a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

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 —

Here again God amplifies the sin of the people, by saying, that by no kindness, even for a long time, could they be allured, or turned, or reformed, or reduced to a sound mind. It was surely enough that the people of Israeli who had been brought by the hand of God from the grave to the light of life, should have repudiated every instruction; it was a great and an atrocious sin; but now God goes on farther, and says, that he had not ceased to show his love to them, and yet had attained nothing by his perseverance; for the wickedness and depravity of the people were incurable. Hence he says, I have led Ephraim on foot 7676     The word occurs no where in Scripture but here. Gesenius in his Lexicon gives it as a quadriliteral verb, and says that it means “to teach to go,” or, “to guide the steps.” But Parkhurst is of the same opinion with Calvin, and renders it “a footing,” or, “going on foot,” and translates this passage thus: — “And as for me, my footing was for Ephraim;” q.d., “I footed after him, I attended him pn foot, as a nurse does a child.” Buxtorf considers that ת is put for ה, and regards it as a Hiphil of the verb רגל, “I have footed,” or, “taught Ephraim how to foot or walk.” Newcome is of the same opinion. — Ed. Some are of opinion that it is a noun, from רגל, regel, foot, and it seems the most suitable. For otherwise there will be a change of a letter, which grammarians do not allow in the beginning of a word; for ת, tau, in this case would be put instead of ה, he; and put so as if it was of frequent occurrence in Hebrew; but no such instance can be adduced. So they who are skilful in the language think that for this reason it is a noun, and with them I agree. They, however, who regard it as a verb, give this view, — “I have led him on foot, תרגלתי, teregelti; that is, as a child who cannot yet walk with a firm foot, is by degrees accustomed to do so, and the nurse, or the father, or the mother, who lead him, have a regard for his infancy; so also have I led Israel, as much as his feet could bear. But the other version is less obscure, and that is, My walking on foot was for him; that is, I humbled myself as mothers are wont to do; and hence he says, that he had carried the people on his shoulders; and we shall presently see the same comparison used. And Moses says in Deuteronomy, 7777     Deuteronomy 32:10-12. — fj. that the people had been carried on God’s wings, or that God had expanded his wings like the eagle who flies over her young ones. With regard to the matter itself the meaning of the Prophet is not obscure; for he means, that this people had been treated by God in a paternal and indulgent manner; and also, that the perseverance of the Lord in continuing to bestow his blessings on them had been without any fruit.

He afterwards adds, To carry on his arms Some render the expression, קחם, kochem, “He carried them,” as if the verb were in the past tense; and they consider the word, Moses, to be understood. But it is God who speaks here. Some think it to be an infinitive — “To carry,” as when one carries another on his shoulders; and this seems to be the most suitable exposition. There is in the sense no ambiguity; for the design of the Prophet is what I have already stated, which is to show that this people were most wicked in not obeying God, since they had been so kindly treated by Him. For what could they have expected more than what God had done for them? As he also says by Isaiah, 7878     Isaiah 5:4. — fj. ‘What, my vine, ought I to have done more than what I have done?’ So also in this place, My walking has been on foot with Ephraim; and for this end, to carry them, as when one carries another in his arms. ‘They yet,’ he says, ‘did not know that I healed them;’ that is, “Neither the beginning of my goodness, nor its continued exercise, avails anything with them. When I brought them forth from Egypt, I restored the dead to life; this kindness has been blotted out. Again, in the desert I testified, in various ways, that I was their best and most indulgent Father: I have in this instance also lost all my labour.” How so? “Because my favour has been in no way acknowledged by this perverse and foolish people.” We now then see what the Prophet meant: and he continues the same subject in the next verse.

The Prophet states, first, that this people had not been severely dealt with, as either slaves, or oxen, or asses, are wont to be treated. He had said before, that the people of Israel were like a heifer, which shakes off the yoke, and in wantonness loves only the treading of corn. But though the perverseness of the people was so great, yet God shows here that he had not used extreme rigour: I have drawn him, he says, with human cords and lovely bands By the cords of man, he means humane government. “I have not,” he says, “treated you as slaves, but dealt with you as with children; and I have not regarded you as cattle, I have not driven you into a stall; but I have only drawn you with lovely bands.” The sum of the whole is, that the government which God had laid on the people was a certain and singular token of his paternal favour, so that the people could not complain of too much rigour, as if God had considered their disposition, and had used a hard wedge (as the common proverb is) for a hard knot; for if God had dealt thus with the people, they could have objected, and said, that they had not been kindly drawn by him, and that it was no wonder if they did not obey, since they had been so roughly treated. “But there is no ground for them,” the Lord says, “to allege that I have used severity: for I could not have dealt more kindly with them, I have drawn them with human cords; I have not otherwise governed them than as a father his own children; I have been bountiful towards them. I indeed wished to do them good, and, as it was right, required obedience from them. I have at the same time laid on them a yoke, not servile, nor such as is wont to be laid on brute animals; but I was content with paternal discipline.” Since then such kindness had no influence over them, is it not right to conclude that their wickedness is irreclaimable and extreme?

He then adds I have been to them like those who raise up the yoke upon the cheeks 7979     “It is very probably that the words refer to the custom of raising the yoke forward to cool the neck of the laboring beast.” — Newcome. “I have not laden you,” he says, “with too heavy burdens, as oxen and other beasts are wont to be burdened; but I have raised up the yoke upon the cheeks. I have chosen rather to bear the yoke myself, and to ease these ungodly and wicked men of their burden.” And God does not in vain allege this, for we know that when he uses his power, and vindicates his authority, he does this not to burden the people, as earthly kings are wont to do; but he bears the burden which he lays on men. It is no wonder then that he says now, that he had lifted the yoke upon the cheeks of his people, like one who wishes not to burden his ox, but bears up the yoke himself with his own hands, lest the ox should faint through weariness.

He afterwards adds, And I have made them to eat in quietness, or, “I have brought meat to them.” Some think the verb אוכיל, aukil to be in the future tense, and that אוכיל, aukil is put for אאכיל, aakil; that is, I will cause them to eat; and that the future is to be resolved into the past: and it is certain that the word אט, ath, means tranquil sometimes. Then it will be, “I have caused them quietly to eat.” But another exposition is more commonly received; as the word אט, ath, is derived from נטה, nathe, to raise, it is the same as though the Prophet had said, that meat had been brought to them.

God then does here in various ways enhance the ingratitude and wickedness of the people, because they had not acknowledged his paternal kindness, when he had himself so kindly set forth his favour before their eyes; I have, he says, extended meat to them; that is, “I have not thrown it on the ground, nor placed it too high for them; they have not toiled in getting it; but I have, as it were, brought it with mine own hand and set it before them, that they might eat without any trouble.” In short, God declares that he had tried in every way to find out, whether there was any meekness or docility in the people of Israel, and that he had ill bestowed all his blessings; for this people were blind to favours so kind, to such as clearly proved, that God had in every way showed himself to be a Father. It follows —

Here the Prophet denounces a new punishment, that the people in vain hoped that Egypt would be a place of refuge or an asylum to them; for the Lord would draw them away to another quarter. For the Israelites had cherished this hope, that if by any chance the Assyrians should be too powerful for them, there would yet be a suitable refuge for them in Egypt among their friends, with whom they had made a treaty. Since, then, they promised themselves a hospitable exile in Egypt, the Prophet here exposes their vain confidence: “This their expectation,” he says, “that they shall find a way open to Egypt, shall disappoint the people: it is shut up,” he says, They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be their king. By saying, that the Assyrian shall rule over them, he means that the people would become exiles under the Assyrians, which indeed happened. He then anticipates here all the vain hopes by which the people deceived themselves, and by which they hardened themselves against all the threatening of God. “There is no reason for them,” he says, “to look towards Egypt; for the Lord will not allow them to go there; for he will draw them to Assyria.”

He afterwards gives the reason, Because they have been unwilling, he says, to return This “return” is to be taken in another sense: but there is here a striking similarity in the words. They thought that there would be to them a free passage into Egypt; and yet they had been unwilling to pass over unto God, when he had so often called them. The Prophet therefore says that a return into Egypt was now denied them, inasmuch as they had been unwilling to return to God. The import of what is said is, that when men perversely resist God, they in vain hope for any free movements either to this or that quarter; for the Lord will hold them tied and bound. As it is wont to be done to wild beasts, who, when they show too much ferocity, are shut up in cages or bound with chains, or as it is usually done to frantic men, who are bound with strong bands; so also the Lord does with obstinate men; he binds them fast, so that they cannot move a finger. This, then, is the meaning of the Prophet.

There is, at the same time, to be understood, an implied comparison between the former bondage they endured in Egypt, and the new bondage which awaited them. They had known of what sort was the hospitality of Egypt, and yet so great a blindness possessed their minds, that they wished to return there. Their fathers had been kindly enough received; but their posterity were grievously burdened; nay, they were not far from being entirely destroyed. What madness was this, to wish of themselves to return to Egypt, when they knew how great was the ferociousness and cruelty of the Egyptians? But as I have said, something more grievous awaited them; they were not worthy to return to Egypt. To return there would have been indeed a dreadful calamity; but the Lord would not, however open a way for them to go there; for he would force them to pass to another country; yea, they were to be by force dragged away by their conquerors into Assyria. The drift of the whole is, that though the people had been cruelly treated in Egypt, there was now drawing nigh a more grievous tyranny; for the Assyrians would double the injuries, and the violence, and all kinds of wrongs and reproaches, which had been exercised against this people.

Some think that it was added for consolation, that God, though greatly provoked by the people, was yet unwilling to lead them again into Egypt, lest the former redemption should be made void; but that a middle course was prepared by which he would chastise the ungrateful and yet retain them as his peculiar possession. But I have already shown what I mostly approve. At the same time, whichever view is taken, we see how grievous and severe was the denunciation of the Prophet.

As it was difficult to persuade proud people that the overthrow was at hand, which Hosea had foretold, seeing, as they did, that they were furnished with many defences, it is therefore now added, that their fortified cities would not prevent the enemy to break through, and to devastate the whole country, and to lead away the people captive. We now understand how this verse is connected with the last. The Prophet had threatened exile; but as the Israelites thought themselves safe in their nests, he adds, that there was no reason for them to trust in their fortresses, for the Lord could by the sword destroy all their cities.

He therefore says, The sword shall fall on their cities. The verb חול, chul, means to abide, and to encamp, and sometimes to fall or rush upon: and this second sense is more suitable to this place. Some, however, render it, The sword shall abide on the cities until it consume them. But as to the meaning, there is not much difference. I will, however, briefly state what I deem the right view. The sword then shall fall, or rush, upon his cities; and further, it shall consume his bars The Hebrews often call bars or bolts בדיםbadim”, still oftener, branches, or members, — the branches of a tree, or the members of man. Hence some take the word metaphorically, as meaning towns and villages; for they are, as it were, the branches or members of cities. Others, however, explain it as signifying sons, who grow from their parents as branches from the tree: but this seems too far-fetched. I do not disapprove of the opinion, that the Prophet refers here to towns and villages, which are, as it were, the appendages of cities, as branches spread out here and there from the tree. The sense then is not amiss, that the sword will consume and devour towns and villages, when it shall fall on the cities. But what I have already said of bolts seems more suitable to the design of the Prophet. We must at the same time consider the word בדים, bedim, as including a part for the whole; for bolts were only a part of the fortifications; but the gates, being closed and fastened, render the cities strong. So this place, by taking a part for the whole, may be thus expounded, that the sword, when it fell on cities, would consume and destroy whatever strength and defence they possessed.

He at the same time mentions the cause, Because, he says, of their own counsels No doubt, he added this expression, because the Israelites thought themselves wise; for ungodly men arrogate to themselves much prudence; and this they do, that they may, as it were, from their height look down on God, and laugh at every instruction. Since then they who despise God seem to themselves to be very wise, and to be fortified by their good counsels, the Prophet shows that the cause of ruin to the Israelites would be, that they were swollen with this diabolical prudence, and would not condescend to obey the word of the Lord.

This verse is variously rendered. Some explain the word תלואים, teluaim, as signifying “perplexed;” as though the Prophet had said, that the people would suffer a just punishment through being anxious and looking around them, and yet finding no comfort; for this would be the reward of their defection or apostasy. Hence he says, My people are in suspense; that is, there is no wonder that the Israelites are now tormented with great anxiety, and find no end to their evils; for they who have rebelled against the Lord are worthy of being thus bound fast by him. It is the fruit of their defection that they are now so full of sorrow, and also of despair. This is one exposition. Others say that God here complains of the wickedness of the people, as of those who deliberated whether they ought to repent. They then take suspense for doubt, My people are in suspense; that is, they debate on the subject as on a doubtful matter, when I exhort them to repent, and they cannot at once decide what to do, but alternate between divers opinions, and now incline to one thing and then to another; as if truly the subject itself made it necessary for them to deliberate. Doubtless what is right is in no way hid from them: but as they are unwilling, they seek for themselves, by evasions, some excuses for doubting; for the Prophets cry to them, and no one extols them. This is the second exposition.

It must at the same time be observed, that the word משובת, meshubat, is variously taken; for the first render it, “turning away,” and the “jod” that is affixed must then be expounded passively, and must mean their turning away from God, because the Israelites had fallen away from him; as in Isaiah chapter 56 8080     Isaiah 56:7. — fj. he calls that the house of his prayer in which the people were wont to pray. Then the turning away from God, according to them, is to be taken passively, because the people were alienated from him. Others render it, “conversion.” But the Hebrew doctors will have this word to be ever taken in a bad sense, and affirm that there is no place where it signifies any thing but rebellion or apostasy. Since it is so, I am inclined to consider it to be turning away; and thus the second sense, that the people deliberated whether they ought to hear the admonitions of the Prophets, will not stand.

The Prophet also seems to me to mean what is different from what I have referred to in the first place, as the opinion of those who say, My people are in suspense; that is, they anxiously torment themselves on account of their defection, because I punish them for their apostasy; through which it has happened, that, forsaking me, they have wandered after their own inventions. But I take the passage otherwise, as I have already said, My people are fastened; that is, my people have not only once departed from me, but they are, as it were, fastened in their defection. He says, that they were fastened, not that they were sorrowful and endured great tortures, and found their affairs perplexed; but that they were fastened, because they remained obstinate; as when one says, that a man is fastened to a thing, when he cannot be moved. This being fastened, is indeed nothing else but the obstinacy of the people. They were then fastened to defection.

He afterwards adds, To him on high they call them; none at all rises up What an indefinite sentence signifies we stated yesterday. The Prophet means that instruction had been given the people, and that many witnesses or preachers had been sent by the Lord, but that all this had been wholly useless. Hence he says, They call them to him on high, no one raises up himself. Some indeed consider the word, God, to be understood; and this is the commonly received opinion; but in my judgement they are mistaken; for the Prophet, speaking of the Israelites, doubtless means that they remained in the same state, and were not moved by any instruction to make any progress, or to show any sign of repentance. Hence, no one rises up. He uses the singular number, and puts down the particle יחד, ichad, as though he said, “There is no one, from the first to the last, who is touched with grief, for they continue obstinate in their wickedness.” And when he says, No one raises up himself, he seems to allude to the word, fastened. They are then fastened to their defection; and when the Prophets cry and diligently exhort them to repent, they do not rise up; that is, they do not aspire to God; and this indeed they neglect with one consent, as if they all alike blindly united in one and the same wickedness.

In this verse then the Prophet brings again to view the sins of the people, that it might more fully appear that God threatened them so dreadfully not without a cause; for they who were so perversely rebellious against God were worthy of the most grievous punishment. This is the sum of the whole. Let us now proceed —

Here God consults what he would do with the people: and first, indeed, he shows that it was his purpose to execute vengeance, such as the Israelites deserved, even wholly to destroy them: but yet he assumes the character of one deliberating, that none might think that he hastily fell into anger, or that, being soon excited by excessive fury, he devoted to ruin those who had lightly sinned, or were guilty of no great crimes. That no one then might assign to God an anger too fervid, he says here, How shall I set thee aside, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee up, Israel? How shall I set thee as Sodom? By these expressions God shows what the Israelites deserved, and that he was now inclined to inflict the punishment of which they were worthy and yet not without repentance, or at least not without hesitation. He afterwards adds in the next clause, This I will not do; my heart is within me changed; I now alter my purpose, and my repenting are brought back again; that is it was in my mind to destroy you all, but now a repenting, which reverses that design, lays hold on me. We now apprehend what the Prophet means.

As to this mode of speaking, it appears indeed at the first glance to be strange that God should make himself like mortals in changing his purposes and in exhibiting himself as wavering. God, we know, is subject to no passions; and we know that no change takes place in him. What then do these expressions mean, by which he appears to be changeable? Doubtless he accommodates himself to our ignorances whenever he puts on a character foreign to himself. And this consideration exposes the folly as well as the impiety of those who bring forward single words to show that God is, as it were like mortals; as those unreasonable men do who at this day seek to overturn the eternal providence of God, and to blot out that election by which he makes a difference between men. “O!” they say, “God is sincere, and he has said that he willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live.” God must then in this case remain as it were uncertain, and depend on the free-will of every one: it is hence in the power of man either to procure destruction to himself, or to come to salvation. God must in the meantime wait quietly as to what men will do, and can determine nothing except through their free-will. While these insane men thus trifle, they think themselves to be supported by this invincible reason, that God’s will is one and simple. But if the will of God be one, it does not hence follow that he does not accommodate himself to men, and put on a character foreign to himself, as much as a regard for our salvation will bear or require. So it is in this place. God does not in vain introduce himself as being uncertain; for we hence learn that he is not carried away too suddenly to inflict punishment, even when men in various ways provoke his vengeance. This then is what God shows by this mode of speaking. At the same time, we know that what he will do is certain, and that his decree depends not on the free-will of men; for he is not ignorant of what we shall do. God then does not deliberate as to himself, but with reference to men. This is one thing.

But we must also bear in mind what I have already said, that the Prophet here strikes with terror proud and profane despisers by setting before their eyes their own destruction, and by showing how little short they were of the lot of Gomorra and other cities. “For what remains,” the Lord says, “but that I should set you as Sodom and Zeboim? This condition and this recompense awaits you, if I execute the judgement which has been already as it were decreed.” Not that God would immediately do this; but he only reminds the Israelites of what they deserved, and of what would happen to them, except the Lord dealt mercifully with them. Thus much of the first part of the verse.

But when he says that his heart was changed, and that his repentings were brought back again, the same mode of speaking after the manner of men is adopted; for we know that these feelings belong not to God; he cannot be touched with repentance, and his heart cannot undergo changes. To imagine such a thing would be impiety. But the design is to show, that if he dealt with the people of Israel as they deserved, they would now be made like Sodom and Gomorra. But as God was merciful, and embraced his people with paternal affection, he could not forget that he was a Father, but would be willing to grant pardon; as is the case with a father, who, on seeing his son’s wicked disposition, suddenly feels a strong displeasure, and then, being seized with relenting, is inclined to spare him. God then declares that he would thus deal with his people.

Then follows an explanation of this sentence, I will not execute the fury of my wrath: by which figurative mode of speaking he sets forth the punishment which was suitable to the sins of men. For it must ever be remembered, that God is exempt from every passion. But if no anger is to be supposed by us to be in God, what does he mean by the fury of his wrath? Even the relation between his nature and our innate or natural sins. But why does Scripture say that God is angry? Even because we imagine him to be so according to the perception of the flesh; for we do not apprehend God’s indignation, except as far as our sins provoke him to anger, and kindle his vengeance against us. Then God, with regard to our perception, calls the fury of his wrath the heavy judgement, which is equal to, or meet for, our sins. I will not execute, he says, that is, “I will not repay the reward which you have deserved.”

What then? I will not return to destroy Ephraim The verb אשוב, ashub, seems to have been introduced for this reason, because God had in part laid waste the kingdom of Israel: he therefore says, that the second overthrow, which he would presently bring, would not be such as would destroy the whole of Israel, or wholly consume them. I will not then return to destroy Ephraim; that is, “Though I shall again gird myself to punish the sins of the people, I shall yet restrain myself so that my vengeance shall not proceed to the destruction of the whole people.” The reason is subjoined, For I am God, and not man.

As he intended in this place to leave to the godly some hope of salvation, he adds what may confirm this hope; for we know that when God denounces wrath, with what difficulty trembling consciences are restored to hope. Ungodly men laugh to scorn all threatening; but those in whom there is any seed of piety dread the vengeance of God, and whenever terror seizes them, they are tormented with marvellous disquietude, and cannot be easily pacified. This then is the reason why the Prophet now confirms the doctrine which he had laid down: I am God, he says, and not man; as though he had said, that he would be propitious to his people, for he was not implacable as men are; and they are very wrong who judge of him, or measure him, by men.

We must here first remember, that the Prophet directs not his discourse promiscuously to all the Israelites, but only to the faithful, who were a remnant among that corrupt people. For God, at no time, suffered all the children of Abraham to become alienated, but some few at least remained, as it is said in another place, (1 Kings 19:18.) These the Prophet now addresses; and to administer consolation, he moderates what he had said before of the dreadful vengeance of God. This saying then was not to relieve the sorrow of hypocrites; for the Prophet regarded only the miserable, who had been so smitten with the feeling of God’s wrath, that despair would have almost swallowed them up, had not their grief been mitigated. This is one thing. But further, when he says that he is God, and not man, this truth ought to come to our minds, that we may taste of God’s gratuitous promises, whenever we vacillate as to his promises, or whenever terror possesses our minds. What! Do you doubt when you have to do with God? But whence is it, that we with so much difficulty rely on the promises of God, except that we imagine him to be like ourselves? Inasmuch then, as it is our habit thus to transform him, let this truth be a remedy to this fault; and whenever God promises pardon to us, from which proceeds the hope of salvation, how much soever he may have previously terrified us by his judgements, let this come to our mind, that as he is God, he is not to be judged of by what we are. We ought then to recumb simply on his promises. “But then we are unworthy to be pardoned; besides, so great is the atrocity of our sins, that there can be no hope of reconciliation.” Here we must take instant hold on this shield, we must learn to fortify ourselves with this declaration of the Prophet, He is God, and not man: let this shield be ever taken to repel every kind of diffidence.

But here a question may be raised, “Was He not God, when he destroyed Sodom and the neighbouring cities?” That judgement did not take away from the Lord his glory, nor was his majesty thereby diminished. But these two sentences are to be read together; I am God, and not man, holy in the midst of thee. When any one reads these sentences apart, he does wrong to the meaning of the Prophet. God, then, does not only affirm here that he is not like men, but he also adds, that he is holy in the midst of Israel. It is one view of God’s nature that is here given us, and what is set forth is the immense distance between him and men, as we find it written by Isaiah the Prophet,

‘My thoughts are not as yours: as much as the heaven is distant from the earth, so distant are my thoughts from your thoughts,’ (Isaiah 55:8.)

So also in this place, the Prophet shows what God is, and how much his nature differs from the dispositions of men. He afterwards refers to the covenant which God made with his people: and what was the purport of that covenant? Even that God would punish his people; yet so as ever to leave some seed remaining.

‘I will chastise them,’ he says, ‘with the rod of men;
I will not yet take away from them my mercy,’
(2 Samuel 7:14,15.)

Since God then had promised some mitigation or some alleviation in all his punishments, he now reminds us, that he will not have his Church wholly demolished in the world, for he would thus be inconsistent with himself: hence he says, I am God, and not man, holy in the midst of thee; and since I have chosen thee to myself to be my peculiar possession and inheritance, and promised also to be for ever thy God, I will now moderate my vengeance, so that some Church may ever remain.”

For this reason he also says I will not enter into the city Some say, “I will not enter another city but Jerusalem.” But this does not suit the passage; for the Prophet speaks here of the ten tribes and not of the tribe of Judah. Others imagine an opposite meaning, “I will not enter the city,” as though he said, that he would indeed act kindly towards the people in not wholly destroying them; but that they should hereafter be without civil order, regular government, and other tokens of God’s favour: ‘I will not enter the city;’ that is, “I will not restore you, so that there may be a city and a kingdom, and an united body of people.” But this exposition is too forced; nay, it is a mere refinement, which of itself vanishes. 8181     There is another exposition, which Calvin probably did not think it worth his while to mention. It is an old one of Jerome, revived by Castallio, adopted by Lowth and Newcome, and highly praised by Horsley: and yet it seems to have neither point nor meaning, and certainly comports not with this place. The proposed rendering is this—
   “Although I am no frequenter of cities.”

   God is not a frequenter of cities!! How odd and meaningless is this when compared with the view given by Calvin of the passage?

   There is another explanation approved of by Dathe, which, as to the meaning, agrees with that of Calvin. He takes עיר, rendered “city,” to mean “anger,” and then the version would be, “I will not come in anger.” The Septuagint is, literally, “I will not come into the city.”
There is no doubt but that the similitude is taken from a warlike practice. For when a conqueror enters a city with an armed force, slaughter is not restrained but blood is indiscriminately shed. But when a city surrenders, the conqueror indeed may enter, yet not with a sudden and violent attack, but on certain conditions; and then he waits, it may be for two days, or for some time, that the rage of his soldiers may be allayed. Then he comes, not as to enemies, but as to his own subjects. This is what the Prophet means when he says, ‘I will not enter the city;’ that is, “I will make war on you and subdue your and force you to surrenders and that with great loss; but when the gates shall be opened, and the wall demolished, I will then restrain myself, for I am unwilling wholly to destroy you.”

If one objects and says, that this statement militates against many others which we have observed, the answer is easy, and the solution has already been adduced in another place, and I shall now only touch on it briefly. When God distinctly denounces ruin on the people, the body of the people is had in view; and in this body there was then no integrity. Inasmuch, then, as all the Israelites had become corrupt, had departed from the worship and fear of God, and from all piety and righteousness, and had abandoned themselves to all kinds of wickedness, the Prophet declares that they were to perish without any exception. But when he confines the vengeance of God, or moderates it, he has respect to a very small number; for, as it has been already stated, corruption had never so prevailed among the people, but that some seed remained. Hence, when the Prophet has in view the elect of God, he applies then these consolations, by which he mitigates their terror, that they might understand that God, even in his extreme rigour, would be propitious to them. Such is the way to account for this passage. With regard to the body of the people, the Prophet has already shown, that their cities were devoted to the fire, and that the whole nation was doomed to suffer the wrath of God; that every thing was given up to the fire and the sword. But now he says, “I will not enter;” that is, with regard to those whom the Lord intended to spare. And it must also be observed, that punishment was mitigated, not only with regard to the elect, but also with regard to the reprobate, who were led into captivity. We must yet remember, that when God spared them for a time, he chiefly consulted the good of his elect; for the temporary suspension of vengeance increased his judgement on the reprobate; for whosoever repented not in exile doubled, as it is evident, the wrath of God against themselves. The Lord, however, spared his people for a time; for among them was included his Church, in the same way as the wheat is preserved in the chaff, and is carried from the field with the straw. Why so? Even that the wheat may be separated. So also the Lord preserves much chaff with the wheat; but he will afterwards, in due time, divide the wheat from the chaff. We now understand the whole meaning of the Prophet, and also the application of his doctrine. It follows —

When the Prophet says, that they shall walk after Jehovah, he proceeds farther than before; for here he refers not to the mitigation of punishment, but promises restoration. He had said before, that though the Lord would deal severely with his people, there would yet be some moderation in his wrath, so that he would not destroy the whole people. Now, it follows, that God, after having thus restrained himself, will extend his favour even to the restoration of the people, and bring to life those who seemed to have been dead. We now then perceive what the Prophet means.

But to expound this, — they shall walk after Jehovah, of the obedience of the people, as it is done by interpreters, does not seem right to me. It is indeed certain that no people can be restored except they repent; yea, it is the main beginning of God’s favour, when he chastises men and heals them of their wickedness. But here the Prophet handles another thing, even that the Lord will show himself a leader to his people, who had been for a time dispersed. As long as the people were scattered in Assyria and in other distant lands, they were without any head, as a mutilated body. But when the ripened time of restoration came, the Lord revolved to deliver them, and proclaimed himself the leader of his people; and in this manner the people were gathered to God. This is what the Prophet now means when he says, after Jehovah: that is, for a time, indeed, God will forsake them, that they may languish in their dispersion; but at length he will gather them, and show himself as their leader in their journey, that he may restore them to their country. They shall then, he says, follow Jehovah, and he shall roar as a lion: when he shall roar, then children from the sea shall tremble”; that is, God will be formidable to enemies so that none will hinder the return of his people. Many, indeed, will be the enemies, many will labour to set up opposition: but the people shall nevertheless come forth free. How so? For the Lord will fill all with dread, and restrain all the efforts of their enemies; so that they shall be constrained to withdraw from the Assyrians, as well as from the Egyptians. Though, on one side, the Egyptians may resist, and, on the other, the Assyrians, they shall not yet impede the return of the people. Why? Because the Lord will put them to flight, and he will be to them as a lions and fill them all with terror. But the rest we shall defer.

In the last lecture, we began to explain what the Prophet means by saying, that the Israelites shall come after the Lord: that is, that when the time of the exile shall be completed, God will be the leader of his people in their journey, that they might return safe to their country. And for this reason, he also subjoins, that the Egyptians as well as the Assyrians would be timid; and hence he compares them to doves and sparrows, or birds; for when the nations should attempt to hinder the return of the people, and strive against them with great forces and great efforts, God would break down their courage. For as God had determined to redeem his people, his decree could not have been nullified, no, not by the whole world. Whatever then, the Assyrians, and also the Egyptians, might attempt to do, though powerful in forces, it would yet avail nothing; nay, God would strike into both such fear and dread, that they should not make any stir when the Lord restored his people. There is a similar mode of speaking in Joel, 8282     Joel 3:16. — fj. except that he does not introduce the similitudes that they would be like birds and doves. But he speaks of the roaring of God, as though he said, that the power of God would be terrible and invincible, so that he would defend and protect his people, and no one would dare to rise up against him; and that if one should dare, he would be constrained instantly to succumb. Let us now proceed —

VIEWNAME is study