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8. Israel to Reap the Whirlwind
Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law. 2Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee. 3Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him. 4They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off.
5Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to innocency? 6For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces. 7For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. 8Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure. 9For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers. 10Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes. 11Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin. 12I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing. 13They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it; but the Lord accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt. 14For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.
2. Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee.
2. Mihi clamabunt, Deus mi, novimus te, Israel.
The construction of this versed is anomalous, there being a mixture of numbers, not uncommon in this book. The original is the following: —
3. Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him.
3. Deseruit Israel bonum (vel, abominatus est, repulit, vel, recessit procul a bono:) hostis persequetur eum.
By the Prophet saying, To me shall they cry, some understand that the Israelites are blamed for not fleeing to God; and they thus explain the Prophet’s words, “They ought to have cried to me.” It seems to others to be an exhortation, “Let the Israelites now cry to me.” But I take the words simply as they are, that is that God here again touches the dissimulation of the Israelites, They will cry to me, We know thee; and to this the ready answer is Israel has cast away good far from himself; the enemy shall pursue him I thus join together the two verses; for in the former the Lord relates what they would do, and what the Israelites had already begun to do; and in the latter verse he shows that their labour would be in vain, because they ever cherished wickedness in their hearts, and falsely pretended the name of God, as it has been previously observed, even in their prayers. Israel, then will cry to me, My God, we know thee. Thus hypocrites confidently profess the name of God, and with a lofty air affirm that they are God’s people; but God laughs to scorn all this boasting, as it is vain, and worthy of derision. They will then cry to me; and then he imitates their cries, My God, we know thee When hypocrites, as if they were the friends of God, cover themselves with his shadow, and profess to act under his guardianship, and also boast at the same time of their knowledge of true doctrine, and boast of faith and of the worship of God; be it so, he says, that these cries are uttered by their mouths, yet facts speak differently, and reprove and expose their hypocrisy. We now then see how these two verses are connected together, and what is the Prophet’s object.
The verb זנח, zanech, means “to remove far off,” and “to throw to a distance;” and sometimes, as some think, “to detest.” There is here, I doubt not, an implied contrast between the rejection of good and the pursuing of which the Prophet speaks afterwards, Israel has driven good far from himself; some expound טוב, thub, of God himself, as if it was of the masculine gender: but the Prophet, I have no doubt, simply accuses the Israelites of having receded from all justice and uprightness; yea, of having driven far off every thing right and just. Israel, then, has repelled good; the enemy, he says, will pursue him There is a contrast between repelling and pursuing, as though the prophet said, that the Israelites had by their defection obtained this, that the enemy would now seize them. There is then no better defense for us against all harms than attention to piety and justice; but when integrity is banished from us, then we are exposed to all evils, for we are deprived of the aid of God. We then see how beautifully the Prophet compares these two things — the rejection of good by Israel — and their pursuit by their enemies. He then adds —
The Prophet here notices two things, with respect to which he reprobates the perfidy and impious perverseness of the people, — they had, against the will of God, framed a religion for themselves, — and they had instituted a new kingdom. The salvation of that people, we know, was, as it were, founded on a certain kingdom and priesthood; and by these two things God testified that he was allied to the children of Abraham. We know where the happiness of the godly is deposited, even in Christ; for Christ is to us the fulness of a blessed life, because he is a king and a priest. Hence I have said, that through a certain kingdom and priesthood did the favor of God towards the people then shine forth. Now when the Israelites overturned the kingdom, which God by his own authority instituted, and when they corrupted and adulterated the priesthood, did they not, as it were, designedly extinguish the favor of God, and strive to annihilate whatever was needful for their salvation? This then is what the Prophet now speaks of, that is, that the Israelites in changing the kingdom and priesthood had undermined the whole appointment of God, and openly showed that they were unwilling to be ruled by God’s hand; for they would have never dared to turn asides even in the least degree, from the kingdom of David, nor would they have dared to set up a new and spurious priesthood, if any particle of the fear of God had prevailed in their hearts.
We now perceive the design of the Prophet, which interpreters have not sufficiently considered; for some refer this to the covenants, as it seemed strange to them, that the Israelites should be so severely reproved for setting up Jeroboam as their king, since Ahijah the Shilonite had already declared by God’s command, that it would be so. But they attend not sufficiently to what the Prophet had in view; for, as I have already said, when God instituted the priesthood, there shone forth in it the image of Christ the Mediator, whose office it is, to intercede with God that he might reconcile him to men; and then in the person of David shone forth also the kingdom of Christ. Now when the people tumultuously chose a new king for themselves without any command from God, and when they built for themselves a new temple and altar contrary to what the law prescribed, and when they divided the priesthood, was not all this a manifest corruption, a denial of religion? It is hence evident that the Israelites were in both these respects apostates; for they forsook God in two ways, — first, by separating from the house of David, — and then by forming for themselves a strange worship, which God had not commanded in his law.
With regard to the first, he says, They have caused to reign, but not through me; they have instituted a government, and I knew it not, that is, without my consent; for God is said not to know what he does not approve, or that concerning which he is not consulted. But some one may object and say, that God knew of the new kingdom since he was the founder of it. To this the answer is, that God so works, that this pretext does not yet excuse the ungodly, since they aim at something else, rather than to execute his purpose. As for instance, God designed to prove the patience of his servant Job: the robbers who took away his property, were they excusable? By no means. For what was their object, but to enrich themselves by injustice and plunder? Since then they purchased their advantage at the expense of another, and unjustly robbed a man who had never injured them, they were destitute of every excuse. The Lord, however, did in the meantime execute by them what he had appointed, and what he had already permitted Satan to do. He intended, as it has been said, that his servant should be plundered; and Satan, who influenced the robbers, could not himself move a finger except by the permission of God; nay, except it was commanded him. At the same time, the Lord had nothing in common or in connection with the wicked, because his purpose was far apart from their depraved lust. So also it must be said of what is said here by the Prophet. As God intended to punish Solomon, so he took away the ten tribes. He indeed suffered Solomon to reign to the end of his days, and to retain the government of the kingdom; but Rehoboam, who succeeded him, lost the ten tribes. This did not happen by chance; for God had so decreed; yea, he had declared that it would be so. He sent Ahijah the Shilonite to offer the kingdom to Jeroboam, who had dreamt of nothing of the kind. God then ruled the whole by his own secret counsel, that the ten tribes should desert their allegiance to Rehoboam, and that Jeroboam, being made king, should possess the greater part of the kingdom. This, I say, was done by God’s decree: but yet the people did not think that they were obeying God in revolting from Rehoboam, for they desired some relaxation, when they saw that the young king wished tyrannically to oppress them; hence they chose to themselves a new king. But they ought to have endured every wrong rather than to deprive themselves of that inestimable blessing, of which God gave them a symbol and pledge in the kingdom of David; for David, as it has been said, did not reign as a common king, but was a type of Christ, and God had promised his favor to the people as long as his kingdom flourished, as though Christ did then dwell in the midst of the people. When therefore the people shook off the yoke of David, it was the same as if they had rejected Christ himself because Christ in his type was despised.
We hence see how base was the conduct of the people in joining themselves to Jeroboam. For that sedition was not merely a proof of levity, as some people do often rashly upset the state of things; it was not merely a rash levity, but an impious denial of God’s favor, the same as if they had rejected Christ himself. They had also, in this way, torn themselves from the body of the Church; and though the kingdom of Israel surpassed the kingdom of Judah in wealth and power, it yet became like a putrid member, for the whole soundness depended on the head, from which the ten tribes had cut themselves off. We now then see why the Prophet so sharply expostulates with the Israelites for setting up a kingdom, but not through God; and solved also is the question, how God here declares that was not through him, which yet he had determined and testified by the mouth of his prophet, Ahijah the Shilonite; that is, that God, as it has been said, had not given a command to the people, nor permitted the people to withdraw themselves from their allegiance to Rehoboam. God then denies that kingdom, with respect to the people, was set up by his decree; and he says that what was done was this, — that the people made a king without consulting him; for the people ought to have attended to what pleased him, to what the Lord himself conceded; this they did not, but suddenly followed their own blind impulse.
And this place is worthy of being observed; for we hence learn that the same thing is done and not done by the Lord. Foolish men at this day, not versed in the Scripture, excite great commotions among us about the providence of God; yea, there are many rabid dogs who bark at us, because we say, (what even Scripture teaches everywhere,) that nothing is done except by the ordination and secret counsel of God, and that whatever is carried on in this world is governed by his hand. “How so? Is God, then a murderer? Is God, then a thief? Or, in other words, are slaughters, thefts, and all kinds of wickedness, to be imputed to him?” These men show, while they would be deemed acute, how stupid they are, and also how absurd; nay, rather what mad wild beasts they are. For the Prophet here shows that the same thing was done and not done by the Lord, but in a different way. God here expressly denies that Jeroboam was created king by him; on the other hand, by referring to sacred history, it appears that Jeroboam was created king, not by the suffrages of the people, but by the command of God; for no such thing had yet entered the mind of the people, when Ahijah was bidden to go to Jeroboam; and he himself did not aspire to the kingdom, no ambition impelled him; he remained quiet as a private man, and the Lord stirred him up and said, “I will have thee to reign.” The people knew nothing of these things. After it was done, who could have denied but that Jeroboam was set on the throne, as it were, by the hand of God? All this is true; but with are regard to the people, he was not created by God a king. Why? Because the Lord had commanded David and his posterity to reign perpetually. We hence see that all things done in the world are so disposed by the secret counsel of God, that he regulates whatever the ungodly attempts and whatever even Satan tries to do, and yet he remains just; and it avails nothing to lessen the fault of evils when they say, that all things are governed by the secret counsel of God. With regard to themselves, they know what the Lord enjoins in his law; let them follow that rule: when they deviate from it, there is no ground for them to excuse themselves and say that they have obeyed God; for their design is ever to be regarded. We hence see how the Israelites appointed a king, but not by God; for it was sedition that impelled them, when, at the same time, the law enjoined that they should choose no one as a king except him who had been elected by God; and he had marked out the posterity of David, and designed that they should occupy the royal throne till the coming of Christ.
Then follows the other charge, — that they made to themselves idols from their gold and from their silver God here complains that his worship was not only fallen into decay, but that it was also wholly corrupted by superstitions. It was an impiety not to be borne, that the people had desired a new king for themselves; but it was the summit of all evils, when the Israelites converted their gold and their silver into idols. They have made, he says, their gold and silver idols; that is, “I destined the gold and the silver, with which they have been enriched, for very different purposes. When, therefore, I was liberal to them, they abused my kindness, and from their gold and their silver they made to themselves idols or gods.” Here, then, the Prophet, by implication, sharply reproves the blind madness of the people, that they made to themselves gods of corruptible things, which ought, in the meantime, to be serviceable to them; for to what purpose is money given us by the Lord, but for our daily use? Since, then, the Lord has destined gold and silver for our service, what frenzy it is when men work them into gods for themselves! But this main point must be ever remembered, that the Israelites, in all things, betrayed their own defection; for they hesitated not to overthrow the kingdom which God had instituted for their salvation, and they dared to pervert the whole worship of God, together with the priesthood, by introducing new superstitions.
Then follows a denunciation of punishment — Therefore Israel shall be cut off. Were any, indeed, to object and say that God was too rigid, there would be no reason for such an objection; for they had betrayed and violated their pledged faith, and by condemning and treading under foot both the kingdom and priesthood, they had rejected his favor. We hence see that the Prophet threatens them now with deserved destruction. Let us proceed —
The Prophet goes on with the same subject; for he shows that Israel perished through their own fault, and that the crime, or the cause of destruction, could not be transferred to any other. There is some ambiguity in the words, which does not, however, obscure the sense; for whether we read calf in the objective case, or say, thy calf has removed thee far off, it will be the same. Some say, “has forsaken thee,” as they do above, “Israel has forsaken good;” but the sense of throwing away is to be preferred. Thy calf, then, Samaria, has cast thee off, or, “The Lord has cast far off thy calf.” If we read thy calf in the “objective” case, then the Prophet denounces destruction not only on the Israelites, but also on the calf in which they hoped. But the probable exposition is, that the calf had removed far off, or driven far Samaria or the people of Samaria; and this, I have no doubt, is the meaning of the words; for the Prophet, to confirm his previous doctrine, seems to remind the Israelites again, that the cause of their destruction was not anywhere to be sought but in their wickedness, and especially because they, having forsaken the true God, had made an idol for themselves, and formed the calf to be in the place of God. Now, it was a stupidity extremely gross and perverse, that having experienced, through so many miracles, the infinite power and goodness of God, they should yet have betaken themselves to a dead thing. They forged for themselves a calf! Must they not have been moved, as it were, by a prodigious madness, when they did thus fall away from the true God, who had so often and so wonderfully made himself known to them?
Hence God says now Thy calf O Samaria; that is “The captivity which now impends over thee will not happen by a fortuitous chance, nor will it be right to ascribe it to the wrong done by enemies, that they shall by force take thee to distant lands; but thy very calf drives thee away God had indeed fixed thee in this land, that it might be to thee a quiet heritage to the end; but thy calf has not suffered thee to rest here. The land of Canaan was indeed thy heritage, as it was also the Lord’s heritage; but after God has been banished, and the calf has been introduced in his place, by what right can you now remain in the possession of it? Thy calf, then, expels thee, inasmuch as by thy calf thou hast first attempted to banish the true God.” We now perceive the mind of the Prophet.
He afterwards says that his anger kindled against them He includes here all the Israelites, and shows that it cannot be otherwise, but that God would inflict on them extreme vengeance, inasmuch as they were not teachable, (as we have before often observed,) and could not be turned nor reformed by any admonitions.
How long, he says, will they be not able to attain cleanness, or innocence? He here deplores the obstinacy of the people, that at no period or space of time had they returned to a sane mind, and that there was no hope of them in future. How long then will they not be able to attain innocence? “Since it is so; that is, since they are unimpressible, (incompatibiles) as they commonly say, since they are void of all purity or innocence, I am, therefore, now constrained to adopt the last remedy, and, that is, to destroy them.” Here God shuts the mouth of the ungodly, that they could not object that the severity which he so rigidly exercised towards them was immoderate. He refutes their calumnies by saying, that he had patiently borne with them, and was still bearing with them. But he saw them to be so obstinate in their wickedness, that no hope of them could be entertained. It follows —
The beginning of this verse is not rightly explained, as I think, by those who so connect the pronoun demonstrative הוא, eva, as if it had an interposed copulative; and this ought to be noticed, for it gives a great emphasis to the Prophet’s words. Even this is from Israel But what does the Prophet mean? He means this, that the calf was from Israel, as they had long before, at the beginning, formed to themselves a calf in the desert. But we do not yet clearly apprehend the mind of the Prophet, unless we perceive that there is here an implied comparison. For he accuses the Israelites of being the first founders of this superstition, and that they had not been, as it were, deceived by others; for they had not borrowed this corruption from the Gentiles, as it had been at times the case; but it was, so to speak, an intrinsic invention. From Israel, he says, it is; that is, “I find that you are now the second time the fabricators of this impious superstition. Could your fathers, when they forged a calf for themselves in the desert, make excuse (as they did) and say, that they were led by the faith of others? Could they plead that this cause of offence was presented to them by the Gentiles, and that they were ensnared, as it often happens, when some draw others into error? By no means. As then your fathers, when no one tempted them to superstition, became the founders of this new superstition through their own inclination, and, as it were through the instigation of the devil, so this calf is the second time from Israel, for ye cannot otherwise account for its origin, ye cannot transfer the fault to other nations; within, within,” he says, “has this evil been generated.” We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet, which is, that this superstition was not derived from others, but that Israel, under the influence of no evil persuader, had devised for themselves, of their own accord, this corruption, through which they had departed from the true and pure worship of God. It ia indeed true, that oxen and calves were worshipped in Egypt, and the same also might be said of other nations; but rivalship did not influence the people of Israel. What then? It cannot certainly be denied, but that they had stimulated themselves to this impious denial of God.
The same thing may be brought against the Papists of this day; that is, that the filthy mass of superstitions, by which the whole worship of God is corrupted by them, has been produced by themselves. If they object and say, that they have borrowed many rites from the heathens: this is indeed true; but was it the imitation of heathens which led them to these wicked inventions? By no means, but their own lust has led them astray; for being not content with the simple word of God, they have devised for themselves strange and spurious modes of worship; and afterwards additions were made according to the caprices of individuals: thus it has happened, that they are sunk in the deepest gulf. Whence then have the Papists so many patrons, on whom relying, then despise Christ the Mediator? Even because they have adopted them for themselves. Whence also have they so many ungodly ceremonies, by which they pervert the worship of God? Even because they have fabricated them for themselves.
We now then see how grievous was the accusation, that the calf was even from Israel. “There is no reason then”, the Lord says, “for you to say that you have been deceived by bad examples, like those who are mixed with profane heathens and contract their vices, as contagion creeps in easily among men, for they are by nature prone to vice; there is no reason,” he says, “for any one to make an objection of this kind.” Why? “Because the calf your fathers made for themselves in the desert was from Israel; and this calf also is from Israel, for it was not thrust upon you by others, but Jeroboam, your king, made it for you, and you willingly and applaudingly received it.”
The workman, he says, made it, and it is not God Here the Prophet derides the stupidity oú the people; and there are many other like places, which occur everywhere, especially in the Prophets, in which God reprobates this madness of having recourse to modes of worship so absurd. For what is more contrary to reason than for man to prostrate himself before a dead piece of wood or before a atone, and to seek salvation from it? The unbelieving indeed put on their guises and say that they seek God in heaven, and, because idols and images are types of God, that they come to him through them; but yet what they do appears evident. These pretencea are then altogether vain, for their stupidity is openly seen, when they thus bend their knees before a wood or stone. Hence the Prophet here inveighs against this senseless stupidity, because man had made the idol. “Can a mortal man make a god? Ye do certainly ascribe divinity to the calf; is this in the power of the workman? Man has not bestowed life on himself, and cannot for one moment preserve that life which he has obtained at the pleasure of another; how then can he make a god from wood or stone? What sort of madness is this?”
He then adds, It is not God, for in fragments shall be the calf of Samaria The Prophet shows here from the event, how there was no power or no divinity in the calf, because it was to be reduced to fragments. The event then would at length show how madly the Israelites played the fool, when they formed to themselves a calf, to be as it were the symbol of the divine presence. We now see what the Prophet means: for he enhances the sin of Israel, because they had not been enticed by others to depart from the pure and genuine worship of God, but they had been their own deceivers. This is the meaning. It follows —
The Prophet here shows by another figure how unprofitably the Israelites exercised themselves in their perverted worship, and then how vainly they excused their superstitions. And this reproof is very necessary also in the present day. For we see that hypocrites, a hundred times convicted, will not yet cease to clamour something: in short, they cannot bear to be conquered; even when their conscience reproves them, they will still dare to vomit forth their virulence against God. They will also dare to bring forward vain pretences: hence the Prophet says, that they have sown the wind, and that they shall reap the whirlwind. It is an appropriate metaphor; for they shall receive a harvest suitable to the sowing. The seed is cast on the earth, and afterwards the harvest is gathered: They have sown, he says, the wind, they shall then gather the whirlwind, or, the tempest. To sow the wind is nothing else than to put on some appearance to dazzle the eyes of the simple, and by craft and guise of words to cover their own impiety. When one then casts his hand, he seems to throw seed on the earth, but yet he sows the wind. So also hypocrites have their displays, and set themselves in order, that they may appear wholly like the pious worshipers of God.
We hence see that the design of the Prophet’s metaphor, when he says that they sow the wind, is to show this, that though they differ nothing from the true worshippers of God in outward appearance, they yet sow nothing but wind; for when the Israelites offered their sacrifices in the temple, they no doubt conformed to the rule of the law, but at the same time came short of obedience to God. There was no faith in their services: it was then wind; that is, they had nothing but a windy and an empty show, though the outward aspect of their service differed nothing from the true and legitimate worship of God. They then sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. But we cannot finish to-day.
He uses the same word as before when he spake of the meal, and says, that not only the provision of Israel shall be devoured, but also the people themselves; and he upbraids the Israelites with their miseries, that they might at length acknowledge God to be adverse to them. For the Prophet’s object was this — to make them feel their evils, that they might at length humble themselves and learn suppliantly to pray for pardon. For it is a great wisdom, when we so far profit under God’s scourges, that our sins come before our eyes.
He therefore says, Israel is devoured and is like a cast off vessel, even among the Gentiles, when yet that people excelled the rest of the world, as the Lord had chosen them for himself. As they were a peculiar people, they were superior to other nations; and then they were set apart for this end, that they might have nothing in common with the Gentiles. But he says now that this people is dispersed, and everywhere despised and cast off. This could not have been, except God had taken away his protection. We hence see that the Prophet had this one thing in view — to make the Israelites feel that God was angry with them. It now follows
Here again the Prophet derides all the labour the people had undertaken to exempt themselves from punishment. For though hypocrites dare not openly and avowedly to fight against God, yet they seek vain subterfuges, by which they may elude him. So the Israelites ceased not to weary themselves to escape the judgment of God; and this folly, or rather madness, the Prophet exposes to scorn. They have gone up to Assyria, he says, as a wild ass alone; Ephraim had hired lovers In the first clause he indirectly reprobates the brutish wildness of the people, as though he said, “They are like the wild animals of the wood, which can by no means be tamed.” And Jeremiah uses this very same similitude, when he complains of the people as being led away by their own indomitable lust, being like the wild ass, who, snuffing the wind, betakes himself, in his usual manner, to a precipitant course, (Jeremiah 2:24.) Probably he touches also, in an indirect way, on the unbelief of the people in having despised the protection of God; for the people ought not to have thus hastened to Assyria, as if they were destitute of every help, because they knew that they were protected by the hand of God. And the Prophet here reproves them for regarding as nothing that help which the Lord had promised, and which he was really prepared to afford, had not the Israelites betaken themselves elsewhere. Hence he says, Ephraim, as a wild ass, has gone up to Assyria; he perceived not that he would be secure and safe, provided he sheltered himself under the shadow of the hand of his God; but as if God could do nothing, he retook himself to the Assyrians: this was ingratitude. And then he again takes up the similitude which we have before noticed, that the people of Israel had shamefully and wickedly departed from the marriage-covenant which God had made with them: for God, we know, was to the Israelites in the place of a husband, and had pledged his faith to them; but when they transferred themselves to another, they were like unchaste women, who prostitute themselves to adulterers, and desert their own husbands. Hence the Prophet again reproves the Israelites for having violated their faith pledged to God, and for being like adulterous women. He indeed goes farther, and says, that they hired adulterers for wages. Unchaste women are usually enticed by the charms of gain; for when adulterers wish to corrupt a woman, they offer gifts, they offer money. He says that this practice was inverted; and the same thing is expressed by the Prophet Ezekiel; who, after having stated that women are usually corrupted by having some gain or some advantage proposed to them, adds,
‘But thou wastest thine own property, and settest not thyself to hire, but on the contrary thou hirest wantons,’
So the Prophet speaks here, though more briefly, Ephraim, he says, has hired lovers
But it follows, Though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them. This place may be variously expounded. The commonly received explanation is, that God would gather the hired nations against Israel; but I would rather refer it to the people themselves. But it admits of a twofold sense: the first is, that the great forces which the people has on every side acquired for themselves, would not prevent God from destroying them; for the verb קבף, kobets, which they render, “to gather,” often means in Hebrew to throw by a slaughter into an heap, as we say in French, Trousser, (to bundle.) And this meaning would be very suitable — that though they extended themselves far and wide, by gathering forces on every side, they would yet be collected in another way, for they would be brought together into a heap. The second sense is this — that when Israel should be drawn away to the Gentiles, the Lord would gather him; as though he said, “Israel burns with mad lusts, and runs here and there among the Gentiles; this heat is nothing else than dispersion; it is the same as if he designedly wished to destroy the unity in which his safety consists; but I will yet gather him against his will; that is, preserve him for a time.”
It then follows, They shall grieve a little for the burden of the king and princes. The word which the Prophet uses interpreters expound in two ways. Some derive יחלו, ichelu, from the verb חל, chel, and others from חלל, chelal, which means, “to begin;” and therefore give this rendering, “They shall begin with the burden of the king and princes;” that is, They shall begin to be burdened by the king and princes. Others offer this version, “They shall grieve a little for the burden of the king and princes;” that is, They shall be tributaries before the enemies shall bring them into exile; and this will be a moderate grief.
If the first interpretation which I have mentioned be approved, then there is here a comparison between the scourges with which God at first gently chastised the people, and the last punishment which he was at length constrained to inflict on them; as though he said, “They complain of being burdened by tributes; it is nothing, or at least it is nothing so grievous, in comparison with the dire future grief which their last destruction will bring with it.”
But this clause may well be joined with that mitigation which I have briefly explained, and that is, that when the people had willingly dispersed themselves, they had been preserved beyond expectation, so that they did not immediately perish; for they would have run headlong into destruction, had not God interposed an hindrance. Thus the two verses are to be read conjointly, They ascended into Assyria as a wild ass; that is, “They showed their unnameable and wild disposition, when thus unrestrainedly carried away; and then they offer me a grievous insult; for as if they were destitute of my help, they run to the profane Gentiles, and esteem as nothing my power, which would have been ready to help them, had they depended on me, and placed their salvation in my hand.” He then reproaches their perfidy, that they were like unchaste women, who leave their husbands, and abandon themselves to lewdness. Then it follows, Though they do this, that is, “Though having despised my aid, they seek deliverance from the profane Gentiles, and though they despise me, and choose to submit themselves to adulterers rather than to keep their conjugal faith with me, I will yet gather them, when thus dispersed.” The Lord here enhances the sin of the people; for he did not immediately punish their ingratitude and wickedness, but deferred doing so for a time; and in his kindness he would have led them to repentance, had not their madness been wholly incurable: though then they thus hire among the Gentiles, I will yet gather them, that is, “preserve them;” and for what purpose? That they may grieve a little, and that is, that they may not wholly perish, as persons running headlong into utter ruin; for they seemed designedly to seek their last destruction, when they were thus wilfully and violently carried away to profane nations. That is indeed a most dreadful tearing of the body, which cannot be otherwise than fatal. They shall, however, grieve a little; that is, “I will so act, that they may by degrees return to me, even by the means of moderate grief.”
We hence see more clearly why the Prophet said, that this grief would be small, which was to be from the burden of the king and princes. It was designed by the Israelites to excite the Assyrians immediately to war; and this would have turned out to their destruction, as it did at last; but the Lord suspended his vengeance, and at the same time mitigated their grief, when they were made tributaries. The king and his counsellors were constrained to exact great tributes; the people then grieved: but they had no other than a moderate grief, that they might consider their sins and return to the Lord; yet all this was without any fruit. Hence the less excusable was the obstinacy of the people. We now perceive what the Prophet meant. It now follows —
The Prophet here again inveighs against the idolatry of the people, which was, however, counted then the best religion; for the Israelites, as it has been said were become hardened in their superstitions, and had long before fallen away from the pure and lawful worship of God. And we know, that where error has once prevailed, it attains firmness by length of time: hence the Israelites had become hardened in their perverted and fictitious worship. They thought that they did the most meritorious deed whenever they sacrificed, while at the same time, they provoked in this way the wrath of God more and more against themselves. And as they had become thus hardened, the Prophet says, that they multiplied for themselves altars for the purpose of sinning, and that there would be altars for them to sin It was (as I have already said) most difficult to persuade theme that their altars were for the purpose of sinnings and that the more attentive they were in worshipping God, the more grievously they sinned.
We see how Papists of this day glory in their abominations. It is certain that they do nothing but what is accursed before God; for there reigns among them every kind of filthiness, and there is no purity whatever: they therefore continue to offend God as it were designedly. Put at the same time it is their highest holiness to multiply altars: the same also was the prevailing error in the Prophet’s time. This was the reason why he said, that altars were multiplied in order to sin Who at this day can persuade the Papists, that many chapels as they build, are so many sins by which they provoke the wrath of God? But the faithful ought to be content, not with one altar, (for there is now no need of an altar,) but they ought to be content with a common table. The Papists, on the contrary, build altars to themselves without end, where they sacrifice; and they think that God is thus bound to them as by so many chains: as many chapels as are under the papacy are, they think, so many holds for God, (dei carceres,) and that God is there held inclosed. But if any one should say, that so many fiends (Diabolos) dwell in such places, we know how furiously angry they would be.
It is then no superfluous repetition, when the Prophet says, that altars were multiplied in order to sin; and then, that altars would be for sin: for in the second clause, he speaks of the punishment which God would inflict on superstitious men. In the first clause, he shows that their good intentions were frivolous, and that they were greatly deceived, when at their pleasure they devised for themselves various forms of worship. This is one thing. Then it follows, There shall then be to them altars to sin; as they would not willingly repent, nor embrace salutary admonitions, God would at last really show how much he valued what they called their good intentions; for now a dreadful vengeance was at hand, which would prove to them, that in increasing altars, they did nothing else but increase sins. It then follows —
The Prophet shows here briefly, how we ought to judge of divine worship, and thus intends to cut off the handle from all devices, by which men usually deceive themselves, and form disguises, when at any time they are reproved. For he sets the law of God, and the rule it prescribes, in opposition to all the inventions of men. Men think God unjust, except he receives as good and legitimate whatever they imagine to be so; but God, as it is said in another place, prefers obedience to all sacrifices. Hence the Prophet now declares, that all the superstitions, which then prevailed among the people of Israel, were condemned before God; for they obeyed not the law, but had spurious and perverted modes of worship, which they had invented for themselves. We then see the connection of what the Prophet says: he had said in the last verse, that they had multiplied altars for the purpose of sinning; but so great, as I have said, was the obstinacy of the people, that they would by no means bear this to be told to them; he then adds in the person of God, that his law had been given them, and that they had departed from it.
We hence see, that there is no need of using many words in contending with the superstitious, who daringly devise various kinds of worship, and wholly different from what God commands; for they are to be distinctly pressed with this one thing, that obedience is of more account with God than sacrifices, and further, that there is a certain rule contained in the law, and that God not only bids us to worship him, but also teaches us the way, from which it is not lawful to depart. Since, then, the will of God is known and made plain, why should we now dispute with men, who close their eyes and wilfully turn aside, and deign not to pay any regard to God? I have written then, the Lord says: and to give this truth more weight, he introduces God as the speaker. It would have indeed been enough to say, “God has delivered to you his law, why should you not seek knowledge from this law, rather than from your own carnal judgment? Why do you wish thus licentiously to wander, as if no restraint has been put upon you?” But it is a more emphatical way of speaking, when God himself says, I have written my law, but they have counted it as something foreign; that is, as if it did not belong to them.
But he says, that he had written to Israel. He does not simply mention writing, but says, that the treasure had been deposited among the people of Israel; and the worse the people were, because they acknowledged not that so great an honor had been conferred on them, for this was their peculiar inheritance. I have written then my law, “and I have not written it indiscriminately for all, but have written it for my elect people; but they have counted it as something extraneous.” For the word may be rendered in either way.
He adds, The great things, or, the precious, or, the honorable things of my law. Had he said, “I have written to you my law,” the legislator himself was doubtless worthy, to whom all ought to submit with the greatest reverence, and to form their whole life according to his will; but the Lord here extols his own law by a splendid eulogy, and this he does to repress the wickedness of men, who obscure its dignity and excellency: I have written, he says, the great things of my law “How much soever they may despise my law, I have yet set forth in it a wisdom which ought to be admired by the whole world; I have in it brought to light the secrets of heavenly wisdom. Since then it is so, what excuse can there be for the Israelites for despising my law?” He says, that they counted it as something foreign, when yet they had been brought up under its teaching, and the Lord had called them to himself from their very infancy. Since then they ought to have acknowledged the law of God as a banner, under which the Lord preserved them, he here reproaches them for having counted it as something extraneous. It then follows —
Interpreters think that the Israelites are here derided because they trusted in their own ceremonies, and that their sacrifices are reproachfully called flesh. But we must see whether the words of the Prophet contain something deeper. For the word הבהב, ebeb, some rightly expound, in my judgment, as meaning “sacrifices,” either burnt or roasted; it is a word of four letters. Others derive it from יהב, ieb, which signifies “to give gifts;” and hence they render thus, “sacrifices of my gifts;” and this is the more received opinion. I view the Prophet here as not only blaming the Israelites for putting vain trust in their own ceremonies, which were perverted and vicious; but also as adducing something more gross, and by which it could be proved, that their folly was even ridiculous, yea, to profane men and children. When we only read, The sacrifices of my gifts, which they ought to have offered to me, the sense seems frigid; but when we read, “The sacrifices of my burnt-offerings! they offer flesh”, the meaning is, So palpable is their contempt, that they cannot but be condemned even by children. How so? Because for burnt-offerings they offer flesh to me; that is they fear lest any portion of the sacrifices should be lost: and when they ought, when offering burnt-sacrifices, to burn the flesh, they keep it entire, that they may stuff themselves. Hence they make a great display in sacrificing: and yet it appears to be palpable mockery, for they turn burnt-offerings into peace-offerings, that the flesh may remain entire for them to eat it. And no doubt, it has ever been a vice dominant in hypocrites to connect gain with superstitions. How much soever, then, idolaters may show themselves to be wholly devoted to God, they yet will take care that nothing be lost.
The Prophet then seems now to reprove this vice; I yet allow that the Israelites are blamed for thinking that God is pacified by sacrifices which were of themselves of no value, as we have had before a similar declaration. But I join both views together — that they offered to God vain sacrifices without piety, and then, that they offered flesh for burnt-offerings, and thus fed themselves and cared not for the worship of God. The sacrifices then of my burnt-offerings they offer; but what do they offer? Flesh Nor does he seem to have mentioned in vain the word flesh. Some say that all sacrifices are here called flesh by way of contempt; but there seems rather to me to be a contrast made between burnt sacrifices and flesh; because the people of Israel wished to take care of themselves and to have a rich repast, when the Lord required a burnt-offering to be presented to him: and he afterwards adds, and they eat By the word eating, he confirms what I have already said, that is, that he here reproves in the Israelites the vice of being intent only on cramming themselves, and of only putting forth the name of God as a vain pretence, while they were only anxious to feed themselves.
It is the same with the Papists of our day, when they celebrate their festivals; they indulge themselves, and think that the more they drink and eat, the more God is bound to them. This is their zeal; they eat flesh, and yet think that they offer sacrifices to God. They offer, then, their stomach to God, when it is thus well filled. Such are the oblations of the Papists. So also the Prophet now says, “They eat the flesh which they ought to have burned.”
The Lord, he says, will not accept them Here again he briefly shows, that while hypocrites thus make pretences, they are self-deceived, and will at last find out how vainly they have lied to God and men: “God will not accept them.” He here repudiates, in the name of God, their sacrifices; for whatever they might promise to themselves, it was enough that they devised for themselves these modes of worship; for God had never commanded a word respecting them.
It then follows, Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins The Prophet denounces a future punishment, lest hypocrites should flatter themselves, when God’s fury is not immediately kindled against them, for it is usual with them to abuse the patience of God. Hence Hosea now forewarns them, and says, “Though God may connive for a time, there is yet no reason for the Israelites to think that they shall be free from punishment: God will at length,” he says, “remember their iniquity.” He uses a common form of speaking, which everywhere occurs in Scripture: God is said to remember when he really, and as with a stretched-out hand, shows himself to be an avenger. “The Lord now spares you; but he will, in a short time, show how much he abominates these your impure sacrifices: He will remember, then, your iniquity Visitation follows this remembering, as the effect the cause.
They shall flee, he says, to Egypt The Prophet, I doubt not, intimates here, that vain would be all the escapes which the Israelites would seek; and though God might allow them to flee to Egypt, yet it would be, he says, without any advantage: “Go, flee to Egypt, but your flight will be useless.” The Prophet expressed this distinctly, that the people might know that they had to do with God, against whom they could make no defense, and that they might no longer deceive themselves by foolish imaginations. And though the people were blinded by so great an obstinacy, that this admonition had no effect; yet they were thus rendered the more inexcusable. It now follows —
Here the Prophet concludes his foregoing observations. It is indeed probable that he preached them at various times; but, as I have already said, the heads of the sermons which the Prophet delivered are collected in this book, so that we may know what his teaching was. He then discoursed daily on idolatry, on superstitions, and on the other corruptions which then prevailed among the people; he often repeated the same threatenings, but afterwards collected into certain chapters the things which he had spoken. The conclusion, then, of his former teaching was this, that Israel had forgotten his Maker, whilst for himself he had been building temples He says, that he forgot his Maker by building temples because he followed not the directions of the law. We hence see that God will have himself to be known by his word. Israel might have objected and said, that no such thing was intended, when he built temples in Dan and Bethel, but that he wished by these to retain the remembrance of God. But the Prophet here shows that God is not truly known, and that men do not really remember him, except when they worship him according to what the law prescribes, except when they submit themselves wholly to his word, and undertake nothing,and attempt nothing, but what he has commanded. What then the superstitious say is remembrance, the Prophet here plainly testifies is forgetfullness. The case is the same at this day, when we blame the Papists for their idols; their excuse is this, that what they set forth is in pictures and statues the image of God, and that images, as they say, are the books of the illiterate. But what does the Prophet answer here? That Israel forgot his Maker There was an altar in Bethel, and there Israel was wont to offer sacrifices, and they called this the worship of God; but the Prophet shows that each worship was accursed before God, and that it had no other effect than wholly to obliterate the holy name of God from the minds of men, so that the whole of religion perished.
Remarkable then is this passage; for the Prophet says, that the people forgot God their Maker, when they built temples for themselves But what was in the temples so vicious, as to take away the remembrance of God from the world? Even because God would have but one temple and altar. If a reason was asked, a reason might indeed have been given; but the people ought to have acquiesced in the command of God. Though God may not show why he commands this or that, it is enough that we ought to obey his word. Now, then, it appears, that when Israel built for himself various temples, he departed from God, and for this reason, because he followed not the rule of the law, and kept not himself within the limits of the divine command. Hence it was to forget God. We now apprehend the object of the Prophet.
Though then they were wont to glory in their temples, and there to display their pomp and splendor, and proudly to delight in their superstitions, yet the Prophet says, that they had forgotten their Creator, and for this reason only, because they had not continued in his law. He says, that they had forgotten God their Maker; by the word Maker, the Prophet alludes not to God as the framer of the world and the creator of men, but he applies it to the condition of the people. For, as we well know, the favor of God had been peculiar towards that people; he had not only made them, as a part of the human race, but also formed them a people to himself. Since then God had thus intended them to be devoted to him, the Prophet here increases and enhances their sin, when he says, that they obeyed not his word, but followed their own devices and depraved imaginations.