Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 27: Joel, Amos, Obadiah, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
1. Verba Amos, qui fuit inter pastores (vel, pecuarios) ex Tucua: quae vidit super Israel diebus Uzziah regis Juhudah, et diebus Jarobeam filii Joas regis Israel, biennio ante motum (vel χασμα) terrae. nominibus, quia de sensu Prophetae satis constabit. Nunc venio ad inscriptionem libri.)
Amos boasts not here, in speaking of his own words, that he adduced anything as from himself, but avows himself to be only the minister of God; for he immediately adds that he received them by a vision. God himself raised up the Prophets and employed their labor; And, at the same time, guided them by his Spirit, that they might not announce anything but what had been received from him, but faithfully deliver what had proceeded from him alone. These two things then, well agree together, — that the prophecies which follow were the words of Amos and that they were words revealed to him from above; for the word חזה, chese, which Amos uses, properly means, to see by revelation; 16 and these revelations were called prophecies.
But he says, that he was among the shepherds of Tekoa. This was a mean towns and had been shortly before surrounded by walls and had ever been previously a village. He then mentions not his country, because it was celebrated, or as though he could derive thereby more authority or renown: but, on the contrary he calls himself a Tekoan, because God drew him forth from an obscure place, that he might set him over the whole kingdom of Israel. They are therefore mistaken, as I think, who suppose that Amos was called one of the shepherds on account of his riches, and the number of his flocks; for when I weigh every thing, I see not how could this be. I indeed allow that נקדים, nukodim are not only shepherds who do the work, but men possessing flocks, carrying on a large business; for the king of Moab is said to have been a נקד, nukod, and that he fed large flocks; but it was by hired shepherds. As to the Prophets I do not see how this can be applied to him; for Tekoa was not a place famous for wealth; and as I have said, it was a small town, and of no opulence. I do not then doubt, but that Amos, by saying that he was a shepherd, pours contempt on the pride of the king of Israel, and of the whole people; for as they had not deigned to hear the Prophets of God, a keeper of sheep was sent to them.
It must be further noticed, that he is not called a shepherd of Tekoa, but from Tekoa; and interpreters have not observed this preposition. We shall see in chapter seven, that though Amos sprang from the tribe of Judah, he yet dwelt in the kingdom of Israel: for the priest, after he had slandered him before the king, bade him to go elsewhere, and to eat his own bread, and not to disturb the peace of the country. He therefore dwelt there as a stranger in a land not his own. Had he been rich, and possessing much wealth, he would have surely dwelt at home: why should he change his place? Since then it appears evident, that he was a sojourner in the land of Israel, he was, no doubt, one of the common people. So that his low condition (ignobilitias—ignobility) was intended for this purpose, — that God might thereby repress the arrogance of the king of Israel, and of the whole people; for we know how much inflated they were on account of the fruitfulness of their land and their riches. Hence Amos was set over them as a Prophet, being a shepherd, whom God had brought from the sheepfolds.
The time also is to be observed, when he is said to have seen these prophecies; it was in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, two years before the earth-quake, and in the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash. What the state of that time was, I described in explaining the prophecies of Hosea. Sacred history relates that the kingdom of Israel flourished under the second Jeroboam; for though he was an ungodly and wicked man, yet God spared then his people, and caused that not only the ten tribes should remain entire, but also that Jeroboam should enlarge his kingdom; for he had recovered some cities which had been lost. The state of the people was then tranquil, and their prosperity was such as filled them with pride, as it commonly happens. Uzziah also so reigned over the tribe of Judah, that nothing adverse prevailed there. Shortly after followed the earthquake. The time this earthquake happened, sacred history does not mention. But Josephus says, that it was when Uzziah seized on the priestly office, and was smitten with leprosy. He therefore makes that stroke of leprosy and the earthquake to be at the same time. But Amos, as well as other Prophets, spoke of it as a thing well known: thus Zechariah, after the people’s return, refers to it in chapter 14: (Zec 14:5),
‘There shall be to you a terror,
such as was in the earthquake under king Uzziah.’
He states not the year, but it was then commonly known.
Then the Prophet meant nothing more than to show by this event, that he denounced God’s vengeance on the Israelites, when they were in prosperity, and were immersed, as it were, in their pleasures. And satiety, as it ever happens, made them ferocious; hence he was not well received; but his authority is hereby more confirmed to us; for he did not flatter the people in their prosperity, but severely reproved them; and he also predicted what could not be foreseen by human judgment, nay, what seemed to be altogether improbable. Had he not then been endued with the heavenly Spirit, he could not have foretold future calamities, when the Jews, as I have already said, as well as the Israelites, and others, promised themselves all kinds of prosperity; for God then spared the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, nor did he execute his judgment on neighboring nations.
We must now observe this also, that the words which he saw were concerning Israel. We hence learn, as I have already said that the Prophet was specifically appointed for the Israelites, though born elsewhere. But how and on what occasion he migrated into the kingdom of Israel, we know not; and as to the subject in hand, it matters not much: but it is probable, as I have said before, that this was designedly done, that God might check the insolence of the people, who flattered themselves so much in their prosperity. Since, then, the Israelites had hitherto rejected God’s servants, they were now constrained to hear a foreigner and a shepherd condemning them for their sins, and exercising the office of a judge: he who proclaims, an impending destruction is a celestial herald. This being the case, we hence see that God had not in vain employed the ministry of this Prophet; for he is wont to choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong, (1Co 1:26-2:5) and he takes Prophets and teachers from the lowest grade to humble the dignity of the world, and puts the invaluable treasure of his doctrine in earthly vessels, that his power, as Paul teaches us, may be made more evident (2Co 4:7.)
But there was a special reason as to the Prophet Amos; for he was sent on purpose severely to reprove the ten tribes: and, as we shall see, he handled them with great asperity. For he was not polite, but proved that he had to do with those who were not to be treated as men, but as brute beasts; yea, worse in obstinacy than brute beasts; for there is some docility in oxen and cows, and especially in sheep, for they hear the voice of their shepherd, and follow where he leads them. The Israelites were all stubbornness, and wholly untamable. It was then necessary to set over them a teacher who would not treat them courteously, but exercise towards them his native rusticity. Let us now proceed; for of the kingdom of Uzziah and of Jeroboam the son of Joash, the second of that name, we have spoken on the in Hosea 1:1. It now follows —
2. And he said, The Lord will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.
2. Et dixit, Jehova e Sion ruget, et e Jerusalem edet (vel, emittet) vocem suam; et lugebunt (vel, disperibunt) habitacula pastorum; et arescet (vel, pudefiet) vertex Carmeli. 17
He employs here the same words which we explained yesterday in the Lecture on Joel; but for another purpose. By saying, ‘Jehovah from Zion shall roar,’ Joel intended to set forth the power of God, who had been for a time silent, as though he was not able to repel his enemies. As God was then despised by the ungodly, Joel declares that he had power, by which he could instantly break down and destroy all his enemies and defend his Church and chosen people. But now Amos, as he addresses the Israelites, does here defend the pure worship of God from all contempt and declares to the Israelites, that how much soever they wearied themselves in their superstitions they still worshipped their own devices; for God repudiated all the religion they thought they had. There is, then, to be understood an implied or indirect contrast between mount Zion and the temples which the first Jeroboam built in Dan and Bethel. The Israelites imagined that they worshipped the God of their father Abraham; and there were in those places greater displays (pompae — pomps) than at Jerusalem. But the Prophet Amos pours contempt on all these fictitious forms of worship; as though he said, “Ye indeed boast that the God of Abraham is honored and worshipped by you; but ye are degenerate, ye are covenant breakers, ye are perfidious towards God; he dwells not with you, for the sanctuaries, which you have made for yourselves, are nothing but brothels; God has chosen no habitation for himself, except mount Zion; there is his perpetual rest: Roar then will Jehovah from Zion.”
We now see what the Prophet had in view: for he not only shows here, that God was the author of his doctrine, but at the same time distinguishes between the true God and the idols, which the first Jeroboam made, when by this artifice he intended to withdraw the ten tribes from the house of David and wholly to alienate them from the tribe of Judah: it was then that he set up the calves in Dan and Bethel. The Prophet now shows that all these superstitions are condemned by the true God: Jehovah then shall roar from Zion, he will utter his voice from Jerusalem. He no doubt wished here to terrify the Israelites, who thought they had peace with God. Since, then, they abused his long-suffering, Amos now says that they would find at length that he was not asleep. “When God then shall long bear with your iniquities, he will at last rise up for judgment.”
By roaring is signified, as we said yesterday, the terrible voice of God; but the Prophet here speaks of God’s voice, rather than of what are called actual judgments really executed, that the Israelites might learn that the examples of punishments which God executes in the world happen not by chance, or at random, but proceed from his threatening; in short, the Prophet intimates that all punishments which God inflicts on the ungodly and the despisers of his word, are only the executions of what the Prophets proclaimed, in order that men, should there be any hope of their repentance, might anticipate the destruction which they hear to be nigh. The Prophet then commends here very highly the truth of what God teaches, by saying that it is not what vanishes, but what is accomplished; for when he destroys nations and kingdoms, it comes to pass according to prophecies: God then shall utter his voice from Jerusalem
Then it follows, And mourn shall the habitations of shepherds אבל, abel, means to mourn, and also to be laid waste, and to perish. Either sense will well suit this place. If we read, mourn, etc., then we must render the following thus, and ashamed shall be the head, or top, of Carmel. But if we read, perish, etc., then the verb בש besh must be translated, wither; and as we know that there were rich pastures on Carmel, I prefer this second rendering: wither then shall the top of Carmel; and the first clause must be taken thus, and perish shall the habitations of shepherds
As to what is intended, we understand the Prophet’s meaning to be, that whatever was pleasant and valuable in the kingdom of Israel would now shortly perish, because God would utter his voice from Zion The meaning then is this, — “Ye now lie secure, but God will soon, and even suddenly, put forth his power to destroy you; and this he will do, because he denounces on you destruction now by me, and will raise up other Prophets to be heralds of his vengeance: this will God execute by foreign and heathen nations; but yet your destruction will be according to these threatening which ye now count as nothing. Ye indeed think them to be empty words; but God will at length show that what he declares will be fully accomplished.”
With respect to Carmel, there were two mountains of this name; but as they were both very fertile, there is no need to take much trouble to inquire of which Carmel the Prophet speaks. Sufficient is what has been said, — that such a judgment is denounced on the kingdom of Israel as would consume all its fatness; for as we shall hereafter see, and the same thing has been already stated by the Prophet Hosea, there was great fertility as to pastures in that kingdom.
We must, at the same time, observe, that the Prophet, who was a shepherd, speaks according to his own character, and the manner of life which he followed. Another might have said, ‘Mourn shall the whole country, tremble shall the palaces,’ or something like this; but the Prophet speaks of mount Carmel, and of the habitations of shepherds, for he was a shepherd. His doctrine no doubt was despised, and many profane men probably said, “What! he thinks that he is still with his cows and with his sheep; he boasts that he is God’s prophet, and yet he is ever engrossed by his stalls and his sheepfolds.” It is then by no means improbable, but that he was thus derided by scornful men: but he purposely intended to blunt their petulance, by mingling with what he said as a Prophets those kinds of expressions which savored of his occupation as a shepherd. Let us now proceed —
3. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:
3. Sic dixit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Damasci et super quatuor non ero propitius ei; quia trituraverunt serris (vel, tribulis ferreis) Gilead.
4. But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad.
4. Et mittam ignem in domum Chasael, et vorabit palatia Ben-Adad.
5. I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the Lord.
5. Et confringam vectem Damasci et excidam habitatorem ex Bikath-Aven (vel, ex planitie Aven, vel, molestiae vel, doloris: alii vertunt, ex templo idoli) et tenentem sceptrum e domo Eden (alii appellative accipiunt, e domo voluptatis;) et transferetur populus Syriae Kirah (in Kir) dicit Jehova.
It is singular that Amos said that his words were concerning Israel, and that he should now turn to speak of Damascus and the country of Syria. This seems inconsistent; for why does he not perform the office committed to him? why does he not reprove the Israelites? why does he not threaten them? why does he not show their sins? and why does he speak of the destruction then nigh to the people of Syria? But it is right here to consider what his design was. He shows briefly, in the last verse, that ruin was nigh the Israelites; for God, who had hitherto spared them, was now resolved to ascend his tribunal. But now, that he might better prepare the Israelites, he shows that God, as a judge, would call all the neighboring nations to an account. For had the Prophet threatened the Israelites only, they might have thought that what they suffered was by chance, when they saw the like things happening to their neighbors: “How is it credible that these evils and calamities have flowed from God’s vengeance, since the Idumeans, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Syrians, and the Sidonians, are implicated in these evils in common with ourselves? For if God’s hand pursues us, it is the same with them: and if it is fate, that with blind force exercises its rule over the Moabites, the Idumeans, and the Syrians, the same thing, doubtless, is to be thought of our case.” Thus all the authority of the Prophet must have lost its power, except the Israelites were made to know that God is the judge of all nations.
We must also bear in mind, that the kingdom of Israel was laid waste, together with other neighboring countries, as war had spread far and wide; for the Assyrian, like a violent storm, had extended through the whole of that part of the world. Not only, then, the Israelites were distressed by adversities at that time, but all the nations of which Amos prophesied. It was hence necessary to add the catalogue which we here find, that the Israelites might have as many confirmations respecting God’s vengeance, as the examples which were presented to their eyes, in the dire calamities which everywhere prevailed. This is to be borne in mind. And then the Prophet regarded another thing: If the Idumeans, the Moabites, the Syrians, and Ammonites, were to be treated so severely, and the Prophet had not connected the Israelites with them, they might have thought that they were to be exempted from the common punishments because God would be propitious to them; for hypocrites ever harden themselves the more, whenever God spares them: “See, the Ammonites and the Moabites are punished; the Idumeans, the Syrians, and other nations, are visited with judgment: God then is angry with all these; but we are his children, for he is indulgent to us.” But the Prophet puts here the Israelites in the same bundle with the Moabites, the Idumeans, and other heathen nations; as though he said, “God will not spare your neighbors; but think not that ye shall be exempt from his vengeance, when they shall be led to punishment; I now declare to you that God will be the judge of you all together.”
We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He wished here to set before the eyes of the Israelites the punishment of others to awaken them, and also to induce them to examine themselves for we often see, that those who are intractable and refractory in their disposition, when directly addressed are not very attentive; but when they hear of the sins of others, and especially when they hear something of punishment, they will attend. The Prophet therefore designed by degrees to lead the Israelites to a teachable state of mind, for he knew them to be torpid in their indulgences, and also blinded by presumption, so that they could not be easily brought under the yoke: hence he sets before them the punishment which was soon to fall on neighboring nations.
We must yet observe that there was another reason I do not throw aside what I have already mentioned; but the Prophet no doubt had this also in view, — that God would punish the Syrians, because they cruelly raged against the Israelites especially against Gilead and its inhabitants. As God, then, would inflict so grievous a punishment on the Syrians, because they so cruelly treated the inhabitants of Gilead, what was to be expected by the Israelites themselves who had been insolent towards God, who had violated his worship who had robbed him of his honor, who had in their turn destroyed one another! For, as we shall hereafter see, there was among them no equity, no humanity; they had forgotten all reason. Since, then, the Israelites were such, how could they hope that so many and so detestable crimes should go unpunished, when they saw that the Syrians, though uncircumcised, were not to be spared, because they so cruelly treated professed enemies, on whom they lawfully made war?
I now come to the words of the Prophet: Thus saith Jehovah, For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, will not be propitious to it; literally, I will not convert it 18 : but I take this actively that God would not turn himself to mercy, or that he would not be propitious to Damascus. We know that Damascus was the capital of Syria; And the Prophet here, by mentioning a part for the whole, threatens the whole people, and summons all the Syrians to God’s tribunal, because they had inhumanely treated, as we shall see, the city of Gilead. But he says, God will not be propitious for three and four transgressions of Damascus. Some take this meaning, “For three transgressions I have been propitious, for four I will not be.” But there is no need of adding anything to the Prophet’s words; for the most suitable sense here is that for the many sins of Damascus God would not be propitious to it: and the Prophet, I have no doubt, intended by the two numbers to set forth the irreclaimable perverseness of the Syrians. Seven in Scripture is an indefinite number, and is taken, as it is well known, to express what is countless. By saying then, three and four transgressions, it is the same as if he had said seven: but the Prophet more strikingly intimates the progress the Syrians made in their transgressions, until they became so perverse that there was no hope of repentance. This then is the reason, that God declares that he would no more forgive the Syrians, inasmuch as without measure or limit they burst forth into transgressions and ceased not, though a time for change was given them. This is the true meaning. And the Prophet repeats the same form of speech in speaking of Gaza, of Amman, of Edom, and of other nations.
Let us learn from this place, that God, whom the world regards as too cruel, when he takes vengeance on sins, shows really and by sure proof the truth of what he declares so often of himself in Scripture, and that is, that he bears long and does not quickly take vengeance: though men are worthy to perish yet the Lord suspends his judgments. We have a remarkable proof of this in these prophecies; for the Prophet speaks not only of one people but of many. Hence God endured many transgressions not only in the Syrians, but also in other nations: there was not then a country in which a testimony to God’s forbearance did not exist. It hence appears, that the world unjustly complains of too much rigor, when God takes vengeance, for he ever waits till iniquity, as it was stated yesterday, reaches its highest point.
There is besides presented to us here a dreadful spectacle of sins among so many nations. At the same time, when we compare that age with ours, it is certain that greater integrity existed then: all kinds of evils so overflow at this day, that compared with the present, the time of Amos was the golden age; and yet we hear him declaring here, that the people of Judah and of Israel, and all the other nations, were monstrously wicked, so that God could not bring them to repentance. For he testifies not here in vain, that he would punish wickedness wholly obstinate since they had not turned to him, who had advanced to the number seven; that is, who had sinned, as it has been before stated, without measure or limits: and this ought also to be noticed in the Prophet’s words; but I cannot now proceed farther.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us to be of a disposition so hard and rebellious, that we are not, without great difficulty, drawn to thee, — O grant, that we may at least be subdued by the threatenings thou daily denouncest on us, and be so subdued, that being also drawn by thy word, we may give up ourselves to thee, and not only suffer ourselves to be constrained by punishments and collections, but also obey thee with a willing mind, and most readily offer ourselves to thee as a sacrifice of obedience, so that being ruled by the Spirit of thy Son, we may at length attain that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us by the same thy Son our Lord. Amen.
We explained in yesterday’s Lecture, that what the Prophet means by the three and four transgressions of Damascus, is perverse and incurable wickedness; for God here declares that he had borne long enough with the sins of Damascus, and that now he is in a manner forced to proceed to extreme rigor, seeing that there was no hope of amendment. But what follows may seem strange; for immediately the Prophet subjoins, Because they have threshed Gilead with iron wains, or serrated machines. He records here only one wickedness: where, then, were the seven of which he spoke? The answer may be easily given. By naming the three and four sins of Damascus, he means not different kinds of sins, but rather the perverseness which we have mentioned; for they had been extremely rebellious against God, and God had suspended his vengeance, till it became evident that they were unhealable. It was, therefore, not necessary to mention here seven different sins; for it was enough that Damascus, which means the kingdom of Syria, was held bound by such a degree of obstinacy, that no remedy could be applied to its transgressions; for it had for a long time tried the patience of God.
Now the Prophet subjoins, I will send fire unto the house of Hazael, which will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad. The Prophet speaks still of the kingdom of Syria; for we know that both Ben-hadad and Hazael were kings of Syria. But Jerome is much mistaken, who thinks that Ben-hadad was here put in the second place, as if he had been the successor of Hazael, 19 while sacred history relates that Hazael came to Elisha when Ben-hadad was ill in his bed, (2Ki 8:9;) and he was sent to request an answer. Now the Prophet declared that Hazael would be the king of Syria, and declared this not without tears; for he pitied his own people, of which this Syrian would be the destroyer. After he returned home, he strangled Ben-hadad, and took to himself the royal dignity. But it is common enough in Scripture to speak of a thing present, and then, as in this place, to add what has past, I will send fire into the house of Hazael, and this fire will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad; as though he said, “I will destroy the kingdom of Syria, I will consume it as with burning.” But he first names the house of Hazael, and then the palaces of Ben-hadad; as though he said, “No ancientness shall preserve that kingdom from being destroyed.” For, metaphorically, under the word fire, he designates every kind of consumption; and we know how great is the violence of fire. It is then as though he said, that no wealth, no strength, no fortifications, would stand in the way to prevent the kingdom of Syria from being destroyed.
He then adds, I will break in pieces the bar of Damascus The Prophet confirms what he had already said; for Damascus, being strongly fortified, might have seemed unassailable. By bar, the Prophet, mentioning a part for the whole, meant strongholds and everything which could keep out enemies. Nothing, then, shall prevent enemies from taking possession of the city of Damascus. How so? Because the Lord will break in pieces its bars.
It is then added, I will cut off, or destroy, the inhabitant from Bikoth Aven, or from the plain of Aven. It is uncertain whether this was the proper name of a place or not, though this is probable; and yet it means a plain, derived from a verb, which signifies to cut into two, or divide, because a plain or a valley divides or separates mountains; hence a valley or plain is called in Hebrew a division. Now, we know that there were most delightful plains in the kingdom of Syria, and even near Damascus. Aven also may have been the name of a place, though it means in Hebrew trouble or laborer. But whatever it may have been, the Prophet no doubt declares here, that all the plains nigh Damascus, and in the kingdom of Syria, would be deprived of their inhabitants. I will then destroy the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and the holder of the scepter from the house of Eden, or from the house of pleasure. This also may have been the name of a place, and from its situation a region, which, by its pleasantness greatly delighted its inhabitants. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, alludes, in these two words, to trouble and pleasure Removed, he says, shall be the people of Syria into Kir. The purport of this is, that the kingdom of Syria would be wasted, so that the people would be taken into Assyria; for the Prophet declares that the Assyrians would be the conquerors, and remove the spoils into their own kingdom, and lead away the people as captives; for the word city, as a part for the whole, is put here for the whole land. It now follows —
6. Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom:
6. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Gazae et super quatuor, non ero propitius ei, quia transtulerunt captivitatem perfectam, ut concluderent in Edom:
7. But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof:
7. Et mittam ignem in murum Gazae, qui devorabit palatia ejus:
8. And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord God.
8. Et excidam habitatorem de Azoto et tenentem sceptrum de Ascalon; et convertam (vel, reducam) manum meam super Ekron, et peribunt reliquiae Philistinorum, dicit Dominus Jehova.
Amos directs here his discourse against Gaza, which the Philistine occupied. It was situated in the tribe of Judah, towards the sea; but as the Anakims were its inhabitants, the Philistine kept possession of it. Then the Jews had these enemies as ακτωρηκους, (guardians of the shore), who had a greater opportunity of doing harm from being so near: and we may learn from the Prophet’s words, that the Philistines, who dwelt at Gaza, when they saw the Israelites oppressed by their enemies, joined their forces to foreign allies, and that the Jews did the same. God then now denounces punishment on them.
As to the word, Gaza, some think that it was given to the city, because Cambyses, when warring with the Egyptians, had deposited there his money and valuable furniture; and because the Persian call a treasure, gaza; but this is frivolous. We indeed know that the Greek translators ever put γ (gamma) for an ע, (oin); as of Omorrha they make Gomorrha, so of Oza they make Gaza. Besides, the city had this name before the time of Cambyses. It was then more probably thus called from its strength: and that the Greeks rendered it Gaza was according to their usual practice, as I have said as to other words. But there were two Gazas; when the first was demolished, the inhabitants built another near the sea. Hence Luke, in Ac 8:26 says, that Gaza was a desert; and he thus makes a difference between Gaza on the sea-side and the old one, which had been previously demolished. But Amos speaks of the first Gaza; for he threatens to it that destruction, through which it happened that the city was removed to the shores of the Mediterranean.
I come now to the Prophet’s words: “God, he says, will not be propitious to Gaza for three and four transgressions, as the Philistine had so provoked God, that they were now wholly unworthy of pardon and mercy. I reminded you in yesterday’s Lecture, that there is presented to us here a sad spectacle, but yet useful; for we here see so many people in such a corrupted state, that their wickedness was become to God intolerable: but at this day the state of things in the world is more corrupt, for iniquity overflows like a deluge. Whatever then men may think of their evils, the Lord from heaven sees how great and how irreclaimable is their obstinacy. It is nothing that some throw blame on others, or look for some alleviation, since all are ungodly and wicked: for we see that God here declares that he would, at the same time, take vengeance on many nations. The Idumeans might then have objected, and said, that their neighbors were nothing better; others might have made the same excuse; every one might have had his defense ready, if such a pretext availed, that all were alike implicated in the same guilt and wickedness. But we see that God appears here as a judge against all nations. Let us not then be deceived by vain delusions, when we see that others are like us; let every one know that he must bear his own burden before God: I will not then be propitious for three and for four transgressions
Because they carried away, he says, a complete captivity The Prophet records here a special crime, — that the Gazites took away Jews and Israelites, and removed them as captives into Idumea, and confined them there. I have already said that it was not the Prophet’s design to enumerate all their sins, but that he was content to mention one crime, that the Israelites might understand that they were involved in a heavier guilt, because they had grievously offended both God and men. If then so severe a vengeance was to be taken on Gaza, they ought to have known, that a heavier vengeance awaited them, because they were guilty of more and greater sins. But he says that they had effected a complete captivity, inasmuch as they had spared neither women, nor children, nor old men; for captivity is called perfect or complete, when no distinction is made, but when all are taken away indiscriminately, without any selection. They then carried away a complete captivity, so that no pity either for sex or for age touched them: that they might shut them up, he says, in Edom.
Now follows a denunciation of punishment, — that God would send a fire on the wall of Gaza, to devour its palaces. And it hence appears that Gaza was a splendid town, and sumptuously built; and for this reason the Prophet speaks of its palaces. He shows, at the same time, that neither strength nor wealth would prevent God from executing the punishment which the Gazites deserved. He names also other cities of Palestine, even Ascalon and Azdod, or Azotus, and Ecron. These cities the Philistine then possessed. The Prophet then intimates, that wheresoever they might flee, there would be no safe place for them; for the Lord would expose as a prey to enemies, not only Gaza, but also all the other cities. We may conclude that Ascalon was the first city; for there was the royal residence, though Gaza was the capital of the whole nation; it might yet be that the pleasantness of its situation, and other attractions, might have induced the king to reside there, though it was not the metropolis; Him then who holds the scepter I will cut off from Ascalon. He at last concludes, that all the remnants of Palestine would be destroyed. Now, whenever God denounces destruction on the Jews, he ever gives some hope, and says that the remnant would be saved: but here the Prophet declares that whatever remained of that nation would be destroyed; for God purposed to destroy them altogether, and also their very name.
He therefore adds, that Jehovah Lord had spoken, saith the Lord Jehovah This was added for confirmation; for the Philistine were then in possession of many and strong defenses, so that they boldly laughed to scorn the threatening of the Prophet. He therefore brings forward here the name of God. Now follows the prediction respecting Tyrus: —
9. Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant:
9. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Tyri et super quatuor non ero ei propitius, quia concluserunt captivitatem perfectam in Edom, et non recordati sunt foederis fratrum:
10. But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the palaces thereof.
10. Et mittam ignem in murum Tyri, qui comedet palatia ejus.
He uses nearly the same words respecting Tyrus which he did respecting Gaza, and charges it with the same sin, which was that of removing the Jews from their country, as refugees and exiles, into Idumea, and of selling them as captives to the Idumeans. As of all the rest, he declares the same of Tyrus, that they had not lightly sinned, and that therefore no moderate chastisement was sufficient; for they had for a long time abused God’s forbearance, and had become stubborn in their wickedness.
But what he says, that they had not been mindful of the covenant of brethren, some refer to Hiram and David; for we know that they had a brotherly intercourse, and called each other by the name of brothers; so great was the kindness between them. Some then think that the Tyrians are here condemned for having forgotten this covenant; for there ought to have remained among them some regard for the friendship which had existed between the two kings. But I know not whether this is too strained a view: I rather incline to another, and that is, that the Syrians delivered up the Jews and the Israelites to the Idumeans, when yet they knew them to be brethren: and they who implicate themselves in a matter of this kind are by no means excusable. When I see one conspiring for the ruin of his own brother, I see a detestable and a monstrous thing; if I abhor not a participation in the same crime, I am involved in the same guilt. When therefore the Syrians saw the Idumeans raging cruelly against their brethren, for they were descended from the same family, they ought doubtless to have shown to the Idumeans how alienated they were from all humanity and how perfidious they were against their own brethren and relatives. Now the Prophet says, that they had been unmindful of the covenant of brethren, because they made themselves assistants in so great and execrable a crime as that of carrying away Jews into Idumea, and of shutting them up there, when they knew that the Idumeans sought nothing else but the entire ruin of their own brethren. This seems to be the real meaning of the Prophet.
But he adds, that God would send a fire on the wall of Tyrus to consume its palaces. When this happened, cannot with certainty be known: for though Tyrus was demolished by Alexander, as Gaza also was, these cities, I doubt not, suffered this calamity long before the coming of Alexander of Macedon; and it is probable, as I have already reminded you, that the Assyrians laid waste these countries, and also took possession of Tyrus, though they did not demolish that city; for in Alexander’s time there was no king there, it had been changed into a republic; the people were free, and had the chief authority. There must then have been there no small changes, for the state of the city and its government were wholly different from what they had been. We may then conclude that Tyrus was laid waste by the Assyrians, but afterwards recovered strength, and was a free city in the time of Alexander the Great. Let us now proceed: for I dwell not on every word, as we see that the same expressions are repeated by the Prophet.
11. Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever:
11. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Edom et super quatuor non ero ei propitius, quia persequutus est gladio fratrem suum, et violavit misericordias suas, et diripuit in seculum ira ejus, et indignationem servavit perpetuo:
12. But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.
12. Et mittam ignem in Theman, qui comedet palatia Bozrah.
The Prophet now passes to the Idumeans themselves. He had denounced ruin on the uncircumcised nations who delivered up the Jews into their hands: but they deserved a much heavier punishment, because their crime was much more atrocious. The Idumeans derived their origin, as it is well known, from their common father Isaac and bore the same symbol of God’s covenant, for they were circumcised. Since nearness of blood, and that sacred union, could not make them gentle to the Jews, we hence perceive how brutal was their inhumanity. They were then unworthy of being forgiven by God, when he became so severe a judge against heathen nations. But the Prophet says now, that the Idumeans had sinned more than their neighbors, and that their obstinacy was unhealable and that hence they could no longer be borne, for they had too long abused God’s forbearance, who had withheld his vengeance until this time.
He charges them with this crime, that they pursued their brother with the sword. There is here an anomaly of the number, for he speaks of the whole people. Edom then pursued his brother, that is, the Jews. But the Prophet has intentionally put the singular number to enhance their crime: for he here placed here, as it were, two men, Edom and Jacob, who were really brothers, and even twins. Was it not then a most execrable ferocity in Edom to pursue his own brother Jacob? He then sets before us here two nations as two men, that he might more fully exhibit the barbarity of the Idumeans in forgetting their kindred, and in venting their rage against their own blood. They have then pursued their brother with the sword; that is, they have been avowed enemies, for they had joined themselves to heathen nations. When the Assyrians came against the Israelites, the Idumeans put on arms: and this, perhaps, happened before that war; for when the Syrians and Israelites conspired against the Jews, it is probable that the Idumeans joined in the same alliance. However this may have been, the Prophet reproaches them with cruelty for arming themselves against their own kindred, without any regard for their own blood.
He afterwards adds, They have destroyed their own compassions; some render the words, “their own bowels;” and others in a strained and improper manner transfer the relative to the sons of Jacob, as though the Prophet had said, that Edom had destroyed the compassions, which were due, on account of their near relationship, from the posterity of Jacob. But the sense of the Prophet is clearly this, — that they destroyed their own compassions, which means, that they put off all sense of religion, and cast aside the first affections of nature. He then calls those the compassions of Edom, even such as he ought to have been influenced by: but as he had thrown aside all regard for humanity, there was not in him that compassion which he ought to have had.
He then adds, His anger has perpetually raged He now compares the cruelty of the Idumeans to that of wild beasts; for they raged like fierce wild animals, and spared not their own blood. They then raged perpetually, even endlessly, and retained their indignation perpetually. The Prophet seems here to allude to Edom or Esau, the father of the nation; for he cherished long, we know, his wrath against his brother; as he dared not to kill his brother during his father’s life. Hence he said, I will wait till my father’s death, then I will avenge myself, (Ge 27:41) Since Esau then nourished this cruel hatred against his brother Jacob, the prophet here charges his posterity with the same crime; as though he had said, that they were too much like their father, or too much retained his perverse disposition, as they cherished and ever retained revenge in their hearts, and were wholly implacable. There may have been other causes of hatred between the Idumeans and the posterity of Jacob: but they ought, notwithstanding, whatever displeasure there may have been, to have forgiven their brethren. It was a monstrous thing past endurance, when a regard for their own blood did not reconcile those who were, by sacred bonds, connected together. We now perceive the object of the Prophet: and we here learn, that the Idumeans were more severely condemned than those mentioned before, and for this reason, — because they raged so cruelly against their own kindred.
He says in the last place, I will send fire on Teman, to consume the palaces of Bozrah By fire he ever means any kind of destruction. But he compares God’s vengeance to a burning fire. We know that when fire has once taken hold, not only on a house, but on a whole city, there is no remedy. So now the Prophet says, that God’s vengeance would be dreadful, that it would consume whatever hatred there was among them: I will then send fire on Teman; which, as it is well known, was the first city of Idumea. Let us now proceed —
13. Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they might enlarge their border:
13. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus filiorum Ammon, et super quatuor non ero ei propitius; quia secuerunt gravidas (praegnantes) Gilead, ut propagarent suum terminum:
14. But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof, with shouting in the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind:
14. Et accendam ignem in muro Rabbah, qui vorabit palatia ejus in clamore (vel, jubilo) in die proelii, in turbine die tempestatis:
15. And their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together, saith the LORD.
15. Et transibit rex eorum in captivitatem, ipse et principes ejus simul, dicit Jehova.
He now prophesies against the Ammonites, who also derived their origin from the same common stock; for they were the posterity of Lot, as it is well known; and Lot was counted as the son of Abraham, as Abraham, having taken him with him from his country brought him up, no doubt, as his own son. Then Abraham was the common father of the Jews and of the Ammonites. Now, when the children of Ammon, without any regard to relationship, joined their forces to those of enemies, and conspired together, their cruelty admitted of no excuse. And there is no doubt but that they were guilty of many other crimes; but God, by his Prophet, enumerates not all the sins for which he had purposed to punish them, and only points out distinctly, as in passing, but one sin, and generally declares, that such people were utterly past hope, for they had hardened themselves in their wickedness.
He therefore says of the children of Ammon, that they rent the pregnant women Some take הרות, erut, for הרים, erim, mountains; but I see not what can induce them, unless they think it strange that pregnant women were rent, that the Ammonites might extend further their borders; and for this ends it would be more suitable to regard the word as meaning mountains; as though he said, “They have cut through mountains, even the earth itself; there has been no obstacle through which the Ammonites have not made their way: an insatiable cupidity has so inflamed them, that they have rent the very mountains, and destroyed the whole order of nature.” Others take mountains metaphorically for fortified cities; for when one seeks to take possession of a kingdoms cities stand in his way like mountains. But this exposition is too strained.
Now, since הרות, erut, mean women with child, the word, I doubt not, is to be taken in its genuine and usual sense, as we see it to be done in Hosea. [Ho 13:16.] But why does the Prophet say, that the Ammonites had rent pregnant women? It is to show, that their cupidity was so frantic, that they abstained not from any kind of cruelty. It is possible that one be so avaricious as to seek to devour up the whole earth, and yet be inclined to clemency. Alexander, the Macedonian, though a bloody man, did yet show some measure of kindness: but there have been others much more cruel; as the Persian, of whom Isaiah speaks, who desired not money, but shed blood, (Isa 13:17) So the Prophet says here of the Ammonites, that they not only, by unlawful means, extended their borders, used violence and became robbers who spoiled others of their property, but also that they did not spare even women with child. Now this is the worst thing in the storming of towns. When a town has wearied out an enemy, both pregnant women, and children, and infants may, through fury, be destroyed: but this is a rare thing, and never allowed, except under peculiar circumstances. He then reproaches the Ammonites, not only for their cupidity, but also for having committed every kind of cruelty to satisfy their greediness: they have then torn asunder women with child, that they might extend their borders.
I will therefore kindle a fire in the wall of רבה, Rabe, which shall devour its palaces, (the Prophet adds nothing new, I shall therefore go on,) and this by tumult, or by clamour, in the day of war. The Prophet means that enemies would come and suddenly lay waste the kingdom of Ammon; and that this would be the case, as a sudden fire lays hold on wood, in the day of war; that is as soon as the enemy attacked them, it would immediately put them to fight, and execute the vengeance they deserved, by a whirlwind in the day of tempest By these figurative terms the Prophet intimates that the calamity destructive to the Ammonites, would be sudden.
He finally adds, And their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together As מלכם, melcam, was an idol of the people, some regard it here as a proper name; but he says, מלכם הוא ושריו, melcam eva ushariu, ‘their king, he and his princes;’ hence the Prophet, no doubt, names the king of Ammon, for he joins with him his princes. He says then that the ruin of the kingdom would be such, that the king himself would be led captive by the Assyrians. This prediction was no doubt fulfilled, though there is no history of it extant.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast designed, by so many examples, to teach the world the fear of thy name, we may improve under thy mighty hand, and not abuse thy forbearance, nor gather for ourselves a treasure of dreadful vengeance by our obstinacy and irreclaimable wickedness, but seasonably repent while thou invites us, and while it is the accepted time, and while thou offerest to us reconciliation, that being brought to nothing in ourselves, we may gather courage through grace, which is offered to us through Christ our Lord. Amen.
1. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:
1. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Moab et super quatuor non convertam eum (vel, non convertam me, sicut prius diximus,) quia ipse combussitossa regis Edom in calcem:
2. But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet:
2. Et mittam ignem in Moab qui comedet palatia, (קריות, alii vertunt urbium appellative: sed magis arbitror esse proprium nomen loci) et morietur in tumultu Moab, in strepitu, in clangore tubae.
3. And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith the Lord.
3. Et excidam judicem e medio ejus, et omnes principes ejus occidam cum eo, dicit Jehova.
Now Amos prophesies here against the Moabites, and proclaims respecting them what we have noticed respecting the other nations, — that the Moabites were wholly perverse, that no repentance would be hoped for, as they had added crimes to crimes, and reached the highest pitch of wickedness; for, as we have said, the number, seven, imports this. The Prophet then charges the Moabites here with perverseness: and hence we learn that God’s vengeance did not come hastily upon them, for their wickedness was intolerable since they thus followed their crimes. But he mentions one thing in particular, — that they had burnt the bones of the king of Edom.
Some take bones here for courage, as though the Prophet had said, that the whole strength of Edom had been reduced into ashes: but this is a strained exposition; and its authors themselves confess that they are forced to it by necessity, when yet there is none. The comment given by the Rabbis does not please them, — that the body of a certain king had been burnt, and then that the Moabites had strangely applied the ashes for making a cement instead of lime. Thus the Rabbis trifle in their usual way; for when an obscure place occurs, they immediately invent some fable; though there be no history, yet they exercise their wit in fabulous glosses; and this I wholly dislike: but what need there is of running to allegory, when we may simply take what the Prophet says, that the body of the king of Edom had been burnt: for the Prophet, I doubt not, charges the Moabites with barbarous cruelty. To dig up the bodies of enemies, and to burn their bones, — this is an inhuman deed, and wholly barbarous. But it was more detestable in the Moabites, who had some connection with the people of Edom; for they descended from the same family; and the memory of that relationship ought to have continued, since Abraham brought up Lot, the father of the Moabites; and thus the Moabites were under an obligation to the Idumeans. If then any humanity existed in them, they ought to have restrained their passions, so as not to treat so cruelly their brethren. Now, when they exceeded all moderation in war, and raged against dead bodies, and burnt the bones of the dead, it was, as I have said, an extremely barbarous conduct. The meaning then is, that the Moabites could no longer be borne with; for in this one instance, they gave an example of savage cruelty. Had there been a drop of humanity in them, they would have treated more kindly their brethren, the Idumeans; but they burnt into lime, that is, into ashes, the bones of the king of Edom, and thereby proved that they had forgotten all humanity and justice. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning.
He therefore adds a threatening, I will send a fire on Moab, which shall devour the palaces of קריות, Koriut We have stated that what the Prophet means by these modes of speaking is that God would consume the Moabites by a violent punishment as by a burning fire, that fortified places could not hinder him from executing his vengeance, and that though they were proud of their palaces, yet these would avail them nothing.
And he subjoins, Moab shall die with tumult, with noise, with the sound of the trumpet; that is, I will send strong enemies, who will come and make no peace with the Moabites, but will take possession of every place, and of fortified cities, by force and by the sword. For what the Prophet means by tumult, by shouting, by the sound of the trumpet, is, that the Moabites would not come under the power of their enemies by certain agreements and compacts, as when a voluntary surrender is made, which usually mitigates the hostile rage of enemies; no, he says, it shall not be so; for their enemies shall have not only their wealth but their lives also.
He finally adds, And I will cut off the judge from the midst of her, and will slay her princes, saith Jehovah. God here declares, that the kingdom of the Moabites and the people shall be no more; for we know that men cannot exist as a body without some civil government. Wherever then there is an assemblage of men, there must be princes to rule and govern them. Hence, when God declares that there would be no more a judge among the Moabites, it is the same thing as if he had said, that their name would be blotted out; for had the people of Moab continued, some princes must have necessarily, as we have said, remained among them. When princes then are destroyed, the people must also perish, for there is no security for them. The Prophet then denounces not here a temporary punishment on the Moabites, but utter ruin, from which they were never to rise. This is the meaning. Let us now proceed —
4. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept his commandments, and their lies caused them to err, after the which their fathers have walked:
4. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Jehudah, et super quatuor non convertam cum; quia spreverunt (vel, abjecerunt) legem Jehovae, et statuta ejus non custodierunt; et errare eos fecerunt mendacia sua, post quae ambulaverunt patres ipsorum:
5. But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.
5. Et mittam ignem in Jehudah, qui devorabit palatia Jerusalem.
Amos turns now his discourse to the tribe of Judah, and to that kingdom, which still continued in the family of David. He has hitherto spoken of heathen and uncircumcised nations: what he said of them was a prelude of the destruction which was nigh the chosen people; for when God spared not others who had through ignorance sinned, what was to become of the people of Israel, who had been taught in the law? For a servant, knowing his master’s will, and doing it not, is worthy of many stripes, (Lu 12:47) God could not, then, forgive the children of Abraham, whom he had adopted as his peculiar people, when he inflicted each grievous punishments on heathen nations, whose ignorance, as it is commonly thought by men, was excusable. It is indeed true, that all who sin without law will justly perish, as Paul says in Ro 2:12-16, but when a comparison is made between the children of Israel and the wretched heathens, who were immersed in errors, the latter were doubtless worthy of being pardoned, when compared with that people who had betrayed their perverseness, and, as it were, designedly resolved to bring on themselves the vengeance of God.
The Prophet then having hitherto spoken of the Gentiles, turns his discourse now to the chosen people, the children of Abraham. But he speaks of the tribe of Judah, from which he sprang, as I said at the beginning; and he did this, lest any one should charge him with favoring his own countrymen: he had, indeed, migrated into the kingdom of Israel; but he was there a stranger. We shall now see how severely he reproved them. Had he, then, been silent as to the tribe of Judah, he might have been subject to calumny; for many might have said, that there was a collusion between him and his own countrymen and that he concealed their vices, and that he fiercely inveighed against their neighbors, through a wicked emulation, in order to transfer the kingdom again into the family of David. Hence, that no such suspicion might tarnish his doctrine, the Prophet here summons to judgment the tribe of Judah, and speaks in no milder language of the Jews than of other nations: for he says, that they, through their stubbornness, had so provoked God’s wrath, that there was no hope of pardon; for such was the mass of their vices, that God would now justly execute extreme vengeance, as a moderate chastisement would not be sufficient. We now then understand the Prophet’s design.
I come now to the words: For they have despised, he says, the law of Jehovah. Here he charges the Jews with apostasy; for they had cast aside the worship of God, and the pure doctrine of religion. This was a crime the most grievous. We hence see, that the Prophet condemns here freely and honestly as it became him, the vices of his own people, so that there was no room for calumny, when he afterwards became a severe censor and reprover of the Israelites; for he does not lightly touch on something wrong in the tribe of Judah, but says that they were apostates and perfidious, having cast aside the law of God. But it may be asked, why the Prophet charges the Jews with a crime so atrocious, since religion, as we have seen in the Prophecies of Hosea, still existed among them? But to this there is a ready answer: the worship of God was become corrupt among them, though they had not so openly departed from it as the Israelites. There remained, indeed, circumcision among the Israelites; but their sacrifices were pollutions, their temples were brothels: they thought that they worshipped God; but as a temple had been built at Bethel contrary to God’s command, the whole worship was a profanation. The Jews were somewhat purer; but they, we know, had also degenerated from the genuine worship of God. Hence the Prophet does not unjustly say here, that they had despised the law of God.
But we must notice the explanation which immediately follows, — that they kept not his statutes. The way then by which Amos proves that the Jews were covenant-breakers, and that having repudiated God’s law, they had fallen into wicked superstitions, is by saying, that they kept not the precepts of God. It may, however, appear that he treats them here with too much severity; for one might not altogether keep God’s commands either through ignorance or carelessness, or some other fault, and yet be not a covenant-breaker or an apostate. I answer, — That in these words of the Prophet, not mere negligence is blamed in the Jews; but they are condemned for designedly, that is, knowingly and willfully departing from the commandments of God, and devising for themselves various modes of worship. It is not then to keep the precepts of God, when men continue not under his law, but audaciously contrive for themselves new forms of worship; they regard not what God commands, but lay hold on anything pleasing that comes to their minds. This crime the Prophet now condemns in the Jews: and hence it was that they had despised the law of God. For men should never assume so much as to change any thing in the worship of God; but due reverence for God ought to influence them: were they persuaded of this — that there is no wisdom but what comes from God — they would surely confine themselves within his commands. Whenever then they invent new and fictitious forms of worship, they sufficiently show that they regard not what the Lord wills, what he enjoins, what he forbids. Thus, then, they despise his law, and even cast it away.
This is a remarkable passage; for we see, first, that a most grievous sin is condemned by the Prophet, and that sin is, that the Jews confined not themselves to God’s law, but took the liberty of innovating; this is one thing: and we also learn how much God values obedience, which is better, as it is said in another place, than all sacrifices, (1Sa 15:22) And that we may not think this a light or a trifling sin, let us notice the expression — that they despised the law of God. Every one ought to dread this as the most monstrous thing; for we cannot despise the law of God without insulting his majesty. And yet the Holy Spirit declares here, that we repudiate and reject the law of God, except we wholly follow what it commands, and continue within the limits prescribed by it. We now perceive what the Prophet means.
But he also adds, that their own lies deceived or caused them to go astray. He here confirms his preceding doctrine; for the Jews had ever a defense ready at hand, that they did with good intent what the Prophet condemned in them. They, forsooth! sedulously worshipped God, though they mixed their own leaven, by which their sacrifices were corrupted: it was not their purpose to spend their substance in vain, to undergo great expenses in sacrifices, and to undertake much labor, had they not thought that it was service acceptable to God! As then the pretense of good intention, (as they say,) ever deceives the unbelieving, the Prophet condemns this pretense, and shows it to be wholly fallacious, and of no avail. “It is nothing,” he says, “that they pretend before God some good intention; their own lies deceive them.” And Amos, no doubt, mentions here these lies, in opposition to the commands of God. As soon then as men swerve from God’s word, they involve themselves in many delusions, and cannot but go astray; and this is deserving of special notice. We indeed see how much wisdom the world claims for itself: for as soon as we invent anything we are greatly delighted with it; and the ape, according to the old proverb, is ever pleased with its own offspring. But this vice especially prevails, when by our devices we corrupt and adulterate the worship of God. Hence the Prophet here declares, that whatever is added to God’s word, and whatever men invent in their own brains is a lie: “All this,” he says, “is nothing but imposture.” We now see of what avail is good intention: by this indeed men harden themselves; but they cannot make the Lord to retract what he has once declared by the mouth of his Prophet. Let us then take heed to continue within the boundaries of God’s word, and never to leap over either on this or on that side; for when we turn aside ever so little from the pure word of God, we become immediately involved in many deceptions.
It then follows, After which have walked their fathers; literally it is, Which their fathers have walked after them: 20 but we have given the sense. The Prophet here exaggerates their sin, the insatiable rage of the people; for the children now followed their fathers. This vice, we know, prevailed in all ages among the Jews; leaving the word of God, they ever followed their own dreams, and the delusions of Satan. Since God had now often tried to correct this vice by his Prophets, and no fruit followed, the Prophet charges them here with hardness, and by this circumstance enhances the sin of the Jews: “It is nothing new,” he says, “for children to imitate their fathers, and to be wholly like them: they are then the bad eggs of bad ravens.” So also said Stephen,
‘Ye are hard and uncircumcised in heart, and resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers also did formerly,’ (Ac 7:51.)
We now understand the intention of the Prophet.
But we hence learn of what avail is the subterfuge resorted to by the Papists, when they boast of antiquity. For they set up against the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, this shield, — that theirs is the old religion, that they have not been the first founders, but that they follow what has been handed down to them from early times, and observed for many ages. When the Papists boastingly declare all this, they think that they say enough to put God to silence, and wholly to reject his Word. But we see how frivolous is this sort of caviling, and how worthless before God: for the Prophet does not concede to the Jews the example of the fathers as an excuse, but sets forth their sin as being greater because they followed their perfidious fathers, who had forsaken the Law of the Lord. The same thing is also said by Ezekiel,
‘After the precepts of your fathers walk not,’
We now see what sort of crime is that of which the Prophet speaks. At last a threatening follows, “The Lord saith, Fire will I send on Judah, which shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.’ But all this we have already explained. Let us now proceed —
6. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;
6. Sic dicit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Israel et super quatuor non convertam cum (vel, ad eum,) quia emerunt (vel, vendiderunt: quidam enim deducunt a כרת, et putant מ esse literam formalem nominis: alii autem deducunt a מכר quod est vendere vel mercari; sed sensus Prophetae eodem redit, quia intelligit quasi ad nundinationem expositos fuisse justos; ideoque proestabit vertere, pretium ipsorum; quasi diceret, commercium non secus ac de merce voenale fuisse habitum; quoniam ergo emerunt) justum pro argento, et miserum pro calceamentis.
The Prophet here assails the Israelites, to whom he had been sent, as we have said at the beginning. He now omits every reference to other nations; for his business was with the Israelites to whom he was especially appointed a teacher. But he wished to set before them, as in various mirrors, the judgment of God, which awaited them, that he might the more effectually awaken them: and he wished also to exhibit in the Jews themselves an example of the extreme vengeance of God, though there was greater purity among them, at least a purer religion, and more reverence for God prevailed as yet among them. He in this way prepared the Israelites, that they might not obstinately and proudly reject his doctrine. He now then addresses them, and says that they continued unmoved in their many sins. The import of the whole is, that if the Moabites, the Idumeans, the Tyrians, the Sidonians, and other nations, and that if the Jews as well as these were irreclaimable in their obstinacy, so that their diseases were incurable, and their wickedness such as God could no longer endure, the Israelites were also in the same condition; for they also continued perverse in their wickedness, and provoked God, and repented not, though God had waited long, and exhorted them to repent.
It is now meet for us to bear in mind what we have before said, — that if impiety was so rampant in that age, and the contempt of God so prevailed, that men could not be restored to a sane mind, and if iniquity everywhere overflowed, (for Amos accuses not a few people, but many nations,) let us at this day beware, lest such corruptions prevail among us; for, certainly, the world is now much worse than it was then: nay, since the Prophet says here, that both the Israelites and the Jews were wholly irreclaimable in their obstinacy, there is no excuse for us at this day for deceiving ourselves with an empty name, because we have the symbol of faith, having been baptized; and in case we have other marks, which seem to belong to the Church of God, let us not think that we are therefore free from guilt, if we allow ourselves that unruliness condemned here by the Prophet both in the Israelites and in the Jews; for they had become hardened against all instructions, against all warnings. Let, then, these examples rouse our attention, lest we, like them, harden ourselves so much as to constrain the Lord to execute on us extreme vengeance.
Let us now especially observe what the Prophet lays to the charge of Israel. He begins with their cruel deeds; but the whole book is taken up with reproofs; there is to the very end a continued accusation as to those crimes which then prevailed among the people of Israel. He does not then point out only one particular crime, as with respect to the other nations; but he scrutinizes all the vices of which the people were guilty, as though he would thoroughly anatomize them. But these we shall notice in their proper order.
Now as to the first thing, the Prophet says, that the just among the Israelites was sold for silver, yea, for shoes. It may be asked, Why is it that he does not begin with those superstitions, in which they surpassed the Jews? for if God had resolved to destroy Jerusalem and his own temple, because they had fallen away into superstitious and spurious modes of worship, how much more ought such a judgment to have been executed on the Israelites, as they had perverted the whole law, and had become wholly degenerate; and even circumcision was nothing but a profanation of God’s covenant? Why, then, does not the Prophet touch on this point? To this I answer, — That as superstition had now for many years prevailed among them, the Prophet does not make this now his subject; but we shall hereafter see, that he has not spared these ungodly deprivations which had grown rampant among the Israelites. He indeed sharply arraigns all their superstitions; but he does this in its suitable place. It was now necessary to begin with common evils; and this was far more opportune than if he had at first spoken of superstitions; for they might have said, that they did indeed worship God. He therefore preferred condemning the Jews for alienating themselves from the pure commandments of God; and as to the Israelites, he reproves here their gross vices. But after having charged them with cruelty, shameless rapacity, and many lusts, after having exposed their filthy abominations, he then takes the occasion, as being then more suitable of exclaiming against superstitions. This order our Prophet designedly observed, as we shall see more fully from the connection of his discourse.
I now return to the words, that they sold the just for silver, and the poor for shoes. He means that there was no justice nor equity among the Israelites, for they made a sale of the children of God: and it was a most shameful thing, that there was no remedy for injuries. For we hence, no doubt, learn, that the Prophet levels his reproof against the judges who then exercised authority. The just, he says, is sold for silver: this could not apply to private individuals, but to judges, to whom it belonged to extend a helping hand to the miserable and the poor, to avenge wrongs, and to give to every one his right. It is then the same as though the Prophet had said, that unbridled licentiousness reigned triumphant among the Israelites, so that just men were exposed as a prey, and were set, as it were, on sale. He says, first, that they were sold for silver, and then he adds for shoes: and this ought to be carefully observed; for when once men begin to turn aside from the right course, they abandon themselves to evil without any shame. When an attempt is first made to draw aside a man that is just and upright and free from what is corrupt, he is not immediately overcome; though a great price may be offered to him, he will yet stand firm: but when he has sold his integrity for ten pieces of gold, he may afterwards be easily bought, as the case is usually will women. A woman, while she is pure, cannot be easily drawn away from her conjugal fidelity: she may yet be corrupted by a great price; and when once corrupted, she will afterwards prostitute herself, so that she may be bought for a crust of bread. The same is the case with judges. They, then, who at first covet silver, that is, who cannot be corrupted except by a rich and fat bribe, will afterwards barter their integrity for the meanest reward; for there is no shame any more remaining in them. This is what the Prophet points out in these words, — That they sold the just for silver; that is, that they sold him for a high price, and then that they were corrupted by the meanest gift, that if one offered them a pair of shoes, they would be ready without any blush of shame to receive such a bribe.
We now then see the crime of which Amos accused the Israelites. They could not raise an objection here, which they might have done, if he touched their superstitions. He wished therefore to acquire authority by reprobating first their manifest and obvious crimes. He afterwards, as it has been stated, speaks in its proper place, of that fictitious worship, which they, after having rejected the Law of God, embraced. It follows —
7. That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:
7. Anhelantes super pulverem terrae ad caput inopum, viam miserorum (vel, pauperum) deflectere facient: vir et pater ejus ingredientur ad puellam ut profanent nomen sanctum meam (vel, nomen sanctitatis meae.)
Here Amos charges them first with insatiable avarice; they panted for the heads of the poor on the dust of the earth. This place is in my judgment not well understood. שאף, shaph, means to pant and to breathe, and is taken often metaphorically as signifying to desire: hence some render the words, “They desire the heads of the poor to be in the dust of the earth;” that is, they are anxious to see the innocent cast down and prostrate on the ground. But there is no need of many words to refute this comment; for ye see that it is strained. Others say, that in their cupidity they cast down the miserable into the dust; they therefore think that a depraved cupidity is connected with violence, and they put the lust for the deed itself.
But what need there is of having recourse to these extraneous meanings, when the words of the Prophet are in themselves plain and clear enough? He says that they panted for the heads of the poor on the ground; as though he had said, that they were not content with casting down the miserable, but that they gaped anxiously, until they wholly destroyed them. There is then nothing to be changed or added in the Prophet’s words, which harmonize well together, and mean, that through cupidity they panted for the heads of the poor, after the poor had been cast down, and were laid prostrate in the dust. The very misery of the poor, whom they saw to be in their power, and lying at their feet, ought to have satisfied them: but when such an insatiable cupidity still inflamed them, that they panted for more punishment on the poor and the miserable, was it not a fury wholly outrageous? We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning: He points out again what he has said in the former verse, — that the Israelites were given to rapacity, avarice, and cruelty of every kind.
He adds at last, and the way of the miserable they pervert. He still inveighs against the judges; for it can hardly comport with what belongs to private individuals, but it properly appertains to judges to pervert justice, and to violate equity for bribery; so that he who had the best cause became the loser, because he brought no bribe sufficiently ample. We now see what was the accusation he alleged against the Israelites. But there follows another charge, that of indulgence in lusts.
Grant, almighty God, that since we see so grievous punishments formerly executed on unbelievers who had never tasted of the pure knowledge of thy word, we may be warned by their example, so as to abstain from all wickedness, and to continue in pure obedience to thy word; and that, as thou hast made known to us that thou hatest all those superstitions and depravations by which we turn aside from thy word, — O grant, that we may ever be attentive to that role which has been prescribed to us by thee in the Law, as well as in the Prophets and in the Gospel, so that we may constantly abide in thy precepts, and be wholly dependent on the words of thy month, and never turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but glorify thy name, as thou has commanded us, by offering to thee a true, sincere, and spiritual worship, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It follows, in the seventh verse, that the son and the father entered in into the same maid. The Prophet here charges the people of Israel with the unbridled lusts which prevailed then among them; which were promiscuous and even incestuous. It is, we know, a detestable monstrosity when a father and a son have connection with the same woman; for the common feeling of mankind abhors such flagitousness. But the Israelites were so much addicted to their own lusts, that the father and the son had the same woman in common; as indeed it must happen when men allow themselves excessive indulgences. A strumpet will, indeed, readily admit a son and a father without any difference, for she has no shame; and no fear of God restrains abandoned women given up to filthiness. It hence becomes a common thing for a father and a son to pollute themselves by an incestuous concubinage. But it is no diminution of guilt before God, when men, blinded by their lusts, make no difference, and without any discrimination, and without any shame, follow their own sinful propensities. Whenever this happens, it certainly proves that there is no fear of God, and that even the common feeling of nature is extinct. Hence the Prophet now justly condemns in the Israelites this crime, that the father and the son entered in into the same woman.
An amplification of this crime is also added, — that they thus polluted the holy name of God. We indeed know that the people of Israel were chosen for this end — that the name of God might be supplicated by them; and well known is that declaration, often repeated by Moses,
‘Be ye holy, for I am holy’ (Le 11:44)
Hence the children of Israel could not defile themselves without polluting at the same time the name of God, which was engraven on them. God then complains here of this profanation; for the children of Israel not only contaminated themselves, but also profaned whatever was sacred among them, inasmuch as the name of God was exposed to reproach, when the people thus gave way to their filthy lusts. We now understand what the Prophet means. It follows —
8. And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.
8. Et super vestes oppignoratas accubuerunt prope omne altare, et vinum damnatorum biberunt in domo Dei sui.
Here the Prophet again inveighs against the people’s avariciousness, and addresses his discourse especially to the chief men; for what he mentions could not have been done by the common people, as the lower and humbler classes could not make feasts by means of spoils gained by judicial proceedings. The Prophet then condemns here, no doubt, the luxury and rapacity of men in high stations. They lie down, he says, on pledged clothes nigh every altar. God had forbidden, in his law, to take from a poor man a pledge, the need of which he had for the support of life and daily use, (Ex 22:26) For instance, it was prohibited by the law to take from a poor man his cloak or his coat, or to take the covering of his bed, or any thing else of which he had need. But the Prophet now accuses the Israelites, that they took away pledges and clothes without any distinction, and lay down on them nigh their altars. This belonged to the rich.
Then follows another clause, which, strictly speaking, must be restricted to the judges and governors, They have drunk the wine of the condemned in the house, or in the temple, of their God This may also be understood of the rich, who were wont to indulge in luxury by means of ill-gotten spoils: for they litigated without cause; and when they gained judgment in their favor, they thought it lawful to fare more sumptuously. This expression of the Prophet may therefore be extended to any of the rich. But he seems here to condemn more specifically the cruelty and rapaciousness of the judges. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view by saying, that they lay down on pledged garments.
He then says that they drank wine derived from fines, which had been laid on the condemned. But this circumstance, that is added, ought to be observed, — that they lay down near altars and drank in the very temple: for the Prophet here laughs to scorn the gross superstition of the Israelites, that they thought that they were discharging their duty towards God, provided they came to the temple and offered sacrifices at the altar. Thus, indeed, are hypocrites wont to appease God, as if one by puppets played with a child. This has been a wickedness very common in all ages, and is here laid to the charge of the Israelites by the Prophet: they dared with an open front to enter the temple, and there to bring the pledged garments, and to feast on their spoils. Hypocrites do ever make a den of thieves of God’s temple, (Mt 21:13) for they think that all things are lawful for them, provided they put on the appearance, by external worship, of being devoted to God. Since, then, the Israelites promised themselves impunity and took liberty to sin, because they performed religious ceremonies, the Prophet here sharply reproves them: they even dared to make God a witness of their cruelty by bringing pledged garments and by blending their spoils with their sacrifices, as though God had a participation with robbers.
We hence see that rapaciousness and avarice are not alone condemned here by the Prophet, but that the gross superstition of the Israelites is also reprobated, because they thought that there would be no punishment for them, though they plundered and robbed the poor, provided they reserved a part of the spoil for God, as though a sacrifice from what had been unjustly got were not an abomination to him.
But it may be asked, Why does the Prophet thus condemn the Israelites for they had no sacred temple; and we also know (as it has been elsewhere stated) that the temples, in which they thought that they worshipped God, were filthy brothels, and full of all obscenity. How is it, then, that the Prophet now so sharply inveighs against them, because they mingled their spoils with their impure sacrifices? To this the answer is, That he had regard to their views, and derided the grossness of their minds, that they thus childishly trifled with the God whom they imagined for themselves. We say the same at this day to the Papists, — that they blend profane with sacred things, when they prostitute their masses, and also when they trifle with God in their ceremonies. It is certain that whatever the Papists do is an abomination; for the whole of religion is with them adulterated: but they yet cease not to wrong God, whose name they pretend to profess. Such also were then the Israelites: though they professed still to worship God, they were yet sacrilegious; though they offered sacrifices to the calves in Dan and in Bethel, they yet reproached God, for they ever abused his name. This, then, is the crime the Prophet now condemns in them. But what I have said must be remembered, — that this blind assurance is reprehended in the Israelites, that they thought spoils to be lawful provided they professed to worship God: but they thus rendered double their crime, as we have said; for they tried to make God the associate of robbers, mingling as they did their pollutions with their sacrifices. Let us proceed —
9. Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.
9. Et ego exterminavi Amorrhaeum a facie ipsorum, cujus proceritas erat sicut proceritas cedrorum, et qui fortis erat sicut quercus; et perdidi fructum ejus superne et radicem ejus subtus.
10. Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.
10. Et ego eduxi vos e terra Egypti, et deduxi vos (ambulare feci vos ad verbum) in deserto per quadraginta annos ad possidendam terram Amorrhaei.
11. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the Lord
11. Et suscitavi ex filiis vestris prophetas, et ex juvenibus vestris Nazaraeos: annon etiam hoc, filii Israel? dicit Jehovah.
12. But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.
12. Et propinastis Nazaraeis vinum, et super prophetis mandastis, dicendo, Non prophetabitis.
God expostulates here with the Israelites for their ingratitude. He records the benefits he had before conferred on that people; and then shows how unworthily and disgracefully they had conducted themselves; for they forgot their many blessings and proudly despised God, and acted as if they were like other nations, and not bound to God for the singular benefit of adoption. The sum then is that God here complains that he had ill bestowed his blessings; and he reproves the people for their impiety, inasmuch as they did not lead a holier life after having been freely redeemed.
He says first, I have exterminated the Amorite before their face. God shows here that he was disgracefully defrauded by the Israelites, for whose sake he had previously destroyed the Amorites. For why were the Amorites exterminated, but that God would cleanse the land, and also, that he might give there a dwelling to his own people, that he might be purely worshipped? Then the people of Israel ought to have given up themselves wholly to the service of God; but as they neglected to do this, they frustrated the purpose of God, who had expelled the Amorites from that land, yea, and entirely destroyed them. The first complaint then is, that the children of Israel were nothing better than the Amorites, though God had given them the land, which was taken from its natives, that they might dwell in it, and on the condition, that his name should be there worshipped. Hence the Prophets say elsewhere, that they were Amorites. They ought to have been a new people; but as they followed the examples of others, in what did they differ from them? They are therefore called their posterity. But the Prophet speaks not here so severely; he only reproves the Israelites, because they differed in nothing from the Amorites, whom they knew to have been destroyed that they might be introduced into their place, and succeed to their inheritance.
It is then added, that the Amorites were tall in stature, and also that they were strong men. By these words the Prophet intimates that the Amorites were not conquered by the people’s valor, but by the wonderful power of God. We indeed know that they were dreaded by the people of Israel, for they were like giants. Then the Prophet speaks here of their height and strength, that the Israelites might consider that they overcame them not by their own valor, but that the land was given them by a miracle, for they had to do with giants, on whom they could hardly dare to look. It was then God who prostrated the cedars and the oaks before his people. We hence learn, that the Israelites could not boast of their own strengths as though they took possession of the land, because by means of war they ejected their enemies; for this was done by the singular kindness of God. They could not indeed have contended with their enemies, had not that been fulfilled which the Lord had so often foretold, ‘For you, while still, I will fight,’ (Ex 14:14) We now perceive the Prophet’s intention. But we may hence farther learn, that the Israelites had not possessed the land, because they were more excellent than the Amorites, its ancient inhabitants; but because it so pleased God. There was therefore no reason for the people of Israel to be proud on account of any excellency. It hence appears that they, who did not consider this remarkable kindness done to them, were more than doubly ungrateful to God.
He says that their fruit above and root below were destroyed. By this metaphor God enlarges on what he said before, that the Amorites had been exterminated, so that none of them remained. “I have demolished,” he says, or, “I have entirely destroyed the root beneath and the fruit above; I have extinguished the very name of the nation.” And yet the Israelites were not better, though the Amorites were thus destroyed; but having succeeded in their place, they became like them: this was utterly inexcusable. The more severe God’s vengeance had been towards the Amorites, the more ought the Israelites to have extolled his favor: but when with closed eyes they passed by so remarkable a testimony of God’s paternal love, it appears that they were extremely wicked and ungrateful.
He afterwards subjoins, I have made you to ascend from the land of Egypt; I have made you to walk in the desert for forty years, in order to possess the land of the Amorite. The circumstances here specified are intended to confirm the same thing, that God had miraculously redeemed his people. Men, we know, for the most part extenuate the favors of God; nay, this evil is innate in us. This is the reason why the Prophet so largely describes and extols the redemption of the people. Hence he says now that they had been led out of the land of Egypt. And they ought to have remembered what had been their condition in Egypt; for there they were most miserably oppressed. When therefore that coming out was set before them, it was the same as if God had reminded them how shamefully they had been treated, and how hard had been their bondage in Egypt. That beginning ought to have humbled them, and also to have stimulated them to the cultivation of piety. When now they proudly exulted against God, when no recollection of their deliverance laid hold on them, this vice is justly laid to their charge by the Prophet: “See,” he says, “I have brought you forth from the land of Egypt; what were ye then? what was your nobility? what was your wealth or riches? what was your power? For the Egyptians treated you as the vilest slaves; your condition then was extremely ignominious; ye were as lost, and I redeemed you: and now buried is the recollection of so illustrious a kindness, which deserved to be for ever remembered.”
He afterwards adds, I have made you to walk, etc. The Prophet here reminds them of the desert, that the Israelites might know that God might have justly closed up against them an entrance into the land, though he had promised it for an inheritance to Abraham. For how was it that the Lord led them about for so long a time, except that they, as far as they could, had denied God, and rendered themselves unworthy of enjoying the promised land? Then the Prophet indirectly blames the Israelites here for having been the cause why God detained them for forty years without introducing them immediately into the promised land; which might have easily been done, had they not closed the door against themselves by their ingratitude. This is one reason why the Prophet now speaks of the forty years. And then, as God had in various ways testified his kindness towards the Israelites, he had thus bound them the more to himself; but an ungodly forgetfulness had buried all his favors. God daily rained manna on them from heaven; he also gave them drink from a dry rock; he guided them during the day by a pillar of cloud, and in the night by fire: and we also know how often God bore with them, and how many proofs he gave them of his forbearance. The Prophet, then, by speaking here of the forty years, meant to counsel the Israelites to call to mind the many favors, by which they were bound to God, while they were miraculously led by him for forty years in the desert.
He now subjoins, I have raised from your sons Prophets, and Nazarites from your young or strong men, (for בחרים, becharim, as we have elsewhere said, are called by the Hebrews chosen men;) then from your youth or chosen men have I raised Nazarites. Was it not so, O children of Israel? or certainly it was so: for the particle אף, aph, sometimes is a simple affirmation, and sometimes an addition. Is not then all this true, O children of Israel? saith Jehovah. God first reminds them that he had raised up Prophets from their sons. It if a remarkable proof of God’s love, that he deigns to guide his people by Prophets: for if God were to speak himself from heaven, or to send his angels down, it would apparently be much more dignified; but when he so condescends as to employ mortal men and our own brethren, who are the agents of his Spirit, in whom he dwells, and by whose mouth he speaks, it cannot indeed be esteemed as highly as it deserves, that the Lord should thus accommodate himself to us in so familiar a manner. This is the reason why he now says, that he had raised up Prophets from their sons. They might have objected and said, that he had introduced the Law, and that then the heaven was moved, and that the earth shook: but he speaks of his daily favor in having been pleased to speak continually to his people, as it were, from mouth to mouth, and this by men: I have raised up, he says, Prophets from your sons; that is, “I have chosen angels from the midst of you.” The Prophets are indeed, as it were, celestial ambassadors, and God commands them to be heard, the same as if he himself appeared in a visible form. Since then he choose angels from the midst of us, is not this an invaluable favor? We hence see how much force is contained in this reproof, when the Lord says, that Prophets had been chosen from his own people.
And he mentions also the Nazarites. It appears sufficiently evident from Nu 6:1-8, why God appointed Nazarites. Nothing is more difficult, we know, than to induce men to follow a common rule; for they ever seek something new; and hence have arisen so many devices, so many additions, in short, so many leavenings by which God’s worship is corrupted; for each wishes to be more holy than another, and affects some singularity. In case then any one had a wish to consecrate himself to God beyond what was commonly required, the Lord instituted a peculiar observance, that the people might not attempt any thing without at least his permission. Hence, when any one wished to consecrate himself to God, though they were all holy, he yet observed certain regulations: he abstained from wine; he allowed his hair to grow; in a word, he observed those ceremonial rites which we find in the chapter already referred to. God now reminds the Israelites that he had omitted nothing calculated to preserve them pure and holy, and entire in his worship.
After having related these two things, he asks them, Is not all this true? The facts were indeed well known: then the question, it may be said, was superfluous. But the Prophet designedly asked the Israelites the question here — Is it not so? that he might more deeply touch their hearts. We indeed often despise things well known, and we see how many heedlessly allow what they hear, and pass by things without any thought. Such must have been the torpidity of the Israelites; they might have confessed without disputing that all this was true, — that the Lord had raised up Prophets from their children, and that he had given to them that peculiar service of which we have spoken; but they mighty at the same time, have contemptuously overlooked the whole, had not this been added: “What do ye mean, O Israelites? ye do indeed see that nothing has been left undone by me to retain you in my service: how then is it now, that your lust leads you away from me, and that having shaken off the yoke, ye grow thus wanton against me?” We now perceive why the Prophet inserted this clause, for it was necessary that the Israelites should be more sharply roused, that being convicted, they might acknowledge their guilt.
But it now follows, Ye have to the Nazarites quaffed wine, and on the Prophets ye have laid a command, that they should not prophesy God complains here that the service which he had instituted had been violated by the people. It seems indeed a light offense, that wine had been given to the Nazarites; for the kingdom of God, we know, is not meat and drink, (1Co 8:8) though this saying of Paul was not yet made known, it was yet true in all ages. It was then lawful for the Nazarites to drink wine, provided they used moderation. To this the simple answer is that it was lawful to drink wine, for they of their own accord undertook to abstain from it. In similar manner God forbade the priests to drink wine or strong drink whenever they entered the temple. God indeed did not wish to be served with this kind of ceremony; but his intention was to show, by such a rite, that a greater temperance is required in priests than in the people in general. His purpose then to withdraw them from the common mode of living, when they entered the temple; for they were as mediators between God and his people: they ought then to have consecrated themselves in a special manner. We now see that the priests were reminded by this external symbol, that greater holiness was required in them than in the people. The same thing must be also said of the Nazarites. The Nazarites might drink wine; but during the time they consecrated themselves to God, they were not allowed to drink wine, that they might thereby acknowledge that they were in a manner separated from the common habits of men, and were come nearer to God. We now understand why it was not lawful for the Nazarites to drink wine.
But it is frivolous for the Papists to pretend this example, and to introduce it in defense of their superstitions, and of their foolish and rash vows, which they undertake without any regard to God: for God expressly sanctioned and confirmed whatever the Nazarites did under the law. Let the Papists show a proof for their monastic vows, and foolish rites, by which they now trifle with God. We also know that there is a great difference between the Nazarites and the Papal monks; for the monks vow perpetual celibacy; others vow abstinence from flesh during life; and these things are done foolishly and rashly. They indeed think that the worship of God consists in these trifles. They promise what is not in their own power; for they renounce marriage, when they know not whether they are endued with the gift of chastity. And to abstain from flesh all their life is more foolish still, because they make this to be a part of God’s service. I do, at the same time, wonder that they bring forward this example, since there are none so holy under the Papacy as to abstain from wine. As for the Carthusians and other monks of the holier sort, they seem determined to take revenge on abstinence from flesh, for they choose the sweetest and the liveliest wine; as though they intended to get a compensation for the loss and deprivation they undergo, when they pledge to God their abstinence from flesh, by reserving the best wine for themselves. These things are extremely ludicrous. Besides it is a sufficient reply if we adduce what I have already said, that the Nazarites did nothing under the law but what God in his word approved and sanctioned.
Since God then so sharply and severely reproved the Israelites for giving wine to the Nazarites, what must be expected now, when we transgress the chief commandments of God, when we corrupt his whole spiritual worship? It seemed apparently but a venial sin, so to speak, in the Nazarites to drink wine. Had they become wanton or robbed, or had they done wrong to their brethren, or committed forgery, the charge against them would have doubtless been much more atrocious. Yet the Prophet does not now abstain from bitterly complaining that they drank wine. Then, since God would have us to worship him in a spiritual manner, a much heavier charge lies against us, if we violate his spiritual worship. As, for instance, if we now pollute the sacraments, if we corrupt the purity of divine worship, if we treat his word with scorn, yea, if we transgress as to these main points of religion, much less is our excuse. Let us then remember that the Prophet here reproves the Israelites for giving wine to the Nazarites.
He then adds, that they commanded the Prophets not to prophesy. It is certain that the Prophets were not forbidden to speak, at least expressly forbidden: but when the liberty of teaching faithfully as they ought to do is taken away from God’s servants, and a command to this effect is given them, it is the same thing as to reject wholly their doctrine. The Israelites wished Prophets to be among them; and yet they could not endure their plain reproofs. But when they had polluted the worship of God, when their whole conduct became dissolute, the Prophets sharply inveighed against them: this freedom could not be endured by the Israelites; they wished to be spared and flattered. What then the Prophet now lays to their charge is that they forbade God’s servants to declare the word freely and honestly as God had commanded them. Hence he says, On the Prophets they have laid a charge, that they should not prophesy.
This evil reigns in the world at this day. It would indeed be an execrable audacity wholly to reject the Lord’s word; this is what even ungodly men dare not openly to do: but they wish at the same time some middle course to be adopted, that God might not fully exercise authority over them. They then would gladly put restraint on the Holy Spirit, so as not to allow him to speak but within certain limitations: “See, we willingly allow thee some things, but this we cannot bear: so much asperity is extremely odious.” And under the Papacy at this day the liberty of prophesying is wholly suppressed: and among us how many there are who wish to impose laws on God’s servants beyond which they are not to pass? But we see what the Prophet says here, — that the word of God is repudiated when the freedom of teaching is restrained, and men wish to be flattered, and desire their sins to be covered, and cannot bear free admonitions.
Let us also notice the word command, which the Prophet uses. צוה, tsue, means to order, to command, or to determine, in an authoritative manner. The Prophet then does not expostulate with them, because there were many who clamored, who murmured against the Prophets, as it is always the case; but he rather condemns the audacity of the chief men for daring to consult how they might silence the Prophets, and not allow them the free liberty of teaching, as we find it to be done even now. For not only in taverns and lurking-places do the ungodly clamor when their sins are severely reproved, but they also go forth publicly and complain that too much liberty is allowed the ministers of the word, and that some course ought to be adopted to make them speak more moderately. It is then this sacrilege that the Prophet now rebukes, when he says, that the ungodly commanded the Prophets, that they should not prophecy, as though they made a law, as though they wished to proclaim a decree, that the Prophets should not speak so boldly and so freely. It now follows —
13. Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.
13. Ecce ego angustians (vel, angustiatus, constrictus, vel, constringens) in loco vestro (vel, sub vobis,) sicuti constringitur plaustrum quod plenum est manipulo (id est, manipulis.)
The verb עיק, oik, in Hebrew is often transitive, and it is also a neuter. This place then may admit of two interpretations. The first is, that God was pressed under the Israelites, as a wagon groans under too much weight; and so God expostulates by Isaiah, that he was weighed down by the Israelites, ‘Ye constrain me,’ he says, ‘to labor under your sins’ (Isa 1:14) The sense then, that God was pressed down under them, may be viewed as not unsuitable: and yet the more received interpretation is this, “Behold, I will bind you fast as a wagon is bound.” I am, however, more inclined to take the first meaning, — that God here reprehends the Israelites, because he had been pressed down by them: for תחתיכם, tacheticam, properly signifies, “Under you,” which some render, but strainedly, “Is your place:” for when the verb is transitive, they say, that תחתיכם, tacheticam, must be rendered “In your place:” but this is frigid and forced; and the whole passage will run better, if we say, “I am bound fast under you, as though ye were a wagon full of sheaves; 21 ” that is, “Ye are to me intolerable.” For God carried that people on his shoulders; and when they loaded him with the burden of iniquities, it is no wonder that he said that they were like a wagon — a wagon filled with many sheaves: “Ye are light as wind, but ye are also to me very burdensome, and I am forced at length to shake you off:” and this he afterwards shows.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only redeemed us by the blood of thy only begotten Son, but also guides us during our earthly pilgrimage, and suppliest us with whatever is needful, — O grant, that we may not be unmindful of so many favors, and turn away from thee and follow our sinful desires, but that we may continue bound to thy service, and never burden thee with our sins, but submit ourselves willingly to thee in true obedience, that by glorifying thy name we may carry thee both in body and soul, until thou at length gatherest us into that blessed kingdom which has been obtained for us by the blood of thy Son. Amen.
14. Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself:
14. Peribit fuga a veloce, et fortis non roborabit vires suas, et robustus non servabit (non liberabit) animam suam:
15. Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself: neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself.
15. Et tenens arcum non stabit, et velox pedibus suis non liberabit, neque ascensor equi liberabit animam suam.
16. And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the Lord
16. Et qui robustus est corde suo inter fortes nudus fugiet die illa, dicit Jehova.
I explained yesterday the verse, in which the Prophet says, in the name of God, that the people were like a grievous and heavy burden, as though they were a wagon laden with many sheaves. I stated that the Prophet’s words are differently explained by many interpreters, who give this view, — that God compares himself to a loaded wagon, under which the people were to be crushed. But no necessity constrains us to take the same verb in two senses, active and neuter, as they do; and then the comparison seems not quite suitable; and farther, it is better, as I have said, to say, that God complains, that he was loaded and pressed down under the people, than to render תחתיכם, tacheticm, “In your place;” for this is wholly a strained rendering. But most suitable is the Prophet’s meaning, when understood as the complaint of God, that it was a grievous thing to bear the burdens of the people, when he saw that they were men of levity, and, at the same time, burdensome.
Hence the Prophet now denounces vengeance such as they deserved; and he says first, Perish shall flight from the swift, etc., that is, no one will be so swift as to escape by fleeing; and the valiant shall do nothing by fighting; for it is to confirm strength when one resists an adversary and repels assaults. The valiant, therefore, shall fight with no advantage; and then, The strong shall not deliver his own life: he who holds the bow shall not stand; that is, he who is equipped with a bow, and repels his enemy at a distance, shall not be able to stand in his place. He who is swift on foot shall not be able to flee, nor he who mounts a horse; which means that whether footmen or horsemen, they shall not, by their celerity, be able to escape death. And, lastly, he who is stout and intrepid in heart among the valiant shall flee away naked, being content with life alone, and only anxious to provide for his own safety.
The Prophet intimates by all these words, that so grievous would be the slaughter of the people, that it would be a miracle if any should escape.
We now then see how severely the prophet at the very beginning handled this people. He no doubt observed their great obduracy: for he would not have assailed them so sharply at first, had they not been for a long time rebellious and had despised all warnings and threatening. Amos was not the first who addressed them; but the Israelites had hardened themselves against all threatenings before he came to them. It therefore behaved him sharply to reprove them, as God treats men according to their disposition. I come now to the third chapter.
There is an incongruity in our language in saying, “The words of Amos, which he saw.” To see words, except when written, is no proper expression. To avoid this, Newcome has paraphrased the passage thus, — “Which had come to him in a vision.” There would be no necessity for this, had we a suitable term for “words,” which in Hebrew has the same latitude of meaning with λογος in Greek. Dathius renders it, Effata, oracles. They were the things, the matters, the events, which the Prophet saw, or were discovered to him in a supernatural manner. The faculty of sight seems to have been used, because scenes were presented often to the prophets, when these communications were made to them; and then seeing became the term to designate these divine revelations, when nothing but messages, either of mercy or of judgment, were conveyed to the prophets. — Ed.
Rendered literally from the Hebrew, this verse is a fine specimen of sublime simplicity: the poetical inversion of words is preserved: —
And he said,—
Jehovah from Zion will roar,
And from Jerusalem will he send forth his voice;
Then mourn with the inhabitants of shepherds,
And wither will the top of Carmel.
The roarings of lions are dreadful to shepherds. God’s voice is either of mercy or of judgment; it is the latter here, and evidently that of drought, (Am 5:6,) as the withering of Carmel was to be the effect. — Ed.
Eam non restituam — ‘I will not restore it.’ — Bishop Lowth. Of all commentators, Dathius gives the best explanation of the first part of this verse. His remarks are these: — “There is here mentioned a fourth sin, for which God would no longer defer punishment. The three sins, which had preceded the fourth, signify all those sins which they had besides committed, a definite number being put for a number indefinite.” But as to the phrase, לא אשיבנו, non avertam illud — ‘I will not turn it away,’ so as to forgive it, that is, the fourth sin, he seems not to have been so felicitous; for the reference is evidently to Damascus. It will admit of either these renderings, — “I will not restore it,” that is, to favor; or “I will not turn away from it,” so as to let it go unpunished. The whole verse I would render thus: —
Thus saith Jehova, —
For three transgressions of Damascus,
Yea, for the fourth, I will not turn away from it;
For it threshed Gelead with iron wains.
Literally, it is, “they threshed;” for it is usual with the prophets, when speaking of a city or people, to pass from the singular to the plural number. — Ed.
There were two Ben-hadads: the one whom Hazael strangled, 2Ki 8:15; and his son who succeeded him, 2Ki 13:3. But ben-hadad seems to have been the name of many of the kings of Syria, as Pharaoh was the common name of the kings of Egypt. Hence the palaces of Ben-ha-dad were probably those built by several kings of that name. — Ed.
This is one of the peculiarities of the Hebrew language — the use of two pronouns, the one before, and the other after the verb; and the preposition, when necessary, is given with the latter, and not the former. There is a similar peculiarity in the Welsh, exactly the same and of common occurrence. There are several instances of likeness between the two languages, and even an identity of idiom, and that in those things in which they differ from other languages. In the present instance the Welsh is literally, word for word, the Hebrew — y shai yr aeth eich tadau ar eu hol — which your fathers have gone after them. — Ed.
This verse has caused great labor to commentators; and many have been the views given. The first difficulty is in the words rendered in our version, “under you.” תחת and with the Iod commonly added when there is a suffix, often occurs, and means on doubt, an place, a spot, a standing, as in the following passages: Exod. 10:23, Exod. 16:29; 1Sa 14:9; Hab 3:16; and this seems to be its meaning here. Then the second difficulty is about “the cart” or wagon. Some consider it to be the vehicle to carry corn; and others, the machine to thresh it as Newcome and others do: but this view is not consistent with the other expressions used in this clause.
A critic, quoted by Poole, evidently gives the meaning in these words, Sensus est, q.d. Ego vos in eas angustas adducam, unde vos ipsos mimime expedire valeatis — “The sense is, as though he said, I will bring you to those straits, from which ye will by no means be able to deliver yourselves.” I would then translate the verse thus: —
Behold, I will confine you in your place,
As a wagon confines its load—the sheaves;
or word for word,
As a wagon confines the filling of it — the sheaf.
The rendering of the last line by Newcome is certainly not what the original will bear; his translation of the whole verse is this: —
Therefore, behold I will press your place,
As a loaded corn-wain presseth its sheaves.
It is not pressing or crushing that corresponds with the contents of the following verses, but confining and reducing to straits from which they could not escape. — Ed.