(Calvin on Hosea, part 36)

Lecture Thirty-sixth. 
Hosea 13:14 
I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them 
from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy 
destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. 
    The Prophet, I doubt not, continues here the same subject, 
namely, that the Israelites could not bear the mercy offered to them 
by God, though he speaks here more fully. God seems to promise 
redemption, but he does this conditionally: they are then mistaken, 
in my judgement, who take these words in the same sense as when God, 
after having reproved and threatened, mitigates the severity of his 
instruction, and adds consolation by offering his grace. But the 
import of this passage is different; for God, as we have already 
said, does not here simply promise salvation, but shows that he is 
indeed ready to save, but that the wickedness of the people, as it 
has been said, was an impediment in the way. Let us, however, more 
carefully examine the words. 
    "From the hand of the grave", he says. By the hand he doubtless 
means power: for Jerome does nothing but trifle, when he speaks here 
of works, and says that the works of the grave are our sins. But 
this is far away from the mind of the Prophet. It is indeed a 
metaphor common in Scripture, that the hand is put for power or 
authority. Then it is, "I will redeem them from the power of the 
grave, I will redeem them from death"; that is, except they resist, 
I will become willingly their Redeemer. Some have therefore rendered 
the passage in the subjunctive mood, "From the hand of the grave I 
would redeem them, from death I would deliver them." But there is no 
need to change the tense, though, as I have said, they who do so 
faithfully set forth the design of the Prophet. But lest any one say 
that this is too remote from the words, the text of the Prophet may 
be very well understood, though the future tense be preserved. "I 
will then redeem them", as far as this depends on me; for a 
condition is to be introduced as though God came forth and declared 
that he was present to fulfil the office of a Redeemer. What, then, 
does stand in the way? Even the hardness of the people; for they 
would have preferred to perish a hundred times rather than to turn 
to the Lord, as we shall presently see. 
    He afterwards adds, "I will be thy perdition, O death; I will 
be thy excision, O grave". By these words, the Prophet more 
distinctly sets forth the power of God, and magnificently extols it, 
lest men should think that there is no way open to him to save, when 
no hope according to the judgement of the flesh appears. Hence the 
Prophet says, "Though men are now dead, there is yet nothing to 
prevent God to quicken them. How so? For he is the ruin of death, 
and the excision of the grave;" that is, "Though death should 
swallow up all men, though the grave should consume them, yet God is 
superior to both death and the grave, for he can slay death, for he 
can abolish the grave." We now perceive the real meaning of the 
    And we may learn from this passage, that when men perish, God 
still continues like himself, and that neither his power, by which 
he is mighty to save the world, is extinguished, nor his purpose 
changed, so as not to be always ready to help; but that the 
obstinacy of men rejects the grace which has been provided, and 
which God willingly and bountifully offers. This is one thing. We 
may secondly learn, that the power of God is not to be measured by 
our rule: were we lost a hundred times, let God be still regarded as 
a Saviour. Should then despair at any time so cast us down, that we 
cannot lay hold on any of God's promises, let this passage come to 
our minds, which says, that God is the excision of death, and the 
destruction of the grave. "But death is nigh to us, what then can we 
hope for any more?" This is to say, that God is not superior to 
death: but when death claims so much power over men, how much more 
power has God over death itself? Let us then feel assured that God 
is the destruction of death, which means that death can no more 
destroy; that is, that death is deprived of that power by which men 
are naturally destroyed; and that though we may lie in the grave, 
God is yet the excision of the grave itself. This is the application 
of what is here taught. But some one gives this version, "I will be 
thy perdition to death," as if this was addressed to the people: it 
is an absurd perversion of the whole passage, and deprives us of a 
most useful doctrine. 
    But many interpreters, thinking this passage to be quoted by 
Paul, have explained what is here said of Christ, and have in many 
respects erred. They have said first, that God promises redemption 
here without any condition; but we see that the design of the 
Prophet was far different. They have then assumed, that this is said 
in the person of Christ, "From the hand of the grave will I redeem 
them." They have at the same time thought, with too much refinement, 
that [the grave or] hell is put for the torments with which the 
reprobate are visited, or for the place itself where they are 
tormented. But the Prophet repeats the same thing in different 
words, and well known is this character of the Hebrew style. The 
grave then here differs not from death; though Jerome labours and 
contends that the grave means what is wholly different from death: 
but the whole of what he says is frivolous. They have then been 
deceived as to these words. And then into the words of the Prophet 
"I will be thy excision, O hell, (or grave,") they have introduced 
the word, bait, and have allegorically explained it of Christ, that 
he was like a hook: for as a worm, when fastened to the hook, and 
swallowed by a fish, becomes death to it; so also Christ, as they 
have said, when committed to the sepulchre, became a fatal bait; for 
as the fish are taken by the hook, so death was taken by the bait of 
the death of Christ. And these vain subtilties have been received 
with great applause: hence under the whole Papacy it is received 
without doubt as a divine truth, that Christ was the bait of death. 
But yet let any one narrowly examine the words of the Prophet, and 
he will see that they have ignorantly and shamefully abused the 
testimony of the Prophet. And we ought especially to take care, that 
the meaning of Scripture should be preserved true and certain. 
    But let us see what to answer to that which is said of Paul 
quoting this passage. The solution is not difficult. The Apostles do 
not avowedly at all times adduce passages, which in their whole 
context apply to the subject they handle; but sometimes they allude 
to a word only, sometimes they apply a passage to a subject in the 
way of resemblance, and sometimes they bring forward passages as 
testimonies. When the Apostles use the testimonies of Scripture, 
then the genuine and real truth must be sought out; but when they 
glance only at one word, there is no occasion to make any anxious 
inquiry; and when they quote any passage of Scripture in the way of 
resemblance, it is a too scrupulous anxiety to seek out how all the 
parts agree. But it is quite evident that Paul, in 1 Cor. 15, has 
not quoted the testimony of the Prophet for the purpose of 
confirming the doctrine of which he speaks. What then? As the 
resurrection of the flesh was a truth very difficult to be believed, 
nay, wholly contrary to the judgement of nature, Paul says that it 
is no matter of wonder, inasmuch as Christ will come to raise us. 
How so? Because it is the peculiar prerogative of God to be the 
perdition of death and the destruction of the grave; as though he 
said, "Were men to putrefy a thousand times, God would still retain 
that power of which he declared when he said, that he would be the 
ruin of death and the destruction of the grave." Let us then know, 
that, though the judgement of nature rejects the truth, yet God is 
endued with that incomprehensible power by which he can raise us 
from a state of putrefaction; nay, since he created the world from 
nothing, he will also raise us up from the grave, for he is the 
death of death, the grave of the grave, the ruin of ruin, and the 
destruction of destruction: and the simple object of Paul is, to 
extol by these striking words that incredible power of God, which is 
beyond the reach of human understanding. 
    Now were any one to quote for the same purpose this place from 
the Psalms, "The Lord's are the issues of death, (Psalm 68: 20,) 
would it be needful to inquire in what sense David said this or of 
what time he speaks? By no means; but what is spoken of is the 
unchangeable prerogative and power of God, of which he can never be 
deprived, so also in this place we see what he declares by Hosea, 
and what he would have done, had there not been an obstacle in the 
ingratitude of the people; for he says "I will be thy ruin, O grave; 
I will be thy death, O death". And since God has promised this, let 
us feel assured that we shall at last find this to be true as to 
ourselves. We now then perceive how the real meaning of the Prophet 
agrees with the subject handled by Paul. 
    It now follows, "consolation", or, "repentance is hid from my 
eye"; for "nacham" means both. "Nacham" signifies to repent, and it 
signifies to receive consolation. If the term, consolation, be 
approved, the sense will be, "There is no reason for any one to 
wonder that I speak so sharply, and do nothing but thunder against 
my people; for consolation has now no place among them; therefore 
consolation is hid from my eyes." And this was the case, because the 
irreclaimable wickedness of the people did not allow God to change 
his severity into mildness, so as to give any hope of pardon and 
salvation. In this sense then it is said that consolation was hid 
from his eyes. But if the word, repentance, be more approved, it 
will show exactly the same thing, - that it was fully determined to 
destroy that people. "There is then no reason for you to hope that I 
can become milder in course of time; for repentance is hid from mine 
eyes. This shall remain fixed, you shall be reduced to nothing; for 
ye are past all hope." We then see that both the words refer to the 
same thing, that God takes away from this miserable and reprobate 
people every hope of salvation. Now it follows - 
Hosea 13:15 
Though he be fruitful among [his] brethren, an east wind shall come, 
the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his 
spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he 
shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels. 
    God again confirms what had been said that Israel in vain 
trusted in their strength and fortresses and that certain 
destruction was nigh them on account of their sins which they 
followed without any limits or restraint. But the Prophet begins 
with these words, "He among brethren will increase". He alludes, I 
doubt not, (as other interpreters have also noticed,) to the 
blessing of the tribe of Ephraim, which is mentioned in Gen. 48; for 
we know that though Ephraim was the younger, he was yet placed first 
by Jacob, so that he was preferred in honour to his brother, who was 
the firstborn: and further, the prophecy, we know, which Jacob then 
announced, was really fulfilled; for the tribe of Ephraim excelled, 
both in number and in other respects, all the rest, except only the 
tribe of Judah. Ephraim had evidently gained high eminence among the 
whole people. But when he ought to have ascribed all this to the 
gratuitous goodness of God, he became inflated with pride. This 
ingratitude the Prophet now reproves, "He", he says, "among his 
brethren will increase": but whence this increase? Whence was this 
so great a dignity, except that he was preferred to Manasseh, who by 
right of nature was the first? Now it was not enough for this 
wretched people to forget so great a favour of God, without at the 
same time abusing their wealth in fostering pride, and without 
hardening themselves in contempt of God. For whence came so great an 
audacity in their rebellion, whence so great stupidity and so great 
a madness as to despise the judgement of God, except from this - 
that they had increased among their brethren? 
    Though, then, he increases among his brethren, yet "there shall 
come an east wind, the wind of Jehovah, which shall dry his spring, 
and his fountain shall be dried up". Here God declares what had been 
before mentioned, that it was in his power to take away from the 
people of Israel what he had gratuitously bestowed, as he could dry 
up the fountains whenever he wished. And he applies a most suitable 
similitude. As the east wind, he says, dries and burns up, and if it 
long prevails, the fountains will be dried up; so will I, he says, 
dry up all the springs of Ephraim. Whether or not he thinks that he 
possesses more vigour than fountains, which have an exhaustless 
source, it is certain that fountains dry up whenever it so pleases 
me. I will then dry up the springs and fountains of Ephraim: though 
he thinks that he draws from a deep fountain, yet the wind, when it 
shall rise, will dry up his whole vigour and moisture. We now 
understand what the Prophet means. 
    Now as to the words, some render "kadim" improperly, the south 
wind; for it means the east wind: and then others incorrectly 
explain the wind of Jehovah, as meaning a strong wind. I indeed 
allow that what is unusual is often said to be divine; but in this 
place the Prophet intended to express, that God has winds ever 
ready, by which he can dry up whatever vigour there may be or seem 
to be in men. Hence the name of Jehovah is set in opposition to 
natural causes or means. It shall not then be a fortuitous wind that 
shall dry up the springs of Ephraim, but one raised up by the 
counsel and certain purpose of God; as though he said, "This wind 
will be the scourge of God." 
    We are then taught here, that when God for a time blesses us, 
we must beware lest we abuse his favour and entertain a false 
confidence, as we see that Ephraim had done: for he flourished among 
his brethren, and then raised up his head; and thus he obliterated 
God's favour through his pride and haughtiness. We ought then, when 
prosperous, ever to fear, lest something like this should happen to 
us. The more kindly then God deals with us, the more constantly 
ought we to be roused up to pray to him, that he may be pleased to 
carry on his work to the end, lest we slumber in our enjoyments 
while God is indulgent to us. This, in the first place, we ought to 
bear in mind. Then we must also notice the warning of the prophet, 
that God can suddenly, and, as it were, in a moment, upset the 
prosperity of men, that there is nothing in this world which cannot 
be immediately changed whenever God withdraws from us his favour. 
This comparison then ought often to occur to us; when the air is 
tranquil, when the season is quiet, a wind will in a moment rise up, 
which will dry the earth, which will also make dry the fountains; 
and yet the vigour of fountains seems to be perpetual; what then may 
not happen to us? Cannot the Lord at any moment make us dry, since 
we have in ourselves no source of strength? He might indeed have 
said in this place what we find in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah 
that man is like the flower that soon fadeth; but he intended to 
express something more profound; for this people, being deeply fixed 
in their own strength, thought that they were supplied by 
exhaustless fountains, and that their vigour could not be dried up: 
hence he says, "Though thou hast fountains and springs, yet God will 
dry thee up; for he will find a wind that has power, as experience 
proves, to dry up springs and fountains." 
    But it follows, "It will rob the treasure of every desirable 
vessel". This may seem to be improperly applied to wind; but yet the 
meaning of the Prophet is sufficiently clear, even this, that 
nothing shall remain untouched in the tribe of Ephraim, when the 
Lord shall raise up his wind. "However hidden," he seems to say, 
"your treasures may be, yet this wind shall penetrate into the 
inmost recesses, so that nothing shall be safe from its violence." 
In short, the Prophet means, that the force of God's vengeance would 
be so violent, that Ephraim could not be secure in any of his 
fortresses; for the wind of God would penetrate unto the very inmost 
springs of the earth. This is the meaning. It follows - 
Hosea 13:16 
Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her 
God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in 
pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. 
    This is the conclusion of the discourse: this verse has then 
been improperly separated from the former chapter; for the Prophet 
enters not here on a new subject, but only confirms what he had said 
of the ultimate destruction of Samaria and of the whole kingdom. 
"Samaria then shall be desolated"; as though he said "I have already 
often denounced on you what you believe not, that destruction is 
nigh at hand; of this be now persuaded; but if you believe not, God 
will yet execute what he has determined, and what he now pronounces 
by my mouth." At the same time he adds the cause, "For they have 
provoked their God". That they might not complain that they were 
severely dealt with, he says, that they only suffered the punishment 
which they deserved. He also specifies the kind of destruction that 
was to be, "They shall fall by the sword, their children shall be 
dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women squall be torn asunder", 
that the child may be extracted from the womb. In saying that the 
citizens of Samaria, and the inhabitants of the whole country, shall 
fall by the sword, he doubtless intimates that God would make use of 
this kind of punishment by sending for enemies who would consign 
them to destruction. 
    We now then see what is included in the words of the Prophet. 
He first shows that it was all over with Samaria and the whole 
kingdom of Israel; as God could by no means bring them to 
repentance, he would now take vengeance on so desperate an 
obstinacy. He afterwards shows that God would do this justly, 
because he had been provoked; and, lastly, he shows what kind their 
punishment would be. That they might not think that the Assyrians 
would come by chance, the Prophet says that this army, which was to 
invade and destroy the country of Samaria, would be, as it were, 
conducted by the hand of God; for though the Assyrians wished to 
extend their own borders, and were influenced by their own avarice 
and cupidity, yet God would use them as instruments to execute his 
own judgement; and that they might know how dreadful the vengeance 
would be, he relates two kinds of evils, - that their children would 
be dashed in pieces, and that their women would be rent asunder, and 
their offspring extracted from their wombs. Even to speak of this is 
horrible; and it is what never takes place, except when enemies are 
greatly enraged and extremely provoked. We now then comprehend the 
meaning of the Prophet. 
    But if any one objects and says, that infants, and babes as yet 
concealed in the wombs of their mothers, deserve not such a grievous 
punishment, as they have not hitherto merited such a thing; it may 
be answered, that the whole human race are guilty before God, so 
that infants though not yet come forth to the light, are yet 
included as being under guilt; so that God cannot be charged with 
cruelty, though he may use his own right towards them. And further, 
we hear what he declares in many places, that he will devolve the 
sins of parents on their children. Since it is so, let us learn to 
acquiesce in these awful judgements of God, though very repugnant to 
our feelings; for we know that we must not contend with God, and 
that it would be extreme presumption to do so; nay, it would be 
impious audacity. Though then the reason for this punishment may not 
appear to us, we ought yet reverently to regard this judgement of 
God. We may moreover thus reason - If infants be not spared, even 
those as yet hid in the mother's womb, what will become of adults? 
what will become of the old, who through their whole life have 
continued to provoke the vengeance of God? The Lord no doubt 
intended by these words to terrify those godless despisers of his 
word, with whom he had to do. "How great a judgement," he says, 
"hangs over you, and how tremendous! since your infants shall not be 
exempted: for I shall involve you in the same judgement, when they 
shall be dashed against the stones, after having been drawn out of 
their mothers' womb. When such a dreadful punishment shall be 
inflicted on them, what shall be done to you? for the cause of the 
evil exists in you." We have now then explained this verse. Then 
follows an exhortation. 
Chapter 14. 
Hosea 14:1,2 
O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by 
thine iniquity. 
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away 
all iniquity, and receive [us] graciously: so will we render the 
calves of our lips. 
    Here the Prophet exhorts the Israelites to repentance, and 
still propounds some hope of mercy. But this may seem inconsistent 
as he had already testified that there would be no remedy any more, 
because they had extremely provoked God. The Prophet seems in this 
case to contradict himself. But the solution is ready at hand, and 
it is this, - In speaking before of the final destruction of the 
people, he had respect to the whole body of the people; but now he 
directs his discourse to the few, who had as yet remained faithful. 
And this distinction, as we have reminded you in other places, ought 
to be carefully noticed; otherwise we shall find ourselves perplexed 
in many parts of Scripture. We now then see for what purpose the 
Prophet annexed this exhortation, after having asserted that God 
would be implacable to the people of Israel; for with regard to the 
whole body, there was no hope of deliverance; God had now indeed 
determined to destroy them, and he wished this to be made known to 
them by the preaching of Hosea. But yet God had ever some seed 
remaining among his chosen people: though the body, as a whole, was 
putrid and corrupt; yet some sound members remained, as in a large 
heap of chaff some grains may be found concealed. As God then had 
preserved some (as he is wont always to do,) he sets forth to them 
his mercy: and as they had been carried away, as it were by a 
tempest, when iniquity so prevailed among the people, that there was 
nothing sound, the Prophet addresses them here, because they were 
not wholly incurable. 
    Let us then know that the irreclaimable, the whole body of the 
people, are now dismissed; for they were so obstinate that the 
Prophet could address them with no prospect of success. Then his 
sermon here ought to be especially applied to the elect of God, who, 
having fallen away for a time, and become entangled in the common 
vices of the age, were yet not altogether incurable. The Prophet now 
exhorts them and says "Return, Israel, to Jehovah thy God; for thou 
hast fallen by thine iniquity". This reason is added, because men 
will never repent unless they are made humble; and whence comes true 
and genuine humility, except from a sense of sin? Unless then men 
become displeased with themselves, and acknowledge that they are 
worthy of perdition, they will never be touched by a genuine feeling 
of penitence. These two things are then wisely joined together by 
Hosea, that Israel had fallen by their iniquities, and then, that it 
was time to return to Jehovah. How so? Because, when we are 
convinced that we are worthy of destruction, nays that we are 
already doomed to death for having so often provoked God, then we 
begin to hate ourselves; and a detestation of sin drives us to seek 
    But he says, "Turn thou, Israel, to thy God". The Prophet now 
kindly invites them; for he could not succeed by severe words 
without mingling a hope of favour, as we know that there can be no 
hope of repentance without faith. Then the Prophet not only shows 
what was necessary to be done, but says also, 'Thou art Israel, thou 
art an elect people.' He does not, however, as it has been already 
stated, address all indiscriminately, but those who were the true 
children of Abraham, though they had for a time degenerated. "Turn 
thou, Israel, then to thy God; for how much soever thou hast for a 
time fallen away, yet God has not rejected thee: only return to him, 
and thou shalt find favour, for he is placable to his own people." 
    He afterwards shows the way of repentance: and this passage 
deserves to be noticed; for we know that men bring forward mere 
trifles when they speak of repentance. Hence when the word, 
repentance, is mentioned, men imagine that God is to be pacified 
with this or that ceremony, as we see to be the case with those 
under the Papacy. And what is their repentance? Even this, - if on 
certain days they fast, if they mutter short prayers, if they 
undertake vowed pilgrimages, if they buy masses, - if with these 
trifles they weary themselves, they think that the right and the 
required repentance is brought before God: but all this is 
altogether absurd. As then the world understands not what repentance 
means, and to what it leads, the Prophet here sets forth true 
repentance by its fruits. He therefore says, "Take with you words, 
and turn to Jehovah; and say to him, Take away all iniquity and 
bring good, and we will render to thee the calves of our lips". When 
he bids them to take or find words to present instead of sacrifice, 
he no doubt alluded to what the law teaches. 
    First, it is certain that the Prophet speaks not of feigned 
words; for we know what God declares by Isaiah, 'This people draw 
nigh me with their lips, but their heart is from me far distant,' 
(Isa. 29: 13.) But he bids them to take words, by which they might 
show what was conceived and felt in their heart. Then he means this 
first, that their words should correspond with their feeling. 
    It must, secondly, be noticed, that the Prophet speaks not here 
of any sort of words, but that there is to be a mutual relation 
between the words of God and the words of men. How are we then to 
bring words to God, such as prove the genuineness of our piety? Even 
by being teachable and submissive; by suffering willingly when he 
chastises us, by confessing what we deserve when he reproves us, by 
humbly deprecating vengeance when he threatens us, by embracing 
pardon when he promises it. When we thus take words from God's 
mouth, and bring them to him, this is to take words according to 
what the Prophet means in this place. We hence see the import of the 
Prophet's exhortation, when he bids us to take words: but I cannot 
proceed further now. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we now carry about us this mortal body, 
yea, and nourish through sin a thousand deaths within us, - O grant, 
that we may ever by faith direct our eyes towards heaven, and to 
that incomprehensible power, which is to be manifested at the last 
day by Jesus Christ our Lord, so that in the midst of death we may 
hope that thou wilt be our Redeemer, and enjoy that redemption, 
which he completed when he rose from the dead; and not doubt but 
that the fruit which he then brought forth by his Spirit will come 
also to us, when Christ himself shall come to judge the world; and 
may we thus walk in the fear of thy name, that we may be really 
gathered among his members, to be made partakers of that glory, 
which by his death he has procured for us. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 37...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-36.txt