Click here to join the effort!
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 —
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, (Luke 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 Romans 2:12, 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, (1 Samuel 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,’ (Acts 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,’ (Ezekiel 20:18.)
(20) 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 — (lang. cy) y shai yr aeth eich tadau ar eu hol — which your fathers have gone after them. — Ed.
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 —
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 —
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.
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, (Exodus 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, (Matthew 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 —
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,’ (Exodus 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 Numbers 6:1, 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, (1 Corinthians 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 —
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’ (Isaiah 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.
(21) 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: Exodus 10:23; 1 Samuel 14:9; Habakkuk 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.
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.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Amos 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30