Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 26: Hosea, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images.
1. Vites spoliata Israel, fructum ponet sibi: secundum multitudinem fructus sui multiplicavit altaria (in altaribus multiplicavit;) secundum bonitatem (hoc est, proventum fertilem) terrae suae benefecerunt in statuis (alii, bonas fecerunt statuas; sed prior versio mihi magis probatur.)
Interpreters explain this verse in various ways. Those who think בוקק, bukok, here applied to the vine, means “empty,” are mistaken; for the Prophet means rather, that Israel was like a vine, which is robbed after the ingathering is come: for the word בקק, bekok, means properly to pillage, or to plunder. But the Prophet compares the gathering of grapes to robbing; and this view best suits the place. He says, then, that Israel is like a robbed vine; for it was stripped of its fruit; and then he adds, He will make fruit for himself The verb שוה, shue, means to equal; and many render it thus, — He will equalize fruit to himself, or, “fruit has been squalled to him.” But this rendering brings out no clear sense. I rather follow those who render it, “to lay up.” This verb means also sometimes “to lie;” at least some thus render the clause, “Fruit will lie to him:” and though, in the sense of lying, it has a different final letter, שוה, shue, it is yet said to be derived from this root, so that there is a change of א“alef” into ה“he”, as grammarians think: and yet it does not seem probable that שוא, shua means to lie. But they elicit this sense, “Israel is a plundered vine; therefore fruit will lie to him;” that is, it will bring no produce, for that will happen to it which is wont to be, when robbers have laid waste fields and vineyards. But as I have said already, some more correctly render it, “to lay up;” He will lay up fruit for himself Some, however, read the sentence as a question, — “Will Israel lay up fruit for himself?” Then the sense is, that Israel was so plundered, that no restitution could be hoped for. But these interpreters do not seem to understand the mind of the Prophet.
I collect a different meaning from the words, and that is, that Israel would lay up fruit for himself after the robbing, and sacred history confirms this view: for this people, we know, had been in various ways chastised; so, however, that they gathered new strength. For the Lord intended only to admonish them gently, that they might be healed; but nothing, as it has before appeared, was effected by God’s moderation. The case, however, was so, that Israel produced new fruit, as a vine, after having been robbed one year, brings forth a new vintage; for one ingathering does not kill the vine. Thus also Israel did lay up fruit for himself; that is, after the Lord had collected there his vintage, he again favoured the people with his blessing, and, as it were, restored them anew; as vines in the spring throw out their branches, and then produce fruit. 61
But what did happen? According to the abundance of his fruit, he says, he multiplied his altars Here God complains, that Israel, after having been once gathered, went on in his own wickedness. Chastisements ought at least to have availed so much as to induce Israel to retake himself to the pure worship of God. But God not only reproves the people here for having been always obstinate but also for having, as it were designedly increased their vices. For it was like a horrible conspiracy against God for the people, as soon as they acquired new strength, to multiply altars to themselves, when yet the Lord had already shown, by clear evidences, that fictitious modes. of worship did not please him; nay, that they were to him the greatest abominations. We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet. Then Israel, a robbed vine, multiplied altars for himself; that is, Israel has indeed been gathered but the Lord restored to him wealth and abundance of provisions, and whatever appertains to a safe and happy condition; has Israel become better through correction? Has he repented after the Lord has so mercifully withdrawn his hand? By no means, he says; but he has multiplied altars for himself, he has become worse than he was wont to be; and according to the goodness of his land, he has been doing good in statues
Now this is a very useful doctrine; for we see how the Lord forbears in inflicting punishments — he does not execute them with the utmost rigour; for as soon as he lays on a few stripes, he withholds his hand. But how do they act who are thus moderately chastised? As soon as they can recruit their spirits, they are carried away by a more headstrong inclination, and grow insolent against God. We see this evil prevalent in the world even in our day, as it has been in all ages. We need not wonder, then, that the Prophet here expostulates with the people of Israel: but it is, at the same time, right for us to apply the doctrine for our own instruction. Though, then, the Lord should spare us, and, after having begun to chastise us, should soon show indulgence, and restore us as it were anew, let us beware lest a forgetfulness of our former sins should creep over us; but let his chastisements exert over us an influence, even after God has put a limit and an end to them. For the import of what the Prophet teaches is this, that men are not to forget the wrath of God, though he may not always, or continually, lay on stripes, but to consider that the Lord deals thus gently that they may have more time to repents and that a truce is granted them that they may more quietly reflect on their sins.
But he says, According to the goodness of their land, they have been doing good in statues I have before stated, that some take this as meaning, that they made good statues, and consider “good” to be elegant. But I repeat the preposition ל“lamed” before altars. When the Prophet said that Israel multiplied altars to himself, the literal reading is, that he multiplied in altars, or as to altars; that is, he did much, or very liberally spent money on altars. So also here, it is proper to repeat, that they did good as to statues. But a concession is made in the verb הימיבו, eithibu; 62 ; for it is certain that they grievously sinned; they would not have provoked the wrath of God had they not dealt wickedly in altars and statues. But the Prophet speaks ironically of the perverted worship of God, as when we say at this day, that the Papists are mad in their good intentions: when I call intentions good, I concede to them a character which does not rightly belong to them. It is therefore according to their sense that the Prophet speaks here; but he says, ironically, that they did good in statues; that is, that they seemed to themselves to be the most holy worshipers of God; for they made a show of great zeal. It was, as they say, insane devotion. But there appeared here something more than blind hardness, inasmuch as they had so soon forgotten the Lord’s displeasure, of which they had been reminded by evident tokens. We now then perceive the object of the Prophet, and what is the application of his doctrine. Let us go on —
2. Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.
2. Divisum est (vel, se divisit) cor eorum: nunc convicti erunt (alii, peribunt; nam אשם utrunque significat; refertur tam ad culpam quam ad poenam: sed mihi probatur eorum sententia qui vertunt, Nunc convicti erunt, hoc est, Nunc erunt scelerati; quemadmodum etiam simile examplum jam vidimus capite 5, nisi fallor: Nunc ergo convicti erunt:) ipse evertet altaria eorum, destruet statuas ipsorum.
He says first that their heart was divided, that is, from God; for this, we know, is principally required, that people should faithfully cleave to their God. “And now Israel, what does thy God require of thee, but to cleave to him with the whole heart?” Since God then binds us to himself by a holy union, it is the summit of all wickedness, when our heart is divided from him, as it is when an unchaste and perfidious wife alienates her affection from her husband. For as long as the husband keeps the heart of his wife, as it were, tied to himself, conjugal fidelity and chastity continue; but when her heart is divided from her husband, it is all over, and she abandons herself to lewdness. So also the Prophet says here that the heart of the people was divided from God; for they did not devote themselves to God with a pure and sincere affection, as they ought to have done. “This people then have withdrawn their heart from me.”
But he says, Now they shall be guilty; that is I will now show what they deserve, so that they shall not hereafter, as they are wont to do, sport with their cavils; for the verb אשם, ahsem, is not to be referred to the deeds but rather, as, they say, to its manifestation. Then he says that they shall be guilty, for they shall be convicted: as, to be justified means to be absolved, so also to be guilty means to be condemned. The meaning is, that as this people could not perceive the Lord’s wrath as long as their condition was easy to be borne, he would inflict such dreadful punishment as would convince them, so that they might no longer deceive and flatter themselves. They shall then be now condemned. How? For the Lord will overturn their altars. This may be referred to the minister of vengeance; but as no name is expressed, I prefer to understand God as being meant. God then shall overturn their altars and destroy, or reduce to nothing, their statues
This was added, because ungodly men, we know, trust in their own devices, and can never be brought to serious fear, except when they understand that they have been deceived by the crafts of Satan, while they gave themselves up to superstitions and idolatry. Hence the Prophet declares that their altars shall be overturned, and their statues reduced to nothing, that hypocrites might lay aside the confidence by which they had hitherto grown proud against God. But a confirmation of this view follows —
3. For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the Lord; what then should a king do to us?
3. Quia nunc dicent, Non rex nobis, quia non timuimus Jehovam, et rex quid faciet nobis?
He explains more at large what he had briefly referred to, when he said, that the condemnation, which would discover their wickedness, was now near at hand. He now adds, that even they themselves would, of their own accord, say, that they were deservedly punished in being deprived of a king; nay, that a king would avail them nothing, because they had not feared Jehovah. There is always to be understood a contrast between the perverse boasting of the people and the feeling of God’s wrath, of which the Prophet now speaks. For as long as God spared the Israelites, they abused his forbearance and his kindness. They did not then think that there was any thing to be reprehended in their life; nay, we know how petulantly they contended with the Prophets: as soon as a severe word came out of the mouth of any Prophet, great contentions arose. “What! dost thou treat thus the people of God, and the elect race of Abraham?” Since, then, they so obstinately spurned every instruction, the Prophet says here, “The time shall come, when they shall say that they have no king, because they did not fear the Lord.” The meaning is, that as they did not profit by the word of the Lord, another kind of teaching was soon to be adopted; for the Lord would really show his wrath, and even force them to confess against their will what they now excused: for this confession of sin would have never been expressed, had not the Lord dealt severely with them. They shall therefore say, — when? even when they shall be taken to another school; for the Lord will not henceforth remonstrate with them in words, but will so strike them with his hand, that they will understand that they have to do with him.
But it must be observed, that the Prophet speaks not here of the repentance of the people, nor relates their words, but rather mentions the thing itself. Hypocrites either clamour against God when he visits their sins, or feignedly own that they are worthy of such punishments, and all the while the same perverseness remains within. But when the Prophet introduces them as speaking, he does not mean that they will say what he relates; but, as I have said already, he rather speaks of the thing itself. Hence They will say, that is, the event itself will declare, that they are deprived of a king, because they feared not Jehovah; yea, that though a king ruled over them, he would be useless. Though, then, the Israelites had never ceased to clamour against God, nor given over openly to vomit forth their blasphemies against him, yet this, which the Prophet says, would have been still true. How so? Because it was sufficient that they were in reality convicted, though God had not extorted from them this confession; yea, they were themselves made to feel that they were justly smitten by the hand of God, however they might obstinately deny this before men.
The Prophet shows here also, that profane men, while any hope on earth is set before them, proudly despise the hand of God, and grow torpid in their own security, as in their own dregs. While Israel saw their king in the midst of them, they thought themselves safe from every harm, and boldly despised all threatening. This, then, is what the Prophet meant. Still further, when the Lord takes away every thing that dazzles the eyes of profane and wicked men, they then begin to own how foolishly they had flattered themselves, and how much they had been deceived by Satan. This is what is meant by Hosea, when he says, that the Israelites shall be constrained to know that they had no king, because they feared not God: but this repentance would be too late, for it would be without advantage. It now follows —
4. They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgement springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.
4. Loquuti sunt verba, jurando mendaciter, incidendo foedus: germinabit tanquam absynthium super sulcos agri judicium. 63
They have spoken words, they have uttered words. Some give this explanation, that they daringly followed their own counsels, as the despisers of God are wont to settle and determine what comes to their minds according to their own will; for they deign not to inquire of God what is right. Thus they take the meaning to be; but I view it to be different, that is, that they spoke words, or very freely testified, that they would be the best and the most faithful worshipers of God. Then it follows, By swearing falsely. Some refer this to covenants. I will explain the words one by one; for I shall hereafter speak of the real meaning of the Prophet.
Then he says, that they swore falsely, that is, according to some because there was in them much levity and changeableness. And, indeed, I confess it to be true, that they procured for themselves grievous punishments by their perjuries; but the Prophet rather means those who swore falsely to the Lord. It then follows, By cutting a covenant, by making a covenant. Here again the Prophet no doubt reproves them for renewing their covenant with God perfidiously; for it was a mere dissimulation. But it follows, Judgement will germinate as wormwood Some render the word כראש, carash as gall; but the similitude is not suitable, since the Prophet speaks here of fields; for he adds, In the furrows of the field; that is, judgement will germinate in the furrows as wormwood or some other bitter plant.
I have thus briefly explained how some understand this verse, namely, that Israel was daring and haughty in their counsels, boldly determining whatever pleased them, as if it were not in the power of God to change what men resolve to do, — and then, that they implicated themselves in many compacts, that without any faith they violated them with this and that nation, and that at last they had nothing but bitterness. This is their exposition: but I rather think that the cause of God is here pleaded by the Prophet; that is, that the Israelites, as often as they promised some repentance, and gave some sign of it, only dissembled and lied to God. Hence he says They have spoken words, but they were only words; for they were never from a heart touched with any feeling as to God’s wrath, so as to abhor themselves for their vices. They therefore uttered words only.
He afterwards expresses the same deceitfulness in other words: They have sworn falsely, he says, and made a covenant; which means, that though they seemed to wish to return to God, it was yet a fallacious pretence; yea, a perjury. When they wished to prove themselves to be especially faithful, they then sinned more grievously by renewing their covenant.
Judgement shall therefore germinate as wormwood in the furrows of the field. Judgement is here to be taken as rectitude, as though the Prophet had said, “When they exhibit some appearance of religion, and give a colour to their impieties, it seems indeed to be judgement, there seems to be some justice; but it will be at last wormwood, and will germinate in the furrows of the field.”
Interpreters seem not to me to have understood the design of the Prophet. For why does he say, “in the furrows of the field,” rather than in the field? Even for this reason, because there is some preparation made, when the field is ploughed, for the good seed to grow. When therefore, noxious herbs grow on the furrows of the land, it is less to be endured than when they grow in dry and desert places; for this is what is wont naturally to happen. But when wormwood grows up instead of wheat in the furrows, that is, on lands well cultivated, it is a thing more strange and less to be endured. We now then apprehend what the Prophet meant. They indeed seemed at times to be touched with some feeling of piety, and promised much, and were very liberal in good words; they even swore, and seemed prepared to renew their covenant with God, — but what was all this? It was the same as if a husband man had prepared his field, and noxious herbs had grown up where he had bestowed much labour and toil. Such was their rectitude, — a disguised form or shadow of religion; it was nothing else, but like wormwood growing in well-cultivated land.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou dost train us up with so much diligence and assiduous care, and regard us as dear and precious like an hereditary vine, — O grant, that we may not bring forth wild grapes, and that our fruit may not be bitter and unpleasant to thee, but that we may strive so to form our whole life in obedience to thy law, that all our actions and thoughts may be pleasant and sweet fruits to thee. And as there is ever some sin mixed up with our works, even when we desire to serve thee sincerely and from the heart, grant that all stains in our works may be so cleansed and washed away by the sacrifice of thy Son, that they may be to thee sacrifices of sweet odour, through the same, even Christ Jesus, who has so reconciled us to thee, as to obtain pardon even for our works. Amen.
5. The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it.
5. Propter vitulas 64 (juvencas) Bethaven pavebunt (ad verbum) incola Samaria (sed mutatio est numeri, pavebunt igitur: alii vertunt, exulabunt incolae Samariae, sed male:) quia lugebit super eum populus suus et sacerdotes ejus, qui super eum exultant (vel, propter eum exultabunt) super gloria ejus, quia transivit ab eo (vel, aversa est ab eo.)
I shall first briefly touch on what I have mentioned in reading over the text; that is, that some interpreters expound this verse of the exile of the people. The word גור, gur, signifies to be banished: and it means also to fear; but the context, as we shall see, will not allow it to be taken here in the sense of being banished. Some render the other word שכן, shecan, to dwell, but they are mistaken. The Prophet simply means that the inhabitants of Samaria were now glorying in their calves, (for the calves we know, were in Dan and Bethel,) but that in a short time the Lord would strike them with terror, and the cause we shall see hereafter.
I now come to show the real meaning of the prophet The inhabitants of Samaria, he says shall fear, because of the calves of Bethaven. The Prophet derides the folly of the people of Israel in worshipping calves, and in thinking that the whole hope of safety was included in them. How so? “They are constrained” he says, “to weep for the exile of their calf; so far is it from being able to bring them any aid, that the citizens of Samaria in vain deplore its captivity.” By way of contempt, he calls the calves, heifers. He might have used the masculine gender; but the whole of the verse glances at the madness of the people of Israel, because they were so grossly delirious in their superstitions, and yet were wholly insensible. Then the inhabitants of Samaria shall fear for the calves of Bethaven, because idolaters, when they see some danger to their idols, tremble, and would gladly bring aid; and this very fear betrays their stupidity and madness. For why do not the gods help themselves, instead of expecting help from mortals? We now understand the design of the Prophet.
But he says, They will mourn over it The number is here changed. He had said, “because of the heifers;” and now he expresses the kind by putting down a relative of the masculine gender ו, vau 65 . He therefore returns to “calves,” and afterwards uses the singular number; for there was one only at Bethaven, the other was at Dan. But we have already shown why the Prophet called them heifers.
Its people, he says, shall mourn for it, yea, even the priests also. Some think that כמרים, camerim, priests were called by this terms because they put on black vestments in celebrating their rites; for the word “kemer” means black; but this is a vain conjecture: and the Rabbis, as it often appears, are very bold in their figments; for they regard not what is true, but only make conjectures, and wish that whatever comes to their minds to be counted as oracular; nor do they regard history, but advance without reason what pleases them. Another explanation of the word may be adduced, and one in my judgement more probable; for the word signifies also to ring again or to resound; and the priests, we know, made, in performing their services, great noises and howling; as Elijah says
‘Cry aloud, for your Baal is perhaps asleep,’
If their conjecture is allowable, I would rather say that they were called by this word on account of the noise they made. But I leave the thing undecided. It was, however, a name commonly in use, as it appears from other places. For by this name כמרים, camerim were those new priests called, whom Josiah took away, as it is related in 2Ki 23. But whether they had this name from their noises, or the black colour of their vestments, it is still certain that they were the priests of false gods.
The Prophet now says, that the priests also shall mourn, for the verb אבל, abel, is to be repeated. He afterwards adds, יגילו על-כבודו, igilu ol-cabudu; the relative, who, is wanting — who exult, but it is to be understood after כמרים, who exult for it. But why should they mourn? They shall mourn for its glory, because it had departed: they shall now begin to mourn, because the glory of the calf had passed away from it. Here the Prophet teaches that the glorying, by which hypocrites deceive themselves, will not be permanent; for the Lord will surely lead them, as we shall see, to sudden and unexpected shame. He then says that there would be mourning for the calves among the citizens of Samaria. They indeed thought that the kingdom was well fortified, for they had erected temples in their borders, to be, as it were, their fortresses. They hence imagined themselves to be safe from every incursion of enemies. The Prophet says, “Nay, they shall mourn for their calf.” How so? Truly its own people shall mourn for it. He goes farther, and calls all its worshipers, the people of the calf: and we know that the whole kingdom of Israel was implicated in that superstition. Yea, he says, even the priests, who exult for it, shall mourn. Why? Because its glory shall depart from it. It now follows —
6. It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel.
6. Etiam ipse in Assyriam feretur munus regi Jareb: puderem Ephraim accipiet, et pudefiet Israel a consilio suo.
Here the Prophet expresses more clearly the cause of mourning to the priests and to the whole people, The calf, he says, “shall be carried into Assyria, and carried as a present to king Jareb”. It is probable, that when extreme danger came, the king of Israel was constrained either to cast the calf into a new form, or to break it in pieces, to redeem peace from the Assyrian king. As then the whole kingdom was reduced to great want, we may infer from this place that the calf or calves, were carried into Assyria for pacifying the king. Since then the Israelites saw that they were stripped of their protection, (for they were now without any hope of safety, as there was no God among them,) the Prophet mentioned above their grief: but he now shows that exile was nigh at hand, not only to the Israelites, but also to the calves which they worshipped and by whose aid they thought themselves to be secure and safe in their country.
There is a particular emphasis in the particle גם, gam, as though the Prophet said, “Not only the Israelites shall migrate, but the very calf shall also be carried into Assyria.” Of the word “Jareb,” we have spoken in the commentary on Hosea 5, it seems to have been the proper name of a man. Some conjecture it to be a city in Assyria, though not noticed by writers. Others think it to be the name of a neighbouring king to the Assyrian, but without reason, and they are refuted by this very passage; for the Prophet doubtless points out here the Assyrian king. He yet calls him Jareb; it may be that he was as yet a private man, or he may have so called him by way of reproach. This is however uncertain. Jerome renders the word, “avenger.” But it is sufficiently evident that it was a proper name, not of a city or place, but, as it has been said, of a man. And I am disposed to think, that he calls him king Jareb by way of contempt, for this contempt prevailed among the Israelites as long as they thought themselves strong enough to resist. But the Lord afterwards checked this pride: hence the Prophet says now in a cutting manner, “The calf shall be carried into Assyria to pacify king Jareb.”
He afterwards adds, Ephraim shall receive shame, or reproach; Israel shall be made ashamed of his counsel. He says the same thing in different ways and not without reason; for it was difficult at first to persuade the Israelites that what they thought to have been wisely contrived would turn out to their shame. The king Jeroboam the first, when he erected temples did indeed think it the best device to prevent the people, were they to repent, from submitting themselves again to the posterity of David. Hence he thought that the ten tribes were wholly torn away, when he set up that peculiar worship, which had nothing in common with that of the tribe of Judah. And doubtless had the ten tribes worshipped the true God at Jerusalem, this union might have been the means of again reuniting them into one body under one head. Hence the king Jeroboam thought that he had provided well for his kingdom, to render it permanent, by cutting off all communication between the two people: and there was none in Israel who did not approve of this counsel; for they took delight in their wealth, in the number of their men, and in other advantages. Since then the kingdom of Judah was much inferior, the Israelites were vastly pleased with themselves. This is the reason why the Prophet says, Ephraim shall receive shame; Israel shall be made ashamed of his counsel But this, as I have said, could not appear credible at first. For men promise to themselves the success they wish in their own craftiness: and hence it comes also, that they dare to attempt any thing they please without the aid of God. This is the reason why the Prophet repeats the same sentence, “Ephraim,” he says, “shall receive shame; Israel shall be made ashamed,” — for what? for their counsel. They think that their own counsel will be most useful to them; yea, they place their safety in their own craftiness. But the Lord will overrule for their shame whatever they have devised. It follows —
7. As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.
7. Succisus est Samariae rex suus, sicuti spuma in superficie aquarum (alii קצק volunt corsdticem: sed nomen spumae multo aptius est. 66 )
The Prophet proceeds with the same subject, nor ought it to be deemed a useless prolixity. It would have indeed been sufficient by one word to threaten the Israelites, had they been pliable and obedient; but as they were stupid in their perverseness, it was necessary to stun their ears with continual threatening, that they might be at least less excusable before God. Hence the Prophet says now, that the king of Samaria shall be cut off like the foam: and he thus speaks of the king, because the Israelites thought their king, next to their idols, to be to them an invincible fortress. For thus ungodly men, as it has been mentioned before, always imagine their stronghold to be in the world and earthly things. Hence, the Lord denounces a just punishment, by saying that he would cut off the king; for the impious confidence, of which I have spoken, could not be otherwise corrected. Therefore “the king of Samaria shall be cut off” — in what manner? “Like a foam”. It is a most apt comparison; for the Prophet shows that the condition of the kingdom, which they imagined to be firm and perpetual, had nothing in it but an empty appearance, like the foam, which has nothing substantial. And further, he seems to me to point out another thing, that is, that the kingdom, though it showed itself to be above other kingdoms, was yet but an excrement. The foam floats above the waters of the sea, and by its height seems eminent; but what is the foam but the excrement of the water? for whatever is decayed in the waters passes into foam. So Israel thought, that as they were endued with power, and in every way excelled the tribe of Judah, they could ride, as it were, over their heads. The Prophet, on the contrary, says that they were foam, and also their king. “Your king,” he says, “though the king of Judah cannot be compared with him, is yet a foam. By his height he seems indeed wonderful, and hence has arisen your pride, for you are now become hardened against God; but the Lord will cut him off like a foam.” The Prophet then not only compares the king of Israel to a bubble or to foaming waters; but he says, that with respect to the king of Judah, he is an excrement. We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet.
8. The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.
8. Et perierunt (vel, peribunt excelsa Aven, scelus Israel: spina et carduus ascendet super altaria eorum: et dicent montibus, Operite nos; et collibus, Cadite super nos.
We see how much the Prophet dwells on one thing: but, as I have already said, there was need of a strong hammer to beat this iron; for the hearts of the people were iron, or even steel. This hardness could not then be broken except with violence. This is the reason why the Prophet goes on with his threatening and places before their eyes in so many forms the vengeance of God; of which it would have been enough for him briefly to remind them, had they not been so perverse.
And first he says, The high places of Aven have perished, or shall perish. He now calls Bethel Aven, as he called it before Bethaven. We have stated the reason for changing the name. Jeroboam might indeed have disguised the worship, which he had profanely introduced by this pretext, that God had appeared in that place to holy Jacob, and we know its name was given to it by God: but in the meantime, as the people had made a wrong use of the Patriarch’s example, the place was called Bethaven. Bethaven, we know, is the house of iniquity; as though the Prophet had said, “God dwells not in this place, as superstitious men imagine; but it has been corrupted by ungodly worshipers.” He therefore says, “The high places of Aven;” that is, of impiety. But it may be expedient to repeat here what we have before said, namely, that when men degenerate from the pure teaching of God, they in vain cover their profanations with empty names, as we see the Papists doing at this day; for they adorn that profanation, the Mass, with the title of Sacrament, as if it was something allied to it. They wish even their own Mass to be regarded as the Holy Supper, as if it were in their power to abolish what has been prescribed by the Son of God, and to substitute in its place their own inventions. Hence, how much soever the Papists may dignify their profanations with honourable names they effect nothing. How so? Because God loudly proclaims respecting Bethel that it is Bethaven; and the reason is well known, because Jeroboam erected temples, and appointed new sacrifices, without God’s command. Whenever, then, men depart from the word of the Lord, it will avail them nothing to disguise their own dreams; for the Lord approves of nothing but what he himself commands. Hence the high places of Aven have perished, or “shall perish.”
He adds The sin of Israel This sentence, placed in apposition, belongs to the former. What is meant is, The sin of Israel shall perish. But, as it was said yesterday, the Israelites thought that they performed a service acceptable to God; and hence it was that they were so sedulously attentive to their holy rites; but God, on the contrary, pronounced them to be sin. How so? Because it is profanation and idolatry in men to leave off following God’s command, and to give way to their own fancies and inventions. We must then understand, that it is not in the power of men to form any modes of worship they please; nor is it in their power to decide on this or that worship, whether it be lawful or spurious; but nothing remains for us but to attend to what the Lord says. When, therefore, the Lord pronounces that to be profane which pleases us, we ought to acquiesce in his judgement; for it does not become us to dispute with him, and it would be vain to do so.
The thorn and the thistle, he says, shall come up on their altars It may be asked, Ought the Prophet simply, by these tokens, to have reproved the superstition of the people, seeing that the same thing happened to the temple a short time after, though not built by the counsel of men, but by that of God? Since, then, the grass grew where the temple was, was not that worship, which we know was founded by God, exposed to ridicule? It is only the same that can be said of the calves. We grant that the calves were carried into Assyria, as a price from the wretched Israelites to pacify the king, who was angry with them. Was not the ark of the covenant taken also into captivity by enemies? Did not king Nebuchadnezzar take away the vessels of the temple? And was not pious Hezekiah constrained to strip the doors of the temple of their ornaments? Then this seems not to have been fitly spoken by the Prophet. The answer to all this may be readily given: The Israelites promised to themselves what they saw, and found afterwards to be vain as is the case with hypocrites, who securely despise all judgements and all punishments. How so? Because they thought their own perverted worship to be sufficient for their safety; though they were in their whole life abominable yet as some form of religion was observed by them, they thought that God was bound to be with them: such and so supine was the security of that people. Very different was the case with the tribe of Judah. For God, by his Prophets, proclaimed aloud, “Trust not in words of falsehood; for ye boast continually, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, (Jer 7:4,) but I no longer dwell in that temple:” and Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord departing elsewhere, (Eze 10:4.) What is said here could not then apply to the temple, nor to the true and lawful altar, nor to the true worshipers of God; but the Prophet justly reproaches the Israelites for expecting safety from their own altars, while yet they were provoking God’s wrath against themselves by such inventions. We ought, then to remember this difference between the tribe of Judah and the ten tribes.
But he adds, — They shall say to the mountains, Cover us: and to the hills, Fall on us. By this form of speaking, the Prophet intended to express the dreadful vengeance of God; as if he had said, that the destruction, which was at hand, would be so grievous that it would be better to perish a hundred times than to remain in that state alive. For when men say to hills, Fall on us, and to mountains, Cover us, they doubtless desire a death too dreadful to be spoken of; but it is the same as if the Prophet had said, that life and light, and the sight of the sun and the common air, would become a horror to them, for they would perceive the hand of God to be against them. And further, it is a sign of extreme despair, when men willingly seek the abyss, where they may sink to avoid the presence of God and present destruction. And hence Christ has also transferred this passage to set forth the last judgement, of which he speaks, — ‘They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us;’ 67 that is, what was once said by the Prophet shall then be again fulfilled; that the wicked will prefer a hundred deaths to one life; for both light and the vital air will be hated and detested by them; because they will perceive themselves to be oppressed by the dreadful hand of God. It follows —
9. O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.
9. A diebus Gabaa peccasti Israel: illic steterunt; non apprehendit eos in Gibea proelium super filios iniquitatis.
He here reproaches Israel for having been long inured in their sins, and not for being lately corrupted. This is the substance. He had said in the last chapter that they were deep in their sins, as in the days of Gibeah: we then explained why the Prophet adduced the example of Gibeah, and that was, because the Gibeonites had fallen away from all fear of God, as if not a word about the law had ever been heard among them. We indeed know that they abandoned themselves to filthy and monstrous lusts, like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra. Seeing, then, that so great obscenity prevailed openly and with impunity in Gibeah, rightly did the Prophet say that the Israelites were then lost and past hope, as the case was at that time. But now he regards another thing, even this, — that from that time they had not ceased to accumulate evils on evils, and thus to spin, as it were, a continuous rope of iniquity, as it is said in another place, — From the days then of Gibeah hast thou, Israeli sinned
But this seems an unjust charge; for we know that the whole people united together against the tribe of Benjamin. Since, then, the Israelites revenged that wickedness which was committed in the city of Gibeah, why does the Prophet bring against them the crime of which they had been the avengers? But we know that it often happens, that they who execute the vengeance of God are in no respect better; and we had a remarkable example of this at the beginning in Jehu; for he had been God’s minister in punishing superstitions; yet God calls him a robber, and compares the vengeance he executed to robbery; ‘I will avenge,’ he says, ‘on the head of Jehu the blood of the house of Ahab, which he has shed.’ And yet we know that he was armed with the sword of God. This is indeed true; but he acted not with a sincere and upright heart, for he afterwards followed the same example. So now the Prophet says, that the Israelites had sinned even from that time; as though he said, “The Lord by the hand of your fathers took vengeance on the Gibeonites and on the whole tribe of Benjamin: but they were wholly like them. This corruption has from that time overwhelmed, like a deluge, the whole land of Israel. There is then no reason for you to boast that you have been better, inasmuch as it afterwards fully appeared what you were, for you imitated the Gibeonites.” We now then understand the design of the Prophet, and how justly he brings this charge against the Israelites, that they had sinned from the days of Gibeah. They indeed thought that crime was confined to a small corner of the land; but the Prophet says that the whole land was covered with it, and that they all exposed themselves to God’s judgement, and deserved the same punishment with the Gibeonites and their brethren, the whole tribe of Benjamin. ‘Thou, Israel, hast then sinned from the days of Gibeah:’ the Israelites said, that the Benjamites alone sinned; but that sin, he says was common.
There they stood This clause is variously explained. Some think that the people are reproved for wishing to retreat after having twice fought without success. We hence see that their minds were soft and cowardly, since they so soon succumbed to their trial. They therefore think that this want of confidence is pointed out by the Prophet; ‘There they stood,’ he says, that is, retreated from the battle; for as they did not succeed as they wished, they thought that they had been deceived. Hence it is concluded, that they did not ascribe his just honour to God, and were on this account reprehensible. But others say, that God had then testified by a clear proof that the Israelites were equal in guilt to the Gibeonites; for how came it, they say, that when they engaged in battle, they were compelled twice to retreat? All Israel were armed against one tribe; how then was it that they did not immediately overcome? But the Benjamites, we know, were not at last conquered without a great loss. It is then certain that God plainly showed that the Israelites were unworthy of so honourable an office; for the Israelites wished to execute God’s judgement, when they were themselves equally wicked. The Lord then openly reminded them, that it was not for them to turn their zeal against others, when they were no less guilty themselves. It seems to others that their obstinacy is here pointed out: ‘There they stood;’ that is, from that time they have been perverse in their wickedness, and ‘the battle against the children of iniquity did not lay hold on them.’ This third exposition is what I mostly approve; that is, that the Israelites, when they became ungodly and wicked, though they professed great zeal and ardour against the tribe of Benjamin, did not yet cease from that time to conduct themselves perversely against God, so that they at last arrived at the highest pitch of impiety.
But what follows, The battle in Gibea against the children of iniquity did not lay hold on them, may also be variously explained. Some say, that the Israelites ought not to have defended themselves with this shield, that God had so severely punished the Gibeonites and their kindred. “The Lord spared you once, but what then? He has deferred his vengeance for a long time; but will he on that account deal more mildly with you now? Nay, a heavier vengeance awaits you; for from that time he has not forced repentance out of you.” But others read the sentence as a question, “Has the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity laid hold on you?” But the simple sense of the words seems to me to be this, that the battle had not laid hold on the Israelites, because they had not been touched by that example. The judgements of God, we know, are set forth before our eyes, that each of us may apply them for our own benefit. The Prophet now reproves the neglect of the Israelites in this matter, because they disregarded the event as a thing of no moment. Hence the battle did not lay hold on them; that is, they did not perceive that they were warned at the expense of others to repent, and to live afterwards a holier and purer life in subjection to God. And this view is confirmed by the last clause, “against the children of iniquity;” for why is this expressly added by the Prophet, except that the Lord testified that they should not be unpunished, who were like the Gibeonites, with whom he dealt so rigidly and severely. Since, then, the Israelites had not been touched, their stupidity was hence proved. And for the same reason Paul says, that the wrath of God shall come on the children of disobedience or of unbelief, (Eph 5:6:) for when God takes vengeance on one people or on one man, he doubtless shows himself in that particular judgement to be the judge of the world. This seems to me to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet.
We ought further to bear in mind, that when men go on in their wickedness, whatever sins their fathers have done are justly imputed to them. When we return to the right way, the Lord instantly buries all our sins, and reconciles us to himself on this condition, that he will pardon whatever fault there may be in us: though we may, through our whole life, have provoked his wrath against us, he will yet as I have said, instantly bury the whole. But if we repent not, the Lord will remember, not only our own sins, but also those of our fathers, as it is evident from what is here said by the Prophet.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast once appeared in the person of thy only-begotten Son, and hast rendered in him thy glory visible to us, and as thou dost daily set forth to us the same Christ in the glass of thy gospel, — O grant, that we, fixing our eyes on him, may not go astray, nor be led here and there after wicked inventions, the fallacies of Satan, and the allurements of this world: but may we continue firm in the obedience of faith and persevere in it through the whole course of our life, until we be at length fully transformed into the image of thy eternal glory, which now in part shines in us, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
10. It is in my desire that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows. 68
10. In voto meo est, et castigabo eos, et congregabuntur contra eos populi, ubi colligati fuerint (vel, se colligaverint) in duobus sulcis suis (alii vertunt, in duobus iniquitatibus suis, quasi nomen esset ab עון )
When God says that he desires to chastise the people, he intimates that this was his purpose, as when one greatly wishes for anything; and it may be an allowable change in the sentence, if the copulative was omitted, and it be rendered thus, — It is in my desire to chastise them But to depart from the words seems not to me necessary; I therefore take them apart as they stand, in this sense, — that God would follow his desire in chastising the people. The sentence seems indeed to be repugnant to many others, in which God declares his sorrow, when constrained to deal severely with his people, but the two statements are not discordant. Passions, we know, belong not to God; but in condescension to men’s capacities, he puts on this or that character. When he seems unwilling to indict punishment, he shows with how much love he regards his own people, or with what kind and tender affection he loves them. But yet, as he has to do with perverse and irreclaimable men, he says that he will take pleasure in their destruction; and for this reason also, it is said that God will take revenge. We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet: he intimates, that the purpose which God had formed of destroying the people of Israel could not now be revoked; for this punishment was to him his highest delight.
He further says, I will chastise them, and assembled shall peoples be against them By these words God shows that all people are in his hand, that he can arm them whenever he pleases; and this truth is everywhere taught in the Scriptures. God then so holds all people under his command, that by a hiss or a nod he can, whenever it pleases him, stir them up to war. Hence, as heedless Israel laughed at God’s judgement, he now shows how effectual will be his revenge, for he will assemble all people for their destruction.
And for the same purpose he adds, When they shall have bound themselves in two furrows By this clause the Prophet warns the Israelites, that nothing would avail them, though they fortified themselves against every danger, and though they gathered strength on every side; for all their efforts would not prevent God from executing his vengeance. When therefore they shall be bound in their two furrows, I will not on that account give over to assemble the people who shall dissipate all their fortresses. We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He no doubt mentions two furrows, with reference to ploughing; for we shall see that the Prophet dwells on this metaphor. However much then the Israelites might join together and gather strength, it would yet be easy for God to gather people to destroy them.
Some refer this sentence to the whole body of the people; for they think that the compact between the kingdom of Judah and Israel is here pointed out: but this is a mere conjecture, for history gives it no countenance. Others have found out another comment, that the Lord would punish them all together, since Judah had joined the people of Israel in worshipping the calves: so they think that the common superstition was the bond of alliance between the two kingdoms. There are others who think that the Prophet alludes to the two calves, one of which, as it is well known, was worshipped in Dan, and the other at Bethel. But all these interpretations are too refined and strained. The Prophet, I doubt not, does here simply mention the two furrows, because the people, (as godless men are wont to do,) relying on their own power, boldly and proudly despised all threatening. “Howsoever,” he says, “they may join themselves together in two furrows, they shall yet effect nothing by their pride to prevent me from executing my vengeance.” Let us proceed —
11. And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn; but I passed over upon her fair neck: I will make Ephraim to ride; Judah shall plow, and Jacob shall break his clods.
11. Ephraim juvenca est edocta ad diligendum trituram; 69 et ego transivi super pulchritudine colli ejus; equitare faciam Ephraim, arabit Judah, occabit sibi Jacob.
Some read the two words, “taught,” and “loveth,” separately, מלמדה, melamde, and אהבתי, aebti; for they think that at the beginning of the verse a reproach is conveyed, as though the Prophet had said, that Ephraim was wholly unteachable: though God had from childhood brought him up under his discipline, he yet now showed so great stubbornness, that he even ceased not to rebel against God, and went on obstinately in his own wickedness. “Ephraim then is like a trained heifer.” But this meaning seems too far fetched: I therefore connect the whole together in one context, and follow what has been more approved, Ephraim is a heifer trained to love, or, that she may love, threshing; that is, Ephraim has been accustomed to love threshing.
There is here an implied comparison between ploughing and threshing. There is more labour and toil, we know, in ploughing than in threshing; for the oxen are coupled together, and then they are compelled to obey, and in vain do they draw here and there, when they are joined together. But when oxen thresh, they are loose, and the labour is less toilsome and heavy. The Prophet then means this, — that Ephraim pretended some obedience, and yet would not take the yoke, so as to be really and in everything submissive to God. Other nations did not understand what it was to obey God; but there was some appearance of religion in Israel; they indeed professed to worship the God of Israel, they had temples among them; but the Lord derides this hypocrisy, and says, — Ephraim is like a heifer, which will not submit her neck to the yoke, but will only, for recreation’s sake, pass through the threshing-floor and tread the corn, as hypocrites are wont to do; for they do not wholly repudiate every truth, but in part receive it; yet, when the Lord presses on them too much, they then fiercely resist, and show that they wish to do according to their own will. Almost the whole world exhibit, indeed, some appearance of obedience, I know not what; but they wish to make a compact with God, that he should not require more then what their pleasure may allow. When one is a slave to many vices, he desires a liberty for these to be allowed him; in other things, he will yield some obedience. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet, and see what he had in view. He then derides the hypocritical service which the Israelites rendered to God; for they were at the same time unwilling to bear the yoke, and were untameable. To the threshing they were not unwilling to come; for when God commanded anything that was easy, they either willingly performed it, or at least discharged their duty somehow in that particular; but they would not accustom themselves to plough.
Since it was so, I have passed over, he says, upon her beautiful neck God shows why he treated Ephraim with severity; for he was made to submit, because he was so obstinate. ‘I have passed over upon the goodness of her neck;’ that is, “When I saw that she had a fat neck, and that she refused the yoke, I tried, by afflictions, whether such stubbornness could be subdued.” Some refer this to the teaching of the law, and say, that God had passed over upon the beautiful neck of Israel, because he had delivered his law in common to all the posterity of Abraham. But this is foreign to the context. I therefore doubt not but that the mind of the Prophet was this, — that God here declares, that it was not without reason that he had been so severe in endeavouring to tame Israel, for he saw that he could not be otherwise brought to obedience. “Since, then, Ephraim only loved the treading, I wished to correct this delusion, and ought not to have spared him. If he had been a wearied ox, or an old one broken down and emaciated, and of no strength, some consideration for him ought to have been had: but as Israel had a thick and fat neck, as he was strong enough to bear the yoke, and as he yet loved his own pleasures and refused the yoke, it was needful that he should be tamed by afflictions. I have therefore passed over upon the goodness, or the beauty, of the neck of Ephraim.”
But as God effected nothing in mildly chastising Israel, he now subjoins, — I will make him to ride Some render it, “I will ride:” but as the verb is in Hiphel, (the causative mood,) it is necessary to explain it thus, that God will make Israel to ride. But what does this mean? They who render it, “I will ride,” saw that they departed from what grammar requires; but necessity forced them to this strained interpretation. Others will have על, ol, on, to be understood, “I will make to ride on Ephraim,” and they put in another word, “I will make the nations to ride on Ephraim.” But the sentence will accord best with the context, if we make no change in the words of the Prophet. Nay, they who adduce the comments I have mentioned, destroy the elegance of the expression and pervert the meaning. Thus, then, does God speak, — “Since Ephraim loves treading, and the moderate punishments by which I meant to subdue him avail nothing, I will hereafter deal with him in another way: I will make him,” he says, “to ride:” that is, “I will take him away, as it were, through the clouds.” The Prophet alludes to the lasciviousness and intemperance of Israel; for lust had so carried away that people, that they could not walk straight, or with a steady step, but staggered here and there; as also Jeremiah says, that they were untameable bullocks, (Jer 31:18.) What does God declare? ‘I will make them to ride;’ that is, I will deal with this people according to their disposition. There is a similar passage in Job; 70 where the holy man complains that he was forcibly snatched away, that God made him to ride on the clouds. ‘God,’ he says, ‘made me to ride,’ (he uses there the same word.) What does it mean? Even that the Lord had forcibly carried him here and there. So also the Prophet says here, — “Israel is delicate, and, at the same time, I see so much voluptuousness in his nature, that he cannot take the yoke; nothing then remains for him but to ride on the clouds. But what sort of riding will this be? Such as that, when the people shall be carried away into exile; since they cannot rest quietly in the land of Canaan, since they cannot enjoy the blessings of God, they shall ride, that is, they shall quickly be taken away into a far country.” We now then see how God dealt with Israel, when he saw what his disposition required; for he could not be constrained to obedience in his own land; it was then necessary to remove him elsewhere, as it was done.
He afterwards subjoins, Judah shall plough, Jacob shall harrow for himself; that is, the remaining portion of the people shall remain in their afflictions. These punishments were indeed grievous, when considered in themselves; but it was far easier and more tolerable for Judah to plough and to harrow among his people, than if he had to ride. Judah then suffered grievous losses, and the Lord chastised him also with afflictions; but this punishment, as I have said, was much less than the other. It was the same as when an ox, drawn out of the stall, is led into the field, and is forced to endure his daily labour; his toil is indeed heavy and grievous; but the ox at least lives after his work, and refreshes himself by his rest during the night. He also undergoes some toil by harrowing, and grows weary; but he returns to the stall; and then his master is not so cruel, but that he grants his ox some indulgence. We hence see the purport of this comparison, that Judah shall plough, and that Jacob, that is, the remaining part of the people, shall harrow; which means, that the rest of the people shall break the clods, — for to harrow among the Latins is to break the clods — but that the Lord will make Ephraim to ride. This, I doubt not, is the genuine sense of the passage; but I leave to others their own free judgement. It now follows —
12. Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
12. Seminate vobis ad justitiam, colligite (metite) ab mensuram (vel pro mensura) clementiam (vel, bonitatem;) arate vobis aratinem (alii vertunt, Novate vobis novale, sicuti Jeremiae 4: caeterum quia idem est sensus, ego relinquo hoc liberum:) et tempus inquirendi Jehovam, donec veniat, et pluere faciat justitiam vobis (quanquam megis recepta versio est, Doceat vos justitiam.)
He exhorts here the Israelites to repentance; though it seems not a simple and bare exhortation, but rather a protestation; as though the Lord had said, that he had hitherto laboured in vain as to the people of Israel, because they had ever continued obstinate. For it immediately follows —
13. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.
13. Arastis impietatem, iniquitatem messuistes; comedistis fructum mendacii: quia confisus es in via tua, in multitudine fortium tuorum.
The reason is here found, why I thought that the Prophet did not simply exhort the people, but rather charged them with obduracy for not growing better, though often admonished. He then relates how much God had previously done to restore the people to a sound mind; for it had been his constant teaching, Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap, in proportion, kindness, or according to the proportion of kindness; plough a ploughing for yourselves; it is the time to seek the Lord Though then the people heard these words daily, and had their ears almost stunned by them, they did not yet change for the better, nor made themselves pliable; nay, as it were with a fixed purpose, they ploughed, he says, ungodliness, they reaped iniquity; they therefore did eat the fruit of falsehood, for they sustained just punishments, or satiated themselves with falsehood and treachery. We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet: I will come to particulars.
Sow for yourselves righteousness He shows that the salvation of this people had not been neglected by God; for he had tried whether they were healable. The remedy was, that the people were to know that God would be pacified towards them, if they devoted themselves to righteousness. The Lord offered his favour: “Return only to me; for as soon as the seed of righteousness shall be sown by you, the harvest shall be prepared, a reward shall be laid up for you; ye shall then reap fruit according to your kindness.”
But if any one asks, whether it be in the power of men to sow righteousness, the answer is ready, and that is that the Prophet explains not here how far the ability of men extends, but requires what they ought to do. For whence is it that so many of God’s curses often overwhelm us, except that we sow seed similar to the produce? that is, God repays us what we have deserved. This then is what the Prophet shows, when he says, “Sow for yourselves righteousness:” he shows that it was their fault, if the Lord did not cherish them kindly and bountifully, and in a paternal manner; it was because their impiety suffered him not.
And the Prophet only speaks of the duties of the second table, as also the Prophets do, when they exhort men to repentance: they often begin with the second table of the law, because the perverseness of men with regard to this is more palpable, and they can thereby be more easily convicted.
But what he afterwards subjoins, נירו ניר, niru nir, plough the ploughing, is not, I confess, in its proper place; but there is in this nothing inconsistent: for after having exhorted them to plough, he now adds, that they were like uncultivated and desert fields, so that it was not right to sow the seed until they had been prepared. The Prophet then ought, according to the order of nature, to have begun with ploughing; but he simply said what he wished to convey, that the Israelites received not the fruit they desired, because they had only sown unrighteousness. If they now wished to be dealt with more kindly, he shows the remedy, which is to sow righteousness. If it was so, that they were already filled with wickedness, he shows that they were like a field overgrown with briers and thorns. When therefore a field has long remained uncultivated, thorns and thistles and other noxious herbs grow there, and a double ploughing will be necessary, and this double labour is called Novation; 71 and Jeremiah speaks of the same thing, when he shows that the people had grown hardened in their wickedness, and that they could not bear any fruit until the thorns were torn up by the roots, and until they had been well cleansed from the vices in which they had become fixed; and hence he says, —
‘Plough again your fallow-ground,’ (Jer 4:3.)
And it is the time for seeking Jehovah, until he come Here the Prophet offers a hope of pardon to the people, to encourage them to repent: for we know that when men are called back to God, they are torpid and even faint in their minds, until they are assured that God will be propitious to them; and this is what we have treated of more fully in another place. The Prophet now handles the same truth, that it is the time for seeking the Lord. He indeed uses the word עת, ot, which means a seasonable time. It is then the time for seeking the Lord; as though he said, “The way of salvation is not yet closed against you; for the Lord invites you to himself, and he is of his own self inclined to mercy.” This is one thing. We are, however, at the same time, taught that there ought to be no delay; for such tardiness will cost them dear, if they despise so kind an invitation of God, and go on in their own obstinacy. It is then the time for seeking Jehovah; as Isaiah also says
‘Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call on him while he is nigh:
Behold, now is the time of good-pleasure;
behold, now is the day of salvation,’
(Isa 55:6.) 72
So also in this place, the Prophet testifies that God will be easily entreated, if Israel returned to the right way; but that, if they continued obstinately in their sins, this time would not be perpetual; for the door would be shut, and the people would cry in vain, after having neglected this seasonable invitation, and abused the patience of God.
It is then the time, he says, for seeking the Lord, until he come This last clause is a confirmation of the former; for the Prophet here expressly declares that it would not be useless labour for Israel to begin to seek God — ‘He will come to you.’ He at the same time warns them not to be too hasty in their expectations; for though God may receive us into favour, he does not yet immediately deliver us from all punishments or evils. We must, then, patiently wait until the fruit of reconciliation appears. We hence see that both points are here wisely handled by the Prophet; for he would have Israel to hasten with deep concern, and not to delay long the time of repentance, and also to remain quiet, if God did not immediately show himself propitious, and show tokens of his favour; the Prophet wished, in this case, the people to be patient.
And rain righteousness upon you. The word ירה, ire, means indeed “to teach,” and also “to throw;” but as the word מורה, mure, derived from this verbs as it is well known, means the rain, I could not explain it here otherwise than “he will rain righteousness upon you.” What, indeed, could the teaching of righteousness mean? For the Prophet alludes to the harvest; and the people might say, “Are we sure of provision, if we seek God?” “Certainly,” he says; “he will come — he will come to you, and will rain righteousness, or the fruit of righteousness, upon you.” In short, the Prophet here shows, that whenever God is sought sincerely and from the heart by sinners, he comes forth to meet them, and shows himself kind and merciful. But as he had spoken of ploughing and sowing, the fruit or the harvest was now to be mentioned; that he might therefore hold forth a promise that they who had sown righteousness would not lose their expense and toil, he says, the Lord will rain upon you the fruit of righteousness.
Now follows the other verse, which, as I have said, completes the passage, Ye have ploughed ungodliness, iniquity have ye reaped: ye have eaten the fruit of falsehood The Prophet shows that the people had in vain been daily admonished, and so kindly and sweetly allured by the Lord; for they had not only slighted wholesome warnings, but had, in their perverse wickedness, abandoned themselves to a contrary course: ye have ploughed, he says, impiety; God has exhorted you to sow righteousness, — what have ye sown? Impiety; and then ye have reaped iniquity. Some think that the punishments which the people had to bear are pointed out here; as though the Prophet had said, “God has returned to you such a produce as was suitable to your sowing; ye are therefore satiated with falsehood — that is, with your own false confidence.” But he seems rather to pursue the same strain of thought, and to say, that they had ploughed impiety — that is, that they had been from the beginning ungodly; and then, that they had reaped iniquity — that is, that they had continued their wickedness to the very harvest, and laid up their fruit as it were in a storehouse, that they might satiate themselves with treachery. The Prophet, I think, speaks in this sense; but let there be a free choice. I only show what seems to me most suitable.
For it follows then, For thou hast trusted in thine own way, in the multitude of thy valiant ones Here the Prophet points out the chief spring-head of all sins; for the Israelites, trusting in their own counsels, gave no ear to the word of God: and then, being fortified by their own strength, they dreaded not his judgements, nor fled to his pledged protection to defend them. This pride is not then named here by the Prophet without reason as the chief source of all sins. For when one distrusts his own wisdom, or is afraid, being conscious of his weakness, he can be easily subdued; but when pride possesses man’s minds so that he thinks himself wise, nothing will then prevail with him, neither counsel nor instruction. It is the same when any one greatly extols his own strength, and is inflated with pride, he cannot be made tractable, were he admonished a hundred times. The Prophet then defines here the falsehood, the impiety, and the iniquity of which he had been speaking. For though the people sinned in various ways, the fountain and root was in this lie or falsehood, that they were wont to set up their own strength in opposition to God, and thought themselves so endued with wisdom, that they had no need of teachers. Since, then, the people were so blinded with their own pride, the Prophet shows here that it was this lie with which they had satiated themselves. It follows —
14. Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle: the mother was dashed in pieces upon her children.
14. Et (vel, ideo, copula enim illativam particulam valet, ideo) surget tumultus in populis tuis; et unaquaeque munitionum tuarum vastabitur, secundum vastationem Salman Beth-arbel: in die proelii mater super filios allidetur.
15. So shall Bethel do unto you because of your great wickedness: in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off.
15. Secundum (hoc modo) faciet vobis Bethel a facie malitiae, malitiae vestrae: in aurora pereundo peribit rex Israel.
The Prophet here denounces punishment, having before exposed to view the sins of the people, and sufficiently proved them guilty, who by subterfuges avoided judgement. He now adds, that God would be a just avenger. A tumult then shall arise among thy people Thou hast hitherto satiated thyself with falsehood; for hope in thine own courage has inebriated thee, and also a false notion of wisdom; but the Lord will suddenly stir up tumults among thy people; that is, a tumult shall in one moment arise on every side. He intimates that its progress would not be slow, but that the tumult would be each as would confound things from one corner of the land to the other. A tumult then, or perdition, shall arise among thy people; for the word שאון, shaun, “on” means perdition or destruction; but I prefer “tumult,” as the verb, קאם“kam” seems to require. “Every one of thy fortresses,” he says, “shall be demolished.” He shows that whatever strength the people had would be weak and wholly useless, when the Lord had begun to raise a tumult; for this tumult would reduce to ruin all their fortified cities.
He then adds an instance, which some refer to Shalmanezar. He only mentions Shaman; and Shalmanezar is indeed a compound name; but it is not known whether the Prophet had put down here his name in its simple form, Shaman: and then he mentions Betharbel, a city, referred to in some parts of Scripture, which was, with respect to Judea, beyond Jordan. If we receive this opinion, it seems that the Prophet wished to revive the memory of a recent slaughter, “Ye know what lately happened to you when Shalmanezar marched with so much cruelty through your country, when he laid waste your villages and towns and cities, and ye especially know how fierce the battle was in Betharbel, when a carnage was made, when mothers were violently thrown on their children, when the enemy spared neither sex nor age, which in the worst wars is a most cruel thing.” Such, then, may have been the meaning of the Prophet. But others think that he relates a history, which is nowhere else to be told. However this may be, it appears that the Prophet spake of some slaughter which was in his day well known. Then the report of it was common enough, whether it was a slaughter made by Shalmanezar, or any other, of which there is no express mention found. We now see the meaning of the Prophet; but we cannot finish to-day.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we remain yet in our own wickedness, though often warned and sweetly invited by thee, and as thou prevailest not with us by thy daily instruction, — O grant, that we may, in a spirit of meekness, at length turn to thy service, and fight against the hardness and obstinacy of our flesh, till we render ourselves submissive to thee, and not wait until thou puttest forth thy hand against us, or at least so profit under thy chastisements, as not to constrain thee to execute extreme vengeance against us, but to repent without delay; and that we may indeed, without hypocrisy, plough under thy yoke, and so enjoy thy special blessings, that thou mayest show thyself to us not only as our Lord, but also as our Father, full of mercy and kindness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
We explained yesterday Ho 10:14, in which the Prophet denounced the vengeance of God on his people, such as they had experienced either when the country was laid waste by the army of Shalmanezar, or when some other slaughter was made. From the words, we certainly learn that a battle had been fought in Arbel, which was a town, as we have said, beyond Jordan. But the Prophet shows also how much had been the atrocity of that battle, and how grievous and dreadful would be that slaughter which he now threatens to the people, by saying that even the mother had been violently thrown upon her children. And the Prophet also shows that God’s vengeance would be just, because the Israelites had provoked God by their superstitions.
He then points out in the last verse the cause why the Lord would deal so severely with his people; and his manner of speaking ought to be observed. So, he says, shall Bethel do unto you He might have said, ‘So will God do unto you;’ but he more distinctly shows that the evil, or the cause of the evil, was in themselves; Bethel, he says, shall do this unto you. It is certain that the war did not arise from Bethel; but as they had corrupted the worship of God by worshipping the calf, the Prophet says, that the Assyrian was not, properly speaking, the author of this slaughter, but that it was to be imputed to that corruption which had arisen in Bethel. Bethel then shall do this unto you
But he adds, Because of wickedness — of your wickedness Some give this explanation, “Because of the wickedness of wickedness,” by which is expressed something extreme, as the genitive case is often used by the Hebrews in the place of the superlative degree; but it may be viewed as a simple repetition, “This shall be for wickedness — your wickedness, and it shall be so, that ye may not be able to transfer the blame to any other cause; for ye are yourselves the authors of all the evils.”
He says, in the last place, In a morning shall the king of Israel be utterly cut off, or, by perishing shall perish. The Prophet means by these words, that the Lord would so punish the people of Israel, that it would appear plain enough, that it was not done by man or by chance; for the Lord would suddenly overturn that kingdom which had been so well fortified, which flourished so much in wealth and power. Cut off then in a morning, or in one morning, shall be the king of Israel. Some read, “as the morning,” instead of, “in a morning,” כשחר, cashicher, בשחר, beshicher. ‘The king of Israel shall perish like the dawn;’ for the dawn, we know, immediately disappears when the sun rises: the sun brings with it the full day, and then the dawn immediately passes away. But the other is the more correct reading, as it has also been more commonly received, that is, “In a morning, or in one morning, shall the king of Israel perish;” as we say in French, Cela n’est que pour un desiuner For that proud people thought that no adversity could happen to them for many years, as they had a blind confidence in their own strength. The Prophet derides this madness, and says, that the slaughter would be sudden, that the king would in a moment be destroyed, though he thought himself well supplied with soldiers and all other defences. Now follows —
Much difference exists among critics as to the meaning of the two first clauses of this verse. The two words which create the difficulty are בוקק and שוה. The first word in the three other places, Isa 24:1, Jer 51:2, and Na 2:2, where it alone occurs, means, “to empty thoroughly,” or “to make wholly empty:” and when applied to the vine, as here, it seems to signify vine that fully empties itself of its juices, so as to bear fruit abundantly. This view is favored by the Septuagint, ευκληματουσα, well-branching, luxuriant, and by Symmachus, υλομανουσα, wildly luxuriant, and is adopted by Bishop Horsley, who renders it, “yielding.” The other word, שוה, means “to equal,” or “to be equal,” and in no case, properly, “to lay up,” as Calvin takes it. Then the literal rendering of these words, פרי ישוה לו, is, “the fruit is equal to it;” i.e. the fruit is suitable to the vine, or, “it makes fruit equal to itself:” and with this meaning correspond the words in the Septuagint, ὁ καρπος ευθηνῶν αυτης, — “its fruit is exuberant.” The following appears to be the literal rendering of the verse: —
“A vine, emptying itself, is Israel,
It makes fruit equal to itself:
According to the abundance of his fruit,
He has abounded toward altars;
According to the goodness of his land,
He has made statues good.”
Or, if we would coin a word to correspond with the original, the two last lines may be thus translated: —
“According to the goodness of his land,
He has goodnized statues.”
The final ו is left out in one copy, and the omission is countenanced by the Septuagint. — Ed.
There is here a departure from the usual arrangement: the text is interwoven with the exposition, and not given apart. But to preserve uniformity, the text is here given by itself, collected from the comment. The verse may be thus literally rendered: —
‘They have spoken words, oaths of falsehood,
In making of a covenant:
And judgment hath sprung up like the wormwood
in the furrows of the field.’
Though the doctrine of Calvin is correct, yet his exposition of the last two lines seems too refined. Judgment often means the administration of justice. Instead of being right and for the general good, as it ought to have been, it was like some noxious weed growing naturally and abundantly in the furrows of the field. As the word is literally ‘head,’ it seems to designate a weed or a herb most natural to the soil, the chief herb, which commonly grows abundantly. So that judgment, or administration of justice, was not like the good seed sown in a prepared ground, but like the noxious weed, natural to the soil, when first turned up by the plough. — Ed.
The word rendered “calves” is in the form of a feminine plural: but it is evidently a noun in the singular number, for all the pronouns in the verse, referring to it, are in the singular number. It is a peculiar form, expressive of something huge or great: as בהמות, a great beast in Ps 73:22; and חכמות, chief wisdom, in Pr 9:1. And so Bishop Horsley renders it “great calf.” The Septuagint has “calf.” — τω μοσχω. — Ed.
This relative is either masculine or neuter: the Hebrews have only two genders, the masculine and feminine; and the neuter is expressed by the former. — Ed.
Samaria is destroyed,
Her king is like foam on the waters.
This is evidently the correct rendering, and this construction is what Bishop Horsley adopts. — Ed.
Lu 23:30. — fj.
The word here rendered “furrows” is not so found any where else. The Masoretic points have alone fixed to it this meaning. The Hebrew text has עינתם, their spring or fountain; and Keri, the marginal reading, and twelve MSS, have עונותם, their sins or iniquities. The latter reading is countenanced by the Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Vulgate. Then the right translation would be, “when they are bound to their two iniquities;” that is, the two alliances with Assyria and Egypt, or the two calves, one in Dan, the other at Bethel.
“When they are chastised for their two iniquities.” — Newcome.
This is certainly a more literal rendering than our version, though it be not wholly so. The two first lines, word for word, may be thus translated, —
“And Ephraim is a trained heifer.
Loving to tread the corn.”
Job 30:22. — fj.
Novatio, which means the second ploughing — the ploughing of the fallow-ground — of the ground once before ploughed, the novale. — Ed.
Isa. 49:8, Isa. 55:6, 2 Cor. 6:2. — fj.