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With a second woe the prophet denounces the chiefs of the whole nation, who were quite satisfied with the present state of things, and, revelling in luxury, feared no coming judgment.
Them that are at ease in Zion; living in fancied security and self-pleasing (Isaiah 32:9, Isaiah 32:11; Zephaniah 1:12). Judah is included in the denunciation, because she is equally guilty; the whole covenant nation is sunk in the same dangerous apathy. Septuagint, τοῖς ἐξουθενοῦσι Σιών, "them that set at naught Zion." The same rendering is found in the Syriac, and can be supported by a small change in the Hebrew. It may have been intended thus to confine the announcement to Israel alone, in conformity with the prophet's chief scope. But he has introduced mention of Judah elsewhere, as Amos 2:4; Amos 6:5; Amos 9:11, and his sense of his own people's careless ease may well lead him to include them in his warning. Trust in the mountain of Samaria. The city was deemed impregnable, and it kept the Assyrians at bay for three years before it was finally taken (2 Kings 18:9, etc.; see notes on Amos 3:9 and Amos 4:1). Another rendering, not so suitable, is, the careless ones upon the mountain of Samaria. The point, however, is the supposed impregnability of the city which occasioned a feeling of perfect security. Which are named chief of the nations; rather, to the notable men of the chief of nations; i.e. the principal men of Israel, which had the proud title of the chief of the nations because it was beloved and elected of God, and was designed to keep alive true religion, and to set an example to the rest of the world (Exodus 19:5; Nm Exodus 1:17; Deuteronomy 4:20; 2 Samuel 7:23). Septuagint, ἀπετρόγησαν ἀρχὰς ἐθνῶν, "they plucked the chiefs of the nations," where the verb is a mistaken Tendering. To whom the house of Israel came; or, come. Resort for counsel and judgment (2 Samuel 15:4), and who ought therefore to be patterns of righteousness and equity. The rendering of the Vulgate, ingredientes pompatice domum Israel, "entering with pomp into the house of Israel" (which does not agree with the present Hebrew text), implies that these chieftains carried themselves haughtily in the congregation of Israel.
Pass ye. Go and compare your condition with that of other countries, from the furthest east to the north, to your own neighbours—has not God done more for you than for them? Nothing is said about the destruction of the three capitals, nor is Samaria threatened with similar ruin. Rather the cities are contemplated as still flourishing and prosperous (though by this time they had suffered at their enemies' hands), and Israel is bidden to remember that she is more favoured than they. Calneh, one of the five great Babylonian cities, is probably the Kul-unu of the inscriptions, a town in Southern Babylonia, whose site is unknown. In Genesis 10:10 and Isaiah 10:9 the LXX. call it Chalanne or Chalane; in the present passage they mistake the Hebrew, and render, διάβητε πάντες, "pass ye all by". St. Jerome identifies it with Ctesiphon, on the east bank of the Tigris. Others find in it Nopher or Nipur, the modern Niffer, some sixty miles southeast of Babylon. As one of the oldest cities in the world, ranking with Babel, Erech, and Aecad, it was well known to the Israelites. Hamath the great; Septuagint, Ἐματραββά. This was the principal city of Upper Syria, and a place of great importance. In after years it was called Epiphania, after Antiochus Epiphanes (Genesis 10:18; Numbers 34:8; Isaiah 10:9). It fell in Sargon's reign, B.C. 720; afterwards it lost its independence, and was incorporated in the Assyrian empire. Oath of the Philistines. One of their five chief cities, and at one time the principal (1 Chronicles 18:1). The site is placed by Porter at Tell-es-Safi, an isolated hill; standing above the bread valley of Elah, and "presenting on the north and west a white precipice of many hundred feet." Dr. Thomson considers Gath to be the same city as Betogabra, Eleutheropolis, and the modern Beth Jibrin, which is some few miles south of Tell Safi. He thinks the site of Tell Sift is not adapted for the seat of a large city, and he saw few indications of ancient ruins there; whereas Beit Jibrin has in and around it the most wonderful remains of antiquity to be found in all Philistia. It had probably declined in importance at this time (see note on Isaiah 1:6), but its old reputation was still remembered. It was taken by Uzziah, but seems not to have remained long in his possession (2 Chronicles 26:6). In the year B.C. 711 Sargon reduced Ashdod and Garb, which he calls Gimtu Asdudim, i.e. Gath of the Ashdodites. Be they better? Have they received more earthly prosperity at God's hands than you? Is their territory greater than yours? No. How ungrateful, then, are you for all my favours (comp. Jeremiah 2:5-11)! Schrader and Bickell regard the verse as an interpolation, grammatically, metrically, and chronologically inadmissible; but their arguments are not strong, and Ames makes no mention of the fate of these cities.
Ye that put far away the evil day. They assigned a distant date to the time of punishment and calamity; they would not look it in the face or contemplate it as approaching and ready to come upon them. Septuagint, οἱ ἐρχόμενοι εἰς ἡμέραν κάκην, "Ye who are coming unto the evil day." The Alexandrian manuscript has οἱ εὐχόμενοι, "ye who pray for" (Amos 5:18), with which the Syriac seems to agree. The Vulgate (as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), taking the verb passively, renders, qui separati estis in diem malum. But it is beat to translate it as above, in the sense of "repelling," "putting away with aversion," as in Isaiah 66:5. And cause the seat of violence to come near. They erected the throne (shebheth, "the sitting," or "enthroning") of violence in their midst, made themselves the subjects and slaves of wickedness and oppression. The LXX; mistaking shebheth for shabbath translates, Οἱ ἐγγίζοντες καὶ ἐφαπτόμενοι σαββάτων ψευδῶν. "Ye who are drawing near and clinging to false sabbaths."
That lie upon beds of ivory; couches inlaid with ivory (see note on Amos 3:15) at meals. The prophet substantiates his denunciation by describing their selfish luxury and debauchery. Stretch themselves literally, are poured out; Septuagint, κατασπαταλῶντες, "wantoning." Out of the midst of the stall. Calves put up to be fattened. They do this presumably net on festivals, when it would have been proper and excusable, but every day.
That chant. The word parat (ἅπαξ λεγόμενον) means rather "to prattle," "to sing idle songs," as the Revised Version translates it. The reading of the Septuagint varies between ἐπικρατοῦντες. "excelling," and ἐπικροτοῦντες, the latter of which words might mean "applauding." Viol (see note on Amos 5:23). Invent to themselves instruments of music, like David. As David devised stringed instruments and modes of singing to do honour to God and for the service of his sanctuary, so these debauchees invented new singing and playing to grace their luxurious feasts. The Septuagint rendering, which Jerome calls "sensus pulcherrimus," is not to be explained by the present Hebrew text, however true to fact it may be considered, Ὡς ἑστηκότα ἐλογίσαντο καὶ οὐχ ὡς φεύγοντα. "Regarded them as abiding and not as fleeting things."
Wine in bowls (misraqim); sacrificial bowls; used in libations of wine and in the sprinkling of blood (comp. Exodus 38:3; Numbers 7:13, etc.; 1 Chronicles 28:17; 2 Chronicles 4:8, 2 Chronicles 4:22; Zechariah 9:15; Zechariah 14:20). These vessels the luxurious and sacrilegious princes employed in their feasts, proving thus their impiety and their excess (comp. Daniel 5:2). Septuagint, οἱ πίνοντες τὸν διυλισμένον οἶνον, "who drink strained wine." The chief ointments. Such as were used in Divine service (Exodus 30:23, etc.), and nowhere else. If they had felt as they ought to feel in this time of rebuke and sorrow, they would, like mourners, have refrained from anointing themselves (Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 14:2); but, on the contrary, they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. The coming ruin of the ten tribes affects them not; in their selfish voluptuousness they have no sympathy with calamity and suffering, and shut their eyes to coming evil. "The affliction of Joseph" is probably a proverbial expression derived from the narratives in Genesis 37:25, etc; and Genesis 40:14, Genesis 40:23 (comp. Genesis 42:21).
Here follows the announce. merit of punishment for the crimes mentioned above: the people shall go into captivity; they shall be rejected of God, and given over to utter ruin.
With the first. They shall have a pre-eminence indeed, being the first to go into captivity. St Jerome, "Vos qui primi estis divitiis, primi captivitatis sustinebitis jugum, secundum illud quod in Ezechiele scriptum est: 'a sanctuario meo incipite'" (Ezekiel 9:6). With the first; literally, at the head, with reference doubtless to Amos 6:1. The banquet (mirzakh); the screech of revellers. The word is used of the scream of mourners in Jeremiah 16:5; here of the cries and shouts of feasters at a banquet. Them that stretched themselves on couches, as Jeremiah 16:4. The Septuagint, reading differently, has. "They shall depart into captivity from the dominion of princes, and the neighing of horses shall be taken away from Ephraim." From this passage of Amos St. Augustine takes occasion to show that the most untrained of the prophets possessed eloquence and literary skill ('De Doctr. Christ.,' Amos 4:7).
Hath sworn by himself (nephesh); in anima sua (Vulgate), "by his soul;" a concession to human language (comp. Amos 4:2; Jeremiah 51:14; Hebrews 6:13, Hebrews 6:17, Hebrews 6:18). God thus shows that the threat proceeds from him, and is immutable. The excellency; the pride; that of which Jacob is proud (Hosea 5:5), as, for instance, his palaces, built by exaction, maintained in voluptuous luxury. Will deliver up to the enemy for destruction (Deuteronomy 32:30; Obadiah 1:14).
If there remain ten men in one house. If these escape death in war, they shall die of famine and pestilence in the three years' siege of Samaria (2 Kings 17:5). If the prophet is still referring to the rich chieftains, ten would be only a poor remnant of the inhabitants of their palaces. The LXX. adds, very unnecesarily, Καὶ ὑπολειφθήσονται οἱ κατάλοιποι, "And those remaining shall be left behind."
The prophet gives an instance of the terror and misery in that common calamity. He depicts a scene where the nearest surviving kinsman comes into the house to perform the funeral rites for a dead man. And a man's uncle; better, and when a man's kinsman; the apodosis being at the end of the verse, "Then shall he say." Dod is sometimes rendered "beloved," but usually "father's brother," but it may mean any near relation upon whom, in default of father and brethren, would devolve the duty of burying the corpse. Septuagint, el οἰκεῖοι αὐτῶν: propinquus suus (Vulgate). And he that burneth him; literally, and his burner. This is the same person as the kinsman. the butler; but tot some reason, either from the number of deaths, or from the pestilence, or from the distance of the burying place, which would be out of the city and inaccessible in the blockade, he cannot lay the body in the brave, and is forced to take and burn it. Though the Jews generally buried dead bodies, cremation was sometimes used, both in honour or emergency (1 Samuel 31:12) and in punishment (Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9). The bones; i.e. the corpse, as in Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32; and 2 Kings 13:21; Keil. The kinsman takes it up to bring it out of the house to burn it. Him that is by the sides of the house; him that is in the innermost parts of the house; qui in penetralibus domus est (Vulgate). This is the last living person, who had hidden himself in the most remote chambers; or it may be a messenger whom the kinsman had sent to search the house. He asks him—Is there yet any with thee? Is there any one left alive to succour, or dead to bury? And he shall say, No; Vulgate, et respondebit, Finis est. Then he (the kinsman) shall say, Hold thy tongue (Has!); Hush! He stays the man in the inner chamber from speaking; and why? For we may not make mention of the name of the Lord; Vulgate, et non recorderis nominis Domini. Some, as Pussy, Schegg, and Gandell, see here the voice of despair. It is too late to call upon God now; it is the time of vengeance. We rejected him in life; we may not cry to him in death. St. Jerome refers the prohibition to the hardness of heart and unbelief of the people, who even in all this misery will not confess the name of the Lord. Keil says, "It indicates a fear lest, by the invocation of the name of God, his eye should be drawn towards this last remaining one, and he also should fall a victim to the judgment of death." Others again think that the notion in the mind of the impious speaker is that Jehovah is the Author of all their calamities, and that he is impatient at the very mention of his name. The simplest explanation is the first, or a modification of it The person addressed is about to pray or to call on God in his distress. "Be silent," says the speaker; "we can no longer appeal to Jehovah as the covenant God; by naming him we call to his remembrance how we have broken the covenant, violated our relation to him; therefore provoke him not further by making mention of his name."
The prophet confirms the judgment denounced in Amos 6:8. The Lord commandeth, and he will smite. The expression, thus taken, implies that God executes his commands through the ministers of his judgment; but it may well be rendered, "and men shall smite" (comp. Amos 9:9). Breaches … clefts. The great palace requires a breach to bring it to the ground; the little but is ruined by a small rent or cleft. All houses, great and small, shall be smitten. Possibly Israel and Judah are signified respectively by "the great house" and "the little house" (comp. Amos 9:11); and their treatment by the Assyrians may be thus symbolized.
The prophet shows the folly of these evil doers who think in their own strength to defy judgment and to resist the enemy whom God is sending against them.
Shall horses run upon the rock? Can horses gallop safely over places covered with rocks and stones? Will one plough there with oxen? Do men plough the rock with their oxen? The answer, of course, is "No." Yet your conduct is equally foolish, your labour is equally lost. Some, dividing the words differently, translate, "Does one plough the sea with oxen?" which reminds one of the Latin proverb, "Litus arare bubus." Thus Ovid, 'Ep. Heroid,' 5:115—
"Quid facis OEnone? Quid arenae semina mandas?
Non protecturis litora bubus aras."
For ye have turned; or, that ye have turned. Judgment into gall (see note on Amos 5:7). Hemlock. Some plant with an acrid juice. Ye turn the administration of justice, which is "the fruit of righteousness," into the bitterest injustice and wrong. It were "more easy," says Pusey, "to change the course of nature or the use of things of nature, than the course of God's providence or the laws of his just retribution."
In a thing of nought; a nothing—a thing which does not really exist, viz. your prosperity and power. Horns; symbols of strength (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11); the idea being derived from the wild bull, the strongest animal of their fauna. Their boast was a consequence of the successful wars with the Syrians (2 Kings 14:25-28). The prophet proceeds to demolish their proud vaunt.
I will raise up. A nation. The Assyrians. From the entering in of Hamath. A district in the upper part of Coele-Syria, hod. El-Bukaa, the northern boundary of the kingdom of Israel (Numbers 34:8; see on Numbers 34:2). The river of the wilderness; rather, the torrent of the Arabah, which is the curious depression in which the Jordan flows, and which continues. though now on a higher level, south of the Dead Sea, towards the Gulf of Akaba. The torrent is probably the Wady es Safieh, just south of the Dead Sea. The limits named define the territory which Jeroboam recovered (2 Kings 14:25). The LXX. gives, τοῦ χειμάῤῥου τῶν δυσμῶν, "the torrent of the west."
Wantonness the way to woe.
God's thoughts are not as ours. He sees things all round; we see but one side of them. He sees the inner reality of things; we see but their outward semblance. He sees the tendency and ultimate result of things; we but guess their probable tendency, knowing nothing of distant results whatever. Hence, in their estimates of life and of good, "the wisdom of men is foolishness with God." The passage before us is an illustration of this The conditions of being desiderated by carnal wisdom are here declared utterly baneful, its calculations fallacious, and its canons of judgment false. We see here—
I. THE GREATNESS OF THE WICKED. This is no uncommon sight (Psalms 37:35), nor one whose lesson is hard to read (Psalms 92:7).
1. Israel was first of the nations. (Amos 6:1.) In its palmy days, and even now, it would have compared favourably with the neighbouring heathen states (Amos 6:2). It had the power of unique knowledge. It had the greatness of a unique culture. It had the glory of a unique Divine connection (Exodus 19:5; 2 Samuel 7:23). With an equal numerical, financial, and territorial strength, it held, in virtue of these advantages, a pre-eminence above any other people. Its wealth and magnificence were the admiration of even Oriental sovereigns (1 Kings 10:1-29.); its armies, under normal circumstances, could hold their own with any of the time (1 Samuel 15:1-8); and the white wings of its commerce gleamed on every sea. In spite of national unfaithfulness and rebellion and wickedness, God's promise to Abraham to make of him "a great nation" had been, in the fullest sense, accomplished.
2. These were the chiefs of Israel. (Amos 6:1.) They were magistrates, rulers, and judges of the people. They occupied the position of princes, and the house of Israel came to them for the regulation of its affairs. "They were the descendants of those tribe princes who had once been honoured to conduct the affairs of the chosen family along with Moses and Aaron, and whose light shone forth from that better age as brilliant examples of what a truly theocratical character was" (Hengstenberg), This was a proud position, and it had brought the usual amount of arrogance with it.
II. THE SECURITY OF THE GREAT. "Woe to the secure!" Conscious strength makes men and nations feel secure. As to Israel:
1. They were secure in religious privilege. "In Zion." They presumed on their covenant relation. They ignored its sanctions, disregarded its responsibilities, and took it as a guarantee of immunity, even in sin. Religion is only good as a whole. To have its privileges without its spiritual character leads through carnal security to carnal indulgence, and so to a condition worse than to be destitute of both.
2. They were secure in strategic strength. "And to the careless upon the mountain of Samaria." Samaria was a strong place, a mountain fortress, situated in a rich valley. It held out against Benhadad, King of Syria, defying assault, and escaping reduction even by famine (2 Kings 7:1-20.). To Shalmaneser, long afterwards, it only yielded after a three years' siege (2 Kings 17:5, 2 Kings 17:6). Man naturally looks for victory to "the big battalion." This is reasonable in the case of a human enemy, but mere fatuity if the enemy be God.
3. They were secure in self-deception. "Put far away the evil day." Security, beaten out of one retreat, betakes itself to another. Trust in our earthly resources win ultimately fail. Security in external religious advantages will some day be broken also by a rude awaking. But the Fabian policy still prevails, and proves an almost impregnable last resort. "It cannot be for a long while yet" is an argumentative device that seldom fails to reassure.
III. THE WANTONNESS OF THE SECURE. The idea of immunity is an encouragement to sin. Among Israel's sins were:
1. Indolence. "Stretch themselves upon their couches." This is the first temptation of wealth. Work has ceased to be necessary, and the easily acquired habit of idleness very soon develops indolence of disposition. Having nothing to do leads to doing nothing, and when a man does nothing for a while he wants to go on with it.
2. Luxury. "Lie upon beds of ivory;" "Eat lambs," etc. Luxury is a direct result of indolence. Having nothing else to occupy their attention, men concentrate it on themselves. They make it the business of their life to coddle themselves, with the inevitable result of becoming harder to please. As the appetite is pampered it becomes more dainty, and must be tempted with luxury after luxury, if any measure of relish would be retained.
3. Effeminacy. "Who trill to the sound of the harp" (Amos 6:5). The tendency of luxury is to unman. On the discontinuance of manly exercises follows closely the loss of manly qualities. Pampering the body weakens body and mind both, and prepares the way for occupations that will be in character. Effeminacy grows fastest when nursed in the lap of luxury. The Israel that was too fastidious to lie on anything but an ivory couch, or too dainty to touch coarser fare than "the fatted calf," was too enervated in a little while for any manlier pastime than trilling to a harp.
4. Profanity. "Drink wine out of sacrificial bowls." "The pleasures of sin" are only "for a season." They quickly wear out. Zest and relish fail, and satiety and disgust follow. Hence the tendency of indulgence to become more and more extravagant and eccentric. It is an attempt to stimulate failing powers of enjoyment by presenting new sensations. Then the natural heart is essential enmity against God. Accordingly, in the case of a thoroughly perverted nature, when a sinful indulgence has ceased to give pleasure as indulgence, it will continue to do so as sin. Israel had now fallen so low as this. Sensual indulgence began to pall, and it took a fresh lease of enjoyableness by becoming sacrilegious.
5. Heartless egotism. "And do not grieve for the hurt of Joseph." Sin is essentially selfish, and the sin of self-indulgence supremely so. The happiness, and even the lives, of others are as nothing in the balance against lust. Let who may suffer, let what may happen, the sensualist will indulge. To such a person philanthropy and patriotism are alike impossible. He will "not grieve for the hurt of Joseph" even when he is himself responsible for it. He could play comfortably "while Rome burns."
6. Increasing violence. "And bring near the seat of violence." As destruction becomes more imminent, the violence that provokes it becomes more extreme. This is sometimes due to the blindness that will not see; sometimes to the recklessness that does not care; sometimes to the malignity that, forecasting overthrow, would do all the evil possible before it comes. In any case it is aggravated and judgment-hastening sin.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE WANTON. Here, as elsewhere, punishment answers to crime, both as to degree and kind.
1. Cherished indulgence should be interrupted. "The shouting of the revellers will depart" (Amos 6:7). This is about the first step in retributive punishment. The criminal's enjoyment comes to be centred in his sin, and to interrupt it is a sharp blow. The retributive measure to which lust is most of all amenable is to put a stop to indulgence. Deprive the oppressor of his power, the extortioner of his opportunity, the drunkard of his drink, and already the work of taking vengeance on him is well begun.
2. Apposite hardship should be inflicted. "Shall go captive." As captives they should endure oppression, not inflict it. For indulgence would be substituted privation in every form. They would make juster acquaintance with luxury by having the means of it wrung out of their own helplessness and misery. It is no doubt along these lines that eternal reward and punishment are arranged. Heaven will be the perfect exercise and enjoyment of all that is pure and spiritual in desire and taste. Hell, among other things, will be the cutting off forever of sinful sources of enjoyment, for which the wicked had learned to live.
3. Those who had been first among the nations should be first among the captives. This is only fitting. The guilt of any evil movement culminates in its ringleaders, and "first in transgression, first in punishment," is a maxim of natural justice. Those who organize and officer a wicked movement are those on whom justice will lay the earliest and the heaviest hand.
Sorrow dogging the secure.
Human life is proverbially uncertain. "We know not what shall be on the morrow," whether we ourselves shall be. "The unexpected" is always happening; and the lesson of this is—take nothing for granted that is still future. In the religious sphere the application of this principle would put an end to carnal security, and at this object our text aims. As to the security denounced here, notice—
I. THE SPHERE OF IT. "In Zion." This is often in Scripture a name for the Church on earth (Romans 9:33; see on Amos 1:2). The membership of this is mixed (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:41). There are cold and hot and lukewarm among them. Some love God, some hate him; some are in equilibrio, having neither declared for him nor against him. Of the last two classes many are at ease. The ideal of spiritual life is watchfulness, activity, and self-suspicion; but these qualities need not be looked for in unspiritual men. Their fitness is not seen, nor the motives to them felt. Though in the Church, they are not of it; and the characters of their life are not those proper to the sincere believer.
II. THE MEANING OF IT. There are principles at hand on which to account for it without difficulty.
1. Preoccupation. Spiritual things ought to get our first and best and continuous attention (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 26:41; Luke 13:24). But they do not. The careless "eats and drink, and marry, and are given in marriage" (Luke 17:27), and so events come on them unawares. The householder relaxes his vigilance, and as a result his house is broken into (Matthew 24:43). The wise virgins as well as the foolish sleep (Matthew 25:5), and the bridegroom comes on them unawares. The security is foolish in proportion to the interests involved, and criminal in proportion to the number and plainness of arousing circumstances.
2. Blindness. The natural man is blind in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). He does not see the beauty of spiritual qualities (Isaiah 53:2), nor the self-evidentness of spiritual principles, nor the inviolability of spiritual deliverances, nor the grounds of spiritual assurance, nor the evidences of approaching Divine action, He sees neither what has been, nor what is, nor what is coming. Accordingly, he is secure and at ease in the very teeth of danger.
3. Presumption. Men do not adequately realize sin as to either its guilt or danger. They live in it equably and calmly, as if it were the normal thing. They anticipate no evil and no disturbance. They reckon on being spiritual fixtures, and on the perpetual maintenance of the status quo. They do not mean to turn, nor take account of being disturbed; but assume that there will be "no changes" forevermore. Character is become stereotyped, conscience is silent, and the quiet of strong delusion is within them and around.
III. THE VARIETIES OF IT. The secure in Zion are not all secure in the same degree or sense.
1. Some are secure in sin. They expect to sin on and suffer no evil. Either they do not recognize the inseparable connection between the two, or they trust to the chapter of accidents for something to intervene and stay proceedings before evil actually falls (Isaiah 28:15).
2. Some are secure in morality. They trust in the arm of flesh. They persuade themselves that they are but little to blame. They view the coming judgments as provoked by, and meant for, others. They see nothing in their own life to provoke them; and they build on this as a ground of immunity from evil when the day of it shall come. And so they are secure; less guiltily, it may be, but no more reasonably than the secure in sin (Jeremiah 17:5; Romans 3:20).
3. Some are secure in ordinances. They locate spiritual power in Church forms. The sacraments, they say, contain and convey the grace they signify. Regeneration with them means a sprinkled face, and justification an elevated host, and sanctification an exhaustive observance of ordinances. Many are secure in the persuasion of these things. They put a hollow form of godliness for its spirit and power, and lull their souls to rest in its deep recesses.
IV. THE OCCASIONS OF IT. There is an incongruity about it that seems to call for explanation. In the case of Israel, and others like it, one cause was:
1. Unvarying prosperity. "Because they have no changes they forget God." People calculate on uniformity. As life has been, so they easily assume it will be. A smiling world is a dangerous tranquillizer. Even the godly experience this (Psalms 119:67), and the direct tendency of adversity is to prevent it (2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18). An unbroken run of prosperity is most unfavourable to spiritual life and liveliness.
2. Luxurious living. (Amos 6:4.) The course of religion in the soul is just the progress of a warfare between flesh and spirit (Romans 7:23). To this warfare there is one uniform issue—the triumph of the spiritual principle. But victory is not won without a struggle. The spiritual principle waxes strong only under culture. The flesh gets weak only By being crucified. If it be let alone it will grow strong, much more if it is indulged and fed. Hence "fulness of bread and abundance of idleness" (Ezekiel 16:19) are a revealed occasion of spiritual declension; and God was lightly esteemed and forsaken when Jeshurun "waxed fat, and grew thick" (Deuteronomy 32:15). Luxury is leaving its mark on all the Churches in indolence and self-indulgence and a lowered spiritual tone.
3. Companionship of the ungodly. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise," etc. Character propagates itself—begets character in its own likeness. Familiarity with sin breeds tolerance of it. A sinful example is a temptation to sin. So long as men not impeccable instinctively imitate each other, association with the wicked must, to a certain extent, corrupt. The corrupter any society is, the lower will be the spiritual tone of the Church in it. All Israel were not alike guilty, nor alike secure. Many were innocent, no doubt, of the special national sins; and there is no reason to suppose that they all were recklessly at ease in Zion. But it is certain that the security of many was due to the hardening influence of the sins become familiar to his mind.
4. Sin. This is not an occasion merely, but a cause, and the most fruitful cause of all. Sin both blinds and hardens. The more sin we commit the less do we see of its consequences, the less do we fear what we can see, and the further are we from an appreciative knowledge of God in those characters which lead inevitably to the punishment of it. The climax of security is more than likely to correspond to the extreme of wickedness. It was so with Israel. Never was she more corrupt, yet never was she more recklessly at ease, than when these words were spoken.
V. THE EVIL OF IT. "Woe to them," etc.! Wherever the security is the woe is denounced.
1. With the godly it comes before a fall. They stand by faith. That faith is not an act merely; it is a habit of soul It is not maintained at normal strength without an effort. And the frame most favourable to its maintenance at par is evident from the injunction, "Be not high-minded, but fear" (Romans 11:20). In the perfect realization of our dependence on God is the condition of abiding faith, and in the maintenance of such faith is the condition of escaping a fall From the moment Peter soared in his own imagination, his fall was a foregone conclusion (Matthew 26:33, Matthew 26:34).
2. With the ungodly it comes before destruction. Carnal security is in proportion to blindness, and blindness is in proportion to corruption. When a sinner is most secure he most of all deserves his doom, and is least of all on his guard against it. Hence, as the height of imagined safety is the depth of real danger (1 Thessalonians 5:3). No surer sign of destruction near than the cry, "Peace, peace!"
The procrastinator family.
The fear of suffering is universal and instinctive. All the lower animals exhibit it. So do men in different ways. It is not joyous, but grievous. Human life and happiness are shaped largely by this feeling. Men make their relations to it a chief concern. If it be past, they seek compensations for it. If it be present, they seek relief. If it be coming, they try to prevent it; or, failing that, to postpone it; or, failing both, to mitigate it. And as a certain proportion of the pain is altogether mental, and due to our thoughts about it, one of the commonest palliatives for it is the endeavour to ignore it altogether. Among her other follies and sins, the attempt to do so on the part of Israel is here announced.
I. THE EVIL DAY WHICH MEN WOULD PUT OFF. This will be:
1. The day of actual evil. To the wicked there are many such days, with almost as many individual characteristics. Such a day pre-eminently is:
(1) The day of death. This is the king of terrors. To the wicked it means the end of all the good they know of, and the beginning of sufferings of every possible kind and a magnitude inconceivable. It is, therefore, the day of evil in a sense peculiar to itself.
(2) The day of visitation for sin. Such days are sure and frequent. Israel had experienced many of them, and the reminiscence was not agreeable. They had brought, and might again bring, every calamity for body, mind, and estate short of utter destruction. They were evil days in a very emphatic sense, and as such were specially feared.
2. The day of imagined evil. Such days would be:
(1) The day of submission to God, which is an evil day in the estimation of pride.
(2) The day of forsaking sin, which is disagreeable to lust.
(3) The day of coming into relation to spiritual things, against all which the carnal mind is enmity. For such things the "more convenient season" is convenient in proportion as it is or can be regarded as distant.
II. THE FOOLISH DEVICES BY WHICH MEN TRY TO ACCOMPLISH THE IMPOSSIBLE. A foolish thing is never attempted for a wise reason or in a wise way. As to the evil day:
1. Some do not practically believe that it is coming at all. They minimize their own guilt, which is the provoking cause. They magnify the considerations which bear in the direction of postponement. They ignore the sure Word of God, which denounces inevitable suffering on sin. The result is an amount of ignorance or scepticism about the matter sufficient to prevent its exercising any practical effect. It is believed in a vague and heedless way, but not so as to lead to appropriate, nor in fact to any, action.
2. Some trust to the chapter of accidents. They know the evil day is denounced. They know it is coming. They know that, if it comes, it will involve them in its calamities. But they hope events will take some happy turn. and something indefinite, but highly convenient, will occur, which will change the issue, and prevent the crisis from touching them (Isaiah 28:15). All sinners persist in the life of sin, yet hope, somehow or other, to escape hell.
3. Some endeavour not to think about it at all. They, of set purpose, divert their attention from the subject. They refuse to "consider their latter end." They busy themselves about other things. They insanely act as if the danger would be annihilated by being ignored. Into this snare of the devil many fall. They cannot see the nearness of the evil day who refuse to look at the matter. Blinder and more stupid than the ox or the ass is the people that will not consider (Isaiah 1:3).
III. THE LAST STATE OF THE PROCRASTINATOR, WHICH IS WORSE THAN THE FIRST. What he gains is a heritage of woe (Amos 6:1). As to the coming of this, it is evident:
1. He cannot prevent it. God makes his own arrangements and keeps to them. We cannot resist his power. We cannot change his purpose. His word on any matter is the last word, and fixes it once for all. What he has spoken, and as he has spoken, must come to pass.
2. He cannot postpone it. The justice, goodness, and wisdom that combine in fixing an event enter also into the timing of it. All possible considerations are taken into account, and infinite power no more surely does the thing it means than at the time it means. It would be as wise to attempt and as easy to accomplish the defeat of God's purposes as their postponement. Our mental and active attitude are alike inoperative as to both.
3. He disqualifies himself for facing it. "Be ye also ready" is the Divine prescription in reference to the unrevealed date of the day of God. To be unready is to face it at tremendous disadvantage. To be inexpectant besides is to aggravate the disadvantage to the very utmost. Prepare and watch are equally essential conditions of meeting the day of God in safety. Wilful delusion about the event means woeful injury by it. Men ought to be prepared for what is sure to come, and when it comes be in expectation of it. "Be ye also ready;" "Watch therefore." By the confluence of these streams of action is made the river of a life "throughly furnished."
The dry eye of the destroyer.
"But they are not grieved for the hurt of Joseph." Of the many aspects of Israel's sin, this is among the most repulsive. It is bad enough to sin against our brother, and by our wrong doing to blight his life; but it makes the crime hideous to look, uncaring and callous, on the desolation we ourselves have wrought.
I. ONE MAN'S SUFFERING IS A FIT OCCASION OF ANOTHER MAN'S SORROW. Men are brothers (Acts 17:26), and owe a mutual regard for each other's concerns (Philippians 2:4). Suffering is evil, and the proper relation toward those enduring it is sympathy (1 John 3:17). God pities the afflicted, and compassion in him is the reason and measure of its dutifulness in us (Matthew 9:36; Luke 10:33-37). We cannot disregard the sufferings of men without sinning against God and against our own humanity.
II. THE GREAT OBSTACLE TO SYMPATHY IS THE SELFISHNESS OF SIN. This leads to atheism on the one hand, and misanthropy on the other. The first man showed this tendency, the second that. Adam failed in regard for God, Cain in regard for his brother. But both transgressions arose out of the one sinful character of selfishness. Adam violated God's command because he preferred his own way; Cain destroyed Abel's life because he thought less of it than of his own wounded self-love. And all men, in proportion as they are sinful, are selfish, inconsiderate, and misanthropic. Love is of God, and rules where God dwells. Where God dwells not we have men "hateful and hating one another." Selfishness and disregard of others' happiness is the very mark and token of a corrupt nature.
III. SELFISHNESS IS WORST IN KIND WHEN MANIFESTED TOWARD OUR OWN KINDRED. In addition to the philanthropy which has its basis in the brotherhood of the race, is the stronger affection which arises out of nearer ties. "Our neighbour," "our own," "those of our own household," are, in an ascending scale, the prescribed and natural objects of our love and care (Matthew 19:19; 1 Timothy 5:8). In proportion to the closeness of our relation to an individual is the normal strength of the tie between us, and so the guilt of disregarding it. The disregard of Israel for Israelites was selfishness of a peculiarly heartless kind. It was the sin of brother against brethren, and involved the violation of blood ties sacred by every law.
IV. THE GREATEST DEGREE OF SELFISHNESS IS THAT IN REGARD TO THE SUFFERINGS OF OTHERS, INFLICTED OR BROUGHT ABOUT BY OURSELVES. In Israel, the men who disregarded the judgments decimating the nation were the men whose wickedness had brought them on. They were indifferent, in fact, about sufferings of which they were themselves the authors. And they have their counterparts in the world still. The drunkard who ruins his own family, the libertine who ruins the family of his neighbour, are the only men in the community who "care for none of these things." The explanation is that special sin produces special hardness of heart, and the man whose wickedness involves society in misery is the man who, by the very fact, is constituted most incapable of feeling it.
Wrath revealing itself in judgment.
The squaring of a sinner's account with God is of necessity a bitter experience. It is the last fact in a wide induction, and completes our knowledge of what sin really is. The best and only adequate view of this is reached when a man reads it in the light of its punishment. We are enabled to perform this office for Israel's crying and incredible wickedness here.
I. THE WORD THAT CANNOT BE BROKEN. Accommodating himself to our mode of conceiving things, God condescends to give assurance of his faithfulness in three degrees of assertion. The word that cannot be broken is:
1. What God says. "Thy Word is truth." God can neither err nor lie. He does when he promises (Numbers 23:19). He does as much as he promises. He does exactly the thing he promises, The fact of his truth lies at the foundation of all religion and all knowledge. Because he is true, we not only believe his testimony absolutely, but we believe absolutely the testimony of our own consciousness as being his gift.
2. What God swears. In itself his word is as good as his oath. But to our apprehension there may be a difference. For God to swear is an act of special condescension. It is making a great concession to our unbelief, and the limitation of our faculties, that God conforms to our human modes of making solemn affirmation, in order if possible to win our implicit credence for his words (Hebrews 6:17). His oath, added to his word in any matter, is for fullness of confirmation and assurance, and is a specially gracious act. What he swears by himself. In default of a greater, God swears by himself (Hebrews 6:13). He is "the true God," and a "God of truth." An oath in his name has the highest sanction possible, and assumes its most solemn form. God's oath in his own name is as sure as his own existence—is, in fact, a putting of his existence in pledge for the word of his mouth.
II. THE ESSENTIAL ANTAGONISM BETWEEN DIVINE HOLINESS AND HUMAN SIN. This is extreme, utter, and necessary.
1. God does not hate men, but their sin. He is not said to do so here. The statements elsewhere, that he hates the wicked (Psalms 5:5; Romans 9:13), must be taken in connection with the clearly revealed fact that he also loves them (John 3:16), and loved his people while they were of them. It cannot be that he loves the wicked and hates them in the same sense. His love has reference to their humanity, his hatred to their sinfulness (Romans 1:18). He hates them as sinners, yet loves them as men; forgives them often, yet takes vengeance on their inventions (Psalms 99:8).
2. God's hatred of sin extends to the occasions of it. "I abhor the pride of Jacob." God's abhorrence of sin extends to everything that tends to produce it. Pride or loftiness, being in itself sinful, and a fruitful occasion of sin, he must hate. Excellence or greatness, whether imaginary or real, is, in so far as it leads to pride, included in the reach of the Divine abhorrence. Sin, like a cesspool, fouls all approaches to it. It is spiritual treason, and attaints its nearest of kin.
3. It includes even the scenes of it. "And I hate his palaces." The palaces were closely connected with the sin. They were built with the wages of unrighteousness, for luxurious gratification, and as a means to further exaction. Accordingly, as at once an expression of sin and an accessory of it, they were hateful in God's sight. God's attitude in the matter is the model for ours. If we are baptized into his Spirit we shall "hate even the garments spotted by the flesh." Not only is sin hateful, but all that leads to it, all that borders on it, all that has any connection with it. Even the remotest contact with it will be hateful to the spiritually minded.
III. THE SWEEPING JUDGMENTS THAT EXPRESS A HOLY WRATH. These are set forth in various forms and degrees of severity.
1. The capital would be delivered up. "And give up the city and the fulness thereof." Samaria, the capital, was the strength and pride of Israel. It was the impregnable metropolis, the great storehouse of national wealth, the seat of government, the home of luxury, the social, political, economical, and military centre of the kingdom. To destroy it was like taking the heart out of their kingdom at one fell stroke. Notwithstanding this, or rather perhaps because of this, it would be captured and pillaged. In sin it had set the example, and taken the lead, and in punishment its leading position would be retained.
2. Not even one out of ten should escape. (Amos 6:9.) Such sweeping destruction as this was almost unheard of. Even Sodom and Gomorrah were not more utterly destroyed. This was due ultimately to the almost universal impenitence, and proximately to the length and stubbornness of the fighting. God would not allow the persistently impenitent to escape, and the Assyrian armies, his instruments, would not spare the obstinate defenders of Samaria, who had kept them three years at bay.
3. The straggling survivors should be in abject fear of the almost universal fate. (Amos 6:10.) The solitary survivor is no nearer faith in God than those who have been destroyed. He does not cast himself on his mercy. He does not even in that dreadful hour seek his face. His stupid but thoroughly characteristic impulse is to hide away from his presence. Apart from Divine grace, sin committed drives away from God (Genesis 3:8), and punishment approaching drives further still (Revelation 6:16). In prosperity the wicked will not even fear God; in adversity, if they fear, they still refuse to trust him.
4. The work of destruction would be carried out systematically and in detail. (Amos 6:11.) Neither palace nor cabin should escape. The great house would be broken into great pieces, and the small house into small pieces. God's judgments are nothing if not effective. The greatest cannot defy, nor can the smallest elude them. The destruction of each shall be elaborately and circumstantially complete.
IV. GOD THE AUTHOR OF THE PUNISHMENT PROCURES. "The Lord commandeth," etc.
1. The sin of man is often a factor in the accomplishment of God's purpose. It was so with the transportation of Joseph (Genesis 45:5, Genesis 45:8; Genesis 1:20), with the death of Christ (Acts 2:23; Acts 4:28), and with the affliction of Israel by Assyria (Isaiah 10:5-7). The actors are in each case impelled by their own evil motives, aim at their own evil ends, use their own evil means, and act altogether of their own free will; and yet, when they succeed, the result is found to serve some important collateral interest they think nothing of, and so to be part of the infinitely good purpose of God. It is thus that God accomplishes his wilt by the instrumentality of men, without infringing on their perfect freedom, or being implicated in the sin which, in unconscious furtherance of it, they commit. The Assyrian destroying Israel in an unjustifiable war was at once carrying out God's purpose and sinning against him.
2. God destroys the chosen people, not as "Israel," but as "Jacob." "Israel," the covenant name, is given them in connection with promises of covenant treatment. God blesses them as "Israel," and afflicts them as "Israel," and even decimates them as "Israel," all these being elements of a gracious discipline. But destruction is not so. It is the penalty of a covenant already broken, and God marks them out for this by the uncovenanted name of "Jacob."
The doomed people who will not turn.
Sin brings often present gain, but it never pays in the end. When the balance is struck, the wrong doer always finds it on the wrong side of the book. A sinner is one who sets himself against God, and in the nature of things ignorance cannot overreach knowledge, nor weakness overcome omnipotence. Israel had long been under instruction in this matter, and they would see it one day when the knowledge would be too late. Many Scripture maxims are illustrated here.
I. "BEHOLD, YE ARE OF NOTHING, AND YOUR WORK OF NOUGHT." (Amos 6:13.) "In a thing of nought;" literally, a "non-thing," a phantasm, what has an appearance of being, and yet is not.
1. Human strength is nothing. It is nothing in comparison with God's. It is nothing apart from God's. Being derived wholly from God, it has no existence independent of him. It is, therefore, virtually and practically "a thing of nought;" incapable of being used for any purpose either against him or irrespective of him.
2. Out of nothing nothing comes. Human power being a nonentity, belief in it is delusion, trust in it is baseless, and expectation from it must be disappointed. Doubly, therefore, and trebly "cursed is he that maketh flesh his arm."
3. Yet it is in this nonentity that men rejoice. Sin is at bottom a deification of self. We believe in ourselves—in our own power and knowledge and excellence. We are satisfied with ourselves, expect great things from ourselves, and rejoice in ourselves (Psalms 10:6; Psalms 52:7). Only by a work of grace are we disabused of our carnal confidence and won to a higher trust. It is as complementary of our "trusting in the Lord" that we "lean not to our own understanding."
II. "WHO CAN BRING A CLEAN THING OUT OF AN UNCLEAN? NOT ONE." (Amos 6:12.) Israel joined oppression to unrighteousness, and out of this endeavoured to bring themselves lasting gain. This is likened to an attempt by the husbandman to cultivate the rock. It implies:
1. Utter futility. The husbandman does not attempt impracticable things. He knows there is no fertility in a bare rock—no soil for crop, no bed for seed, no furrow for plough; and so he cultivates the good soil, and leaves the rook alone. And no more than till the rock for a harvest need men seek safety by wrongdoing. They cannot find it so. It is not where they seek it. Good cannot come out of evil by natural generation, for it is not in it.
2. Loss instead of gain. An attempt to plough the rock, like every other offence against the nature of things, must be worse than futile. It means lost time, lost labour, and broken implements. So with the perversion of justice, and the corruption of the fruit of righteousness. It is evil, and can only lead to evil. It increases the sum total of the wickedness that provokes Divine wrath, and itself creates a new source of danger.
III. "THEREFORE LET NO MAN GLORY IN MEN." (Amos 6:13.) It is the very essence of unreason.
1. It is a crime. It involves departure from God. The soul is capable of sustaining but one great attachment at a time. We cannot love both the Father and the world, or "serve God and mammon," or "make flesh our arm," without our heart departing from the Lord. And it is not only that the two trusts are one too many; they are incompatible and mutually destructive. To deify serf, and defy Jehovah, are acts of the same moral quality. The blindness, and only the blindness, that is capable of the one is capable of the other.
2. It is a blunder. It is putting faith in the faithless. It is attributing power to the impotent. It is pitting the creature against the Creator, the vessel against the potter, the thing formed against him that formed it. Only disappointment can come out of this. A pierced hand is the natural and inevitable penalty of leaning on a broken reed. "Hast thou an arm like God," etc.?
IV. "O ASSYRIAN, THE ROD OF MINE ANGER." Israel's overthrow was decided on, and the instrument of it prepared.
1. War the minister of God. He does not command, nor authorize, nor sanction it. He forbids the lusts of ambition and greed and revenge that lead to it. He inculcates a love of others which, carried out, would make it impossible. The progress of his religion leads to the diminution of war, and its final establishment will coordinate itself with the turning of war into peace to the ends of the earth. Yet, as with other evil things, he permits it to happen, controls its operation, utilizes its results, and makes it a means of good, and the minister of his holy will. War has always been a prominent agency in the judgments that fall on nations. And a terrible agency it is, more ruthlessly destructive than any other. It expresses all the evil qualities of corrupt humanity, deserving the poet's scathing words—
"O war, thou son of hell,
Whom angry Heavens do make their minister."
And war, apart from its severity as a scourge, is well calculated to be disciplinary. As a revelation of human wickedness, it indirectly lays bare to us the plagues of our own heart. Linked hand in hand as it is, moreover, with deceit and treachery, it exhibits carnal human nature as "a thing of nought," and so is an effective antidote to confidence in the flesh
2. The heathen the rod in his hand. God is not fastidious in the matter of instruments. He uses every man, however vile, for some purpose or other. Israel, moreover, was so enamoured of the heathen—of their gods and worship and ways—that to know them in the character of enemies and conquerors and masters would be a great advantage. It would be in these capacities that the worst effects of idolatry on the human character would show themselves, and closer acquaintance with them might help to disenchant the idol loving Israel.
3. Victory always on God's side. God, for the time being, would be on the Assyrian's side. Without reference to the intrinsic merits of the struggle, as between parties almost equally wicked, he would help the heathen to overcome the apostates. Israel's victories over the nations were due, not to their own valour or strength, but to God's assisting arm (Psalms 44:2, Psalms 44:3). Left to themselves, they would be utterly beaten now. The difference between defeat and victory is the difference between the God-forsaken and the God-defended.
4. God-sent affliction covers all the ground covered by the provoking sin. "And it shall oppress you from the entrance Hamath"—the extreme northern boundary (Numbers 34:8)—"to the brook of the desert," the southern boundary, whether "the brook of the willows," Isaiah 15:7 (Pusey), or the present "El Ahsy" (Keil). This territory they had recovered under Jeroboam II; and lost soon to Tiglath-Pileser, defeat and loss retracing to the last inch the steps of conquest. Not only was "the whole scene of their triumphs one scene of affliction and woe" (Pusey), but the very thing, and the whole thing, which they had made an occasion of pride and carnal confidence, vainly deeming that they had conquered it in their own strength, is made an occasion of humiliation and distress. The only way to put us out of conceit with our idol is to destroy it all, and destroy it utterly.
Joy in the unreal always precarious.
It is quite unaccountable. It is almost incredible. But it is unquestionably true. Men reject the staff, and lean upon the broken reed. Whatever is worthy of trust they doubt, whatever is utterly unreliable they confide in. This was the way of Israel, and it is the way of humanity. They do not see the reality of things. They attribute to them qualities they do not possess, qualities sometimes the very opposite of the actual ones. Then they act on their theory of things, and rejoice in a figment, the creation of their own fancy, whilst repudiating or disregarding real and reliable objects of trust.
I. THE THINGS THAT ARE "THINGS OF NOUGHT." The arm of flesh, or human help, as against God's strength, is the "non-thing" or nonentity referred to primarily. But the expression is capable of wider application. Among the nonentities are:
1. All things sinful. This is an extreme case. Sin is an ephemera, offering only what fleets away. It is a negation, the privation of all good. It is a phantasm, having an appearance of good with no reality below it. It is a deception, having a lie at the bottom of it. It is a non-thing in a unique sense.
2. All things material. The positivist only believes in material phenomena, as those of which alone he has positive knowledge. But these are really the most uncertain phenomena there are. The bodily sense that notes them is more certain, and the thinking mind that has cognizance of the bodily sense is more certain than either, and the ultimate test of the existence of both. What we know most surely and directly is spirit. Observation may be incorrect, and lead us astray, but consciousness speaks only truth. If there are things which "are not as they seem," they are physical, as distinguished from psychical things.
3. All things temporal. These are evanescent in their nature. "The world passeth away." They are still more evanescent in their form: "The fashion of this world passeth away." They are doubly evanescent in their character as a means of happiness; for not alone the world, but the "lust thereof," passeth away. This evanescence means unreality. The thing that perishes in the using is conspicuously a thing of nought. Such a thing is human nature, and each of its temporal blessings and relations—in other words, human life. It is a vapour on the hill, a bubble on the stream, a ripple on the wave, a meteor in the sky, an unsubstantial thing that passes and leaves no trace.
4. All things created. God, the "I Am," is essential Existence. He alone hath immortality, exists of himself and from himself. The existence of creatures is derived, an existence from God and in him. It is not, therefore, real as God's is. We are phantoms, he is reality. We are shadows, he is substance. Creation as contrasted with the Creator is a "non-thing," a thing of nought.
II. THE CHARACTER THAT FINDS ITS JOY IN UNREALITY. This character is one with a wide geographical range. It might almost be said to belong to sinful man as such. As to its qualities, it is:
1. Blind. Such a man "cannot see afar off." He does not see things through and through. He does not see things as they are. He sees things through coloured glasses. He dwells in the superficies of things. He is deceived by appearances. He confounds the qualities of things. He cannot, in fact, be said to "know anything as he ought." The blindness of our heart is a universal infirmity. Sin blinds, and prejudice blinds, and infirmity blinds us all; and the most convincing proof of the fact is that we choose the worst and poorest in the universe, and often and long reject the true riches.
2. Prejudiced. The blindness that permits us to rejoice in the flesh must have prejudice behind it. It involves a wrong condition of heart. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" is a maxim which explains the rejection of him by the sinner. "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh" is one which explains his choice of sin. In the spiritual, as in other departments, things follow their affinities.
3. Prowl. Well says the poet—
"What the weak head with strangest bias rules
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools."
It misreads altogether the proportions of things. It has an overweening estimate of self. "Thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think," and "thinking God to be altogether such a one as ourselves," the transfer of trust from heaven to earth, is not alone natural, but inevitable.
III. THE JOY WHAT FLAMES WITHOUT FUEL. That there should be such joy at all is an abnormal thing. A priori it is not what we should expect. And we are prepared to find something anomalous about a joy that could exist in such circumstances. This we do.
1. It is a passing joy. It cannot last. The meteor irradiating the sky, the thorns crackling under the pot, both blaze and both burn quickly out. The fire has too little to feed on. It is only a puff, and done with. So with joy in the earthly. It has an unsubstantial and unenduring basis. The thing it rests on perishes, and it cannot itself endure.
2. It is an unreal joy. It is not alone that it has reference to an ephemeral thing, but to an unsubstantial thing. It is a mere figment of the mind; an appearance rather than an existence; not a fire in the proper sense, but a phosphorescence.
3. Its unreality is the parent of real woe. To rejoice in a nonentity is a course on which disappointment clearly waits. It also involves distrust, and so incurs the wrath of God. No man can deceive himself with impunity. The line of action into which his false notion wilt lead him mast end in calamity. Mistaken opinion associates itself with unfitting action, and this in turn with undesired results. He who follows the fen fire lands in the fen.
4. Of all who rejoice in a thing of nought the most hopelessly deceived are the self-righteous. With others the trust is something apart from religion, and adopted in preference to it. But with the self-righteous it masquerades in the name of religion itself. There is an idea, either that nothing is wrong, or that the man can help himself. In either case Divine help is despised. God's right is spurned. The one only way is refused. And on the moral impossibility of escaping if they neglect so great salvation, the self-deluded soul makes shipwreck. "Behold, all ye that kindle a fire," etc.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Religious indifference and false security.
Amos was a native of the southern kingdom, but his ministry was mainly to Israel. His impartiality appears in the censures and reproaches which he addresses, as in this passage, to both Judah and Samaria. But the description applies to professing Christians today as accurately as if it had just then been written, and had been explicitly applied to such. How many who are called to devotion and diligence are "at ease," are "confident," or "secure"!
I. THE DISPOSITION AND HABIT HERE CONDEMNED. The following elements are to be recognized.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH AGGRAVATE THE SIN OF INDIFFERENCE AND SECURITY. In the case of those here addressed we observe:
1. That they resided in places which were themselves a reminder of the character of Jehovah and of his past "dealings" with the chosen people.
2. That they occupied positions fitted to inspire them with a sense of personal responsibility. They were the distinguished chiefs of the nations—the men to whom the people looked as their leaders, and in whom they might reasonably expect to find an example of piety, unselfishness, and zeal
3. That they lived in times when the judgments of God were abroad, and when insensibility to duty and religion were all the more inexcusably culpable.
III. THE EVIL FOLLOWING UPON THE DISPOSITION AND HABIT HERE CONDEMNED.
1. Divine displeasure is prophetically declared against those who are at ease when they should be at work, against those who are secure and confident when they should be examining and judging themselves, and beginning a new and better life.
2. Moral deterioration cannot but follow upon such a state of mind as is here depicted. The slothful are the first to feel the ill effects of their sloth; the habit grows, and a religious, not to say an heroic, life becomes an impossibility.
3. National disaster and punishment are entailed by the indifference and unfaithfulness of those who are called to be a nation's guides and rulers.—T.
Putting away the evil day.
By the "evil day" must be meant the day of account and reckoning which comes to all men and to all communities. As surely as there is a moral government and a moral Governor in the universe, so surely must all reasonable and intelligent natures be held responsible for their conduct and for their influence. Yet it is no unusual thing for men to follow the example of those who are censured in this verse.
I. THE THOUGHT OF A DAY OF ACCOUNT IS UNWELCOME TO THE UNFAITHFUL AND THE IRRELIGIOUS. Such persons need not be disbelievers in judgment, in accountability; they may accept the assurance of their own reason and conscience that an account must be rendered to the Judge of all. Yet, as the thought of a reckoning is one altogether repugnant to them, they persuade themselves that it may be indefinitely deferred. It must come, but it may not come yet; it may not come for a very long time; indeed, may be so remote that it need not be taken into consideration in arranging the plans of life. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
II. THE DEFERRING OF THE THOUGHT OF THE DAY OF ACCOUNT WILL NOT DEFER THE DAY ITSELF. Moral law is never inoperative, is never suspended. Judgment lingereth not. The history alike of nations and of individuals proves that there is a Ruler on high, who is not remiss in carrying out his purposes. There is a reckoning in time; there will be a reckoning in eternity.
"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting, he exactly judgeth all."
It is irrational and futile to imagine that by forgetting responsibility men can efface it. Such a supposition reminds of the action of the foolish ostrich who thrusts his head into a hush, and, because he loses sight of his pursuers, supposes that he has eluded them. There is no discharge in this war.
III. NEGLIGENCE CONCERNING RESPONSIBILITY MAY EVEN HASTEN THE APPROACH OF THE INEVITABLE DAY OF ACCOUNT. They who forget their accountability to God for their unfaithfulness are likely to be confirmed in their sinful courses; and, as iniquity abounds, judgment approaches. Thus the dreaded retribution is hastened rather than postponed; and the evil day which men would fain put far from them is brought near, and the tempest, which they dread and would avoid and escape, breaks upon them in all its force and fury.—T.
The sin of dissolute life.
A herdsman and gatherer of wild figs like Amos, brought into contact with the nobility and the courtiers of a wealthy and luxurious city like Samaria, was likely enough to be shocked and scandalized. The judgments he formed were naturally severe, but they were not unjust or passionate. His language remains a merited and everlasting rebuke to those in high station who live for their own gratification and indulgence.
I. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE IS A SHAMEFUL MISUSE OF PRECIOUS OPPORTUNITIES. It is sometimes judged that those who are "born in the purple," those who inherit great estates, great wealth, are to be excused if they form in youth, and retain in manhood, habits of expensive self-indulgence. But as all men are, above all, the children of God, endowed with a spiritual nature and entrusted with sacred opportunities, it is not to be for a moment admitted that the advantages of high station absolve them from the obligations involved in human nature and human life. A man has no right to pamper the body and exalt it to a lordship over the spirit; he has no right to gratify his tastes as though self-gratification were the great end of existence.
II. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE IS MORALLY DEBASING AND DEGRADING. No one can live below the appointed level of humanity without paying the inevitable penalty, without incurring the inevitable deterioration. The light burns dim; the fine gold turns to clay. The couch of indolence, the feast of gluttony, the voluptuous music, the brimming bowls of wine, the costly unguents,—these are dangerous indulgences. Men may give them fine names, and call them the bounties of Divine providence. And it is quite true that the evil is not in the instruments of self-indulgence, but in the bad uses to which they are put. But none can live merely for bodily, for aesthetic, for social, enjoyment, without injuring his own character, without losing self-respect and the esteem of those whose esteem is worth having.
III. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE ON THE PART OF THE GREAT IS A BAD EXAMPLE TO THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE. Bad habits penetrate from the so called upper to the so called lower class. When the nobility and gentry are self-indulgent, the tradespeople who grow wealthy are likely to follow their example, and the poor are likely enough to grow envious and discontented. The Samaritan chiefs were reproached for misleading the people, and justly. The ignorant and the thoughtless are naturally influenced by an example of selfishness, and none can altogether escape receiving some measure of harm.
IV. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE RENDERS THE GREAT INSENSIBLE TO THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE POOR AND OPPRESSED. The language of the prophet is very touching: the self indulgent "are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." Wrapped up in their own enjoyments, comforts, and luxuries, the great fail to sympathize with those whom we call "the masses." A self-denying and benevolent and public-spirited course of conduct would have precisely an opposite effect. There is no reason m the nature of things why nobles should not feel with and for the poor and unfortunate; as a matter of fact, they often do so. But those whose absorbing thought is of self have neither heart nor time to give to their less-favoured neighbours.
V. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE OFTEN INVOLVES A SPEEDY AND FEARFUL RETRIBUTION. The table of the epicure is overthrown. The sybarite is dragged from his palace, and sent away into exile. Those who have been worthless members of their own state become banished mourners in a strange land. And the song of pleasure is exchanged for the wail of woe.—T.
The Lord commandeth.
It was the office and function of a prophet to lose himself in becoming the vehicle of Divine communications, the organ of Divine decisions. His prefatory words were these: "Thus saith the Lord." He saw and felt the Lord's presence, not only in his own ministry, but in all the events that occurred in the range of his observation, whether affecting individuals or nations.
I. THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF AUTHORITY IN EVERY WORD OF THE LORD. Whether God addresses to men language of rebuke or reproach, of entreaty or of threatening, he speaks with authority. His invitation is that of a King; it is a command When our Lord Christ spoke in the course of his ministry, he spoke with authority. The Divine judgment is always correct, the Divine will is always obligatory.
II. ALL AGENCIES AND INSTRUMENTALITIES ARE OBEDIENT TO THE LORD'S BEHESTS. It is so with the forces of nature. "The stormy wind fulfilleth his word;" "His ministers are a flaming fire." It is so with the institutions of human society, with the purposes and the activities of men. The hand which is visible in a work may be that of a creature; the power that directs that hand may, nevertheless, be creative wisdom and creative might. God gives the word; it is executed by ten thousand ministers of his holy will. He maketh even the wrath of man to praise him.
III. THE POWER OF THE GREATEST AMONG MEN IS INCAPABLE OF RESISTING THE DIVINE COMMANDS. The "great house" and the "little house" alike are smitten when the Lord makes bare his arm. Israel and Judah, the prince and the husbandman, may know that nothing can protect them from the might of the Eternal when his decree of judgment has gone out against them. Well may the people that rebel against God tremble and fear, and remember that they are but men.—T.
The vanity of the sinner's principles and hopes.
The perfect naturalness and genuineness of Amos must be apparent to every reader. The sources from which he drew his graphic imagery were his own life and experiences. As a husbandman employed upon the land, he was brought into contact both with the phenomena of nature and with the processes of agriculture; and from these sources his mind was supplied with the bold similitudes which occur in his prophecies. Wishing to depict the irrational and absurd suppositions and expectations of the sinful and rebellious, he compared them to husbandmen who should attempt to drive horses up a steep cliff, or to plough the hard, barren rock by oxen.
I. JUSTICE IS THE ETERNAL LAW OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE. Here is the true and Divine bond of human society; here is the principle which should govern earthly rulers, judges, and princes. The higher men's station, the greater men's power, the more important is it that justice should guide and inspire their conduct.
II. IN A CORRUPT STATE OF SOCIETY OPPRESSION AND VIOLENCE ARE SUBSTITUTED FOR JUSTICE. Amos complained that the kings and nobles of Israel were guilty of the basest and most degrading conduct; they exchanged the sweet and wholesome fruit of righteousness for the bitterness of gall and wormwood and the poison of hemlock, i.e. for bribery, for violence, for oppressiveness. History is full of such instances. The noble institutions of society are perverted into instruments of personal ambition, aggrandizement, and wrong. Cruel kings, luxurious nobles, corrupt judges, are morally disastrous to the state; their example spreads through all classes, and faith, honour, and purity decay and perish.
III. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE THAT TRUE PROSPERITY SHOULD PREVAIL WHERE THE FOUNTAIN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS POISONED. The great men of Israel had come to confide in their own strength, in their military power, and, like so many in high estate, thought that physical force was sufficient to secure a nation's greatness. The prophet justly characterizes such a doctrine as "a thing of nought," a nonentity, an absurdity! As well may horses climb the scaur, as well may oxen plough the bare, hard rock, as a nation prosper which has renounced the Law of God, and is attempting to base its success upon physical force, military prestige, ostentations luxury, judicial corruption. We in our own days need not look far for an exemplification of the folly of such confidence. "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth."—T.
The hand of God seen in national retribution.
Coming when it did, this prophecy was an unmistakable proof of Divine foresight. Samaria was rejoicing and boasting because of a temporary victory obtained by her arms. The kingdom of Israel had taken horns, and by its own strength had pushed back the foe from the borders. This was the moment appointed for Amos to utter the faithful warning contained in this verse. Subsequent events proved the predictive authority from which this language proceeded. The advance of Assyria soon reminded the unbelieving and impenitent of the warning to which they had been indifferent. But we are chiefly concerned to trace the truths and to draw the lessons regarding Divine government upon earth, which this prediction so strikingly unfolds.
I. THE FACT THAT A NATION IS CHOSEN BY GOD FOR A SPECIAL PURPOSE DOES NOT EXEMPT THAT NATION FROM THE OPERATION OF THE LAWS OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. It is sometimes represented that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were treated by the Ruler of all with an especial favouritism. But such a view cannot be justified from the sacred records. Undoubtedly, this nation was selected for high purposes, and appointed to occupy a position of enlightenment and eminence; but this was in order that the Jews might fulfil the purposes of God's wisdom, might in the fulness of the time produce the Messiah, and might become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. But never was a nation subjected to more stringent discipline than the Hebrew theocracy endured. No transgression was unnoticed or unchastised. Such afflictions have indeed seldom been endured as Israel has known, both in ancient and in modern times.
II. GOD, WHO IS NOT CONFINED TO ANY SPECIAL AGENCIES, HAS OFTEN EMPLOYED ONE NATION AS THE SCOURGE BY WHICH ANOTHER NATION HAS BEEN CHASTISED. It may be asked why Assyria, an idolatrous nation, should be employed to punish the transgressions of Israel. To such a question we can give no answer; but we may point out that the moral qualities of the chastising instrument have no bearing upon the purposes of punishment. God raiseth up one and setteth down another. History is full of examples of this principle. Amidst very much that is mysterious, there is not a little that is plain. Only in the most general way is it permitted us to interpret the methods of the Divine government. But the authoritative language of this and other passages of Scripture assure us that he who doeth according to his will among the inhabitants of the earth is impressing his own great lessons and fulfilling his own great designs by the changes which occur among the nations. Even wars, conquests, and captivities are the means by which God's Law is vindicated and God's kingdom is advanced.
III. NATIONAL TRIBULATION MAY BE THE MEANS OF NATIONAL PURIFICATION AND PROGRESS. Punishment is not an end in itself; however deserved and just, it is inflicted with a view to the good of the community or individual punished, or the good of human society at large. We can to some extent trace, in the subsequent history of the Hebrew people, the beneficial results of the conquest and captivity here foretold. Idolatry, at all events, came to an end; more spiritual views of religion became general; the nation, or that portion of it which returned to the land of promise, was prepared for giving birth to the Messiah, and for furnishing the elements which were to constitute the primitive Church. Thus God brought the light of morning out of the darkness, and a spiritual spring from the long winter of affliction.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!" etc. "This chapter embraces the character and punishment of the whole Hebrew nation. The inhabitants of the two capitals are directly addressed in the language of denunciation, and charged to take warning from the fate of other nations (Amos 6:1, Amos 6:2). Their carnal security, injustice, self-indulgence, sensuality, and total disregard of the Divine threatenings are next described (Amos 6:3-6). After which the prophet announces the Captivity and the calamitous circumstances connected with the siege of Samaria, by which it was to be preceded (Amos 6:7-11). He then exposes the absurdity of their conduct, and threatens them with the irruption of an enemy that should pervade the whole country (Amos 6:12-14)" (Henderson). The words of our text (Amos 6:1) denounce a state of mind which most men desiderate—"ease." Amidst the harassing cares, turmoils, and agitating events of life, men on all hands are crying out for ease. Like mariners that have long battled with tempests, they long for a calm sea in which to drop anchor and be at rest. But here there is a fearful "woe" denounced against ease. What is this ease?
I. IT IS THE EASE OF PRIDE. These great nations, Judah and Israel, the one having its seat in Zion and the other in Samaria, because of their imaginary superiority as the chief of the nations, settled down in carnal security. Those that dwelt in Zion, or Jerusalem, felt themselves safe because of its historic grandeur, its temple, the dwelling place of the Almighty, and its mountain fortifications. Those that dwelt in Samaria—the ten tribes—had the same false confidence in their safety. The mountains of Samaria, the seat both of the religion and government of a strong people, they relied upon, free from all apprehension of dangers. It was the ease of pride and overrated power.
II. IT IS THE EASE OF RUIN. "Pass ye unto Calneh [this was an ancient city built by Nimrod] and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great [one of the chief cities of Syria]: then go down to Gath of the Philistines [the great city in Philistia]." Remember these cities, be they better than these kingdoms? Are you who live at Zion and Samaria greater people than they were, more strong and invincible? Yet they are gone. Calneh gone, Hamath gone, Gath gone. All are in ruins, long, long ago. Why, then, should you feel yourselves safe and be at ease in Zion and Samaria? Their example condemns your false security and predicts your ruin. The ease here denounced is like the ease of stolid indifference or the ease of a torpid conscience, terribly general, fearfully criminal, and awfully dangerous. It must sooner or later be broken. The hurricanes of retribution must sooner or later lash the sleeping ocean into foaming fury. Souls are everywhere sleeping on the bosom of volcanoes. Oh for some voice from the heavens above or the earth beneath, to startle the men of this generation!
CONCLUSION. Learn from this subject:
1. That the mere feeling of security is no infallible proof of safety. Men are prone to deceive themselves. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Some men, like the drunkard whose vessel is going down, feel themselves safe because they are unconscious of the danger. Some men feel themselves safe because of the confidence they have in objects that are utterly unable to sustain them. The only feeling of security that warrants safety is that which springs from a conscious trust in God. Such as have this can say, "God is our Refuge and Strength," etc.
2. That great advantages may prove great curses. It was a great advantage for Judah to have Zion, and Israel to have Samaria—great in many respects, national and religious. But these advantages, because they were overrated, trusted in, put in the place of God himself, proved to them most disastrous. So it ever is. Our civilization, our literature, our Churches, our Bibles, have proved curses to millions, and will perhaps to millions more. The Pharisee in the temple is an illustration of this.
3. That retributions which have overtaken others should be a warning to us. The prophet calls upon these men of Judah and Israel to remember Calneh, Hamath, Garb. "All these things," says Paul, "happened unto them for ensamples." Learn to read our fate in history. Ungodly nations, where are Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome? Ungodly Churches, where axe the Churches of Asia Minor?—D.T.
Man's evil day.
"Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near." This is another denunciation addressed to the great men in Zion and Samaria. They are said "to keep the day of calamity afar off, and bring the seat of violence near" (Delitzsch). Three remarks are suggested by these words.
I. ALL MEN HAVE AN "EVIL DAY" IN THEIR FUTURE. Even the holiest men, men whose path through life has been most calm and prosperous, have to expect certain calamities that befall all. There are trials common to all men, whatever their condition or character—afflictions, bereavements, infirmities; these await most men. There is one evil day, however, for us all. Death is in many respects an "evil day." What mysterious sufferings it generally involves! What privileges and pleasures it terminates! What disruptions it produces! Sinner, thy death will be an evil day; and it is before thee, and it is nearer now than ever.
II. SOME MEN ADJOURN IN THOUGHT THIS "EVIL DAY." They "put far away the evil day." Ungodly men put this evil day so far on in the course of time that they seldom discern it and never realize it. It is a mere speck, seldom visible on the horizon of many years of unclouded sunshine. Why do men adjourn in thought this evil day?
1. Not because they have any doubt as to its advent. No day is more certain. Sooner shall all the wheels of nature be stopped than the sun of this day fail to break on every eye. "It is appointed to men once to die."
2. Not because they lack reminders of its approach. Every physical pain, every tolling knell, every funeral procession, every graveyard—all remind us almost every moment that our evil day is coming. Why, then, adjourn the thought? The reason is found:
1. In the strength of our material attachments.
2. In our dread of the mysterious.
3. In our lack of interest in the spiritual and material.
4. In our conscious want of preparation for the scenes of retribution.
III. NONE WHO ADJOURN THIS "EVIL DAY" IN THOUGHT CAN DELAY IT IN FACT. "And cause the seat of violence to come near." Perhaps what is meant here is that these men so ignored their coming calamities that by their conduct they hastened them on. Ignoring the evil day, they pursued such a course of injustice, falsehood, dishonesty, sinful indulgence, and impiety as served to bring it nearer. Thus the more they put it off in thought the nearer it drew, because they became more self-destructive in their conduct. A general truth is suggested here, viz. that a man who adjourns all thought of his end will pursue such a course of conduct as will hasten its approach. Some men imagine that by thinking upon death they will hasten its advent; hence their dread of making wills. But such is not the fact. He who keeps the evil day in view, rightly regards it, prepares for it, will render such a practical obedience to the laws of health as to delay rather than hasten it. "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."—D.T.
"That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall," etc. Here is a sketch of the way in which these leading men of the chief nations luxuriated in carnal pleasures and sensual indulgences. Observe two things.
I. THE MORAL TORPOR OF CARNAL INDULGENCE. Observe two things.
1. These people wrought entirely for the senses. See how they slept! They provided themselves with "beds of ivory." They did not require rest for their weary limbs, otherwise beds of straw would have done. They wanted to be grand, they loved glitter, hence "beds of ivory." Here is the lust of the eye. See how they ate! "And stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall." They abounded in superfluities; they partook of the choicest dainties of nature, and that in a recumbent position. Here is the lust of the palate. See how they sang! "That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David." Musical sounds gratified their auricular sensibilities, and they chanted to the "viol." Here is the lust of the ear. See how they drank! They "drink wine in bowls." Small vessels would not do; they must take long, deep draughts of the pleasing beverage. Here again is the lust of the palate. See how they anointed themselves! With the chief ointments." They regaled their olfactory nerves with the choicest perfumes of nature. Here is the lust of the smell. See how indifferent they were to the suffering of the true Church of God! "They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." What a description this of a people that lived and wrought entirely for the senses! They were practical materialists. They had no spiritual vision, sensibilities, or experience. Their imperishable souls were submerged in the deep flowing sea of mere animal pleasures. Are there no such men now? For what do our prosperous tradesmen and the upper ten thousand live? For the most part, we fear, for the senses. Grand furniture—"beds of ivory;" choicest viands—"lambs out of the flock, and calves out of the midst of the stall;" ravishing music—"chants to the sound of the viol;" delectable beverages—the choicest wines in "bowls;" the most delicious aromas—"the chief ointments." Has carnal indulgence been more rife in any land or age than this? Matter everywhere governs spirit; the body everywhere is the despot, men are "carnal, sold under sin."
2. These people wrought without conscience. In all this there is no effort of conscience recorded, no word uttered. There is, indeed, a reference to intellectual effort, for it is said "they invented to themselves instruments of music." Carnal indulgence has ever been and is now as much, if not more than ever, the great employer of man's inventive faculties. Luxury in England today is the great employer of human ingenuity. But there is no conscience here. When conscience is touched in such a state of things, and startled by the sense of its guilt, it exclaims, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this sin and death?"
II. THE RETRIBUTIVE RESULT OF CARNAL INDULGENCE. The threat in the text is:
1. The loss of liberty. "Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive." Those who had taken the lead in revelry and all manner of wickedness were to be the first in the procession of captives. In such a position their disgrace would be more conspicuous. Luxury always leads to slavery: it is the eternal law of justice, that those who live to the flesh shall lose their freedom and be exiled into the region of tyranny. "Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15).
2. The loss of provisions. "And the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed." They shall have scarcity, perhaps starvation, instead of the profusion of dainties with which their tables have been spread. All this carnal indulgence and voluptuousness, this luxury in ease, and diet, and music, and aroma will not go on forever. They are abnormal conditions of human nature; retribution will one day put an end to them.
Bane of elated life, of affluent states,
What ruin is not thine?… Behind thee gapes
Th' unfathomable gulf where Ashur lies
O'erwhelmed, forgotten; and high boasting Cham:
And Elam's haughty pomp; and beauteous Greece;
And the great queen of earth, imperial Rome."
"The Lord God hath sworn by himself, saith the Lord the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein." In order to show the voluptuous debauchees referred to in the preceding verses the terrible judgments that would overtake them, Jehovah is here represented as making a solemn oath. Whether the city here refers to Samaria or Jerusalem, or both, is of little moment. The subject is national depravity, and we infer from the words—
I. THAT DEPRAVITY MAY EXIST IN A NATION WHERE THERE IS MUCH THAT IS MAGNIFICENT. Here is a reference to the "excellency"—or, as some render it, the splendour—"of Jacob;" and here is a reference to "palaces," the homes of princes, There was much that was magnificent amongst the Jewish people of old in their own land. Great cities and their palaces, and, above all, the temple at Jerusalem, beautiful in architecture and situation, with an organized priesthood and gorgeous ceremonies. Still, its depravity at this time was wide and deep and hideous. A nation may have much that is magnificent, and yet be deeply sunk in moral corruption. Witness ancient Greece and Rome; witness England today. The arts, sculpture, painting, architecture, music, have reached their perfection, and abound. On all hands our eyes are attracted by grand churches, splendid mansions, marts, banks, museums, colleges, and galleries of art. Albeit was depravity ever more rife in any age or country than this? Greed, ambition, selfishness, sensuality, fraud, falsehood, and self-indulgence,—these, the elements of depravity and the fountains of crime, abound in all directions. It is true they do not appear in their naked deformity, as in barbaric lands. Our civilization not only spreads a veil over them, but paints and decorates them, and thus conceals their native hideousness. Still, though the devil robes himself in the garb of an angel, he is yet the devil. Poison is poison, however much you may flavour it.
II. THAT DEPRAVITY UNDER THE MOST MAGNIFICENT FORM IS UTTERLY ABHORRENT TO THE GREAT GOD. "I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces." No veil can cover it from his eye; his glance pierces through all its decorations; to his view its ornamentations add to its ugliness. The same vices displayed in the hut of a savage chief, are more hideous to him when developed in the gorgeous palaces of Christian sovereigns. "I abhor the excellency [splendour] of Jacob." God has moral sensibility. He has not only a sensibility for the beautiful in form and the perfect in arrangement, but for the moral. He loves the true, the beautiful, and the good; he loathes the false, the selfish, and the corrupt. "Oh, do not this abominable thing, which I hate" (Jeremiah 44:4).
III. THAT DEPRAVITY, WHICH IS EVER ABHORRENT TO GOD, MUST BRING RUIN ON ITS SUBJECTS. "Therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein." Observe:
1. The completeness of the ruin. "All that is therein"—utter destruction.
2. The certainty of the ruin. "The Lord God hath sworn by himself."
CONCLUSION. What an argument does this subject furnish for national seriousness and investigation! The progress of civilization is not the true progress of humanity. A nation may advance in the arts, and go back in morals; may be robed in artistic beauty, and yet be loathsome in moral corruption. Heaven will not smile on a nation because it is externally grand, but only when it is internally good.—D.T.
Trying the impossible.
"Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?" The folly of expecting real prosperity by committing acts of injustice or pursuing courses of sin is here forcibly represented by comparing it to the absurdity of attempting to run horses upon a rock or to plough the rock with oxen. The strength of the representation is increased by its interrogative form. Our subject is—Trying the impossible. Men are constantly doing this. Let us furnish a few examples.
I. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO DESTROY AN ENEMY BY PHYSICAL FORCE. An individual has an enemy, a man who hates him with an inveterate antipathy. In order to overcome him, what does he do? He disables or perhaps kills him. Or a nation has an enemy, strong and malignant. How does it seek to overcome it? In the same way, by brute force—swords, cannons, bayonets, these are employed. Now, the attempt to destroy an enemy by brute force is as absurd as to make horses run on the peaks of craggy rocks, or to put oxen to plough them. To destroy the enemy's body is not to destroy either him or his enmity. Philosophy and the Bible teach that the body is not the man; it is his, not himself. All the men that have fallen in duels, campaigns, or private assassinations are living, thinking, acting still, and await their murderers in another state. No bullet or sword can touch the man.
II. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO MAKE SOCIETY MORALLY GOOD BY MERE SECULAR INSTRUCTION. There are men who imagine that by teaching children the arts of reading, writing, ciphering, and the rudiments of science they will improve the morality of the nation. When you remember that the moral character grows out of the heart and not out of the brain, out of the likings and dislikings, not out of the ideas or intelligence, all this seems as absurd as the attempt to make horses run on rocks. Secular knowledge cannot change the heart, cannot alter a man's likes or dislikes. It may strengthen them, but not alter them. Dishonesty, uneducated, may commit petty thefts; but educated, it will legally swindle a nation. Knowledge, alas! is all in vain.
III. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO GET HAPPINESS FROM WITHOUT. All mankind are in search of happiness. "Who will show us any good?"—this is the universal cry. The great bulk seek happiness from without, from what they can see, and taste, and hear, and handle. They look for happiness in the titillation of the nerves and the gratification of the senses. Now, were man nothing but body, this would do. This does for the brute and the bird. But man is spirit; and matter in no form or combination can satisfy spirit. A man's life, or happiness, consisteth not in the abundance of material things. True happiness springs from within, not from without; arises from holy loves. hopes, aspirations, and aims. In one word, love is the well of water that springs up unto everlasting life.
IV. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO SAVE SOULS BY MINISTERING TO THEIR SELFISHNESS. There are men in all Churches who give themselves to saving souls, as they say. Salvation is the burden of all their thought and talk. But how do they endeavour to accomplish their object? By everlasting appeals to the selfish fears and hopes of men. Tragic descriptions are given of hell in order to frighten men, and sensuous descriptions of heaven in order to attract them. But can this save the soul? Impossible. It will only aggravate its damnation. Salvation consists in the extinction of all that is selfish in human nature, and in the generating, fostering, and perfecting disinterested, self-oblivious love. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it: he that loseth his life shall find it." A preacher may increase his congregation by appealing to the selfishness of his hearers, but he does not add one to the family of the good. The man who tries to save souls by constant appeals to the selfishness of human nature acts more absurdly than he who attempts to gallop horses upon the sharp peaks of rugged rocks.
V. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO CONVERT HEATHENS ABROAD BEFORE CONVERTING THE HEATHENS AT HOME. London abounds with heathens. All the heathens of the heathen world have their representatives in London; besides, the great bulk of the resident population are heathens; they are without God and without hope in the world. The influence of London upon the most distant parts of the world is a thousand times as great as that of all the missionaries from England and America. Under such circumstances, to send a few lonely men to distant peoples, who are ignorant of our language, modes of thought, and habits, with the idea of converting the world, is more absurd than to put horses to run on the rock, and oxen to plough thereon. Are we not bound to go into all the world to spread the gospel? Yes, but is there a greater world than London? and should not our sailors, our merchants, our travellers, and emigrants be the missionaries to foreign lands? Whilst your missionaries carry teaspoonfuls of the gospel here and there, your London pours out floods of depravity on every zone.
CONCLUSION. Alas! how much human effort and sacrifice are lost for the want of practical wisdom and common sense! "Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?" Yes, more successfully than we poor fools can accomplish some things that we labour to attain.—D.T.
Man's perverting power.
"For ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock." The meaning of this is that they had turned the best things into bad use. Judgment and righteousness, the laws of right, they had made as nauseous and noxious as "gall" and "hemlock." Our subject is man's perverting power. Our blessed Maker in our constitution has endowed us with a force which no other creature under heaven seems to have, of turning things to wrong uses, and making those things which he intended to bless us the means of misery and rain. You can see man exercising this power in many departments of action.
I. IN PHYSICAL OPERATIONS. What does he do with the iron which he discovers in the depths of the earth? Forges it into implements of human destruction. What does he do with the vineyards and the corn fields? He turns them into inebriating liquids, and rolls them like rivers of poison through every district of society. What does he do with his own physical appetites? Instead of attending to them as means of relief, he makes their gratification the chief sources of his pleasure, and thus degrades his mental and moral nature. Everywhere you see man perverting nature—perverting the metals, the rivers, the fruits, and the chemical elements of the world.
II. IN CIVIC LIFE. The principle of human government is a Divine ordinance, intended to secure equal justice and protection. But how has man perverted it! He has turned it into an instrument to benefit the few at the expense of the many, an instrument of tyranny and oppression. The principle of judicature, intended to secure for all a just administration of law, man notoriously perverts. Men are appointed to occupy the throne of judgment who are not always, or generally, known as incorruptibly just and morally pure. Hence often in the name of justice iniquities are enacted. Man's perversion of the law is proverbial as a hideous enormity. The principle of merchandise, intended to band man together by the exchange of commodities in mutual obligation and fellowship, man has awfully perverted. He has made it the instrument of cupidity, monopoly, and nameless frauds. Thus, in every part of social life you see this perverting power in action—man turning "judgment into gall, and the fruits of righteousness into hemlock."
III. IN THE RELIGIOUS SPHERE. In spiritual matters and in scenes that should be the most sacred, its action is perhaps more flagrant and formidable than anywhere else. Without going into the great world of heathenism, or even to remote parts of Christendom, look into our own religious England, and what do you see? You see the gospel ministry, which is essentially self-denying, humble, devout, turned into an arrogant and plethoric priesthood. You see gospel ceremonies, intended to adumbrate spiritual truths, employed as mystic channels of saving grace. You see a system of universal philanthropy made an instrument of miserable sectarianism and intolerable bigotry.
CONCLUSION. Do not let man say he has no power. His moral power is something stupendous. He has power to turn the things of God to the use of Satan, heavenly blessings into hellish curses. This he is doing everywhere. "Ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock."—D.T.
Human joy in the unsubstantial.
"Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?" "Horns" are signs and symbols of power; here they stand for the military resources with which they fancied that they could conquer every foe. "These delusions of God-forgetting pride the prophet casts down, by saying that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will raise up a nation against them, which will crush them down in the whole length and breadth of the kingdom. This nation was Assyria" (Delitzsch). What these ancient Hebrews did is an evil prevalent in all times and lands—rejoicing in the things of nought, taking pleasure in the unreal, the empty, and the fleeting.
I. TO REJOICE IN WORLDLY WEALTH is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." Rich men everywhere are always disposed to rejoice in their wealth. Houses, lands, and funded treasures, of these worldly men are ever boasting, in these they proudly exult. But what is earthly wealth? It is, in truth, so far as the possessor is concerned, "a thing of nought." It was not his a few years ago, and may not be his tomorrow. "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven" (Proverbs 23:5). Wealth, at best, is a most unsubstantial thing; it is a mere air bubble rising on the stream of life, glittering for a moment, and then departing forever. Great fortunes are but bubbles; they vanish before a ripple on the stream or a gust in the atmosphere. "Wealth," says old Adams, "is like a bird; it hops all day from man to man as the bird from tree to tree, and none can say where it will roost or rest at night."
"Go, enter the mart where the merchantmen meet,
Get rich, and retire to some rural retreat:
Ere happiness comes, comes the season to die;
Quickly. then will thy riches all vanish and fly.
Go, sit with the mighty in purple and gold;
Thy mansions be stately, thy treasures untold;
But soon shalt thou dwell in the damp house of clay,
While thy riches make wings to themselves and away."
II. TO REJOICE IN PERSONAL BEAUTY is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." Nature has endowed some with personal charms which it has denied to others—finely chiselled features, a radiant countenance, commanding brow, symmetrical form, majestic presence. He who is thus blest has many advantages; he commands admiration and exerts an influence upon human hearts. But is this beauty a thing to rejoice in? Those who possess it do rejoice in it; many pride themselves on their good looks and fine figures. But what is beauty? It is "a thing of nought." Why rejoice in that for which we can take no credit? Does the moss rose deserve praise for unfolding more beauty and emitting more fragrance than the nettle? Who can make one hair white or black, or add one cubit to his stature? Why rejoice, too, in that which is so evanescent? Socrates called beauty "a short-lived tyranny;" and Theophrastus, "a silent cheat." One old divine says it is like an almanac—it "lasts for one year, as it were." Men are like the productions of the fields and the meadows. In the summer the variety is striking, some herbs and flowers appear in more stately form and attractive hues than others; but when old winter comes round, who sees the distinctions? Where are the plants of beauty? They are faded and gone. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field."
"Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good,
A shining gloss, that fadeth suddenly;
A flower that dies, when first it 'gins to bud;
A brittle glass, that's broken presently:
A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, faded, broken, dead within an hour.
"And as good lost is seldom or never found,
As fading gloss no rubbing will refresh,
As flowers dead lie withered on the ground,
As broken glass no cement can redress,
So beauty, blemished once, forever's lost,
In spite of physic, painting, pain, and cost."
III. TO REJOICE IN ANCESTRAL DISTINCTION is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are those who are constantly exulting in their pedigree. Some who in this country can go back to the days of William the Conqueror, how delighted they are! But who were the men that William brought over with him, and between whom he divided this England of ours? Cobblers, tailors, smiths, plunderers, men of rapine and blood, most of them destitute alike of intellectual culture and morality. But even had we come from the loins of the intellectual and moral peers of the race, what cause in this is there for rejoicing? it is truly "a thing of nought." Our ancestry is independent of us; we are not responsible for it. It is not a matter either of blame or praise. Each man is complete in himself—an accountable unity, a moral cause. A prime minister has a number of earnest servile lackeys—they are printers, jewellers, clothmakers, tailors, and such-like; in the zenith of his power he rewards them by causing them to be titled "sir," "lord," "baron," etc. In this their children rejoice. But is it not "a thing of nought"? What is there in it? Nothing.
"Knighthoods and honours borne
Without desert, are titles but of scorn."
IV. TO REJOICE IN MORAL MERITORIOUSNESS is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are many who rejoice in their morality. Like the Pharisee in the temple, they thank God they are not as "other men," They consider they are "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," whereas they are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Moral merit in a sinner is a baseless vision, a phantom of a proud heart. The man exulting in his own self-righteousness acts as foolishly as the man who endeavours to secure himself from the scorching rays of the sun under his own shadow. He seeks to bring his shadow between him and the sun, but cannot. If he runs, the shadow is before or behind him; if he falls down, the shadow falls with him, and leaves him in contact with the burning beam. No; our righteousness is "a thing of nought;" it is "filthy rags."
"Beware of too sublime a sense
Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who deems himself so great,
And his importance of such weight,
That all around, in all that's done,
Must move and act for him alone,
Will learn in school of tribulation
The folly of his expectation."
CONCLUSION. Ah me! how many on all hands are rejoicing in "a thing of nought"! Wealth, beauty, ancestry, self-righteousness,—what are these? Fleeting shadows, dying echoes. They are clouds without water; to the eye they may for a minute or two appear in gorgeous forms, but before a breeze they melt into thin air and are lost. Rejoice in the real, the spiritual, the eternal, the Divine.—D.T.
God chastising nations by nations.
"But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the Lord the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness." What "nation" is here referred to as about to be raised up by God against Israel? Undoubtedly, Assyria. This Assyrian nation is here represented as overspreading the country "from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness." Hamath was a point of entrance for an invading army into Israel from the north, which had just been subjugated by Jeroboam II. The boundaries are virtually the same as those mentioned (2 Kings 14:25) as restored to Israel by Jeroboam II; "from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain," i.e. the Dead Sea, into which the river of the wilderness here mentioned flows. Do not glory in your recently acquired city, for it shall be the starting point for the foe to afflict you. How sad the contrast to the feast of Solomon, attended by a congregation from the same Hamath, the most northern boundary of Israel, to the Nile, the river of Egypt, the most southern boundary! "Unto the river of the wilderness," i.e. to Kedron, or that part of it which empties itself into the northern bay of the Dead Sea below Jericho (2 Chronicles 28:15), which city was at the southern boundary of the ten tribes (Maurer). To the river Nile, which skirts the Arabian wilderness and separates Egypt from Canaan (Grotius). If this verse includes Judah as well as Israel, Grotius's view is correct, and it agrees with 1 Kings 8:65, "Solomon held a feast, and all Israel … from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt" (Fausset). The subject suggested by the words is this—God chastising nations by nations. He now threatens to chastise the kingdoms of Judah and Israel by the Assyrian people. This is how the Almighty has acted from the beginning. He has chastised nations by nations. The history of the world is little else than a history of civil wars. Let us for a moment notice the how and the why of this.
I. THE HOW. How does the Almighty bring about wars?
1. Not by his inspiration. The God of peace does not breathe into any people greed, ambition, revenge. These principles, from which all war emanates, are repugnant to his nature. He denounces them. His grand aim in the world is to annihilate them, and in their place propagate disinterestedness, humility, and magnanimous love.
2. Not by his authority. All war is directly against his command; whilst everywhere he prohibits covetousness, pride, and revenge, he inculcates, in almost every page of inspiration and every form of utterance, love to our neighbours. The God of peace works everywhere in the world through peace, works by the peaceful influences of nature and the love of the gospel to produce "peace on earth, and good will towards men." How, then, can he be said to raise a nation to war? Simply by permission. He allows human nature freedom to work out the evil principles that are operating in it. The power of free action with which he endowed men at first he does not crush, he does not restrict; he treats it with respect, and leaves men free to do evil as well as good. He who permits the river at times to overflow its boundaries, and the subterranean fires to break forth, permits the passions of men to issue in war and bloodshed. Permission is not authorship.
II. THE WHY. Why does the Almighty chastise nations by nations? Why not employ the elements of nature or angelic intelligences? or why not do it by his own direct volition, without any instrumentality whatever? He may, for aught we know, chastise men in all these ways; but we can see reasons for his employing nations to chastise nations by wars. In acting thus:
1. Man has revealed to him in the most impressive way the wickedness of the human heart. It has been well said that war is the effect, the embodiment, and manifestation of every conceivable sin. In every war hell is revealed; its fires flash, its thunders roll, its fiends revel and shriek. For man to get rid of sin, he must be impressed with its enormity; and does not war make that impression? Does not every crimson chapter in its history reveal to the human heart the stupendous enormity of sin?
2. Man has revealed to him the utter folly of putting confidence his fellow man. War reveals falsehood, treachery, cunning, fraud, cruelty; and who can trust these? Does not war say to every man, "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm"? To day a man may fondle you as a friend, tomorrow foam at you as a fiend. "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no hope."
3. Man has revealed to him the supreme importance of cultivating the true friendship of his fellow men. What thoughtful men have not groaned and wept over the utter failure of all means to produce the results for which they were ostensibly commenced—to vindicate national honour, to establish peace? Such ends are never realized. What, then, is the lesson? Cultivate friendship with your fellow men, the friendship of man with man, family with family, tribe with tribe, nation with nation. Wars are God's moral lessons to man in tragedy.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent