Thursday, June 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hosea 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ hosea-5.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hosea 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
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The Prophet here again preaches against the whole people: but he mainly directs his discourse to the priests and the rulers; for they were the source of the prevailing evils: the priests, intent on gain, neglected the worship of God; and the chief men, as we have seen, were become in every way corrupt. Hence the Prophet here especially inveighs against these orders, and at the same time, records some vices which then prevailed among the people, and that through the fault of the priests and rulers. But before I pursue farther the subject of the Prophets something must be said of the words.
When he says, To you is judgment, some explain it, “It is your duty to do judgment,” to maintain government, that every one may discharge his own office; for judgment is taken for rectitude; the word
, mesgepheth, means a right order of things. Hence they think that the priests and rulers are here condemned for discharging so badly their office, because they had no care for what was right. But this sense is too strained. The Prophet, therefore, I doubt not, summons here the priests and the king’s counselors to God’s tribunal, that they might give an answer there; for the contempt of God, we know, prevailed among the great; they were secure, as though exempt from judgment, as though released from laws and all order. To you, then is judgment; that is, God addresses you by name, and declares that he will be your avenger, though ye heedlessly despise his judgment. משפט
Some again take
, metsephe, for a beacon, and thus translate, “Ye have been a snare instead of a beacon.” But this mistake is refuted by the second clause, for the Prophet adds immediately, a net expanded over Tabor: and it is well known that Mizpah and Tabor were high mountains, and for their height celebrated and renowned; we also know that hunting was common on these mountains. The Prophet, then, no doubt means here, that both the priests and the king’s counselors were like snares and nets: “As fowlers and hunters were wont to spread their nets and snares on mount Mizpah and on Tabor; so the people also have been ensnared by you.” This is the plain meaning of the words. Some conjecture, that robbers were there located by the kings of Israel to intercept the Israelites, when they found any ascending into Jerusalem, as we now see everywhere persons lying in wait, that no one from the Papacy may come over to us. But this conjecture is too far fetched. I have already explained the Prophet’s meaning: he makes use, as we have said, of a similitude. מצפה
Let us now return to what he teaches: Hear this, he says, ye Priests, and attend, ye house of Israel, and give ear, ye house of the king The Prophet, indeed, includes the whole people in the second clause, but turns his discourse expressly to the priests and the king’s counselors; which ought to be specially noticed; for it is indeed, as we shall hereafter see, the general subject of this chapter. He did not without reason attack the princes, because the main fault was in them; nor the priests, because they were dumb dogs, and had also led away the people from God’s pure worship into false superstitions; and so great was their avidity for filthy lucre that they perverted the law and every thing that was before pure among the people. It is no wonder then that the Prophet, while treating a general subject, suitable to all orders indiscriminately, should yet denounce judgment on the priests and the king’s counselors. With regard to these counselors, they, in order to confirm the kingdom, had also approved of false and spurious forms of worship, as it has been before stated; and they had also followed other vices; for the Prophet, I doubt not, condemns here other corruptions besides superstitions, and those which we know everywhere prevailed among the people, and of which something has been already said.
And to show his earnestness, he uses three sentences: Ye priests, hear this; then, house of Israel, attend; and in the third place, house of the king, give ear; as though he said, “In vain do they seek subterfuges, for the Lord will execute on them the judgment he now declares:” and yet he gives them opportunity and time for repentance, inasmuch as he bids them to attend to this denunciation.
Now this passage teaches, that even kings are not exempted from the duty of learning what is commonly taught, if they wish to be counted members of the Church; for the Lord would have all, without exception, to be ruled by his word; and he takes this as a proof of men’s obedience, their submission to his word. And as kings think themselves separated from the general class of men, the Prophet here shows that he was sent to the king and his counselors. The same reason holds good as to priests; for as the dignity of their order is the highest, so this impiety has prevailed in all ages, that the priests think themselves at liberty to do what they please. The Prophet therefore shows, that they are not raised up so much on high, but that the Lord shines eminently above their heads with his word. Let us know, lastly, that in the Church the word of God so possesses the highest rank, that neither priests, nor kings, nor their counselors, can claim a privilege to themselves, as though their conduct was not to be subject to God’s word.
This then is a remarkable passage for establishing the word of God: and thus we see how abominable is the boast of the Papal clergy of this day; for they spread before us the mask of the priesthood, when the word of God is brought forward, as though they would outshine by the splendor of their dignity the whole Law, all the Prophets, and the very Gospel. But the Lord here upholds his word against all degrees of men, and shows that both kings and priests must be brought down from their eminence, that they may obey the word. Yea, we must bear in mind what I have before said, that though the whole people had sinned, yet kings and priests are here in a special manner reproved, because they deserved a heavier punishment, inasmuch as by their depraved examples they had corrupted the whole people.
When he compares them to snares and nets, I do not then confine this to one thing; but as the contagion among the whole people had proceeded from the priests and the king’s counselors, and also from the king himself, the Prophet compares them, not without reason, to snares; not only because they were the authors of superstitions, but also because they perverted judgment and all equity. Let us go on —
, shecheth, means, to kill, to sacrifice; and this place is usually explained of sacrifices; and this opinion I do not reject. But though the Prophet spake of sacrifices, he no doubt called sacrificing, in contempt, killing: as though one should call the temple, the shambles, and the killing of victims, slaughtering, so also the Prophet says, In sacrificing and killing, they, having turned aside, have become deeply fixed; that is, By turning aside to their own sacrificing, they have completely hardened their hearts, so that their depravity is incurable. For by saying that they had gone deep, the meaning is, that they were so addicted to their own superstitions, that they could not be restored to a sound mind, however often admonished by the Prophets. Yet this verb has another meaning in Scripture, even this, that men flatter themselves with their own counsels, and think that by twining together reasons of their own, they can deceive God: and this metaphor the Prophets employ with regard to profane despisers of God, whom they call שחט , latism, mockers: for these, while they deceive men, think that they have nothing to do with God. The same we see at this day: courtiers and proud men of the same character, flatter themselves with their own deceptions, and complacently laugh at our simplicity; because they think that wisdom was born with them, and that it is enclosed as it were within their brains. But I know not whether this idea is suitable to this passage. That simpler meaning which I have already stated, I prefer, and that is, that the Israelites were so obstinate in their superstitions, that they perversely despised all counsels, all admonitions, yea, that they petulantly resisted every instruction. לצים
But each word must be noticed: turning aside in sacrificing, he says, “they became deep”. By saying, that they had turned aside in sacrificing, he no doubt makes a distinction between false and strange forms of worship and the true worship of God, prescribed in the law. The frequency of sacrificing could not indeed have been condemned in itself either as to the Israelites or the Jews; but they turned aside, that is, departed from what the law prescribes. Hence the more zealously they engaged in sacrificing, and the more victims they offered to God, the more they provoked God’s vengeance against themselves. We then see that the Prophet points out here as by the finger the sin he reproved in the people of Israel, and that was, — they sacrificed not according to God’s command and according to the ritual of the law, but turned aside and followed their own devices. Hence it is, that in contempt and in scorn he calls their sacrificing, killing, or cutting the throat: “they are,” he says “executioners,” or, “they are butchers. What is it to me, that they bring their victims with great pomp and show? That they use so many ceremonies? I repudiate,” the Lord says, “the whole of this; it is profane butchering; these slaughterings have nothing in common with the worship which I approve.”
That our sacrifices then may please God, they must be according to the rule of his word; for ‘obedience,’ as it has been said already, ‘is better than all sacrifices,’ (1 Samuel 15:22.) But when men retake themselves to false forms of worship or such as are invented, nothing then is holy or acceptable to God, but an abominable filth. And further, the Prophet, as I have said, not only accuses the people of having turned aside to perverted forms of worship, but also of having become obstinately fixed in them. They have become deep, he says, in their superstitions: as he said before, that they were fast joined to their idols, that they could not be torn away from them; so also he says now, that they were deeply rooted in their iniquity.
It follows, And I have been, or will be, a correction to them all Some think that the Prophet in the person of God threatens the Israelites, that God declares that he himself would become the avenger, because the people had so stubbornly followed wicked superstitions, — “I sit as a judge in heaven, nor will I suffer you to fall away with impunity, since you are become so hardened in your wickedness.” But they are more correct who think that their sin was more increased by this circumstance, that God by his Prophets had not ceased to recall the Israelites to a sound mind, since they might not have been wholly irreclaimable: I have been to them a correction; that is, “They cannot excuse themselves and say, that they had fallen through error and ignorance; for there has been in them a wilful obstinacy, as I have not ceased to show them the right way by my Prophets. I have, then, been a correction to them; but I could not bend them, so indomitable has been that stubbornness, or rather madness, with which they were inflamed towards their idols.” It is now seen which of the two views I deem the most correct.
But I will adduce a third: God may be thought to be here complaining that he had been an object of dislike to the Israelites, as though he said, “When I sent my Prophets, they could not bear to be admonished, because my word was too bitter for them.” Reproofs are not easily endured by men. We indeed know, that those who are ill at ease with themselves, are yet not willing to hear any reproof: every one who deceives himself, wishes to be deceived by others. As then the ears of men are so tender and delicate, that they will patiently receive no reproof, this meaning seems not inappropriate, I have been to them all a correction, that is, “My doctrine has been by them rejected because it had in it too much asperity.” But the other explanation, which I have mentioned as the second, has been more approved: I was, however, unwilling to omit what seems to me to be no less suitable.
We may now choose or receive either of these two expositions, — either that the Lord here takes away from the Israelites the excuse of error, because he had continued to reprove their vices by his Prophets, — or that he expostulates with the Israelites for having rejected his word on the ground that it was too rigid and severe: yet this main thing will still remain the same, that the people of Israel were not only apostates, having fallen away from the lawful worship of God into their own superstitions but were also contumacious and refractory in their wickedness, so that they would receive no instruction, no salutary counsels. Let us proceed —
God shows here that he is not pacified by the vain excuses which hypocrites allege, and by which they think that the judgment of God himself can be turned away. We see what great dullness there is in many, when God reproves them, and brings to light their vices; for they defend themselves with vain and frivolous excuses, and think that they thus put a restraint on God, so that he dares not urge them any more. In this way hypocrites elude every truth. But God here testifies, that men are greatly deceived when they thus judge, by their own perception, of that celestial tribunal to which they are summoned; I, he says, know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me There is to be understood an implied contrast, as though he said, that they were ignorant of themselves; for they covered their vices, as I have said, with frivolous excuses. God testifies that his eyes were not dazzled with such fine pretenses. “How much soever, then, Ephraim and Israel may excuse themselves, they shall not escape my judgment: vain and absurd are these shifts which they use; I indeed am not ignorant.”
Let us then learn not to belie, by our own notions, the judgment of God; and when he reproves us by his word, let us not delude ourselves by our own fancies; for they who harden themselves in such a state of security gain nothing. God sees more keenly than men. Let use then, beware of spreading a veil over our sins, for God’s eyes penetrate through all such excuses.
That he names Ephraim particularly, was not done, we know, without reason. From that tribe sprang the first Jeroboam: it was therefore by way of honor that the name of Ephraim was given to the ten tribes. But the Prophet names Ephraim here, who thought themselves superior to the other tribes, by way of reproach: I know them, and Israel is not hid from me He afterwards expresses what he knew of the people, which was, that Ephraim was wanton, and that Israel was polluted; as though he said “Contend as you please; but you will do so without profit: I have indeed my ears stunned by your lies; but after you have adduced everything, after you have sedulously pleaded your own cause, and have omitted nothing which may serve for an excuse, the fact still will be, that you are wantons and polluted.” In short, the Prophet confirms in this second clause what I have before stated, that men, when they flatter themselves, deceive themselves; for God in the meantime condemns them, and allows no disguise of this kind. Israel and Ephraim gloried, then, in their superstitions, as though they held God bound to them: “This is wantonness,” he says, “This is pollution.” The Prophet indeed does here cut off the handle from all those self-deceptions which men use as reasons, when they defend fictitious forms of worship; for God from on high proclaims, that all are polluted who turn aside from his word.
Some translate thus, “their inclinations allow them not to turn themselves;” and this meaning is probable, that is, that they were so much given to their own superstitions, that they were not now free, or at liberty, to return to the right way; as though the Prophet said, “They are entirely enslaved by their own diabolical inventions, that their inclinations will not allow them to repent.” But the former meaning (it is also more generally approved) seems more adapted to the context. They will not apply, he says, their endeavors to turn to their God Here God declares that it was all over with the people, and that no hope whatever remained: as he said before, “Leave them, why shouldest thou do anything more? for they will not receive wholesome instruction; as they are entirely given up to destruction, there is now no reason for thee to be solicitous about their salvation, for that would be useless;” — so also he says in this place, They will not apply their endeavors to turn to their God
If the Prophet speaks here in his own person, the meaning is, “Why do I weary myself? God has indeed commanded me to reprove this people; but I find that my labour is in vain; for I have to do with brute animals, or with stones rather than with men; there is in them no reason, no discernment; for the devil has fascinated their minds: never, then, will they apply their endeavors to turn to their God.” If we prefer to view the sentence as spoken in the person of God, still the doctrine will remain nearly the same: God here declares that the people were incurable. Never, then, will they apply their endeavors. How so? For they are sunk, as it were, into a deep gulf, and their obstinacy is like the abyss. Inasmuch, then, as they are thus fixed in their superstitions, they will never apply their endeavors to turn to their God
But God in the meantime not only shows here, that there was no more any remedy for the diseases of the people; but he also gravely and severely reprobates their iniquity, because they thought not of seeking reconciliation with their God; as though he said, “What, then, do I require of these wretched men, but to return to their God? This they ought to have done of their own accord; but now, when they are admonished, they care not; on the contrary, they fiercely resist wholesome instruction. Is not this a strange and monstrous madness?” We hence see that there is an important meaning in the words, They will not apply their endeavors to return to their God; for the Prophet might have simply said, “to return to Jehovah,” or “to God;” but he says, to their God, and he says so, because God had made himself familiarly known to them, nay, brought them up in his own bosom, as though they were his children and he their Father: they had forsaken him and had become apostates; and when the Lord would now reprove this perfidy, was it not strange that the people should close their ears and harden their hearts against every instruction? We hence see how sharp this reproof is.
And he says, Because the spirit of wantonness is in the midst of them; that is, they are so pleased with their own filthiness, that there is no shame, no fear. But the reason of this comparison, which I have before explained, must be borne in mind. As a wife, though not faithful to her husband, yet retains still some modesty, as long as she continues at home, and while she is in any place classed with faithful and chaste women; but when she once enters a brothel, and openly prostitutes herself to all, when she knows that her baseness is universally known, she then throws off every shame, and entirely forgets her own character: so also the Prophet says, that the spirit of wantonness was in the midst of the people of Israel; as though he said, “The Israelites are so imbrued with their superstitions, that they cannot now be touched or moved by any reverence for God; they cannot be restored to the right way, for the devil has demented them, and having cast off every shame, they are like abominable strumpets.”
And he afterwards adds, Jehovah they have not known By this sentence the Prophet extenuates not the sin of the people, but, on the contrary, amplifies their ingratitude, because they had forgotten their God, who had so indulgently treated them. As they had been redeemed by God’s hand, as the teaching of the law had continued among them, as they had been preserved to that day through God’s constant kindness, it was truly an evidence of monstrous ignorance, that they could in an instant adopt ungodly forms of worship, and embrace those corruptions which they knew were condemned in the law. It was surely an inexcusable wickedness in the people thus to withdraw themselves from their God. This is the reason why the Prophet now says, that they knew not Jehovah. But if they were asked the cause, they could not have said that they had no light; for God had made known to them the way of salvation. Hence, that they knew not Jehovah, was to be imputed to their perverseness; for, closing their eyes, they knowingly and willfully ran headlong after those wicked devices, which they knew, as it had been stated before, to be condemned by God.
The Prophet having condemned the Israelites on two accounts — for having departed from the true God — and for having obstinately refused every instruction, now adds, that God’s vengeance was nigh at hand. “Testify then shall the pride of Israel in his face”; that is, Israel shall find what it is thus to resist God and his Prophets. The Prophet no doubt applies the word, pride, to their contempt of instruction, because they were so swollen with vain confidence, as to think that wrong was done them whenever the Prophets reproved them. It must at the same time be observed, that they were thus refractory, because they were like persons inebriated with their own pleasures; for we know that while men enjoy prosperity, they are more insolent, according to that old proverb, “Satiety begets ferocity.”
Some think that the verb
, one, means here “to be humbled;” and this sense is not unsuitable: “The pride of Israel shall then be humbled before his face.” But another exposition has been most approved; I am therefore inclined to embrace it, and that is, that God needed no other witness to convict Israel than their own pride; and we know that when any one becomes hardened, he thinks that there is to be no judgment, and has no thought of rendering an account to God, for his pride takes away every fear. For this reason the Prophet says, “God will convict you, because ye have been hitherto so proud, that he could effect nothing by his warnings.” ענה
But he adds, Israel and Ephraim shall fall in their iniquity He pursues the same subject, which is, that they in vain promised impunity to themselves, for the Lord had now resolved to punish them. He adds, Judah also shall fall with them The Prophet may seem to contradict himself; for when he before threatened the people of Israel, he spoke of the safety of Judah, — ‘Judah shall be saved by his God, not by the sword, nor by the bow.’ Since then the Prophet had before distinguished or made a difference between the ten tribes and the kingdom of Judah, how is it that he now puts them all together without any distinction? To this I answer, that the Prophet speaks here not of those Jews who continued in true and pure religion, but of those who had with the Israelites alienated themselves from the only true God, and joined in their superstitions. He then refers here to the degenerate and not to the faithful Jews; for to all who worshipped God aright, salvation had been already promised. But as many as had abandoned themselves to the common superstitions, he declares that a common punishment was nigh them all. The Jews then shall fall together, that is, “As many of the Jews as have followed impious forms of worship and other deprivations, shall not escape God’s judgment.” We now then perceive the true meaning of the Prophet. It now follows —
The Prophet here laughs to scorn the hypocrisy of the people, because they thought they had ready at hand a way of dealing with God, which was, to pacify him with their sacrifices. He therefore shows that neither the Israelites nor the Jews would gain any thing by accumulating burnt-offerings, for they could not in this way return into favor with God. He thereby intimates that God requires true repentance, and that he will not be reconciled to men, except from the heart they seek him and consecrate themselves to his service; and not because they offer brute beasts. The faithful, no doubt, expiated their sins at that time by sacrifices, but only typically: for they knew for what end and purpose God had made the law concerning sacrifices, and that was, that the sinner, being reminded by the sight of the victim, might confess himself to be worthy of eternal death, and thus flee to God’s mercy and look to Christ and his sacrifice; for in him, and nowhere else, is to be found true and effectual expiation. For this end then had God instituted sacrifices: so the faithful, while offering sacrifices, did not suppose any satisfaction to be done by the external work, nor even imagined it to be the price of redemption; but they exercised themselves in these rites in faith and repentance.
The Prophet now, by implication, sets oxen, and rams, and lambs, in opposition to spiritual sacrifices; for a contrast is to be understood in the words, They shall come with their sheep, etc. What bring they to God’s presence? They bring, he says, only their rams, they bring oxen; but God commands what is far different: he commands men to consecrate themselves to him, and that in a spiritual manner, and as to external rites, to refer them to Christ, and to the true expiation, which was yet hid in hope. Since then the Israelites brought only their oxen and lambs to God, they in vain expected him to be propitious to them; for he is not pacified by such trifles; inasmuch as every one who separates the outward sacrifice from its design, brings nothing but what is profane. Indeed, the true and lawful consecration is by the word; and by the word we are guided to faith in Christ, we are guided to repentance: when these are neglected and disregarded, and men securely trust in their sacrifices, they do nothing but mock God. We hence see that the Prophet exposes not here without reason this folly of the Israelites, that they sought God with their flocks and their herds
And he says, They shall come, or shall go, to seek God By this sentence he intimates that hypocrites sedulously labour to reconcile God to themselves; and we even see with what zeal they weary themselves; and of this there is a remarkable instance at this day in the Papists; for they spare no diligence, when they seek to pacify God. But the Prophet says that this labour is vain and foolish. “Let them go,” he says, that is, “Let them weary themselves; but they shall do so without profit, for they shall not find God.” But when he says, that they would come to seek Jehovah, he is not to be understood as saying, that they would really do so; for hypocrites turn aside from God by circuitous courses and windings, rather than seek access to him. But yet they propose it as their final intention, as they speak, to seek God: they do not indeed come afterwards to him; nay, they dread his face, and shun it as much as they can; and yet when one asks them what they intend by sacrificing and by performing other rites, the answer is ready on their lips, “We worship God,” that is, “We desire to worship him.” Since then hypocrites are wont to boast of this, the Prophet speaks by way of concession, and says, They shall come to seek God, but shall not find him
The Papists of this day pursue a similar course, when they go round their altars, when they gad away to perform vowed pilgrimages, when they whisper their prayers, when they hear and buy masses; for to what purpose are all these things, but by interposing these veils to escape God’s judgment? They know themselves to be exposed to his judgment; their conscience forces them to pacify God: but what do they in the meantime? “I will find out a way in which God will not pursue me: let this then be the price of redemption, let this be a compensation.” In a word, we see that the Papists mock God with their ceremonies, that they have nothing else in view but to seek hiding-places: and hence the Lord by his Prophet complains, that his temple was like a den of robbers, (Jeremiah 7:11:) for men securely sin, when they publicly offer such expiations. Nay, the Papists, when they mutter their prayers, say that the final intention is pleasing to God, though they may wander in their thoughts: for if, when they begin to pray, it should come to their minds, that God is prayed to, though they may not attend to their prayers, though they may pollute themselves with many depraved lusts yet, if with the mouth they utter prayers, they maintain that the final intention pleases God. — Why? Because their design is to seek God. This is, indeed, extremely sottish and puerile: but, as I have already said, the Prophet does not press this point, but concedes to the Israelites what they pretended, “Ye seek God; but yet ye run not in the right way; and these circuitous courses will not lead you to God.” How so? “For ye recede farther from him.” So Isaiah says, ‘She will greatly weary herself in her ways:’ but in the meantime she followed not the right way, but, on the contrary, turned aside after various errors, and thus receded from the Lord, and came not to him.
By saying, that God had removed or separated himself from them, he intimates that he is not propitious but to the faithful, who think not so grossly of him, as to seek to feed him with the flesh of oxen or other sacrifices, or to pacify him with disagreeable odour; but who seek him spiritually and from the heart, who bring true repentance. It now follows —
He says that they had acted perfidiously with God, for they had violated his covenant. We must bear in mind what I have said before of the mutual faith which God stipulates with us, when he binds himself to us. God then covenants with us on this condition, that he will be our Father and Husband; but he requires from us such obedience as a son ought to render to his father; he requires from us that chastity which a wife owes to her husband. The Prophet now charges the people with unfaithfulness, because they had despised the true God, and prostituted themselves to idols.
And he also aggravates this crime by saying, that they had begotten strange children: for he intimates, that their condition had become so vitiated, that there remained no better hope as to their posterity. Some explain the words, that they had begotten strange children, in this way, — that they had taken wives from heathen nations, contrary to the law. But this sense is very frigid. Others understand, that they had begotten spurious children, because they brought up their children badly, having, from their infancy, attached them to depraved superstitions. This is indeed true, but the prophet, as I have already said, looked further; he meant that the Israelites had not only become alienated from God, but had also taken away every hope as to the future. It may indeed be, and it sometimes happens, that men for a time abandon themselves to many vices, and afterwards return to the right way; but when corruption has so prevailed that the children are infected with the same vices, and impiety itself takes full possession of them, then the state of things is past recovery. We now then see that the Prophet means, that the Israelites were not only covenant-breakers with respect to God, but that they had also led their children into the same perfidy, so that there was no hope of repentance.
He therefore subjoins the punishment, Devour them shall a month together with their portions (23) Some restrict the word, month, to the times of the new moon, or to the new moons; and these days, we know, were festivals among the Jews: but this seems too far-fetched and strained. The Prophet therefore, I doubt not, takes here a month for a short time; and so the Hebrew scholars explain it, and yet they do not sufficiently unfold this form of speaking. Now, the Prophets are wont to use various figures, when they intend to mark out a short time. Isaiah says, ‘Yet for three years, as the time of a hireling:’ for hirelings were wont to hire themselves for three years; hence he says, This is the time fixed by the Lord as the appointed day. Contracts, also, we know, were then monthly, as they are at this day yearly, both with reference to the interest of money and other exchanges. Since, then, they usually made agreements for single months, the Prophet here, I have no doubt, takes a month metaphorically for a certain and fixed time. I do not therefore agree with the Hebrew scholars, who say that only a short time is expressed by the Prophet, but he expresses not only a short, but also a fixed time; and he did this that the Israelites might not vainly look for any deferring or respite, for hypocrites ever procrastinate and extend time by vain delusions. The Prophet therefore says here, A month shall devour them, which means, “Vengeance is now suspended over their heads, and this they shall not escape.”
And he says, “with their portions”. He intimates here, no doubt, that though they then overflowed with abundance, yet nothing would be a help to them to keep them from being destroyed, for the hand of God was against them. We indeed know, that as long as men are well furnished with provisions and protection, they are not very solicitous about their state, but heedlessly despise whatever dangers there may be in the world: therefore the Prophet says, that though they were opulent and well supplied, though they possessed every kind of defense, yet nothing would avail for their safety, but a month should devour them, together with all their wealth. It follows —
(23) “With their portions,” i.e., their allotments: they shall be totally dispossessed of their country; and the boundaries of the separate allotments of the several tribes shall be confounded and obliterated. —Bp. Horsley
The Prophet speaks here more emphatically, and there is in these words a certain lively representation; for the Prophet assumes here the character of a herald, or he introduces heralds who declare and proclaim war. The truth itself ought indeed to storm not only our ears, but also our hearts, and be more powerful than any trumpet: but we yet see how unconcerned we are. Hence the Lord is constrained here to clothe his servant with the character of a herald, or at least he bids his servant to send forth heralds to proclaim war everywhere throughout the whole kingdom of Israel. This was not, properly speaking, the office of a Prophet; but we see that Ezekiel was ordered by the Lord to besiege Jerusalem for a time, — and why? Because his whole teaching, after the Jews had been a thousand times threatened, became frigid: God then added visions, which more effectually roused torpid men. So also does Hosea in this place, Shout with the trumpet in Gibeah, blow the cornet in Ramah, and sound the horn in Beth-aven; for God, as we have said, is pursuing Israel, and will not suffer them to rest; so that the Israelites might know that God threatens not in vain, that his reproofs are not bugbears, but that he deals in earnest when he reproves the ungodly, and that execution, as they say, will follow what he teaches. In the same manner does Paul also say,
‘Vengeance is prepared by us, and is in readiness against all those who extol themselves against the greatness of Christ, how great soever they may be,’
(2 Corinthians 10:5.)
As, then, the ungodly are wont to make this objection, that the Prophets preach nothing but words, Hosea here testifies that he did not in vain terrify men, but that the effect, as they say, would immediately follow, unless they reconciled themselves to God.
Now, as we perceive the Prophet’s purpose, let us take care to receive by faith that peace which the Lord daily proclaims to us by his messengers. For what is the Gospel but what Paul declares it to be?
‘We discharge the office of ambassadors,’ he says, ‘for Christ, that ye may be reconciled to God, and in Christ’s name we exhort you to return into favor with God,’
(2 Corinthians 5:20.)
We then see that all the ministers of the Gospel are God’s heralds, who invite us to peace, and promise that God is ready to grant us pardon, if with the heart we seek him. But if we receive not this message and this embassy, there will remain for us the dreadful judgment, of which the Prophet now speaks, and our impiety will procure for us this awful doom. As though God then were now declaring war against all the ungodly and the despisers of his grace, the Prophet says that they shall find that God is armed for vengeance.
Moreover, the Prophet doubtless has here mentioned Gibeah, Ramah, and “Beth-aven”, because in these places great assemblies usually met; and it may be also that they were strong fortresses. Since then the Israelites thought themselves unconquerable, because they had invincible strongholds against their enemies, the Prophet here expressly declares war against them. Everywhere then sound ye the trumpet, or blow the horn, or blow the cornet, especially in the chief places of the kingdom.
After thee, O Benjamin. Benjamin is here to be taken, by a figure of speech, for the whole of Israel, because he was a brother of Joseph by the same mother: the tribe of Benjamin is therefore everywhere joined with Ephraim. It is at the same time certain, that the Prophet confines not here his address to one tribe, but includes, under one tribe or one part, the whole kingdom of Israel. It follows —
Here the Prophet asserts, without any figure, that their chastisement would not be slight or paternal, but that God would punish the Israelites as they deserved, that he would reduce them to nothing. God, we know, sometimes spares the ungodly, while he chastises them: signs of his wrath daily appear through the whole world; but at the same time they are moderate punishments which God inflicts on men; and he in a manner invites them to repentance, when he thus mercifully chastises their sins. But the Prophet says here, that God would no longer act in this manner; for he would destroy and wholly blot out the whole kingdom of Israel. They had been already often warned, not only in words, but also in deeds and had often felt the wrath of God; but they still persisted in their course. And now, as God saw that they were wholly stupid, he says, Now, in the day of correction, Ephraim shall be for desolation; as though he said, “I will not correct Israel as heretofore, for they have been before in various ways chastised, but have not repented; I will therefore now lay aside those paternal corrections which I have hitherto used, for I have in vain applied such remedies: I will then henceforth so correct Israel, that they shall be entirely destroyed.” We now comprehend the Prophet’s meaning.
But this is a remarkable passage; for men are always slow and dilatory; even when God pricks them, as it were, with goads, they remain slothful in their sins. God adds corrections, one after the other; and when he sees men continuing as it were out of their senses, he then testifies that it is no time for reproof, but that final destruction is at hand. We hence see that every hope is here cut off from the Israelites, that they might not think that they would be punished in the usual way for their sins; for as soon as the Lord would begin to reprehend them, he would destroy and blot out their names: Israel then shall be for desolation in the day of correction
He then adds, through the tribes of Israel I have made known the truth. Some regard this sentence as spoken in the person of God, and refer it to the first covenant which God made with the whole people; and so consider this to be the sense, “I do not now of a sudden proceed to take vengeance on the Israelites; for I have begotten this people, nourished them, brought them up to manhood. Since this is the case, there is now no reason for them to complain, that I am too precipitant in taking vengeance.” This is one meaning: but I rather incline to their opinion, who regard this as spoken in the person of the Prophet; I do not yet follow altogether their opinion, for they suppose that the fault of the people in being unteachable is alone set forth: I have made known the truth through the tribes of Israel, as though the Prophet had said, “This people is unworthy that God should chastise them in a paternal manner, for they have hardened themselves in their wickedness; and though they have been more than sufficiently taught their duty, they have yet openly despised God, and have done this, not through ignorance, but through perverseness: since then the people of Israel have blinded and demented themselves, as it were, willfully, what now remains, but that God will bring them to desolation?” So they expound this place. But it seems to me that a protestation is what suits this passage: I have made known the truth through the tribes of Israel, as though he said, “This is fixed and ratified, which I now declare, and it shall certainly be; let then no one seek any escape for himself, for God threatens not now, as often before, for the purpose of recalling men to repentance, but declares what he will do.”
That this may be better understood, the mode of speaking in familiar use among all the Prophets is to be noticed: they often threaten, and then give hope of pardon, and promise salvation, so that they seem to exhibit some sort of contradiction: for after having fulminated against the people, they come at once to preach grace, they offer salvation, they testify that God will be propitious. At first sight the Prophets seem not to be consistent with themselves. But the solution is easy, for they threatened vengeance to men under condition; afterwards, when they saw some fruit, they then set forth the mercy of God, and began to be heralds of peace, to reconcile men to God, and make an agreement between them. Thus our Prophet often threatened the Israelites; and had they repented, the hope of salvation would not have been cut off from them. But after he had found them to be so obstinate that they would not receive any instruction, he then said, I have announced the truth through the tribes of Israel, that is, God does not now say, “Except ye repent, you are lost;” but he speaks positively; because he sees that the well known doctrine has been despised: this then is the truth. It is the same as if he said, “This is the last denunciation, which shall be fixed and unalterable.”
And Jeremiah also speaks in the same manner: his book is full of various threatenings; and yet they are conditional threatening. But after God had taken the matter in hand, he began to act in a different way: “I now call you no more to repentance, I contend not with you, I do not now set forth God as a judge, that ye may flee to him for mercy; all these things are come to an end; what remains now”, he says, “is the last command, to show that you are now past hope.” This is the true and real meaning of the Prophet here; and whosoever will consider the whole context, will easily perceive that this was the Prophet’s intention. He had said before, “Ephraim shall be for desolation in the day of correction,” that is, “The Lord will no longer reprove Ephraim as heretofore, but will entirely destroy him:” then he adds, I have promulgated or published the truth through the tribes of Israel: “Now,” he says, “know ye that vengeance will come shortly, and that it is ratified before God; know also that I speak authoritatively, as if the hand of God were now stretched forth before your eyes.” Now follows —
Here the Prophet transfers the blame of all the evils which then reigned in the tribe of Judah to their princes. He says, that the people had fallen away and departed from God through their fault, and he uses a most fit similitude. We know that there is nothing certain in the possessions of men, except the boundaries of fields be fixed; for no one can otherwise keep his own. But by the metaphor of boundaries in fields, the Prophet refers to the whole political order. The meaning is, that all things were now in a state of disorder and confusion among the Jews; because their leaders who ought to have ruled the people and kept them in obedience, had destroyed the whole order of things. We now then understand what the Prophet had really in view.
But it must be observed that the tribe of Judah had been hitherto kept separate, as it were by limits, as God’s heritage; for Israel had become alienated. The possession of God had been diminished by the defection of Jeroboam; and he retained only one tribe and a half in his service. The Prophet says now, that the Jews had mixed with the Israelites, and had thus become themselves alienated from the Lord; for the princes themselves had taken away the boundaries, that is, they had, through indolence and other vices, destroyed all reverence for God, all care for religion, and also every concern for what was just and right: he therefore severely threatens them, “I will pour out”, he says, “my wrath upon them like waters”.
By this metaphor, he means that God would deal much more severely with them than with the common people: “I,” he says, “will with full force pour forth upon them my fury, as if it were the deluge of antiquity.” The meaning is, “I will overwhelm them in my vengeance, because they have done more evil by their bad examples, than if they had been private individuals.” We hence see that the corruption of the people is imputed to the princes, and therefore God’s more dreadful vengeance is denounced on them.
But we must bear in mind what I have before said, that the Prophet gives here metaphorically the name of boundaries to the lawful worship of God, and to whatever he had enjoined on the people, that they might be his certain possession, as fields among men are usually separated by bounds that every one may keep his own. It follows. —
Here again the Prophet shows that the vengeance of God would be just against Israel, because they willingly followed the impious edicts of their king. The people might indeed have appeared to be excusable, since religion had not been changed by their voice, or by public consent, or by any contrivance of the many, but by the tyrannical will of the king alone: Jeroboam was not induced by superstition, but by subtile wickedness, to erect altars elsewhere, and not at Jerusalem. The people then might have appeared to be without blame; for the king alone devised this artifices to secure himself from danger. But the Prophet shows that all were implicated in the same guilt before God, because the people adopted with alacrity the impious forms of worship which the king had commanded. He therefore says, that Ephraim is exposed to plunder, that he is broken by judgment, (or, “shall be broken,” for the words may be rendered in the future tense.) That the people then were thus torn, and were also to bear in future far more grievous things, was not, as he says, because they had to suffer all these things undeservedly, for they were not innocent. — How so? Because they willingly followed the commands of their king; for the king did not force them to forsake the doctrine of the law, but every one went voluntarily after impious superstitions. Since then they willingly obeyed their king, they could not now excuse themselves, they could not object that this was done by one man, and that they were not admitted to consult with him. Their promptitude proved them to be perfidious.
, evail, to begin,” and הואיל , ial, is often taken in this sense: but as it oftener signifies, “to be willing,” the Prophet no doubt means here, that the Israelites had not been compelled by force and fear to go astray after superstitions; but that they were prompt and ready to obey, for there was in them no fear of God, no religion. If any one should now ask, whether they are excusable, who are tyrannically drawn away into superstitions, as we see to be done under the Papacy, the answer is ready, that those are not here absolved who regarded men more than God: nor is terror, as we know, a sufficient excuse, when we prefer our own life to the glory of God, and when, anxious to provide for ourselves and to avoid the cross, we deny God, or turn aside from making a confession of the right and pure faith: but the fault is rendered double, when men easily comply with any thing commanded by tyrants; for they show, that they were already fully inclined to despise God and to deny true religion. Hence the impiety of Jeroboam discovered the common ungodliness and wickedness of the whole people; for as soon as he raised his finger and bid them to worship God corruptly, all joyfully followed the impious edict. There was an occasion then offered to them; but the evil dwelt before in their hearts; for they were not so inclined and prompt to obey God. We now then see what the Prophet had in view. יאל
He says that God would justly punish all the Israelites, yea, even all the common people; for though Jeroboam alone had commanded them to worship God corruptly, yet all of them willingly embraced what he wished to be done: and thus it became manifest that they had in them no fear of God. We now see how vain is the excuse of those who say that they ought to obey kings, and at the same time forsake the word of God: for what does the Prophet reprove here, but that the Israelites had been too submissive to their king? “But this in itself was worthy of praise.” True, when the king commanded nothing contrary to God’s word; but when he perverted God’s worship, when he set up corrupt superstitions, then the people ought to have firmly resisted him: but as they were too pliant, nay, willingly allowed themselves to be drawn away from the true worship of God, the Prophet says here, that they had no reason to complain, that they were too sharply and too severely chastised by the Lord. It follows —
God now denounces punishment in common on the two kingdoms; but he speaks not as before, he says not that his fury would be like a deluge, to overwhelm and drown the people. What then? He compares himself to little worms which gnaw wood and consume cloths; or he compares himself to rottenness; for, as we have said, the second word is to be so taken, as
, rekob, is properly rottenness, and is derived from רקב , rekab, to rot;” it is then rottenness or putrescence. But as I have said, some would render it, “a grub;” and there is a probable reason for this, because he first mentioned moth; and these two, moth and grub (24), would be more suitable to each other, than moth and rottenness. However, the meaning of the Prophet is by no means obscure, and that is, that the Lord would by a slow corrosion consume both the people; that though he would not by one onset destroy them, yet they would pine away until they became wholly rotten. This is the meaning. רקב
But we must observe why the Prophet used this metaphor. It was, that the Israelites and the Jews might understand, that though the Lord would in some measure withhold his hand from resting heavily upon them, and that though he would spare them, yet they would not be safe, because they would by little and little feel a slow decay, that would consume them. And the Lord meant in this way to turn the people to repentance; but he effected nothing: for such was their hardness, that they felt not this slow decay; as those who are stupid are not moved, except they feel a most grievous pain; they think that they are doing well, and they struggle against their own disease: many such we see. Hence the Prophet here reminds them, that though the Lord should not openly fulminate against the Israelites and the Jews, they yet in vain flattered themselves, because the Lord would be to them a moth and a worm; that is, that however gradually he might consume them, they would yet be greatly deceived, if they did not perceive that they had to do with him.
The chief instruction is, that God does not always punish men in the same way; for he deals with them differently, either to promote their salvation, or to render them in this way more inexcusable. Hence God sometimes pours forth his severity, and at another time he slowly chastises us. But whatever may be the way, we are reminded that we ought not to sleep, whenever the Lord awakens us; nor should we wait until he appears as a lion or a bear, until he devours us, until he rages against us in dreadful fury. We are then reminded that there is no reason why we should wait for this; but that when God consumes us by degrees, it ought instantly to occur to us, that though the moth and the worm are but very small insects, hardly seen by the eyes, yet a hard and firm tree is consumed by these little worms, or by its own cariousness; and that cloths are consumed with putridity, when once the moth enters into them; we see valuable furniture perishing. Since it is so, there is no reason for men to be secure when God shows any sign of his wrath, though he pours not forth his horrible vengeance, but is as a hidden putrefaction. We now perceive what Hosea means in this verse. It now follows —
(24) “That it signifies some kind of worm or maggot I have no doubt, because the rule of the parallelism demands some gnawing insect, that may correspond with
, the moth.” — By. Horsley עש
Here the Lord complains that he had in vain chastised the Israelites by the usual means, for they thought that they had remedies ready for themselves, and turned their minds to vain hopes. This is usually done by most men; for when the Lord deals mildly with us, we perceive not his hand, but think that what evils happen to us come by chance. Then, as if we had nothing to do with God, we seek remedies, and turn our minds and thoughts to other quarters. This then is what God now reproves in the Jews and the Israelites: Ephraim, he says, saw his disease, and Judah his wound What then did he do? Ephraim went to Assyria, he says, and sent to king Jareb, that is, “They returned not to me, but thought that they had remedies in their own hand; and thus vain became the labour which I have taken to correct them.” This is the meaning.
He says that Ephraim had seen his disease, and Judah his wound: but it is not right so to take this, as if they well considered the causes of these; for the ungodly are blind to the causes of evils, and only attend to their present grief. They are like intemperate men, who, when disease seizes them, feel heat, feel pain in the head, and other symptoms, at the same time there is no concern for the disease, neither do they inquire how they procured these pains for themselves, that they might seek fit remedies.
So Ephraim knew his disease, but at the same time overlooked the cause of his disease, and was only affected by his present pain. So also Judah knew his wound; but he understood not that he was struck and wounded by the hand of God; but was only affected with his pain, like brute beasts who feel the stroke and sigh, while they have, in the meantime, neither reason nor judgment to understand whence, or for what cause the evil has come to them. In a word, the Prophet here condemns this brutish stupidity in both people; for they did not so far profit under God’s rod as to return to him, but, on the contrary, they sought other remedies; because stupor had taken such hold on their minds, that they did not consider that they were chastised by God, and that this was done for just reasons. As then no such thing came to their mind, but they only felt themselves ill and grieved as brutes do, they went to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb.
The Prophet seems here to inveigh only against the ten tribes; but though he expressly speaks of the kingdom of Israel, there is no doubt but that he accused also the Jews in common with them. Why then does he name only Ephraim? (25) Even because the beginning of this evil commenced in the kingdom of Israel: for they were the first who went to the king of Assur, that they might, by his help, resist their neighbors, the Syrians: the Jews afterwards followed their example. Since then the Israelites afforded a precedent to the Jews to send for aids of this kind, the Prophet expressly confines his discourse to them. But there is no doubt, as I have already said, but that the accusation was common.
We now perceive what the Prophet meant: Ephraim, he says, saw his disease, and Judah his wound; that is, “Though I have, like a moth and a worm, consumed the kingdom of Israel as well as the kingdom of Judah, and they have felt themselves to be, as it were, decaying, and though their disease ought to have led them to repentance, they have yet turned their thoughts elsewhere; they have even supposed that they could be made whole by seeking a remedy either from the Assyrians or some others: thus it happened that they hastened to Assyria, and sought help from king Jareb.” We then see, in short, that the stupidity and hardness of the people are here reproved, because they were not turned by these evils to repentance.
Some think Jareb to have been a city in Assyria; but there is no ground for this conjecture. Others suppose that Jareb was a neighboring king to the Assyrian, and was sent to when the Assyrian, from a friend and a confederate, became an enemy, and invaded the kingdom of Israel; but this conjecture also has no solid grounds. It may have been the proper name of a man, and I prefer so to take it. For it seemed not necessary for the Prophet to speak here of many auxiliaries; but after the manner of the Hebrews, he repeats the same thing twice. Some render it, “to revenge;” because they sent for that king, even the Assyrian, as a revenger. But this exposition also is forced. More simple appears to me what I have already said, that they sent for the Assyrian, that is, for king Jareb.
Then it follows, Yet could he not heal you, nor will he cure you of your wound Here God declares that whatever the Israelites might seek would be in vain. “Ye think,” he says, “that you can escape my hand by these remedies; but your folly will at length betray itself, for he will avail you nothing; that is, king Jareb will not heal you.” In this clause the Prophet shows, that unless we immediately return to God, when he warns us by his scourges, it will be in vain for us to look here and there for remedies: for in this world many allurements come in our way; but when we hope for any relief, the Lord will at length show that we have been deluded. There is, then, but one remedy, — to go directly to God; and this is what the Prophet means, and this is the application of the present doctrine. He had said before that Ephraim had felt his disease and Judah his wounds; that is, “I have led them thus far, that they have acknowledged themselves to be ill; but they have not gone on as they ought to have done, so as to return to me: on the contrary, they have turned aside to king Jareb and to other delusions.” Then it follows, “But these remedies have turned ant rather for harm to you; they certainly have not profited you.” A confirmation of this sentence follows —
(25) Horsley thought that there is a word left out before “sent,” and supposed it to be “Judah,” that the two parts of the verse might correspond, as Judah as well as Ephraim is mentioned in the former part of the verse. Had he well weighed the reason here given by Calvin, he would not have thought such an addition necessary. Conjectural emendations for the most part arise from the same cause, — from not understanding the design and purpose of the sacred writer. — Ed.
As I have said, the Prophet confirms this truth, that Israel had recourse in vain to false physicians, when they left God. How so? Because the whole world, were it to favor us, could not yet help us, against the will of God and his opposing power. But God here declares that he would be adverse to the Israelites; as though he said, “Provide human aids as much as you please; but will the Assyrian be superior to me in power? Can he hinder me from pursuing you as I have determined?” Thus God shows that he would deal in a new and different manner with the Israelites and the Jews: “I will not,” he says, “be any longer like a moth and a worm; I shall come like a lion to you, with an open mouth to devour you: now let the Assyrian king come forth, when I shall thus go armed against you; can he put any hindrance in my way, that I should not execute my vengeance, as it shall seem good to me?” We now then perceive the design of the Prophet.
He had said, that God would punish the Israelites and the Jews, by consuming them by degrees, that there might be more time for repentance: but he says that this would be useless, for they would not think that it was done seriously. They would therefore deceive themselves with vain fallacies. What would then at last remain? Even this, “I will,” he says, “put on a new form and go to battle: I will be to you as a lion and a young lion; I will rage against you as a fierce wild beast: your grievance shall not now be from moths and worms; but you shall have an open and dreadful contest with the lion and the young lion. What then will the Assyrian king avail you?” And this place teaches, that men, when they attempt to oppose vain helps to the wrath of God, gain only this, that they more and more provoke and inflame his wrath against themselves. After God has first gnawed, he will at length devour; after he has pricked, he will deeply wound; after he has struck, he will wholly destroy. All this we bring on ourselves by our perverse attempts, when we try to seek escapes for ourselves. Except, then, we would willingly kindle God’s displeasure, that he may appear as a lion and rage against us with the whole force of his wrath, let us take heed, that we deceive not ourselves by vain reliefs.
He therefore says, I, I will take away, or, “tear,” or, “tear in pieces;” for
, shereph, properly means this, and it agrees better with the rest of the context. “I will then, as lions and young lions are wont to do, tear in pieces, limb from limb, the whole people.” Then he says, I will go away as a lion, who, after he has enjoyed his prey, departs a conqueror with more courage being not put to flight, for he is moved by no fear. So also the Prophet says, “Let the Assyrian king come, he will not constrain me to retreat, nor will he rescue the spoil from me: and when I shall be satiated with your destruction, I shall not then have any fear on account of the Assyrian king, that I should stealthily flee away, as foxes are wont to do; I will not craftily contend; but I will go forth openly, my violence will be sufficient to put him to flight: I will thus depart of my own accord; for your subsidies will occasion me no fear.I will take away, he says, and none shall rescue.” We now comprehend the whole meaning of the Prophet. שרף
, shicker, signifies the morning: hence the verb means, “to seek early,” or, “to rise early,” as men do when they apply themselves diligently to anything: but in many places of Scripture it is taken simply in the sense of seeking; and this simple meaning seems most suitable to this place, They will seek me in their tribulation God here declares, that after having been dreadfully fierce against both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, he would for a time rest quietly and wait from heaven what they would do. He then adds, “They will at length return to a sane mind: when they shall perceive the finishing part, they will then, having lost their perverseness, acknowledge their sins and be truly humbled.” This is the meaning. שחר
The mode of speaking seems apparently strange, when God says, that he will go away; for he neither so hides himself in heaven, that he neglects human affairs, nor withdraws his hand, but that he sustains the world by the continued exercise of his power, nor even takes away his Spirit from men, especially when he would lead them to repentance; for men never of their own accord turn themselves to God, but by his hidden influence. What then does he mean by this, I will go and return to my place? Why, indeed, he speaks here of the external state of the people: then the meaning is, “After the two kingdoms shall be cut off, I will then for a time hide my face from both the people; and they will think that I care not for their salvation; they will think that they are far removed from me.” We hence see that the Prophet here only refers to what would be the external condition of the people; and then we also see, that these forms of speech are accommodated to the perceptions of men. So God also himself speaks in Isaiah 18:0, (26) though for a different purpose; yet the Prophet expresses there in reality the same thing; ‘I will rest,’ he says, ‘and I will wait in my tabernacle.’ What was that rest of God, and what was his tabernacle? Why, when God exercised his judgments, we are then constrained to feel his presence, and when he kindly favors us and exhibits the kindness of a Father, he then really shows himself propitious to us: but when he neither visits us for our sins, nor gives us tokens of his favor, he seems to withdraw himself from us, and to show no regard for our life. We now then understand that the Prophet speaks of the time of exile; as though he said, “After God shall execute against you his extreme judgment, and ye shall be liken away into exile, God will then forsake you, as if he in no way regarded you, but were unmindful of you; for he will leave you there to rest, even in Chaldea and Assyria; and then he will not send forth any light of salvation. God therefore will be as it were idle in heaven.” This is one thing.
But the Prophet shows at the same time the final issue, that is, that they will afterwards return to the Lord; and that this is also the purpose of God he affirms, Till they acknowledge, he says, that they have sinned For it is the beginning of healing, when men consider the cause of their disease. He had said before that Israel saw his disease, but not in a right way; for the origin of the disease was hid from him, and continued as yet hid. But now the Prophet distinctly shows that it is to seek God, when people acknowledge and confess their sins. This word continually occurs in Scripture when sacrifices are spoken of. Hence men are said then to sin, when they go forth before God, making a true confession, when they acknowledge their guilt and pray for pardon. So also in this place he says, Until they confess that they have sinned I will for a time hide myself And he adds, “They will seek my face”. This is the second thing in attaining salvation — to seek the face of God: for we are reconciled to God, we know, by repentance and faith; not that repentance procures pardon for us, but because it is necessarily required; it is a cause, as they say, which is indispensable.
The first step then towards healing, as we have already said, is to be touched with grief, when we perceive that we have provoked the wrath of God, and when thus our sins displease us. But he who is thus become in himself a sinner, that is, who begins to be his own judge, ought afterwards to add this second thing — to seek the face of God, that is, to present himself a suppliant before God, and to ask for pardon; and this arises from faith. It is then to repentance that the word
, ahsim, belongs, which is to “acknowledge sin:” and to “seek the face of God,” properly belongs to faith. אשם
Now let us see what is the application of this doctrine as to both people. When the Israelites and the Jews lived in exile, it was of great benefit for them to have this testified, that God was hiding his face for a time, that he might afford them time to repent; this is one thing. Now when men considerately attend to this, that they are to seek God, that they may repent, they are encouraged; and this is the sharpest goad to rouse men, that they may no longer be torpid in their vices: and this is what the Prophet meant. When the Lord shall banish into exile both the Jews and the Israelites, let them not think that though for a time he will seem to cast them away they are wholly deserted; for as yet a convenient time for repentance will be given them. He afterwards describes the way of reconciliations that is, that they shall acknowledge that they have sinned, and then that they shall seek the face of God.
And at the same time he makes known the fruit of affliction, and says, When affliction shall be to them, then they will seek me The Prophet here shows, that exile, though very bitter to Israel, would yet be useful; as when a physician gives a bitter draughts or is compelled to use strong medicine to cure an inveterate disease; so the Prophet shows that this punishment would be useful to the people, and even pleasant, however bitter it might be for a time. How so? For they will return to the Lord; and he says distinctly, “They will seek me”. He includes in this expression both faith and repentance; for he separates not the two clauses as before, but shows generally that the end of affliction would be, that the people would turn themselves to God. With respect to the expression, “to seek early,” I have said already that I do not approve of that meaning; for neither the Israelites nor the Jews, sought God early, but were with difficulty at lasts after a long period, and a long series of seventy years, led to repentance. What sort of seeking early was this? I do not then approve of rendering the word, ‘They shall seek me early;’ but, as I have said the simple idea of “seeking” is more suitable.
(26) Isaiah 18:4. — fj.