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Relentless Judgment on Israel


When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling;

he was exalted in Israel;

but he incurred guilt through Baal and died.


And now they keep on sinning

and make a cast image for themselves,

idols of silver made according to their understanding,

all of them the work of artisans.

“Sacrifice to these,” they say.

People are kissing calves!


Therefore they shall be like the morning mist

or like the dew that goes away early,

like chaff that swirls from the threshing floor

or like smoke from a window.



Yet I have been the L ord your God

ever since the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

and besides me there is no savior.


It was I who fed you in the wilderness,

in the land of drought.


When I fed them, they were satisfied;

they were satisfied, and their heart was proud;

therefore they forgot me.


So I will become like a lion to them,

like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.


I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs,

and will tear open the covering of their heart;

there I will devour them like a lion,

as a wild animal would mangle them.



I will destroy you, O Israel;

who can help you?


Where now is your king, that he may save you?

Where in all your cities are your rulers,

of whom you said,

“Give me a king and rulers”?


I gave you a king in my anger,

and I took him away in my wrath.



Ephraim’s iniquity is bound up;

his sin is kept in store.


The pangs of childbirth come for him,

but he is an unwise son;

for at the proper time he does not present himself

at the mouth of the womb.



Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?

Shall I redeem them from Death?

O Death, where are your plagues?

O Sheol, where is your destruction?

Compassion is hidden from my eyes.



Although he may flourish among rushes,

the east wind shall come, a blast from the L ord,

rising from the wilderness;

and his fountain shall dry up,

his spring shall be parched.

It shall strip his treasury

of every precious thing.


Samaria shall bear her guilt,

because she has rebelled against her God;

they shall fall by the sword,

their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,

and their pregnant women ripped open.


Interpreters agree not in their view of this verse. Some say that trembling was excited in Israel when Ephraim, that is, Jeroboam, who was born of that tribe, exhorted the people to worship the calves. By the word רתת, retat, “trembling,” they understand, that the people were so astonished, that they without thought immediately obeyed the will, or rather the humour, of their impious king. And if this sense be approved, the word, trembling, may be in another way explained, even in this, — that the people did not immediately embrace that perverted worship, but dreaded, as is wont to be the case with regard to new things, and which seem to have nothing reasonable in their favour. But these expounders wholly depart, in my judgement, from the intention of the Prophet; for, on the contrary, he sets forth here the twofold state of the kingdom of Israel, that it might hence be manifest that the ten tribes had been through their own fault rejected by the Lord, and had thus fallen from that dignity unto which the Lord had raised them.

He therefore says, When Ephraim spake formerly, his voice dreaded, 8989     Horsley appears to have adopted Calvin’s view of this sentence. His version is this, — “When Ephraim spake, there was dread.” and he raised himself in Israel; that is, among the whole race of Abraham. But now he is dead, or is fallen, after he has begun to sin in Baal. Then, in the first sentence, the Prophet records the honours with which God had favoured that tribe. Ephraim, we know, was the younger of the sons of Joseph. Manasseh ought not only to have had the pre-eminence, but also to have reigned alone in that family; for the people were divided into twelve tribes. But God intended to raise up two chiefs in the house of Joseph, and preferred the younger to the first-begotten. Hence Ephraim, who had increased in number and power, and had at length obtained the royal dignity, ought to have acknowledged the singular favour of God. And by way of reproach, the Prophet here says, that all trembled at the single voice of Ephraim; that is, when he became endued with authority, and then, that he was exalted in Israel. He ought to have been deemed of no account, he ought to have been inferior to his brother, who was the first-born, and yet he excelled all the tribes. Since, then, God had conferred so much honour on the tribe of Ephraim, the more grievous was his fault, that he afterwards had fallen away unto idols; yea, that he began his reign with superstition, when God was pleased to choose and anoint Jeroboam king. And surely that he, when raised beyond all hope to the throne by the hand of God, should, instead of testifying his gratitude, immediately corrupt the whole worship of God, this was extremely inconsistent.

But the Prophet says, in the second place, that they died from the time they had thus fallen away from true and lawful worship, in order that they might understand that they received the just reward of their impiety when God’s hand was opposed to them, when they were oppressed by adversity. We now perceive the obvious meaning, of the Prophet to be, that the Israelites formerly flourished, especially the tribe of Ephraim, from whom Jeroboam arose, so that, by their voice alone, they subdued all their neighbours, and that beyond the expectation of men, they suddenly emerged and erected a new kingdom among the children of Abraham.

He afterwards adds, that after they had sinned by Baal, they became dead: for God deprived the tribe of Ephraim of the power with which he had before adorned him, so that they were but little short of being destroyed. For though his kingdom had not wholly fallen, it had yet come to such an extremity that the Prophet might justly say that they, who were so far removed from their former state, were dead. But when he says that they sinned by Baal, he does not mean that this was the beginning of their idolatry; for Jeroboam at first made the calves, and it was his successor who built Baal, and borrowed that superstition, as it is supposed, from the neighbouring Sidonians. But God records here what is more grievous, and less excusable, — that the Israelites polluted themselves with the filth of the Gentiles, so that they differed nothing from the profane and unbelieving, who had no acquaintance with sound doctrine.

We are moreover taught in this place, that when kings are endued with any authority, when they are strong in power, all this comes from God; for unless God strikes terror into men, no one would receive the yoke of another, at least all would desire equality, or one would raise himself above others. It is then certain, that when any one excels among many in power, this is done through the secret purpose of God, who constrains to order the common people, and causes them not to deny obedience to the command of one man. This is what Hosea now teaches, when he upbraids the tribe of Ephraim with respect to this terror; for if Ephraim had been formidable through his own power, there would have been no room for the Prophet’s reproof: but as this was the peculiar gift of God, the Prophet justly says, that the tribe of Ephraim were in great honour until they had fallen into superstition. Let us now proceed —

Hosea 13:2

2. And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.

2. Et nunc addunt ad peccandum (hoc est, pergunt peccare,) et fecerunt sibi conflatile ex argento suo, secundum intelligentiam suam, idola opus artificum omnis (vel, omne:) ipsis ipsi dicunt sacrificantes hominem, vitulos osculentur.


In this verse the Prophet amplifies the wickedness of the people, and says, that they had not only in one day cast aside the pure worship of God, and entangled themselves in superstitions; but that they had been obstinate in their own depravity. They have added, he says, to their sin, and have made a molten thing of their silver When Israel, as we have said, departed from the worship of God, they made calves, and made them under a specious appearance; but when many superstitions were added, one after another, there was, as it were, an accumulation of madness, as if the Israelites designedly wished to subvert the law of God, and to show that they cared nothing for the only true God, by whom they had been redeemed. This is the reason why the Prophet says that they made progress in wickedness, and observed no moderation in sinning, and this is what usually happens, unless God draws men back. As soon as they fall away, they rush headlong into evil; for they take a greater liberty in sinning, after they have turned their back on God.

Hence this reproof of the Prophet ought to be noticed, for he inveighs against the obstinate wickedness of Israel; and says, that they made for themselves of their silver a molten thing As we have seen above, they abused the gifts of God by devoting to superstition what the Lord had destined for their use. The end for which God has bestowed silver, we know, is, that men may carry on commerce with one another, and apply it also to other useful purposes. But when they make to themselves gods of silver, there is an astonishing stupidity in their ingratitude, for they pervert the order of nature, and forget that silver is given for another end, and that is as we have said for their use. The Prophet at the same time intimates, that the Israelites were less excusable, inasmuch as when they were enriched, they became proud of their wealth. Satiety, we know, is the cause of wantonness, as, it will be shortly stated again.

But what the Prophet adds ought to be especially observed, According to their own understanding Here he severely reproves the Israelites, because they had not subordinated all their thoughts to God, but, on the contrary, followed what pleased themselves. It was then according to their own invention The word which the Prophet uses is not unsuitable, though “understanding,” the word which the Prophet adopts, is among the Hebrews taken in a good sense. But what is treated of here is the worship of God, with respect to which all the prudence, all the reason, all the wisdom of men, and, in short, all their senses, ought to be suspended: for if, in this case, they of themselves adopt any thing, be it ever so little, they inevitably vitiate the worship of God. How so? Because obedience, we know, is better than all sacrifices. This then is the rule, as to the right worship of God, — that men must become foolish, that they must not allow themselves to be wise, but that they are only to give ear to God, and to follow what he commands. But when men’s presumption intrudes, so that they devise a new mode of worship, they then depart from the true God, and worship mere idols. The Prophet then by the word, understanding, condemns here whatever pleases the judgement and reason of men; as though he said, “The true rule of religion, as to the worship of God, is, that nothing human is to be mingled, that no one is to bring forward what is his own, or what seems good to himself.” In short, the understanding of men is here opposed to the command of God; as though the Prophet said, “One great difference between the true worship of God and all fictitious and degenerated modes of worship, is obedience to the word of God; if we be wise according to our own judgement, all we do is corrupt.” How so? Because whatever men devise of themselves is a pollution of divine worship. Hence Paul, in Colossians 2, 9090     Colossians 2:22,23. — fj. refutes all the fancies of men by this one argument, “They are,” he says, “the traditions of men, though they may have the show of wisdom.”

We now apprehend what the Prophet meant, and why he added the word “understanding;” it was, that the Israelites might learn, that all the worship which was in use among them, was perverted and vicious; for it was not founded on the command of God, but flowed from a different source, even the understanding of men. It then follows, as we have said before, that in religion nothing is to be attempted by us, but we are to follow this one law in worshipping God — simply to obey his word.

He afterwards adds, Idols, the work of artificers altogether The Prophet, in the second place, derides the grossness which had fascinated the minds of the people, as they worshipped in the place of God the works of men. For it is usual with all the Prophets, in order to render the stupidity of men as it were palpable, to show that it is wholly unreasonable to worship idols; for a material cannot with any propriety be worshipped. When there is before us a great mass or a great heap of gold or silver, no one imagines that there is in it any divinity: when one passes through a wood, he transfers not to trees the glory due to God; and the same may be said of stones. But when the hand of the artificer is applied, the plate of gold begins to be a god; so also the trunk of a tree seems to put on the glory of God, when it receives a certain form from the workman; and the same is the case with other things. Now it is extremely absurd to suppose that an artificer, as soon as he has hewn some wood, or as soon as he has melted gold or silver, can make a god, and convey divinity to a dead thing; and yet it is well known that this is thought everywhere to be the case. Superstitious men allege in excuse, that this does not proceed from the hand of the artificer, but that as they wish for some sign of God’s presence, and as they cannot otherwise set forth what God is, God is in that form. But this still remains true, that workmen by their skill make gods of lifeless things, to which no honour can belong. Since it is so, the Prophet now justly says, that what the people of Israel worshipped was the work of artifices; and he said this, that they might know that they became shamefully foolish, when they left the true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and prostrated themselves before idols made by hands.

But he adds, that they say to one another while they sacrifice men, Let them kiss the calves 9191     ‘Let the sacrificers of men kiss the calves.’ — Horsley. Though this place is in various ways explained, I am yet content with the obvious meaning of the Prophet. He again derides them for exhorting one another to worship the calf: For by kissing he means by a figure a profession of worship or adoration, as it is evident from other parts of Scripture. It is said in 1 Kings, 9292     1 Kings 19:18. — fj. I have preserved for myself seven thousand men, who have not bent the knee before Baal, nor kissed him. To kiss Baal then was a sign of reverence. And this practice, we see, has been retained by the superstitious, as the case is at this day with the Papists, who observe this special custom of kissing their idols. But what does the Prophet now say? They encourage one another, he says, in the worship of the calves, and in the meantime “they sacrifice men”. The Prophet doubtless condemns here that abominable and savage custom of parents sacrificing their children to Moloch. It was utterly repugnant to the feeling of nature for parents to immolate their own children. For though this was once commanded to Abraham, we yet know that the design was, that God intended by this proof to try the obedience of his servant: but Abraham was not at last suffered to do what he purposed.

They then immolated men. If it was right to sacrifice men, surely such a service ought to have been rendered at least to the only true God. If it was lawful to sacrifice man for the sake of man, it was certainly ridiculous to do so to conciliate the calf; and it was especially strange, when parents hesitated not to appease dead statues by the blood of their children. This absurdity then the Prophet now points out as with the finger, that he might try to make the Israelites ashamed of their base conduct. “See,” he says, “how brutish ye are; for ye immolate to the calves and kiss them, and more still, ye sacrifice men. Is there so much worthiness in the calf, that man, who far excels it, must be killed before it? Is not this wholly inconsistent with every thing like reason?” We now understand what the Prophet meant. They say then one to another, while they immolate men, Let them kiss the calves

But we learn from this and similar places, that we ought to notice those absurdities in which wretched men involve themselves, when they are lost in their own devices, after having left the word of God: for this word is to be to us as a bridle to keep us from going astray with them in their monstrous devices; for when we observe these delirious things which even nature itself abhors, it is evident that God thereby restrains and preserves us as it were by his outstretched hand. With this design the Prophet now shows how stupid the Israelites were, and how prodigious was their frenzy when they kissed the calves with great reverence, and also sacrificed men. So at this day with respect to those under the Papacy, we ought not only to adopt this argument, that they departed from the true God when they sought for themselves new and strange modes of worship, without the warrant of his word, but we ought also to bear in mind that their puerilities are to be ascribed to the same cause. And we see how God has given them up to a reprobate mind, so that they throw aside no kinds of absurdities. And this consideration, as I have said, will serve to awaken those who are as yet healable, when they understand that they have been infatuated; having been in this manner admonished, they may return to the right way. And that we ourselves may give thanks to God, and detest more and more that filth in which we were for a time involved, and remember that there is nothing more to be dreaded than that the Lord should allow us loose reins, the very example of his vengeance as to all idolaters is made known to us; for as soon as they departed from the pure worship of God, they gave themselves up, as we have stated, to the most shameful stupidity. Let us proceed —

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