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This is a new discourse by the Prophet, separate from his former discourses. We must bear in mind that the Prophets did not literally write what they delivered to the people, nor did they treat only once of those things which are now extant with us; but we have in their books collected summaries and heads of those matters which they were wont to address to the people. Hosea, no doubt, very often descanted on the exile and the restoration of the people, forasmuch as he dwelt much on all the things which we have hitherto noticed. Indeed, the slowness and dullness of the people were such, that the same things were repeated daily. But it was enough for the Prophets to make and to write down a brief summary of what they taught in their discourses.
Hosea now relates how vehemently he reproved the people, because every kind of corruption so commonly prevailed, that there was no sound part in the whole community. We hence see what the Prophet treats of now; and this ought to be observed, for hypocrites wish ever to be flattered; and when the mercy of God is offered to them, they seek to be freed from every fear. It is therefore a bitter thing to them, when threatening are mingled, when God sharply chides them. “What! we heard yesterday a discourse on God’s mercy, and now he fulminates against us. He is then changeable; if he were consistent, would not his manner of teaching be alike and the same today?” But men must be often awakened, for forgetfulness of God often creeps over them; they indulge themselves, and nothing is more difficult than to lead them to God; nay, when they have made some advances, they soon turn aside to some other course.
We hence see that men cannot be taught, except God reproves their sins by his word; and then, lest they despond, gives them a hope of mercy; and except he again returns to reproofs and threatening. This is the mode of address which we find in all the Prophets.
I now come to the Prophet’s words: Hear, he says, the word of Jehovah, ye children of Israel, the Lord has a dispute, etc. The Prophet, by saying that the Lord had a dispute with the inhabitants of the land, intimates that men in vain flatter themselves, when they have God against them, and that they shall soon find him to be their Judge, except they in time anticipate his vengeance. But he also reminds the Israelites that God had a dispute with them, that they might not have to feel the severity of justice, but reconcile themselves to God, while a seasonable opportunity was given them. Then the Prophet’s introduction had this object in view — to make the Israelites to know that God would be adverse to them, except they sought, without delay, to regain his favor. The Lord then, since he declared that he would contend with them, shows that he was not willing to do so. for had God determined to punish the people, what need was there of this warning? Could he not instantly execute judgment on them? Since, then, the Prophet was sent to the children of Israel to warn them of a great and fatal danger, God had still a regard for their safety: and doubtless this warning prevailed with many; for those who were alarmed by this denunciation humbled themselves before God, and hardened not themselves in wickedness: and the reprobate, though not amended, were yet rendered twice less excusable.
The same is the case among us, whenever God threatens us with judgment: they who are not altogether intractable or unhealable, confess their guilt, and deprecate God’s wrath; and others, though they harden their hearts in wickedness, cannot yet quench the power of truth; for the Lord takes from them every pretext for ignorance, and conscience wounds them more deeply, after they have been thus warned
We now then understand what the Prophet meant by saying, that God had a dispute with the inhabitants of the land. But that the Prophet’s intention may be more clear to us, we must bear in mind, that he and other faithful teachers were wearied with crying, and that in the meantime no fruit appeared. He saw that his warnings were heedlessly despised, and that hence his last resort was to summon men to God’s tribunal. We also are constrained, when we prevail nothing, to follow the same course: “God will judge you; for no one will bear to be judged by his word: whatever we announce to you in his name, is counted a matter of sport: he himself at length will show that he has to do with you.” In a similar strain does Zechariah speak,‘
They shall look on him whom they have pierced,’ (Zechariah 12:10 :)
and to the same purpose does Isaiah say, that the Spirit of the Lord was made sad.‘
Is it not enough,’ he says, ‘that ye should be vexatious to men, except ye be so also to my God?’ (Isaiah 7:13.)
The Prophet joined himself with God; for the ungodly king Ahab, by tempting God, did at the same time trifle with his Prophets.
There is then here an implied contrast between the dispute which God announces respecting the Israelites, and the daily strifes he had with them by his Prophets. For this reason also the Lord said,‘
My Spirit shall no more strive with man, for he is flesh,’ (Genesis 6:3.)
God indeed says there, that he had waited in vain for men to return to the right way; for they were refractory beyond any hope of repentance: he therefore declared, that he would presently punish them. So also in this place, ‘“The Lord has a trial at law”; he will now himself plead his own cause: he has hitherto long exercised his Prophets in contending with you; yea, he has wearied them with much and continual labour; ye remain ever like yourselves; he will therefore begin now to plead effectually his own cause with you: he will no more speak to you by the mouth, but by his power, show himself a judge.’ The Prophet, however, designedly laid down the word, dispute, that the Israelites might know that God would severely treat them, not without cause, nor unjustly, as though he said, “God will so punish you as to show at the same time that he will do so for the best reason: ye elude all threatenings; ye think that you can make yourselves safe by your shifts: there are no evasions by which you can possibly hope to attain any thing; for God will at length uncover all your wickedness.” In short, the Prophet here joins punishment with God’s justice, or he points out by one word, a real (so to speak) or an effectual contention, by which the Lord not only reproves men in words, but also visits with judgment their sins.
It follows, Because there is no truth, no kindness, no knowledge of God. The dispute, he said, was to be with the inhabitants of the land: by the inhabitants of the land, he means the whole body of the people; as though he said, “Not a few men have become corrupt, but all kinds of wickedness prevail everywhere.” And for the same reason he adds, that there was no truth”, etc. in the land; as though he said, “They who sin hide not themselves now in lurking-places; they seek no recesses, like those who are ashamed; but so much licentiousness is everywhere dominant, that the whole land is filled with the contempt of God and with crimes.” This was a severe reproof to proud men. How much the Israelites flattered themselves, we know; it was therefore necessary for the Prophet to speak thus sharply to a refractory people; for a gentle and kind warning proves effectual only to the meek and teachable. When the world grows hardened against God, such a rigorous treatment as the words of the Prophet disclose must be used. Let those then, to whom is intrusted the charge of teaching, see that they do not gently warn men, when hardened in their vices; but let them follow this vehemence of the Prophet.
We said at the beginning, that the Prophet had a good reason for being so warm in his indignation: he was not at the moment foolishly carried away by the heat of zeal; but he knew that he had to do with men so perverse, that they could not be handled in any other way. The Prophet now reproves not only one kind of evil, but brings together every sort of crimes; as though he said, that the Israelites were in every way corrupt and perverted. He says first, that there was among them no faithfulness, and no kindness. He speaks here of their contempt of the second table of the law; for by this the impiety of men is sooner found out, that is, when an examination is made of their life: for hypocrites vauntingly profess the name of God, and confidently ( plenis buccis — with full cheeks) arrogate faith to themselves; and then they cover their vices with the external show of divine worship, and frigid acts of devotion: nay, the very thing mentioned by Jeremiah is too commonly the case, that‘
the house of God is made a den of thieves,’ (Jeremiah 7:11.)
Hence the Prophets, that they might drag the ungodly to the light, examine their conduct according to the duties of love: “Ye are right worshipers of God, ye are most holy; but in the meantime, where is truth, where is mutual faithfulness, where is kindness? If ye are not men, how can ye be angels? Ye are given to avarice, ye are perfidious, ye are cruel: what more can be said of you, except that each of you condemns all the rest before God, and that your life is also condemned by all?’
By saying that truth or faithfulness was extinct, he makes them to be like foxes, who are ever deceitful: by saying that there was no kindness, he accuses them of cruelty, as though he said, that they were like lions and wild beasts. But the fountain of all these vices he points out in the third clause, when he says, that they had no knowledge of God: and the knowledge of God he takes for the fear of God which proceeds from the knowledge of him; as though he said, “In a word, men go on as licentiously, as if they did not think that there is a God in heaven, as if all religion was effaced from their hearts.” For as long as any knowledge of God remains in us, it is like a bridle to restrain us: but when men become wanton, and allow themselves every liberty, it is certain that they have forgotten God, and that there is in them now no knowledge of God. Hence the complaints in the Psalms,‘
The ungodly have said in their heart, There is no God,’ (Psalms 14:1 :)‘
Impiety speaks in my heart, There is no God.’ Men cannot run headlong into brutal stupidity, while a spark of the true knowledge of God shines or twinkles in their minds. We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet.
But after having said that they were full of perfidiousness and cruelty, he adds, By cursing, and lying, and killing, etc. , אלה, ale, means to swear: some explain it in this place as signifying to forswear; and others read the two together, אלה וכחש, ale ucachesh, to swear and lie, that is to deceive by swearing. But as אלה “alah” means often to curse, the Prophet here, I doubt not, condemns the practice of cursing, which was become frequent and common among the people.
But he enumerates particulars in order more effectually to check the fierceness of the people; for the wicked, we know, do not easily bend their neck: they first murmur, then they clamour against wholesome instruction, and at last they rage with open fury, and break out into violence, when they cannot otherwise stop the progress of sound doctrine. How ever this may be, we see that they are not easily led to own their sins. This is the reason why the Prophet shows here, by stating particulars, in how many ways they provoked God’s wrath: ‘Lo,’ he says ‘cursings, lyings, murder, thefts, adulteries, abound among you.’ And the Prophet seems here to allude to the precepts of the law; as though he said, “If any one compares your life with the law of God, he will find that you avowedly and designedly lead such a life, as proves that you fight against God, that you violate every part of his law.”
But it must be here observed, that he speaks not of such thieves or murderers as are led in our day to the gallows, or are otherwise punished. On the contrary, he calls them thieves and murderers and adulterers, who were in high esteem, and eminent in honor and wealth, and who, in short, were alone illustrious among the people of Israel: such did the Prophet brand with these disgraceful names, calling them murderers and thieves. So also does Isaiah speak of them, ‘Thy princes are robbers and companions of thieves,’ (Isaiah 1:23.) And we already reminded you, that the Prophet addresses not his discourses to few men, but to the whole people; for all, from the least to the greatest, had fallen away.
He afterwards says, They have broken out. The expression no doubt is to be taken metaphorically, as though he said, “There are now no bonds, no barriers.” For the people so raged against God, that no modesty, no shame on account of the law, no religion, no fear, prevailed among them, or checked their intractable spirit. Hence they broke out. By the word, breaking out, the Prophet sets forth the furious wantonness seen in the reprobate; when freed from the fear of God, they abandon themselves to what is sinful, without any moderation, without any restraint.
And to the same purpose he subjoins, Bloods are contiguous to bloods. By bloods he means all the worst crimes: and he says that bloods were close to bloods, because they joined crimes together, and as Isaiah says, that iniquity was as it were a train; so our Prophet says here, that such was the common liberty they took to sin, that wherever he turned his eyes, he could see no part free from wickedness. Then bloods are contiguous to bloods, that is, everywhere is seen the horrible spectacle of crimes. This is the meaning. It now follows —
The Prophet now expresses more clearly the dispute which he mentions in the first verse; and it now evidently appears, that it was not a judgment expressed in words, for God had in vain tried to bring the people to the right way by threats and reproofs: he had contended enough with then; they remained refractory; hence he adds, “Now mourn shall the whole land”; that is, God has now resolved to execute his judgment: there is therefore no use for you any more to contrive any evasion, as you have been hitherto wont to do; for God stretches forth his hand for your ultimate destruction. Mourn, therefore, shall the land, and cut off shall be every one that dwells in it, as I prefer to render it; unless the Prophet, it may be, means, that though God should for a time suspend the last judgment, yet the Israelites would gain nothing, seeing that they would, by continual languor, pine away. But as he mentions mourning in the first place, the former meaning, that God would destroy all the inhabitants, seems more appropriate. He adds, gathered shall they be all, or destroyed, (for either may suit the place,) from the beast of the field, and the bird of heaven, to the fishes of the sea. The Prophet here enlarges on the greatness of God’s wrath; for he includes even the innocent beasts and the birds of heaven, yea, the fishes of the sea. When Godly vengeance extends to brute animals, what will become of men?
But some one may here object and say, that it is unworthy of God to be angry with miserable creatures, which deserve no such treatment: for why should God be angry with fishes and beasts? But an answer may be easily given: As beasts, and birds, and fishes, and, in a word, all other things, have been created for the use of men, it is no wonder that God should extend the tokens of his curse to all creatures, above and below, when his purpose is to punish men. We seek, indeed, for the most part, some vain comforts to delight us, or to moderate our sorrows when God shows himself angry with us: but when God curses innocent animals for our sake, we then dread the more, except, indeed, we be under the influence of extreme stupor.
We now then understand why God here denounces destruction on brute animals as well as on birds and fishes of the sea; it is, that men may know themselves to be deprived of all his gifts; as when a person, in order to expose a wicked man to shame, pulls down his house and burns his whole furniture: so also does God do, who has adorned the world with so much and such varied wealth for our sake, when he reduces all things to a waste: He thereby shows how grievously offended he is with us, and thus constrains us to become humble. This then is the Prophet’s meaning.
The Prophet here deplores the extreme wickedness of the people, that they would bear no admonitions, like those who, being past hope, reject every advice, admit no physicians, and dislike all remedies: and it is a proof of irreclaimable wickedness, when men close their ears and harden their hearts against all salutary counsels. Hence the Prophet intimates, that, together with their great and many corruptions, there was such waywardness, that no one dared to reprove the public vices.
He adds this reason, For the people are as chiders of the priest, or, they really contend with the priest: for some take כ, caph, in this place, not as expressive of likeness, but as explaining and affirming what is said, ‘They altogether strive with the priest.’ But I prefer the former sense, which is, that the Prophet calls all the people the censors of their pastors: and we see that froward men become thus insolent when they are reproved; for instantly such an objection as this is made by them, “Am I to be treated like a child? Have I not attained sufficient knowledge to understand how I ought to live?” We daily meet with many such men, who proudly boast of their knowledge, as though they were superior to all Prophets and teachers. And no doubt the ungodly make a show of wit and acuteness in opposing sound doctrine: and then it appears that they have learnt more than what one would have thought, — for what end? only that they may contend with God.
Let us now return to the Prophet’s words. But, he says: אך, ak is not to be taken here as in many places for “verily:” but it denotes exception, “In the meantime”. But, or, in the meantime, let no one chide and reprove another. In a word, the Prophet complains, that while all kinds of wickedness abounded among the people, there was no liberty to teach and to admonish, but that all were so refractory, that they would not bear to hear the word; and that as soon as any one touched their vices, there were great doctors, as they say, ready to reply.
And he enlarges on the subject by saying, that they were as chiders of the priest; for he declares, that they who, with impunity, conducted themselves so wantonly against God, were not yet content in being so wayward as to repel all reproofs, but also willfully rose up against their own teachers: and, as I have already said, common observation sufficiently proves, that all profane despisers of God are inflated with such confidence, that they dare to attack others. Some conjecture, in this instance, that the priest was so base, as to become liable to universal reprobation; but this conjecture is of no weight, and frigid: for the Prophet here did not draw his pen against a single individual, but, on the contrary, sharply reproved, as we have said, the perverseness of the people, that no one would hearken to a reprover. Let us then know that their diseases were then incurable, when the people became hardened against salutary counsels, and could not bear to be any more reproved. It follows —
The copulative is to be taken here for an illative, Fall, therefore, shalt thou. Here God denounces vengeance on refractory men; as though he said, “As ye pay no regard to my authority, when by words I reprove you, I will not now deal with you in this way; but I will visit you for this contempt of my word.” And thus God is wont to do: he first tries men, or he makes the trial, whether they can be brought to repentance; he severely reproves them, and expostulates with them: but having tried all means by words, he then comes to the last remedy, by exercising his power; for, as it has been said, he deigns no longer to contend with men. Hence the Lord, when he saw that his Prophets were despised, and that their whole teaching was a matter of sport, determined, as it appears from this passage, that the people should shortly be destroyed.
Some render היום, eium, to-day, and think that a short time is denoted: but as the Prophet immediately subjoins, And fall together shall the Prophet with thee”, לילה , lile, in the night, I explain it thus, — that the people would be destroyed together, and then that the Prophets, even those who, in a great measure, brought such vengeance on the people, would be drawn also into the same ruin. Fall shalt thou then in the day, and fall in the night shall the Prophet, that is, “The same destruction shall at the same time include all: but if ruin should not immediately take away the Prophets, they shall not yet escape my hand; they shall follow in their turn.” Hence the Prophet joins day and night together in a continued order; as though he said, “I will destroy them all from the first to the last, and no one shall rescue himself from punishment; and if they think that those shall be unpunished who shall be later led to vengeance, they are mistaken; for as the night follows the day, so also some will draw others after them into the same ruin.” Yet at the same time the Prophet, I doubt not, means by this metaphor, the day, that tranquil and joyous time during which the people indulged their pride. He then means that the punishment he predicted would be sudden: for except the ungodly see the hand of God near, they ever, as it has been observed before, laugh to scorn all threatening. God then says that he would punish the people in the day, even at mid-day, while the sun was shining; and that when the dusk should come, the Prophets would also follow in their turn.
It is evident enough that Hosea speaks not here of God’s true and faithful ministers, but of impostors, who deceived the people by their blandishments, as it is usually the case: for as soon as any Prophet sincerely wished to discharge his office for God, there came forth flatterers before the public, — “This man is too rigid, and makes a wrong use of God’s name, by denouncing so grievous a punishment; we are God’s people.” Such, then, were the Prophets, we must remember, who are here referred to; for few were those who then faithfully discharged their office; and there was a great number of those who were indulgent to the people and to their vices.
It is afterwards added, I will also consume thy mother. The term, mother, is to be taken here for the Church, on account of which the Israelites, we know, were wont to exult against God; as the Papists do at this day, who boast of their mother church, which, as they say, is their shield of Ajax. When any one points out their corruptions, they instantly flee to this protection, — “What! Are we not the Church of God?” Hence when the Prophet saw that the Israelites made a wrong use of this falsely-assumed title, he said, ‘I will also destroy your mother,’ that is, “This your boasting, and the dignity of Abraham’s race, and the sacred name of Church, will not prevent God from taking dreadful vengeance on you all; for he will tear from the roots and abolish the very name of your mother; he will disperse that smoke of which you boast, inasmuch as you hide your crimes under the title of Church.” It follows —
Here the Prophet distinctly touches on the idleness of the priests, whom the Lord, as it is well known, had set over the people. For though it could not have availed to excuse the people, or to extenuate their fault, that the priests were idle; yet the Prophet justly inveighs against them for not having performed the duty allotted to them by God. But what is said applies not to the priests only; for God, at the same time, indirectly blames the voluntary blindness of the people. For how came it, that pure instruction prevailed not among the Israelites, except that the people especially wished that it should not? Their ignorance, then, as they say, was gross; as is the case with many ungodly men at this day, who not only love darkness, but also draw it around them on every side, that they may have some excuse for their ignorance.
God then does here, in the first place, attack the priests, but he includes also the whole people; for teaching prevailed not, as it ought to have done, among them. The Lord also reproaches the Israelites for their ingratitude; for he had kindled among them the light of celestial wisdom; inasmuch as the law, as it is well known, must have been sufficient to direct men in the right way. It was then as though God himself did shine forth from heaven, when he gave them his law. How, then, did the Israelites perish through ignorance? Even because they closed their eyes against the celestial light, because they deigned not to become teachable, so as to learn the wisdom of the eternal Father. We hence see that the guilt of the people, as it has been said, is not here extenuated, but that God, on the contrary, complains, that they had malignantly suppressed the teaching of the law: for the law was fit to guide them. The people perished without knowledge, because they would perish.
But the Prophet denounces vengeance on the priests, as well as on the whole people, Because knowledge hast thou rejected, he says, I also will thee reject, so that the priesthood thou shalt not discharge for me. This is specifically addressed to the priests: the Lord accuses them of having rejected knowledge. But knowledge, as Malachi says, was to be sought from their lips, (Malachi 2:7) and Moses also touches on the same point in Deuteronomy 33:10. It was then an extreme wickedness in the priests, as though they wished to subvert God’s sacred order, when they sought the honor and the dignity of the office without the office itself: and such is the case with the Papists of the present day; they are satisfied with its dignity and its wealth. Mitred bishops are prelates, are chief priests; they vauntingly boast that they are the heads of the Church, and would be deemed equal with the Apostles: at the same time, who of them attends to his office? nay, they think that it would be in a manner a disgrace to give attention to their office and to God’s call.
We now then see what the Prophet meant by saying, Because thou hast knowledge rejected, I also will thee reject, so that thou shalt not discharge for me the priesthood. In a word, he shows that the divorce, which the priests attempted to make, was absurd, and contrary to the nature of things, that it was monstrous, and in short impossible. Why? Because they wished to retain the title and its wealth, they wished to be deemed prelates of the Church, without knowledge: God allows not things joined together by a sacred knot to be thus torn asunder. “Dost thou then,” he says, “take to thyself the office without knowledge? Nay, as thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also take to myself the honor of the priesthood, which I previously conferred on thee.”
This is a remarkable passage, and by it we can check the furious boasting of the Papists, when they haughtily force upon us their hierarchy and the order, as they call it, of their clergy, that is, of their corrupt dregs: for God declares by his word, that it is impossible that there should be any priest without knowledge. And further, he would not have priests to be endued with knowledge only, and to be as it were mute; for he would have the treasure deposited with them to be communicated to the whole Church. God then, in speaking of sacerdotal knowledge, includes also preaching. Though one indeed be a literate, as there have been some in our age among the bishops and cardinals, — though then there be such he is not yet to be classed among the learned; for, as it has been said, sacerdotal learning is the treasure of the whole Church. When therefore a boast is made of the priesthood, with no regard to the ministration of the word, it is a mere mockery; for teacher and priest are, as they say, almost convertible terms. We now perceive the meaning of the first clause.
It then follows, Because thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. Some confine this latter clause to the priests, and think that it forms a part of the same context: but when any one weighs more fully the Prophet’s words, he will find that this refers to the body of the people.
This Prophet is in his sentences often concise, and so his transitions are various and obscure: now he speaks in his own person, then he assumes the person of God; now he turns his discourse to the people, then he speaks in the third person; now he reproves the priests, then immediately he addresses the whole people. There seemed to be first a common denunciation, ‘Thou shalt fall in the day, the Prophet in the night shall follow, and your mother shall perish.’ The Prophet now, I doubt not, confirms the same judgment in other words: and, in the first place, he advances this proposition, that the priests were idle, and that the people quenched the light of celestial instruction; afterwards he denounces on the priests the judgment they deserved, ‘I will cast thee away,’ he says, ‘from the priesthood;’ now he comes to all the Israelites, and says, Thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. Now this fault was doubtless what belonged to the whole people; there was no one exempt from this sin; and this forgetfulness was fitly ascribed to the whole people. For how it happened, that the priests had carelessly shaken off from their shoulders the burden of teaching the people? Even because the people were unwilling to have their ears annoyed: for the ungodly complain that God’s servants are troublesome, when they daily cry against their vices. Hence the people gladly entered into a truce with their teachers, that they might not perform their office: thus the oblivion of God’s law crept in.
As then the Prophet had denounced on the priests their punishment, so he now assures the whole people that God would bring a dreadful judgment on them all, that he would even blot out the whole race of Abraham, I will forget, he says, thy children. Why was this? The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, which was to continue, and to be confirmed to his posterity: they departed from the true faith, they became spurious children; then God rightly testifies here, that he had a just cause why he should no longer count this degenerate people among the children of Abraham. How so? “For ye have forgotten my law,” he says: “had you remembered the law, I would also have kept my covenant with you: but I will no more remember my covenant, for you have violated it. Your children, therefore, deserve not to be under finch a covenant, inasmuch as ye are such a people.” It follows —
Here the Prophet amplifies the wickedness and impiety of the people, by adding this circumstance, that they the more perversely wantoned against God, the more bountiful he was to them, yea, when he poured upon them riches in full exuberance. Such a complaint we have before noticed: but the Prophets, we know, did not speak only once of the same thing; when they saw that they effected nothing, that the contempt of God still prevailed, they found it necessary to repeat often what they had previously said. Here then the Prophet accuses the Israelites of having shamefully abused the indulgence of God, of having allowed themselves greater liberty in sinning, when God so kindly and liberally dealt with them.
Some confine this to the priests, and think the meaning to be, that they sinned more against God since he increased the Levitical tribe and added to their wealth: but the Prophet, I doubt not, meant to include the whole people. He, indeed, in the last verse, separated the crimes of the priests from those of the people, though in the beginning he advanced a general propositions: he now returns to that statement, which is, that all, from the highest to the lowest, acted impiously and wickedly against God. Now we know that the Israelites had increased in number as well as in wealth; for they were prosperous, as it has been stated, under the second Jeroboam; and thought themselves then extremely happy, because they were filled with every abundance. Hence God shows now that they had become worse and less excusable, for they were grown thus wanton, like a horse well-fed, when he kicks against his own master, — a comparison which even Moses uses in his song, (Deuteronomy 32:15.) We now see what the Prophet means. Hence, when he says כרובם, carubem, according to their multiplying, I explain this not simply of men nor of wealth, but of every kind of blessing: for the Lord here, in a word, accuses the people of ingratitude, because the more kind and liberal he was to them, the more obstinately bent they were on sinning.
He afterwards subjoins, Their glory will I turn to shame. He here denounces God’s judgment on proud men, which they feared not: for men, we know, are blinded by prosperity. And it is the worst kind of drunkenness, when we seem to ourselves to be happy; for then we allow ourselves every thing that is contrary to God, and are deaf to all instruction, and are, in short, wholly intractable. But the Prophet says, I will commute this glory into shame, which means, “There is no reason for them to trust in themselves, and foolishly to impose on themselves, by fixing their eyes on their present splendor; for it is in my power,” the Lord says, “to change their glory.” We then see that the Prophet meant here to shake off from the Israelites their vain confidence; for they were wont to set up against God their riches, their glory, their power, their horses and chariots. “This is your glorying; but in my hand and power is adversity and prosperity; yea,” the Lord says, “on me alone depends the changing of glory into shame.” But at the same time, the Prophet intimates, that it could not be that God would thus prostitute his blessings to unworthy men as to swine: for it is a kind of profanation, when men are thus proud against God, while he bears with them, while he spares them. This combination then applies to all who abuse God’s kindness; for the Lord intends not that his favor should be thus profaned. It follows —
This verse has given occasion to many interpreters to think that all the particulars we have noticed ought to be restricted to the priests alone: but there is no sufficient reason for this. We have already said, that the Prophet is wont frequently to pass from the people to the priests: but as a heavier guilt belonged to the priests, he very often inveighs against them, as he does in this place, They eat, he says, the sin of my people, and lift up to their iniquity his soul, that is, ‘every one lifts up his own soul,’ or, ‘they lift up the soul of the sinner by iniquity;’ for the pronoun applies to the priests as well as to the people. The number is changed: for he says, יאכלו, iacalu and ישאו ishau, (14) in the plural number, They will eat the sin, and will lift up, etc. , in the third person; and then his soul it may be, their own; it is, however, a pronoun in the singular number: hence a change of number is necessary. We are then at liberty to choose (15), whether the Prophet says this of the people or of the priests: and as we have said, it may apply to both, but in a different sense.
We may understand him as saying, that the priests lifted up their souls to the iniquity of the people, because they anxiously wished the people to be given to many vices, for they hoped thereby to gain much prey, as the case is, when any one expects a reward from robbers: he is glad to hear that they become rich, for he considers their riches to be for his gain. So it was with the priests, who gaped for lucre; they thought that they were going on well, when the people brought many sacrifices. And this is usually the case, when the doctrine of the law is adulterated, and when the ungodly think that this alone remains for them, — to satisfy God with sacrifices, and similar expiations. Then, if we apply the passage to the priests, the lifting up of the soul is the lust for gain. But if we prefer to apply the words to sinners themselves, the sense is, ‘Upon their iniquity they lift up their soul,’ that is, the guilty raise up themselves by false comforts, and extenuate their vices; or, by their own flatteries, bury and entirely smother every remnant of God’s fear. Then, according to this second sense, to lift up the soul is to deceive, and to take away all doubts by vain comforts, or to remove every sorrow, and to erase every guilt by a false notion.
I come now to the meaning of the whole. Though the Prophet here accuses the priests, yet he involves, no doubt, the whole people, and deservedly, in the same guilt: for how was it that the priests expected gain from sacrifices? Even because the doctrine of the law was subverted. God had instituted sacrifices for this end, that whosoever sinned, being reminded of his guilt, might mourn for his sin, and further, that by witnessing that sad spectacle, his conscience might be more wounded: when he saw the innocent animal slain at the altar, he ought to have dreaded God’s judgment. Besides, God also intended to exercise the faith of all, in order that they might flee to the expiation which was to be made by the promised Mediator. And at the same time, the penalty which God then laid on sinners, ought to have been as a bridle to restrain them. In a word, the sacrifices had, in every way, this as their object, — to keep the people from being so ready or so prone to sin. But what did the ungodly do? They even mocked God, and thought that they had fully done their duty, when they offered an ox or a lamb; and afterwards they freely indulged themselves in their sins.
So gross a folly has been even laughed to scorn by heathen writers. Even Plato has so spoken of such sacrifices, as to show that those who would by such trifles make a bargain with God, are altogether ungodly: and certainly he so speaks in his second book on the Commonwealth, as though he meant to describe the Papacy. For he speaks of purgatory, he speaks of satisfactions; and every thing the Papists of this day bring forward, Plato in that book distinctly sets forth as being altogether sottish and absurd. But yet in all ages this assurance has prevailed, that men have thought themselves delivered from God’s hand, when they offered some sacrifice: it is, as they imagine, a compensation.
Hence the Prophet now complains of this perversion, They eat, he says, (for he speaks of a continued act,) the sins of my people, and to iniquity they lift up the heart of each; that is, When all sin, one after the other, each one is readily absolved, because he brings a gift to the priests. It is the same thing as though the Prophet said, “There is a collusion between them, between the priests and the people.” How so? Because the priests were the associates of robbers, and gladly seized on what was brought: and so they carried on no war, as they ought to have done, with vices, but on the contrary urged only the necessity of sacrifices: and it was enough, if men brought things plentifully to the temple. The people also themselves showed their contempt of God; for they imagined, that provided they made satisfaction by their ceremonial performances, they would be exempt from punishment. Thus then there was an ungodly compact between the priests and the people: the Lord was mocked in the midst of them. We now then understand the real meaning of the Prophet: and thus I prefer the latter exposition as to ‘the lifting up of the soul,’ which is, that the priests lifted up the soul of each, by relieving their consciences, by soothing words of flattery, and by promising life, as Ezekiel says, to souls doomed to die, (Ezekiel 13:19.) It now follows —
(14) These verbs are in the future tense; but the future in Hebrew is often used, as Calvin says in another place, to express a continued act, or an habitual practice.
(15) This choice can hardly be conceded. ‘People,’ in Hebrew, is in the singular number, and the pronouns referring to people are commonly put in the same number; but not so in our language. ‘His’ here evidently belongs to the people, and not to the priests, and ought to be rendered ‘their,’ as in our version. The verse literally translated is as follows, only the future is taken for the present tense: —‘
The sin of my people they eat, And to their (own) iniquity they raise up their heart.’
To render ‘sin,’ as Newcome and Horsley do, ‘sin-offerings,’ is to destroy the whole force of the passage, that through the superstition of the people they gained their living. And ‘iniquity’ means, no doubt, idolatry, to which the priests raised up the people’s heart, or attached them. — Ed.
The Prophet here again denounces on both a common punishment, as neither was free from guilt. As the people, he says, so shall be the priest; that is “I will spare neither the one nor the other; for the priest has abused the honor conferred on him; for though divinely appointed over the Church for this purpose, to preserve the people in piety and holy life, he has yet broken through and violated every right principle: and then the people themselves wished to have such teachers, that is, such as were mute. I will therefore now” the Lord says, “inflict punishment on them all alike. As the people then, so shall the priest be.”
Some go farther, and say, that it means that God would rob the priests of their honor, that they might differ nothing from the people; which is indeed true: but then they think that the Prophet threatens not others as well as the priests; which is not true. For though God, when he punishes the priests and the people for the contempt of his law, blots out the honor of the priesthood, and so abolishes it as to produce an equality between the great and the despised; yet the Prophet declares here, no doubt, that God would become the vindicator of his law against other sinners as well as against the priests. This subject expands wider than what they mean. The rest we must defer till to-morrow.
I now return to that passage of the Prophet, in which he says, They shall eat and shall not be satisfied, and again, They shall play the wanton and shall not increase; because Jehovah have they left off to attend to. The Prophet here again proclaims the judgment which was nigh the Israelites. And first, he says, They shall eat and shall not be satisfied; in which he alludes to the last verse. For the priests gaped for gain, and their only care was to satisfy their appetites. Since then their cupidity was insatiable, which was also the cause why they conceded sinful liberty to the people, he now says, They shall eat and shall not be satisfied. The Prophet intimates further by these words, that men are not sustained by plenty or abundance of provisions, but rather by the blessing of God: for a person may devour much, yet the quantity, however large, may not satisfy him; and this we find to be often the case as to a voracious appetite; for in such an instance, the staff of bread is broken, that is, the Lord takes away support from bread, so that much eating does not satisfy. And this is the Prophet’s meaning, when he says, They shall eat and shall not be satisfied The priests thought it a happy time with them, when they gathered great booty from every quarter; God on the contrary declares, that it would be empty and useless to them; for no satisfying effect would follow: however much they might greedily swallow up, they would not yet be satisfied.
He afterwards adds, They shall play the wanton and shall not increase; that is, “However much they might give the reins to promiscuous lusts, I will not yet suffer them to propagate: so far shall they be from increasing or generating an offspring by lawful marriages, that were they everywhere to indulge in illicit intercourse, they would still continue barren.” The Prophet here, in a word, testifies that the ungodly are deceived, when they think that they can obtain their wishes by wicked and unlawful means; for the Lord will frustrate their desires. The avaricious think, when they have much, that they are sufficiently defended against all want; and when penury presses on all others, they think themselves beyond the reach of danger. But the Lord derides this folly: “Gather, gather great heaps; but I will blow on your riches, that they may vanish, or at least yield you no advantage. So also strive to beget children; though one may marry ten wives, or everywhere play the wanton, he shall still remain childless.” Thus we see that a just punishment is inflicted on profane men, when they indulge their own lusts: they indeed promise to themselves a happy issue; but God, on the other hand, pronounces upon them his curse.
He then adds, They have left Jehovah to attend, that is that they may not attend or serve him. Here the Prophet points out the source and the chief cause of all evils, and that is, because the Israelites had forsaken the true God and his worship. Though they indeed retained the name of God, and were wont, even boldly, to set up this plea against the Prophets, that they were the children of Abraham, and the chosen of the supreme God, he yet says that they were apostates. How so? Because whosoever keeps faith with God, keeps himself also under the tuition of his word, and wanders not after his own inventions; but the Israelites indulged themselves in any thing they pleased. Since then it is certain that they had shaken off the yoke of the law, it is no wonder that the Prophet says, that they had departed from the Lord. But we ought to notice the confirmation of this truth, that no one can continue to keep faith with God, except he observes his word and remains under its tuition. Let us now proceed —
The verb לקח lakech, means to take away; and this sense is also admissible that wine and wantonness take possession of the heart; but I take its simpler meaning, to take away. But it is not a general truth as most imagine, who regard it a proverbial saying, that wantonness and wine deprive men of their right mind and understanding: on the contrary, it is to be restricted, I doubt not, to the Israelites; as though the Prophet had said, that they were without a right mind, and like brute animals, because drunkenness and fornication had infatuated or fascinated them. But we may take both in a metaphorical sense; as fornication may be superstition, and so also drunkenness: yet it seems more suitable to the context to consider, that the Prophet here reproaches the Israelites for having petulantly cast aside every instruction through being too much given to their pleasures and too much cloyed. Since then the Israelites had been enriched with great plenty, God had given way to abominable indulgences, the Prophet says, that they were without sense: and this is commonly the case with such men. I will not therefore treat here more at large of drunkenness and fornication.
It is indeed true, that when any one becomes addicted to wantonness, he loses both modesty and a right mind, and also that wine is as it were poisonous, for it is, as one has said, a mixed poison: and the earth, when it sees its own blood drank up intemperately, takes its revenge on men. These things are true; but let us see what the Prophet meant.
Now, as I have said, he simply directs his discourse to the Israelites, and says, that they were sottish and senseless, because the Lord had dealt too liberally with them. For, as I have said, the kingdom of Israel was then very opulent, and full of all kinds of luxury. The Prophet then touches now distinctly on this very thing: “How comes it that ye are now so senseless, that there is not a particle of right understanding among you? Even because ye are given to excesses, because there is among you too large an abundance of all good things: hence it is, that all indulge their own lusts; and these take away your heart.” In short, God means here that the Israelites abused his blessings, and that excesses blinded them. This is the meaning. Let us now go on —
The Prophet calls here the Israelites the people of God, not to honor them, but rather to increase their sin; for the more heinous was the perfidy of the people, that having been chosen, they had afterwards forsaken their heavenly Father. Hence My people: there is here an implied comparison between all other nations and the seed of Abraham, whom God had adopted; “This is, forsooth! the people whom I designed to be sacred to myself, whom of all nations in the world I have taken to myself: they are my heritage. Now this people, who ought to be mine, consult their own wood, and their staff answers them!” We hence see that it was a grievous and severe reprobation when the Lord reminded them of the invaluable kindness with which he had favored the children of Abraham.
So at this day our guilt will be more grievous, if we continue not in the pure worship of God, since God has called us to himself and designed us to be his peculiar flock. The same thing that the Prophet brought against the Israelites may be also brought against the Papists; for as soon as infants are born among them, the Lord signs them with the sacred symbol of baptism; they are therefore in some sense ( aliqua ex parte ) the people of God. We see, at the same time, how gross and abominable are the superstitions which prevail among them: there are none more stupid than they are. Even the Turks and the Saracenes are wise when compared with them. How great, then, and how shameful is this baseness, that the Papists, who boast themselves to be the people of God, should go astray after their own mad follies!
But the Prophet says the Israelites “consulted” their own wood, or inquired of wood. He no doubt accuses them here of having transferred the glory of the only true God to their own idols, or fictitious gods. They consult, he says, their own wood, and the staff answers them. He seems, in the second clauses to allude to the blind: as when a blind man asks his staff, so he says the Israelites asked counsel of their wood and staff. Some think that superstitions then practiced are here pointed out. The augurs we know used a staff; and it is probable that diviners in the East employed also a staff, or some such thing, in performing their incantations. (16) Others explain these words allegorically, as though wood was false religion, and staff the ungodly prophets. But I am inclined to hold to simplicity. It then seems to me more probable, that the Israelites, as I have already stated, are here condemned for consulting wood or dead idols, instead of the only true God; and that it was the same thing as if a blind man was to ask counsel of his staff, though the staff be without any reason or sense. A staff is indeed useful, but for a different purpose. And thus the Prophet not only contemptuously, but also ironically, exposes to scorn the folly of those who consult their gods of wood and stone; for to do so will no more avail them than if one had a staff for his counselor.
He then subjoins, for the spirit of fornication has deceived them Here again the Prophet aggravates their guilt, inasmuch as no common blame was to be ascribed to the Israelites; for they were, he says, wholly given to fornication The spirit, then, of fornication deceived them: it was the same as if one inflamed with lust ran headlong into evil; as we see to be the case with brutal men when carried away by a blind and shameful passion; for then every distinction between right and wrong disappears from their eyes — no choice is made, no shame is felt. As then such heat of lust is wont sometimes to seize men, that they distinguish nothing, so the Prophet says with the view of shaming the people the more, that they were like those given to fornication, who no longer exercise any judgment, who are restrained by no shame. The spirit, then, of fornication has deceived them: but as this similitude often meets us, I shall not dwell upon it.
They have played the wanton, he says, that they may not obey the Lord. He does not say simply, ‘from their God,’ but ‘from under’ מתחת, metachet, They have then played the wanton, that they might no more obey God, or continue under his government. We may hence learn what is our spiritual chastity, even when God rules us by his word, when we go not here and there and rashly follow our own superstitions. When we abide then under the government of our God, and with fixed eyes look on him, then we chastely preserve our faithfulness to him. But when we follow idols, we then play the wanton and depart from God. Let us now proceed —
(16) This was probably similar to divination by arrows, mentioned in Ezekiel 21:21. There is a practice of this kind still among the Arabs, as Adam Clarke mentions in his comment on this verse. They take three arrows without head, and write onone, Command me, Lord; on the other, Forbid me, Lord; and the third is left a blank. These are put in a bag, and one is drawn. If the first is drawn, they do what they intend; if the second, they abstain for a year; if the third, they draw again. — Ed.
The Prophet shows here more clearly what was the fornication for which he had before condemned the people, — that they worshipped God under trees and on high places. This then is explanatory, for the Prophet defines what he before understood by the word, fornication; and this explanation was especially useful, nay, necessary. For men, we know, will not easily give way, particularly when they can adduce some color for their sins, as is the case with the superstitious: when the Lord condemns their perverted and vicious modes of worship, they instantly cry out, and boldly contend and say, “What! is this to be counted fornication, when we worship God?” For whatever they do from inconsiderate zeal is, they think, free from every blame. So the Papists of this day fix it as a matter beyond dispute that all their modes of worship are approved by God: for though nothing is grounded on his word, yet good intention (as they say) is to them more than a sufficient excuse. Hence they dare proudly to clamour against God, whenever he condemns their corruptions and abuses. Such presumption has doubtless prevailed from the beginning.
The Prophet, therefore, deemed it needful openly and distinctly to show to the Israelites, that though they thought themselves to be worshipping God with pious zeal and good intention, they were yet committing fornication. “It is fornication,” he says, “when ye sacrifice under trees.” “What! has it not ever been a commendable service to offer sacrifices and to burn incense to God?” Such being the design of the Israelites, what was the reason that God was so angry with them? We may suppose them to have fallen into a mistake; yet why did not God bear with this foolish intention, when it was covered, as it has been stated, with honest and specious zeal? But God here sharply reproves the Israelites, however much they pretended a great zeal, and however much they covered their superstitions with the false title of God’s worship: “It is nothing else,” he says, “but fornication.”
On tops of mountains, he says, they sacrifice, and on hills they burn incense, under the oak and the poplar and the teil-tree, etc. It seemed apparently a laudable thing in the Israelites to build altars in many places; for frequent attendance at the temples might have stirred them up the more in God’s worship. Such is the plea of the Papists for filling their temples with pictures; they say, “We are everywhere reminded of God wherever we turn our eyes; and this is very profitable.” So also it might have seemed to the Israelites a pious work, to set up God’s worship on hills and on tops of mountains and under every tall tree. But God repudiated the whole; he would not be in this manner worshipped: nay, we see that he was grievously displeased. He says, that the faith pledged to him was thus violated; he says, that the people basely committed fornication. Though the Prophet’s doctrine is at this day by no means plausible in the world, so that hardly one in ten embraces it; we shall yet contend in vain with the Spirit of God: nothing then is better than to hear our judge; and he pronounces all fictitious modes of worship, however much adorned by a specious guise, to be adulteries and whoredoms.
And we hence learn that good intention, with which the Papists so much please themselves, is the mother of all wantonness and of all filthiness. How so? Because it is a high offense against heaven to depart from the word of the Lord: for God had commanded sacrifices and incense to be nowhere offered to him but at Jerusalem. The Israelites transgressed this command. But obedience to God, as it is said in 1 Samuel 15:0, (17) is of more value with him than all sacrifices.
The Prophet also distinctly excludes a device in which the ungodly and hypocrites take great delight: good, he says, was its shade; that is, they pleased themselves with such devices. So Paul says that there is a show of wisdom in the inventions and ordinances of men, (Colossians 2:23.) Hence, when men undertake voluntary acts of worship, — which the Greeks call εθελοθρησκείας superstitions, being nothing else than will-worship, — when men undertake this or that to do honor to God, there appears to them a show of wisdom, but before God it is abomination only. At this practice the Prophet evidently glances, when he says that the shade of the poplar, or of the oak, or of teil-tree, was good; for the ungodly and the hypocrites imagined their worship to be approved of God, and that they surpassed the Jews, who worshipped God only in one place: “Our land is full of altars, and memorials of God present themselves everywhere.” But when they thought that they had gained the highest glory by their many altars, the Prophet says, that the shade indeed was good, but that it only pleased wantons, who would not acknowledge their baseness.
He afterwards adds, Therefore your daughters shall play the wanton, and your daughters-in-law shall become adulteresses: I will not visit your daughters and daughters-in-law Some explain this passage as though the Prophet said, “While the parents were absent, their daughters and daughters-in-law played the wanton.” The case is the same at this day; for there is no greater liberty in licentiousness than what prevails during vowed pilgrimages: for when any one wishes to indulge freely in wantonness, she makes a vow to undertake a pilgrimage: an adulterer is ready at hand who offers himself a companion. And again, when the husband is so foolish as to run here and there, he at the same time gives to his wife the opportunity of being licentious. And we know further, that when many women meet at unusual hours in churches, and have their private masses, there are there hidden corners, where they perpetrate all kinds of licentiousness. We know, indeed, that this is very common. But the Prophet’s meaning is another: for God here denounces the punishment of which Paul speaks in the Romans (18) when he says, ‘As men have transferred the glory of God to dead things, so God also gave them up to a reprobate mind,’ that they might discern nothing, and abandon themselves to every thing shameful, and even prostitute their own bodies.
Let us then know, that when just and due honor is not rendered to God, this vengeance deservedly follows, that men become covered with infamy. Why so? Because nothing is more equitable than that God should vindicate his own glory, when men corrupt and adulterate it: for why should then any honor remain to them? And why, on the contrary, should not God sink them at once in some extreme baseness? Let us then know, that this is a just punishment, when adulteries prevail, and when vagrant lusts promiscuously follow.
(17) 1 Samuel 15:22. — fj.
(18) Romans 1:28. — fj.
He then who worships not God, shall have at home an adulterous wife, and filthy strumpets as his daughters, boldly playing the wanton, and he shall have also adulterous daughters-in-law: not that the Prophet speaks only of what would take place; but he shows that such would be the vengeance that God would take: ‘Your daughters therefore shall play the wanton, and your daughters-in-law shall be adulteresses;’ and I will not punish your daughters and your daughters-in-law; that is, “I will not correct them for their scandalous conduct; for I wish them to be exposed to infamy.” For this truth must ever stand firm,‘
Him who honors me, I will honor: and him who despises my name, I will make contemptible and ignominious,’ (1 Samuel 2:30.)
God then declares that he will not visit these crimes, because he designed in this way to punish the ungodly, by whom his own worship had been corrupted.
He says, Because they with strumpets separate themselves. Some explain this verb פדר, pered, as meaning, “They divide husbands from their wives:” but the Prophet, no doubt, means, that they separated themselves from God, in the same manner as a wife does, when she leaves her husband and gives herself up to an adulterer. The Prophet then uses the word allegorically, or at least metaphorically: and a reason is given, which they do not understand who take this passage as referring literally to adulteries; and their mistake is sufficiently proved to be so by the next clause, ‘and with strumpets they sacrifice.’ The separation then of which he speaks is this, that they sacrificed with strumpets; which they could not do without violating their faith pledged to God. We now apprehend the Prophet’s real meaning: ‘ I will not punish, ’ he says, ‘wantonness and adulteries in your families.’ Why? “Because I would have you to be made infamous, for ye have first played the wanton.”
But there is a change of person; and this ought to be observed: for he ought to have carried on his discourse throughout in the second person, and to have said, “Because ye have separated with strumpets, and accompany harlots;” this is the way in which he ought to have spoken: but through excess, as it were, of indignation, he makes a change in his address, ‘They,’ he says, ‘have played the wanton,’ as though he deemed them unworthy of being spoken to. They have then played the wanton with strumpets. By “strumpets”, he doubtless understands the corruptions by which God’s worship had been perverted, even through wantonness: “they sacrifice”, he says, “with strumpets”, that is, they forsake the true God, and resort to whatever pollutions they please; and this is to play the wanton, as when a husband, leaving his wife, or when a wife, leaving her husband, abandon themselves to filthy lust. But it is nothing strange or unwonted for sins to be punished by other sins. What Paul teaches ought especially to be borne in mind, that God, as the avenger of his own glory, gives men up to a reprobate mind, and suffers them to be covered with many most disgraceful things; for he cannot bear with them, when they turn his glory to shame and his truth to a lie.
He afterwards adds, And the people, not understanding, shall stumble. They who take the verb לבט, labeth, as meaning, “to be perverted,” understand it here in the sense of being “perplexed:” nor is this sense inappropriate. The people then shall not understand and be perplexed; that is, They shall not know the right way. But the word means also “to stumble,” and still oftener “to fall;” and since this is the more received sense, I am disposed to embrace it: The people then, not understanding, shall stumble
The Prophet here teaches, that the pretence of ignorance is of no weight before God, though hypocrites are wont to flee to this at last. When they find themselves without any excuse they run to this asylum, — “But I thought that I was doing right; I am deceived: but be it so, it is a pardonable mistake.” The Prophet here declares these excuses to be vain and fallacious; for the people, who understand not, shall stumble and that deservedly: for how came this ignorance to be in the people of Israel, but that they, as it has been before said, willfully closed their eyes against the light? When, therefore, men thus willfully determine to be blind, it is no wonder that the Lord delivers them up to final destruction. But if they now flatter themselves by pretending, as I have already said, a mistake, the Lord will shake off this false confidence, and does now shake it off by his word. What then ought we to do? To learn knowledge from his word; for this is our wisdom and our understanding, as Moses says, in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. (19)
(19) Deuteronomy 4:6. — fj.
The Prophet here complains that Judah also was infected with superstitions, though the Lord had hitherto wonderfully kept them from pollutions of this kind. He compares Israel with Judah, as though he said, “It is no wonder that Israel plays the wanton; they had for a long time shaken off the yoke; their defection is well known: but it is not to be endured, that Judah also should begin to fall away into the same abominations.” We now then perceive the object of the comparison. From the time that Jeroboam led after him the ten tribes, the worship of God, we know, was corrupted; for the Israelites were forbidden to ascend to Jerusalem, and to offer sacrifices there to God according to the law. Altars were at the same time built, which were nothing but perversions of divine worship. This state of things had now continued for many years. The Prophet therefore says, that Israel was like a filthy strumpet, void of all shame; nor was this to be wondered at, for they had cast away the fear of God: but that Judah also should forsake God’s pure worship as well as Israel, — this the Prophet deplores, If then thou Israel playest the wanton, let not Judah at least offend
We here see first, how difficult it is for those to continue untouched without any stain, who come in contact with pollutions and defilements. This is the case with any one that is living among Papists; he can hardly keep himself entire for the Lord; for vicinity, as we find, brings contagion. The Israelites were separated from the Jews, and yet we see that the Jews were corrupted by their diseases and vices. There is, indeed, nothing we are so disposed to do as to forsake true religion; inasmuch as there is naturally in us a perverse lust for mixing with it some false and ungodly forms of worship; and every one in this respect is a teacher to himself: what then is likely to take place, when Satan on the other hand stimulates us? Let all then who are neighbors to idolaters beware, lest they contract any of their pollutions.
We further see, that the guilt of those who have been rightly taught is not to be extenuated when they associate with the blind and the unbelieving. Though the Israelites boasted of the name of God, they were yet then alienated from pure doctrine, and had been long sunk in the darkness of errors. There was no religion among them; nay, they had hardly a single pure spark of divine light. The Prophet now brings this charge against the Jews, that they differed not from the Israelites, and yet God had to that time carried before them the torch of light; for he suffered not sound doctrine to be extinguished at Jerusalem, nor throughout the whole of Judea. The Jews, by not profiting through this singular kindness of God, were doubly guilty. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, Though Israel is become wanton, yet let not Judah offend
Come ye not to Gilgal, he says, and ascend not into Beth- aven. Here again he points out the superstitions by which the Israelites had vitiated the pure worship of God; they had built altars for themselves in Bethel and Gilgal, where they pretended to worship God.
Gilgal, we know, was a celebrated place; for after passing through Jordan, they built there a pillar as a memorial of that miracle; and the people no doubt ever remembered so remarkable an instance of divine favor: and the place itself retained among the people its fame and honorable distinction. This in itself deserved no blame: but as men commonly pervert by abuse every good thing, so Jeroboam, or one of his successors, built a temple in Gilgal; for the minds almost of all were already possessed with some reverence for the place. Had there been no distinction belonging to the place, he could not have so easily inveigled the minds of the people; but as a notion already prevailed among them that the place was holy on account of the miraculous passing over of the people, Jeroboam found it easier to introduce there his perverted worship: for when one imagines that the place itself pleases God, he is already captivated by his own deceptions. The same also must be said of Bethel: its name was given it, we know, by the holy father Jacob, because God appeared there to him.‘
Terrible,’ he said, ‘is this place; it is the gate of heaven,’ (Genesis 28:17.)
He hence called it Bethel, which means the house of God. Since Jacob sacrificed there to God, posterity thought this still allowable: for hypocrites weigh not what God enjoins, but catch only at the Fathers’ examples, and follow as their rule whatever they hear to have been done by the Fathers.
As then foolish men are content with bare examples, and attend not to what God requires, so the Prophet distinctly inveighs here against both places, even Bethel and Gilgal. “ Come not”, he says, to Gilgal, and ascend not into Beth-aven But we must observe the change of name made by the Prophet; for he calls not the place by its honorable name, Bethel, but calls it the house of iniquity. It is indeed true that God revealed himself there to his servant Jacob; but he intended not the place to be permanently fixed for himself, he intended not that there should be a perpetual altar there: the vision was only for a time. Had the people been confirmed in their faith, whenever the name of the place was heard, it would have been a commendable thing; but they departed from the true faith, for they despised the sure command of God, and preferred what had been done by an individual, and were indeed influenced by a foolish zeal. It is no wonder then that the Prophet turns praise into blame, and allows not the place to be, as formerly, the House of God, but the house of iniquity. We now see the Prophet’s real meaning.
I return to the reproof he gives to the Jews: he condemns them for leaving the legitimate altar and running to profane places, and coveting those strange modes of worship which had been invented by the will or fancy of men. “What have you to do,” he says, “with Gilgal or Bethel? Has not God appointed a sanctuary for you at Jerusalem? Why do ye not worship there, where he himself invites you?” We hence see that a comparison is to be understood here between Gilgal and Bethel on the one hand, and the temple, built by God’s command on mount Zion, in Jerusalem, on the other. Moreover, this reproof applies to many in our day. So to those who sagaciously consider the state of things in our age, the Papists appear to be like the Israelites; for their apostasy is notorious enough: there is nothing sound among them; the whole of their religion is rotten; every thing is depraved. But as the Lord has chosen us peculiarly to himself, we must beware, lest they should draw us to themselves, and entangle us: for, as we have said, we must ever fear contagion; inasmuch as nothing is more easy than to become infected with their vices, since our nature is to vices ever inclined.
We are further reminded how foolish and frivolous is the excuse of those who, being satisfied with the examples of the Fathers, pass by the word of God, and think themselves released from every command, when they follow the holy Fathers. Jacob was indeed, among others, worthy of imitation; and yet we learn from this place, that the pretence that his posterity made for worshipping God in Bethel was of no avail. Let us then know that we cannot be certain of being right, except when we obey the Lord’s command, and attempt nothing according to men’s fancy, but follow only what he bids. It must also be observed, that a fault is not extenuated when things, now perverted, have proceeded-from a good and approved origin. As for instance the Papists, when their superstitions are condemned, ever set up this shield, “O! this has arisen from a good source.” But what sort of thing is it? If indeed we judge of it by what it is now, we clearly see it to be an impious abomination, which they excuse by the plea that it had a good and holy beginning.
Thus in baptism we see how various and how many deprivations they have mixed together. Baptism has indeed its origin in the institution of Christ: but no permission has been given to men to deface it by so many additions. The origin then of baptism affords the Papists no excuse, but on the contrary renders double their sin; for they have, by a profane audacity, contaminated what the Son of God has appointed. But there is in their mass a much greater abomination: for the mass, as we know, is in no respect the same with the holy supper of our Lord. There are at least some things remaining in baptism; but the mass is in nothing like Christ’s holy supper: and yet the Papists boast that the mass is the supper. Be it so, that it had crept in, and that through the craft of Satan, and also through the wickedness or depravity of men: but whatever may have been its beginning, it does not wipe away the extreme infamy that belongs to the mass: for, as it is well known, they abolish by it the only true sacrifice of Christ; they ascribe to their own devices the expiation which was made by the death of the Son of God. And here we have not only to contend with the Papists, but also with those wicked triflers, who proudly call themselves Nicodemians. For these indeed deny that they come to the mass, because they have any regard for the Papistic figment; but because they say that there is set forth a commemoration of Christ’s supper and of his death. Since Bethel was formerly turned into Beth-aven, what else at this day is the mass? Let us then ever take heed, that whatever the Lord has instituted may remain in its own purity, and not degenerate; otherwise we shall be guilty, as it has been said, of the impious audacity of those who have changed the truth into a lie. We now understand the design of what the Prophet teaches, and to what purposes it may be applied.
He at last subjoins, And swear not, Jehovah liveth The Prophet seems here to condemn what in itself was right: for to swear is to profess religion, and to testify our profession of it; particularly when men swear honestly. But as this formula, which the Prophet mentions, was faultless, why did God forbid to swear by his name, and even in a holy manner? Because he would reign alone, and could not bear to be connected with idols; for“
what concord,’ says Paul, ‘has Christ with Belial? How can light agree with darkness?’ (2 Corinthians 6:15 :)
so God would allow of no concord with idols. This is expressed more fully by another Prophet, Zephaniah, when he says,‘
I will destroy those who swear by the living God, and swear by their king,’ (Zephaniah 1:5.)
God indeed expressly commands the faithful to swear by his name alone in Deuteronomy 6:0 (20) and in other places: and further, when the true profession of religion is referred to, this formula is laid down,‘
They shall swear, The Lord liveth,’ (Jeremiah 4:2.)
But when men associated the name of God with their own perverted devices, it was by no means to be endured. The Prophet then now condemns this perfidy, Swear not, Jehovah liveth; as though he said, “How dare these men take God’s name, when they abandon themselves to idols? for God allows his name only to his own people.” The faithful indeed take God’s name in oaths as it were by his leave. Except the Lord had granted this right, it would have certainly been a sacrilege. But we borrow God’s name by his permission: and it is right to do so, when we keep faith with him, when we continue in his service; but when we worship false gods, then we have nothing to do with him, and he takes away the privilege which he has given us. Then he says, ‘Ye shall not henceforth blend the name of the only true God with idols.’ For this he cannot endure, as he declares also in Ezekial,
Go ye, serve your idols; I reject all your worship.’ [Ezekiel 20:39 ]
The Lord was thus grievously offended, even when sacrifices were offered to him. Why so? Because it was a kind of pollution, when the Jews professed to worship him, and then went after their ungodly superstitions. We now then perceive the meaning of this verse. It follows —
(20) Deuteronomy 6:13. — fj.
The Prophet compares Israel here to an untamable heifer. Some render it, “A straying heifer”, and we may render it, “A wanton heifer.” But to others a defection seems to have been more especially intended, because they had receded or departed from God: but this comparison is not so apposite. They render it, “As a backsliding,” or “receding heifer:” but I prefer to view the word as meaning, one that is petulant or lascivious: and the punishment which is subjoined, The Lord will now feed them as a tender lamb in a spacious place, best agrees with this view, as we shall immediately see.
It must, in the first place, be understood, that Israel is compared to a heifer, and indeed to one that is wanton, which cannot remain quiet in the stall nor be accustomed to the yoke: it is hence subjoined, The Lord will now feed them as a lamb in a spacious place The meaning of this clause may be twofold; the first is, that the Lord would leave them in their luxuries to gorge themselves according to their lust, and to indulge themselves in their gormandizing; and it is a dreadful punishment, when the Lord allays not the intemperateness of men, but suffers them to wanton without any limits or moderation. Hence some give this meaning to the passage, God will now feed them as a lamb, that is, like a sheep void of understanding, and in a large place, even in a most fruitful field, capable of supplying food to satiety. But it seems to me that the Prophet meant another thing, even this, that the Lord would so scatter Israel, that they might be as a lamb in a spacious place. It is what is peculiar to sheep, we know, that they continue under the shepherd’s care: and a sheep, when driven into solitude, shows itself, by its bleating, to be timid, and to be as it were seeking its shepherd and its flock. In short, a sheep is not a solitary animal; and it is almost a part of their food to sheep and lambs to feed together, and also under the eye of him under whose care they are. Now there seems to be here a most striking change of figure: They are, says the Prophet, like unnamable heifers, for they are so wanton that no field can satisfy their wantonness, as when a heifer would occupy the whole land. “Such then,” he says, “and so outrageous is the disobedience of this people, that they can no longer endure, except a spacious place be given to each of them. I will therefore give them a spacious place: but for this end, that each of them may be like a lamb, who looks around and sees no flock to which it may join itself.”
This happened when the land was stripped of its inhabitants; for then a small number only dwelt in it. Four tribes, as stated before, were first drawn away; and then they began to be like lambs in a spacious place; for God terrified them with the dread of enemies. The remaining part of the people was afterwards either dispersed or led into exile. They were, when in exile, like lambs, and those in a wide place. For though they lived in cottages, and their condition was in every way confined, yet they were in a place like the desert; for one hardly dared look on another, and waste and solitude met their eyes wherever they turned them. We see then what the Prophet meant by saying, They are like an untamable or a wanton heifer: “I will tame them, and make them like lambs; and when scattered, they will fear as in a wilderness, for there will be no flock to which they can come.” Let us proceed —
As if wearied, God here bids his Prophet to rest; as though he said, “Since I prevail nothing with this people, they must be given up; cease from thy work.” God had set Hosea over the Israelites for this end, to lead them to repentance, if they could by any means be reformed: the duty of the Prophet, enjoined by God, was, to bring back miserable and straying men from their error, and to restore them again to the obedience of pure faith. He now saw that the Prophet’s labour was in vain, without any success. Hence he was, as I have said, wearied, and bids the Prophet to desist: Leave them, he says; that is, “There is no use for thee to weary thyself any more; I dismiss thee from thy labour, and will not have thee to take any more trouble; for they are wholly incurable.” For by saying that they had joined themselves to idols, he means, that they could not be drawn from that perverseness in which they had grown hardened; as though he said, “This is an alliance that cannot be broken.” And he alludes to the marriage which he had before mentioned: for the Israelites, we know, had been joined to God, for he had adopted them to be a holy people to himself; they afterwards adopted impious forms of worship. But yet there was a hope of recovery, until they became wholly attached to their idols, and clave so fast to them, that they could not be drawn away. This alliance the Prophet points out when he says, They are joined to idols
But he mentions the tribe of Ephraim, for the kings, (I mean, of Israel,) we know, sprang from that tribe; and at the same time he reproaches that tribe for having abused God’s blessing. We know that Ephraim was blessed by holy Jacob in preference to his elder brother; and yet there was no reason why Jacob put aside the first-born and preferred the younger, except that God in this case manifested his own good pleasure. The ingratitude of Ephraim was therefore less excusable, when he not only fell away from the pure worship of God, but polluted also the whole land; for it was Jeroboam who introduced ungodly superstitions; he therefore was the source of all the evil. This is the reason why the Prophet now expressly mentions Ephraim: though it is a form of speaking, commonly used by all the Prophets, to designate Israel, by taking a part for the whole, by the name of Ephraim.
But this passage is worthy of being noticed, that we may attend to God’s reproofs, and not remain torpid when he rouses us; for we ought ever to fear, lest he should suddenly reject us, when he is wearied with our perverseness, or when he conceives such a displeasure as not to deign to speak to us any more. It follows —
The Prophet, using a metaphor, says here first, that their drink had become putrid; which means, that they had so intemperately given themselves up to every kind of wickedness, that all things among them had become fetid. And the Prophet alludes to shameful and beastly excess: for the drunken are so addicted to wine, that they emit a disgusting smell, and are never satisfied with drinking, until by spewing, they throw up the excessive draughts they have taken. The Prophet then had this in view. He speaks not, however, of the drinking of wine, this is certain: but by drunkenness, on the contrary, he means that unbridled licentiousness, which then prevailed among the people. Since then they allowed themselves every thing they pleased without shame, they seemed like drunken men, insatiable, who, when wholly given to wine, think it their highest delight ever to have wine on the palate, or to fill copiously the throat, or to glut their stomach: when drunken men do these things, then they send forth the offensive smell of wine. This then is what the Prophet means, when he says, Putrid has become their drink; that is, the people observe no moderation in sinning; they offend not God now, in the common and usual manner, but are wholly like beastly men, who are nothing ashamed, constantly to belch and to spew, so that they offend by their fetid smell all who meet them. Such are this people.
He afterwards adds, By wantoning they have become wanton This is another comparison. The Prophet, we know, has hitherto been speaking of wantonness in a metaphorical sense, signifying thereby, that Israel perfidiously abandoned themselves to idols, and thus violated their faith pledged to the true God. He now follows the same metaphor here, ‘By wantoning they have become wanton.’ Hence he reproaches and represents them as infamous on two accounts, — because they cast aside every shame, like the drunken who are so delighted with wine, that through excess they send forth its offensive smell, — and because they were like wantons.
At last he says, Her princes have shamefully loved, Bring ye Here, in a peculiar way, the Prophet shows that the great sinned with extreme licentiousness; for they were given to bribery: and the eyes of the wise, we know, are blinded, and the hearts of the just are perverted, by gifts. But the Prophet designedly made this addition, that we might know that there were then none among the people who attempted to apply a remedy to the many prevailing vices; for even the rulers coveted gain; no one remembered for what purpose he had been called. Hence it happened that every one indulged himself with impunity in whatever pleased him. How so? Because there were no censors of public morals. Here we see in what a wretched state the people are, when there are none to exercise discipline, when even the judges gape for gain, and care for nothing but for gifts and riches; for then what the Prophet describes here as to the people of Israel must happen. Her princes, then, have loved, Bring ye.
Respecting the word קלון, kolun, we must shortly say, that Hosea does not simply allude to any kinds of gifts, but to such gifts as proved that there was a public sale of justice; as though he said, “Now the judges, when they say, Bring ye, when they love, Bring ye, make no distinction whatever between right and wrong, and think all this lawful; for the people are become insensible to such a disgraceful conduct: hence they basely and shamefully seek gain.”
If this rendering be approved, The wind hath bound her in its wings, the meaning is, that a sudden storm would sweep away the people, and thus would they be made ashamed of their sacrifices. So the past tense is to be taken for the future. We may indeed read the words in the past tense, as though the Prophet was speaking of what had already taken place. The wind, then, has already swept away the people; by which he intimates, that they seemed to have struck long and deep roots in their superstitions, but that the Lord had already given them up to the wind, that it might hold them tied in its wings. And wings, we know, is elsewhere ascribed to the wind, Psalms 104:3. And thus the verse will be throughout a denunciation of vengeance.
The other similitude or metaphor is the most appropriate, and harmonizes better with the subject; for were not men to support their minds with vain confidence, they could never with so much audacity despise God’s word. Hence they are said to tie the wind in their wings; being unmindful of their own condition, they attempt as by means of the wind to fly; but when they proudly raise up themselves, they have no support but the wind. Let us now proceed —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hosea 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29