Lecture Thirty-sixth

Hosea 13:14

14. I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.

14. E manu sepulchri redimam eos, a morte redimam (est quidem aliud verbum, sed utrumque significat redimere:) ero perditio tua, 1 mors: ero excisio tua (vel, interitus tuus) sepulchrum (vel, inferne:) consolatio (vel, poenitentia) abscondita est ab oculis meis.


The Prophet, I doubt not, continues here the same subject, namely, that the Israelites could not bear the mercy offered to them by God, though he speaks here more fully. God seems to promise redemption, but he does this conditionally: they are then mistaken, in my judgement, who take these words in the same sense as when God, after having reproved and threatened, mitigates the severity of his instruction, and adds consolation by offering his grace. But the import of this passage is different; for God, as we have already said, does not here simply promise salvation, but shows that he is indeed ready to save, but that the wickedness of the people, as it has been said, was an impediment in the way. Let us, however, more carefully examine the words.

From the hand of the grave, he says. By the hand he doubtless means power: for Jerome does nothing but trifle, when he speaks here of works, and says that the works of the grave are our sins. But this is far away from the mind of the Prophet. It is indeed a metaphor common in Scripture, that the hand is put for power or authority. Then it is, I will redeem them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death; that is, except they resist, I will become willingly their Redeemer. Some have therefore rendered the passage in the subjunctive mood, "From the hand of the grave I would redeem them, from death I would deliver them." But there is no need to change the tense, though, as I have said, they who do so faithfully set forth the design of the Prophet. But lest any one say that this is too remote from the words, the text of the Prophet may be very well understood, though the future tense be preserved. I will then redeem them, as far as this depends on me; for a condition is to be introduced as though God came forth and declared that he was present to fulfil the office of a Redeemer. What, then, does stand in the way? Even the hardness of the people; for they would have preferred to perish a hundred times rather than to turn to the Lord, as we shall presently see.

He afterwards adds, I will be thy perdition, O death; I will be thy excision, O grave. By these words, the Prophet more distinctly sets forth the power of God, and magnificently extols it, lest men should think that there is no way open to him to save, when no hope according to the judgement of the flesh appears. Hence the Prophet says, "Though men are now dead, there is yet nothing to prevent God to quicken them. How so? For he is the ruin of death, and the excision of the grave;" that is, "Though death should swallow up all men, though the grave should consume them, yet God is superior to both death and the grave, for he can slay death, for he can abolish the grave." We now perceive the real meaning of the Prophet.

And we may learn from this passage, that when men perish, God still continues like himself, and that neither his power, by which he is mighty to save the world, is extinguished, nor his purpose changed, so as not to be always ready to help; but that the obstinacy of men rejects the grace which has been provided, and which God willingly and bountifully offers. This is one thing. We may secondly learn, that the power of God is not to be measured by our rule: were we lost a hundred times, let God be still regarded as a Saviour. Should then despair at any time so cast us down, that we cannot lay hold on any of God's promises, let this passage come to our minds, which says, that God is the excision of death, and the destruction of the grave. "But death is nigh to us, what then can we hope for any more?" This is to say, that God is not superior to death: but when death claims so much power over men, how much more power has God over death itself? Let us then feel assured that God is the destruction of death, which means that death can no more destroy; that is, that death is deprived of that power by which men are naturally destroyed; and that though we may lie in the grave, God is yet the excision of the grave itself. This is the application of what is here taught. But some one gives this version, "I will be thy perdition to death," as if this was addressed to the people: it is an absurd perversion of the whole passage, and deprives us of a most useful doctrine.

But many interpreters, thinking this passage to be quoted by Paul, have explained what is here said of Christ, and have in many respects erred. They have said first, that God promises redemption here without any condition; but we see that the design of the Prophet was far different. They have then assumed, that this is said in the person of Christ, "From the hand of the grave will I redeem them." They have at the same time thought, with too much refinement, that the grave or hell is put for the torments with which the reprobate are visited, or for the place itself where they are tormented. But the Prophet repeats the same thing in different words, and well known is this character of the Hebrew style. The grave then here differs not from death; though Jerome labours and contends that the grave means what is wholly different from death: but the whole of what he says is frivolous. They have then been deceived as to these words. And then into the words of the Prophet "I will be thy excision, O hell, (or grave,") they have introduced the word, bait, and have allegorically explained it of Christ, that he was like a hook: for as a worm, when fastened to the hook, and swallowed by a fish, becomes death to it; so also Christ, as they have said, when committed to the sepulchre, became a fatal bait; for as the fish are taken by the hook, so death was taken by the bait of the death of Christ. And these vain subtilties have been received with great applause: hence under the whole Papacy it is received without doubt as a divine truth, that Christ was the bait of death. But yet let any one narrowly examine the words of the Prophet, and he will see that they have ignorantly and shamefully abused the testimony of the Prophet. And we ought especially to take care, that the meaning of Scripture should be preserved true and certain.

But let us see what to answer to that which is said of Paul quoting this passage. The solution is not difficult. The Apostles do not avowedly at all times adduce passages, which in their whole context apply to the subject they handle; but sometimes they allude to a word only, sometimes they apply a passage to a subject in the way of resemblance, and sometimes they bring forward passages as testimonies. When the Apostles use the testimonies of Scripture, then the genuine and real truth must be sought out; but when they glance only at one word, there is no occasion to make any anxious inquiry; and when they quote any passage of Scripture in the way of resemblance, it is a too scrupulous anxiety to seek out how all the parts agree. But it is quite evident that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, has not quoted the testimony of the Prophet for the purpose of confirming the doctrine of which he speaks. 2 What then? As the resurrection of the flesh was a truth very difficult to be believed, nay, wholly contrary to the judgement of nature, Paul says that it is no matter of wonder, inasmuch as Christ will come to raise us. How so? Because it is the peculiar prerogative of God to be the perdition of death and the destruction of the grave; as though he said, "Were men to putrefy a thousand times, God would still retain that power of which he declared when he said, that he would be the ruin of death and the destruction of the grave." Let us then know, that, though the judgement of nature rejects the truth, yet God is endued with that incomprehensible power by which he can raise us from a state of putrefaction; nay, since he created the world from nothing, he will also raise us up from the grave, for he is the death of death, the grave of the grave, the ruin of ruin, and the destruction of destruction: and the simple object of Paul is, to extol by these striking words that incredible power of God, which is beyond the reach of human understanding.

Now were any one to quote for the same purpose this place from the Psalms, "The Lord's are the issues of death, (Psalm 68:20,) would it be needful to inquire in what sense David said this or of what time he speaks? By no means; but what is spoken of is the unchangeable prerogative and power of God, of which he can never be deprived, so also in this place we see what he declares by Hosea, and what he would have done, had there not been an obstacle in the ingratitude of the people; for he says I will be thy ruin, O grave; I will be thy death, O death. And since God has promised this, let us feel assured that we shall at last find this to be true as to ourselves. We now then perceive how the real meaning of the Prophet agrees with the subject handled by Paul.

It now follows, consolation, or, repentance is hid from my eye; for Mxn, nuchem, means both. Mxn, nuchem, signifies to repent, and it signifies to receive consolation. If the term, consolation, be approved, the sense will be, "There is no reason for any one to wonder that I speak so sharply, and do nothing but thunder against my people; for consolation has now no place among them; therefore consolation is hid from my eyes." And this was the case, because the irreclaimable wickedness of the people did not allow God to change his severity into mildness, so as to give any hope of pardon and salvation. In this sense then it is said that consolation was hid from his eyes. But if the word, repentance, be more approved, it will show exactly the same thing, -- that it was fully determined to destroy that people. "There is then no reason for you to hope that I can become milder in course of time; for repentance is hid from mine eyes. This shall remain fixed, you shall be reduced to nothing; for ye are past all hope." We then see that both the words refer to the same thing, that God takes away from this miserable and reprobate people every hope of salvation. Now it follows --

1 "Very many MSS. and some editions read Krbd; and rbd in Hebrew is to destroy, to subdue." -- Newcome.

This passage presents an instance of that useless kind of criticism, by which an attempt has been made to introduce a verbal agreement between sentences in the Old Testament and the supposed quotations of them in the New. The apostles had more regard to the meaning than to words.

Horsley has a long note on the two words rbd, predition or destruction, and bjq, excision or extirpation; and he renders the first by "pestilence," and the second by "burning plague." That the two words are so used he proves satisfactorily. But when applied to death and the grave, they of course can retain only their reading idea of something destructive, extirpating, and ruinous. Words in all languages have their primary and secondary meanings: and to retain the primary meaning in a translation would often be improper. Calvin has in this instance showed more judgment than the Bishop.

2 "The Apostle's triumphant exclamation, 'O death,' etc., is an allusion indeed to this text of Hosea, an indirect allusion, but no citation of it." -- Bishop Horsley.