Hosea 4:12

12. My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.

12. Populus meus in ligno suo interrogat (vel, lignum suum sonsulit) et baculus ejus respondit ei (ad verbum, respondebit; sed significat actum continuum:)quia spiritus fornicationum decepit, et fornicati sunt a Deo suo (a subtus Deo suo, hoc est, ne amplius subjecti sint Deo vel pareant.)


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. 1 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' txtm, 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 --

1 This was probably similar to divination by arrows, mentioned in Ezekiel 21:21. There is a practice of this kind still among the Arabs, as Adam Clarke mentions in his comment on this verse. They take three arrows without head, and write onone, Command me, Lord; on the other, Forbid me, Lord; and the third is left a blank. These are put in a bag, and one is drawn. If the first is drawn, they do what they intend; if the second, they abstain for a year; if the third, they draw again. -- Ed.


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