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The substance of this chapter is, that it was God’s purpose to keep in firm hope the minds of the faithful during the exile, lest being overwhelmed with despair they should wholly faint. The Prophet had before spoken of God’s reconciliation with his people; and he magnificently extolled that favor when he said, ‘Ye shall be as in the valley of Achor, I will restore to you the abundance of all blessings; in a word, ye shall be in all respects happy.’ But, in the meantime, the daily misery of the people continued. God had indeed determined to remove them into Babylon. They might, therefore, have despaired under that calamity, as though every hope of deliverance were wholly taken from them. Hence the Prophet now shows that God would so restore the people to favor, as not immediately to blot out every remembrance of his wrath, but that his purpose was to continue for a time some measure of his severity.
We hence see that this prediction occupies a middle place between the denunciation the Prophet previously pronounced and the promise of pardon. It was a dreadful thing, that God should divorce his people and cast away the Israelites as spurious children: but a consolation was afterwards added. But lest the Israelites should think that God would immediately, as on the first day, be so propitious to them as to visit them with no chastisement, it was the Prophet’s design expressly to correct this mistake, as though he said, ‘God will indeed receive you again, but in the meantime a chastisement is prepared for you, which by its intenseness would break down your spirits were it not that this comfort will ease you, and that is, that God, though he punishes you for your sins, yet continues to provide for your salvation, and to be as it were your husband.’ We now perceive the intention of the Prophet. But I shall first run over the words, and then return to the subject
Jehovah said to me, Go yet and love a woman. There is no doubt but that God describes here the favor he promises to the Israelites in a type or vision: for they are too gross in their notions, who think that the Prophet married a woman who had been a harlot. It was then only a vision, as though God had set a picture before the eyes of the people, in which they might see their own conduct. And when he says, “yet”, he refers to the vision, mentioned in the first chapter. But he bids a woman to be loved before he took her to be the partner of his conjugal bed; which ought to be noticed: for God intends here to make a distinction between the people’s restoration and his hidden favor. God then before he restored the people from exile, loved them as it were in their widowhood. We now understand why the Prophet does not say, ‘Take to thee a wife,’ but, ‘love a woman.’ The meaning is this: God intimates, that though exile would be sad and bitter, yet the people, whom he treated with sharpness and severity, were still dear to him. Hence, Love a woman, who had been loved by a husband
The word רע, ro, is here to be taken for a husband, as it is in the second chapter of Jeremiah, [Jeremiah 3:20 ] where it is said, ‘Perfidiously have the children of Israel dealt with me, as though a woman had departed from her husband, מרעה, meroe,’, or, ‘from her partner.’ And there is an aggravation of the crime implied in this word: for women, when they prostitute themselves, often complain that they have done so through too much severity, because they were not treated with sufficient kindness by their husbands; but when a husband behaves kindly towards his wife, and performs his duty as a husband, there is then less excuse for a wife, in case she fixes her affections on others. To increase then the sin of the people, this circumstance is stated that the woman had been loved by her friend or partner, and yet that this kindness of her husband had not preserved her mind in chastity.
He afterwards says, According to the love of Jehovah towards the children of Israel; that is, As God loved the people of Israel, who yet ceased not to look to other gods. This metaphor occurs often in Scripture, that is, when the verb פנה “panah”, which means in Hebrew, to look to, is used to express hope or desire: so that when men’s minds are intent on any thing, or their affections fixed on it, they are said to look to that. Since then the Israelites boiled with insane ardor for their superstitions, they are said to look to other gods.
It then follows, And they love flagons of grapes. The Prophet, I doubt not, compares this rage to drunkenness: and he mentions flagons of grapes rather than of wine, because idolaters are like drunkards, who sometimes so gorge themselves, that they have no longer a taste for wine; yea, the very smell of wine offends them, and produces nausea through excessive drinking; but they try new arts by which they may regain their fondness for wine. And such is the desire of novelty that prevails in the superstitious. At one time they go after this, at another time after that, and their minds are continually tossed to and fro, because they cannot acquiesce in the only true God. We now then perceive what this metaphor means, when the Prophet reproaches the Israelites, because they loved flagons of grapes.
I now return to what the Prophet, or rather God, had in view. God here comforts the hearts of the faithful, that they might surely conclude that they were loved, even when they were chastised. It was indeed necessary that this difference should have been well impressed on the Israelites, that they might in exile entertain hope and patiently bear God’s chastisement, and rise that this hope might mitigate the bitterness of sorrow. God therefore says that though he shows not himself as yet reconciled to them, but appears as yet severe, at the same time he is not without love. And hence we learn how useful this doctrine is, and how widely it opens; for it affords a consolation of which we all in common have need. When God humbles us by adversities, when he shows to us some tokens of severity or wrath, we cannot but instantly fail, were not this thought to occur to us, that God loves us, even when he is severe towards us, and that though he seems to cast us away, we are not yet altogether aliens, for he retains some affection even in the midst of his wrath; so that he is to us as a husband, though he admits us not immediately into conjugal honor, nor restores us to our former rank. We now then see how the doctrine is to be applied to ourselves.
We must at the same time notice the reproachful conduct of which I have spoken, — That though the woman was loved yet she could not be preserved in chastity, and that she was loved, though an adulteress. Here is pointed out the most shameful ingratitude of the people, and contrasted with it is God’s infinite mercy and goodness. It was the summit of wickedness in the people to forsake their God, when he had treated them with so much benignity and kindness. But wonderful was the patience of God, when he ceased not to love a people, whom he had found to be so perverse, that they could not be turned by any acts of kindness nor retained by any favors.
With regard to the flagons of grapes we may observe, that this strange disposition is ever dominant in the superstitious, and that is, that they wander here and there after their own devices, and have nothing fixed in them. Lest, then, such charms deceive us, let us learn to cleave firmly and constantly to the word of the Lord. Indeed the Papists of this day boast of their ancientness, when they would create an ill-will towards us; as though the religion we follow were new and lately invented: but we see how modern their superstitions are; for a passion for them bubbles up continually and they have nothing that remains constant: and no wonder, because the eternal truth of God is regarded by them as of no value. If, then, we desire to restrain this depraved lust, which the Prophet condemns in the Israelites, let us so adhere to the word of the Lord, that no novelty may captivate us and lead us astray. It now follows —
These verses have been read together, for in these four the Prophet explains the vision presented to him. He says, first, that he had done what had been enjoined him by God; which was conveyed to him by a vision, or in a typical form, that by such an exhibition he might impress the minds of the people: I bought, he says, a wife for fifteen silverings, and for a corus of barley and half a corus; that is, for a corus (12) and a half. He tells us in this verse that he had bought the wife whom he was to take for a small price. By the fifteen silverings and the corus and half of barley is set forth, I have no doubt, her abject and mean condition. Servants, we know, were valued at thirty shekels of silver when hurt by an ox, (Exodus 21:32.) But the Prophet gives her for his wife fifteen silvering; which seemed a contemptible gift. But then the Lord shows, that though he would but scantily support his people in exile, they would still be dear to him, as when a husband loves his wife though he does not indulge her, when that would be inexpedient: overmuch indulgence, as it is well known, has indeed often corrupted those who have gone astray. When a husband immediately pardons an adulterous wife, and receives her with a smiling countenance, and fawningly humbles himself by laying aside his own right and authority, he acts foolishly, and by his levity ruins his wife: but when a husband forgives his wife, and yet strictly confines her within the range of duty, and restrains his own feelings, such a moderate course is very beneficial and shows no common prudence in the husband; who, though he is not cruel, is yet not carried away by foolish love. This, then is what the Prophet means, when he says, that he had given for his wife fifteen silverings and a corus and half of barley. Respectable women did not, indeed, live on barley. The Prophets then, gave to his wife, not wheat-flour, nor the fine flour of wheat, but black bread and coarse food; yea, he gave her barley as her allowance, and in a small quantity, that his wife might have but a scanty living. We now then understand the Prophet’s meaning.
Some elicit a contrary sense, that the Lord would splendidly and sumptuously support the wife who had been an adulteress; but this view by no means harmonizes with the Prophet’s design, as we have already seen. Besides, the words themselves lead us another way. Jerome, as his practice is, refines in allegorizing. He says, that the people were bought for fifteen silverings, because they came out of Egypt on the fifteenth day of the month; and then he says, that as the Hebrew homer contains thirty bushels, they were bought for a corus and half, which is forty-five bushels. because the law was promulgated forty-five days after. But these are puerile trifles. Let then the simple view which I have given be sufficient for us, — that God, though he favored her, not immediately with the honor of a wife and liberal support, yet ceased not to love her. Thus we see the minds of the faithful were sustained to bear patiently their calamities; for it is an untold consolation to know that God loves us. If a testimony respecting his love moderates not our sorrows, we are very ill-natured and ungrateful.
The Prophet then more clearly proves in these words, that God loved his people, though he seemed to be alienated from them. He might have wholly destroyed them: he yet supplied them with food in their exile. The people indeed lived in the greatest straits; and all delicacies were no doubt taken from them, and their fare was very sordid and very scanty: but the Prophet forbids them to measure God’s favor by the smallness of what was given them; for though God would not immediately receive into favor a wife who had been an adulteress, yet he wished her to continue his wife.
(12) A Hebrew measure, containing 30 bushels, the load of a camel. — Ed.
Hence he adds, I said to her, For many days shalt thou tarry for me, and thou shalt not become wanton, and thou shalt not be for any man, that is, ‘Thou shalt remain a widow; for it is for this reason that I still retain thee, to find out whether thou wilt sincerely repent. I would not indeed be too easy towards thee, lest I should by indulgence corrupt thee: I shall see what thy conduct will be: you must in the meantime continue a widow.’ This, then was God’s small favor which remained for the people, even a sort of widowhood. God might, indeed, as we have said, have utterly destroyed his people: but he mitigated his wrath and only punished them with exile, and in the meantime, proved that he was not forgetful of his banished people. Though then he only bestowed some scanty allowance, he yet did not wholly deprive them of food, nor suffer them to perish through want. This treatment then in reality is set forth by this representation, that the Prophet had bidden his wife to remain single.
He says, And I also shall be for thee: why does he say, I also? A wife, already joined to her husband, has no right to pledge her faith to another. Then the Prophet shows that Israel was held bound by the Lord, that they might not seek another connection, for his faith was pledged to them. Hence he says, I also shall be for thee; that is, ‘I pledge my faith to thee, or, I subscribe myself as thy husband: but another time must be looked for; I yet defer my favor, and suspend it until thou givest proof of true repentance.’ “I also”, he says, “shall be for thee”; that is, ‘Thou shalt not be a widow in vain, if thou complainest that wrong is done to thee, because I forbid thee to marry any one else, I also bind myself in turn to thee.’ Now then is evident the mutual compact between God and his people, so that the people, though a state of widowhood be full of sorrows ought not yet to succumb to grief, but to keep themselves exclusively for God, till the time of their full and complete deliverance, because he says, that he will remain true to his pledge. “I will then be thine: though at present, I admit thee not into the honor of wives, I will not yet wholly repudiate thee.”
But how does this view harmonize with the first prediction, according to which God seems to have divorced his people? Their concurrence may be easily explained. The Prophet indeed said, that the body of the people would be alienated from God: but here he addresses the faithful only. Lest then the minds of those who were healable should despond, the Prophet sets before them this comfort which I have mentioned, — that though they were to continue, as it were, single, yet the Lord would remain, as it were, bound to them, so as not to adopt another people and reject them. But we shall presently see that this prediction regards in common the Gentiles as well as the Jews and Israelites.
He afterwards adds, For many days shall the children of Israel abide He says, for many days, that they might prepare themselves for long endurance, and be not dispirited through weariness, though the Lord should not soon free them from their calamities. “Though then your exile should be long, still cherish,” he says, “strong hope in your hearts; for so long a trial must necessarily be made of your repentance; as you have very often pretended to return to the Lord, and soon after your hypocrisy was discovered; and then ye became hardened in your wilful obstinacy: it is therefore necessary that the Lord should subdue you by a long chastisement.” Hence he says, The children of Israel shall abide without a king and without a prince
But it may still be further asked, What is the number of the days of which the Prophet speaks, for the definite number is not stated here; and we know that the exile appointed for the Jews was seventy years? (Jeremiah 29:10.) But the Prophet seems here to extend his prediction farther, even to the time of Christ. To this I answer, that here he refers simply to the seventy years; though, at the same time, we must remember that those who returned not from exile were supported by this promise, and hoped in the promised Mediator: but the Prophet goes not beyond that number, afterwards prefixed by Jeremiah. It is not to be wondered at, that the Prophet had not computed the years and days; for the time of the captivity, that is, of the last captivity, was not yet come. Shortly after, indeed, four tribes were led away, and then the ten, and the whole kingdom of Israel was destroyed: but the last ruin of the whole people was not yet so near. It was therefore not necessary to compute then the years; but he speaks of a long time indefinitely, and speaks of the children of Israel and says, They shall abide without a king and without a prince: and inasmuch as they placed their trust in their king, and thought themselves happy in having this one distinction, a powerful king, he says, They shall abide without a king, without a prince. He now explains their widowhood without similitudes: hence he says, They shall be without a king and a prince, that is, there shall be among them no kind of civil government; they shall be like a mutilated body without a head; and so it happened to them in their miserable dispersion.
And without a sacrifice, he says, and without a statue. The Hebrews take מצבה, metsabe, often in a bad sense, though it means generally a statue, as a monument over a grave is called מצבה, metsabe,: but the Prophet seems to speak here of idols, for he afterwards adds, תרפים “teraphim”; and teraphim were no doubt images, (Genesis 31:19,) which the superstitious used while worshipping their fictitious gods, as we read in many places. The king of Babylon is said to have consulted the teraphim; and it is said that Rachel stole the teraphim, and shortly after Laban calls the teraphim his gods. But the Hebrews talk idly when they say that these images were made of a constellation, and that they afterwards uttered words: but all this has been invented, and we know what liberty they take in devising fables. The meaning is, that God would take away from the people of Israel all civil order, and then all sacred rites and ceremonies, that they might abide as a widow, and at the same time know, that they were not utterly rejected by God without hope of reconciliation.
It is asked, why “ephod” is mentioned; for the priesthood continued among the tribe of Judah, and the ephod, it is well known, was a part of the sacerdotal dress. To this I answer, that when Jeroboam introduced false worship, he employed this artifice — to make religion among the Israelites nearly like true religion in its outward form: for it seems to have been his purpose that it should vary as little as possible from the legitimate worship of God: hence he said,‘
It is grievous and troublesome to you to go up to Jerusalem; then let us worship God here,’ (Genesis 12:28.)
But he pretended to change nothing; he would not appear to be an apostate, departing from the only true God. What then? “God may be worshipped without trouble by us here; for I will build temples in several places, and also erect altars: what hinders that sacrifices should not be offered to God in many places?” There is therefore no doubt but that he made his altars according to the form of the true altar, and also added the ephod and various ceremonies, that the Israelites might think that they still continued in the true worship of God.
But it follows, Afterwards shall the children of Israel return and seek Jehovah their God, and David their king. Here the Prophet shows by the fruit of their chastisement, that the Israelites had no reason to murmur or clamour against God, as though he treated them with too much severity; for if he had stretched out his hand to them immediately, there would have been in them no repentance: but when thoroughly cleansed by long correction, they would then truly and sincerely confess their God. We then see that this comfort is set forth as arising from the fruit of chastisement, that the Israelites might patiently bear the temporary wrath of God. Afterwards, he says, they shall return; as though he said, “They are now led away headlong into their impiety, and they can by no means be restrained except by this long endurance of evils.”
They shall therefore return, and then will they seek Jehovah their God. The name of the only true God is set here in opposition, as before, to all Baalim. The Israelites, indeed, professed to worship God; but Baalim, we know, were at the same time in high esteem among them, who were so many gods, and had crept into the place of God, and extinguished his pure worship: hence the Prophet says not simply, They shall seek God, but they shall “seek Jehovah their God”. And there is here an implied reproof in the word אלהים “Elohehem”; for it intimates that they were drawn aside into ungodly superstitions, that they were without the true God, that no knowledge of him existed among them; though God had offered himself to them, yea, had familiarly held intercourse with them, and brought them up as it were in his bosom, as a father his own children. Hence the Prophet indirectly upbraids them for this great wickedness when he says, They shall seek their God. And who is this God? He is even Jehovah. They had hitherto formed for themselves vain gods: and though, he says, they had been deluded by their own devices, they shall now know the only true God, who from the beginning revealed himself to them even as their God. He afterwards adds a second clause respecting King David: but I cannot now finish the subject.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hosea 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany