1. Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
1. Audite verbum Jehova, filii Israel, quia lis Jehovae cum incolis terrae; quia nulla fides, (aut, veritas, nulla fidelitas,) et nulla beneficientia, etnulla cognito Dei in terra.
2. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
2. Maledicere, et mentiri, et occidere, et furari, et adulterium committere perruperunt, et sanguines sanguinibus fuerunt continui.
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,' (Zechariah 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?' (Isaiah 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,' (Genesis 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,' (Jeremiah 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,' (Psalm 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.
But after having said that they were full of perfidiousness and cruelty, he adds, By cursing, and lying, and killing, etc., 'lh, ale, means to swear: some explain it in this place as signifying to forswear; and others read the two together, 'lh vkchs, ale ucachesh, to swear and lie, that is to deceive by swearing. But as 'lh|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,' (Isaiah 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 --