Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 27: Joel, Amos, Obadiah, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.
1. Audite verbum hoc vaccae Basan, qui estis in monte Samariae, quae opprimitis pauperes, quae conteritis egenos, quae dicitis dominis eorum, Affer et bibemus.
He who divided the chapters seems not to have well considered the Prophet’s argument: for he pursues here his reproof of the rich, and he had been prophesying against the chief men in the kingdom of Israel. We indeed know how much ferocity there is in the rich, when they become formidable to others by their power. Hence the Prophet here laughs to scorn their arrogance: Hear, he says, this word; as though he said, “I see how it will be; for these great and pompous men will haughtily despise my threatening, they will not think themselves exposed to God’s judgment; and they will also think that wrong is done to them: they will inquire, ‘Who I am,’ and ask, ‘How dares a shepherd assail them with so much boldness?’ “Hear then ye cows; as though he said, that he cared not for the greatness in which they prided themselves. “What then is your wealth? It is even fatness: then I make no more account of you than of cows; ye are become fat; but your power will not terrify me; your riches will not deprive me of the liberty of treating you as it becomes me and as God has commanded me.” We hence see that the Prophet here assails with scorn the chief men of the kingdom, who wished to be sacred and untouched. The Prophet asks by what privilege they meant to excuse themselves for not hearing the word of the Lord. If they pleaded their riches and their own authority; “These,” he says, “are fatness and grossness; ye are at the same time cows and I will regard you as cows; and I will not deal with you less freely than I do with my cattle.” We now then perceive the Prophet’s intention.
But he goes on with his similitude: for though he here accuses the chiefs of the kingdom of oppressing the innocent and of distressing the poor, he yet addresses them in the feminine gender, who dwell, he says, on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who consume the needy, who say, etc. He does not think them worthy of the name of men; and yet they wished to be viewed a class separate from the common people, as though they were some heroes or halfgods. The Prophet, by way of contempt, calls them here cows; and he also withholds from them the name of men. Bashan, we know, derived its name from fatness; it was a very rich mountain, and celebrated for its pastures: as the fertility of this mountain was well known among that people, the Prophet gave the name of the cows of Bashan to those fat and full men: and it was right that they should be thus roughly handled, because through fatness, as it is usually the case, they had contracted dullness; for when men abound in riches, when they become great in power, they forget themselves and despise God, for they think themselves beyond the reach of danger. As then this security makes the rich torpid and inattentive to any threatenings, and disobedient to God’s word, so that they regard all counsels superfluous, the Prophet here rebukes them with greater asperity, and addresses them, by way of reproach, under the name of cows. And when he says that they were on the mountain of Samaria, this is still ironical; for they might have made this objection, that they dwelt in the royal city, and were watchful over the state of the whole nation, and that the kingdom stood through their counsels and vigilance: “I see how it is,” he says; “Ye are not on mount Bashan, but on the mount of Samaria; what is the difference between Samaria and Bashan? For ye are there inebriated with your pleasures: as cows, when fattened, are burdened with their own weight, and can hardly draw along their own bodies; so it is with you, such is your slowness through your gluttony. Samaria then, though it may seem to be a watch-tower, is yet nothing different from mount Bashan: for ye are not there so very solicitous (as ye pretend) for the public safety; but, on the contrary, ye devour great riches; and as your cupidity is insatiable, the whole government is nothing else to you than fatness or a rich pasturage.”
But the Prophet chiefly reproves them, because they oppressed the poor and consumed the needy. Though the rich, no doubt, did other wrongs, yet as they especially exercised cruelty towards the miserable, and those who were destitute of every help, this is the reason why the Prophet here elates expressly that the poor and the needy were oppressed by the rich: and we also know, that God promises special aid to the miserable, when they find no help on earth; for it more excites the mercy of God, when all cruelly rage against the distressed, when no one extends to them a helping hand or deigns to aid them.
He adds, in the last place, what they say to their masters. I wonder why interpreters render this in the second person, who say to your masters; for the Prophet speaks here in the third person: they seem therefore designedly to misrepresent the real meaning of the Prophet; and by masters they understand the king and his counselors, as though the Prophet here addressed his words to these chief men of the kingdom. Their rendering then is unsuitable. But the Prophet calls those masters who were exactors, to whom the poor were debtors. The meaning is, that the king’s counselors and judges played into the hands of the rich, who plundered the poor; for when they brought a bribe, they immediately obtained from the judges what they required. They are indeed to be bought by a price who hunt for nothing else but a prey.
They said then to their masters, Bring and we shall drink; that is, “Only satiate my cupidity, and I will adjudge to thee what thou wouldest demand: provided then thou bringest me a bribe, care not, I will sell all the poor to thee.” We now comprehend the design of the Prophet: for he sets forth here what kind those oppressions were of which he had been complaining. “Ye then oppress the poor, — and how? Even by selling them to their creditors, and by selling them for a price. Hence, when a reward is offered to you, this satisfies you: Ye inquire nothing about the goodness of the cause, but instantly condemn the miserable and the innocent, because they have not the means of redeeming themselves: and the masters to whom they are debtor; who through your injustice hold them bound to themselves, pay the price: there is thus a mutual collusion between you.” It now follows —
2. The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.
2. Juravit Dominus Jehova per sanctuarium suum, quia ecce dies veniunt super vos, et tollet vos in clypeo (vertunt quidam; alii, in hamo,) et residuum vestrum in spina piscationis.
Here Amos declares what sort of punishment awaited those fat cattle, who being well fed despised God, and were torpid in their fatness. He therefore says, that the days were nigh, when they should be taken away together with all that they had, and all their posterity, as by a hook of a fisher.
But to give more effect to his combination, he says that God had sworn by his sanctuary. 24 The simple word of God ought indeed to have been sufficient: but as we do not easily embrace the promises of God, so also hypocrites and the reprobate are not easily terrified by his threatening; but they laugh to scorn, or at least regard as empty, what God’s servants declare. It was then necessary that God should interpose this oath, that secure men might be more effectually aroused.
“The Lord then has sworn by his sanctuary”. It is singular that God should swear by his temple rather than by himself: and this seems strange; for the Lord is wont to swear by himself for this reason, — because there is none greater by whom he can swear, as the Apostle says, (Heb 6:13.) God then seems to transfer the honor due to himself to stones and wood; which appears by no means consistent. But the name of the temple amounts to the same thing as the name of God. God then says that he had sworn by the sanctuary, because he himself is invisible, and the temple was his ostensible image, by which he exhibited himself as visible: it was also a sign and symbol of religion, where the face of God shone forth. God did not then divest himself of his own glory, that he might adorn with it the temple; but he rather accommodated himself here to the rude state of men; for he could not in himself be known, but in a certain way appeared to them in the temple. Hence he swore by the temple.
But the special reason, which interpreters have not pointed out, ought to be noticed, and that is, that God, by swearing by his sanctuary, repudiated all the fictitious forms of worship in which the Israelites gloried, as we have already seen. The meaning is this, — “God, who is rightly worshipped on mount Zion, and who seeks to be invoked there only, swears by himself; and though holiness dwells in himself alone, he yet sets before you the symbol of his holiness, the sanctuary at Jerusalem: he therefore repudiates all your forms of worship, and regards your temples as stews or brothels.” We hence see that there is included in this expression a contrast between the sanctuary, where the Jews rightly and legitimately worshipped God, and the spurious temples which Jeroboam built, and also the high places where the Israelites imagined that they worshipped him. We now then understand what is meant by the words, that God sware by his sanctuary
And he sware by his sanctuary, that the days would come, yea, were nigh, in which they should be taken away with hooks, or with shields. צנה, tsane, means in Hebrew to be cold: 25 but צנות, tsanut denotes shields in that language, and sometimes fishing-hooks. Some yet think that the instrument by which the flesh is pulled off is intended, as though the Prophet still alluded to his former comparison. But another thing, which is wholly different, seems to be meant here, and that is, that these fat cows would be drawn out as a little fish by a hook; for afterwards he mentions a thorn or a hook again. It is the same as though he had said, “Ye are indeed of great weight, and ye are very heavy through your fatness; but this your grossness will not prevent God from quickly taking you away, as when one draws out a fish by a hook.” We see how well these two different similitudes harmonize: “Ye are now trusting in your own fatness, but God will draw you forth as if ye were of no weight at all: ye shall therefore be dragged away by your enemies, not as fat cows but as small fishes, and a hook will be sufficient, which will draw you away into remote lands.” This change ought to have seriously affected the Israelites, when they understood that they would be stripped of their fatness and wealth, and then taken away as though they were small fishes, that a hook was enough, and that there would be no need of large wagons. It follows —
3. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.
3. Et per rupturas exibitis unaquaeque coram se (coram facie sua,) et projicietis vos ab excelso (vel, ex palatio,) dicit Jehova.
The Prophet expresses now, in different words, what would be the future calamity of that kingdom; but he still speaks of the rich and the chief men. For though he threatened also the common people and the multitude, it was not yet needful expressly to name them, inasmuch as when God fulminates against the chief men, terror ought surely to seize also the humbler classes. The Prophet then designedly directs his discourse still to the judges and the king’s counselors, Ye shall go forth at the breaches, every one of you. We see that he continues as yet the same mode of speaking, for he counts not those pompous and haughty masters as men, but still represents them as cows, “Every one”, that is, every cow, he says, shall go forth through the breaches over against it. We know how strictly the rich observe their own ranks and also how difficult it is to approach them. But the Prophet says here, that the case with them would be far different: “There will not be,” he says, “a triple wall or a triple gate to keep away all annoyances, as when ye live in peace and quietness; but there will be breaches on every side, and every cow shall go forth through these breaches; yea, shall throw herself down from the very palace: neither the pleasures nor the indulgence, in which ye now live, shall exist among you any more; no, by no means, but ye will deem it enough to seek safety by flight. Each of you will therefore rush headlong, as when a cow, stung by the gadfly or pricked by goads runs madly away.” And we know how impetuous is the flight of cows. So also it will happen to your says the Prophet. We now then perceive the import of the words.
Some take הרמונה, ermune, for Armenian because the Israelites were led away into that far country; and others, take it for the mount Amanus; but for this there is no reason. I do not take its as some do, as meaning, “In the palace,” but, on the contrary, “From the palace,” or, from the high place. Ye shall then throw yourselves down from the palace; that is, “Ye shall no more care for your pomps and your pleasures, but will think it enough to escape the danger of death, even with an impetuosity like that of beasts, as when cows run on headlong without any thought about their course.”
It was not without reason that he repeated the name of God so often; for he intended to shake off from the Israelites their self-complacencies; inasmuch as the king’s counselors and the judges, as we have already stated, were extremely secure and careless; for they were in a manner stupefied by their own fatness. It follows —
4. Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:
4. Ita in Bethel et scelerate agite, in Gilgal adjicite scelerate agendum, et adducite mane sacrificia vestra, ad tres dies (hoc est, tertio anno) decimas vestras;
5. And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord God
5. Et adolete e fermento laudem et adducite voluntarias oblationes, publicite; quia sic vobis libuit, filii Israel, dicit Adonai Jehova.
6. And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
6. Atque etiam ego dedi vobis mundiciem dentium (alii vertunt, obtusiones, sed male) in omnibus oppidis vestris, et penuriam panis in omnibus regionibus vestris; et non estis reversi usque ad me, dicit Jehova.
The Prophet here again pours contempt on the perverse confidence, in which the Israelites were become hardened. They thought, indeed, that their worship was fully approved by God, when they offered Sacrifices in Bethel and Gilgal. But the Prophet here shows, that the more sedulously they labored in performing sacred things, the more grievously they offended God, and the heavier judgment they gained for themselves. “What do you obtain by wearying yourselves, when ye so strictly offer sacrifices, and omit nothing that is prescribed in the law of God? Only this — that you provoke God’s wrath more and more.” But he condemns not the Israelites for thinking that they rendered a compensation, as hypocrites were wont to think, and were on this account often reproved by the Prophets; but he denounces their modes of worship as vicious and false, and abominable before God. The Prophets reprobated sacrifices for two reasons; — first, because hypocrites brought them before God as a compensation, that they might escape the punishment they deserved, as though they paid God what they owed. Thus at Jerusalem, in the very temple, they profaned the name of God; they offered sacrifices according to what the law prescribed, but disregarded the true and legitimate end; for they thought that God was pacified by the blood of beasts, by incense, and other external rites: it was therefore a preposterous abuse. Hence the Prophets often reproved them, inasmuch as they obtruded their sacrifices on God as a compensation, as though they were real expiations for cleansing away sins: this, as the Prophets declared, was extremely puerile and foolish. But, secondly, Amos now goes much farther; for he blames not here the Israelites for thinking that they discharged their duty to God by external rites, but denounces all their worship as degenerate and perverted, for they called on God in places where he had not commanded: God designed one altar only for his people, and there he wished sacrifices to be offered to him; but the Israelites at their own will had built altars at Bethel and Gilgal. Hence the Prophet declares that all their profane modes of worship were nothing but abominations, however much the Israelites confided in them as their safety.
This is the reason why he now says Go ye to Bethel. It is the language of indignation; God indeed speaks ironically, and at the same time manifests his high displeasure, as though he had said, that they were wholly intractable, and could not be restrained by any corrections, as we say in French, Fai du pis que to pouvras So also God speaks in Eze 20:39, ‘Go, sacrifice to your idols.’ When he saw the people running headlong with so much pertinacity into idolatry and superstitions, he said, “Go;” as though he intended to inflame their minds. It is indeed certain, that God does not stimulate sinners; but he thus manifests his extreme indignation. After having tried to restrain men, and seeing their ungovernable madness, he then says, “Go;” as though he said, “Ye are wholly irreclaimable; I effect nothing by my good advice; hear, then, the devil, who will lead you where you are inclined to go: Go then to Bethel, and there transgress; go to Gilgal, and transgress there again; heap sins on sins.”
But how did they transgress at Bethel? Even by worshipping God. We here see how little the pretense of good intention avails with God, which hypocrites ever bring forward. They imagine that, provided their purpose is to worship God, what they do cannot be disapproved: thus they wanton in their own inventions, and think that God obtains his due, so that he cannot complain. But the Prophet declares all their worship to be nothing else than abomination and execrable wickedness, though the Israelites, trusting in it, thought themselves safe. “Add, then, to transgress in Gilgal; and offer your sacrifices in the morning; be thus diligent, that nothing may be objected to you, as to the outward form.”
After three years, 26 that is, in the third year, “bring also your tenths”; for thus it was commanded, as we read in De 14:28. Though, then, the Israelites worshipped God apparently in the strictest manner, yet Amos declares that the whole was vain and of no worth, yea, abominable before God, and that the more they wearied themselves, the more they kindled the wrath of God against themselves. And to the same purpose is the next verse.
And burn incense with the leaven of thank offering He speaks of peace-offerings; sacrifices of thanksgiving were wont to be offered with leaven; but with other sacrifices they presented cakes and unleavened bread. It was lawful in peace-offerings to offer leaven. However sedulous, then, the Israelites were in performing these rites, the Prophet intimates that they were in no way approved by God inasmuch as they had departed from the pure command of the law. Some take leaven in a bad sense, as meaning a vicious and impure sacrifice, which the law required to be free from leaven; but this view seems not suitable here; for nothing is here condemned in the Israelites, but that they had departed from what the law prescribed, that they had presumptuously changed the place of the temple, and also raised up a new priesthood. They were in other things careful and diligent enough; but this defection was the chief abomination. It could not then be, that God would approve of deprivations; for obedience, as it is said elsewhere, is of more account before him than all sacrifices, (1Sa 15:22) Proclaim, he says, נדבות, nudabut, voluntary oblations. What he means is, “Though ye not only offer sacrifices morning and evenings as it has been commanded you, though ye not only present other sacrifices on festivals, but also add voluntary oblations to any extent, yet nothing pleases me.”
Bring forth then, and proclaim voluntary offerings; that is, “Appoint solemn assemblies with great pomp; yet this would be nothing else than to add sin to sin: ye are acting wickedly for this reason, — because the very beginning is impious.”
But the last part of the verse must be noticed, For so it has pleased you, O children of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah. By saying that the Israelites loved to do these things, he reprobates their presumption in devising at their own will new modes of worship; as though he said, “I require no sacrifices from you except those offered at Jerusalem; but ye offer them to me in a profane place. Regard then your sacrifices as offered to yourselves, and not to me.” We indeed know how hypocrites ever make God a debtor to themselves; when they undertake any labor in their frivolous ceremonies, they think that God is bound to them. But God denies that this work was done for him, for he had not enjoined it in his law. “It has thus pleased you,” he says, “Vous faites cela pour votre plaisir et bien mettez le sur vos comptes“. We then see what Amos meant here by saying, ‘It has so pleased you, O children of Israel:’ it is, as if he had said, “Ye ought to have consulted me, and simply to have obeyed my word, to have regarded what pleased me, what I have commanded; but ye have despised my word, neglected my law, and followed what pleased yourselves, and proceeded from your own fancies. Since, then, your own will is your law, seek a recompense from yourselves, for I allow none of these things. What I require is implicit submission, I look for nothing else but obedience to my law; as ye render not this but according to your own will, it is no worship of my name.”
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou wouldest have our life to be formed by the rule of thy law, and hast revealed in it what pleaseth thee, that we may not wander in uncertainty but render thee obedience, — O grant, that we may wholly submit ourselves to thee, and not only devote our life and all our labors to thee, but also offer to thee as a sacrifice our understanding and whatever prudence and reason we may possess, so that by spiritually serving thee, we may really glorify thy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen
But I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your borders; and ye turned not to me, saith Jehovah. God here expostulates with the people on account of their incurable perverseness; for he had tried to restore them to the right way, not only by his word, but also by heavy punishments; but he effected nothing. This hardness doubled the guilt of that people, as they could not be subdued by God’s chastisements.
The Prophet now says, that the people had been chastised with famine, I gave them, he says, cleanness of teeth. It is a figurative expression, by which Amos means want, and he explains it himself by want of bread The whole country then labored under want and deficiency of provisions, though the land, as it is well known, was very fruitful. Now since the end of punishment is to turn men to God and his service, it is evident, when no fruit follows, that the mind is hardened in evil. Hence the Prophet shows here, that the Israelites were not only guilty, but had also pertinaciously resisted God, for their vices could be corrected by no punishment. We have just mentioned famine, another kind of punishment follows —
7. And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
7. Atque etiam ego prohibui a vobis pluviam, quum adhuc essent tres menses ad messem; et plui super urbem unam, et super alteram urbem non feci pluere; pars una compluebatur, et super quam non pluebat exaruit.
I have said that another kind of punishment is here recorded by the Prophet; it is not, however, wholly different: for whence comes the want we have noticed, except through drought? For when God intends to deprive men of support, he shuts up heaven and makes it iron, so that it hears not the earth, according to what we have noticed elsewhere. Yet these words of the Prophet are not superfluous; for God would have the punishment he inflicts on men to be more attentively considered. When men are reduced to want, they will indeed acknowledge it to be the curse of God, except they be very stupid; but when a drought precedes, when the earth disappoints its cultivators, and then a want of food follows, more time is given to men to think of God’s displeasure. This is the reason why the Prophet now distinctly speaks of rain being withheld, after having said that the people had been before visited with a deficiency of provisions; as though he said “Ye ought to have returned, at least after a long course of time, to a sound mind. If God had been offended with you only for one day, and had given tokens of his displeasure, the shortness of time might have been some excuse for you: but as the earth had become dry; as God had restrained rain, and as hence sterility followed, and afterwards there came want, how great was your stupidity not to attend to so many and so successive tokens of God’s wrath?” We now perceive why the Prophet here connects drought with want of food, the cause with the effect: it was, that the stupidity of the people might hence be more evident.
But he says that God had withheld rain from them, when three months still remained to the harvest. When it rains not for a whole month, the earth becomes dry, and men become anxious, for it is an ill omen: but when two months pass without rain, men begin to be filled with apprehension and even dread; but if continual dryness lasts to the end of the third month, it is a sign of some great evil. The Prophet, then, here shows that the Israelites had not been in an ordinary way chastised, and that they were very stupid, as they did not, during the whole three months, apply their minds to consider their sins, though God urged them, and though his wrath had been manifested for so long a time. We now then see that the hardness of the people is amplified by the consideration of time, inasmuch as they were not awakened by a sign so portentous, When there were yet three months, he says, to the harvests I withheld rain from you.
Another circumstance follows, “God rained on one city, on another he did not rain; one part was watered, and no drop of rain fell on another This difference could not be ascribed to chance: except men resolved to be willfully mad, and to reject all reason, they must surely have been constrained to confess these to have been manifest signs of God’s wrath. How came it, that one place was rained upon, and another remained dry? that two neighboring cities were treated so differently? Whence was this, except that God appeared angry from heaven? The Prophet then does here again condemn the obstinacy of the people: they did not see in this difference the wrath of God, which was yet so very conspicuous. The import of the whole is, that God shows that he had to do with a people past recovery; for they were refractory and obstinate in their wickedness, and could bear the application of no remedy. It follows —
8. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
8. Et venerunt duae tres urbes ad unam urbem, ut biberent aquas, et non satiatae sunt: et non reversi estis usque ad me, dicit Jehova.
Marking the difference, the Prophet relates, that two or three cities had come to one, to seek drink, and that they were not satisfied, because the waters failed on account of so large a number: for though the fountains could have supplied the inhabitants, yet when such a multitude flowed from every quarter, the very fountains became exhausted. The Prophet thus aggravates the punishment brought by God on the Israelites; for so great was the thirst, that whole cities had recourse to fountains, where they heard that there was any water. It was indeed an unusual thing for inhabitants to leave their own city and to run to another to seek water, like wild beasts who, when satiated with prey, run far for water: but it is an unwonted thing for men to undertake a long journey for the sake of finding drink: for they dig wells for themselves, and seek water by their own industry, when rivers do not flow, or when fountains do not supply them with drink. When therefore men are forced to leave their own homes and to seek water at a distance, and when they exhaust the fountains, it is a portend which ought to be observed.
But how was it that the Israelites took no notice of God’s hand, which was then as it were visible? Hence then, as they repented not, their obstinate blindness became quite evident. They were no doubt terrified with fear and harassed by grief; but all this produced no effect, for they continued in their sins, took delight in their own superstitions, and pursued the same life as before. Since then they divested not themselves of their own character, nor ceased to provoke continually the wrath of God, their hopeless and incorrigible obstinacy is here manifestly proved. This was the Prophet’s design. It follows —
9. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord
9. Percussi vos Orientali vento et rubigine; magnos 27 hortos vestros et vites vestros et ficulneas vestras et oliveta vestra voravit bruchus (vel, eruca;) et non reversi estis usque ad me, dicit Jehova.
Though one kind of punishment may not convince men, they are yet thereby proved with sufficient clearness to be guilty before God. But when in various ways he urges them, and after having tried in vain to correct them in one way, he has recourse to another, and still effects nothing, it hence more fully appears that they, who are thus ever unmoved, and remain stupid whatever means God may adopt to lead them to repentance, are altogether past recovery. This is the drift of what the Prophet now adds: he says that they had been smitten by the east wind He shows that want of food does not always proceed from one cause; for men become hardened when they feel only one evil: as the case is when a country labors under a drought, it will be thought to be as it were its fate. But when God chastises men in various ways, they ought then no doubt to be touched and really affected: when, on the contrary, they pass by all punishments with their eyes closed, it is certain, that they are wholly obstinate and so fascinated by the devil, that they feel nothing and discern nothing. This is the reason why the Prophet records the various punishments which had been already inflicted on the people.
Hence he says now, that they had been smitten by the east wind, and by the mildew. What mischief the mildew does to the standing corn, we know; when the sun rises after a cold rain, it burns out its substance, so that the ears grow yellow, and rottenness follows. God then says, that the standing corn of the people had been destroyed by this blasting, after dryness had already prevailed though not through the whole land in an equal degree; for God rained on one part, while a neighboring region was parched through want of rain: the Prophet having stated this, now mentions also the mildew.
He says further, that the fig-trees and vines had been consumed, that the gardens had been destroyed, and that the olive trees had been devoured by chafers or palmer worms. Since then the Israelites had been in so many ways warned, was it not a strange and monstrous blindness, that being affrighted they could bear these chastisements of God, and be not moved to return to the right way? If the first chastisement had no effect, if the second also had been without fruit, they ought surely at last to have repented; but as they proceeded in their usual course, and continued like themselves in that contumacy of which we have spoken, what any more remained for them, but to be wholly destroyed as those who had trifled with God? We now then understand what the Prophet means.
Moreover, this passage teaches, as other similar passages do, that seasons vary not by chance; that now drought prevails, and then continual rains destroy the fruits of the earth, that now chafers are produced, and then that heaven is filled with various infections, — that these things happen not by chance, is what this passage clearly shows: but that they are so many tokens of God’s wrath, set before our eyes. God indeed does not govern the world, according to what profane men think, as though he gave uncontrolled license both in heaven and earth; but he now withholds rain, then he pours it down in profusion; he now burns the corn with heat, then he temperates the air; he now shows himself kind to men, then he shows himself angry with them. Let us then learn to refer the whole order of nature to the special providence of God. I mention his special providence, lest we should dream only of some general operation, as ungodly men do: but let us know that God would have himself to be seen in daily events, so that the tokens of his love may make us to rejoice, and also that the tokens of his wrath may humble us, to the end that we may repent. Let this then be learnt from the present words of the Prophet.
Amos further teaches us, that wind and rain, hail and droughts heat and cold, are arms or weapons by which God executes vengeance on account of our sins. Whenever God then intends to inflict punishment on us, he puts on his armor, that is, he sends either rain, or wind, or drought, or heat, or hail. Since it is so, let us not think that either rain or heat is fortuitous, or that they depend on the situation of the stars as ungodly men imagine. Let us therefore know, that all nature so obeys God’s command, that when rain falls seasonably, it is a token of his love towards us, and that when it is unseasonable, it is a proof of his displeasure. It is meet to think the same of heat and of cold, and of all other things. Let us now go on with the words of the Prophet —
10. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.
10. Misi in vos pestem secundum rationem Aegypti; percussi gladio robustos vestros, cum captivitate equorum vestrorump; ascendere feci foetorem castrorum vestrorum et ad nares vestras (vel, usque ad nares vestras, ut copula supervacua sit;) et non reversi estis usque ad me, dicit Jehova.
God now expostulates with the people, because their perverseness had not been subdued even by additional punishments; for he had in vain exhorted and stimulated them to repentance. He says, that they had been smitten with pestilence. The Prophet has hitherto spoken only of the sterility of the land, and of the fruit being destroyed by infections; he has hitherto mentioned want only with its causes; this only has been stated: but now he adds that the people had been afflicted with pestilence, and also with war, and that they had still persevered in their wickedness. Whatever measures then God had adopted to correct the vices of the people, the Prophet now complains and deplores, that they all had been tried in vain. But so many upbraidings are mentioned, that God might show that there was no more any hope of pardon, inasmuch as they thus continued to be untractable and perverse.
He then says that he had sent pestilence according to the manner of Egypt דרך, darec, means a way, but is taken for mode or manners as the 10th chapter of Isaiah 28 ‘I will smite him according to the manner of Egypt,’ says God, speaking of Sennacherib, as though he said, “Ye know how formerly I checked the fury of Pharaoh; I will now put on the same armor, that I may drive far from you your energy Sennacherib.” But the Prophet says here, that God had exercised towards the Israelites the same extreme rigor which he had used towards the Egyptians; as though he said, “I have been forced by your obstinacy to turn my power against you: ye know how Egypt was formerly smitten by me from kindness to your fathers; I then showed how dear to me was your preservation, by putting forth my strength to destroy the Egyptians: how is it that I now turn my weapons against you for your destruction? I have been indeed always ready to oppose your enemies, and kindly to cherish you in my paternal bosom. As then ye are become to me like the Egyptians, how is this and whence this change, except that ye have constrained me by your irreclaimable wickedness?”
We now then see why the Prophet speaks here expressly of the Egyptians. He intimates that God could not show favor to the Israelites, which he would have continued to show, had they not closed the door against it; as though he said, “I had chosen you from other nations; but now I chastise you, not as I do the uncircumcised Gentiles, but I avowedly carry on war with you, as though ye were Egyptians.” We see how much it serves for amplification, when Amos compares the Israelites to the Egyptians, as though he had said that they, by their perverse wickedness, had extinguished all God’s favor, so that the memory of their gratuitous adoption was of no more avail to them. I have therefore sent among you pestilence after the manner of Egypt.
And he adds, I slew with the sword your strong men. It was a different kind of punishment, that all the strong had been slain, that their horses had been led into captivity, and that, finally, the foetor of dead bodies had ascended to suffocate them. These were certainly unusual tokens of God’s wrath. As the people had not repented, it became now again quite evident, that their diseases were not healable; for God had effected nothing by the application of so many remedies. These different kinds of punishments ought to be carefully noticed, because the Lord has collected them together, as so many arguments to prove the contumacy of the people.
By saying that the foetor of camps had ascended to their nostrils, it was the same as if he had said, “There has been no need of external force; though no enemy had been hostile to you, ye have yet been suffocated by your own foetor; for this came up from your own camps into your nostrils, and deprived you of life. Since God then had raised up this intestine putridity, ought you not to have been at length seriously affected, and to have returned to a right mind? Inasmuch then as no fruit followed, who does not see, that you have been in vain chastised, and that what alone remains for you is utter destruction? As God has hitherto stimulated you in vain by punishments, were he to proceed, he would lose all his labor. Since then God has hitherto to no purpose visited you with his scourges, there is no reason why he should chastise you more moderately: you must now then be utterly destroyed.” This is the meaning: and he further adds —
11. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord
11. Subverti vos secundum subversionem Dei contra (vel, in) Sodomam et Gomorrham; et fuistis quasi torris ereptus ab incendio: et non reversi estis ad me, dicit Jehova.
Amos proceeds further, and says, that God had used a severity towards his chosen people similar to that which formerly he showed towards Sodom and Gomorrah. That, we know, was a memorable evidence of God’s wrath, which ought to have filled all ages with dread, as it ought also at this day: and Scripture, whenever it graphically paints the wrath of God, sets Sodom and Gomorrah before our eyes. It was indeed a dreadful judgment, when God destroyed those cities with fire from heaven, when they were consumed, and when the earth, cleaving asunder, swallowed up the five cities. But he says that nearly the same ruin had taken place among the people of Israel, only that a few escaped, as when any one snatches a brand from the burning; for the second clause of the verse ought no doubt to be taken as a modification; for had Amos only said, that they had been overthrown as Sodom and Gomorrah, he would have said too much. The Prophet then corrects or modifies his expression by saying, that a few had remained, as when one snatches a brand from the burning. But in the meantime, they ought to have been at least moved by punishments so grievous and dreadful, since God had manifested his displeasure to them, as he did formerly to Sodom and Gomorrah.
History seems, at the same time, to militate against this narrative of Amos; for he prophesied under Jeroboam the second, the son of Joash; and the state of the people was then prosperous, as sacred history records. How then could it be, that the Israelites had been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah? This difficulty may be easily solved, if we attend to what sacred history relates; for it says that God had pity on the Israelites, because all had been before consumed, the free man as well as the captive, (2 Kings 14:25, 26) When, therefore, there was so deplorable a devastation among the people, it was God’s purpose to give them some relief for a time. Hence he made king Jeroboam successful, so that he recovered many cities; and the people flourished again: but it was a short prosperity. Now Amos reminds them of what they had suffered, and of the various means by which God had stimulated them to repentance though they proved wholly untamable.
Then these two things are in no way inconsistent, — that the Israelites had been consumed before God spared them under Jeroboam, — and that they had yet been for a time relieved from those calamities, which proved ruinous both to the captive and to the free, as it is expressly declared. We must, at the same time, remember, that there was some residue among the people; for it was God’s design to show mercy on account of his covenant. The people were indeed worthy of complete destruction; but it was God’s will that some remnant should continue, lest any one should think that he had forgotten his covenant. We hence see why God had preserved some; it was, that he might contend with the wickedness of the people, and show that his covenant was not wholly void. So the Lord observed a middle course, that he might not spare hypocrites, and that he might not abolish his covenant; for it was necessary for that to stand perpetually, however ungodly and perfidious the Israelites may have been. The Prophet then shows, that God had been faithful even in this case, and constantly kept his covenant, though all the Israelites had fallen away from him. He at length concludes —
12. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
12. Propterea sic faciam tibi Israel; et quia hoc faciam tibi, praepara te in occursum Dei tui Israel.
13. For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.
13. Quia ecce formans montes, creans spiritum (aut, ventum,) annuntians homini quae sit cogitatio ejus, faciens auroram, tenebras (et tenebras, subaudienda est copula,) ambulans super excelsa loca terrae, Jehova, Deus exercituum, nomen ejus.
Amos here declares, in the person of God, that the people in vain hoped for pardon, or for a modification, or an abatement, or an end to their punishment; for God had in vain made the attempt, by many scourges and chastisements, to subdue their extreme arrogance: therefore, he says, thus will I do to you. What does this particle כה, ke, thus, mean? Some think that God here denounces on the Israelites the punishments they had before experienced: but the Prophet, I doubt not, means something much more grievous. He now removes the exception which he lately mentioned as though be had said, that God would execute extreme punishment on this reprobate people without any mitigation. This will I do to thee, Israel: “Thou hast already perceived with how many things I armed myself to take vengeance on the despisers of my law; I will now deal more severely with thee, for thy obstinacy compels me. Since, then, I have hitherto produced no effect on you, I will now bring the last punishment: for remedies cannot be applied to men past recovery.” Thus, then, he says, will I do to thee Israel. 29
And because I will do this to thee, etc עכב, okob, means often a reward or an end: this place may then be thus rendered: ‘I will at length surely do this to you;’ but the sense the most suitable seems to be this, Because I will this do to you, prepare to meet thy God. The passage may be explained in two ways: either as an ironical sentence, or as a simple and serious exhortation to repentance. If we take it ironically, the sense will be of this kind, “Come, now, meet me with all your obstinacy, and with whatever may serve you; will you be able to escape my vengeance by setting up yourselves against me, as you have hitherto done?” And certainly the Prophet, in denouncing final ruin on the people, seems here as though he wished designedly to touch them to the quick, when he says, “Meet now thy God and prepare thyself:” that is, “Gather all thy strength, and thy forces, and thy auxiliaries; try what all this will avail thee.” But as in the next chapter, the Prophet exhorts again the Israelites to repentance, and sets before them the hope of favor, this place may be taken in another sense, as though he said, “Since thou seest thyself guilty, and also as thou seest that thou art seeking subterfuges in vain, being not able by any means to elude the hand of thy judge, then see at last, that thou meet thy God, that thou mayest anticipate the final ruin which is impending.” The Prophets, we indeed know, after having threatened destruction to the chosen people, ever moderate the asperity of their doctrine, as there were at all times some remnant seed, though hidden. And similar passages we have seen both in Joel and in Hosea. It is not, therefore, improper to explain the words of Amos in this sense, — that though the people were almost past hope, he yet exhorted them to anticipate God’s wrath. Prepare then thyself to meet thy God, as though he said, “However worthy thou art of being destroyed and though the Lord seems to have closed up the door of mercy, and despair meets thee on every side, thou can’t yet mitigate God’s wrath, provided thou prepares to meet him.”
But this preparation includes real renovation of the heart: it then takes place, when men are displeased with themselves, when with a changed mind they submit to God, and humbly pray for forgiveness. There is then an important meaning in the Prophet’s words, Prepare thyself. With regard to meeting God, we know what Paul says in 1Co 9:6,
‘If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged by the Lord.’
How comes it, then, that God deals severely with us, except that we spare ourselves? Hence this indulgence, with which we flatter ourselves, provokes God’s wrath against us. We cannot then meet God, except we become our own judges, and condemn our sins and feel real sorrow. We now see what the Prophet means, if we regard the passage as not spoken ironically.
But that he might rouse careless men more effectually, he then magnificently extols the power of God; and that he might produce more reverence and fear in men, especially the hardened and the refractory, he adorns his name with many commendations. As it was difficult to turn the headstrong, the Prophet accumulates many titles, to move the people, that they might entertain reverence for God. “God,” he says, “has formed the mountains, and created the spirit,” and further, “he knoweth hearts, and men themselves understand not what they think of, except as far as God sets before them their thoughts; God maketh the morning and the darkness, and walketh in the high places of the earth; and his name is, Jehovah, God of hosts.” Why were all these encomiums added, but that the hearts of men might be touched, who were before void of thought and sunk in blind stupidity? We now understand the Prophet’s object. But what remains to be said on the words will be added in tomorrow’s lecture.
Grant, Almighty God, that since by thy word thou kindly invites us to thyself, we may not turn deaf ears to thee, but anticipate thy rod and scourges; and that when, for the stupidity and thoughtlessness by which we have become inebriated, thou addest those punishments by which thou sharply urgest us to repent, — O grant, that we may not continue wholly intractable, but at length turn our hearts to thy service and submit ourselves to the yoke of thy word, and that we may be so instructed by the punishments, which thou hast inflicted on us and still inflictest, that we may truly and from the heart turn to thee, and offer ourselves to thee as a sacrifice, that thou mayest govern us according to thy will, and so rule all our affections by thy Spirit, that we may through the whole of our life strive to glorify thy name in Christ Jesus, thy Son our Lord. Amen.
We have explained the last verse of the fourth chapter, except that there remains something to be said of the glorious representation given of God by the Prophet. He says first, that he had formed the mountains then that he had created the spirits, afterwards that he declares to man what is his thoughts, makes the morning and the darkness, and walks on the high places of the earth Such an accumulation of words might seem superfluous, only this main thing must be borne in mind, that it was necessary for men, whose minds were exceedingly torpid to be aroused that they might seriously consider what we have seen had been denounced on them. Hence the Prophet sought to shake off from the Israelites their thoughtlessness, by setting God before them in his greatness; for when his name only is announced, he is wholly neglected by the greatest part of men. It was therefore necessary that something should be added, that they who were asleep might be awakened, and understand how great and how fearful the power of God is. This is the design of all that we read here.
The word רוח, ruch, is interpreted in two ways. Some refer it to the wind, and others to the soul of man. If we take it for the wind, it will join suitably with the creation of mountains, for the winds emerge from them on account of their cavity. If you understand it of man’s soul, it will agree with the following clause. It appears to me more probable that the Prophet speaks of man’s soul; though one may possibly choose to connect both, so that there is an allusion to wind, and that yet Amos, about to speak of thought, first mentions the spirit.
But what the Prophet says, that God announces to men what their thought is — this is done in various ways. We indeed know that the end of teaching is, that men may confess their guilt, who before flattered themselves; we know also that the word of God is like a two-edged sword, which penetrates into the bones and marrow, and distinguishes between thoughts and feelings, (Heb 4:12) God then thus draws men out of their recesses into the light; and he also convinces them without the word; for we know how powerful are the secret movements (instinctus — influences) of the Spirit. But the Prophet meant only here, that the Israelites had to do with God, who is the searcher of hearts, and from whom nothing is hid, however concealed it may be. Each one is to himself the best witness of his own thoughts; but the Prophet ascribes to God a higher degree, for he understands whatever any one conceives in his mind, better than he who seems to have all his own thoughts well understood. 30 Since men therefore craftily hide themselves, the Prophet here reminds them that they cannot succeed, for God understands what they inwardly think better than they themselves. We now then perceive what he substantially means.
Some explain the words, that God makes the morning darkness, as if Amos had said, that he converts light into darkness; but we ought rather to consider a copulative to be understood; for he here declares the power of God, not only as displayed in once creating the world, but also in preserving the order of nature, and in minutely regulating the changes of times and seasons. Let us now proceed to the fifth chapter.
This word is commonly rendered ‘holiness,’ though it is also used to denote ‘the sanctuary.’ Calvin has been blamed for taking it here in the latter sense. What induced him to do so is evident from his comment: and when we consider all the circumstances of the passage, we may perhaps be disposed to think him right. — Ed.
It is once applied in Pr 25:13, to denote the piercing cold of snow; but its ideal meaning seems to be, pointed, piercing, penetrating: hence it means a thorn, a goad, and also a fishing-hook. — Ed.
Literally, “on the third of days,” לשלשת ימים: but days here are evidently for years. “I cannot doubt,” says Dr. Henderson, “but that the Prophet has in view the enactment recorded in Deut. 14:28, Deut. 26:12 ימים, days, mean here, as in Lev. 25:29, Judg. 17:10, the fullest complement of days, i.e., a year.” — Ed.
The words are, הרבות גנותיכם, “the abundance of your gardens,” and not your great or large gardens. I would thus render the verse —
I smote you with blight and with mildew;
The abundance of your gardens and of your vineyards,
And your figs and your olives, the locust devoured;
yet ye turned not to me, saith Jehovah.
See Isa. 10:24, Isa. 26:0. — fj.
There seems to be a reference in “thus” to the judgment denounced on Israel in the 2nd and 3rd verses of this chapter: he declares that he will deal with Israel “thus,” or in the manner before described. — Ed.
This conjecture is fully borne out by the fact, that the copulative ו, vau, is found in more than twenty MSS., as given by Kennicott: it is also found in the Septuagint. — Ed.