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Judgment on Moab.
Moab. The prophet now denounces the other nation connected by ties of blood with Israel (see on Amos 1:13). Moab's hostility had been shown in the hiring of Balsam to curse the Israelites, and in seducing them to idolatry (Nu 22-25:3). He was their oppressor in the time of the Judges (Judges 3:12); and David had to take most stringent measures against him (2 Samuel 8:2). The Moabites joined in a league against Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:22), and later against Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:2), and, as we see by the inscription on the Moabite Stone, were always ready to profit by the disasters or weakness of the chosen people. "I erected this stone," says Mesha, "to Chemosh at Kirkha, a stone of salvation, for he saved me from all despoilers, and made me see my desire upon all mine enemies, even upon Omri, King of Israel." And then he goes on to recount his victories. He burned the bones of the King of Edom into lime. This profanation of the corpse of the King of Edom (see 2 Kings 23:16; Jeremiah 8:1, Jeremiah 8:2) is not mentioned in the historical books. Some of the older commentators, as Tirinus and Corn. a Lapide, think that the prophet wishes to show that the sympathy of God extends beyond the covenant people, and that he punishes wrongs inflicted even on heathen nations. But as in the case of the other nations, Amos reproves only crimes committed against Israel or Judah, so the present outrage must have the same connection. The reference to the King of Moab's sacrifice of "his eldest son," even if we suppose (which is improbable) the son of the King of Edom to be meant, is plainly inapplicable (2 Kings 3:27), as the offence regarded the king himself, and not his son, and the expression, "burned into lime," can hardly be thought to refer to a human sacrifice. The act mentioned probably occurred during the time that the Edomites joined Jehoram and Jehoshaphat in the league against Mesha, the King of Moab (2 Kings 3:7, 2 Kings 3:9), the author of the inscription on the celebrated stone erected by him at Dibon. Unfortunately, the last lines of that inscription, describing the war against the Edomites, are lost. The paragraph that remains is this: "And Chemosh said to me, Go down, make war against Horonaim [i.e. the men of Edom], and take … Chemosh … in my days. Wherefore I made … year … and I…" The Jewish tradition, quoted by Jerome, tells that after this war the Moabites, in revenge for the assistance which the King of Edom had given to the Israelites, dug up and dishonoured his bones. Edom was then in vassalage to Israel, but regained its independence some ten years later (2 Kings 8:20). The sacrilegious act was meant to redound to the disgrace of Israel
Kirioth; cities, and so taken as an appellative by the Septuagint translators, τῶν πόλεων αὐτῆς: but it is doubtless a proper name of one of the chief Moabite towns (Jeremiah 48:24, Jeremiah 48:41). Keil, after Burckhardt, identifies it with the decayed town of Kereyat, or Korriat; others, with Ar, or Kir, the old capital (Isaiah 15:1). The plural termination of the word,like Athenae, Thebae, etc; may denote a double city—upper and lower, or old and new. Moab shall die. The nation is personified. With tumult; caused by war (comp. Jeremiah 48:45, and the prophecy of Balaam, Numbers 24:17). Septuagint, ἐν ἀδυναμίᾳ, "in weakness." With shouting. Omitted by the Vulgate (see on Amos 1:14). Trumpet (Amos 3:6; Jeremiah 4:19). Trochon cites Virgil, 'AEneid,' 2:313, "Exoritur clamorque virum clangorque tubarum," "Rises the shout of men and trumpets' blare."
The judge; shophet, probably here a synonym for "king" (comp. Micah 5:1). it implies the chief magistrate, like the Carthaginian sufes, which is the same word. There is no ground for deducing, as Hitzig and Ewald do, from the use of this form that Moab had no king at this time. The country was conquered by the Chaldeans, and thenceforward sank into insignificance (Jeremiah 48:1-47.; Ezekiel 25:8-11).
Amos 2:4, Amos 2:5
§ 2. Judah is summoned to judgment, the prophet thus passing from alien nations, through the most favoured people, to Israel, the subject of his prophecy.
They have despised the Law of the Lord. The other nations are denounced for their offences against God's people; Judah is sentenced for her offences against God himself. The former likewise had offended against the law of conscience, natural religion; the latter against the written Law, revealed religion. By thus denouncing Judah, Amos shows his perfect impartiality. The Law, Torah, is the general name for the whole body of precepts and commandments, chuqqim, moral and ceremonial. Their lies; Vulgate, idola sua, which is the sense, though not the translation, of the word. Idols are so called as being nonentities in themselves, and deceiving those who trust in them. "We know," says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:4). "that an idol is nothing in the world." The Septuagint gives, τὰ μάταια αὐτῶν ἂ ἐποίησαν, "their vain things which they made." Their fathers have walked. This is the usual expression for attachment to idolatrous practices. From this error the Israelites were never weaned till their return from the penal Captivity.
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans is here briefly foretold (Jeremiah 17:27; Hos 8:14; 2 Kings 25:9, 2 Kings 25:10).
3. Summons and general denunciation of Israel for injustice, cruelty, incest, luxury, and idolatry.
They sold the righteous for silver. The first charge against Israel is perversion of justice. The judges took bribes and condemned the righteous, i.e. the man whose cause was good. Pusey thinks that the literal selling of debtors by creditors, contrary to the Law (Exodus 21:7; Le Exodus 25:39; Nehemiah 5:5), is meant (comp. Amos 8:6 and Matthew 18:25). The needy for a pair of shoes. For the very smallest bribe they betray the cause of the poor (comp. Ezekiel 13:19); though, as sandals were sometimes of very costly materials (So Amos 7:1; Ezekiel 16:10; Judith 16:9), the expression might mean that they sold justice to obtain an article of luxury. But the form of expression is opposed to this interpretation.
That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor. This is the second charge—oppression of the poor. The obscure expression in the text is capable of two explanations. Hitzig, Pusey, Trochon, assume that its meaning is that in their avarice and cupidity the usurers or tyrannous rich men grudge even the dust which the poor man strews upon his head in token of his sorrow at being brought to so low a state. But this seems unnatural and farfetched, and scarcely in harmony with the simple style of Amos. The other explanation, supported by Kimchi, Sehegg, Keil, and Knabenbauer, is preferable. These oppressors desire eagerly to see the poor crushed to the earth, or so miserable as to scatter dust on their heads. The poor (dal, not the same word as in verse 6); depressed, as brought low in condition. The Septuagint joins this with the previous clause, "And the poor for sandals, the things that tread on the dust of the earth, and smote on the heads of the needy." The Vulgate gives, Qui conterunt super pulverem terrae capita pauperum, "Who bruise the heads of the poor on the dust of the earth." Turn aside the way of the meek. They thwart and hinder their path of life, and force them into crooked and evil ways. Or way, according to Kimchi, may mean "judicial process," as Proverbs 17:23. This gives, to the clause much the same meaning as Proverbs 17:6. The meek are those who are lowly and unassuming (see note on Zephaniah 2:3). And a man and his father will go in unto the same maid; LXX; Εἰσεπορεύοντο πρὸς τὴν αὐτὴν παιδίσκην. The Vulgate, which omits "the same," is closer to the Hebrew, Et filius ac pater ejus ierunt ad puellam, though the Greek doubtless gives the intended meaning. This sin, which was tantamount to incest, was virtually forbidden (Le Proverbs 18:8, Proverbs 18:15; Proverbs 20:11). Some (as Ewald, Maurer, Gandell) see here an allusion to the organized prostitution in idol temples (Hosea 4:14), but this seems unnecessary. To profane my holy Name (Leviticus 22:32). Such crimes dishonoured the God who called them his people, so that to them could be applied what St. Paul says (Romans 2:24), "The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you" (comp. Le Proverbs 20:3; Ezekiel 36:20, Ezekiel 36:23). The word lemaan, "in order that," implies that they committed these sins, not through ignorance, but intentionally, to bring discredit upon the true faith and worship.
The prophet condemns the cruel luxury which, contrary to the Law, made the poor debtor's necessities minister to the rich man's pleasures. They lay themselves down upon; Vulgate, accubuerunt. Ewald translates, "they cast lots upon;" but the Authorized Version is supported by the highest authorities, and gives the most appropriate meaning. The Septuagint, with which the Syriac partly agrees, refers the clause to the immoralities practised in heathen worship, which the perpetrators desired to screen from observation, Τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν δεσμεύοντες σχοινίοις παραπετάσματα ἐποίουν ἐχόμενα τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, "Binding their clothes with cords, they made them curtains near the altar." This is far from the intention of the prophet's words. Upon clothes laid to pledge; or, taken in pledge. The "clothes" (begadim) are the large outer garments which formed poor men's dress by day and cover by night, and which, if pledged, were ordered to be returned by nightfall (Exodus 22:26, etc.; Deuteronomy 24:12, etc.). These the hardhearted usurers kept as their own, and reclined luxuriously upon them at their feasts and carousals in their temples. By every altar. At the sacrificial feasts in the temples at Dan and Bethel. They drink the wine of the condemned; Septuagint, οἶνον ἐκ συκοφαντιῶν. Wine obtained by fines extorted from the oppressed. So it is better to translate, "of such as have been fined." In the house of their god. The true God, whom they worshipped there under the symbol of the calf.
God complains of Israel's ingratitude for the favour which he had shown them. And yet I. The personal pronoun has a prominent position, and is continually repeated, to contrast God's faithfulness and the people's unthankfulness. The Amorite (Joshua 24:8, Joshua 24:18). The representative of the seven nations of Canaan who were dispossessed by the Israelites (Genesis 15:16; Exodus 23:27; Exodus 34:11). The hyperbolical description of this people is taken from Numbers 13:32, etc.; Deuteronomy 1:28. Thus is shown Israel's inability to cope with such an enemy, and their entire dependence on the help of the Lord. Fruit … roots. Keil explains that the posterity of a nation is regarded as its fruit, and the kernel of the nation out of which it springs as the root, comparing Job 18:16; Ezekiel 17:9; Hosea 9:16. The expression is equivalent to our "root and branch" (Malachi 4:1).
The deliverance from Egypt and the guidance through the desert, though chronologically first, are mentioned last, as the great and culminating example of the favour and protection of God. First God prepared the land for Israel, and then trained them for possessing it. From the many allusions in this section, we see how familiar Amos and his hearers were with the history and law of the Pentateuch. Led you forty years (Deuteronomy 2:7; Deuteronomy 8:2-4).
Having mentioned two temporal benefits conferred on Israel, the prophet now names two spiritual favours—the presence of holy speakers and holy doers. I raised up. The prophet and the Nazarite were alike miracles of grace. The former gave heavenly teaching, the latter exhibited holiness of life. It was the Lord who gave the prophet power and authority to proclaim his will; it was the Lord who inspired the vow of the Nazarite and enabled him to carry it out in practice. Prophets. To Israel belonged Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1), Ahijah of Shiloh (1 Kings 14:2, 1 Kings 14:4), Jehu, son of Hanani (1 Kings 16:7), Elijah and Elisha, Hosea and Jonah. Young men. In the height of their passions, lusty and strong. Nazarites. The law concerning the Nazarites is given in Numbers 6:1-27. The special restrictions by which they bound themselves (viz. abstention from strong drink, from the use of the razor, and from all ritual defilement) were the outward signs of inward purity and devotion to God. Their very name implied separation from the world and devotion to God. They were, in fact, the religious of the old Law, analogous to the monks of Christian times. The vow was either temporary or lifelong. Of perpetual Nazarites we have as instances Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Is it not even thus? Is not the existence of prophets and Nazarites among you a proof that you are signally favoured by God, separate from other nations, and bound to be a holy people? Taking the general import of the passage and the signification of the word "Nazarite," the LXX. renders, εἰς ἀγιασμόν, "I took … and of your young men for consecration."
Ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink. Far from profiting by their example, or acknowledging the grace of God displayed in their holy lives, ye tried to get rid of their testimony by seducing or forcing them to break their vow. Prophesy not. Israel was impatient of the continued efforts of the prophets to warn and to win; and, unmindful of the fact that the man of God had a message which he was bound to deliver (comp. Jeremiah 20:9; 1 Corinthians 9:16), this ungrateful nation systematically tried to silence the voices which were a standing rebuke to them. Thus Amos himself was treated (Amos 7:10, etc.).
, Ewald, Pusey, Gandell, for "flight" render "place of flight, refuge," as Job 11:20; Psalms 142:5; Septuagint, φυγή: Vulgate, fuga. Shall not strengthen his force. The strong man shall not be able to collect or put forth his strength to any good purpose (comp. Proverbs 24:5; Nahum 2:1). Neither shall … himself. Some of the Greek manuscripts omit this clause. Deliver himself occurs three times—a kind of solemn refrain.
Stand (Jeremiah 46:21; Nahum 2:8). The skilled archer shall not stand firm. That handleth the bow (Jeremiah 46:9).
He that is courageous among the mighty; literally, the strong in his heart; i.e. the bravest hero. The LXX. takes the words differently, Ὁ κραταιὸς οὐ μὴ εὑρήσει τὴν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ ἐν δυσαστείαις, "The strong shall not find his heart (confidence) in powers." Naked. Casting away heavy garments and weapons and whatever might hinder flight. Virgil, 'Georg.,' 1:299, "Nudus ara, sere nudus."
The woe against Moab.
Much that has been said of Ammon applies equally to Moab. The two nations had close relations and affinities, and in Scripture are generally mentioned together. Both were mildly treated by Israel (Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19) as long as such treatment was possible. Yet were they at one in an implacable hatred of her, and a national policy of outrage towards her. A spring raid into Hebrew territory seems to have been an established Moabitish institution (2 Kings 13:20, literally, "were wont to come"). Again, Moab adopted the novel and unlikely expedient of employing a prophet of God to curse his own people (Numbers 23:7). Of the comprehensive and thorough character of the national hatred, which these doings reveal, we have evidence in the passage before us.
I. THE NATIONAL HATES OF MOAB WERE DETERMINED BY ITS HATE OF ISRAEL. "It has burned the bones of the King of Edom." The particular occasion referred to here is not known. But the events that led up to it are briefly recorded. Moab was for some time tributary to Israel, and rebelled against it in the reign of Jehoram (2 Kings 3:1, 2 Kings 3:4, 2 Kings 3:5). In the repressive war that followed, Jehoram was joined by the King of Judah and the King of Edom, then probably a tributary of Judah (2 Kings 8:20). This war, the only one in which Edom and Moab came into conflict, exasperated Moab against it even more fiercely than against Israel itself (2 Kings 3:26, 2 Kings 3:27). The horrible sacrifice of the King of Edom's son by the King of Moab, and the subsequent burning of the King of Edom's bones by the Moabites, were both expressions of this wild and savage resentment. Moab's hatred of Edom was hatred of her as Israel's ally, and therefore at bottom was hatred of Israel itself. So the ungodly hate things from the standpoint of their connection with religion. They hate believers for Christ's sake (Matthew 10:22), and the friends of believers for believers' sakes. The compensation for this is that for Christ's sake also Christians love each other and the ungodly as well, and God for his own sake loves them all.
II. MOAB'S WAS A HATE THAT EVEN DEATH COULD NOT APPEASE. This fact illustrates its insatiability. "The soul being after death beyond man's reach, the hatred vented upon his remains is a sort of impotent grasping at eternal vengeance. It wreaks on what it knows to be insensible the hatred with which it would pursue, if it could, the living being who is beyond it" (Pusey). The employment of the burnt bones as lime is a circumstance which, like the ripping of pregnant women by Ammon, reveals the savage debasement of the people, and that contemptuous disregard of the human body which is generated by a career of blood and lust. There is a sacredness about death. It introduces an unseen factor, marks off a territory into which we may not intrude. There is a sacredness, too, about the human body. It is for a temple of the Holy Ghost, and to be treated as holy (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20). Its members are to be members of Christ, and to be treated as consecrated things (1 Corinthians 6:15-18). The best guarantee against intemperance, uncleanness, violence, and every abuse of the body is respect for it as the home and instrument of God.
III. THE CIRCUMSTANCE THAT MAKES MOAB THE ENEMY OF EDOM MAKES GOD HER FRIEND. Edom's alliance with Israel had results in two directions, it embroiled her with Israel's enemies, and commended her to Israel's friends. And primarily it commended her to Israel's God. His favour to his people includes, to certain intents, their friends. Members of the families of Noah and Lot were spared for their fathers' sake. A mixed multitude of foreigners were fed miraculously in the desert, because they were servants to the Israelites. Even the Egyptians were favoured because they for a time had given Israel a home (Deuteronomy 23:7). So with Edom. He was a brother by blood (Deuteronomy 23:7), and had been an ally against Moab, and so his cause is championed by God in this exactly as the cause of Israel is in the other woes. So with more spiritual relations. The virgin companions of the bride, the Church, are brought, as her companions, to the King (Psalms 45:14). The final judgment apart, service rendered to God's people will not go unrewarded (Matthew 10:40-42). No investment brings in surer return than help and kindness shown to the saints of God.
IV. MOAB'S DOOM WAS ONE THAT MATCHED ITS LIFE. "Shall die with tumult." The Moabites were "sons of tumult" (Numbers 24:17; Jeremiah 48:45), and as in tumult they lived, so in tumult they should die (see Pusey). This is providential, the punishment being made appropriate to the crime. It is also natural, violence provoking violence, and so fixing the character of its own punishment. Moab had probably lost its kings before the prophecy was fulfilled, but the judges and princes who had headed the nation in its violence fitly head it in its destruction also.
Amos 2:4, Amos 2:5
The woe against Judah.
In the form of this woe, as compared with those before, is nothing to indicate the difference of underlying principles which it involves. A woe on a Hebrew and a heathen have little in common but the inevitable connection between punishment and sin.
I. THE SINS FOR WHICH GOD VISITS RESPECTIVELY THOSE WHO KNOW HIM AND THOSE WHO KNOW HIM NOT ARE VERY DIFFERENT. The six woes against the heathen are fathered exclusively on their sins against Israel or its friends. This woe against Judah is denounced with exclusive reference to sins against God himself. This is exactly what we might expect. Each is judged out of his own law (Romans 2:12). The revelation of God and duty to him was the first great commandment of the Law given to the Jews (Matthew 22:37, Matthew 22:38), and for this God reckons with them—first, because it was at once the guiltiest sin, and the sin of which they were oftenest guilty. The law revealed to the heathen made known the existence and many perfections of God (Psalms 19:1; Romans 1:20), and threw a side light on the way to worship him (Acts 17:29). But this was not their clearest revelation, and so their sin against it is not the sin that is emphasized. The law written on their heart (Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15)—i.e. speaking in reason, conscience, and human feeling—was specially the law of duty to their fellow creatures; and it is for their sin in this matter specially that God brings them into judgment. It is its blindness, and not its darkness, that is the condemnation of the world (John 3:19). Where the white ray of revelation focusses, there the red ray of judgment shall fall and burn.
II. CONTEMPT OF LAW AND THE VIOLATION OF LAW INVOLVE EACH OTHER. "Despised the Law of Jehovah, and kept not his commandments." The Law is the abstract thing—God's revealed will as a whole. The commandments are the "particular precepts" (Keil) into which it is broken up. The first, Being general, is fitly described as being "despised;" i.e. its drift disliked and its authority spurned. The second, Being precepts enjoining particular duties, is said with propriety to be disobeyed. The order of enumeration is also the logical and natural order. Action is ever the outcome of sentiment, and its expression. What a man outwardly disobeys he has begun by inwardly despising. And so what he begins by despising he naturally goes on to disobey. It is in the heart that the eggs are hatched which, in a later stage, are the birds of evil doing. It is, therefore, at the door of his heart that the wise man will mount guard (Proverbs 4:23).
III. ALL TRANSGRESSION IS THE OUTCOME OF IDOLATRY. Their lies led them astray. "By 'lies' here we are to understand idols. And the figure is most appropriate. Amos calls the idols 'lies,' not only as res quoe fallunt, But as fabrications and nonentities" (Keil; see 1 Corinthians 8:4). It is this lying character that makes them inevitably the occasion of sin. The first sin was brought about by a lie, in which the truth of God's threat was denied, and so its practical power destroyed. And every idol is just such a lie in embodied form. It is an abrogation of God's authority, a denying of his very existence; and it is a substitution for these of a god and a code congenial to our fallen nature. Under such circumstances violation of God's Law is a foregone conclusion.
IV. THE IDOLS OF THE CHILDREN ARE THE IDOLS OF THE FATHERS. Imitation is easier than invention. Hence Israel, when they first wanted an idol, adopted the calf of Egypt (Exodus 32:4); and Jeroboam, also just left Egypt, set up calf worship in Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28). Then, other things being equal, the persons men are most likely to imitate are their fathers, who are their teachers and guides and natural examples. Add to this that national tastes and habits and characters, formed in connection with a particular idol worship, would be in special harmony with it, and would be transmitted with it from sire to son.
V. SIN INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE SPIRITUAL CIRCLE IS DEALT WITH ON THE SAME PRINCIPLES. The manner of the sin was the same with Judah and the heathen. It was a transgression, or act of disobedience to a known law, as distinguished from a sinful disposition. It was a series of these acts, culminating in a final one of special enormity. "For three transgressions, and for four." The manner of treatment was the same. God threatened to strike. Then he lifted his hand for the stroke. Then he withheld it for a time. Then he declared the limit of forbearance was past, and nothing could now prevent the falling of the blow. The mode of punishment was to be the same. The agent would be devouring fire. This would fall on the capital. Sin in a visible spiritual relation, and however mixed up with acts of worship, is no whit less guilty. There is only one hell, and all sin alike deserves it, and, unrepented of, must bring to it.
Heredity and the idol taint.
"And their lies led them astray, after which their fathers walked." Idolatry was Israel's besetting sin. Within two months of their leaving Egypt they fell into it, and, in spite of Divine deterrent measures, they returned to it persistently for nine hundred years. They took to idol worship, in fact, as "to the manner born" And that the sin was constitutional, and in the grain, is evident from the fact that there was no corresponding secession from idol worship to the service of the true God (Jeremiah 2:11). It was, moreover, the germinal sin. Deranging the primary relation to God, it led to the derangement of all other relations subordinate to this. From it, as a fruitful seed, sprang up in a luxuriant crop the hateful national vices, in which the heathen around were not merely imitated but outdone. And then, as was natural, all the national troubles, including the crowning one of captivity in Babylon, were brought on them by this and its resultant sins, and were designed to be at once its punishment and cure. How near the practice lay to the sources of national corruption and calamity this passage shows. We have here—
I. AN IDOL A LIE. This is a strong figure, and very apt (Jeremiah 16:19, Jeremiah 16:20; Romans 1:25).
1. It is a figment of the imagination. "An idol is nothing in the world" (1 Corinthians 8:4). It is simply, as the very name implies, the creation of an errant fancy. If we think that to be something which is nothing, we deceive ourselves; and the idol which is the occasion of the deception is an illusion and a lie. There are idols in every human heart. Such are all its passions and lusts (Colossians 3:5; 1 John 5:21). And they are lies. They are conversant with unrealities only. They deceive by false shows and promises. They promise joys that are purely visionary. They afford joys that turn out greatly poorer than they seemed. They refuse to believe in evil consequences that are manifold and inevitable. Every man who has given them entertainment has deceived himself (Romans 6:21).
2. It is the devil's figurehead. This is Paul's reading of the natural history of an idol (1 Corinthians 10:19, 1 Corinthians 10:20), and it was that of Moses (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17) and Ezra (2 Chronicles 11:15) and David (Psalms 106:37) before him. Thus the imaginary god is, after all, a real devil, anti therefore doubly a lie; for he "is a liar, and the father of it." He suggests it, and designs it, and works through it, and embodies himself in it, and then crowns all by concealing the fact. The "kingdom of the beast" in prophecy is probably the great idolatrous confederation or false Church in which idolatry is wedded to empire (Dr. Wylie, 'Great Exodus'). So with the spiritual idols of our hearts. They are of the devil (1 John 3:8), produced by his working (Acts 5:3) and charged with his evil nature (John 8:44). To serve the flesh in the lusts of it is, in a very literal sense, to serve the devil.
3. It disappoints all expectations from it. "Ye are of nothing," says Isaiah, addressing idols, "and your work of nought" (Isaiah 41:24). So we say, "Out of nothing nothing comes." Idol impotence, declared in Scripture (Jeremiah 14:22), and proved by experiment (1 Kings 18:24, 1 Kings 18:29), is a corollary from the very nature of things. So with spiritual idols. Nothing comes out of them to the purpose. Covetousness and concupiscence and frivolity promise happiness, and it never comes, but is wasted by them beyond recovery. And then, instead of happiness, there comes a ruined estate, and shattered health, and blasted hopes, and an accusing conscience, and the first tooth of the worm that never dies.
II. AN IDOL A CORRUPTING LIE. "Caused them to err," or "led them astray." There is a whole philosophy of morals in this statement.
1. Wrong belief leads to wrong action. The modern byword that "religion is not a creed, but a life," is cant generally, and a blunder always. Religion is neither a creed nor a life; it is both. "if ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." You cannot do them otherwise; and in that case, to know them is useless. It is impossible to steer right with a wrong theory of navigation or with no theory. So a right life is impossible where there is a wrong creed or no creed. A creed is but a formula, of which the intelligent life is the tilling up. Belief in idols, or in any ordinance of their worship, is a mistake, and acted on must lead astray. So, too, with the idols of sinful appetites. We expect happiness from serving them, and serve them with that view. What is this but committing sin on principle—wrong practice the inevitable outcome of wrong theory?
2. Idolatry casts off God, and so all restraints on ill-doing. Morality has its basis in religion. The standard of it is God's character. The ground of it is God's command. If there is no God there is no duty, as theists understand duty, and men may live as they list. This was what Israel did as soon as they became idolatrous (verse 7). Idolatry was equivalent with them to a deed of indemnity for sinning. So with the worshippers of idol lusts. The idolatry that makes a god of ourselves makes us also a law to ourselves.
3. An idol is evil even as a conception, and the worship of it makes the idolater like it. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" The idol invented by corrupt man is a corrupt creation. The gods of Greece and Rome were many of them simply the embodiments of human vices; and as they were models for men to study and imitate, the worship of them made the people like them. We are naturally assimilated to the likeness of the thing we serve, if we serve it truly. Let this warn us to take service only with a pure master.
III. AN IDOL AN HEREDITARY LIE. "After which their fathers walked." Reason suggests and history shows that the idols of the fathers are the idols of the children.
1. All practices tend to become hereditary. Children are imitative. They do what they see done. An act repeated becomes a habit, and the habit leading to persistence in the act, presses it on others' attention, and leads to its being imitated. It is thus that the social and religions customs of a community assume an aspect of heredity, and propagate themselves down the generations.
2. Evil practices do so especially. (Proverbs 22:15.) Evil is congenial to human nature, and men will do the thing that is pleasant. Hence evil never dies, whilst good is dying out continually; and evil propagates itself, whilst good can be propagated only by a perpetual exercise of Divine influence.
3. Family sins are the most surely hereditary of all. Dispositions run in the blood. The drunkard, the thief, the libertine, each transmits his evil appetite or tendency to his children, and so practically ensures their failing into his sin. There is no reason to except a taste for idol worship from the operation of this law. In the literal sense it is an appetency easily transmissible. In the spiritual sense it is more easily propagable still. If "the fathers have eaten the sour grapes" of idol service in any form, "the children's teeth" are more than likely to be "set on edge."
4. Idol worship is self-worship in an insidious form, and therefore specially congenial to human nature. Self is the idol easiest to enthrone. The injunction to love ourselves is not given in Scripture. It is safely and properly assumed, and made the model and measure of our love to others (Matthew 19:19). Self-love is an affection native to the heart, and that in ideal strength. Now, an idol represented the maker's ideal of himself. It was, therefore, agreeable to his nature, and its service congenial, and so of easy transmission from generation to generation. All sin is really at bottom self-worship. We prefer ourselves to God; our will, our pleasure, our way, to his. We push him off the throne, and ourselves on it, and then do as we list. It is only grace that says, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
The woe against Israel.
This is the last woe and the greatest. "The thunder cloud of God's judgments having passed over all the nations round about, and even discharged the fire from heaven on Judah and Jerusalem, settles at last on Israel" (Pusey). Just as God's honour suffered specially by their sin, so does his heart suffer specially in their punishment. And so, whilst compendious justice may be meted out to heathen nations, the destruction of the chosen people cannot be denounced without regretful enlargement on the circumstances of the case.
I. COVETOUSNESS PUTS A CONTEMPTUOUS ESTIMATE ON HUMAN LIFE. "They sell the righteous for money, and the poor for a pair of shoes." This may be either a commercial or a judicial transaction, but in either case the principle involved is the same. An undue estimate of wrong involves an inadequate estimate of all else. Wealth becomes the one good, and gain the one pursuit. Human life is as nothing in comparison with personal aggrandizement to the extent of even a paltry sum. Officialism, to which the death of a human being is mainly a question of a burial or registration fee, is not an altogether unheard of thing. This principle has a bearing, not only on murder and the perversion of justice, but on slavery, oppression, the opium and liquor traffics, and every method of making money at the expense of human life or health or well being. The extent to which such things prevail, and the tens of thousands of human lives annually sacrificed for gain, is a startling commentary on the maxim that "the love of money is a root of all evil."
II. THE DOMINATING VICE OF A COMMUNITY MAKES ALL THE OTHER VICES ITS TRIBUTARIES. Israel's besetting sin as against their fellow men was covetousness.
1. This was inhuman. It bore hardest on the poor. These, being helpless, were its easiest victims. Humanity was put out of the question, and the unspeakably greater suffering involved in making the same gain off the poor, as compared with the rich, was no deterrent whatever. Gain, though it be the very heart's blood of miserable fellow creatures, was all they had an eye for or a heart to consider.
2. It was ungodly. It made special victims of the righteous. This course was partly utilitarian, no doubt. The righteous might be expected to submit to the maximum of wrong with the minimum of retaliation. But it was profane as well. The wicked hate good, and all in whom it is found. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." It was natural, therefore, that a worldly act should assume an ungodly character where opportunity arose.
3. It was devilish. "Who pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor." It rejoiced in all the incidental evils which oppression of the poor involved. When those it impoverished were levelled in the dust of misery and degradation, this was the sort of thing it panted after. One side of a man's moral nature cannot become vitiated without affecting the other sides. The vices have an affinity for one another, and tend to come together in groups. If evil gets in the little finger of one vice, the intrusion of the whole body is only a question of time.
III. WHEN MEN GET SATED WITH SIMPLE SINS, THEY RESORT TO COMPOUND SINS FOR A NEW SENSATION. Sin does not satisfy any time, and the longer it is followed up it satisfies the less. In the commission of it appetite increases, and relish diminishes pari passu, and so the candle of actual enjoyment is being shortened at both ends. One device in mitigation of this is to increase the dose, and another to multiply the ingredients. Reduced to the latter expedient, Israel mixed:
1. Carousal with uncleanness. The two things often go together. They are the two chief indulgences craved for by carnal appetite. The one, moreover, helps to produce the other. A Falstaff who combines the drunkard with the libertine is the typical debauchee.
3. Uncleanness with incest. "A man and his father go to the same girl." This act was equivalent to incest, which was a capital crime according to the Mosaic code (Leviticus 18:7, Leviticus 18:15; Leviticus 20:11). It outdid the heathen themselves, among whom this crime was not so much as named (1 Corinthians 5:1). An apostate is always the vilest sinner (2 Peter 2:21, 2 Peter 2:22).
3. Robbery with all three. "Stretch themselves upon pawned clothes." This was robbery in two forms. They retained pawned clothes overnight, contrary to the Law of Moses (Exodus 22:26, Exodus 22:27), and in further violation of it used them to sleep on (Deuteronomy 24:12, Deuteronomy 24:13). "And drink the wine of the amerced." Again a double injustice. The fine was unjustly inflicted, and then dishonestly appropriated.
4. Profanity with the entire troupe. "In order to profane my holy Name." Incest was the guiltiest, but as a carnal indulgence it had no advantage over any other form of uncleanness, It must, therefore, have been sought out because of its very horrors, and with a view to the profanation of God's holy flame, making the "members the members of an harlot" "Before every altar," i.e. at Beersheba and Dan, where Jehovah was worshipped after a fashion (see Keil), and therefore in determinate contempt of God. "In the house of their God," not the idol god probably, but the God of Israel. "In the time of Jeroboam II there was no heathenish idolatry in the kingdom of the ten tribes, or at any rate it was not publicly maintained" (Keil). But the sin, though less complicated, was scarcely less heinous than if idolatry had been a part of it. It was done of set purpose to dishonour him, and in order to this the place selected for the commission of it was his house, and the occasion the celebration of his worship. What a horrible exhibition of extreme and multiplex depravity! "They condensed sin. By a sort of economy in the toil of sinning they blended many sins in one … and in all the express breach of God's commandments" (Pusey).
The manifold mercies of the covenant people.
In striking contrast to Israel's treatment of God stands out his treatment of them. Mercy rises above mercy, tier on tier, in a mighty pyramid of blessing. Of these there was—
I. NATIONAL ADOPTION. This is not mentioned, but it is implied, as underlying all the other favours. God's first step was to make them his people. He loved and chose them (Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8). He separated them from the peoples, and took them into covenant with himself (Exodus 33:16; Genesis 17:7, Genesis 17:19). That covenant he sealed (Genesis 17:13), and all who observed the seal he styled his own people (Isaiah 43:1), lavishing on them in addition many a title of affection. This national adoption is the fact that subtends the whole line of Israel's national favours.
II. NATIONAL DELIVERANCE. "Brought you up," etc. (Amos 2:10). This was a stupendous providence; stupendous in its measures and stupendous in its results, and therefore of immense moral significance and weight. The mighty forces of nature are utilized. A haughty heathen nation is brought to its bended knees before the God of the down-trodden Israel. A rabble becomes an army. Crouching slaves become the fearless free. And, out of the chaos of despair and death emerges the young world of fresh national life. This astounding work was Jehovah's rod to conjure with in the after centuries. He makes it the fulcrum on which to rest the lever of resistless motive. His Law, in its moral (Exodus 20:2), judicial (Deuteronomy 24:18-22; Deuteronomy 15:15), and ceremonial aspects (Deuteronomy 16:12), is bespoken a ready and glad obedience in the word, "I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt," etc.
III. NATIONAL PRESERVATION. "And led you forty years." The sustained but quiet miracles of the desert pilgrimage were a worthy sequence to the prodigies of the Exodus. Divine energies were not exhausted in the thunder bursts under which Egypt was made to reel. They were but the stormy prelude to the sunshine and soft showers and gentle wooing winds of a long spiritual husbandry. In the manna falling silently, and the mystic guiding pillar, and the Shechinah glory lighting up the most holy place, Jehovah by a perpetual miracle kept himself before the nation's eye in all providential and saving relations. The resistless Deliverer was the jealous Protector, the bounteous Provider, and the solicitous and tender Friend.
IV. NATIONAL TRIUMPH. "I destroyed the Amorite," etc. The Hebrews had fierce and powerful enemies in all the neighbouring nations. These were generally their superiors in physical strength and courage and the warlike arts. Apart from miraculous help, it is doubtful whether Israel would not have been overmatched by almost any one of them (Exodus 17:11; 1 Samuel 17:42). Yet the giant races were subdued before them and wasted off the earth. When the grasshopper (Numbers 13:33) seizes on the lion's domain there are forces at work that invert the natural order of things. To make the minnows of unwarlike, timid, plodding Israel victorious over the tritons of Anak, the colossal warriors of Hebron (Joshua 11:21), was a moral miracle, sufficient in itself to carry a nation's faith and a nation's gratitude till the end of time.
V. NATIONAL ENFEOFFMENT. "To possess the land of the Amorite." An earthly inheritance was included in the earliest promise to Israel (Genesis 17:8). The tradition of this ideal provided home was never lost. In the stubble fields and by the brick kilns, where, "like dumb, driven cattle," they toiled throughout the years of their Egyptian bondage, the vision of it came as a ray of comfort lighting the darkest hours. When they marched from Egypt they consciously went to possess their own land, and the long detention in the desert was taken as a tedious but appropriate schooling to prepare them for the coming of age. Palestine, when at last they settled in it, was the very garden of the world, and a home so perfect of its kind as to be made an emblem of the eternal home above. God's standing monument, written over with the story of his goodness, was to every Israelite the teeming, smiling land in which he lived.
VI. NATIONAL EVANGELIZATION. "And I raised up of your sons," etc. The prophet was a characteristic national institution among the Jews. He was a man to whom God made revelations of his will (Numbers 12:6), and through whom he communicated that will to the people (Hebrews 1:1). Of this communication more or less was generally, although not invariably, committed to writing, and embodied in the Scriptures. The prophet did not regularly instruct the people; that was rather the business of the priest. But he did so often, and was besides God's mouthpiece for the communication of new truth, speaking it always according to the analogy of faith (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). The permanent establishment thus of a Divine oracle in their midst, giving constant access to the fountainhead of truth, was a notable privilege to Israel. The institution of Nazarites was little less so in another direction. They were consecrated ones, separated from common men and common uses, and devoted in a special manner to God (Numbers 6:1-21). Such consecration was the ideal human life (John 17:19). Therefore what the prophet did for truth in the abstract the Nazarite did for it in the concrete. The one revealed God's will, the other embodied it, or at least its great central principle. Their respective functions were complementary of each other, and between the two the Israelitish nation was "throughly furnished unto good works."
Children that are corrupters.
"But ye made the dedicated drink wine; and ye commanded the prophets, saying, Ye shall not prophesy" Action and reaction have a natural connection and a normal relation to each other. In all departments of being they meet and answer, as face answers to face in a glass. The rebound is as the blow, the conviction as the argument, the response as the appeal. The mention of what God had done for Israel brings up the question—How had Israel been affected by it all? Had things occurred in the normal way? Had gratitude waited on blessing in due proportion, and improvement followed privilege? This verse is the disappointing answer. Israel's response to God's appeal, as contained in his gracious dealings, was not the gratitude and fealty due, but unaccountable and aggravated sin. God delivered them from bondage, and they oppressed each other; he defended them against unjust violence, and they wrought injustice. He guided them in their journeys, and they led one another astray. He plied them with evangelizing agencies, and they responded by committing sacrilege and procuring blasphemy. The last is the sin charged against them here.
I. THIS WAS PRIMARILY A SIN AGAINST GOD. The Nazarite and the prophet were both Divine institutions. The vow of the one and the message of the other were alike prescribed by God (Numbers 6:1; Numbers 12:6). It was his will that they should perform their characteristic acts. In doing so they were but his instruments, accomplishing his purpose toward the nation. Accordingly, Israel's action against them was really against him, against his servants, against his ordinance, against his authority. So with all action against God's people as such. As we deal by them will he regard us as dealing by himself. They are all God's prophets, understanding the mysteries of his kingdom, and "holding forth the Word of life." They are all his dedicated ones, separate from the world, and living, "not to themselves, but to him who died and rose again for them." And whether as the one thing or the other, they are his accredited representatives on earth (Matthew 10:40). Our treatment of them is virtually our treatment of him that sent them (Matthew 25:40). A kiss to them reaches the Master's lips; a blow to them touches the apple of his eye.
II. PROXIMATELY THIS WAS A SIN AGAINST MAN. It consisted in compelling the prophet and the Nazarite to disobey God. Now, disobedience is sin, even when committed under pressure. "We ought to obey God rather than men." Men have faced death rather than the guilt of disobedience to known law. And so long as there is any alternative, even death itself, there is no place for disobedience. Israel's was the sin of compelling others to sin. This was soul murder, and therefore guilt of the darkest dye. Early persecutors sometimes compelled Christians to swallow poison, an infernal device to make them suicides as well as martyrs, and so destroy them soul and body both. So diabolically ingenious was the young persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, that he compelled believers to blaspheme (Acts 26:11); and when recalling the sin of his unconverted life he makes that fact the bitterest count in his self-accusation. Kindred to this was Israel's sin. It was an attempt to compass not men's death alone, but their damnation—a crime to which killing the body is as nothing. And it is not so uncommon in Christian lands and Christian Churches. How many among us are tempters to drunkenness, tempters to uncleanness, tempters to falsehood, tempters to profanity! Well, every tempter is a murderer—a murderer not merely in the ordinary sense, but in the Satanic sense of destroying or trying to destroy an immortal soul.
III. ULTIMATELY IT WAS A SIN AGAINST THE SINNER'S OWN INTERESTS. All sin is unprofitable, but this was doubly so. The prophet brought God's message, not for their destruction, but for their salvation. When they shut his month they cut themselves off from their only chance of being saved. "Where no vision is the people perish;" and in deliberately cutting it off, Israel sealed its own destruction. Then the Nazarite was an embodied revelation, a typical representation of a consecrated life. A heedful eye might have read a spiritual lesson out of his separation. "The life of the Nazarites was a continual protest against the self-indulgence and worldliness of the people.... It was a life above nature and thought They were an evidence what all might do and be if they used the grace of God" (Pusey). But, in the compulsory violation of his vow, the rich page was blotched and its lesson blotted out. It presents the piteous sight of a people stopping the fount of life in order that they may die of thirst. Israel would neither listen to the Divine voice nor look at the Divine life. And the sight is not confined to Israel (2 Timothy 4:3). There are Churches that will not tolerate faithful preaching. There is a preaching that minces the gospel testimony against sin. It is the case of Israel over again. The people sinfully silence the preacher, and the preacher sinfully submits to be silenced. A Church asleep, and the minister rocking the cradle, is a poor interpretation of the pastoral relation.
IV. ALTOGETHER IT WAS A SIN AGGRAVATED BY THE ENJOYMENT OF SPECIAL MERCIES. All that God had done was a motive to obedience and an argument against sin. But all the arrows of influence fell pointless and broken from their hearts of stone. The more Divine mercies multiplied, the more did abominable wickedness increase. Sin, under such unlikely circumstances, argues special inveteracy, and involves corresponding aggravation of guilt (Romans 2:4). With every want supplied and every better feeling appealed to, it was sin not only without temptation, but in spite of strong deterrents, and was therefore hopeless as it was guilty. The love and goodness of God are the most potent persuasives to his service. Where these fail the case is desperate. What mercy cannot bend judgment will only break. If you sin against mercy you can sin eternally. There is no spiritual argument that can make you yield (2 Peter 3:15; Romans 2:4).
The wrath of outraged goodness.
"A wounded spirit who can bear?" Even God will not bear it forevermore. A "base contempt of covenant mercies," exemplified here, may go too far. The limit of intelligent forbearance will be passed, and the pent-up vials of wrath restrained will be poured forth.
I. THE CRUSHER. "Behold, I will press you down as the cart presses that is filled with sheaves" (Keil). This is a strong figure. God, in his retributive action, is compared not only to a cart, but to a heavily loaded one, which crushes all it passes over. His stroke, when it falls, will be heavy in proportion as, in mercy, it has been long suspended. His love had long been spurned, and now at last it is turned into righteous hatred. Unspeakable goodness disregarded persistently will now give place to thick disasters. His power had been insanely dared, and Israel would now discover whether they had an arm like his. "On whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder." How indignant love can be that has suffered persistent outrage! How stern goodness becomes when it finds itself thrown away on inappreciation and contempt! How overwhelming Omnipotence is, which nevertheless endures defiance from worms of the dust so long! How terrible God will be as a Foe where he will not be accepted as a Friend (Psalms 18:26; Proverbs 1:24-28)!
II. THE CRUSHED. These are not the nation in general, but each class in particular—the strong, the courageous, the swift, the fighter, the runner, and the rider alike. None shall escape. God's wrath, like his love, is distinctive—rests not on masses, but on individuals. And, answering to this, the judgments which execute his wrath are elaborated in detail They are no more necessary than reluctant, no more reluctant than sure, no more sure than thorough.
"The mills of God grind slowly,
But they grind exceeding small."
It is noticeable, too, that of those who fall in the sweep of God's sword, it is the best protected who are emphasized. Nothing is said of the weak and timid and slow. Their destruction might be taken for granted. But, lest any should cherish a hope of escape under any circumstances, the persons to whom such hope would be most natural are doomed by name. An occasion of remaining in sin is, with many wicked, the stealthy hope that somehow or other they will escape at last (Isaiah 28:15). Perhaps they have no definite expectation, no theory even, on the subject. They know the Word of God to be decisive, and feel the chances are against them. But they cajole the judgment into negligently making the wish the father to the thought, and go down to death the half-conscious victims of a make believe. The gospel to such wants heralding with a Saviour's warning cry, "How can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
III. THE CRUSHING. A variety of figures combine to illustrate this.
1. It cannot be resisted. "The strong one will not fortify his strength," etc. There are no arms we can use against God. They are suited to a material, not a spiritual, foe. There is no strength to be put in competition with his. The bare thought of a struggle is the climax of all absurdity. "Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth."
2. It cannot be faced. "The courageous one among the heroes will flee away." Man has strength, and confidence in it, for a struggle with fellow man. But his strength leaves him in God's presence (John 7:44). He cannot even attempt resistance. "He falls at his feet like one dead."
3. It cannot be escaped. "The flight will be lost to the swift." To fly from Omnipresence is as inconceivable as to fight against Omnipotence. Darkness cannot hide, nor distance separate, from God. We live in his presence. We sin in his presence. We die in his presence. Even the destruction from his presence as gracious (2 Thessalonians 1:9) is destruction in his presence as filling heaven and earth.
(1) Judgment is the obverse of grace. There are only the two ways of it. There is no compromise between obedience and disobedience (Matthew 12:30). So there is no via media between salvation and destruction. The coin of Scripture truth comes to us with a nimbus on the one side and a death's head on the other. We may choose between the two, but one or other we must take (Mark 16:16). God will save if he may, but he will destroy if he must.
(2) Grace is the converse of judgment. Judgment empties the strong of strength. Grace makes the weak to be strong in God. You may have either; and you must have one. Which shall it be?
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Moab's brutality avenged.
It is natural for the mind to lay hold upon and to retain in memory some one out of many characteristics of a nation, some one out of many incidents of a war. The one thing that is remembered is representative of many things that are forgotten. So is it with Amos's treatment of the sins of the surrounding nations. Several of these are characterized by some special quality. In the case before us in this passage an incident of malignant brutality is mentioned, not as standing alone, but evidently as a sample of the conduct of which the children of Lot had been guilty, and which was about to bring down upon them the wrath of Heaven.
I. IRREVERENCE AND INSULT OFFERED TO THE DEAD INDICATE A BASE AND ABANDONED DISPOSITION. We know nothing of the circumstance here referred to. The Moabites had made war upon the Edomites; had conquered them, had captured their king, and had slain him, and then consumed his bones with fire. This last action must be judged by the standard of the habits and feelings of the time. In some nations and at some periods cremation has been regarded as an honourable mode of disposing of dead bodies. In the time of the prophet, and among the Hebrews and their neighbors, it was held in detestation. No greater insult, no more horrible evidence of brutality, was possible. The dead are always considered, by civilized and religious communities, as entitled to tender and reverential treatment. Especially those who believe in a future life are bound to support their creed by treating a dead body as something better than a carcase. The instance of irreverence here recorded was aggravated by the fact that it was a king whose body was thus treated. War is in itself bad enough; but savage brutality renders war still worse.
II. DIVINE PROVIDENCE VISITS BRUTALITY WITH APPROPRIATE RETRIBUTION.
1. War, with all its accompanying horrors, is the doom of the savage slaughterers. They that take the sword perish by the sword. The measure they mete is measured to them again.
2. In this retribution the great suffer equally with the multitude. They who insult their neighbours' kings may suffer in the person of their own mighty ones. Fire devours the palaces as welt as the cottages, and the judges and princes are cut off and slain along with the meanest of the subjects. The Lord is King and Judge, and he will not allow those nations always to prosper which violate his Law and defy his authority.—T.
The privileged but faithless.
The preceding denunciations refer to the idolatrous nations by whom the chosen people were surrounded. But the impartiality of the prophet is apparent from his condemnation of his own kindred. Amos came from Tekoah, a city of Judah, and, instructed by the righteous Ruler of all, he did not spare his own tribe.
I. THE TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH WAS AGGRAVATED BY THEIR POSSESSION AND THEIR NEGLECT OF THE DIVINE LAW. From the days of the desert wanderings the Jewish people had enjoyed the unspeakable privilege of Possessing the laws of Moses, which were the laws of Jehovah. A treasure of incomparable value should have been highly esteemed and diligently used. That there were those to whom the Law was as "fine gold," as "honey and the honeycomb," cannot be questioned. But the people as a whole were insensible of their privileges, and neglected and abused them; indeed, they are charged with having despised them. The surrounding and heathen nations were not guilty of this heinous offence. Great is the sin of those who have the Word of God, but who treat it with neglect and disdain.
II. THE TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH WAS AGGRAVATED BY THEIR FAILURE TO PROFIT BY THE LESSON OF WARNING OFFERED IN THE HISTORY OF THEIR FOREFATHERS. The chosen people were taught not only by words, but by facts; not only by the books of Moses, but by the history of their ancestors. How often had the Hebrew people forsaken their God! How grievously had they sinned! And how terribly had they been scourged for their folly! Yet the lesson, emphatic and impressive though it was, was overlooked and unlearnt.
III. THE TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH WAS AGGRAVATED BY THEIR LAPSE INTO IDOLATRY. The "lies" spoken of by the prophet refer to the deceptive and hideous rites and practices of the heathen. Jehovah was the true God; the "gods of the nations" were but idols, the professions of whose worshippers and priests were delusive and vain. That those who had been trained to idolatry should persevere in it was intelligible; but that Judah should forsake the righteous, pure, and gracious God for the capricious and obscene and ridiculous divinities of the surrounding nations, was monstrous, and only to be accounted for by an awful abandonment to self and sin. The greater the height from which one falls, the deeper is his descent.
IV. THE AGGRAVATED TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH MET WITH A SEVERE RETRIBUTION. Nebuzaradan and the army of the Chaldees fulfilled this prediction to the letter.—T.
A nation's crimes.
The ministry of Amos was mainly to the northern kingdom. With this passage commences the long impeachment and warning which the prophet was inspired to address to Israel. The previous denunciations are pungent, but brief; now Amos puts forth all his strength of invective, reproach, and expostulation.
I. UNGODLINESS IS AT THE ROOT OF A NATION'S MORAL DEBASEMENT. Israel did not, indeed, abjure religion; but Israel abjured God. "The house of their god," says the prophet with a quiet irony, referring to the idol temples which the people had taken to frequenting. The reverence of the supreme Lord of righteousness is the very root of national morality. Let a people worship such deities as were worshipped by Israel's neighbours, the Philistines, the Amorites, the Syrians, and it is well known to what fatal results such worship will surely lead. And let a nation abandon all worship, and live a life of sense, and it is certainly upon the high road to moral ruin.
II. GREED AND OPPRESSION ARE AMONG THE FRUITS OF NATIONAL UNGODLINESS. In the state of society with which Amos was conversant, these immoral habits displayed themselves in the enslavement of the poor or in their deprivation of the ordinary comforts of life. There was no human law to prevent some of the base transactions mentioned, and all belief in a Divine Law was abandoned. History gives us many proofs of the pernicious effect of secularism and superstition upon human relations. Not only are all restraints, save those of civil law and physical force, spumed and ridiculed; there is no impulse and no motive to a higher than the selfish and animal life.
III. FLAGRANT LICENTIOUSNESS IS ANOTHER FRUIT OF A NATION'S IRRELIGION. The passions which lead to such atrocities as those here mentioned are, no doubt, deep seated in human nature. But religion assists men, not in repressing them wholly, but in controlling and guiding them. It is believed by many that Amos refers to some of the practices which were encouraged by the idolatries to which the Israelites were conforming. Certain it is that infidelity is often associated with the vilest principles of an immoral life, and tends to the letting loose of that wild beast-sensual appetite—which works dire devastation in society.
APPLICATION. These considerations should induce those who prize true religion for themselves to seek its maintenance at home against the assaults of infidelity, and to seek its propagation in lands where its absence is so morally deleterious.—T.
A nation's privileges.
The transgressions of Israel were all the more reprehensible because of the peculiar favour which had been shown, to the people who were descendants of the father of the faithful and the friend of God. Upon these special privileges the prophet here dwells and expatiates, with a view to bring home to the offenders the magnitude of their sin.
I. A NATION SHOULD TRACE THE HAND OF GOD IN THE DELIVERANCES WROUGHT ON ITS BEHALF. Israel was established in the land of the Canaanites, of whom the Amorites are in this passage taken as the representatives. These foes of the chosen nation are pictured majestic as the cedar and mighty as the oak. Yet Jehovah had smitten them in the lofty branches, and had extirpated them from the roots, and had planted in their stead the vine brought out of Egypt. It was not by Israel's sword or bow, but by the right hand of the Lord, that the Amorites had been vanquished. A devout mind will trace the presence and the action of Divine Providence, in a nation's history. In great crises England has been succoured by the interposition of Omnipotence from the assaults of powerful and unpitying foes. The "good hand of our God" has been upon us to protect and to deliver.
II. A NATION SHOULD REMARK THE GUIDANCE OF THE ALL-WISE GOD APPARENT IN THE EVENTS OF ITS POLITICAL LIFE. "I led you:" such is the language in which Jehovah reminded the forgetful and unfaithful Hebrews of his treatment of his chosen. The epoch of wilderness wandering was the critical epoch of Israel's life; it was then that the nation was consolidated and disciplined. A marvellous story it remains to this day, the story of the forty years in the Peninsula of Sinai. Fraught, too, with encouragement for all who trust God. What Christian nation has not reason to give thanks to "him who led his people through the wilderness" for his mercy endureth forever"? The eye must be dull which cannot see, the heart must be cold winch ages not confess, the directing hand of the Eternal in the career of such a nation as our own.
III. A NATION SHOULD GRATEFULLY HONOUR GOD FOR RAISING UP WISE AND HOLY MEN AS NATIONAL TEACHERS AND EXAMPLES. The prophets and Nazarites of the Jews may represent men of sanctified genius and insight, and mental and moral force, whom Providence appoints to be the inspiration of the community towards all that is beautiful and good. A people's greatest strength and most valuable possession must be sought in its finest, purest, ablest men. God did much for Israel in the way of outward guidance and interposition; but all his mercies were transcended by the gift of heroes and saints, judges and seers, valiant, true-hearted kings, fearless prophets, faithful priests. Rich as our own country is in many other respects, its true wealth must be sought in its noblest, most unselfish sons. God give us grace to appreciate and to profit by his goodness in this respect!—T.
Men's sins a Divine burden.
The figure of the text is one taken by Amos from his own experience as a husbandman. In the harvest field the cart is piled high with sheaves to be taken to the garner or the threshing floor. The wain groans—as poets put it—beneath the load. Even so, it is represented that the sins of Israel oppress Jehovah; he is distressed by their magnitude and their aggravations.
I. LIGHT IS CAST BY THIS LANGUAGE UPON THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. His repugnance to sin is here brought before us. The deities of the heathen do not seem to have been represented as hating sin, though they were pictured as resenting the neglect of their worshippers. It was otherwise with Jehovah, for he was not an invention of human ignorance and frailty. The Old Testament writers, with one consent, represent the Eternal as holy, and as hating sin as sin.
2. His distress at sin is conveyed in this declaration. This is no imperfection. Mere disapproval would have been an imperfection. But it is an encouraging view which we are justified in taking of the Divine character, as we read that God is pained by human iniquity. What an appeal to sinful man is this, "I am pressed under you"!
II. LIGHT IS CAST BY THIS LANGUAGE UPON THE NATURE OF HUMAN SIN. Men's transgressions are not unheeded by God, neither are they a matter of indifference to him. The Supreme Being is not oppressed by the vast care of the material universe. But sin is so heinous and awful that it affects his feelings—if we may use language so human. Shall man be careless with regard to that which is so felt by the infinite heart? Of all ills there can be none like this.
III. LIGHT IS CAST BY THIS LANGUAGE UPON THE PROSPECT OF REDEMPTION. This light may be dim, but it is an advance upon darkness. If man's sin is so distressing to God, there is reason to hope that Divine wisdom and grace will concur to provide means for its forgiveness and its cancelling. The feeling which is uttered in the figurative language of the text found lull expression in the cross of Christ, in the gospel of salvation.—T.
In the preceding verses there is observable an accumulation of human transgression and iniquity. And in these closing verses el the chapter the reader is equally struck with the rhetorical accumulation of figures intended to convey a deep impression of the inevitableness of retribution.
I. A PICTURE OF HUMAN GREATNESS. Man has his own standard of greatness. The prophet piles up epithets to represent man's power. In vivid colours and in rapid succession there rise before the imagination the figures of the "swift" runner who is wont to overtake his foe, the "strong" hero whose blow cleaves the helmet in twain, the "mighty" whose praise is upon all lips, the "bowman" whose arrow pierces the fugitive in the battlefield, the "swift on foot" who trusts for safety to his speed, the "horseman" whose charge has often broken the doughty ranks of the enemy, the "courageous," "the strong of his heart," whom no danger daunts.
II. A VISION OF INEVITABLE RETRIBUTION AND OF THE DISCOMFITURE OF THE ENEMIES OF GOD. Even such as those who have been described shall be powerless in the day of the Lord. Exemption from the operation of righteous law is not to be obtained by any human craft or might. The swift shall be overtaken, and the arm of the warrior shall tall powerless by his side. Justice must be vindicated; the Lord of right will never abandon his sovereign throne.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
God and nations.
"Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath," etc. These verses suggest a few remarks in relation to God and nations.
I. He reminds nations of the GREATNESS OF HIS KINDNESS TOWARDS THEM. In these verses he reminds Israel of two great merciful interpositions of his on their behalf.
(1) The destruction of the Amorite—the original inhabitant of Canaan. Amorite hero stands for all the old Canaanites. He drove out the Canaanites that Israel might possess and enjoy the goodly land in which they then lived (Exodus 23:27).
(2) Their emancipation from Egypt and their guidance into the Holy Land. "Also I brought you up from Egypt, and led you into the promised land." These two great acts of kindness are mentioned only as specimens of millions of others. The language in which these acts are represented suggest three great truths in relation to God's conduct toward the world.
1. He often sacrifices one people in order to advance the interests of another. The old Canaanites he sacrificed for the good of Israel. in the history of the world this is often done; one country ruined for the advantage of another. This is marvellous; it clashes with our primitive ideas of justice and Divine goodness. But we cease to murmur when we remember that there is a great explaining day, and that the peoples that have been ruined for the interests of others have never suffered more from the hands of God than they have justly deserved.
2. That the mightiest human powers cannot obstruct him in his procedure. The Amorites, the original inhabitants of Canaan, were a great people. It is said their "height was like the height of cedars," and they were "strong as oaks" They were in the great field of mankind not like the tender sapling or the stunted shrub; they were tall as the cedars and mighty as the oak (Numbers 13:32, Numbers 13:33). Then Egypt, too, from which he delivered them, was a mighty power. Pharaoh was the greatest despot of the old world. But what was all this human power before the march of Omnipotence? The mighty Canaanite and the powerful Egyptian were as mere stubble under his feet. God will not be hindered.
3. That he fulfils his great purposes with nations by the agency of men. He crushed the Canaanites and he crushed the Egyptians, not by hurling directly from his hand the thunderbolts, No; but by the agency of Joshua and Moses. God works with men by men. By men he blesses and by men he punishes, He allows man to be the devil of man, and he makes man the saviour of man.
II. He reminds nations of THE ABUSE OF THE MERCIES HE HAD CONFERRED ON THEM.
He specifies here two special mercies which he had bestowed upon Israel.
1. A spiritual ministry. "And I raised up of your sons for prophets." He gave them men whom he duly qualified to indoctrinate and inspire them with the highest truths of duty and of destiny. The greatest blessing which God bestows upon a people is a true ministry.
2. Virtuous young men. "Your young men for Nazarites." "These were young men who," to use the language of another, "bound themselves by a vow to God and his service, and, in pursuance of that, denied themselves many of the lawful delights of sense, as drinking wine and eating grapes. There were some of their young men that were in their prime for the enjoyment of the pleasures of this life, and yet voluntarily abridged themselves of them; these God raised up by the power of his grace to be monuments of his grace, to his glory, and to be his witnesses against the impieties of that degenerate age." Virtuous and high-minded young men are amongst the chief ornaments and brightest hopes of a people. But how did Israel treat these Divine mercies? "They commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not." They did not wish to hear their voices; they closed their ears to their ministry. To a great extent this is the case with our own country now. The great bulk of our people say to the pulpits of England, by their conduct, "Prophesy not;" we do not want your ministry. Sad state this—a state of sin and the precursor of ruin. How did Israel treat these virtuous young men? "They gave the Nazarites wine to drink," They caused them to break their vow. This they did, it may be, by seductive promises, or frightening threats, or abashing ridicule and reproach. A greater crime than the crime of a people endeavouring to make young men drunkards can scarcely be imagined, and this crime England is on all hands earnestly promoting. The multiplication in our midst of beer houses and gin palaces, all under the sanction of law, is an insult to Heaven, an outrage on decency, a curse to the country. It behoves every philanthropist to take his stand against this abomination, and to sweep from the earth such huge establishments of the devil as the Burton breweries and the infernal spirit distilleries, whence streams of poison flow through every grade of social life. "Every inordinate cup is unbless'd, and the ingredient is a devil;" "O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!" (Shakespeare).—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany