(Calvin on Hosea, part 30)

Lecture Thirtieth. 
Hosea 11:6 
And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his 
branches, and devour [them], because of their own counsels. 
    As it was difficult to persuade proud people that the overthrow 
was at hand, which Hosea had foretold, seeing, as they did, that 
they were furnished with many defences, it is therefore now added, 
that their fortified cities would not prevent the enemy to break 
through, and to devastate the whole country, and to lead away the 
people captive. We now understand how this verse is connected with 
the last. The Prophet had threatened exile; but as the Israelites 
thought themselves safe in their nests, he adds, that there was no 
reason for them to trust in their fortresses, for the Lord could by 
the sword destroy all their cities. 
    He therefore says, "The sword shall fall" on their cities. The 
verb "chul" means to abide, and to encamp, and sometimes to fall or 
rush upon: and this second sense is more suitable to this place. 
Some, however, render it, The sword shall "abide" on the cities 
until it consume them. But as to the meaning, there is not much 
difference. I will, however, briefly state what I deem the right 
view. "The sword then shall fall", or rush, "upon his cities"; and 
further, "it shall consume his bars". The Hebrews often call bars or 
bolts "badim", still oftener, branches, or members, - the branches 
of a tree, or the members of man. Hence some take the word 
metaphorically, as meaning towns and villages; for they are, as it 
were, the branches or members of cities. Others, however, explain it 
as signifying sons, who grow from their parents as branches from the 
tree: but this seems too far-fetched. I do not disapprove of the 
opinion, that the Prophet refers here to towns and villages, which 
are, as it were, the appendages of cities, as branches spread out 
here and there from the tree. The sense then is not amiss, that the 
sword will consume and devour towns and villages, when it shall fall 
on the cities. But what I have already said of bolts seems more 
suitable to the design of the Prophet. We must at the same time 
consider the word "badim" as including a part for the whole; for 
bolts were only a part of the fortifications; but the gates, being 
closed and fastened, render the cities strong. So this place, by 
taking a part for the whole, may be thus expounded, that the sword, 
when it fell on cities, would consume and destroy whatever strength 
and defence they possessed. 
    He at the same time mentions the cause, "Because", he says, "of 
their own counsels". No doubt, he added this expression, because the 
Israelites thought themselves wise; for ungodly men arrogate to 
themselves much prudence; and this they do, that they may, as it 
were, from their height look down on God, and laugh at every 
instruction. Since then they who despise God seem to themselves to 
be very wise, and to be fortified by their good counsels, the 
Prophet shows that the cause of ruin to the Israelites would be, 
that they were swollen with this diabolical prudence, and would not 
condescend to obey the word of the Lord. 
Hosea 11:7 
And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called 
them to the most High, none at all would exalt [him]. 
    This verse is variously rendered. Some explain the word 
"telu'im" as signifying "perplexed;" as though the Prophet had said, 
that the people would suffer a just punishment through being anxious 
and looking around them, and yet finding no comfort; for this would 
be the reward of their defection or apostasy. Hence he says, "My 
people are in suspense"; that is, there is no wonder that the 
Israelites are now tormented with great anxiety, and find no end to 
their evils; for they who have rebelled against the Lord are worthy 
of being thus bound fast by him. It is the fruit of their defection 
that they are now so full of sorrow, and also of despair. This is 
one exposition. Others say that God here complains of the wickedness 
of the people, as of those who deliberated whether they ought to 
repent. They then take suspense for doubt, "My people are in 
suspense"; that is, they debate on the subject as on a doubtful 
matter, when I exhort them to repent, and they cannot at once decide 
what to do, but alternate between divers opinions, and now incline 
to one thing and then to another; as if truly the subject itself 
made it necessary for them to deliberate. Doubtless what is right is 
in no way hid from them: but as they are unwilling, they seek for 
themselves, by evasions, some excuses for doubting; for the Prophets 
cry to them, and no one extols them. This is the second exposition. 
    It must at the same time be observed, that the word "meshuvat" 
is variously taken; for the first render it, "turning away," and the 
"job" that is affixed must then be expounded passively, and must 
mean their turning away from God, because the Israelites had fallen 
away from him; as in Isaiah, chap. 56, he calls that the house of 
his prayer in which the people were wont to pray. Then the turning 
away from God, according to them, is to be taken passively, because 
the people were alienated from him. Others render it, "conversion." 
But the Hebrew doctors will have this word to be ever taken in a bad 
sense, and affirm that there is no place where it signifies any 
thing but rebellion or apostasy. Since it is so, I am inclined to 
consider it to be turning away; and thus the second sense, that the 
people deliberated whether they ought to hear the admonitions of the 
Prophets, will not stand. 
    The Prophet also seems to me to mean what is different from 
what I have referred to in the first place, as the opinion of those 
who say, "My people are in suspense"; that is, they anxiously 
torment themselves on account of their defection, because I punish 
them for their apostasy; through which it has happened, that, 
forsaking me, they have wandered after their own inventions. But I 
take the passage otherwise, as I have already said, "My people are 
fastened"; that is, my people have not only once departed from me, 
but they are, as it were, fastened in their defection. He says, that 
they were fastened, not that they were sorrowful and endured great 
tortures, and found their affairs perplexed; but that they were 
fastened, because they remained obstinate; as when one says, that a 
man is fastened to a thing, when he cannot be moved. This being 
fastened, is indeed nothing else but the obstinacy of the people. 
They were then fastened to defection. 
    He afterwards adds, "To him on high they call them; none at all 
rises up". What an indefinite sentence signifies we stated 
yesterday. The Prophet means that instruction had been given the 
people, and that many witnesses or preachers had been sent by the 
Lord, but that all this had been wholly useless. Hence he says, 
"They call them to him on high, no one raises up himself". Some 
indeed consider the word, God, to be understood; and this is the 
commonly received opinion; but in my judgement they are mistaken; 
for the Prophet, speaking of the Israelites, doubtless means that 
they remained in the same state, and were not moved by any 
instruction to make any progress, or to show any sign of repentance. 
Hence, "no one rises up". He uses the singular number, and puts down 
the particle "yachad" as though he said, "There is no one, from the 
first to the last, who is touched with grief, for they continue 
obstinate in their wickedness." And when he says, "No one raises up 
himself", he seems to allude to the word, fastened. They are then 
fastened to their defection; and when the Prophets cry and 
diligently exhort them to repent, they do not rise up; that is, they 
do not aspire to God; and this indeed they neglect with one consent, 
as if they all alike blindly united in one and the same wickedness. 
    In this verse then the Prophet brings again to view the sins of 
the people, that it might more fully appear that God threatened them 
so dreadfully not without a cause; for they who were so perversely 
rebellious against God were worthy of the most grievous punishment. 
This is the sum of the whole. Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 11:8,9 
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? [how] shall I deliver thee, 
Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? [how] shall I set thee as 
Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled 
I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return 
to destroy Ephraim: for I [am] God, and not man; the Holy One in the 
midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. 
    Here God consults what he would do with the people: and first, 
indeed, he shows that it was his purpose to execute vengeance, such 
as the Israelites deserved, even wholly to destroy them: but yet he 
assumes the character of one deliberating, that none might think 
that he hastily fell into anger, or that, being soon excited by 
excessive fury, he devoted to ruin those who had lightly sinned, or 
were guilty of no great crimes. That no one then might assign to God 
an anger too fervid, he says here, "How shall I set thee aside, 
Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee up, Israel? How shall I set thee 
as Sodom?" By these expressions God shows what the Israelites 
deserved, and that he was now inclined to inflict the punishment of 
which they were worthy and yet not without repentance, or at least 
not without hesitation. He afterwards adds in the next clause, "This 
I will not do; my heart is within me changed"; I now alter my 
purpose, "and my repenting are brought back again"; that is it was 
in my mind to destroy you all, but now a repenting, which reverses 
that design, lays hold on me. We now apprehend what the Prophet 
    As to this mode of speaking, it appears indeed at the first 
glance to be strange that God should make himself like mortals in 
changing his purposes and in exhibiting himself as wavering. God, we 
know, is subject to no passions; and we know that no change takes 
place in him. What then do these expressions mean, by which he 
appears to be changeable? Doubtless he accommodates himself to our 
ignorances whenever he puts on a character foreign to himself. And 
this consideration exposes the folly as well as the impiety of those 
who bring forward single words to show that God is, as it were like 
mortals; as those unreasonable men do who at this day seek to 
overturn the eternal providence of God, and to blot out that 
election by which he makes a difference between men. "O!" they say, 
"God is sincere, and he has said that he willeth not the death of a 
sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live." God must 
then in this case remain as it were uncertain, and depend on the 
free-will of every one: it is hence in the power of man either to 
procure destruction to himself, or to come to salvation. God must in 
the meantime wait quietly as to what men will do, and can determine 
nothing except through their free-will. While these insane men thus 
trifle, they think themselves to be supported by this invincible 
reason, that God's will is one and simple. But if the will of God be 
one, it does not hence follow that he does not accommodate himself 
to men, and put on a character foreign to himself, as much as a 
regard for our salvation will bear or require. So it is in this 
place. God does not in vain introduce himself as being uncertain; 
for we hence learn that he is not carried away too suddenly to 
inflict punishment, even when men in various ways provoke his 
vengeance. This then is what God shows by this mode of speaking. At 
the same time, we know that what he will do is certain, and that his 
decree depends not on the free-will of men; for he is not ignorant 
of what we shall do. God then does not deliberate as to himself, but 
with reference to men. This is one thing. 
    But we must also bear in mind what I have already said, that 
the Prophet here strikes with terror proud and profane despisers by 
setting before their eyes their own destruction, and by showing how 
little short they were of the lot of Gomorra and other cities. "For 
what remains," the Lord says, "but that I should set you as Sodom 
and Zeboim? This condition and this recompense awaits you, if I 
execute the judgement which has been already as it were decreed." 
Not that God would immediately do this; but he only reminds the 
Israelites of what they deserved, and of what would happen to them, 
except the Lord dealt mercifully with them. Thus much of the first 
part of the verse. 
    But when he says that his "heart was changed", and that his 
"repentings were brought back again", the same mode of speaking 
after the manner of men is adopted; for we know that these feelings 
belong not to God; he cannot be touched with repentance, and his 
heart cannot undergo changes. To imagine such a thing would be 
impiety. But the design is to show, that if he dealt with the people 
of Israel as they deserved, they would now be made like Sodom and 
Gomorra. But as God was merciful, and embraced his people with 
paternal affection, he could not forget that he was a Father, but 
would be willing to grant pardon; as is the case with a father, who, 
on seeing his son's wicked disposition, suddenly feels a strong 
displeasure, and then, being seized with relenting, is inclined to 
spare him. God then declares that he would thus deal with his 
    Then follows an explanation of this sentence, "I will not 
execute the fury of my wrath": by which figurative mode of speaking 
he sets forth the punishment which was suitable to the sins of men. 
For it must ever be remembered, that God is exempt from every 
passion. But if no anger is to be supposed by us to be in God, what 
does he mean by the fury of his wrath? Even the relation between his 
nature and our innate or natural sins. But why does Scripture say 
that God is angry? Even because we imagine him to be so according to 
the perception of the flesh; for we do not apprehend God's 
indignation, except as far as our sins provoke him to anger, and 
kindle his vengeance against us. Then God, with regard to our 
perception, calls the fury of his wrath the heavy judgement, which 
is equal to, or meet for, our sins. I will not execute, he says, 
that is, "I will not repay the reward which you have deserved." 
    What then? "I will not return to destroy Ephraim". The verb 
"'ashuv" seems to have been introduced for this reason, because God 
had in part laid waste the kingdom of Israel: he therefore says, 
that the second overthrow, which he would presently bring, would not 
be such as would destroy the whole of Israel, or wholly consume 
them. "I will not then return to destroy Ephraim"; that is, "Though 
I shall again gird myself to punish the sins of the people, I shall 
yet restrain myself so that my vengeance shall not proceed to the 
destruction of the whole people." The reason is subjoined, "For I am 
God, and not man". 
    As he intended in this place to leave to the godly some hope of 
salvation, he adds what may confirm this hope; for we know that when 
God denounces wrath, with what difficulty trembling consciences are 
restored to hope. Ungodly men laugh to scorn all threatening; but 
those in whom there is any seed of piety dread the vengeance of God, 
and whenever terror seizes them, they are tormented with marvellous 
disquietude, and cannot be easily pacified. This then is the reason 
why the Prophet now confirms the doctrine which he had laid down: "I 
am God", he says, "and not man"; as though he had said, that he 
would be propitious to his people, for he was not implacable as men 
are; and they are very wrong who judge of him, or measure him, by 
    We must here first remember, that the Prophet directs not his 
discourse promiscuously to all the Israelites, but only to the 
faithful, who were a remnant among that corrupt people. For God, at 
no time, suffered all the children of Abraham to become alienated, 
but some few at least remained, as it is said in another place, (1 
Kings 19: 18.) These the Prophet now addresses; and to administer 
consolation, he moderates what he had said before of the dreadful 
vengeance of God. This saying then was not to relieve the sorrow of 
hypocrites; for the Prophet regarded only the miserable, who had 
been so smitten with the feeling of God's wrath, that despair would 
have almost swallowed them up, had not their grief been mitigated. 
This is one thing. But further, when he says that he is God, and not 
man, this truth ought to come to our minds, that we may taste of 
God's gratuitous promises, whenever we vacillate as to his promises, 
or whenever terror possesses our minds. What! Do you doubt when you 
have to do with God? But whence is it, that we with so much 
difficulty rely on the promises of God, except that we imagine him 
to be like ourselves? Inasmuch then, as it is our habit thus to 
transforms him, let this truth be a remedy to this fault; and 
whenever God promises pardon to us, from which proceeds the hope of 
salvation, how much soever he may have previously terrified us by 
his judgements, let this come to our mind, that as he is God, he is 
not to be judged of by what we are. We ought then to recumb simply 
on his promises. "But then we are unworthy to be pardoned; besides, 
so great is the atrocity of our sins, that there can be no hope of 
reconciliation." Here we must take instant hold on this shield, we 
must learn to fortify ourselves with this declaration of the 
Prophet, "He is God, and not man": let this shield be ever taken to 
repel every kind of diffidence. 
    But here a question may be raised, "Was He not God, when he 
destroyed Sodom and the neighbouring cities?" That judgement did not 
take away from the Lord his glory, nor was his majesty thereby 
diminished. But these two sentences are to be read together; "I am 
God, and not man, holy in the midst of thee". When any one reads 
these sentences apart, he does wrong to the meaning of the Prophet. 
God, then, does not only affirm here that he is not like men, but he 
also adds, that he is holy in the midst of Israel. It is one view of 
God's nature that is here given us, and what is set forth is the 
immense distance between him and men, as we find it written by 
Isaiah the Prophet, 'My thoughts are not as yours: as much as the 
heaven is distant from the earth, so distant are my thoughts from 
your thoughts,' (Isa. 55: 8.) So also in this place, the Prophet 
shows what God is, and how much his nature differs from the 
dispositions of men. He afterwards refers to the covenant which God 
made with his people: and what was the purport of that covenant? 
Even that God would punish his people; yet so as ever to leave some 
seed remaining. 'I will chastise them,' he says, 'with the rod of 
men; I will not yet take away from them my mercy,' (2 Sam. 7: 14.) 
Since God then had promised some mitigation or some alleviation in 
all his punishments, he now reminds us, that he will not have his 
Church wholly demolished in the world, for he would thus be 
inconsistent with himself: hence he says, "I am God, and not man, 
holy in the midst of thee; and since I have chosen thee to myself to 
be my peculiar possession and inheritance, and promised also to be 
for ever thy God, I will now moderate my vengeance, so that some 
Church may ever remain." 
    For this reason he also says "I will not enter into the city". 
Some say, "I will not enter another city but Jerusalem." But this 
does not suit the passage; for the Prophet speaks here of the ten 
tribes and not of the tribe of Judah. Others imagine an opposite 
meaning, "I will not enter the city," as though he said, that he 
would indeed act kindly towards the people in not wholly destroying 
them; but that they should hereafter be without civil order, regular 
government, and other tokens of God's favour: 'I will not enter the 
city;' that is, "I will not restore you, so that there may be a city 
and a kingdom, and an united body of people." But this exposition is 
too forced; nay, it is a mere refinement, which of itself vanishes. 
There is no doubt but that the similitude is taken from a warlike 
practice. For when a conqueror enters a city with an armed force, 
slaughter is not restrained but blood is indiscriminately shed. But 
when a city surrenders, the conqueror indeed may enter, yet not with 
a sudden and violent attack, but on certain conditions; and then he 
waits, it may be for two days, or for some time, that the rage of 
his soldiers may be allayed. Then he comes, not as to enemies, but 
as to his own subjects. This is what the Prophet means when he says, 
'I will not enter the city;' that is, "I will make war on you and 
subdue your and force you to surrenders and that with great loss; 
but when the gates shall be opened, and the wall demolished, I will 
then restrain myself, for I am unwilling wholly to destroy you." 
    If one objects and says, that this statement militates against 
many others which we have observed, the answer is easy, and the 
solution has already been adduced in another place, and I shall now 
only touch on it briefly. When God distinctly denounces ruin on the 
people, the body of the people is had in view; and in this body 
there was then no integrity. Inasmuch, then, as all the Israelites 
had become corrupt, had departed from the worship and fear of God, 
and from all piety and righteousness, and had abandoned themselves 
to all kinds of wickedness, the Prophet declares that they were to 
perish without any exception. But when he confines the vengeance of 
God, or moderates it, he has respect to a very small number; for, as 
it has been already stated, corruption had never so prevailed among 
the people, but that some seed remained. Hence, when the Prophet has 
in view the elect of God, he applies then these consolations, by 
which he mitigates their terror, that they might understand that 
God, even in his extreme rigour, would be propitious to them. Such 
is the way to account for this passage. With regard to the body of 
the people, the Prophet has already shown, that their cities were 
devoted to the fire, and that the whole nation was doomed to suffer 
the wrath of God; that every thing was given up to the fire and the 
sword. But now he says, "I will not enter;" that is, with regard to 
those whom the Lord intended to spare. And it must also be observed, 
that punishment was mitigated, not only with regard to the elect, 
but also with regard to the reprobate, who were led into captivity. 
We must yet remember, that when God spared them for a time, he 
chiefly consulted the good of his elect; for the temporary 
suspension of vengeance increased his judgement on the reprobate; 
for whosoever repented not in exile doubled, as it is evident, the 
wrath of God against themselves. The Lord, however, spared his 
people for a time; for among them was included his Church, in the 
same way as the wheat is preserved in the chaff, and is carried from 
the field with the straw. Why so? Even that the wheat may be 
separated. So also the Lord preserves much chaff with the wheat; but 
he will afterwards, in due time, divide the wheat from the chaff. We 
now understand the whole meaning of the Prophet, and also the 
application of his doctrine. It follows - 
Hosea 11:10,11 
They shall walk after the LORD: he shall roar like a lion: when he 
shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west. 
They shall tremble as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the 
land of Assyria: and I will place them in their houses, saith the 
    When the Prophet says, that "they shall walk after Jehovah", he 
proceeds farther than before; for here he refers not to the 
mitigation of punishment, but promises restoration. He had said 
before, that though the Lord would deal severely with his people, 
there would yet be some moderation in his wrath, so that he would 
not destroy the whole people. Now, it follows, that God, after 
having thus restrained himself, will extend his favour even to the 
restoration of the people, and bring to life those who seemed to 
have been dead. We now then perceive what the Prophet means. 
    But to expound this, - "they shall walk after Jehovah", of the 
obedience of the people, as it is done by interpreters, does not 
seem right to me. It is indeed certain that no people can be 
restored except they repent; yea, it is the main beginning of God's 
favour, when he chastises men and heals them of their wickedness. 
But here the Prophet handles another thing, even that the Lord will 
show himself a leader to his people, who had been for a time 
dispersed. As long as the people were scattered in Assyria and in 
other distant lands, they were without any head, as a mutilated 
body. But when the ripened time of restoration came, the Lord 
revolved to deliver them, and proclaimed himself the leader of his 
people; and in this manner the people were gathered to God. This is 
what the Prophet now means when he says, "after Jehovah": that is, 
for a time, indeed, God will forsake them, that they may languish in 
their dispersion; but at length he will gather them, and show 
himself as their leader in their journey, that he may restore them 
to their country. "They shall" then, he says, "follow Jehovah, and 
he shall roar as a lion: when he shall roar, then children from the 
sea shall tremble"; that is, God will be formidable to enemies so 
that none will hinder the return of his people. Many, indeed, will 
be the enemies, many will labour to set up opposition: but the 
people shall nevertheless come forth free. How so? For the Lord will 
fill all with dread, and restrain all the efforts of their enemies; 
so that they shall be constrained to withdraw from the Assyrians, as 
well as from the Egyptians. Though, on one side, the Egyptians may 
resist, and, on the other, the Assyrians, they shall not yet impede 
the return of the people. Why? Because the Lord will put them to 
flight, and he will be to them as a lions and fill them all with 
terror. But the rest we shall defer. 
Grant, Almighty God, that since we are too secure and torpid in our 
sins, thy dread majesty may come to our minds, to humble us, and to 
remove our fear, that we may learn anxiously to seek reconciliation 
through Christ, and so abhor ourselves for our sins, that thou 
mayest then be prepared to receive us: and that unbelief may not 
shut the door against us, enable us to regard thee to be such as 
thou hast revealed thyself, and to acknowledge that thou art not 
like us, but the fountain of all mercy, that we may thus be led to 
entertain a firm hope of salvation, and that, relying on the 
Mediator, thy only-begotten Son, we may know him as the throne of 
grace, full of compassion and mercy. O grant, that we may thus come 
to thee, that through him we may certainly know that thou art our 
Father, so that the covenant thou hast made with us may never fail 
through our fault, even this, that we are thy people, because thou 
hast once adopted us in thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus 
Christ. Amen.

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 31...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-30.txt