Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 26: Hosea, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria: for they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without.
1. Dum medeor Israel, tunc retecta fuit iniquitas Ephraim et malitiae Samariae, quia gesserunt se mendaciter (vel, fallaciter; ad verbum, fecerunt fellaciam;) et fur ingressus est, spoliavit praedo foris.
God, that he might show how corrupt was the state of all the people of Israel, compares himself here to a physician, who, while he wishes to try remedies, acknowledges that there are hid more grievous diseases; which is often the case. When a sick person sends for a physician, his disease will be soon discovered; but it may be that he has for many years labored under other hidden complaints, which do not immediately come to the knowledge of the physician. He may indeed think that the symptoms of the disease are those which proceed from a source more hidden; but on the third or fourth days after having tried some remedies he then knows that there is some hidden malady. God then says, that by applying remedies he had found out how corrupt Israel was, While I was healing my people, he says, then I knew what was the iniquity of Samaria and of all Ephraim.
By Samaria he means the principal part of the kingdom; for that city, as it is well known, was the capital and the chief seat of government. The Prophet therefore says, that the iniquities of Samaria were then discovered to be, not common, but inveterate diseases. This is the meaning. We now see what God had in view; for the people might deceive themselves, as it often happens, and say, “We are not indeed wholly free from every vice; but God ought not however to punish us so severely, for what nation is there under the sun which does not labour under the common diseases?” But the Prophet here answers, that the people of Israel were so corrupt, that light remedies would not do for them. God then here undertakes the office of a physician, and says, “I have hitherto wished to heal Israel, and this was my design, when I hewed them by my Prophets, and employed my word as a sword; and afterwards when I added chastisements; but now I have found that their wickedness is greater than can be corrected by such remedies.” The iniquity of Ephraim then has been discovered, he says, and then I perceived the vices of Samaria
Now this place teaches, that though the vices of men do not immediately appear, yet they who deceive themselves, and disguise themselves to others, gain nothing, nor are they made free before God, and their fault is not lessened, nor are they absolved from guilt; for at last their hidden vices will come to light: and this especially happens, when the Lord performs the office of a physician towards them; for we see that men then cast out their bitterness, when the Lord seeks to heal their corruptions. Under the papacy, even those who are the worst conceal their own vices. How so? Because God does not try them; there is no teaching that cauterizes or that draws blood. As then the Papists rest quietly in their own dregs, their perverseness does not appear. But in other places, where God puts forth the power of his word, and where he speaks effectually by his servants, there men show what great impiety was before hid in them; for in full rage they rise up against God, and they cannot bear any admonition. As soon then as God begins to do the office of a physician, men then discover their diseases. And this is the reason why the world so much shun the light of heavenly doctrine; for he who does evil hates the light, (Joh 3:20.) We may also observe the same as to chastisements. When God indulges the wicked, they then with the mouth at least bless him; but when he begins to punish their sins they clamour against him and are angry, and at length show how much fury was before hid in their hearts. We now see what the Prophet here lays to the charge of the people of Israel. It may also be observed at this day through the whole world, that the curing of diseases discovers evils which were before unknown.
But we have said, and this ought to be borne in mind, that Ephraim is here expressly named by the Prophet, and also the city, Samaria, because he wished to intimate that their diseases were inveterate, existing not only in the extreme members, but deeply fixed in the head and bowels, and occupying the vital parts. It then follows, Because they have acted mendaciously, or, done falsely. The Prophet signifies by this expression, that there was nothing sound in the whole people, because they were addicted to their own depravities. By the word שקר, shikor, he means every kind of falseness, that is, that men were thoroughly imbued with depraved lusts, and that there was now remaining in them nothing sound or whole. This then is the main point, that the wickedness of the people was discovered, and that it could not be cured by moderate severity, because it had penetrated into the very bowels and spread over the whole body.
What follows interpreters are wont to regard as the punishment which God had already inflicted. The Prophet says The thief has entered in, and the robber has plundered without. They therefore think that this is to be referred to the manner in which God had already begun by punishment to recall the people to a sound mind; as though he said, “You have been pillaged by thieves as well as harassed by robbers.” But I rather think that the Prophet here pursues the same subject, and shows that the people were inwardly and outwardly so infected with vices, that there was now no whole part; and that by mentioning a part for the whole, he here designates every kind of evil, for he specifies two kinds which may stand for all things in general. He therefore says, The thief has entered in, that is, stealthily, and does mischief insidiously, or even openly like robbers, who use open violence; which means, that impiety so prevailed, either by frauds or by open war, that they were in every way corrupt. But when he says, that the thief had entered in, he means, that many of the people were like foxes, who craftily do mischief; and when he says, that the robber had plundered abroad, he means that others, like lions, seized openly and without shame on what belonged to others, and thus by open force stripped and plundered the miserable and the poor.
We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet. Having said that the Israelites and the citizens of Samaria had conducted themselves so deceitfully, he now, by specifying two things, shows how they had departed from all uprightness, and prostituted themselves to every kind of wickedness; because where violence reigned, there also frauds and all kinds of evil reigned. The thief then had entered in, and the robber plundered abroad; that is, they secretly circumvented their neighbors, and also went forth like robbers openly and without any shame. It then follows —
2. And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face.
2. Et non sixerunt in corde suo, omnis malitiae eorum recordatus sum (hoc est, quod recordatus sim omnis malitiae ipsorum:) nunc circumdederunt ipsos facinora eorum, in conspectu meo sunt.
The Prophet shows here that the Israelites had advanced to the highest summit of all wickedness; for they thought that no account was ever to be given by them to God. Hence arises the contempt of God; that is, when men imagine that he is, as it were, sleeping in heaven, and that he rests from every work. They dare not indeed to deny God, and yet they take from him what especially belongs to his divinity, for they exclude him from the office of being a judge. Hence then it is that men allow themselves so much liberty, because they imagine that they have made a truce with God; yea, they think that they can do any thing with impurity, as if they had made a covenant with death and hell, as Isaiah says, (Isa 28:15.) Of this sottishness then does the Prophet here arraign the Israelites, They have not said, he says, in their heart, that I remember all their wickedness; that is, “They so audaciously mock me, as though I were not the judge of the world; they consider not that all things are in my sight, and that nothing is hid from me. Since then they suppose me to be like a dead idol, they have no fear, nay, they abandon themselves to every wickedness.”
He then adds, Now their wicked deeds have surrounded them, for they are in my sight; that is, “Though they promise impunity to themselves, and flatter themselves in their hypocrisy, all their works are yet before me; and thus they surround them;” that is, “They shall at last perceive that they are infolded in their own sins, and that no escape will be open to them.” We now understand the object of the Prophet; for after having complained of the stupidity of the people, he now says that they thus flattered themselves with no advantage, because God is not in the meantime blind. Though then they think that a veil is drawn over their sins, they are yet mistaken; for all their sins are in my sight, and this they themselves shall at last find out by experience, because their sins will surround or besiege them.
Let us learn from this place, that nothing ought to be more feared than that Satan should so fascinate us as to make us to think that God rests idly in heaven. There is nothing that can stir us up more to repentance, than when we adorn God with his own power, and be persuaded that he is the judge of the world, and also when we walk as in his sight, and know that our sins cannot come to oblivion, except when he buries them by pardon. This then is what the Prophet teaches in the first part of the verse. Now when we imagine that we have peace with God, and with death and hell, as Isaiah says in the place we have quoted, the prophet teaches that God is yet awake, and that his office cannot be taken from him, for he knows whatever is carried on in this world; and that this will at length be made openly known, when our sins shall surround us, as it is also said in Genesis chapter 4, 39 ‘Sin will lie down at thy door.’ For we may for a time imagine that we have many escapes or at least hiding-places; but God will at length show that all this is in vain, for he will come upon us, and has no need of forces, procured from this or that quarter; we shall have enemies enough in our own vices, for we shall be besieged by them no otherwise than if God were to arm the whole world against us. Let us go on —
3. They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies.
3. In malitia sua exhilarant regem, et in mendaciis suis principes.
The Prophet now arraigns all the citizens of Samaria, and in their persons the whole people, because they rendered obedience to the king by flattery, and to the princes in wicked things, respecting which their own conscience convicted them. He had already in the fifth chapter mentioned the defection of the people in this respect, that they had obeyed the royal edict. It might indeed have appeared a matter worthy of praise, that the people had quietly embraced what the king commanded. This is the case with many at this day, who bring forward a pretext of this kind. Under the papacy they dare not withdraw themselves from their impious superstitions, and they adduce this excuse, that they ought to obey their princes. But, as I have already said, the Prophet has before condemned this sort of obedience, and now he shows that the defection which then reigned through all Israel, ought not to be ascribed to the king or to few men, but that it was a common evil, which involved all in one and the same guilt, without exception. How so? By their wickedness, he says, they have exhilarated the king, and by their lies the princes; that is, If they wish to cast the blame on their governors, it will be done in vain; for whence came then such a promptitude? As soon as Jeroboam formed the calves, as soon as he built temples, religion instantly collapsed, and whatever was before pure, degenerated; how was the change so sudden? Even because the people had inwardly concocted their wickedness, which, when an occasion was offered, showed itself; for hypocrisy did lie hid in all, and was then discovered. We now perceive what the Prophet had in view.
And this place ought to be carefully noticed: for it often happens that some vice creeps in, which proceeds from one man or from a few; but when all readily embrace what a few introduce, it is quite evident that they have no living root of piety or of the fear of God. They then who are so prone to adopt vices were before hypocrites; and we daily find this to be the case. When pious men have the government of a city, and act prudently, then the whole people will give some hope that they will fear the Lord; and when any king, influenced by a desire of advancing the glory of God, endeavors to preserve all his subjects in the pure worship of God, then the same feeling of piety will be seen in all: but when an ungodly king succeeds him, the greater part will immediately fall back again; and when a magistrate neglects his duty, the greater portion of the people will break out into open impiety. I wish there were no proofs of these things; but throughout the world the Lord has designed that there should exist examples of them.
This purpose of God ought therefore to be noticed; for he accuses the people of having made themselves too obsequious and pliant. When king Jeroboam set up vicious worship, the people immediately offered themselves as ready to obey: hence impiety became quite open. They then delighted the king by their wickedness, and the princes by their lies; as though he said, “They cannot transfer the blame to the king and princes. Why? Because they delighted them by their wickedness; that is, they haltered the king by their wickedness and delighted the princes by their lies.” It follows —
4. They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened.
4. Omnes adulteri, sicut fornax incensa a pistore, cessabit ab excitando post conspersionem (vel, mixtionem) farinae, sonec fermentetur.
The Prophet pursues the same subject in this verse: he says that they were all adulterers. This similitude has already been often explained. He speaks not here of common fornication, but calls them adulterers, because they had violated their faith pledged to God, because they gave themselves up to filthy superstitions, and also, because they had wholly corrupted themselves, for faith and sincerity of heart constitute spiritual chastity before God. When men become corrupt in their whole life, and degenerate from the pure worship of God, they are justly deemed adulterers. In this sense does the Prophet now say, that they were all adulterers, and thus he confirms what I have said before, that as to the corruptions which then prevailed, it was not few men who had been drawn into them, but that the whole people were implicated in guilt; for they were all adulterers To say that they had been deceived by the king, that they had been forced by authority, that they had been compelled by the tyranny of their princes, would have been vain and frivolous, for all of them were adulterers.
He afterwards compares them to a furnace or an oven, They are, he says, as a furnace or an oven, heated by the baker, who ceases from stirring up until the meal kneaded is well fermented The Prophet by this similitude shows more clearly, that the people were not corrupted by some outward impulse, but by their own inclination and propensity of mind; yea, by a mad and furious desire of acting wickedly. He had previously said that they had willfully sinned, when they readily embraced the edict of the king; but now he goes still farther and says that they had been set on fire by an inward sinful instinct, and were like a hot oven. Then he adds that this had not been a sudden impulse, as it sometimes happens; but that it had so continued, that they were confirmed in their wickedness. When he says, that adulterers are like a burning oven, he means, that their defection had not only been voluntary, so that the blame was in themselves; but that they had also ardently seized on the occasion of sinning, and had been heated, as an hot oven. The ungodly often restrain their desires, and suppress them when no occasion is presented, but give vent to them when they have the opportunity of sinning with impunity. So God now declares that the people of Israel had not only been prone to defection, but had also greedily desired it, so that their madness was like a burning flame. 40
But a third thing follows, and that is, that this fire had not been suddenly lighted up, but had been for a long time gathering strength. Hence he says As an oven heated by the baker, who ceases, he says, from stirring up after the shaking or mixing of the meal, until it be fermented לום, lush, means “to besprinkle,” empaster is what they say here. Some foolishly hold that they were like those who sleep and afterwards awake early in the morning. But the Prophet had a different thing in view, and that was, that by length of time their wickedness had increased, and, as it were, by degrees. He means, in short, that they had not been under a sudden impulse, like men who often break out through want of thought, and immediately repent; and their lust, which had been in a moment set on fire, in a short time abates. The Prophet says, that the frenzy of the people of Israel had been different; for they had been like an oven, which the baker, after having lighted up, allows to grow quite hot even to the highest degree; for he waits while the dough is becoming well fermented. It was not then the intemperance and lust of a few days; but they made their hearts quite hot, as when a baker heats his oven, and puts in a great quantity of fuel, that after a time it may become heated, while the dough is fermenting.
The word מעיר, meoir, “from stirring up,” is to be taken for מהעיר, maeoir; for what some say, that the baker rested from the city, that is, to manage public affairs, is frigid. Others render it thus, “He rests from the city,” so as not to be a citizen, — to what purpose? There is then no doubt but that the Prophet here pursues his own similitudes which he will again shortly repeat. It follows —
5. In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine; he stretched out his hand with scorners.
5. Dies regis nostri, fecerunt principes aegrotare utre vini; ex tendit manum suam ad illusores.
The Prophet here reproves especially the king and his courtiers. He had spoken of the whole people, and showed that the filth of evils was every where diffused: but he now relates how strangely the king and his courtiers ruled. Hence he says, The day of our king! the princes have made him sick; that is, so great has been the intemperance of excess, that the king himself became sick through too much drinking, and extended his hand to mockers. In short, the Prophet means, that the members of government in the kingdom of Israel had become so corrupt, that in the hall or palace of the king there was no regard for decency, and no shame.
By “the day of the king,” some understand his birth-day; and we know that it has been a very old custom even for the common people to celebrate their birth-day. Others refer it to the day of coronation, which is more probable. Some take it for the very beginning of his reign, which seems strained. The day of our king! that is “Our king is now seated on his throne, he has now undertaken the government of the kingdom; let us then feast plentifully, and glut ourselves with eating and drinking.” This sense suits well; but I do not know whether it can bear the name of day; he calls it the day of the king. I would then rather adopt their opinion, who explain it as the annual day of coronation: The day then of our king. There are yet interpreters, who render the sentence thus, “In the day the princes have made the king sick;” but I make this separation in it, The day of the king! the princes have made him sick.
It was not indeed sinful or blamable to celebrate yearly the memory of the coronation; but then the king ought to have stirred up himself and others to give thanks to God; the goodness of the Lord, in preserving the kingdom safe, ought to have been acknowledged at the end of the year; the king ought also to have asked of God the spirit of wisdom and strength for the future, that he might discharge rightly his office. But the Prophet shows here that there was nothing then in a sound state; for they had turned into gross abuse what was in itself, as I have said, useful. The day then of our king — how is it spent? Does the king humbly supplicate pardon before God, if he has done any thing unworthy of his station, if in any thing he has offended? Does he give thanks that God has hitherto sustained him by his support? Does he prepare himself for the future discharge of his duty? No such thing; but the princes indulge excess, and stimulate their king; yea, they so overcome him with immoderate drinking, that they make him sick. This then, he says, is their way of proceeding; nothing royal now appears in the king’s palace, or even worthy of men; for they abandon themselves like beasts to drunkenness, and so great intemperance prevails among them, that they ruin the king himself with a bottle of wine.
Some render this, “a flagon;” חמת, chemet, means properly a bottle; and we know that wine was then preserved in bottles, as the Orientals do to this day. Then with a bottle of wine, with immoderate drinking, they made the king sick.
He then says, that the king stretched forth his hand to scorners; that is, forgetting himself, he retained no gravity, but became like a buffoon, and indecently mixed with worthless men. For the Prophet, I doubt not, calls those scorners, who, having cast away all shame, indulge in buffoonery and wantonness. He therefore says, that the king held forth his hand to scorners, as a proof of friendship. As he was then the companion of buffoons and worthless men, he had cast away from him everything royal which he ought to have had. This is the meaning. The Prophet, therefore, deplores this corruption, that there was no longer any dignity or decency in the king and his princes, being wholly given, as they were, to excess and drunkenness; yea, they turned sacred days into this abuse, when the king ought to have conducted himself in a manner worthy of the rank of the highest honor: he prostituted himself to every kind of wantonness, and his princes were his leaders and encouragers. 41 This so great a depravity the Prophet now deplores. It follows —
6. For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire.
6. Quoniam appropinquare fecerunt (ad verbum; hoc est, aptarunt) instar fornacis cor suum in fraudibus suis (vel, insidiis;) tota nocte dormiet pistor ipsorum; mane fornax ardebit quasi ignis flammae (hoc est, ignis projciens flammam.)
Here the Prophet says, that the Israelites did secretly, and by hidden means, prepare their hearts for deeds of evil; and he takes up nearly the same similitude as he did a little while before, though for a different purpose; for he says that they had prepared their hearts secretly, as the baker puts fire in the night in his oven, and then rests, and in the morning the oven is well heated, having attained heat sufficient to bake the bread. The oven becomes hot in the morning, though the baker sleeps. How so? Because an abundance of fuel had been put together, so that it is heated by the morning. Hence nocturnal rest does not prevent the fire from making hot the oven, when it has a sufficient quantity of fuel, when the baker has so filled his oven, that the fire cannot be extinguished, nor be gradually smothered. When the baker has thus set in order an heap of wood, he then securely rests, for the fire can continue until the morning. We now then see the design of the Prophet.
They have prepared, he says, their hearts insidiously; that is, though they have not at first made evident their wickedness, they have yet previously prepared their hearts, as the oven is lighted up, or as the furnace is heated before the bread is prepared; nay, there is no need of much bustle, — there is no need of much noise when the baker lights up his oven, for he prepares the wood, and then he goes to rest; and, in the meantime, while he sleeps all the night, the fire is burning. So also they, though all do not perceive their wickedness, they have yet, in the meantime, heated their hearts like an oven; that is, evil deeds have, by degrees and during a long period of time, been conceived by them, before they came forth into open acts of wickedness.
We hence see that the similitude of an oven is set forth here by the Prophet in a sense different from what it had been before; and this ought to be noticed, because interpreters heedlessly pass over this wholly, as if the Prophet meant in both places the same thing. But the meaning, as it is evident, is far different. For he intended only, in the first instance, to reprove the mad lust with which they were burning; but he now speaks of their plots and concealed frauds; that is, that the Israelites before openly showed themselves to be ungodly and wicked, but that they were now wicked before God. How so? Because they were now like an oven lighted up in the night; for as the baker, having closed the door of his house, puts in fire, while none perceive that the furnace or the oven is being heated; so also the people fed and nourished their wickedness before God; and afterwards, in course of time, it broke forth openly, whenever an opportunity was offered.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast once shone upon us by thy gospel, — O grant, that we may always be guided by this light, and so guided, that all our lusts may be restrained; and may the power of thy Spirit extinguish in us every sinful fervor, that we may not grow hot with our own perverse desires, but that all these being subdued, we may gather new fervor daily, that we may breathe after thee more and more: nor let the coldness of our flesh ever take possession of us, but may we continually advance in the way of piety, until at length we come to that blessed rest, to which thou invites us, and which has been obtained for us by the blood of thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
7. They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me.
7. Omnes calent tanquam clibanus, comederunt judices suos: omne reges eorum ceciderunt; nemo in illis clamat ad me.
The Prophet repeats what he had said before, that the Israelites were carried away by a mad zeal into their own superstitions and wicked practices, and could not be allayed or quieted by any remedies; and he shows at the same time that this malady or intemperance raged in the whole people, lest the vulgar should accuse a few men, as if they were the authors of all the wickedness. He gives proof of their frenzy, because they could not have been hitherto amended by any corrections. They have eaten, he says, their own judges; their kings have fallen; and in the meantime not one of them cries to me What the Prophet says here I refer to good kings, or to those who were able to uphold an ordinary government among the people. He says that judges as well as kings had fallen; by which words he means, that the Israelites had been deprived of good and wise governors; and this was a sad and miserable disorder to the people; it was the same as if the head were taken from the body. He says, in short, that the body was mangled and mutilated, because the Lord had taken away the kings and judges. We indeed know that kings in continual succession reigned among the Israelites; but we must consider of what kings the Prophet here speaks.
But let us now notice what he says: Judges have been devoured Some hold that the people through their wantonness had risen up against their judges, and, as if freed from all laws, had by main force upset all order; but this seems to me strained. The Prophet, I doubt not, means that the judges had been devoured, because the people had through their own fault made, as it were, entirely void the favor of God, as it often happens daily. God indeed so begins to do good, that he intends to continue his benefits to us to the end; but we devour his benefits; for we dry up, as it were, the fountain of his goodness, which would otherwise be exhaustless and perpetually flow to us. As then the goodness of God, which is otherwise inexhaustible, is in a manner dried up to us, when we allow it not to approach us; it is in this sense that the Prophet now complains that judges had been devoured by the Israelites; for through their impiety they had been deprived of this singular kindness of God; and they had consumed it, as rust or some other fault in brass destroys good fruit. We now comprehend the meaning of this verse.
God first shows that the Israelites were so ardent, that their frenzy could not be corrected or quieted. How so? “I have tried,” he says, “whether their disease was healable; for I have taken away their kings and governors, which was no obscure sign of my displeasure: but I have effected nothing.” Then it follows, אין קרא בהם אלי, ain kora beem ali, There is no one, he says, among them who cries to me He had said that all were burning with the lust of committing sin; now, accusing their stupidity, he excepts none. We hence see that the whole people were so seized with frenzy, that when chastised by God’s hand, they did not yet cry to him. It is indeed certain that the Israelites did cry, but without repentance; and it is usual with hypocrites to howl when God punishes them; but they yet direct not to him their supplications and their groans, for their heart is locked up by obstinacy. Thus then ought this clause to be expounded, that they repented not, nor fled to God for mercy. Then it follows —
8. Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. 42
8. Ephraim inter populos ipse miscuitse: Ephraim fuit panis subciniricius, qui versus non est.
God now complains, that Ephraim, whom he had chosen to be a peculiar possession to himself, differed nothing from other nations. The children of Abraham, we know, had been adopted by God for this end, that they might not be like the heathens: for the calling of God brings holiness with it. And we ought to remember that memorable sentence, which often occurs, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.’ The Israelites then ought to have been mindful of their calling, and to resolve to worship God purely, and not to pollute themselves with the defilements and filth of the Gentiles. But God says here that Ephraim differed now nothing from the uncircumcised nations. He mingles himself, he says, with the peoples And there is an emphasis to be noticed in the pronoun demonstrative, הוא, eva, Ephraim himself, he says: for surely this was unworthy and by no means to be endured, that Ephraim, on whom God had engraven the mark of his election, was now entangled in the superstitions of the Gentiles. We now then see the drift of the Prophet’s words, He, even Ephraim, mingles himself with the nations If the condition of Israel and of all the nations had been alike and equal, the Prophet would not have thus spoken; but as God had designed Ephraim to be holy to himself; the Prophet here amplifies his sin, when he says that even Ephraim had mingled himself with the nations.
He then adds, Ephraim is like bread baked under the ashes, which is not turned This metaphor most fitly suits the meaning of the Prophet and the circumstances of this passage, provided it be rightly understood. And I think the Prophet simply meant this, that Ephraim was in nothing fixed, but was inconstant and changeable; as, when we in vulgar language notify their changeableness who are not consistent with themselves, and in whom there is no sincerity, we say, Il n’est ne chair ne poisson, (It is neither flesh nor fish.) So also in this place the Prophet says, that Ephraim was like a cake burnt on one side, and was on the other doughy, or a crude and unbaked lump of paste. For Ephraim, we know, boasted themselves to be a people sacred to God; and since circumcision distinguished that people from other nations, there seemed to be some difference; but in the meantime the worship of God was corrupted; all the sacrifices were adulterated, as we have already seen and the whole of their religion was a confused mixture; yea, a chaos composed of Gentile superstitions and of something that resembled true and legitimate worship. When, therefore, the Israelites were thus perfidiously mocking God, they had nothing fixed: hence the Prophet compares them to a cake, which, being placed on the hearth, is not turned; for on one side it must be burnt, while on the other it remains unbaked. 43
The Prophet here anticipates what the Israelites might object; for hypocrites, we know, never want pretenses. The Israelites might then bring forward this defense, “Thou sayest that we are now entangled in the pollutions of the heathens; but the heathens have no circumcision; among them the God of Israel is despised, there is no altar on which the people can sacrifice to the true God; we, on the contrary, are the children of Abraham, we have the God who stretched forth his hand to deliver us from Egypt, and the priesthood ever abides with us.” As then the Israelites might have introduced these pretenses for their superstitions, the Prophet says, by anticipation, that they were like bread baked under the ashes, which, being thrown on the hearth, is not turned, so that the baking might be equal; for then on the one side it would receive heat, and on the other there would be no proportionate temperature. “Ye are,” he says, “on one side burnt, but on the other crude; so that with you there is nothing but mere perfidiousness.” We now understand what the Prophet means.
But this similitude might also be referred to their punishment; for God had shown before in many places, that the Israelites were so perverse, that they could not be subdued nor brought to a sound mind by any distresses: and he again repeats this complaint. The meaning of the words may then be this, That Ephraim was like a cake, which was not turned on the hearth, because he had been sharply and severely chastised, but without any benefit; being like reprobates, who, though the Lord may bruise them, yet continue obstinate in their hardness. They are then on one side burnt, because they are nearly wasted away under their evils; but on the other side they are wholly unbaked, because the Lord had not softened their perverseness. But what I have adduced in the first place is more suitable to the context.
We now then understand what the Prophet says: in the first clause God accuses Ephraim, because he had made himself profane by receiving the rites and superstitions of heathens, so that there was, as I have said before, a confused mixture. In the second place, he answers the Israelites, in case they pleaded in their favor the name of God, for it was usual for them to make false pretenses. He therefore says, that they were in some things different from the uncircumcised nations, but that this difference was nothing before God, for they were like bread baked under the ashes, which is neither baked nor unbaked on either side; for on one side it is burnt, and on the other it remains unbaked. 44 It now follows —
9. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.
9. Comederunt extranei robur ejus, et ipse non intelligit: etiam canities sparsa est in eo, et ipse non intelligit.
The Prophet follows the same subject, that is, that Israel had not repented, though the Lord had in various ways invited them to repentance; yea, and constrained them by his scourges. It is indeed a proof of desperate and incurable wickedness, when God prevails nothing with us either by his word or by his stripes. When we are deaf to his teaching and admonitions, it is quite evident that we are wholly perverse: but when the Lord also raises up his hand and inflicts punishment, if then we bend not, what can be said, but that our sins have taken such deep roots, that they cannot be torn away from us? Hence God in these words shows that the Israelites were now past all remedy; for after having been so often and in so many ways warned, they did not return to the right way; nay, they did not think of their sins, but remained insensible. And Paul says of such that they are απηλγηκοτας, (“past feeling,” Eph 4:19,) that is void of feeling. When men are touched by no grief in their distresses, it is certain that they are smitten by the spirit of giddiness. Notwithstanding, the Israelites no doubt felt their evils; but the Prophet means, that they were so stupefied, that they did not consider the cause and source of them. And what can it avail, when one knows himself to be ill, and yet looks not to God, nor thinks that he is justly visited? Hence when any one cries only on account of the strokes, and regards not the hand of the striker, as another Prophet says, (Isa 9:13,) there is certainly in him complete stupidity. We hence see what the Prophet had in view when he said, that Israel did not understand while he was devoured by strangers, while hoariness was spreading over him; for he attended not to the cause of evils, but remained stupid; nor did he raise up his mind to God, so as to impute to his sins all the evils which he suffered.
He says, that his strength was eaten by strangers God had promised that the people would be under his protection; and when they were exposed to the plunder of strangers, why did they not perceive that they were deprived of God’s protection? And this could not have happened, except their own sin had deprived them of this privilege. Hence the Israelites must have been extremely blind and alienated in mind, when they did not perceive that they were thus spoiled by strangers, because God did not now defend them, nor was their patron, as he was wont to be formerly.
He adds, that hoariness was upon him Some understand by this, that the Israelites were not improved by long succession of years. Age, as we know, through long experience, brings to men some prudence. Young people, even when the Lord invites them to himself, are carried away by some impulse or another; but in the aged there is greater prudence and moderation. Many hence think that the Israelites are here condemned because they had profited nothing — no, not even by the advance of age. But the Prophet, I doubt not, expresses the greatness of their calamities by this mode of speaking, when he says that hoariness was sprinkled over him; for we know, that when any one is grievously pained and afflicted, he becomes hoary through the very pressure of evils; inasmuch as hoariness proceeds not only from years, but also from troubles and heavy cares, which not only waste men, but consume them. We indeed know that men grow old through the suffering of evils. And here, in my judgment, the Prophet means, that “hoariness had come upon Israel,” — that is, that he had been visited with so many evils, that he was worn out, as it were, with old age; and that, after all, he had derived no benefit. We now perceive the truth of what I have said before, that it was the constant teaching of the Prophet, that the diseases which prevailed among the people of Israel were incurable, for they could by no remedies be brought to repentance. It follows —
10. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this.
10. Et testificabitur (vel, testificata est) superbia Israelis ad faciem ejus, et non reversi sunt ad Jehovam Deum suum, et non quaesierunt eum in omnibus his.
The Prophet now confirms his previous doctrine, and speaks generally, that the pride of Israel shall bear testimony to him to his face, or shall humble him to his face. The word ענה, one, means, in Hebrew, “to testify,” and often, also, “to humble,” or “to afflict,” as it was stated in the fifth chapter; and the words of the Prophet are now the same, and both senses are appropriate. I do not, however, make much of this, for the design of the Prophet is clear; what he means is, that God had so openly chastised the Israelites, that they must have perceived his hand, except they were blind indeed, and that, being at the same time warned, they ought to have suppliantly humbled themselves. Whether then we read, “to testify” or “to humble,” the sense will be the same, and the design of the Prophet will appear to be the same. “The pride, then, of Israel will humble him to his face,” or, “the pride of Israel will testify to his face:” for the Prophet means, that however fiercely the Israelites might rise up against God, and be uncourteous to his Prophets and however perversely they might reject all teaching, and also excuse their own sins, yet all this would avail them nothing, since they were so cast down by their pride, that the Lord regarded them as convicted as much so as if their crime had been proved by many witnesses, and their mask now taken away; in short, there was no longer any doubt: this is what the Prophet means.
The pride, then, of Israel testifies, or, humbles him to his face; that is, though Israel had appeared hitherto inflexible against all admonitions, against all punishments, they were yet held as convicted; and, at the same time, they return not, he says, to their God, and seek him not for all these things We now perceive what I have said, that the previous complaint respecting the diabolical perverseness which so reigned in the people is here confirmed, so that their salvation was now past hope. And he says that they returned not to Jehovah their God; for they were running constantly after their idols, as we have before seen; yea, they were possessed with that inordinate zeal of which the Prophet speaks in the beginning of the chapter; but they returned not to Jehovah; they were wholly taken up with the multitude of their deities, and at the same time had no regard for God.
And when he says, their God, he conveys a strong reprobation; for God had manifested himself to them; yea, he had made himself plainly known to them by his law. That they then did not return to him, was not simply through ignorance or error; but through a diabolical madness, as if they wished of their own accord and deliberately to perish. God then calls himself here the God of Israel, not for honour’s sake, but that he might the more expose their ingratitude, and enhance their perfidiousness, because they had fallen away from him, and would not seek him.
What he means, when he says, For all these things, is, that every kind of remedy had been tried, and hence that their disease was wholly incurable. When we can do nothing in one way, we often try another. Now God had not tried in one way only to bring Israel back to himself, but he had tried all remedies. When no good followed, what was to be said, but the people were lost, and past all hope? This then is what the Prophet means here. It now follows —
11. Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.
11. Et fuit Ephraim tanquam columba credula (vel, quae fallitur, vel, declinans, ut alii vertunt) sine corde (id est, sine intelligentia; cor enim saepe est Hebraeis voluntas, sed interdum mentem et intelligentiam significat;) clamant Aegyptum, proficiscuntur in Assyriam.
12. When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven; I will chastise them, as their congregation hath heard.
12. Ubi autem profecti fuerunt (vel, quocunque profecti fuerunt) extendam super eos rete meum: tanquam avem coeli dejiciam eos; corrigam eos (vel, ligabo,) secundum auditionem coetus ipsorum. 45
The Prophet here first blames Israel for foolish credulity, and compares them to a dove; for they had invited the Egyptians and sent to Assyria for help. Simplicity is indeed a commendable virtue, when joined to prudence. But as everything reasonable and judicious in men is turned into wickedness when there is no integrity; so when men are too credulous and void of all judgment and reason, it is then mere folly. But when he says that Israel is like a dove, he does not mean that the Israelites had sinned through mere ignorance, but that they were destitute of all judgment; and this folly is opposed to the knowledge which God had offered to them in his law: for God had never ceased to guide Israel by sound doctrine; he had ever exhibited before them the torch of his word; but when God thus gave them light, Israel was so credulous as to give heed to the delusions of Satan and of the world. We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet.
Some render פותה, pute, by “turning aside:” and its root פתה, pite, no doubt, means “to turn aside;” and it means also sometimes “to persuade:” hence some give this rendering, “a persuasible,” or, “a credulous dove.” But the Prophet, I doubt not, means, that they were enticed by flatteries, or deceived by allurements, which is the same thing. Israel then was like a dove, deceived by various lures.
How so? Because they ran to the Assyrians, they invited the Egyptians If Israel had attended to the law of God, they might have felt assured that they were not in danger of going astray; for the Lord keeps us not in suspense or doubt, that we may fluctuate, but makes our minds fixed and tranquil by his word, as it is also said in another place, ‘This is rest.’ It was then determined by the Israelites not to fix their feet as it were on solid ground; and they preferred to fly here and there like doves; and their credulity led them to many errors. How? Because they chose rather to give themselves up to be deceived by the Egyptians as well as by the Assyrians, when yet God was willing to guide them by sound knowledge. We now understand the design of this accusation of the Prophet to be, that Israel wilfully refused the way of safety offered to them, which they might have followed with confidence, and with a tranquil and composed mind; but in the meantime they flew up and down, and became wilfully erratic; for they suffered themselves to be deceived by various lures.
Now this place teaches us that men are not to be excused by the pretext of simplicity; for the Prophet here condemns this very weakness in the Israelites. We ought then to attend to the rule of Christ, ‘To be innocent as doves, and yet to be prudent as serpents.’ 46 But if we inconsiderately abandon ourselves, the excuse of ignorance will be frivolous; for the Lord shines upon us by his word and shows us the right way; and he has also in his power the spirit of prudence and judgment, which he never denies to those who ask. But when we despise the word, and neglect the Spirit of God, and follow our own vagrant imaginations, our sin is twofold; for we thus despise and quench the light of the word, and we also wilfully perish, when the Lord would save us.
But a denunciation of punishment afterwards follows, Wheresoever, he says, they shall go, I will expand over them my net, and will draw them down as the birds of heaven God shows that though the Israelites might turn about here and there, yet their end would be unhappy; for he would have his expanded net: and he follows up the simile he used in the last verse. He had said that they were like doves, which are carried by a sudden instinct to the bait, and consider not the expanded net. If then the dove sees only the lure, and at the same time shuns not the danger, it is a proof of foolish simplicity. Hence God says, I will expand my net; that is, I will cause all your endeavors and purposes to be disappointed, and all your hopes to be vain; for wheresoever they shall fly, my net shall be expanded.
This is a remarkable passage; for we hence learn, that the issue will always be unfortunate, if we attempt any thing contrary to the word of the Lord, and it we hold consultations over which his Spirit does not preside; as it is said by Isaiah Isa 30:1,
‘Woe to them who weave a web, and draw not from my mouth! Woe to them who take counsel, and invoke not my Spirit!’
This passage wholly agrees with the words of Isaiah, though the form of speaking is different. It belongs then to God to bless our counsels, that they may have a prosperous and the desired success. But when God is not favorable, but even opposed to our designs, what end shall at last await us, but that whatever we may have attained shall at length be turned to our ruin? Let us then know, that whatever men do in this world is ruled by the hidden providence of God; and as God leads by his extended hand his own people, and gives his angels charge to guide them; so also he has his expanded net to catch all those who wander after their own erratic imaginations. Hence he says, Wheresoever they shall go, I will expand over them my net; and farther, I will draw them down as the birds of heaven
The Prophet seems to allude to the vain confidence, which he mentioned, when he said that Israel had bound wind in his wings. For when men presumptuously undertake any thing, they at the same time promise to themselves, that there will be nothing to prevent them from gaining their object. Inasmuch then as men, elated with this foolish confidence, gather more boldness, yea, at length furiously assail God, and seem as though they would break through the very clouds, the Prophet says, I will draw them down as the birds of heaven; that is, “I will allow them to be carried up for a time; but when they shall penetrate to the clouds, I will draw them down, I will make them to know that their flying will avail them nothing.” And we must notice from whence the Israelites had been drawn down. For who would not have thought that so much protection must have been found in the Assyrians or in the Egyptians, that they could not in vain expect deliverance? But the Lord laughs to scorn this vain power of the world; for whatever hope men may conceive when they alienate themselves from God, it will entirely vanish like smoke.
And he afterwards adds, I will chastise them, or, ‘I will bind them:’ for the verb יסר, isar, means both “to chastise” as well as “to bind;” so that either sense may be taken. If the word, “to bind,” be approved, it will well agree with the metaphor, as though he said, “I will hold you fast in my nets.” For as long as birds are allowed to fly, they think the whole heaven to be theirs; but when they fall into nets, they remain confined; they are then unable to fly, and cannot move their wings. So then this sense, “I will bind them”, is very suitable; which means, “They will not be able to break my net, but I will hold them there bound to the end.” But if one prefers the other sense, I will chastise them, I do not object; and as far as the meaning is concerned, we see that there is not much difference which sense we take, except that the word, “to bind,” as I have said, harmonizes better with the metaphor.
He says, According to the hearing of their assembly. Nearly all so render this, as if God had said that he would punish them as he had threatened by Moses, and as if it was also an indirect accusation of their carelessness, because they did not become wise after having been long admonished, but even despised those denunciations, which constantly resounded in their ears. For God had not only prescribed in his law the rule of a religious life, but also added heavy and severe threatening, by which he gave a sanction to the doctrine at the law. We know how dreadful are those curses of the law. Since then God had even from the beginning thus threatened the Israelites, ought they not to have walked more carefully before him? But they were not terrified by these denunciations. Hence God here indirectly reproves this great madness, that the Israelites did not sufficiently attend to his threatening, by which they might have been recalled to the right way; for Moses did by these put a restraint even on the furious passions of men, if only there remained in them a particle of sound understanding. Still further, the same admonitions had been often pressed on them by the Prophets; nor had God ever ceased to arouse them, until the ears of them all had become deaf to his voice. He therefore says, ‘I will hold them fast bound,’ or, ‘I will chastise them, according to the hearing of their assembly;’ that is, “The punishment which I shall inflict must have been long ago known to them, for I have openly commanded my law to be promulgated, that I might thus testify my people by severe threatening; I will now then execute the judgment, which they have not believed, because I have hitherto spared them.”
As I have already said, interpreters nearly all agree in this view, except that they do not consider the design of the Prophet; they do not perceive that the Israelites were upbraided for their hardness; but they only speak of punishment, without any intimation of the end or object for which God had promulgated maledictions in his law, and renewed the recollection of them by his Prophets. Jerome brings forward another meaning, even this, that God would punish the people according to the report of their assembly; that is, that as they had with one consent violated the worship of God, and transgressed his laws, so he would punish them all. I will at the same time add this view, that God would chastise them according to the clamour of their assembly, so that the Prophet points out, not only a conspiracy among the people of Israel, but also their violence in eliciting one another to sin. As, then, they had thus tumultuously risen up against God, so the Prophet in his turn declares, that God would punish them; as though he said, “Your tumult will not prevent me from quelling your fury. Ye do indeed with great noise oppose me, and think that you will be safe, though addicted to your sins; but this your violence will be no hindrance, for I have in my power the means of chastising you.”
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou sees us to be so prone to all the allurements of Satan and the world, and at the same time so void of judgment, and carried away by mere levity, — O grant, that by thy Spirit leading us, we may proceed in the right course, on which we have already entered under thy guidance and directing hand, so that we may never go astray from thy word, nor by any means turn aside from pursuing towards the mark which thou hast set before us; and though Satan may attempt to draw us aside, may we yet continue steadfast in thy service, and thus proceed, until we arrive at that blessed rest which, after the warfare of the present life, thou hast promised to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
13. Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me.
13. Vae illis, quia recesserunt a me; vastitas illis, (vel, Direptio,) quia perfide egerunt in me: et ego redimam eos (potest etiam resolvi in tempus praeteritum, Redemi eos,) et loquuti sunt contra me mendacia.
Here the Prophet takes away from the Israelites the hope of pardon, and declares that it was all over with them, for God had now resolved to destroy them. For as God everywhere declares himself to be ready and inclined to pardon, hypocrites hope that God will be propitious to them; and entertaining this vain confidence, they despise his threatening and boldly rise up against him. Hence the Prophet here shows, that God would hereafter be inexorable to them, because they had too long pertinaciously abused his patience. Woe to them! he says, for they have withdrawn from me: desolation to them! for they have acted perfidiously towards me There is then no reason, says the Prophet, for them to delude themselves in future with vain confidence, as they have hitherto done; for this has been once for all determined by God — to indict on them his extreme vengeance, for their defection deserves this.
He then adds, I will redeem them, and they have spoken lies against me. They who render the first word in the future tense, think that the Prophet asks a question, “Shall I redeem them? for they have spoken lies against me:” and they think it to be an indefinite mode of speaking — “Should I redeem them, men of no faith; for what good should I do by such kindness?” Others give this expositions — “Though I wished to redeem them, yet I found that this would not be beneficial nor just, because they speak lies against me;” as though God did not express here what he had done, but what he had wished to do. But the past tense is not unsuitable to this place; and we know how common and familiar to the Hebrews was the change of tenses. The meaning, then, will be, “I have redeemed them, and they have spoken lies against me;” that is, “I have often delivered them from death, when they were in extreme peril; but they have not changed their disposition; nay, they have deprived me of the praise due for their deliverance, and they have lived in no way better after their deliverance. Since, then, I have hitherto conferred my benefits to no good purpose, nothing now remains but that I must destroy them.” And this seems to me to be the Prophet’s meaning.
He then declares, in the first clause, that they hoped for mercy in vain from God, because their ultimate destruction was decreed. Then follows the reason for this, because they had foolishly and impiously abused the favor of God, inasmuch as, having been redeemed by him, they yet went on in their own wickedness, and even acted perfidiously towards God, while yet they pretended to act differently. Since, then, there was no change for the better, God now shows that he would spend his favor no longer on men so impious. Now this place teaches how intolerable is our ingratitude, when, after having been redeemed by the Lord, we keep not the faith pledged to him, and which he requires from us; for God is our deliverer on this condition, that we be wholly devoted to him. For he who has been redeemed ought not so to live, as if he had a right to himself and to his own will; but he ought to be wholly dependent on his Redeemer. If, then, we thus act perfidiously towards God, after having been delivered by his grace, we shall be guilty of such impiety and perfidiousness as deserve a twofold vengeance: and this is what the Prophet here teaches.
We indeed know how mercifully God had spared the people of Israel: after they had fallen away into superstitious worship, and had also violated their faith to the posterity of David, the Lord did not yet cease to show to that people many favors, notwithstanding their unworthiness. We know also, that under Jeroboam prosperity had attended them beyond all human expectation. But they yet hardened themselves more and more in their wickedness, so far were they from returning to the right way. Let us now proceed —
14. And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me.
14. Et non clamaverunt ad me in corde suo: quia ulularunt super cubilibus suis; ad triticum et vinum congregabunt se, defecerunt (deficient, ad verbum) a me. 47
The Prophet here again reproves the Israelites for having not repented, after having been so often admonished; for, as it was said yesterday, all the chastisements which God by his own hand inflicts on us, have this as the object — to heal us of our vices. Now the Prophet says here that the Israelites had not cried to God, which is yet the chief thing in repentance. But this expression is to be noticed. They have not cried to me with their heart; that is sincerely. We indeed know that some worship of God had ever remained among them; though the Israelites devised for themselves many gods, yet the name of the true God had never been wholly obliterated among them; but they blended the worship of God with their own inventions; God, at the same time, could not endure these fictitious invocations. Hence he says, that they cried not from the heart. He accuses them, not that they performed no outward act, but that they did not bring a real desire of heart; nay, they only cried to God dissemblingly. We now perceive what the Prophet meant by saying, They have not cried to me with their heart As calling on God is the chief exercise of religion, and especially manifests our repentance, the Prophet expressly notices this defect in the Israelites — that they cried not to the Lord. But as they might object and say, that they had formally prayed, he adds, that they did not do so from the heart; for the outward act (ceremonia) without the exercise of the heart, is nothing else but a profanation of God’s name. In short, the Prophet shows here to the Israelites their hardness; for when they were smitten by God’s hand, they did not flee to him and supplicate pardon, at least they did not do this from the heart or sincerely.
He then adds, Because they howled on their beds Some explain the particle כי, ki, adversatively; as though the Prophet had said, “Though they howl on their beds, they do not yet direct their petitions to me.” But we may take it in its proper sense, and the sentence would thus run better: They howl then on their beds, that is, “They bring not their concerns to me; for like brute animals they utter their howlings:” and this we see to be the case with the unbelieving; for they fear the presence of God, and the very mention of him is dreaded by them; hence they howl, that is, they pour forth their impetuous feelings, but at the same time they shun every access to God as much as they can. The sense then is, “They cry not to me from the heart, for they only howl; but it is only by an animal effort without any reason.” If, however, any one prefers to take the particle כי, ki, adversatively, the sense would not be unsuitable, “Though they howl on their beds, they do not yet cry to me;” that is, “Though grief urges them to make great noises, they are yet mute as to any cry of prayer.” If any one more approves of this meaning, I say nothing against it: but as the particle כי, ki, is commonly taken as a causative, I prefer thus to explain it, “As they cry on their beds, they raise not up their voice to God.”
Then it follows, They assemble, or, will assemble themselves for corn and wine This place is explained in two ways. Some think that the Israelites are here in an indirect way reproved, inasmuch as when they found wine and corn in the market, having obtained their wishes, they went on heedlessly in their sins, and despised God, as if they had no more need of his help. They then ran together for wine and corn; that is, as soon as they heard of wine or corn, they provided themselves with provisions, and afterwards neglected God. But this sense seems too frigid and strained. The Prophet then, I doubt not, opposes the running together of which he speaks, to true and sincere attention to prayer; as though he said, “They are not touched with grief for having offended me, though they see by evident proofs that I am displeased with them; they regard not my favor or my displeasure, provided they enjoy plenty of wine and corn: this satisfies them, and it is all the same with them whether I am adverse or propitious to them.” This seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet.
But that this reproof may be more evident, we must observe what Christ teaches, that we ought first to seek the kingdom of God. 48 For men act strangely when they anxiously labour only for this life, and strive only to procure for themselves food, and what is needful for the wants of the flesh: we ever make a beginning here; and yet it is a most thoughtless anxiety, when we are so attentive to a frail life, and in the meantime neglect the kingdom of God. Inasmuch then as men by this perverted feeling derange the whole order of religion, the Prophet here shows that the Israelites did not truly and from the heart cry unto God, because they were only solicitous about wine and corn; for except when they were hungry, they despised God, and allowed him to rest quietly in heaven: hence penury and want constrained them. As brute beasts, when they are hungry, go to the stall, and seek not to be fed by the Lord; so also did the Israelites, when they were touched by some feeling of need; but at the same time they were contented with their wine and corn; nor had they any other God. Hence they so cried, that their voice did not come to God, as they did not indeed go really and directly to him. The Prophet then does here, by a particular instance, convict the Israelites of impious dissimulation, inasmuch as they did not seek God, but were only intent on food; and provided the stomach was well supplied, they neglected God, and desired not his favor, and only wished to have full barns and full cellars; for plenty of provisions, without the paternal favor of God, was their only desire. It is hence sufficiently evident that they did not cry to the Lord.
This place is worthy of being observed; for we here see that our prayers are faulty before God, if we begin with wine and bread, and seek not first the kingdom of God, that is, his glory; and if we apply not our minds to this — to live, so to have God propitious to us. When we go to Him, the fountain of divine blessing, God only desire to glut ourselves with the abundance of the good things which he has to bestow, then all our prayers are deservedly rejected by him. We see this to be the case with the Papists; when they present their supplications, they are wholly like animals. They indeed implore God for rain and for dry weather; but have they any desire of reconciling themselves to God? By no means; for they wish, as much as possible, to be at the farthest distance from him: but when want and famine constrain them, they then ask for rain, — for what purpose? only that they may abound in bread and wine. We ought then to preserve a legitimate order in our prayers. If the Lord shows to us proofs of his wrath, we must strive first to return into favor with him, and then his glory must be regarded by us, and he is to be sought with the real feeling of piety, that he may be a Father to us: and then may be added in their place the things which belong to the condition and preservation of the present life.
We must also notice what he adds, They have revolted from me The verb סור, sur, means, “to recede,” and also “to revolt;” and this second sense is the most suitable; for the Prophet said before that they had receded or departed from God; but now he seems to signify something more grievous, and that is, that they had revolted from God. Thus hypocrites, when they pretend to seek God in a circuitous course, betray their own revolt; for they are unwilling to be reconciled to him on the condition that they are to change for the better their life, to cast away the affections of the flesh, to renounce themselves and their depraved desires. These things they by no means seek. Hence then it becomes evident that they are witnesses to their own revolt, and also to dissimulation in their prayers, even when there is some appearance of piety. It follows —
15. Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me.
15. Et ego ligavi, eoboravi brachia ipsorum, et contra me cogitant malum.
God again reproaches the Israelites for having in a base manner abused his goodness and forbearance. Some consider the verb יסר, isar, as meaning, “to chastise,” because God had disciplined the Israelites; and, as I have said yesterday, it is often taken in this sense. But as it signifies sometimes “to bind,” it seems a fitter metaphor for this place. I have bound and strengthened their arms; as though God had said, that he had caused their arms not to be enervated. For we know that the strength of the arm depends on the structure of the nerves. Except the bones were bound together by the nerves, a dissolution would immediately follow. Hence God says, I have bound and strengthened their arms; which two things combine for the same end, and the notion of chastising seems not to me to be in any way suitable to the context. The meaning is, that the Israelites had hitherto continued, because God had sustained them by his power. As when one binds up and strengthens a weak or a loosened arm, so God here reminds Israel that he had preserved them in their position. And the Prophet, I have no doubt, alludes here to the many calamities by which the strength of Israel might have been broken, had not a timely remedy been applied by the Lord.
God then compares himself here to a physician or a surgeon, when he says that he had bound the arm of Israel and strengthened it, when it might have been otherwise broken: for they had been often as it were enervated, but the Lord restored them. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet to be, that God had not only by his power sustained the Israelites, but had also performed the office of a surgeon or a physician, when he saw their arms broken, when they were wasted by slaughters in wars, and by other adversities.
Now the Israelites were so far from being grateful to God and mindful of him, that they were even devising evil against him. For after having obtained victories, after having been restored and even replenished with fulness of all blessings, they the more boldly conspired against him; for under this pretence were superstitions established, and then followed the indulgence of all vices; for pride, and cruelty, and ambition, and frauds, prevailed more and more. Since then the Israelites had thus perverted the blessings of God, was not the hope of pardon and salvation justly cut off from them? Now we are reminded in this place, that whenever God heals our evils, and raises us up in adversity and succors us, we ought devoutly to acknowledge his favor, and not to meditate evil against him, when he so kindly extends his hand to us. Let us now proceed —
16. They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt.
16. Revertentur non Deo: fuerunt tanquam arcus dolosus (vel, doli:) ceciderunt (vel, cadent) in gladio principes eorum a superbia (hoc est, propter superbiam) linguae eorum: hoc eorum ludibrium in terra Aegypti.
The Prophet again assails the perverse wickedness of Israel, and also their fraud and perfidiousness. Hence he says that they feigned some sort of repentance, but it was nothing else than false; for they returned not to God. They return, he says, but not to God. Some however think that על, ol, is a preposition, and that something is understood, as if it were an elliptical phrase: “They return, but not for anything;” that is, when they return, were any one to inquire what is in their minds, or what is their purpose, he would find it to be mere form and nothing real. But this exposition, as we see, is strained. Besides, the context requires that we should consider על, ol, to be for God, as it is also in other places; for this is nothing new. Then it is, They return not to God
The Prophet then declares here that the Israelites were wholly perverse, so that God could force out of them no repentance; that when they pretended something it was mere deceit, for they did not come in a direct way to God. For hypocrites, as it has been said before, when God’s hand presses hard on them, seem indeed to be different from what they were previously, but they always shun God. The Lord does not in vain exhort the people by Jeremiah to return to him,
‘If thou wilt return, O Israel,’ he says, ‘return unto me,’
For he knew that by devious windings men always go astray and keep not to the straight course. This is the meaning.
Then the Prophet adds, that they were like a deceitful bow This is an explanation of the last sentence; and hence we conclude that the word על, ol, cannot be otherwise taken than for God. The Prophet shows how the Israelites withdrew themselves from God, while they seemed to repent, for they were, he says, like a deceitful bow. Some expound it, the bow of darting or shooting; and no doubt רמה, reme, means to dart and to shoot; but this sense cannot be taken here, for we see that what the Prophet had in view was to show, that the Israelites put on a guise, and did nothing but deceive, when they made a show of repentance. To confirm this, he says, that they were like an oblique bow. For the archer, when he intends to shoot an arrow, first levels at a certain mark; then the arrow seems to be directed to that place which the archer fixes on by his eyes. Now if the bow is oblique, the arrow will fly elsewhere; or the bow may slip, so as to throw back the arrow to the archer himself. The like comparison is found in Psalm 78, 49 where it is said, that the Jews were turned back ‘like a deceitful bow;’ and in that passage this very word occurs. But there is here no ambiguity; for God accuses the people that they had turned back; that is, that they had turned backward their course, even like a deceitful bow. If one reads “the bow of darting,” or, “of shooting,” there will be no sense; nay, it will be vapid and absurd. It is then better to render the expression here, ‘a deceitful bow.’
And we must notice the import of the similitude, to which I have already referred, that is, that as archers aim the arrow to the mark, as they direct its flight by winking and leveling, and shoot; so hypocrites seem to strive with great effort, but, at the same time, they are deceitful bows; that is, their mind is driven back, and they fly away from God, and, by tortuous windings, go astray, so that they never come to God, but rather turn their backs on him.
He then adds, Their princes shall fall by the sword for the pride of their tongue The Prophet again denounces vengeance on the Israelites, that they might feel assured that the heavenly decree respecting their destruction could not be changed. For though hypocrites always dread, and cannot hope anything from God, yet they never cease to flatter themselves, and always to contrive some new hope. Inasmuch then as they are so bountiful in vain promising, the Prophet says that there was no reason for the Israelites to hope for any remedy in their distresses. Their princes then shall fall: and in saying ‘princes,’ he takes a part for the whole; for God does not thus threaten princes, or denounces ruin on them, as though he intended to except the common people; but he implies, that destruction would be common to all, which not even the princes themselves would escape. And we know that in battles, when a great slaughter is made, the common soldiers lie dead in great numbers, and but few of the chiefs. But God says here, “I will take away the whole flower of the people. And if none of the princes shall remain, what will become of the ignoble vulgar, who are deemed of no account?” The princes then shall fall by the sword
He then adds, For the pride of their tongue Some expound this phrase actively, as though the Prophet had said, that they had provoked God’s wrath by their blasphemies and profane speeches; but I rather take it for their high vaunting: For the pride of their tongue, he says, they shall fall; that is, because they haughtily boasted of their strength, and held in contempt all the prophecies, because they dared to vomit forth their blasphemies against God, and dared, also, no less obstinately than proudly, to defend their own impious and depraved forms of worship, I will revenge, he says, “this pride.” We hence see that “pride,” here, is to be taken for that disdain which the impious show by their high vaunting, as it is said elsewhere,
‘They raise to heaven their tongues,’ (Ps 73:9.)
This will be their derision in the land of Egypt As the Israelites, then relying on the cursed treaty which they had made with the Egyptians, continued perverse against God, he says, “I will expose them to derision among their confederates: they boast of the power of Egypt: they think themselves beyond the reach of harm, as they can instantly call the Egyptians, to their aid, were any one to oppose them, or were any enemy to invade them. Since, then, their confidence so rests on Egypt, I will make,” he says, “the Egyptians to regard them with scorn; and they shall not only be counted ignominious by those who rival or envy them, but also by the friends in whom they glory. I will give them up to every kind of dishonor among their lovers.” He indeed compares, as we have before seen, the Egyptians as well as the Assyrians, to lovers, and compares his people to an unfaithful wife, who, having deserted her husband, prostitutes her own chastity. “Thou,” he says, “sellest thyself to thy lovers, and strives to please them, and faintest and adornest thyself to allure them: I will cover thee all over with everything disgraceful and ignominious, that thy lovers shall abhor thy very sight.” So also in this place, he says that the Israelites shall be for derision in the land of Egypt; that is, not enemies, whom they fear, shall have them in derision; but they shall be a laughing-stock to those who they think will be their defenders, and through whose arms they imagine that they shall be free from every disgrace. The eighth chapter follows.
Ge 4:7. — fj.
“The sensuality here, is that of which sensuality is the constant scriptural type, the absurd and wicked passion of idolatry” Bp. Horsley
Quasi faces, vel stimuli; — “as it were, firebrands, or goads.”
“Ephraim! he hath mixed himself among the peoples! Ephraim is a cake not turned!” —Bp. Horsley.
The Bishop adds this note, — “The word עמים, in the plural, always signifies the various nations of the earth, the unenlightened nations, in opposition to God’s peculiar people, the Israelites.”
Bishop Horsley gives the same exposition, — “One thing on one side, another on the other; burnt to a coal on the bottom, raw dough at the top. An apt image of a character that is all inconsistencies. Such were the ten tribes of the Prophet’s day; worshippers of Jehovah in profession, but adopting all the idolatries of the neighboring nations, in addition to their own semi-idolatry of the calves.”
“Baked on one side and raw on the other, he is neither through hot nor through cold, but partly a Jew and partly a Gentile.” — Geneva Bible.
The account which Pocock, as quoted by Newcome, gives of baking in the East among the country-people is the following: — “The people make a fire in the middle of the room: when the bread is ready for baking they sweep a corner of the hearth, lay the bread there, cover it with hot ashes and embers, and in a quarter of an hour they turn it.”
“As they hear it declared in their congregation.” — Bp. Horsley.
Mt 10:16. — fj.
“And they cry not to me with their heart,
Though they howl on their beds;
For corn and wine they bestir themselves,
They turn aside from me.”
The word I render “bestir,” whether we take the text as it is, or a similar word, יתגודדו, countenances by several MSS, and by the Septuagint, means nearly the same, signifying great agitation and anxiety. —Ed.
Matt. 6:33, Luke 12:31. — fj.
Ps 78:57. — fj.