O Lord, forgive, I beseech Thee . . . The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord.
Intercession for pardon prevailing
I. Concerning intercession.
1. This intercession was made by Amos alone. Neither Hosea nor Isaiah, nor any other God-fearers of the time joined in it. To Amos alone the vision appeared, and by him alone the intercession was made.
2. This intercession was made in the behalf of a wicked people. Amos calls them Jacob, but they had renounced the principles of that holy man, and stained their manners with the vilest corruptions. Corruption in manners, the effect of corruption in principles, like a spreading pestilence, infected the whole kingdom.
3. The form of this intercession is a prayer for pardon. Sin is the cause of misery, and misery is the effect and punishment of sin. By pardon sin is taken away, and when the cause is taken away the effect ceases. In going to the throne for deliverance from misery, if we have a true sense of sin, pardon will be our chief concern.
4. This intercession was made in a moment of extremity. In the preceding reigns the kingdom had been mortally wounded, and though under Jeroboam some of its wounds were bound up and healed, others continued bleeding, and terminated in a universal mortification.
5. Importunity in this intercession is tempered with reverence. For the preservation of the house of Israel, the man of God is earnest and fervent in prayer; but his prayer is blended with the reverence that is suitable to Divine majesty and holiness.
6. This intercession is exemplary; an example and pattern to after ages.
II. Concerning the prevailing of this intercession. “The Lord repented for this.” His meaning is, the Lord accepted his importunity, granted the desire of his heart, and assured him that the miseries, represented under the emblem of the grasshoppers, would not eat up and consume all things. Illustrate the form of words in which this meaning is expressed.
1. The holy writings frequently contain this expression.
2. Changes in the administration of providence, according to the purpose of God, are expressed by these words.
3. These changes of administration encourage intercession, and furnish excitements and motives to repentance. Encouraged by considerations of the grace, mercy, and kindness of the God of Israel, Amos stood and interceded.
III. The sovereign manner in which the Lord was pleased to express and communicate the prevailing of the intercession. “It shall not be, saith the Lord.”
1. This intimation came immediately from the Holy One, by whom alone pardon of sin and remission of punishment is granted.
2. This intimation was made by the Saviour of Israel, who alone had power to restrain and countermand the destroyers of Israel. The waster is the creature of His power, and the servant of His providence.
3. The intimation came to the individual who had made intercession.
4. This intimation is effective and sovereign. “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.”
5. The intimation is solemnly authenticated. Amos heard the words distinctly pronounced, and “saith the Lord,” solemnly added by the glorious Speaker. This encouraged him to continue interceding, and raised his hope of prevailing.
1. Intercession for a wicked and perverse people is a duty. The Lord allows, requires, and commands it, and in accepting it hath glorified Himself.
2. Supplication for pardon is an essential part of intercession.
3. Through the forbearance and long-suffering of God, some temporal strokes may be mitigated, or removed, upon intercession; while the desolation determined, deserved, and denounced, is making ready and hastening forwards.
4. Intercessors, though friends to their country, are sometimes treated in it as enemies. Toward the restoration of the country Amos contributed more by prayer than Jeroboam did by the sword. A few men who have power with God in prayer are better than chariots of war, and stronger than standing armies. Exhort--
Revelation and prayer
I. A divine revelation leading to human prayer.
1. A Divine revelation. A vision of judgments symbolically represented to the mind of the prophet. Destruction by grasshoppers. Destruction by fire.
2. A human prayer. “Forgive.” This calamity is brought on by the sin of the nation. Forgive the sin; remove the moral cause of the judgment. “By whom shall Jacob arise?” Or, better, “How can Jacob stand? for he is small.” Jacob’s--the nation’s--weakness, is the plea of the prayer for forgiveness. The Israelites had been greatly reduced by repeated invasions on the part of the Assyrian kings, and were now on the point of being attacked by the Assyrians, but purchased their retreat by one thousand talents of silver (2 Kings 15:19-20). The nation was now so weakened that it was unable to stand before another invader. How can Jacob stand? The time has come when men may well ask this question in relation to the Church. By whom shall it arise? Not by statesmen, scientists, etc.
II. Human prayer leading to a Divine revelation. The prophet prays, and the great God makes a new revelation of mercy. “The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord.” (Homilist.)
By whom shall Jacob arise?
The duty of Christians towards the Jews
These words were used as a plea for Israel before God, and proved successful.
1. Jacob is fallen. And great was his fall. He stood higher than any other on the face of the earth. He was nearer to God than any other people were. Jacob, among the nations of the earth, was to God what Joseph was to his father among his brethren: the chiefest blessings invariably fell to his lot. “To whom pertaineth the adoption.” The Jews as a nation were adopted by God into His family. And a dear son was Ephraim to God for a long-period. Alas, that we are now compelled to say of this once exalted people, Thou art fallen”! Many a downfall did Jacob experience “ because of his iniquity.” He descended into the land of Egypt. God raised him thence “with a stretched-out arm and great judgments.” He again fell into Babylon, and once more did God graciously lift him out, and place him upon his feet; but of all his falls, this, the last, is the deepest and the heaviest. Hitherto he had but fallen backwards, as it were. This time he fell prostrate on his face. In all his former falls he had contrived to keep his hold of many promises, blessings, privileges. On this occasion he lost his grasp of all,--he is “without a king, and without a prince, and without an ephod, and without teraphim.” He descended lower than did any nation, so that all look down now upon the Jew.
2. Jacob is unable to arise. Every movement he makes sinks him lower in the mire. Does he renounce the Talmud? It is but to embrace infidelity. No one has fallen among such cruel thieves as Jacob, and it is hard to pass by him continually, as the priest and Levite are said to have done. Extend a helping hand to Jacob.
3. Jacob is worth raising. True, Jacob has received a great fall, but the pit into which he descended is not bottomless. The grace of God is deeper than the fall of the Jew. The Christian Church has long acted towards the Jew as if it thought he was not fit to be raised. Our hearts appear to have been more tender to all than to the poor Jew. But Jacob is not so foul as that the blood of the Cross cannot cleanse him.
4. Jacob is to be raised. What a multitude of things there are that are worth raising, but of whose restitution we have no certainty. It may be questionable whether Jacob will again be restored to his own country, but there is not the shadow of a doubt as to his being raised into the Divine favour. It is by the instrumentality of the Gentiles that Jacob’s restoration is to be accomplished. One great reason for extending the Gospel to us was that we might reach it to others, and “to the Jew first.”
5. There is a large reward for raising Jacob. Once the Jews are brought to believe, the lever that is to move the whole world will have been obtained. The Jew is a wanderer in every land; he is found under the burning sun of Hindoostan, and among the eternal snows of Siberia; he can speak every tongue, so that, without any educational preparation, he is ready to preach the Gospel of Christ unto all the nations of the earth. (David Roberts, D. D.)
Help for Jacob
The chosen people are in trouble and distress. They have forsaken the living God, and He is punishing their apostasy. But the prophet of the Lord, and the few faithful among his brethren deeply deplore the national sin, and earnestly invoke the Divine mercy. They will not rest, they cannot hold their peace till God pardon the iniquity of His people, and restore to them the tokens of His loving-kindness. At such a time how natural and significant the language of Amos. Often in the Church of Christ are there not seasons of declension, lukewarmness, discouragement, inefficiency, fightings without, and fears within, bitter partisanship, and uncharitable controversy, when all hands are feeble, and all hearts arc faint? And thus afflicted, what need we so much to know as our spiritual poverty and feebleness, and what so much to learn as the sufficiency of our Divine resources?
I. Jacob is small.
1. In numbers.
2. In substance.
3. In influence.
4. In religious knowledge.
5. In fruitfulness and efficiency.
II. By whom shall Jacob arise? His helplessness conceded, who shall help him? Shall the civil ruler? Or the wealthy patron? Or by the popular orator? Or by the speculative theorist? Or by the partisan controversial st? Or by the sensational enthusiast? Nay, Jehovah-Jesus is our strength and salvation. The cause is His, and with Him is the residue of the Spirit. Year not for the future of the Church. God shall help her, and that right early. To the full extent of her necessity His plenipotence is hers. (J. Cross, D. D.)
The true Helper of the Church
This was an appeal to the heart of God at a time when the judgments of heaven were bringing the chosen people to ruin. This is a question which might well have been asked in every age which the Church has yet seen. Her numbers have always been small in comparison with the ranks of the wicked. The Church, to this day, is but a drop in the ocean. And she is weak as well as small. When we look abroad over the world we behold a race of men dead in trespasses and sins, given over to the dominion of the selfish passions, chained down in ignominious servitude to the world; whom no motives can conquer, no means reclaim. To form such beings into materials for building up the Church, they must be made to undergo a thorough and wonderful transformation. Who shall accomplish this mighty change? The transformation must not only be begun, it must be continued and perfected. After men are set out on the heavenly course, they still have to contend with their original corruptions, and with a world full of objects fitted to inflame them. All these corruptions and temptations stand in the way of the growth of the Church. And the Church as a body has to contend with a world in arms. Every natural man is a foe. The whole bent of the natural heart in every age and country, in every family and individual, is against it. Leave man to himself for a single generation, and with all the means of civilisation and grace, the Church would become extinct. Our strength is wholly incompetent to preserve the Church a single hour, to add one to the number of her sons, to produce a single impression on a single heart. If no other helper is found we must sit down in tears, and give up all for lost. The Church is God’s interest. This interest God has not committed to men; it is His own, His only portion. He has taken it into His own hands. The great end which He purposes to Himself in all His works is to bring out to view the riches of His nature, that creatures may see and acknowledge Him as He is, and for ever enjoy Him. It is the natural course of unbelief to put Him out of view. God is resolved to be acknowledged as the sole author and finisher of the whole. For this reason He studiously constructs the dispensations of His grace in a way to convince His people that it is “ not by might nor by power, but by “His Spirit that the Church is enlarged. Then our hope is only in God. Let all other dependencies be given up; the Church must rise by God alone. This is our consolation in the darkest times. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
How to have a revival
1. The first step is humiliation.
2. The second step is reformation.
3. The third step lies in the direction of religious duty. The path of duty must be again frequented. The cross must once more be carried. Duty must become, what it once was, the paramount consideration.
4. The spirit of prayer must be sought and exercised till the blessing comes. (Homiletic Monthly.)
I. A sad confession. “Jacob is small.” If none but those who have been redeemed from a low life of flesh-love to a higher one of holiness may be classed under this term to-day, then is Jacob small.
2. In worldly esteem.
3. In material resources.
4. In political power.
And alas! Jacob is small spiritually, in personal power. Faith, hope, and charity are small, so is our self-denial. All this diminutiveness comes as the result of being prostrate, down, low. For Jacob to be prostrate is a great reproach indeed. Jacob is, in too many cases, a self-made cripple.
II. An anxious inquiry. “By whom,” etc. That he ought to arise is generally admitted.
1. Not by monarch’s smile.
2. Not by decrees of State.
3. Not by the addition of a few more men of means.
4. Not by a larger supply of education and literature.
5. Not by increasing the number of our sanctuaries.
What is needed is heaven’s force and life. “By My Spirit.” The Holy Ghost is Jacob’s blessed Strength, Guardian, and Helper.
The Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand.
God in relation to human work
All men are workers, the world is “full of labour.” The words suggest two facts in relation to it.
I. God has a commanding view of it. “He stands upon the wall” high up, so that every portion comes within His glance. He observes--
1. Its quality, good or bad.
2. Its variety, overt or occult.
3. Its influence, useful or pernicious.
Solemn thought, that God’s eye is on us in all our activities, and that the most, secret act eludes not His glance.
II. God tests the character of it. “A plumbline in His hand.” The mason uses the “plumbline” to determine the straightness of the wall, and thus God tests the character of human actions. What is God’s “plumbline”?
1. His law as inscribed upon the human conscience. By this He tries all men, heathen, etc.
2. God’s law as written in the Scriptures. By this He tries all who possess the revelation.
3. God’s law as embodied in Christ. By this He tries all who have the Gospel. (Homilist.)
Man’s moral character
I. There is a kind of masonry in the formation of man’s character. Man’s character may be compared to masonry in several respects.
1. It has one foundation. Walls are built, not upon two, but upon one foundation. So is every man’s character. There is some one principle on which it is organised. That principle is the paramount affection of the man. Whatever he loves most, governs him. If he loves pleasure most, his character is sensual; if he loves money most, his character is worldly. If he loves wisdom most, his character is philosophic; if he loves God most, his character is Divine, etc.
2. It has a variety of materials. In a building there are earth, lime, stones, bricks, wood, iron, etc. etc. These are brought together into a whole. Character is not formed of one set of actions, thoughts, impulses, volitions. All kinds of acts enter into it, mental, moral, muscular, personal, political, religious--all are materials in the building.
3. It is a gradual advancement.
II. There is a divine standard by which to test man’s character. What is the Divine “plumbline” by which to test character? Here it is. “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” Or, perhaps more intelligibly, the moral character of Christ. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
III. There is a terrible ruin for those whose characters will not bear the test of this plumbline. “Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of My people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: and the high places of Israel shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (Matthew 25:31-46). (Homilist.)
A test for uprightness
Italy is a land of volcanoes, and earthquakes, and other shaking things of the sort, so that it is not easy to build tall and slender towers and yet keep them true to the plummet: There comes a shake, or the foundation yields a little, and the towers tilts--like the leaning tower of Pisa, and the two leaning towers of Turin. It is natural then that builders who have taken pains to do their work thoroughly should seek for some way to “prove” it, so as to show that what they have done is both upright and downright. The builders of the cathedral in Florence took a very ingenious way of proving tiffs. High up, in the centre of that beautiful building, is a lofty dome, like that of St. Paul’s, with stained windows all round. On the casement of one of these windows is a small iron ring, and it is by this the uprightness of the tower is tested every year. For, on a certain day in June, at a certain hour, the sun shines through that ring, and its light falls on a brass plate let into the marble floor far beneath. So long as the sunbeam falls on a spot there, on that day and at that moment, it proves that the building is as erect as on the day it was finished; if it had tilted over so little to the one side or the other, that long ray of light would have proved it, for then it could not have fallen exactly on the right spot. (J. Reid Howatt.)
What seest thou? And I said, A plumbline.--
Straight up and down religion
Bricklayers, and stone masons, and carpenters, in the building of walls, use an instrument made of a cord, at the end of which a lump of lead is fastened. They drop it over the side of the wall, and, as the plummet naturally seeks the centre of gravity in the earth, the workman discovers where the wall recedes and where it bulges out, and just what is the perpendicular. Our text represents God as standing on the wall of character, which the Israelites had built, and in that way testing it. What the world wants is a straight up and down religion. Much of the so-called piety of the day tends this way and that to suit the times. We have all been building a wall of character, and it is glaringly imperfect, and needs reconstruction. How shall it be brought into perpendicular? Only by the Divine measurement. The whole tendency of the times is to make us act by the standard of what others do. There are ten thousand plumblines in use, but only one is true and exact, and that is the line of God’s eternal righteousness. Nothing would make times so good, and the earning a livelihood so easy, as the universal adoption of the law of right. Suspicion strikes through all bargain-making. In the same way we need to measure our theologies. All sorts of religions are putting forth their pretensions. All religions but one begin at the wrong end, and in the wrong place. The Bible religion demands that we first get right with God My text gives me a grand opportunity of saying a useful word to all young men who are now forming habits for a lifetime. A young man is in danger of getting a defect in his wall of character that may never be corrected. Oh, this plumbline of the everlasting right! God will throw it over all our lives to show us our moral deflections. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Builders could not build our houses as they ought without a plumbline. Israel had been built up as a people, so to speak, with a plumbline; everything was right; God approved of them. But now Israel had become a very different people from what they were at the beginning. Very early Jeroboam began to introduce calf worship. The people thus became very wicked, and departed from the way of the Lord more and more. Amos went to warn Jeroboam the Second. But all his warnings were in vain. Amaziah the high priest told him to go away, for they did not want his services there. God comforted Amos by showing him a plumbline, and in effect saying, “I have noticed how Israel, like a wall which was once upright, has been gradually giving way, and yet I have passed it by, but I cannot do so any more.” This is what God says at last to every kingdom or nation that ceases to be upright and true. How many nations there have been that have begun fairly, but have got worse as time passed by! God is always with His plumbline trying our lives. What is His plumbline? The grand old Book. By this, too, we ought all to be trying ourselves. You are building up a life. Every thought you cherish, every word you utter, and every deed you perform is the building up of character and life. Bricklayers are not foolish enough to think that if they build a wall out of perpendicular it Will stand. If a man will grow up crooked, or dishonest, or untruthful, he is bound to come down sooner or later. If Jesus comes to us, He is sure to find something or other in our character that is not right, and very likely He will find a good many bulging defects. It may be selfishness, untruthfulness, unkindness, or some other sin. We must build up our life according to His law. We cannot do anything ourselves without His help; but that help He is ever ready to give. (David Davies.)
Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel.
The conventional and the genuine priests of a people
I. The conventional priest. Amaziah was chief priest of the royal sanctuary of the calves at Bethel.
1. He was in close intimacy with the king.
2. He seeks to expel an independent teacher from the dominion of the king.
II. Here we have the genuine priest of a people. Amos seems to have been a prophet not nationally recognised as such.
1. He is not ashamed of his humble origin. “I was no prophet,” that is, I am not a prophet by profession, “neither was I a prophet’s son.” By the son of a prophet he means a disciple or pupil. He had not studied in any prophetic college. No true prophet is ever ashamed of his origin, however humble. As a rule the greatest teachers of the world have struggled up from the regions of poverty and obscurity.
2. He is conscious of the Divinity of his mission. “The Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.” Amos seems to have had no doubt at all as to the fact that the Lord called him. How he was called does not appear. When God calls a man to work, the man knows it. No argument will convince him to the contrary.
3. In the name of heaven he denounces the conventional priest. In return for this rebellion against Jehovah, Amos foretells for the priest the punishment which will fall upon him when the judgment shall come upon Israel, meeting his words, “Thou sayest, Thou shalt not prophesy” with the keen retort, “Thus saith Jehovah.” The punishment is described in verse 17. (Homilist.)
The Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.
The messenger faithful to his mission
Holy Scripture seldom teaches more impressively than when it teaches by contrasts. There may be instituted a contrast between two classes of religious workers.
1. Professional religious workers. In every age there have been such men--conventional religionists, whose creed is compromise, and whose maxim is, “Sail with the stream.”
2. Men whose hearts the Lord has touched. Such was Amos. Observe the surroundings of his life. What Was it the mere professionals were afraid of in his message? They may have feared lest the people should be roused to think. More probably they felt the inward uneasiness which hollow profession must ever experience when brought into contrast with genuine piety and the power of the Holy Ghost. The presence and testimony of Amos condemned them. The priest Amaziah suggested that Amos would be wise to flee away to the land of Judah. There would have been nothing necessarily sinful in following this advice. The presence of the prophet in Jerusalem would have been hailed with the warmest sympathy and welcome. He would have gained a wide popularity, and would have been an object of general admiration. And we are all liable to be influenced by such motives. We do not like to stand alone, beset with continual difficulties arising from our position. No doubt Amos would have yielded had he not been walking in the Spirit, and it is only this that will keep an.y of us at the post of duty. We are often tempted to run away from the cross given us to bear, flattering ourselves all the time that in doing so we are seeking opportunities of greater usefulness. We cannot get away from the Cross; it is the law of true Christian experience. Satan will always entice us to run away. Consider the temptations of the prophet more in detail.
1. Immunity from danger is promised. Amos was in a state of continual danger where he was.
2. If Amos would only go across the border, he had a clear prospect of obtaining what none of us can do without--bread. He might count upon a comfortable maintenance, a good living. A judicious use of his religion would have got him on in the world, and his godliness might have been made the steppingstone to rank and fortune. The position of Amos where he was must have been very precarious; he had left his regular means of livelihood, and was living a life of faith. He must have been living, as we say, “from hand to mouth.” To stay where he was would be to continue in poverty, perhaps to starve.
3. There was something more than even bread. Which of us does not know the yearning of the human heart for sympathy? How painful it is to stand alone! Which of us is altogether indifferent to popularity?
4. Even this was not all. The temptation is backed by an attempt to get up a question of casuistry. The king has commanded you not to speak, and you are disobeying him. How dare you arrogate to yourself such airs of superiority, and set yourself up as better than every one else? This is one of the severest trials of the Christian life. It does seem to those who do not take pains to find out the truth, as if we assumed an attitude of religious superiority. But, after all, our position is not as trying as Amos’s was. Our only safety is ever to put our direct duty to God before our indirect. Be loyal to Him-personally, first; be loyal to Him indirectly, through your king or your parent, second; and remember you cannot be loyal to Him indirectly, when you have ceased to be loyal to Him directly. Against all these considerations of expediency and self-interest what had Amos to set? Only one mighty word from the lips of God. It was this that kept him at his post. “Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.” That was all; but it was clear. The voice said, “Amos, go!” From that moment Amos lived for God and His work; he turned his back on the sheepfold, gave up the gathering of sycamore, and began to deliver his message. Everything seemed to wave him back to his primitive seclusion. But against all opposition rang out the clear inner voice, “Amos, go; have not I sent thee?” And he went, with his life in his hand. He went, in the face of the jeers, and scoffs, and threats of the world, and the advice of such religious professors as Amaziah. We do not want two-faced Christians. We want men who, like Amos, are carried forward by the mighty consciousness of the Divine call, men in whom inmost heart the mighty, some of God is heard, calling them as by name, and bidding them Go. (W. M. Hay-Aitken, M. A.)
A humble origin remembered
Felix Faure, the late president of the French Republic, never sought to conceal his lowly origin. Hanging in a conspicuous place on the wall of his presidential office was a photograph of a young man wearing a tanner’s blouse and wooden shoes. Faure the president, did not forget that he was once Faure the currier.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Amos 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany