Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 26: Hosea, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.
1. Ephraim pascitur vento, et sequitur orientem: quotidie mendacium et vastitatem multiplicat: foedus cum Assyrio percutiunt, et oleum in Aegyptum portatur.
The Prophet here inveighs against the vain hopes of the people, for they were inflated with such arrogance, that they despised all instruction and all admonitions. It was therefore necessary, in the first place, to correct this vice, and hence he says, Ephraim feeds on wind For when one gulps the wind, he seems indeed to fill his mouth, and his throat, and his chest, and his whole stomach; but there is nothing but air, no nourishment. So he says that Israel entertained indeed much confidence in their crafty ways, but it was to feed only on the wind. They dreamt that they were happy, when they secured confederacies, when they had both the Assyrians and the Egyptians as their associates. They are only blasts, says the Prophet; nay, he says, they are noxious blasts; for by the East he understands the east wind, which blows from the rising of the sun; and this, as they say, is in Judea a dry and often a stormy wind. Other winds either bring rain or some other advantage: but this wind brings nothing but drought and storms. It hence then appears that the Prophet meant that Israel, through this their vain confidence, procured for themselves many sorrows and ever remained void and empty. Ephraim then feeds on the wind, and further, he follows after the east wind
Hosea explains afterwards his mind more clearly, He daily multiplies falsehood and desolation, he says. By falsehood he glances, I have no doubt, at the impostures by which the people deceived themselves, as hypocrites do, who, by sharpening their wits to deceive God, involve themselves in many fatal snares. So also is Israel said to have multiplied falsehood; for they made themselves so obstinate, as to become quite hardened against God’s teaching; and this obstinacy is called falsehood for this reason, for unbelieving men, as we see, fabricate for themselves many excuses; and though they be impostures, they yet think themselves safe against all the threatening of God, provided they set up, I know not what, something which they think will be sufficiently available. Hence the Prophet repeats again, that there was nothing but falsehood in all their crafty decrees.
He then presses the point still more, and says, that it was “desolation”, that is, the cause of desolation. He then first derides the vain confidence of the people, because they thought that they could blind the eyes of God by their vain disguises; “This is falsehood,” he says “this is imposture.” Then he presses them more heavily and says “This is your perdition: you shall at last perceive, that you have gained nothing by your counsels but destruction.”
How so? Because they made a covenant. I take this latter clause as explanatory: for if the Prophet had only spoken generally, the impiety of the people would not have been sufficiently exposed; and the masks of secure men must be torn away, and their crimes, as it were, painted, that they may be ashamed; for except they are drawn forth as it were before the public, and their turpitude exposed to the view of all, they will ever hide themselves in their secret places. This then is the reason why the Prophet here specifically points out their frauds, which he had before mentioned. Behold, he says, they made a covenant with the Assyrian, and carry their oil into Egypt; that is, they hunt for the friendship of the Assyrian on one side, and on the other they conciliate with great importunity the Egyptians; nay, they spare not their own goods, for they carry presents in order to gain them. We now then understand how Israel had multiplied falsehood and desolation; for they implicated themselves in illicit compacts. But why it was unlawful for them to fly to the Assyrians and Egyptians, we have explained elsewhere, nor is it needful here to repeat at large what has been said: God wished the people to be under his protection; and when God promised to be the defender of their safety, they ought to have been satisfied with his protection alone: but when they retook themselves to Egypt and to Assyria, it was a clear evidence of unbelief; for it was the same as to deny the power of God to be sufficient for them. And we also know that the Israelites never went to Assyria or to Egypt, except when they meditated the destruction of their own brethren; for they often laboured to overturn the kingdom of Judah: they only sought associates to gratify their own cruelty. But this one reason, however, was abundantly sufficient to condemn them, that they fortified themselves by foreign aids, when God was willing to keep them as it were inclosed under his own wings. Whenever then we attempt to provide for ourselves by unlawful means, it is the same thing as if we denied God; for he calls and invites us to come under his protection: but when we run in our thoughts here and there, and seek some vain helps, we grievously dishonour God: it is, as it were, to fly into Egypt or into Assyria. And for this purpose ought the doctrine of this verse to be applied. It follows —
2. The Lord hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.
2. Contentio Jehovae cum Jehudah, et ad visitandum super Jacob: secundum vias ejus, secundum opera ejus rependet ei.
It may seem strange that the Prophet should now say, that God had a controversy with Judah; for he had before said, that Judah stood faithful with the saints. It seems indeed inconsistent, that God should litigate with the Jews, and yet declare them to be upright and separate them from the perfidious and ungodly. What then does this mean? The Prophet, as we have said, spake comparatively of the tribe of Judah, when he said that they remained faithful with the saints: for he did not intend wholly to exculpate the Jews, who were also full of grievous evils; but he intended to praise the worship which as yet prevailed at Jerusalem, that the impiety of the ten tribes might appear less excusable, who of their own accord had departed from the rule which God had given.
When any one at this day reproves the Papists, they say, that another mode of worship is unknown to them, and that they have been thus taught by their forefathers, and that the worship which they observe has so continued from antiquity, that they dare not either to change it or to deviate from it. Such might have been the excuse made by the Israelites. But the prophet charges them with voluntary defection, for the temple which God had chosen for himself stood in their sight; there the face of God was in a manner to be seen; for all things were arranged according to the heavenly pattern which had been shown to Moses in the mount. Since then pure religion was before their eyes, was not their sin proved by this very fact, that having neglected the word of God, they gave themselves up to new and fictitious modes of worship? The Prophet then had before praised the worship, but not the manners, of the tribe of Judah; and he now comes to their manners, and says, that there were many things in Judah which God would chastise.
The Lord then hath a controversy with Judah; and he will begin with that tribe, and will then come down to the house of Jacob The Prophet, however, speaks here only in passing of the house of Judah, and touches but lightly on the controversy he had with that portion of the people. How was this? Because he was not a teacher, as it has been said already, set over the kingdom of Judah, but only over the Israelites. He now refers only to that kingdom for the purpose of striking terror into his own people: as though he said “Think ye that the forbearance of God is to be forever, because he has hitherto borne with you? Nay, God will begin to contend with the tribe of Judah. I have said, indeed, that they are innocent compared with you; but yet they shall not escape punishment; for in a short time God will summon them to judgement. If he will not spare the Jews, how can your great crimes go unpunished? For certainly you deserve hundred deaths in comparison with the Jews, among whom at least some integrity and uprightness exist; for they have made no change in the worship of God. Their life is corrupt; but yet the law of God and religion are not despised by them as they are by you. If then God will not spare them, much less will he spare you.”
We now understand for what purpose the Prophet says that God had a controversy with Judah; for it was not his design to terrify the Jews themselves, or to exhort them to repentance, except it may be by the way; but his object was to present an example to the Israelites, that they might fear; for they ought to have thought within themselves, “If this shall be done in the green, what shall become of the dry tree? (Lu 23:31.) If God will exercise with so much severity his vengeance against our brethren the Jews, among whom pure religion as yet exists, what sort of end and how dreadful is that which awaits us, who have departed from the law, the worship, the teaching, and the obedience of God, who are become truce-breakers, and degenerate, and in every way profane?”
Hence he immediately adds, And will punish Jacob “God will indeed begin with the tribe of Judah; this will be the prelude, and he will treat the Jews more mildly than you; but against you he will thunder in full force. It will not then be a remonstrance to draw you to repentance, but a punishment such as ye deserve; for he has already contended with you more than enough.”
According to his ways. according to his doings, will he recompense him. He sets down here ways and doings, with no superfluous repetition, but to show that the repentance of this people had been already more than sufficiently looked for; for they had not ceased for a long time to pursue their own wickedness. The Prophet then, no doubt, condemns here the Jews for their perverse wickedness, that they never left off their sins, though they had now for a long time been admonished, and had been often reproved by the Prophets. It now follows —
3. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
3. In utero apprehendit plantam fratri suo; et in fortitudine sua dominatus est cum Deo (quanquam nomen אלהים, Aleim, transfertur etiam saepe ad Angelos.)
4 Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us;
4 Et dominatus est cum Angelo (vel, adversus Angelum; vel, luctatus est, si quis malit, quanquam ad verbum ita habetur; sed quia sequitur יוכל, iucal, praevaluit, ideo libenter admitto luctandi verbum, non quod proprie conveniat, sed rem potius respicio quam verba) et praevaluit; flevit et rogavit eum: in Bethel invenit eum, et illic locutus est cum eo;
5 Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial.
5 Et Jehova Deus exercituum; Jehova memoria ejus.
In all this discourse the Prophet condemns the ingratitude of the people; and then he shows how shamefully they had departed from the example of their father, in whose name they yet took pride. This is the substance. Their ingratitude is showed in this, that they did not acknowledge that they had been anticipated, 84 in the person of their father Jacob, by the gratuitous mercy of God. The first history is indeed referred to for this end, that the posterity of Jacob might understand that they had been elected by God before they were born. For Jacob did not, by choice or design, lay hold on the heel of his brother in his mother’s womb; but it was an extraordinary thing. It was then God who guided the hand of the infant, and by this sign testified his adoption to be gratuitous. In short, by saying that Jacob held the foot of his brother in his mother’s womb, the same thing is intended, as if God had reminded the Israelites, that they did not excel other people by their own virtue or that of their parents; but that God of his own good pleasure had chosen them. The same is alleged against them by Malachi,
‘Were not Jacob and Esau brethren? Yet Jacob I loved, and Esau I regarded with hatred,’ (Mal. 1:2, 3.)
For we know wish what haughtiness this nation has ever exalted itself. “But whence have ye arisen? Look back to your origin: ye are indeed the children of Abraham and Isaac. In what then do ye differ from the Idumeans? They have certainly been begotten by Esau; and Esau was the son of Isaac and the brother of Jacob, and indeed the first-born. Ye then do not excel as to any dignity that may exist in you. Own then your origin, and know that whatever excellency may be in you proceeds from the mere favour of God, and this ought to bind you more and more to him. Whence then is this pride?”
Even thus does our Prophet now speak, Jacob held the foot of his brother in his mother’s womb; that is, “You have a near relationship with Esau and his posterity; but they are detested by you. Whence is this? Is it for some merit of your own? Boast when you can show that any thing has proceeded from you which could gain favour before God. Nay, your father Jacob, a most holy man indeed, while yet in his mother’s womb, laid hold on the foot of his brother Esau; that is, when he became superior to his brother and gained primogeniture, he was not grown up, and could do nothing by his own choice or power, for he was then inclosed in his mother’s womb, and had no worthiness, no merit. Your ingratitude is now then the more base, for God had put you under obligations to him before ye were born; in the person of the holy patriarch he chose you for his possession. But now, having forsaken him, and relinquished the worship which he has taught in his law, ye abandon yourselves to idols and impious superstitions. Bring now your pretences by which ye cover your impiety! Is not your baseness so gross and palpable, that you ought to be ashamed of it?” We now then understand the end for which the Prophet said that Esau’s foot was laid hold on by Jacob in his mother’s womb
Moreover, this passage clearly shows that men do not gain the favour of God by their free-will, but are chosen by his goodness alone before they are born, and chosen, not on account of works, as the Papists imagine, who concede some election to God, but think that it depends on future works. But if it be so, the charge of the Prophet was frigid and jejune. Now since God through his good pleasure alone anticipates men, and adopts those whom he pleases, not on account of works, but through his own mercy, it hence follows that those who have been chosen are more bound to him, and that they are less excusable when they reject the favour offered to them.
But here someone may object and say, that it is strange that the posterity of Jacob should be said to have been elected in his person, and yet they had in the meantime departed from God; for the election of God in this case would not be sure and permanent; and we know that whom God elects he also justifies, and their salvation is so secured, that none of them can perish; all the elect are also delivered to Christ as their preserver, that he may keep them by his divine power, which is invincible, as John teaches in chapter 10. 85 What then does this mean? Now we know, and it has been before stated, that the election of God as to that people was twofold; for the one was general, and the other special. The election of holy Jacob was special, for he was really one of the children of God; special also was the election of those who are called by Paul the children of the promise, (Ro 9:8.) There was another, a general election; for he received his whole seed into his faith, and offered to all his covenant. At the same time, they were not all regenerated, they were not all gifted with the Spirit of adoption. This general election was not then efficacious in all. Solved now is the matter in debate, that no one of the elect shall perish; for the whole people were not elected in a special manner; but God knew whom he had chosen out of that people; and them he endued, as we have said, with the Spirit of adoption, and supplied with his own grace, that they might never fall away. Others were indeed chosen in a certain way, that is, God offered to them the covenant of salvation; but yet through their ingratitude they caused God to reject them, and to disown them as children.
But the Prophet subjoins, that Jacob by his strength had power with God, and had prevailed also with the angel He reproaches here the Israelites for making a false claim to the name of Jacob, since they had nothing in common with him, but had shamefully departed from his example. He had then power with the angel and with God himself; and he prevailed over the angel. But what sort of persons were they? As the heathen Poets called the Romans, when they became degenerated and effeminate, Romulidians, and said that they had sprung from those remarkable and illustrious heroes, whose prowesses were then well known, and for the same reason called them Scipiadians; so also the Prophet says, “Come now, ye children of Jacob, what sort of men are ye? He was endued with a heroic, yea, with an angelic power, and even more than angelic; for he wrestled with God and gained the victory: but ye are the slaves of idols; the devil retains you devoted to himself; ye are, as it were, in a bawdy house; for what else is your temple but a brothel? And then ye are like adulterers, and daily commit adultery with your idols. Your abominations, what are they but filthy chains, and which grove that there is no knowledge and no heart in you? For you must have been fascinated, when ye forsook God and adopted new and profane modes of worship.” This difference between the holy patriarch Jacob and his posterity must be marked, otherwise we shall not understand the object of the Prophet; and it will avail but little to collect various opinions, except first we know what the Prophet meant, and what was the purport of this upbraiding, and of this narrative, that Jacob had power with God and the angel.
But it must be noticed, that God and angel are here mentioned in the same sense; we may, indeed, render it angel in both places; for אלהים, Aleim, as well as מלאך, melac, signifies an angel. But, however, every doubt is removed by the Prophet, when he at last adds, Jehovah, God of hosts, Jehovah is his name, for here the Prophet expressly mentions the essential name of God, by which he testifies, that the same was the eternal and the only true God, who yet was at the same time an angel. But it may be asked, How was he the eternal God, and at the same time an angel? It occurs, indeed, so frequently in Scripture, that it must be well known to us, that when the Lord appeared by his angel, the name of Jehovah was given to them, not indeed to all the angels indiscriminately but to the chief angel, by whom God manifested himself. This, as I have said, must be well known to us. It then follows that this angel was truly and essentially God. But this would not strictly apply to God, except there be some distinction of persons. There must then be some person in the Deity, to which this name and title of an angel can apply; for if we take the name, God, without difference or distinction, and regard it as denoting his essence, it would certainly be inconsistent to say, that he is God and an angel too; but when we distinguish persons in the Deity, there is no inconsistency. How so? Because Christ, the eternal Wisdom of God, did put on the character of a Mediator, before he put on our flesh. He was therefore then a Mediator, and in that capacity he was also an angel. He was at the same time Jehovah, who is now God manifested in the flesh.
But we must, on the other hand, refute the delirium, or the diabolical madness of that caviller, Servetus, who imagined that Christ was from the beginning an angel, as if he was a phantom, and a distinct person, having an essence apart from the Father; for he says, that he was formed from three untreated elements. This diabolical conceit ought to be wholly discarded by us. But Christ, though he was God, was also a Mediator; and as a Mediator, he is rightly and fitly called the angel or the messenger of God, for he has of his own accord placed himself between the Father and men.
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou showest thyself to us at this day so kindly as a Father, having presented to us a singular and an invaluable pledge of thy favour in thy only begotten Son, — O grant, that we may entirely devote ourselves to thee, and truly render thee that free service and obedience which is due to a Father, so that we may have no other object in life but to confirm that adoption, with which thou hast once favoured us, until we at length, being gathered into thy eternal kingdom, shall partake of its fruit, together with Christ Jesus thy Son. Amen.
Yesterday we explained how it seemed proper to call him who appeared to holy Jacob in Bethel both God and an angel; for the name, Jehovah by which is expressed the eternal power, essence, and majesty of God, could not be transferred to a mere angel. It is hence certain that he was the only true God. But it could not be, that he was simply and without any distinction called an angel; but as Christ even then sustained the character of a Mediator, he was not inconsistently called an angel; and yet we know that he is the eternal God. So this passage is worthy of being remembered, as it bears testimony to the divinity of Christ; for the Prophet clearly affirms that he is Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, and that he is so by his own power; and that he does not subsist in another, as all creatures do. Since then he is so, his sovereignty is proved, so that he is not inferior to the Father.
But he says, that this is his memorial, or remembrance. This expression has reference to men; the Prophet then means, that this wonderful and magnificent name would be well known in the world, when Christ should be revealed. The people, indeed, even then acknowledged that the true God appeared to their father Jacob; but the knowledge of a Mediator was hitherto obscure. The Prophet then seems to have respect here to the coming of Christ; as though he said, that the name, Jehovah, would be widely known to all, when the Mediator would be more clearly exhibited. But I will come now to the other parts of the passage.
The Prophet says that he was a prince, or had power, by his strength with God. What this saying imports, I shall shortly explain. The name, Israel, was given to Jacob, because of the victory he obtained in that noble wrestling, of which mention is made in Genesis 32: 86 for the holy man had not a contest with a mortal being, but with God himself; and he overcame in that combat, and is hence called the conqueror of God. As this mode of speaking is harsh, some have endeavoured by a comment to turn it to something more moderate, that is, that Jacob was a prince with God, meaning, that God approved of his unwonted courage. But God meant to express something more, when he gave this name to his servant; for he confessed that he gave way, being, as it were, overcome, and yielded the palm of victory to holy Jacob. And this ought not to appear strange to us; for we know that whenever God proves our faith, and tries us by temptations, these are so many combats by which he contends with us; for he seeks to find out what is the strength of our faith. Now? when we are said to wrestle with God, and the issue of the contest be such, that God leaves the victory to us, we are not then improperly called conquerors, yea, even of God himself. But how? Because God works wonderfully in his saints, so that by his own power he casts down himself; and while he wrestles with us, he supplies us with strength, by which we are enabled to bear the weight and pressure of the contest. Were God to assail us, what would he find but weakness? But when he calls us to the struggle, he at the same time supplies us with the necessary arms.
And it is a wonderful marshalling of the contest, when God on one side makes himself an antagonist, and, on the other, fights in us against his own temptations, or against all those wrestlings by which he tries our faith. Hence God is said to be overcome by us, when, by the power and aid of his own Spirit, he strengthens and renders us unconquerable; yea, when he makes us to triumph over temptations, and when we consider everything, such is the state of the case, that God will have the greater portion of strength to be on our side, and that he only takes the weaker portion to tempt and try us. There is not indeed, in this case, to be imagined by us, any such separation, as if God was divided against himself; but we know, that when he tries our faith, he comes forth as if he were a contender, or as if he challenged us to the contest. This is indeed certain. For what are temptations, or what is their object, but to afford us an occasion to exhibit, as on a field of battle, an example and proof of our strength and firmness? But this could not be done without an adversary; for what advantage would it be to fight with a shadow? or when no one engages with us? Hence God is like an adversary whenever he tries our faith; and, as it has been said before, we have this contest not with men, but with God himself. We have indeed to contend with the devil; for Paul says, that we have to fight not (only) with flesh and blood, but with mighty powers, (Eph 6:12.) This is doubtless true; but the Lord, at the same time, holds the first place, as that remarkable passage in Job testified, ‘The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away,’ (Job 1:21.) So, then, we must engage with God himself. How so? Because he tries and proves us. But he does not tempt us, as James says, (Jas. 1:13, Jas. 14:0;) for a person is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust. He does not tempt us to evil; he does not instil into us corrupt desires, which grow up spontaneously, and which are innate in our nature: but he tempts, that is, proves us, as he is said to have tempted Abraham, (Ge 22:1.)
Since it is so, we must now wrestle with God; but for what end? That we may conquer: for God intends not to overwhelm us, while he is making known our faith and constancy of obedience; but, on the contrary, he builds a theatre, on which to show his gifts. We therefore come to the struggle with the hope of overcoming. That we may overcome, he, as I have said, not only exhorts us to be strong, but supplies us also with arms, endues us with strength, and also fights himself, in a manner, with us, and is powerful in us, and enables us to overcome our temptations. For this reason, Jacob is said to have power with God, or to have been God’s conqueror.
But what the Prophet adds may seem strange, that this was done by his strength. He had power with God, he says, by his own strength. But if Israel had fought by his own valour, he could not have borne even the shadow of God, for he must have fallen. He must have been brought to nothing, had he not power greater than that of man. What, then, does this mean, that he was a conqueror by his own strength? We grant, that this strength, of which the Prophet speaks, may be ascribed to holy Jacob when he gained dominion. There is no better title, as they commonly say, than that of donation; and God is wont to transfer to us whatever he bestows, as if it were our own. It is then necessary to distinguish wisely here between the strength which man has in himself, and that which God confers on him. The Papists, as soon as any mention is made of the strength or power of man, instantly lay hold on it, and say, “If there is no freewill in man, there is no strength, or there is no power to resist.” But they betray their own stupidity and thoughtlessness, inasmuch as they cannot distinguish between the intrinsic strength which is in man himself by nature, and the adventitious strength with which God endues men, and which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Prophet, when he here commends the strength of holy Jacob, does not extol his free-will, as though he derived strength from himself, by which he overcame God; but he means that he was divinely endued with unconquerable power, so that he came forth a conqueror in the contest. We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
And since this was especially worthy of being remembered, he repeats, that he had power with the angel, and prevailed. But we have already said how Jacob prevailed not indeed of himself, but because God had so distributed his power, that the greater part was in Jacob himself. I am therefore wont, when I speak of the wrestling and of the daily contests with which God exercises the godly, to adduce this similitude, — That God fights with us with his left hand, and defends us with his right hand, that is, he assails us in a weak manner, (so to speak,) and at the same time stretches forth his right hand to defend us: he displays, in the latter instance, his greater power, that we may become victorious in the struggle. And this mode of speaking, though at the first view it seems harsh, does yet wonderfully set forth the grace and goodness of God, inasmuch as he deigns to humble himself for our sake, so as to choose to concede to us the praise of victory; not indeed that we may become proud of ourselves, but that he may be thus more glorified, when he prefers exercising his power in defending us rather than in overwhelming us, which he could do with one breath of his mouth. For he has no need of making any effort to reduce us to nothing: if he only chooses to blow on the whole human race, the whole world would in a moment be extinguished. But the Lord fights with us, and at the same time suffers us not to be crushed; nay, he raises us up on high, and, as I have already said, concedes to us the victory. Let us now go on.
The Prophet adds, that he wept and entreated: He wept, he says, and made supplication unto him Some explain this clause of the angel; but I know not whether weeping was suitable to him. The saying may be indeed defended that the angel was as it were a suppliant, when he yielded up the conquest to the holy man; for it was the same as though he who owns himself unequal in a contest were to throw himself on the ground. Then they explain weeping thus, “The angel entreated the patriarch when he said, ‘Let me go;’ and this was a confession of victory.” The sense would then be, that the patriarch Jacob did not gain any ordinary thing when he came forth a conqueror in the struggle; for God was in a manner the suppliant, for he conceded to him the name and praise of a conqueror. But I prefer explaining this of the patriarch, and to do so is, in my judgement, more suitable. It is not indeed said that Jacob wept; that is, it is not, I own, stated distinctly and expressly by Moses; but weeping may be taken for that humility which the faithful ever bring to the presence of God: and then weeping was meet for the patriarch; for he so gained the victory in the combat, that he did not depart without grief and loss, inasmuch as we know that his leg was put out of joint, and that his thigh was dislocated so that he was lame all his life. Jacob then obtained the victory, and there triumphed with God’s approbation: but yet he departed not whole, for God had left him lame. He felt then no small grief, since this weakness in his body continued through life. Hence weeping did not ill become the holy man, who was humbled in the struggle, though he carried away the palm of victory.
And this ought to be carefully noticed; for here the Prophet meets all calumnies, when he so moderates the sentence, that he takes away nothing from God and his glory, though he thus splendidly adorns the victory of the patriarch. He was then a prince with God; he prevailed also, he became a conqueror, — but how? He yet wept and entreated him; which means, that there was no cause for pride that he carried away the palm of victory from the contest, but that God led him to humility even by the dislocation of his thigh or leg: and so he entreated him. The praying of Jacob is related by Moses, which he made, when he asked to be blessed. But the less, as the Apostle says, is blessed by the greater, (Heb 7:7.) Then Jacob did not exalt himself, as blind men do, who claim merit to themselves; but he prayed to God, and asked to be blessed by Him, who owned himself to be overcome. And this ought to be carefully observed, especially the additional circumstance; for we hence learn that there is no cause why they who are proved by temptations should flee away from God, though our flesh indeed seeks ease, and desires to be spared.
But when a temptation is at hand, we withdraw ourselves, and there is no one who would not gladly make a truce, and also hide himself at a distance from the presence of God. Inasmuch then as we desire God to be far from us, when he comes forth as an antagonist to try our faith, this praying of Jacob ought to be remembered; for though he had his leg disjointed, though he was worn out with weariness, he did not yet withdraw himself, he did not wish the departure of the angel, but retained him as it were by force: “Thou shalt bless me; I would rather contend with thee, and be wholly consumed, than to let thee go before thou blesses me.” We hence see that we ought to seek the presence of God; though he may severely try us, though we may suffer much, though our strength fail, though we may be made lame through life, we ought not yet to shun the presence of God, but rather embrace him with both arms, and retain him as it were by force; for it is much better to groan under our burden, and to feel his power who is above us, than to continue free from toil, and to rot in our pleasures, as they do whom God forsakes. And we see how much such an indulgence ought to be dreaded by us; for unless we are daily sharpened by various temptations, we immediately gather rust and other evils. It is therefore necessary, in order that we may continue in a sound state, that our contests should be daily renewed: and hence I have said, that we ought to seek the presence of God, however severe the wresting may be.
It follows, He found him in Bethel To remove every ambiguity, I would render it, “In Bethel he had found him.” It is indeed a verb in the future tense; but it is certain that the Prophet speaks of the past. But when we take the past tense, ambiguity in the language still remains; for some thus understand the place, that God had afterwards found Jacob in Bethel, or, that Jacob had found God; that is, when the name of Israel was confirmed to him, after the destruction of the town of Sichem; for, to console his grief, God appeared to him there again. They then explain this of a second vision in that place. But it seems to me that the Prophet had another thing in view, even this, that God had already found Jacob in Bethel, that he had met him when he fled to Syria, and went away through the fear of his brother. It was then for the first time that God appeared to his servant, and exhorted him to faithfulness: he promised to him a safe return to his own country. The Prophet then means, that Jacob gained the victory, because God had long before began to embrace him in his love, and also testified his love when he had manifested himself to him in Bethel. Hence he found him in Bethel. This might indeed be referred to Jacob, “He found him in Bethel;” that is, he found God. But as it is immediately added, There he spake with us, and as this cannot be applied to any other than to God himself, I am inclined to add also, that God had found Jacob in Bethel. And the Prophet commends to us again the gratuitous goodness of God towards Jacob, because he deigned to meet him on his way, and to show that he was the leader of Jacob on his journey: for he did not think previously that God was nigh him, as he says himself,
‘This is the house of God, and the gate of heaven,
and I knew it not,’ (Gen. 28:16, 17.)
When therefore the holy man thought himself to be as it were cast away by God, and destitute of all aid, when he was alone and without any hope, God is said to have found him; for of his own good will he presented himself to him, when the holy man hoped no such thing, nor conceived such a thing in his mind. Hence God had already found his servant in Bethel; and there he spake, or (that the same strain may be continued) had spoken to him.
There he had spoken with us. Some take עמנו, omnu, for עמו, omu 87 , he had spoken with him; and they do this, being forced by necessity; for they find no sense in the words that God spake with us in Bethel. But there is no need to change the words contrary to rules of grammar. Others who dare not to depart from the words of the Prophet, imagine a sense wholly different. Some say, “He spake with us there;” that is, “The Lord speaks by me, Hosea, and by Amos, who is my colleague and friend: for we denounce on you, by his authority, utter ruin and destruction; and God has made known to us at Bethel whatever we bring to you.” But how strained is this, all must see: this is to wrest Scripture, and not to explain it. Others also speak still more frigidly: “There he spake with us,” as though the angel had said, “Wait, the Lord will speak with us; I have called thee Israel, but the Lord will at length come, who will ratify what I now say to thee:” as if he was not indeed the eternal God; but this he immediately expresses when he says Jehovah is his memorial, Jehovah of hosts But thus the Jews trifle, who are like irrational beings whenever there is a reference made to Christ.
There does not seem, however, to be any great reason why we should toil much about the Prophet’s words: and some even of the Rabbis (not to deprive them of their just praise) have observed this to be the meaning, That the Lord had so spoken with Jacob, that what he said belonged to the whole people. For doubtless whatever God then promised to his servant appertained to the whole body of the people, and all his posterity. Why then do interpreters so greatly torment themselves, when it is evident that God spake through the person of one man with all the posterity of Abraham? And this agrees best with the context; for the Prophet now applies, so to speak, to the whole people what he had hitherto recorded of the patriarch Jacob. That they might not then think that the history of one man was related, he says that it belongs to all. How so? Because the Lord had so spoken with holy Jacob, that his voice ought to resound in the ears of all. For what was said to the holy man? Did God only reveal himself to him? Did he promise to be a Father only to him? Nay, he adopted his whole seed, and extended his favour to all his posterity. Since then he had so spoken to all the Israelites, they ought now to be more ashamed of their defection, inasmuch as they had so much degenerated from their father, with whom they were yet connected. For there was a sacred bond of unity between Jacob and his children, since God embraced them all in his love, and favoured them all with his adoption. We now perceive the mind of the Prophet. Let us proceed —
6. Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgement, and wait on thy God continually.
6. Et tu ad Deum tuum convertere; bonitatem et judicium custodi; et spera in Deo tuo semper.
7. He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.
7. Chanaan! In manu ejus statera fraudis (vel, dolosa;) praedari diligit.
The Prophet is now here urgent on the people. Having referred to the example of the patriarch, he shows how unlike him were his posterity, with whom God could avail nothing by sound teaching, though he was constantly solicitous for their salvation, and stirred up his Prophets to bring back the lost and scattered to the way of safety. Since then it was so, the Prophet accuses them of ingratitude. But he speaks first of repentance; and then he shows that he and other ministers of God had laboured in vain; for such was the perversity of the people, that teaching had no effect. His sermon is short, but yet it contains much.
Turn, he says, to thy God. He glances here at the apostasy of the people, by bidding them to turn to their God, and, at the same time, condemns whatever the Israelites were wont to set up as a defence, when the Prophets reproved them. For they wished their own fictitious modes of worship to come in as a reason; they wished the gods devised by themselves to occupy the place of the true God. The Prophet cuts off the handle from subterfuges of this kind by commanding the people to turn to their God. “Why,” he says, “you do indeed worship gods, and greatly weary yourselves in your superstitions; but confess that you are apostates, who have rejected the law delivered to you by the true God. Return, then, to your God.” And he calls God the God of Israel, not to honour them, but to-reproach them, because they had willingly and designedly cast off the worship of the true God, who had made himself known to them.
There is afterwards shown the true way of repentance. The beginning of the verse, as I have already said, requires the people to repent; but as we know that men trifle with God when they are called to repentance, it is not in vain that a definitive, or, at least, a short description of repentance, is added by which is made evident what it is to repent, or to turn to God. Then the Prophet says, — Keep mercy, or kindness and judgement He begins with the second table, and then he adds piety towards God. But he lays down two things only, in which he included the whole teaching of the second table. For what is God’s design, from the fifth to the last commandment, but to teach us to shape our life according to the rule of love? We are then taught in the second table of the law how we ought to act towards our brethren; or if one wishes to have a shorter summary, in the second table of the law are shown the mutual duties of men. But the Prophet begins here with the second part of the law; for the Prophets are not wont strictly to observe order, Nor do they always observe a regular method; but it is enough with them to mention the main things by which they explain their subject; and hence, it is no wonder that the Prophet here, according to his usual manner, mentions love in the first place, and then goes on to the worship of God. This order, as I have said, is not indeed either natural or legitimate; but this is of no importance; nay, it was not without the best reason that the Prophets usually did this; for repentance is better tested by the observance of the second table, than by that of divine worship. For as hypocrites dissemble, and hide themselves with wonderful coverings, the Lord applies a touchstone, and this he does whenever he draws them to the light, and exposes to public view their frauds, robberies, cruelty, perjuries, thefts, and such like vices. Since, then, hypocrites can be better convicted by the second table of the law, the Lord rightly appeals to this when he speaks of repentance; as though he said, “Let it now be made evident what your repentance is, whether it be feigned or sincere; for if you act justly and uprightly towards your neighbours, if you observe equity and rectitude, it is a sure evidence of your repentance.”
At the same time, the Prophet overlooks not the worship of God; for he adds, — Hope always in thy God By the word, hope, he first requires faith, and then prayer, which arises from it, and thanksgiving, which necessarily follows. Thus the whole worship of God is briefly included, as a part for the whole, in the word, hope. The meaning of the Prophet then is, that Israel, forsaking their own superstitions, should recumb on the one true God, and place all their salvation on him, that they should fly to him, and ascribe to him alone the praise due for all blessings. By so doing, they would restore the pure worship of God, and cast away all their adulterous superstitions. He had spoken already of the second table of the law.
We hence see that repentance is nothing else but a reformation of the whole life according to the law of God. For God has explained his will in his law; and as much as we depart or deviate from it, so much we depart from the Lord. But when we turn to God, the true proof is, when we amend our life according to his law, and begin with worshipping him spiritually, the main part of which worship is faith, from which proceeds prayer; and when, in addition to this, we act kindly and justly towards our neighbours, and abstain from all injuries, frauds, robberies, and all kinds of wickedness. This is the true evidence of repentance.
But while the Prophet exhorted the Israelites to repentance, he adds, that such was their perverseness, that it was done without any fruit. Canaan! he says; I read this by itself; for what some consider to be understood is frigid, as, “He was assimilated to, or was like Canaan, in whose hand,” etc.. But, on the contrary, the Prophet here condemns the Israelites by one word; as though he said, that they were wholly aliens, and unworthy to be called the children of Abraham. And thus what we say is often abrupt, when we speak indignantly. The Prophet then calls them “Canaan” through indignation; which means this, “Ye are not the children of Abraham; ye falsely boast of his name, which cannot be suitable to you; for ye are Canaan.”
He afterwards adds In his hand is the balance of fraud, he loves to plunder, or to spoil. Literally it is, he loves to spoil. But the sense is clear, that they loved to plunder; that is, they were carried away with all greediness to acts of robbery. It must first be noticed, that the Prophet here exposes to infamy the carnal descendants of Abraham by calling them Canaan, and this imputation is often to be met with in the Prophets. And the reason why they were thus addressed was, that these senseless men were wont proudly to set up as their shield the distinction of their race. “What! we are a holy people.” Since by this pretence they rejected all the warnings of the Prophets, God casts back this reproach, “Ye are not the children of Abraham; but ye are Canaan:” as though he said, “Nothing in that nation has as yet changed, the Israelites are always like themselves.” The Lord had once cleansed the land of godless men: but when the descendants of Abraham became like the Canaanites, they were called the seed of Canaan; as though the same nation, which was there formerly, had still remained; for there was no difference in their manners, for they were equal or the same in depravity.
But the reason follows why he calls them the race of Canaan even because they carried in their hand a deceitful balance, and devoted themselves with all avidity to plunder. The deceitful balance may be extended to their dissimulations, fallacies, and falsehoods, by which God, as he had before complained, was surrounded; but as it immediately follows, He loves robberies, I prefer to understand here those two modes of doing injury which include almost every kind of wickedness; for men either craftily defraud when they injure others, or they do harm to their neighbours by open force. Since, then, they who wrong their neighbours do either openly injure them, or circumvent the simple by their frauds and crafty dealings, Hosea lays down here, in the first place, the deceitful balance, and then he adds their greediness in spoiling or plundering. It is then the same as if he had said that they were fraudulent, and that they were also robbers who proceeded with open violence. He means that they were, without law or any restraint, addicted to acts of wrong and injustice, and were so intent on doing mischief, as to do it either by craft or by open force. There is then no wonder that they were called an uncircumcised race. Why? Because they had nothing to do with God, inasmuch as they had thus departed from his law; yea, they abhorred kindness and mercy. It also follows that they were void of all piety, since they were thus unmindful of all equity towards their neighbours. This is the meaning.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou appearest not now to us in shadows and types, as formerly to the holy fathers, but clearly and plainly in thy only-begotten Son, — O grant, that we may be wholly given to the contemplation of thine image, which thus shines before us; and that we may in such a manner be transformed into it, as to make increasing advances, until at length, having put off all the filth of our flesh, we be fully conformed to that pure and perfect holiness which dwells in Christ, as in him dwells the fulness of all blessings and thus obtain at last a participation of that glory which our Lord has procured for us by his resurrection. Amen.
8. And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.
8. Et dixit Ephraim, Attamen ditatus sum; inveni opes mihi: in omnibus laboribus meis non invenient mihi iniquitatem, quia scelus (vel, piaculum.)
Here God complains by his Prophet, that the Israelites flattered themselves in their vices, because their affairs succeeded prosperously and according to their wishes: and it is a vice too common, that men felicitate themselves as long as fortune, as they commonly say, smiles on them, thinking that they have God then propitious to them. Since then the condition of the people was such, they despised all the Prophets and their reproofs. Of this hardihood the Lord now complains. Ephraim has said I am yet become rich There is an emphasis to be noticed in the adversative particle אך“ach”. It is sometimes in Hebrew a simple affirmative; but here the Prophet meant to express another thing, even this, that the Israelites laughed at all reproofs, because God seemed to be propitious to them, as though he manifested his favour by prosperity. “I am, however, become rich; and therefore I care nothing for what the Prophets may say, for I am contented with my lot.” This, as I have said, is a common evil; and hence this passage ought to be carefully noted, lest when the Lord spares us for a time, we may think that we are innocent before him; for there is nothing more to be feared than the dazzling of our eyes by a prosperous and desirable state of things. Though the Lord then may bear with us, and not immediately draw forth his vengeance against us, but, on the contrary, cherish us as it were kindly in his bosom; yet if he reproves us by his word, we ought to attend to his threatenings.
But they further add, All my labours shall not find iniquity, or, they shall not find iniquity in all my labours. Many read simply as the words are, “My labours shall not find iniquity:” but as the expression seems stiff, I have tried to render it smoother, as others also have done, “They shall not find iniquity in all my labours.” This boasting went farther, for the Prophet shows that the people were not only secure, because the Lord gave them some tokens of his paternal favour; but that they were also inebriated with this impious confidence, that God would not have favoured them had they not been exempt from every fault and vice: and this second clause ought to be carefully noticed. Now it is a depravity that is by no means to be endured, when men begin to despise God, because he deals kindly with them, and when they abuse his levity so as to condemn all his teaching and all his threatening; this is indeed a very great perversion: but when to all this is added such a pride, that ungodly and reprobate men persuade themselves that they are just, because God does not immediately punish them, — this is, as it were, a diabolical madness; and yet we see that it is a common thing. For godless men are not only proud of their wealth, they are not only inflated with their own power; but they also think that God is in some way under obligations to them. “Why! it must be that God regards me innocent, and pure from every vice, for he favours me: he then does not find in me what is worthy of punishment.” Thus the wicked raise up their horns against God, while he indulges them, and appears not so severe towards them as they have deserved.
When at the present day we perceive these evils prevailing among the greater portion of mankind, there is no reason to feel astonished: but we ought at the same time to profit by the instruction of the Prophet, so that we may not be blinded by prosperity, and despise reproofs, and flatter ourselves in our sin; and also, that we may not accumulate for ourselves a store of God’s wrath, when he deals kindly with us. Let us not then abuse his forbearance; let us not think that we are innocent before him, because he does not immediately execute his judgements; but let us rather learn to make a scrutiny of ourselves, and to shake off our vices, so that we may humble ourselves under his hand, though he restrains himself from inflicting punishment. This is the application of the present doctrine.
But we must notice what the Prophet adds, They shall not find iniquity in my labours; that is, iniquity shall not be found in my labours, because this is wickedness or a crime requiring expiation. I wonder that interpreters explain this place so frigidly; for they say, that there shall not be found in my labours iniquity or sin. But the Prophet does not set down a copulative, but uses the particle אשר, asher, which is to be taken here exegetically. And the meaning is, that hypocrites, while they claim to themselves the praise of innocence, for the sake of dissembling, detest ostensibly every wickedness and crime. “Iniquity shall not be found in my labours, for this is wickedness; far be it that I should be discovered to be a wicked person in my doings; for I am without fraud in all my dealings.” But is this the case? By no means; but as they judge of God’s favour by prosperous fortune, they think that God would not be so kind to them unless he regarded them as just and pure. Hence we see how securely hypocrites mock God, when they begin to despise his teaching and warnings. We need not then wonder that at this day so much perverseness prevails everywhere in the world. But let us also use this mode of teaching which the Prophet sets before us. Let us now proceed —
9. And I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.
9. Ego autem Jehova Deus tuus a terra Aegypti: habitare te faciam in tabernaculis, sicut diebus conventus.
In the first clause God reproaches the Israelites for having forgotten the benefit of his redemption, the memory of which ought ever to have prevailed and flourished among them. I yet, he says, am thy God from the land of Egypt; that is, “It is strange that you are so forgetful that your redemption does not come to your mind, which yet ought to be well known, and be ever, as it were, before your eyes.” That was, as we know, a memorable instance of God’s kindness. But when he says that he is the God of that people from the land of Egypt, he points out the end of redemption, as though he said, “I redeemed thee for this end, that thou mightest be forever bound to me.” For we know that when he delivered that people from their cruel tyranny, he at the same time acquired for himself an eternal kingdom; he was then sanctified in his elect people. The end of redemption is then to be observed in the words of the Prophet, “I am,” he says, “thy God from the land of Egypt; how otherwise couldest thou have come forth from thy grave?” For they were like the dead, when God stretched out his hand to them. From the land of Egypt then I am thy God, which means this: “Since thou hast been so wonderfully restored from death to life by my favour, am not I thy God from that day? Thou owest then thyself and all thine to me; for I purchased thee for myself as a peculiar possession. When now thou detest petulantly to reject my Prophets, who speak in my name, it is surely an ingratitude not to be endured, that thou forgettest thy redemptions and the end for which I made known to thee my power and grace.”
But as to the second clause, interpreters vary; some explain it in this way, that God would not cease to show mercy to the Israelites, however unworthy they were, I will make thee to dwell in thy tabernacles; and they take tabernacles, not strictly proper, for houses. Then they say, according to the days of Moed, that is, of ancient agreement, or, according to appointed days; for God had promised to give the land of Canaan to the posterity of Abraham for their perpetual rest. But this exposition seems not suitable. Others say, that the Israelites are here reproved, because they neglected the command of God, who had instituted a festal-day, on which they were to commemorate yearly their redemption. We indeed know that there was the annual feast of tabernacles: so they think the meaning of the Prophet to be this “I not only once redeemed thee, but I also wished that there should be a memorial of this favour; and for what purpose have I commanded you to keep a yearly festival, except that ye might retain in your memory what otherwise might have been forgotten? But I have effected nothing by this rite, for I am now rejected, and my prophets possess no authority among you.” But this sense also is frigid. Some think that the Prophet here threatens the Israelites, as though he said, “God will again drive you out, that you may dwell in tents as you did formerly in the desert.” Though I do not reject this opinion, yet I think there is something more emphatical in the Prophet’s words, that is, that God here says in an indirect way, that there was need of a new redemption, that he might bind the people more to himself; as though he said, “I see that you are unmindful of my former redemption; for I see that you esteem it as nothing, as if it were obsolete; I must then lose all my labour, except the memory of my ancient favour be renewed: I will therefore make thee to dwell again in tents. It is necessary to eject thee again from thy heritage, and to restore thee again, and that in a manner unusual and least expected, that thou mayest understand that I am thy Redeemer.
We now then apprehend what the Prophet meant. After God had said that he was the God of Israel from the land of Egypt, he then adds, “Inasmuch as your former redemption has lost all its influence through your wicked forgetfulness, I will become again your Redeemer; I will therefore make thee to abide or dwell in tents as formerly; as your first redemption avails nothing, I will add a second, that you may at length repent, and know how much you are indebted to me.” The days of Moed he takes for their manner of proceeding in the desert as described by Moses; for they assembled together for sacrifices from their camps. Hence God does not speak here of the convention he had made with his people, as if he pointed out some perpetual compact; but he calls those the days of Moed on which the Israelites were assembled, when they were located in their camps according to the account given by Moses. It now follows —
10. I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.
10. Et locutus sum super Prophetas, et ego visionem multiplicavi, et in manu Prophetarum assimilavi (vel, similitudines posui.)
The Prophet amplifies the sin of the people in having always obstinately opposed God, so that they were without any pretext of ignorance: for men, we know, evade God’s dreadful judgement as long as they can plead either ignorance or thoughtlessness. The Prophet denies that the people had fallen through want of information, for they had been often, nay, continually warned by the Prophets. It then appears that this people were become, as it were, wilfully rebellious against God; for they had ever despised the Prophets, not once or twice, but when the Lord sent them in succession: I have spoken, he says, upon my prophets, or, by my Prophets; for על, ol, is variously taken: ‘I have spoken upon my Prophets,’ that is, I have deposited with them the doctrine which ought to have restored you to the right way; and not only so, but I have multiplied visions; it has not been in one way that I have tried to gather you, but I have accumulated many visions: and then he says, In the hand of Prophets I have placed similitudes; that is, I have endeavoured in every way possible to restore you to a sound mind; for God speaks after the manner of men. He might indeed, if he chose, effect this by the secret movement of his Spirit; but it is enough to take away every excuse from men to allege the fact, that they obey not the word, and offer not themselves to God as submissive and teachable, when he by his Prophets cohorts them to repentance. It is then an enhancing of sin worthy of being noticed, when God remonstrates, and says, that he had uselessly spent all his efforts to collect the dispersed Israel, though he had constantly employed the labours of his Prophets.
But this reproach may be also applied to us at this day; yea, whatever the Prophet has hitherto said may justly be turned against us. For we see how the world hardens itself against all warnings; and we see also how long the Lord suspends his judgements, and tolerates men who scoff at his forbearance. Then the same depravity rages now in the world, which the Prophet describes in this place. Besides, God has not only redeemed us from Egypt, but from the lowest hell, and we know that we have been redeemed by Christ for this end, — that we may be wholly devoted to God; for Christ died and rose again for this purpose, — that he might be the Lord of the living and of the dead. But we see how much is the perverseness of men, and how with impunity they grow wanton against God. Who among us remember that they are no longer their own, because they have been purchased by the blood of Christ? Few think of this. And not only this only true and perpetual redemption ought to be kept in mind by us; for the Lord again redeemed us when we were sunk in the gulf of Popery; and daily also does he renew the same kindness towards us; and yet we are so forgetful, that often the grace of God is not remembered by us. We now see how necessary is this doctrine even for our age.
Besides, God, as I have already said, ceases not daily to stimulate and urge us; he multiplies prophecies and similitudes; that is, he in various ways accommodates himself to us; for by similitudes he means all forms of teaching. And doubtless we see that God in a manner transforms himself in his word, for he speaks not according to his own majesty, but as he sees to be suitable to our capacities and weakness; for the Scriptures set before us various representations, which show to us the face of God. Since God then thus accommodates himself to our rudeness, how great is our ingratitude, when no fruit follows? Let us then remember that the Prophet so reproved the men of his age, that he also speaks to us at this day. Let us now proceed —
11. Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields.
11. An in Gilead iniquitas? (vel, an Gilead coepit peccare?) certe vanitas (vel, mendacium) fuerunt in Gilgal (alii disjungunt istud בגלגל, ut contexant cum sequentibus) boves sacrificarunt, etiam altaria eorum sicut acervi super sulcos agrorum.
It is an ironical question, when the Prophet says, Is there iniquity in Gilead? and he laughs to scorn their madness who delighted themselves in vices so gross, when their worship was wholly spurious and degenerated. When they knew that they were perfidious towards God, and followed a worship alienated from his law, they yet were so perverse, that they proudly refused all admonitions. Since then they were blinded in their vices, the Prophet asks them ironically, Is there iniquity in Gilead? They are as yet doubtful, forsooth, whether they are guilty before God, whether they bear any blame. Surely, he says, they are vanity; that is, “How much soever they may seek specious pretences for themselves, and deny that they are conscious of doing wrong, and also introduce many reasons for doubt, that they may not be forced to own their sin, they yet, he says, are guilty of falsehood; all their glosses contain nothing solid, but they are mere disguises, which avail nothing before God.” We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
But there is no doubt but that he also condemns here their perverted worship, by which the Israelites at the same time thought that they rendered the best service to God. But obedience, we know, is better than all sacrifices. The Prophet then inveighs here against all fictitious modes of worship, devised without God against the authority of God’s law. But at the same time, as we have just hinted, he indirectly exposes their thoughtlessness for imagining themselves excusable, provided they set up their own good intention, as it is commonly done, and say, that they built altars with no other design than to make known everywhere the name of God, to preserve among themselves some tokens of religion. Since, then, they thus raised up a cloud of smoke to cover their impiety, the Prophet says, “They indeed still inquire, as of a doubtful thing, whether there is iniquity in Gilead; let them inquire and dispute; surely,” he says, “they are vain;” literally, surely they have been falsehood: but he means that they foolishly brought forward those frivolous excuses, by which they tried to escape the crime and its punishment. How was it that they were vain? Because God values his own law more than all the glosses of men, and he will have all men to obey, without dispute, his own word: but when they thus licentiously depart from his commandments, it is what he cannot endure. They are then false and deceive themselves, who think that their own inventions are of any value before God. He then lays down their crimes
In Gilgal, he says, have they sacrificed oxen Jerome translates, “They sacrifice to oxen,” and thinks that the Israelites are reprehended here for sacrificing to the calves: but this seems too remote from the words of the Prophet. The Prophet then mentions their sin — that they sacrificed oxen and multiplied altars. And yet it seemed to be a diligence worthy of praise, that they increased many altars, that they worshipped God everywhere, that they spared neither expense nor labour, that they were not content with few sacrifices, but added a great number; — all this seemed to deserve no common praise: but the Lord, as it has been already said, valued not these corrupt practices; for he would have himself to be alone worshipped by his people, and would have their piety to be attested by this single evidence — their obedience to his word. When we then turn aside from God’s word, nay, when we with loose reins abandon ourselves to new inventions, though we may plausibly profess that our object is to worship God, yet all this is a vain and fallacious pretence, as the Prophet here declares.
Jerome is mistaken in thinking that Gilgal was a town in the tribe of Judah; and the supposition cannot suit this place: for Judah, we know, was then free from those gross pollutions; Judah was not as yet polluted with the defilements which the Prophet here condemns in the kingdom of Israel. It is then certain, that Gilgal was a town of Israel; and we know that a celebrated temple and altar were there: hence he especially points out this place.
But he afterwards adds, Their altars are as heaps on the furrows of the field There was then we know, only one legitimate altar; and God would not have sacrifices offered to him, except in one place. Hence the more active the Israelites were in multiplying altars, the more they provoked the vengeance of God: how much soever it was their purpose to worship God, yet God spurned that foolish affectedness. We then see why the Prophet here compares the altars then erected in the kingdom of Israel to heaps of stones; as though he said “As one gathers stones into a heap, when the land is stony, that he may drive his plough more easily, so every one forms an altar for himself, as though he were raising up a hillock in his own field: thus it comes, that they perversely corrupt the pure and lawful worship which I have appointed.” We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet to be, that superstitious men gain nothing, when they boldly and openly boast that they worship God; for whatever disguise they may invent for themselves and others, the Lord yet abominates every thing that is contrary to his word: and our mode Of worshipping God is alone true and lawful, when we only follow what he prescribes, and allow to ourselves nothing but what is according to his command and appointment. This is the meaning. Let us proceed —
12. And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep
12. Et fugit Jacob in agrum Syriae, et servivit Israel in uxore (hoc est, pro uxore,) et pro uxore custodivit (id est, custos fuit gregis.)
13. And by a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.
13. Et per Prophetam eduxit (ascendere fecit) Jehova Israelem ex Aegypto, et per Prophetam servatus est.
The Prophet now employs another kind of reproof, — that the Israelites did not consider from what source they had proceeded, and were forgetful of their origin. And the Prophet designedly touches on this point; for we know how boldly and proudly the people boasted of their own eminence. For as a heathen gloried that he was an Athenian, so also the Jews think that all we are brute animals, and imagine that they have a different origin from the rest of mankind, because they are the posterity of Abraham. Since then they were blinded by such a pride as this God meant to undeceive them, as he does here: “Jacob your father, who was he? What was his condition? What was his nobility? What was his power? What was his dignity and eminence according to the flesh? Yea, truly, he was a fugitive from his own country: had he always lived at home, his father was but a sojourner; but he was constrained to flee into Syria. And how splendidly did he live there? He was indeed with his uncle; but he was treated no better than if he had been some worthless slave: He served for a wife And how did he serve? He was a keeper of sheep. Go then now and boast of your dignity, as if ye were nobler than others, as if your condition were better than that of the common sort of people.” God then brings against them the condition of their father, in whose name they gloried, but who was an abject person and a fugitive, who was like a worthless slave, who was a keeper of sheep; who, in short, had nothing which could be deemed reputable among men.
And God, he says, brought you up by a Prophet from Egypt, and by a Prophet you have been preserved This was, as it were, their second nativity. Some think that the comparison is between their first origin and their deliverance; as though Hosea had said, “Though you were born of a very poor and ignoble man, yet God has favoured you with singular privilege; for he gave Moses to be the minister of your liberation.” But in my judgement the Prophet speaks in a more simple way; for, first, he shows what was the first origin of the people, that they were from Jacob; and then he shows what was their second origin; for God had again begotten them when he brought them out of Egypt. And they were there, as it is well known, very miserable, and they did not come out by their own valour, they did not attain for themselves their liberty; but Moses alone extended his hand to them, having been sent for this end by God. Since the case was so, it was strange that they now provoked God, as he says in the last verse, by their altars.
And it very frequently occurs in the Prophets, that God reminds the Israelites whence or from what source they had arisen, “Look to your origin, to the stone from which ye were cut off; for Abraham was alone and childless, and his wife also was barren;” and yet God multiplied their race, (Isa 51:2.) This was said, because the Israelites did not look to God, but in their adversity despaired, when no way appeared by which they could be restored; but in their prosperity they became proud, and regarded as nothing the favour of God. We then see what the Prophet had in view. The Lord says, “Acknowledge what you owe to me; for I have chosen Jacob your father, and have not chosen him because he was eminent for his great dignity in the world; for he was a fugitive and a keeper of sheep, and served for his wife. I afterwards redeemed you from the land of Egypt; and in that coming forth there was nothing that you did; there is no reason why you should boast that liberation was obtained by your velour; for Moses alone was my servant in that deliverance. I did then beget you the second time, when I redeemed you. How great is your ingratitude, when you do not own and worship me as your Redeemer?” We now then see that the Prophet thus treated the people of Israel, that it might in every way appear that they were unworthy of so many and so great benefits bestowed on them by God; for they had perverted all the works of God, and so perverted them, that they did not think that any thing, belonged to him, and they returned no thanks to God; nay, they extolled themselves, as if God had never conferred on them any kindness.
But I will not dwell on the history of Jacob, for it is not necessary for elucidating the meaning of the Prophet, and it is well known: it is enough to refer only to what is suitable to this place. Jacob then fled into the country of Syria; and then he says, Israel served for a wife He mentions the name, Israel, after Jacob. The name, Israel, was noble and memorable; yea, it was given by God to the holy patriarch: but at the same time Jacob did not in himself or in his own person excel; he nevertheless served, and was in a most humble condition, and he served for a wife; that is, that he might have a wife; for we know how he made an agreement with his uncle Laban.
Further, By a Prophet he brought them out of Egypt This was their second nativity: and by a Prophet Israel was preserved There is an allusion here to the word שמר, shimer; for I take the word נשמר, nushimer, passively. He had said before that Jacob kept sheep; and he says now, נשמר, nushimer, kept was Israel by a Prophet; as though he said, “Ye now see that God has given you a reason for humility in your father, since he was suffered to be so miserably distressed; and shen he preserved you beyond the hope of men, and by no human means except by Moses, who was also a fugitives and who came forth as from a cave, for he was also a keeper of sheep. Since, then, ye have been thus kept by the favour of God, how comes it that your present condition fascinates you, and that ye consider not that you were once redeemed by the Lord for this end, that ye might be wholly devoted to him forever?” Now he adds — (I will also run over this verse, for there will be no lecture to-morrow, nor the day after) —
14. Ephraim provoked him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall he leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him.
14. Provocavit Ephraim excelsis suis, et sanguis ejus super eum manebit (vel, fundetur:) et opprobrium ejus reddet illi Dominus suus.
The Prophet says first, that Ephraim had provoked God by his high places Some, however, take the word תמרורים, tamerurim, for bitternesses. Then it is, “Israel or Ephraim have provoked God to bitterness.” But since this word in other places as in the thirty-first of Jeremiah, is taken for high places and as it clearly appears that the Prophet here inveighs avowedly against Israel and their vicious worship, I doubt not but that he points out these high places in which the Israelites appointed their false and impious modes of worship. Ephraim then have provoked him with their high places: 88 Ephraim having in so many ways immersed themselves in their superstitions, provoked God in their high places.
Then his blood shall remain on him. As the word נתש, nuthesh, signifies “to pour out,” and signifies also to “remain,” some render it, “His blood shall remain;” others “Shall be poured upon him.” But this makes but a little difference as to what is meant; for the Prophet intends to show, that Ephraim would have to suffer the punishment of their impiety; as though he said, “They shall not at last escape from the hand of God, they shall receive the wages of their iniquities.”
And his reproach shall his Lord return unto him Here he calls God himself the Lord of Israel, though Israel had shaken off the yoke, and alienated themselves from the service of God. They cannot, he says, escape the authority of God, though they have spurned his law; though they have become wanton in their superstitions, they shall yet know that they remain under the hand and power of God, they shall know that they effect nothing by this their petulance; though they thus wander after their abominations, yet the Lord will not lose his right, which he had obtained for himself by redeeming Israel. Their Lord then shall render to them their own reproach, of which they are worthy.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we have not only been created by thee, but when thou hast placed us in this world, thou hast also enriched us with abundance of all blessings, — O grant, that we may not transfer to others the glory duo to thee, and that especially since we are daily admonished by thy word, and even severely reproved, we may not with an iron hardness resist, but render ourselves pliable to thee, and not give ourselves up to our own devices, but follow with true docility and meekness, that rule which thou hast prescribed in thy word, until at length having put off all the remains of errors, we shall enjoy that blessed light, which thou hast prepared for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Praeventum fuisse. This is a most difficult word to render correctly and intelligibly. To prevent, in the sense of going before, is not current. The meaning here is, that they did not own that in the case of Jacob free mercy was previous to any good on his part. — Ed.
Joh 10:25-30. — fj.
Ge 32:24-30. — fj.
This is an instance in which critics, from not understanding the drift of a passage, have suggested emendations, which seem plausible, and yet take away an important meaning, as we shall see in the present case, from Calvin’s explanation. Horsley takes the same view with Calvin, though Newcome does not. — Ed.
Calvin is not correct as to the meaning of this word. There is no instance in which it means “high places;” in Jer 31:21, to which reference is made, it means obelisks or pillars set up as way-marks. There is no doubt but that the word signifies here what is expressed in our version. Gesenius says, that it is to be taken here adverbially, and with him Newcome and most critics agree. Horsley renders the clause thus, — “Ephraim has given bitterest provocation.”