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Woe to them that are at ease - The word always means such as are recklessly at their ease, “the careless ones,” such as those whom Isaiah bids Isaiah 32:9-11, “rise up, tremble, be troubled, for many days and years shall ye be troubled.” It is that luxury and ease, which sensualize the soul, and make it dull, stupid, hard-hearted. By one earnest, passing word, the prophet warns his own land, that present sinful ease ends in future woe. “Woe unto them that laugh now: for they shall mourn and weep” Luke 6:25. Rup.: “He foretells the destruction and captivity of both Judah and Israel at once; and not only that captivity at Babylon, but that whereby they are dispersed unto this day.” Luxury and deepest sins of the flesh were rife in that generation (see John 8:9; Romans 2:21-24; Luke 11:39, Luke 11:42; Matthew 23:14, Matthew 23:23, Matthew 23:26), which killed Him who for our sakes became poor.
And trust in the mountain of Samaria - Not in God. Samaria was strong (see the note above at Amos 3:9), resisted for three years, and was the last city of Israel which was taken. “The king of Assyria came up throughout all the land and went up to Samaria, and besieged it 2 Kings 17:5. Benhadad, in that former siege, when God delivered them 2 Kings 7:6, attempted no assault, but famine only.
Which are named the chief of the nations - Literally, “the named of the chief of the nations,” that is, those who, in Israel, which by the distinguishing favor of God were “chief of the nations,” were themselves, marked, distinguished, “named.” The prophet, by one word, refers them back to those first princes of the congregation, of whom Moses used that same word Numbers 1:17. They were “heads of the houses of their fathers Numbers 1:4, renowned of the congregation, heads of thousands in Israel Numbers 1:16. As, if anyone were to call the Peers, “Barons of England,” he would carry us back to the days of Magna Charta, although six centuries and a half ago, so this word, occurring at that time , here only in any Scripture since Moses, carried back the thoughts of the degenerate aristocracy of Israel to the faith and zeal of their forefathers, “what” they ought to have been, and “what” they were. As Amalek of old was “first of the nations” Numbers 24:20 in its enmity against the people of God , having, first of all, shown that implacable hatred, which Ammon, Moab, Edom, evinced afterward, so was Israel “first of nations,” as by God. It became, in an evil way, “first of nations,” that is, distinguished above the heat by rejecting Him.
To whom the house of Israel came, or have come - They were, like those princes of old, raised above others. Israel “came” to them for judgment; and they, regardless of duty, lived only for self-indulgence, effeminacy, and pride. Jerome renders in the same sense, “that enter pompously the house of Israel,” literally, “enter for themselves,” as if they were lords of it, and it was made for them.
Pass over to Calneh - He bids them behold, east, north, and west, survey three neighboring kingdoms, and see whether God had not, even in the gifts of this world, dealt better with Israel. Why then so requite Him? “Calneh” (which Isaiah calls “Calno” Isaiah 10:9, Ezekiel, “Canneh Ezekiel 27:23), was one of the four cities, built by Nimrod “in the land of Shinar Genesis 10:10, the beginning of his kingdom.” From that time, until this of Amos, no mention of it occurs. It, probably, was more than once conquered by the Assyrians , lying, as it did, on the Tigris, some 40 miles perhaps from Babylon. Hence, it was said, under its new name Ctesiphon , to have been built, that is, rebuilt, by the Macedonians , and again by the Parthians, , whose “kings made it their winter residence on account of its good air.”
It was anew destroyed by Severus , rebuilt by Sapor II in the 4th Century . Julian’s generals held it impregnable , being built on a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Tigris . It became the scene of repeated persecutions of Christianity ; Nestorianism was favored . A center of Persian luxury, it tell at once and forever before Omar , and the Persian empire perished with it. It was replaced by the neighboring Bagdad. The history illustrates the tenacity of life in those well-chosen sites, and the character of the place, of whose conquest Sennacherib boasted, with which Amos compared the land of Israel.
Go thence to Hamath the great - Originally, a Canaanite kingdom Genesis 10:18. “The entrance to” it was assigned as the northern border of Israel Numbers 34:7-8; Joshua 13:5. In David’s time its king was at war with the king of Zobah 2 Samuel 8:9-10, and made presents to David on his subdual. In Solomon’s time it had fallen under the power of the king of Zobah, from where it was called Hamath-zobah. Solomon won it from him, incorporated it with Israel, and built towns in its territory 2 Chronicles 8:3-4. The “Hamathites” were, under their own king, united with Benhadad, the Hittites, and the Phoenicians in their war with Shalmanubar, and defeated by him . Ezekiel speaks of the “border of Damascus” and “the coast of Hamath” Ezekiel 47:16; Ezekiel 48:1, as of places of like importance, and Zechariah Zechariah 9:1-2, of their joint subdual by Alexander. To judge from the present site, it in some respects resembled Samaria. It lay in a narrow oval valley of the Orontes; its citadel on a round hill in the center.
The city rises up the steep sides of the hills which enclose it . Vast water-wheels , some of a diameter of 67 , 80, 90 feet, raise the water of the Orontes to supply, by aid of aqueducts, the upper city, or to water the neighboring gardens. : “The western part of its territory is the granary of northern Syria.” Even when Antiochus Epiphanes called it after himself Epiphania, its inhabitants called it after its old name . Mention occurs of it in the crusades . In the 13th century it had its own well-known prince ; and has still a population of some 30,000 .
Gath - (Winepress) must, from its name have been situated in a rich country. It lay on the confines of Judea and Philistia, for Rehoboam fortified it as a border-fortress 2 Chronicles 11:8. It had been contrariwise fortified by the Philistines against Judah, since, when David took it “out of the hand of the Philistines,” it had the title (2 Samuel 8:1, compare 1 Chronicles 18:1) “methegammah,” “bridle of the mother city,” or metropolis. It had at that time “daughter towns” 1 Chronicles 18:1 dependent upon it. It must also have been near Micah’s birthplace, “Moresheth Gath,” that is, Moresheth of Gath, which in Jerome’s time was “a small village near Eleutheropolis,” (Bethgabrin). Of Gath itself Jerome says , “It is one of the five cities of Philistia, near the confines of Judea, and now too a very large village on the way from Eleuthcropolis to Gaza.” Eusebius says , “about the 5th milestone from Eleutheropolis to Diospolis” (Lydda).
Since the Philistines carried the ark of God from Ashdod to Gath, and thence to Ekron 1Sa 5:8, 1 Samuel 5:10, it seems likely that Gath lay nearer to Ashdod than Ekron, although necessarily more inland than either, since it was a border-city to Judah. The Tel-es-Safiyeh corresponds with these conditions, lying at the entrance of the Shephelah, about 5 miles from Beit-Jibrin on the road to Lydda, (Ludd). It “rises about 100 feet above the eastern ridge which it terminates, and perhaps 200 over the plain which terminates its western base. The ruins and subterranean reservoirs shew that it is a site of high antiquity, great strength, and importance.” Gath had at this time probably been taken by Uzziah who “broke down” its “wall” 2 Chronicles 26:6; and since it is not mentioned with the other four Philistine cities, whose sentence is pronounced by Amos Amos 1:7-8 himself, Zephaniah Zephaniah 2:4, and Zechariah Zechariah 9:5, it is probable that it never recovered.
Be they better than these kingdoms? - The prophet seems purposely to say less than he might, in order that his hearers might have to supply the more. Calneh, Hamath, Gath, had not been more guilty against God than Ephraim, yet probably they had all been conquered: Gath by Judah; Hamath by Israel (see the note below at Amos 6:14) himself; Calneh by Assyria. Both Shalmanubar and Shamasiva conquered in Babylonia ; and Shamasiva “declares that he took above 200 towns” in Babylonia. Amos, then, upbraids Israel for their ingratitude, both as to the original gift of their good land, and its continuance. The pagan had suffered; they, the guiltier, had been spared; yet still they acted no otherwise than these pagan.
Rib.: “What spacious, what wide border have we, boundless as the life of God and eternity!” Lap.: “Our hopes and the bounds of our bliss are measured, not like those of the worldly and ungodly, by the limits of a petty time or by this dot of earth, but by the boundless space of eternity and of heaven; so that we may say confidently to the ungodly, ‘Is not our border wider than your border? ‘“
Ye that put far away - Probably “with aversion.” They bade that day as it were, be gone. The Hebrew idiom expresses, how they would put it off, if they could; as far as in them lay, they “assigned a distance to it, , although they could not remove the day itself. The “evil day” is that same “day of the Lord,” which the scoffers or misbelievers professed to long for Amos 5:18. The thought that the Lord has a Day, in which to judge man, frets or frightens the irreligious, and they use different ways to get rid of it. The strong harden themselves against it, distort the belief in it, or disbelieve it. The weak and voluptuous shut their eyes to it, like the bird in the fable, as if what they dread would cease to be there, because they cease to see it.
And cause the seat - (literally, the session, sitting) of violence to come near They dismissed the thought of the Day of account, in order that they might sin with less fear. They put from them the judgment of God, that they might exercise violence over His creatures. People do not put away the thought of God, except to invite His Enemy into their souls. But therewith, they “brought near” another “seat of violence,” not their own, but upon them. They brought near what they wished to put away, the day, in which, through the violence of the Assyrians, God would avenge their own.
Rib.: “Let them consider this, who put no bound to their sins. For the more they obey their own will, the more they hasten to destruction; and while they think they draw near to pleasures, they draw near to everlasting woes.”
That lie upon beds (that is, sofas) of ivory - that is, probably inlaid with ivory. The word might, in itself, express either the bed, in which they slept by night, or the divan, on which the Easterns lay at their meals; “and stretch themselves,” literally, “are poured” out , stretching their listless length, dissolved, unnerved, in luxury and sloth, “upon their couches,” perhaps under an awning: “and eat the lambs,” probably “fatted lambs (as in Deuteronomy 32:14; Psa 37:20; 1 Samuel 15:9; Jeremiah 51:40), out of the flock,” chosen, selected out of it as the best, and “calves out of the midst of the stall;” that is, the place where they were tied up (as the word means) to be fatted. They were stall-fed, as we say, and these people had the best chosen for them.
: “He shews how they ‘draw nigh the seat of violence.’ They lay on beds or couches of ivory, and expended thereon the money wherewith their poor brethren were to be fed. Go now, I say not into the houses of nobles, but into any house of any rich man, see the gilded and worked couches, curtains woven of silk and gold, and walls covered with gold, while the poor of Christ are naked, shivering, shriveled with hunger. Yet stranger is it, that while this is everywhere, scarce anywhere is there who now blames it. Now I say, for there were formerly. ‘Ye array,’ Ambrose says , ‘walls with gold, men ye bare. The naked cries before your door and you neglect him; and are careful with what marbles you clothe your pavement. The poor seeketh money, and hath it not; man asketh for bread, and thy horse champeth gold. Thou delightest in costly ornaments, while others have not meal. What judgment thou heapest on thyself, thou man of wealth! Miserable, who hast power to keep so many souls from death, and hast not the will! The jewel of thy ring could maintain in life a whole population.’ If such things are not to be blamed now, then neither were they formerly.”
That chant to the voice of the lyre - Accompanying “the voice of the lyre” with the human voice; giving vocal expression and utterance to what the instrumental music spoke without words. The word, which Amos alone uses in this one place, describes probably a hurried flow of unmeaning, unconsidered words, in which the rhythm of words and music was everything, the sense, nothing; much like most glees.
The English margin “quaver” has also some foundation in the root, but does not suit the idiom so well, which expresses that the act was something done “to the voice of the lyre,” accompanying the music, not altering the music itself. In fact, they would go together. An artificial, effeminate music which should relax the soul, frittering the melody, and displacing the power and majesty of divine harmony by tricks of art, and giddy, thoughtless, heartless, soulless versifying would be meet company. Debased music is a mark of a nation’s decay, and promotes it. The Hebrew music seems to have been very simple; and singing appears to have been reserved almost exclusively for solemn occasions, the temple-service, or the greeting of victory 1 Samuel 18:7. “Singing men and singing women” were part of the state of David and Solomon 2 Samuel 19:35; Ecclesiastes 2:8. Else the music at the feasts of the rich appears rather to be mentioned with blame Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 24:9. Songs they had Proverbs 25:20; but the songs, for which the Hebrew exiles were celebrated, and which their Babylonian masters required them to sing, “the songs of Zion” Psalms 137:3-4, were the hymns of the temple, “the Lord’s song.”
And invent to themselves instruments of music - The same pains, which David employed on music to the honor of God, they employed on their light, enervating unmeaningful music, and, if they were in earnest enough, justified their inventions by the example of David. Much as people have justified our degraded, sensualizing, immodest dancing, by the religious dancing of Holy Scripture! The word can mean no other than devised. David then did “devise” and “invent” instruments of music for the service of God. He introduced into the temple-service the use of the stringed instruments, the “kinnor,” (the “lyre”) and the “nebel” (the “harp”) in addition to the cymbals. Whence these, in contrast with the trumpets, are called “the instruments of David” (2 Chronicles 29:26, compare 2 Chronicles 29:25, and 1 Chronicles 15:16, 1 Chronicles 15:19-21, 1 Chronicles 15:24). Probably, in adapting them to the temple-service, he, in some way, improved the existing instrument; having been, in early youth, remarkable for his skill upon the harp 1Sa 16:16, 1 Samuel 16:18, 1 Samuel 16:23. As he elevated the character and powers of the, perhaps rude, instrument which he found, and suited it to the service of God, so these people refined it doubtless, as they thought, and suited it for the service of luxury and sensuality. But what harm, they thought, in amending the music of their day, since so did David?
That drink wine in bowls - (Literally, as the English margin, “drink in bowls,” literally, “sprinkling vessels, of wine”). The word is elsewhere used only of the “bowls,” out of which the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled. Probably Amos was referring to the first offering of the Princes in the wilderness, with whom he had already tacitly contrasted these Princes . They had shown zeal for God in offering the massive bowls for the service of the tabernacle: the like zeal had these princes for the service of their own “god Philippians 3:19, their belly.” It may be too, (since misbelief and sensuality are necessarily irreverent) that they used for their revels vessels which had at one time been employed in sprinkling the blood of their idol-sacrifices. There was no additional desecration in it. The gold and silver vessels of the temple were consecrated by being offered to God, by His hallowing of the temple through His presence, by being used in the typical sacrifices. The gold and silver, creatures of God, were desecrated by being employed in idol-worship, of which indeed sensuality was a part. Their employment in this luxury was only a continuance of their desecration, which it did but illustrate. It is nothing incredible, since among Christians, the fonts of the Church have been turned into horsetroughs by sects who disbelieved in Baptism. The vessels were, probably, large, since those offered for the tabernacle weighed 70 shekels. Private luxury vied with the fictitious sanctuary, which aped the sanctuary of God. Perhaps Amos would express the capacity of these vessels by saying, “that drink in bowls of wine.” Like swine in the trough, they immersed themselves in their drink , “swimming in mutual swill.”
All this they did, he expresses, habitually. He speaks of these their acts in a form expressing an ever-renewed present, “the putters off, the liers on couches of ivory, the out-stretched, the eating, the drinking,” men whose lives were spent in nothing else; the voluptuaries, sensualists, “good-fellows” of Israel.
Anoint themselves with the chief ointments - Anointing the body was a sort of necessary 2 Chronicles 28:15 in the hot climate of the East, for bodily health. “Not” to anoint the body was the exception, as in mourning 2 Samuel 14:2. But necessaries become a vehicle for luxury. For health, olive-oil sufficed Deuteronomy 28:40. For the service of God, a rich ointment was appointed, to which odorous substances, myrrh, cinnamon, the odoriferous reed, and cassia Exodus 30:23-25. gave a scent emblematic of the fragrance of holiness. In order to separate what was sacred from ordinary uses, God forbade, on pain of death, to imitate this ointment, or “pour it on the flesh of man” Exodus 30:32-33. Luxury vied with religion, and took to itself either the same, or ointment more costly. “They anointed themselves with the chief” (kind) “of ointments;” those which held the first, highest rank among them. Nothing better or so good was left for what they thought to be the service of God, as, in times a little past, anything was thought good enough for a Church, nothing too good for a dwelling-house. Gorgeous adornments of man’s house were thought splendor and good taste and fit employment of wealth; slight adornment of the house of God was thought superstition.
But - (And) they are not grieved - (Literally, “grieve not themselves,”) admit no grief, shut out all grief, “for the affliction” (literally, “breach”) of “Joseph.” The name of the patriarch, Ephraim’s father, recalled his suffering from his brethren . His brethren cast him into a “pit without water” Genesis 37:24, probalby an empty leaking well, (much as was that into which Jeremiah Jeremiah 38:6 was cast,) damp, fetid, and full of loathsome creatures. They “saw the anguish of his soul when he besought them, and would not hear” Genesis 42:21. But what did they? “They sat down to eat bread” Genesis 37:25. So did these rich men deal with all their brethren, all Ephraim. They suffered not in, or with, any sufferings, present or future, of individuals or the whole. “Cast off thought,” “cast off care,” is the motto of sensualists and of the worldly; “seize joyous the present hour, and leave the future,” said the pagan . This was the effect of their luxury and life of sense.
The prophet recounts, they stretched themselves listlessly, ate choice food, sang glees, drank deep, anointed themselves with the very best ointment, “and grieved” not themselves for any sufferings of their own flesh and blood. It followed, of necessity, from the rest. Luxury shuts out suffering, because any vivid knowledge of or dwelling upon sufferings must needs disturb its ease. Selfish wealth persuades itself that there is no suffering, lest it should be forced to think of it; it “will” think distress either too little, so that it can relieve itself, or so great that it cannot be relieved; or it will philosophise upon distress and misery, as though it were best relieved by its own luxuries. Any how it will not know or hear of its details, it will not admit grief. Lap.: “Mercilessness is the own daughter of pleasure.” “This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread, and careless ease had she and her daughters; and the hand of the poor and needy she strengthened not” Ezekiel 16:49. “Seest thou,” says Chrysostom , “how he blames a delicate life? For in these words he accuses not covetousness, but prodigality only. And thou eatest to excess, Christ not even for need; thou various cakes, He not so much as dry bread; thou drinkest choice wine, but on Him thou hast not bestowed so much as a cup of cold water in His thirst. Thou art on a soft, embroidered bed; He is perishing with the cold. Be then the banquets clear from covetousness, yet they are accursed because, while thou doest all beyond thy need, to Him thou givest not even His need; and that, living in luxury on what is His!”
And yet what was this luxury, which the prophet so condemns? What, in us, were simplicity. What scarce anyone thought of diminishing, while two million, close by, were wasting away by famine’s horrors; chairs or sofas inlaid, fat lamb or veal; wine; perfumes; light music. The most delicate ingredient of those perfumes, cinnamon, enters into our food. “Looking at our times,” says a writer at the close of the 16th century , “I marvel at the spareness of the ancients, and think that it would be well with us, if any above the poor were content with what were, of old, delicacies to kings and nobles. Happy were these times, if they could imitate even what the prophets blame in nobles. In the Gospel, “the King” who “made a marriage feast for His Son said, I have prepared My dinner, My oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage” Matthew 22:2, Matthew 22:4.
When a “fatted calf” was killed for a feast, it was thought the best cheer, as when Abraham entertained Angels, or in that feast of the Father who, when He had received back His son, said, “bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry: for this My son was dead and is alive again” Luke 15:23-24. So then the prophet accuses the nobles of luxury, because they ate fat oxen and lambs. For the table of Solomon, the wealthiest of monarchs, there were brought “fat oxen, and oxen, out of the pastures, sheep, besides hart and roebuck and fallow deer and fatted fowls” 1 Kings 4:23. “Now” whatever is produced in sea or earth or sky, people think to be born to satisfy their appetites. Who could recount the manifold forms of food and condiments, which all-inventing gluttony has devised? Books had to be written; no memory sufficed. In this ocean, wealthiest patrimonies have discharged themselves and disappeared.
Among the Romans, Fabius, for devouring his patrimony, was called Gurges (whirlpool). Were this the practice now, he would have many great people surnamed from him, who, poor through gluttony, prey on the patrimonies of the poor, retain the property of the rich against their wills, and live on what is another’s. It were little to consume whole patrimonies in luxury, were it not that the virtues and nerves of the mind were also consumed and vices of all sorts crept in. Shame to copy the luxury of pagan, and despise their care for maintaining temperance. We need not old examples. Such was the frugality of our Spaniards, 70 years ago, before they adopted foreign manners, that the rich had but mutton, roast and boiled, at their tables, nobles alone had poultry. Well were it then, if, in matter of food, we did only, what the prophet in his time blamed.” Spain has sunk under its luxury to a third-rate power. What can await England? What can await it, when the prophet’s blame were praise, and Dives is the pattern and ideal of the charity of most of us, and luxury, vanity, and selfindulgence are held to be the best way of ministering to the poor? Marvelous “imitation of Christ!” Once, to “forsake all” was to “follow” Christ. Now, to possess all, heap up all, to expend nothing save on self, and to “shew mercy on the poor” by allowing them to minister to our luxuries, is, according to the new philosophy of wealth, to be the counterfeit of Christian charity.
Therefore now (that is, shortly) shall they go captive with the first (at the head) of those who go captive - They had sought eminence; they should have it. Jerome: “Ye who are first in riches, shall, the first, endure the yoke of captivity, as it is in Ezekiel, ‘begin from My sanctuary’ Ezekiel 9:6, that is, from the destruction of the Temple which is holy. For ‘mighty men shall be mightily tormented’ (Wisdom Ezekiel 6:6); and, ‘to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more’ Luke 12:48.”
And the banquet - Probably, “the screech.” The root, רדסח radsach, whose consonants contain most of those of our screech, signifies the loud sharp cry, which the mind cannot control, either in revelry or distress. Here it is probably, the drunken scream, or reckless cry of revelry, whose senseless shrillness is more piercing, in its way, than the scream of distress, of which Jeremiah Jeremiah 16:5 uses it. For it is the scream of the death of the soul. Amos seems to have purposely joined together similar harsh sibilants or guttural sounds in order the more to express the harshness of that scream of luxurious self-indulgence. סרוּחים מרזח mı̂rezach seruchı̂ym, the screech of the outstretched.” Of this he says, “it shall depart,” and forever. “In that very day all his thoughts perish” Psalms 146:4. It shall “depart;” but by what should it be replaced to those to whom it was their god and their all? On earth, by siege, pestilence, death or captivity: after death, by hell to the unrepentant.
The Lord God - He who alone is and who alone hath power, “hath sworn by Himself,” literally, “by His soul;” as our “self” comes from the same root as “soul.” Jerome: “So God saith in Isaiah, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth” Isaiah 1:14; not that God hath a soul, but that He speaks after the way of human feelings. Nor is it any marvel that He condescends to speak of Himself, as having a soul, seeing He speaks of Himself as having the other members, feet, hands, bowels, which are less precious than the soul. In God the Father, the head, hands, and the rest are not members, but by these words a diversity of powers is expressed. So also by the soul is intended not a substance, but the inward affections, and the seat of thought whereby God indicates His Will.” In truth, it is one and the same condescension in Almighty God, to use of Himself any words taken from our nature, our thoughts, acts, feelings, as those taken from the members of the body.
It is a yet greater condescension that God should confirm the truth of His word by an oath. For we call God to witness, lest, by reason of the vast reign of falsehood among people, we should be thought not to speak true. But for God to act as though He needed the assurance of an oath in order to be believed, is more condescending, than for Him to speak as though He had a soul or limbs, such as He gave to man. Yet God, “willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of His promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath. He swore by Himself saying, surely blessing I will bless thee” Hebrews 6:17, Hebrews 6:13-14. “Now,” when Israel had, by apostasy, forfeited that blessing, and a portion of it was to be withdrawn from him, God, affirms by an oath that rejection of Israel. If the words, “by His soul,” are emphatic, they relate to those attributes in God of which man’s holy affections are an image. God’s love, justice, righteousness, holiness, were concerned, to vindicate the oppressed and punish the oppressor. To these He appeals. Our oaths mean, “As God is true, and as He avenges untruth, this which I say is true.” So God says, “As I am God, this is true.” God then must cease to be God, if He did not hate oppression.
I abhor the excellency of Jacob - The word “excellency” is used of the Majesty of God Himself; then, since man’s relation to God is his only real greatness, God speaks of Himself as “the Excellency of Jacob” Amos 8:7; then of that “excellency” which God had given to “Jacob” Psalms 47:4. That “excellency of their strength,” He had forwarned them in the law, that He would break Leviticus 26:19. Now that Israel took as his own what he held from God, his “excellency” became pride, and God says, “I abhor” it, as a thing loathsome and abominable, and “hate his palaces.” For they had been built, adorned, inhabited, filled with luxury, in the midst of, and out of, oppression and hard-hearted exaction. He calls them Jacob, perhaps as Hosea does Hosea 12:12, to remind them of the poverty and low estate of their forefather, out of which God had raised them, and the faithfulness of their forefather in it, in contrast with their luxury and unfaithfulness.
Therefore (And) I will deliver up - Originally, “shut up” (Leviticus 14:23; Leviticus 13:4-5, ...), then, “shut up in the hands of,” so that he should have no escape. Here, where the enemy is not spoken of, it may mean, that God “shut up the city,” so that there should be no going out or coming in, in the straithess of the siege, whereupon follows the fearful description of the ravages of the pestilence. “The city” is, what was to them, above others, “the” city, the place of their luxury pride and boast, where lay their strength, Samaria.
If there shall remain ten men - He probably still denounces the punishment of the rich inhabitants of the palaces, since in these only, of old, would there be found “ten men.” They died, it seems, at once, and so probably through the plague, the common companion. of the siege. The prophet had before compared them to Sodom. It may be, that, in this mention of “ten men,” he tacitly refers to the history of that destruction. Then God promised, not to destroy the city, if there were ten righteous in it Genesis 18:32. Here were “ten left,” not in one city, but in one house. Had God forgotten His loving-kindness? No! but, in Samaria, not even ten who “remained over,” and so had survived after the chastisement had begun, turned to God. All then were to be taken or destroyed. The miseries of its three years’ siege by Shalmanezer may be filled up from those of its earlier siege by Benhadad 2 Kings 6:24-29, or from those of Jerusalem. The sufferings of a siege are in proportion to the obstinacy of the defense; and Samaria resisted for twice the time in which Jerusalem was reduced by famine at its first captivity.
And a man’s uncle ... and he that burneth him - Literally, “and there shall take him up his uncle and his burner,” that is, his uncle who, as his next of kin, had the care of his interment, was himself the burner. Burial is the natural following out of the words, “dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” The common burying-places (such as we find in the history of the patriarchs) were the natural expression of the belief in the Resurrection. The bodies rested together, to be raised together. The pagan burned the bodies of Christian martyrs, and scattered their ashes in mockery of the Resurrection . The pagan noticed that it was matter of piety with the Jews “to bury rather than to burn bodies.” The only exceptions are the history of Saul, and this place. Both were cases of emergency. The men of Jabesh-Gilead doubtless burned the bodies of Saul and his sons , for fear the Philistines might disinter them, if buried, and renew their insults upon them. The Israelites still buried what would not be disturbed or could be concealed - the bones. David solemnly buried their remains in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul’s father 2 Samuel 21:12-14. So probably here also, it is mentioned as an aggravation, that one who loved them, had to burn their bodies. He does not say, why: but mentions it, as one feature of the common suffering. Parents, brothers - all gone; a man’s uncle was his “burner.” There was no other interment than this, the most alien from their affections and religion. It may have been on account of the extreme infection (the opening of a forgotten burying place of those who died of the plague of London produced a virulent disease, though 1 12 century had elapsed), or from the delay of burial, when, death reigning all round, there had been none to bury the dead.
He who is “by the sides,” that is, the furthest part “of the house.” He was the one survivor of the ten, and he too, sick. The question, Is there “yet” any “with thee?” inquires whether there was anyone, alive, to succor, or dead, to burn? There was none. All, even the bodies, had now been removed; one only remained, of all the hum, din, and throng, in that abode of luxury, one only “in the extremity” of its untenanted chambers. Probably the sick man was going to speak of God. The uncle breaks in upon his “No!” with “Hush! for we may not make mention of the Name of the Lord.” Times of plague are, with the most, times of religious despair. They who had not feared God in their prosperity, do nothing but fear Him then. Fear, without love, turns man more away from God. He feels then the presence and power of God whom he had forgotten. He owns Him as the Author of his miseries; but, not having known Him before, he knows Him now in no other relation.
The words then, “for not to be mentioned is the Name of the Lord,” are very probably the voice of despair. “It is useless to name Him now. We did not name His Name in life. It is not for “us” to name it now, in death.” It might be the voice of impatient aversion, which would not bear to hear of God, the Author of its woe; or it might be the voice of superstition, which would not name God’s Name, for fear of bringing fresh evil upon itself. All these grounds for not naming the Name of God and others yet worse, recur, again and again, under the pressure of a general sudden destruction. Such times being out the soul to light, as it is. Souls, which have sinned away the grace of God and are beyond its reach, pass unobserved amid the thronging activity of ordinary life. They are arrested then. They must choose then or never. Their unchanged aversion from God, then, unveils what they had been before. They choose once more, deliberately, in the face of God’s judgments, what they had habitually chosen before, and, by the dreadful nakedness of their choice of evil, become now unmitigatedly evil. The prophet gives one instance of this utter misery of body and soul, because detail of misery sets the whole calamity more before people’s eyes. In one picture, they see all. The words, or what the words imply, that, in extreme calamity, people do not mention the Name of God, come true in different minds out of different characters of irreligion.
It has also been thought, that the brief answer, “Hush!” closes the dialogue. The uncle asks, “is there yet with thee?” He answers, “None.” The other rejoins “Hush!” and the prophet assigns the ground; “for the Name of the Lord is not to be named.” If people have not sought God earlier, they have, when his hand is heavy upon them, no heart, nor time, nor thought, nor faith to seek Him.
The Lord commandeth and He will smite - Jerome: “If He commandeth, how doth He smite? If He smiteth, how doth He command? In that thing which He “commands” and enjoins His ministers, He Himself is seen to “smite.” In Egypt the Lord declares that He killed the first-born, who, we read, were slain by “the destroyer” Exodus 12:23. The “breaches” denote probably the larger, “the cleft” the smaller ruin. The greater pile was the more greatly destroyed.
The two images both represent a toil, which people would condemn as absurd, destructive, as well as fruitless. The horse’s hoofs or his limbs would be broken; the plowing-gear would be destroyed. The prophet gains the attention by the question. What then? they ask. The answer is implied by the for, which follows. Ye are they, who are so doing. As absurd is it to seek gain from injustice and oppression, to which God had annexed loss and woe, temporal and eternal. More easy to change the course of nature or the use of things of nature, than the course of God’s Providence or the laws of His just retribution. They had changed the sweet laws of “justice” and equity “into” the “gall” of oppression, and the healthful “fruit of righteousness,” whereof they had received the seed from God, into the life-destroying poison of sin. Better to have “plowed” the rock “with oxen” for food! For now, where they looked for prosperity, they found not barrenness, but death.
Others understand the question as the taunt of unbelievers, trusting in the strength of Samaria, that when horses should run on their rocky eminence, or the oxen plow there, then might an enemy look for gain from investing the hill of Samaria. “Shall things which are against nature be done?” “Yes,” the prophet then would answer, “for ye have done against nature yourselves. Ye, have “changed justice,” the solace of the oppressed, “into wormwood,” the bitterness of oppression. Well may what ye think above the laws of physical nature be done, when ye have violated the laws of moral nature. Well may the less thing be done, your destruction, secure as by nature ye seem, when ye have done the greater, violating the laws of the God of nature.” Amos, however, when he refers to the sayings of the unbelievers, distinguishes them from his own.
Who rejoice - (Literally, “the rejoicers!” Amos, as is his wont, speaks of them with contempt and wonder at their folly, “the rejoicers!” much as we say, the cowards! the renegades!) “in a thing of nought,” literally, “a non-thing,” (“no-whit, nought”) not merely in a thing valueless, but in a “non-thing,” that has no existence at all, as nothing has any substantial existence out of God. This “non-thing” was their power, strength, empire, which they thought they had, but which was soon to shrivel away as a scroll.
Which say - , (as before, “the sayers!” they who have this saying habitually in their month) have we not taken to ourselves horn? The horn is the well-known symbol of strength which repels and tosses away what opposes it, as the bull doth its assailant. Moses, in his blessing, had used this symbol, of the strength of the tribe of Joseph, and as being a blessing, he spoke of it, as the gift of God. “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of buffalos; with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth; and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh” Deuteronomy 33:17. To this blessing, doubtless, Zedekiah the false prophet referred , when he “made him horns of iron, and said” to Ahab, “Thus saith the Lord, with these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou hast consumed them.” The Psalmist said, “through Thee will we push down our enemies,” as with a horn Psalms 44:5-7; and adds, “For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. For Thou hast saved us from our enemies.” Israel ascribed God’s gift to himself. He had been repeatedly and greatly victorious; he had conquered every enemy, with whom he had of old been at strife; he ascribed it to himself, and forfeited it. “By our own strength,” he said, instead of, “by the help of God;” as if we were to ascribe our Indian victories to our generals or our armies, and to substitute self-praise for Te Deums on days of thanksgiving.
Lap.: “The sinner rejoiceth in a non-thing. Sin is a ‘non-thing’:
(1) as being a thing of nought, that is, vain and valueless.
(2) Its pleasure is fleeting; from where the Psalmist says, “all the men, whose hands are mighty, have found nothing” Psalms 76:5.
(3) Sin brings the sinner to nothing, that is, destruction and death, temporal and eternal.
(4) Sin is the privation of good; but privation is a mere negative; that is, nothing.
(5) Sin deprives of God who is All and the Creator of all.
(6) Sin is nothing, because it cleaves to and joys in creatures and opposes them and prefers them to the Creator.
For creatures, compared to the Creator, are shadows of things, not the very things, and so are nothing. For the Being and Name of God is, I am that I am, that is, I am He who alone have true, full, solid, eternal, infinite, Being; but creatures participate from Me a shadow of their true being, for their being is so poor, brief, fleeting, unstable, perishing, that, compared to Mine, they may rather be said, not to be, than to be. So then as creatures have no true being, so neither have they true good, but only a shadow of good. So also as to truth, wisdom, power, justice, holiness and other attributes. These have in God their real being; in creatures a shadow of being only. Whence God is called in Scripture alone wise Romans 16:27, alone mighty 1 Timothy 6:15, alone immortal 1 Timothy 6:16, alone Lord Isaiah 37:20, alone holy Revelation 15:4, alone good Luke 18:19; because He alone has true, full, uncreated and infinite wisdom, power, goodness, etc. But the sinner, in that he delights in creatures not in the Creator, delights in a shadow, a nothing, not in the true Being. But, because these shadows of creatures amid the dimness of this life appear great to man in his blindness, (as the mountains, at sunset, cast broad and deep shadows,) he admires and pursues these shadows, like the dog in the fable, who, seeing the shadow of the meat in the water, magnified in the water, snatched at it, and so lost the meat and did not attain the shadow. O Lord, dispel our darkness, lighten our eyes, that we may love and seek, not the shadows of honors, riches, and pleasures, which, like meteors, (dazzle here on earth our mind’s eye, but may with fixed gaze, behold, love, and compass the real honors, riches, pleasures themselves, which Thou hast from eternity laid up and prepared in heaven for those who love Thee.”
But - (For,) - it was a non-thing, a nonexistent thing, a phantom, whereat they rejoiced; “for behold I raise up a nation.” God is said to “raise up,” when, by His Providence or His grace, He calls forth those who had not been called before, for the office for which He designs them. Thus, He raised up judges Judges 2:16-18, delivers Judges 3:9-15, prophets , Nazarites Amos 2:11, priests 1 Samuel 2:35, kings 2 Samuel 7:8, calling each separately to perform what He gave them in charge. So He is said to “raise up” even the evil ministers of His good Will, whom, in the course of His Providence, He allows to raise themselves up aloft to that eminence, so often as, in fulfilling their own bad will, they bring about, or are examples of, His righteous judgment. Thus God “raised up Hadad” as “an adversary” 1 Kings 11:14 to Solomon, and again Rezon 1 Kings 11:23; and the Chaldees Habakkuk 1:6.
So again God says to Pharaoh, “For this have I raised thee up Exodus 9:16, to show in thee My power.” So here He says, “I will raise up against you a nation, and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hamath.” Israel, under Jeroboam II, had recovered a wider extent of territory, than had, in her northern portion, belonged to her since the better days of Solomon. Jeroboam “recovered Damascus and Hamath” 2 Kings 14:28, 2 Kings 14:25, which belonged to “Judah, unto Israel. He restored,” as God promised him by Jonah, “the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain. The entering of Hamath” expresses the utmost northern boundary promised to Israel Numbers 34:8. But this does not in itself express whether Hamath itself was included. Hamath however, and even Damascus itself, were incorporated in the bounds of Israel. The then great scourge of Israel had become part of its strength. Southward, Ammon and even Moab, had been taken into its borders. All the country on the other side of Jordan was theirs from Hamath and Damascus to the south of the Dead Sea, a space including four degrees of Latitude, as much as from Portsmouth to Durham. Amos describes the extension of the kingdom of Israel in the self-same terms as the Book of Kings; only he names as the southern extremity, “the river of the wilderness,” instead of “the sea of the wilderness.” The sea of the wilderness, that is, the Dead Sea, might in itself be either its northern or its southern extremity. The word used by Amos, defines it to be the southern. For his use of the name, “river of the wilderness,” implies:
(1) That it was a well-known boundary, a boundary as well-known to Israel on the south , “as the entering in of Hamath” was on the north.
(2) As a boundary-river, it must have been a river on the east of the Jordan, since Benjamin formed their boundary on the west of Jordan, and mountain passes, not rivers, separated them from it.
(3) From its name, ‘river of the wilderness, or the Arabah,” it must, in some important part of its course, have flowed in the ‘Arabah.
The ‘Arabah, (it is now well known,) is no other than that deep and remarkable depression, now called the Ghor, which extends from the lake of Gennesareth to the Red Sea . The Dead Sea itself is called by Moses too “the sea of the Arabah” Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49, lying, as it does, in the middle of that depression, and dividing it into two, the valley of the Jordan above the Dead Sea, and the southern portion which extends uninterrupted from the Dead to the Red Sea; and which also (although Scripture has less occasion to speak of it) Moses calls the ‘Arabah . A river, which fell from Moab into the Dead Sea without passing through the Arabah, would not be called “a river of the Arabah,” but, at the most “a river of the sea of the Arabah.” Now, besides the improbability that the name, “the river of the Arabah,” should have been substituted for the familiar names, the Arnon or the Jabbok, the Arnon does not flow into the Arabah at all, the Jabbok is no way connected with the Dead Sea, the corresponding boundary in the Book of Kings. These were both boundary-rivers, the Jabbok having keen the northern limit of what Moab and Ammon lost to the Amorite; the Arnon being the northern border of Moab. But there is a third boundary-river which answers all the conditions.
Moab was bounded on the south by a river, which Isaiah calls “the brook of the willows,” ערבים נחל nachal ‛ârâbı̂ym Isaiah 15:7, across which he foretells that they should transport for safety all which they had of value. A river, now called in its upper part the Wadi-el-Ahsa, and then the Wadi-es-Safieh, which now too “has more water than any south of the Yerka” (Jabbok), “divides the district of Kerek from that of Jebal, the ancient Gebalene” (that is, Moab from Idumaea). This river, after flowing from east to west and so forming a southern boundary to Moab, turns to the north in the Ghor or Arabah, and flows into the south extremity of the Dead Sea . This river then, answering to all the conditions, is doubtless that of which Amos spoke, and the boundary, which Jeroboam restored, included Moab also, (as in the most prosperous times of Israel,) since Moab’s southern border was now his border.
Israel, then, had no enemy, west of the Euphrates. Their strength had also, of late, been increasing steadily. Jehoash had, at the promise of Elisha, thrice defeated the Syrians, and recovered cities which had been lost, probably on the west also of Jordan, in the heart of the kingdom of Israel. What Jehoash had begun, Jeroboam II, during a reign of 41 years, continued. prophets had foretold and defined the successes of both kings, and so had marked them out the more to be the gift of God. Israel ascribed it to himself; and now that the enemies, whom Israel had feared, were subdued, God says, “I will raise up an enemy, and they shall afflict thee from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness.” The whole scene of their triumphs should be one scene of affliction and woe. This was fulfilled after some 45 years, at the invasion of Tiglath-pileser.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Amos 6". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany