(Calvin on Hosea, part 25)

Lecture Twenty-Fifth. 
Hosea 9:10 
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as 
the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: [but] they went to 
Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto [that] shame; and [their] 
abominations were according as they loved. 
    In this verse God reproves the Israelites for having preferred 
to prostitute themselves to idols, rather than to continue under his 
protection, though he had from the beginning showed his favour to 
them; as though he had said that they having been previously 
favoured with his free love, had transferred their affections to 
others; for he says, that he had found them as grapes in the 
wilderness. The word wilderness, ought to be joined with grapes, as 
if he had said, that they had been as sweet and acceptable to him as 
a grape when found in a desert. When a traveller finds, by chance, a 
grape in a barren and desolate place, he not only admires it, but 
takes great delight in a fruit so unlooked for. And thus the Lord, 
by this comparison, shows his great love towards the Israelites. He 
adds, - "As the first fruit of the figtree"; for the fig-tree, we 
know, produces fruit twice every year. Therefore, God says, - "As 
figs at the beginning" (or, as they say, the first fruits) are 
delightful, so have I taken delight in this people. The Prophet does 
not however mean, that the people were worthy of being so much 
loved. But the Hebrews use the word, to find, in the same sense as 
we do, when we say in French, - Je treuve cela a mon gout, (I find 
this to my taste.) I have therefore regarded Israel as grapes in the 
wilderness. And this remark is needful, lest some one should 
subtilely infer, that the Israelites were loved by God, because they 
had something savoury in them. For the Prophet relates not here what 
God found in the people, but he only reproves their ingratitude, as 
we shall presently see. 
    The first part then shows that God had great delight in this 
people. It is the same or similar sentence to that in chap. 11, 
where he says, 'When Ephraim was yet a child, I loved him,' except 
that there is not there so much fervour and warmth of love 
expressed; but the same argument is there handled, and the object is 
the same, and it is to prove, that God anticipated his people by his 
love. There remained, in this case, less excuse, when men rejected 
God calling them, and responded not to his love. A perverseness like 
this would be hardly endured among men. Were any one to love me 
freely, and I to slight him, it would be an evidence of pride and 
rudeness: but when God himself gratuitously treats us with kindness, 
and when, not content with common love, he regards us as delectable 
fruit, does not the rejection of this love, does not the contempt of 
this favour, betray, on our part, the basest depravity? We now then 
understand the design of the Prophet. In the first clause, he says, 
in the person of God, "I have loved Israel, as a traveller does 
grapes, when he finds them in the desert, and as the first ripe figs 
are wont to be loved: since then, I so much delighted in them, ought 
they not to have honoured me in return? Ought not my gratuitous love 
to have inflamed their hearts, so as to induce them to devote 
themselves wholly to me?" 
    But "they went in unto Baal-peor". So I interpret the verb 
"ba'u"; and it is taken in this sense in many other places. For the 
Hebrews say, "they went in," to express in a delicate way the 
intercourse between husbands and wives. And the Prophet does not, 
without reason, compare the sacrifices which the people offered to 
Baal-peor to adultery, as being like the intercourse which an 
adulterer has with an harlot. They then went in unto Baal-peor; and 
he adds, that they "separated themselves". Some interpret the word 
"nazar" as referring to worship, and as meaning that they 
consecrated themselves to Baal-peor; and others derive it from 
"zarah", which they think is here in a passive sense, and means, "to 
be alienated." But I take it in the same sense as when Ezekiel says, 
"They have separated themselves from after me," "me'acharai", chap. 
14; that is, that they may not follow me. God here expostulates with 
the people for following their fornication, and for thus repudiating 
that sacred marriage which God contracts with all his people. I 
therefore read the two sentences as forming one context, "The 
Israelites went in unto Baal-peor, as an adulterer goes in unto a 
harlot; and they separated themselves; for they denied God, and 
violated the faith pledged to him; they discarded the spiritual 
marriage which God made with them." For the Prophet, we know, 
whenever he refers to idolatries speaks allegorically or 
metaphorically, and mentions adultery. 
    They "have separated themselves", he says, "to reproach"; that 
is, though their filthiness was shameful, they were yet wholly 
insensible: as when a wife disregards her character, or as when a 
husband cares not that he is pointed at by the finger, and that his 
baseness is to all a laughing-stock; so the Israelites, he says, had 
separated themselves to reproach, having cast away all shame, they 
abandoned themselves to wickedness. Some render the word "boshet", 
obscenity, and others refer it to Baal-peor, and render the sentence 
thus, "They have separated themselves to that filthy idol." For some 
think Priapus to have been Baal-peor; and this opinion has gained 
the consent of almost all. But I extend wider the meaning of the 
word "reproach," as signifying that the people observed no 
difference between what was decent and what was shameful, but that 
they were senseless in their impiety. They were therefore 
abominable, or abominations according to their lovers. The Prophet, 
I doubt not, connects here the Israelites with idols and with 
Baal-peor itself, that he might strip them of all that holiness 
which they had obtained through God's favour. We now apprehend the 
meaning of the Prophet. 
    Now, what is here taught is worthy of being noticed and is 
useful. For, as we have said, inexcusable is our wickedness, if we 
despise the gratuitous love of God, bestowed unasked. When God then 
comes to us of his own accord, when he invites us, when he offers to 
us the privilege of children, an inestimable benefit, and when we 
reject his favour, is not this more than savage ferocity? It was to 
reprobate such conduct as this that the Prophet says, that God had 
loved Israel, as when one finds grapes in the desert, or as when one 
eats the first ripe figs. But it must, at the same time, be noticed 
why the Prophet so much extols the dealings of God with the people 
of Israel; it was for this reason, because their adoption, as it is 
well known, was not an ordinary privilege, nor what they enjoyed in 
common with other nations. Since, then, the people had been chosen 
to be God's special possession, the Prophet here justly extols this 
love with peculiar commendation. And the like is our case at this 
day; for God vouchsafes not to all the favour which has been 
presented to us through the shining light of the gospel. Other 
people wander in darkness, the light of life dwells only among us: 
does not God thus show that he delights especially in us? But if we 
continue the same as we were, and if we reject him and transfer our 
love to others, or rather if lust leads us astray from him, is not 
this detestable wickedness and obstinacy? 
    But what the Prophet says, that they "separated themselves to 
reproach", is also worthy of being noticed; for he exaggerates their 
crime by this consideration, that the Israelites were so blinded, 
that they perceived not their own turpitude, though it was quite 
manifest. The superstitions which then prevailed in the land of Moab 
were no doubt very gross; but Satan had so fascinated their minds 
that they gave themselves up to a conduct which was worse than 
shameful. Let us then know that our sin is worthy of a heavier 
punishment in such a case as this, that is, when every distinction 
is done away among us, and when we are hurried away by the spirit of 
giddiness into every impiety and when we no longer distinguish 
between light and darkness, between white and black; for it is a 
token of final reprobation. When, therefore, shame ought to have 
restrained them, he says, that the Israelites had yet "separated 
themselves to reproach, and became abominable like their lovers"; 
that is, As Baal-peor is the highest abomination to me, so the 
people became to me equally abominable. It now follows - 
Hosea 9:11,12 
[As for] Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the 
birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. 
Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, [that 
there shall] not [be] a man [left]: yea, woe also to them when I 
depart from them! 
    The Hebrews, we know, have often abrupt sentences as in this 
place, "Ephraim! their glory has fled". Ephraim is to be placed by 
itself; and the speech seems striking, when the Lord thus breaks off 
the sentence, Ephraim! he does not continue the sense, but 
immediately adds, "Like a bird their glory has fled". When he speaks 
of Ephraim, he no doubt refers especially to his offspring; and by 
mentioning a part for the whole, he includes whatever was then 
deemed to be wealth, or glory, or power. The Prophet, I say, speaks 
of offspring, for he immediately adds, "from the birth, and the 
womb, and the conception". But they are mistaken who confine this 
sentence to offspring only; for it is, as I have said, a mode of 
speaking, by which a part is taken for the whole. According to the 
letter, he mentions children or offspring; but yet he includes 
generally the whole condition of the people. 
    Then "as a bird the glory of Ephraim fled away". In what 
respect? From the birth, from the womb, from the conception. The 
Prophet, no doubt, sets forth here the gradations of God's 
vengeance, which was yet in part near at hand to the Israelites, and 
which was in part already evident by clear proofs. He says, from the 
birth, then from the womb, and, lastly, from the conception. If, 
then, the glory of Ephraim had vanished at the beginning, the 
Prophet would not have thus spoken; but as the Lord showed signs of 
his wrath by degrees, that vengeance at length might reach the 
highest point, the Prophets in the first place, mentions birth, then 
the womb; as though he said, "The glory of Israel shall vanish from 
the birth, but if they still continue proud, and seem not subdued by 
this punishment, I will slay them in the womb itself; nay, in the 
conception, if they repent not; they shall be suffocated as in the 
very womb." 
    He then adds, "though they shall bring up children, I will yet 
exterminate them, so that they shall not be men, or, before they 
grow up", as some expound the words. The meaning is, that though 
Ephraim then flattered himself, yet a dreadful ruin was at hand, 
which would extinguish the whole seed, so that there would be 
nothing remaining. But lest they should think that all was over, 
when the Lord had inflicted on them one punishment, he lays down 
three gradations; that God would slay them first in the birth, then 
extinguish them in the womb, and, lastly, before conception; but if 
he spared them, so that they would raise up children, it would yet 
be without advantage, inasmuch as God would take away the youths in 
the flower of their age. Thus, then he threatens entire destruction 
to the kingdom of Israel. 
    And, lastly, he closes the verse in these words, "And surely 
woe will be to them when I shall depart from them". The Prophet 
means by these words, that men become miserable and accursed, when 
they alienate themselves from God, and when God takes away from them 
his favour. After having mentioned especially the vengeance of God 
which was at hand, he says here that the cause and occasion of all 
evils would be, that God would depart from them, inasmuch as they 
had previously renounced their faith in him. But we must bear in 
mind the reason why the Prophet added this clause, and that is, 
because wicked men dream, that though God be displeased, things will 
yet go on prosperously with them: for they neither ascribe 
adversities to the wrath of God, nor acknowledge the fountain of all 
blessings to be God's free and paternal favour. As then profane men 
do not understand this truth, however much God may proclaim that he 
is an enemy to them, that he is armed to destroy them, they care 
nothing, but promise to themselves a prosperous fortune: until they 
feel the hand of God and the signs of destruction appear, they 
continue still secure. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that 
there is woe to men when God departs from them. Forasmuch, then, as 
Scripture teaches everywhere that every desirable thing comes and 
flows to us from the mere grace of God and his paternal favour, so 
the Prophet declares in this place, that men are miserable and 
accursed when God is angry with them. But it follows - 
Hosea 9:13 
Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, [is] planted in a pleasant place: but 
Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. 
    Hosea here confirms his previous statements that the Israelites 
in vain trusted in their present condition, for the Lord could 
reverse their prosperity whenever it pleased him. Men, we know, 
harden themselves in their vices, when they enjoy their wishes and 
when they are sunk in pleasures; for prosperity is not without 
reason often compared to wine, because it inebriates men; nay, 
rather it dementates them. We see what happened to the Sodomites and 
to others; yea, the abuse of God's forbearance has ever been the 
cause of destruction to almost all the reprobate, as Paul also says. 
Such pride reigned in the people of Israel, that they heedlessly 
despised all threatening, as it has been already often stated. To 
this then the Prophet refers when he says, "Ephraim is like a tree 
planted in Tyrus: yet he shall bring forth his children to the 
slaughter". The Prophet then points out here the indulgences of 
Israel, and then adds, that in a short time the Lord would draw them 
forth to judgement, though he had treated them as a precious tree, 
by fostering them gently and tenderly for a time. 
    Some render this place thus, "I have seen Ephraim planted like 
Tyrus;" and they render the next word, "venaweh", "in pleasantness." 
But since it means a house or a habitation, I am disposed to retain 
its proper sense. Interpreters, however, vary in their opinion; for 
some say, "I have seen Ephraim like Tyrus;" because an event awaits 
this people similar to that which happened to Tyrus; for, as 
punishment was inflicted on Tyrus, so Ephraim shall not escape 
unpunished. This is the exposition of some, but in my view it is too 
refined. As, however, there is here a preposition, "lamed", I am 
inclined to consider "a tree" or "plant," or some such word, 
understood. Ephraim then was, as if one beheld a tree in Tyrus, 
literally to Tyrus, or in Tyrus. This letter, as a preposition, I 
allow, is redundant in many places; and yet it preserves some 
propriety, except when necessity interferes: and in this place what 
I have already stated is the most suitable rendering, "Ephraim is 
like a tree planted in Tyrus, in a dwelling" or shed. Tyrus, we 
know, was built on an island in the sea; it had gardens the most 
pleasant, but not formed without much expense and labour. It was 
washed on every side by the sea; and unless mounds were set up, the 
dwellings were confined. Since, then, it was difficult to raise 
trees there, much work and labour was doubtless necessary, as it is 
usually the case; for men often struggle with nature. And if we say 
that Ephraim was planted like Tyrus in a dwelling, what can it mean? 
We therefore say, that he was like a tree preserved as in a 
dwelling: for we see that there are some trees which cannot bear the 
cold air, and are kept during winter in a house that they may be 
preserved; and it is probable that the Syrians, who were rich and 
had a lucrative trade, employed much care in rearing their trees. 
    The meaning is, that Ephraim was like tender trees, preserved 
by men with great care and with much expense; but that they should 
hereafter bring forth their children for the slaughter. This 
bringing forth is set in opposition to the house or dwelling. They 
had been kept without danger from the cold and heat, like a tender 
tree under cover; but they would be constrained to draw forth their 
children to the slaughter; that is, there would be no longer any 
dwelling for them to protect them from the violence of their 
enemies, but that they would be drawn forth to the light. 
    We now see that the words harmonise well with the view, that 
the people of Israel in vain flattered themselves because they had 
hitherto been subject to no evils, and that God had preserved them 
free from calamity. There is no reason, the Prophet says, for the 
people to be proud, because they had been hitherto so indulgently 
treated; for though they had been like tender trees, they would yet 
be forced to draw forth their children to be killed. And this 
comparison, which he amplifies, is what often occurs in Scripture. 
'If Jehoiakim were as a ring on my right hand, saith the Lord, I 
would pluck him thence.' Men are wont to abuse even the promises of 
God. As king Jehoiakim was of the posterity of David, he thought it 
impossible that hid enemies could ever deprive him of his kingdom; 
"But it shall not be so; for though he were as a ring on my hand, I 
would pluck him thence." So also in this place; "Though the 
Israelites had been hitherto brought up in my bosom, and though I 
have kindly given them all kinds of blessings, and though they have 
been like tender trees, yet their condition hereafter shall be 
entirely different." Then it follows - 
Hosea 9:14 
Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb 
and dry breasts. 
    Interpreters translate these words in a different way: "Give 
them what thou art about to give," then they repeats "Give them;" 
but, as I think, they do not comprehend the design of the Prophet, 
and are wholly mistaken; for the Prophet appears here as one anxious 
and perplexed. He therefore presents himself here before God as a 
suppliant, as though he said, "Lord, I would gladly intercede for 
this people: what then is it that I should chiefly desire for them? 
Doubtless my chief wish for them in their miserable dispersion is, 
that thou wouldest give them a killing womb and dry breasts;" that 
is, that none may be born of them. Christ says, that when the last 
destruction of Jerusalem should come, the barren would be blessed 
(Luke 23: 29;) and this he took from the common doctrine of 
Scripture, for many such passages may be observed in the Prophets. 
Among the blessings of God, this, we know, is not the least, the 
birth of a numerous offspring. It is, therefore, a token of dreadful 
judgement, when barrenness, which in itself is deemed a curse, is 
desired as an especial blessing. For what can be more miserable than 
for infants to be snatched from their mothers' bosom? and for 
children to be killed before their eyes, or for pregnant women to be 
slain? or for cities and fields to be consumed by fire, so that 
children, not yet born, should perish together with their mothers? 
But all these things happen when there is an utter destruction. 
    We hence see what the prophet chiefly meant: the state of the 
people would be so deplorable that nothing could be more desirable 
than the barrenness of the women, that no offspring might be 
afterwards born, but that the name and memory of the people might by 
degrees be blotted out. 
    He has, indeed, already denounced punishments sufficiently 
grievous and dreadful; but we know that the contumacy and hardness 
of those are very great on whom religion has no hold. Hence all 
threatening were derided by that obstinate people. This is the 
reason why the Prophet now takes the part of an intercessor. "O 
Lord,", he adds "give them;" that is, "O Lord, forgive them at least 
in some measure, and grant them yet something." And "what wilt thou 
give?" Here he reasons with himself, being as it were in suspense 
and perplexity; and he also reasons with God as to what would be the 
most desirable thing. "I am indeed a suppliant for my own nation, 
whom I pity; but what shall I ask? I would wish thee, Lord, to 
pardon this people; but what shall be the way, what can give me 
comfort, or what sort of remedy yet remains? Certainly I see nothing 
better than that they should be barren, that none hereafter should 
be born of them; but that thou shouldest suffer them to consume and 
die away; for this will be their chief happiness in a condition so 
deplorable." It was then the Prophet's design here, to strike 
hypocrites and profane men with terror, that they might understand 
that God's vengeance, which was at hand, could by no means be fully 
expressed; for it would be the best thing for them to be deprived of 
the blessing of an offspring, that their infants might not perish 
with them, that they might not see women with child cruelly slain by 
their enemies, or their children led away as a spoil. That such 
things as these might not take place, the Prophet says, that 
barrenness ought to be desired by them as the chief blessing. The 
Prophet, I doubt not, meant this. It now follows - 
Hosea 9:15 
All their wickedness [is] in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the 
wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I 
will love them no more: all their princes [are] revolters. 
    He says first, that "all their evil was in Gilgal"; though they 
thought that they had the best pretence for offering there their 
sacrifices to God's honour, because it had been from old times a 
sacred place. He had said before that they had multiplied to 
themselves altars to sin, and by these to give way to sins; he now 
repeats the same in other words, "All their evil", he says, "is in 
Gilgal"; as though he said, "They indeed obtrude on me their 
sacrifices, which they offer in Gilgal, and think that they avail to 
excuse all their wickedness. I might, perhaps, forgive them, if they 
were given to plunder and cruelty, and were perfidious and 
fraudulent, provided pure worship had continued among them, and 
religion had not been so entirely adulterated; but as they have 
changed whatever I commanded in my law, and turned this celebrated 
place to be the seat of the basest impiety, so that it is become, as 
it were, a brothel, where religion is prostituted, it is hence 
evident, that the whole of their wickedness is in Gilgal." 
    It is certain that the people were also addicted to other 
crimes; but the word "kol", all, is to be taken for what is chief or 
principal. The Prophet speaks comparatively, not simply; as though 
he had said, that this corruption of offering sacrifices at Gilgal 
was more abominable in the sight of God than adulteries, or plunder, 
or frauds, or unjust violence, or any crime that prevailed among 
them. Their whole evil then was at Gilgal. But why the Prophet 
speaks thus, I have lately explained; and that is because 
superstitious men put forth their own devices, when God reproves 
them, "O! we have still many exercises of religion." They bring 
forward these by way of compensation. But the Lord shows that he is 
far more grievously offended with these superstitions, with which 
hypocrites cover themselves as with a shield, than with a life void 
of every appearance of religion: for "these," he says, "I conceived 
a hatred against them, on account of the wickedness of their works." 
    Here again the Prophet condemns what men think to be their 
special holiness. Who indeed can persuade hypocrites that their 
fictitious modes of worship are the greatest abominations? Nay, they 
even extol and imagine themselves to be like angels, and, as it 
were, cover all their wickedness with these disguises; as we see to 
be the case with the Papists who think, that when they obtrude on 
God their many masses and other devised forms, every sort of 
wickedness is redeemed. Since then hypocrites are thus wont to put 
on a disguise before God, and at the same time flatter themselves, 
the Prophet here declares that they are the more hated by God for 
this very wickedness, of daring to corrupt and adulterate his pure 
    He then adds, "I will eject them from my house". When God 
threatens to eject Israel from his house, it is the same as though 
he said, "I will wholly cast you away;" as when one cuts off a 
withered branch from a tree, or a diseased member from the body. It 
is indeed certain that the Israelites were then like bastards; for 
they were not worthy of any account or station in the Church, 
inasmuch as they had a strange temple and profane sacrifices; but as 
circumcision, and the priesthood in name, still remained among them, 
they boasted themselves to be the children of Abraham, and a holy 
people; hence the Prophet denounces here such a destruction, that it 
might appear that they in vain gloried in these superior 
distinctions, for God would expunge them from his catalogue. We now 
understand the design of the Prophet: but we shall, to-morrow, 
notice the remaining portion. 
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou hast freely embraced us 
in thy only-begotten Son, and made us, from being the sons and race 
of Adam, a holy and blessed seed, and as we have not hitherto ceased 
to alienate ourselves from the grace thou hast offered to us, - O 
grant, that we may hereafter so return to a sound mind, as to cleave 
faithfully and with sincere affection of heart to thy Son, and so 
retain by this bond thy love, and be also retained in the grace of 
adoption, that thy name may be glorified by us as long as we sojourn 
in this world, until thou at length gatherest us into thy celestial 
kingdom, which has been purchased for us by the blood of thy Son. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 26...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-25.txt