(Calvin on Hosea, part 16)

Chapter 6. 
Lecture Sixteenth. 
Hosea 6:1 
Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will 
heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 
    In the last chapter the Prophet said, that the Israelites, 
after having been subdued by chastisements and judgments, would 
again turn back from following error to seek God. But as terror 
drives men away from approaching God, he now adds, that the measure 
of afflictions would not be such as would discourage their minds and 
produce despair; but rather inspire them with the assurance, that 
God would be propitious to them: and that he might set this forth 
the better, he introduces them as saying, "Come, let us go to the 
Lord": and this mode of speaking is very emphatical. 
    But we must know that the reason here given, why the Israelites 
could return safely and with sure confidence to God, is, that they 
would acknowledge it as his office to heal after he has smitten, and 
to bring a remedy for the wounds which he has inflicted. The Prophet 
means by these words, that God does not so punish men as to pour 
forth his wrath upon them for their destruction; but that he 
intends, on the contrary, to promote their salvation, when he is 
severe in punishing their sins. We must then remember, as we have 
before observed, that the beginning of repentance is a sense of 
God's mercy; that is, when men are persuaded that God is ready to 
give pardon, they then begin to gather courage to repent; otherwise 
perverseness will ever increase in them; how much soever their sin 
may frighten them, they will yet never return to the Lord. And for 
this purpose I have elsewhere quoted that remarkable passage in Ps. 
130, 'With thee is mercy, that thou mayest be feared;' for it cannot 
be, that men will obey God with true and sincere heart, except a 
taste of his goodness allures them, and they can certainly 
determine, that they shall not return to him in vain, but that he 
will be ready, as we have said, to pardon them. This is the meaning 
of the words, when he says, "Come, and let us turn to the Lord; for 
he has torn and he will heal us"; that is, God has not inflicted on 
us deadly wounds; but he has smitten, that he might heal. 
    At the same time, something more is expressed in the Prophet's 
words, and it is this, that God never so rigidly deals with men, but 
that he ever leaves room for his grace. For by the word, torn, the 
Prophet alludes to that heavy judgment of which he had before spoken 
in the person of God: the Lord then made himself to be like a cruel 
wild beast, "I will be as a lion, I will devour, I will tear, and no 
one shall take away the prey which I have once seized." God wished 
then to show that his vengeance would be dreadful against the 
Israelites. Now, though God should deal very sharply with them, they 
were not yet to despair of pardon. However, then, we may find God to 
be for a time like a lion or a bear, yet, as his proper office is to 
heal after he has torn, to bind the wounds he has inflicted, there 
is no reason why we should shun his presence. We see that the design 
of the Prophet's words was to show, that no chastisement is so 
severe that it ought to break down our spirits, but that we ought, 
by entertaining hope, to stir up ourselves to repentance. This is 
the drift of the passage. 
    It is further needful to observe, that the faithful do here, in 
the first place, encourage themselves, that they may afterwards lead 
others with them; for so the words mean. He does not say, "Go, 
return to Jehovah;" but, "Come, let us return unto Jehovah". We then 
see that each one begins with himself; and then that they mutually 
exhort one another; and this is what ought to be done by us: when 
any one sends his brethren to God, he does not consult his own good, 
since he ought rather to show the way. Let every one, then, learn to 
stimulate himself; and then, let him stretch out his hand to others, 
that they may follow. We are at the same time reminded that we ought 
to undertake the care of our brethren; for it would be a shame for 
any one to be content with his own salvation, and so to neglect his 
brethren. It is then necessary to join together these two things, - 
To stir up ourselves to repentance, - and then to try to lead others 
with us. Let us now proceed - 
Hosea 6:2 
After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us 
up, and we shall live in his sight. 
    This place the Hebrew writers pervert, for they think that they 
are yet to be redeemed by the coming of the Messiah; and they 
imagine that this will be the third day: for God once drew them out 
of Egypt, this was their first life; then, secondly, he restored 
them to life when he brought them back from the Babylonish 
captivity; and when God shall, by the hand of the Messiah, gather 
them from their dispersion, this, they say, will be the third 
resurrection. But these are frivolous notions. Not withstanding, 
this place is usually referred to Christ, as declaring, that God 
would, after two days, and on the third, raise up his Church; for 
Christ, we know, did not rise privately for himself, but for his 
members, inasmuch as he is the first-fruits of them who shall rise. 
This sense does not seem then unsuitable, that is, that the Prophet 
here encourages the faithful to entertain hope of salvation, because 
God would raise up his only-begotten Son, whose resurrection would 
be the common life of the whole Church. 
    Yet this sense seems to me rather too refined. We must always 
mind this, that we fly not in the air. Subtle speculations please at 
first sight, but afterwards vanish. Let every one, then, who desires 
to make proficiency in the Scriptures always keep to this rule - to 
gather from the Prophets and apostles only what is solid. 
    Let us now see what the Prophet meant. He here adds, I doubt 
not, a second source of consolation, that is, that if God should not 
immediately revive his people, there would be no reason for delay to 
cause weariness, as it is wont to do; for we see that when God 
suffers us to languish long, our spirits fail; and those who at 
first seem cheerful and courageous enough, in process of time become 
faint. As, then, patience is a rare virtue, Hosea here exhorts us 
patiently to bear delay, when the Lord does not immediately revive 
us. Thus then did the Israelites say, "After two days will God 
revive us; on the third day he will raise us up to life". 
    What did they understand by two days? Even their long 
affliction; as though they said, "Though the Lord may not deliver us 
from our miseries the first day, but defer longer our redemption, 
our hope ought not yet to fail; for God can raise up dead bodies 
from their graves no less than restore life in a moment." When 
Daniel meant to show that the affliction of the people would be 
long, he says, 'After a time, times, and half time,' (Dan. 7: 25.) 
That mode of speaking is different, but then as to sense it is the 
same. He says, 'after a time,' that is, after a year; that would be 
tolerable: but it follows, 'and times,' that is, many years: God 
afterwards shortens that period, and brings redemption at a time 
when least expected. Hosea mentions here two years, because God 
would not afflict his people for one day, but, as we have before 
seen, subdue them by degrees; for the perverseness of the people had 
so prevailed, that they could not be soon healed. As when diseases 
have been striking roots for a long time, they cannot be immediately 
cured, but there is need of slow and various remedies; and were a 
physician to attempt immediately to remove a disease which had taken 
full possession of a man, he certainly would not cure him, but take 
away his life: so also, when the Israelites, through their long 
obstinacy, had become nearly incurable, it was necessary to lead 
them to repentance by slow punishments. They therefore said, "After 
two days God will revive us"; and thus they confirmed themselves in 
the hope of salvation, though it did not immediately appear: though 
they long remained in darkness, and the exile was long which they 
had to endure, they yet did not cease to hope: "Well, let the two 
days pass, and the Lord will revive us." 
    We see that a consolation is here opposed to the temptations, 
which take from us the hope of salvation, when God suspends his 
favor longer than our flesh desires. Martha said to Christ, 'He is 
now putrid, it is the fourth day.' She thought it absurd to remove 
the stone from the sepulchre, because now the body of Lazarus was 
putrified. But Christ in this instance designed to show his own 
incredible power by restoring a putrid body to life. So the faithful 
say here, "The Lord will raise us up after two days": "Though exile 
seems to be like the sepulchre, where putridity awaits us, yet the 
Lord will, by his ineffable power, overcome whatever may seem to 
obstruct our restoration." We now perceive, as I think, the simple 
and genuine sense of this passage. 
    But at the same time I do not deny but that God has exhibited a 
remarkable and a memorable instance of what is here said in his 
only-begotten Son. As often then as delay begets weariness in us, 
and when God seems to have thrown aside every care of us, let us 
flee to Christ; for, as it has been said, His resurrection is a 
mirror of our life; for we see in that how God is wont to deal with 
his own people: the Father did not restore life to Christ as soon as 
he was taken down from the cross; he was deposited in the sepulchre, 
and he lay there to the third day. When God then intends that we 
should languish for a time, let us know that we are thus represented 
in Christ our head, and hence let us gather materials of confidence. 
We have then in Christ an illustrious proof of this prophecy. But in 
the first place, let us lay hold on what we have said, that the 
faithful here obtain hope for themselves, though God extends not 
immediately his hand to them, but defers for a time his grace of 
    Then he adds, "We shall live in his sight", or before him. Here 
again the faithful strengthen themselves, for God would favor them 
with his paternal countenance, after he had long turned his back on 
them, "We shall live before his face". For as long as God cares not 
for us, a sure destruction awaits us; but as soon as he turns his 
eyes to us, he inspires life by his look alone. Then the faithful 
promise this good to themselves that God's face will shine again 
after long darkness: hence also they gather the hope of life, and at 
the same time withdraw themselves from all those obstacles which 
obscure the light of life; for while we run and wander here and 
there, we cannot lay hold on the life which God promises to us, as 
the charms of this world are so many veils, which prevent our eyes 
to see the paternal face of God. We must then remember that this 
sentence is added, that the faithful, when it pleases God to turn 
his back on them, may not doubt but that he will again look on them. 
Let us now go on - 
Hosea 6:3 
Then shall we know, [if] we follow on to know the LORD: his going 
forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the 
rain, as the latter [and] former rain unto the earth. 
    In this verse the faithful pursue what we have before 
considered, making the hope of salvation sure to themselves: nor is 
it a matter of wonder that the Prophet dwells more fully on this 
subject; for we know how prone we are to entertain doubt. There is 
nothing more difficult, especially when God shows to us signs of his 
wrath, than to recover us, so that we may be really persuaded that 
he is our physician, when he seems to visit us for our sins. We must 
then, in this case, earnestly strive, for it cannot be done without 
labour. Hence the faithful now say, "We shall know, and we shall 
pursue to know Jehovah". They show then by these words that they 
distrust not, but that light would arise after darkness; for this is 
the meaning of the words: We shall then know, they say; that is, 
"Though there is now on every side horrible darkness, yet the Lord 
will manifest his goodness to us, even though it may not immediately 
appear." They therefore add, "And we shall pursue after the 
knowledge of Jehovah". We now perceive the purport of the words. 
    Now this passage teaches us, that when God hides his face, we 
act foolishly if we cherish our unbelief; for we ought, on the 
contrary, as I have already said, to contend with this destructive 
disease, inasmuch as Satan seeks nothing else but to sink us in 
despair. This his device then ought to be understood by us, as Paul 
reminds us, (2 Cor. 2: 11;) and the Holy Spirit supplies us here 
with weapons, by which we may repel this temptation of Satan, "What? 
Thou seest that God is angry with thee; nor is it of any use to thee 
to attempt to come to him, for every access is shut up." This is 
what Satan suggests to us, when we are sensible of our sins. What is 
to be done? The Prophet here propounds a remedy, "We shall know;" 
"Though now we are sunk in thick darkness, though there never shines 
on us, no, not even a spark of light, yet we shall know (as Isaiah 
says, 'I will hope in the Lord, who hides his face from Jacob') that 
this is the true exercise of our faith, when we lift up our eyes to 
the light which seems to be extinguished, and when in the darkness 
of death we yet continue to promise to ourselves life, as we are 
here taught: We shall then know; further, We shall pursue after the 
knowledge of Jehovah; though God withdraws his face, and, as it were 
designedly, doubles the darkness, and all knowledge of his grace be, 
as it were, extinct, we shall yet pursue after this knowledge; that 
is, no obstacle shall keep us from striving, and our efforts will at 
length make their way to that grace which seems to be wholly 
excluded from us." 
    Some give this rendering, We shall know, and shall pursue on to 
know Jehovah, and explain the passage thus, - that the Israelites 
had derived no such benefit from the law of Moses, but that they 
still expected the fuller doctrine, which Christ brought at his 
coming. They then think that this is a prophecy respecting that 
doctrine, which is now by the Gospel set forth to us in its full 
brightness, because God has manifested himself in his Son as in a 
living image. But this is too refined an exposition; and it is 
enough for us to keep close to the design of the Prophet. He indeed 
introduces the godly thus speaking for this reason - because there 
was need of great and strong effort, that they might rise up to the 
hope of salvation; for it was not to be the exile of one day, but of 
seventy years. When therefore so heavy a trial awaited the godly, 
the Prophet here wished to prepare them for the laborious warfare: 
"We shall then know, and follow on to know Jehovah". 
    Then he says, "As the morning shall come to us his going 
forth", - a similitude the most appropriate; for here the faithful 
call to mind the continued succession of days and nights. No wonder 
that God bids us to hope for his grace, the sight of which is yet 
hid from us; for except we had learnt by long experience, who could 
hope for sudden light when the darkness of night prevails? Should we 
not think that the earth is wholly deprived of light? But seeing 
that the dawn suddenly shines, and puts an end to the darkness of 
night, and dispels it, what wonder is it that the Lord should shine 
forth beyond our expectation? His going forth then shall be like the 
    He here calls a new manifestation the going forth of God, that 
is, when God shows that he regards his people with favor, when he 
shows that he is mindful of the covenant which he made with Abraham; 
for as long as the people were exiled from their country, God seemed 
not, as we have said, to look on them any more; nay, the judgment of 
the flesh only suggested this, that God was far distant from his 
people. He then calls it the going forth of God, when God should 
show himself propitious to the captives, and should wholly restore 
them; then the going forth of God shall come, and shall be like the 
morning. We now then see that he confirms them by the order of 
nature, as Paul does, when he chides the unbelief of those to whom a 
future resurrection seemed incredible, because it surpasses the 
thoughts of the flesh; "O fool!" he says, "does thou not see that 
what thou sowest first decays and then germinates? God now sets 
before thee in a decaying seed an emblem of the future 
resurrection." So also in this place, since light daily rises to us, 
and the morning shines after the darkness of night, what then will 
not the Lord effect by himself, who works so powerfully by material 
things? When he will put forth his full power, what, think we, will 
he do? Will he not much more surpass all the thoughts of our flesh? 
We now then see why this similitude was added. 
    He afterwards describes to us the effect of this manifestation, 
"He shall come", he says, "as the rain to us, as the late rain, a 
rain to the earth". This comparison shows, that as soon as God will 
deign to look on his people, his countenance will be like the rain, 
which irrigates the earth. When the earth is dry after long heat and 
long drought, it seems to be incapable of producing fruit; but rain 
restores to it its moisture and vigor. Thus then the Prophet, in the 
person of the faithful, does here strengthen the hope of a full 
restoration. He shall come to us as the rain, as the late rain. 
    The Hebrews call the late rain "malkosh", by which the corn was 
ripened. And it seems that the Prophet meant the vernal rain by the 
word "geshem". But the sense is clearly this, that though the 
Israelites had become so dry that they had no longer any vigor, 
there would yet be no less virtue in God's grace than in the rain, 
which fructifies the earth when it seems to be barren. But when at 
the end he adds, a rain to the earth, I doubt not but that he meant 
seasonable rain, which is pleasant and acceptable to the earth, or 
which the earth really wants; for a violent shower cannot be called 
properly a rain to the earth, because it is destructive and hurtful. 
It follows - 
Hosea 6:4 
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto 
thee? for your goodness [is] as a morning cloud, and as the early 
dew it goeth away. 
    Some so expound this passage as that God would not once 
irrigate his people, but would continue this favor; as though he 
said, "He is deceived, who thinks that the redemption, which I bid 
you to hope from me, will be momentary, for I will, by a continued 
progress, lead my people to a full fruition of salvation." But this 
sense is altogether foreign. The Prophet then, no doubts introduces 
God here as speaking thus, "What shall I do to you? because ye 
cannot receive my favor, so great is your depravity." The context 
seems indeed to be in this way broken off; but we must remember this 
canon, that whenever the Prophets make known the grace of God, they 
at the same time add an exception, lest hypocrites falsely apply to 
themselves what is offered to the faithful alone. The Prophets, we 
know, never threatened ruin to the people, but that they added some 
promise, lest the faithful should despair, which must have been the 
case, except some mitigation had been made known to them. Hence the 
Prophets do this in common, - they moderate their threatening and 
severity by adding a hope of God's favor. But at the same time, as 
hypocrites ever draw to themselves what belongs only to the 
faithful, and thus heedlessly deride God, the Prophets add another 
exception, by which they signify, that God's promise of being 
gracious and merciful to his people is not to be deemed universal, 
and as appertaining to all indiscriminately. 
    I will more fully repeat this again: The Prophets had to do 
with the whole people; they had to do with the few faithful, for 
there was a small number of godly people among the Israelites as 
well as among the Jews. When therefore the Prophets reproved the 
people, they addressed the whole body: but at the same time, as 
there was some remnant seed, they mingled, as I have said, 
consolations, and mingled them, that the elect of God might ever 
recumb on his mercy, and thus patiently submit to his rod, and 
continue in his fear, knowing that there is in him a sure salvation. 
Hence the promises which we see inserted by the Prophets among 
threats and chidings, ought not to be referred in common to all, or 
indiscriminately to the people, but only, as we have said, to the 
faithful, who were then but few in number. This then is the reason 
why the prophets shook off self-complacencies from the wicked 
despisers of God, when they added, "Ye ought not to hope any 
salvation from the promise I set forth to God's children; for God 
throws not to dogs the bread which he has destined for his children 
alone." In the same strain we find another Prophet speaking, 'To 
what end is the day of the Lord to you? It is a day of darkness, and 
not of light, a day of death, and not of life,' (Amos 5: 18.) For as 
often as they heard of the covenant which God made with Abraham, 
that it would not be void, they thus vaunted, "We are now indeed 
severely treated, but in a little while God will rescue us from our 
evils; for he is our Father, he has not in vain adopted us, he has 
not in vain redeemed and chosen our race, we are his peculiar 
possession and heritage." Thus then the presumptuous flatter 
themselves; and this indeed they seem to have in common with the 
faithful; for the faithful also, though in the deepest abyss of 
death, yet behold the light of life; for by faith, as we have said, 
they penetrate beyond this world. But at the same time they approach 
God in real penitence, while the ungodly remain in their 
perverseness, and vainly flatter themselves, thinking that whatever 
God promises belongs to them. 
    Let us now then return to our Prophet. He had said, "In their 
tribulation they will seek me:" he had afterwards, in the words used 
by the people, explained how the faithful would turn themselves to 
God, and what true repentance would bring with it. It now follows, 
"What shall I do to thee, Ephraim? what shall I do to thee, Judah?" 
that is, "What shall I do to all of you?" The people was now divided 
into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah had its own name; the ten 
tribes had, as it has been said, the common name of Israel. Then 
after the Prophet gave hope of pardon to the children of God, he 
turns himself to the whole body of the people, which was corrupt, 
and says, "What shall I do now to you, both Jews and Israelites?" 
Now God, by these words, intimates that he had tried all remedies, 
and found them useless: "What more then," he says, "shall I do to 
you? Ye are wholly incurable, ye are inexcusable, and altogether 
past hope; for no means have been omitted by me, by which I could 
promote your salvation; but I have lost all my labour; as I have 
effected nothing by punishments and chastisements, as my favor also 
has had no account among you, what now remains, but that I must 
wholly cast you away?" 
    We now then see how varied is the mode of speaking adopted by 
the Prophets; for they had to do, not with one class of men, but 
with the children of God, and also with the wicked, who continued 
obstinately in their vices. Hence then it was, that they changed 
their language, and so necessarily. Alike is the complaint we read 
in Isaiah, chap. 1, except that there mention is only made of 
punishments, 'Why should I strike you more? for I have hitherto 
effected nothing: from the sole of the foot to the top of the head 
there is no soundness; and yet ye remain like yourselves.' In chap. 
5 he speaks of God's favors, 'What could have been done more to my 
vineyard than what I have done?' In these two places the Prophet 
shows that the people were so lost, that they could not be brought 
into a sane mind; for God had in various ways tried to heal them, 
and their diseases remained incurable. 
    Let us now return to the words of Hosea, "What shall I do to 
thee, Ephraim? What shall I do to thee Judah?" "I indeed offer 
pardon to all, but ye still continue obstinately in your sins; nay, 
my favor is by you scorned: I do not therefore now contend with you; 
but declare to you that the door of salvation is closed." Why? 
"Because I have hitherto in various ways tried in vain to heal you." 
    He afterwards says that their goodness was like the morning 
dew, "Your goodness", he says, is as the dew of the morning." Some 
take "chesed" for the kindness which God had exercised towards both 
the Israelites and the Jews. Then it is, "Your kindness," that is, 
the mercy which I have hitherto exhibited to you, "is as the morning 
dew, as the cloud which passes away early in the morning", that is, 
"Ye immediately dry up my favor;" and this seems not unsuitable, for 
we see that the unbelieving by their wickedness absorb the mercy of 
God, so that it produces no good, as when rain flows over a rock or 
a stone, while the stone within, on account of its hardness, remains 
dry. As then the moisture of rain does not penetrate into stones, so 
also the grace of God is spent in vain and without advantage on the 
    But the Prophet speaks rather of their goodness, that they made 
a show of feigned excellency, which vanished like the morning dew; 
for as soon as the sun rises, it draws the dew upwards, so that it 
appears no more; the clouds also pass away. The Prophet says that 
the Jews and the Israelites were like the morning clouds and the 
dew, because there was in them no solid or inward goodness, but it 
was only of an evanescent kind; they had, as they say, only the 
appearance of goodness. 
    We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet, that God here 
complains that he had to do with hypocrites. Faith, we know, is 
regarded by him; there is nothing that pleases God more than 
sincerity of heart. We know further, that doctrine is spread in 
vain, except it be received in a serious manner. Then, as hypocrites 
transform themselves in various ways, and make a display of some 
guises of goodness, while they have nothing solid in them, God 
complains that he loses all his labour: and he says at length that 
he will no longer spend labour in vain on hypocritical men, who have 
nothing but falsehood and dissimulation; and this is what he means, 
when he intimates that he should do nothing more to the Israelites 
and the Jews. 
Grant, Almighty God, that as we do not, by due gratitude, respond to 
thy favors, and after having tasted of thy mercy, have willingly 
sought ruin to ourselves, - O grant, that we, being renewed by thy 
Spirit, may not only remain constant in the fear of thy name, but 
also advance more and more and be established; that being thus armed 
with thy invincible power, we may strenuously fight against all the 
wiles and assaults of Satan, and thus pursue our warfare to the end, 
- and that being thus sustained by thy mercy, we may ever aspire to 
that life which is hid for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our 
Lord. Amen. 

Calvin on Hosea
(continued in part 17...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-16.txt