(Calvin on Hosea, part 31)

Lecture Thirty-first. 
    In the last lecture, we began to explain what the Prophet means 
by saying, that "the Israelites shall come after the Lord": that is, 
that when the time of the exile shall be completed, God will be the 
leader of his people in their journey, that they might return safe 
to their country. And for this reason, he also subjoins, that the 
Egyptians as well as the Assyrians would be timid; and hence he 
compares them to doves and sparrows, or birds; for when the nations 
should attempt to hinder the return of the people, and strive 
against them with great forces and great efforts, God would break 
down their courage. For as God had determined to redeem his people, 
his decree could not have been nullified, no, not by the whole 
world. Whatever then, the Assyrians, and also the Egyptians, might 
attempt to do, though powerful in forces, it would yet avail 
nothing; nay, God would strike into both such fear and dread, that 
they should not make any stir when the Lord restored his people. 
There is a similar mode of speaking in Joel, chap. 3, except that he 
does not introduce the similitudes that they would be like birds and 
doves. But he speaks of the roaring of God, as though he said, that 
the power of God would be terrible and invincible, so that he would 
defend and protect his people, and no one would dare to rise up 
against him; and that if one should dare, he would be constrained 
instantly to succumb. Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 11:12 
Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with 
deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the 
    I shall not stay now to recite the opinions of others; nor does 
it seem necessary. I might have indeed referred in the last verse to 
what some say respecting the roaring of God, - that his voice will 
roar through the Gospel: but as this and the like are refinements of 
which I think the Prophet never thought, it is enough to understand 
the simple meaning of the Prophet, and not to accumulate the 
sentiments of others. I indeed know that this makes a great display, 
and there are some who are delighted with a mass of opinions; but I 
regard what is more useful. 
    I come now to the last verse, in which the Lord complains, 
"that he had been compassed with the falsehood and fraud of the 
people". By these words he means that he had in every thing found 
the multiplied perfidy of the Israelites; for this is the import of 
the word, "compassed". We now then perceive that the Prophet means 
that the Israelites, not only in one way, or in one thing, acted 
unfaithfully towards God, and used frauds: but that it was the same, 
as when one besieges an enemy with a great army; so that they were 
thus full of innumerable frauds, with which on every side they 
surrounded God. And this is what hypocrites are wont to do; for not 
only in one thing do they endeavour to deceive God, but they 
transform themselves in various ways, and ever seek some new 
subterfuges. When they are caught in one sin, they pass into 
another; so that there is no end to their deceit. This subject the 
Prophet now takes up, that is, that the Israelites never ceased to 
act deceitfully towards God. 
    And he speaks of frauds and falsehood; for they thought that 
they escaped, provided they covered themselves with some disguise 
whenever the Prophets reproved them. But God here testifies, that 
they gained nothing by their craftiness, as though he said, "Ye 
think indeed that your coverings will avail with me, but they are 
vain. I indeed see myself as it were encompassed by your falsehoods, 
for on every side ye attempt to cover your sins; but they are false 
coverings." In short, the Prophet reprobates those specious excuses, 
by which people think that they are absolved before God, so as to 
elude through this confidence all the threatening and reproofs of 
the Prophets. "I see," the Lord says, "what the Israelites bring 
forward for themselves; but they are only falsehoods and frauds." 
This passage then teaches, that men in vain make excuses before God; 
for when they contrive pretences to deceive God, they are themselves 
greatly deceived; for he clearly perceives their guiles and 
    He afterwards subjoins, that "Judah still ruled", or, "held 
sovereignty, with God, and was faithful with the saints". By saying 
that he held sovereignty with God, he declares, I doubt not, that 
the kingdom of Judah was legitimate, because it was connected with a 
pure and lawful priesthood. For whence did arise the corruptions in 
the other kingdom, but because the people had revolted from the 
family of David? Hence it was that the new king changed both the law 
and the worship of God, and erected new temples. Israel then did not 
rule with God, for the kingdom was spurious, and the beginning of 
the dispersion, so that the people forsook God. But of Judah the 
Prophet speaks much otherwise, that "he still ruled with God", 
because the posterity of David, though we know that they laboured 
under many vices, had not yet changed the worship prescribed by the 
law, except that Ahab had erected an altar like one at Damascus, as 
the sacred history relates, (2 Kings 16: 12;) but yet pure religion 
always prevailed at Jerusalem. But the Prophet speaks comparatively, 
as it will be presently seen: for he does not wholly excuse the 
Jews, but says that in comparison with Israel they yet ruled with 
God; for the kingdom and the priesthood, as we have said, were 
joined together in Judah, and both had been divinely instituted. 
    He says further, that he "was faithful with the saints". By 
saints some understand God. The word "kedoshim", we know, is plurals 
and sometimes an epithet of the singular number is joined to it, 
though not often. In the last chapter of Joshua we have these words, 
"kedoshim hu", holy is he. But as I have said, these examples are 
rare. And here I know not whether or not the Prophet means God. I 
would rather refer this word to the holy fathers or to the whole 
Church; so that the Prophet calls here "kedushim", saints, Abraham 
and others who justly deserved to be counted among the children of 
God; and I am inclined to include the angels. But of the sanctuary 
we do not find this word anywhere used; when the Scripture refers to 
the sanctuary, the letter "mem" is added. He uses indeed the plural 
number, though one may suppose that both the sanctuary and its 
worship are here intended. But as this application would be 
strained, and without example, I am satisfied with this plain 
meaning - that Judah was "faithful with the saints"; that is, that 
he retained faith in God together with the fathers, and departed not 
from the pure worship which had been delivered to him, according to 
which God had made his covenant with Abraham and his seed. 
    But the Prophet here praises the tribe of Judah, not because he 
wished to flatter them; but, as it has been stated in a former 
place, he had regard to the office deputed to him. When we at this 
day cry against our domestic evils, when we say that things are 
better ordered elsewhere, under what supposition is this done? We 
take it as granted, that others have their own teachers by whom they 
are reproved and if there be any vices prevailing, there are those 
who are to apply the remedy. This consideration then ought often to 
be remembered by us, that we may, by way of reproach, bring forward 
the conduct of others, when we wish deeply to wound those, the care 
of whom has been committed to us by God. Even so our Prophet did: at 
the same time, those who then taught at Jerusalem did not spare the 
Jews; they cried boldly and vehemently against their vices. But 
Hosea, as we have said, does here attend to his own vocation; and 
hence he exposes the sin of the ten tribes in having departed from 
the legitimate worship of God, when they had at the same time a 
well-known and memorable example in the tribe of Judah, who had 
continued in obedience to the law. This is the meaning. Let us now 
go on - 
Chapter 12. 
Hosea 12:1 
Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily 
increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the 
Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt. 
    The Prophet here inveighs against the vain hopes of the people, 
for they were inflated with such arrogance, that they despised all 
instruction and all admonitions. It was therefore necessary, in the 
first place, to correct this vice, and hence he says, "Ephraim feeds 
on wind". For when one gulps the wind, he seems indeed to fill his 
mouth, and his throat, and his chest, and his whole stomach; but 
there is nothing but air, no nourishment. So he says that Israel 
entertained indeed much confidence in their crafty ways, but it was 
to feed only on the wind. They dreamt that they were happy, when 
they secured confederacies, when they had both the Assyrians and the 
Egyptians as their associates. They are only blasts, says the 
Prophet; nay, he says, they are noxious blasts; for by the "east" he 
understands the east wind, which blows from the rising of the sun; 
and this, as they say, is in Judea a dry and often a stormy wind. 
Other winds either bring rain or some other advantage: but this wind 
brings nothing but drought and storms. It hence then appears that 
the Prophet meant that Israel, through this their vain confidence, 
procured for themselves many sorrows and ever remained void and 
empty. "Ephraim then feeds on the wind", and further, "he follows 
after the east wind". 
    Hosea explains afterwards his mind more clearly, "He daily 
multiplies falsehood and desolation", he says. By falsehood he 
glances, I have no doubt, at the impostures by which the people 
deceived themselves, as hypocrites do, who, by sharpening their wits 
to deceive God, involve themselves in many fatal snares. So also is 
Israel said to have multiplied falsehood; for they made themselves 
so obstinate, as to become quite hardened against God's teaching; 
and this obstinacy is called falsehood for this reason, for 
unbelieving men, as we see, fabricate for themselves many excuses; 
and though they be impostures, they yet think themselves safe 
against all the threatening of God, provided they set up, I know not 
what, something which they think will be sufficiently available. 
Hence the Prophet repeats again, that there was nothing but 
falsehood in all their crafty decrees. 
    He then presses the point still more, and says, that it was 
"desolation", that is, the cause of desolation. He then first 
derides the vain confidence of the people, because they thought that 
they could blind the eyes of God by their vain disguises; "This is 
falsehood," he says "this is imposture." Then he presses them more 
heavily and says "This is your perdition: you shall at last 
perceive, that you have gained nothing by your counsels but 
    How so? Because they made a "covenant". I take this latter 
clause as explanatory: for if the Prophet had only spoken generally, 
the impiety of the people would not have been sufficiently exposed; 
and the masks of secure men must be torn away, and their crimes, as 
it were, painted, that they may be ashamed; for except they are 
drawn forth as it were before the public, and their turpitude 
exposed to the view of all, they will ever hide themselves in their 
secret places. This then is the reason why the Prophet here 
specifically points out their frauds, which he had before mentioned. 
"Behold", he says, "they made a covenant with the Assyrian, and 
carry their oil into Egypt"; that is, they hunt for the friendship 
of the Assyrian on one side, and on the other they conciliate with 
great importunity the Egyptians; nay, they spare not their own 
goods, for they carry presents in order to gain them. We now then 
understand how Israel had multiplied falsehood and desolation; for 
they implicated themselves in illicit compacts. But why it was 
unlawful for them to fly to the Assyrians and Egyptians, we have 
explained elsewhere, nor is it needful here to repeat at large what 
has been said: God wished the people to be under his protection; and 
when God promised to be the defender of their safety, they ought to 
have been satisfied with his protection alone: but when they retook 
themselves to Egypt and to Assyria, it was a clear evidence of 
unbelief; for it was the same as to deny the power of God to be 
sufficient for them. And we also know that the Israelites never went 
to Assyria or to Egypt, except when they meditated the destruction 
of their own brethren; for they often laboured to overturn the 
kingdom of Judah: they only sought associates to gratify their own 
cruelty. But this one reason, however, was abundantly sufficient to 
condemn them, that they fortified themselves by foreign aids, when 
God was willing to keep them as it were inclosed under his own 
wings. Whenever then we attempt to provide for ourselves by unlawful 
means, it is the same thing as if we denied God; for he calls and 
invites us to come under his protection: but when we run in our 
thoughts here and there, and seek some vain helps, we grievously 
dishonour God: it is, as it were, to fly into Egypt or into Assyria. 
And for this purpose ought the doctrine of this verse to be applied. 
It follow - 
Hosea 12:2 
The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob 
according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense 
    It may seem strange that the Prophet should now say, that God 
"had a controversy with Judah"; for he had before said, that Judah 
stood faithful with the saints. It seems indeed inconsistent, that 
God should litigate with the Jews, and yet declare them to be 
upright and separate them from the perfidious and ungodly. What then 
does this mean? The Prophet, as we have said, spake comparatively of 
the tribe of Judah, when he said that they remained faithful with 
the saints: for he did not intend wholly to exculpate the Jews, who 
were also full of grievous evils; but he intended to praise the 
worship which as yet prevailed at Jerusalem, that the impiety of the 
ten tribes might appear less excusable, who of their own accord had 
departed from the rule which God had given. 
    When any one at this day reproves the Papists, they say, that 
another mode of worship is unknown to them, and that they have been 
thus taught by their forefathers, and that the worship which they 
observe has so continued from antiquity, that they dare not either 
to change it or to deviate from it. Such might have been the excuse 
made by the Israelites. But the prophet charges them with voluntary 
defection, for the temple which God had chosen for himself stood in 
their sight; there the face of God was in a manner to be seen; for 
all things were arranged according to the heavenly pattern which had 
been shown to Moses in the mount. Since then pure religion was 
before their eyes, was not their sin proved by this very fact, that 
having neglected the word of God, they gave themselves up to new and 
fictitious modes of worship? The Prophet then had before praised the 
worship, but not the manners, of the tribe of Judah; and he now 
comes to their manners, and says, that there were many things in 
Judah which God would chastise. 
    "The Lord then has a controversy with Judah"; and he will begin 
with that tribe, and will then come down to "the house of Jacob". 
The Prophet, however, speaks here only in passing of the house of 
Judah, and touches but lightly on the controversy he had with that 
portion of the people. How was this? Because be was not a teacher, 
as it has been said already, set over the kingdom of Judah, but only 
over the Israelites. He now refers only to that kingdom for the 
purpose of striking terror into his own people: as though he said 
"Think ye that the forbearance of God is to be forever, because he 
has hitherto borne with you? Nay, God will begin to contend with the 
tribe of Judah. I have said, indeed, that they are innocent compared 
with you; but yet they shall not escape punishment; for in a short 
time God will summon them to judgement. If he will not spare the 
Jews, how can your great crimes go unpunished? For certainly you 
deserve hundred deaths in comparison with the Jews, among whom at 
least some integrity and uprightness exist; for they have made no 
change in the worship of God. Their life is corrupt; but yet the law 
of God and religion are not despised by them as they are by you. If 
then God will not spare them, much less will he spare you." 
    We now understand for what purpose the Prophet says that God 
had a controversy with Judah; for it was not his design to terrify 
the Jews themselves, or to exhort them to repentance, except it may 
be by the way; but his object was to present an example to the 
Israelites, that they might fear; for they ought to have thought 
within themselves, "If this shall be done in the green, what shall 
become of the dry tree? (Luke 23: 31.) If God will exercise with so 
much severity his vengeance against our brethren the Jews, among 
whom pure religion as yet exists, what sort of end and how dreadful 
is that which awaits us, who have departed from the law, the 
worship, the teaching, and the obedience of God, who are become 
truce-breakers, and degenerate, and in every way profane?" 
    Hence he immediately adds, "And will punish Jacob". "God will 
indeed begin with the tribe of Judah; this will be the prelude, and 
he will treat the Jews more mildly than you; but against you he will 
thunder in full force. It will not then be a remonstrance to draw 
you to repentance, but a punishment such as ye deserve; for he has 
already contended with you more than enough." 
    "According to his ways. according to his doings, will he 
recompense him". He sets down here "ways" and "doings", with no 
superfluous repetition, but to show that the repentance of this 
people had been already more than sufficiently looked for; for they 
had not ceased for a long time to pursue their own wickedness. The 
Prophet then, no doubt, condemns here the Jews for their perverse 
wickedness, that they never left off their sins, though they had now 
for a long time been admonished, and had been often reproved by the 
Prophets. It now follows - 
Hosea 12:3-5 
3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength 
he had power with God: 
4 Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made 
supplication unto him: he found him [in] Bethel, and there he spake 
with us; 
5 Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD [is] his memorial. 
    In all this discourse the Prophet condemns the ingratitude of 
the people; and then he shows how shamefully they had departed from 
the example of their father, in whose name they yet took pride. This 
is the substance. Their ingratitude is showed in this, that they did 
not acknowledge that they had been anticipated, in the person of 
their father Jacob, by the gratuitous mercy of God. The first 
history is indeed referred to for this end, that the posterity of 
Jacob might understand that they had been elected by God before they 
were born. For Jacob did not, by choice or design, lay hold on the 
heel of his brother in his mother's womb; but it was an 
extraordinary thing. It was then God who guided the hand of the 
infant, and by this sign testified his adoption to be gratuitous. In 
short, by saying that Jacob held the foot of his brother in his 
mother's womb, the same thing is intended, as if God had reminded 
the Israelites, that they did not excel other people by their own 
virtue or that of their parents; but that God of his own good 
pleasure had chosen them. The same is alleged against them by 
Malachi, 'Were not Jacob and Esau brethren? Yet Jacob I loved, and 
Esau I regarded with hatred,' (Mal. 1: 2, 3.) For we know wish what 
haughtiness this nation has ever exalted itself. "But whence have ye 
arisen? Look back to your origin: ye are indeed the children of 
Abraham and Isaac. In what then do ye differ from the Idumeans? They 
have certainly been begotten by Esau; and Esau was the son of Isaac 
and the brother of Jacob, and indeed the first-born. Ye then do not 
excel as to any dignity that may exist in you. Own then your origin, 
and know that whatever excellency may be in you proceeds from the 
mere favour of God, and this ought to bind you more and more to him. 
Whence then is this pride?" 
    Even thus does our Prophet now speak, "Jacob held the foot of 
his brother in his mother's womb"; that is, "You have a near 
relationship with Esau and his posterity; but they are detested by 
you. Whence is this? Is it for some merit of your own? Boast when 
you can show that any thing has proceeded from you which could gain 
favour before God. Nay, your father Jacob, a most holy man indeed, 
while yet in his mother's womb, laid hold on the foot of his brother 
Esau; that is, when he became superior to his brother and gained 
primogeniture, he was not grown up, and could do nothing by his own 
choice or power, for he was then inclosed in his mother's womb, and 
had no worthiness, no merit. Your ingratitude is now then the more 
base, for God had put you under obligations to him before ye were 
born; in the person of the holy patriarch he chose you for his 
possession. But now, having forsaken him, and relinquished the 
worship which he has taught in his law, ye abandon yourselves to 
idols and impious superstitions. Bring now your pretences by which 
ye cover your impiety! Is not your baseness so gross and palpable, 
that you ought to be ashamed of it?" We now then understand the end 
for which the Prophet said that Esau's foot was laid hold on by 
Jacob in his mother's womb. 
    Moreover, this passage clearly shows that men do not gain the 
favour of God by their free-will, but are chosen by his goodness 
alone before they are born, and chosen, not on account of works, as 
the Papists imagine, who concede some election to God, but think 
that it depends on future works. But if it be so, the charge of the 
Prophet was frigid and jejune. Now since God through his good 
pleasure alone anticipates men, and adopts those whom he pleases, 
not on account of works, but through his own mercy, it hence follows 
that those who have been chosen are more bound to him, and that they 
are less excusable when they reject the favour offered to them. 
    But here someone may object and say, that it is strange that 
the posterity of Jacob should be said to have been elected in his 
person, and yet they had in the meantime departed from God; for the 
election of God in this case would not be sure and permanent; and we 
know that whom God elects he also justifies, and their salvation is 
so secured, that none of them can perish; all the elect are also 
delivered to Christ as their preserver, that he may keep them by his 
divine power, which is invincible, as John teaches in chap. 10. What 
then does this mean? Now we know, and it has been before stated, 
that the election of God as to that people was twofold; for the one 
was general, and the other special. The election of holy Jacob was 
special, for he was really one of the children of God; special also 
was the election of those who are called by Paul the children of the 
promise, (Rom. 9: 8.) There was another, a general election; for he 
received his whole seed into his faith, and offered to all his 
covenant. At the same time, they were not all regenerated, they were 
not all gifted with the Spirit of adoption. This general election 
was not then efficacious in all. Solved now is the matter in debate, 
that no one of the elect shall perish; for the whole people were not 
elected in a special manner; but God knew whom he had chosen out of 
that people; and them he endued, as we have said, with the Spirit of 
adoption, and supplied with his own grace, that they might never 
fall away. Others were indeed chosen in a certain way, that is, God 
offered to them the covenant of salvation; but yet through their 
ingratitude they caused God to reject them, and to disown them as 
    But the Prophet subjoins, that Jacob "by his strength had power 
with God, and had prevailed also with the angel". He reproaches here 
the Israelites for making a false claim to the name of Jacob, since 
they had nothing in common with him, but had shamefully departed 
from his example. He had then power with the angel and with God 
himself; and he prevailed over the angel. But what sort of persons 
were they? As the heathen Poets called the Romans, when they became 
degenerated and effeminate, Romulidians, and said that they had 
sprung from those remarkable and illustrious heroes, whose prowesses 
were then well known, and for the same reason called them 
Scipiadians; so also the Prophet says, "Come now, ye children of 
Jacob, what sort of men are ye? He was endued with a heroic, yea, 
with an angelic power, and even more than angelic; for he wrestled 
with God and gained the victory: but ye are the slaves of idols; the 
devil retains you devoted to himself; ye are, as it were, in a bawdy 
house; for what else is your temple but a brothel? And then ye are 
like adulterers, and daily commit adultery with your idols. Your 
abominations, what are they but filthy chains, and which grove that 
there is no knowledge and no heart in you? For you must have been 
fascinated, when ye forsook God and adopted new and profane modes of 
worship." This difference between the holy patriarch Jacob and his 
posterity must be marked, otherwise we shall not understand the 
object of the Prophet; and it will avail but little to collect 
various opinions, except first we know what the Prophet meant, and 
what was the purport of this upbraiding, and of this narrative, that 
Jacob had power with God and the angel. 
    But it must be noticed, that God and angel are here mentioned 
in the same sense; we may, indeed, render it angel in both places; 
for "'elohim" as well as "mal'ach" signifies an angel. But, however, 
every doubt is removed by the Prophet, when he at last adds, 
"Jehovah, God of hosts, Jehovah is his name", for here the Prophet 
expressly mentions the essential name of God, by which he testifies, 
that the same was the eternal and the only true God, who yet was at 
the same time an angel. But it may be asked, How was he the eternal 
God, and at the same time an angel? It occurs, indeed, so frequently 
in Scripture, that it must be well known to us, that when the Lord 
appeared by his angel, the name of Jehovah was given to them, not 
indeed to all the angels indiscriminately but to the chief angel, by 
whom God manifested himself. This, as I have said, must be well 
known to us. It then follows that this angel was truly and 
essentially God. But this would not strictly apply to God, except 
there be some distinction of persons. There must then be some person 
in the Deity, to which this name and title of an angel can apply; 
for if we take the name, God, without difference or distinction, and 
regard it as denoting his essence, it would certainly be 
inconsistent to say, that he is God and an angel too; but when we 
distinguish persons in the Deity, there is no inconsistency. How so? 
Because Christ, the eternal Wisdom of God, did put on the character 
of a Mediator, before he put on our flesh. He was therefore then a 
Mediator, and in that capacity he was also an angel. He was at the 
same time Jehovah, who is now God manifested in the flesh. 
    But we must, on the other hand, refute the delirium, or the 
diabolical madness of that caviller, Servetus, who imagined that 
Christ was from the beginning an angel, as if he was a phantom, and 
a distinct person, having an essence apart from the Father; for he 
says, that he was formed from three untreated elements. This 
diabolical conceit ought to be wholly discarded by us. But Christ, 
though he was God, was also a Mediator; and as a Mediator, he is 
rightly and fitly called the angel or the messenger of God, for he 
has of his own accord placed himself between the Father and men. 
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou slowest thyself to us at 
this day so kindly as a Father, having presented to us a singular 
and an invaluable pledge of thy favour in thy only begotten Son, - 0 
grant, that we may entirely devote ourselves to thee, and truly 
render thee that free service and obedience which is due to a 
Father, so that we may have no other object in life but to confirm 
that adoption, with which thou hast once favoured us, until we at 
length, being gathered into thy eternal kingdom, shall partake of 
its fruit, together with Christ Jesus thy Son. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 32...)

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