(Calvin on Hosea, part 34)

Chapter 13. 
Lecture Thirty-fourth. 
Hosea 13:1 
When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when 
he offended in Baal, he died. 
    Interpreters agree not in their view of this verse. Some say 
that trembling was excited in Israel when Ephraim, that is, 
Jeroboam, who was born of that tribe, exhorted the people to worship 
the calves. By the word "ratat", "trembling," they understand, that 
the people were so astonished, that they without thought immediately 
obeyed the will, or rather the humour, of their impious king. And if 
this sense be approved, the word, trembling, may be in another way 
explained, even in this, - that the people did not immediately 
embrace that perverted worship, but dreaded, as is wont to be the 
case with regard to new things, and which seem to have nothing 
reasonable in their favour. But these expounders wholly depart, in 
my judgement, from the intention of the Prophet; for, on the 
contrary, he sets forth here the twofold state of the kingdom of 
Israel, that it might hence be manifest that the ten tribes had been 
through their own fault rejected by the Lord, and had thus fallen 
from that dignity unto which the Lord had raised them. 
    He therefore says, "When Ephraim spake formerly, his voice 
dreaded, and he raised himself in Israel"; that is, among the whole 
race of Abraham. But now "he is dead", or is fallen, "after he has 
begun to sin in Baal". Then, in the first sentence, the Prophet 
records the honours with which God had favoured that tribe. Ephraim, 
we know, was the younger of the sons of Joseph. Manasseh ought not 
only to have had the pre-eminence, but also to have reigned alone in 
that family; for the people were divided into twelve tribes. But God 
intended to raise up two chiefs in the house of Joseph, and 
preferred the younger to the first-begotten. Hence Ephraim, who had 
increased in number and power, and had at length obtained the royal 
dignity, ought to have acknowledged the singular favour of God. And 
by way of reproach, the Prophet here says, that all trembled at the 
single voice of Ephraim; that is, when he became endued with 
authority, and then, that he was exalted in Israel. He ought to have 
been deemed of no account, he ought to have been inferior to his 
brother, who was the first-born, and yet he excelled all the tribes. 
Since, then, God had conferred so much honour on the tribe of 
Ephraim, the more grievous was his fault, that he afterwards had 
fallen away unto idols; yea, that he began his reign with 
superstition, when God was pleased to choose and anoint Jeroboam 
king. And surely that he, when raised beyond all hope to the throne 
by the hand of God, should, instead of testifying his gratitude, 
immediately corrupt the whole worship of God, this was extremely 
    But the Prophet says, in the second place, that they "died" 
from the time they had thus fallen away from true and lawful 
worship, in order that they might understand that they received the 
just reward of their impiety when God's hand was opposed to them, 
when they were oppressed by adversity. We now perceive the obvious 
meaning, of the Prophet to be, that the Israelites formerly 
flourished, especially the tribe of Ephraim, from whom Jeroboam 
arose, so that, by their voice alone, they subdued all their 
neighbours, and that beyond the expectation of men, they suddenly 
emerged and erected a new kingdom among the children of Abraham. 
    He afterwards adds, that after "they had sinned by Baal, they 
became dead": for God deprived the tribe of Ephraim of the power 
with which he had before adorned him, so that they were but little 
short of being destroyed. For though his kingdom had not wholly 
fallen, it had yet come to such an extremity that the Prophet might 
justly say that they, who were so far removed from their former 
state, were dead. But when he says that they "sinned by Baal", he 
does not mean that this was the beginning of their idolatry; for 
Jeroboam at first made the calves, and it was his successor who 
built Baal, and borrowed that superstition, as it is supposed, from 
the neighbouring Sidonians. But God records here what is more 
grievous, and less excusable, - that the Israelites polluted 
themselves with the filth of the Gentiles, so that they differed 
nothing from the profane and unbelieving, who had no acquaintance 
with sound doctrine. 
    We are moreover taught in this place, that when kings are 
endued with any authority, when they are strong in power, all this 
comes from God; for unless God strikes terror into men, no one would 
receive the yoke of another, at least all would desire equality, or 
one would raise himself above others. It is then certain, that when 
any one excels among many in power, this is done through the secret 
purpose of God, who constrains to order the common people, and 
causes them not to deny obedience to the command of one man. This is 
what Hosea now teaches, when he upbraids the tribe of Ephraim with 
respect to this terror; for if Ephraim had been formidable through 
his own power, there would have been no room for the Prophet's 
reproof: but as this was the peculiar gift of God, the Prophet 
justly says, that the tribe of Ephraim were in great honour until 
they had fallen into superstition. Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 13:2 
And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of 
their silver, [and] idols according to their own understanding, all 
of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that 
sacrifice kiss the calves. 
    In this verse the Prophet amplifies the wickedness of the 
people, and says, that they had not only in one day cast aside the 
pure worship of God, and entangled themselves in superstitions; but 
that they had been obstinate in their own depravity. "They have 
added", he says, "to their sin, and have made a molten thing of 
their silver". When Israel, as we have said, departed from the 
worship of God, they made calves, and made them under a specious 
appearance; but when many superstitions were added, one after 
another, there was, as it were, an accumulation of madness, as if 
the Israelites designedly wished to subvert the law of God, and to 
show that they cared nothing for the only true God, by whom they had 
been redeemed. This is the reason why the Prophet says that they 
made progress in wickedness, and observed no moderation in sinning, 
and this is what usually happens, unless God draws men back. As soon 
as they fall away, they rush headlong into evil; for they take a 
greater liberty in sinning, after they have turned their back on 
    Hence this reproof of the Prophet ought to be noticed, for he 
inveighs against the obstinate wickedness of Israel; and says, that 
"they made" for themselves "of their silver a molten thing". As we 
have seen above, they abused the gifts of God by devoting to 
superstition what the Lord had destined for their use. The end for 
which God has bestowed silver, we know, is, that men may carry on 
commerce with one another, and apply it also to other useful 
purposes. But when they make to themselves gods of silver, there is 
an astonishing stupidity in their ingratitude, for they pervert the 
order of nature, and forget that silver is given for another end, 
and that is as we have said for their use. The Prophet at the same 
time intimates, that the Israelites were less excusable, inasmuch as 
when they were enriched, they became proud of their wealth. Satiety, 
we know, is the cause of wantonness, as, it will be shortly stated 
    But what the Prophet adds ought to be especially observed, 
"According to their own understanding". Here he severely reproves 
the Israelites, because they had not subordinated all their thoughts 
to God, but, on the contrary, followed what pleased themselves. It 
was then according to their own invention. The word which the 
Prophet uses is not unsuitable, though "understanding," the word 
which the Prophet adopts, is among the Hebrews taken in a good 
sense. But what is treated of here is the worship of God, with 
respect to which all the prudence, all the reason, all the wisdom of 
men, and, in short, all their senses, ought to be suspended: for if, 
in this case, they of themselves adopt any thing, be it ever so 
little, they inevitably vitiate the worship of God. How so? Because 
obedience, we know, is better than all sacrifices. This then is the 
rule, as to the right worship of God, - that men must become 
foolish, that they must not allow themselves to be wise, but that 
they are only to give ear to God, and to follow what he commands. 
But when men's presumption intrudes, so that they devise a new mode 
of worship, they then depart from the true God, and worship mere 
idols. The Prophet then by the word, "understanding," condemns here 
whatever pleases the judgement and reason of men; as though he said, 
"The true rule of religion, as to the worship of God, is, that 
nothing human is to be mingled, that no one is to bring forward what 
is his own, or what seems good to himself." In short, the 
understanding of men is here opposed to the command of God; as 
though the Prophet said, "One great difference between the true 
worship of God and all fictitious and degenerated modes of worship, 
is obedience to the word of God; if we be wise according to our own 
judgement, all we do is corrupt." How so? Because whatever men 
devise of themselves is a pollution of divine worship. Hence Paul, 
in Col. 2, refutes all the fancies of men by this one argument, 
"They are," he says, "the traditions of men, though they may have 
the show of wisdom." 
    We now apprehend what the Prophet meant, and why he added the 
word "understanding;" it was, that the Israelites might learn, that 
all the worship which was in use among them, was perverted and 
vicious; for it was not founded on the command of God, but flowed 
from a different source, even the understanding of men. It then 
follows, as we have said before, that in religion nothing is to be 
attempted by us, but we are to follow this one law in worshipping 
God - simply to obey his word. 
    He afterwards adds, "Idols, the work of artificers altogether". 
The Prophet, in the second place, derides the grossness which had 
fascinated the minds of the people, as they worshipped in the place 
of God the works of men. For it is usual with all the Prophets, in 
order to render the stupidity of men as it were palpable, to show 
that it is wholly unreasonable to worship idols; for a material 
cannot with any propriety be worshipped. When there is before us a 
great mass or a great heap of gold or silver, no one imagines that 
there is in it any divinity: when one passes through a wood, he 
transfers not to trees the glory due to God; and the same may be 
said of stones. But when the hand of the artificer is applied, the 
plate of gold begins to be a god; so also the trunk of a tree seems 
to put on the glory of God, when it receives a certain form from the 
workman; and the same is the case with other things. Now it is 
extremely absurd to suppose that an artificer, as soon as he has 
hewn some wood, or as soon as he has melted gold or silver, can make 
a god, and convey divinity to a dead thing; and yet it is well known 
that this is thought everywhere to be the case. Superstitious men 
allege in excuse, that this does not proceed from the hand of the 
artificer, but that as they wish for some sign of God's presence, 
and as they cannot otherwise set forth what God is, God is in that 
form. But this still remains true, that workmen by their skill make 
gods of lifeless things, to which no honour can belong. Since it is 
so, the Prophet now justly says, that what the people of Israel 
worshipped was the work of artifices; and he said this, that they 
might know that they became shamefully foolish, when they left the 
true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and prostrated themselves 
before idols made by hands. 
    But he adds, that "they say to one another while they sacrifice 
men, Let them kiss the calves". Though this place is in various ways 
explained, I am yet content with the obvious meaning of the Prophet. 
He again derides them for exhorting one another to worship the calf: 
For by kissing he means by a figure a profession of worship or 
adoration, as it is evident from other parts of Scripture. It is 
said in 1 Kings 19, I have preserved for myself seven thousand men, 
who have not bent the knee before Baal, nor kissed him. To kiss Baal 
then was a sign of reverence. And this practice, we see, has been 
retained by the superstitious, as the case is at this day with the 
Papists, who observe this special custom of kissing their idols. But 
what does the Prophet now say? "They encourage one another", he 
says, "in the worship of the calves", and in the meantime "they 
sacrifice men". The Prophet doubtless condemns here that abominable 
and savage custom of parents sacrificing their children to Moloch. 
It was utterly repugnant to the feeling of nature for parents to 
immolate their own children. For though this was once commanded to 
Abraham, we yet know that the design was, that God intended by this 
proof to try the obedience of his servant: but Abraham was not at 
last suffered to do what he purposed. 
    They then immolated men. If it was right to sacrifice men, 
surely such a service ought to have been rendered at least to the 
only true God. If it was lawful to sacrifice man for the sake of 
man, it was certainly ridiculous to do so to conciliate the calf; 
and it was especially strange, when parents hesitated not to appease 
dead statues by the blood of their children. This absurdity then the 
Prophet now points out as with the finger, that he might try to make 
the Israelites ashamed of their base conduct. "See," he says, "how 
brutish ye are; for ye immolate to the calves and kiss them, and 
more still, ye sacrifice men. Is there so much worthiness in the 
calf, that man, who far excels it, must be killed before it? Is not 
this wholly inconsistent with every thing like reason?" We now 
understand what the Prophet meant. They say then one to another, 
while they immolate men, Let them kiss the calves. 
    But we learn from this and similar places, that we ought to 
notice those absurdities in which wretched men involve themselves, 
when they are lost in their own devices, after having left the word 
of God: for this word is to be to us as a bridle to keep us from 
going astray with them in their monstrous devices; for when we 
observe these delirious things which even nature itself abhors, it 
is evident that God thereby restrains and preserves us as it were by 
his outstretched hand. With this design the Prophet now shows how 
stupid the Israelites were, and how prodigious was their frenzy when 
they kissed the calves with great reverence, and also sacrificed 
men. So at this day with respect to those under the Papacy, we ought 
not only to adopt this argument, that they departed from the true 
God when they sought for themselves new and strange modes of 
worship, without the warrant of his word, but we ought also to bear 
in mind that their puerilities are to be ascribed to the same cause. 
And we see how God has given them up to a reprobate mind, so that 
they throw aside no kinds of absurdities. And this consideration, as 
I have said, will serve to awaken those who are as yet healable, 
when they understand that they have been infatuated; having been in 
this manner admonished, they may return to the right way. And that 
we ourselves may give thanks to God, and detest more and more that 
filth in which we were for a time involved, and remember that there 
is nothing more to be dreaded than that the Lord should allow us 
loose reins, the very example of his vengeance as to all idolaters 
is made known to us; for as soon as they departed from the pure 
worship of God, they gave themselves up, as we have stated, to the 
most shameful stupidity. Let us proceed - 
Hosea 13:3 
Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew 
that passeth away, as the chaff [that] is driven with the whirlwind 
out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney. 
    The Prophet employs here four similitudes to show the condition 
of Israel. How much soever they flourished for a time, and might be 
deemed happy, their state would yet be fading and evanescent. "They 
shall be", he says, "as the morning cloud": though they be loftily 
proud, the Lord will yet shake off from them whatever power they may 
have. Secondly, they shall be "as the dew that rises up in the 
morning" - having nothing substantial in them. Thirdly they shall be 
"as the chaff which from the floor is driven by a whirlwind". And, 
lastly they shall be, he says, "as the smoke"; for as the smoke 
produces thick darkness, and, after having gone out of the chimney, 
disperses and disappears, so these proud people, how much soever 
they may have praised themselves, would not continue in a permanent 
    We hence conclude, that the Israelites were not so much like 
the dead, but that yet they had some power remaining in them: for 
God would have otherwise threatened to no purpose, that they should 
be made like a cloud, and the dew, and the chaff, and the smoke: but 
they had been already in a great measure consumed. And God denounces 
on them here utter destruction, that they might not think that they 
had already suffered the last punishment, and that they might not 
suppose that they could gather new strength: for proud men entertain 
vain confidence, through which they remove to a distance the 
judgement of God. Lest, then, they should delude themselves with 
such allurements, the Prophet here declares that their condition 
would be fading, such as would soon come to ruin. It follows - 
Hosea 13:4,5 
Yet I [am] the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt 
know no god but me: for [there is] no saviour beside me. 
I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. 
    The Prophet now repeats the sentence which we have noticed in 
the last chapter for the sake of amplifying the sin of the people. 
For had they never known sound doctrine, had they never been brought 
up in the law, there would have been some colour for alleviating 
their fault; because they might have excused themselves by saying, 
that as they had never known true religion, they had gone astray 
according to the common practice of men; but as they had from 
infancy been taught sound doctrine, as God had brought them up as it 
were in his own bosom, as they had learned from their first years 
what it was to worship God purely, when they thus retook themselves 
to the superstitions of the heathens, what could there be for an 
excuse for them? We then see the bearing of the complaint, when God 
says, that he had been "the God of Israel from the land of Egypt". 
    "I am then", he says, "Jehovah your God". By calling himself 
Jehovah, he glances at all their fictitious gods; as though he said 
"I am doubtless justly, and in mine own rights your God; for I am of 
myself - I am the Creator of the world, no one can take away my 
power: but whence have these their divinity, except from the madness 
of men?" He says further, "I am thy God", O Israel; that is, "I have 
manifested myself to thee from the land of Egypt, from thy very 
nativity. When I redeemed thee from Egypt I brought thee out as it 
were from the womb to the light of life; for Egypt was to thee like 
the grave. Thou didst then begin to live, and to be some sort of 
people, when I stretched forth my hand to thee." 
    And now also ought to be noticed what I have said before, that 
the people were redeemed on this condition, that they should devote 
themselves wholly to God. As we are at this day Christ's, and no one 
of us ought to live according to his own will, for Christ died and 
rose again for this end, that he might be the Lord of the living and 
of the dead: so also then, the Israelites had been redeemed by God, 
that they might offer themselves wholly to Him. And since God ruled 
by this right over the people of Israel, how shameful and 
inexcusable was their defections when the people wilfully abandoned 
themselves to the superstitions of the Gentiles? 
    "A God", he says, "besides me thou oughtest not to know". These 
words the Prophet had not before used. This sentence, then, is 
fuller, for it more clearly explains the import of what he had said, 
that God had purchased Israel for himself by bringing them out of 
Egypt, and that is, that Israel ought to have been content with this 
one Redeemer, and not to seek for themselves other gods. A God, 
then, besides me thou shalt not know. For if this one God was 
sufficient for redeeming his people, what do the people now mean, 
when they wander, and seek aid here and there? For they ought to 
render to God the life received from him, which they now enjoy, and 
ought to acknowledge to be sufficiently safe under his protection. 
We now then see why this was added, Thou shalt not know a God 
besides me. 
    A reason, confirmatory of this, follows: "For no one, he says, 
is a Saviour except me". The copulative "waw" ought to be regarded 
here as a causative, For no one, &c., or, Surely no one is a Saviour 
except me. And this is a remarkable passage; for we learn that the 
worship of God does not consist in words, but in faith, and hope, 
and prayer. The Papists of the present day think that they do not 
profane the worship of God, though they fly to statues, though they 
pray to dead men, though they look here and there for the 
accomplishment of their hopes. How so? Because they ever retain the 
only true God, that is, they do not ascribe the name of God to 
Christopher or to Antony. The Papists think themselves free from all 
blame, since God retains his own name. But we see how differently 
the matter is regarded by the Lord. "I am," he says, "the only true 
God." How is this? "Because I am the only Saviour: feign not to 
thyself another God, for thou shalt find none that will save thee." 
Then God puts an especial value on the honour that is due to him 
from hope and prayer; that is, when our soul recumbs on him alone, 
and when we seek and hope for salvation from no other but from him. 
We see then how useful is the doctrine contained in this passage, in 
which the Prophet clearly shows, that the Israelites acted absurdly 
and shamefully when they formed another god for themselves, for no 
Saviour, except the one true God, can be found. 
    He afterwards adds "Thee I knew in the desert, in the land of 
droughts". God here confirms the truth that the Israelites had acted 
very absurdly in having turned their minds to other gods, for he 
himself had known them. The knowledge here mentioned is twofold, 
that of men, and that of God. God declares that he had a care for 
the people when they were in the desert; and he designates his 
paternal solicitude by the term, knowledge: I knew thee; that is, "I 
then chose thee a people for myself, and familiarly manifested 
myself to thee, as if thou were a near friend to me. But then it was 
necessary that I should have been also known by thee." This is the 
knowledge of men. Now when men are known by God, why do they not 
apply all their faculties, so that they may remain fixed on him? For 
when they divert them to other objects, they extinguish, as much as 
they can, this benefit of God. So also Paul speaks to the Galatians, 
'After ye have known God, or rather after ye are known by him,' 
(Gal. 4: 9.) In the first clause, he shows that they had done very 
wickedly in retaking themselves to various devices after the light 
of the gospel had been offered to them: but he increases their sin 
by the next clause, when he says, 'Rather after ye are known by 
him;' as though he said, "God has anticipated you by his gratuitous 
goodness. Since, then, God has thus first known you, and first 
favoured you with his grace, how great and how shameful is now your 
ingratitude in not seeking to know him in return?" We now then see 
why the Prophet added that the Israelites had been known by God in 
the desert, in the land of droughts. 
    And there is an express mention made of "the desert": for it 
was then necessary for the people to be sustained miraculously by 
the Lord; for except God had rained manna from heaven, and had also 
given water for drink, the people must have miserably perished. 
Since, then God had thus supported the people contrary to the usual 
course of nature, so that without his paternal care there could have 
been no hope of life, the Prophet now rightly adds, In the desert, 
in the land of droughts; that is, in that dry solitude, where not a 
grain of corn grew, so that the people could not live except God 
had, as it were, with his own hand, given them meat, and put it in 
their mouth. We now see that the extreme impiety of the people is 
here manifestly proved; for having been taught in God's law, and 
been encouraged by so many benefits, they yet went astray after 
profane superstitions. And the Prophet, at the same time, adds - 
Hosea 13:6 
According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, 
and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me. 
    The Prophet shows here that the people were in every way 
intractable. He has indeed handled this argument in other places; 
but the repetition is not superfluous. After he had said that the 
people were ungrateful in not continuing in the service of their 
Redeemer, by whom they had been so kindly and bountifully treated in 
the desert, where they must have perished through famine and want, 
had not the Lord in an unwonted manner brought them help in their 
great necessity, he now adds, "The Lord would have also allured you 
by other means, had you not been of a wholly wild and barbarous 
disposition: but it is hence manifest, that you are utterly 
disobedient; for after you have been brought out of the desert, you 
came to rich pastures." For the land of Israel is here compared to 
rich and fertile pastures; as though he said, "God has placed you in 
an inheritance where you might eat to the full, as when a shepherd 
leads his sheep to a spot especially fertile." What did take place? 
"To their pastures they came, and were filled; they were filled, and 
elevated became their heart, and they forgat me". 
    Since, then, the Israelites had extinguished the memory of 
their redemption, after the Lord had fed them when hungry in the 
desert, and since in their fulness they rejected God, and shook off 
his yoke, and, like ferocious horses, kicked against him, it became 
evident that their nature was so unnameable, that they could by no 
means be reduced to obedience or submission. We shall defer the rest 
till tomorrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou dost so kindly call on us daily by 
thy voice, meekly and calmly to offer ourselves to be ruled by thee, 
and since thou hast exalted us to a high degree of honour by freeing 
us from the dread of the devil, and from that tyranny which kept us 
in miserable fear, and hast also favoured us with the Spirit of 
adoption and of hope, - O grant, that we, being mindful of these 
benefits, may ever submit ourselves to thee, and desire only to 
raise our voice for this end, that the whole world may submit itself 
to thee, and that those who seem now to rage against thee may at 
length be brought, as well as we, to render thee obedience, so that 
thy Son Christ may be the Lord of all, to the end that thou alone 
mayest be exalted, and that we may be made subject to thee, and be 
at length raised up above, and become partakers of that glory which 
has been obtained for us by Christ our Lord. Amen.

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 35...)

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