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God’s Compassion Despite Israel’s Ingratitude


When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.


The more I called them,

the more they went from me;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals,

and offering incense to idols.



Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms;

but they did not know that I healed them.


I led them with cords of human kindness,

with bands of love.

I was to them like those

who lift infants to their cheeks.

I bent down to them and fed them.



They shall return to the land of Egypt,

and Assyria shall be their king,

because they have refused to return to me.


The sword rages in their cities,

it consumes their oracle-priests,

and devours because of their schemes.


My people are bent on turning away from me.

To the Most High they call,

but he does not raise them up at all.



How can I give you up, Ephraim?

How can I hand you over, O Israel?

How can I make you like Admah?

How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

My heart recoils within me;

my compassion grows warm and tender.


I will not execute my fierce anger;

I will not again destroy Ephraim;

for I am God and no mortal,

the Holy One in your midst,

and I will not come in wrath.



They shall go after the L ord,

who roars like a lion;

when he roars,

his children shall come trembling from the west.


They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,

and like doves from the land of Assyria;

and I will return them to their homes, says the L ord.



Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,

and the house of Israel with deceit;

but Judah still walks with God,

and is faithful to the Holy One.

God here expostulates with the people of Israel for their ingratitude. The obligation of the people was twofold; for God had embraced them from the very first beginning, and when there was no merit or worthiness in them. What else, indeed, was the condition of the people when emancipated from their servile works in Egypt? They doubtless seemed then like a man half-dead or a putrid carcass; for they had no vigour remaining in them. The Lord then stretched forth his hand to the people when in so hopeless a state, drew them out, as it were, from the grave, and restored them from death into life. But the people did not acknowledge this so wonderful a favour of God, but soon after petulantly turned their back on him. What baseness was this, and how shameful the wickedness, to make such a return to the author of their life and salvation? The Prophet therefore enhances the sin and baseness of the people by this circumstance, that the Lord had loved them even from childhood; when yet, he says, Israel was a child, I loved him The nativity of the people was their coming out of Egypt. The Lord had indeed made his covenant with Abraham four hundred years before; and, as we know, the patriarchs were also regarded by him as his children: but God wished his Church to be, as it were, extinguished, when he redeemed it. Hence the Scripture, when it speaks of the liberation of the people, often refers to that favour of God in the same way as of one born into the world. It is not therefore without reason that the Prophet here reminds the people that they had been loved when in childhood. The proof of this love was, that they had been brought out of Egypt. Love had preceded, as the cause is always before the effect.

But the Prophet enlarges on the subject: I loved Israel, even while he was yet a child; I called him out of Egypt; that is, “I not only loved him when a child, but before he was born I began to love him; for the liberation from Egypt was the nativity, and my love preceded that. It then appears, that the people had been loved by me, before they came forth to the light; for Egypt was like a grave without any spark of life; and the condition this miserable people was in was worse than thousand deaths. Then by calling my people from Egypt, I sufficiently proved that my love was gratuitous before they were born.” The people were hence less excusable when they returned such an unworthy recompense to God, since he had previously bestowed his free favour upon them. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet.

But here arises a difficult question; for Matthew, accommodates this passage to the person of Christ. 7373     Matthew 2:15. — fj. They who have not been well versed in Scripture have confidently applied to Christ this place; yet the context is opposed to this. Hence it has happened, that scoffers have attempted to disturb the whole religion of Christ, as though the Evangelist had misapplied the declaration of the Prophet. They give a more suitable answer, who say that there is in this case only a comparison: as when a passage from Jeremiah is quoted in another place, when the cruelty of Herod is mentioned, who raged against all the infants of his dominion, who were under two years of age,

‘Rachel, bewailing her children, would not receive consolation, because they were not,’ (Jeremiah 31:15.)

The Evangelist says that this prophecy was fulfilled, (Matthew 2:18.) But it is certain that the object of Jeremiah was another; but nothing prevents that declaration should not be applied to what Matthew relates. So they understand this place. But I think that Matthew had more deeply considered the purpose of God in having Christ led into Egypt, and in his return afterwards into Judea. In the first place, it must be remembered that Christ cannot be separated from his Church, as the body will be mutilated and imperfect without a head. Whatever then happened formerly in the Church, ought at length to be fulfilled by the head. This is one thing. Then also there is no doubt, but that God in his wonderful providence intended that his Son should come forth from Egypt, that he might be a redeemer to the faithful; and thus he shows that a true, real, and perfect deliverance was at length effected, when the promised Redeemer appeared. It was then the full nativity of the Church, when Christ came forth from Egypt to redeem his Church. So in my view that comment is too frigid, which embraces the idea, that Matthew made only a comparison. For it behaves us to consider this, that God, when he formerly redeemed his people from Egypt, only showed by a certain prelude the redemption which he deferred till the coming of Christ. Hence, as the body was then brought forth from Egypt into Judea, so at length the head also came forth from Egypt: and then God fully showed him to be the true deliverer of his people. This then is the meaning. Matthew therefore most fitly accommodates this passage to Christ, that God loved his Son from his first childhood and called him from Egypt. We know at the same time that Christ is called the Son of God in a respect different from the people of Israel; for adoption made the children of Abraham the children of God, but Christ is by nature the only-begotten Son of God. But his own dignity must remain to the head, that the body may continue in its inferior state. There is then in this nothing inconsistent. But as to the charge of ingratitude, that so great a favour of God was not acknowledged, this cannot apply to the person of Christ, as we well know; nor is it necessary in this respect to refer to him; for we see from other places that every thing does not apply to Christ, which is said of David, or of the high priest, or of the posterity of David; though they were types of Christ. But there is ever a great difference between the reality and its symbols. Let us now proceed —

Hosea 11:2

2. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.

2. Vocarunt illos (vel, clamaverunt ad illos:) sic ambulaverunt a facie illorum: Baalim sacrificia obtulerunt, et sculptilibus suffitum fecerunt.


The Prophet now repeats the ingratitude of the people in neglecting to keep in mind their redemption. The word, “called,” is here to be taken in a different sense. For God effectually called, as they say, the people, or his Son, from Egypt: he has again called by the outward voice or teaching through his Prophets. Hence, when he said before that he called his Son from Egypt, it ought to be understood, as they say, of actual liberation: but now when he says, They have called them, it is to be understood of teaching. The name of the Prophets is not expressed; but that they are intended is plain. And the Prophet seems designedly to have said in an indefinite manner, that the people had been called, that the indignity might appear more evident, as they had been called so often and by so many, and yet had refused. Hence they have called them When he thus speaks, he is not to be understood as referring to one or two men, or to a few, but as including a great number of men, doing this everywhere. Even thus now have they called them; that is, this people have been called, not once or twice, but constantly; and God has not only sent one messenger or preacher to call them, but there have been many Prophets, one after the other, often thus employed, and yet without any benefit. We now perceive what the Prophet meant.

They have called them, he says, so they went away from their presence 7474     Horsley, Newcome, and others, have unnecessarily divided here the compounded word, מפניהם, “from their presence,” and have thereby destroyed the force of the passage, as it appears from subsequent remarks. — Ed. The particle so, כן, can, is introduced here to enliven the description; for the Prophet points out, as by the fingers how wickedly they conspired to execute their own counsels, as if they wished purposely to show in an open manner their contempt. So they went away; when the Prophets called them to one course, they proceeded in an opposite one. We then see, that to point out thus their conduct was not superfluous, when he says, that they in this manner went away: and then he says, from their face Here he shows that the people sought hiding-places and shunned the light. We may indeed conclude from these words, that so great was the perverseness of the people, that they not only wished to be alienated from God, but also that they would have nothing to do with the Prophets. It is indeed a proof of extreme wickedness, when instruction itself is a weariness, and ministers cannot be endured; and no doubt the Prophet meant to set forth this sin of the people.

He afterwards says, that they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burnt incense to graven images In the former clause, he shows the contumacy of the Israelites, that they deigned not to give ear to God’s servants. He now adds, that they made incense to graven images, and also offered worship to their idols. By Baalim, as it has been already stated, the Prophet means the inferior gods. For no such stupidity prevailed among the people as not to think that there is some chief deity; nay, even profane Gentiles confessed that there is some supreme God. But they called their advocates (patronos) Baalim, as we see to be the case at this day under the Papacy, this same office is transferred to the dead; they are to procure for men the favour of God. The Papists then have no grounds for seeking an evasion by words; for the very same superstition prevails at this time among them, as prevailed formerly among Gentiles and the people of Israel. Here the Prophet enhances the wickedness of the people; for they not only contemptuously neglected every instruction in religion, but also openly perverted the whole worship of God, and abandoned themselves to all abominations, so as to burn incense to their own idols. Let us go on —

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