Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 27: Joel, Amos, Obadiah, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!
1. Vae securis in Sion et confidentibus in monte Samaria, qui celebres fuerunt principio gentium, et ingressi sunt ad illos domus Israel.
The Prophet now directs his discourse not only to the Israelites, to whom he was especially given as an instructor and teacher, but includes the Jews also: and yet he addresses not all indiscriminately, but only the chief men, who were intent on their pleasures, as though they were exempt from the common miseries: for he does not, as many suppose, reprove here luxury and pride only; but we must remember a fact connected with their case, — that they were not awakened by God’s judgments; when God severely punished the sins of the people, the chief men remained ever heedlessly in their own dregs. This security is now condemned by our Prophet.
And this is a very common evil, as we may see, in the present day. For when the Lord afflicts a country with war or with famine, the rich make great gain of such evils. They abuse the scourges of God; for we see merchants getting rich in the midst of wars, inasmuch as they scrape together a booty from every quarter. For they who carry on war are forced to borrow money, and also the peasants and mechanics, that they may pay taxes; and then, that they may live, they are obliged to make unjust conditions: thus the rich increase in wealth. They also who are in authority, and in favor at the court of princes, make more gain in wars, in famine, and in other calamities, than during times of peace and prosperity: for when peace nourishes, the state of things is then more equable; but when the poor are burdened, the rest grow fat. And this is the evil now noticed by the Prophet.
Hence he pronounces here a curse on the secure and those at ease; not that it is an evil thing, or in itself displeasing to God, when any one quietly enjoys his leisure; but, not to be moved, when the Lord openly shows himself to be displeased and angry, when his scourges are manifestly inflicted, but to indulge ourselves more in pleasures, — this is to provoke him, as it were, designedly. The secure, then, and the presumptuous the Prophet here condemns, for it became them to humble themselves when they saw that God was incensed against them. They were not indeed more just than the multitude; and when God treated the common people with such severity, ought not the chiefs to have looked to themselves, and have examined their own life? As they did not do this, but made themselves drunk with pleasures, and put far off every fear and thought that the scourges of God were nothing to them, — this was a contempt deservedly condemned by the Prophet. We see that God was in the same manner greatly displeased, as it is recorded in Isaiah: when he called them to mourning, they sang with the harp, and, according to their custom, feasted sumptuously and joyfully, (Isa 23:12) As then they thus persevered in their indulgences, the Lord became extremely angry; for it was, as though they avowedly despised him and scorned all his threatening.
We now observe the design of the Prophet, which interpreters have not sufficiently noticed. It behaves us indeed ever to keep in view these scourges of God, by which he began to visit the sins of the people. God can by no means endure, as I have said, such a contumacy as this, — that men should go on in the indulgence of their sins and never regard their judge and feel no guilt. Hence the Prophet says, Woe to you who are secure in Zion, who are confident, that is, who are without any fear, on the mount of Samaria 42 He names here the mount of Zion and the mount of Samaria; for these were the chief cities of the two kingdoms, as we all know. The whole country had been laid waste with various calamities; the citizens of Jerusalem and of Samaria were, at the same time, wealthy; and then trusting in their strongholds, they despised God and all his judgments. This then was the security, full of contumacy, which is condemned by the Prophet.
He then mentions their ingratitude: he says that these mountains had been celebrated from the beginning of the nations, and that the Israelites entered into them. God here upbraids both the Jews and Israelites with having come to a foreign possession: for they had got those cities, not by their own valour, but the Lord drove out before them the ancient inhabitants. Seeing then that they perceived not that a safe dwelling was given them there by the Lord, that they might purely worship him and submit to his government, their ingratitude was inexcusable. The Prophet then, after having inveighed against the gross and heedless security, with which the chiefs of both kingdoms were inebriated, now mentions their ingratitude: “Ye are not natives, but ye have come in, for God did go before you, for it was his will to give you this land as your possession: why then are you now so inflated with pride against him? For before your time these cities were certainly well known and celebrated; and yet this was of no avail to the natives themselves. Why then do ye not now fear the Lord’s judgment and repent, when he threatens you? Yea, when he shows his scourges to you?” We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning in this verse. It now follows —
2. Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?
2. Transite Chalneh et aspicite; ite illinc in Chamath magnam, et descendite in Gath Philistinorum; an meliores sint regnis istis? An terminus illorum major termino vestro?
By this representation Amos shows that there was no excuse for the Jews or the Israelites for sleeping in their sins, inasmuch as they could see, as it were in a mirror, the judgments which God brought on heathen nations. It is a singular favor, when God teaches us at the expense of others: for he could justly punish us as soon as we transgress; but this he does not, on the contrary he spares us; and at the same time he sets others before us as examples. This is, as we have said a singular favor: and this is the mode of teaching which our Prophet now adopts. He says, that Calneh and Hamath, and Gath, were remarkable evidences of God’s wrath, by which the Israelites might learn, that they had no reason to rest on their wealth, to rely on their fortresses, and to think themselves free from all dangers; for as God had destroyed these cities, which seemed impregnable, so he could also cut off Jerusalem and Samaria, whenever he pleased. This is the real meaning of the Prophet.
Some read the sentence negatively “Are not these places better than your kingdoms?” But this is not consistent with the Prophet’s words. Others attend not to the object of the Prophet; for they think that the blessings of God are here compared, as though he said, “God deals more liberally with you than with the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, and the neighboring nations.” For Calneh was situated in the plain of Babylon, as it is evident from Ge 10:10; and Hamath was also a celebrated city, mentioned in that chapter, and in many other places; and Gath was a renowned city of the Philistines. In this opinion therefore interpreters mostly agree; that is, that there is set forth here God’s bounty to the Jews and Israelites, seeing that he had favored them with a rich and fertile country, and preferred them to other nations. But this view seems not to me to be the correct one; for when a comparison is made between Calneh and Jerusalem, Babylon was no doubt the more fruitful and the more pleasant country, as we learn from all histories. The Prophet then does not speak here of the ancient condition of these places, but shows, as I have already said, that it availed these cities nothing, that they were wealthy, that they were fortified by all kinds of defenses; for God, at last, executed vengeance on them. Hence the Prophet declares that the same was now nigh the Jews and the Israelites.
“What will hinder the hand of God,” he says, “from delivering you to destruction? For if men could have arrested God’s wrath by any fortresses, certainly Calneh and Hamath, and Gath, would have resisted by their forces; but the Lord has yet executed his vengeance on these cities, though fortified; your confidence then is nothing but infatuation, which deceives you.” Jeremiah uses a similar language, when he says, ‘Go to Shiloh,’ (Jer 7:12) He certainly does not remind the Jews, that the Lord had more splendidly adorned them than Shiloh; but he had quite a different thing in view. Shiloh had indeed been eminent, for it had long afforded a dwelling to the ark of the covenant; the sanctuary of God had been there. But at that time the place was deserted; and Jeremiah sets before the eyes of the people its sad desolation, that they might know that they ought to dread the same event, except they repented; for if they hardened their necks, nothing could prevent God from dealing with them as he did before with the inhabitants of Shiloh.
We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, Go and pass into Calneh, and see In bidding them to see, he no doubt refers to the dreadful change which had taken place there. For Calneh had been a strongly fortified city, and possessed supreme power; and the neighboring country was also no less pleasant than fruitful: but it was now a solitary place; for Babylon, as it is well known, had swallowed up Calneh. Since then the place afforded such a spectacle, the Prophet rightly says, Pass over into Calneh, and see; that is consider, as in a mirror, what men can gain by their pride and haughtiness, when they harden themselves against God: for this was the cause of destruction to that celebrated city.
From thence, he says, go to Hamath, רבה, rebe, the great; which was a well-known city of Assyria; and see there, “How has it happened that a city so famous was entirely overthrown, except that the Lord could not endure so great a perverseness? As they had abused his patience, he at length executed his vengeance. The same thing also happened to your neighbors.” For the Jews and the Israelites were not far distant from Gath. Now then since there were so many evidences of God’s wrath before their eyes, justly does the Prophet here inveigh against their want of thought, inasmuch as they feared not God’s judgment, which was nigh at hand.
Are they then better? that is, is the condition of these cities better than that of the two kingdoms, Judah and Israel? and then, Is their border larger than your border? They have indeed been reduced to such straits, that they even pay tribute for their houses, whereas formerly they occupied a wide extent of country, and ruled, as it were, with extended wings, far and wide: but God has taken away those territories: for all these cities are become tributaries. See, he says, Is their border larger than your border? It now follows —
3. Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;
3. Qui procul rejicitis diem malum, et appropinquatis solium violentiae.
The Prophet here reproves the Jews and Israelites for another crime, — that they had often provoked God’s wrath, and ceased not by their sins to call forth new punishments, and in the meantime rejected, through their haughtiness and obstinacy, all his threatening, as if they were vain, and would never be executed on them. We must ever remember what I have said before, — that the Prophet speaks not here of the whole people, but of the chiefs; for the expression, that they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, could not have been applied to the common people. This discourse then was addressed particularly to the judges and counselors, and those who were in power in both kingdoms, in Judah as well as in Israel.
But it is a remarkable saying, that they drove far off the evil day, while they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, or of violence; as though he said, “Ye seek for yourselves a fever by your intemperance, and yet ye drive it far off, as drunken men are wont to do, who swallow down wine without any moderation; and when a physician comes or one more moderate, and warns them not to indulge in excess, they ridicule all their forebodings: ‘What! will a fever seize on me? I am wholly free from fever; I am indeed accustomed to drink wine.’” Such are ungodly men, when they provoke God’s wrath as it were designedly, and at the same time scorn all threatening, as though they were safe through some special privilege. We now then see what the Prophet had in view by saying, that they drove far the evil day, and yet drew nigh the throne of iniquity He means, that they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, when the judges strengthened themselves in their tyranny, and took the liberty to steal, to rob, to plunder, to oppress. When therefore they thus hardened themselves in all kinds of licentiousness, they then drew nigh the throne of iniquity. And they put away the evil day, because they were touched by no alarm; for when the Prophets denounced God’s vengeance, they regarded it as a fable.
In short, Amos charges here the principal men of the two kingdoms with two crimes, — that they ceased not to provoke continually the wrath of God by subverting and casting under foot all equity, and by ruling the people in a tyrannical and haughty manner — and that, in the mean time, they heedlessly despised all threatening, prolonged time, and promised impunity to themselves: even when God seriously and sharply addressed them, they still thought that the evil day was not nigh. Passages of this kind meet us everywhere in the Prophets, in which they show their indignation at this kind of heedlessness, when hypocrites putting off every feeling of grief, as though they had fascinated themselves, laughed to scorn all the Prophets, because they thought that the hand of God was far removed from them. Thus they are spoken of by Isaiah, as saying,
‘Let us eat and drink, since we must die,’
They indeed thought that the Prophets did not seriously threaten them; but they regarded the mention of a near destruction as an empty bugbear. We now then understand what the Prophet meant. It follows —
4. That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall;
4. Qui decumbunt (vel, dormiunt) in lectis eburneis et se extendunt super strata sua (alii vertunt, et superflua; alii, induti sunt tiaris; sed utrumque mihi videtur coactum,) qui comedunt agnos e grege (hoc est, selectos) et vitulos e medio saginarii (vel, opimi pascui; nam מרבק quidam ita vertunt.)
Amos still pursues the reproof we have noticed at the beginning of the chapter, — that the chief men, of whom he speaks, cast away from them all cares and anxieties, and indulged in pleasures, while the whole country was miserably distressed. We must ever bear in mind what I have already said, — that luxury is not simply reprehended by the Prophet, as some incorrectly think, without sufficiently considering what is said, for it is not what the Prophet treats of; but he upbraids the Israelites for setting up an iron neck against God’s judgments, yea, for shamelessly trifling with God, while he was endeavoring to lead them by degrees to repentance. The Prophet complains that nothing availed with them.
He then says, first, that they slept on ivory beds. To use ivory beds was not in itself bad, except that excess is ever to be condemned; for, when we give up ourselves to pomps and pleasures, we certainly are not then free from sin: indeed, every desire for present things, which exceeds moderation, is ever justly reprehensible. And when men greedily seek splendor and display, or become ambitious and proud, or are given to delicacies, they are guilty of vices ever condemned by God. But it might be, that one used an ivory bed, who was yet willing to lie on the ground: for we know that there was then a great abundance of ivory, and that it was commonly used in Asia. Italy formerly knew not what it was to use a bed of ivory, that is, before the victory of Lucius Scipio: but after the king Antiochus was conquered, then Italy freely used ivory beds and fineries; and thus luxury broke down their courage and effeminated them.
I will come now to our Prophet: it might have been that ivory was not then so valuable in Judea: they might then have used ivory beds without blame. But Amos ever regards the miseries of those times. The rich then ought to have given up all their luxuries, and to have betaken themselves to dust and ashes, when they saw that God was incensed with them, when they saw that the fire of his vengeance was kindled. We now then perceive why Amos was so indignant against those who slept on ivory beds.
He adds, And who extend themselves on their beds: for סרח, sarech, is properly to extend; it means also to become fetid; and further, it means to be superfluous; and therefore some render the words, “upon ivory beds and superfluities;” but this is strained, and agrees not with what follows, upon their couches. The Prophet then, I have no doubt, points out here the manners of those who so heedlessly indulged themselves: “Ye extend,” he says, “your legs and your arms on your couches, as idle men, accustomed to indulgences, are wont to do. But the Lord will awaken you in a new way; his scourges ought to have roused you, but ye remain asleep. Hence, since God could not terrify you by his rods, nothing more remains but to draw you forth against your will to be punished.” This was the reason why the Prophet said that they extended themselves on their couches.
Ye eat also the lambs from the flock, and the calves from the midst of the rich pasture, or of the stall. I prefer taking מרבק, merebek, for folds. Since then they loved fat meat, the Prophet reproves this luxury: he had indeed in view, as it has been already said, the then calamitous time; for if the rich had in their usual way feasted, and had even taken fat meat, they would not have deserved so severe a punishment: but when the Lord called them to mourning, and when the signals of his wrath spread horror all around, it was a stupidity not to be endured, for them to continue their indulgences, which they ought, on the contrary, to have renounced. Indeed, this passage agrees with that of Isaiah, to which I have already referred. It now follows —
5. That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;
5. Concinentes super ore cithera, sicut David excogitarunt sibi instrumenta cantici.
The word פרט, pereth, means to divide; so some explain it, and derive it from the clusters which remain after the vintage, because there are not then thick grapes, but a cluster here and there, and a great distance between: hence they think that the participle הפורטים, epurethim, is to be taken here metaphorically as meaning to divide by marks, as music has its various notes; for except there be a distinct variety in singing, the sound would be confused, and would produce no pleasing effect. Who sing then with the harps and have invented for themselves, after the example of David, musical instruments.
The Prophet still continues his discourse, and shows that these men lived sumptuously; as though they did not belong to the common class, they delighted themselves, against God’s will, not only in the common mode of living, but even sought new pleasures, as if they were continually at marriage feasts, or celebrating birthdays. As then they had no season for mourning, they pursued their own indulgences; and this is what the Prophet now reprehends. If then any one thinks that music is in these words condemned, he is much deceived, as it appears from the context. Indeed, the Prophet never dealt so rigidly with that people, but he ever kept to this point — that they were extremely torpid, nay, destitute of common sense, who perceived not that God showed himself angry with them, in order that they might flee immediately to the standard of repentance and humbly deprecate, with mourning, the wrath of God, as they ought to have done. It was therefore meet ever to set before them Gods wrath, which ought to have humbled the Jews and the Israelites, inasmuch as they ever obstinately set up against God their own indifference.
In saying that after the example of David they invented for themselves musical instruments, he no doubt greatly aggravated their sin by this comparison: for it is not likely that they had abused this pretext, as hypocrites do, who are wont to boast of the examples of the saints, when they seek to disguise their own vices, — “What!” some will say, “Did not David use musical instruments?” Others will say, “Had not Solomon very splendid palaces?” And some will add, “Had not Abraham a company of servants in his house?” So every one lays hold on what may avail for an excuse: and thus the examples of the saints are absurdly referred to by many. But it seems not probable that this was done by those whom Amos now addresses: but, on the contrary, he appears sharply to reprove them for provoking God’s wrath by self indulgence, and for manifesting their perverseness, while David employed musical instruments in the exercises of religion, to raise up his mind to God. No doubt, David, when in a peaceful state, after having been delivered from all dangers, could also amuse himself: but he applied musical instruments to another purpose — to sound forth the praises of God in the temple, that thereby he and other godly persons might together elevate their thoughts to a religious devotion. While David then, even in a state of peace and prosperity, did not allow his mind to become sunk in vain self-indulgences, these men, when God appeared angry, when he spread terror by so many tokens of his vengeance, yet dared contumaciously to follow their own ways, so that they left off nothing of their usual pomp and of their accustomed pleasures.
We now see the design of the comparison which the Prophet makes: He aggravates, I have no doubt, their sin, because they regarded not the example of David, but transferred musical instruments to serve the purpose of gross and beastly indulgences, and thus they did when God was opposed to them, when he had begun to terrify them by his vengeance. Let us proceed —
6. That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
6. Qui bibunt in phialis vinum, et primitiis oleorum sese ungunt, et non condolescunt super contritionem Joseph.
7. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.
7. Propterea nunc transferentur (voluentur) in capite migrantium, et veniet luctus extensorum (est deductum ab eodem verbo jrs; diximus plura significare sed accipio pro extendere; et aliquid rursus dicendum erit in fine.)
Amos now reproaches the chiefs of both kingdoms for drinking wine in bowls, that is, in vessels either elegantly formed or precious. Some think “silver” to be understood “in vessels of silver:” but there is no need of regarding any thing as understood in the Prophet’s words. The meaning is, that those men were sufficiently convicted of brutish stupidity, inasmuch as they did not forsake their indulgences, when God manifested his terrible vengeance. Since God then did thus what tended to humble them, their madness and blindness were conspicuous enough; for they indulged themselves, they drank wine according to their usual custom, when they ought to have betaken themselves, as we have said, to fasting, lamentation, and mourning, to sackcloth and ashes.
They drank wine in bowls, and further, they anointed themselves with the chief ointments Christ, we know, was anointed at least twice, (Lu 7:38 Mt 26:7) and this practice was not blamed in David, nor in king Hezekiah, nor in others. Since then anointing was not in itself sinful, we see that the Prophet must have something particular in view. He meant to show, that when God manifested tokens of his wrath, nothing then remained for those who were conscious of having done evil, but humbly to abstain, like guilty persons, from all indulgences, that they might, by fasting and mourning, excite the mercy of God: as the Israelites had not done this, the Prophet expostulated with them. There is no need of seeking, any other interpretation of this place.
For he immediately subjoins, that they grieved not for the bruising of Joseph These words are to be read in connection with the former, and ought to be applied to the whole discourse. The Prophet then does not specifically blame the Jews and Israelites because they drank wine in bowls, because they anointed themselves with the best and most precious ointment, because they reposed on ivory beds, because they extended themselves on their couches, because they ate the best meat; but because they securely indulged in such delights, and grieved not for the distress of their brethren, for God had miserably afflicted the whole kingdom before their eyes. How much had four tribes already suffered? and how much the whole land and those who lived in the country? Ought God to have spared any longer these chiefs? It is indeed certain, that those who were still free from these calamities were especially culpable. Since then they did not consider the wrath of God, which was evident enough before their eyes, it was a proof of stupidity wholly insane, and showed them who still indulged themselves to have been utterly besides themselves.
We now then understand the full meaning of the Prophet; and hence he says, They shall emigrate at the head of the emigrants, that is, “when there shall be an emigration, they shall be the first in order of time. I have hitherto indulgently spared you; but as I see that you have abused my forbearance, ye shall certainly be the forerunners of others; for ye shall go first into captivity. And my rigor shall begin with you, because I see that I have hitherto lost all my labor in attempting, kindly and paternally to call you to repentance. Ye shall now then migrate at the head of the emigrants
And come shall the mourning of those who extend themselves, סרוחים, saruchim 43 ; that is, “Ye indeed lie down, (as he had said before,) ye extend yourselves on your couches; but mourning shall come to you. Ye think that you can escape punishment, when ye repose quietly on your beds; but though your chambers be closed, though ye move not a finger, yet mourning shall come to you.” We now see the connection between the words, mourning and resting in idleness and indulgence. The word סרח, sarech, means indeed properly to recumb; and hence some render the passage, “Mourning shall rest on you:” but the more received meaning is, Mourning shall come on you while recumbing. Though then they stretched out themselves on their beds, that they might pleasantly and softly recumb and rest themselves, yet mourning would come to them, that is, would enter into their chambers.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou showest thyself at this day to be justly offended with us, and our own consciences reprove us, inasmuch as dreadful tokens appear, by which we may learn how much and in how many ways we have provoked thy wrath, — O grant, that we may be really touched with the consciousness of our evils, and being afflicted in our hearts, may be so humbled, that without any outward affliction, we may wholly submit ourselves to be reproved by thee, and at the same time flee to that mercy which is laid up for us, and which thou daily offerest to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
8. The Lord God hath sworn by himself, saith the Lord the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.
8. Juravit Dominus Jehova per animam suam, dicit Jehova, Deus exercituum, Detestor ego excellentiam Jacob, palatia ejus odio habeo, et tradam urbem et plenitudinem ejus.
God here declares that he would not desist, because he had hitherto loaded his people with many benefits: for he had now changed his purpose, so that he would no longer continue his favors. And this was designedly added by the Prophet; for hypocrites, we know, grow hardened, when they consider what dignity had been conferred on them; for they think their possessions to be firm and perpetual: hence they become haughty towards God. Since then hypocrites act thus foolishly, the Prophet justly says that it would avail them nothing, that they had hitherto excelled in many endowments for God no longer regarded their excellency.
The word גאון, gaun, means in Hebrew pride and also excellency; but it is to be taken here in a good sense, as it is in many other places. In Isa 2:10, it cannot be taken otherwise than for glory, for it is applied to God. So also in Ps 47:4, ‘The glory of Jacob, whom I loved; he had fixed the inheritance of God.’ The gifts of God ever deserve praise: hence the Prophet in this place inveighs not against pride; but, on the contrary, he shows that the Israelites were deceived; for they set up their excellency and nobility in opposition to God, as though they were to be thus exempt from all punishment. God then says that he had now rejected this excellency, which yet was his gift; but as the Israelites had abused his benefits, they were therefore to be esteemed of no account. The meaning then is, — that there is no acceptance of persons before God, that the dignity which had been conferred on the people of Israel was now of no moment; for it was a mere mask: they were unworthy of adoption, they were unworthy of the priesthood and kingdom. It was then the same as if the Prophet had said, “I will judge you as the common people and heathens; for your dignity, of which ye are stripped, is now of no account with me.” They had indeed long before departed from God; they were therefore wholly unworthy of being owned by God as his inheritance.
I detest then the excellency of Jacob, and his palaces; that is, all the wealth with which they have been hitherto adorned. But the Prophet does not take either palaces or excellency in a bad sense; on the contrary, he shows that God’s blessings are no safeguards to the wicked, so as to avoid the judgment which they deserve.
He afterwards adds, I will deliver up the city and its fullness; that is, “Though ye are now full of wealth, I will empty you of all your abundance”. Hence, I will deliver up the city together with its fullness, that is, its opulence.
But that this threatening might not be slighted, the Prophet confirms it by interposing an oath. Hence he says, that God had sworn. And as we know that God’s name is precious to him, it is certain that it was not in vain adduced here, but on account of the hardness and contumacy of those who were wont to set at nought all the prophecies, and were wont in particular to regard as nothing all threatenings. This was the reason why the Prophet wished thus to ratify what he had said: it was, that hypocrites might understand that they could not escape the vengeance which he had denounced. The form of swearing, as it is, may seem apparently improper; but God in this place puts on the character of man, as he does often in other places. He swears by his soul, that is, by his life, as though he were one of mankind. But we ought to accustom ourselves to such forms, in which God familiarly accommodates himself to our capacities: for what Hilary philosophizes about the soul, as though God the Father swore by his own wisdom, is frivolous: that good man certainly exposed his own doctrine to ridicule, while he was attempting to refute the Arians. “God the Father, he says, swears by his own wisdom. Now he who is wont to swear by himself, could not swear by an inferior; but wisdom is the only begotten Son of God: hence it follows, that the Son is equal to the Father.” These things at first sight seem plausible; but they are puerile trifles.
Let it then be observed, that God borrows from men this mode of swearing; as though he said, “If men be believed when swearing by their life, which yet is evanescent, of how much greater weight must that oath be, by which I pledge my own life?” Since God thus speaks, surely the whole world ought to tremble. We now apprehend the Prophet’s design. Let us go on —
9. And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die.
9. Et erit, si restabunt decem homines in domo una, morientur.
The Prophet here amplifies the calamity, which was nigh the people; as though he had said, that God would not now take moderate vengeance on that reprobate people, for he did nothing by dealing moderately with them: there was therefore nigh at hand the heaviest vengeance, which would reduce the people to nothing. This is the import of the Prophet’s words when he says, that ten, if remaining in the same house, would die But in naming ten survivors, he intimates that a slaughter had preceded, which had taken away either the half or at least some part of the family, since ten remained. At the same time this number shows how severe and dreadful a judgment of God awaited that people, that ten would be taken away together. But it rarely happens, even when a direful pestilence prevails, that so numerous a family entirely perishes; when three out of four, or six or five out of eight, are taken away, it is a diminution which usually greatly terrifies men: but when ten are taken away together, and no one is left, it is an evidence of an awful vengeance.
We see then that the Prophet here denounces on the people utter ruin, for they could not be reformed by milder punishments: when God tried to recall them to a sane mind, he effected nothing. There was therefore no remedy for their desperate diseases: it was hence necessary entirely to take away those who were thus incurable. Perish then shall the ten, who shall remain in one house It follows —
10. And a man’s uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that is by the sides of the house, Is there yet any with thee? and he shall say, No. Then shall he say, Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the Lord
10. Et tollet eum patruus ejus et avunculus ejus (vel, comburet eum) ad tollendum ossa e domo, et dicet ad eum qui erit in lateribus domus, An adhuc quispiam tecum? et dicet, Finis est (ad verbum, nihil;) et dicet, Tace; quia non licet recordari nominis Jehovae.
In the beginning of the verse the Prophet expresses more clearly what he had just said, — that the pestilence would be so severe as to consume the whole family: for when he speaks of an uncle coming to bury the dead, he shows, that unless neighbors performed their duty, bodies would remain without the honor of a burial: but this never happened, except during extreme devastation; for though the pestilence destroyed many in the same city, there were yet always some who buried the dead. When therefore it was necessary for uncles to perform this office, it was evident how great the calamity would be. This the Prophet meant to express in these words, His uncle shall take him away; that is, his uncle shall take away each of the dead. But this office, being servile, as I have said, was wont to be committed to mercenaries; and when a father or an uncle was constrained to do this, it was a proof of great confusion.
An uncle then shall come and take him away שרף, shireph, means to burn; it is written here with ס, but the change of ש into ס is well known. Hence, many render the words, and shall burn him in order to take away his bones; and this interpretation seems to suit the place. Then it is, “he will burn him, that he may carry his bones out of the house”. Dead bodies, as it is well known, were usually carried forth and burnt publicly. But as one man could not carry out a dead body especially an old man, and Amos mentions an uncle, he says, that another plan would be necessary, that the uncle would burn his nephews at home, that he might have the bones only to carry out, as he could not carry forth their dead bodies. This seems to me to be the real meaning of the Prophet. For they who explain this of a maternal uncle, have no reason on their side: it was enough to mention one only when men were so few. If indeed a maternal uncle be added to the paternal one, a great number of men would seem to have been still remaining. But when mention is made only of one uncle, this circumstance agrees best with what I have stated. An uncle shall come, he shall take him; and then, he will burn him that he may carry forth his bones. The bones could be easier carried out when the body was burnt, for the burden was not so heavy. We now then perceive the meaning of the words.
It follows, And he will say to him who shall be at the sides of the house. By the sides of the house, understand the next dwellings. He will then inquire, Is there yet any one with thee? that is, Is any one of thy neighbors alive? We cannot indeed explain the sides of the house as meaning the inner parts of the house, except one understands a reference to be made to strangers or lodgers, as though the Prophet said, “If there will be any lodger, he will seek retreat in some corner of the house.” Then the uncle, when the whole house had become desolate, should he by chance meet a guest, says, “Is there any one with thee? And he shall say, There is an end”, or a decay. Though there be some ambiguity in the words, we yet see what the Prophet meant, and what he had in view. He indeed confirms what he had previously declared in the person of God, which was, — that though ten remained alive in one house, yet all of them would die together, so that there would not be, no not one survivor; for the uncle, on inquiring respecting his nephews, whether any remained, would hear, that there was an end, that all had perished together. Now, the design of these words was to strike men with terror; for we know how great their stupidity is, as long as God spares them: but when they feel his hand, they then dread, though they are not moved by any threatenings. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet denounces here at large on the Israelites the dreadful judgment, which they would not dread, being, as we have seen, extremely secure and thoughtless.
It follows, And he will say; Be silent; for it is not meet to mention the name of Jehovah This place is differently explained. Some think that their extreme wickedness is here noticed, that those who died, even in their last moments, would not mention the name of God. They thus then expound the words, — “Be silent,” as though it were the expression of one indignant or of one who denied God. Be silent, then; for they remembered not the name of God, that is, those whom God would have humbled, repented not of their perverseness; even death itself could not bring them to the right way. Others give this exposition: Be silent, for it is not meet to mention the name of God; that is, “What can God’s name do to us? for we abhor it as a bad and an unhappy omen; for God brings us no joy”. The wicked dread the name of God, and wish it to be wholly obliterated. But it seems to me that the Prophet’s design is another, which interpreters have not sufficiently weighed. We first find that the hypocrites, whom he reproves, boasted of God’s name; for they said in adversity that it was the day of the Lord, as though they expected a change for the better. The Prophet now says, that the time would come when this boasting would cease, for they would perceive that God was offended with them, and they would no longer falsely pretend his name, as they had been wont to do. There is then a contrast to be understood between what is here said, and what is said in a former verse. The Prophet had previously inveighed against their rash vaunting, when they pretended the name of God without any shame, “O! we are God’s people, we are a holy nation, we are God’s heritage”. As, then, they were become thus arrogant, and yet had cast away God far from them, the Prophet now says, “These delusions shall then cease, by which ye now deceive yourselves; God will not suffer you wickedly to abuse his name, as we have ever hitherto done; and ye still go on in this iniquity. Ye shall at that time,” he says, “be silent respecting God’s name; yea, it will be a dread to you.”
We now apprehend the Prophet’s object: he means that such would be the grievousness of this last calamity, that the Israelites would really find that God was an enemy incensed against them, so that they would cast aside the false glorying which filled them with pride; yea, that they would dread the very name of God, for they would know that nothing would be better for them than to be hid from his presence. As it is said of the reprobate,
‘They will say to the mountains, Cover us;
and to the hills, Bury us,’
so also in this place, the Prophet says, that when hypocrites shall be struck and seriously frightened by God’s judgments, their false vauntings will continue no longer; for they would find that to be near God is to be near destruction. Be silent, then, for there is no reason for us to remember the name of Jehovah. It follows —
11. For, behold, the Lord commandeth, and he will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts.
11. Quia ecce Jehova praecipiens et percutiet domum magnum mixtionibus (vel, contritionibus,) et domum parvam rimis (vel, rupturis, aut, scissionibus, ut vertunt, vel, scissuris.)
This verse is added only to confirm the former sentence. The Prophet indeed intimates, that the common people, as well as the chiefs, in vain trusted in their quiet state; for the Lord would destroy them all together, from the highest to the lowest. Behold, Jehovah, he says, commands etc.; by using the word commands, he means, that God had many reasons why he should take away and destroy them all. But he goes farther than this, and intimates that their destruction was dependent on the sole will of God; as though he said, “Though the Lord may not send for ministers of vengeance, though he may not prepare great forces, yet his word only, whenever it shall go forth, will consume you all.” We now then perceive what the Prophet means by the word “commands.”
He afterwards adds, He will smite the great house with confusions, or, according to some, with breaking רסס, resas, means properly to mingle. The Prophet therefore, I doubt not, refers here to those dreadful falls which commonly happen to great and splendid palaces. When a cottage is overturned so great a ruin is not occasioned by its weight; nay, when its ruin begins to appear, fragments fall down one after another, so that the whole work falls without any violence. This, I say, is the case with small and common houses; but when there is a great building, its downfall is tremendous. I am therefore inclined to render the word “confusion,” and the difference between small and great houses will then be more evident. Great houses then shall be smitten with confusions, (mixtionibus, with minglings) but small houses shall be smitten with fissures or clefts. But yet, as I have already reminded you, the Prophet means that there would be a ruin, both to the principal men and to the common people, so that they would all perish, from the least to the greatest. We hence learn how great was the corruption of that people; for God punishes none but the wicked. It then follows that equity was everywhere subverted and that all orders of men were become vicious and corrupt. It follows —
12. Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock:
12. An current in rupe equi? An arabitur bobus (est, an arabit quispiam in bobus; sed quia est verbum indefinitum, ideo verto impersonaliter, an ergo aratio fiet bobus, nempe in rupe?) quia vertistis in fel judicium et fructum justitiae in absynthium.
This verse interpreters misrepresent; for some think that the Prophet, by these figurative expressions, means, that the people were wholly unprofitable as to any thing good; as some one says, “The slothful ox wishes for the saddle, the horse wishes to plough.” They therefore suppose that this is the meaning of the words, “Ye are no more fitted to lead a good life than a horse is to run on a rock, or an ox to plough on a rock.” Others think that the Prophet complains that the order of things was subverted as though he said, “Ye have alike confounded all equity government, and justice. In short, ye have subverted all right; as when one tries to ride swiftly over a high rock, or attempts to plough there, which is contrary to the nature of things: ye are therefore become monsters.” Others, again, understand that the Prophet here complains that he had lost all his labor; for he had been singing, according to the common proverb, to the deaf. “What do I effect as to this iron generation? It is the same as if one tried to ride on the rock, to mount a rock on a swift horse; or as if one attempted to plough there; both which are impossible. So now, when I address stupid men, there is no fruit to my labor, and no advantage is gained.” 44
But let us see whether a fitter and a more suitable meaning can be elicited. We have already observed how secure the Israelites were; for they thought that God was, in a manner, bound to them, for he had pledged his faith to be a father to them. This adoption of God puffed up their hearts. The Prophet now reproves this presumptuous security; and, in a fitting manner, “Can a horse,” he says, “run on a rock? and can an ox plough in a stony place? So there is not among you a free course to God’s blessings. Ye ought indeed to have been the vineyard and the field of the Lord; justice and judgment ought to have reigned among, you but ye have turned judgment into gall (ראש, rash, which is variously taken, but as to the sense it matters but little,) ye have then turned judgment into gall, and righteousness into hemlock Since then ye are so perverse, a way for God’s blessings is doubtless closed up. It cannot be that the Lord will act towards you in a manner like himself; for he must necessarily be refractory towards the refractory, as he is gentle towards the gentle”. The Prophet seems to me to mean this and if any one impartially considers the whole verse, he will easily find out the truth of what I have stated, namely, that the Prophet here reproves the supreme haughtiness of the Israelitic people, who thought God bound to them though, at the same time, they, as it were, designedly provoked his wrath. “Ye think”, he says, “that God will be always propitious to you; whence is this confidence? Is it because he has adopted you, because he made a covenant with your fathers? True he has done so; but what sort of covenant was it? What was engaged on your part? Was it not that ye would be perfect before him? But ye have turned judgment into gall, and righteousness into hemlock 45 Since then ye are thus covenant-breakers, what can God now do? Do you wish him to proceed in the same course, and to bestow on you his blessings? Ye do not allow them to be bestowed. For ye are become like craggy rocks. How can God proceed in his course? how can he continue his benefits to you? He can certainly no more do so than a horse, however nimble he may be, can run swiftly on a rock or an ox plough on a rock.” We now understand what the Prophet means in this place. A confirmation of this view now follows, and from this connection the truth of what I have stated will become more evident.
13. Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?
13. Gaudetis in non re (hoc est, in nihilo,) dicitis, Annon in fortitudine nostra sustulimus nobis coronua?
This verse will seem better connected with the last, if we bear in mind the view to which I have referred: for the Prophet inveighs again against the careless contempt with which the Israelites were filled. Ye rejoice, he says, in a thing of nought A thing of nought he calls those fallacies, by which they were wont to deceive, not only others, but also their own selves. For hypocrites not only falsely pretend the name of God, but also deceive themselves by self flatteries, when they arrogate to themselves the name of Church, and the empty title of adoption and other things. We see this to be the case at this day with the Papists, who are puffed up with nothing; who not only with sacrilegious audacity twist the Word of God against us, that they may appear to be the true Church, but also harden themselves: and though they are ill at ease with themselves, they yet lull themselves asleep by such deceptions as these, “God could not have suffered his Church to err; we have indeed succeeded the apostles: and though there are among us many vices and corruptions, yet God abides with us; and all who think not with us are schismatic; nay, though we may be supported by no reasons, yet their defection is not to be borne with. Let us then continue in our own state, for the Lord approves of our hierarchy.” Thus the Papists not only deal in trifles to deceive the ignorant, but also harden themselves against God. Such was the blindness of the people of Israel. Hence the Prophet here reproves them, because they rejoiced in nothing; ‘In no word,’ he says, for so it is; but it means that they rejoiced in nothing; for they involved themselves in mere fallacies, and thus set up their empty delusions in opposition to God and his judgments.
Who say, have we not in our own strength raised up for ourselves horns? Horns, we know are taken in Hebrew for eminence, for strength, for elevation, or for any sort of defense. Hence the expression means the same as though they had said, “Are we not more than sufficiently fortified by our own strength?” It is however certain that they did not say this openly; but as the Prophet possessed the discernment of the Holy Spirit, he penetrated into their hearts and brought out what was hid within. We indeed know this to be the power of the word, as the apostle teaches Heb 4:12-13 to the Hebrews: for the word partakes of the nature of God himself, from whom it has proceeded; and as God is a searcher of hearts, so also the word penetrates to the marrow, to the inmost thoughts of men, and distinguishes between the feelings and the imaginations. This spiritual jurisdiction 46 ought therefore to be noticed, when the Prophets allege against the ungodly such gross blasphemies; for it is certain that they had not actually pronounced the words used by the Prophet; but yet their pride had no other meaning, than that they had raised horns to themselves by their own strength. They were indeed separated from the Lord; in the meantime they wished to abide safe through their own power. What did they mean? They had become alienated from God, and yet they sought to be in a state of safety, and thought themselves to be beyond any danger. Whence came this privilege? For they certainly ought to have sheltered themselves under God’s shadow, if they wished to be safe. But as they renounced God, and despised all his instructions, nay, as they were manifestly his enemies, whence was this safety to come, which they promised to themselves, except they sought to derive their strength from themselves?
We now perceive the Prophet’s design: He reproves the Israelites for being content with a false and empty title and for heedlessly despising God, and for only pretending a form of religion instead of its reality; it was this so gross a vice that he condemned in them: and he shows at the same time, that they put on horns by which they assailed God; for while they were separated from him, they promised to themselves a secure and happy state. It at length follows —
14. But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the LORD the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness.
14. Certe, ecce tollo contra vos, domus Israel, dicit Jehova, Deus exercituum, gentem; et coarctabunt vos ab introitu Hemath usque ad torrentem campestrem.
At last follows a denunciation, and this is the close of the chapter. God then after having seriously exposed the vices which prevailed among the people of Israel, again declares that vengeance of which he had shortly before reminded then; but with this difference only — that God now points out the kind of punishment which he would inflict on the Israelites. He had said before, ‘Behold God commands;’ and then he had spoken of calamity, but expressed not whence that calamity would come: but he now points it out in a special manner, Behold he says I am raising up against you, O house of Israel, a nation, who will straiten you from the entrance into Hemath to the river, etc. The Prophet no doubt speaks here of the Assyrians, and expresses in strong terms how dreadful the war with the Assyrians would be, which was now nigh at hand; for though large was their land and country, (and being large and spacious it had many outlets,) yet the Prophet shows that there would be everywhere straits, when the Lord would raise up on high that nation I am then stirring up a nation against you.
He again calls the Lord, the God of hosts, for the same reason as before, — that they might understand that all the Assyrians were at God’s disposal, and that they would stir up war whenever he gave them a signal. The Lord then will raise up a nation, who will straiten you In what place? He speaks not here of strait places, but of a spacious country, which, as it has been stated, had many outlets. But after the Lord had armed against them the Assyrians, all the most spacious places were made strait to them, “Ye shall be everywhere confined, so that there will be open no escape from death.”
Grant, Almighty God, that since we are extremely deaf to those so many holy warnings by which thou continuest to recall us to thyself, and since we ever harden ourselves against those threatenings, by which thou terrifiest us, that thou mayest break or at least correct our hardness, — O grant, that we may, though late, yet in time, before final vengeance comes, attend to thy word and submit ourselves to thee, and in a teachable spirit undertake thy yoke, that thou mightest receive us into favor, and vouchsafe to us thy paternal kindness, and being at length reconciled to us, thou might grant us thy blessings, which thou hast promised to all thy children, who are the members of thy only begotten Son our Lord. Amen.
“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion,
And to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria.”
From not considering the main drift of what follows in this chapter, critics have proposed emendations in this verse. The careless and the secure, both at Jerusalem and Samaria, are evidently meant. Newcome renders the last line nearly the same with Henderson —
“And that rest secure in the mountain of Samaria.”
So that the word “trust” in our version is not correct. The word used means often to be confident or secure, as well as to trust; but the law of parallelism requires it to be in the former sense here; as they were at ease in Zion, so they were confident or secure on the mount of Samaria. — Ed.
The words are וסר מרזה סרוחים, usar merezach saruchim, — an instance of striking alliteration. But Calvin’s rendering, though amounting in its general import to the same thing, is certainly not the correct one. סר never means to come, but the reverse, to depart. To decline, to turn aside or away, or to depart, is its common signification. Then מרזה is properly shouting, either for grief or for joy; here evidently for the latter; and it may be rendered here mirth; so the clause may be thus translated —
And depart shall the mirth of the recumbents,
or, of those who stretch themselves.
Dr. Henderson’s version is the following: —
And the shouting company of those that recline shall depart.
The translation of Symmachus is, “Taken away shall be the company of the voluptuous, ἑταιρεία τρυφητων” The idea of “banquet” for the word here used, is what the Rabbins have given to it. — Ed.
This is the view taken by Matthew Henry, and seems not unsuitable. “The methods used for their reformation,” he says, “have been all fruitless and ineffectual. Shall horses run, etc. No; for there will be no profit to countervail the pains. God has sent them his prophets to break up their fallow ground; but they found them as hard and inflexible as the rock, rough and rugged, and they could do no good with them, nor work upon them, and therefore they shall not attempt it any more.” — Ed.
“Ye have turned judgment into gall, which is nauseous, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock, which is noxious.” — M. Henry.
Jurisdicto, which means sometimes the authority to determine the import of the law; but it means here the power to interpret the thoughts of the heart. — Ed.