This is a new discourse by the Prophet, separate from his former discourses. We must bear in mind that the Prophets did not literally write what they delivered to the people, nor did they treat only once of those things which are now extant with us; but we have in their books collected summaries and heads of those matters which they were wont to address to the people. Hosea, no doubt, very often descanted on the exile and the restoration of the people, forasmuch as he dwelt much on all the things which we have hitherto noticed. Indeed, the slowness and dullness of the people were such, that the same things were repeated daily. But it was enough for the Prophets to make and to write down a brief summary of what they taught in their discourses.
Hosea now relates how vehemently he reproved the people, because every kind of corruption so commonly prevailed, that there was no sound part in the whole community. We hence see what the Prophet treats of now; and this ought to be observed, for hypocrites wish ever to be flattered; and when the mercy of God is offered to them, they seek to be freed from every fear. It is therefore a bitter thing to them, when threatening are mingled, when God sharply chides them. “What! we heard yesterday a discourse on God’s mercy, and now he fulminates against us. He is then changeable; if he were consistent, would not his manner of teaching be alike and the same today?” But men must be often awakened, for forgetfulness of God often creeps over them; they indulge themselves, and nothing is more difficult than to lead them to God; nay, when they have made some advances, they soon turn aside to some other course.
We hence see that men cannot be taught, except God reproves their sins by his word; and then, lest they despond, gives them a hope of mercy; and except he again returns to reproofs and threatening. This is the mode of address which we find in all the Prophets.
I now come to the Prophet’s words: Hear, he says, the word of Jehovah, ye children of Israel, the Lord has a dispute, etc. The Prophet, by saying that the Lord had a dispute with the inhabitants of the land, intimates that men in vain flatter themselves, when they have God against them, and that they shall soon find him to be their Judge, except they in time anticipate his vengeance. But he also reminds the Israelites that God had a dispute with them, that they might not have to feel the severity of justice, but reconcile themselves to God, while a seasonable opportunity was given them. Then the Prophet’s introduction had this object in view — to make the Israelites to know that God would be adverse to them, except they sought, without delay, to regain his favor. The Lord then, since he declared that he would contend with them, shows that he was not willing to do so. for had God determined to punish the people, what need was there of this warning? Could he not instantly execute judgment on them? Since, then, the Prophet was sent to the children of Israel to warn them of a great and fatal danger, God had still a regard for their safety: and doubtless this warning prevailed with many; for those who were alarmed by this denunciation humbled themselves before God, and hardened not themselves in wickedness: and the reprobate, though not amended, were yet rendered twice less excusable.
The same is the case among us, whenever God threatens us with judgment: they who are not altogether intractable or unhealable, confess their guilt, and deprecate God’s wrath; and others, though they harden their hearts in wickedness, cannot yet quench the power of truth; for the Lord takes from them every pretext for ignorance, and conscience wounds them more deeply, after they have been thus warned
We now then understand what the Prophet meant by saying, that God had a dispute with the inhabitants of the land. But that the Prophet’s intention may be more clear to us, we must bear in mind, that he and other faithful teachers were wearied with crying, and that in the meantime no fruit appeared. He saw that his warnings were heedlessly despised, and that hence his last resort was to summon men to God’s tribunal. We also are constrained, when we prevail nothing, to follow the same course: “God will judge you; for no one will bear to be judged by his word: whatever we announce to you in his name, is counted a matter of sport: he himself at length will show that he has to do with you.” In a similar strain does Zechariah speak, ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced,’ (Zec_12:10 ) and to the same purpose does Isaiah say, that the Spirit of the Lord was made sad. ‘Is it not enough,’ he says, ‘that ye should be vexatious to men, except ye be so also to my God?’ (Isa_7:13.)
The Prophet joined himself with God; for the ungodly king Ahab, by tempting God, did at the same time trifle with his Prophets.
There is then here an implied contrast between the dispute which God announces respecting the Israelites, and the daily strifes he had with them by his Prophets. For this reason also the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall no more strive with man, for he is flesh,’ (Gen_6:3.)
God indeed says there, that he had waited in vain for men to return to the right way; for they were refractory beyond any hope of repentance: he therefore declared, that he would presently punish them. So also in this place, ‘“The Lord has a trial at law”; he will now himself plead his own cause: he has hitherto long exercised his Prophets in contending with you; yea, he has wearied them with much and continual labour; ye remain ever like yourselves; he will therefore begin now to plead effectually his own cause with you: he will no more speak to you by the mouth, but by his power, show himself a judge.’ The Prophet, however, designedly laid down the word, dispute, that the Israelites might know that God would severely treat them, not without cause, nor unjustly, as though he said, “God will so punish you as to show at the same time that he will do so for the best reason: ye elude all threatenings; ye think that you can make yourselves safe by your shifts: there are no evasions by which you can possibly hope to attain any thing; for God will at length uncover all your wickedness.” In short, the Prophet here joins punishment with God’s justice, or he points out by one word, a real (so to speak) or an effectual contention, by which the Lord not only reproves men in words, but also visits with judgment their sins.
It follows, Because there is no truth, no kindness, no knowledge of God. The dispute, he said, was to be with the inhabitants of the land: by the inhabitants of the land, he means the whole body of the people; as though he said, “Not a few men have become corrupt, but all kinds of wickedness prevail everywhere.” And for the same reason he adds, that there was no truth”, etc. in the land; as though he said, “They who sin hide not themselves now in lurking-places; they seek no recesses, like those who are ashamed; but so much licentiousness is everywhere dominant, that the whole land is filled with the contempt of God and with crimes.” This was a severe reproof to proud men. How much the Israelites flattered themselves, we know; it was therefore necessary for the Prophet to speak thus sharply to a refractory people; for a gentle and kind warning proves effectual only to the meek and teachable. When the world grows hardened against God, such a rigorous treatment as the words of the Prophet disclose must be used. Let those then, to whom is intrusted the charge of teaching, see that they do not gently warn men, when hardened in their vices; but let them follow this vehemence of the Prophet.
We said at the beginning, that the Prophet had a good reason for being so warm in his indignation: he was not at the moment foolishly carried away by the heat of zeal; but he knew that he had to do with men so perverse, that they could not be handled in any other way. The Prophet now reproves not only one kind of evil, but brings together every sort of crimes; as though he said, that the Israelites were in every way corrupt and perverted. He says first, that there was among them no faithfulness, and no kindness. He speaks here of their contempt of the second table of the law; for by this the impiety of men is sooner found out, that is, when an examination is made of their life: for hypocrites vauntingly profess the name of God, and confidently (plenis buccis — with full cheeks) arrogate faith to themselves; and then they cover their vices with the external show of divine worship, and frigid acts of devotion: nay, the very thing mentioned by Jeremiah is too commonly the case, that ‘the house of God is made a den of thieves,’ (Jer_7:11.)
Hence the Prophets, that they might drag the ungodly to the light, examine their conduct according to the duties of love: “Ye are right worshipers of God, ye are most holy; but in the meantime, where is truth, where is mutual faithfulness, where is kindness? If ye are not men, how can ye be angels? Ye are given to avarice, ye are perfidious, ye are cruel: what more can be said of you, except that each of you condemns all the rest before God, and that your life is also condemned by all?’
By saying that truth or faithfulness was extinct, he makes them to be like foxes, who are ever deceitful: by saying that there was no kindness, he accuses them of cruelty, as though he said, that they were like lions and wild beasts. But the fountain of all these vices he points out in the third clause, when he says, that they had no knowledge of God: and the knowledge of God he takes for the fear of God which proceeds from the knowledge of him; as though he said, “In a word, men go on as licentiously, as if they did not think that there is a God in heaven, as if all religion was effaced from their hearts.” For as long as any knowledge of God remains in us, it is like a bridle to restrain us: but when men become wanton, and allow themselves every liberty, it is certain that they have forgotten God, and that there is in them now no knowledge of God. Hence the complaints in the Psalms, ‘The ungodly have said in their heart, There is no God,’ (Psa_14:1) ‘Impiety speaks in my heart, There is no God.’ Men cannot run headlong into brutal stupidity, while a spark of the true knowledge of God shines or twinkles in their minds. We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet.
Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel – The prophet begins here, in a series of pictures as it were, to exhibit the people of Israel to themselves, that they might know that God did not do without cause all this which He denounced against them. Here, at the outset, He summons, the whole people, their prophets and priests, before the judgment seat of God, where God would condescend, Himself to implead them, and hear, if they had ought in their defense. The title “children of Israel” is, in itself, an appeal to their gratitude and their conscience, as the title “Christian” among us is an appeal to us, by Him whose name we bear. Our Lord says, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the work’s of Abraham” Joh_8:39; and Paul, “let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity” 2Ti_2:19.
For the Lord hath a controversy – God wills, in all His dealings with us His creatures, to prove even to our own consciences, the righteousness of His judgments, so as to leave us without excuse. Now, through His servants, He shows people their unrighteousness and His justice; hereafter our Lord, the righteous Judge, will show it through the book of people’s own consciences.
With the inhabitants of the land – God had given the land to the children of Israel, on account of the wickedness of these whom He drave out before them. He gave it to them “that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws” (Ps. 105 ult.). He had promised that His “Eyes should always be upon it from the beginning of the year unto the end of the year” Deu_11:12. This land, the scene of those former judgments, given to them on those conditions (see Deu_4:1, Deu_4:40; Deu_6:21-25, etc.), the land which God had given to them as their God, they had filled with iniquity.
Because there is no truth, nor mercy – “Truth and mercy” are often spoken of, as to Almighty God. Truth takes in all which is right, and to which God has bound Himself; mercy, all beyond, which God does out of His boundless love. When God says of Israel, “there is no truth nor mercy,” He says that there is absolutely none of those two great qualities, under which He comprises all His own Goodness. “There is no truth,” none whatever, “no regard for known truth; no conscience, no sincerity, no uprightness; no truth of words; no truth of promises; no truth in witnessing; no making good in deeds what they said in words.”
Nor mercy – The word has a wide meaning; it includes all love of one to another, a love issuing in acts. It includes loving-kindness, piety to parents, natural affection, forgiveness, tenderness, beneficence, mercy, goodness. The prophet, in declaring the absence of this grace, declares the absence of all included under it. Whatever could be comprised under love, whatever feelings are influenced by love, of that there was nothing.
Nor knowledge of God – The union of right knowledge and wrong practice is hideous in itself; and it must be especially offensive to Almighty God, that His creatures should know whom they offend, how they offend Him, and yet, amid and against their knowledge, choose that which displeases Him. And, on that ground, perhaps, He has so created us, that when our acts are wrong, our knowledge becomes darkened Rom_1:21. The “knowledge of God” is not merely to know some things of God, as that He is the Creator and Preserver of the world and of ourselves. To know things of God is not to know God Himself. We cannot know God in any respect, unless we are so far made like unto Him. “Hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. Every one that loveth is born of’ God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love” 1Jo_2:3-4; 1Jo_4:7-8.
Knowledge of God being the gift of the Holy Spirit, he who hath not grace, cannot have that knowledge. A certain degree of speculative knowledge of God, a bad man may have, as Balaam had by inspiration, and the Pagan who, “when they knew God, glorified Him not as God.” But even this knowledge is not retained without love. Those who “held the truth in unrighteousness” ended (Paul says Rom_1:21, Rom_1:18, Rom_1:28) by corrupting it. “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge, and so God gave them over to a reprobate,” or undistinguishing mind, that they could not. Certainly, the speculative and practical knowledge are bound up together, through the oneness of the relation of the soul to God, whether in its thoughts of Him, or its acts toward Him. Wrong practice corrupts belief, as misbelief corrupts practice. The prophet then probably denies that there was any true knowledge of God, of any sort, whether of life or faith or understanding or love. Ignorance of God, then, is a great evil, a source of all other evils.
But after having said that they were full of perfidiousness and cruelty, he adds, By cursing, and lying, and killing, etc. , אלה, ale, means to swear: some explain it in this place as signifying to forswear; and others read the two together, אלה וכחש, ale ucachesh, to swear and lie, that is to deceive by swearing. But as אלה “alah” means often to curse, the Prophet here, I doubt not, condemns the practice of cursing, which was become frequent and common among the people.
But he enumerates particulars in order more effectually to check the fierceness of the people; for the wicked, we know, do not easily bend their neck: they first murmur, then they clamour against wholesome instruction, and at last they rage with open fury, and break out into violence, when they cannot otherwise stop the progress of sound doctrine. How ever this may be, we see that they are not easily led to own their sins. This is the reason why the Prophet shows here, by stating particulars, in how many ways they provoked God’s wrath: ‘Lo,’ he says ‘cursings, lyings, murder, thefts, adulteries, abound among you.’ And the Prophet seems here to allude to the precepts of the law; as though he said, “If any one compares your life with the law of God, he will find that you avowedly and designedly lead such a life, as proves that you fight against God, that you violate every part of his law.”
But it must be here observed, that he speaks not of such thieves or murderers as are led in our day to the gallows, or are otherwise punished. On the contrary, he calls them thieves and murderers and adulterers, who were in high esteem, and eminent in honor and wealth, and who, in short, were alone illustrious among the people of Israel: such did the Prophet brand with these disgraceful names, calling them murderers and thieves. So also does Isaiah speak of them, ‘Thy princes are robbers and companions of thieves,’ (Isa_1:23.) And we already reminded you, that the Prophet addresses not his discourses to few men, but to the whole people; for all, from the least to the greatest, had fallen away.
He afterwards says, They have broken out. The expression no doubt is to be taken metaphorically, as though he said, “There are now no bonds, no barriers.” For the people so raged against God, that no modesty, no shame on account of the law, no religion, no fear, prevailed among them, or checked their intractable spirit. Hence they broke out. By the word, breaking out, the Prophet sets forth the furious wantonness seen in the reprobate; when freed from the fear of God, they abandon themselves to what is sinful, without any moderation, without any restraint.
And to the same purpose he subjoins, Bloods are contiguous to bloods. By bloods he means all the worst crimes: and he says that bloods were close to bloods, because they joined crimes together, and as Isaiah says, that iniquity was as it were a train; so our Prophet says here, that such was the common liberty they took to sin, that wherever he turned his eyes, he could see no part free from wickedness. Then bloods are contiguous to bloods, that is, everywhere is seen the horrible spectacle of crimes. This is the meaning. It now follows —
By swearing, and lying … – Literally, “swearing or cursing” , “and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery!” The words in Hebrew are nouns of action. The Hebrew form is very vivid and solemn. It is far more forcible than if he had said, “They swear, lie, kill, and steal.” It expresses that these sins were continual, that nothing else (so to speak) was going on; that it was all one scene of such sins, one course of them, and of nothing besides; as we say more familiarly, “It was all, swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery.” It is as if the prophet, seeing with a sight above nature, a vision from God, saw, as in a picture, what was going on, all around, within and without, and summed up in this brief picture, all which he saw. This it was and nothing but this, which met his eyes, wherever he looked, whatever he heard, “swearing, lying, killing, stealing, committing adultery.” The prophet had before said, that the ten tribes were utterly lacking in all truth, all love, all knowledge of God. But where there are none of these, “there,” in all activity, will be the contrary vices. When the land or the soul is empty of the good, it will be full of the evil. “They break out,” i. e., burst through all bounds, set to restrain them, as a river bursts its banks and overspreads all things or sweeps all before it. “And blood toucheth blood,” literally, “bloods touch bloods” . The blood was poured so continuously and in such torrents, that it flowed on, until stream met stream and formed one wide inundation of blood.
The Prophet now expresses more clearly the dispute which he mentions in the first verse; and it now evidently appears, that it was not a judgment expressed in words, for God had in vain tried to bring the people to the right way by threats and reproofs: he had contended enough with then; they remained refractory; hence he adds, “Now mourn shall the whole land”; that is, God has now resolved to execute his judgment: there is therefore no use for you any more to contrive any evasion, as you have been hitherto wont to do; for God stretches forth his hand for your ultimate destruction. Mourn, therefore, shall the land, and cut off shall be every one that dwells in it, as I prefer to render it; unless the Prophet, it may be, means, that though God should for a time suspend the last judgment, yet the Israelites would gain nothing, seeing that they would, by continual languor, pine away. But as he mentions mourning in the first place, the former meaning, that God would destroy all the inhabitants, seems more appropriate. He adds, gathered shall they be all, or destroyed, (for either may suit the place,) from the beast of the field, and the bird of heaven, to the fishes of the sea. The Prophet here enlarges on the greatness of God’s wrath; for he includes even the innocent beasts and the birds of heaven, yea, the fishes of the sea. When Godly vengeance extends to brute animals, what will become of men?
But some one may here object and say, that it is unworthy of God to be angry with miserable creatures, which deserve no such treatment: for why should God be angry with fishes and beasts? But an answer may be easily given: As beasts, and birds, and fishes, and, in a word, all other things, have been created for the use of men, it is no wonder that God should extend the tokens of his curse to all creatures, above and below, when his purpose is to punish men. We seek, indeed, for the most part, some vain comforts to delight us, or to moderate our sorrows when God shows himself angry with us: but when God curses innocent animals for our sake, we then dread the more, except, indeed, we be under the influence of extreme stupor.
We now then understand why God here denounces destruction on brute animals as well as on birds and fishes of the sea; it is, that men may know themselves to be deprived of all his gifts; as when a person, in order to expose a wicked man to shame, pulls down his house and burns his whole furniture: so also does God do, who has adorned the world with so much and such varied wealth for our sake, when he reduces all things to a waste: He thereby shows how grievously offended he is with us, and thus constrains us to become humble. This then is the Prophet’s meaning.
Therefore shall the land mourn – Dumb inanimate nature seems to rejoice and to be in unison with our sense of joy, when bedewed and fresh through rain and radiant with light; and, again, to mourn, when smitten with drought or blight or disease, or devoured by the creatures which God employs to lay it waste for man’s sins. Dumb nature is, as it were, in sympathy with man, cursed in Adam, smitten amid man’s offences, its outward show responding to man’s inward heart, wasted, parched, desolate, when man himself was marred and wasted by his sins.
With the beasts of the field – Literally, “in the beasts,” etc. God included “the fowl and the cattle and every beast of the field” in His covenant with man. So here, in this sentence of woe, He includes them in the inhabitants of the land, and orders that, since man would not serve God, the creatures made to serve him, should be withdrawn from him. “General iniquity is punished by general desolation.”
Yea, the fishes of the sea also – Inland seas or lakes are called by this same name, as the Sea of Tiberias and the Dead Sea. Yet here the prophet probably alludes to the history of man’s creation, when God gave him dominion “over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heaven, and over every living thing (chaiah)” Gen_1:28, in just the inverse order, in which he here declares that they shall be taken away. There God gives dominion over all, from lowest to highest; here God denounces that He will take away all, down to those which are least affected by any changes. Yet from time to time God has, in chastisement, directed that the shoals of fishes should not come to their usual haunts. This is well known in the history of seacoasts; and conscience has acknowledged the hand of God and seen the ground of His visitation. Of the fulfillment Jerome writes: “Whose believeth not that this befell the people of Israel, let him survey Illyricum, let him survey the Thraces, Macedonia, the Pannonias, and the whole land which stretches from the Propontis and Bosphorus to the Julian Alps, and he will experience that, together with man, all the creatures also fail, which afore were nourished by the Creator for the service of man.”
The Prophet here deplores the extreme wickedness of the people, that they would bear no admonitions, like those who, being past hope, reject every advice, admit no physicians, and dislike all remedies: and it is a proof of irreclaimable wickedness, when men close their ears and harden their hearts against all salutary counsels. Hence the Prophet intimates, that, together with their great and many corruptions, there was such waywardness, that no one dared to reprove the public vices.
He adds this reason, For the people are as chiders of the priest, or, they really contend with the priest: for some take כ, caph, in this place, not as expressive of likeness, but as explaining and affirming what is said, ‘They altogether strive with the priest.’ But I prefer the former sense, which is, that the Prophet calls all the people the censors of their pastors: and we see that froward men become thus insolent when they are reproved; for instantly such an objection as this is made by them, “Am I to be treated like a child? Have I not attained sufficient knowledge to understand how I ought to live?” We daily meet with many such men, who proudly boast of their knowledge, as though they were superior to all Prophets and teachers. And no doubt the ungodly make a show of wit and acuteness in opposing sound doctrine: and then it appears that they have learnt more than what one would have thought, — for what end? only that they may contend with God.
Let us now return to the Prophet’s words. But, he says: אך, ak is not to be taken here as in many places for “verily:” but it denotes exception, “In the meantime”. But, or, in the meantime, let no one chide and reprove another. In a word, the Prophet complains, that while all kinds of wickedness abounded among the people, there was no liberty to teach and to admonish, but that all were so refractory, that they would not bear to hear the word; and that as soon as any one touched their vices, there were great doctors, as they say, ready to reply.
And he enlarges on the subject by saying, that they were as chiders of the priest; for he declares, that they who, with impunity, conducted themselves so wantonly against God, were not yet content in being so wayward as to repel all reproofs, but also willfully rose up against their own teachers: and, as I have already said, common observation sufficiently proves, that all profane despisers of God are inflated with such confidence, that they dare to attack others. Some conjecture, in this instance, that the priest was so base, as to become liable to universal reprobation; but this conjecture is of no weight, and frigid: for the Prophet here did not draw his pen against a single individual, but, on the contrary, sharply reproved, as we have said, the perverseness of the people, that no one would hearken to a reprover. Let us then know that their diseases were then incurable, when the people became hardened against salutary counsels, and could not bear to be any more reproved. It follows —
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another – Literally, “Only man let him, not strive, and let not man reprove.” God had taken the controversy with His people into His own hands; the Lord, He said , “hath a controversy (rib) with the inhabitants of the land” Hos_4:1. Here He forbids man to intermeddle; man let him not strive. He again uses the same word . The people were obstinate and would not hear; warning and reproof, being neglected, only aggravated their guilt: so God bids man to cease to speak in His Name. He Himself alone will implead them, whose pleading none could evade or contradict. Subordinately, God, teaches us, amid His judgments, not to strive or throw the blame on each other, but each to look to his own sins, not to the sins of others.
For thy people are as they that strive with the priest – God had made it a part of the office of the priest, to “keep knowledge” Mal_2:7. He had bidden, that all hard causes should be taken “to Deu_17:8-12 the priest who stood to minister there before the Lord their God;” and whose refused the priest’s sentence was to be put to death. The priest was then to judge in God’s Name. As speaking in His Name, in His stead, with His authority, taught by Himself, they were called by that Name, in Which they spoke, אלהים ‘elohı̂ym Exo_21:6; Exo_22:8-9, “God,” not in regard to themselves but as representing Him. To “strive” then “with the priest” was the highest contumacy; and such was their whole life and conduct. It was the character of the whole kingdom of “Israel.” For they had thrown off the authority of the family of Aaron, which God had appointed. Their political existence was based upon the rejection of that authority. The national character influences the individual. When the whole polity is formed on disobedience and revolt, individuals will not tolerate interference. As they had rejected the priest, so would and did they reject the prophets. He says not, they were “priest-strivers,” (for they had no lawful priests, against whom to strive,) but they were like priest-strivers, persons whose habit it was to strive with those who spoke in God’s Name. He says in fact, let not man strive with those who strive with God. The uselessness of such reproof is often repeated. He “that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame, and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot” Pro_9:7-8. “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee” Pro_23:9. Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.” Stephen gives it as a characteristic of the Jews, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do ye” Act_7:51.
The copulative is to be taken here for an illative, Fall, therefore, shalt thou. Here God denounces vengeance on refractory men; as though he said, “As ye pay no regard to my authority, when by words I reprove you, I will not now deal with you in this way; but I will visit you for this contempt of my word.” And thus God is wont to do: he first tries men, or he makes the trial, whether they can be brought to repentance; he severely reproves them, and expostulates with them: but having tried all means by words, he then comes to the last remedy, by exercising his power; for, as it has been said, he deigns no longer to contend with men. Hence the Lord, when he saw that his Prophets were despised, and that their whole teaching was a matter of sport, determined, as it appears from this passage, that the people should shortly be destroyed.
Some render היום, eium, to-day, and think that a short time is denoted: but as the Prophet immediately subjoins, And fall together shall the Prophet with thee”, לילה , lile, in the night, I explain it thus, — that the people would be destroyed together, and then that the Prophets, even those who, in a great measure, brought such vengeance on the people, would be drawn also into the same ruin. Fall shalt thou then in the day, and fall in the night shall the Prophet, that is, “The same destruction shall at the same time include all: but if ruin should not immediately take away the Prophets, they shall not yet escape my hand; they shall follow in their turn.” Hence the Prophet joins day and night together in a continued order; as though he said, “I will destroy them all from the first to the last, and no one shall rescue himself from punishment; and if they think that those shall be unpunished who shall be later led to vengeance, they are mistaken; for as the night follows the day, so also some will draw others after them into the same ruin.” Yet at the same time the Prophet, I doubt not, means by this metaphor, the day, that tranquil and joyous time during which the people indulged their pride. He then means that the punishment he predicted would be sudden: for except the ungodly see the hand of God near, they ever, as it has been observed before, laugh to scorn all threatening. God then says that he would punish the people in the day, even at mid-day, while the sun was shining; and that when the dusk should come, the Prophets would also follow in their turn.
It is evident enough that Hosea speaks not here of God’s true and faithful ministers, but of impostors, who deceived the people by their blandishments, as it is usually the case: for as soon as any Prophet sincerely wished to discharge his office for God, there came forth flatterers before the public, — “This man is too rigid, and makes a wrong use of God’s name, by denouncing so grievous a punishment; we are God’s people.” Such, then, were the Prophets, we must remember, who are here referred to; for few were those who then faithfully discharged their office; and there was a great number of those who were indulgent to the people and to their vices.
It is afterwards added, I will also consume thy mother. The term, mother, is to be taken here for the Church, on account of which the Israelites, we know, were wont to exult against God; as the Papists do at this day, who boast of their mother church, which, as they say, is their shield of Ajax. When any one points out their corruptions, they instantly flee to this protection, — “What! Are we not the Church of God?” Hence when the Prophet saw that the Israelites made a wrong use of this falsely-assumed title, he said, ‘I will also destroy your mother,’ that is, “This your boasting, and the dignity of Abraham’s race, and the sacred name of Church, will not prevent God from taking dreadful vengeance on you all; for he will tear from the roots and abolish the very name of your mother; he will disperse that smoke of which you boast, inasmuch as you hide your crimes under the title of Church.” It follows —
The parallelism of this verse is marked by the peculiarity of dividing between the two members what belongs to the sentence as one whole. Instead of saying that the people would fall (literally, stumble) in the day, and the prophet with them in the night, the meaning of the sentence, divested of its peculiar form of parallelism, is that people and prophet alike would fall together, at all times, both by day and by night, that is to say, there would be no time free from the coming calamities; and there would be no possibility of escape, either for the sinful people or their unfaithful priests; the darkness of the night would not hide them, the light of the day would not aid them; destruction was the doom of priests and people, inevitable and at all times. And I will destroy thy mother. Their mother was the whole nation as such—the kingdom of Israel. The expression is somewhat contemptuous, as though he said of the individual members that they were truly their mother’s children—resembling her erewhile in sin and soon in sorrow.
(1) Though the verb דמה is seldom used in Qal to denote “likeness,” Abarbanel, as quoted by Rosenmüller, translates, “I have been like thy mother,” and explains of the people addressing priest and prophet as a mother reproving her petulant children in order to improve them. Besides the far-fetched nature of such a rendering, there is the formidable grammatical objection that, in the sense of “similitude,” this verb requires to be constructed with le or el. so that it should be le immeka or el immeka. “This word, when derived from demuth, likewise has el with seghol after it; but without el, it has the meaning of destroy,” is the statement of Aben Ezra. The LXX; assigning to the verb the sense of “similarity,” renders the phrase by πυκτὶ ὀμοίωσα τὴν μητέρα σου, “I have compared thy mother to night.”
(2) Jerome, connecting the verb with דוּם or דָמַם, understands it in the sense of “silence:” “I have made thy mother silent in the night; that is, “Israel is delivered up in the dark night of captivity, sorrow, and overwhelming distress.” The Syriac likewise has: “And thy mother has become silent” (if shathketh be read). The Chaldee, though more periphrastic, brings out nearly the same sense: “I will overspread your assembly with stupefaction.” To the same purport is the exposition of Rashi: “My people shall be stupefied as a man who sits and is overwhelmed with stupor, so that no answer is heard from his mouth.” The meaning “destroy” is well supported by the cognate Arabic, and gives a good sense; thus Gesenius renders: “I destroy thy mother, that is, lay waste thy country.” Rather, the nation, collectively, is the mother; while the members individually are the children. Nor shall private persons escape in the public catastrophe—root and branch are to perish. Kimchi’s comment on דמיחי is: “I will cut off the whole congregation, so that no congregation shall remain in Israel; for they shall be scattered in the exile, the one here, the other there.”
Here the Prophet distinctly touches on the idleness of the priests, whom the Lord, as it is well known, had set over the people. For though it could not have availed to excuse the people, or to extenuate their fault, that the priests were idle; yet the Prophet justly inveighs against them for not having performed the duty allotted to them by God. But what is said applies not to the priests only; for God, at the same time, indirectly blames the voluntary blindness of the people. For how came it, that pure instruction prevailed not among the Israelites, except that the people especially wished that it should not? Their ignorance, then, as they say, was gross; as is the case with many ungodly men at this day, who not only love darkness, but also draw it around them on every side, that they may have some excuse for their ignorance.
God then does here, in the first place, attack the priests, but he includes also the whole people; for teaching prevailed not, as it ought to have done, among them. The Lord also reproaches the Israelites for their ingratitude; for he had kindled among them the light of celestial wisdom; inasmuch as the law, as it is well known, must have been sufficient to direct men in the right way. It was then as though God himself did shine forth from heaven, when he gave them his law. How, then, did the Israelites perish through ignorance? Even because they closed their eyes against the celestial light, because they deigned not to become teachable, so as to learn the wisdom of the eternal Father. We hence see that the guilt of the people, as it has been said, is not here extenuated, but that God, on the contrary, complains, that they had malignantly suppressed the teaching of the law: for the law was fit to guide them. The people perished without knowledge, because they would perish.
But the Prophet denounces vengeance on the priests, as well as on the whole people, Because knowledge hast thou rejected, he says, I also will thee reject, so that the priesthood thou shalt not discharge for me. This is specifically addressed to the priests: the Lord accuses them of having rejected knowledge. But knowledge, as Malachi says, was to be sought from their lips, (Mal_2:7) and Moses also touches on the same point in Deu_33:10. It was then an extreme wickedness in the priests, as though they wished to subvert God’s sacred order, when they sought the honor and the dignity of the office without the office itself: and such is the case with the Papists of the present day; they are satisfied with its dignity and its wealth. Mitred bishops are prelates, are chief priests; they vauntingly boast that they are the heads of the Church, and would be deemed equal with the Apostles: at the same time, who of them attends to his office? nay, they think that it would be in a manner a disgrace to give attention to their office and to God’s call.
We now then see what the Prophet meant by saying, Because thou hast knowledge rejected, I also will thee reject, so that thou shalt not discharge for me the priesthood. In a word, he shows that the divorce, which the priests attempted to make, was absurd, and contrary to the nature of things, that it was monstrous, and in short impossible. Why? Because they wished to retain the title and its wealth, they wished to be deemed prelates of the Church, without knowledge: God allows not things joined together by a sacred knot to be thus torn asunder. “Dost thou then,” he says, “take to thyself the office without knowledge? Nay, as thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also take to myself the honor of the priesthood, which I previously conferred on thee.”
This is a remarkable passage, and by it we can check the furious boasting of the Papists, when they haughtily force upon us their hierarchy and the order, as they call it, of their clergy, that is, of their corrupt dregs: for God declares by his word, that it is impossible that there should be any priest without knowledge. And further, he would not have priests to be endued with knowledge only, and to be as it were mute; for he would have the treasure deposited with them to be communicated to the whole Church. God then, in speaking of sacerdotal knowledge, includes also preaching. Though one indeed be a literate, as there have been some in our age among the bishops and cardinals, — though then there be such he is not yet to be classed among the learned; for, as it has been said, sacerdotal learning is the treasure of the whole Church. When therefore a boast is made of the priesthood, with no regard to the ministration of the word, it is a mere mockery; for teacher and priest are, as they say, almost convertible terms. We now perceive the meaning of the first clause.
It then follows, Because thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. Some confine this latter clause to the priests, and think that it forms a part of the same context: but when any one weighs more fully the Prophet’s words, he will find that this refers to the body of the people.
This Prophet is in his sentences often concise, and so his transitions are various and obscure: now he speaks in his own person, then he assumes the person of God; now he turns his discourse to the people, then he speaks in the third person; now he reproves the priests, then immediately he addresses the whole people. There seemed to be first a common denunciation, ‘Thou shalt fall in the day, the Prophet in the night shall follow, and your mother shall perish.’ The Prophet now, I doubt not, confirms the same judgment in other words: and, in the first place, he advances this proposition, that the priests were idle, and that the people quenched the light of celestial instruction; afterwards he denounces on the priests the judgment they deserved, ‘I will cast thee away,’ he says, ‘from the priesthood;’ now he comes to all the Israelites, and says, Thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. Now this fault was doubtless what belonged to the whole people; there was no one exempt from this sin; and this forgetfulness was fitly ascribed to the whole people. For how it happened, that the priests had carelessly shaken off from their shoulders the burden of teaching the people? Even because the people were unwilling to have their ears annoyed: for the ungodly complain that God’s servants are troublesome, when they daily cry against their vices. Hence the people gladly entered into a truce with their teachers, that they might not perform their office: thus the oblivion of God’s law crept in.
As then the Prophet had denounced on the priests their punishment, so he now assures the whole people that God would bring a dreadful judgment on them all, that he would even blot out the whole race of Abraham, I will forget, he says, thy children. Why was this? The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, which was to continue, and to be confirmed to his posterity: they departed from the true faith, they became spurious children; then God rightly testifies here, that he had a just cause why he should no longer count this degenerate people among the children of Abraham. How so? “For ye have forgotten my law,” he says: “had you remembered the law, I would also have kept my covenant with you: but I will no more remember my covenant, for you have violated it. Your children, therefore, deserve not to be under finch a covenant, inasmuch as ye are such a people.” It follows —
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Here the verb is plural and its subject singular, because, being collective, it comprehends all the individual members of the nation. The word כדמו is rendered
(1) by Jerome in the sense of “silence:” “conticuit populus incus,” which he explains to mean “sinking into eternal silence.” So also the Chaldee.
(2) The LXX; understands it in the sense of “likeness:” “My people are like (ὡμοιώθη) as if they had no knowledge.” Aben Ezra disproves this sense as follows: “This word, if it were from the root signifying ‘likeness,’ would have after it el with seghol, as, ‘To [el with seghol] whom art thou like in thy greatness?’ (Eze_31:2); but without the word el it has the meaning of ‘ cutting off.'” So Kimchi: “Here also it has the sense of ‘cutting off.'” The article before “knowledge” implies renewed mention and refers to the word in verse 1; or it may emphasize the word as that knowledge by way of eminence, which surpasses all other knowledge, and without which no other knowledge can really prove a blessing in the end. The knowledge of God is the most excellent of all sciences. Paul counted all things but loss in comparison with its possession; and our blessed Lord himself says, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;” while the Prophet Isaiah attributed the captivity to its absence: “My people are gone into captivity because they have no knowledge.” Because thou hast rejected knowledge … seeing thou hast forgotten the Law of thy Son. The cause of this ignorance is here charged on the unfaithfulness of the priesthood. They rejected knowledge and forgot the Law of their God.
The two concluding clauses of this verse may be regarded as “split members” of a single sentence. As rejection implies the presence of the object rejected, while forgetfulness implies its absence from the mind or memory, some have understood rejection of knowledge as the sin of the priest, and forgetfulness that of the people. This separation is not necessary, for what men continue for a time to despise they will by-and-by forget. The forgetfulness is thus an advance upon rejection. The sin of these priests was very great, for, while the priests’ lips were required to keep knowledge, they neither preserved that knowledge themselves nor promoted it among the people; hence the indignant and direct address. Thus Kimchi says: “He addresses the priestly order that existed at that time: Thou hast rejected he knowledge for thyself and to teach it to the people, consequently I will reject thee from being a priest unto me. Since thou dost not exercise the office of priest, which is to teach the Law, I will reject thee so that thou shalt not be a priest in my house.” I will also reject thee that thou shalt be no priest to me … I will also forget thy children, even I. The punishment resembles the offence; the human delinquency is reflected in the Divine retaliation. To make this the more pointed, the “thou on thy part (attah)” at the head of the sentence has its counterpart, or rather is counterbalanced by the “even I” or “I too (gam ani)” at its close. The severity of the punishment is augmented by the threat that, not only the then existing priests, but their sons after them, would be excluded from the honor of the priesthood. This was touching painfully the tenderest part. It needs scarcely be observed that forgetfulness is only spoken of God in a figurative sense, and after the manner of men, that being forgotten which is no longer the object of attention or affection. “The meaning of אשׁ fo g,” says Kimchi, “is by way of figure, like the man who forgets something and does not take it to heart.” The unusual form אֶמְאָסְאָךָ has been variously accounted for. The Massorites mark the aleph before caph as redundant; it is omitted in several manuscripts of Kennicott and De Rossi, as also some of the early printed editions. Kimchi confesses his ignorance of its use. Olshausen treats it as a copyist’s error; but Ewald “regards it as an Aramaean pausal form.” Some take the reference to be to Israel as a kingdom of priests (Exo_19:6) rather than to the actual priesthood.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge – “My people are,” not, “is.” This accurately represents the Hebrew . The word “people” speaks of them as a whole; are, relates to the individuals of whom that whole is composed. Together, the words express the utter destruction of the whole, one and all. They are destroyed “for lack of knowledge,” literally, “of the knowledge,” i. e., the only knowledge, which in the creature is real knowledge, that knowledge, of the want of which he had before complained, the knowledge of the Creator. So Isaiah mourns in the same words , “therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge” Isa_6:13. They are destroyed for lack of it, for the true knowledge of God is the life of the soul, true life, eternal life, as our Saviour saith, “This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” The source of this lack of knowledge, so fatal to the people, was the willful rejection of that knowledge by the priest;
Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to Me – God marks the relation between the sin and the punishment, by retorting on them, as it were, their own acts; and that with great emphasis, “I will utterly reject thee . Those, thus addressed, must have been true priests, scattered up and down in Israel, who, in an irregular way, offered sacrifices for them, and connived at their sins. For God’s sentence on them is, “thou shalt be no priest to me.” But the priests whom Jeroboam consecrated out of other tribes than Levi, were priests not to God, but to the calves. Those then, originally true priests to God, had probably a precarious livelihood, when the true worship of God was deformed by the mixture of the calf-worship, and the people “halted between two opinions;” and so were tempted by poverty also, to withhold from the people unpalatable truth. They shared, then, in the rejection of God’s truth which they dissembled, and made themselves partakers in its suppression. And now, they “despised, were disgusted” with the knowledge of God, as all do in fact despise and dislike it, who prefer ought besides to it. So God repaid their contempt to them, and took away the office, which, by their sinful connivances, they had hoped to retain.
Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God – This seems to have been the sin of the people. For the same persons could not, at least in the same stage of sin, despise and forget. They who despise or “reject,” must have before their mind that which they “reject.” To reject is willful, conscious, deliberate sin, with a high hand; to “forget,” an act of negligence. The rejection of God’s law was the act of the understanding and will, forgetfulness of it comes from the neglect to look into it; and this, from the distaste of the natural mind for spiritual things, from being absorbed in things of this world, from inattention to the duties prescribed by it, or shrinking from seeing “that” condemned, which is agreeable to the flesh. The priests knew God’s law and “despised” it; the people “forgat” it. In an advanced stage of sin, however, man may come to forget what he once despised; and this is the condition of the hardened sinner.
I will also forget thy children – Literally, “I will forget thy children, I too.” God would mark the more, that His act followed on their’s; they, first; then, He saith, “I too.” He would requite them, and do what it belonged not to His Goodness to do first. Parents who are careless as to themselves, as to their own lives, even as to their own shame, still long that their children should not be as themselves. God tries to touch their hearts, where they are least steeled against Him. He says not, “I will forget thee,” but I will forget those nearest thy heart, “thy children.” God is said to forget, when He acts, as if His creatures were no longer in His mind, no more. the objects of His providence and love.
The Prophet calls here the Israelites the people of God, not to honor them, but rather to increase their sin; for the more heinous was the perfidy of the people, that having been chosen, they had afterwards forsaken their heavenly Father. Hence My people: there is here an implied comparison between all other nations and the seed of Abraham, whom God had adopted; “This is, forsooth! the people whom I designed to be sacred to myself, whom of all nations in the world I have taken to myself: they are my heritage. Now this people, who ought to be mine, consult their own wood, and their staff answers them!” We hence see that it was a grievous and severe reprobation when the Lord reminded them of the invaluable kindness with which he had favored the children of Abraham.
So at this day our guilt will be more grievous, if we continue not in the pure worship of God, since God has called us to himself and designed us to be his peculiar flock. The same thing that the Prophet brought against the Israelites may be also brought against the Papists; for as soon as infants are born among them, the Lord signs them with the sacred symbol of baptism; they are therefore in some sense (aliqua ex parte ) the people of God. We see, at the same time, how gross and abominable are the superstitions which prevail among them: there are none more stupid than they are. Even the Turks and the Saracenes are wise when compared with them. How great, then, and how shameful is this baseness, that the Papists, who boast themselves to be the people of God, should go astray after their own mad follies!
But the Prophet says the Israelites “consulted” their own wood, or inquired of wood. He no doubt accuses them here of having transferred the glory of the only true God to their own idols, or fictitious gods. They consult, he says, their own wood, and the staff answers them. He seems, in the second clauses to allude to the blind: as when a blind man asks his staff, so he says the Israelites asked counsel of their wood and staff. Some think that superstitions then practiced are here pointed out. The augurs we know used a staff; and it is probable that diviners in the East employed also a staff, or some such thing, in performing their incantations. Others explain these words allegorically, as though wood was false religion, and staff the ungodly prophets. But I am inclined to hold to simplicity. It then seems to me more probable, that the Israelites, as I have already stated, are here condemned for consulting wood or dead idols, instead of the only true God; and that it was the same thing as if a blind man was to ask counsel of his staff, though the staff be without any reason or sense. A staff is indeed useful, but for a different purpose. And thus the Prophet not only contemptuously, but also ironically, exposes to scorn the folly of those who consult their gods of wood and stone; for to do so will no more avail them than if one had a staff for his counselor.
He then subjoins, for the spirit of fornication has deceived them Here again the Prophet aggravates their guilt, inasmuch as no common blame was to be ascribed to the Israelites; for they were, he says, wholly given to fornication The spirit, then, of fornication deceived them: it was the same as if one inflamed with lust ran headlong into evil; as we see to be the case with brutal men when carried away by a blind and shameful passion; for then every distinction between right and wrong disappears from their eyes — no choice is made, no shame is felt. As then such heat of lust is wont sometimes to seize men, that they distinguish nothing, so the Prophet says with the view of shaming the people the more, that they were like those given to fornication, who no longer exercise any judgment, who are restrained by no shame. The spirit, then, of fornication has deceived them: but as this similitude often meets us, I shall not dwell upon it.
They have played the wanton, he says, that they may not obey the Lord. He does not say simply, ‘from their God,’ but ‘from under’ מתחת, metachet, They have then played the wanton, that they might no more obey God, or continue under his government. We may hence learn what is our spiritual chastity, even when God rules us by his word, when we go not here and there and rashly follow our own superstitions. When we abide then under the government of our God, and with fixed eyes look on him, then we chastely preserve our faithfulness to him. But when we follow idols, we then play the wanton and depart from God. Let us now proceed —
The first of these verses exhibits the private life of the people as depraved by sin and folly; the second their public life as degraded by idolatry and lewdness; while the third points to the corresponding chastisement and its cause. My people ask counsel at their stocks (literally, wood), and their staff declareth unto them. Rashi explains “stocks,” or literally, “wood,” to mean “a graven image made out of wood;” while Aben Ezra prefaces his exposition of this by an observation which serves well as a link of connection between the eleventh and twelfth verses. It is as follows: “The sign that they are in reality without heart, is that my people turn to ask counsel of its stocks and wood.” Kimchi not inaptly remarks, “They are like the blind man to whom his staff points out the way in which he should go.” The stupidity of idolatry and the sin of divination are hero combined. By the “wood” is meant an idol carved out of wood; while the staff may likewise have an image carved at the top for idolatrous purposes, or it may denote mode of divination by a staff which by the way it fell determined their course. Theophylaet explains this method of divination as follows: “They set up two rods, and muttered some verses and enchantments; and then the rods falling through the influence of demons, they considered how they fell, whether forward or backward, to the right or the left, and so gave answers to the foolish people, using the fall of the rods for signs.” Cyril, who attributes the invention of rabdomancy to the Chaldeans, gives the same account of this method of divination. Herodotus mentions a mode of divination prevalent among the Scythians by means of willow rods; and Tacitus informs us that the Germans divined by a rod cut from a fruit-bearing tree. “They (the Germans) cut a twig from a fruit tree, and divide it into small pieces, which, distinguished by certain marks, are thrown promiscuously on a white garment. Then the priest or ‘the canton, it’ the occasion be public—if private, the master of the family—after an invocation of the gods, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, thrice takes out each piece, and as they come up, interprets their signification according to the marks fixed upon them.”
The sin and folly of any people consulting an idol of wood about the success or otherwise of an undertaking, or deciding whether by a species of teraphim or staff divination, is sufficiently obvious. But the great aggravation of Israel’s sin arose from the circumstance not obscurely hinted by the possessive “my” attached to “people.” That a people like Israel, whom God had chosen from among the nations of the earth and distinguished by special tokens of Divine favor, and to whom he had given the ephod with the truly oracular Urim and Thummim, should forsake him and the means he had given them of knowing his will, and turn aside to gods of wood, evinced at once stupidity unaccountable and sin inexcusable. “The prophet,” says Calvin, “calls here the Israelites the people of God, not to honor them, but rather to increase their sin; for the more heinous was the perfidy of the people, that, having been chosen, they had afterwards forsaken their heavenly Father… Now this people, that ought to be mine, consult their own wood, and their staff answers them!” For the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a-whoring from under their God. In this part of the verse the prophet attempts to account for the extreme folly and heinous sin of Israel, as described in the first clause. It was an evil spirit, some demoniac power, that had inspired them with an insuperable fondness for idolatry, which in prophetic language is spiritual adultery. The consequence was a sad departure from the true God and a sinful wandering away from his worship, notwithstanding his amazing condescension and love by which he placed himself in the relation of a husband towards them.
My people ask counsel at – (literally, “on”) their stocks They ask habitually ; and that, in dependence “on their stocks.” The word “wood” is used of the idol made of it, to bring before them the senselessness of their doings, in that they asked counsel of the senseless wood. Thus Jeremiah reproaches them for “saying to a stock, my father” Jer_2:27; and Habakkuk, “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, awake” Hab_2:19.
And their staff declareth unto them – Many sorts of this superstition existed among the Arabs and Chaldees. They were different ways of drawing lots, without any dependence upon the true God to direct it. This was a part of their senselessness, of which the prophet had just said, that their sins took away their hearts. The tenderness of the word, “My people,” aggravates both the stupidity and the ingratitude of Israel. They whom the Living God owned as His own people, they who might have asked of Him, asked of a stock or a staff.
For the spirit of whoredoms – It has been thought of old, that the evil spirits assault mankind in a sort of order and method, different spirits bending all their energies to tempt him to different sins . And this has been founded on the words of Holy Scripture, “a lying spirit,” “an unclean spirit,” “a spirit of jealousy,” and our Lord said of the evil spirit whom the disciples could not cast out; “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” Mat_17:21. Hence, it has been thought that “some spirits take delight in uncleanness and defilement of sins; others urge on to blasphemies; others, to anger and fury; others take delight in gloom; others are soothed with vainglory and pride; and that each instills into man’s heart that vice in which he takes pleasure himself; yet that all do not urge their own perversenesses at once, but in turn, as opportunity of time or place, or man’s own susceptibility, invites them” . Or the word, “spirit of whoredoms,” may mean the vehemence with which people were whirled along by their evil passions, whether by their passionate love of idolatry, or by the fleshly sin which was so often bound up with their idolatry.
They have gone a whoring from under their God – The words “from under” continue the image of the adulteress wife, by which God had pictured the faithlessness of His people. The wife was spoken of as “under her husband Num_5:19, Num_5:29; Eze_23:5, i. e., under his authority; she withdrew herself “from under” him, when she withdrew herself from his authority, and gave herself to another. So Israel, being wedded to God, estranged herself from Him, withdrew herself from His obedience, cast off all reverence to Him, and prostituted herself to her idols.
The Prophet shows here more clearly what was the fornication for which he had before condemned the people, — that they worshipped God under trees and on high places. This then is explanatory, for the Prophet defines what he before understood by the word, fornication; and this explanation was especially useful, nay, necessary. For men, we know, will not easily give way, particularly when they can adduce some color for their sins, as is the case with the superstitious: when the Lord condemns their perverted and vicious modes of worship, they instantly cry out, and boldly contend and say, “What! is this to be counted fornication, when we worship God?” For whatever they do from inconsiderate zeal is, they think, free from every blame. So the Papists of this day fix it as a matter beyond dispute that all their modes of worship are approved by God: for though nothing is grounded on his word, yet good intention (as they say) is to them more than a sufficient excuse. Hence they dare proudly to clamour against God, whenever he condemns their corruptions and abuses. Such presumption has doubtless prevailed from the beginning.
The Prophet, therefore, deemed it needful openly and distinctly to show to the Israelites, that though they thought themselves to be worshipping God with pious zeal and good intention, they were yet committing fornication. “It is fornication,” he says, “when ye sacrifice under trees.” “What! has it not ever been a commendable service to offer sacrifices and to burn incense to God?” Such being the design of the Israelites, what was the reason that God was so angry with them? We may suppose them to have fallen into a mistake; yet why did not God bear with this foolish intention, when it was covered, as it has been stated, with honest and specious zeal? But God here sharply reproves the Israelites, however much they pretended a great zeal, and however much they covered their superstitions with the false title of God’s worship: “It is nothing else,” he says, “but fornication.”
On tops of mountains, he says, they sacrifice, and on hills they burn incense, under the oak and the poplar and the teil-tree, etc. It seemed apparently a laudable thing in the Israelites to build altars in many places; for frequent attendance at the temples might have stirred them up the more in God’s worship. Such is the plea of the Papists for filling their temples with pictures; they say, “We are everywhere reminded of God wherever we turn our eyes; and this is very profitable.” So also it might have seemed to the Israelites a pious work, to set up God’s worship on hills and on tops of mountains and under every tall tree. But God repudiated the whole; he would not be in this manner worshipped: nay, we see that he was grievously displeased. He says, that the faith pledged to him was thus violated; he says, that the people basely committed fornication. Though the Prophet’s doctrine is at this day by no means plausible in the world, so that hardly one in ten embraces it; we shall yet contend in vain with the Spirit of God: nothing then is better than to hear our judge; and he pronounces all fictitious modes of worship, however much adorned by a specious guise, to be adulteries and whoredoms.
And we hence learn that good intention, with which the Papists so much please themselves, is the mother of all wantonness and of all filthiness. How so? Because it is a high offense against heaven to depart from the word of the Lord: for God had commanded sacrifices and incense to be nowhere offered to him but at Jerusalem. The Israelites transgressed this command. But obedience to God, as it is said in 1Sa_15:0, is of more value with him than all sacrifices.
The Prophet also distinctly excludes a device in which the ungodly and hypocrites take great delight: good, he says, was its shade; that is, they pleased themselves with such devices. So Paul says that there is a show of wisdom in the inventions and ordinances of men, (Col_2:23.) Hence, when men undertake voluntary acts of worship, — which the Greeks call εθελοθρησκείας superstitions, being nothing else than will-worship, — when men undertake this or that to do honor to God, there appears to them a show of wisdom, but before God it is abomination only. At this practice the Prophet evidently glances, when he says that the shade of the poplar, or of the oak, or of teil-tree, was good; for the ungodly and the hypocrites imagined their worship to be approved of God, and that they surpassed the Jews, who worshipped God only in one place: “Our land is full of altars, and memorials of God present themselves everywhere.” But when they thought that they had gained the highest glory by their many altars, the Prophet says, that the shade indeed was good, but that it only pleased wantons, who would not acknowledge their baseness.
He afterwards adds, Therefore your daughters shall play the wanton, and your daughters-in-law shall become adulteresses: I will not visit your daughters and daughters-in-law Some explain this passage as though the Prophet said, “While the parents were absent, their daughters and daughters-in-law played the wanton.” The case is the same at this day; for there is no greater liberty in licentiousness than what prevails during vowed pilgrimages: for when any one wishes to indulge freely in wantonness, she makes a vow to undertake a pilgrimage: an adulterer is ready at hand who offers himself a companion. And again, when the husband is so foolish as to run here and there, he at the same time gives to his wife the opportunity of being licentious. And we know further, that when many women meet at unusual hours in churches, and have their private masses, there are there hidden corners, where they perpetrate all kinds of licentiousness. We know, indeed, that this is very common. But the Prophet’s meaning is another: for God here denounces the punishment of which Paul speaks in the Romans when he says, ‘As men have transferred the glory of God to dead things, so God also gave them up to a reprobate mind,’ that they might discern nothing, and abandon themselves to every thing shameful, and even prostitute their own bodies.
Let us then know, that when just and due honor is not rendered to God, this vengeance deservedly follows, that men become covered with infamy. Why so? Because nothing is more equitable than that God should vindicate his own glory, when men corrupt and adulterate it: for why should then any honor remain to them? And why, on the contrary, should not God sink them at once in some extreme baseness? Let us then know, that this is a just punishment, when adulteries prevail, and when vagrant lusts promiscuously follow.
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good. The prophet here enlarges on the sin of idolatry mentioned in the preceding verse, and explains fully how it showed itself in the public life of the people. Two places are specified as scenes of idolatrous worship: one was the tops of mountains and hills; the other under every green tree, here specified as oaks, poplars, and terebinths, whether growing alone or in groves, in vale or upland. The hills and mountain-tops were selected on account of their elevation, as though the worshippers were thus brought nearer to the objects of their adoration; the green trees as affording shade from the scorching heat of an Eastern sun, secrecy for their licentious rites, and a sort of solemn awe associated with such shadow. In such scenes they not only slew victims, but burnt odors in honor of their idols.
The resemblance to, if not imitation of, the rites of heathenism in all this is obvious. Among the Greeks the oak was sacred to Jupiter at Dodona, and among the old Britons the Druidical priests practiced their superstitions in the shadow of the yaks. The poplar again was sacred to Hercules, affording a most grateful shade; while in Eze_6:13 we read that “under every thick terebinth” was one of the places where “they did offer sweet savor to their idols.” The inveterate custom of these idolaters is implied in the Piel or iterative form of the verb; the singular of the nouns, under oak and poplar and terebinth, intimates that scene after scene of Israel’s sin passes under the prophet’s review, each exciting his deep indignation; the mention of the goodly shadow seems designed to heighten that feeling of just indignation, as though it came into competition or comparison with “the shadow of the Almighty,” the abiding-place of him that “dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High.”
Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses (properly, daughters-in-law) shall commit adultery. כַּלָּה primarily signifies “bride,” but for the parents of the bridegroom, “daughter-in-law,” its secondary sense. The bad example of the parents acts upon their children and reacts upon themselves; on their children in causing bad conduct, on themselves by way of chastisements. The parents had been guilty of spiritual whoredom by their idolatry; their daughters and daughters-in-law would commit whoredom in the literal and carnal sense. This would wound the parents’ feelings to the quick and pain them in the tenderest part. Their personal honor would be compromised by such scandalous conduct on the part of their daughters; their family honor would be wounded and the fair fame of posterity tarnished by such gross misconduct on the part of the daughters-in-law. The following observations are made on the last member of this thirteenth verse by the Hebrew commentators: “Because the men of the house go out of the city to the high mountains and under every green tree there to serve idols, therefore their daughters and daughters-in-law have opportunity to commit whoredom and adultery” (Kimchi). To like purpose Aben Ezra writes: “The sense is—On the bare mountains and so on the hills they sacrifice; they say to the priests of Baal that they shall sacrifice; and therefore, because the men go out of the cities in order to burn incense, the daughters and daughters-in-law remain in the houses behind, therefore they commit whoredom.” Somewhat different is the explanation of Rashi: “Because ye associate for idolatry after the manner of the heathen, and the heathen associate with you, and ye form affinities with them, your daughters also who are born to you by the daughters of the heathen conduct themselves after the manner of their mothers, and commit whoredom.”
He then who worships not God, shall have at home an adulterous wife, and filthy strumpets as his daughters, boldly playing the wanton, and he shall have also adulterous daughters-in-law: not that the Prophet speaks only of what would take place; but he shows that such would be the vengeance that God would take: ‘Your daughters therefore shall play the wanton, and your daughters-in-law shall be adulteresses;’ and I will not punish your daughters and your daughters-in-law; that is, “I will not correct them for their scandalous conduct; for I wish them to be exposed to infamy.” For this truth must ever stand firm, ‘Him who honors me, I will honor: and him who despises my name, I will make contemptible and ignominious,’ (1Sa_2:30.)
God then declares that he will not visit these crimes, because he designed in this way to punish the ungodly, by whom his own worship had been corrupted.
He says, Because they with strumpets separate themselves. Some explain this verb פדר, pered, as meaning, “They divide husbands from their wives:” but the Prophet, no doubt, means, that they separated themselves from God, in the same manner as a wife does, when she leaves her husband and gives herself up to an adulterer. The Prophet then uses the word allegorically, or at least metaphorically: and a reason is given, which they do not understand who take this passage as referring literally to adulteries; and their mistake is sufficiently proved to be so by the next clause, ‘and with strumpets they sacrifice.’ The separation then of which he speaks is this, that they sacrificed with strumpets; which they could not do without violating their faith pledged to God. We now apprehend the Prophet’s real meaning: ‘I will not punish, ’ he says, ‘wantonness and adulteries in your families.’ Why? “Because I would have you to be made infamous, for ye have first played the wanton.”
But there is a change of person; and this ought to be observed: for he ought to have carried on his discourse throughout in the second person, and to have said, “Because ye have separated with strumpets, and accompany harlots;” this is the way in which he ought to have spoken: but through excess, as it were, of indignation, he makes a change in his address, ‘They,’ he says, ‘have played the wanton,’ as though he deemed them unworthy of being spoken to. They have then played the wanton with strumpets. By “strumpets”, he doubtless understands the corruptions by which God’s worship had been perverted, even through wantonness: “they sacrifice”, he says, “with strumpets”, that is, they forsake the true God, and resort to whatever pollutions they please; and this is to play the wanton, as when a husband, leaving his wife, or when a wife, leaving her husband, abandon themselves to filthy lust. But it is nothing strange or unwonted for sins to be punished by other sins. What Paul teaches ought especially to be borne in mind, that God, as the avenger of his own glory, gives men up to a reprobate mind, and suffers them to be covered with many most disgraceful things; for he cannot bear with them, when they turn his glory to shame and his truth to a lie.
He afterwards adds, And the people, not understanding, shall stumble. They who take the verb לבט, labeth, as meaning, “to be perverted,” understand it here in the sense of being “perplexed:” nor is this sense inappropriate. The people then shall not understand and be perplexed; that is, They shall not know the right way. But the word means also “to stumble,” and still oftener “to fall;” and since this is the more received sense, I am disposed to embrace it: The people then, not understanding, shall stumble
The Prophet here teaches, that the pretence of ignorance is of no weight before God, though hypocrites are wont to flee to this at last. When they find themselves without any excuse they run to this asylum, — “But I thought that I was doing right; I am deceived: but be it so, it is a pardonable mistake.” The Prophet here declares these excuses to be vain and fallacious; for the people, who understand not, shall stumble and that deservedly: for how came this ignorance to be in the people of Israel, but that they, as it has been before said, willfully closed their eyes against the light? When, therefore, men thus willfully determine to be blind, it is no wonder that the Lord delivers them up to final destruction. But if they now flatter themselves by pretending, as I have already said, a mistake, the Lord will shake off this false confidence, and does now shake it off by his word. What then ought we to do? To learn knowledge from his word; for this is our wisdom and our understanding, as Moses says, in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy.
I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery. The spiritual adultery of parents and husbands would be punished by the carnal adultery of daughters and wives; sin would thus be punished by sin. Their own dishonor and disgrace, through the unfaithfulness of persons so near to them, would impress them with a sense of the dishonor done to God, the spiritual Husband of his people; their feeling of pain and shame in consequence would convey to them a clearer notion of the abhorrence which their offences had occasioned to God. But their punishment would become more severe, and their pain intensified by the Divine refusal to avenge them by punishing the lewdness that caused such dishonor. While punishment would prevent the sin and consequent reproach, impunity, or the postponement of punishment, would leave the offenders to go on in their course of sin and shame.
Aben Ezra comments on this fourteenth verse as follows: “The sense is—It is not to be wondered at if the daughters commit whoredom; for they themselves, when they go up to the tops of the mountains to burn in-cerise, eat and drink with harlots and commit whoredom—all of them. And, behold, the sense is, not that he shall not punish them at all, but he speaks in regard to, i.e. in comparison with, the fathers; for they teach them to commit whoredom doing according to their works. Perhaps the daughters are still little, therefore I shall not punish.” Rashi thinks that this threatening refers to the disuse of the bitter waters of jealousy, so that suspected guilt could not be detected. But there is nothing to intimate such a reference; nor would it be in keeping with the scope of the passage. Again, some, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, read the words, not indicatively, but interrogatively—”Shall I not punish,” etc.? This would require such a meaning to be read into the passage as the following: “Assuredly I shall punish them; and not the daughters and daughters-in-law only, but the parents and husbands still more severely, because of their greater criminality.” Equally unsatisfactory is the explanation of Theodoret, who, taking פָקַד in a good sense, which it has with the accusative, understands it of God’s refusing any protection or preservation of their daughters and spouses from outrage at the hands of a hostile soldiery, so that such sins as they themselves had been guilty in private, would be committed with the females of their family in public.
For they themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots. The change of person appears to imply that God turns away with inexpressible disgust from such vileness, and, turning aside to a third party, explains the grounds of his procedure. The Qedesheth were females who devoted themselves to licentiousness in the service of Ashtaroth, the Sidonian Venus. Persons of this description were attached to idol temples and idolatrous worship in heathen lands in ancient times, as in India at the present time. The ‘Speaker’s Commentary’ calls them “devotee-harlots,” and cites an allusion to the custom from the Moabite Stone, as follows: “I did not kill the women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-kemosh.” After stating the humiliating fact that fathers and husbands in Israel, instead of uniting with their wives in the worship of Jehovah, separated themselves, going aside with these female idolaters for the purpose of lewdness, and shared in their sacrificial feasts, the prophet, or rather God by the prophet, impatient of the recital of such shameless licentiousness, and indignant at such presumptuous sinning, closes abruptly with the declaration of the recklessness, and denunciation of the ruin of all such offenders, in the words—the people that doth not understand shall fall; margin, be punished; rather, dashed to the ground, or plunge into ruin (nilbat). Both Aben Ezra and Kimchi give from the Arabic, as an alternative sense of silbat, to fall into error.
I will not punish your daughters – God threatens, as the severest woe, that He will not punish their sins with the correction of a Father in this present life, but will leave the sinners, unheeded, to follow all iniquity. It is the last punishment of persevering stoners, that God leaves them to prosper in their sins and in those things which help them to sin. Hence, we are taught to pray, “O Lord, correct me, but in judgment, not in Thine anger” Jer_10:24. For since God chastiseth those whom He loveth, it follows, “if we be without chasetisement, whereof all are partakers, then are we bastards, and not sons” Heb_12:8. To be chastened severely for lesser sins, is a token of great love of God toward us; to sin on without punishment is a token of God’s extremest displeasure, and a sign of reprobation. : “Great is the offence, if, when thou hast sinned, thou art undeserving of the wrath of God.”
For themselves are separated with whores – God turns from them as unworthy to be spoken to anymore, and speaks of them, They “separate themselves,” from whom? and with whom? They separate themselves “from” God, and with the degraded ones and “with” devils. Yet so do all those who choose willful sin.
And they sacrifice – (continually, as before) with (the) harlots The unhappy women here spoken of were such as were “consecrated” (as their name imports) to their vile gods and goddesses, and to prostitution. This dreadful consecration, yea desecration, whereby they were taught to seek honor in their disgrace, was spread in different forms over Phoenicia, Syria, Phrygia, Assyria, Babylonia. Ashtaroth, (the Greek Astarte) was its chief object. This horrible worship prevailed in Midian, when Israel was entering the promised land, and it suggested the devilish device of Balaam Num. 25; Num_31:8, Num_31:16 to entangle Israel in sin whereby they might forfeit the favor of God. The like is said to subsist to this day in pagan India. The sin was both the cause and effect of the superstition. Man’s corrupt heart gave rise to the worship: and the worship in turn fostered the corruption. He first sanctioned the sin by aid of a degrading worship of nature, and then committed it under plea of that worship. He made his sin a law to him. Women, who never relapsed into the sin, sinned in obedience to the dreadful law . Blinded as they were, individual pagan had the excuse of their hereditary blindness; the Jews had imperfect grace. The sins of Christians are self sought, against light and grace.
Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall – The word comprises both, “that doth not understand,” and, “that will not understand.” They might have understood, if they would. God had revealed Himself to them, and had given to them His law, and was still sending to them His prophets, so that they could not have known and understood God’s will, had they willed. Ignorance, which we might avoid or cure, if we would, is itself a sin. It cannot excuse sin. They shall, he says, fall, “or be cast headlong.” Those who blind their eyes, so as not to see or understand God’s will, bring themselves to sudden ruin, which hide from themselves, until they fall headlong in it.