Hosea 10:4

4. They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgement springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.

4. Loquuti sunt verba, jurando mendaciter, incidendo foedus: germinabit tanquam absynthium super sulcos agri judicium. 1


They have spoken words, they have uttered words. Some give this explanation, that they daringly followed their own counsels, as the despisers of God are wont to settle and determine what comes to their minds according to their own will; for they deign not to inquire of God what is right. Thus they take the meaning to be; but I view it to be different, that is, that they spoke words, or very freely testified, that they would be the best and the most faithful worshipers of God. Then it follows, By swearing falsely. Some refer this to covenants. I will explain the words one by one; for I shall hereafter speak of the real meaning of the Prophet.

Then he says, that they swore falsely, that is, according to some because there was in them much levity and changeableness. And, indeed, I confess it to be true, that they procured for themselves grievous punishments by their perjuries; but the Prophet rather means those who swore falsely to the Lord. It then follows, By cutting a covenant, by making a covenant. Here again the Prophet no doubt reproves them for renewing their covenant with God perfidiously; for it was a mere dissimulation. But it follows, Judgement will germinate as wormwood". Some render the word sark, carash as gall; but the similitude is not suitable, since the Prophet speaks here of fields; for he adds, In the furrows of the field; that is, judgement will germinate in the furrows as wormwood or some other bitter plant.

I have thus briefly explained how some understand this verse, namely, that Israel was daring and haughty in their counsels, boldly determining whatever pleased them, as if it were not in the power of God to change what men resolve to do, -- and then, that they implicated themselves in many compacts, that without any faith they violated them with this and that nation, and that at last they had nothing but bitterness. This is their exposition: but I rather think that the cause of God is here pleaded by the Prophet; that is, that the Israelites, as often as they promised some repentance, and gave some sign of it, only dissembled and lied to God. Hence he says They have spoken words, but they were only words; for they were never from a heart touched with any feeling as to God's wrath, so as to abhor themselves for their vices. They therefore uttered words only.

He afterwards expresses the same deceitfulness in other words: They have sworn falsely, he says, and made a covenant; which means, that though they seemed to wish to return to God, it was yet a fallacious pretence; yea, a perjury. When they wished to prove themselves to be especially faithful, they then sinned more grievously by renewing their covenant.

Judgement shall therefore germinate as wormwood in the furrows of the field. Judgement is here to be taken as rectitude, as though the Prophet had said, "When they exhibit some appearance of religion, and give a colour to their impieties, it seems indeed to be judgement, there seems to be some justice; but it will be at last wormwood, and will germinate in the furrows of the field."

Interpreters seem not to me to have understood the design of the Prophet. For why does he say, "in the furrows of the field," rather than in the field? Even for this reason, because there is some preparation made, when the field is sloughed, for the good seed to grow. When therefore, noxious herbs grow on the furrows of the land, it is less to be endured than when they grow in dry and desert places; for this is what is wont naturally to happen. But when wormwood grows up instead of wheat in the furrows, that is, on lands well cultivated, it is a thing more strange and less to be endured. We now then apprehend what the Prophet meant. They indeed seemed at times to be touched with some feeling of piety, and promised much, and were very liberal in good words; they even swore, and seemed prepared to renew their covenant with God, -- but what was all this? It was the same as if a husband man had prepared his field, and noxious herbs had grown up where he had bestowed much labour and toil. Such was their rectitude, -- a disguised form or shadow of religion; it was nothing else, but like wormwood growing in well-cultivated land.


Grant, Almighty God, that as thou dost train us up with so much diligence and assiduous care, and regard us as dear and precious like an hereditary vine, -- O grant, that we may not bring forth wild grapes, and that our fruit may not be bitter and unpleasant to thee, but that we may strive so to form our whole life in obedience to thy law, that all our actions and thoughts may be pleasant and sweet fruits to thee. And as there is ever some sin mixed up with our works, even when we desire to serve thee sincerely and from the heart, grant that all stains in our works may be so cleansed and washed away by the sacrifice of thy Son, that they may be to thee sacrifices of sweet odour, through the same, even Christ Jesus, who has so reconciled us to thee, as to obtain pardon even for our works. Amen.

1 There is here a departure from the usual arrangement: the text is interwoven with the exposition, and not given apart. But to preserve uniformity, the text is here given by itself, collected from the comment. The verse may be thus literally rendered: --

'They have spoken words, oaths of falsehood,
In making of a covenant:
And judgment hath sprung up like the wormwood
in the furrows of the field.'

Though the doctrine of Calvin is correct, yet his exposition of the last two lines seems too refined. Judgment often means the administration of justice. Instead of being right and for the general good, as it ought to have been, it was like some noxious weed growing naturally and abundantly in the furrows of the field. As the word is literally 'head,' it seems to designate a weed or a herb most natural to the soil, the chief herb, which commonly grows abundantly. So that judgment, or administration of justice, was not like the good seed sown in a prepared ground, but like the noxious weed, natural to the soil, when first turned up by the plough. -- Ed.