4. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
4. Quid faciam tibi Ephraim? quid faciam tibi Jehudah? Nam bonitas vestra est quasi ros matutinus, quasi nebula mane transiens.
Some so expound this passage as that God would not once irrigate his people, but would continue this favor; as though he said, "He is deceived, who thinks that the redemption, which I bid you to hope from me, will be momentary, for I will, by a continued progress, lead my people to a full fruition of salvation." But this sense is altogether foreign. The Prophet then, no doubts introduces God here as speaking thus, "What shall I do to you? because ye cannot receive my favor, so great is your depravity." The context seems indeed to be in this way broken off; but we must remember this canon, that whenever the Prophets make known the grace of God, they at the same time add an exception, lest hypocrites falsely apply to themselves what is offered to the faithful alone. The Prophets, we know, never threatened ruin to the people, but that they added some promise, lest the faithful should despair, which must have been the case, except some mitigation had been made known to them. Hence the Prophets do this in common, -- they moderate their threatening and severity by adding a hope of God's favor. But at the same time, as hypocrites ever draw to themselves what belongs only to the faithful, and thus heedlessly deride God, the Prophets add another exception, by which they signify, that God's promise of being gracious and merciful to his people is not to be deemed universal, and as appertaining to all indiscriminately.
I will more fully repeat this again: The Prophets had to do with the whole people; they had to do with the few faithful, for there was a small number of godly people among the Israelites as well as among the Jews. When therefore the Prophets reproved the people, they addressed the whole body: but at the same time, as there was some remnant seed, they mingled, as I have said, consolations, and mingled them, that the elect of God might ever recumb on his mercy, and thus patiently submit to his rod, and continue in his fear, knowing that there is in him a sure salvation. Hence the promises which we see inserted by the Prophets among threats and chidings, ought not to be referred in common to all, or indiscriminately to the people, but only, as we have said, to the faithful, who were then but few in number. This then is the reason why the prophets shook off self-complacencies from the wicked despisers of God, when they added, "Ye ought not to hope any salvation from the promise I set forth to God's children; for God throws not to dogs the bread which he has destined for his children alone." In the same strain we find another Prophet speaking,
'To what end is the day of the Lord to you? It is a day of darkness, and not of light, a day of death, and not of life,' (Amos 5:18.)
For as often as they heard of the covenant which God made with Abraham, that it would not be void, they thus vaunted, "We are now indeed severely treated, but in a little while God will rescue us from our evils; for he is our Father, he has not in vain adopted us, he has not in vain redeemed and chosen our race, we are his peculiar possession and heritage." Thus then the presumptuous flatter themselves; and this indeed they seem to have in common with the faithful; for the faithful also, though in the deepest abyss of death, yet behold the light of life; for by faith, as we have said, they penetrate beyond this world. But at the same time they approach God in real penitence, while the ungodly remain in their perverseness, and vainly flatter themselves, thinking that whatever God promises belongs to them.
Let us now then return to our Prophet. He had said, "In their tribulation they will seek me:" he had afterwards, in the words used by the people, explained how the faithful would turn themselves to God, and what true repentance would bring with it. It now follows,
We now then see how varied is the mode of speaking adopted by the Prophets; for they had to do, not with one class of men, but with the children of God, and also with the wicked, who continued obstinately in their vices. Hence then it was, that they changed their language, and so necessarily. Alike is the complaint we read in Isaiah chapter 1, except that there mention is only made of punishments, 'Why should I strike you more? for I have hitherto effected nothing: from the sole of the foot to the top of the head there is no soundness; and yet ye remain like yourselves.' In chapter 5
Let us now return to the words of Hosea,
He afterwards says that their goodness was like the morning dew,
But the Prophet speaks rather of their goodness, that they made a show of feigned excellency, which vanished like the morning dew; for as soon as the sun rises, it draws the dew upwards, so that it appears no more; the clouds also pass away. The Prophet says that the Jews and the Israelites were like the morning clouds and the dew, because there was in them no solid or inward goodness, but it was only of an evanescent kind; they had, as they say, only the appearance of goodness.
We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet, that God here complains that he had to do with hypocrites. Faith, we know, is regarded by him; there is nothing that pleases God more than sincerity of heart. We know further, that doctrine is spread in vain, except it be received in a serious manner. Then, as hypocrites transform themselves in various ways, and make a display of some guises of goodness, while they have nothing solid in them, God complains that he loses all his labour: and he says at length that he will no longer spend labour in vain on hypocritical men, who have nothing but falsehood and dissimulation; and this is what he means, when he intimates that he should do nothing more to the Israelites and the Jews.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we do not, by due gratitude, respond to thy favors, and after having tasted of thy mercy, have willingly sought ruin to ourselves, -- O grant, that we, being renewed by thy Spirit, may not only remain constant in the fear of thy name, but also advance more and more and be established; that being thus armed with thy invincible power, we may strenuously fight against all the wiles and assaults of Satan, and thus pursue our warfare to the end, -- and that being thus sustained by thy mercy, we may ever aspire to that life which is hid for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.