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The Prophet having spoken of the people’s restoration, and promised that God would some time receive into favour those whom he had before rejected, now exhorts the faithful mutually to stir up one another to receive this favour. He had previously mentioned a public proclamation; for it is not in the power of men to make themselves the children of God, but God himself freely adopts them. But now the mutual exhortation of which the Prophet speaks follows the proclamation; for God at the same time invites us to himself. After we are taught in common, it remains then that each one should extend his hand to his brethren, that we may thus with one consent be brought together to the Lord.
This then is what the Prophet means by saying, Say ye to your brethren, עמי omi, and to your sisters רוחמה ruchamah; that is, since I have promised to be propitious to you, you can now safely testify this to one another. We then see that this discourse is addressed to each of the faithful, that they may mutually confirm themselves in the faith, after the Lord shall offer them favour and reconciliation. Let us now proceed —
The Prophet seems in this verse to contradict himself; for he promised reconciliation, and now he speaks of a new repudiation. These things do not seem to agree well together that God should embrace, or be willing to embrace, again in his love those whom he had before rejected, — and that he should at the same time send a bill of divorce, and renounce the bond of marriage. But if we weigh the design of the Prophet, we shall see that the passage is very consistent, and that there is in the words no contrariety. He has indeed promised that at a future time God would be propitious to the Israelites: but as they had not yet repented, it was needful to deal again more severely with them, that they might return to their God really and thoroughly subdued. So we see that in Scripture, promises and threatening are mingled together, and rightly too. For were the Lord to spend a whole month in reproving sinners they may in that time fall away a hundred times. Hence God, after showing to men their sins adds some consolation and moderates severity, lest they should despond: he afterwards returns again to threatening, and does so from necessity; for though men may be terrified with the fear of punishment, they do not yet really repent. It is then necessary for them to be reproved not only once and again, but very often.
We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view: he had spoken of the people’s defection; afterwards he proved that the people had been justly rejected by the Lord; and then he promised the hope of pardon. But now seeing that they still continued obstinate in their vices, he reproves again those who had need of such chastisement. He, in a word, has in view their present state.
Almost all so expound this verse as if the Prophet addressed the faithful: and with greater refinement still do they expound, who say, that the Prophet addresses the faithful who had fallen away from the synagogue. They have and I have no doubt, been much deceived; for the Prophets on the contrary, shows here that God was justly punishing the Israelites, who were wont to excuse themselves in the same way as hypocrites are wont to do. When the Lord treated them otherwise than according to their wishes, they expostulated, and raised up contention — “What does this mean?” So do we find them introduced as thus speaking, by Isaiah. [Isaiah 58:1.] There, indeed, they fiercely contend with God, as if the Lord dealt with them unjustly, for they seemed not conscious of having done any evil. Hence the Prophet, seeing the Israelites so senseless in their sins, says, Contend, contend with your mother. He speaks here in the person of God: and God, as it has been stated, uses the similitude of a marriage. Let us now see what is the import of the words.
When a husband repudiates his wife, he fixes a mark of disgrace on the children born by that marriage: their mother has been divorced; then the children, on account of that divorce, are held in less esteem. When a husband repudiates his wife through waywardness, the children justly regard him with hatred. Why? “Because he loved not our mother as he ought to have done; he has not honoured the bond of marriage.” It is therefore usually the case, that the children’s affections are alienated from their father, when he treats their mother with too little humanity or with entire contempt. So the Israelites, when they saw themselves rejected, wished to throw the blame on God. For by the name, “mother”, are the people here called; it is transferred to the whole body of the people, or the race of Abraham. God had espoused that people to himself, and wished them to be like a wife to him. Since then God was a husband to the people, the Israelites were as sons born by that marriage. But when they were repudiated, the Israelites said, that God dealt cruelly with them, for he has cast them away for no fault. The Prophet now undertakes the defence of God’s cause, and speaks also in his person, Contend, contend, he says with your mother In a word, this passage agrees with what is said in the beginning of Isaiah 50:1,‘
Where is the bill of repudiation? Have I sold you to my creditors? But ye have been sold for your sins, and your mother has been repudiated for her iniquity.’
Husbands were wont to give a bill of divorce to their wives, that they themselves might see it: for it freed them from every reproach, inasmuch as the husband bore a testimony to his wife: “I dismiss her, not that she has been unfaithful, not that she has violated the bond of marriage; but because her beauty does not please me, or because her manners are not agreeable to me.” The law compelled the husband to give such a testimony as this. God now says by his Prophet, “Show me now the bill of repudiation: have I of my own accord cast away your mother? No, I have not done so. Ye cannot accuse me of cruelty, as though her beauty did not please me, and as though I had followed the common practice approved by you. I have not willingly rejected her, nor at my own pleasure, and I have not sold her to my creditors, as your fathers were sometimes wont to do, as to their children, when they were in debt.” In short, the Lord shows there that the Jews were to be blamed, that they were rejected together with their mother. So he says also in this place, Contend, contend with your mother; which means, “Your dispute is not with me:” and by the repetition he shows how inveterate was their perverseness, for they never ceased to glamour against God. We now see the real meaning of the Prophet.
In vain then do they philosophise, who say that the mother was to be condemned by her own children; because, when they shall be converted to their former faith, they ought then to condemn the synagogue. The Prophet meant no such thing; but, on the contrary, he brings this charge against the Israelites, that they had been repudiated for the flagitious conduct of their mother, and had ceased to be counted the children of God. For the comparison between husband and wife is here to be understood; and then the children are placed as it were in the middle. When the mother is dismissed, the children indignantly say that the father has been too inhuman if indeed he wilfully divorces his wife: but when a wife becomes unfaithful to her husband, or prostitutes herself to any shameful crime, the husband is then free from every blame; and there is no cause for the children to expostulate with him; for he ought thus to punish a shameless wife. God then shows that the Israelites were justly rejected, and that the blame of their rejection belonged to the whole race of Abraham; but that no blame could be imputed to him.
And for a reason it is added, Let her then take away her fornication from her face, and her adulteries from the midst of her breasts The Prophet, by saying, “Let her then take away her fornications”, (for the copulative ו, vau, ought to be regarded as an illative,) confirms what we have just now said; that is that God had stood to his pledged faith, but that the people had become perfidious; and that the cause of the divorce or separation was, that the Israelites persevered not, as they ought to have done, in the obedience of faith. Then God says, Let her take away her fornications. But the phrase, Let her take away from her face and from her breasts, seems singular; and what does it mean? because women commit fornication neither by the face nor by the breasts. It is evident the Prophet alludes to meretricious finery; for harlots, that they may entice men, sumptuously adorn themselves, and carefully paint their face and decorate their breasts. Wantonness then appears in the face as well as in the breasts. But interpreters do not touch on what the Prophet had in view. The Prophet, no doubt, sets forth here the shamelessness of the people; for they had now so hardened themselves in their contempt of God, in their ungodly superstitions, in all kinds of wickedness, that they were like harlots, who conceal not their baseness, but openly prostitute themselves, yea, and exhibit tokens of their shamelessness in their eyes as well as in every part of their bodies. We see then that the people are here accused of disgraceful impudence as they had grown so callous as to wish to be known to be such as they were. In the same way does Ezekiel set forth their reproachful conduct,‘
Spread has the harlot her feet, she called on all who passed by the way,’ (Ezekiel 16:25.)
We now then understand why the Prophet expressly said, Let her take away from her face her fornication, and from her breasts her adulteries: for he teaches that the vices of the people were not hidden, and that they did not now sin and cover their baseness as hypocrites do, but that they were so unrestrained in their contempt of God, that they were become like common harlots.
Here is a remarkable passage; for we first see that men in vain complain when the Lord seems to deal with them in severity; for they will ever find the fault to be in themselves and in their parents: yea, when they look on all impartially, they will confess that all throughout the whole community are included in one and the same guilt. Let us hence learn, whenever the lord may chastise us, to come home to ourselves, and to confess that he is justly severe towards us; yea, were we apparently cast away, we ought yet to confess, that it is through our own fault, and not through God’s immoderate severity. We also learn how frivolous is their pretext, who set up against God the authority of their fathers, as the Papists do: for they would, if they could, call or compel God to an account, because he forsakes them, and owns them not now as his Church. “What! has not God bound his faith to us? Is not the Church his spouse? Can he be unfaithful?” So say the Papists: but at the same time they consider not, that their mother has become utterly filthy through her many abominations; they consider not, that she has been repudiated, because the Lord could no longer bear her great wickedness. Let us then know, that it is in vain to bring against God the examples of men; for what is here said by the Prophet will ever stand true, that God has not given a bill of divorce to his Church; that is, that he has not of his own accord divorced her, as peevish and cruel husbands are wont to do, but that he has been constrained to do so, because he could no longer connive at so many abominations. It now follows —
Though the Prophet in this verse severely threatens the Israelites, yet it appears from a full view of the whole passage, that he mitigates the sentence we have explained: for by declaring what sort of vengeance was suspended over them, except they timely repented, he shows that there was some hope of pardon remaining, which, as we shall see, he expresses afterwards more clearly.
He now begins by saying, Lest I strip her naked, and set her as on the day of her nativity This alone would have been dreadful; but we shall see in the passage, that God so denounces punishment, that he cuts not off altogether the hope of mercy: and at the same time he reminds them that the divorce, for which they were disposed to contend with God, was such, that God yet shows indulgence to the repudiated wife. For when a husband dismisses an adulteress, he strips her entirely, and rightly so: but God shows here, that though the Israelites had become wanton, and were like a shameless woman, he had yet so divorced them hitherto, that he had left them their dowry, their ornaments and marriage gifts. We then see that God had not used, as he might have done, his right; and hence he says, Lest I strip her naked; which means this, “I seem to you too rigid, because I have declared, that I am no longer a husband to your mother: and yet see how kindly I have spared her; for she remains as yet almost untouched: though she has lost the name of wife, I have not yet stripped her; she as yet lives in sufficient plenty. Whence is this but from my indulgence? for I did not wish to follow up my right, as husbands do. But except she learns to humble herself, I now gird up myself for the purpose of executing heavier punishments.” We now comprehend the whole import of the passage.
What the Prophet means by the day of nativity, we may readily learn from Ezekiel 16:0; for Ezekiel there treats the same subject with our Prophet, but much more at large. He says that the Israelites were then born, when God delivered them from the tyranny of Egypt. This then was the nativity of the people. And yet it was a miserable sight, when they fled away with fear and trembling, when they were exposed to their enemies: and after they entered the wilderness, being without bread and water, their condition was very wretched. The Prophet says now, Lest I set her as on the day of her nativity, and set her as the desert. Some regard the letter כ caph to be understood, as if it were written, כבמדבר as in the desert; that is, I will set her as she was formerly in the desert; and this exposition is not unsuitable; for the day of nativity, the Prophet doubtless calls that time, when the people were brought out of Egypt: they immediately entered the desert, where there was the want of every thing. They might then have soon perished there, being consumed by famine and thirst, had not the Lord miraculously supported them. The sense then seems consistent by this rendering, Lest I set her as in the deserts and as in a dry land. But another exposition is more approved, Lest I set her like the desert and dry land
With regard to what the Prophet had in view, it was necessary to remind the Israelites here of what they were at their beginning. For whence was their contempt of God, whence was their obstinate pride, but that they were inebriated with their pleasures? For when there flowed an abundance of all good things, they thought of themselves, that they had come as it were from the clouds; for men commonly forget what they formerly were, when the Lord has made them rich. As then the benefits of God for the most part blind us, and make us to think ourselves to be as it were half-gods, the Prophet here sets before the children of Abraham what their condition was when the Lord redeemed them. “I have redeemed you,” he says, “from the greatest miseries and extreme degradation.” Sons of kings are born kings, and are brought up in the midst of pomps and pleasures; nay, before they are born, great pomps, we know, are prepared for them, which they enjoy from their mother’s womb. But when one is born of an ignoble and obscure mother, and begotten by a mean and poor father, and afterwards arises to a different condition, if he is proud of his splendour, and remembers not that he was once a plebeian and of no repute, this may be justly thrown in his face, “Who were you formerly? Why! do you not know that you were a cow-herd, or a mechanic, or one covered with filth? Fortune has smiled on you, or God has raised you to riches and honours; but you are so self-complacent as though your condition had ever been the same.”
This is the drift of what the Prophet says: I will set thy mother, he says, as she was at her first nativity. For who are you? A holy race, a chosen nation, a people sacred to me? Be it so: but free adoption has brought all this to you. Ye were exiles in Egypt, strangers in the land of Canaan, and were nothing better than other people. Besides, Pharaoh reduced you to a base servitude, ye were then the most abject of slaves. How magnificent, with regard to you, was your going forth! Did you not flee away tremblingly and in the night? And did you not afterwards live in a miraculous way for forty years in the desert, when I rained manna on you from the clouds? Since then your poverty and want has been so great, since there is nothing to make you to raise your crests, how is it that you show no more modesty? But if your present condition creates in you forgetfulness, I will set you as on the day of your nativity.” It now follows —
The Lord now comes close to each individual, after having spoken in general of the whole people: and thus we see that to be true which I have said, that it was far from the mind of the Prophet to suppose, that God here teaches the faithful who had already repented, that they ought to condemn their own mother. The Prophet meant nothing of the kind; but, on the contrary, he wished to check the waywardness of the people, who ceased not to contend with God, as though he had been more severe than just towards their race. Now then he reproves each of them; your children, he says, I will not pity; for they are spurious children He had indeed said before that they had been born by adultery; but he afterwards received them into favour. This is true; but what I have said must be remembered that the Prophet as yet continues in his reproofs; for though he has mingled some consolation, he yet saw that their hearts were not as yet contrite and sufficiently humbled. We must bear in mind the difference between their present state and their future favour. God before promised that he would be propitious to apostates who had departed from him: but now he shows that it was not yet the ripe time, for they had not ceased to sin. Hence he says, I will not pity your children
Having spoken of the mother’s divorce, he now says that the children, born of adultery, were not his: and certainly what the Prophet promised before was not immediately fulfilled; for the people, we know, had been disowned, and when deprived of the land of Canaan, were rejected, as it were, by the Lord. The Babylonian exile was a kind of death: and then when they returned from exile, a small portion only returned, not the whole people; and they were tossed, we know, by many calamities until Christ our Redeemer appeared. Since then the Prophet included the whole of this time, it is no wonder that he says that the children were to be repudiated by the Lord, because they were born of adultery: for until they returned from captivity, and Christ was at length revealed, this repudiation, of which the Prophet speaks, ever continued Thy children, he says, I will not pity. At first sight it seems very dreadful, that God takes away the hope of mercy; but we ought to confine this sentence to that time during which it pleased God to cast away his people. As long, then, as that temporary casting away lasted, God’s favour was hid; and to this the Prophet now refers, I will not then pity her children, for they are born by adultery. At the same time, we must remember that this sentence specifically belonged to the reprobate, who boasted of being the children of Abraham, while they were profane and unholy, while they impiously perverted the whole worship of God, while they were wholly ungovernable. Then the Prophet justly pronounces such a severe judgement on obstinate men, who could be reformed by no admonitions.
He afterwards declares how the children became spurious; their mother, who conceived or bare them, has been wanton; with shameful acts has she defiled herself בוש bush, means, to be ashamed; but here the Prophet means not that the Israelites were touched with shame, for such a meaning would be inconsistent with the former sentence; but that they were like a shameless and infamous woman, touched with no shame for her baseness. Their mother, then, had been wanton, and she who bare them had become scandalous Here the Prophet strips the Israelites of their foolish confidence, who were wont to profess the name of God, while they were entirely alienated from him: for they had fallen away by their impiety from pure worship, they had rejected the law, yea, and every yoke. Since then they were wild beasts, it was extreme stupidity ever to set up for their shield the name of God, and ever to boast of the adoption of their father Abraham. But as the Jews were so perversely proud, the Prophet here answers them, “ Your mother has been wanton, and with shameful acts has she defiled herself; I will not therefore count nor own you as my children, for ye were born by adultery.”
This passage confirms what I have shortly before explained, — that it is not enough that God should choose any people for himself, except the people themselves persevere in the obedience of faith; for this is the spiritual chastity which the Lord requires from all his people. But when is a wife, whom God has bound to himself by a sacred marriage, said to become wanton? When she falls away, as we shall more clearly see hereafter, from pure and sound faith. Then it follows that the marriage between God and men so long endures at they who have been adopted continue in pure faith, and apostasy in a manner frees God from us, so that he may justly repudiate us. Since such apostasy prevails under the Papacy, and has for many ages prevailed, how senseless they are in their boasting, while they would be thought to be the holy Catholic Church, and the elect people of God? For they are all born by wantonness, they are all spurious children. The incorruptible seed is the word of God; but what sort of doctrine have they? It is a spurious seed. Then as to God all the Papists are bastards. In vain then they boast themselves to be the children of God, and that they have the holy Mother Church, for they are born by filthy wantonness.
The Prophet pursues still the same subject: “She said, I will go after my lovers, the givers of my bread, of my waters, of my wool, and of my flax, and of my oil, and of my drink The Prophet here defines the whoredom of which he had spoken: this part is explanatory; the Prophet unfolds in several words what he had briefly touched when he said, your mother has been wanton. Now, if the Jews object and say, How has she become wanton? Because, “she said, I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my waters, etc. The Prophet here compares false gods to lovers, who seduce women from their conjugal fidelity; for he pursues the similitude which he had introduced. The Church, to whom God has pledged his faith, is represented as a wife; and as a woman does, when enticed by gifts, and as many women follow covetousness and become lascivious, that they may dress sumptuously, and live luxuriously, so the Prophet now points out this vice in the Israelitic Church, She said, I will go after my lovers Some understand by lovers either the Assyrians or the Egyptians; for when the Israelites formed connections with these heathen nations, they were drawn away, we know, from their God. But the Prophet inveighs especially against false and corrupt modes of worship, and all kinds of superstitions; for the pure worship of God, we know, is ever to have the first place, and that justly; for on this depend all the duties of life. I therefore doubt not, but that he includes all false gods, when he says, “I will go after my lovers”.
But by introducing the word, “said”, he amplifies the shamelessness of the people, who deliberately forsook their God, who was to them as a legitimate husband. It indeed happens sometimes that a man is thoughtlessly drawn aside by a mistake or folly, but he soon repents; for we see many of the unexperienced deceived for a short time: but the Prophet here shows that the Israelites premeditated their unfaithfulness, so that they wilfully departed from God. Hence she said; and we know that this said means so much; and it is to be referred, not to the outward word as pronounced, but to the inward purpose. She therefore said, that is, she made this resolution; as though he said, “Let no one make this frivolous excuse, that they were deceived, that they did it in their simplicity: ye are, he says, avowedly perfidious, ye have with a premeditated purpose sought this divorce.” He, however, ascribes this to their mother: for defection began at the root, when they were drawn away by Jeroboam into corrupt superstitions; and the promotion of this evil became as it were hereditary. He therefore intended to condemn here the whole community. Hence, “she said, I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my waters”. But I cannot finish today; I must therefore break off the sentence.
The Prophet here pursues the subject we touched upon yesterday; for he shows how necessary chastisement is, when people felicitate themselves in their vices. And God, when he sees that men confess not immediately their sins, defends as it were his own cause, as one pleading before a judge. In a word, God here shows that he could not do otherwise than punish so great an obstinacy in the people, as there appeared no other remedy.
Therefore, he says, behold I — There is a special meaning in these words; for God testifies that he becomes the avenger of impieties, when people are brought into straits; as though he said, “Though the Israelites are not ready to confess that they suffer justly, yet I now declare that to punish them will be my work, when they shall be deprived of their pleasures, and when the occasion of their pride shall be removed from them.” And he intimates by the metaphorical words he uses, that he would so deal with them, as to keep the people from wandering, as they had done hitherto, after their idols; but he retains the similitude of a harlot. Now when an unchaste wife goes after her paramours, the husband must either connive at her, or be not aware of her base conduct. However this may be, wives cannot thus violate the marriage-vow, except they are set at liberty by their husbands. But when a husband understands that his wife plays the wanton, he watches her more closely, notices all her ways day and night. God now takes up this comparison, I will close up, he says, her way with thorns, and surround her with a mound, that there may be no way of access open to adulterers.
But by this simile the Prophet means that the people would be reduced to such straits, that they might not lasciviate, as they had done, in their superstitions; for while the Israelites enjoyed prosperity, they thought everything lawful for them; hence their security, and hence their contempt of the word of the Lord. By hedge, then, and by thorns, God means those adversities by which he restrains the ungodly, so that they may cease to flatter themselves, and may not thoughtlessly follow, as they were before wont to do, their own superstitions. She shall not then find her ways; that is, “I will constrain them so to groan under the burden of evils, that they shall no longer, as they have hitherto done, allow loose reins to themselves.” It afterwards follows —
God now shows what takes place when he chastises hardened and rebellious people with heavy punishment. In the first clause he shows that perverseness will cleave so completely to their hearts, that they will not immediately return to a sound mind. She will follow her lovers, he says, and seek them. Here the Prophet tells us, that though the Israelites should be chastised by frequent punishments, they would yet continue in their obstinacy. It hence appears how hard a neck they had, and how uncircumcised in heart they were; and such did the Prophets, as well as Moses, represent them to be. And we hence learn, that had they been only moderately corrected, it would not have been sufficient for their amendment. Amazing, indeed, was their obstinacy; for God had divorced them, and then led them into great straits; and yet they went on in their course, as though they were utterly stupid and destitute of every feeling. Is it not a prodigious madness, when men run on so obstinately, even when God sets his hand so strongly against them? Such, however, is represented to have been the obstinacy of the Israelites.
The meaning then is, that when they were subdued, God would not immediately soften their hearts. Then God, though he bruised, did not yet reform them; for their hardness was so great, that they could not be turned immediately to a docile state of mind; but, on the contrary, they followed their lovers. By the word, follow, is expressed that mad zeal which possesses idolaters; for as we see, they are like men who are frantic. As then the superstitious know no bounds, nor any moderation, but a mad zeal at times lays hold on them, the Prophet says She will follow her lovers and shall not overtake them. What does the latter clause mean? That God will frustrate the hope of the ungodly, that they may know that they in vain worship false gods and follow with avidity absurd superstitions. They will seek them, he says, and shall not find them. He ever speaks of the people under the character of a shameless and unfaithful wife.
We then see what the Prophet intended to do, — to vindicate God from every blame, that men might not raise a clamour, as though he dealt unkindly with them. He shows that God, even when so rigid, produces hardly any effect; for the ungodly in their perverseness struggle against his scourges, and suffer not themselves to be brought immediately into due order.
But in the second clause the Prophet adds, that some benefit would at length arise, that though idolaters abused God’s goodness, and even hardened themselves against his rods, yet this would not be perpetually the case; for the Lord would grant better success. Hence it follows, She will then say, I will go and return to my former husband. Here the Prophet shows more clearly a hope of pardon, inasmuch as he speaks of the people’s repentance; for men, we know, repent not without benefit, as God is ever ready to receive them when they return to him in genuine sorrow. Then the Prophet here avowedly speaks of the repentance of the people, that the Israelites might hence know, that corrections, which men naturally ever dislike, would be profitable to them. It is our wish that God should always favour us, and that we should be nourished kindly and tenderly in his bosom; but in the meantime, he cannot allure us to himself, by whatever means he may try to do so: and hence it is, that chastisements are bitter to us, and our flesh immediately murmurs. When the Lord raises his finger, before he strikes us, we instantly groan and become angry, and even roar against him: in short, men can never be brought willingly to offer themselves to be chastised by God. Hence the Prophet now shows, that the severity of God is profitable to us; for it drives us at length to repentance: in a word, he commends the favour of God in his very severity, that we may know that he furthers our salvation, even when he seems to treat us most unkindly. She will then say, I will go and return to my former husband.
But we must observe, that when men really repent, they do so through the special influence of the Spirit; for they would otherwise perpetually remain in that perverseness of which we have spoken. Were God for a hundred years continually to chastise perverse men, they would not yet change their disposition; and true is that common saying, “The wicked are sooner broken than reformed.” But when men, after many admonitions, begin to be wise, this change comes through the Spirit of God. We may also learn from this passage what true repentance is; that is, when he who has sinned not only confesses himself to be guilty, and owns himself worthy of punishment, but is also displeased with himself, and then with sincere desire turns to God. Many, we see, are ready enough, and disposed, to confess their sins, and yet go on in the same course. But the Prophet shows here that true repentance is something very different, “I will go and return”, he says. Repentance then consists (as they say) in the act itself; that is, repentance produces a reforming change in man, so that he reconciles himself to God, whom he had forsaken.
I will then go and return to my former husband. Why? Because better was it with me then than now. The Prophet again confirms what I lately said, — that the faithful are not made wise, except they are well chastised; for the Prophet speaks not here of the reprobate, but of the remnant seed. The people of Israel were to be exterminated; but the Prophet now declares that there would be some remaining who would at last receive benefit from God’s chastisements. Since then we must understand the Prophet as speaking of the elect, we may hence readily conclude, that chastisements are necessary for us; for we grow torpid in our vices, as long as God spares us. Unless, then it appears that God is really displeased with us, it will never come to our minds, that we ought to repent. Let us now proceed —
God here amplifies the ingratitude of the people, that they understood not whence came such abundance of good things. She understood not, he says, that I gave to her corn and wine. The superstitious sin twice, or in two ways; — first, they ascribe to their idols what rightly belongs to God alone; and then they deprive God himself of his own honour, for they understand not that he is the only giver of all things, but think their labour lost were they to worship the true God. Hence the Prophet now complains of this ingratitude, She understood not that I gave to her corn and wine and oil. And this was an inexcusable stupidity in the Israelites, since they had been abundantly instructed, that the abundance of all good things, and every thing that supports man, flow from God’s bounty. Of this they had the clear testimony of Moses; and then the land of Canaan itself was a living representation of the Divine favour. It was then a prodigious madness in the people, that they who had been taught by word and by fact, that God alone is the Giver of all things, should yet not consider this truth. The Prophet, therefore, condemns this outrageous folly of the people, that neither experience nor the teaching of the law availed anything, She knew not, he says. There is stress to be laid on the pronoun, she; for the people ought to have been familiarly acquainted with God, inasmuch as they had been brought up in his household, as a wife, who is her husband’s companion. It was then incapable of any excuse, that the people should thus turn their minds and all their thoughts away from God.
She knew not then that I had given to her corn and wine and oil, that I had multiplied to her the silver, and also the gold she has prepared for Baal The verb עשה means specifically, to make: but here to appropriate to a certain purpose. They have, therefore, prepared gold for Baal; when they ought to have dedicated to me the first-fruits of all good things, in obedience to me and to the honour of my name, they have appropriated to Baal whatever blessings I have bestowed on them. We then see that in this verse two evils are condemned, — that the people deprived God of his just honour, — and that they transferred to their own idols what they ought to have given to God only. But he touched upon the last wickedness in the fifth verse, where he said in the person of the people, I will go after my lovers, who give my bread and my waters, my wool and my wine, etc. Here again he repeats, that they had prepared gold for Baal.
As to the word Baal, no doubt the superstitious included under this name all those whom they called inferior gods. No such madness had indeed possessed the Israelites, that they had forgotten that there is but one Maker of heaven and earth. They therefore maintained the truth, that there is some supreme God; but they added their patrons; and this, by common consent, was the practice of all nations. They did not then think that God was altogether robbed of his own glory, when they joined with him patrons or inferior gods. And they called them by a common name, Baalim, or, as it were, patrons. Baal of every kind was a patron. Some render it, husband. But foolish men, I doubt not, have ever had this superstitious notion, that inferior gods come nearer to men, and are, as it were, mediators between this world and the supreme God. It is the same with the Papists of the present day; they have their Baalim; not that they regard their patrons in the place of God: but as they dread every access to God, and understand not that Christ is a mediator, they retake themselves here and there to various Baalim, that they may procure favour to themselves; and at the same time, whatever honour they show to stones, or wood, or bones of dead men, or to any of their own inventions, they call it the worship of God. Whatever then, is worshipped by the Papists is Baal: but they have, at the same time, their patrons for their Baalim. We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet in this verse.
It now follows Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in its time, and my new wine in its stated time. Here, again, the Prophet shows that God was, by extreme necessity, constrained to take vengeance on an ungodly and irreclaimable people. He makes known how great was the hardness of the people, and then adds, “What now remains, but to deprive those who have been so ungrateful to me of all their blessings?” It is, indeed, more than base for men to enjoy the gifts of God and to despise the giver; yea, to exalt his creatures to his place, and to reduce, as it were, all his authority to nothing. This the superstitious indeed do, for they thrust God from his pre-eminence, and insult his glory. Will God, in the meantime, so throw away his blessings as to suffer them to be profaned by the ungodly, and himself to be thus mocked with impunity? We now then see the object of the Prophet; for God here shows that there was no other remedy, but to deprive the Israelites of all their gifts: he had indeed enriched them, but they had abused all their abundance. It was therefore necessary to reduce them to extreme want, that they might no longer pollute God’s gifts which ought to be held sacred by us.
And he uses a very suitable word; for נצל natsal means properly, to pluck away, to set free. I will by force take away, he says, my wool and my flax. It seems, indeed, to denote an unjust possession, as when one takes away by force from the hand of a robber what he unjustly possesses, or as when any one rescues wretched men from the power of a tyrant. So God now speaks, ‘I will pluck away my gifts from these men who basely and unjustly pollute them.’
And he adds, to cover her nakedness ערוה, orue, properly, though not simply, means nakedness: it is the nakedness of the uncomely parts. Moses calls any indecorous part of the body ערוה, orue, and so it means what is uncomely. This word we ought carefully to notice; for God here shows, that except he denudes idolaters, they will ever continue obstinate. How so? Because they use coverings for their baseness. While the ungodly enjoy their triumphs in the world, they regard them as veils drawn over them, so that nothing base or disgraceful can be seen in them. The same is the case with great kings and monarchs; they think that the eyes of all are dazzled by their splendour; and hence it is, that they are so audaciously dissolute. They think their own filth to be fine odour: such is the arrogance of the world. It is even so with the superstitious; when God is indulgent to them, they think that they have coverings. When, therefore, they abandon themselves to any kind of wickedness, they regard it as if it were a holy thing. How so? Because, whatever obscene thing is in them, it is covered by prosperity. When God observes such madness as this in men, can he do otherwise than pluck away his blessings, that such a pollution may not continually prevail? For it is an abuse extremely gross, that when God’s blessings are so many images of his glory, and when his paternal goodness shines forth even towards the ungodly, the world should convert them to a purpose wholly contrary, and make them as coverings for themselves, that they may conceal their own baseness, and more freely sin and carry on war against God himself. Hence he says, “That they may no longer cover their baseness, I will pluck away whatever I have bestowed on them.”
When he says, I will take away the corn and wine in its time, and in its stated time, he alludes, I have no doubt, to the time of harvest and vintage; as though he said, “The harvest will come, the vintage will come: there has been hitherto great fruitfulness; but I will show that the earth and all its fruits are subject to my will. Though, then, the Israelites are now full, and have their storehouses well furnished, they shall know that I rule over the harvest and the vintage, when the stated time shall come.” Now, the Spirit of God denounced this punishment early, that the Israelites, if reclaimable, might return to a right course. But as their blindness was so great that they despised all that had been said to them, no excuse remained for them. It now follows —
He pursues the same subject; and the Prophet explains at large, and even divides what he had briefly said before, into many clauses or particulars. He says firsts I will uncover her baseness. How was this done? By God, when he took away the coverings by which the Israelites kept themselves hid: for, as we have said hypocrites felicitate themselves on account of God’s gifts, and thus hide themselves as thieves do in caverns; and they think that they can mock God with impunity; for, through the fatness of their eyes, as it is said in Psalms 73:7, they have but a very dim sight. Now then God declares, that the filthiness of the people would be made to appear, when he deprived them of those gifts with which he had for a time enriched them.
Now, he says, will I uncover her baseness before the eyes of her lovers By this sentence he intimates a change, of which the people were not apprehensive; for, as long as the wicked feel not the strokes, they laugh at all threatening. Hence God, that he might rouse them from such an indifference, says, Now will I uncover her before the eyes of her lovers. The Prophet, no doubt, speaks of false gods, and of all those devices by which the Israelites corrupted the pure worship of God: for I cannot be persuaded to explain this either of the Assyrians or of the Egyptians. I indeed know, as I mentioned briefly yesterday, that the treaties into which the Jews, as well as the Israelites, entered with idolaters, were the tenter-hooks of Satan: this I allow; but at the same time, I look on what the Prophet especially treats of; for he directly inveighs here against absurd and vicious modes of worship. What then does he mean by saying, that God will uncover the baseness of the people before their lovers? He alludes to shameless women, who dare, by terror, to check their husbands, that they may not exercise their own right. “What! do you treat me ill? there is one who will resent this conduct.” Even when husbands indignantly bear their own reproach, they often attempt not to assert their own right, because they see that fear is in the way. But God says, “Nothing will hinder me from chastising thee as thou deserves (for he addresses the people under the character of a wife;) before thy lovers then will I uncover thy baseness.”
And no man shall rescue thee from my hand. The word man is put here for idols; for it is a word of general import among the Hebrews. Sometimes when brute animals are spoken of, this word, man, is used; and it is also applied to the fragments of a carcass. For when Moses describes the sacrifice made by Abraham, ‘Man,’ he says, ‘was laid to his fellow;’ that is, Abraham joined together the different parts of the sacrifice, as we say in French, Il n’y a piece God then speaks here of idols: No one, he says, shall rescue them from my hand. We now comprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
We must, at the same time, see what he had in view. The Israelites indeed thought, that as long as their corrupt modes of worship prevailed, they were safe and secure: it seemed impossible to them that any adversity should happen to them while idolatry continued. As, then, they imagined their false gods to be to them like an invincible rampart, “Thy idols,” he says, “shall remain, and yet thou shalt fall: for I will before thy lovers uncover thy baseness, and not one of them shall deliver thee from my hand.”
The Prophet now descends to particulars; and, in the first place, he says, that the people would be deprived of their sacrifices and feast-days, and of that whole external pomp, which was with them the guise of religion. He then adds, that they would be spoiled of their food, and all their abundance. He has hitherto been speaking of their nakedness; but he now describes what this nakedness would be: and he specially mentions, that sacrifices would cease, that feast days, new-moons, and whatever belonged to external worship, would cease. I will make to cease, he says, all her joy. He speaks doubtless, of sacred joys; and this may be easily collected from the context. He adds, her every festal-day As they were wont to dance on their festal-days, this word may be referred to that practice. He afterwards adds, “her sabbath”, and all feast-days. Then the first kind of nakedness was, that God would take away from the Israelites that fallacious and empty form of religion in which they foolishly delighted. The second kind of nakedness was, that they were to be stripped of all earthly riches, and be reduced to misery and extreme want. But I cannot finish to-day.
I now come to the second kind of nakedness: the Prophet says, I will waste or destroy her vine and her fig-tree, of which she has said, Reward are these to me; that is, These things are wages to me, which my lovers have given to me: and I will make them a forest, and feed on them shall the beast of the field. The second part of the spoiling, as we have said, is, that the Israelites would be reduced to miserable want, who, before, had not only great abundance of good things, but also luxury, as we shall hereafter see more fully in other passages. As then they were swollen with pride on account of their prosperity, the Prophet now announces their future nakedness, I will take away, he says, the vine and the fig-tree. It is a mode of speaking by which a part is to be taken for the whole; for under the vine and the fig-tree the Prophet intended to comprehend every variety of temporal blessings. Whatever then belongs to man’s support, the Prophet here includes in these two words: and he repeats what he had said before, that the Israelites falsely thought, that it was a reward paid them for their superstitions, while they worshipped false gods.
She said, These are my reward. The word is derived from the verb תנה tene: some have rendered it gift, but not rightly. I indeed allow that נתנו “natnu”, which means to give, follows shortly after; from which some derive this word. But we know that in many parts of Scripture אתנה, atne, is strictly taken for reward; and is sometimes applied to hired soldiers: but the Prophets often use this word when they speak of harlots. Hence the Prophet here introduces the people of Israel under the character of a harlot; These are my reward, or, These things are my reward, which to me have my lovers given.
Since then the Israelites had so hardened themselves in their superstitions, that this false persuasion could not be driven out of them, until they were deprived of all their blessings, he announces to them this punishment, — that God would take away whatever they thought had come to them from their idols or false gods: I will turn, he says, all these into a forest, that is, “I will reduce to a waste, both the vineyards and all the well cultivated parts; so that they will produce nothing, as is usually the case with desert places.” We now understand the whole meaning of the Prophet. Let us proceed —
He confirms what he taught last. We have said before, that this admonition is very necessary, that whenever God deals severely with men, he thus visits their sins, and inflicts a just punishment. For though men may consider themselves to be chastised by the Lord, they yet do not thoroughly search and examine themselves as they ought. Hence the Prophet repeats what we have before met with, and that is, that this chastisement would be just; and at the same time, he shows us as by the finger what chiefly displeased God in the Israelites, which was, that religion was corrupted by them: for there is nothing more necessary to be known than that in order that men may ever habituate themselves to worship God in a pure manner, this should be testified to them, that all superstitions are such an abomination to God that he cannot bear them.
He therefore says, I will visit upon her the days of Baalim; that is, when the Israelites shall find themselves to be without a temple, deprived of sacrifices and new-moons, and having no more any external form of worship, let them know that they are thus punished, because they worshipped Baalim instead of the only true God. The Prophet, at the same time, alludes again to harlots, who more finely adorn themselves and with greater care, when they look for their lovers, that they may captivate them with their charms. She decked herself, he says, with her ear-ring and her jewel This the superstitious usually do, when they celebrate their fast-days; for they think that a great part of holiness consists in the splendour of vestments; and we see that this stupidity prevails at this day among those under the Papacy: for they would think themselves to be doing great dishonour to God, or rather to their idols, were they not to adorn themselves when going to perform sacred duties. This, no doubt, was then a common error and custom. But in order to show more clearly that God abominated each gross superstitions, the Prophet says that they were like harlots. For as a strumpet, in order to allure men, paints herself, and also dresses splendidly, puts on her ornaments, and decks herself with jewels and gold; even so, he says, the Israelites did; they played the wanton, and bore the tokens of their lewdness. This then is the allusion, when the Prophet says, that she decked herself with jewels and an ear-ring, and went after her lovers.
But most grievous is what he adds at the end of the verse, Me, he says, has she forgotten God here complains that the fellowship of marriage availed nothing: though he had lived with the people a long time, and treated them bountifully and kindly, yet the memory of this was buried, Me, he says, has she forgotten. There is then here an implied comparison between the Israelites whom God had joined to himself, and other nations who had known nothing of true religion, nor understood who the true God was. It was indeed no wonder for the Gentiles to be deceived by the impostures of Satan: but it was a monstrous ingratitude for the Israelites, who had been rightly taught and long habituated to the pure worship of God, to cast away the recollection of him. It was like the bestial depravity of a wife, who, having for a time lived with her husband, and having been kindly treated by him, afterwards prostitutes herself to adulterers, and no more cherishes or retains in her heart any love for her husband. We now see for what end it was added, that the Israelites had forgotten God. It was indeed a grave and severe reproof to say, that they, after having long worshipped the true God, had been led away into such madness as to worship false gods, the figments of their own brains: for they had before learnt who the true and the only God was.
The Prophet, in a word, confirms in this verse (as I have before reminded you) the truth, that the punishment which God was about to inflict on this ungodly people would not only be just, but also necessary; and he proves at the same time, how basely they had violated their marriage-vow, since the recollection of God did not prevail among them, after they had become the followers of idols, and of the figments of their own hearts. Let us now go on —
Here the Lord more clearly expresses, that after having long, and in various ways, afflicted the people, he would at length be propitious to them; and not only so, but that he would also make all their punishments to be conducive to their salvation, and to be medicines to heal their diseases. But there is an inversion in the words, Behold, I will incline her, and I will make her to go into the wilderness; and so they ought to be explained thus, “Behold, I will incline her, or, persuade her, after I shall have drawn her into the desert; then, I will speak to her heart.” פתה, pete is often taken in a bad sense, to deceive, or, to persuade by falsehoods or, to use a vulgar word, to wheedle: but it means in this place, to speak kindly; so that God persuades a rebellious and obstinate people as to what is right: and then he declares that this would take place, when he led the people into the wilderness. This is connected with the former sentence, where it is said, ‘I will set her as on the day of her nativity:’ for God alludes to the first redemption of the people, which was like their birth; for it was the same as though the people had emerged from their grave; they obtained a new life when they were freed from the tyranny of Egypt. God therefore begot them a people for himself.
But the Prophet adds, After having led her into the wilderness, I will incline her; that is, render her pliable to myself. He intimates by these words, that there would be no hope of repentance until the people were led to extreme evils; for had their punishment been moderate, their perverseness would not have been corrected. Then God shows in this verse, that there would be no end or lessening of evils until the people were drawn into the wilderness, that is, until they were deprived of their country and sacrifices, and all their wealth; yea, until they were deprived of their ordinary food, and cast into a wilderness and solitude, where the want of all things would press upon them, and extreme necessity would threaten them with death. If then the people had been visited with light punishment, nothing would have been effected; for their hardness was greater than could have been softened by slight or common remedies.
But this declaration was full of great comfort. The faithful might have otherwise wholly desponded, when they found themselves led into exile, and the sight of the land, which was, as it were, the mirror of the divine adoption, was taken from them, when they saw themselves scattered into various parts, and that there was now no community, no seed of Abraham. The Lord, therefore, that despair might not swallow up the faithful, intended in this way to ease their sorrow; assuring them, that though they were drawn again into the wilderness, God, who first redeemed them, was still the same, and endued with the same strength and power which he put forth in behalf of their fathers. We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. Calamity might have shaken their hearts with so much terror, as to take away every confidence in God’s favour, and make them to think themselves wholly lost: but God sets the desert before them, “What! have I not once drawn you out of the desert? Has my power diminished since that tithe? I indeed continue to be the same God as your fathers found me to be: I will again draw you out of the wilderness.” But at the same time, God reminded them that their diseases would be unhealable, until they were led into the wilderness, until they were deprived of their country and all the tokens of his favour, that they might no more delude themselves with vain confidence.
He therefore says, After I shall draw her into the wilderness, then I will persuade, or, turn her. I prefer the word, turning or inclining, though the word, persuading, is by no means unsuitable. But there seems to be an implied comparison between the present contumacy of the people, and the obedience they would render to their God after having been subdued by various afflictions. “The people,” he says, “will be then pliable, when they shall be drawn into the wilderness.”
And I will speak then to her heart. What is the import of this expression we know from Isaiah 40:0. To speak to the heart is to bring comfort, to soothe grief by a kind word, to offer kindness, and to hold forth some hope, that he who had previously been worn out with sorrow may breathe freely, gather courage, and entertain hope of a better condition. And this kind of speaking ought to be carefully observed; for God means, that there was now no place for his promises, because the Israelites were so refractory. Paul did not say in vain to the Corinthians‘
Open ye my mouth, (9) O Corinthians; for I am not narrow towards you; but ye are narrow in your own bowels,’ (2 Corinthians 6:11.)
The Corinthians, when alienated from Paul, had obstructed, as it were, the passage of his doctrine, that he could not address them in a paternal manner. So also in this place, the Lord testifies that the floor was closed against his promises; for if he gave to the Israelites the hope of pardon, it would have been slighted; if he had invited them kindly to himself, they would have scornfully refused, yea, spurned the offer with contempt, so great was their ferocity; if he had wished to be reconciled to them, they would have despised him, or refused, or proceeded in abusing his kindness as before. He then shows, that it was their fault that he could not deal kindly and friendly with them. Hence, After I shall draw her into the wilderness, I will address her heart.
Let us then know, that whenever we are deprived of the sense of God’s favour, the way has been closed up through our fault; for God would ever be disposed willingly to show kindness, except our contumacy and hardness stood in the way. But when he sees us so subdued as to be pliable and ready to obey, then he is ready in his turn, to speak to our heart; that is, he is ready to show himself just as he is, full of grace and kindness.
We hence see how well the context of the Prophet harmonises. There are, in short, two parts, — the first is, that God takes not away wholly the hope of pardon from the Israelites, provided there were any healable among them, but shows that though the chastisement would be severe, it would yet be useful, as it would appear from its fruit; this is one clause; — and the other is, that they might not be too hasty in inquiring why God would not sooner mitigate his severity, he answers that the time was not as yet ripe; for they would not be capable of receiving his kindness, until they were by degrees subdued and humbled by heavier punishment. Let us now proceed —
(9) As there is no different reading that favors this view of the text, it is difficult to know how Calvin came to give this paraphrase, as it is the reverse of the meaning of the passage. It is literally rendered in our version, “Our mouth is opened unto you.” Though the text is not correctly given, yet what is here taught is true and important. — Ed.
The Prophet now plainly declares, that God’s favour would be evident, not only by words, but also by the effects and by experience, when the people were bent to obedience. The Prophet said in the last verse, ‘I will speak to her heart;’ now he adds, ‘I will bring a sure and clear evidence of my favour, that they may feel assured that I am reconciled to them.’ He therefore says that he would give them vines. He said before, ‘I will destroy her vines and fig-trees;’ but now he mentions only vineyards: but as we have said, the Prophet, under one kind, comprehends all other things; and he has chosen vines, because in vines the bounty of God especially appears. For bread is necessary to support life, wine abounds, and to it is ascribed the property of exhilarating the heart, Psalms 104:15 : ‘Bread strengthens,’ or, ‘supports man’s heart; wine gladdens man’s heart.’ As then vines are usually planted not only for necessary purposes, but also for a more bountiful supply, the Prophet says, that the Lord, when reconciled to the people, will give them their vineyards from that place.
And I will give, he says, the valley of Achor, etc. He alludes to their situation in the wilderness: as soon as the Israelites came out of the wilderness, they entered the plain of Achor, which was fruitful, pleasant, and vine-bearing. Some think that the Prophet alludes to the punishment inflicted on the people for the sacrilege of Achan, but in my judgement they are mistaken; for the Prophet here means nothing else than that there would be a sudden change in the condition of the people, such as happened when they came out of the wilderness. For in the wilderness there was not even a grain of wheat or of barley, nor a bunch of grapes; in short, there was in the wilderness nothing but penury, accompanied with thousand deaths; but as soon as the people came out, they descended into the plain of Achor, which was most pleasant, and very fertile. The Prophet meant simply this, that when the people repented, there would be no delay on God’s part, but that he would free them from all evils, and restore a blessed abundance of all things, as was the case, when the people formerly descended into the plain of Achor. He therefore brings to the recollection of the Israelites what had happened to their fathers, Her vines, then, will I give her from that place, that is, “As soon as I shall by word testify my love to them, they shall effectually know and find that I am really and from the heart reconciled to them, and shall understand how inclined I am to show kindness; for I shall not long hold the people in suspense.”
And he adds, For an opening, or a door of hope He signifies here, that their restoration would be as from death into life. For though the people daily saw with their eyes that God took care of their life, for he rained manna from heaven and made water to flow from a rock; yet there was at the same time before their eyes the appearance of death. As long, then, as they sojourned in the wilderness, God did ever set before them the terrors of death: in short, their dwelling in the wilderness, as we have said, was their grave. But when the people descended into the plain of Achor, they then began to draw vital air; and they felt also that they at length lived, for they had obtained their wishes: they had now indeed come in sight of the inheritance promised to them. As then the valley of Achor was the beginning, and as it were the door of good hope to their fathers, so the Prophet, now alluding to that redemption, says, that God would immediately deal with so much kindness with the Israelites as to open for them a door of hope and salvation, as he had done formerly to their fathers in the valley of Achor.
And she shall sing there. We may easily learn from the context that those interpreters mistake who refinedly philosophise about the valley of Achor. It is indeed true that the root of the word is the verb עכר, ocar, which means, to confound or to destroy, and that this name was given to the place on account of what had occurred there: but the Prophet referred to no such thing, as it appears clearly from the second clause; for he says, “She shall sing there as in the days of her youth”, and as in the day in which she ascended from the land of Egypt. For then at length the people of God openly celebrated his praises, when they beheld with their eyes the promised land, when they saw an end to God’s severe vengeance, which continued for forty years. Hence the people then poured forth their hearts and employed their tongues in praises to God. The Prophet, therefore, teaches here, that their restoration would be such, that the people would really sing praises to God and offer him no ordinary thanks; not as they are wont to do who are relieved from a common evil, but as those who have been brought from death into life. She shall sing then as in the days of her childhood, as in that day when she ascended from the land of Egypt
Thus we see that a hope of deliverance is here given, that the faithful might sustain their minds in exile, and cherish the hope of future favour; that though the face of God would for a time be turned away from them, they might yet look for a future deliverance, nor doubt but that God would be propitious to them, after they had endured just punishment, and had been thus reformed: for as we have said, a moderate chastisement could not have been sufficient to subdue their perverseness. It follows —
The Prophet now expands his subject, and shows that when the people repented, the fruits of repentance would openly appear. One fruit he records, and that is, that they would then begin to worship God purely, all superstitions being abolished. It shall be, he says, in that day that thou shalt call me, My husband; and he mentions the word, husband, to show to the people, that after having been corrected, they would be mindful of the covenant which God had made with them; and in that covenant, as stated before, there was the condition of a mutual engagement.
We hence see what the Prophet means: he tells us that the people would then be no more given to superstitions as before, but on the contrary would be mindful of God’s covenant, and would continue sincere and true to their conjugal vow. Hence, thou shalt call me, My husband; that is, “Thou shalt know what I am to thee, that I am joined to thee by a sacred and inviolable marriage.” And thou shalt not call me, My Baal; that is, “Thou shalt not give me a false and heathenish name:” for the word, Baal, as I have said before, was everywhere in every one’s mouth. But the next verse must be added —
In this verse the Prophet more clearly unfolds what he said before, that there would be a new mind in the people, so that they would worship God purely, though they were before entangled in their superstitions. The meaning then is, that religion will then return to its true state, for the names of Baalim shall cease. We have already stated whence this name had arisen. Not even the heathens wished to thrust the only true God from his celestial throne, by forming for themselves many gods: but while they allowed some Supreme Being, they wished to have patrons, whom they employed in conciliating his favour and good-will. That this was for the most part the common doctrine, may be easily learnt from Plato: and the Jews also, no doubt, thought of becoming wise by following the common judgement of others; they hence had their Baalim. But though they called their patrons Baalim, they yet gave this name to God: “Let us worship Baalim.” The Papists do the same; when they enter their temples, they immediately turn to the image of Mary or of some saint, and dare not come to God. At the same time they worship God, that is, pretend to worship God, and they call superstition God’s worship. So it was among the Israelites; though the majesty of the Supreme God was not denied, yet that happened which the Papists also say, “That Christ is not distinguished from his Apostles;” all things were with them mixed together and confused. He therefore says, I will take away Baalim from her mouth, and she will no more remember the name of Baalim; which means, “They will be content with the profession of pure faith, and will celebrate the name of the only true God; they will no more mix their own glosses with the doctrine of the law, and thus vitiate the pure and holy worship of God;” We now understand the meaning of the Prophet.
Now we learn from this place, that the Church cannot be rightly reformed except it be trained to obedience by the frequent scourges of God; for the Lord thereby creates a new people for himself. We see at this day what great stupidity possesses their minds, who have not been well prepared for the worship of God. They indeed laugh at the superstitions of the Papacy; but, at the same time, they are a sort of Cyclops: (10) we see that there is nothing but barbarous ignorance in their hearts. The Prophet then says, not in vain, that the state of religion would then be right, when the Lord had wholly subdued his people. Hence “in that day”, which refers to the heavy punishment which God would inflict on the Israelites — In that day, then, saith the Lord, thou wilt no more call me, Baal; but thou wilt call me, Husband How so? Because “I will take away” the names of Baalim from thy mouth; that is, I will make the people to cast away their own devices, and to be content with the pure doctrine of my law.
We ought also to remember that a confession of faith is here commended by the Prophet. It is no doubt the fruit of true penitence, when we testify by the mouth and tongue that the only true God is our God, and when we are not ashamed to confess his name before the world, though it may rage madly against us.
We are further reminded by these words, that too much diligence and care cannot be taken to cleanse ourselves wholly from all sorts of pollutions; for as long as any relics of superstition continue among us, they will ever entangle us, and thus we shall stumble, or, at least not run so briskly as we ought. Since, then whatever men retain of their own corrupt devices is a hindrance to them in obtaining a direct access to God, it is meet for us to labour that the names of Baalim should cease, and be abolished among us; and for this end, that nothing may hinder and retard us in the true worship of God. Now follows —
(10) Fabled giants with one eye. These referred to had an eye to see the absurdities of Popery; but they had no eye to see the beauty and glory of the Gospel. — Ed.
The Prophet shows here that the people would be in every way happy after their return to God’s favour: and, at the same time, he reminds us that the cause of all evils is, that men provoke God’s wrath. Hence, when God is angry, all things must necessarily be adverse to us; for as God has all creatures at his will, and in his hand, he can arm them in vengeance against us whenever he pleases: but when he is propitious to us, he can make all things in heaven and earth to be conducive to our safety. As then he often threatens in the Law, that when he purposed to punish the people, he would make brute animals, and the birds of heaven, and all kinds of reptiles, to execute his judgement, so in this place he declares that there would be peace to men when he received them into favour.
I will make a covenant, he says, in that day with the beast of the field We know what is said in another place,‘
If thou shuttest thyself up at home, a serpent shall there bite thee; but if thou goest out of thy house, either a bear or a lion shall meet thee in the way,’ (Amos 5:19;)
by which words God shows that we cannot escape his vengeance when he is angry with us; for he will arm against us lions and bears as well as serpents, both at home and abroad. But he says here, ‘I will make a covenant for them with the beasts;’ so that they may perform their duty towards us: for they were all created, we know, for this end, — to be subject to men. Since, then, they were destined for our benefit, they ought, according to their nature, to be in subjection to us: and we know that Adam caused this, — that wild beasts rise up so rebelliously against us; for otherwise they would have willingly and gently obeyed us. Now since there is this horrible disorder, that brute beasts, which ought to own men as their masters, rage against them, the Lord recalls us here to the first order of nature, I will make a covenant for them, he says, with the beast of the field, which means, “I will make brute animals to know for what end they were formed, that is, to be subject to the dominion of men, and to show no rebelliousness any more.”
We now then perceive the intention of the Prophet: he reminds the Israelites that all things were adverse to their safety as long as they were alienated from God; but that when they returned into favour with him, this disorder, which had for a time appeared, would be no longer; for the regular order of nature would prevail, and brute animals would suffer themselves to be brought to obedience. This is the covenant of which the Prophet now speaks when he says, I will make a covenant for them, that is, in their name, with the beast of the field, and with the bird of heaven, and with the reptile of the earth
It follows, I will shatter the bow, and the sword, and the battle, that is, every warlike instrument; for under the word מלחמה “milchamah”, the Prophet includes every thing adapted for war. Hence, “I will shatter” every kind of weapons “in that day, and make them dwell securely”. In the last clause he expresses the end for which the weapons and swords were to be shattered, — that the Israelites before disquieted by various fears, might dwell in peace, and no more fear any danger. This is the meaning.
But it is meet for us to call to mind what we have before said, that the Prophet so speaks of the people’s restoration, that he extends his predictions to the kingdom of Christ, as we may learn from Paul’s testimony already cited. We then see that God’s favor, of which the Prophet now speaks, is not restricted to a short time or to a few years but extends to Christ’s kingdom, and is what we have in common with the ancient people. Let us therefore know, that if we provoke not God against us by our sins, all things will be subservient to the promotion of our safety, and that it is our fault when creatures do not render us obedience: for when we mutiny against God, it is no wonder that brute animals should become ferocious and rage against us; for what peace can there be, when we carry on war against God himself? Hence were men, as they ought, to submit to God’s authority, there would be no rebelliousness in brute animals; nay, all who are turbulent would gently rest under the protection of God. But as we are insolent against God, he justly punishes us by stirring up against us various contentions and various tumults. Hence, then swords, hence bows, are prepared against us, and hence wars are stirred up against us: all this is because we continue to fight against God.
It must, at the same time, be further noticed, that it is a singular benefit for a people to dwell in security; for we know that though we may possess all other things, yet miserable is our condition, unless we live in peace: hence the Prophet mentions this as the summit of a happy life. It now follows —
The Prophet here again makes known the manner in which God would receive into favor his people. As though the people had not violated the marriage vow, God promises to be to them like a bridegroom, who marries a virgin, young and pure. We have before spoken of the people’s defection; but as God had repudiated them, it was no common favor for the people to be received again by God, and received with pardon. When a woman returns to her husband, it is a great thing in the husband to forgive her, and not to upbraid her with her former base conduct: but God goes farther than this; for he espouses to himself a people infamous through many disgraceful acts; and having abolished their sins, he contracts, as it were, a new marriage, and joins them again to himself. Hence he says, I will espouse thee to me. We now perceive the import of the word, espouse: for God thereby means, that he would not remember the unfaithfulness for which he had before cast away his people, but would blot out all their infamy. It was indeed an honorable reception into favor, when God offered a new marriage, as though the people had not been like an adulterous woman.
And he says, I will espouse thee to me for ever. There is here an implied contrast between the marriage of which the Prophet had hitherto spoken, and this which God now contracts. For God, having redeemed the people, had before entered, as we have said, into marriage with them: but the people had departed from their vow; hence followed alienation and divorce. That marriage was then not only temporary, but also weak and soon broken; for the people did not continue long in obedience: but of this new marriage the Prophet declares, that it will continue fast and for ever; and thus he sets its durable state in contrast with the falling away which had soon alienated the people from God. Hence he says, I will espouse thee to me for ever.
He then declares by what means he would do this, even in righteousness and judgment, and then in kindness and mercies, and thirdly, in faithfulness. God had indeed from the beginning covenanted with the Israelites in righteousness and judgment; there was nothing disguised or false in his covenant: as then God had in sincerity adopted the people, to what vices does he oppose righteousness and judgment? I answer, These words must be applied to both the contracting parties: then, by righteousness God means not only his own, but that also which is, as they say, mutual and reciprocal; and by righteousness and judgment is meant rectitude, in which nothing is wanting. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view.
But he adds, secondly, In kindness and mercies: by which words he intimates, that though the people were unworthy, yet, this would be no impediment in their way, to prevent them to return into favor with God; for in this reconciliation God would regard his own goodness, rather than the merits of his people.
In the third place, he adds, In faithfulness: and this confirms what we have before briefly referred to, — the fixed and unchangeable duration of this marriage.
The words, righteousness and judgment, are, I know, more refinedly explained by some. They say that righteousness is what is conferred on us by God through gratuitous imputation; and they take judgment for that defense which he affords against the violence and the assaults of our enemies. But here the Prophet, I doubt not, intimates in a general way, that this covenant would stand firm, because there would be truth and rectitude on both sides. That this may be more clearly understood, let us take a passage from the 31 st chapter of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 31:31 ] where God complains, that the covenant he had made with the ancient people had not been firm; for they had forsaken it. ‘My covenant,’ he says, ‘with your fathers has not continued.’ — Why? ‘Because they departed from my commandments.’ God indeed in perfect sincerity adopted the people, and no righteousness was wanting in him; but as there was no constancy and faithfulness in the people, the covenant came to nothing: hence God afterwards adds, ‘I will hereafter make a new covenant with you; for I will engrave my laws on your hearts,’ etc. We now then see what the Prophet means by righteousness and judgment, even this, that God would cause the marriage vow to be kept on both sides; for the people, restored from exile, would no more violate their pledged faith nor act unfaithfully.
But we must notice what is added, In goodness and mercies. And this part Jeremiah does not omit, for he adds, ‘Their iniquities I will not remember.’ As then the Israelites, conscious of evils might tremble through fear, the Prophet seasonably anticipates their diffidence, by promising that the marriage which God was prepared anew to contract, would be in kindness and mercies. There is then no reason why their own unworthiness should frighten away the people; for God here unfolds his own immense goodness and unparalleled mercies. The Prophet might indeed have expressed this in one word, but he adds mercies to goodness. The people had indeed sunk into a deep abyss, that restoration could have been hardly hoped: hence the word, kindness, or goodness, would have been hardly sufficient to raise up their minds, had not the word, mercies, been added for the sake of confirmation.
Now he adds, in faithfulness; and by faithfulness is to be understood, I doubt not, that stability of which I have spoken; for what some philosophize on this expression is too refined, who give this explanation, ‘I will espouse thee in faith,’ that is by the gospel; for we embrace God’s free promises, and thus the covenant the Lord makes with us is ratified. I simply interpret the word as denoting stability.
And the Prophet shows afterwards that this covenant would be confirmed, because faithfulness would be reciprocal, they shall know, he says, Jehovah. Jeremiah, I doubt not, borrowed from this place what is written in the 31 st chapter; for there he also adds, ‘No one shall hereafter teach his neighbor, for all, from the least to the greatest shall know me, saith Jehovah.’ Our Prophet says here in one sentence, they shall know Jehovah Hence then is the stability of the covenant, because God by his light shall guide the hearts of those who had before strayed in darkness and wandered after their own superstitions. Since then a horrible darkness prevailed among the Israelitic people, Hosea promises the light of true knowledge; and this knowledge of God is such, that the people fall not away from the Lord, nor are they seduced by the fallacies of Satan. Hence God’s covenant stands firm. We now understand the import of the words.
Jerome thinks that the Prophet promises espousals thrice, because the Lord once espoused the people to himself in Abraham, then when he led them out of Egypt, and, thirdly, when once he reconciled the whole world in Christ: but this is too refined, and even frivolous. I take a simpler meaning, — that the Prophet proclaims an espousal thrice, because it was difficult to restore the people from fear and despair, for they well understood how grievously and in how many ways they had alienated themselves from God: it was hence necessary to apply many consolations, which might serve to confirm their faith. This is the reason why the Lord does not say once, I will espouse thee to myself, but repeats it thrice. The Prophet indeed seemed then to speak of a thing incredible: for what sort of an example is this, that the Lord should take for his wife an abominable harlot? Nay, that he should contract a new marriage with an unclean adulteress, immersed in debauchery? This was like something monstrous. Hence the Prophet, that nothing might hinder souls from recumbing on the promise, says, “Doubt not, for the Lord very often assures you, that this is certain.”
Now, since we have this promise in common with them, we see by the words of the Prophet what is the beginning of our salvation: God espoused the Israelites to himself, when restored from exile through his goodness and mercies. What fellowship have we with God, when we are born and come out of the womb, except he graciously adopts us? for we bring nothing, we know, with us but a curse; this is the heritage of all mankind. Since it is so, all our salvation must necessarily have its foundation in the goodness and mercies of God. But there is also another reason in our case, when God receives us into favor; for we were covenant-breakers under the Papacy; there was not one of us who had not departed from the pledge of his baptism; and so we could not have returned into favor with God, except he had freely united us to himself: and God not only forgave us, but contracted also a new marriage with us, so that we can now, as on the day of our youth, as it has been previously said, openly give thanks to him.
But we must notice this short clause, They shall know Jehovah. We indeed see that we are in confusion as soon as we turn aside from the right and pure knowledge of God, nay, that we are wholly lost. Since then our salvation consists in the light of faith, our minds ought ever to be directed to God, that our union with him, which he has formed by the gospel, may abide firm and permanent. But as this is not in the power or will of man, we draw this evident conclusion, that God not only offers his grace in the outward preaching, but at the same time in the renewing of our hearts. Except God then recreates us a new people to himself, there is no more stability in the covenant he makes now with us than in the old which he made formerly with the fathers under the Law; for when we compare ourselves with the Israelites, we find that we are nothing better. It is, therefore, necessary that God should work inwardly and efficaciously on our hearts, that his covenant may stand firm: nay, since the knowledge of him is the special gift of the Spirit, we may with certainty conclude, that what is said here refers not only to outward preaching, but that the grace of the Spirit is also joined, by which God renews us after his own image, as we have already proved from a passage in Jeremiah: but that we may not seem to borrow from another place, we may say that it appears evident from the words of the Prophet, that there is no other bond of stability, by which the covenant of God can be strengthened and preserved, but the knowledge he conveys to us of himself; and this he conveys not only by outward teaching, but also by the illumination of our minds by his Spirit, yea, by the renewing of our hearts. It follows —
The Lord promises again that he will not be wanting to the people, when they shall be reconciled to him. We must, indeed, in the first place, seek that God may be propitious to us; for they are very foolish who desire to live well and happily, and in the meantime care nothing for God’s favor. The Prophet shows when the happiness of men begins; it begins when God adopts them for his people, and when, having abolished their sins, he espouses them to himself. It is therefore necessary, in the first place, to seek this; for as we have said, the desire of being happy is preposterous, when we first seek the blessings of an earthly life, when we first seek ease, abundance of good things, health of body, and similar things. Hence the Prophet now shows, that we are then only happy when the Lord is reconciled to us, and not only so, but when he in his love embraces us, and contracts a holy marriage with us, and on this condition, that he will be a father and preserver to us, and that we shall be safe and secure under his protection and defense.
But at the same time he comes down to things of the second rank. Our happiness is, indeed, as we have said, in the enjoyment of God’s love; but there are accessions which afterwards follow; for the Lord provides for us, and exercises a care over us, so that he supplies whatever is needful for the support of life. Of this later part the Prophet now treats: he says, In that day. We see that he reminds us of the covenant, lest we be content with worldly abundance; for as it has been said, men are commonly devoted to their present advantages. Hence the Prophet sets here before our eyes the Lord’s covenant; he afterwards adds, that God’s favor would reach to the corn, and to the wine, and the oil.
But we must notice the Prophet’s words, I will hear, he says, or I will answer, ( ענה, one, means to answer, but it is here equivalent to hear,) I will hear then, I will hear the heavens, and they will hear the earth. The repetition is not superfluous; for the Israelites had been for some time consumed by famine, before they were led away into exile; as though the heavens were iron, no drop of rain came down. They might hence have thought that there was now no hope; but God here raises them up, I will hear, I will hear, he says; as though he said, “There is no reason for the miserable condition in which I have suffered you long to languish as your sins deserved, to discourage you; for I will hereafter hear the heavens.” As the Prophet before reminded them that when the beasts were cruel to them, it was a token of God’s wrath; so also he teaches by these words that the heavens are not dry through any hidden influence; but that when God withholds his favor, there is no rain by which the heavens irrigate the earth. Then God here plainly shows that the whole order of nature, as they say, is in his hand, that no drop of rain descends from heaven except by his bidding, nor can the earth produce any grass; in short, that all nature would be barren were he not to fructify it by his blessing. And this is the reason why he says, I will hear the heavens and they will hear the earth, and the earth will hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil, and all these will hear Jezreel
The Prophet used the word, Jezreel, before in a bad sense; for his purpose was to reproach the Israelites with their unfaithfulness: when they boasted of being the seed of Abraham, and always claimed that honorable and noble distinction, the Lord said, ‘Ye are Jezreel, and not Israel.’ It may be that the Prophet wished to show again what they deserved; but he teaches, at the same time, that God would by no means be prevented from showing kindness to the unworthy when reconciled to him. Though, then, they were rather Jezreelites than Israelites, yet their unworthiness would be no impediment, that God should not deal bountifully with them. There may also be an allusion here to a new people; for it follows in the next verse, וזרעתיה, usarotie, and I will sow her; and the word, Jezreel, has an affinity to this verb, it is indeed derived from זרע, saro, which is to sow: and as the Prophet presently adds, that Jezreel is, as it were, the seed of God, I do not disapprove of this supposed allusion. But yet the Prophet seems here to commend the grace of God, when he declares that they were Jezreelites with whom God would deal so kindly as to fructify the earth for their sake.
Let us now again repeat the substance of the whole, The corn, and the wine, and the oil, will hear Jezreel The Israelites were famished, and as it is usual with those in want of food, they cried out, ‘Who will give us bread, and wine, and oil?’ For the stomach, as it is said, has no ears; nor has it reason and judgment: when there is extreme want, men, as if they were distracted, will call for bread, and wine, and oil. God then has regard for these blind instincts of men, which only crave what will gratify them: hence he says, The corn, and wine, and oil, will hear Jezreel, — but when? Even when the earth will supply trees with sap and moisture, and extend to the seed its strength; it is then that the earth will hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil: for these grow not of themselves, but derive supplies from the earth; and hence the earth is said to hear them. But cannot the earth of itself hear the corn, or the wine, or the oil? By no means, except rain descends from heaven. Since, then, the earth itself draws moisture and wetness from heaven, we see that men in vain cry out in famine, except they look up to heaven: and heaven is ruled by the will of God. Let men, therefore, learn to ascend up to God, that they may seek from him their daily bread.
We now, then, see how suitable is this gradation employed by the Prophet, by which God, on account of the rude and weak comprehension of men, leads them up at last to himself. For they turn their thoughts to bread, and wine, and oil; from these they seek food: they are in this matter very stupid. Be it so; God is indulgent to their simplicity and ignorance; for by degrees he proceeds from corn, and wine, and oil, to the earth, and then from the earth to heaven; and he afterwards shows that heaven cannot pour down rain except at his will. It follows at last —
The Prophet here takes the occasion to speak of the increase of the people. He had promised a fruitful and large increase of corn, and wine, and oil; but for what end would this be, except the land had numerous inhabitants? It was hence needful to make this addition. Besides, the Prophet had said before, ‘Though ye be immense in number, yet a remnant only shall be preserved.’ He now sets God’s new favor in opposition to his vengeance, and says, that God will again sow the people.
From this sentence we learn that the allusion in the word, Jezreel, has not been improperly noticed by some, that is, that they, who had been before a degenerate people and not true Israelites shall then be the seed of God: yet the words admit of two senses; for זרע saro, applies to the earth as well as to seed. The Hebrews say, ‘The earth is sown,’ and also, ‘The wheat is sown,’ or any other grain. If then the Prophet compares the people to the earth, the sense will be, I will sow the people as I do the earth; that is, I will make them fruitful as the earth when it is productive. It must then be thus rendered, I will sow her for me as the earth, that is, as though she were my earth. Or it may be rendered thus, I will sow her for myself in the earth, and for this end, that the earth, which was for a time waste and desolate, might have many inhabitants, as we know was the case. But the relative pronoun in the feminine gender ought not to embarrass us, for the Prophet ever speaks as of a woman: the people, we know, have been as yet described to us under the person of a woman.
And he afterwards adds, לא רוחמה, La-ruchamae. He speaks here either of La-ruchamae, an adulterous daughter, or an adulterous woman, whom a husband takes to himself. As to the matter itself, it is easy to learn what the Prophet means, which is, that God would diffuse an offspring far and wide, when the people had been brought not only to a small number, but almost to nothing: for how little short of entire ruin was the desolation of the people when scattered into banishment? They were then, as it has been stated, like a body torn asunder: the land in the meantime enjoyed its Sabbaths; God had disburdened it of its inhabitants.
We then understand the meaning of the Prophet to be, that God would multiply the people, that the small remnant would increase to a great and almost innumerable offspring. I will then sow her in the earth, that is, throughout the whole land; and I will have mercy on La-ruchamae, that is, I will in mercy embrace her, who had not obtained mercy; and I will say to the no-people, Ye are now my people We see that the Prophet insists on this, — That the people would not only seek the outward advantages of the present life, but would make a beginning at the very fountain, by regaining the favor of God, and knowing him as their propitious Father: for this is the meaning of the Prophet, of which something more will be said to-morrow.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hosea 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany