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Verse 1-ch. 2:16
Part I. APPROACHING JUDGMENT.
Verse 1-ch. 2:3
§ 1. The nations bordering on the Holy Land are solemnly summoned to judgment.
Amos 1:1, Amos 1:2
Heading of the book, with short summary of its contents.
Heading. The words. So Jeremiah begins his prophecy (Jeremiah 1:1), and the writer of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 1:1). That the words am not those of Amos, but of Jehovah, is shown by the succeeding clause, "which he saw." Herdmen. The Hebrew word noked used here is found in 2 Kings 3:4, applied to Mesha King of Moab, a great "sheepmaster;" hence some have considered that Amos was not a mere mercenary, but a rich possessor of flocks. His own words, however (Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15), decide his position as that of a poor labouring man. Tekoah. A small town of Judah (see above in the account of the author, Introduction, § II.). He saw, with inward intuition. Hence his "words" were inspired (comp. Isaiah 2:1; Habakkuk 1:1). Concerning Israel chiefly, mention of Judah being introduced only incidentally and as connected with the destinies of Israel The Septuagint reads, by some mistake, "concerning Jerusalem." In the days. (For the date of the prophecy, see above, Introduction, § III.) Earthquake. No mention is made of this event in the historical books. It was remembered in after years (see Zechariah 14:5), and Amos alludes to it as a token of the judgment which he foretold, such catastrophes being regarded as signs of the majesty of God and his vengeance on sinners (comp. Exodus 19:18 : Psalms 68:8; Micah 1:4; Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:10), Josephus ('Ant.' 9.10. 4) attributes this earthquake to God's displeasure at Uzziah's usurpation of the priest's office (2 Chronicles 26:16).
And he said. This is the commencement of "the words" of Amos (verse 1); and herein the prophet gives a short summary of the judgment which he has to pronounce. The following clause is a repetition of Joel 3:16; and Amos thus connects his prophecy with that of his predscessor, to show the unity of prophetic mission, and to warn the Jews that God's punishments are not directed exclusively on heathen nations. To the nations denounced by Joel, Amos adds others of Israel's enemies, viz. Syria, Ammon, and Moab. Roar … voice. The thunder is the voice of God announcing his coming to judge. From Zion. Not from Dan and Bethel, the seats of idolatrous worship, but from Jerusalem, the abode of his presence. The habitations; better, the pastures. It is only natural that Amos, the shepherd, should use such terms to express the idea that the whole land, from Jerusalem on the south to Carmel on the north, should feel the vengeance of the Lord. Shall mourn; explained by the following term, shall wither; i.e. shall lose their verdure (comp. Jeremiah 12:11; Hosea 4:3). The top of Carmel. This is the Mount Carmel, which stretches boldly into the sea on the south of the Bay of Acre, and is remarkable for its extreme fertility, its rich pastures, its vines, olives, fruits, and flowers. Thomson, 'The Land and the Book;' writes thus about it: "The celebrated ridge, called in the Bible Merest Carmel, and by the Arabs Jebel Kurmul, or Mar Elyas, in honour of Elijah, is an extension of the hills of Samaria, in a northwesterly direction, for a distance of about eighteen miles, terminating in the bold promontory of Carmel, which descends almost literally into the sea. It is steep and lofty where it overhangs the Mediterranean above Haifa, and on that face which overlooks the Plain of Acre on the north, and that of Esdraelon towards the southeast. There is no special excellency in Carmel at the present day, whatever may be said of Sharon. Its name, Kurmul, or Kerm-el, signifies 'the vineyard of God;' but its vineyards have all disappeared. It was a glorious mountain, however, and a prominent landmark; according to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:18), Carmel was a resort of herdsmen. Amos says, 'The habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither,' in the time of the threatened judgment, and this implies that its pastures were not ordinarily liable to wither. This may, in part, have been occasioned by the heavy dews which its lofty elevation, so near the sea, causes to distil nightly upon its thirsty head. I found it quite green and flowery in midsummer. It was a noble pasture field, and, in reference to that characteristic, Micah utters his sweet prayer, 'Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.'"
Before announcing the judgment on Israel, Amos proclaims the punishment on neighbouring heathen nations for their injurious treatment of the chosen people, thus showing God's care for his elect, and leading them to fear vengeance for their own greater sins towards him. The order observed in denouncing these nations is not geographical, but is regulated by the nature of each people's relation to Israel, and the degree in which they have sinned against her. The denunciation begins with Syria, her hitherto most oppressive enemy, and the least akin.
For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four. This form of expression is repeated in each of the following strophes, and some critics have taken the terms literally, and have tried to identify that particular number of transgressions in each case; but this is trifling. The phrase and others similar to it are not uncommon, and are used to signify a great number, the last mentioned being supposed to fill up the measure and make it overflow. Thus Job 5:19, "He shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee" (comp. Job 33:29; Proverbs 30:15, Proverbs 30:18, Proverbs 30:21; Ecclesiastes 11:2). So Hom; 'Od.,' 5:306, Τρισμάκαρες Δαναοὶ καὶ τετράκις: and Virg; 'AEn.,' 1:94, "O terque quaterque beati;" comp. Hor; 'Carm,' 1:31, 13. Damascus had been an active enemy of Israel since the time that Rezon threw off his allegiance (1 Kings 11:23, etc.), and seized Damascus, which had been tributary to David (2 Samuel 8:5). The history of the wars carried on by Syria against the Jews may be read in the sacred books (see 1 Kings 15:19, etc.; 2 Chronicles 16:2, etc.; 1 Kings 20:1-43.; 1 Kings 22:0.; 2 Kings 7:1-20.; 2 Kings 9:14, etc.; 2 Kings 10:32, etc.; 2Ki 12:18; 2 Kings 13:5, 2 Kings 13:25; 2 Chronicles 24:23, etc.; 2 Kings 14:28). I will not turn away the punishment thereof. So in the following strophes. Literally, I will not reverse it. Amos does not expressly say what; but he means the sentence or judgment (comp. Numbers 23:20, "I cannot reverse it," where the same word is used). The Latin Vulgate gives, Non convertam eum, i.e. Damascum, which Knabenbauer explains, "I will not avert its destruction, will not turn it aside from its downward course." The LXX. renders, Οὐκ ἀποστραφήσομαι αὐτόν, "I will not turn away from it," i.e; as explained by Theodoret, "I will no longer disregard its sins." Because they have threshed Gilead. This is the culminating offence of the Syrians. The word rendered "threshing instrument" (charutz) signifies a kind of corn drag made of heavy planks fastened together and armed beneath with sharp stones or iron points. This machine, weighted with the driver who sat or stood upon it, was drawn by oxen over the corn (comp. Isaiah 28:27; Isaiah 41:15). A representation of it is given by Smith, 'Dict. of Bible,' 1.31, and Kitto, 'Cyclop.,' 1:86. Such an instrument, set with sharp flints in rows, was to be seen in the Indian and Colonial Exhibition of the year 1886, in the Cyprus department. Another kind of instrmuent (moreg) is thus described by Jerome: "Est autem genus plaustri, quod rotis subter ferreis atque dentatis volvitur, ut excussis frumentis stipulam in areis conterat, et in cibos jumentorum propter foeni sterilitatem paleas comminuat." Such an implement was used in the infliction of capital punishment by David (2 Samuel 12:31; comp. Proverbs 20:26). Gilead is here put for all the country east of Jordan (Joshua 22:9). The cruel treatment referred to in the text occurred in the time of Hazael during the reign of Jehu. The Septuagint has, "Because with iron saws they sawed asunder women with child." This is doubtless a reminiscence of Elisha's words to Hazael (2 Kings 8:12).
Fire. Material fire, though elsewhere the term is used metaphorically for war and its evils (comp. Numbers 21:28; Psalms 78:63; Jeremiah 48:45). This passage of Amos, combined with verse 14, is quoted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:27), where he is pronouncing the doom of Damascus. House of Hazael … palaces of Benhadad. The two expressions are parallel, or they may signify the family of Hazael, and Damascus itself with its magnificent royal palaces. There were three kings of Syria named Benhadad. The first of the name made alliance with Asa, and fought successfully against Baasha (1 Kings 15:20); Benhadad II. was the contemporary of Ahab, and carded on war for many years with the northern kingdom (1 Kings 20:1-43). He was murdered either by Hazael or his servants (2 Kings 8:15). Benhadad III; the son of Hazael, was a monarch of small ability, and Syria under his sway sank into insignificance (2 Kings 13:4, etc.; 2 Kings 14:27; 2 Kings 15:17). All this happened before the time of Amos, who probably refers to all the kings of that name, Benhadad, "Son of the Sun," being the title of the dynasty.
The bar which secured the gate of the city (1 Kings 4:13; Jeremiah 51:30; Nahum 3:13). Breaking the bar is equivalent to laying the place open to the enemy. From the plain of Avon; Vulgate, de campo idoli; Hebrew, bikath-Aven; Septuagint, ἐκ πεδίου Ων; better, from the valley of Aven, or vanity, perhaps so called analogously with Hosea's naming Bethel, Bethaven, "House of God" and "House of vanity" (Hosea 5:8). Robinson and Pusey refer the name to a valley between Lebanon and Antilibanus, a continuation of the Arabah, still called Bukaa, in the middle of which stood Baalbec, "the Temple of the sun of the valley," called Heliopolis by Greek and Roman writers (see 'Classical Museum,' 3:136). The LXX. Renders "On" in Genesis 41:45 by "Heliopolis;" and On and Baal being both titles of the sun, and indeed synonymous, the introduction of "On" into this passage may be accounted for. Him that holdeth the sceptre. The king and princes, as Genesis 41:8. From the house of Eden; Hebrew, Beth-Eden, "House of delight;" Vulgate, de domo voluptatis; Septuagint, ἐξ ἀνδρῶν Χαῤῥάν, "out of the men of Charran." This last rendering arises from considering that the reference was to the Eden of Genesis 2:1-25; which the translators placed in the region of Haran. The place in the text Keil supposes to be the Paradisus of the Greeks, which Ptolemy (Genesis 5:15, Genesis 5:20) locates southeast of Laodicea. Schrader suggests a place on the banks of the middle Euphrates between Balis and Biredschich called Bit-Adini in inscriptions of Asurnasirhabal and Salmanassur II. But this seems to be a wrong locality. The passage means that all the inhabitants of valley and city, king and peasant, shall be cut off. Shall go into captivity. The word implies that the land shall be "stripped" or "bared" of its inhabitants. Wholesale deportation had not hitherto been common in these regions. Kir has been identified with the country on the banks of the river Kar, which flows into the Araxes on the southwest of the Caspian Sea. It forms part of the territory known as Transcaucasia. From this region the Syrians originally emigrated (Amos 9:7), and back to this land a large body were carried when Tiglath-Pileser, some fifty years later, killed Rezin and sacked Damascus, as related in 2 Kings 16:9. Saith the Lord. This is the solemn confirmation of the prophet's announcement, and recurs in 2 Kings 16:8, 2 Kings 16:15 and Amos 2:3.
The judgment on Philistia.
Gaza is here used as the representative of the five cities of the Philistines. Three others are mentioned in Amos 1:8, Gath being omitted as having long lost its importance, if not already destroyed. Gaza, modern Guzzeh, was the most southern city of Philistia in the immediate neighbourhood of the desert. The whole captivity; Hebrew, "an entire captivity," the whole people, so that neither age nor sex was spared. A similar complaint is made in Joel 3:4, Joel 3:6. What the LXX. mean by their rendering here and Joel 3:9, αἰχμαλωσίαν τοῦ Σαλωμὼν, it is very hard to say. Probably they punctuated the word translated "perfect" (shelemah) shelomoh, making "Solomon" stand for his people Israel. Cyril supposes that the reference is to cities which Solomon established among neighbouring nations; these had now been destroyed or seized. The event referred to may be the invasion of Judah by Philistines and Arabians in the time of Joram, mentioned in 2 Chronicles 21:16, etc; and in which it is possible that a compact was made that the captive Judaeans should be delivered to their bitterest enemies, the Edomites. One would rather have expected a reference to some evil inflicted on Israel (as in 2 Chronicles 21:3) instead of an injury done to Judah.
A fire. Each guilty city is to have its own special punishment, though probably the calamity of each is common to all. Gaza was conquered by Sennacherib when he invaded Judea in the time of Hezekiah, by Pharaoh-Necho (Jeremiah 47:1), and by Alexander the Great, who spent more than two months in its siege (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 11:8, 4; Arrian; 2:27; see note on Zephaniah 2:4).
Ashdod, "the Waster," hod. Esdud, or Shdood (called Azotus in Acts 8:40), and still a large village, lay about thirty-five miles north of Gaza, three miles from the sea. Ashkelon was situated between the two. "Askelon differs from the other celebrated cities of the Philistines, being seated on the sea, while Ekron, Garb, Jamnia, Ashdod, and Gaza are in the interior. It never could have had a harbour of any considerable size, however …. The topography of the place is peculiar. An abrupt ridge begins near the shore, runs up eastward, bends round to the south, then to the west, and finally northwest to the sea again, forming an irregular amphitheatre. On the top of this ridge ran the wall, which was defended at its salient angles by strong towers. The specimens which still exist show that it was very high and thick, built, however, of small stones, and bound together by broken columns of granite and marble. This clearly proves that it is patchwork, and not Askelon's original rampart …. The position is one of the fairest along this part of the Mediterranean coast; and when the interior of the amphitheatre was adorned with splendid temples and palaces, ascending, rank above rank, from the shore to the summit, the appearance from the sea must have been very imposing. Now the whole area is planted over with orchards of the various kinds of fruit which flourish in this region". In spite of its bad harbour, it carried on a lucrative foreign commerce, which was the chief cause of its power and importance (Ewald, 'Hist. of Israel,' 1:247, Eng. transl.). It was about fifty Roman miles from Jerusalem. In mediaeval times there were two cities of the name, one on the coast (Jeremiah 47:7), the same as Herod's Ascalon, and one inland. In its palmiest days the former could never have had a real harbour. Ekron, hod. Akir, was twelve miles northeast of Ashdod, and some nine from the coast. Ashdod was taken by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6), by the tartan, or commander-in-chief, of Sargon (Isaiah 20:1), and by Psammetichus King of Egypt, when it sustained a siege of twenty-nine years (Herod; 2:157). Sennacherib, in a cuneiform inscription, records how he treated the two other cities: "Zedekiah King of Ashkelon," he says, "who had not submitted himself to my yoke, himself, the gods of the house of his fathers, his wife, his sons, his daughters, and his brothers, the seed of the house of his fathers, I removed, and I sent him to Assyria. I set over the men of Ashkelon, Sarludari, the son of Rukipti, their former king, and I imposed upon him the payment of tribute, and the homage due to my majesty, and he became a vassal.… I marched against the city of Ekron, and put to death the priests and the chief men who had committed the sin (of rebellion), and I hung up their bodies on stakes all round the city. The citizens who had done wrong and wickedness I counted as a spoil". I will turn mine hand; literally, will bring back my hand; visit again with punishment, or repeat the blow (Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:9; see note on Zechariah 13:7). The remnant. All the Philistines who had as yet escaped destruction (comp. Amos 9:12; Jeremiah 6:9).
Amos 1:9, Amos 1:10
The judgment on Tyre.
They delivered up the whole captivity (see note on Amos 1:6). The sin of Tyre, the great Phoenician merchant city, was committed in concert with the Philistines (comp. Psalms 83:7), and was of the same character, except that she is not accused of carrying away the captives, but only of handing them over to the Edomites. It is probable that the Phoenicians had gotten into their hands, by purchase or some other means, Israelitish prisoners, whom they delivered over to the Edomites, forgetting the brotherly covenant made by their forefathers with David and Solomon (2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 5:1,1 Kings 5:7-11; 1 Kings 9:11-14; 2 Chronicles 2:11). The cruel conduct of Tyre was quits unprovoked, as no Jewish king had made war against Phoenicia or its capital.
A fire, as Amos 1:7 : see Ezekiel's prophecy against Tyre (26). She had long been tributary to Assyria, but, revolting, was punished by Sargon, and later was attacked by Nebuchadnezzar, who besieged it for thirteen years, with what success is not known. The Assyrian monuments afford no account of its capture by this monarch (comp. Isaiah 23:1-18.; Jeremiah 47:4; Arrian; Jeremiah 2:16-24). (For its capture and destruction by Alexander the Great, see notes on Zechariah 9:2, Zechariah 9:4.)
Amos 1:11, Amos 1:12
The judgment on Edom.
His brother. The prophet proceeds to denounce the three nations cognate to Israel, of which the Edomites were the nearest and the most inimical. From the time of Esau until now they had been consistent in enmity, and it is this unbrotherly conduct rather than any specific outrages which Amos here condemns. Edom is accused of relentless persecution, inhumanity, savage fury, and persistent anger. (For the brotherhood of Edom, see Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:4, Deuteronomy 2:5, Deuteronomy 2:8; Deuteronomy 23:7, etc. For his hostility to Israel, see Numbers 20:18; 1Ki 11:14; 2 Kings 8:20; 2 Chronicles 20:10; 2 Chronicles 25:11, 2 Chronicles 25:12; 2 Chronicles 28:17.) The prophecy of Obadiah is directed against Edom (comp. also Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 35:5, Ezekiel 35:15; Joel 3:19). Did cast off all pity; literally, corrupted his compassions; i.e. did violence to his natural feelings. So >Ezekiel 28:17, "Thou hast corrupted thy wisdom," perverted it from its proper end. The LXX. gives, ἐλυμήνατο μητέρα (μήτραν, Alex.) ἐπὶ γῆς, "did violence to the mother that bare them." On this Jerome remarks, "Pro misericordia Septuaginta vulvam transtulerant, ducti ambiguitate verborum, quia rehem et vulvam et misericordiam significat." Did tear, as a wild beast tears his prey. So in Job 16:9, where the same word is used, "He hath torn me in his wrath" (comp. Hosea 6:1). And he kept his wrath forever; more literally, and its fury it (Edom) keeps forever. The quarrels of relations are proverbially bitter. Arist; 'Polit.,' 7.7, Ὅθεν εἴρηται χαλεποὶ γὰρ πόλεμοι ἀδελφῶν καὶ δί τοι πέρα στέρξαντες οἱ δὲ καὶ πέρα μισοῦσιν.
Teman is the region of Idumaea, of which Bozrah is the capital. Both Jerome and Eusebius ('Onomast.') speak of a city so called not far from Petra; but in the Old Testament the name is applied to a district; and as the word in Hebrew means "south," it is probably the southern portion of the land of Edom. Bozrah (hod. Busaireh) was the old capital of Edom, situated on a hill south of the Dead Sea (see Genesis 36:33; Isaiah 34:6). Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:17) predicts the punishment of Edom, and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 25:12-14) does likewise. The monologue of Obadiah has been already referred to. The instrument of vengeance in the present ease was Nebuchadnezzar, though it suffered much at the hands of other enemies, as the Nabathaeans and Maccabees.
The judgment on Ammon.
Ammon was connected with Israel as being sprung from Lot, and together with Moab, which had the same origin, retained the stamp of its incestuous birth in habits, character, and worship (Genesis 19:30, etc.). The Ammonites seem to have been a predatory and roving nation, though the abundance of rains in the district shows that they possessed fixed abodes; but Rabbah was the only city of importance in their territory (2 Samuel 11:1). Their hostility to Israel was first shown in their participation with Moab in the affair of Balsam (Deuteronomy 23:4). Other instances are seen in their treatment of Jabesh-Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-3) and of David's messengers, and in hiring the Syrians to make war on David (2 Samuel 10:1-6). We have no historical account of the atrocious outrage on the Gileadites mentioned in the text, but it is quite in character with the ferocity of their disposition, and was doubtless intended to depopulate the territory which they wished to acquire. This barbarity is spoken of in connection with Hazael (2 Kings 8:12), in concert with whom probably the Ammonites acted. Another rendering would refer the clause to the removing of landmarks, and yet a third to the storming of lofty fortresses. But the Authorized Version is undoubtedly correct. That they might enlarge their border. The Ammonites laid claim to the territory which the Israelites had wrested from Sihon, lying between the Araon and Jabbok, and made an attempt upon it in the time of Jephthah (Judges 11:1-40.), and in later years seized on the possessions of Gad—a proceeding which brought upon them the denunciation of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:2-6).
Rabbah, "the Great," or Rabbath-Ammon, the capital of Ammon, was situated on the southern arm of the Jabbok, and was a place of remarkable strength (see Deuteronomy 3:11; 2Sa 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:26, etc.; 1 Chronicles 20:1-3). "For picturesqueness of situation, I know of no ruins to compare with Ammon. The most striking feature is the citadel, which formerly contained not merely the garrison, but an upper town, and covered an extensive area. The lofty plateau on which it was situated is triangular in shape; two sides are formed by the valleys which diverge from the apex, where they are divided by a low neck, and thence separating, fall into the valley of the Jabbok, which forms the base of the triangle, and contained the lower town. Climbing up the citadel, we can trace the remains of the moat, and, crossing it, find ourselves in a maze of ruins. The massive walls—the lower parts of which still remain, and which, rising from the precipitous sides of the cliff, rendered any attempt at scaling impossible—were evidently Ammonite. As I leant over them and looked sheer down about three hundred feet into one wady, and four hundred feet into the other, I did not wonder at its having occurred to King David that the leader of a forlorn hope against these ramparts would meet with certain death, and consequently assigning the position to Uriah.… Joab afterwards took the lower city, which he called 'the city of waters,' indicating very probably that the Jabbok was dammed into a lake near the lower city, to which the conformation of the valley would lend itself". There is a sketch of the citadel hill in the 'Dictionary of the Bible,' 2:985. The city was taken by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:3, Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 49:2, Jeremiah 49:3), either at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, or in the course of his Egyptian campaign (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 10.9. 7). The expression, I will kindle a fire (not "send," as elsewhere), possibly implies, as Pusey suggests, a conflagration from within. The shouting is the battle cry of the opposing host, which adds to the horror of the scene (Job 39:25). With a tempest. The idea is that the walls should fall before the invaders, as if they were teats swept away in a whirlwind.
Their king; Septuagint, οἱ βασιλεῖς αὐτῆς. So Keil, Trochon, and others consider that the King of the Ammonites is meant. The Vulgate, with Aquila, Symmachus, the Syriac, and Jerome, retrains the word Melchous, or Melcham, which is the same as Molech, their god. This interpretation is favoured by passages in Jeremiah, of which one is evidently quoted from Amos, "For Malcam shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together" (Jeremiah 49:3); and the other (Jeremiah 48:7) is similar, with the substitution of "Chemosh," the god of Moab, for "Maleam." That the localized deity should share the fortunes of his worshippers is quite in accordance with the ideas of the time (comp. Isaiah 46:1, Isaiah 46:2). Probably Amos meant to include both notions—their "Malcam," whether king or god. should be carried into captivity, accompanied by the princes, all the chiefs, military and sacerdotal, so that no one should he left to head a future revolt.
A voice from the sheepcotes.
The Jewish nation is almost seven centuries old. A wayward nonage had passed into a maturity incorrigibly perverse. Alarmed by prophetic thunders, and riven by the lightning bolts of judgment (Amos 4:6-11), Israel clung to its iniquities in spite of all (Amos 2:4; Amos 5:11; Isaiah 1:5). Yet God had not cast off his people whom he foreknew. There were other arrows in his quiver still, and he would shoot them against national obduracy with a stronger bow. Amos shall take up his controversy against Israel where Moses, and Samuel, and Elijah, and Elisha had laid it down. Famine and the sword and captivity shall maintain and strengthen his expostulation (Amos 2:14 Amos 2:16). The argument shall at length prevail, and, the irreconcilables destroyed, a remnant shall enjoy his grace and choose his way (Amos 9:11-15). In this prefatory word consider—
I. THE SEER. An idol priest supplies the title (Amos 7:12), but it is suitable and endures. A prophet sees, where other men are blind, the meaning of what is and the nature of what shall be.
1. His name. Amos signifies "Bearer," or "Burden," or "Heavy." And it was prophetically significant of the owner's work. His words were weighty (Amos 7:10), the burden of dram was weightier still (Amos 6:1), and weightiest of all was the Divine authority with which they came (verse 3).
2. His extraction. "From among the shepherds." These were probably small sheep owners, who tended their own flocks (Keil, Lange, etc.). They were in the lower ranks of life, the rank from which God has called, and calls the majority of his servants (1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:28). The poor man depends for all his well being on spiritual good (Luke 6:24). He therefore chooses it more readily (Mark 12:37), advances in it more easily (Matthew 13:22), rejoices in it more entirely (Isaiah 29:19), and is chosen to it rather than the rich (James 2:5). "Poverty is the sister of a sound mind," was a heathen maxim embodying a kindred truth.
3. His calling. "A herdsman and gatherer of sycamores." This occupation would be no mean preparation for his prophetic office. A true prophet must be tender of human life, even when he denounces death; and if from the love of man we may rise to the love of God (1 John 4:20), why not from the love of plant and animal to the love of man?
"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us
Hath made and loveth all."
4. His home. Tekoah, a city south of Bethlehem, in the land of Judah. Thence he went to Bethel, in the land of Israel, to prophesy. That he may not be "without honour," and corresponding influence, he goes from his own to a neighbouring country (Matthew 13:57). Then, like Elijah and John the Baptist, he goes to the pampered and dissolute town dwellers, that with the healthy tastes and simple habits and strong pure life of a dweller in the fields, he might put their laxity and luxury to shame (Amos 6:1-6).
II. THE VISION. The term does not occur in Amos, but the equivalent of it does, and it is common elsewhere in Scripture (Isaiah 1:1; Habakkuk 2:2).
1. It was what "he saw." Of the way in which God revealed truth to inspired men we know nothing. It is above reason and outside revelation. It was not with the bodily eye, nor in the natural sense, that the vision was seen; but the revelation was adequate, and the result was knowledge (Acts 4:20). Their cognizance of matters was at once sure and clear (1 John 1:1), and comparable in both respects to that of Christ himself (John 3:11).
2. It was "words." A word is the body of a thought. A thought is the spirit of a word. It is only by words, or something answering to words, that thoughts can be conveyed from man to man. Analogy would suggest that the same method is employed by God. If, as some hold, we think in words, the hypothesis would be greatly strengthened. In any ease, what Amos got was not simply thoughts, but words, and the words of Scripture are, in some real and important sense, "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Samuel 23:2).
III. THE SPEAKING OF THE VISION. Coming from his simple shepherd life into a luxurious city, and with the burden of his heavy tidings on his heart, the prophet's speech is:
1. Deeply serious. A grave character and a grave message make a prophetic utterance a solemn thing. Amos had to tell of a cup of iniquity full, of a Divine patience exhausted, of a dispensation of forbearance expired, and of a national ruin ready to fall; and he tells it as one weighted down with the piteous tiding, which yet he cannot choose but speak (Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:1; Amos 6:1).
2. Blunt. Amos is outspoken and honest, names the condemned, and unequivocally denounces their impending doom. He may not mince his tidings who is the messenger of death (Matthew 3:10; Luke 13:3; Romans 1:18). Suppression would be murder, and even euphemy would be cruel. Life and death hang on his lips, and all sentiment apart he must speak out.
"The power to bind and loose to truth is given;
The mouth that speaks it is the mouth of Heaven."
3. Characteristic. His style is bold and clear and tender, like his own nature (Amos 4:4, Amos 4:12, Amos 4:13; Amos 9:5, Amos 9:6; Amos 6:9, Amos 6:10); and his imagery is racy of the mountains and fields in which his character was formed (verse 2; Amos 2:9,Amos 2:13; Amos 3:4, Amos 3:5; Amos 5:19). The word of God in one sense, it is in another, and no less really, the word of Amos. The Divine Spirit supplies the breath and the fingering, and determines and directs the time, but the human instrument gives forth its own characteristic sound.
IV. THE WRITING OF THE VISION. Scripture contains matters that were written at the Divine dictation, and first promulgated in their written form. But it also contains much that was spoken first and written afterwards, for preservation. Such is the Book of Amos. The writing of it was:
1. Some years after the speaking. He spoke years before an earthquake, after which he wrote his book. This earthquake he had foretold in his oral prophecy (Amos 8:8; Amos 9:5), and he thus puts on record the fulfilment of his own prediction. "After fulfilling his mission, he probably returned to Judah, his native land, where his prophecies were most likely first committed to writing" (Keil).
2. In a different form from the speaking. Amaziah (Amos 7:10, Amos 7:11) refers to, and gives a summary of "words" that are not recorded. The book is a resume of the essential contents of the oral prophecies (Keil, Lange). Accordingly, it does not contain them in the very form, nor necessarily in the exact order, in which they were spoken.
3. With a widened purpose. The oral prophecies were for those whom they directly concerned. The written prophecies were for the sages and the ages that were to follow. They were the flower of the prophecies that went before (Joel 3:16, Joel 3:18), and the bud of those that came after (Hosea 8:14; Hosea 9:3; Jeremiah 49:3, Jeremiah 49:13-27; Jeremiah 46:6; Jeremiah 25:30; see Lange). They also contain truths essentially important and requisite for the perfecting of the man of God in all ages (Amos 3:3, Amos 3:6, Amos 3:7; Amos 5:4-6, Amos 5:14, Amos 5:15; Amos 7:2, Amos 7:3).
4. Under the same Divine guidance. The contents of the book lie between the expressions, "thus saith the Lord" (Amos 1:3), and "saith the Lord thy God" (Amos 9:15). These formulae cover both the oral and the written prophecy, each being the subject of a distinct inspiration for its own special purpose. So Paul takes an inspired utterance of David, and, under inspiration, charges it with a new lesson (comp. Psalms 40:6 with Hebrews 10:5; also Isaiah 60:1 with Ephesians 5:14).
V. THE SUBJECT OF THE VISION. It is brief, but it covers much ground.
1. The Jews. Judah and Israel are mentioned separately, having been distinct kingdoms for above a century (Amos 2:4, Amos 2:6). The entire Hebrew people are also grouped together as forming the family of Israel which God redeemed from Egypt (Amos 3:1). It is as earthly kingdoms that destruction is denounced on both (Amos 2:4, Amos 2:6), but it is as one covenant people that they survive in a remnant, and are restored (Amos 9:11-15).
2. Their oppressors. God had made the neighbouring nations "the rod of his anger" (Amos 3:11; Amos 5:27; Isaiah 10:4) to smite Israel. They accomplished his purpose unconsciously, and impelled by evil motives of their own (verses 3, 6, 9, 13; Isaiah 10:7). Accordingly, their wars and oppressions, inflicted on Israel, were essentially wicked, and deserving punishment in turn. It is thus that the wrath of man, which he punishes at last, God makes meanwhile to praise him by the unwitting execution of his will.
3. Those who resemble either. God acts on the same principles in all ages. He afflicts the Church for the sins of its members. To the insincere his judgments mean punishment only (Romans 1:18). To the sincere but faulty they mean discipline also (2 Corinthians 4:17). To the Church as a whole they mean separation between tares and wheat (Matthew 13:29, Matthew 13:30). To the outside wicked, through whom they often come, they mean more sin now, and a heavier punishment at last (Luke 18:7).
VI. THE TIME OF THE VISION. On this point we have information the most explicit.
1. Generally it was in the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam. During those reigns Judah and Israel were in the zenith of their career. It was, therefore, a vision of adversity when prosperity was at its height, of disastrous war when peace by conquest had been obtained with neighbouring powers, of both these as punishment when idolatry and corruption were at their worst. This proves its genuineness, as it could not have been suggested by the observed shadows of coming events. At the same time, it accounts for its comparative failure as a warning, the future predicted being so utterly unlike the present.
2. Specially it was "before the earthquake." "The presumption is natural that these words indicate not only the period but the motive of the composition" (Lange). The approach of the earthquake was the occasion of the oral prophecy, and the occurrence of it the occasion of the written one. That the latter should contain a record of the fulfilment of the former (Amos 8:8; Amos 9:5) is proof that in addition to being genuine the vision is authentic.
The thunder that both frights and smites.
These words are an echo of Joel 3:16. We hence infer the continuity of the two prophetic messages. The one strikes the keynote, and the other takes up and continues the strain.
I. DIVINE INTERVENTION. This is to end a period of quiescence. It is:
1. Intervention. "Utters his voice." The silence of God is often treated as equivalent to inaction (Psalms 28:1; Psalms 50:21). So his speech would mean his becoming active, whether for good or for evil. Here the breaking silence is for evil. God bears long with his open enemies, and longer still with his seeming friends. But inactivity does not show indifference nor inattention. It is simply forbearance, that will not strike till it must. Action delayed is no less certain, and will be no less vigorous for the delay.
2. Angry intervention. Shall "roar," like a lion ready to devour. Not till his anger burneth sore does God break the silence. But when he breaks it he does so emphatically. He thunders with his voice. His roar expresses wrath, and preludes a stroke; and is thus power and light in one (Job 37:5; Job 40:9).
3. Forcible intervention. God's speech is followed by action. It is more; it is accompanied by action. It is more still; it is itself action. Creative power, preserving power, redeeming power, each goes forth in a word (Psalms 33:6, Psalms 33:9; Matthew 9:2). Christ says, "Be clean," "Come forth;" and the sick are whole, and the dead live at his word. In speaking, God acts. The thunder of his voice is loaded with the electricity of his power. The vehicle of the Divine active energy is, in fact, a word.
II. GOD'S BASIS OF OPERATIONS. God intervenes in character, and along established lines. He operates:
1. From Jerusalem. This is God's own city, the metropolis of his earthly kingdom. Nothing could be more appropriate. Going forth to war, the king marches from his capital. There he has his magazine, his arsenal, and his headquarters. From thence he can bear down resistlessly on foes from whatever side, with all the resources of his kingdom.
2. From Zion. God's seat and citadel within his city. The place he loves and chooses and honours above all others (Psalms 87:2; Psalms 132:13; Psalms 48:12, Psalms 48:13). Here he has made his dwelling place (Psalms 68:16; Psalms 132:14). The place out of which go forth salvation and destruction. The place out of which the things that come are perfect after their kind. If they be blessings, there are no others so sweet; if curses, no others so stern. Zion is the beating heart of the spiritual world, which sends forth pure or poisoned blood to each greatest and least extremity.
3. From the temple. This is not mentioned, but it is necessarily implied. The glory of Jerusalem was Zion, and the glory of Zion (using the word in its broad sense) was God's house. This was his sanctuary. There he dwelt in symbolic presence. There he revealed himself in symbolic portraiture. There he operated in unparalleled energy. Thence accordingly we might expect his activity to issue (Psalms 20:2). There, too, was his mercy seat, from which judgment never came till every merciful expedient had been tried, but would come then with the fury of outraged goodness. Now, Jerusalem and Zion and God's house are each a type, and their common anti-type is the Church of Christ. And this is God's base of spiritual operations through all time (Isaiah 2:3; Luke 24:47). He dwells in it (Acts 7:38; Ephesians 1:23), speaks by it (Ephesians 3:10), operates through it (Daniel 2:44), and conquers in it (Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:22).
III. AFTER THE CAMPAIGN. God makes no fruitless expedition. The armies of his judgments leave desolation in their track.
1. The pastures wither. God's voice, as a figure for meteorological phenomena, is often spoken of as changing the surface of the earth (Psalms 29:3-9). Here it stands for many agencies, including these, and especially drought. Nature is one, and if any part suffers the other parts suffer with it (Jeremiah 25:36). Amos, as a herdsman, thinks naturally first of the calamity as it would affect the pastures by which he made his living. God's judgments strike each man in his special interest. It is as menacing this interest chiefly that they are feared.
2. The head of Carmel is dried up. Carmel was in the north, and the pastures in the prophet's mind were in the south. The enumeration, therefore, points to the withering as prevailing over the entire land. Carmel was one of the richest and best-watered spots in Palestine. When it was withered, all other places must have been scorched. God's judgments come seldom, and with tardy foot; but they are thorough, and make an end of their work (1 Samuel 3:12 : Isaiah 60:12). Nor was this a passing visitation. It remains in its leading characteristics till the present day. Carmel, as its name implies, was rich in vineyards. Now there is only scrub, and the debris of ruined walls. The "head" is dried up, that might once have been said to "drop down new wine."
Verse 3-ch. 2:3
A hexade of woes.
The heathen in judgment: general features. In these verses is denounced a series of six woes, on six of the oppressing nations, round about the land of Israel. Each woe has characteristics peculiar to itself, but there are points common to them all to which it will be well to make preliminary reference.
I. IN EVERY CASE JUDGMENT IS THE ACT OF GOD. "I will send;" "I will kindle" (Amos 2:4, Amos 2:7, Amos 2:10, Amos 2:12). It is not fate, whose "winged shaft" is but a phantasy. It is not chance, which is but another name for inscrutable direction. It is not idols, the guesswork likenesses of imaginary things. It is not natural laws, which am simply forces put into things by their Maker. It is God—God in intelligence of device and energy of execution, who "creates evil" (Isaiah 45:7)—the evil of calamitous events.
II. IN EVERY CASE GOD'S JUDGMENT IS THE COMPLEMENT OF MAN'S SIN. "Because they have threshed;" "Because they carried away." The connection between human sin and human suffering is original, constant, and necessary. They came together, dwell together, and will die together. And just as our common suffering is the abiding result of our common sinfulness, so special suffering connects itself somewhere with special sin. Its relation to the sin, whether as a punishment, a deterrent, or a chastisement, is often obscure. The particular sin, or even the particular sinner, can seldom be pointed to with certainty. There is a warning against judging harshly of the specially afflicted (Luke 13:4, Luke 13:5). Yet the plain teaching of Scripture and experience and reason is that sin has "brought death into the world, and all our woe" (Romans 5:12; Job 4:7, Job 4:8).
III. IN EVERY CASE THE SIN SELECTED FOR PUNISHMENT IS THAT COMMITTED AGAINST GOD'S PEOPLE. In five cases out of the six the sin was committed directly against Israel, and in the sixth case it was committed against their ally. God loves the world as a whole, but he loves his people best (John 3:16; John 14:23). He gives to the wicked "life and breath and all things," but he gives to his saints the wicked, and all they have (1 Corinthians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 3:22; Ephesians 1:22). He avenges the ill done even to the sinner, but he avenges more sternly, because he personally feels, the ill done to his people (Zechariah 2:8, Zechariah 2:9). Their persons are more sacred than those of others (Matthew 10:30), and their lives more precious in his sight (Psalms 72:14; Psalms 116:15). Accordingly, the worst form of murder is martyrdom (Luke 18:7, Luke 18:8), and the worst form of theft is sacrilege (Ma Amos 3:8).
IV. JUDGMENT IS PRECIPITATED BY PERSEVERANCE IN SIN. "For three, transgressions and for four" is the invariable formula. The expression (see Proverbs 30:15, Proverbs 30:18, Proverbs 30:21; Job 5:19; Ecclesiastes 11:2) means lot many transgressions, culminating in a final one. Persistent sin means cumulative guilt. Drop is added to drop till at last the cup is full. The tendency toward sin God warns; the first sin he rebukes; the second he threatens; the third he menaces with uplifted hand; the fourth he smites. God bears long with the wicked, but they may sin once too often. Your past offences have escaped, your next one may endanger the Divine forbearance, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."
V. IN EVERY CASE THE EXTREME OF GUILT INVOLVES THE EXTREME OF PUNISHMENT OR ENTIRE DESTRUCTION. This is inflicted by fire, the most destructive element in each case. God employed fire in many of his most startling miracles (Genesis 19:24; Exodus 9:23; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 16:35; Le Numbers 10:2; 2 Kings 1:10, 2 Kings 1:12). In the language of figure it is the ideal destructive agent (Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 9:5). In prophecy, too, fire is or symbolizes the agent that destroys the beast, the false prophet, and all the wicked (Daniel 7:11; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:15). To the impenitent, fire will be a destroying, not a cleansing power. It points onward to the vengeance of eternal fire, which will be the fitting retribution of sin at last.
The woe against Damascus.
The kingdom of Syria is here named from its capital The crime charged against it had been foretold by Elisha to Hazael, and by him indignantly repudiated (2 Kings 8:12, 2 Kings 8:13). But a man in one set of circumstances little knows what he would do under an entirely different set; especially a man beginning a sinful life, the magnitude of the crimes of which he may yet be capable. Accordingly, Hazael fulfilled one prophecy, and supplied the materials of another, by smiting Israel as the man of God had said (2 Kings 10:32, 2 Kings 10:33).
I. THE CRIMINAL. Damascus stands by metonymy for Syria, judging of whom by her representative we see that:
1. Riches do not prevent rapacity. Damascus was noted for wealth, the fertile neighbourhood being irrigated by numerous canals, and the city itself lying in the highway of commerce. Yet greed instigated the barbarous treatment described. The wars waged against Israel were wars of rapine and annexation. "The eye that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver." Rather does the lust of gain grow by what it feeds on. Whether it be culture, or power, or pleasure, or wealth, men tend to make a god of the thing they abound in. It was when Israel was richest that her oppression of the poor was most extreme. It was by her richest neighbours that she herself was most rapaciously despoiled. It is thus that the conditions leading men to sin are the guarantee of its punishment in kind.
2. Beautiful surroundings do not humanize. Writers speak in glowing terms of the unrivalled beauty of this ancient city. "Its white buildings, embedded in the deep green of its engirdling orchards, were like diamonds encircled by emeralds" (Pusey). Yet here, in scenes of ideal beauty, grew up the monsters of barbarity who took the women and children of Gilead, and, "casting them as into a sort of threshing floor, savagely threshed them out like ears of corn with saw-armed wheels" (see 2 Kings 13:7). Physical scenery and moral character have no necessary connection. The fairest lands have often produced the coarsest and most cruel men. The determining element is the presence or absence of the gospel of Christ. It is not aesthetics, but Christianity, we must look to for the moral elevation of men.
3. The possession of strength is a temptation to violence. The beauty of Damascus was also its strength. The miles on miles of walled orchards in which it was set formed an admirable defence against an advancing enemy (see Pusey), and, thus entrenched, the legions of Syria were strong beyond their seeming. Now, just as the subtle choose diplomacy and the rich subsidy in the settlement of disputed matters, so do the strong choose force. It is the readiest and most effective weapon within their reach. How many wars, how much bloodshed and desolation and misery, are directly traceable to "the strong man glorying in his strength"!
II. THE CRIME. Gilead, meaning the whole land given to the two tribes and a half is here put by metonymy for the inhabitants. The horrible and atrocious outrages on the people described by Amos suggest that:
1. The obverse of ungodliness is inhumanity. The relation to God is the fundamental one. If it be wrong, all others are awry. Morality has its basis in religion. There is no duty to men apart from a God and a revelation of his will. There is no good will toward men apart from his gracious influence (Titus 3:3). The mere animal nature is selfish, and regardless of all life but its own. It will kill for the most trifling advantage, and sometimes in the lust of blood for no advantage at all. Heathen hearts are "hateful and hating one another," and a heathen home is "a habitation of cruelty."
2. Bloodthirsty men make war even with the implements of peace. There is a time coming when warlike weapons will be converted into farming implements (Isaiah 51:4; Micah 4:3). This will be when the gospel shall universally prevail. Meanwhile a readier ear is leant to Joel (Joel 3:10) than to Micah, and the converse process goes on instead. The threshing instrument was not made, but only pressed into service, for the occasion. Fallen man is at heart a savage, and, under excitation, his inner nature will break out through the artificial habits of peace. So little is there between work and war, between lawful industry and lawless murder, in the godless life.
3. Ideal cruelty is utterly indiscriminate. Elisha's prophecy to Hazael (2 Kings 8:12), of which this horrid butchery was the fulfilment, mentions women and children as the chief victims of the outrage. There is a bloodhound instinct in wicked men which is aroused to fury by the taste of blood. The horrors of the French Revolution and of the Spanish Inquisition reveal it in the infidel and the fanatic respectively. It knows no distinction of age, or condition, or sex. It simply wants to "slay, and slay, and slay." It is a humiliating thought about our species, but it is a fact that must be faced by all who would humanize the race. The tie of blood is perhaps a natural one, and respected more or less by even heathen peoples, as it is by the very beasts that perish. But even this scarcely operates beyond the filial relation and the period of childhood. And then, as for friendship and philanthropy, they have no place in the sphere of mere nature. The question, "Is man utterly selfish?" is rather a nice one than practical. He has shown himself sufficiently selfish to make unsafe the life of any human being whom he could gain by killing.
III. THE SENTENCE. This is severe, detailed, and striking.
1. It falls on the things in which the nation was pre-eminent. "I will break also the bar of Damascus." The bar or bolt which secured the gate was an essential part of the city defence. To break it would be to throw open the city to the enemy. By this figure is meant the breaking of the national strength and means of resistance, and leaving the nation helpless before its enemies. Thus God declares himself omnipotent. Those who glory in their strength are broken, and those who trust in their riches are impoverished (Isaiah 2:11; Isaiah 13:11; Psalms 52:7). Punishment adjusted so is more effectual for its purpose, whether of mercy or of judgment, for it brings the criminal to his knees at once. The niceness of the adjustment is, moreover, a revelation of the Divine directing hand in the whole event, and so a lesson in itself.
2. It strikes at the national sin. The "vale of Aven," whose inhabitant was to be cut off, was remarkable as containing Baalbec, or Heliopolis, the seat and centre of the Syrian sun worship. There were observed idolatrous orgies, in which men and women abandoned themselves to shameless profligacy; and there, where their "offence smells rank to Heaven," the hottest bolts of Heaven's vengeance fall. Others would be carried into captivity, but the inhabitants of Aven would be utterly cut off. The flies of God's judgment alight upon the sores of our idol sins. He strikes the covetous in his pocket, and the self-indulgent m his power of enjoyment. And so in every other ease. The practice that provokes his judgment is the one on which its first and heaviest effects fall.
3. It includes the royal house. The king is in a sense the figurehead of the nation. His policy embodies the national sentiment, if it does not inspire it. Accordingly, national guilt culminates in him. It would be an anomaly if the people were to perish and he escape. Then the destruction that includes king and people is utter and irretrievable. There could be no restoration, no resurrection. When only ashes remain, the rekindling of the fire of national existence has become impossible.
4. It denounces on all poetic justice. "Shall go into captivity to Kir." "From Kir the forefathers of the Syrians had, of their own will, been brought by the good all-disposing providence of God. Now, softened as they were by luxury, they were to be transported back to the austere though healthy climate whence they had come" (Pusey). The family of Ne'er-do-well fall into the mud out of which they were raised at first, and find it has got deeper in the interval. The last state of the misuser of good, in the nature of the case, is worse than the first.
IV. THE EXECUTION. The woe fell half a century later, in the time of Tiglath-Pileser, who slew Rezin the king, and carried the Syrians away captive. Thus the event was fifty years after the prediction. Prophecy by the Spirit of God is as easy to the prophet a millennium before the event as an hour. But if it has not been forgotten in the mean time, it is the more impressive and striking, the longer the interval between the utterance and the fulfilment. Then the evil prophesied was one previously unheard of, and antecedently most unlikely. "The transportation of whole populations was not, so far as we know, any part of Eastern policy at the time of the prophet" (Pussy). There are unfulfilled predictions, loaded with the world's weal or ill, whose fulfilment is even more distant and more unlikely. But the "sure Word of prophecy" overrides both time and chance, and lifts remotest events above the horizon, and into the light of decisive certitude. For all we fear and hope this is the guarantee, "Hath he said it, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good!"
The woe against Philistia.
Gaza was one of the capitals of Philistia, and is put for the country as a whole. Its wealth and strength and special activity against Israel fitted it to be the representative of all the other capitals which are afterwards (Amos 1:8) enumerated as sharing its punishment. The outrage charged against Gaza is probably that recorded in 2 Chronicles 21:16 and Joel 3:6, and which occurred in the time of Jehoram. The crime denounced was—
I. THE CROWNING ACT OF A LONG SERIES. Israel and Philistia were hereditary foes. In the history of their feud were many bloody acts, which culminated in this wholesale deportation. In the judgment provoked by it, however, these acts would all be punished. So the murders of the prophets, throughout a series of ages, remained unavenged till they culminated in the death of Christ, and then it and they were all avenged together (Luke 11:49-51). Thus vicarious is much of human suffering. God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children generally (Exodus 20:5), and specially on those like minded with the fathers (Mat 23:1-39 :84-36). The sufferings of each age are largely an inheritance from the ages before.
II. AN ACT OF WHOLESALE DESTRUCTION. "Because they carried away captives in full number." This cruelty was gratuitous, as many captives could have given their captors no offence; and it was senseless as well, for many would be utterly worthless as slaves. It indicated deep and indiscriminating hate of the entire people, and a fixed purpose to root out and utterly exterminate them. Such hatred, directed doubtless against Israel in their character as the people of God, is specially criminal, and calls for special punishment (see Matthew 10:40, Matthew 10:41).
III. AN ACT OF AGGRAVATED CRUELTY. Not satisfied with the suffering they could inflict themselves, they called in the help of Israel's bitterest foe. They sold the people to the Edomites, and so became responsible for the intolerable cruelties to which they were handed over. We are in God's sight as guilty of the crime we procure as of the crime we commit. The Church's mediaeval device of condemning heretics, and handing them over to the civil power to be executed, was as vain as the washing of Pilate's hands. The blood shed at our instigation, and with our connivance or through our indifference, is blood that will be required of us in the great day (Ezekiel 3:18-20).
IV. A PUNISHMENT IN WHICH THE CAPITAL CITIES ARE SPECIALLY PROMINENT. Of the five capitals of Philistia, four are mentioned by name, and the fifth is included under the word "remnant" Capitals are centres of opinion, and are largely responsible for the moulding of the national sentiment. They are centres of power, and take the lead in determining the national policy. They were in this case centres of commerce, and so took a prominent part in the work of bartering Israel to the Edomites. Moreover Gaza, the one singled out and emphasized, was through its character and position the chief sinner in this business, and so is the chief sufferer. They were also the seats of as many different idols—Ashdod of Dagon, Ashkelen of Derceto, Eron of Baalzebub, and Gaza of Marua—and therefore centres of national sin (see Pusey). Add to this that they were the national depots and strongholds, and therefore the places which it would most weaken the nation to destroy.
V. A PUNISHMENT TO BE FRAMED AFTER THE FASHION OF THE CRIME. "The remnant of the Philistines shall perish." As they had spared none, so none of them would be spared. This is God's way often. That it may be adequate, and all may be able to recognize it, punishment often comes in the likeness of the crime. The rule, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," embodies the principle that like will be the punishment of like. It reappears in the gospel dictum, "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Not only will sin be punished, it will all be punished, and punished fully. When God's last word has been spoken, the criminal shall be even as his victim, and be God's enemy besides.
Amos 1:9, Amos 1:10
The woe against Tyre.
Tyre stands for Phoenicia, of which it was the capital. It was a renowned and very ancient city. Greatest, richest, proudest, and most luxurious, perhaps, of all the cities of its time, it passed through vicissitudes which were equally beyond the common lot. As with most ancient capitals, there were points at which its path and that of Israel crossed, involving that there should be corresponding points where they would recross, and on these the prophet has intently fixed his eye. Of the denunciation against it observe—
I. IT SINNED IN CHARACTER. The Phoenicians were a commercial people, and theirs was a commercial sin. "They delivered up the whole captivity to Edom." They did not make war, nor take prisoners, but they traded in them as slaves—bought them probably from the Syrians and sold them to the Ionians ("Grecians," Joel 3:6). For this their woe is denounced; and thus early was branded with condemnation "the wild and guilty phantasy that man can hold a property in man." The image of God is not a thing to be trafficked in. "The law" is against men stealers (1 Timothy 1:10) among other criminals. A man's liberty is precious to him next to life itself. Slavery is the intolerable theft of his manhood and moral agency, and is contrary to the entire spirit of the Bible.
II. IT SINNED AGAINST A COVENANT. This was no doubt the covenant between Hiram and Solomon (1 Kings 5:12). It was a covenant of peace, of which the trading in Hebrew captives was a flagrant violation. This circumstance made the detestable traffic doubly guilty. It was two sins in one—perjury added on to oppression. And all Christian sin is in this red, poet its counterpart. The believer is in covenant with God. He has said, "This God is my God forever and ever," etc. Any after sin is, therefore, a breach both of God's Law and his own vow. The believing sinner has broken through more restraints and violated more laws than the unbelieving, and so is double dyed in guilt. The difficulty of bringing such to repentance again (Hebrews 6:4-6) is no doubt closely connected with this fact.
III. THE FORGOTTEN COVENANT WAS A BROTHERLY COVENANT. This circumstance aggravated the guilt of the violation. Ties are strong in proportion as they are amicable. The electric core of friendship in the cable of a mutual tie gives it a character all its own. The breaking of it means to both parties more of change and loss in proportion as this core is relatively large. The Phoenicio-Israelitish covenant was brotherly:
1. In its origin. It was the outcome of brotherly feeling and affection previously existing. "Hiram," we read, "was ever a lover of David" (1 Kings 5:1), and in token of it he had voluntarily sent materials and workmen, and had built him a house (2 Samuel 5:11). And the feeling was evidently transferred to Solomon. Hiram and he were on such cordial terms that he asked for, and Hiram readily sent him, skilful Sidonian woodmen to hew trees, and an accomplished Tyrian graver to act as foreman over his own workmen in carving, engraving, embroidery, and doing other cunning work for the temple (2 Chronicles 2:3-16). Solomon in turn gave Hiram wheat and oil in liberal measure for provisioning his house, and the outcome of these cordial relations was that "they two made a league together" (1 Kings 5:11, 1 Kings 5:12), the brotherly Covenant referred to. The covenant was brotherly also:
2. In its working. It was renewed from time to time with various additions, and was long kept by both parties. Israel never made war against Tyre, nor broke the letter or spirit of their fraternal league. The heartless sin of Tyre was, therefore, not only a violation of the covenant provisions, but of the intimate and cordial relations which it both expressed and fostered. It was a sin against both vows and close relations, and put on thus an aspect of double criminality.
3. The covenant had even a religious aspect. Hiram grounds the good will and help, extended to Solomon, on the facts that the people he ruled and the house he was going to build were God's, as well as on the fact that he had a special gift of wisdom from above (2 Chronicles 2:11, 2 Chronicles 2:12). His covenant was thus made with Israel as God's people, and in testimony of his belief in Jehovah as the true God, and his desire to advance his glory. This fact adds much to the significance and solemnity of the covenant, and so of the breach of it. What is done in God's name and as an act of homage to him is done under the highest sanctions possible. The commonest act is glorified, the smallest act becomes great in the greatness of its underlying principle. And as is the doing so is the undoing. The higher the promiser has risen, the lower has the violator fallen. Tyre's sin implied and sealed a large amount of previous deterioration, and so the more emphatically sealed her doom.
Amos 1:11, Amos 1:12
The woe against Edom.
We have here an inspired description of an ideal hate. It is loaded with every quality, and emphasized by every circumstance, and stained by every act, which could conspire to establish for it an "unbeaten record" in the emulation of evil passions.
I. IT RESTS ON A BROTHER. Over and above the brotherhood arising out of their common humanity (Acts 17:26; Genesis 9:5), Israel and Edom were bound by the nearer tie of descent from the twin sons of their common ancestor Isaac. And on the basis of this relation they are spoken of as brothers in a special sense (Deuteronomy 23:5). To the relation of brotherhood belongs the duty of love (1 John 2:10), which must be distinctive in proportion as the relation is close (1 Peter 2:17). And the breach of this law of love is great in proportion to its normal strength. It is bad to hate an enemy, but it is worse to hate a friend, and worse still to hate a brother. It is against nature, for "no man hateth his own flesh" (Ephesians 5:29). It is against our innate tendency to love them that love us. And it is against the popular sentiment which expects us to "love as brethren." Hatred of a brother is the grossest hate there is.
II. IT IS AGGRESSIVE. "He pursues his brother with the sword." It is hard for hatred to be still. It is a restless devil in the heart. It wants to inflict injury. It actually inflicts it the first opportunity. If opportunity does not come, it seeks it and makes it. In the presence of the hated one it can no more be quiescent than fire in contact with fuel. Edom's hatred of Israel did not fail thus to express its intensity. On every opportunity it broke out into offensive and cruel action (2 Chronicles 28:17; Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 25:12). Rapine, outrage, and murder, and the incitement of others to these, are fitting credentials to an ideal hate.
III. IT IS MURDEROUS. "Tears in pieces." It inflicts not injury only, but deadly injury. It must have blood. And it not only kills, but murders. Unable to fight Israel in battle, Edom always played the part of "wrecker," and spoiled the dead, and murdered the wounded, after some stronger enemy had defeated them (Psalms 137:7). Then it murdered with an excess of truculence and savage cruelty that were natural to weakness rather than to strength. Hatred is a passion "blood alone can quell." "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer;" a murderer in fact if opportunity offers, in any case a murderer in heart. Let hatred enter your heart, and from the moment it settles you wear the brand of Cain.
IV. IT IS PITILESS. "Did cast off all pity." No special occasion or act is mentioned, because the thing was habitual. A traditional and inordinate hate of Israel was fostered till it became a first principle of the Edomite's creed, and was gratified till it ate all his humanity out. Too weak to be a soldier, he became a murderous looter, and when the Assyrian or Philistine had vanquished Israel in battle, the Edomite came vulture-like on the scene to butcher the living, and pillage and mangle the dead (Obadiah 1:10-14). There is a pity proper to the human heart on the platform of mere nature. Of the "flowers of Eden we still inherit" is a ruth that shrinks from murder in cold blood. Where the crime is committed, this feeling has previously been choked out. The power to do this, to harden and deaden his own nature, is one of man's most fatal gifts. He disregards the voice of pity till it becomes dumb. He fights against the movings of passion till at lass they are felt no more.
V. IT IS INSATIABLE. "His anger endures forever." The persistence of Edom's hate was matter of contemporary notoriety (Ezekiel 35:5), and it was precisely what one might expect. There is an infinity that belongs to the human soul, and which imparts itself to all its affections. Love is not exhausted by indulgence, but strengthened. It goes on and grows forever, and so with hate. One who knew well has said -
"Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure."
Hate is fed by indulgence as a fire is fed by fuel. Do not think your hatred will be appeased when you have got what you consider a just revenge. It will only then begin to burn with normal fierceness. Such feelings grow by what they feed on. The only way to banish them is to cut off the supplies. Starve a hungry hate, by giving it neither outlet nor audience, and it will soon atrophy and die.
VI. IT IS ALL ON ONE SIDE. Israel's relation to Edom as friendly, considerate, and disinterested, was laid down in explicit terms (Deuteronomy 23:7; Deuteronomy 2:4, Deuteronomy 2:5), whilst the brotherhood of the two nations was emphasized (Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:8). Cruel things were done in spite of this (1Sa 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15, 1 Kings 11:16), but they were done in defensive wars, and after Edom's enmity had proved itself incurable. It is a robust and thoroughly malignant hate that beats down and burns in spite of others' friendly attitude and feeling. Such hate belongs to a nature utterly inverted, and no longer human but devilish. And in proportion as it is such it becomes impossible of cure. The fire that burns without fuel, and in spite of water, has the elements of perpetuity in it. It is the beginning of the fire that shall never be quenched.
The woe against Ammon: brutality in its element.
There is a climax in these woes as we advance. Each seems to outdo in horror the one before. This one in which Ammon figures has circumstances of wanton atrocity and senseless savagery in it unparalleled in any other.
I. UNNATURAL CONNECTIONS MAY BE EXPECTED TO BREED UNNATURAL MONSTERS. Ammon and Moab were the children of unnatural and shameful lust (Genesis 19:30-38). Begotten in drunkenness, and conceived in a paroxysm of lewdness, their chance of inheriting a healthy physical, mental, or moral organization was very small The almost inevitable moral twist with which they entered the world, their education by dissolute mothers would only strengthen and confirm. And the passionate and sensual nature he inherited, Ammon transmitted to the nation of which he became the father. An illustration of this inherited coarse corruption in the Ammonites was their gross and indecent treatment of David's servants, sent on a friendly errand (2 Samuel 10:4, 2 Samuel 10:5). The other occasion, recorded in our text, is an example of savage and senseless atrocity unparalleled in the annals of human violence. As to the women, it was from their number that Solomon's harem was largely recruited (1 Kings 11:1, 1 Kings 11:7), and they took to harlotry as easily as their ancestress herself (Numbers 25:1; Numbers 31:16). Our besetting sins are likely to be those of our forefathers, and therefore against these we should be specially on our guard. They are likely also to beset our children after us, and should be all the more vigorously rooted out, lest we transmit to posterity the heritage of our sin and shame. That the thing can be done, let the virtuous simplicity of Ruth the Moabitess prove. Trained and moulded in a godly Hebrew family, she responds to religious influence, and exhibits a character that has been the admiration of all the ages.
II. OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL, THAT IS THE GREATEST SIN FOE WHICH THERE IS THE LEAST OCCASION. "He who has committed injustice lot a less advantage has done it under the impulse of a less temptation The more paltry it is in respect of profit, the more profane it may be in respect of principle" (Chalmers). In the case of Ammon there was the extreme of disproportion between the crime and the incentive to it. The object was to enlarge their border, an object
(2) under the circumstances unjust,
(3) in itself supplying no occasion for the horrid outrage, and
(4) to the attainment of which the atrocity was in no wise essential.
The act was simply one of stolid barbarism, unsoftened by any extenuating circumstance, and unaccounted for by any consideration of need or fitness.
III. MURDER AS AN ACT OF REPRISAL IS STILL MURDER. David had put the inhabitants of Rabbah of the sons of Ammon to a death as dreadful as that inflicted on the women in Gilead (2 Samuel 12:31). The present act of Ammon might look like a just retaliation. But, whatever may be thought of David's conduct, it is clear that sin does not justify more sin. Then David's siege and destruction of Rabbah was a natural and suitable act of defensive warfare against persistent attacks by Ammon in league with Syria. The aggressor in such a case is responsible for the bloodshed on both sides. Man has a natural right to kill in self-defence, and he whose action necessitates such bloodshed is the party on whose head the guilt of it must lie.
IV. GOD'S JUDGMENTS STRIKE THE DEVISERS OF WICKEDNESS AS WELL AS THE DOERS OF IT. "The king and his princes," These ancient kings were absolute monarchs. Every national act was an expression of their will. With them, therefore, the responsibility for it ultimately rested. It was done by their direction and under their superintendence, done often in part by their own hand, and so was in every case their own act. And the princes, as the king's advisers, were parties to it. Therefore kings and princes alike must suffer. To strike them was to strike the criminal on the head. Thus far and wide do the consequences of sin reach, devouring from every side. The committer of sin, the suggester of sin, the deviser of sin, the tempter to sin, the procurer of sin, the knowing occasion of sin, the person privy to sin, all are sinners, and as such are written down for the sword. Some are nearer the centre than others, but all are in the vortex, and all must be swallowed up together.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Amos the herdsman.
There must be some special reason why this prophet putts upon record the employments in which he spent his earlier years, and from which he was called to assume the office of the Lord's messenger to Israel. On the barren hills to the south of Bethlehem, where there is no tillage, and where the population must always have been scanty, Amos tended flocks of sheep or of goats, and at certain seasons of the year gathered the fruit from the wild sycamore trees.
I. RURAL AND MENIAL OCCUPATIONS WERE NO BARRIER TO THE ENJOYMENT OF DIVINE FAVOUR OR TO ELECTION TO SPECIAL AND HONOURABLE SERVICE. This lesson, taught by the career of Amos, was taught again by the election of the apostles of the Lord Christ. The great of this world are often apt to regard men of lowly station with disdain, but God takes no heed of social and artificial distinctions.
II. THE SECLUSION OF A PASTORAL LIFE WAS A SUITABLE TRAINING FOR THE PROPHETIC VOCATION. As David, when guarding the sheepfolds and leading the flocks to water, enjoyed many opportunities for solitary meditation and for devout communion with God, so Amos in the lonely pastures of Tekoah must have listened to the voice that speaks especially to the quiet and the contemplative, the voice of inspiration and of grace.
III. THE RURAL SURROUNDINGS OF THE PROPHET AFFORDED HIM MUCH APPROPRIATE AND STRIKING IMAGERY. The rain and the harvest, the sheep and the lion, the bird and the snare, the fish and the hook, the cart and the sheaf, the earthquake, the fire, and the flood, etc; are all pressed into the service of this poetic prophecy. God taught his servant lessons which stood him in good stead in after years.
IV. BY RAISING AMOS FROM THE HERDSMAN'S TO THE PROPHET'S LIFE GOD MAGNIFIED HIS OWN GRACE. The cultivated and the polished are liable to take credit to themselves for the efficiency of their ministry. But when the comparatively untaught and those who have enjoyed but few advantages are raised to a position in which they do a great work for God, "the excellency of the power is seen to be of God himself."—T.
The voice of terror.
This imagery is evidently derived from the prophet's own experience. In the southeast of Palestine the lion was a frequent and formidable visitor, which every herdsman had reason to dread. The majestic roar of the king of beasts is here employed to denote the judgments of the Lord upon the disobedient and rebellious, especially of Israel.
I. OBSERVE WHENCE THE VOICE OF THREATENING PROCEEDS.
1. It is the voice of the Lord—that voice which assumes now the accents of compassion and mercy, and again the tones of wrath, but which is always authoritative.
2. It proceeds from the sacred city, which was the favoured abode of Jehovah.
II. AND WHITHER THE VOICE OF THREATENING PENETRATES. From the habitations of the shepherds in the south, to the flowery Carmel in the north, this roar makes itself heard. That is to say, it fills the land. Judah and Israel alike have by disobedience and rebellion incurred Divine displeasure, and against both alike the denunciations of the prophet go forth.
III. CONSIDER THE EFFECT WHICH THE VOICE OF THREATENING SHOULD PRODUCE.
1. Reverent attention.
2. Deep humiliation and contrition.
3. Repentance and prayer.
4. Such reformation as the heavenly summons imperatively demands.—T.
The judgment on Damascus.
The beauty of Damascus has been the admiration of travellers and the praise of poets. It is a mournful reflection that a city so magnificently situated, and with associations so romantic, should so often have been the scene of human injustice, cruelty, and bloodshed. The "pearl girdled with emeralds"—as Damascus was gracefully designated—is beautiful without, but, as the text reminds us, has often contained a lawless and godless population.
I. THE OFFENCE OF DAMASCUS.
1. In itself this consisted of atrocious cruelty. The records inform us that war frequently prevailed between Syria and Israel. By Gilead in this passage we understand the land possessed by the Israelites on the east side of Jordan. The inhabitants of this pastoral territory were treated by the Syrians in a way fitted to awaken the indignation even of those who lived in times when saw, go cruelty was but the too common accompaniment of war. The unfortunate Israelites who were conquered in war seem to have been literally torn to pieces and mangled by the threshing implements fitted with wheels and armed with teeth of iron. Thus was God's image defaced and God's Law defied.
2. The offence was aggravated by repetition. Thrice, nay, four times, had the Damascenes offended the Divine Ruler of men by their violence and inhumanity. The sin was thus shown to be no mere outbreak of passion, but a habit, evincing a corrupt and degraded nature.
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF DAMASCUS.
1. Observe upon whom it came.
(1) Upon the king, the rulers and princes of the land. These were the leaders in the nefarious practices here censured. Their ambition and unfeeling selfishness accounted for the sin; and upon them came down the righteous penalty. The annals of many a nation may prove to the reflective student of history that a righteous retribution visits those royal houses which have been infamous for selfish ambition, for perfidy, for tyranny, for serf-indulgence. The King of kings asserts his authority, and brings down the lofty from the throne.
(2) The people of Syria shared in the disaster, which thus became national. They may have been misled by their rulers, but it seems rather to have been the case that there was sympathy between kings and subjects, and that the soldiers in the Syrian army delighted in the opportunity of venting their evil passions upon their prostrate foes.
2. Observe in what the punishment consisted.
(1) Destruction ("a fire") came upon the royal house.
(2) The splendid and powerful city was laid open to the incursion of the enemy. The brazen "bar" which secured the city gate was broken.
(3) The people were carried into captivity, the worst misfortune which could humiliate and distress a nation.—T.
The judgment on Philistia.
The great religious truth which is conveyed in this prophetic warning addressed to Philistia is this—national retribution is inevitable.
I. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY WEALTH AND PROSPERITY. Philistia was a fertile plain, abounding in all material riches. The people not only possessed the produce of a fruitful soil; they were versed in the arts of life, being famous as artificers and craftsmen; and they enjoyed the fruits of commerce both by sea and land. There is danger lest; prosperous nation should trust in its riches. Yet history tells us that the wealthiest communities have been overtaken by the righteous judgments of God.
II. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY UNION AND CONFEDERACY. The five cities of the Philistines were leagued together; each supported the other, and every one furnished a contingent to the national armies. Union is strength. But the united strength of the Philistines could not avail them in the day of the Lord. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
III. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY POWERFUL ALLIANCES. The Philistines on the west of Judah leagued with the Edomites on the east. And when the Philistines gained an advantage over the Jews, they delivered their foes into the hands of their allies of Mount Self. But Edom was not able to deliver her confederate in the time of trial and of retribution.
IV. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY CRUELTY TO A FOE. Human policy sometimes urges that the complete destruction of an enemy by the sword or by captivity is the surest protection against revenge. But Divine government dominates human policy. The crafty and the cruel must submit to the decrees of the Judge of the whole earth.—T.
Amos 1:9, Amos 1:10
The violation of a brotherly covenant.
The reproach addressed to Tyre, on account of Tyre's league with Edom against the Israelites, is peculiarly severe. This is to be explained by the previous history of the two nations. Hiram, King of Tyre, had been a warm friend both of David and of Solomon. A close and intimate connection had thus been formed. And when Tyre made war upon the Jews and, like Philistia, gave Israel into the hands of Edom, the grievance was felt to be peculiarly distressing. In fact, it was recognized as such by the inspired prophet of Jehovah.
I. THE DEEPEST FOUNDATION FOR NATIONAL FRIENDSHIPS IS THEIR COMMON BROTHERHOOD IN THE FAMILY OF GOD. The Creator has made them of one blood, has appointed the bounds of their habitation, has given to each nation its own advantages, its own opportunities, its own responsibilities. Each has thus a service to render to the Lord and Father of all; and consequently each has a claim to the respect and good will of neighbouring nations.
II. NATIONAL FRIENDSHIP IS RECOMMENDED AND PROMOTED BY MUTUAL INTEREST. The exchange of commodities which had taken place between Tyre and Jerusalem may be regarded as an example of the use which one country may be to another—a use in some way or other always to be reciprocated. In peace every nation may supply the lack of others; whilst in war both nations so engaged inflict loss and injury. No doubt, when excited by passion, nations lose sight of their welfare; yet it is wall to cultivate in men's minds the conviction that unity and concord are of the highest material as well as moral advantage.
III. NATIONAL FRIENDSHIP MAY BE CEMENTED BY SOLEMN COVENANTS AND ALLIANCES. Human nature is such that it is contributive to many desirable ends that men should enter into solemn compact and should ratify covenants with one another. When nations enter into friendly alliance, it is always regarded as peculiarly base when one nation, without overpowering reason for doing so, turns against the other, and betrays or attacks it. Such seems to have been the action of Tyre.
IV. BROTHERLY COVENANTS BETWEEN NATIONS CANNOT BE VIOLATED WITH IMPUNITY. Tyre was one of the great cities of antiquity, especially famous for maritime and Commercial prosperity. Proud and confident in its greatness, Tyre little anticipated the fate which Providence had in reserve for it. Yet the inspired prophet foresaw the ruin of Tyre, and connected that ruin with the perfidy for which the city was in this passage so justly blamed. The Lord who rules in the whole earth is a Judge righteous and supreme, whose sentences will surely be executed.—T.
Amos 1:11, Amos 1:12
A brother's faithlessness and injustice.
If Tyre was doubly blamable because, being an ally, she turned against Israel, much more deserving of censure was Edom, inasmuch as Edom was near akin to Israel, and yet was guilty of the Conduct described in this passage.
I. KINDRED INVOLVES SACRED OBLIGATIONS TO MUTUAL REGARD AND SUCCOUR. Moses had addressed Edom as a brother, and Israel had forborne to attack Edom, even when tempted to do so by most unneighbourly, unbrotherly conduct. The proper response to such conduct would have been something very different from what is here recorded. Amongst all nations, and in every stage of society, common descent from one ancestor is accepted as a bond of brotherhood and a pledge of friendliness.
II. THERE ARE INSTANCES IN WHICH THESE OBLIGATIONS ARE UTTERLY DISREGARDED. Such was the case with the Edomites. We trace in their conduct towards their kinsmen of Israel several stages of iniquity.
1. Aggression. Edom "pursued his brother with the sword."
2. Pitiless anger. Edom "corrupted his compassions."
3. Implacability. Edom "kept his wrath forever." Such treatment would have been unjustifiable from any nation towards another; but the relation and circumstances made it flagrantly and atrociously wicked in the instance under consideration.
III. VIOLATION OF OBLIGATIONS SO SACRED INCURS DIVINE DISPLEASURE AND MERITED PUNISHMENT. A nation sins and a nation suffers. Doubtless innocent persons endure in many cases the sufferings which the guilty deserve. This is a mystery of Divine providence. Yet it is evident that cities, tribes, nations, may be, and often have been, chastised, as a proof of the Divine rule, as a correction for human disobedience, and as an inducement to repentance.—T.
Greed of territory.
The history of the Ammonites is full of indications of their natural qualities and of their conduct towards Israel. They were an unprincipled arid cruel people, and were continually at war with their neighbours. Their settlement on the east of the Jordan brought them into constant conflict with the Jews, and from the Book of Deuteronomy down to that of Nehemiah references to Ammon occur from which we gather that they were an idolatrous, restless, pitiless, lustful, and treacherous tribe. The incident upon which Amos founds this prediction was an incursion which the Ammonites made into Gilead during the reign of King Uzziah.
I. GREED OF TERRITORY IS A NATIONAL SIN. How many a nation has been possessed with a selfish desire to "enlarge its border"! When population increases, emigration and colonization may become necessary, and may be for good. What is blamed is the desire for a neighbour's land, the extirpation or subjugation of friendly neighbours, in order to obtain room for expansion or increase of luxury or of power.
II. GREED OF TERRITORY LEADS TO NEFARIOUS CRUELTY. The instance here mentioned is no doubt an extreme one; it shows convincingly that Ammon had no sense of humanity, compassion, or decency. Alas! the annals of our race afford too many an instance of the cruelty to which ambition leads. The history of the Spaniards in America is a sufficient proof of the awful lengths to which conquerors will go when urged by greed of power or of gold. And settlers even from our own land have not seldom been guilty of most indefensible cruelty and oppression towards the natives of the territories they have acquired. For the protection of aborigines it has been necessary to awaken public opinion, to institute special laws; Men plead necessity or expediency in defence or in extenuation of conduct which is a reproach to any people.
III. GREED OF TERRITORY AND ITS FRUITS ARE NOT UNNOTICED BY HIM WHO RULES OVER ALL. "The earth is the Lord's." He has "given it to the children of men." But when he beholds sordid greed animate men to robbery, and not to robbery only but to inhumanity and vile cruelty, his indignation is aroused. Amos makes use of the fire, the tempest, the whirlwind, to set forth the retribution which must overtake the capital of Ammon, its king and princes. But the Lord reigneth over all lands. The violent shall not always prosper. The day shall come when their schemes shall be defeated, and they themselves be laid low in the dust.—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The true teacher.
"The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa." In the little village of Tekoa, six miles south of Bethlehem, the young peasant Amos lived. He was a lad of humble birth and lowly occupation. Sometimes be trimmed the sycamore trees, and sometimes drove the cattle to and from their pasture. But he heard the voice of God everywhere, and saw his works in all the scenes around him; for he was devout, and feared the Lord exceedingly. Although he lived in Judah, his heart was stirred with the thought of the sins committed in the neighbouring kingdom of Israel, and of the judgments which would ultimately ensue. It was a time when Israel had every sign of prosperity. The warlike Jeroboam II. was on the throne, and his frequent victories gave his kingdom power, wealth, and security greater than it had before, or would ever have again. Amos, however, as a true "seer," saw under the surface of society. He was not to be diverted from sins and woes at home by dashing enterprises abroad. He knew that the poor were oppressed, that other classes were sinking into luxurious effeminacy, that the worship of Jehovah was ignored; and these and other evils he rightly traced to the idolatry which had its seat in Bethel Inspired by God to denounce these sins, he visited the towns and villages of Israel, everywhere delivering his message, until he came to Bethel itself, and boldly denounced idolatry in its chosen seat. He was expelled the kingdom by force, in obedience to the order of Jeroboam, who was instigated by Amaziah the high priest. But (as Church history has often shown) the attempt to silence a voice from God made its echoes reverberate through all the ages. Secluded in his little native village, Amos recorded the words which God had given him as a message to his contemporaries, and hence they have come down to us for our instruction. The history of the man and the style of his teaching in themselves teach us important lessons. We are reminded first—
I. THAT GOD OFTEN CHOOSES HIS SERVANTS FROM AMONGST MEN OF LOW ESTATE. We often quote the words (1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:28), "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen." But we glide over the surface of that assurance without noting, as we should do, its deep significance and profound truth. As a matter of history, however, it is true that the world is most indebted, not to its kings, but to its shepherds, fishermen, and tentmakers. In the stress of poverty and toil, not in the indulgences of luxury, the noblest characters have been formed. It is what a man is, and not what a man lugs, that fits him for the service of God. The Church has lost much moral power by ignoring that. No one can visit our places of worship without noticing that members of the artisan class are conspicuous by their absence. Their energy and activity are too often antagonistic to religion. And since they form the basis of society, and it is ultimately their work which makes our wealth, the outlook is sufficiently serious. Doubtless they are to blame, but the Church is to blame also. Abstention from places of worship is often due, in its initial stage, to absence of welcome; to the unexpressed desire, on the part of Christians, to treat certain of their fellow men as a separate class, which is "to be done good to" with effusive benevolence. Once more let it be true that "the rich and the poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all," that "the poor have the gospel preached to them," and we shall see a marvellous change. Those who now, when intelligent, are too often cynically sceptical, or, when degraded, are too often sunk low in drunkenness, will become as of yore—amongst the noblest upholders of love, righteousness, and truth.
II. THAT GOD DESIRES HIS SERVANTS TO DO THEIR WORK NATURALLY. Amos drew almost all his illustrations from the natural objects and scenes with which he was familiar in his calling among the herdmen. Perfect naturalness is a source of moral power to any teacher, especially to a teacher of religious truth. Nothing is more offensive in him than pretence, unreality, and affectation. To ape the style of another man, to speak confidently on subjects which have not been personally studied, etc; brings nothing but contempt. Be real and genuine, and thoroughly yourself, wherever you are, but most of all in speaking for God. Amos the herdman would not put on the style of Solomon the king. He was as wise as David was when he put off the armour of Saul because it was untried and therefore unsuitable. The shepherd lad was mightiest with the shepherd's sling and stone.
III. THAT GOD MAKES HIS WORLD TO BE VOCAL WITH TEACHING. The prophecy of Amos is crowded with scenes which the herdman had witnessed. It is worthy of study, if only as a bold picture of the incidents of village life in the East in olden days. Let us trust ourselves to his guidance in imagination. We see the gin set for the bird, and the snare spread for the game. We hear the roar of the lion in the thicket when he has caught his prey, and stand by the fisherman with his hooks, as with skill and patience he plies his craft. We watch the man fleeing from the lion only to meet the bear, and the fugitive bandit hoping for refuge in the caverns of Mount Carmel. We follow Amos to the field. Here the ploughman and vinedresser are busy at work; and there the gardens, cursed with mildew and blasting, bear no fruit. Now we hear the chirp of the grasshopper in the meadow, and now the patter of the rain as it falls after the king's mowings. In harvest time, as we walk with Amos, we see the laden cart pressed down with the weight of the sheaves, and hear the thud of the flail as it falls on the threshing floor, and watch the corn beaten out flung into the sieve, and note that while the chaff is scattered "not the least grain fails upon the earth." Then in the evening, when the land is quiet, and the heavens are glorious with stars, we hear Amos speak of him who "made the Pleiades and Orion," who makes the day dark with night, and then, in all the splendour of the Oriental dawn, turns the shadow of death into morning. What an example is he to us! Let us re-echo the prayer of Keble—
"Thou, who hast given me eyes to see
And love this sight so fair,
Give me a heart to find out thee,
And see thee everywhere."
IV. THAT GOD WOULD HAVE HOLY THOUGHTS ASSOCIATED WITH ORDINARY THINGS. We all know the power of association. Sometimes we hear a riddle or a joke which presents a text or hymn in a ludicrous aspect. We never hear the text or the hymn afterwards without being reminded of the grotesque thought. Hence such "jesting which is not convenient," and which is unhappily a staple ingredient of American burnout, should be repressed by thoughtful men. Our endeavour should be in the opposite direction. Instead of making sacred things profane, let us rather make profane things sacred, so that the prophecy of Zechariah shall be fulfilled, "In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar." All things belong to God. He is present in the fields as well as in his house. He is near us in our homes as well as in our temples; and the life we live as Christian men has sanctity, whether it be spent in the engagements of business or in the services of the sanctuary. Let us seek grace to follow in the footsteps of Amos, or rather in the footsteps of One infinitely greater than he; and then when we see the sower in the field, or the merchant in his business, when we gaze on the lilies in the garden, or on the tares amid the corn, we shall have sweet thoughts of those higher truths which our Lord has associated with them. The voice from heaven still says, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Amos 1:3, Amos 1:6, Amos 1:9, Amos 1:11, Amos 1:13; Amos 2:1, Amos 2:4, Amos 2:6
Great sufferings following great sins.
"For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment," etc. Amos, we are informed, was a native of Tekeah, a small region in the tribe of Judah, about twelve miles southeast of Jerusalem. Nothing is known of his parents. He evidently belonged to the humbler class of life, and pursued the occupation of the humble shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. From his flock he was divinely called to the high office of prophet; and though himself of the tribe of Judah, his mission was to Israel. He was sent to Bethel, into the kingdom of the ten tribes. He commenced his ministry in the reign of Uzziah, between B.C. 772 and 746, and therefore laboured about the same time as Hosea. In his time idolatry, with its concomitant evils and immoralities of every description, reigned with uncontrolled sway amongst the Israelites, and against these evils he hurls his denunciations. The book has been divided into three or four parts: First, sentences pronounced against the Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Jews, and the Israelites (Hosea 1:1-11 and Hosea 2:1-23). Second, special discourses delivered against Israel (Hosea 3:1-5 to 6). Third, visions, partly of a consolatory and partly of a comminatory nature, in which reference is had both to the times that were to pass over the ten tribes previous to the coming of the Messiah, and finally to what was to take place under his reign (Hosea 7:1-16 to 9). His style is marked by perspicuity, elegance, energy, and fulness. His images are mostly original, and taken from the natural scenery with which he was familiar. We may say that the whole passage, extending from Amos 1:13 to Amos 2:8, illustrates the three following great truths:
1. The sins of all the people on the earth, whatever the peculiarities of their character or conduct, are under the cognizance of God.
2. That of all the sins of the people, that of persecution is peculiarly abhorrent to the Divine nature.
3. That these sins expose to suffering not only the actual offenders, but others also. The first and second of these truths we will not here notice; but to the third we must now give a moment's attention. In all the passages to which we have referred at the head of this sketch punishment is the, subject. We offer two remarks on this subject.
I. GREAT SINS ENTAIL GREAT SUFFERINGS. The calamities threatened to these different tribes of different lands are of the most terrible description. But they are all such as to match their crimes.
1. The connection between great sins and great sufferings is inevitable. The moral Governor of the world has so arranged matters that every sin brings with it its own punishment, and it is only when the sin is destroyed the suffering ceases. Thank God, this sin can be destroyed through faith in the mediation of him who came to put away sin by faith in the sacrifice of himself.
2. The connection between great sins and great sufferings is universal. All these sinful peoples had to realize it from their own bitter experience. It does not matter where, when, or how a man lives, his sins will find him out.
II. GREAT SINS OFTEN ENTAIL GREAT SUFFERINGS UPON PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT THE ACTUAL OFFENDERS. "The fire," which is here the instrument of God's retribution to us sinners, would not only scathe the persons and consume the property of the actual offenders, but others. The fact is patent in all history and in all experience, that men here suffer for the sins of others. We are so rooted together in the great field of life, that if the tares are pulled up the wheat will be injured if not destroyed. The cry of men in all ages has been, "Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquities." Two facts may reconcile our consciences to this.
1. That few, if any, suffer more than their consciences tell them they deserve.
2. That there is to come period when the whole will appear to be in accord with the justice and goodness of God.—D.T.
Amos 1:3, Amos 1:6, Amos 1:9, Amos 1:11, Amos 1:13; Amos 2:1, Amos 2:4, Amos 2:6
The enormity of the sin of persecution.
"For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four," etc. "They are all charged in general," says an old expositor, "with three transgressions, yea, with four; that is, with many transgressions, as by 'one or two' we mean many; as, in Latin, a man that is very happy is said to be terque quaterque beatus—'three and four times happy;' or, 'with three and four,' that is, with seven transgressions—a number of perfection, intimating that they have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and are, ripe for ruin; or, 'with three' (that is, a variety of sins), and with a fourth especially, which is specified concerning each of them, though the other three are not, as Proverbs 30:15, Proverbs 30:18, Proverbs 30:21, Proverbs 30:29. Where we read of 'three things, yea, four,' generally one seems to be more especially intended" (Henry). Now, the sin especially referred to here as the "fourth" is taken to be that of persecution, that is, the sin of inflicting suffering upon others because of their peculiar religious convictions and doings. Other sins innumerable, varied and heinous, they had committed, but this fourth seems to be the crowning of their evil. Persecution has been called the measure filling sin of any people, the sin that will be taken into account on the last great day. "I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat," etc.
I. PERSECUTION IS A MOST ARROGANT CRIME. The religious persecutor acts upon the assumption that his ideas of religion are absolutely true, that his theological knowledge is the test by which all other opinions are to be tried. Such a man is represented by the apostle as one that "sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Presumptuous mortal! The proud tyrant who has won his way through seas of blood to the throne, and claims authority over men's bodily movements, shows an arrogance before which servile spirits bow, but from which all thoughtful and noble men recoil with disgust and indignation. But his arrogance is shadowy and harmless compared with the arrogance of him who enters the temple of human conscience, and claims dominion over the moral workings of the soul. Yes, such arrogant men abound in all ages, and are by no means rare even in this age and land of what is called civil and religious liberty. The most arrogant title that mortal man can wear is "Vicar of Christ."
II. PERSECUTION IS A MOST ABSURD CRIME. Far wiser is the fool who would legislate for the winds or the waves, and, like Canute, give commands to the billows than he who attempts to legislate for human thoughts and moral convictions. Still more foolish to attempt to crush men's religious beliefs by inflicting civil disabilities or corporeal suffering. In sooth, the way to give life, power, and influence to religious errors is to persecute. And truth never seems to rise in greater power and majesty than under the bloody hand of cruel persecution. It has been well said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
"A blameless faith was all the crime the Christian martyr knew;
And where the crimson current flowed upon that barren sand,
Up sprang a tree, whose vigorous boughs soon overspread the land;
O'er distant isles its shadow fell, nor knew its roots decay,
E'en when the Roman Caesar's throne and empire passed away."
III. PERSECUTION IS A MOST CRUEL CRIME. What ruthless inhumanities are in these verses charged against the various peoples mentioned—those of Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, etc.! It has often been observed that no anger is so savage as the auger which springs up between relations of blood. A brotherly hate is the chief of hates; and it may be truly said that there is no animosity that burns with a more hellish heat than that connected with religion. Gibbon, referring to the cruelties inflicted upon the early Christians, says, "They died in torments, and their torments were embittered by insult and derision. Some were nailed on crosses, others sewn up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the fury of dogs; others, again, smeared over with combustible material, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied by a horse race and honoured with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13