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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 —

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 —

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