Calvin Never Loved His Father – Hosea 11

Guest post by Craig Fisher

God’s Continuing Love for Israel:

Hos 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.
Hos 11:2 As they called them, So they went from them; They sacrificed to the Baals, And burned incense to carved images.

Here is a summary of God’s message of the Old Testament prophets: I loved Israel, I called them, but they rejected Me. In this passage, Hosea is using a metaphor of parent to son to illustrate this concept. The purpose of a metaphor is to bring together two ideas that have points in common with one another. The dominant idea should not have to explained since it is a common association that almost everyone understands. The dominant idea in this metaphor is the concept of parenthood. Although some people might have negative ideas of parenthood (such as victims of abuse) even these people will have an understanding characteristics of a good parent. The comparative idea (in this case God’s love for Israel) will have points in common with the dominant idea (a father’s love for his son). A reader must take care, however, not to strain to metaphor: there will points not in common with the dominant idea.

When reading passages such as Hosea, the reader must establish a real and essential analogy between God and parent. Not only is the relationship real and essential but the relationship must be readily apparent or the purpose of the metaphor is lost. God wants us to focus on the intensity of the relationship. Parents love their offspring. The children are an extension of the parents’ self concept: their love, their ambitions, their joys, and their despairs. Children act as an extension of a parent, an autonomous and loved extension.

In the text, the rejection of the parent is felt intensely. The rejection is sudden and undeserved. The parent feels betrayed by the child yet the parent cannot sever the relationship because of love. This produces a mixed reaction from God. God wants to show his love and receive love back. God wants to draw near to the child. The child’s reaction is to draw farther away. As a parent, God would be justified in moving away from the child, but God has a conflict between His mercy and His justice.

Hos 11:3 “I taught Ephraim to walk, Taking them by their arms; But they did not know that I healed them.
Hos 11:4 I drew them with gentle cords, With bands of love, And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.

How do parents teach children to walk? The mother holds the baby by the arms as the infant struggles to maintain balance. The father reaches out daring the child to cross the small path between father and mother. The baby holds out his hands smiles and bravely steps toward a smiling and encouraging father while the mother softly gives sounds of encouragement from the rear. Sometimes the baby makes it, sometimes the baby falls. The father probably at first holds out his hand to help the baby cross from mother to dad. The scene is repeated time and time again until the baby is strong enough to walk alone.

The ritual is as old as man. Sometimes grandparents can even relive their own moments with their grandchildren. God wants to capture these memories (so precious in the relationship between parents and children) to demonstrate his love for Israel. “Remember these moments in your life”, God is saying, “this is the kind of love I feel for you.” This is in accordance to the introduction and the theme of this chapter, God is saying “I loved him”.

The dominant idea of the love of parent for child, the tenderness of the training, and the sense of accomplishment, praise and bonding between the parents and child is the theme of this metaphor. The metaphor contains real information about God. The essential and memorable character of the metaphor is analogous to the message and not contrary to the message.

The second image, although not as tender, is about a master and his beast of burden. In Old Testament times this image would be a familiar everyday occurrence. Today the image is strange and remote. A horse or an ox is controlled by the bridle in the mouth. The owner moves the bridle to cause pain in the mouth which turns the whole animal one way or the other. Often a horse or ox would feed while the bridle was still in their mouths. A merciful master lifts the yokes of the oxen to push the bit back from the neck and closer to the cheeks of the oxen. This allows the oxen to eat their food in comfort without the painful reminder of correction from the yoke. At night the yoke or bridle would be removed altogether to allow the ox to eat in peace. The master stoops and feeds the beast becoming the slave of the beast in a reversal of the roles during the day.

Hos 11:5 “He shall not return to the land of Egypt; But the Assyrian shall be his king, Because they refused to repent.
Hos 11:6 And the sword shall slash in his cities, Devour his districts, And consume them, Because of their own counsels.
Hos 11:7 My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, None at all exalt Him.

The opposite of love in not hate but indifference. Often the most intense love affairs are ended in the heat of anger and personal vengeance. To be in love is to be vulnerable, to let down you defenses and show the need in your life for the recipient of your affections. This surrender of your most intimate moments only magnifies the betrayal of your trust when the event happens. It is impossible to understand the personal hurt and suffering of this betrayal without first knowing the love shared at the beginning of the relationship.

Hos 11:8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred.
Hos 11:9 I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, The Holy One in your midst; And I will not come with terror.

God has pronounced judgment. Ephraim or Israel will be destroyed. The sword will slash his people, many will die and the rest will be uprooted from the land and sent into exile. Or will they? God proceeds to rethink His judgment and repents. The word translated “churns” means “to overthrow” or “turn around”. The word is in the passive and has a more reflexive meaning (“overthrows itself” or “turns itself around”). To turn your heart around is to change your mind or repent. The word Nacham translated “sympathy” here can either mean comfort or repentance. God could be saying my repentance is stirred (more literal “warmed”) within me. The context supports either translation.

God pronounces judgment then He says “how can I give you up”, “how can I hand you over”. This is a change in the heart of God. If not a change it is at least some indecision, some reassessment of a prior decision. Admah and Zeboiim were the two cities that shared the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Admah and Zeboiim were not the cities of the chosen people of God. Because of their wickedness they deserved their fate. This will be a harder decision for God, to destroy a people so totally, a people with whom he had shared a special love.

Can the word again be supported by the text or is it a historical addendum by the translators. II Kings 15:29 describe the first invasion of Assyria into Israel:

2Ki 15:29 In the days of Pekah (740-732) king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.

This first invasion of Israel carried away a significant portion of Israel. It is believed Hosea prophesied sometime after 732 and before the final and second invasion of Israel (722) by Assyria:

II Kings 17: 3-6  Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him…5 Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

2Ki 17:3 Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him…

2Ki 17:5 Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years.
2Ki 17:6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

The translators believed God meant “I will not destroy Israel again like the invasion in 732”. It is not as significant as God’s two statements “9 I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not destroy Ephraim.” Of course, as supported by secular and Biblical history, God did destroy Israel and Ephraim in 722.

What happened? God changed his mind. He was going to destroy Israel but stopped short of total destruction because his love overcame his desire for judgment. He allowed Israel to have another chance. Perhaps their immanent destruction would change their hearts and minds. What we do know is that God did bring the destruction of Israel into play. After describing how Israel fell to the King of Assyria (II Kings 17:7) the Scripture state the cause for the fall: the sins of Israel.

A man would have the tendency to destroy and bring wrath against his former lover. God is not a man, He changes his mind and wants to allow Israel to have another chance. A chance they did not deserve. A chance that would fail.

Augustine and John Calvin would disagree with this analysis. They believe God never changes his mind:

But when he says that his heart was changed, and that his repentings were brought back again, the same mode of speaking after the manner of men is adopted; for we know that these feelings belong not to God; he cannot be touched with repentance, and his heart cannot undergo changes. To imagine such a thing would be impiety.

(Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 26: Hosea, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com)

First Calvin admits the Scriptures do say God’s heart was changed and he repented. This is not in dispute. Calvin is practicing reductionism. Scripture says one thing but Calvin’s theology says another thing therefore the Word of God must mean something else. To quote from Terence E Fretheim, The Suffering of God, p 47:

One then buys an absolute form of omniscience at the price of placing the integrity and coherence of all God’s words in jeopardy: Does God really mean what he said or not?

According to Calvin God knows everything that will happen in the future (omniscience) because God determines everything that will happen (his secret will) despite and in contrast to the statements of what he wants to happen (his revealed will).

It is possible to believe that John Calvin (famed for knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew) would defend his views of Hebrew 11 on some great exegesis of the text. But no, he resorts to defending his view with personal attacks based on a preconception of God.

Why is it impious to think that God repents? Because John Calvin has a preconception of God that does not fit what Scriptures say about God. He believes that when God says he changes his mind this is a type of metaphor called anthropomorphism which means God is pretending to be like a man in order to accommodate himself to mankind. At the same time this is not so veiled personal attack on all would disagree with him. If you believe God changes his mind you are impious. Pious is from the Latin meaning devout or good. You are not good if you believe what the Bible says.

As to this mode of speaking, it appears indeed at the first glance to be strange that God should make himself like mortals in changing his purposes and in exhibiting himself as wavering. God, we know, is subject to no passions; and we know that no change takes place in him. What then do these expressions mean, by which he appears to be changeable? Doubtless he accommodates himself to our ignorances whenever he puts on a character foreign to himself
(Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 26: Hosea, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com)

Is love not a passion? Does not God present himself as wavering? Would it be impious not to accept God as having passion (anger and love) or as wavering. Are we too dull to understand God if he says “I repent” or “I do not repent”? Does God put on a character foreign to himself? Is God an actor in some kind of play that is not real?

An intellectually honest reader is not able to change the meaning of the Scripture by labeling everything an “anthropomorphism”. An idiom cannot change the meaning of Scripture from “God repents” to “God does not repent”. Calvin’s answer is:

but yet he assumes the character of one deliberating, that none might think that he hastily fell into anger, or that, being soon excited by excessive fury, he devoted to ruin those who had lightly sinned, or were guilty of no great crimes. That no one then might assign to God an anger too fervid,
(Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 26: Hosea, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com)

God assumes the character (play acting) of one who deliberates or repents as a public relations stunt (“that no one might think God hastily fell into anger or that God may have too hot an anger”). In other words Calvin thinks God is pretending to love Israel and lying to protect his reputation.

Calvin’s explanation of Hosea 11 not only does not meet the readily intelligible and coherent standards of metaphor, this explanation seriously questions God’s integrity and honesty.

John Calvin never loved his father. He was taken from his father’s home after his mother’s death and lived apart from his father his whole life. In a letter to Nicholas Duchemin he is at his father’s death bed, he expresses no grief at the passing of his father, but considers this event as an inconvenience in his busy life. His relationship to his father; a distant, powerful, arbitrary and unloving authority figure, mirrors his conception of God; transcendent, omnipotent, and without passions. Calvin’s three children died almost immediately upon birth. He would not raise or love any children. Perhaps, Calvin was incapable of understanding the God of Hosea 11. Perhaps, instead of an exegesis of Hosea 11, Calvin’s explanation is a self projection of who Calvin is.

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