(Calvin on Hosea, part 27)

Lecture Twenty-seventh. 
Hosea 10:5 
The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of 
Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the 
priests thereof [that] rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, 
because it is departed from it. 
    I shall first briefly touch on what I have mentioned in reading 
over the text; that is, that some interpreters expound this verse of 
the exile of the people. The word "gur" signifies to be banished: 
and it means also to fear; but the context, as we shall see, will 
not allow it to be taken here in the sense of being banished. Some 
render the other word "shachan" to dwell, but they are mistaken. The 
Prophet simply means that the inhabitants of Samaria were now 
glorying in their calves, (for the calves we know, were in Dan and 
Bethel,) but that in a short time the Lord would strike them with 
terror, and the cause we shall see hereafter. 
    I now come to show the real meaning of the prophet. "The 
inhabitants of Samaria", he says "shall fear", because of the calves 
of Bethaven. The Prophet derides the folly of the people of Israel 
in worshipping calves, and in thinking that the whole hope of safety 
was included in them. How so? "They are constrained" he says, "to 
weep for the exile of their calf; so far is it from being able to 
bring them any aid, that the citizens of Samaria in vain deplore its 
captivity." By way of contempt, he calls the calves, heifers. He 
might have used the masculine gender; but the whole of the verse 
glances at the madness of the people of Israel, because they were so 
grossly delirious in their superstitions, and yet were wholly 
insensible. Then the inhabitants of Samaria shall fear for the 
calves of Bethaven, because idolaters, when they see some danger to 
their idols, tremble, and would gladly bring aid; and this very fear 
betrays their stupidity and madness. For why do not the gods help 
themselves, instead of expecting help from mortals? We now 
understand the design of the Prophet. 
    But he says, "They will mourn over it". The number is here 
changed. He had said, "because of the heifers;" and now he expresses 
the kind by putting down a relative of the masculine gender "wau". 
He therefore returns to "calves," and afterwards uses the singular 
number; for there was one only at Bethaven, the other was at Dan. 
But we have already shown why the Prophet called them heifers. 
    "Its people", he says, "shall mourn for it", yea, even the 
priests also. Some think that "kemerim", priests were called by this 
terms because they put on black vestments in celebrating their 
rites; for the word "kemer" means black; but this is a vain 
conjecture: and the Rabbis, as it often appears, are very bold in 
their figments; for they regard not what is true, but only make 
conjectures, and wish that whatever comes to their minds to be 
counted as oracular; nor do they regard history, but advance without 
reason what pleases them. Another explanation of the word may be 
adduced, and one in my judgement more probable; for the word 
signifies also to ring again or to resound; and the priests, we 
know, made, in performing their services, great noises and howling; 
as Elijah says 'Cry aloud, for your Baal is perhaps asleep,' (1 
Kings 18: 27.) If their conjecture is allowable, I would rather say 
that they were called by this word on account of the noise they 
made. But I leave the thing undecided. It was, however, a name 
commonly in use, as it appears from other places. For by this name 
"kemarim" were those new priests called, whom Josiah took away, as 
it is related in 2 Kings 23. But whether they had this name from 
their noises, or the black colour of their vestments, it is still 
certain that they were the priests of false gods. 
    The Prophet now says, that the priests also shall mourn, for 
the verb "'aval" is to be repeated. He afterwards adds, "yagilu 'al- 
kevodo"; the relative, who, is wanting - who exult, but it is to be 
understood after "kemarim", who exult for it. But why should they 
mourn? They shall mourn for its glory, because it had departed: they 
shall now begin to mourn, because the glory of the calf had passed 
away from it. Here the Prophet teaches that the glorying, by which 
hypocrites deceive themselves, will not be permanent; for the Lord 
will surely lead them, as we shall see, to sudden and unexpected 
shame. He then says that there would be mourning for the calves 
among the citizens of Samaria. They indeed thought that the kingdom 
was well fortified, for they had erected temples in their borders, 
to be, as it were, their fortresses. They hence imagined themselves 
to be safe from every incursion of enemies. The Prophet says, "Nay, 
they shall mourn for their calf." How so? Truly its own people shall 
mourn for it. He goes farther, and calls all its worshipers, the 
people of the calf: and we know that the whole kingdom of Israel was 
implicated in that superstition. Yea, he says, even the priests, who 
exult for it, shall mourn. Why? Because its glory shall depart from 
it. It now follows - 
Hosea 10:6 
It shall be also carried unto Assyria [for] a present to king Jareb: 
Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own 
    Here the Prophet expresses more clearly the cause of mourning 
to the priests and to the whole people, "The calf", he says, "shall 
be carried into Assyria, and carried as a present to king Jareb". It 
is probable, that when extreme danger came, the king of Israel was 
constrained either to cast the calf into a new form, or to break it 
in pieces, to redeem peace from the Assyrian king. As then the whole 
kingdom was reduced to great want, we may infer from this place that 
the calf or calved were carried into Assyria for pacifying the king. 
Since then the Israelites saw that they were stripped of their 
protection, (for they were now without any hope of safety, as there 
was no God among them,) the Prophet mentioned above their grief: but 
he now shows that exile was nigh at hand, not only to the 
Israelites, but also to the calves which they worshipped and by 
whose aid they thought themselves to be secure and safe in their 
    There is a particular emphasis in the particle "gam", as though 
the Prophet said, "Not only the Israelites shall migrate, but the 
very calf shall also be carried into Assyria." Of the word "Jareb," 
we have spoken in the fifth chapter: it seems to have been the 
proper name of a man. Some conjecture it to be a city in Assyria, 
though not noticed by writers. Others think it to be the name of a 
neighbouring king to the Assyrian, but without reason, and they are 
refuted by this very passage; for the Prophet doubtless points out 
here the Assyrian king. He yet calls him Jareb; it may be that he 
was as yet a private man, or he may have so called him by way of 
reproach. This is however uncertain. Jerome renders the word, 
"avenger." But it is sufficiently evident that it was a proper name, 
not of a city or place, but, as it has been said, of a man. And I am 
disposed to think, that he calls him king Jareb by way of contempt, 
for this contempt prevailed among the Israelites as long as they 
thought themselves strong enough to resist. But the Lord afterwards 
checked this pride: hence the Prophet says now in a cutting manner, 
"The calf shall be carried into Assyria to pacify king Jareb." 
    He afterwards adds, "Ephraim shall receive shame", or reproach; 
"Israel shall be made ashamed of his counsel". He says the same 
thing in different ways and not without reason; for it was difficult 
at first to persuade the Israelites that what they thought to have 
been wisely contrived would turn out to their shame. The king 
Jeroboam the first, when he erected temples did indeed think it the 
best device to prevent the people, were they to repent, from 
submitting themselves again to the posterity of David. Hence he 
thought that the ten tribes were wholly torn away, when he set up 
that peculiar worship, which had nothing in common with that of the 
tribe of Judah. And doubtless had the ten tribes worshipped the true 
God at Jerusalem, this union might have been the means of again 
reuniting them into one body under one head. Hence the king Jeroboam 
thought that he had provided well for his kingdom, to render it 
permanent, by cutting off all communication between the two people: 
and there was none in Israel who did not approve of this counsel; 
for they took delight in their wealth, in the number of their men, 
and in other advantages. Since then the kingdom of Judah was much 
inferior, the Israelites were vastly pleased with themselves. This 
is the reason why the Prophet says, "Ephraim shall receive shame"; 
Israel shall be made ashamed of his counsel. But this, as I have 
said, could not appear credible at first. For men promise to 
themselves the success they wish in their own craftiness: and hence 
it comes also, that they dare to attempt any thing they please 
without the aid of God. This is the reason why the Prophet repeats 
the same sentence, "Ephraim," he says, "shall receive shame; Israel 
shall be made ashamed," - for what? for their counsel. They think 
that their own counsel will be most useful to them; yea, they place 
their safety in their own craftiness. But the Lord will overrule for 
their shame whatever they have devised. It follows - 
Hosea 10:7 
[As for] Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water. 
    The Prophet proceeds with the same subject, nor ought it to be 
deemed a useless prolixity. It would have indeed been sufficient by 
one word to threaten the Israelites, had they been pliable and 
obedient; but as they were stupid in their perverseness, it was 
necessary to stun their ears with continual threatening, that they 
might be at least less excusable before God. Hence the Prophet says 
now, that "the king of Samaria shall be cut off like the foam": and 
he thus speaks of the king, because the Israelites thought their 
king, next to their idols, to be to them an invincible fortress. For 
thus ungodly men, as it has been mentioned before, always imagine 
their stronghold to be in the world and earthly things. Hence, the 
Lord denounces a just punishment, by saying that he would cut off 
the king; for the impious confidence, of which I have spoken, could 
not be otherwise corrected. Therefore "the king of Samaria shall be 
cut off" - in what manner? "Like a foam". It is a most apt 
comparison; for the Prophet shows that the condition of the kingdom, 
which they imagined to be firm and perpetual, had nothing in it but 
an empty appearance, like the foam, which has nothing substantial. 
And further, he seems to me to point out another thing, that is, 
that the kingdom, though it showed itself to be above other 
kingdoms, was yet but an excrement. The foam floats above the waters 
of the sea, and by its height seems eminent; but what is the foam 
but the excrement of the water? for whatever is decayed in the 
waters passes into foam. So Israel thought, that as they were endued 
with power, and in every way excelled the tribe of Judah, they could 
ride, as it were, over their heads. The Prophet, on the contrary, 
says that they were foam, and also their king. "Your king," he says, 
"though the king of Judah cannot be compared with him, is yet a 
foam. By his height he seems indeed wonderful, and hence has arisen 
your pride, for you are now become hardened against God; but the 
Lord will cut him off like a foam." The Prophet then not only 
compares the king of Israel to a bubble or to foaming waters; but he 
says, that with respect to the king of Judah, he is an excrement. We 
now then understand the meaning of the Prophet. 
Hosea 10:8 
The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: 
the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they 
shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us. 
    We see how much the Prophet dwells on one thing: but, as I have 
already said, there was need of a strong hammer to beat this iron; 
for the hearts of the people were iron, or even steel. This hardness 
could not then be broken except with violence. This is the reason 
why the Prophet goes on with his threatening and places before their 
eyes in so many forms the vengeance of God; of which it would have 
been enough for him briefly to remind them, had they not been so 
    And first he says, "The high places of Aven have perished", or 
shall perish. He now calls Bethel Aven, as he called it before 
Bethaven. We have stated the reason for changing the name. Jeroboam 
might indeed have disguised the worship, which he had profanely 
introduced by this pretext, that God had appeared in that place to 
holy Jacob, and we know its name was given to it by God: but in the 
meantime, as the people had made a wrong use of the Patriarch's 
example, the place was called Bethaven. Bethaven, we know, is the 
house of iniquity; as though the Prophet had said, "God dwells not 
in this place, as superstitious men imagine; but it has been 
corrupted by ungodly worshipers." He therefore says, "The high 
places of Aven;" that is, of impiety. But it may be expedient to 
repeat here what we have before said, namely, that when men 
degenerate from the pure teaching of God, they in vain cover their 
profanations with empty names, as we see the Papists doing at this 
day; for they adorn that profanation, the Mass, with the title of 
Sacrament, as if it was something allied to it. They wish even their 
own Mass to be regarded as the Holy Supper, as if it were in their 
power to abolish what has been prescribed by the Son of God, and to 
substitute in its place their own inventions. Hence, how much soever 
the Papists may dignify their profanations with honourable names 
they effect nothing. How so? Because God loudly proclaims respecting 
Bethel that it is Bethaven; and the reason is well known, because 
Jeroboam erected temples, and appointed new sacrifices, without 
God's command. Whenever, then, men depart from the word of the Lord, 
it will avail them nothing to disguise their own dreams; for the 
Lord approves of nothing but what he himself commands. Hence the 
high places of Aven have perished, or "shall perish." 
    He adds "The sin of Israel". This sentence, placed in 
apposition, belongs to the former. What is meant is, The sin of 
Israel shall perish. But, as it was said yesterday, the Israelites 
thought that they performed a service acceptable to God; and hence 
it was that they were so sedulously attentive to their holy rites; 
but God, on the contrary, pronounced them to be sin. How so? Because 
it is profanation and idolatry in men to leave off following God's 
command, and to give way to their own fancies and inventions. We 
must then understand, that it is not in the power of men to form any 
modes of worship they please; nor is it in their power to decide on 
this or that worship, whether it be lawful or spurious; but nothing 
remains for us but to attend to what the Lord says. When, therefore, 
the Lord pronounces that to be profane which pleases us, we ought to 
acquiesce in his judgement; for it does not become us to dispute 
with him, and it would be vain to do so. 
    "The thorn and the thistle", he says, "shall come up on their 
altars". It may be asked, Ought the Prophet simply, by these tokens, 
to have reproved the superstition of the people, seeing that the 
same thing happened to the temple a short time after, though not 
built by the counsel of men, but by that of God? Since, then, the 
grass grew where the temple was, was not that worship, which we know 
was founded by God, exposed to ridicule? It is only the same that 
can be said of the calves. We grant that the calves were carried 
into Assyria, as a price from the wretched Israelites to pacify the 
king, who was angry with them. Was not the ark of the covenant taken 
also into captivity by enemies? Did not king Nebuchadnezzar take 
away the vessels of the temple? And was not pious Hezekiah 
constrained to strip the doors of the temple of their ornaments? 
Then this seems not to have been fitly spoken by the Prophet. The 
answer to all this may be readily given: The Israelites promised to 
themselves what they saw, and found afterwards to be vain as is the 
case with hypocrites, who securely despise all judgements and all 
punishments. How so? Because they thought their own perverted 
worship to be sufficient for their safety; though they were in their 
whole life abominable yet as some form of religion was observed by 
them, they thought that God was bound to be with them: such and so 
supine was the security of that people. Very different was the case 
with the tribe of Judah. For God, by his Prophets, proclaimed aloud, 
"Trust not in words of falsehood; for ye boast continually, The 
temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, (Jer. 7: 4,) but I no 
longer dwell in that temple:" and Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord 
departing elsewhere, (Ezek. 10: 4.) What is said here could not then 
apply to the temple, nor to the true and lawful altar, nor to the 
true worshipers of God; but the Prophet justly reproaches the 
Israelites for expecting safety from their own altars, while yet 
they were provoking God's wrath against themselves by such 
inventions. We ought, then to remember this difference between the 
tribe of Judah and the ten tribes. 
    But he adds, - "They shall say to the mountains, Cover us: end 
to the hills, Fall on us". By this form of speaking, the Prophet 
intended to express the dreadful vengeance of God; as if he had 
said, that the destruction, which was at hand, would be so grievous 
that it would be better to perish a hundred times than to remain in 
that state alive. For when men say to hills, Fall on us, and to 
mountains, Cover us, they doubtless desire a death too dreadful to 
be spoken of; but it is the same as if the Prophet had said, that 
life and light, and the sight of the sun and the common air, would 
become a horror to them, for they would perceive the hand of God to 
be against them. And further, it is a sign of extreme despair, when 
men willingly seek the abyss, where they may sink to avoid the 
presence of God and present destruction. And hence Christ has also 
transferred this passage to set forth the last judgement, of which 
he speaks, - 'They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the 
hills, Fall on us;' that is, what was once said by the Prophet shall 
then be again fulfilled; that the wicked will prefer a hundred 
deaths to one life; for both light and the vital air will be hated 
and detested by them; because they will perceive themselves to be 
oppressed by the dreadful hand of God. It follows - 
Hosea 10:9 
O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they 
stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not 
overtake them. 
    He here reproaches Israel for having been long inured in their 
sins, and not for being lately corrupted. This is the substance. He 
had said in the last chapter that they were deep in their sins, as 
in the days of Gibeah: we then explained why the Prophet adduced the 
example of Gibeah, and that was, because the Gibeonites had fallen 
away from all fear of God, as if not a word about the law had ever 
been heard among them. We indeed know that they abandoned themselves 
to filthy and monstrous lusts, like the inhabitants of Sodom and 
Gomorra. Seeing, then, that so great obscenity prevailed openly and 
with impunity in Gibeah, rightly did the Prophet say that the 
Israelites were then lost and past hope, as the case was at that 
time. But now he regards another thing, even this, - that from that 
time they had not ceased to accumulate evils on evils, and thus to 
spin, as it were, a continuous rope of iniquity, as it is said in 
another place, - "From the days then of Gibeah hast thou, Israeli 
    But this seems an unjust charge; for we know that the whole 
people united together against the tribe of Benjamin. Since, then, 
the Israelites revenged that wickedness which was committed in the 
city of Gibeah, why does the Prophet bring against them the crime of 
which they had been the avengers? But we know that it often happens, 
that they who execute the vengeance of God are in no respect better; 
and we had a remarkable example of this at the beginning in Jehu; 
for he had been God's minister in punishing superstitions; yet God 
calls him a robber, and compares the vengeance he executed to 
robbery; 'I will avenge,' he says, 'on the head of Jehu the blood of 
the house of Ahab, which he has shed.' And yet we know that he was 
armed with the sword of God. This is indeed true; but he acted not 
with a sincere and upright heart, for he afterwards followed the 
same example. So now the Prophet says, that the Israelites had 
sinned even from that time; as though he said, "The Lord by the hand 
of your fathers took vengeance on the Gibeonites and on the whole 
tribe of Benjamin: but they were wholly like them. This corruption 
has from that time overwhelmed, like a deluge, the whole land of 
Israel. There is then no reason for you to boast that you have been 
better, inasmuch as it afterwards fully appeared what you were, for 
you imitated the Gibeonites." We now then understand the design of 
the Prophet, and how justly he brings this charge against the 
Israelites, that they had sinned from the days of Gibeah. They 
indeed thought that that crime was confined to a small corner of the 
land; but the Prophet says that the whole land was covered with it, 
and that they all exposed themselves to God's judgement, and 
deserved the same punishment with the Gibeonites and their brethren, 
the whole tribe of Benjamin. 'Thou, Israel, hast then sinned from 
the days of Gibeah:' the Israelites said, that the Benjamites alone 
sinned; but that sin, he says was common. 
    "There they stood". This clause is variously explained. Some 
think that the people are reproved for wishing to retreat after 
having twice fought without success. We hence see that their minds 
were soft and cowardly, since they so soon succumbed to their trial. 
They therefore think that this want of confidence is pointed out by 
the Prophet; 'There they stood,' he says, that is, retreated from 
the battle; for as they did not succeed as they wished, they thought 
that they had been deceived. Hence it is concluded, that they did 
not ascribe his just honour to God, and were on this account 
reprehensible. But others say, that God had then testified by a 
clear proof that the Israelites were equal in guilt to the 
Gibeonites; for how came it, they say, that when they engaged in 
battle, they were compelled twice to retreat? All Israel were armed 
against one tribe; how then was it that they did not immediately 
overcome? But the Benjamites, we know, were not at last conquered 
without a great loss. It is then certain that God plainly showed 
that the Israelites were unworthy of so honourable an office; for 
the Israelites wished to execute God's judgement, when they were 
themselves equally wicked. The Lord then openly reminded them, that 
it was not for them to turn their zeal against others, when they 
were no less guilty themselves. It seems to others that their 
obstinacy is here pointed out: 'There they stood;' that is, from 
that time they have been perverse in their wickedness, and 'the 
battle against the children of iniquity did not lay hold on them.' 
This third exposition is what I mostly approve; that is, that the 
Israelites, when they became ungodly and wicked, though they 
professed great zeal and ardour against the tribe of Benjamin, did 
not yet cease from that time to conduct themselves perversely 
against God, so that they at last arrived at the highest pitch of 
    But what follows, "The battle in Gibea against the children of 
iniquity did not lay hold on them", may also be variously explained. 
Some say, that the Israelites ought not to have defended themselves 
with this shield, that God had so severely punished the Gibeonites 
and their kindred. "The Lord spared you once, but what then? He has 
deferred his vengeance for a long time; but will he on that account 
deal more mildly with you now? Nay, a heavier vengeance awaits you; 
for from that time he has not forced repentance out of you." But 
others read the sentence as a question, "Has the battle in Gibeah 
against the children of iniquity laid hold on you?" But the simple 
sense of the words seems to me to be this, that the battle had not 
laid hold on the Israelites, because they had not been touched by 
that example. The judgements of God, we know, are set forth before 
our eyes, that each of us may apply them for our own benefit. The 
Prophet now reproves the neglect of the Israelites in this matter, 
because they disregarded the event as a thing of no moment. Hence 
the battle did not lay hold on them; that is, they did not perceive 
that they were warned at the expense of others to repent, and to 
live afterwards a holier and purer life in subjection to God. And 
this view is confirmed by the last clause, "against the children of 
iniquity;" for why is this expressly added by the Prophet, except 
that the Lord testified that they should not be unpunished, who were 
like the Gibeonites, with whom he dealt so rigidly and severely. 
Since, then, the Israelites had not been touched, their stupidity 
was hence proved. And for the same reason Paul says, that the wrath 
of God shall come on the children of disobedience or of unbelief, 
(Eph. 5: 6:) for when God takes vengeance on one people or on one 
man, he doubtless shows himself in that particular judgement to be 
the judge of the world. This seems to me to be the genuine meaning 
of the Prophet. 
    We ought further to bear in mind, that when men go on in their 
wickedness, whatever sins their fathers have done are justly imputed 
to them. When we return to the right way, the Lord instantly buries 
all our sins, and reconciles us to himself on this condition, that 
he will pardon whatever fault there may be in us: though we may, 
through our whole life, have provoked his wrath against us, he will 
yet as I have said, instantly bury the whole. But if we repent not, 
the Lord will remember, not only our own sins, but also those of our 
fathers, as it is evident from what is here said by the Prophet. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast once appeared in the person 
of thy only-begotten Son, and hast rendered in him thy glory visible 
to us, and as thou dost daily set forth to us the same Christ in the 
glass of thy gospel, - O grant, that we, fixing our eyes on him, may 
not go astray, nor be led here and there after wicked inventions, 
the fallacies of Satan, and the allurements of this world: but may 
we continue firm in the obedience of faith and persevere in it 
through the whole course of our life, until we be at length fully 
transformed into the image of thy eternal glory, which now in part 
shines in us, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 28...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-27.txt