(Calvin on Hosea, part 32)

Lecture Thirty-second. 
    Yesterday we explained how it seemed proper to call him who 
appeared to holy Jacob in Bethel both God and an angel; for the 
name, Jehovah by which is expressed the eternal power, essence, and 
majesty of God, could not be transferred to a mere angel. It is 
hence certain that he was the only true God. But it could not be, 
that he was simply and without any distinction called an angel; but 
as Christ even then sustained the character of a Mediator, he was 
not inconsistently called an angel; and yet we know that he is the 
eternal God. So this passage is worthy of being remembered, as it 
bears testimony to the divinity of Christ; for the Prophet clearly 
affirms that he is Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, and 
that he is so by his own power; and that he does not subsist in 
another, as all creatures do. Since then he is so, his sovereignty 
is proved, so that he is not inferior to the Father. 
    But he says, that this is his "memorial", or remembrance. This 
expression has reference to men; the Prophet then means, that this 
wonderful and magnificent name would be well known in the world, 
when Christ should be revealed. The people, indeed, even then 
acknowledged that the true God appeared to their father Jacob; but 
the knowledge of a Mediator was hitherto obscure. The Prophet then 
seems to have respect here to the coming of Christ; as though he 
said, that the name, Jehovah, would be widely known to all, when the 
Mediator would be more clearly exhibited. But I will come now to the 
other parts of the passage. 
    The Prophet says that he "was a prince", or had power, "by his 
strength with God". What this saying imports, I shall shortly 
explain. The name, Israel, was given to Jacob, because of the 
victory he obtained in that noble wrestling, of which mention is 
made in Gen. 32: for the holy man had not a contest with a mortal 
being, but with God himself; and he overcame in that combat, and is 
hence called the conqueror of God. As this mode of speaking is 
harsh, some have endeavoured by a comment to turn it to something 
more moderate, that is, that Jacob was a "prince with God", meaning, 
that God approved of his unwonted courage. But God meant to express 
something more, when he gave this name to his servant; for he 
confessed that he gave way, being, as it were, overcome, and yielded 
the palm of victory to holy Jacob. And this ought not to appear 
strange to us; for we know that whenever God proves our faith, and 
tries us by temptations, these are so many combats by which he 
contends with us; for he seeks to find out what is the strength of 
our faith. Now? when we are said to wrestle with God, and the issue 
of the contest be such, that God leaves the victory to us, we are 
not then improperly called conquerors, yea, even of God himself. But 
how? Because God works wonderfully in his saints, so that by his own 
power he casts down himself; and while he wrestles with us, he 
supplies us with strength, by which we are enabled to bear the 
weight and pressure of the contest. Were God to assail us, what 
would he find but weakness? But when he calls us to the struggle, he 
at the same time supplies us with the necessary arms. 
    And it is a wonderful marshalling of the contest, when God on 
one side makes himself an antagonist, and, on the other, fights in 
us against his own temptations, or against all those wrestlings by 
which he tries our faith. Hence God is said to be overcome by us, 
when, by the power and aid of his own Spirit, he strengthens and 
renders us unconquerable; yea, when he makes us to triumph over 
temptations, and when we consider everything, such is the state of 
the case, that God will have the greater portion of strength to be 
on our side, and that he only takes the weaker portion to tempt and 
try us. There is not indeed, in this case, to be imagined by us, any 
such separation, as if God was divided against himself; but we know, 
that when he tries our faith, he comes forth as if he were a 
contender, or as if he challenged us to the contest. This is indeed 
certain. For what are temptations, or what is their object, but to 
afford us an occasion to exhibit, as on a field of battle, an 
example and proof of our strength and firmness? But this could not 
be done without an adversary; for what advantage would it be to 
fight with a shadow? or when no one engages with us? Hence God is 
like an adversary whenever he tries our faith; and, as it has been 
said before, we have this contest not with men, but with God 
himself. We have indeed to contend with the devil; for Paul says, 
that we have to fight not (only) with flesh and blood, but with 
mighty powers, (Eph. 6: 12.) This is doubtless true; but the Lord, 
at the same time, holds the first place, as that remarkable passage 
in Job testified, 'The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away,' (Job 1: 
14.) So, then, we must engage with God himself. How so? Because he 
tries and proves us. But he does not tempt us, as James says, (James 
1: 14;) for a person is tempted when he is drawn away by his own 
lust. He does not tempt us to evil; he does not instil into us 
corrupt desires, which grow up spontaneously, and which are innate 
in our nature: but he tempts, that is, proves us, as he is said to 
have tempted Abraham, (Gen. 22: 1.) 
    Since it is so, we must now wrestle with God; but for what end? 
That we may conquer: for God intends not to overwhelm us, while he 
is making known our faith and constancy of obedience; but, on the 
contrary, he builds a theatre, on which to show his gifts. We 
therefore come to the struggle with the hope of overcoming. That we 
may overcome, he, as I have said, not only exhorts us to be strong, 
but supplies us also with arms, endues us with strength, and also 
fights himself, in a manner, with us, and is powerful in us, and 
enables us to overcome our temptations. For this reason, Jacob is 
said to have power with God, or to have been God's conqueror. 
    But what the Prophet adds may seem strange, that this was done 
by "his strength". He had power with God, he says, by his own 
strength. But if Israel had fought by his own valour, he could not 
have borne even the shadow of God, for he must have fallen. He must 
have been brought to nothing, had he not power greater than that of 
man. What, then, does this mean, that he was a conqueror by his own 
strength? We grant, that this strength, of which the Prophet speaks, 
may be ascribed to holy Jacob when he gained dominion. There is no 
better title, as they commonly say, than that of donation; and God 
is wont to transfer to us whatever he bestows, as if it were our 
own. It is then necessary to distinguish wisely here between the 
strength which man has in himself, and that which God confers on 
him. The Papists, as soon as any mention is made of the strength or 
power of man, instantly lay hold on it, and say, "If there is no 
freewill in man, there is no strength, or there is no power to 
resist." But they betray their own stupidity and thoughtlessness, 
inasmuch as they cannot distinguish between the intrinsic strength 
which is in man himself by nature, and the adventitious strength 
with which God endues men, and which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. 
And the Prophet, when he here commends the strength of holy Jacob, 
does not extol his free-will, as though he derived strength from 
himself, by which he overcame God; but he means that he was divinely 
endued with unconquerable power, so that he came forth a conqueror 
in the contest. We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet. 
    And since this was especially worthy of being remembered, he 
repeats, that he had power with the angel, and prevailed. But we 
have already said how Jacob prevailed not indeed of himself, but 
because God had so distributed his power, that the greater part was 
in Jacob himself. I am therefore wont, when I speak of the wrestling 
and of the daily contests with which God exercises the godly, to 
adduce this similitude, -  That God fights with us with his left 
hand, and defends us with his right hand, that is, he assails us in 
a weak manner, (so to speak,) and at the same time stretches forth 
his right hand to defend us: he displays, in the latter instance, 
his greater power, that we may become victorious in the struggle. 
And this mode of speaking, though at the first view it seems harsh, 
does yet wonderfully set forth the grace and goodness of God, 
inasmuch as he deigns to humble himself for our sake, so as to 
choose to concede to us the praise of victory; not indeed that we 
may become proud of ourselves, but that he may be thus more 
glorified, when he prefers exercising his power in defending us 
rather than in overwhelming us, which he could do with one breath of 
his mouth. For he has no need of making any effort to reduce us to 
nothing: if he only chooses to blow on the whole human race, the 
whole world would in a moment be extinguished. But the Lord fights 
with us, and at the same time suffers us not to be crushed; nay, he 
raises us up on high, and, as I have already said, concedes to us 
the victory. Let us now go on. 
    The Prophet adds, that he wept and entreated: "He wept", he 
says, "and made supplication unto him". Some explain this clause of 
the angel; but I know not whether weeping was suitable to him. The 
saying may be indeed defended that the angel was as it were a 
suppliant, when he yielded up the conquest to the holy man; for it 
was the same as though he who owns himself unequal in a contest were 
to throw himself on the ground. Then they explain weeping thus, "The 
angel entreated the patriarch when he said, 'Let me go;' and this 
was a confession of victory." The sense would then be, that the 
patriarch Jacob did not gain any ordinary thing when he came forth a 
conqueror in the struggle; for God was in a manner the suppliant, 
for he conceded to him the name and praise of a conqueror. But I 
prefer explaining this of the patriarch, and to do so is, in my 
judgement, more suitable. It is not indeed said that Jacob wept; 
that is, it is not, I own, stated distinctly and expressly by Moses; 
but weeping may be taken for that humility which the faithful ever 
bring to the presence of God: and then weeping was meet for the 
patriarch; for he so gained the victory in the combat, that he did 
not depart without grief and loss, inasmuch as we know that his leg 
was put out of joint, and that his thigh was dislocated so that he 
was lame all his life. Jacob then obtained the victory, and there 
triumphed with God's approbation: but yet he departed not whole, for 
God had left him lame. He felt then no small grief, since this 
weakness in his body continued through life. Hence weeping did not 
ill become the holy man, who was humbled in the struggle, though he 
carried away the palm of victory. 
    And this ought to be carefully noticed; for here the Prophet 
meets all calumnies, when he so moderates the sentence, that he 
takes away nothing from God and his glory, though he thus splendidly 
adorns the victory of the patriarch. He was then a prince with God; 
he prevailed also, he became a conqueror, - but how? He yet wept and 
entreated him; which means, that there was no cause for pride that 
he carried away the palm of victory from the contest, but that God 
led him to humility even by the dislocation of his thigh or leg: and 
so he entreated him. The praying of Jacob is related by Moses, which 
he made, when he asked to be blessed. But the less, as the Apostle 
says, is blessed by the greater, (Heb. 7: 7.) Then Jacob did not 
exalt himself, as blind men do, who claim merit to themselves; but 
he prayed to God, and asked to be blessed by Him, who owned himself 
to be overcome. And this ought to be carefully observed, especially 
the additional circumstance; for we hence learn that there is no 
cause why they who are proved by temptations should flee away from 
God, though our flesh indeed seeks ease, and desires to be spared. 
    But when a temptation is at hand, we withdraw ourselves, and 
there is no one who would not gladly make a truce, and also hide 
himself at a distance from the presence of God. Inasmuch then as we 
desire God to be far from us, when he comes forth as an antagonist 
to try our faith, this praying of Jacob ought to be remembered; for 
though he had his leg disjointed, though he was worn out with 
weariness, he did not yet withdraw himself, he did not wish the 
departure of the angel, but retained him as it were by force: "Thou 
shalt bless me; I would rather contend with thee, and be wholly 
consumed, than to let thee go before thou blesses me." We hence see 
that we ought to seek the presence of God; though he may severely 
try us, though we may suffer much, though our strength fail, though 
we may be made lame through life, we ought not yet to shun the 
presence of God, but rather embrace him with both arms, and retain 
him as it were by force; for it is much better to groan under our 
burden, and to feel his power who is above us, than to continue free 
from toil, and to rot in our pleasures, as they do whom God 
forsakes. And we see how much such an indulgence ought to be dreaded 
by us; for unless we are daily sharpened by various temptations, we 
immediately gather rust and other evils. It is therefore necessary, 
in order that we may continue in a sound state, that our contests 
should be daily renewed: and hence I have said, that we ought to 
seek the presence of God, however severe the wresting may be. 
    It follows, "He found him in Bethel". To remove every 
ambiguity, I would render it, "In Bethel he had found him." It is 
indeed a verb in the future tense; but it is certain that the 
Prophet speaks of the past. But when we take the past tense, 
ambiguity in the language still remains; for some thus understand 
the place, that God had afterwards found Jacob in Bethel, or, that 
Jacob had found God; that is, when the name of Israel was confirmed 
to him, after the destruction of the town of Sichem; for, to console 
his grief, God appeared to him there again. They then explain this 
of a second vision in that place. But it seems to me that the 
Prophet had another thing in view, even this, that God had already 
found Jacob in Bethel, that he had met him when he fled to Syria, 
and went away through the fear of his brother. It was then for the 
first time that God appeared to his servant, and exhorted him to 
faithfulness: he promised to him a safe return to his own country. 
The Prophet then means, that Jacob gained the victory, because God 
had long before began to embrace him in his love, and also testified 
his love when he had manifested himself to him in Bethel. Hence he 
found him in Bethel. This might indeed be referred to Jacob, "He 
found him in Bethel;" that is, he found God. But as it is 
immediately added, "There he spake with us", and as this cannot be 
applied to any other than to God himself, I am inclined to add also, 
that God had found Jacob in Bethel. And the Prophet commends to us 
again the gratuitous goodness of God towards Jacob, because he 
deigned to meet him on his way, and to show that he was the leader 
of Jacob on his journey: for he did not think previously that God 
was nigh him, as he says himself, 'This is the house of God, and the 
gate of heaven, and I knew it not,' (Gen. 28: 16, 17.) When 
therefore the holy man thought himself to be as it were cast away by 
God, and destitute of all aid, when he was alone and without any 
hope, God is said to have found him; for of his own good will he 
presented himself to him, when the holy man hoped no such thing, nor 
conceived such a thing in his mind. Hence God had already found his 
servant in Bethel; and there he spake, or (that the same strain may 
be continued) had spoken to him. 
    "There he had spoken with us". Some take "'imanu" for "'imo", 
he had spoken with him; and they do this, being forced by necessity; 
for they find no sense in the words that God spake with us in 
Bethel. But there is no need to change the words contrary to rules 
of grammar. Others who dare not to depart from the words of the 
Prophet, imagine a sense wholly different. Some say, "He spake with 
us there;" that is, "The Lord speaks by me, Hosea, and by Amos, who 
is my colleague and friend: for we denounce on you, by his 
authority, utter ruin and destruction; and God has made known to us 
at Bethel whatever we bring to you." But how strained is this, all 
must see: this is to wrest Scripture, and not to explain it. Others 
also speak still more frigidly: "There he spake with us," as though 
the angel had said, "Wait, the Lord will speak with us; I have 
called thee Israel, but the Lord will at length come, who will 
ratify what I now say to thee:" as if he was not indeed the eternal 
God; but this he immediately expresses when he says "Jehovah is his 
memorial, Jehovah of hosts". But thus the Jews trifle, who are like 
irrational beings whenever there is a reference made to Christ. 
    There does not seem, however, to be any great reason why we 
should toil much about the Prophet's words: and some even of the 
Rabbis (not to deprive them of their just praise) have observed this 
to be the meaning, That the Lord had so spoken with Jacob, that what 
he said belonged to the whole people. For doubtless whatever God 
then promised to his servant appertained to the whole body of the 
people, and all his posterity. Why then do interpreters so greatly 
torment themselves, when it is evident that God spake through the 
person of one man with all the posterity of Abraham? And this agrees 
best with the context; for the Prophet now applies, so to speak, to 
the whole people what he had hitherto recorded of the patriarch 
Jacob. That they might not then think that the history of one man 
was related, he says that it belongs to all. How so? Because the 
Lord had so spoken with holy Jacob, that his voice ought to resound 
in the ears of all. For what was said to the holy man? Did God only 
reveal himself to him? Did he promise to be a Father only to him? 
Nay, he adopted his whole seed, and extended his favour to all his 
posterity. Since then he had so spoken to all the Israelites, they 
ought now to be more ashamed of their defection, inasmuch as they 
had so much degenerated from their father, with whom they were yet 
connected. For there was a sacred bond of unity between Jacob and 
his children, since God embraced them all in his love, and favoured 
them all with his adoption. We now perceive the mind of the Prophet. 
Let us proceed - 
Hosea 12:6,7 
Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgement, and wait 
on thy God continually. 
[He is] a merchant, the balances of deceit [are] in his hand: he 
loveth to oppress. 
    The Prophet is now here urgent on the people. Having referred 
to the example of the patriarch, he shows how unlike him were his 
posterity, with whom God could avail nothing by sound teaching, 
though he was constantly solicitous for their salvation, and stirred 
up his Prophets to bring back the lost and scattered to the way of 
safety. Since then it was so, the Prophet accuses them of 
ingratitude. But he speaks first of repentance; and then he shows 
that he and other ministers of God had laboured in vain; for such 
was the perversity of the people, that teaching had no effect. His 
sermon is short, but yet it contains much. 
    "Turn", he says, "to thy God". He glances here at the apostasy 
of the people, by bidding them to turn to their God, and, at the 
same time, condemns whatever the Israelites were wont to set up as a 
defence, when the Prophets reproved them. For they wished their own 
fictitious modes of worship to come in as a reason; they wished the 
gods devised by themselves to occupy the place of the true God. The 
Prophet cuts off the handle from subterfuges of this kind by 
commanding the people to turn to their God. "Why," he says, "you do 
indeed worship gods, and greatly weary yourselves in your 
superstitions; but confess that you are apostates, who have rejected 
the law delivered to you by the true God. Return, then, to your 
God." And he calls God the God of Israel, not to honour them, but 
to-reproach them, because they had willingly and designedly cast off 
the worship of the true God, who had made himself known to them. 
    There is afterwards shown the true way of repentance. The 
beginning of the verse, as I have already said, requires the people 
to repent; but as we know that men trifle with God when they are 
called to repentance, it is not in vain that a definitive, or, at 
least, a short description of repentance, is added by which is made 
evident what it is to repent, or to turn to God. Then the Prophet 
says, - "Keep mercy", or kindness "and judgement". He begins with 
the second table, and then he adds piety towards God. But he lays 
down two things only, in which he included the whole teaching of the 
second table. For what is God's design, from the fifth to the last 
commandment, but to teach us to shape our life according to the rule 
of love? We are then taught in the second table of the law how we 
ought to act towards our brethren; or if one wishes to have a 
shorter summary, in the second table of the law are shown the mutual 
duties of men. But the Prophet begins here with the second part of 
the law; for the Prophets are not wont strictly to observe order, 
Nor do they always observe a regular method; but it is enough with 
them to mention the main things by which they explain their subject; 
and hence, it is no wonder that the Prophet here, according to his 
usual manner, mentions love in the first place, and then goes on to 
the worship of God. This order, as I have said, is not indeed either 
natural or legitimate; but this is of no importance; nay, it was not 
without the best reason that the Prophets usually did this; for 
repentance is better tested by the observance of the second table, 
than by that of divine worship. For as hypocrites dissemble, and 
hide themselves with wonderful coverings, the Lord applies a 
touchstone, and this he does whenever he draws them to the light, 
and exposes to public view their frauds, robberies, cruelty, 
perjuries, thefts, and such like vices. Since, then, hypocrites can 
be better convicted by the second table of the law, the Lord rightly 
appeals to this when he speaks of repentance; as though he said, 
"Let it now be made evident what your repentance is, whether it be 
feigned or sincere; for if you act justly and uprightly towards your 
neighbours, if you observe equity and rectitude, it is a sure 
evidence of your repentance." 
    At the same time, the Prophet overlooks not the worship of God; 
for he adds, - "Hope always in thy God". By the word, hope, he first 
requires faith, and then prayer, which arises from it, and 
thanksgiving, which necessarily follows. Thus the whole worship of 
God is briefly included, as a part for the whole, in the word, hope. 
The meaning of the Prophet then is, that Israel, forsaking their own 
superstitions, should recumb on the one true God, and place all 
their salvation on him, that they should fly to him, and ascribe to 
him alone the praise due for all blessings. By so doing, they would 
restore the pure worship of God, and cast away all their adulterous 
superstitions. He had spoken already of the second table of the law. 
    We hence see that repentance is nothing else but a reformation 
of the whole life according to the law of God. For God has explained 
his will in his law; and as much as we depart or deviate from it, so 
much we depart from the Lord. But when we turn to God, the true 
proof is, when we amend our life according to his law, and begin 
with worshipping him spiritually, the main part of which worship is 
faith, from which proceeds prayer; and when, in addition to this, we 
act kindly and justly towards our neighbours, and abstain from all 
injuries, frauds, robberies, and all kinds of wickedness. This is 
the true evidence of repentance. 
    But while the Prophet exhorted the Israelites to repentance, he 
adds, that such was their perverseness, that it was done without any 
fruit. "Canaan!" he says; I read this by itself; for what some 
consider to be understood is frigid, as, "He was assimilated to, or 
was like Canaan, in whose hand," &c. But, on the contrary, the 
Prophet here condemns the Israelites by one word; as though he said, 
that they were wholly aliens, and unworthy to be called the children 
of Abraham. And thus what we say is often abrupt, when we speak 
indignantly. The Prophet then calls them "Canaan" through 
indignation; which means this, "Ye are not the children of Abraham; 
ye falsely boast of his name, which cannot be suitable to you; for 
ye are Canaan." 
    He afterwards adds "In his hand is the balance of fraud, he 
loves to plunder", or to spoil. Literally it is, he loves to spoil. 
But the sense is clear, that they loved to plunder; that is, they 
were carried away with all greediness to acts of robbery. It must 
first be noticed, that the Prophet here exposes to infamy the carnal 
descendants of Abraham by calling them Canaan, and this imputation 
is often to be met with in the Prophets. And the reason why they 
were thus addressed was, that these senseless men were wont proudly 
to set up as their shield the distinction of their race. "What! we 
are a holy people." Since by this pretence they rejected all the 
warnings of the Prophets, God casts back this reproach, "Ye are not 
the children of Abraham; but ye are Canaan:" as though he said, 
"Nothing in that nation has as yet changed, the Israelites are 
always like themselves." The Lord had once cleansed the land of 
godless men: but when the descendants of Abraham became like the 
Canaanites, they were called the seed of Canaan; as though the same 
nation, which was there formerly, had still remained; for there was 
no difference in their manners, for they were equal or the same in 
    But the reason follows why he calls them the race of Canaan 
even because they carried in their "hand a deceitful balance" , and 
devoted themselves with all avidity to plunder. The deceitful 
balance may be extended to their dissimulations, fallacies, and 
falsehoods, by which God, as he had before complained, was 
surrounded; but as it immediately follows, "He loves robberies", I 
prefer to understand here those two modes of doing injury which 
include almost every kind of wickedness; for men either craftily 
defraud when they injure others, or they do harm to their neighbours 
by open force. Since, then, they who wrong their neighbours do 
either openly injure them, or circumvent the simple by their frauds 
and crafty dealings, Hosea lays down here, in the first place, the 
deceitful balance, and then he adds their greediness in spoiling or 
plundering. It is then the same as if he had said that they were 
fraudulent, and that they were also robbers who proceeded with open 
violence. He means that they were, without law or any restraint, 
addicted to acts of wrong and injustice, and were so intent on doing 
mischief, as to do it either by craft or by open force. There is 
then no wonder that they were called an uncircumcised race. Why? 
Because they had nothing to do with God, inasmuch as they had thus 
departed from his law; yea, they abhorred kindness and mercy. It 
also follows that they were void of all piety, since they were thus 
unmindful of all equity towards their neighbours. This is the 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou appearest not now to us in shadows 
and types, as formerly to the holy fathers, but clearly and plainly 
in thy only-begotten Son, - O grant, that we may be wholly given to 
the contemplation of thine image, which thus shines before us; and 
that we may in such a manner be transformed into it, as to make 
increasing advances, until at length, having put off all the filth 
of our flesh, we be fully conformed to that pure and perfect 
holiness which dwells in Christ, as in him dwells the fulness of all 
blessings and thus obtain at last a participation of that glory 
which our Lord has procured for us by his resurrection. Amen.

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 33...)

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