1. When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.
1. Quam loqueretur Ephraim, tremor: extulit se ipse in Israel, et peccavit in Baal, et mortuus est.
Interpreters agree not in their view of this verse. Some say that trembling was excited in Israel when Ephraim, that is, Jeroboam, who was born of that tribe, exhorted the people to worship the calves. By the word ttr, retat, "trembling," they understand, that the people were so astonished, that they without thought immediately obeyed the will, or rather the humour, of their impious king. And if this sense be approved, the word, trembling, may be in another way explained, even in this, -- that the people did not immediately embrace that perverted worship, but dreaded, as is wont to be the case with regard to new things, and which seem to have nothing reasonable in their favour. But these expounders wholly depart, in my judgement, from the intention of the Prophet; for, on the contrary, he sets forth here the twofold state of the kingdom of Israel, that it might hence be manifest that the ten tribes had been through their own fault rejected by the Lord, and had thus fallen from that dignity unto which the Lord had raised them.
He therefore says, When Ephraim spake formerly, his voice dreaded, 1 and he raised himself in Israel; that is, among the whole race of Abraham. But now he is dead, or is fallen, after he has begun to sin in Baal. Then, in the first sentence, the Prophet records the honours with which God had favoured that tribe. Ephraim, we know, was the younger of the sons of Joseph. Manasseh ought not only to have had the pre-eminence, but also to have reigned alone in that family; for the people were divided into twelve tribes. But God intended to raise up two chiefs in the house of Joseph, and preferred the younger to the first-begotten. Hence Ephraim, who had increased in number and power, and had at length obtained the royal dignity, ought to have acknowledged the singular favour of God. And by way of reproach, the Prophet here says, that all trembled at the single voice of Ephraim; that is, when he became endued with authority, and then, that he was exalted in Israel. He ought to have been deemed of no account, he ought to have been inferior to his brother, who was the first-born, and yet he excelled all the tribes. Since, then, God had conferred so much honour on the tribe of Ephraim, the more grievous was his fault, that he afterwards had fallen away unto idols; yea, that he began his reign with superstition, when God was pleased to choose and anoint Jeroboam king. And surely that he, when raised beyond all hope to the throne by the hand of God, should, instead of testifying his gratitude, immediately corrupt the whole worship of God, this was extremely inconsistent.
But the Prophet says, in the second place, that they died from the time they had thus fallen away from true and lawful worship, in order that they might understand that they received the just reward of their impiety when God's hand was opposed to them, when they were oppressed by adversity. We now perceive the obvious meaning, of the Prophet to be, that the Israelites formerly flourished, especially the tribe of Ephraim, from whom Jeroboam arose, so that, by their voice alone, they subdued all their neighbours, and that beyond the expectation of men, they suddenly emerged and erected a new kingdom among the children of Abraham.
He afterwards adds, that after they had sinned by Baal, they became dead: for God deprived the tribe of Ephraim of the power with which he had before adorned him, so that they were but little short of being destroyed. For though his kingdom had not wholly fallen, it had yet come to such an extremity that the Prophet might justly say that they, who were so far removed from their former state, were dead. But when he says that they sinned by Baal, he does not mean that this was the beginning of their idolatry; for Jeroboam at first made the calves, and it was his successor who built Baal, and borrowed that superstition, as it is supposed, from the neighbouring Sidonians. But God records here what is more grievous, and less excusable, -- that the Israelites polluted themselves with the filth of the Gentiles, so that they differed nothing from the profane and unbelieving, who had no acquaintance with sound doctrine.
We are moreover taught in this place, that when kings are endued with any authority, when they are strong in power, all this comes from God; for unless God strikes terror into men, no one would receive the yoke of another, at least all would desire equality, or one would raise himself above others. It is then certain, that when any one excels among many in power, this is done through the secret purpose of God, who constrains to order the common people, and causes them not to deny obedience to the command of one man. This is what Hosea now teaches, when he upbraids the tribe of Ephraim with respect to this terror; for if Ephraim had been formidable through his own power, there would have been no room for the Prophet's reproof: but as this was the peculiar gift of God, the Prophet justly says, that the tribe of Ephraim were in great honour until they had fallen into superstition. Let us now proceed --