(Calvin on Hosea, part 37)

Lecture Thirty-seventh. 
    "Take with you words and turn to Jehovah and say to him, Take 
away all iniquity, and bring good, and we will pay thee the calves 
of our lips". We mentioned in our last lecture the sort of words the 
Prophet here bids the Israelites to take, while exhorting them to 
repent: for as they had been hitherto deaf and mute, he commands 
them to be not only attentive to the word of the Lord, but also 
prompt to respond, that there might be a mutual consent between the 
doctrine heard and their own confession. He now explains himself and 
says, "Take away all iniquity, and bring good". These are the words 
with which he bids them to come to God. He dictates to them the 
confession which the Lord requires. 
    He first bids them to ask remission and the pardon of sins; for 
if a sinner desires to return into favour with God, and yet does not 
confess his guilt, he adopts a way the most strange. The very 
beginning must be a confession, such as the Prophet here describes. 
For the Israelites, by asking God to remit their sins, at the same 
time confessed themselves to be guilty before Him; yea, they 
condemned themselves that they might obtain gratuitous absolution. 
And emphatical is what they said, "Take away all iniquity". Thus 
they confessed themselves to be guilty not only of one sin, but also 
of many sins, for which God might justly punish them, had he not 
been propitious to them. In short, they acknowledge here their 
various and multiplied guilt. 
    But they add, "Bring good". This sentence is commonly explained 
as if the Israelites said, that they had hitherto been barren and 
empty of good works, but that now being reconciled, they would be 
useful and profitable servants of God. But this sense seems not to 
me suitable to this place; for he afterwards subjoins the evidence 
of gratitude, "We shall pay the calves of our lips". He here speaks, 
I doubt not, of God's blessing, which flows from the gratuitous 
pardon of sins: for God does not simply receive us into favour, but 
also really shows that he is not in vain reconciled to us; for he 
adds the fruits of his paternal love, by favouring us with his 
kindness. As then the Prophet commanded the Israelites to bring 
words before God, so now he introduces them as praying that God 
would bring good: and Scripture is wont commonly to join these two 
together, - the favour of God, by which he freely remits sins, - and 
his blessing, which he grants to his children, after he has embraced 
them in his paternal love. Hence bring good; that is, "O Lord, first 
receive us into favour, and then prove in reality that thou art 
propitious to us, even by outward benefits." 
    It now follows, "And we shall pay, or render, the calves of our 
lips". In this passage, the faithful confess that they have nothing 
with which they can pay God in return, when he has bountifully 
granted them all things, except that they will celebrate his 
goodness in their praises, and confess that they owe all things to 
him. This is then a remarkable passage; for it sets forth God's 
goodness towards men, and then it teaches that men can render no 
mutual compensation, but can only bring praises by which they 
celebrate God's goodness, and nothing more, as it is said in Ps. 
116, 'What shall I repay the Lord for all the benefits which he has 
conferred on me? The cup of salvation will I take, and on the name 
of the Lord will I call.' There also the Prophet testifies that God 
is not liberal towards men because he expects or demands any thing 
from them, for what can they give? but that he still requires 
thanksgiving, and that he is content with the sacrifice of praise, 
as we find it also said in Ps. 50. But we learn the same thing from 
this passage, "O Lord, they says bring good"; that is, "Though we 
have in various ways exposed ourselves to thy judgement, having by 
our innumerable sins provoked thy wrath, yet let thy goodness 
surpass all our iniquities; having made us clean, bring also that 
good which has been hitherto, as it were, far away from us." For 
while God shows signs of his wrath, we are destitute of all his 
blessings. They therefore ask God, after restoring them to favour, 
to manifest to them his kindness. And what do they at last say? "O 
Lords we promise thee no compensation, for thou requires none, nor 
is it in our power to give any; but we will pay to thee the calves 
of the lips;" that is, "We will confess that we owe all things to 
thee; for it is only the sacrifice of praise that we can render 
thee, when thou hast loaded us with all kinds of blessings." 
    And calves of the lips the Prophet fitly calls the praises 
which God requires as the chief sacrifice; for under the law, some 
offered calves when they paged their vows. But the Prophet shows 
that God regards not external sacrifices, but only those exercises 
which men perform in another way, even the sacrifices of 
thanksgiving. This then is the meaning of the metaphor; as though he 
said, "The calves which are wont to be offered are not the true 
sacrifices in which God delights, but tend rather to show that men 
are to offer praise to God." We now then perceive the meaning of 
this verse. It follows - 
Hosea 14:3 
Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will 
we say any more to the work of our hands, [Ye are] our gods: for in 
thee the fatherless findeth mercy. 
    This verse ought to be joined with the last, as the Israelites 
show here more clearly and fully in what they had sinned, and, at 
the same time, give proof of their repentance; for when they say, 
"The Assyrian shall not save us, we shall not mount on horses, we 
shall not say to the work of hands, Our gods", it is to be 
understood as a confession, that they had in these various ways 
roused against themselves the vengeance of God; for they had hoped 
for safety from the Assyrians, ran here and there, and had thus 
alienated themselves from God; they had also fled to statues and 
idols, and had transferred to dumb images the honour due to the only 
true God. We hence see, that though the faithful speak of future 
time, they yet indirectly confess that they had grievously sinned, 
had forsaken the only true God, and transferred their hopes to 
others, either to the Assyrians or to fictitious gods. But at the 
same time, they promise to be different in future; as though he 
said, that they would not only be grateful to God in celebrating his 
praises, but that their way of living would be also new, so as not 
to abuse the goodness of God. This is the substance of what is here 
    By saying, "The Assyrian shall not save us", they doubtless 
condemned, as I have already stated, the false confidence with which 
they were before deluded, when they sought deliverance by means of 
the Assyrians. There is, indeed, no doubt, but that the Israelites 
were ever wont to pretend to trust in the name of God; but in 
thinking themselves lost without the succour of the Assyrians, they 
most certainly defrauded God of his just honour, and adorned men 
with spoils taken from him. For except we be convinced that God 
alone is sufficient for us, even when all earthly aids fail us, we 
do not place in him our hope of salvation; but, on the contrary, 
transfer to mortals what belongs alone to him. For this sacrilege 
the Israelites therefore condemn themselves, and, at the same time, 
show that the fruit of their repentance would be, to set their minds 
on God, so as not to be drawn here and there as before, or to think 
that they could be preserved through the help of men. Let us hence 
learn, that men turn not to God, except when they bid adieu to all 
creatures, and no longer fix their hopes on them. This is one thing. 
    What follows, "On a horse we shall not mount", may be explained 
in two ways; - as though they said, that they would no longer be so 
mad as to be proud of their own power, or consider themselves safe 
because they were well furnished with horses and chariots; - but the 
clause may be more simply explained, as meaning, that they would not 
as before wander here and there to procure for themselves 
auxiliaries; "We shall not then mount a horse", but continue quiet 
in our country; and this sense seems more appropriate. I do not then 
think that the Prophet brings forward any new idea, but I read the 
two sentences conjointly, "The Assyrian shall not save us, we shall 
not then mount on a horse", that is, that we may ride in haste; for 
they had wearied themselves before with long journeys: as soon as 
any danger was at hand, they went away afar off into Assyria to seek 
help, when God commanded them to remain quiet. 
    The meaning of this will be better understood by referring to 
other passages, which correspond with what is here said. God says by 
Isaiah, 'On horses mount not; but ye said, We will mount: then 
mount,' says he, (Isa. 30: 16.) Here is a striking intimation, that 
the Jews against God's will rode and hastened to seek aids. "I see 
you," he says, "to be very prompt and swift: then mount, but it 
shall be for the purpose of fleeing." We see what was the design of 
this reproof of the Prophet; it was to show that the Jews, who ought 
to have remained still and quiet, fled here and there for the sake 
of seeking assistance. So also in this place, when they would show 
the fruit of their repentance, they say, "We will not hereafter 
mount a horse, for the Lord, who promises to be our aid, is not to 
be sought as one far off: we will not then any more fatigue 
ourselves in vain." It seems to me that this is what is meant by the 
    Then he adds, "And we shall not say, Our gods, to the work of 
our hands". As they had spoken of the false trust they placed in 
men, so now they condemn their own superstition. And these are the 
two pests which are wont to bring destruction on men; for nothing is 
more ruinous than to transfer our hope from God; and this is done in 
two ways, either when men trust in their own strength, or pride 
themselves on human aids and despise God, as if they can be safe 
without him, - or when they give up themselves to false 
superstitions. Both these diseases ever prevail in the world, when 
men entangle themselves in their own superstitions, and form for 
themselves new gods, from whom they expect safety; as we see to be 
the case with those under the Papacy. God is almost of no account 
with them, Christ is not sufficient. For how comes it that they 
contrive so many patrons for themselves, that they devise so many 
guardianships, except that they despise the help of God, or so 
extenuate it, that they dare not to hope for salvation from him? We 
hence see that superstition draws men away from God, and becomes 
thus the cause of the worst destruction. But there are some, who are 
not thus given up to superstitions, but who derive a hope from their 
own velour or wisdom; for the children of this world are inflated 
with their own strength; and when princes have their armies 
prepared, when they have fortified cities, when they possess 
abundance of money, when they are strengthened by many compacts, 
they are blinded with false confidence. So then this verse teaches 
us, that these are two destructive pests, which commonly draw men 
away from real safety; and if then we would repent sincerely from 
the heart, we must purge our minds from these two evils, so that we 
may not ascribe any thing to our own strength or to earthly helps, 
nor form any idols to be in the place of God, but feel assured that 
God alone is a sufficient help to us. 
    But it follows, "For in thee" will the fatherless find "mercy". 
Here the Israelites show that it is necessary for us to be depressed 
that we may remain dependent on God alone; for those are compared to 
the fatherless who are so humbled, that they cast away all vain 
hopes, and, conscious of their nakedness and want, recumb on God 
alone. Hence, that God's mercy may find a way open to come to us, we 
must become fatherless. Now what this metaphor means is well known 
to us. The fatherless, we know, are, first, destitute of aid, and, 
secondly, of wisdom; and they are also without strength. They are 
then dependent on the aid of another, and stand in need of 
direction; in short, their safety depends on the assistance of 
others. Thus, also, we are really fatherless, when we rely not on 
our own prudence, nor recumb on our own strength, nor think that we 
can be safe through the aids which come from the earth, but cast all 
our hopes and cares on God alone. This is one thing. "The 
fatherless" then shall find mercy "in thee"; that is, "When thou, 
Lord, dost so afflict us, that we become wholly cast down, then we 
shall find mercy in thee; and this mercy will be sufficient for us, 
so that we shall no more wander and be drawn aside by false devices, 
as it has hitherto been the case with us." When, therefore, they 
say, in God will the fatherless find mercy, they mean that the grace 
offered by the Lord will be sufficient, so that there will be no 
need any more of seeking aid from any other. We now understand what 
the Prophet means in this verse. It follows - 
Hosea 14:4 
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine 
anger is turned away from him. 
    God here confirms what we have observed respecting his 
gratuitous reconciliation, nor is the repetition useless; for as men 
are disposed to entertain vain and false hopes, so nothing is more 
difficult than to preserve them in dependence on the one God, and to 
pacify their minds, so that they disturb not nor fret themselves, as 
experience teaches us all. For when we embrace the promises of free 
pardon, our flesh ever leads us to distrust, and we become harassed 
by various fancies. "What! can you or dare you promise with 
certainty to yourself that God will be propitious to you, when you 
know that for many reasons he is justly angry with you?" Since, 
then, we are so inclined to harbour distrust, the Prophet again 
confirms the truth which we have before noticed, which is, that God 
is ready to be reconciled, and that he desires nothing more than to 
receive and embrace his people. 
    Hence he says, "I will heal their defections". The way of 
healing is by a gratuitous pardon. For though God, by regenerating 
us by his Spirit, heals our rebellion, that is, subdues us unto 
obedience, and removes from us our corruptions, which stimulate us 
to sin; yet in this place the Prophet no doubt declares in the 
person of God, that the Israelites would be saved from their 
defections, so that they might not come against them in judgement, 
nor be imputed to them. Let us know then that God is in two respects 
a physician while he is healing our sins: he cleanses us by his 
Spirit, and he abolishes and buries all our offences. But it is of 
the second kind of healing that the Prophet now speaks, when he 
says, I will heal their turnings away: and he employs a strong term, 
for he might have said, "your faults or errors" but he says, "your 
defections from God;" as though he said, "Though they have so 
grievously sinned, that by their crimes they have deserved hundred 
deaths, yet I will heal them from these their atrocious sins, and I 
will love them freely." 
    The word "nedavah" may be explained either freely or 
bountifully. I will then love them bountifully, that is, with an 
abounding and not a common love; or I will love them freely, that is 
gratuitously. But they who render the words "I will love them of 
mine own accord," that is, not by constraint, pervert the sense of 
the Prophet; for how frigid is the expression, that God is not 
forced to love us; and what meaning can hence be elicited? But the 
Lord is said to love us freely, because he finds in us no cause of 
love, for we are unworthy of being regarded or viewed with any 
favour; but he shows himself liberal and beneficent in this very act 
of manifesting his love to the unworthy. 
    We then perceive that the real meaning of the Prophet is this, 
that though the Israelites had in various ways provoked the wrath of 
God, and as it were designedly wished to perish, and to have him to 
be angry with them; yet the Lord promises to be propitious to them. 
In what way? Even in this, for he will give proof of his bounty, 
when he will thus gratuitously embrace them. We now see how God 
becomes a Father to us, and regards us as his children, even when he 
abolishes our sins, and also when he freely admits us to the 
enjoyment of his love. And this truth ought to be carefully 
observed; for the world ever imagines that they come to God, and 
bring something by which they can turn or incline him to love them. 
Nothing can be more inimical to our salvation than this vain fancy. 
    Let us then learn from this passage, that God cannot be 
otherwise a Father to us than by becoming our physician and by 
healing our transgressions. But the order also is remarkable, for 
God puts love after healing. Why? Because, as he is just, it must be 
that he regards us with hatred as long as he imputes sins. It is 
then the beginning of love, when he cleanses us from our vices, and 
wipes away our spots. When therefore it is asked, how God loves men, 
the answer is, that he begins to love them by a gratuitous pardon; 
for while God imputes sins, it must be that men are hated by him. He 
then commences to love us, when he heals our diseases. 
    It is not without reason that he adds, that "the fury" of God 
"is turned away from Israel". For the Prophet intended to add this 
as a seal to confirm what he taught; for men ever dispute with 
themselves when they hear that God is propitious to them. "How is 
this, that he heals thine infirmities? for hitherto thou hast found 
him to be angry with thee, and how art thou now persuaded that his 
wrath is pacified?" Hence the Prophet seals his testimony respecting 
God's love, when he says, that his wrath has now ceased. Turned away 
then is my fury. "Though hitherto I have by many proofs, manifested 
to thee my wrath, yet I now come to thee as one changed. Judge me 
not then by past time, for I am now pacified to thee, and my fury is 
from thee turned away." It follows - 
Hosea 14:5 
I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and 
cast forth his roots as Lebanon. 
    The Prophet now again repeats what he had said, that God, after 
restoring the people to favour, would be so beneficent, as to render 
apparent the fruit of reconciliation. Seeing that the Israelites had 
been afflicted, they ought to have imputed this to their own sins, 
they ought to have perceived by such proofs, the wrath of God. They 
had been so stupid as to have on the contrary imagined, that their 
adversities happened to them by chance. The Prophet had been much 
engaged in teaching this truth, that the Israelites would be ever 
miserable until they turned to God, and also, that all their affairs 
would be unhappy until they obtained pardon. He now speaks of a 
change, that God would not only by words show himself propitious to 
them, but would also give a proof by which the Israelites might know 
that they were now blessed, because they had been reconciled to God; 
for his blessing would be the fruit of his gratuitous love. Thus 
then ought this sentence, "I will be to Israel as the dew", to be 
connected: He intimates that they were before dry, because they had 
been deprived of God's favour. He compares them to a rose or lily: 
for when the fields or meadows are burnt up by the heat of the sun, 
and there is no dew distilling from heaven, all things wither. How 
then can lilies and roses flourish, except they derive moisture from 
heaven, and the dew refreshes the grounds that they may put forth 
their strength? The reason then for the similitude is this, because 
men become dry and destitute of all vigour, when God withdraws his 
favour. Why? Because God must, as it were, distil dew, otherwise, as 
it has been said, we become wholly barren and dry. I will be then as 
dew to Israel. 
    And further, "He shall Flourish as the lily, and his roots he 
shall send forth". Some render "weyach", "and he will strike;" and 
"nachah" means to strike. Others render the words, "His branches 
will extend:" but the verb is in the singular number, and the noun, 
"roots," is in the plural. The Prophet then speaks of Israel, that 
he strikes his roots; but he means to fix in a metaphorical sense: 
he will then fix his roots. As when we strike, we fetch a blow, and 
extend our arms; so he will spread forth his roots as Libanus. This 
is the second effect of God's favour and blessing; which means, that 
the happiness of the people would be perpetual. With regard to the 
rose or lily, the meaning of the metaphor is, that God would 
suddenly, and as in a moment, vivify the Israelites, though they 
were like the dead. as in one night the lily rises, and unexpectedly 
also the rose; so sudden would be the change signified by this 
metaphor. But as the lilies and the roses soon wither, it was not 
enough to promise to Israel that their salvation would come 
suddenly; but it was needful to add this second clause, - that 
though they would be like lilies and roses, they yet would be also 
like tall trees, which have deep roots in the ground, by which they 
remain firm and for a long time flourish. 
    We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet. He mentions 
here the twofold effect of God's blessing as to the Israelites, - 
that their restoration would be sudden, as soon as God would distil 
like the dew his favour upon them, and also that this happiness 
would not be fading, but enduring and permanent. And the words may 
be rendered, "as Libanus", or as "those of Libanus": as Libanus he 
shall cast forth his roots, as the trees which grow there; or, he 
shall cast forth his roots as the trees which are in Libanus. But as 
to the sense there is no difference. It follows - 
Hosea 14:6,7 
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive 
tree, and his smell as Lebanon. 
They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive 
[as] the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof [shall be] as 
the wine of Lebanon. 
    The Prophet goes on with the same subject, but joins the 
beginning of the first verse with the second clause of the former 
verse. He had said that the roots of the people would be deep when 
God should restore them. Now he adds, that their branches shall go 
on. He mentions here "to go on" metaphorically for extending far; 
for branches of trees seem to go on, when they extend and spread 
themselves far and wide. His branches, then, shall go on; which 
means, that a tree, after striking roots, remains not in the same 
state, but grows and spreads forth its branches in all directions. 
In short, God promises a daily increase to his blessing, after he 
has once begun to show himself bountiful to the people of Israel. "I 
will then be bountiful at the beginning; and further, he says, my 
blessing shall, as time passes, increase and be multiplied." 
    He afterwards adds, "His comeliness shall be like the olive". 
The Prophet accumulates similitudes, that he might more fully 
confirm the people. And we certainly see that the minds of men grow 
faint, when they look for prosperity from this or that quarter; for 
there is hardly one in a hundred who is fully persuaded that when 
God is propitious, all things turn out well and happily: for men 
regard not the love of God when they wish things to be well with 
them, but wander here and there through the whole world; and now 
they seek prosperity from themselves, then from the earth, now from 
the air, then from the sea. Since then it is so difficult to impress 
this truth fully on the hearts of men, that the love of God is the 
fountain of all blessings, the Prophet has collected together a 
number of similitudes to confirm what he teaches. Then "his 
comeliness, he say, shall be like the olive"; and further, "his 
fragrance like that of Libanus": and odoriferous trees, we know, 
grow on Mount Libanus. But by these various similes the Prophet 
shows that the state of the people would be prosperous and happy as 
soon as they should be received by God into favour. He afterwards 
adds, "the dwellers under his shadow shall return"; but I defer this 
till to-morrow. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so miserable as soon as thou 
withdrawest thy favour from us, - O grant, that we may deeply feel 
this conviction, and thus learn to be humble before thee, and to 
hate our ownselves, and that we may not in the mean lime deceive 
ourselves by such allurements as commonly prevail, to put our hope 
in creatures or in this world, but raise our minds upwards to thee, 
and fix on thee our hearts, and never doubt, but that when thou 
embraces us with thy paternal love, nothing shall be wanting to us. 
And in the meantime, may we suppliantly flee to thy mercy, and with 
true and genuine confession, acknowledge this to be our only 
protection - that thou deign to receive us into favour, and to 
abolish our sins, into which we not only daily fall, but by which we 
also deserve eternal death, so that we may daily rise through thy 
free pardon, till at length our Redeemer Christ thy Son shall appear 
to us from heaven. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 38...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-37.txt