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Verse 1-ch. 6:14
§ 8. Third address: the prophet utters a lamentation over the fall of Israel. (Amos 6:1-3.) He calls her to repentance, while he shows wherein she has declined from the right way. To make this plain, he contrasts God's power and majesty with the people's iniquity, instances of which he gives (Amos 6:4-12). The only condition of safety is amendment (Amo 6:13 -15); and as they refuse to reform, they shall have cause to lament (verses 16, 17). This threat is enforced by the two emphatic "woes" that follow, the first of which demonstrates the baselessness of their trust in their covenant relation to God (verses 18-27); the second denounces the careless lives of the chiefs, who, revelling in luxury, believed not in the coming judgment (Amos 6:1-6). Therefore they shall go into captivity, and the kingdom shall be utterly overthrown (Amos 6:7-11), because they act iniquitously and are self-confident (Amos 6:12-14).
Hear ye this word. To show the certainty of the judgment and his own feeling about it, the prophet utters his prophecy in the form of a dirge (kinah, 2 Samuel 1:17; 2 Chronicles 35:25). Which I take up against you; or, which I raise over you, as if the end had come. O house of Israel; in the vocative. The Vulgate has, Domus Israel cecidit; so the LXX. But the present Hebrew text is most suitable, making the dirge begin at Amos 5:2. The ten tribes are addressed as in Amos 5:6.
The virgin of Israel; i.e. the virgin Israel; so called, not as having been pure and faithful to God, but as tenderly treated and guarded from enemies (comp. Isaiah 23:12; Isaiah 47:1; Jeremiah 14:17). Is fallen; she shall no more rise. This is apparently a contradiction to the promise of restoration elsewhere expressed, but is to be explained either as referring exclusively to the ten tribes, very few of whom returned from exile, and to the kingdom of Israel which was never reestablished; or, as Pseudo-Rufinus says, "Ita debemus accipere quod lugentis affectu cumulatius aetimavit illata discrimina sicque funditus appellasse deletos, quos ex majore videret parte contritos." Forsaken upon her land; better, she shall be dashed upon her own land; her own soil shall witness her ruin—that soil which was "virgin," unconquered, and her own possession.
The vindication of the prophet's lament. The city that went out by a thousand. Septuagint and Vulgate, "from which went forth thousands," or, "a thousand;" i.e. which could send out a thousand warriors to the fight, in such a city only a tenth of the inhabitants shall remain; and this shall happen to small cities as well as great.
The more formal proof that Israel has merited her punishment here begins. In calling her to repentance the prophet contrasts God's requirements with her actual conduct. Seek ye me, and ye shall live. Two imperatives: "Seek me, and (so) live;" duty and its reward. "Seek me in the appointed way, and ye shall be saved from destruction" (comp. Genesis 42:18).
Bethel … Gilgal. The scenes of idolatrous worship, where was no true seeking of God (see note on Amos 4:4). Beersheba. A spot about fifty miles southsouthwest of Jerusalem, the site of which has never been lost, and is marked to this day by seven much-frequented wells. As being one of the holy places celebrated in the history of the patriarchs (Genesis 21:31, Genesis 21:33; Genesis 26:23, etc.; Genesis 46:1), it had become a shrine of idolatrous worship, to which the Israelites resorted, though it lay far out of their territory (comp. Amos 8:14). Gilgal shall surely go into captivity. There is in the Hebrew a play on the words here and in the following clause (Hag-gilgal galoh yigleh), which commentators have paralleled with such expressions as, Capua capietur, Cremona cremabitur, Paris perira, "London is undone." Or, taking Joshua's explanation of the name, we may say, "Roll-town shall be rolled away." Bethel shall some to nought. As Bethel, "House of God," had become Bethaven, "House of vanity" (see Hosea 4:15), as being the temple of an idol, so the prophet, with allusion to this, says that "Bethel shall become aven"—vanity, nothingness, itself. No mention is made of the fate of Beersheba, because Amos has in view only the ten tribes, and the destiny of places beyond their territory is not here the object of his prediction; and indeed, when Israel was ruined, Beersheba escaped unharmed.
Break out like fire. God is called "a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29; comp. Jeremiah 4:4). And devour it; Septuagint, Ὅπως μὴ ἀναλάμψη ὡς πῦρ ὁ οἶκος Ἰωσὴφ καὶ καταφάγῃ αὐτόν, "Lest the house of Joseph blaze as fire, and he devour him;" Vulgate, Ne forte comburatur ut ignis domus Joseph, et devorabit. But it is best to take the last member of the sentence thus: "and it (the fire) devour." The house of Joseph. Ephraim, i.e. the kingdom of Israel, of which Ephraim was the distinguishing tribe. In Bethel; or, for Bethel. The LXX; paraphrasing, has, τῷ οἴκῳ Ἰσραήλ, "for the house of Israel."
The prophet brings out the con-trust between Israel's moral corruption and God's omnipotence. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood. As Jerome puts it," Converterunt dulcedinem judicii in absinthii amaritudinem," "They turned the sweetness of judgment into the bitterness of absinth" (comp. Amos 6:12). Who make judgment the occasion of the bitterest injustice. There is no syntactical connection between this verse and the last, but virtually we may append it to "seek the Lord." It would sound in people's ears as a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 29:18, Deuteronomy 29:20. The LXX. reads, ὁ ποιῶν εἰς ὕψος κρίμα. "that executeth judgment in the height," referring the sentence to the Lord, or else taking laanah, "wormwood," in a metaphorical sense, as elsewhere they translate it by ἀνάγκη πικρία, ὀδύνη (Deuteronomy 29:18; Proverbs 5:4; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15). The name "wormwood" is applied to all the plants of the genus that grow in Palestine the taste of which was proverbially bitter. And leave off righteousness in the earth; rather, cast down righteousness to the earth (as Isaiah 28:2), despise it and trample it underfoot (comp. Daniel 8:12). This is Israel's practice; and yet God, as the next verse shows, is almighty, and has power to punish. Righteousness includes all transactions between man and man. The LXX. (still referring the subject to the Lord), καὶ δικαιοσύνην εἰς γῆν ἔθηκεν, "and he established righteousness on earth."
Striking instances are given of God's creative power and omnipotence. Seek him that maketh the seven stars. "Seek him" is not in the Hebrew. "He that maketh," etc; is in direct antithesis to "ye who turn," etc. (Amos 5:7). The seven stars; Hebrew, kimah, "the heap," the constellation of the Pleiades (Job 9:9; Job 38:31). The Septuagint here has, ὁ ποιῶν πάντα, but in Job has πλειάς. The Vulgate gives, facientem Arcturum. Symmachus and Theodotion give πλειάδα in the present passage. The identification of this term is discussed in the 'Dictionary of the Bible,' 2:891. The observation of this most remarkable cluster among the heavenly bodies would be natural to the pastoral life of Amos. And Orion; Hebrew, kesil, "foolish," a rebel, the name being applied to Nimrod, whose representation was found by the Easterns in this constellation. Some render kesil, "gate;" others connect it with the Arabia sohail, equivalent to Sirius, or Canopus. The Septuagint here has, καὶ μετασκευάζων, "and changing," which looks as if the translator was not familiar with the Hebrew word, and substituted something in its place. It reads Ὠρίωνος in Job 38:31. Turneth the shadow of death into the morning. "The shadow of death," the depth of darkness. This and the following clause do not simply state that the regular interchange of day and night is in God's hands, but rather notify that God is a moral Governor of the world. He saves men from the utmost dangers, from the darkness of sin and from the night of ignorance; and, on the other hand, he sends calamity on those that offend his Law (comp. Amos 4:13). Maketh the day dark with night; literally, as the Septuagint ἡμέραν εἰς νύκτα συσκοτάζων, "darkeneth day into night." That calleth for the waters of the sea, etc. As judgments are the prophet's theme, this expression cannot be an intimation of the working of the natural law by which the moisture taken up from the sea as cloud returns upon the earth as rain (comp. Amos 9:6). Rather it is an allusion to the Flood and similar catastrophes, which are proofs of God's judicial government of the universe, when "he maketh the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies" (Wis. 5:17). The Lord is his Name. Jehovah, the self-existent God, doeth all these marvellous things, and men presume to scout his Law and think to be unpunished (Amos 4:13).
That strengtheneth, etc. Translate, That causeth destruction to flash forth upon the strong, so that destruction cometh upon the fortress. The idea is that God, as with a lightning flash, smites the strongest man, and no fortress is a refuge from him. Septuagint, Ὁ διαιρῶν συντριμμὸν ἐπὶ ἰσχύν, "Who divideth destruction unto strength." The Vulgate, taking the Hebrew verb balag in the sense of lighting up the countenance, renders, Qui subridet vastitatem super robustum, which means that the Lord smiles while he brings desolation on the mighty—a figurative expression denoting his anger at man's pride, and the ease with which he punishes. We may add that Rosenmuller agrees with the Authorized Version in the first clause: "Who strengtheneth the weak against the strong, and giveth the plunderers power over the fortresses of the strong."
The prophet gives further instances of the people's corruption.
Him that rebuketh in the gate (Isaiah 29:21). The gate of Eastern cities was the place of public resort (Proverbs 1:21), either for business (Deuteronomy 25:7), or the administration of justice (2 Samuel 15:2), or for gossip. So "he that rebuketh in the gate" may be a judge, or a chief, or a prophet (Jeremiah 17:19; Jeremiah 19:2). It seems better to take the words thus than to join "in the gate" to "they hate," with the meaning that those who resort to the gate—kings, chiefs, judges—hate the prophet's reproof, for the following verses show that Amos is referring chiefly to judicial proceedings, and not to his own mission. Uprightly; literally, perfectly; Vulgate, perfecte; i.e. without reserve, keeping nothing back.
Therefore. Because ye refuse reproof, and oppress the poor. Your treading is upon the poor; ye trample upon. The Hebrew word boshes is found nowhere else, and is variously explained. Septuagint, κατεκονδύλιζον, "smote with the fists;" so the Syriac; Vulgate, diripiebatis, with which the Chaldee agrees. Keil, Schegg, and most modern commentators explain the word, by a slight dialectical variation, as equivalent to conculcare. Burdens of wheat; rather, tribute, exactions of wheat, or presents like enforced "benevolences." They exacted such gifts before they would do justice to the poor. Or it may refer to interest for money or victuals lent, which took the form of presents in order to evade the Law (Exodus 22:25; Le Exodus 25:37; Deuteronomy 23:19). Septuagint, δῶρα ἐκλεκτά: Vulgate, praedam electam, the Hebrew word bar meaning either "wheat" or "elect." Hewn stone. Houses thus built were a mark of luxury and wealth, sun-dried brick being the usual material employed (comp. Isaiah 9:10; Ezekiel 12:5, Ezekiel 12:7). Ye shall not dwell in them. This is the punishment of their evil doings, according to the threat in Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:39. The people shall be banished and the land desolated (Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13).
Your punishment is richly deserved, for "I know how many are your transgressions and how mighty are your sins," especially, as it follows, your sins of oppression and injustice. They afflict the just. The construction is continuous: "afflicters of the just." Hostes justi (Vulgate); καταπατοῦντες δίκαιον, "trampling down the just"; comp. Wis. 2:12-15. They take a bribe. The translation of kopher as "bribe" is justified, perhaps, by 1 Samuel 12:3; but the word is elsewhere used for "ransom," redemption money paid to escape the consequences of crime (Proverbs 6:35), in direct opposition to the Law in Numbers 35:31, which forbade any ransom to be taken for the life of a murderer. The Septuagint has, λαμβάνοντες ἀλλάγματα "taking wares;" the Vulgate (with which the Syriac agrees), accipientes munus. Turn aside the poor in the gate from their right; or, bow down the needy in the gate, i.e. in the place of judgment (see note on Numbers 35:10). Vulgate, pauperes deprimentes in porta; Septuagint, πένητας ἐν πύλαις ἐκκλίνοντες, "turning aside the poor in the gates." The crime specified is that of wresting judgment in the case of the poor, or not giving the poor man justice unless he could pay for it (comp. Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19).
Even while he speaks, the prophet feels that his reproof is useless (comp. Jeremiah 7:27, etc.; Hosea 4:1, Hosea 4:17). In that time; at such a time as this, the man who acts wisely holds his peace, because it is a time of moral corruption and of personal danger. But the prophet cannot restrain his call (comp. Ezekiel 33:3, etc.). In Micah 2:3 the "evil time" is one of calamity.
He repeats his loving summons to repentance, as in Amos 5:4, Amos 5:6, showing that their only hope of safety lay in amendment of life (comp Zephaniah 2:3). Seek good, and not evil. Use that diligence and zeal in pursuing what is good which you have hitherto shown in the pursuit of evil. The Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken; or, as ye say. The Israelites fancied that, owing to their covenant relation to God, he would be always with them and ready to help them under any circumstances. Their prosperity under Jeroboam II, as Calmet remarks seemed an argument in their favour, proving that God blessed them, and that they had no cause for fear (comp. Jeremiah 7:4, etc.; Micah 3:11; Matthew 3:9; John 8:39). But really God's help and favour were conditioned by their obedience.
Reverse your former conduct, undo what ye have done (Amos 5:10). This verse emphasizes the preceding; hating and loving are more real and hearty than mere seeking. The LXX. makes this clause to be what the people said, Ον τρόπον εἴπατε, μεμισήκαμεν τὰ πονρὰ καὶ ἠγαπήσαμεν τὰκαλά, "As ye said, We have hated evil, and loved good." Establish judgment. Maintain justice in your tribunals (in contrast to Amos 5:7); then it may be that the Lord will have mercy on you or some of you. The remnant of Joseph; implying that only a few of them will be saved after this heavy chastisement, which points to the final ruin of their city and nation. The prophet speaks of the "remnant of Joseph" instead of Ephraim, to remind them of their forefather, who received the patriarchal blessing of Jacob, for whose sake this remnant should be spared (comp. Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:21, etc.; Joel 2:32; Romans 11:4, etc.).
Amos 5:16, Amos 5:17
The retribution for their incorrigible iniquity is here announced. For "they that would not be reformed by that correction, wherein he dallied with them, shall feel a judgment worthy of God" (Wis. 12:26).
Therefore. The prophet returns to what was said in Amos 5:13 about the uselessness of reproof; yore. 14 and 15 being a kind of parenthetical exhortation which his love for his nation forced from him. "Jehovah, the God of hosts, the Lord," Adonai, saith what follows, these solemn titles being used to add solemnity, certainty, and weight to the announcement. Wailing; misped, "the death wail." Streets; broad places; πλατείαις; plateis (Vulgate). Highways; the narrower streets; ὁδοῖς; in cunctis quae foris sunt (Vulgate). Everywhere in town and country shall the wail be heard. Alas! alas! ho! ho! This is the death wail (comp. Jeremiah 22:18), which should sound abroad when Samaria was besieged and taken. They shall call the husbandman to mourning. The husbandman shall be called from his labour in the fields to mourn for a calamity in his house. Pusey thinks the mourning is for his occupation gone, his tillage now only furnishing food for the enemy; but the context involves the notion of death. And such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing; literally, proclaim wailing to such, etc. These are the hired mourners, both male and female, who sang mournful songs at deaths.
Vineyards. The place of mirth and gladness, that, says St. Jerome, "ubi quondam fuit materia laetitiae, sit origo lacrymarum" (Isaiah 16:10). I will pass through thee. A terrible echo of the last plague of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), when God will not "pass over" thee as he did then, but treat thee as Egypt, and "pass through" to smite and punish (Nahum 1:12).
The prophet enforces the threat by denouncing woe on those that trust to their covenant relation to God, expecting the day when he would punish the heathen for their sakes, and thinking that external, heartless worship was acceptable to him.
The day of the Lord. Anycrisis in the nation's history is so called, when God interposes to punish and correct. To our minds it looks forward to the final judgment. It is often mentioned by the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 13:6, Isaiah 13:9; Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11; Joel 3:18; Zephaniah 1:7, Zephaniah 1:14) as a time when the heathen should be judged, all the enemies of Israel defeated, and when Israel herself was exalted to the highest pitch of prosperity and dominion. Without any regard to the moral condition affixed to the realization of these expectations (see Joel 2:32), the people "desired" the appearance of this day, thus foolishly confirming themselves in their sinful life and false security. Some think scoffers are intended, but the context shows that the persons signified are sincere but mistaken believers in the safety of Israel's covenant position. To what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness; Why would ye have the day of the Lord? It is darkness. Why do ye, such as ye are, want this day to come? Ye know not what ye ask. It will be the very contrary to your expectations; it will be darkness, and not light, tribulation and misery, not joy and triumph for you (comp. Micah 7:8).
Amos explains the dangers of this judgment day by illustrations drawn from pastoral life, equivalent to the rushing from Charybdis into Scylla. Every place is full of danger—the open country, the shelter of the house. Jerome applies the passage to the fate of the kingdom in general: "Fugientibus vobis a facie Nabuchodonosor leonis occurrent Medi, Persae, demum Antiochus Epiphanes, qui moretur in templo et vos instar colubri mordeat, nequaquam foris in Babylone, sed intra terminos terrae sanctae."
The character of the day of the Lord is enforced with reiterated earnestness (Amos 5:18) by an appeal to the conscience of e hearers. Do you not feel in your inmost hearts that in the case of such guilt as yours the Lord can visit but to punish?
Outward, formal worship will not avert the threatened danger or secure the favour of God in the day of visitation. Your feast days (chaggim); your feasts; your counterfeit worship, the worship of the true God under an idol symbol (compare God's repudiation of merely formal worship in Isaiah 1:11-15). I will not smell; οὐ μὴ ἀσφρανθῶ θυσίας. No sweet savour ascends to God from such sacrifices; so the phrase is equivalent to "I will not accept," "I will take no delight in" (comp.. Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18; Le Exodus 26:31). Solemn assemblies; πανηγύρεσιν; atsaroth; the convocations for the keeping of the great festivals.
They maintained the formal ritual of the Mosaic worship in their idolatry. The various offerings are here enumerated. Burnt offerings; ὁλοκαυτώματα (Exodus 29:38, Exodus 29:42; Numbers 28:9-11). Meat offerings; θυσίας; munera (Vulgate); Exodus 29:40, Exodus 29:41; Le Exodus 2:1. Peace offerings of your fat beasts; σωτηρίους ἐπιφανείας, "your grand peace offerings"; vota pinguium vestrorum (Vulgate); Le Exodus 3:1, etc.
The noise of thy songs. Their psalms and hymns of praise were mere noise in God's ear, and wearied him (Isaiah 1:14; Isaiah 24:8; Ezekiel 26:13). Viols (Amos 6:5); ὀργάνων. The nebel, usually translated "psaltery," was a kind of harp. Josephus ('Ant.,' 7.12. 3) describes it as having twelve strings, played by the fingers. Music, both instrumental and vocal, was used in the temple worship (see 1 Chronicles 16:42; 1 Chronicles 23:5; and 25.).
But let judgment run down as waters; let judgment roll on; Septuagint, καὶ κυλισθήσεται ὡς ὕδωρ κρίμα, "and judgment shall roll along as water." Et revelabitur quasi aqua judicium (Vulgate). This verse has been explained in different ways. Hitzig, Keil, with many ancient commentators, find in it a threat of chastisement, "the flooding of the land with judgment and the punitive righteousness of God." Pusey, Professor Gandell, and others consider it to be a call to amendment. "He bids them let judgment, which had hitherto been perverted in its course, roll on like a mighty tide of waters, sweeping before it all hindrances," filling the whole land with righteousness. Schegg makes it to be a promise of the coming of the day of the Lord, that is, the revelation of Messiah. But such a promise in this position is very forced and unnatural. The second interpretation seems most suitable. In the midst of the denunciation of men's formal worship, the prophet announces their duty in the present crisis, attention to which could alone win God's favour. Judgment and righteousness, long neglected and forgotten, should permeate the land like refreshing streams of water—a simile of special signification to an inhabitant of an Eastern country, where the neighbourhood of a perennial stream was as delightful as it was unusual. Mighty (ethan); ἄβατος, "impassable"; fortis (Vulgate). The word may mean "strong," or "perennial." "Whence the seventh month, just before the early rain, was called the month Ethanim, i.e. the month of the perennial streams, when they alone flowed" (Pusey).
Ye have always been idolaters, corrupters of pure worship. Your service in the wilderness, when you were little exposed to external influence, was no more true and faithful than that which you offer now; that was as unacceptable as this. Have ye offered unto me? Did ye offer unto me? The answer expected is "No;" i.e. you did not so really, because your worship was mixed with falsehood, and was not offered simply and genuinely to me. It is certain, too, that during the sojourn in the wilderness sacrificial worship fell greatly into desuetude, as we know that the rite of circumcision was suspended (Joshua 5:5-7), the Passover was not duly celebrated, and Joshua urged the people to put away the strange gods from among them (Joshua 24:23). Moses, too, doubtless with a view to existing practices, warns them against worshipping the heavenly bodies (Deuteronomy 4:19), and offering sacrifice unto devils (seirim), "after whom they had gone a-whoring" (Le Joshua 17:7). The prophets, too, allude to the idolatry practised in the desert (see Ezekiel 20:7-26; Hosea 9:10). But to argue (as some neologians do) from this passage of Amos that the Israelites during those forty years knew nothing of Jehovah, or that Amos himself denies that they offered him any worship, is absurd, seeing that the prophet presupposes the fact, and blames them for corrupting the Divine service and mingling the prescribed and enacted ritual with idolatrous accretions. Sacrifices; slain, bloody sacrifices. Offerings; bloodless sacrifices, meal offerings.
This verse has occasioned great perplexity to commentators. The connection with the context, the meaning of some of the terms, and whether the reference is to past, present, or future, are questions which have roused much controversy. We need not here recapitulate the various opinions which have been held. It will be sufficient to state what seems to be the simplest and most probable explanation of the passage. But we must not omit to mention first the explanation adopted by Ewald, Schrader, Farrar, Konig, and others, viz. that this verse refers to the punitive deportation which was to be the people's lot, when they should take their shrines and images with them into captivity. "So shall ye take (into exile) Sakkuth your king," etc. But the punishment is foretold in Amos 5:27; and this verse contrasts their idol worship with the neglected worship of Jehovah (Amos 5:25). But ye have borne; and ye bare; καὶ ἀνελάβετε; et portastis (Vulgate). Ye offered me no pure worship in the wilderness, seeing that ye took false gods with you, and joined their worship with, or substuted it for, mine. The tabernacle of your Moloch; τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ Μολόχ; tabernaculum Moloch vestro (Vulgate). The Hebrew word rendered "tabernacle" (sikkuth). which is found nowhere else, has been variously explained. Aquila gives συσκιασμούς: Theodotion, "vision," reading the whole sentence thus: Καὶ ἤρατε τὴν ὅρασιν τοῦ Θεοῦ ὑμῶν ὑμῶν ἄστρον τοῦ Θεοῦ ὑμῶν. Many moderns render, "stake," "column," or "shrine." Others suppose it to be equivalent to Sakkuth, an Assyrian name for Molech (or Adar); but this is very uncertain, sad the parallelism requires the word to be an appellative and not a proper name. It most probably means "shrine," a portable shrine, like those spoken of in Acts 19:24 in connection with the worship of Diana. The Syriac and Arabic versions call it "tent," and thus the reproach stands forth emphatically that, instead of, or in conjunction with, the true tabernacle, they bore aloft, as if proud of their apostasy, the tabernacle of a false god. Such shrines were used by the Egyptians, according to Herodotus (2:63, where see Rawlinson's note) and Diod. Sic. (1.97). Many such may be seen in the Egyptian room of the British Museum. Keil quotes Drumann, 'On the Rosetta Inscription,' p. 211, "These were small chapels, generally gilded and ornamented with flowers and in other ways, intended to hold a small idol when processions were made, and to be carried or driven about with it." Hence we must look to Egypt as the source of this idolatry. Moloch, though sanctioned by the LXX. and St. Stephen (Acts 7:43), is a mistranslation. De Rossi, indeed, mentions that one Hebrew manuscript gives Moloch, but the received reading is Melkekem, which is confirmed by Symmachus and Theodotion, who have τοῦ βασιλέως ὑμῶν, and by the Syriac. The translation, therefore, should run, "Ye took up the shrine of your king," i.e. of him whom ye made your king in the place of Jehovah, meaning some stellar divinity. And Chiun your images; καὶ τὸ ἄστρον τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν Ῥαμφάν, "and the star of your god Raephan "; et imaginem idolorum vestrorum; literally, the kiyyun of your images. The parallelism again requires us to take this unknown word as an appellative; and according to its probable derivation, its meaning is "pedestal," or "framework," that on which the image stood. The Greek rendering is, as Keil thinks, owing to a false reading of the unpointed text, in old Hebrew kaph and resh being easily confounded, and vau and pe. Theodotion considered the word a common noun, translating it by ἀμαύρωσιν. It is probably a mere coincidence that in some Assyrian inscriptions the name Kairan occurs as that of a deity, who is identified with Saturn; that the Egyptians (from whom the Israelites must have derived the notion) ever acknowledged such a deity is quite unproved. St. Stephen merely quotes the Textus Receptus of his day, which was close enough to the original for his argument. The star of your god. These words are in loose apposition with the preceding, and are equivalent to "your star god," or the star whom ye worship as god. Whether some particular star is meant, or whether the sun is the deity signified, cannot be determined, although the universal prevalence of the worship of sun gods in Egypt makes the latter supposition very probable. St. Stephen puts the sin in a general form: "God gave them up to serve the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42; comp. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3). Which ye made to yourselves. This was the crime, self-will, desertion of the appointed way for devices of their own invention.
Therefore. The consequence of their continued alienation from God should be deportation to a foreign land, beyond Damascus, far away from the confines of the country once their own possession (2 Samuel 8:6), thus dimly denoting As. syria, at that time not hostile, but known in the time of Tiglath-Pileser I. (see the accomplishment, 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:6). St. Stephen says (Acts 7:43), "beyond Babylon;" "Magis enim," observes Jerome, "intelligentiam quam verbum posuit;" and he is probably blending other prophecies with that of Amos, e.g. Jeremiah 20:4.
It is poor work singing the things that might have been. It means sweet dreams dispelled, fair hopes blighted, and human lives in ruins. Yet such is the prophet's task in this passage—writing Israel's elegy among the graves of her dead millions. He had been denouncing nameless woes against the rebellious people, Here he changes his tone to that of a mournful spectator of accomplished ills. In imagination he throws himself forward out of the sinful present into the calamitous future, and in accommodation to the change of scene his denunciation becomes a dirge. It is a natural transition, and at the same time a new form of appeal. When ears become inattentive, the skilled musician will vary his tune. We have here—
I. A BROKEN IDEAL. The things that might have been with Israel were far enough from existing facts. The Israel of God's ideal was:
1. A holy people. (Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 28:9.) Theoretically they were, as the word "holy" means (Deuteronomy 7:6), a people separated from men, and sin and sot apart to God. But the fair ideal of their national life remained an ideal and nothing more. The reality never reached it, never approached it. They connected themselves freely with heathen men and heathenish sin. They at times outdid the nations (Amos 2:6-9) in avarice, injustice, spoiling the poor, abominable rites, and every nameless infamy.
2. An unconquered people. This is the force of the expression "virgin (of) Israel." God was to champion their cause, and to fight for them as his loyal people (Deuteronomy 1:30, etc.). If, and so long as he did so, they would be invincible. But they never claimed his help on the appointed terms. His promise was doubted (Deuteronomy 1:32) and its conditions disregarded, with the inevitable result that it failed of fulfilment in many a critical time. Israel, theoretically "the unconquered," was practically the often vanquished, the twice carried captive, the soon-to-be-destroyed. God's help comes surely, but comes only where there is attention to the conditions on which it is offered and given.
3. A prosperous people. Palestine, their national inheritance, was the very garden of the earth; unique in the combination of the highest agricultural capacities, with the finest commercial situation. The prosperity of an industrious, peaceful nation in it was, so far as favourable circumstances went, a foregone conclusion. But war had devastated, and mildew blighted, and drought laid bare its fertile fields. God saw his gifts abused and made the ministers of sin, and he was driven to destroy these in their hands. When temporal good begins to be made the occasion of moral evil, our tenure of it will soon end.
4. A happy people. A people prosperous, strong, and pure, could not but be happy as well (Psalms 144:15). And such was Israel in the Divine ideal (Deuteronomy 33:29). But the actual misery experienced was as complete as the theoretical happiness revealed. Happiness is nowhere so impossible, misery nowhere so intense, as with a people who have fallen beneath themselves. In proportion as the former might have been, will the latter be.
II. AN ANTICIPATIVE DIRGE. Prescient of coming evil, the prophet's lamentation becomes a funeral song.
1. A nation made shipwreck is a sight for tears. It is the destruction of magnificent possibilities of good. It is the failing of a tremendous reality of evil It is the ruin of most precious interests on a gigantic scale. If one soul lost is the occasion of grief to pure spirits and a travailing Saviour, what must the calamity be when multiplied a millionfold?
2. When the wicked fall the trust mourners are the righteous. Not the heathen who had seduced them, not the remnant of apostate Israel that might escape, but the prophet of God, who had kept himself unspotted in the midst of national corruption, was the tearful mourner by the ruined nation's grave. The wicked are too selfish to care for any sorrows but their own. They are as the wolves, which would make a prey of the dead one's remains, rather than any mourning for his fall. God and the God-like alone truly mourn when the wicked perish.
3. A prophetic sight of his own epitaph ought to stay the hand of the suicide. Men supposed to be dead have lived to read their own obituary notice. It has enabled them to see themselves for once as others see them. And it ought to have a practical influence for good. Israel, reading beforehand the inscription on their own tomb, might have been warned away, if anything could have warned them, from the course in which they were rushing on. It showed them what was coming, and how it was being brought on, and how it looked, whether as a morality or a policy, in enlightened eyes. An adequate idea of sin must include its end and issues and place in history, and this it was in Israel's power to learn from Amos's prophetic wail.
III. AN INSPIRED COMMENTARY. An act of God is an expression of his way. The way of God is a revelation of his purpose. All three are along the lines of the just and fitting. Now:
1. Adequate punishment means practical extermination. Sin is an infinite crime, merits an infinite punishment, and failing this will receive a punishment exhaustive of the criminal's good. The proverbial question, "Wherefore doth a living man complain?" (Lamentations 3:39), is an understatement of the case. While a field, or a blessing, or a living man remained, Israel had not been punished as it deserved. When body and soul have been both destroyed, there will still be no more than justice done. If our sin have not its punishment in Christ, then that punishment must be utter destruction.
2. When wrath smites many, mercy spares a remnant. Nine-tenths were to be destroyed. The thousand should become a hundred, and the hundred ten. Neither the strength of the great nor the insignificance of the small should avail them for escape. With perfect impartiality, all should be made to suffer proportionally. Yet decimation was to stop short of utter extinction. A tenth part (see Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13) should be spared. This less guilty remnant, taught and chastened by the judgments which swept away the bulk of the nation, might form the nucleus of a new and better Israel. When judgment has destroyed the "bread to the eater," mercy often steps in and saves a "seed to the sower." There is seldom a deluge without its ark and its Noah family, the conditions and materials of a fresh start for the reduced.
3. Israel decimated is Israel still. The remnant would retain the national name, and with it the covenant relation and privileges to which the name referred (Genesis 32:28). Toward the Gentile Church, for its sin "cast down but not destroyed," the same gracious policy was announced (Isaiah 54:7-10). While a Mephibosheth remains the royal line of God's anointed is not extinct. Chastisement makes a chaos only to bring out of it the young world of a new life and a new hope (Psalms 89:30-33).
The seeking that is life.
This passage contains at once a vindication of the coming destruction on Israel, and a last offer of escape. All past evil had been justly incurred by departure from God. All coming evil might yet be avoided by return to him. "Seek ye me" was the direction on their treatment of which the whole issue turned.
I. EVEN THE FOREDOOMED ARE NOT ABANDONED OF GOD. The antediluvians were preached to for a century after their destruction was denounced. So Jerusalem got a Pentecost, and the ordinances of a Christian Church for forty years after Christ had pronounced her doom (Matthew 23:37-39).
1. God's threatenings are in a certain sense conditional on men's conduct. They are addressed to men in their character or circumstances at the time they are uttered. If and when the character or circumstances cease to exist, the threatenings cease to apply. It was so in the case of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1, Isaiah 38:5), and also of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4, Jonah 3:10). God in such cases does not change, but the circumstances do, and his modes of treatment change accordingly.
2. They am desinged to turn men, not to plunge them in despair. All life is disciplinary. Each event and experience is fitted, and meant, to exercise a moral influence. Being, moreover, controlled by a holy God, the moral influence of each must be in the direction of right, It is so with blessings and the promise of them (Romans 2:4; Isaiah 1:19). It is so also with judgments and the threat of them (Isaiah 26:9; Luke 13:3, Luke 13:5). God takes pleasure in the soul's turning (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32), and all his dealings with it aim at and tend to this result. Therefore, until judgment actually falls, the threat of it is kept as a deterrent before the sinner's eyes.
3. Individuals may turn after national repentance has become hopeless. Language addressed to a nation is really meant for the individuals composing it; and as individuals they would be influenced by it. No general forsaking of sin was probable in Israel. Still, some might turn, as many did in Jerusalem, and were saved after the destruction of the city as a whole was foretold; and, so long as this was possible, the means fitted to turn would not be withdrawn. God's expostulations will go forth to glean in comers even when the prospects of a harvest are blighted.
II. THERE IS A SEEKING IN CONNECTION WITH WHICH IT IS LIFE TO FIND. To Israel here and to all men everywhere the great object of search is God, not mere good (Psalms 42:2); and God for himself, not for his gifts.
1. This seeking implies previous non-possession. God is neither the property of the wicked nor his possession. Sin made separation between them, and a severing of all previously existing ties. Man abandoned God, and God drove out man. Now he is "without God," is "enmity against God," bids God depart from him, says in his heart, "No God." It is only by the saint, and after seeking, that it can be said, "I have found him whom my soul loveth." "This God is our God forever and ever." Grace it is that knits again the ties broken by sin, and restores man and God to a condition of mutual love and possession and indwelling.
2. It is a quest with the whole heart and strength. The essence of seeking God is to desire him. And to desire him really is to desire him heartily. Not to desire him with other things. Not to desire him more than other things. Not to desire him weakly. Not even to desire him strongly. But to desire him wholly, supremely, and intensely. Seeking God is heart seeking, or it is nothing. Heart seeking is truly such when it is seeking with the whole heart. Therefore only to such seeking is there a promise of finding (Jeremiah 29:13; Jeremiah 24:7). God cannot be had till he is adequately wanted, and to be wanted adequately is to be wanted supremely.
3. It is synonymous with finding. In God's world everywhere supply meets and measures demand. Plant, animal, and man, each finds on earth, in climate, habitat, covering, and food, exactly the thing it needs. There is no want for which there is not full and fitting provision. So in the spiritual sphere. "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst," etc. Over against every need of the soul is a Divine supply. That need become conscious, means help waiting; that need expressed, means help already on the way. Spiritual good is obtained on the simple condition of its being truly desired.
4. To find God is to find all good which inheres in him. God is himself the greatest Good; he is, moreover, the Sum, and therefore the Source, of all good. There is certain good which he unconditionally bestows on all, even the ungodly. But it is good of the lower kinds, and which ministers to the lower needs. All spiritual good, and all temporal good that has any spiritual aspect, God gives only with and in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32; Matthew 6:33). The planets attend the sun and follow where he leads. So on Christ, as God's unspeakable Gift, the other lesser gifts wait. We have them when we grasp him.
5. This good, summed up in one word, is life. Life is a general term for the highest good (Psalms 30:5; Psalms 133:3). It is physical life, the prevention or withdrawal of destroying judgments. It is judicial life, or the reversal of the death sentence on the soul, and the privilege for it of living. It is spiritual life, being quickened once for all out of the death in sin, being made alive and kept alive. It is everlasting life, the out blooming in eternity of the flower of soul life planted on earth.
III. THIS IS NOT THE SEEKING TO WHICH MEN NATURALLY TURN. It was under pretence of greater convenience that Jeroboam's calves were set up in Dan and Bethel. But Beersheba was fifty miles south of Jerusalem, and Gilgal was on the other side of Jordan, and so most inconvenient of access. That Israel preferred them to Jerusalem was proof that they preferred idolatrous rites to the worship of God (see Pusey).
1. Idols are man's own invention, and therefore the egoist's choice. There is self-sufficiency verging on self-worship in all sin. Man puts his own opinion and will and work above God's. An idol is his own creation, and for that reason, if for no other, is preferred to God. It is a subtle form of self-worship, and so inevitably preferred to any other.
2. They are credited with qualities congenial to his nature. A man impresses himself on his work, virtually puts himself into it. It reflects his genius and his moral character. The idol a man makes is thus substantially a repetition of himself, and therefore congenial to him all round. Made by his hand, it is after his heart, which the God of heaven is very far from being.
3. The fall into idol worship is broken by the retention in it of a flavouring of the worship of God. Bethel and Beersheba, its shrines, were spots where the Divine presence had of old been richly manifested, its rites mimicked, to some extent, the national worship of God. It was added on at first to Divine worship, not substituted for it. Satan lets men down into idolatry by easy stages. It begins in the sanctuary. It appears at first in the likeness of a better thing. Then, when men have become sufficiently familiar with it and degraded by it to bear the sight, it puts on its natural shape, and is idol worship pure and simple.
IV. IN THE SEEKING OF THE NATURAL HEART SUCCESS MUST MEAN DISASTER. By a play upon words, Gilgal, "the Great Rolling," is to be rolled away; and Bethel, styled elsewhere "Bethaven," shall become "aven," or vanity.
1. An idol is a figment, and the worship of it can only result in deception and loss. It is not a thing, but only the image of a thing, It is the image, moreover, not of a real, but of an imaginary thing. It is, therefore, "nothing," and "a thing of nought" (1 Corinthians 8:4), and out of nothing nothing can come. To worship it is delusion, to trust it inevitable disappointment.
2. God's infinite power and his wrath are against them that forsake him. The idolater pits idol impotence against Divine omnipotence, with the inevitable result of discomfiture and destruction. There are idols of the heart the service of which is no less ruinous. They group themselves under the heading "world," and the love of them is incompatible with the love of God, and so "Anathema" (1 John 2:15; 1 Corinthians 16:22).
The contrast presaging the conflict.
Judgment is coming. Warning has been given. Duty, and the prevailing derelictions of it, have been pointed out. Here God's perfections and Israel's iniquities are set in juxtaposition, and the co]location is suggestive. Such incompatibility must lead to collision. It is by God's character and ours that our mutual relations and attitudes are shaped. We see here—
I. GOD REVEALING HIMSELF. (Amos 5:8, Amos 5:9.) God's work is an important revelation of himself. He has written all over it the glorious lineaments of his character. Each part of it reflects some feature, and in the whole we see his face. Here he shows himself:
1. In the sphere of creation. "He maketh the seven stars and Orion." This is a pregnant thought. Alcyone, one of the seven stars, or Pleiades, is the central orb of the heavens, round which the others move. It is as it were the heart of the material universe; and the Creator of it is by implication the Creator of all. In this fact speak the power and wisdom of the Great Uncaused, who is the Cause not only of all effects, but of all causes as well.
2. In the sphere of providence. "And turneth the shadow," etc. (Amos 5:8, Amos 5:9). We have here three classes of operations. The first was illustrated in the miraculous light that shone around Paul at his conversion, is seen daily in the rise of the morning sun, and appears in the turning of the night of adversity into the day of prosperity. The second was seen in the three hours' miraculous darkness at the Crucifixion, is seen in the gathering shades of every night, and in the darkening down into adverse circumstances of many a life day. The third was seen in the Deluge, is seen in every shower of rain, and will be seen in future widespread judgments on the wicked. Amos 5:9, "Who causeth desolations to flash on the strong," etc. God's judgments are bold, as singling out the strong and the fortress; swift, as coming on them like the lightning's flash; sweeping, as involving them in utter destruction.
3. In the sphere of redemption. God scatters spiritual night. He illuminates the darkness of the soul. He makes men light in the Lord. He gives them the inheritance of the saints in light. He also judicially blinds, by leaving impenitent souls to the natural effects of wrongdoing; and he casts into outer darkness at last. In all these things we behold power—power here as goodness, power there as severity; but power everywhere as resistless and Divine.
II. ISRAEL REVEALING HERSELF. (Amos 5:12.) This is a sad apocalypse. In many transgressions and great sins Israel's many-sided and deep corruption comes out. Particulars am:
1. As unjust. Injustice is a natural form for the sin, which is at bottom selfishness, to take. It was a specially prevalent form, moreover, among the Hebrew people. From Jacob down the sordid race has cheated the strong and imposed on the weak. Action is in a sense the fruit of character, and answers to the tree. God's grace is to convert the thorn into the fir tree, and the briar into the myrtle tree; but man's sin works the converse process, and changes the sweet "tree of righteousness" into bitter wormwood. Casting "righteousness down to earth" is another aspect of the same charge. Righteousness ought to rule. Its proper place is the throne of human life. But Israel had dethroned and cast it down to the earth, and set injustice, a usurper, in its place.
2. As oppressive. (Amos 5:11, Amos 5:12.) The oppression suffered by Israel had done nothing to produce detestation of the thing. What other nations had inflicted on them in this way, they were only too ready to inflict, with interest, on each other as they had opportunity. Humiliation does not always prepare for exaltation, nor poverty for wealth, nor the endurance of injustice for power. The freed slave will often make the very worst master, and the erewhile victim of wrong the most outrageous inflictor of it (Proverbs 19:10; Proverbs 30:2, Proverbs 30:23).
3. As venal. "Who take a bribe." They did injustice, not only in their private, but in their public, capacity. They not only plundered the public themselves, but made a profit by helping others to do the same. A dishonest man will make a corrupt magistrate. He will use for his own aggrandizement whatever power he gains.
4. As impious. (Amos 5:10, Amos 5:12.) As cowardice appeared in oppressing the poor, so did impiety in oppressing the righteous. Much of what the righteous suffer is due to the hatred of righteousness by the wicked. They hate the thing itself, they hate it as a standing rebuke to their own ways, and their antipathy invariably exhibits itself as it has occasion.
III. THEIR FUTURE RELATIONS CLEAR IN THE LIGHT OF BOTH. Given what God is and what Israel is, and the Divine course of treatment may easily be anticipated.
1. God will disappoint their schemes of self-aggrandizement. (Amos 5:11.) Their labour and pains and sin would prove in the end to have been thrown away. Their ill-gotten gains would never be enjoyed. The vineyards and houses, in which they had invested them, would, after having been acquired at great pains, be lost again before they had even begun to be used. Gain gotten by injustice is seldom abiding, and never remunerative. The one condition of getting satisfaction out of earthly good is to acquire it according to the will of God.
2. He will leave them unrebuked. (Amos 5:18.) The prophets and the wise would both be silent. This would be a great calamity. It would be followed by an increase of sin, involving in turn an aggravation of punishment. It would mean abandonment to fate; for when God ceases to strive, a man's doom is sealed. It is the Physician discontinuing his treatment because the hand of death is on the patient. The sinner sins conviction away, and then congratulates himself on the discovery of peace. But it is only God saying, "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone." It is the one spiritual case that is utterly desperate.
A time to be silent.
"Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time." These words describe an evil time, and specify one of its most evil features. It is a time of culminating wickedness, of imminent destruction, and, as related to both, of Divine non-intervention. "There is a time to keep silence" (Ecclesiastes 3:7) as well as "a time to speak." And that time, as pointed out by characteristic features, was at hand in this case. Israel, which in vain had been pled with and plagued, would then be severely left alone. Her victims would suffer in silence. Her prophets would cease to expostulate. God, in judgment, would cease to strive for her restraint or turning. In an awful and unnatural calm she would pass the moments before there broke on her the storm of doom. And the dawning of this "dies irae" was almost come. As to the particular charactsristic of this day, note that God's servants are silent—
I. WHEN THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN BE SAID TO THE PURPOSE. This will often happen. Seasonable speech is a valuable thing. But men are not infallible, and occasions are often puzzling, and the right thing to say is hard to find.
1. Silence is sometimes the resource of feeling too deep for words. There are unspeakable things. "Speech is but broken light on the depth of the unspoken." The finest thoughts, the deepest feelings, are unuttered often because they cannot be expressed in words. As a noted Shakespearian character says—
"Silence is the perfectest herald of joy:
I were but little happy if I could say how much."
And the sentiment is not uncommon. "Does the wind write what it sings in those sounding leaves above our heads? Does the sea write the moaning of its surge? Nothing is fine that is written; the divinest in man's heart never issues forth. The instrument is flesh, the note is fire. What would you have? Between what one feels and what one expresses, there is the same space as between the soul and the twenty-four letters of the alphabet; that is to say, the Infinite. Can you on a rosewood flute give forth the harmony of the spheres?" (Raffaelle).
2. Silence is often more impressive than any speech.
"The silence of pure innocence
Persuades, when speaking fails."
So also do the silence of deep feeling and of strong passion, uttering "speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture." Christ but looked on the recreant Peter after his miserable desertion and denial. Yet that silent look, as the denied One passed him in the hall, was eloquent of wounded love, and cut the denier more keenly than any words. No word was uttered on the cross where the dying thief was brought to faith. The God-like fortitude, the ineffable meekness of the Saviour, suffering silently the devilish malice of sin,—it was that broke his heart and won his free allegiance. In this dumbness was speech to the power of which articulate speech admits of no comparison. The gift of being "eloquently silent" is one that is not unworthy of more general cultivation. To Israel the sudden silence of the prophets, after centuries of expostulation, would tell its own startling tale. It would indicate discouragement and disgust, and duplicate to their minds the "let him alone" (Hosea 4:17) of Divine desertion at a similar crisis. And this unequivocal proof that they are given up might bring the tardy repentance which all else had failed to stir. When communications are broken off, the dream of a lasting peace is over. The patient will believe that death is at hand when the physician turns away and refuses to prescribe.
3. Silence is always better than haphazard speech. When a man knows not what to say he should guard against saying he knows not what. "Silence, when nothing need be said, is the eloquence of discretion." Peter would have escaped some blunders and rebukes if he had followed this rule. But it was when "he wist not what to say" (Mark 9:6) that he was given to saying most. Such speech is more likely to be inappropriate than silence, and being inappropriate there are many more ways in which it can work evil. Hence the numerous Scripture references to the tongue, the power of it, the difficulty of governing it, and the danger of it if unruly. Indeed, so liable are men to err and so specially liable to err in speech as compared with overt act, that the proper government of the tongue is made the highest religious act (James 3:2).
II. WHEN IT IS EVIDENT THAT SPEECH MUST BE UNAVAILING. There are many such cases.
1. Sometimes men will refuse to listen. The Jews did in the beginning of the gospel. Faithfully and firmly Stephen pressed the truth home; but they "stopped their ears, and ran upon him" (Acts 7:57). Here was a ease for silence. Speech, had it been possible, would have been unheeded. Those men, with murder in their hearts, and their fingers in their ears, would listen to no words. With Israel now things had come to a like pass. Their ears were stopped, and their hearts within them were set to do iniquity. For such a state of matters the appropriate measure is the silence which the prophet predicts. And all God's servants, in the exercise of their enlightened judgment, will do likewise in a like case. When men will not hear, they will refuse to waste on them unregarded speech. Bawling into an ear that is deaf or stopped is effort thrown away, and unworthy of common sense.
2. Sometimes evil has gone so far that words can be of no avail. God's Spirit will not always strive. With the antediluvians by Noah's preaching he strove above a century, but when iniquity reached a certain stage he ceased, and his ultima ratio was the Deluge. He strove with Saul for years, but when insensibility and hardness became confirmed, communications were broken off; and whether by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets, God spoke no more (1 Samuel 28:6). He strove with Israel during the ministry of our Lord, but they would not listen to his word, and at last he was silent, sad the doomed people were left to die (Luke 19:42). God ceases to speak when he is ready to strike. Expostulation would be an anachronism when execution is imminent. The point at which he will give up the persistent wrong doer and withdraw all deterrent measures none can fix. But there is such a point, and, to each of the ungodly, the danger of passing it (Proverbs 1:26). Every hour we continue in rebellion is cutting down our chance of being longer striven with. Those who speak for God to men are sometimes conscious that the time to be silent has come. The sinner seems to have reached a final fixity. In the nature of things he cannot be expected now to change. Paul at a certain stage concluded the Jew to be incorrigible, and turned deliberately to the Gentile (Acts 13:46). And like Paul, when it becomes clear that further dealing with men must be barren of result, the servant of Christ will transfer his strength from the hopeless to some hopeful form of effort.
III. WHEN IT IS JUST AS LIKELY TO DO HARM AS GOOD. This is no remote contingency. Such times are cropping up continually. Under certain circumstances speech:
1. May do harm to men. The truth of God and the sinful heart are uncongenial. Men love the darkness and hate the light. The truth forbidding all lust is actually through the corruption of our nature the occasion of stirring it up (Romans 7:7-9). This, of course, is no reason for withholding it or suppressing our testimony to it. But there are circumstances and moods in which this tendency attains its maximum of strength, and it will then be prudent to keep silence "even from good." It is as "fishers of men" that we speak the truth, and we must justify our claim to the title by presenting the truth in the time and way in which it is most likely to tell. If we "testify" at random, and uniformly, in all companies and on all occasions, we shall oftener harm than help the people whom we wish to serve.
2. It may do harm to the truth. There is such a thing as "casting pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6) to no better purpose than the prostitution of sacred things The difference between truth profaned and necessarily inoperative, and the same truth listened to and the power of God, is often the difference between the untimely presentation of it and the timely. To force it on men when they are out of humour and will not give it a fair hearing is only to bring it into contempt—to lessen its dignity in the eyes of others, and diminish its chance of winning their acceptance. The truth is meant to sanctify and save, and we must be careful to do nothing that would place it at a disadvantage in the work.
3. It may do harm to ourselves without any compensating advantage. "He that reproveth a scorner getteth himself shame"—the shame of aggravating the ease and bringing needless evil on himself. No Scottish Covenanter was called on to enter the camp and preach the gospel of good will and peace to the bloodthirsty troopers of Claverhouse or Dalziel. The thing would have been good in itself, and was deeply needed, but to attempt it meant not merely failure, but death. If there was no one else to do it, this work must be left undone. There is room for judgment and discretion in timing and planning the work of winning souls. The most acceptable service and the most useful we can give to God is our "reasonable service." We are not to "count our lives dear to us" in comparison with his work; but it must appear that the work demands the sacrifice, and will benefit by it, before we are at liberty to give up the life which we hold in trust for God. Pearls are to be withheld from swine for this among other reasons, "lest they turn again and rend you." The characters of the "time to keep silence" deserve attention no less than those of the "time to speak," and he has mastered both who rightly divides the Word of life.
1. Silence is sometimes a Divine form of appeal.
2. In that case it is probably the last appeal.
3. Disregarded, it is the lull before the storm.
Amos 5:14, Amos 5:15
The nation with which God will dwell.
The opening words of this presage imply a history. Israel "not only did evil, but they sought it out and the occasions of it" (Pusey). They gave evil their special attention, never failing to do it when they had opportunity, and seeking opportunities when none presented themselves. In fact, they did it with an amount of method and pains which they are now called upon to direct into a new channel, and apply to the doing of good.
I. THE PRESENCE OF GOD WITH MEN IS THE CHIEFEST EXPRESSION OF HIS FAVOUR. It was the original, and remains the normal condition of human life.
1. It is the restoration of acceptance. Separation from God is penal. God "drove out the man" and we remain "afar off" because of sin committed. He will dwell with us again only when our sin is put away. The king will not consort with rebels as such. He will meet them only as subjects and friends. The condition of access to his presence is the equitable recovery of his forfeited favour. In the promise to dwell with Israel was the implied promise to restore them to his favour.
2. It is the restoration of God-likened. "What communion hath light with darkness?" None. The two things are essentially antagonistic, and fellowship between them is impossible. Accordingly, Adam left God's presence and hid even before he was driven out of the garden. In losing the Divine likeness he had lost all relish or fitness for the Divine presence. The one could be recovered only with the other. Born from above, and made partakers of the Divine nature, we are in affinity with God, and come with relish to his presence.
3. It is the restoration of happiness. "In thy presence is fulness of joy." Sin means loss on the one side and infliction on the other. Its guilt separates from God, with the result that our being is incomplete. Its corruption introduces disorder among our own powers, and disease in each, and so unrest and misery become inevitable (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:20). In reunion with God these two occasions of unhappiness are removed. By regeneration the old nature is crucified, and the new one is set by faith in union with God, where it has spiritual completeness, and so its ideal of a happy state. Hence the Christian's aspiration is summed up in one idea—to "be with Christ, which is far better."
II. ISRAEL HAD A THEORETICAL DIVINE PRESENCE WITH THEM WHICH WAS NOT NOW IN FACT ENJOYED. (Exodus 29:45, Exodus 29:46.) It is implied in God's offer to be with them under certain circumstances, that he was not with them then.
1. He was not with them in worship. God's presence at the Jewish national worship was pledged (Exodus 20:24). But the worship must be his worship, conducted according to his appointment. This it now was not. Where not positively idolatrous or profane, the worship of Israel was utterly formal and hollow. In such worship the Divine presence is not desired and is not enjoyed (Isaiah 1:13-15). The worship must be real, the heart contrite, in which God promises to be present. Israel failed of God's promised presence by tailing to claim it on the appointed terms.
2. He was not with them in war. For centuries he had been (Judges 6:16), and victory attended their arms (Joshua 24:12, Joshua 24:18; 1 Chronicles 17:21). Nothing could withstand them. The nations of Canaan, in whose sight they had felt as grasshoppers, were subdued before them. And God had explicitly connected their victories with his presence and help (Exodus 17:11, Exodus 17:14; Psalms 44:1-3). But there came a time of which the psalmist had to say, "Thou hast cast off and put us to shame, and goest not forth with our armies" (Psalms 44:9). The conditions on which the Divine promise of help in the field was suspended were violated or ignored, and God left them to fight with the arm they preferred to his.
3. He was not with them in their daily walk. They did not seek him nor want him, nor were they fit to be near him. The graces to which his presence is congruous, the means by which his presence is secured, were all absent, and so they were a nation given up of God and forsaken (Isaiah 2:6; Jeremiah 7:29). He no longer dwelt with them, nor met them, nor directed them, nor spoke to them. He became, as he does to all under like conditions, "a God afar off, and not a God near at hand;" and the journey of their national existence, begun in such goodly company, was left to be finished alone.
III. TO MAKE THE THEORY OF GOD'S PRESENCE FACT, THE THEORY OF ISRAEL'S SEPARATION MUST ALSO BE FACT. God's withdrawal was the natural reply to Israel's forsaking. His resumption of relations would synchronize with their return to righteousness.
1. Evil must be rejected. This duty is laid down in three degrees. It is not to be sought, nor done, nor loved. It had been all three. It could cease to be the one only by ceasing to be the others also. The seeking implies that the love and the doing have gone before. The love guarantees that the doing and seeking shall follow in due course. The way to break off' from evil is to be utterly separate. The least link of connection will develop into a mighty chain.
2. Good must be chosen. This is dutiful. Duty has a positive side still more important than its negative one. Mere avoidance of what is wrong would be a colourless thing. God's Law is not merely a system of restrictions, but a system of commands. There must be actual doing of what is right, with a knowledge that it is right, and because it is right. And this is no more dutiful than natural The qualities that turn away from evil turn instinctively to good. Indeed, the two things are so antagonistic that the love of the one and the hatred of the other are only different aspects of the same feeling. And in this choosing of God, again, there are three phases or degrees answering to those in the avoidance of sin. It is to be loved, as the fairest and most amiable thing on earth. It is to be done, as the only thing that is fitting and right. It is to be sought, as a thing important and desirable in the highest possible degree.
3. Justice must be done. "Established in the gate." Unjust judgment was a prevalent and crying evil. The Jewish character was prone to it, and the experience of it at the hands of strangers only strengthened the tendency. Perversion of justice is one of the most constant elements in natural corruption everywhere. A corrupt man makes a dishonest trader, an unjust judge, and an oppressive master. Fair and upright dealing between man and man has no natural basis, unless in the fear of God. The fear of God, on the other hand, will naturally coordinate itself with regard for man. The man who "does justly and loves mercy" is one who "walks humbly with God."
IV. WHAT GOD DOES FOR ISRAEL HE DOES FOR THEM AS BEING "THE REMNANT OF JOSEPH." This form of expression is significant.
1. The remnant. This implies weeding out by previous judgment. Israel had sinned long, and in punishment had been almost decimated. This was necessary as a matter of justice. Until it had been done they could not be saved. Sinners, individually and collectively, must receive for the wrong they have done. God's original promises were made to Israel as a nation, and not to individuals, and the nation in his eye was the remnant left after his judgments had run their course. To this remnant hope of deliverance is here held out as a Brand plucked from the fire; a thing on which, justice having been vindicated, mercy may now, and not till now, be shown.
2. The remnant of Joseph. This means Israel as the covenant people. Joseph was Israel's favourite, "the man that was separate from his brethren," and the recipient of the promise (Genesis 48:4) given to Abraham (Genesis 17:8) and repeated to Isaac and Jacob. Accordingly, the "remnant of Joseph" is equivalent to the "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). God never forgets his covenant, never fails to give its promised blessings, never gives them to the covenant people, but as covenanted mercies. On the broad ground of creaturehood his general mercies are distributed, but special mercies are on the narrower basis of a spiritual relation. All wherein we are made to differ from others is the gift of a God in covenant, and the story of providence is at bottom the story of grace (Romans 8:32, Romans 8:28).
Amos 5:16, Amos 5:17
The track of the destroyer.
Each name of God is a guarantor of his action. It expresses a character, or relation, or operation, in which he thereby reveals himself. The multiplication of his names and titles here is a cumulative argument for the sureness of the matter revealed. He who is God of hosts or the Omnipotent One, Lord or the Absolute One, and Jehovah or the Self-existent One, is the Being with whom to decide is to act, and to will is to accomplish. Of the deliverance so emphasized observe—
I. THE MORAL CERTAINTY THAT THE WARNING TO AN APOSTATE WILL BE VAIN. The possibility of a happy end, by the grace of God, to Israel's sin and troubles is held out in the previous verse. Yet here the falling of the judgments denounced is assumed to be inevitable. Paul declares that it is impossible to restore to repentance those who might fall away from a high degree of spiritual attainment. The apostate is a hopeless case:
1. Because he loves sin more than other men. They love it knowing nothing better, but he does so with experimental knowledge of the way of peace. He loves it under a less impulse than they, and in the face of stronger deterrents than they, and must therefore love it more than they. The fuel that kindles with the least fire, and burns in spite of most water, is clearly the most inflammable.
2. Because he is harder than other men. The strain is proportioned to the wrench. All sin hantens, and hardens in proportion as we are active and resolute in it. Sinning against more light, and more deterrent influence than others, the apostate's sin involves a more decided act of will, and so a more violently hardening effect. The more firmly the branding-iron is applied, the more deeply it scars. The more violently the moral sense is sinned against, the more the organ is indurated and injured.
3. Because his day of grace will be shorter than that of other men. The only chance of men's turning at all is God's striving with them. This he does with all men during a longer or shorter period. In the case of the antediluvians the striving was for a hundred and twenty years (Genesis 6:3). In the case of Jerusalem it was three years (Matthew 23:39). In the case of Saul, King of Israel, it was till within about seven years of his death (1 Samuel 18:12). In the case of many it is during the entire life (Matthew 20:6-9). Thus each man has his day of grace, during which God strives with him to bring him to repentance. In the nature of the case the day of grace for the apostate must be far advanced. He has been more and longer striven with than other men, and so is presumably nearer the limit beyond which the process does not go.
II. A THREAT THE OBVERSE OF A CONDITIONAL PROMISE. "For I will pass through the midst of thee;" i.e. as elsewhere (Exodus 12:12) in judgment. The language is a threat. God, so far from dwelling with them, as under other circumstances he was ready to do (Amos 5:14), would pass through them in wrath and destroying power. Underlying the announcement of this alternative is the fact:
1. That compromise is impossible with God. He will save or he will destroy. There is no half-way house between the good of his promise and the evil of his threat. He can yield nothing and abate nothing of either. He will come as a Friend to abide and bless unspeakably, or he will pass through as an invading Foe, making desolation in his track.
2. That the incentive to repentance must be double-edged. There are people who must be led, and others who must be driven. "The mercies of God" are the strongest motive power with some minds, whilst "the terrors of the Lord" are most potent with others. The Divine machinery of impulsion, to be perfect in itself and for its purpose, must include both. Hence men are plied with each in turn and often with both together (John 3:36) in connection with the salvation which they ultimately embrace. Israel's case would not be abandoned as hopeless until both menace and promise had made their contribution to the work of its persuasion.
III. CREATION LANGUISHING WHEN THE CREATOR FROWNS. The connection between man and the creation is very close. The judgment on Israel would mean evil:
1. In the fields. They would not be fertile as heretofore. Their crops would fail to grow, or be blighted before they could he gathered (Amos 4:7). Enemies would devastate the country and destroy the fruit of the ground. Rapacious officials would confiscate the earnings of honest industry. In each calamity, much more in all together, was enough to quench the joy of harvest, and cause the husbandman to mourn.
2. In the vineyards. The whole food of the people, the corn, the wine together, would be swept away. The grape gathering was a proverbial occasion of joy (Isaiah 16:10). But with no vintage to gather, or no chance to gather it for the lawful owner, the "vintage shouting" would cease, and for the usual singing in the vineyards would be substituted a universal wail.
3. In the streets. "God made the country, and man made the town." And the human depends on the Divine. Trade and commerce draw from agriculture their chief materials, and so when it fails they fail with it. When the husbandman has cause to weep there can be no dry eye in the community. The wail that begins in the fields, and spreads through the vineyards, will rise to a mighty roar when it reaches the streets, where the sufferers herd and lament together.
IV. THE LAMENTATION SYMPTOMATIC OF A GREAT DISASTER.
1. This is universal. In all "streets and vineyards; etc. The judgment affecting all classes in the community, all should mourn.
2. It is in concert. Men would call their fellows to lamentation. Not as individuals merely, but as a community, they sinned and suffer, and so as a community they should wail
3. It is worked up. "And lamentation to those skilled in lamenting." The mourning would not be left to take any form that happened. It would be appointed and organized, and then observed according to programme. All this implies an intelligent and vivid idea of the significance of the occasion. God's judgments, however long despised, will make themselves to be understood and respected at last. In hell there is no misappreciation of the nature and strength of Divine retribution; and on earth appreciation comes infallibly with experience.
The day of the Lord the night of the impenitent.
Divine judgments will be as sharp as they are sure. Sent in wrath, proportioned to guilt, falling on the vulnerable points, they are the least desirable of all imaginable things. The very thought of them should be sobering, and the sure prospect of them overwhelming. Now, the scoffer is the worst type of sinner, and will, in the nature of the case, be the greatest sufferer when judgment comes. He is at the same time the most utterly blinded character, and therefore likely to be taken most violently by surprise. How he shall be so, and to what extent, is made in these verses to appear.
I. "THE DAY OF THE LORD." This is a common expression in the prophets, and its meaning is well defined. It is applied:
1. To the day of active Divine intervention on earth. (Job 1:15; Job 2:1; Isaiah 2:12; Jeremiah 46:10; Obadiah 1:15.) There are periods which God signalizes by special doings. Long quiescent, he becomes conspicuously active. He intervenes in human affairs with unusual emphasis. Judgments often menaced are sent. Sinners long berne with are punished. The godly, for a time imposed on, are delivered. Abuses, the growth of centuries, are dealt with on their merits, and swept away. Such a period is called "the day of the Lord" because it is the time of obvious and special Divine activity. God not only strikes, but shows his hand.
2. To the day of final judgment. All others foreshadow, lead up to, culminate and lose themselves in this. "The day of the Lord had already become the name forevery day of judgment, leading on to the last day" (Pusey). This is the day of the Lord in a unique sense. It is unique as regards universality. It will see dealt with, not individuals merely, or nations even, but the entire race (Matthew 25:31). It is unique in the matter of thoroughness. There will be inquisition as to each person, and as to every act of each (2 Corinthians 5:10). It is unique also in the matter of finality. Questions already dealt with by temporal judgments will be reopened to be settled once for all. Its sentence will be final, and its adjudication of rewards and punishments for all eternity (Matthew 25:46).
II. ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO THE WICKED. This is explicitly and minutely defined as:
1. Evil. "Darkness, and not light." It could not be otherwise. Sin means wrath, and wrath means infliction. Between a righteous God and all unrighteousness there must exist an infinite antagonism. Between his Law and such there is an essential incompatibility. Therefore his action towards them must be adverse, his judgment on them that of condemnation. It is a result of God's purity, of the majesty of law, of the needs of moral government, that "with the froward he shall show himself froward."
2. Only evil. "And no brightness in it." The dispensation of forbearance, the time for any measure or kind of good, is over. While any hope of reformation remained, judgment was mingled with mercy. But when this is hopeless, and the question is only one of punishing the reprobate, the exercise of goodness would be an anachronism, and only severity can be meted out.
3. Evil playing into the hands of evil. "As if a man fleeth before the lion, and the bear meets him." Divine punitive measures are various and complete. They surround us. They hem us in on every side. They form as it were a circle of fire round us. They are not to be evaded or escaped (Jeremiah 11:11; Romans 2:3; Hebrews 2:3). In running away from one, we only run into the jaws of another. If it is not the lion's tooth, then in any case it will be the bear's claws. If health escape, property will suffer. If both escape, the good name will be tarnished. If all three escape, conscience will be wounded and happiness destroyed. If earthly evil consequences do not reach us, there are eternal fires kindled against which there will be no appeal.
4. Evil in the arms of good. "And rests his hand upon the wall, and the snake bite him." The wall, a ready support for the feeble or weary to lean on, may furnish in its chinks a hiding place for the venomous snake. So with all human refuges in God's day of visitation. They will fail us. Their help will not be available, or it will not be sufficient, or it will involve some other evil as great as the one it will relieve. "The staff of bruised reed" (Isaiah 36:6) is the fitting emblem of all fancied helps in the day of God's wrath. Even the likeliest will be found wanting in the very matter in which it promises most.
III. THEIR FOOLISH DESIRE FOR IT. "Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah!" The sinner's desiring the day of vengeance on his sins may mean:
1. Misapprehension. Israel did not realize the enormity of their sin. They did not see that the threatened judgments were for themselves and on account of it. They trusted to their position as "Israel after the flesh" to secure them the immunity that only belonged to Israel after the Spirit, And so their idea of the day of God was a time when their enemies would be destroyed, and they themselves delivered and exalted. With all the wicked, the eye for the sins of others is so much keener than the eye for their own, that coming good is unconsciously allocated to themselves and coming evil to others, and so Divine judgments desired which can only destroy them when they come.
2. Bravado. The prophets who foretold the coming of God's day rebuked the people's sin on account of which it was to come. Put on their mettle by the rebuke, many would affect to ridicule the prophecy. Like others (Jer 17:15; 2 Peter 3:3, 2 Peter 3:4), they would say, with an affectation of unbelief, "You are trying to frighten us with a bugbear. Let your talked of judgment fall, and then we will believe it." The delay of God's judgment, which means that when it comes it shall be the more terrible, is often taken as meaning that it is not coming at all (Ezekiel 12:22, Ezekiel 12:27).
3. Vindictiveness. Some would deem themselves less criminal than others—their enemies, it may be, and oppressors. On these they would expect the heaviest strokes to fall, and to bring this about they would suffer more or less themselves. There are Samsons among sinners who would run the risk of perishing themselves in order to secure the destruction of others. To all three classes "the day of the Lord is darkness, and no brightness in it." Evil will come none the less surely because it is good that is expected, and it will come all the more sharply on those who to their other sin have added malice against men and mockery of God.
The autograph of the unreal.
Wicked Israel, strange to say, was worshipping Israel still. Theirs was sanctimonious sinning. It was done more or less in a religious connection. It was accompanied, and attempted to be covered, by an unstinted dressing of pietistic cant. But it only smelled the more rank to Heaven. Unreal worship is no mitigation, but only an aggravation, of the guilt of unholy living.
I. INSINCERITY IS OFTEN SCRUPULOUS ABOUT ALL THE CIRCUMSTANTIALS OF WORSHIP. This is natural. It builds on the form as a substitute for the spirit, and on the observance of the ordinance thus as a substitute for a godly life. Going through religious forms costs nothing in the way of crucifying the flesh. Accordingly, the scrupulosity of Israel seemed to be great in proportion to their hypocrisy.
1. They kept the feasts. "Feasts" (Amos 5:21) means the annual feasts. There is no hint that these, or any of them, were neglected or overlooked. The routine of celebration went mechanically on. They were observed without purpose and without heart, but they were observed.
2. They performed the acts of worship. "The assemblies" (Amos 5:21) were probably the meetings for worship (Leviticus 23:36) appointed to be held at the feasts. These as a class, no exception to which is indicated, are spoken of as having been held. "Then 'songs,' no doubt of Zion, and inspired by God, were duly sung, and the accompaniment played on harps—instruments almost exclusively consecrated to the service of God" (Pusey).
3. They offered the usual gifts. The "burnt offering," the "meat offering," and the "peace offering," which are all voluntary offerings, were regularly made, so far as appears. They were made, moreover, with fatlings—beasts the best of their kind, and such as the Law prescribed. So far, therefore, as form went, their worship was scrupulously correct. And the same is generally true of hollow and unspiritual worship. Being purely formal, it will seem excellent in proportion as it is elaborate. The absence of the spirit is attempted to be compensated for by the exaltation of the letter. Worship can no more be appraised by its fulness, and fairness of outward form, than the dietary value of a fruit by its size and colour.
II. INSINCERITY IS CHARACTERISTIC NO LESS IN WHAT IT OMITS THAN IN WHAT IT OBSERVES. No mention is made of the "sin offering" or the "trespass offering." Yet these were both compulsory, whereas the three observed were optional. Hence it appears that:
1. To the formalist that is least acceptable which is most Divine. He has no true respect for God's authority. He is a self-pleaser first of all and most of all, and will find the ordinance most acceptable into the observance of which there enters most of his own will and least of God's. On this principle the optional in worship will be preferred to the prescribed (Isaiah 1:12), and the unauthorized to either (Mark 7:9). The illustration of this in the countless vagaries of the Romanist and Ritualist is easy to trace. Practical attention to the various details of worship by the unspiritual almost seems to be inversely as their Divine authority.
2. To the formalist that is most distasteful which most closely connects him with his sin. The sin offering was an acknowledgment, and involved a remembrance, of guilt. This is distasteful to the natural heart. Give a sinful man his way, and the last matter he will face will be his own sinfulness. Allow a formalist discretion in worship, and the ordinance that most articulately speaks of sin will be the one least observed. Singing will be preferred to praying, a form of prayer will be preferred to the directness of spontaneous utterance, and preaching, which most distinctly brings face to face with personal responsibility and duty, will be almost crowded out. Worship, in fact, in proportion as it becomes formal, becomes impersonal and indirect.
III. SUCH HOLLOW WORSHIP IS UTTERLY OFFENSIVE TO GOD. The degrees of Divine disapprobation run up a graduated scale. "I will not accept;" "I will not take pleasure in;" "I will not regard;" "I hate;" "I despise." In all such worship the moral element, the first element of acceptability, is altogether wanting. The thing is not meant for worship, and cannot be treated as such. It is not observed according to God's will, nor as God's appointment at all, but as our own invention or choice. It is not aimed at the God-glorifying, soul saving objects prescribed in Scripture. Gone through without interest or heart, done for fashion, or freak, or gain, it honours neither God nor his command, whilst it calls into play no grace of the religious life whatever. It is a mere performance, not only destitute of moral value, but distasteful to God, and in gratuitous violation of his Law. Hence the vocabulary of condemnation is exhausted on it (Isaiah 1:11-15) as the meanest and most hateful thing in the whole spiritual connection.
Real calamity waiting upon unreal service.
"The meaning of this verse is not, 'Let justice and righteousness take the place of your sacrifices.'… The verse threatens the flooding of the land with judgment and the punitive righteousness of God" (Keil). Adopting this interpretation, we observe—
I. THAT WHICH IS REJECTED "IS NIGH UNTO CURSING." Hollow service has been sitting for its portrait, and the picture is striking. Now we have the Divine appraisement revealed in the action to be taken forthwith. Instead of approval there is condemnation. Instead of reward there is punishment. Instead of profit resulting there is loss on every issue.
1. It deserves this. Want of conformity to law is a sufficient ground of condemnation. Positive transgression of law is ground more decided still Wilful mockery of the Lawgiver is most deeply criminal of all. All these elements pertained to Israel's sham observances, and, together, they constitute an indictment on which the criminal's conviction is inevitable.
2. It requires it. God's moral government must show itself strong and just, and in order to this, sin, and all sin, must be visited with his avenging stroke. Especially must this be done in the sphere of "things whereby God maketh himself known." The thing whose function it is to make him known must do so in the glorious character he bears.
II. THE JUDGMENTS THAT ENGULF ARE RIGHTEOUSNESS. This could be argued, and is here affirmed.
1. They express righteousness. They are deserved. They are all deserved. They are deserved in the proportions in which they come. If they did not come, the moral balance of things would be disturbed. If they came in less decided form, this balance would be only half adjusted. They are "righteous judgments" in the fullest and highest sense.
2. They accomplish righteousness. They are sent in the interests of it. They fall on the unrighteous. They are designed and fitted to lead to their reformation (Isaiah 26:9). Sometimes the righteous suffer from them also. In that case their tendency is on the one hand to promote the righteousness of the sufferer, and on the other to emphasize the evil of unrighteousness in any section of a community, and so prevent, it. As a matter of fact, Divine judgments have often wrought righteousness both in individuals (2 Chronicles 33:11-16) and communities (Isaiah 43:21). Even in eternity they bulk largely, in the thought of the redeemed, among the helpful experiences of earth (Revelation 7:14).
III. WHEN JUDGMENT IN RIGHTEOUSNESS COMES, IT COMES LIKE A FLOOD. There are two ideas here. The first is:
1. Let judgment roll on like water. In this:
(1) It will be deep (Psalms 36:6), swallowing up all its victims.
(2) It will be sudden, taking the evil doers by surprise (Luke 17:20-31).
(3) It will be irresistible, sweeping before it every opposing object (Psalms 90:5).
(4) It will be destroying, leaving no living thing in its track.
(5) It will be ultimately fertilizing, leaving behind it the rich ooze of an abiding lesson.
2. And righteousness like on inexhaustible stream. Judgment is the act of which righteousness is the principle. God's righteousness, whether in himself or in his judgments, is like an inexhaustible stream.
(1) It is perennial. The righteousness of God's judgments is a constant quantity. It never intermits. Each is righteous and all are righteousness.
(3) It is pure. Righteousness in God is necessarily so. There is no foreign ingredient, no cloud of mixture in it whatever. It is righteous through and through. "There is," there can be, "no unrighteousness in him."
(3) It is cleansing. It purifies all it touches; the person it is laved on, the city it passes through.
(4) It is irrigating. It waters the fields of human life. It makes the graces, like the grass, to grow in the desert, and withering things revive. The righteousness of God, like water streams, is rich in every element of blessing for timer and is a benefactor for eternity as well.
Trusting in idols that cannot save.
In these words, God's case against Israel just announced is strengthened. Their services now were hollow and insincere; their sacrifices formal acts in which the heart had no part. This, in itself, was ground of punishment even to destruction. But it is only a portion of the iniquity chargeable against them. In the wilderness the course had been already entered on. Appointed ordinances had been neglected. Idolatrous ordinances had been introduced. As now they were going on, so they had long ago begun. There was a diuturnity in their wrong doing which made the fall of destroying judgments a foregone conclusion. We see here—
I. ISRAEL'S PRESENT JUDGED IN THE LIGHT OF ITS PAST. What Israel in Amos's time was and should receive was affected by what Israel had been and done in the desert of sin. This is according to principles universally received.
1. Every nation is held responsible for its own entire past. The England of today not only owns responsibility for, but is striving nobly to make compensation for, errors of the England of thrice hundred years ago. The prophet-killing Israel of our Lord's time are declared responsible for all the martyr blood shed from that of Abel down (Matthew 23:35). The logic of this is unassailable. The national identity remains unbroken. The national policy remains unchanged. The national life maintains its continuity. And so among its heirlooms is the inherited responsibility for the sins of other days.
2. A nation is further responsible for its past, in that the present takes its tone from it. A certain proportion of almost every evil is hereditary. From the past generations we inherit evil qualities and learn evil ways. The father's vices reappear in the child. The present is the child of the past, begotten in its likeness, and liable as such for the evil it has taken up and perpetuates.
3. The life of a nation, like that of an individual, can be judged of only as a whole. If a nation from its birth to its death be one thing, so is a nation's life. Now, the glory of God's dealing is its perfect equity, arising out of its exhaustive induction of facts. He leaves nothing out of account, no smallest word, no slightest desire, no most trifling act. His verdict in each case is based on the entire life of the party in court. The method is fair. No other method would be fair. Each part is modified by its relation to all the others, and cannot be fairly judged unless in connection with them.
II. THAT PAST PERSISTENTLY UNFAITHFUL. The interrogative form of verse 25 is equivalent to a strong negation.
1. They had neglected sacrifice in the wilderness. "Have ye offered me sacrifices and gifts in the desert forty years?" Typifying the atonement of Christ, through which men draw near to God, sacrifice was the fundamental exercise of Old Testament worship. This was not abandoned by the priests (Numbers 16:46), but it was, like circumcision (Joshua 5:5), neglected by the people, and superseded by sacrifices to idols (Deuteronomy 32:17; Ezekiel 20:16). In this neglect or perversion were included the voluntary gifts (offerings) as well as the prescribed sacrifices. Thus early adopted, and long persisted in, was Israel's rebellions way. Emphasizing the pronoun, God says in effect of the whole run of Jewish national history, "Ye either offered no sacrifice at all, or none to me."
2. They were at palm to make, and carry, idolatrous appliances with them. "But ye have berne the tabernacle of your Moloch." Divinely appointed sacrifice they found too burdensome to be followed. Of Divine worship in each of its ordinances they said, "What a weariness is it!" But they thought it no trouble to make and carry about portable shrines and pedestals for use in the worship of heathen idols. A man will do for his idol what he will not do for God. Be it idol lust, or habit, or opinion, he loves it more, and is more like it, and so finds its service more congenial. The God of the legalist is not the God of Scripture, but a God of his own devising, and so he serves him laboriously in works of self-righteousness, whilst stubbornly declining the far easier call of the true God to simple faith in Jesus Christ. It was in following his affinities thus that Israel was ever found joined to his idols, and alien to the God of heaven.
3. This idolatry they had derived from Egypt. "It was no doubt to these Egyptian sun gods that the star god which the Israelites carried about with them belonged" (Keil). They were not seduced into idolatry merely by the nations among whom they passed. They did not wait for that. They tired of Jehovah's service, and sought out false gods for themselves. They were bent on having idols, come whence they would. Failing others, they adopted, in their blind and besotted perverseness, those of Egypt itself Their return to Jehovah for deliverance was desertion, and the lesson learned under idolatrous Egypt's savage oppression was to adopt the idol worship that produced it. This is eloquent of the godlessness of the corrupt heart. Nothing can disgust it with idols, nothing can attach it to God. It hates him always, and embraces, or seeks, or makes occasions of abandoning his worship.
4. Israel's worship of idols involved the serving of them. "The booth of your king." Every man's god is his king. Worship is the highest act of service. When it is rendered, the other and lower acts necessarily follow; when it is abandoned, they logically and actually cease. A new idol in the heart means a new sovereign over the life.
III. THE DIVINE PUNISHMENT TO BE ADJUSTED TO THE SIN. This it always is, but in the present case the correspondence is specially obvious.
1. They should go into captivity. God often punishes sins against himself by human instrumentality, generally that of the wicked (2 Samuel 24:13; Psalms 109:6). The severity of such punishment is guaranteed by the native cruelty of the human heart. As the conqueror and owner of the vanquished and enslaved, the wicked puts on his worst character, and his treatment becomes punishment corresponding to the worst sin of idolatry.
2. Their captivity should be among idolaters. The rod of God's anger in this case was to be the Assyrian (Isaiah 10:5). In captivity with him, Israel would find out what kind of masters idolatry makes of its votaries. This would disenchant them, if anything could. The test of the god we worship is the practical one of the character of his service. When our idol lusts become our masters, we know them as they really are. The drunkard has attained to a knowledge of the drink appetite that would be a wholesome revelation to those who are just beginning to indulge.
3. They should die as slaves in the land out of which their progenitor had at first been called. "I will carry you beyond Damascus." Stephen (Acts 7:42, Acts 7:43) quotes this "beyond Babylon." In either case the neighbourhood of Ur of the Chaldees would be referred to. This, which had been the cradle of the nation, would be its grave. There, where their godly ancestor had been a prince, the idolatrous nation would be slaves (Joshua 24:14, Joshua 24:3); his faith, and the promises to it, having been lost together.
IV. GOD'S THREATS EMPHASIZED BY HIS NAME. This says what he is, and so indicates how he will act.
1. He is Jehovah, the Self-existent One. "He cannot but be, and he is, the Source of all being; the unchangeable, infinite, eternal Essence." As Jehovah, he originates all things (verse 8; Amos 9:6; Jeremiah 33:2), controls all things (Psalms 10:16; Psalms 99:1), fills and possesses all things, and "nothing is too hard for him "(Jeremiah 32:27).
2. He is Lord of hosts. "The Lord of the heavenly hosts, for whose worship they forsook God; the Lord of the hosts on earth, whose ministry he employs to punish those who rebel against him. All creatures in heaven and earth are, as he says of the holy angels, 'ministers of his that do his pleasure'" (Pusey). "Jehovah," the great First Cause, "God of hosts," the Controller of all second causes whatever, there is that in the Name of God which guarantees the execution, literal and exhaustive, of all his threats.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Seek the Lord.
Man is by nature a seeker. He desires good, of one kind or another, and what he desires he makes the object of his quest, more or less diligent and persevering. Hence the restlessness, the energy, the effort, so distinctive of human life. Religion does not destroy or repress natural characteristics; it hallows and dignifies them. Religion gives to human search a just direction and noble aim.
I. THE REASONS IN MAN'S NATURE AND CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH SHOULD LEAD HIM TO SEEK THE LORD.
1. Man is so constituted that he cannot find a full satisfaction in any earthly and created good. He returns from every such endeavour with the complaint, "All is vanity." "Our heart," said St. Augustine—"our heart is restless till it rests in thee."
2. Especially do all human religions prove their insufficiency. Israel was learning this by bitter experience. "Seek not Bethel," etc; was the admonition of the prophet to those who had been in the habit of resorting to idol shrines. The gods of the heathen were known to the Jews as "vanities."
II. THE REASONS TO BE FOUND IN GOD WHY HE SHOULD ENGAGE THE SEEKING POWERS OF MAN.
1. His own proper excellence is such that the soul that gains even a glimpse of it may well devote to the pursuit of Divine knowledge and favour all powers and all opportunities.
2. God alone is able to succour and to save those who set their affection and desire upon him.
3. God condescends to invite the children of men to seek him. By the mouth of the prophet he gives an express command and invitation. We may be assured that this language is sincere and trustworthy.
4. There is an express promise of incomparable preciousness addressed to such as are ready to respond to the heavenly call. "Ye shall live," is the authoritative assurance. By this we may understand that seekers after God shall be delivered from destruction, that they shall be made partakers of the Divine life, in all its spiritual energy and happiness.
III. THE METHODS IN WHICH GOD MAY BE SOUGHT AND FOUND.
1. Observe where he is to be found: i.e. in his holy Word; in his blessed Son, by whom in this Christian dispensation he has revealed himself unto us, and who has said, "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
2. Consider how he is to be found: i.e. by penitence, in humility, through faith, with prayer; in a word, by the exercises special to the spiritual nature.
3. Notice when he is to be found: i.e. now. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near."—T.
The Lord of the universe.
The herdsman of Tekoah was a true poet. His eyes were open to the beauty and to the splendour of nature; and his heart felt the presence of the Unseen and Eternal in all the works of his hands, in all his providential arrangements. More than this, the moral character and rule of the Omnipotent were very present and very real to him; he felt the force of the appeal made to the spiritual nature of man, and calling for a life of religious faith, of practical obedience. There is nothing strained or unnatural in the striking conjunction in this passage of poetic sensibility with ethical and religious exhortation.
I. A REPRESENTATION OF DIVINE GREATNESS AND GLORY.
1. Seen in the creation of the starry host. The Pleiades and Orion are mentioned as two of the most noticeable and most splendid of the constellations of the midnight sky.
2. In the alternations of day and night, in sunrise and sunset, in storm and in eclipse.
3. In the grandeur of the sea, in the torrents of rain, in the floods which pour their waters over the earth; in a word, in all the processes of nature.
4. In the providential interpositions and the righteous rule of the Most High, who does according to his will among the inhabitants of the earth.
II. AN INFERENCE AS TO HUMAN CONDUCT. The poet-prophet is more than a mirror to reflect the visible splendour, the awful forces of the universe. To him nature has a voice of authority, appealing to the understanding and to the conscience of the sons of men. There is a summons to the unrighteous and the irreligious to forsake their ways and to choose a better path. This summons will take a different form according to the character, the moral development, of those addressed.
1. There is what may be called the lower view—a God so great will not suffer iniquity to triumph, or injustice and disobedience to go unpunished. All are in the hands of the Almighty; and he whose power is so evidently revealed in the heavens above and on the earth beneath will not fail to assert his authority over all the creatures of his power. Although wickedness may prosper for a season, the law of righteousness shall be maintained and vindicated.
2. There is a higher view—not inconsistent with the other, but presenting itself to natures more morally cultivated and advanced. Great as God appears in nature, our conceptions of his excellence are enhanced when we reflect upon his glorious attributes and his righteous reign. The eternal law of righteousness administered by Omnipotence demands our lowly reverence, deserves our grateful obedience.—T.
Amos 5:14, Amos 5:15
The great alternative.
The coincidence between religion and morality is brought very strikingly before us in such passages as these. How different are such appeals as these, made by the prophet in the name of the Lord, from the requirements of merely formal religion! The highest conception of good is revealed, the noblest standard of right is exhibited; and all the sanctions furnished by the authority and the loving kindness of the Eternal are brought to bear upon human nature to induce to consecration and obedience.
I. MAN'S NATURE AND POSITION RENDER NECESSARY A MORAL CHOICE.
1. Man's emotional nature impels him to adopt an object of supreme love. Human affection may be diffused or it may be concentrated, it may be languid or it may be intense. But in any case it exists and acts as a principle of the moral life.
2. Man's voluntary and practical nature requires an object of supreme quest and endeavour. We seek what we love, we avoid what we hate.
II. THE GREAT ALTERNATIVE WHICH PRESENTS ITSELF TO MAN IS THE CHOICE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL. This is a real and not a fictitious or conventional distinction. It would be as reasonable to deny the distinction between straight and crooked, between light and darkness, as that between moral good and moral evil. The distinction is vital and eternal, connected with the "nature of things," with the attributes and character of God, with the constitution of man. The choice between pleasure and pain, between worldly prosperity and adversity, is as nothing compared with this choice. The appeals of revelation, from the beginning to the end of the Bible, urge men to choose the good in preference to the evil. There are doubtless inducements to another choice; but this remains the choice enforced by reason, by conscience, by God.
III. HOWEVER IT MAY BE REPRESENTED OTHERWISE, THE FACT IS THAT THE PRACTICAL PREFERENCE OF GOOD CONDUCES TO MAN'S WELFARE. The inducements offered to adopt a life of selfishness and of pleasure are many and powerful; there are "pleasures of sin for a season." The way of virtue and religion is a steep and rugged path. Yet it yields a deep and pure satisfaction not to be found in the ways, the broad and primrose paths, of sin. We are not called upon to balance pleasures. The voice of right, of God, is authoritative, and demands obedience without hesitation or calculation. Yet God promises such as listen to and obey his voice that he will "be with" them, that he will be "gracious unto" them, and that they shall "live."—T.
Although the Jewish religion prescribed, as is evident especially from the Book of Leviticus, innumerable observances, elaborate ritual, frequent and costly sacrifices, still nowhere are there to be found more disclaimers, more denunciations, of a merely ritual and ceremonial piety than in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. This is but one of many declarations that the true and living God will not accept any tribute of the hands which may be offered in lieu of the homage of the heart.
I. THE OUTWARD MANIFESTATIONS OF RELIGION WHICH GOD REJECTS.
1. Sacred assemblies are displeasing to him. He does, indeed, love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob; yet the prophet is inspired to declare that God hates and despises the gatherings of his own people.
2. Solemn festivals are equally distasteful. These, indeed, have been prescribed in the Law; they are commemorative of great mercies, great deliverances; their neglect or omission is viewed with displeasure. Yet here God is indignant that these feasts should be celebrated.
3. The same detestation is extended to the burnt offerings, meat offerings, and peace offerings, which the Hebrews were instructed on proper occasions to present to their Divine King.
4. More remarkable still, sacred songs and strains of music are as discord in the ear of God. The very psalms in which the Divine attributes are celebrated and the Divine gifts acknowledged are no longer acceptable to him who inhabiteth the praises of Israel.
II. THE GROUNDS UPON WHICH GOD REJECTS THE OUTWARD MANIFESTATIONS OF RELIGION.
1. Not because they are themselves an inappropriate tribute of religious emotion and religious consecration.
2. But because they are not expressive of sincere worship, gratitude, confidence, and love. "This people," saith the Searcher of hearts, "draweth nigh unto me with their lips, but their hearth far from me." And our Lord Christ has taught us that "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
3. And because ceremonial observances may be, and in the cases in question are, consistent with an idolatrous and wicked life. The very men who were punctilious in these ceremonies and sacrifices were tampering with the idolatry of surrounding peoples, and were acting with injustice and selfishness in the ordinary relationships of life.
4. Because, further, these manifestations are as a matter of fact substituted for those feelings and purposes which they are intended to promote. In fact, seeming religiousness hides the absence of real religion, so that this absence is sometimes unnoticed by the apparent but heartless and formal worshipper.—T.
The river of righteousness.
Whilst the holy King and Judge rejects the mere service of the lip and of the hand, when unaccompanied by genuine piety, he desires above all things the prevalence of those practical principles of rectitude which are the secret, hidden power of an upright and acceptable life. In a very bold and beautiful metaphor the Divine wish and pleasure are declared. Let the hypocritical festivals, the unmeaning sacrifices, the hollow songs, be swept away, and let the river of righteousness roll through the land, and God shall be pleased, and his people shall be blessed.
I. ITS DIVINE SOURCE. The fountain of rectitude is not to be found in the arrangements of human society, in the laws of human device, in the expediency which aims at human pleasures. We are to look up to the hills, to the heavens, for its source. It wells from the eternal constitution of the moral universe, from the very nature, from the glorious government, of the Eternal.
II. ITS VAST VOLUME. There is no community of men, there is no social relationship, in which righteousness may not be exemplified. Even the heathen philosophers could say great things of justice.
"Nor morning star, nor evening star, so fair!"
Ardent religionists sometimes lose sight of this principle and its necessity, thinking justice too sublunary and commonplace to be deserving of their attention. Such a practice is not sanctioned by Scripture, which from beginning to end lays stress upon the faithful and honourable discharge of human duty, as between man and man, in all the varied relationships of life.
III. ITS MIGHTY CURRENT. There is a power in righteousness which only the morally blind can overlook, which commands the homage of the observant and the thoughtful. For whilst it is not the kind of power that the worldly cannot but see, and the vulgar cannot but admire, it is nevertheless power—enduring, effective, undoubted power. The state is strong in which justice is administered, in which a high standard of uprightness is maintained in social and public life; whilst injustice, insincerity, oppression, corruption, and deceit are detrimental to the true interests of any community.
IV. ITS PERENNIAL FLOW. A river differs from a cistern, a reservoir, in this—that it does not run dry, that it is not exhausted, that it flows on from age to age. And the righteousness that the eternal King desires to see prevail in human society is an ever-flowing stream. Not like the mountain torrent, which is dried up in summer heat; but like the vast river, which is fed from the everlasting hills, and is replenished by many a tributary stream, is the course of Divine righteousness upon earth. Not in one nation, in one age, in one dispensation only, but in every time and place does this river of righteousness flow for the welfare of mankind.
V. ITS BENEFICENT RESULTS. From insincere religious observances no good can come; but from justice, from a proper discharge of duty, from right principles, we may look forevery good. God is pleased that his attribute becomes his creature's law. And righteousness exalts nations and establishes thrones.—T.
Amos 5:25, Amos 5:26
A divided homage rejected.
The continuity of Israel's national life is here assumed. Amos addressed the same people that was brought by Moses out of Egypt, that was led by Joshua into Canaan. The same temptations were followed by the same falls; in fact, until after the Captivity, the chosen nation was ever liable to relapse into partial and temporary idolatry. This was especially the case with the northern kingdom, which had not the benefit of the temple services, sacrifices, and priesthood. The peculiarity of the case was the attempt to combine two systems of religion so inconsistent as the worship of Jehovah and the worship of the false deities of the neighbouring nations. Yet this attempt is substantially one which is renewed by some in every generation, even under this spiritual and Christian dispensation. Displeasing as was the conduct of Israel in the view of a holy and "jealous" God, equally offensive is every endeavour to serve two masters, to divide the allegiance and devotion of the heart.
I. THE FACT THAT MEN DO ATTEMPT TO DIVIDE THEIR HOMAGE AND WORSHIP. This is no doubt an evidence of human inconsistency and instability; but it is not to be denied that our nature frequently exhibits these qualities. On the one hand, education, the voice of conscience, the aspirations of better moments, the influence of pious friends, tend to retain the heart beneath the sway of true religion. On the other nd, the example of the pleasure seeking and the worldly, the baser impulses of our nature, the suggestions of our spiritual adversary, all draw our hearts towards an inferior good, towards an ignoble choice. Hence many are found neither renouncing God nor rejecting the allurements of a sinful world.
II. THE GROUNDS UPON WHICH THE SUPREME REJECTS THE DIVIDED HOMAGE AND WORSHIP WHICH ARE SOMETIMES OFFERED.
1. God's just claim is to the whole nature and the whole life of his intelligent creatures. The Father of the spirits of all flesh cannot consent to share his rightful possession with any rival, any pretender, be he who he may.
2. The nature of man is such that he can only give religious reverence and service that shall be worthy of the name to one Lord. Christ has emphatically pronounced upon the case in his words, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
3. The moral degradation and disaster involved in the endeavour are palpable. There is inconsistency, nay, there is opposition, between the two services. A riven heart is a wretched heart. Hypocrisy is a sandy foundation upon which to build the character and life; upon this no secure and stable edifice can possibly be reared.
III. THE URGENCY OF THE ALTERNATIVE CONSEQUENTLY PRESENTED TO EVERY MORAL NATURE. It is the alternative which Joshua urged upon the Israelites: "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." It is the alternative which Elijah urged upon a later generation: "How long halt ye between two opinions [between the two sides]? If Jehovah be God, serve him; but if Baal, then serve him."—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Seeking the Lord.
"For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live." It is impossible to read this chapter without noticing the tenderness of the prophet, his compassion and pitifulness, his yearning wish to help and save. This feeling is the more remarkable because Amos belonged to the tribe of Judah, and felt thus towards the neighbouring and hostile kingdom of Israel. Such pity is ever a sign of Divine inspiration. Thus Isaiah (Isaiah 22:4) says, "Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people," etc. Samuel, too, after Saul the king had proved himself so headstrong and wilful that nothing could save him, although he went down to his own house and, in accordance with Divine command, saw him no more, nevertheless mourned for Saul to the day of his death. And, loftiest of all, Christ Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, and as he beheld the city which had rejected him, he wept over it, saying, "O Jerusalem," etc.! It was in this spirit that Amos wrote the passage before us, and thrice repeated the message in our text. Meditation on this subject gives us some thoughts:
1. On the loss of God.
2. On the search for God.
3. On life in God.
I. THE LOSS OF GOD. The exhortation to "seek" him implies that he has been lost sight of by his creatures. This is brought about by various influences.
1. By intellectual temptations. These vary in different ages. In the time of Amos the study of God's works led to superstition, while in these days it leads many to scepticism. Then the stars were believed to affect human destiny (verse 8); each season had its own deity; every element obeyed some unseen being. The polytheist would have joined heartily with the Jew in saying, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." In our day, on the contrary, folly is supposed to lie in the other direction, namely, in the heart of him who believes in that which is beyond sensuous perception and purely intellectual research. Science, which has driven fairies from the woods, elves from the mountains, and nymphs from the sea, is now supposed to be almost prepared to drive God from his universe. Articles in our magazines, addresses in our halls, speak with such ill-disguised contempt of religious men that their language is, "The fool bath said in his heart, There is a God." But the world never wanted God more. Men are not satisfied with knowing, and some who see no evidence for a future heaven are bitterly asking—Is life worth living? Amidst the miseries of civilized society, and the wrangling of sects, many a one secretly says, "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God!" In an age when men believed in gods who had no personal love or righteousness, they wanted to know the heavenly Father; and in this age, when scepticism has swept the world bare of some of its old creeds, we do well to hearken to the message of God, "Seek ye me, and ye shall live."
2. By prevailing idolatries. Show how places of sacred memory had become sources of idolatry and pollution (verse 5). Bethel, where Jacob saw the heavenly ladder, and vowed that he and his would be the Lord's; Gilgal, where the people reconsecrated themselves on entering Canaan; Beersheba, where Abraham called on the Lord, and Isaac built his altar, and Israel offered sacrifice when going with his sons into Egypt;—were all transformed into idolatrous resorts. From this, point out how easily creeds, forms of worship, holy places and relics, nominal profession of Christianity, etc; may hide God, instead of bearing witness to him. Suggest also certain modern idolatries.
3. By practical unrighteousness. Amos addressed his hearers as "Ye who turn judgement to wormwood [that is, who, instead of rendering justice, commit bitter wrong], and leave off righteousness in the earth [or, rather, 'dethrone it from rule']." Trace these sins in some trades and professions, and in some social customs and ecclesiastical movements, of our own day. Yet, in spite of such sins, which will incur the penalties here foretold, the message comes to every sinner from him who is not willing that any should perish, "Seek ye me, and ye shall live."
II. THE SEARCH FOR GOD. Let us rightly estimate the privilege offered to us. God is great beyond our conceptions. "He maketh the seven stars and Orion," etc; yet says, "To that man will I look … who is of a humble and contrite heart."
1. There is necessity for seeking him. He will not force himself on our notice, nor blazen his name in the sky. Any man, if he chooses, is free to live as if God were not. It is "he who seeketh findeth."
2. There are advantages in seeking him. These are additional to the advantages of finding him. The most precious things (jewels, corn, knowledge, etc.) are not the most easily obtained. The self-discipline, the steadfast effort, the trials of faith and hope, etc; cultivate character. So, in seeking God, we find that the pains and difficulties resulting from doubts, indolence, sins, etc; are part of our Heaven-appointed discipline. If God were visible as the sun is visible, there would be no moral advantage in "seeking" him; but as he is visible only through faith and prayer, we rise heavenward in our very seeking after him.
3. There is a right way of seeking him. Hence verse 5, "Seek not Bethel," etc. Some hoped to get help in other directions rather than in the path of penitential prayer. Multitudes now, instead of turning to him who is the Light of the world, pursue false lights, which, like the will-o'-the-wisp, will lead to destruction. Hear the words of Jesus Christ: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" "I and the Father are one."
III. THE LIFE IN GOD. "And ye shall live." This does not allude to national life. That was irrevocably doomed. But in the doomed nation any sinner turning to God would live. Nor is the allusion to natural life, but to that spiritual life which is referred to in the verse, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee," etc, This life in its nature and source is more fully revealed to us than to Amos himself.
1. The source of this life is found in God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. No man can create life where it is not, nor restore it where it once was. Christ, by the raising of the dead, showed in a visible sphere what he alone can do in the invisible. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
2. The nature of this life. It is Divine, and constitutes us "partakers of the Divine nature." Its germ is faith, its inspiration is love, its breath is prayer, its manifestation the likeness of Christ.
3. The vigour of this life. It will live amid the influences of an evil atmosphere, as a hale man walks unhurt through a tainted hospital It will assert itself in streams of benediction to the world around, and it will finally prove itself victorious over death; for the Lord has said, "He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die;" text.—A.R.
The message of the stars.
"Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is his Name," This recognition of God amidst the phenomena of nature is characteristic of Amos. He looked on the Pleiades and Orion, as they shone radiantly in the heavens, changeless in their relations, calm amidst human vicissitudes, and constant in diffusing their light upon a troubled world, and bade men seek him who created them. He speaks of night, that "shadow of death," and reminds his hearers that, though it be long and fearsome, the light of dawn comes at last, and God turns it into morning; and again, after the work of the day is done, and tired men want rest, God draws the curtains, and "makes the day dark with night." The last clause is more obscure. Sometimes the waters have been "poured out upon the earth" in destructive deluge, and this has occurred at the command of God; but we prefer the application of the prophet's words to that familiar and constant display of the Divine power by means of which the waters are secretly gathered up into the sky, that they may be poured out in showers of blessing upon the earth. Our text is true of nature; but it is also true of that of which nature is the symbol and shadow, as we shall endeavour to show. It reminds us—
I. THAT GOD OVERRULES THE OUTWARD CONDITIONS OF HUMAN LIFE. "Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion." The words are literally true. Philosophy teaches us to find an adequate cause for all effects, and science acknowledges that the First Cause eludes its search, and is beyond its sphere. Revelation declares, "God made the sun to rule by day, and the moon to rule by night: he made the stars also." More than this primal fact is, however, asserted here. Amos was speaking to those who saw in the stars more than material lights. His hearers believed in astrology, which has been prevalent in all ages, from the very dawn of history. This superstition, which has left its mark on the earliest records of our race, in the literature of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Hindus, and Chinese, was not without effect on the people of Israel, as many passages in Scripture show. Indeed, it only received its deathblow when the Copernican system was finally established; for even Kepler would not deny that there was a connection between the movements of the stars and the fortunes of men. Now, two constellations so peculiar and brilliant as Pleiades and Orion naturally had special powers ascribed to them. Thus Rabbi Isaac Israel, in his remarks on Job 38:31, says, "Some of the stars have operations in the ripening of fruits, and such is the opening of the Pleiades; and some of the stars retard and delay the fruits from ripening, and this is the opening of Orion." In other words, the Pleiades were associated with the spring, when Nature was bursting into new life, when she was emitting the sweetest influences from every blade and flower, when ships which had been shut up through stress of weather could put out once more to sea. Hence the question, "Canst thou bind the sweet influence of Pleiades?"—Canst thou prevent the outpouring of vernal life? Whether you will or not, the change comes; for it is of God. Similarly, Orion was associated with autumn, when the earth was throwing off her beauty, and the voyages of the ancient times came to an end, and frost bound the streams as in fetters of iron. "Canst thou loose the bands of Orion?"—Canst thou check the storms, and break up the reign of frost? Now, says Amen, look beyond these constellations to him who made them; and when you rejoice in the spring, or dread the approaching winter, when you are glad over the pleasantness of life, or faint under its adversity;—think of him who is above and beyond all material forces and all visible influences. There is a spring and autumn known in human experience which have their sources beyond ourselves and beyond all visible agency; and our hearts rest in the assurance of this. Compare the lot of two children in dissimilar circumstances—the one with every comfort and care, as if "born under a lucky star," and sharing "the sweet influences of Pleiades;" the other in the drunken home, with curses temporal and moral on every side. These children do not choose their lot, they do not appear to deserve treatment so different; yet their circumstances are not the result of chance nor the decree of blind fate, but are to be ascribed to him "who made the seven stars and Orion," and, as the Judge of all the earth, he will do right. (Suggest other examples of seeming unfairness in men's circumstances.) This Divine revelation in Scripture affirms of God that he appoints the lot of each, and this with a view to the training of character, which far outweighs the pleasantness or the painfulness found in mere circumstances. Adversity will by and by appear to be but a small thing to him who amidst it proved himself faithful, and prosperity will seem in the retrospect of little worth to him who, through his thanklessness and prayerlessness, has failed to "lay hold on eternal life." Whatever influences surround us, we are, for our own sakes, called on to recognize God as overruling them. If we are prosperous, it is "the Lord who gives power to get wealth;" if we are in adversity, we are not to blame our luck or our friends, but to seek the comfort and help of him "who maketh the seven stars and Orion."
II. THAT GOD OVERRULES THE INWARD EXPERIENCE OF MEN. "He turneth the shadow of death into the morning," etc. The Hebrew word translated "shadow of death" almost always means more than natural night, however black that may be (see references in Job and Psalms). Admitting this figurative use of the word here, the reference of the prophet would seem to be to the changes from sorrowfulness to joyfulness, and from joyfulness to sorrowfulness, which we frequently experience. These are not dependent on circumstances. The wealthiest men have often said of their surroundings, "I have no pleasure in them;" while the poor and persecuted have sometimes made their miserable abodes resound with praise. We may illustrate this from the life of our Lord. At one time "he rejoiced in spirit" at another time he was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" yet the Father's hand was recognized in both experiences. God inspires the children's songs, and he gives the cup of agony. What abundant reason we have to praise God for certain inward changes—the carelessness turned into serious and sad penitence, and this again into the joyfulness of pardon! To many a weeping penitent, sitting in darkness, he has come and "turned the shadow of death into morning." Others have been in the darkness of doubt. They have cried, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" They have felt around them for some hand to help in their dire extremity; At last the sense of Christ's love has come home to them, and though their questions are not all answered, they believe in him, and enter into rest, and soon they find that "he that believeth does not walk in darkness, but has the light of life." God turns for them the shadow of death into morning. Soon "the shadow feared of man" will come. Yet even the darkness of death shall be transformed into the brightness of heaven; and in the place where "there is no need of the sun or moon to shine," because God himself is the Light thereof, we shall see how God has forevermore turned the shadow of death into morning.
III. THAT GOD TRANSFORMS CURSES INTO BLESSINGS. God "calls for the waters of the sea." They secretly ascend to heaven, and then descend in refreshing showers. The transformation effected in that phenomenon is noteworthy. If we pour sea water on flowers, they will die; but when it is called up into the heavens the pernicious salt is left behind, the water is purged from its destructiveness, and the curse is made a blessing. A transforming influence passes over all that comes to us, if it is caught up to heaven. Suppose prosperity comes to you. It may enervate and destroy your spiritual life, but if praise to God is associated with it, and habitual prayer that you may use this for God, you may become by your very prosperity a more generous, tender-hearted, and Christ-like man. If adversity is yours, and you take all your troubles before the Lord, they will be transfigured before you in the light of God's love and Christ's sufferings, and through your valley of Achor you will enter into deeper rest and nobler hope.- If doubts or temptations try you, they will not curse, but bless you, if they arouse the earnest prayer, "Lord, help me!" Christ was never more precious to Thomas than when, after his doubts, he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" But his doubts would have ruined him had they kept him from the presence of the Lord. Let all your troubles and joys be wafted, by prayer and praise, into the heaven of God's presence, and they shall be poured down upon you in showers of spiritual blessings.
CONCLUSION. If you would know the comfort of the text, you will only find it in obedience to its first Clause, "Seek him!" "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found," etc.; "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace." Then, under the quiet light of the stars, or in the splendours of sunset and dawn, or watching the fall of the heaven-sent showers, you will have thoughts of him who rules over all, as of one who through Jesus Christ is your Father and your Friend.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Amos 5:8, Amos 5:9
The glory of religion.
"Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning," etc. The word reveals two things.
I. THE CONNECTION WHICH GOD HAS WITH HIS UNIVERSE. His connection is that:
1. Of a Creator. "He maketh the seven stars and Orion." These constellations are only given as specimens of all the things he has created in different parts of the universe. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
2. Of a Governor. "He turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth." The truth taught is this—that he presides over the revolution of day and night, and the changes of the seasons, and the fortunes of men. All nature is under his control. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
3. Of a Redeemer. "That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress." The reference is here undoubtedly to his redemptive work in human history.
II. THE CONNECTION WHICH MAN SHOULD HAVE WITH GOD. "Seek him." A phrase of frequent use in the Bible, denoting the duty of man to attain to the knowledge, the friendship, and the fellowship of the Eternal. And in this all true religion consists. The pursuit implies:
1. Faith in God's personal existence. A belief that he is.
2. A consciousness of moral distance from God. We do not seek what we possess.
3. A felt necessity of friendly connection with God.
4. An assurance that such a connection can be obtained.
CONCLUSION. What a grand thing is religion I It is not a thing of mere doctrine, or ritual, or sect, or party. It is a moral pursuit of "him that maketh the seven stars and Orion," etc.—D.T.
"Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken." From these words two things may be inferred concerning religion.
I. IT IMPLIES A SPECIFIC PURSUIT. "Seek good, and not evil." Good and evil are both in the world; they work in all human souls; they explain all history.
1. They imply a standard of right. By what do we determine the good and evil in human life? The revealed will of God. What accords with that will is good, what disagrees with it is evil.
2. Their object is a human pursuit. There are those who pursue evil; they follow it for worldly wealth, animal pleasure, secular aggrandizement. There are those who pursue good; and their grand question is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
3. The pursuit of good is the specific effort of religion. Good in thought, spirit, aim, habit, as embodied in the life of Christ. To get good requires strenuous, persistent, devout, prayerful effort.
II. IT INVOLVES THE HIGHEST BENEDICTION.
1. The enjoyment of true life. "That ye may live." Without goodness you cannot really live: goodness is life. Everlasting goodness is everlasting life. "This is life eternal, to know thee," etc. (John 17:3).
2. The enjoyment of the Divine friendship. "So the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you." What a benediction is this! "The Lord God of hosts," the Almighty Creator, Proprietor, and Governor of the universe to be with us, to guide, guard, beautify existence! "I will walk among you," says he; "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people."—D.T.
Selfishness in terror.
"As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him." The Israelites rested their hope of deliverance from every kind of foreign danger upon their outward connection with the covenant made with their forefathers; hence many put their trust in the days spoken of in the context, when Jehovah would judge all the heathen, expecting that he would then in all probability raise Israel to might and dominion. All this was simple delusion, the delusion of selfishness; for when Jehovah would appear to punish the nations, Amos says they would be so panic-struck as to be confounded in their efforts to escape. Running from the lion, they would fall into the jaws of the bear; or fleeing into a house, they would be met by a serpent that would bite them. The passage illustrates selfishness in terror. Its characteristic is that in seeking protection from one danger it rushes into another. This is often seen—
I. IN COMMERCIAL LIFE. A selfish man in trade often finds himself running down the hill of insolvency, and ruthless bankruptcy appears before him as a lion ready to destroy him. What does he do? Where does he seek protection? Perhaps in absconscion. But he is apprehended, and he finds he has fled from "a lion" to "a hear," enters the house where the "serpent" of enraged justice fastens on him. Or perhaps he resorts to forgery. Here he is detected, and the same result is experienced. He has fled from the lion only to rush into the jaws of the bear.
II. IN SOCIAL LIFE. In few social circles are men not to be found who in some way or other commit a wrong against their members. Indeed, in family life it is so. Children do some injury to their parents, and parents to their children, husbands to their wives, and wives to their husbands. After the commission of the deed, selfish terror is awakened, and they fabricate falsehoods in order to escape the danger. The falsehood is detected, and then it is felt that the man has only fled from the lion to the bear. He has run for protection where he has found the "serpent."
III. IN RELIGIOUS LIFE. Men get convinced of sin, their consciences are roused, and hell appears before them as a ravenous lion, which they endeavour to escape; and they fly for protection to what? To selfish prayers, selfish sacrifices, selfish performances; but to attempt to escape from hell by selfish efforts is only running from the lion to the bear. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it."
CONCLUSION. This subject is capable of endless illustrations. It is an eternal truth that he who seeks protection from selfish fear only rushes from one danger into another. There is no protection for a soul but in self-renunciation, in the entire consecration of self to the worship and service of the great God.—D.T.
The divinely abhorrer and the divinely demanded.
"I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies," etc. Notice -
I. THE DIVINELY ABHORRENT. What is that? Mere ceremonial religion; empty ritual. "I hate, I despise your feast days, and 1 will not smell in your solemn assemblies," etc. "The same aversion from the ceremonial observances of the insincere and rebellious Israelites which Jehovah here expresses he afterwards employed Isaiah to declare to the Jews (Isaiah 1:10, etc.). The two passages are strikingly parallel, only the latter prophet amplifies what is set forth in a more condensed form by Amos. It is also to be observed that where Amos introduces the musical accompaniments of the sacrifices, Isaiah substitutes the prayers; both concluding with the Divine words, 'I will not hear.' 'Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.' The singing of their psalms was nothing more to God than a wearisome round which was to be brought to an end. Singing and playing on harps was a part of the worship of the temple (1 Chronicles 16:41; 1Ch 23:5; 1 Chronicles 25:1-31.). Nothing seems more abhorrent to the holy eye and heart of Omniscience than empty ceremony in religion. No sacrifices are acceptable to him, however costly, unless the offerer has presented himself. I go psalmody is acceptable to his ear but the psalmody of self-oblivious devotion." "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
II. THE DIVINELY DEMANDED. "Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." While no direction is given respecting the regulation of the sacrifices in order that they may be rendered acceptable, here is a special demand for morality in life, moral rectitude in conduct. Thus God once more expresses the idea that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams," The way to worship God acceptably is not by ceremonial observances, not by religious contributions, not in singing psalms, but in doing the right and loving thing towards our fellow men. The true practical expression of our love to God is that of a virtuous and generous conduct towards mankind. Stud your country with fine churches if you like, fill them with aesthetic worshippers and enthusiastic devotees. But all that is abhorrent to God unless you feel and act rightly towards your fellow men in your daily life. We had rather see justice rolling on like mighty waters, and righteousness as a swelling and ever-flowing stream, than crowded churches. "Show me your faith... by your works." Show me your worship by your morality; show me your love to God by your devotion to your fellow men. "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us." "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for if he loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent