12. Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints.
12. Circumdedit me mendacio Ephraim, et fraude domus Israel: Judah autem adhuc dominatur (vel, principatum tenet) cum Deo, et cum sanctis fidelis est.
I shall not stay now to recite the opinions of others; nor does it seem necessary. I might have indeed referred in the last verse to what some say respecting the roaring of God, -- that his voice will roar through the Gospel: but as this and the like are refinements of which I think the Prophet never thought, it is enough to understand the simple meaning of the Prophet, and not to accumulate the sentiments of others. I indeed know that this makes a great display, and there are some who are delighted with a mass of opinions; but I regard what is more useful.
I come now to the last verse, in which the Lord complains, that he had been compassed with the falsehood and fraud of the people. By these words he means that he had in every thing found the multiplied perfidy of the Israelites; for this is the import of the word, "compassed". We now then perceive that the Prophet means that the Israelites, not only in one way, or in one thing, acted unfaithfully towards God, and used frauds: but that it was the same, as when one besieges an enemy with a great army; so that they were thus full of innumerable frauds, with which on every side they surrounded God. And this is what hypocrites are wont to do; for not only in one thing do they endeavour to deceive God, but they transform themselves in various ways, and ever seek some new subterfuges. When they are caught in one sin, they pass into another; so that there is no end to their deceit. This subject the Prophet now takes up, that is, that the Israelites never ceased to act deceitfully towards God.
And he speaks of frauds and falsehood; for they thought that they escaped, provided they covered themselves with some disguise whenever the Prophets reproved them. But God here testifies, that they gained nothing by their craftiness, as though he said, "Ye think indeed that your coverings will avail with me, but they are vain. I indeed see myself as it were encompassed by your falsehoods, for on every side ye attempt to cover your sins; but they are false coverings." In short, the Prophet reprobates those specious excuses, by which people think that they are absolved before God, so as to elude through this confidence all the threatening and reproofs of the Prophets. "I see," the Lord says, "what the Israelites bring forward for themselves; but they are only falsehoods and frauds." This passage then teaches, that men in vain make excuses before God; for when they contrive pretences to deceive God, they are themselves greatly deceived; for he clearly perceives their guiles and falsehoods.
He afterwards subjoins, that Judah still ruled, or, held sovereignty, with God, and was faithful with the saints. By saying that he held sovereignty with God, he declares, I doubt not, that the kingdom of Judah was legitimate, because it was connected with a pure and lawful priesthood. For whence did arise the corruptions in the other kingdom, but because the people had revolted from the family of David? Hence it was that the new king changed both the law and the worship of God, and erected new temples. Israel then did not rule with God, for the kingdom was spurious, and the beginning of the dispersion, so that the people forsook God. But of Judah the Prophet speaks much otherwise, that he still ruled with God, because the posterity of David, though we know that they laboured under many vices, had not yet changed the worship prescribed by the law, except that Ahab had erected an altar like one at Damascus, as the sacred history relates, (2 Kings 16:12;) but yet pure religion always prevailed at Jerusalem. But the Prophet speaks comparatively, as it will be presently seen: for he does not wholly excuse the Jews, but says that in comparison with Israel they yet ruled with God; for the kingdom and the priesthood, as we have said, were joined together in Judah, and both had been divinely instituted.
He says further, that he was faithful with the saints. By saints some understand God. The word Myswdq, kodushim, we know, is plurals and sometimes an epithet of the singular number is joined to it, though not often. In the last chapter of Joshua we have these words, arh Myswdq, kodushim eva, holy is he. But as I have said, these examples are rare. And here I know not whether or not the Prophet means God. I would rather refer this word to the holy fathers or to the whole Church; so that the Prophet calls here Myswdq, kodushim, saints, Abraham and others who justly deserved to be counted among the children of God; and I am inclined to include the angels. But of the sanctuary we do not find this word anywhere used; when the Scripture refers to the sanctuary, the letter m, m, is added. He uses indeed the plural number, though one may suppose that both the sanctuary and its worship are here intended. But as this application would be strained, and without example, I am satisfied with this plain meaning -- that Judah was faithful with the saints; that is, that he retained faith in God together with the fathers, and departed not from the pure worship which had been delivered to him, according to which God had made his covenant with Abraham and his seed.
But the Prophet here praises the tribe of Judah, not because he wished to flatter them; but, as it has been stated in a former place, he had regard to the office deputed to him. When we at this day cry against our domestic evils, when we say that things are better ordered elsewhere, under what supposition is this done? We take it as granted, that others have their own teachers by whom they are reproved and if there be any vices prevailing, there are those who are to apply the remedy. This consideration then ought often to be remembered by us, that we may, by way of reproach, bring forward the conduct of others, when we wish deeply to wound those, the care of whom has been committed to us by God. Even so our Prophet did: at the same time, those who then taught at Jerusalem did not spare the Jews; they cried boldly and vehemently against their vices. But Hosea, as we have said, does here attend to his own vocation; and hence he exposes the sin of the ten tribes in having departed from the legitimate worship of God, when they had at the same time a well-known and memorable example in the tribe of Judah, who had continued in obedience to the law. This is the meaning. Let us now go on --