodly 
harden themselves against God, will be to them the occasion of a 
twofold destruction; for such fallacies dementate them, so that they 
much more boldly provoke against themselves the wrath of God. 
    But if we read the two clauses apart, the rendering will be 
this, "The Prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad." And as 
to the matter itself, there is not much difference. I will not then 
dwell on the subject; for when we are agreed as to the design of the 
Prophet and the truth remains the same, it is vain, at least it is 
of no benefit, to labour very anxiously about the form of the 
sentence. If then we begin a sentence with these words, "'ewil 
hanavi'", the sense will be this, "I know that the Prophets promise 
impunity to you; but they who thus hide your sins, and cover them 
over as with plasters, are insane men, yea, they are wholly 
infatuated. There is then no reason why their flatteries should 
delight you; for the event will show that they are mere absurdities 
and idle ravings." We now see that there is no great difference in 
the sense: for this remains still unaltered, that there were many 
flatterers among the people, who made it their business to lie, that 
they might thus procure the favour of the people; and this ambition 
has prevailed in all ages: and sometimes also cupidity or avarice 
takes such hold on men, that they use a meretricious tongue, and 
excuse all vices however grievous, and elude all threatening. This 
is what the Prophet shows in the first place; and then he shows, 
that men without any advantage indulge their vices, when there is no 
one severely to reprove them, or boldly to exhort them to repent; 
and that though all the Prophets should give them hope of safety 
they should yet perish: for men cannot by their silence restrain God 
from executing at last his judgement. Nay, we must remember this, 
that God spares men when he does not spare them; that is, when he 
chastises them, when he reproves their sins, and when he constrains 
them by terror, he then would spare them. And again, when God 
spares, he does not spare; that is, when he connives at their sins, 
and leaves men to their own will, to grow wanton at their pleasure, 
without any yoke or bridle, he then by no means spares them, for he 
destines them for destruction. 
    "The man of the spirit," some render "the man of the wind;" and 
some "the fanatical man;" but they are in my judgement mistaken; for 
the Prophet, I doubt not, uses a respectful term, but yet by way of 
concession. He then calls those the men of the spirit who were by 
their office prophets, but who abused that title, as those who at 
this day call themselves pastors when they are really rapacious 
wolves. The Prophets, as we know, always declared that they did not 
speak from their own minds but what the Spirit of God dictated to 
them. Hence they were men of the Spirit, that is, spiritual men: for 
the genitive case, we know, was used by the Hebrews to express what 
we designate by an adjective. The Prophets then were the men of the 
Spirit. He concedes this name, in itself illustrious and honourable, 
to impostors; but in the same sense as when I speak generally of 
teachers; I then include the false as well as the true. This then is 
the real meaning of the expression, as we may gather from the 
context: for he says the same thing twice, "'ewil hanavi'", "Fool is 
the Prophet", and then, "meshuga' 'ish haruach", "Mad is the man of 
the spirit". As he spoke of a Prophet, so he now mentions the same 
by calling him a man of the spirit, or a spiritual man. 
    At the end of the verse he adds, "For the multitude of thine 
iniquity, for great hatred", or, much hatred; for it may be rendered 
in these two ways. Here the Prophet shows, that though the false 
Prophets stultified by their fallacies the people, yet this could by 
no means avail for an excuse or for extenuating the fault of the 
people. How so? Because they suffered the punishment of their own 
impiety. For whence comes it, that the Lord takes away his light 
from us, that after having once shown to us the way of salvation, he 
turns suddenly his back on us, and suffers us to go astray to our 
perdition? How does this happen? Doubtless, because we are unworthy 
of that light, which was a witness to us of God's favour. For as 
much then as men through their own fault procure such a judgement to 
themselves, the Lord neither blinds them nor gives to Satan the 
power of deluding them, except when they deserve such a treatment. 
Hence the Prophet says, For the multitude of thine iniquity, and for 
thy crimes, by which thou hast excited against thyself the wrath and 
hatred of God. We hence see how frivolous are the pretences by which 
men clear themselves, when they object and say that they have been 
deceived and that if their teachers had been faithful and honest, 
they would have willingly obeyed God. When therefore men make these 
objections, the ready answer is this, that they had been deprived of 
true and faithful teachers, because they had refused the favour 
offered to them, and extinguished the light, and as Paul says, 
preferred a lie to the truth; and that they had been deceived by 
false Prophets, because they willingly hastened to ruin when the 
Lord called them to salvation. We now then understand the import of 
what is here taught. 
    The Prophet says, in the first place, that the day of vengeance 
was now at hand, because the Lord by forbearance could prevail 
nothing with the obstinate. He then adds, that as all threatenings 
were despised by the people, and as they were deaf to every 
instruction, they would at length know that God had not spoken in 
vain but would perceive that their were justly treated; for the Lord 
would not now teach them by his word, but by scourges. He adds, in 
the third place, that the Prophet was foolish and delirious, and 
also, that they who boasted themselves to be the men of the spirit 
were mad: by which expressions he meant that the flatteries, by 
which the people were lulled asleep were foolish; for God would not 
fail at last, when the time came, to execute his office. And, lastly 
he reminds them that this would happen through the fault of the 
people, that there was no reason for them to trace or to ascribe the 
cause of the evil to any thing else; for this blindness was their 
just punishment. The Lord would have never permitted Satan thus to 
prevail in his own inheritance, had not the people, by the immense 
filth of their sins, provoked God for a long time, and as it were 
with a determined purpose. It now follows - 
Hosea 9:8 
The watchman of Ephraim [was] with my God: [but] the prophet [is] a 
snare of a fowler in all his ways, [and] hatred in the house of his 
    Interpreters obscure this verse by their various opinions. 
Almost all suppose a verb to be understood that Ephraim "had set" a 
watchman. But I see no need to make any change in the words of the 
Prophet: I therefore take them simply as they are. Now some think 
that there is here a comparison between the old Prophets who had not 
turned aside from God's command, and those flatterers who pretended 
the name of God, while they were the ministers of Satan to deceive. 
They therefore thus distinguish them, The watchman of Ephraim was 
with my God; that is, there was a time formerly when the watchmen of 
Ephraim were connected with God, and declared no strange doctrine, 
when they drew from the true fountain all that they taught; there 
was then a connection between God and the Prophets, for they 
depended on the mouth of God, and the Prophets delivered to the 
people, as from hand to hand, whatever God commanded; there was then 
nothing corrupt, or impure, or adventitious in their words. But now 
the Prophet is a snare of a fowler; that is, the dice is turned, a 
deplorable change has taken place; for now the Prophets lay snares 
to draw people by their disciples into destruction; and this 
abomination bears rule, that is, this monstrous wickedness prevails 
in the temple of God: these Prophets live not in caves nor traverse 
public roads, but they occupy a place in the temple of God; so that 
of the sacred temple of God they make a brothel for the impostures 
of Satan. Such is their view. 
    But I read the verse as connected together, "The watchman of 
Ephraim", who ought to have been "with God, even the Prophet, is a 
snare of a fowler on all his ways". The former view would have 
indeed met my approbations did not the words appear to be forced; 
and I do not love strained meanings. This is the reason which 
prevents me from subscribing to an exposition which in itself I 
approve, as it embraces a useful doctrine. But this simple view is 
more correct, that the watchman of Ephraim, a Prophet, is a snare of 
a fowler: and he adds, with God; for it is the duty of teachers to 
have nothing unconnected with God. Hosea then shows what Prophets 
ought to do, not what they may do. A Prophet then is he who is a 
watchman of Israel; for this command, we know, is given in common to 
all Prophets - to be as it were on their watch-tower, and to be 
vigilant over the people of God. It is therefore no wonder that the 
Prophet dignifies with his own title all those who were then 
teachers among God's people. But he thus doubles their crime, by 
saying that they were only keen and sharp-sighted to snare the 
people. Then the watchmen of Israel, the Prophet, who was placed on 
the watch-tower to watch or to exercise vigilance over the safety of 
the whole people - this Prophet was a snare of a fowler! But he 
triplicates the crime when he says, "With my God": for as we have 
already observed, teachers could not faithfully discharge their 
office, except they were connected with God, and were able truly to 
testify that they brought forth nothing that was invented, but what 
the Lord himself had spoken, and that they were his organs. We now 
then apprehend the real meaning of the Prophet; and according to 
this view there is nothing strained in the words. 
    The Prophet also thus confirms what he had said before, that 
the Prophets were fools, that is, that their prophecies would at 
length appear empty and vain; for they could not prevent God from 
inflicting punishment on the wicked by their fallacious flatteries; 
he confirms this truth when he says, "The watchmen of Ephraim is a 
snare of a fowler on all his ways": that is, he ought to have guided 
the people, and to have kept them safe from intrigues. But now the 
people could not move a foot without meeting with a snare; and 
whence came this snare but from false doctrine and impostures? What 
then was to be at last? Could the snares avail to make them 
cautious? By no means; but Satan thus hunts his prey, when he 
soothes the people by his false teachers, and keeps them, as it 
were, asleep, that they may not regard the hand of God. There was 
then no reason for the Israelites to think well of the fowlers by 
whom they were drawn into ruin. 
    This indignity is more emphatically expressed, when he says, 
that there was "a detestable thing in the temple of God". There was 
not, indeed, a temple of God in Bethel, as we have often said; but 
as the people were wont to pretend the name of God, the Prophet, 
conceding this point, says, that these abominations were covered 
over by this pretence. There is then no need anxiously to inquire 
here, whether it was the temple at Samaria or at Bethel, or the 
house and sanctuary of God; for a concession proves not a thing to 
be so, but it is to speak according to the general opinion. So then 
the Prophet does not without reason complain, that the place, on 
which was inscribed the name of God, was profaned, and that, instead 
of the teaching of salvation, there was fowling everywhere, which 
drew the people into apostasy, and finally into utter ruin. It 
follows - 
Hosea 9:9 
They have deeply corrupted [themselves], as in the days of Gibeah: 
[therefore] he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their 
    Hosea declares here, that the people were so sunk in their 
vices, that they could not be drawn out of them. He who has fallen 
can raise up himself when one extends a hand to him; and he who 
strives to emerge from the mire, finding a helper to assist him, can 
plant his foot again on solid ground: but when he is cast into a 
gulf, he has no hope of a recovery. I extend my hand in vain, when 
one sinks in a shipwreck, and is fallen into the deep. So now the 
Prophet says, that the people were unhealable, because they were 
deeply fixed; and further, because they were infected with 
corruptions. He therefore intimates that their diseases were 
incurable, that they had struck roots so deeply, that they could by 
no means be cleansed. "They were then deeply fixed, and were corrupt 
as in the days of Gibeah". 
    The Gibeonites, we know, were so fallen, that their city 
differed nothing from Sodom; for unbridled licentiousness in all 
kinds of vices prevailed there, and lusts so monstrous reigned among 
them, that there was no distinction between good and evil, no shame 
whatever. Hence it was, that they ravished the Levite's wife, and 
killed her by their filthy obscenities: and this was the cause of 
that memorable slaughter which nearly demolished the whole tribe of 
Benjamin. The history is related in the Book of Judges, chapters 19, 
20, and 21; and it deserved to be recorded, that people might know 
what it is not to walk with care and fear in obedience to the Lord. 
Who could indeed have believed that a people taught in the law of 
God could have fallen into such a state of madness as this city did, 
which was nigh to Jerusalem, the destined place of the temple, 
though not yet built? and, not to mention the temple, who could have 
thought that this city, which was in the midst of the people, could 
have been so demented, that, like brute beasts, they should abandon 
themselves to the filthiest lusts? nay, that they should have been 
more filthy than the beasts? For monstrous lusts, as I have said, 
were there left unpunished, as at Sodom and in the neighbouring 
    The Prophet says now, that the whole of Israel had become as 
corrupt as formerly the citizens of Gibeah. Deeply sunk, then, were 
the Israelites in their vices, and were as addicted as the 
inhabitants of Gibeah to their corruptions. What, then, is to 
follow? "God", he says, "will remember their iniquities, and will 
visit their sins". The Prophet means two things first, that as the 
Israelites were wholly disobedient, and would receive no 
instruction, God would in no other way deal with them, as though he 
said, "The Lord will no longer spend labour in vain in teaching you, 
but he will seize the sword and execute his vengeance; for ye are 
not worthy of being taught by him any longer; for his teaching is 
counted a mockery by you." This is one thing; and the other is, that 
though God had hitherto spared the people of Israel, he had not yet 
forgotten the filth of sins which prevailed among them. Hence God, 
he says, will at length remember and, as he had said before, will 
visit your sins. 
    We now then perceive the simple meaning of the Prophet. But let 
us hence also learn to rouse ourselves; and let us, in the first 
place, notice what the Prophet says of the Israelites, that they 
were deeply fixed; for men must be filled with contempt to God, when 
they thus descend, as Solomon says, (Prov. 18: 4,) to the deep. Lets 
then each of us stir up himself to repentance and carefully beware 
lest he should descend into this deep gulf. But since he says, "the 
Lord will remember and will visit", let us know that they are 
greatly deceived who indulge themselves as long as the Lord 
mercifully bears with their sins; for though he may for a time 
conceal his displeasure yet an oblivion will never possess him: but 
at a fit time he will remember, and prove that he does so by 
executing a just punishment. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou shinest on us by thy word, we may 
not be blind at mid-day, nor wilfully seek darkness, and thus lull 
our minds asleep: but that exercising ourselves in thy word, we may 
stir up ourselves more and more to fear thy name, and thus present 
ourselves, and all our pursuits, as a sacrifice to thee, that thou 
mayest peaceably rule, and perpetually dwell in us, until thou 
gatherest us to thy celestial habitation, where there is reserved 
for us eternal rest and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 25...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-24.txt