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a Bible passage
A Plea for Repentance
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”
Assurance of Forgiveness
I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.
Here the Prophet exhorts the Israelites to repentance, and still propounds some hope of mercy. But this may seem inconsistent as he had already testified that there would be no remedy any more, because they had extremely provoked God. The Prophet seems in this case to contradict himself. But the solution is ready at hand, and it is this, — In speaking before of the final destruction of the people, he had respect to the whole body of the people; but now he directs his discourse to the few, who had as yet remained faithful. And this distinction, as we have reminded you in other places, ought to be carefully noticed; otherwise we shall find ourselves perplexed in many parts of Scripture. We now then see for what purpose the Prophet annexed this exhortation, after having asserted that God would be implacable to the people of Israel; for with regard to the whole body, there was no hope of deliverance; God had now indeed determined to destroy them, and he wished this to be made known to them by the preaching of Hosea. But yet God had ever some seed remaining among his chosen people: though the body, as a whole, was putrid and corrupt; yet some sound members remained, as in a large heap of chaff some grains may be found concealed. As God then had preserved some (as he is wont always to do,) he sets forth to them his mercy: and as they had been carried away, as it were by a tempest, when iniquity so prevailed among the people, that there was nothing sound, the Prophet addresses them here, because they were not wholly incurable.
Let us then know that the irreclaimable, the whole body of the people, are now dismissed; for they were so obstinate that the Prophet could address them with no prospect of success. Then his sermon here ought to be especially applied to the elect of God, who, having fallen away for a time, and become entangled in the common vices of the age, were yet not altogether incurable. The Prophet now exhorts them and says Return, Israel, to Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity This reason is added, because men will never repent unless they are made humble; and whence comes true and genuine humility, except from a sense of sin? Unless then men become displeased with themselves, and acknowledge that they are worthy of perdition, they will never be touched by a genuine feeling of penitence. These two things are then wisely joined together by Hosea, that Israel had fallen by their iniquities, and then, that it was time to return to Jehovah. How so? Because, when we are convinced that we are worthy of destruction, nays that we are already doomed to death for having so often provoked God, then we begin to hate ourselves; and a detestation of sin drives us to seek repentance.
But he says, Turn thou, Israel, to thy God The Prophet now kindly invites them; for he could not succeed by severe words without mingling a hope of favour, as we know that there can be no hope of repentance without faith. Then the Prophet not only shows what was necessary to be done, but says also, ‘Thou art Israel, thou art an elect people.’ He does not, however, as it has been already stated, address all indiscriminately, but those who were the true children of Abraham, though they had for a time degenerated. “Turn thou, Israel, then to thy God; for how much soever thou hast for a time fallen away, yet God has not rejected thee: only return to him, and thou shalt find favour, for he is placable to his own people.”
He afterwards shows the way of repentance: and this passage deserves to be noticed; for we know that men bring forward mere trifles when they speak of repentance. Hence when the word, repentance, is mentioned, men imagine that God is to be pacified with this or that ceremony, as we see to be the case with those under the Papacy. And what is their repentance? Even this, — if on certain days they fast, if they mutter short prayers, if they undertake vowed pilgrimages, if they buy masses, — if with these trifles they weary themselves, they think that the right and the required repentance is brought before God: but all this is altogether absurd. As then the world understands not what repentance means, and to what it leads, the Prophet here sets forth true repentance by its fruits. He therefore says, Take with you words, and turn to Jehovah; and say to him, Take away all iniquity and bring good, and we will render to thee the calves of our lips When he bids them to take or find words to present instead of sacrifice, he no doubt alluded to what the law teaches.
First, it is certain that the Prophet speaks not of feigned words; for we know what God declares by Isaiah,
‘This people draw nigh me with their lips,
but their heart is from me far distant,’ (Isaiah 29:13.)
But he bids them to take words, by which they might show what was conceived and felt in their heart. Then he means this first, that their words should correspond with their feeling.
It must, secondly, be noticed, that the Prophet speaks not here of any sort of words, but that there is to be a mutual relation between the words of God and the words of men. How are we then to bring words to God, such as prove the genuineness of our piety? Even by being teachable and submissive; by suffering willingly when he chastises us, by confessing what we deserve when he reproves us, by humbly deprecating vengeance when he threatens us, by embracing pardon when he promises it. When we thus take words from God’s mouth, and bring them to him, this is to take words according to what the Prophet means in this place. We hence see the import of the Prophet’s exhortation, when he bids us to take words: but I cannot proceed further now.
This verse ought to be joined with the last, as the Israelites show here more clearly and fully in what they had sinned, and, at the same time, give proof of their repentance; for when they say, The Assyrian shall not save us, we shall not mount on horses, we shall not say to the work of hands, Our gods, it is to be understood as a confession, that they had in these various ways roused against themselves the vengeance of God; for they had hoped for safety from the Assyrians, ran here and there, and had thus alienated themselves from God; they had also fled to statues and idols, and had transferred to dumb images the honour due to the only true God. We hence see, that though the faithful speak of future time, they yet indirectly confess that they had grievously sinned, had forsaken the only true God, and transferred their hopes to others, either to the Assyrians or to fictitious gods. But at the same time, they promise to be different in future; as though he said, that they would not only be grateful to God in celebrating his praises, but that their way of living would be also new, so as not to abuse the goodness of God. This is the substance of what is here said.
By saying, The Assyrian shall not save us, they doubtless condemned, as I have already stated, the false confidence with which they were before deluded, when they sought deliverance by means of the Assyrians. There is, indeed, no doubt, but that the Israelites were ever wont to pretend to trust in the name of God; but in thinking themselves lost without the succour of the Assyrians, they most certainly defrauded God of his just honour, and adorned men with spoils taken from him. For except we be convinced that God alone is sufficient for us, even when all earthly aids fail us, we do not place in him our hope of salvation; but, on the contrary, transfer to mortals what belongs alone to him. For this sacrilege the Israelites therefore condemn themselves, and, at the same time, show that the fruit of their repentance would be, to set their minds on God, so as not to be drawn here and there as before, or to think that they could be preserved through the help of men. Let us hence learn, that men turn not to God, except when they bid adieu to all creatures, and no longer fix their hopes on them. This is one thing.
What follows, On a horse we shall not mount, may be explained in two ways; — as though they said, that they would no longer be so mad as to be proud of their own power, or consider themselves safe because they were well furnished with horses and chariots; — but the clause may be more simply explained, as meaning, that they would not as before wander here and there to procure for themselves auxiliaries; We shall not then mount a horse, but continue quiet in our country; and this sense seems more appropriate. I do not then think that the Prophet brings forward any new idea, but I read the two sentences conjointly, The Assyrian shall not save us, we shall not then mount on a horse, that is, that we may ride in haste; for they had wearied themselves before with long journeys: as soon as any danger was at hand, they went away afar off into Assyria to seek help, when God commanded them to remain quiet.
The meaning of this will be better understood by referring to other passages, which correspond with what is here said. God says by Isaiah, ‘On horses mount not; but ye said, We will mount: then mount,’ says he, (Isaiah 30:16.) Here is a striking intimation, that the Jews against God’s will rode and hastened to seek aids. “I see you,” he says, “to be very prompt and swift: then mount, but it shall be for the purpose of fleeing.” We see what was the design of this reproof of the Prophet; it was to show that the Jews, who ought to have remained still and quiet, fled here and there for the sake of seeking assistance. So also in this place, when they would show the fruit of their repentance, they say, “We will not hereafter mount a horse, for the Lord, who promises to be our aid, is not to be sought as one far off: we will not then any more fatigue ourselves in vain.” It seems to me that this is what is meant by the Prophet.
Then he adds, And we shall not say, Our gods, to the work of our hands. As they had spoken of the false trust they placed in men, so now they condemn their own superstition. And these are the two pests which are wont to bring destruction on men; for nothing is more ruinous than to transfer our hope from God; and this is done in two ways, either when men trust in their own strength, or pride themselves on human aids and despise God, as if they can be safe without him, — or when they give up themselves to false superstitions. Both these diseases ever prevail in the world, when men entangle themselves in their own superstitions, and form for themselves new gods, from whom they expect safety; as we see to be the case with those under the Papacy. God is almost of no account with them, Christ is not sufficient. For how comes it that they contrive so many patrons for themselves, that they devise so many guardianships, except that they despise the help of God, or so extenuate it, that they dare not to hope for salvation from him? We hence see that superstition draws men away from God, and becomes thus the cause of the worst destruction. But there are some, who are not thus given up to superstitions, but who derive a hope from their own valour or wisdom; for the children of this world are inflated with their own strength; and when princes have their armies prepared, when they have fortified cities, when they possess abundance of money, when they are strengthened by many compacts, they are blinded with false confidence. So then this verse teaches us, that these are two destructive pests, which commonly draw men away from real safety; and if then we would repent sincerely from the heart, we must purge our minds from these two evils, so that we may not ascribe any thing to our own strength or to earthly helps, nor form any idols to be in the place of God, but feel assured that God alone is a sufficient help to us.
But it follows, For in thee will the fatherless find mercy. Here the Israelites show that it is necessary for us to be depressed that we may remain dependent on God alone; for those are compared to the fatherless who are so humbled, that they cast away all vain hopes, and, conscious of their nakedness and want, recumb on God alone. Hence, that God’s mercy may find a way open to come to us, we must become fatherless. Now what this metaphor means is well known to us. The fatherless, we know, are, first, destitute of aid, and, secondly, of wisdom; and they are also without strength. They are then dependent on the aid of another, and stand in need of direction; in short, their safety depends on the assistance of others. Thus, also, we are really fatherless, when we rely not on our own prudence, nor recumb on our own strength, nor think that we can be safe through the aids which come from the earth, but cast all our hopes and cares on God alone. This is one thing. The fatherless then shall find mercy in thee; that is, “When thou, Lord, dost so afflict us, that we become wholly cast down, then we shall find mercy in thee; and this mercy will be sufficient for us, so that we shall no more wander and be drawn aside by false devices, as it has hitherto been the case with us.” When, therefore, they say, in God will the fatherless find mercy, they mean that the grace offered by the Lord will be sufficient, so that there will be no need any more of seeking aid from any other. We now understand what the Prophet means in this verse. It follows —
God here confirms what we have observed respecting his gratuitous reconciliation, nor is the repetition useless; for as men are disposed to entertain vain and false hopes, so nothing is more difficult than to preserve them in dependence on the one God, and to pacify their minds, so that they disturb not nor fret themselves, as experience teaches us all. For when we embrace the promises of free pardon, our flesh ever leads us to distrust, and we become harassed by various fancies. “What! can you or dare you promise with certainty to yourself that God will be propitious to you, when you know that for many reasons he is justly angry with you?” Since, then, we are so inclined to harbour distrust, the Prophet again confirms the truth which we have before noticed, which is, that God is ready to be reconciled, and that he desires nothing more than to receive and embrace his people.
Hence he says, I will heal their defections The way of healing is by a gratuitous pardon. For though God, by regenerating us by his Spirit, heals our rebellion, that is, subdues us unto obedience, and removes from us our corruptions, which stimulate us to sin; yet in this place the Prophet no doubt declares in the person of God, that the Israelites would be saved from their defections, so that they might not come against them in judgement, nor be imputed to them. Let us know then that God is in two respects a physician while he is healing our sins: he cleanses us by his Spirit, and he abolishes and buries all our offences. But it is of the second kind of healing that the Prophet now speaks, when he says, I will heal their turnings away: and he employs a strong term, for he might have said, “your faults or errors” but he says, “your defections from God;” as though he said, “Though they have so grievously sinned, that by their crimes they have deserved hundred deaths, yet I will heal them from these their atrocious sins, and I will love them freely.”
The word נדבה, nudebe, may be explained either freely or bountifully. I will then love them bountifully, that is, with an abounding and not a common love; or I will love them freely, that is gratuitously. But they who render the words “I will love them of mine own accord,” that is, not by constraint, pervert the sense of the Prophet; for how frigid is the expression, that God is not forced to love us; and what meaning can hence be elicited? But the Lord is said to love us freely, because he finds in us no cause of love, for we are unworthy of being regarded or viewed with any favour; but he shows himself liberal and beneficent in this very act of manifesting his love to the unworthy.
We then perceive that the real meaning of the Prophet is this, that though the Israelites had in various ways provoked the wrath of God, and as it were designedly wished to perish, and to have him to be angry with them; yet the Lord promises to be propitious to them. In what way? Even in this, for he will give proof of his bounty, when he will thus gratuitously embrace them. We now see how God becomes a Father to us, and regards us as his children, even when he abolishes our sins, and also when he freely admits us to the enjoyment of his love. And this truth ought to be carefully observed; for the world ever imagines that they come to God, and bring something by which they can turn or incline him to love them. Nothing can be more inimical to our salvation than this vain fancy.
Let us then learn from this passage, that God cannot be otherwise a Father to us than by becoming our physician and by healing our transgressions. But the order also is remarkable, for God puts love after healing. Why? Because, as he is just, it must be that he regards us with hatred as long as he imputes sins. It is then the beginning of love, when he cleanses us from our vices, and wipes away our spots. When therefore it is asked, how God loves men, the answer is, that he begins to love them by a gratuitous pardon; for while God imputes sins, it must be that men are hated by him. He then commences to love us, when he heals our diseases.
It is not without reason that he adds, that the fury of God is turned away from Israel. For the Prophet intended to add this as a seal to confirm what he taught; for men ever dispute with themselves when they hear that God is propitious to them. “How is this, that he heals thine infirmities? for hitherto thou hast found him to be angry with thee, and how art thou now persuaded that his wrath is pacified?” Hence the Prophet seals his testimony respecting God’s love, when he says, that his wrath has now ceased. Turned away then is my fury “Though hitherto I have by many proofs, manifested to thee my wrath, yet I now come to thee as one changed. Judge me not then by past time, for I am now pacified to thee, and my fury is from thee turned away It follows —
The Prophet now again repeats what he had said, that God, after restoring the people to favour, would be so beneficent, as to render apparent the fruit of reconciliation. Seeing that the Israelites had been afflicted, they ought to have imputed this to their own sins, they ought to have perceived by such proofs, the wrath of God. They had been so stupid as to have on the contrary imagined, that their adversities happened to them by chance. The Prophet had been much engaged in teaching this truth, that the Israelites would be ever miserable until they turned to God, and also, that all their affairs would be unhappy until they obtained pardon. He now speaks of a change, that God would not only by words show himself propitious to them, but would also give a proof by which the Israelites might know that they were now blessed, because they had been reconciled to God; for his blessing would be the fruit of his gratuitous love. Thus then ought this sentence, I will be to Israel as the dew, to be connected: He intimates that they were before dry, because they had been deprived of God’s favour. He compares them to a rose or lily: for when the fields or meadows are burnt up by the heat of the sun, and there is no dew distilling from heaven, all things wither. How then can lilies and roses flourish, except they derive moisture from heaven, and the dew refreshes the grounds that they may put forth their strength? The reason then for the similitude is this, because men become dry and destitute of all vigour, when God withdraws his favour. Why? Because God must, as it were, distil dew, otherwise, as it has been said, we become wholly barren and dry. I will be then as dew to Israel
And further, He shall Flourish as the lily, and his roots he shall send forth Some render ויך, vaic, “and he will strike;” and נכה, nuke, means to strike. Others render the words, “His branches will extend:” but the verb is in the singular number, and the noun, “roots,” is in the plural. The Prophet then speaks of Israel, that he strikes his roots; but he means to fix in a metaphorical sense: he will then fix his roots. As when we strike, we fetch a blow, and extend our arms; so he will spread forth his roots as Libanus. This is the second effect of God’s favour and blessing; which means, that the happiness of the people would be perpetual. With regard to the rose or lily, the meaning of the metaphor is, that God would suddenly, and as in a moment, vivify the Israelites, though they were like the dead. as in one night the lily rises, and unexpectedly also the rose; so sudden would be the change signified by this metaphor. But as the lilies and the roses soon wither, it was not enough to promise to Israel that their salvation would come suddenly; but it was needful to add this second clause, — that though they would be like lilies and roses, they yet would be also like tall trees, which have deep roots in the ground, by which they remain firm and for a long time flourish.
We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet. He mentions here the twofold effect of God’s blessing as to the Israelites, — that their restoration would be sudden, as soon as God would distil like the dew his favour upon them, and also that this happiness would not be fading, but enduring and permanent. And the words may be rendered, as Libanus, or as those of Libanus: as Libanus he shall cast forth his roots, as the trees which grow there; or, he shall cast forth his roots as the trees which are in Libanus. But as to the sense there is no difference. It follows —
The Prophet goes on with the same subject, but joins the beginning of the first verse with the second clause of the former verse. He had said that the roots of the people would be deep when God should restore them. Now he adds, that their branches shall go on He mentions here “to go on” metaphorically for extending far; for branches of trees seem to go on, when they extend and spread themselves far and wide. His branches, then, shall go on; which means, that a tree, after striking roots, remains not in the same state, but grows and spreads forth its branches in all directions. In short, God promises a daily increase to his blessing, after he has once begun to show himself bountiful to the people of Israel. “I will then be bountiful at the beginning; and further, he says, my blessing shall, as time passes, increase and be multiplied.”
He afterwards adds, His comeliness shall be like the olive The Prophet accumulates similitudes, that he might more fully confirm the people. And we certainly see that the minds of men grow faint, when they look for prosperity from this or that quarter; for there is hardly one in a hundred who is fully persuaded that when God is propitious, all things turn out well and happily: for men regard not the love of God when they wish things to be well with them, but wander here and there through the whole world; and now they seek prosperity from themselves, then from the earth, now from the air, then from the sea. Since then it is so difficult to impress this truth fully on the hearts of men, that the love of God is the fountain of all blessings, the Prophet has collected together a number of similitudes to confirm what he teaches. Then his comeliness, he says, shall be like the olive; and further, his fragrance like that of Libanus: and odoriferous trees, we know, grow on Mount Libanus. But by these various similes the Prophet shows that the state of the people would be prosperous and happy as soon as they should be received by God into favour. He afterwards adds, the dwellers under his shadow shall return; but I defer this till to-morrow.
The dwellers under his shadow shall return, (so it is literally;) they shall revive themselves with corn, (or, revive as the corn;) they shall grow as the vine: his odour shall be as the wine of Libanus. The Prophet proceeds with the same subject, that God would show himself bountiful to his people, that it might plainly appear from their different state that they had before suffered just punishment. And he says, The dwellers under his shadow shall return. But the verb ישבו, ishibu, in this place rightly means, “to be refreshed,” as in Psalm 19; where the law of God is spoken of as משיבת, meshibet, converting the soul; which signifies the same as refreshing or restoring the soul. So the Prophet intimates, that after the Israelites shall begin to flourish again, their shadow would be vivifying, such as would restore and refresh those lying under it. He calls the “dwellers under his shadow”, all those who belong to the people; and compares the common state of the people of Israel to a tree full of leaves, which extends its branches far and wide, so that they who flee under its shadow are defended from the heat of the sun. We now see the design of this metaphor, and what the Prophet means by the verb ישבו, ishibu
He afterwards adds They shall vivify themselves with corn, or, revive as corn. If we read the word in the nominative case, the preposition כ, caph, is to be understood. The ablative case is more approved by some, “They shall vivify themselves with corn.” But the former sense seems more suitable; for, as I have said yesterday, the Prophet, as he handles a truth difficult to be believed, does on this account accumulate similitudes, such as serve for confirmation. Hence they shall revive as corn; that is, they shall increase. As from one grain, we know, many stalks proceed; so also, since the prophet speaks of the increase of the people after their restoration to God’s favour, he says that they would grow like corn.
But he adds, They shall germinate as the vine This similitude strengthens what I have just said, that the people are compared both to trees and to corn, and also to vines. And what is said of dwellers ought not to appear strange, for he wished more fully to express how this common benefit would come, that is, to every one. He afterwards adds, His odour shall be as the wine of Libanus; that is, when they shall germinate as the vine, they shall not produce common or sour wine, but the sweetest, such as is made on Mount Libanus, and which is of the best odour. But the Prophet means no other thing than that the Israelites will be happy, and that their condition will be prosperous and joyful, when they shall be converted from their superstitions and other vices, and shall wholly surrender themselves to be governed by God. This is the meaning. Let us now proceed —
The Prophet again introduces the Israelites speaking as before, that they would deplore their blindness and folly, and renounce in future their superstitions. The confession then which we have before noticed is here repeated; and it is a testimony of true repentance when men, being ashamed, are displeased with themselves on account of their sins, and apply their minds to God’s service, and detest their whole former life. To this subject belongs what the Prophet now says. It is a concise discourse; but yet its brevity contains nothing obscure. Ephraim, he says, What have I to do with idols? There is indeed a verb understood, ‘Ephraim “shall say”, What have I to do with idols?’ But still it is evident enough what the Prophet means. There is then in these words, as I have said, a sincere confession; for the ten tribes express their detestation of their folly, that they had alienated themselves from the true God, and became entangled in false and abominable superstitions: hence they say, What have we to do with idols? and when they add, any more, they confess that their former life had been corrupt and vicious: at the same time they announce their own repentance, when they say that they would have nothing more to do with fictitious gods.
The reason follows, because God will hear and look on Israel, so as to become to him a shady tree. Some so explain this, as though God promised to be propitious to Israel after they had manifested their repentance. But they pervert the sense of the Prophet; for, on the contrary, he says, that after the Israelites shall perceive, and find even by the effect, that God is propitious to them, they will then say, “How foolish and mad we were, while we followed idols? It is now then time that our souls should recumb on God.” Why? “Because we see that there is nothing better for us than to live under his safeguard and protection; for he hears us, he regards us, he is to us like a shady tree, so that he protects us under his shadow.” We now perceive how these two clauses are connected together; for God shows the reason why Ephraim will renounce his idols because he will perceive that he was miserably deceived as long as he wandered after his idols. How will he perceive this? Because he will see that he is now favoured by the Lord, and that he was before destitute of his help. When God then shall give such a proof to his people, he will at the same time produce this effect, that they will cast away all false confidences, and confess that they were miserable and wretched while they were attached to idols. He therefore says, I have heard and favoured him What is then later in the words of the Prophet goes before; it precedes in order of things this clause, Ephraim shall say, What have I to do with idols?
In saying, I will be as a shady fir-tree, and adding at the same time, From me is thy fruit found, the two similitudes seem not to accord; for, as it is well known, the fir-tree bears no fruit. Why then is fruit mentioned? The answer is that these two similitudes are not connected. For when God compares himself to a fir-tree, he speaks only of protection: and we know that when one seeks a cooling shade, he may find it under a fir-tree; besides, it is always green, as we all know, when leaves fall from other trees; and further, its height and thickness afford a good shadow. The reason, then, why God promises to be like a fir-tree to his people is this, because all who will fly under his shadow shall be preserved from the heat. But the meaning of the second similitude, that God would supply his people with fruit, is different. The Prophet had said before that the Israelites would be like a tree, which fixes its roots deep in the ground. He now transfers the name of a tree to God. Both these things are true; for when God makes us fruitful we are branches set in the best vine; and it is also true, that the whole fruit we have is from him; for all vigour would fail us, except God were to supply us with moisture, and even life itself. We now then see that there is no inconsistency in the words of the Prophet, as the object is different From me then is thy fruit found; as though God said, that the Israelites, if wise, would be content with his favour; for they who seek support from him will be satisfied; because they will find from him fruit sufficiently rich and abundant. We now then understand what is meant. But it follows —
The Prophet, I have no doubt, very often inculcated what he here says, and frequently recalled it to mind, for we know that he had a constant struggle with extreme obstinacy. It was not only for one day that he found the people hard and perverse, but through the whole course of his preaching. Since then the Israelites continued, either openly to despise the Prophet’s teaching, or at least to regard as fables what they heard from his mouth, or to chide him in words, and even to threaten him, when he treated them with severity and when the Prophet saw that the wickedness of the people was irreclaimable, he, being armed with confidence, no doubt went forth very often among them, and said “Ye think that you shall be unpunished, while ye make a mock of what I teach; ye shall surely find at last that the ways of the Lord are right.” And I have already reminded you, that the Prophets, after having harangued the people at large and in many words, reduced at last into brief heads what they had taught; for it is not probable, that since Hosea had so long discharged the office of a teacher, he had spoken only these few things, which might have been gone through in three hours. This is absurd. But when he had diligently attended to the office deputed to him, he afterwards, as I have said, collected together these few chapters, that the remembrance of his teaching might be perpetuated. What he was constrained then often to repeat, he now lays down at the end of his book, that it might be as it were a complete sealing up of his teaching.
Who is wise, he says, and he will understand these things? who is intelligent, and he will know them? This interrogatory mode is expressive; for Hosea was amazed at the fewness of those who yielded themselves to be taught by God. The Israelites no doubt, arrogated to themselves great wisdom, as ungodly men are wont to do. For they seem to themselves to be then especially acute, when they laugh at every thing like piety, when they treat God’s name with scorn, and indulge themselves, as we see at this day, in their own impiety. And this diabolical rage lays hold on many, because they think that they would be very simple and stupid, were they to embrace any thing the Scripture contains. “O! what is faith but foolish credulity?” This is the thought that comes to their minds. There are also filthy dogs, who hesitate not to vomit forth such a reproach as this, “Only believe! But what is this thy believing, but wilfully to give up all judgement and all choice, and to allow thyself to be like mute cattle driven here and there? If then thou art wise, believe nothing.” Thus godless men speak; and hence, as I have said, they pride themselves on their own acuteness, when they can shake off every fear of God and all regard for divine truth. There were many such, we may easily believe, in the time of the Prophet. Since then the whole land was filled with dreadful contempt of God, and yet men commonly thought themselves wise, nay, imagined in their deep thoughts, as Isaiah says, 101101 Isaiah 19:15. — fj. that they could deceive God, he now asks, Who is wise, and he will understand? As though he said, “I indeed see, that if I believe you, ye are all wise; for, imitating the giants, ye dare to rise up against God, and ye think yourselves ingenious when ye elude every truth, when ye proudly tread religion under foot; in this way ye are all wise. But at the same time, if there be any grain of wisdom in you, you must surely acknowledge me to be sent by God, and that what I declare is not the invention of men, but the word of the living God.” We now then see what force there is in this question, when the Prophet says, Who is wise, and he will understand these things? Who is intelligent, and he will know them?
We at the same time see that the Prophet here condemns all the wisdom of men, and as it were thunders from heaven against the pride of those who thus presumptuously mock God; for how much soever they imagined themselves to be pre-eminent, he intimates that they were both blind and stupid and mad. Who then is wise? he says. But at the same time, he shows that the true wisdom of men is to obey God and to embrace his word; as it is said in another place, that wisdom and the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, (Proverbs 1:7.) Whosoever then wishes to be truly wise, he must begin with the fear of God and with reverence to his word; for where there is no religion, men cannot certainly understand any thing aright. Let us suppose men endued, not only with great clearness of mind, but also with the knowledge of all the sciences; let them be philosophers, let them be physicians, let them be lawyers, let nothing be wanting to them, except that they have no true knowledge of eternal life, would it not be better for them to be mere cattle than to be thus wise, to exercise their minds for a short time on fading things, and to know that all their highly valued treasure shall perish with their life? Surely to be thus wise is far more wretched than if men were wholly void of understanding. Justly then does the Prophet intimate here that those were not only foolish, but also mad, and wholly destitute of all understanding, who regarded not celestial truth, and were deaf to the Prophets, and discerned not when God spake, nor understood the power of his word. All then who are not thus wise, the Prophet justly says, are utterly void of all prudence and judgement: he therefore repeats the same thing, Who is wise, and he will understand these things? Who is intelligent, and he will know them? that is, “If any excels others, he ought surely to show in this particular his wisdom, and if any one is endued with common understanding, he ought to know what this doctrine means, in which the image and glory of God shine forth brightly. All then who know and understand nothing in this respect are no doubt altogether foolish.”
He afterwards adds, For right are the ways of Jehovah He alleges this truth in opposition to the profane rashness of men, who haughtily reject God, and dare to despise his word. Right, he says, are the ways of the Lord: and by saying that they are right, he no doubt glances at the abominable blasphemies which the ungodly have recourse to, when they wish to render the word of God not only odious and contemptible, but also absurd, so as not to deserve any respect. Thus we see at this day, that godless men not only in words reject both the Law and the Prophets, but also search out pretences, that they may appear to be doing right in destroying all faith in the oracles of God. For instance, they seek out every sort of contradiction in Scripture, every thing not well received, every thing different from the common opinion, — all these absurdities, as they call them, they collect together, and then they draw this conclusion, that all those are fools, who submit to any religion, since the word of God, as they say, contains so many absurd things. This raving madness prevailed then no doubt in the world: and the Prophet, by saying that right are the ways of Jehovah, means, that how much soever the ungodly may clamour, or murmur, or taunt, nothing is yet done by the Lord but what is right, and free from every blame and defect. However much then the ungodly may vomit forth slanders against the word of God, it is the same as if they threw dust into the air to darken the light of the sun; just so much they effect, he seems to say, by their audacity: for perfect rectitude will ever be found in the ways of the Lord; his word will ever be found free from every stain or defect.
He then adds, And the just shall walk in them, but in them shall the ungodly stumble By saying that the just shall walk in them, he confirms the last sentence by experience, for the just really find the ways of the Lord to be right We ought also to be furnished with this assurance, if we would boldly repel all the impious calumnies, which are usually heaped together by profane men against the word of God: for if we know not what it is to walk in the ways of the Lord, we shall surely, as soon as any thing is alleged against them, be suspended in doubt, or be wholly upset; for we see that many, not deeply rooted in the word of God, instantly quail, as soon as any thing is said against it, because they know not what it is to walk in the ways of the Lord; but they who walk in the Lord’s ways courageously fight against all the temptations of the world; they carry on the context that they may attain celestial life; they feel assured that though now miserable for a time, they shall yet be blessed, for they have embraced the grace of God in Christ; they are sustained too by their own conscience, so that they can look down on all the reproaches and slanders of the world, and proceed onward in their course. They then who thus walk in the ways of the Lord are unconquerable; yea, were the whole world to oppose them, and were the ungodly with their profane words to infect the whole atmosphere, the godly would still pursue their course until they reached the end. All the ways of Jehovah are therefore right, the just shall walk in them; but in them shall the ungodly stumble, or fall; for כשל, cashel, means both, but I prefer rendering it “stumble,” as it seems more suitable to the design of the Prophet. The just then find a plain and an even way in the word of the Lord, and nothing stands in their path to obstruct their course, and by daily advances they attain that to which the Lord calls them, even their celestial inheritance. The just shall thus walk in the Lord’s ways, because the Lord will lead them, as it were, by his hand; faith will be to them for hundred eyes, and also for wings: and hope, at the same time, sustains them; for they are armed with promises and encouragements; they have also stimulants, whenever the Lord earnestly exhorts them; they have, besides, in his threatenings, such terrors as keep them awake. Thus then the faithful find in the word of the Lord the best ways, and they follow them. But what of the ungodly? They imagine all doubts, even the least, to be mountains: for as soon as they meet with any thing intricate or obscure, they are confounded, and says “I would gladly seek to know the Holy Scriptures but I meet with so many difficulties.” Hence when a doubt is suggested, they regard it as a mountain; nay, they purposely pretend doubts, that they may have some excuse, when they wish to evade the truth, and turn aside that they may not follow the Lord. The ungodly, then, stumble in the ways of Jehovah. But this ought to be read adversatively, “Though the ungodly stumble, yet the just shall always walk in the ways of Jehovah;” which means, that there is no reason why the ungodly should stop or retard us by their continual stumbling, and by exclaiming that the word of God is full of what gives offence; for we shall find in it an even way, only let us ascribe to God this glory, that he is just, and that his ways are right. This is the meaning of the sentence.
End of the Prophecies of Hosea