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Verse 1-ch. 9:10
Part III. FIVE VISIONS, WITH EXPLANATIONS, CONTINUING AND CONFIRMING THE PREVIOUS PROPHECY. The afflictions are climactic, increasing in intensity. The first two symbolize judgments which have been averted by the prophet's intercession; the third and fourth adumbrate judgments which are to fall inevitably; and the fifth proclaims the overthrow of the temple and the old theocracy.
§ 1. The first vision, of locusts, represents Israel as a field eaten down to the ground, but shooting up afresh, and its utter destruction postponed at the prophet's prayer.
Thus hath the Lord God showed unto me. By an inward illumination (comp. Amos 7:4, Amos 7:7; and Amos 8:1; Jeremiah 24:1-3). He formed grasshoppers; rather, locusts (Nahum 3:17). This points to the moral government of God, who uses nature to work his purposes, "wind and storm fulfilling his word." In the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; when the aftermath was beginning to grow under the influence of the latter rains. If the herbage was destroyed then, there would be no hope of recovery in the rest of the year. After the king's mowings. It is deduced from this expression that the first crop on certain grounds was taken for the king's use—a kind of royal perquisite, though there is no trace of such a custom found in Scripture, the passage in 1 Kings 18:5, where Ahab sends Obadiah to search for pasture, having plainly nothing to do with it; and in this case, as Keil remarks, the plague would seem to fall upon the people only, and the guilty king would have escaped. But to interpret the expression entirely in a spiritual sense, with no substantial basis, as "Jehovah's judgments," destroys the harmony of the vision, ignoring its material aspect altogether. It is quite possible that the custom above mentioned did exist, though it was probably limited to certain lands, and did not apply to the whole pasturage of the country. It is here mentioned to define the time of the plague of locusts—the time, in fact, when its ravages would be most irremediable. The LXX; by a little change of letters, render, ἰδοὺ βροῦχος εἷς Γὼν ὁ βασιλεύς, by which they imply that the locusts would be as innumerable as the army of Gog. The whole version is, "Behold, a swarm of locusts coming from the East; and behold, one caterpillar, King Gog." The vision is thought to refer to the first invasion by the Assyrians, when Pul was bribed by Menahem to withdraw.
The grass of the land. The term includes vegetables of all sorts, the feed of man and beast (Genesis 1:11; see note on Zechariah 10:1). O Lord,...forgive. The prophet is not concerned to obtain the fulfilment of his prophecy; his heartfelt sympathy for his people yearns for their pardon, as he knows that punishment and restoration depend upon moral conditions. By whom shall Jacob arise? better, How shall Jacob stand? literally, as who? If he is thus weakened, as the vision portends, how shall he endure the stroke? Small; weakened by internal commotions and foreign attack (2 Kings 15:10-16, 2 Kings 15:19).
Repented for this; or, concerning this destruction. The punishment was conditioned by man's behaviour or other considerations. Here the prophet's intercession abates the full infliction of the penalty (compare analogous expressions, Deuteronomy 32:36; 1 Samuel 15:11; 2 Samuel 24:16; Jeremiah 18:8; Jeremiah 42:10; Jonah 3:10, where see note). Amos may have had in memory the passage in Joel 2:13. The LXX. here and in Joel 2:6 has Μετανόησον Κύριε ἐπὶ τούτῳ καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔσται λέγει Κύριος, "Repent, O Lord, for this; and this shall not be, saith the Lord." Hence some early commentators gathered that the prophet's intercession was rejected; but the words do not necessarily bear that sense (see St. Cyril Alex. and Theodoret, in loc.). It shall not be. This respite refers to the retreat of the Assyrians under Pul, the usurping monarch who assumed the name of Tiglath-Pileser II. (2 Kings 15:17, etc.). Some commentators consider the judgment to be literally plague of locusts; but this is not probable.
§ 2. The second vision devouring fire, represents a more severe judgment than the preceding one, involving greater consequences, but still one which was again modified by the prayers of the righteous prophet.
Called to contend by fire; Septuaguint, ἐκάλεσε τὴν δίκην ἐν πυρί, "called for judgment by fire;" Vulgate, vocabat judicium ad ignem. God called the people to try their cause with him by sending fire as a punishment among them (comp. Isaiah 66:16; Ezekiel 38:22); and in the vision the fire is represented as so vehement that it devoured the great deep, drank up the very ocean itself (Genesis 7:11; Isaiah 51:10); or the subterranean fountains and springs, as Genesis 49:25. And did eat up a part; τὴν μερίδα κυρίου. This version takes eth-hacheleq as the "inheritance" or "portion" of the Lord, i.e. the land of Israel (Jeremiah 12:10); but Canaan is nowhere called absolutely "the portion;" nor were the ten tribes specially so designated. Rather, the portion (not a part) is that part of the land and people which was marked out for judgment. The particular calamity alluded to is the second invasion of Tigiath-Pileser II, when he conquered Gilead and the northern part of the kingdom, and carried some of the people captive to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29).
Amos 7:5, Amos 7:6
The intercession is the same as in Amos 7:2, except that the prophet says cease instead of "forgive;" and in effect the tide of war was rolled back from Israel, and Samaria itself was spared for the time.
§ 3. The third vision, the plumb line, represents the Lord himself as coming to examine the conduct of Israel, and finally deciding on its entire ruin.
Upon (rather, over) a wall made by a plumb line. The word translated "plumb line" (anakh) occurs only here. Septuagint ἀδάμας: so the Syriac; Vulgate, trulla caementarii; Aquila, γάνωσις, "brightening," "splendor;" Theodotion, τήκομενον. As the word in other dialects means tin or lead, it is usually taken here to mean the plumb line which builders use to ascertain that their work is even and perpendiculur. The "wall" is the kingdom of Israel, once carefully built up, solidly constructed, accurately arranged. God had made it upright; how was it now?
Amos, what seest thou? A question asked to give occasion for the explanation of the symbol, as in Jeremiah 1:11, Jeremiah 1:13; Jeremiah 24:3. I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. As it was built by rule and measure, so it should be destroyed. The line was used not only for building, but also for pulling down (see 2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8). And this should be done "in the midst" of the people, that all might be tried individually, and that all might acknowledge the justice of the sentence, which now denounced complete ruin. Pass by; so as to spare, or forgive (Amos 8:2; Proverbs 19:11; Micah 7:18). The judgment is irremediable, and the prophet intercedes no more. The final conquest by Shalmaneser is here typified.
The high places of Issac. The shrines of idolatry all over the land. The bamoth are the altars erected on high places and now dedicated to idols (1 Kings 3:2; 2 Kings 23:8; Isaiah 16:12; Hosea 10:8). Isaac here and in Amos 7:16 is used as a synonym for Israel, perhaps with some ides of contrasting the deeds of the people with the blameless life of the patriarch and his gentle piety (Pusey). Septuagint, βωμοὶ τοῦ γέλωτος, with reference to the meaning of the name Issac, "altars of derision," whence Jerome's version, excelsa idoli. The sanctuaries of Israel. The idol temples at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:29), at Gilgal (Amos 4:4), and perhaps in other places, which had been sanctified by ancient patriarchal worship. Septuagint, αἱ τελεεταὶ τοῦ ̓Ισραήλ, "the rites of Israel;" Vulgate, sanctificationes Israel. With the sword. God is represented as standing like an armed warrior taking vengeance on the guilty family. Jeroboam II. had roved Israel from Syria, and was popular owing to his success in war (2 Kings 14:25-28); but his dynasty was overthrown, and this overthrow was the destruction of the Israelitish monarchy. The murder of his son Zachariah by Shallum (2 Kings 15:10) led to those disastrous commotions which culminated in the conquest of Samaria by the Assyrians and the deportattion of the people.
§ 4. This bold prophecy, no longer conceived in general terms or referring to distant times, but distinct and personal, arouses the animosity of the priestly authorities at Bethel, who accuse Amos before the king, and warn him to leave the country without more words, or to fear the worst.
Amaziah the priest of Bethel. Amaziah ("the Lord is strong"), the chief of the idol priests at Bethel, a crafty and determined man, hearing this prophecy against the royal house, takes it up as a political matter, and makes a formal accusation against Amos with the view of silencing him. Hath conspired against thee. Probably some of the Israelites had been convinced by the prophet's words, and had joined themselves to him; hence Amaziah speaks of "a conspiracy" (1 Samuel 22:8, 1 Samuel 22:13; 1 Kings 15:27) against the king. Or very possibly the story was fabricated in order to accentuate the charge against Amos. In the midst of the house of Israel. In the very centre of the kingdom, where his treasonable speeches would have the greatest effect. The land, personified, cannot endure such language, which is calculated to disturb its peace, and is quite contrary to its ideas and hopes.
This is a partly correct account of what the prophet had said, but it differed in some important particulars. Amaziah carefully omits the fact that Amos had merely been the mouthpiece of God in all his announcements; he says falsely that a violent death had been predicted for Jeroboam himself; and, in stating that Amos had foretold the captivity of Israel, he says nothing of the sins which led to this doom, or of the hope held out to repentance, or of the prophet's intercession.
Also Amaziah said. Jeroboam appears to have taken no steps in consequence of this accusation, either deeming that the words of a visionary were unworthy of serious consideration, or, like Herod (Matthew 14:5), fearing the people, who had been impressed by the prophet's words and bold bearing. Therefore Amaziah endeavours by his own authority to make Amos leave the country, or else does not wait for the command of the king, who was probably at Samaria. O thou seer! Amaaiah calls Amos chozeh ὁ ὁρῶν (1 Chronicles 21:9; 1 Chronicles 25:5), either with reference to the visions just given, or in derision of his claims—as we might say, "visionary." Flee thee away; fly for thine own good to escape punishment, patronizing and counselling him. Go to the land of Judah; where doubtless your announcement of the ruin of the rival kingdom will be acceptable. Eat bread. Amaziah speaks, as if Amos was paid for his prophecies, made a gain of godliness. Prophesy there. "Vaticinare in terra Jude, ubi libenter audiuntur insani" (St. Jerome). The idoloatrous priest has no conception of the inspiration under which the prophet speaks. He judges others by himself, attributing to Amos the sordid motives by which he himself was influenced.
The king's chapel; i.e. "a sanctuary" (Exodus 25:8; Leviticus 19:30) founded by the king (1 Kings 12:28), not by God. So in truth it had only an earthly sanction, and the prophet of the Lord was out of place there. The king's court; literally, house of the kingdom. "National temple" (Kuenen); "a royal temple, the state church" (Pusey). Not the political, but the religious, capital, the chief seat of the religion appertaining to the nation. Amaziah speaks as a thorough Erastian; as if the human authority were everything, and the Lord, of himself, had no claims on the land.
The prophet, undaunted by Amaziah's threats, in simple language declares that he does not practise prophecying as a profession or to gain a livelihood, but in obedience to the voice of God. The exercise of the prophetical office was restricted neither to sex nor rank. There were many prophetesses in Israel, e.g. Deborah (Judges 4:1-24.), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14); and besides a large number of nameless prophets there are twenty-three whose names are preserved in Holy Writ, omitting those whose writings have come down to us (Ladd, 'Doctrine of Scripture,' 1:117, etc.). A prophet's son; i.e. brought up in the schools of the prophets, the pupils of which were called "sons of the prophets" (see 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:5). Amos was neither self-commissioned nor trained in any human institution. A herdman (boger); usually "a cowherd;" here "a shepherd;" αἰπόλος. A gatherer of sycomore fruit. The phrase, boles shiqmim, may mean either one who plucks mulberry figs for his own sustenance, or one who cultivates them for others. The latter is probably the meaning of the term here. The Septuagint rendering, κνίζων συκάμινα, "pricking sycamore fruit," and that of the Vulgate, vellicans sycomoros, indicate the artificial means for ripening the fruit, which was done by scraping, scratching, or puncturing it, as is sometimes done to the figs of commerce. As the tree bore many crops of fruit in the year, it would afford constant employment to the dresser.
As I followed; literally, from after from behind, as in the call of David (2 Samuel 7:8; Psalms 78:70), The Divine call came to him suddenly and imperatively, and he must needs obey it. He, therefore, could not follow Amaziah's counsel.
Hear thou the word of the Lord. The punishment of him who tried to impede God's message. Drop not thy word. Be not continually pouring forth prophecy. The word is used similarly in Micah 2:6, Micah 2:11 and Ezekiel 21:2. The idea, though not the term, is taken from Deuteronomy 32:2. Septuagint, μὴ ὀχλαγωγήσῃς, "raise no tumult," which rather expresses Amaziah's fear of the effect of the utterance than translates the word. St. Jerome's explanation is somewhat too subtle, "Stillare prophetas idioma Scripturarum est, quod non totam Dei simul inferant iram, sed parvas stillas comminatione denuntient."
With this denunciation compare that of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:3, etc.) against Pashur. As husband, as father, as citizen, Amamah shall suffer grievously. Shall be an harlot in the city. Not play the harlot willingly, but suffer open violence when the city is taken (comp. Isaiah 13:16; Lamentations 5:11). And thy daughters. This would be abnormal cruelty, as the Assyrians usually spared the women of conquered towns. Shall be divided by line. Amaziah's own land was to be portioned out to strangers by the measuring line (Zechariah 2:2). A polluted land; an unclean land; i.e. a Gentile country. Amaziah himself was to share his countrymen's captivity. The sins and idolatry of the people are often said to defile the land; e.g. Leviticus 18:25; Numbers 35:33; Jeremiah 2:7. Shall surely go into captivity; or, be led away captive. Amos repeats the very words which formed part of his accusation (verse 11), in order to show that God's purpose is unchanged, and that he, the prophet, must utter the same denunciation (see the accomplishment, 2 Kings 17:6).
The vision of devouring locusts.
The prophet is appropriately called a seer. He sees clear and he sees far. Not only has Amos foresight of what is coming; he has insight into what, in certain circumstances, would have come. He is taken as it were behind the scenes, and made a witness of the forging of Heaven's thunderbolts, to be laid up for use as occasion may require. In this case he is cognizant by spiritual intuition of the preparation of judicial measures which, as circumstances turn out, are never executed.
I. ALL HIS CREATURES ARE MINISTERS OF GOD TO DO HIS WILL. The angels are his "hosts"—ministers of his that do his pleasure. The Assyrian was the rod of his anger. He says, "I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them." He maketh the winds his messengers, the flaming fire his minister (Psalms 104:4). All created things, in fact, are but different elements in a vast ministry, by which he executes his purpose. 1. Judgments are generally brought about by second causes. To this rule there is scarcely an exception. Sometimes it is famine, brought about by drought, or mildew, or locusts. Sometimes it is desolating war, brought about by jealousy, love of power, and greed. Sometimes it is pestilence, the result of causes all within the natural sphere. We know nothing of afflictive judgments coming apart from the interposition of the causes out of which they would naturally arise. 2. Second causes are all in the hands of the First Cause. They do not operate at random. Theirs is action "cooperant to an end." They are adjusted and controlled. They are combined in schemes of order and proportion, nicely fitted to the achievement of their ultimate results. The eye is of the blindest that cannot see how—
"Behind the dim unknown
Standeth God, within the shadow, keeping watch above his own."
3. Natural cause are prepared and used for a moral end. Manasseh's captivity leads to his conversion (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). Israel's desert discipline cultivates a robustness of national character which was wanting at the Exodus (Isaiah 43:21). So a long captivity in heathen Babylon puts an end to the ever-recurring national idolatry. When all God's measures were executed, he could look on the Hebrews and say, "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise." And that is God's method in all cases. Scripture declares, and experience and observation argue—
"All discord, harmony not understood:
All partial evil, universal good."
II. GOD'S AGENTS STRIKE IN THE NICK OF TIME. "He formed locusts in the beginning of the springing up of the second crop." In consequence of the timing of this judgment, it is:
1. More thorough-going. If the locusts had been sent earlier, there might have been time after they had gone for the second crop to grow. If they had conic later, it might have been already saved. God will not beat the air. He will strike how and when and where the culprit shall feel his blow.
2. It is more striking. The element of time is the chief index to the miraculous character of many events. They follow immediately on the Divine word or act, and so reveal themselves to be Divine works. The catching of a netful of fishes, or the sudden calming of a storm, or the recovery of a woman from fever, were none of them necessarily miraculous events. It was their occurrence at the Saviour's word that revealed the Divine agency in them. The coming of the locusts at the prophet's word, and at the critical time, revealed God's hand in the event.
3. It is more effectual. A judgment is likely to serve its disciplinary purpose in proportion as it is real, appropriate, and manifestly of God. The difference between a timely judgment and an untimely one would be the difference between one blessed to its proper effect and one utterly futile.
III. THEY MAKE AN END OF THE WORK THEY TAKE IN HAND. In all that God does we should expect thoroughness.
1. There is the power. All forces and agents are under his control. He can bring them to bear in any quantity and on any point. For him "nothing is too hard," and "all things are possible." When God lifts his hand he can "smite through."
2. There is the need. Divine judgments never come unneeded, nor till it is evident that nothing else will do. Each is wanted, and the whole of each. If anything less, or anything else, were sent it would be inadequate. The last atom of imagined strength must be destroyed. The last remnant of fancied resource must be swept away. Only when every conceivable prop has been knocked away will men be brought to their knees in absolute submission.
IV. THE HAND OF JUDGMENT MAY BE ARRESTED BY THE TOUCH OF PRAYER. "Jehovah repented of this: It shall not take place, saith Jehovah." The pictured events never transpired. The adoption and abandonment of them as retributive measures occurred only in vision. Still, a parallel for this "plastic vision" may be found in God's actual doings, as in the case of the antediluvians, of Saul, of Hezekiah, of Jerusalem, and of Nineveh (Genesis 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:11; Isaiah 38:1-5; 2 Samuel 24:16; Jonah 3:10). As to this:
1. God does not change his mind, but his method. His immutability arising out of his infinity is clearly revealed (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Ezekiel 24:14; Malachi 3:6). As self-existent and independent he is above the causes of change, whilst as an absolute Being he is above the possibility of it. And the immutability of his Being is true of his purpose. His ends are unchallengeably right and his means resistlessly powerful. He may change his method, and often does. Up to a certain point is mercy. Then it is expostulation, denunciation, and judgment in quick succession. When one method fails to bring about desired results, another and another are resorted to by a God who will not fail. The variation of method is really the expression of an unalterable plan.
2. This change of method is correlative to a change of circumstances. It is the varying of the one that leads to the varying of the other. New circumstances justify and even call for a new line of action. Yet these circumstances are themselves part of his wider purpose, which therefore remains unchanged and unchangeable.
3. Such a change of circumstances is often the introduction of the element of prayer. This is a new factor in the problem, and puts another complexion on the ease. Nineveh, sinning with a high hand, God said he would destroy. But Nineveh, praying in dust and ashes, was a different thing. God does not destroy penitent people. This, and not the sparing of them, would imply a change of purpose, and even of nature itself. Intercessory prayer, as here, modifies the circumstances in a different way; but the modification is real, and will be coordinated with a corresponding modification in God's way.
4. The necessity of a case is a legitimate plea with God. "How can Jacob stand? for it is small." So David prays, "Pity me, for I am weak." God's blessings are not only gifts, but mercies. He bestows them freely, and in pity for our need. The extremity of this need is, therefore, its strength as an appeal for God's help. "My God shall supply all your need, according to his fiches in glory by Christ Jesus."
The problem of stability.
The prayer of faith is free. The believing soul has the privilege of reasoning with God, and embraces it. It asks what it wills, and as it wills, and for whom it wills. There is room for originality in it, and scope for inventive resource; yet little risk of impropriety. The Spirit safeguards that in an effective "unction." Then grace is one thing ever, and there is a ground plan of supplication which is practically the same with all the faithful. It has centrifugal energy, flowing from the individual outwards. Its rivers wind and wander and discharge themselves ultimately on the desolate places of ungodly lives; but they run first by the homes of the household of faith. And then it has a spiritual stream. It blesses temporal interests too, but leaves its fertilizing ooze most richly on the things of the religious life. Of the prophet's prayer here all this is characteristic, it reveals to us—
I. JACOB'S ACTUALITY. "Small." There is a natural Israel and a spiritual Israel also, the one at once the type and the germ of the other. The Christian Church is not distinct from, but a continuation and expansion of, the Jewish; and both together are the one visible Church of God. To this, an already existing community, many were added at Pentecost (Acts 2:47). In the congregation of Israel to which the sweet psalmist sang (Psalms 22:22) Paul sees the one Church of God (Hebrews 2:12); and with Stephen (Acts 7:38) the wandering host of the tribes (Exodus 16:2) was nothing else than the "Church in the wilderness." This Church, continuous from the beginning, and one in all ages, is the "good olive tree" (Romans 11:17-24), whose Jewish "branches" excised, and again to be "grafted in," are meantime displaced by the ingrafted Gentile shoots, which partake "of the root and fatness of the olive tree." In Amos's time it was a little flock, whose preservation was matter to him of anxiety and prayer.
1. He is small in comparison with Esau. The heathen around outnumbered Israel overwhelmingly. Left to itself in the struggle among them for existence, it would inevitably have been swallowed up. So with the spiritual Israel. Satan has had in his kingdom a majority of the race for so far. Faith gate is a strait one, Purity way is a narrow one (Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14), and the saints who enter the one and follow the other are a little flock (Luke 12:32). And no wonder. Unbelief is natural, living after the flesh is congenial (Exodus 23:2), and an overwhelming preference for both is a foregone conclusion. Hence, not only has the Church been smaller than the world, but within the Church itself the wheat has apparently been less than the tares. Relatively to Esau, Jacob is, and has been, small indeed.
2. He is small in comparison with what he might have been. Smallness is sometimes a misfortune, but it was Israel's fault. It was a result of persistent national sin, drawing down the destroying judgments of Heaven. Their ranks had been thinned by war, or pestilence, or famine in just and necessary retribution for their incorrigible unfaithfulness. So the small number of the saints is the sin of all concerned. It means opportunities neglected, ordinances abused, and a Holy Spirit resisted. None of the agencies of a heavenly culture have been withheld (Isaiah 5:1 Isaiah 5:4). Every unbeliever is such in despite of influences that ought to have brought him to faith (Acts 7:51). Every spiritual weakling is one who has debilitated himself (Hebrews 5:12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Moreover, as workers for God the saints are not guiltless, for which of them has exercised his full influence for good? The difference between what the Church is and what she might have been is the measure of her delinquency before God. When the sun shines and the showers fall, something subjective is wrong with the crop that stunts.
3. He is small in comparison with what he will yet be. Israel is not yet full grown. The Gentiles are Abraham's seed (Galatians 3:7), and their in-bringing is the increase of spiritual Israel. That increase is to attain world wide proportions yet. The Church's limits shall be the ends of the earth (Psalms 72:8), and its constituents the heathen nations (Psalms 2:8; Psalms 72:11). It shall be a centre to which all the peoples shall gravitate (Isaiah 2:2). It shall be a light illuminating and incorporating in its own radiance the entire globe (Hebrews 2:14). It is only a stone as yet, but it will be a mountain one day, and fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:35, Daniel 2:44). In the faith of such a destiny the Church may well find strength to avail her, even in the day of small things.
II. JACOB'S IDEAL. "Stand." It is assumed here that he ought to stand; that standing is his appropriate and normal position. And so it is. In the ideal and purpose and promise, and as the handiwork of God, he is not to fall. He is:
1. To stand against destruction. Israel was not to perish. Low she might fall, small she might become, contemptible she might long remain; but in all, and through all, and after all, she was to live. The spiritual Israel has a perpetuity of existence also. The individual Christian "shall never perish" (John 10:28). The grace that is in him is a Divine thing, and indestructible (Galatians 2:20). His life is a living Christ within, and he is immortal while Christ lives. This involves that the Church—God's kingdom—is an everlasting kingdom. If even a member cannot perish, much less the whole body. Redeemed by his Son, and dowered in permanence with his Spirit, the Church stands, let what may fall (Daniel 2:44). A structure of God's building, on a foundation of God's laying, according to a plan of God's devising, it stands impregnable on its rock (Matthew 16:18), and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Its immovable stability is a question of Divine will and resource. There is the unchangeable purpose, the unconquerable power, the inviolable promise. The house is impregnable over which these three mount triple guard (John 10:28). In the soil of God's plan, in the rock cleft of his might, in the showers and sunshine of his pledge, the fair Church flower can neither fall nor fade, but must bloom while the ages run.
2. To stand against temptation. Israel was separate and to be pure. The Divine ideal was set before her not to mingle with the nations, nor serve their gods, nor learn their ways (Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 6:14; Deuteronomy 18:9). So with the Church as a whole, and individual members in particular. Temptation in some degree is inevitable. While within is the iron of a corrupt nature, and outside the loadstone of a corrupt surrounding, there will be the drawing toward sin. But while God is stronger than the devil, and his grace stronger than sin, there shall not be a lapsing into wickedness. The word of acceptance is peace-bringing. The change by regeneration is radical. The measure of grace conferred is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Therefore Israel, harnessed in armour of proof, shall defy the devil's darts, and stand in the evil day (Ephesians 6:13). The bride of Christ will abide in loyal love, and be to eye and heart at last his "undefiled," with no spot in her (So Amos 6:9; Amos 4:7). She may grow languid almost to slothfulness, but even in her sleep her "heart waketh" (So Amos 5:2-6). Her love may at times burn low (Matthew 24:12), but the fire remains alight, and glows at the slightest breath from heaven. In the end she is presented to Christ a glorious Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27).
3. To stand against misfortune. From this there is no earthly immunity (Job 5:7). God's Israel will get a share, and a large share, of the shocks of calamity. There will even be special evils to which their character will expose them alone of men. But over against this stand the Divine helps which also are theirs alone. God is for them. They are the objects of a special providence. The Divine favour—their shield and buckler—is armour of proof. The darts of evil are turned aside, and fall pointless and broken to the ground. Nay, the evil, having been endured and survived, may be utilized. God constitutes it the appropriate and effective means of a heavenly culture (Hebrews 12:11; 2 Corinthians 4:17). It destroys nothing, not even a hair of their head; and it prunes the tree into richer and choicer fruit bearing. It even increases future glory, adding the piquancy of contrast to its otherwise perfect bliss.
III. JACOB'S ATTAINMENT OF HIS IDEAL A CARE OF GOD. God concerns himself about all that concerns his people. The prophet assumes that one way or other Jacob is bound to be upheld, and that God in the last appeal will see it done. As to this ideal:
1. God loves it. It is set up by his own hand, and characterized by his own excellences, and it must be a thing after his own heart. All the graces that are acceptable with God shine in the saints, and the interests dear to his heart are those with which they are inseparably identified. Righteous himself, he loveth righteousness; unchangeable, he loveth steadfastness; and the things his heart loves his hand will guard.
2. God appoints it. Salvation from first to last is of his devising. He decides that salvation shall be, and what, and how. It is the purpose of his adorable grace, and therefore something along the lines of which he may be expected to work. He has predestinated the individual "to be conformed to the image of his Son," and the Church to "come to a perfect man." And we may safely reckon that his measures will work in these directions; helping the individual, that he is "changed into the same imago from glory to glory;" and blessing the Church, that she gathers up and exemplifies in her many-sidedness the graces of Christ's faultless character. The Divine forceful action propels things in the direction of the Divine gracious appointment.
3. God has already committed himself to it. To Israel his word of promise was pledged, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." To us it is pledged with greater emphasis still, "They shall never perish;" "Whom he justified, them he also glorified," etc. None shall pluck the Christian out of Christ's hand, nor shall the gates of hell prevail against his Church. The circle of the promises towers a wall of fire around the saints. The result is pledged to them; so are the means. The inheritance is reserved for them, and they for the inheritance (1 Peter 1:4, 1 Peter 1:5). Their faith will keep them, and God will keep their faith (1 Peter 1:5). Then God had already begun to help. Israel had been upheld in many an evil. And there is continuity in the operations of God. He does not abandon a work once begun, nor allow after disaster to neutralize accomplished good. He had done something for Israel; he has done something for us. Then he will do more, and he will do all. Having bestowed his grace, he swears by the gift that the circle of our good will he made complete. A part already of the work of God, invulnerable in his armour, and immortal in his life, they have "a strong consolation," surely, "who have fled for refuge," etc.
IV. THE WHOLE MATTER A FITTING SUBJECT OF PRAYER. The prophet comes between God and Israel as an intercessor. In his act we see that:
1. Prayer is a universal means of grace. "Men ought always to pray;" "In everything by prayer and supplication," etc. There is no blessing, temporal or spiritual, that is not the gift of God. There is no way of securing the least of these but by seeking it in prayer. The heart must throb continuously if the blood would be driven through the body; the breath must be regularly drawn if this blood would he purified and oxidized. So prayer, the throb of the new heart, the breath of the new creature, must go on if the new life is to be maintained. The interruption of it means the suspension of the most essential vital function. There is nothing we can count on getting without it (Ezekiel 36:37; James 4:2). There is nothing legitimate we may despair of getting by it (John 14:13). In prayer the soul puts forth its tentacles round about, and lays hold of good on every side.
2. Prayer is a universal instinct of grace. All vital functions go on without an act of the will or the exercise of attention. And so with prayer in the new-created soul. It does not require a specific injunction. It does not wait on an effort of the will. It goes up as naturally as the hunger cry of the young raven. The new man breathes, the new heart pulsates, the opened lips speak, and the action in each case is prayer. "Behold, he prayeth," is an infallible token of a converted man.
3. Prayer is expansive like grace. Sin is selfish. Seeking salvation, the sinner prays for himself only. He is conscious of need, but as yet knows nothing of supply. Only when he gets spiritual blessing himself does he know how valuable it would be to others, and begin to desire it for them. Selfishness gives way with sin. Philanthropy grows with the love of God. And prayer answers to and expresses the change. The prayer circle widens as personal religion deepens. Its instinct is catholic. It goes out to the Church of the Firstborn. It seeks the coming of the kingdom. We pray for Israel when we are Israelites indeed. Request for the household of faith is God's will, the Church's weal, and the spontaneous offering of the gracious soul
The vision of consuming fire.
The prophet's vision goes on, and the situation in it becomes more critical. One woe is averted only for a worse to take its place. The Divine avenging hosts remain in battleline. They return to the attack with renewed vigour. For the fusillade is substituted the booming of the great guns. Escaping as by the skin of their teeth from the wasting locust, incorrigible Israel are met in the prophet's eye by the devouring fire. In connection with this second scene in the panoramic vision notice—
I. GOD CONTENDING BY FIRE. Again and again is it so in Scripture.
1. It is the most destructive element in nature. It destroys all comfort, inflicting intense pain. It destroys all life, no animal or vegetable organism being capable of enduring it. It destroys the very form of organic matter, reducing it to its original elements. It destroys with unparalleled rapidity and thoroughness almost anything it attacks.
2. It is the element used and to be used by God in bringing about the greatest catastrophes. It was in the fire shower from heaven that Sodom was overwhelmed (Genesis 19:24). Fire "very grievous" was mingled with the plague of hail which smote the land of Egypt (Exodus 9:24). It was the fire of the Lord that burnt up complaining Israel at Taberah, and also Korah and his company in their gainsaying (Numbers 11:1; Numbers 26:10). By fire from heaven were Ahaziah's two captains and their fifties consumed before Elijah (2 Kings 1:10-12). It was by bringing down fire that James and John proposed to destroy the inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:54). And it is in a lake burning with fire that the beast, the false prophet, and all the finally impenitent shall be overwhelmed at last.
3. It is in Scripture a frequent emblem of active power. God the Father in wrath (Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3), God the Son in judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:8), God the Holy Ghost in grace, are each so figured (Luke 3:16). Indwelling sin is fire (1 Corinthians 7:9; 2 Corinthians 11:29); the busy mischief-making tongue is fire (James 3:6); God's Word is a fire (Jeremiah 23:29); his ministers are "burning ones" (seraphim); spiritual life is fire (Luke 12:49); affliction is fire (1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 4:12); and the misery of the finally lost is fire (Mark 9:44). A God contending by fire is a God putting forth the extreme of destructive energy.
II. JUDGMENT DRINKING UP THE GREAT DEEP. As the fire is figurative, so probably is the "deep." It is the heathen world. God's judgment which includes this is:
1. Discriminating. "The deep." The sweltering, restless sea is a fit symbol of the wicked in their unrest of heart and rebellion against God (Isaiah 57:20; Psalms 46:3). These are the natural prey of the eagles of judgment. They deserve it, provoke it, and are its characteristic objects. The righteous may suffer sometimes with the wicked, but the ungodly cannot escape.
2. Extensive. "The great deep." Not merely "wells," which are individuals (2 Peter 2:7), nor "rivers," which are nations (Isaiah 8:7; Jeremiah 46:7, Jeremiah 46:8), nor "seas," which are races (Psalms 65:7; Isaiah 17:12), but "the great deep," or rebellious humanity in its entire extent, shall be contended with and destroyed. When the last word has been spoken God's argument against sin will be overwhelming; and all the ground covered by sin will have been covered also by judgment.
III. JUDGMENT EATING UP "THE PORTION" DOOMED. "Probably the definite portion foreappointed by God to captivity and desolation" (Pusey).
1. God's acts are coextensive with his decrees. His plan has reference to all events, and these in turn exactly embody his plan. He had devoted beforehand a definite number to judgment; and all these, and these only, would it eat up in the day of its falling. No tares escape, nor is any wheat burned. "The Lord knoweth them that are his."
2. To be nominally God's people establishes no special relation to him. Outward relations, if they have not inward relations to which they correspond, are nothing. Mere names and semblances leave unchanged the underlying realities which God regards, and to which his dealings are adjusted. A hollow profession is simply unbelief plus hypocrisy.
3. God's judgments on his professing people are not for annihilation, but for weeding out. The "portion" was not all Israel (Isaiah 10:20-22; Isaiah 37:31, Isaiah 37:32). After it had been devoured, a remnant would remain. Judgments are the gardener's knife; they prune out the worthless branches, but leave the tree. Exposure to the wind is not for destruction of the wheat, but for the scattering of the chaff. In the track of the fire is to be found all that is fireproof.
IV. THE LEGITIMATE MEASURE OF ASKING IN PRAYER. (Verse 5.) It seems a forlorn hope to offer such prayer. Yet here it is done by a man under the guidance of God's Spirit. In imitation of him:
1. We may ask anything that is innocent. It may not be promised. No one else may have received it. It may be a thing utterly unlikely to be done. It may be what God is threatening not to do. Yet it is legitimate matter of prayer, and we need not despair of it. God cannot do less than he promises, but he may do more; and, as a matter of fact, he does much for which no explicit promise is to be found.
2. We may ask any amount that can be enjoyed. God's is no niggard heart or hand. He has exhaustless store. He loves to see us filled and thoroughly furnished. Hence he giveth liberally, satisfies with his mercy, gives all we can receive, and more than we can ask or think. Economy in asking where there is infinity to draw on is modesty run mad.
3. We may ask it up till the last moment. White, in the nature of things, answer is possible, request may be made. Who knows whether evil may not be averted until it has actually fallen? Besieged cities have been saved even after the garrison had thrown open the gates, and battles won after the ranks of the victors had begun to break. With God all things are possible, and by prayer he is always moved. Till the moment of death we may pray for life, for salvation till the moment of destruction.
4. Having received, we may ask again and again. "Men ought always to pray." Prayer has reference to returning wants, and is normally a habit of soul. As often as we hunger we eat, and, on the same principle, as often as we need we pray. Continued prayer is matter of necessity, a command of God, and an instinct of the soul. "In everything by prayer and supplication," etc. Half a century later the mercy of God's dealings appeared. After ravaging the greater portion of the land, the Assyrians unaccountably withdrew, and left the capital untouched. The connection between Amos's prayer and the unwonted slackness of Tiglath-Pileser belongs to that region into which sense cannot penetrate, but which is air patent to the eye of faith.
V. THE MERCIFUL ASPECT OF GOD'S THREATS. (Verse 6.) The perseverance of the prophet's prayer is justified by the event. God's threat is not executed. Judgment is arrested on the way. Does God, then, change? No; but circumstances do, and with them his adjusted mode of action. The unexecuted threat is not unmeaning nor unnecessary.
1. It forewarns of the coming evil. When the black clouds rise we know the storm is brewing. So when God speaks we know he is going to act and how. A threat is a conditional prophecy. It tells us exactly what, in given circumstances, we may expect. Knowledge of the evil coming is a prerequisite to any measure of precaution.
2. It thereby often turns from the path in which the evil lies. All actions have their proper issues, and whatever changes the one changes the other. God's judgments are directed against us as transgressors in a certain way. If we cease so to transgress the reason for them is gone, and they will not be sent. The knowledge of these two tarts operates as a powerful incentive to reformation, and so a means to the arrest of impending judgment. We face a different way when we adequately realize that we thereby face a different end.
3. It displays God's character in a most art, active aspect. He warns before he strikes. He warns that he may not need to strike at all. His threats are the merciful heralds of his judgments, offering terms of peace before the stern hour of intervention arrives. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." A threat like that is only a promise in disguise. It speaks of a gracious heart which "wills not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
Righteousness to the plumb line.
here has been reprieve after reprieve. The enemy of God's wrath has been met in the breach by intercessory prayer, and, for the time, turned back. Once and again the hounds of vengeance have been cried off. But respite is not escape. There is a certain limit beyond which the system of Divine reprieves cannot go. And that limit has now been reached. The locust has been disappointed of his meal. The fire has been beaten back from the tinder. But the criminal is obdurate, and now the plumb line is applied to the bowing wall, and the word goes forth to overturn and destroy utterly. In this graphic delineation we notice—
I. THE WALL. This figure for Israel (Amos 7:8) suggests:
1. Something built. Other nations grow up as it may happen, shaped by the circumstances in which they arise. The nation of Israel was not a natural growth, but a Divine creation. "This people have I formed for myself." So with the Church. It is not a voluntary association. It is not a human institution. It is a vineyard of God's husbandry, a house of God's building (Matthew 16:18). Every stone in it is quarried and chiselled and laid by the Divine hand.
2. Something strong. A wall has substance, stability, resisting power, and is in Scripture emblematic of these things (Ezekiel 4:3; Isaiah 25:4; Zechariah 2:5). In regal! to these qualities Israel is a wall. God is "known within her palaces lot a Refuge." Salvation is to her for walls and bulwarks. In these things is her strength; and fortified thus, she "shall not be moved" (Psalms 46:5).
3. Something upright. "Made by a plumb line." God "made man upright." And he made Israel upright. Whatever comes out of his hands comes out of them free of any moral twist. It is made according to righteousness. Formed into a nation by God, Israel had a constitution, laws, and administration theoretically faultless The uprightness of this God-built wall was a main condition of its strength. In the perfection of the one was the perfection of the other. The loss of one would be the loss of both. The wall that leans is about to fall.
II. THE PLUMB LINE. This is the regulating appliance, and the testing instrument with which the building must tally.
1. It is righteousness. Righteousness in the moral world answers to straightness in the world of matter. It is the moral rectilineal, or line of "oughtness"—the line along which moral beings ought to move. This is manifestly the plumb line by which to adjust the wall Israel to the perpendicular. Exemplified in the character, this righteousness is uprightness. Exemplified in the conduct, it is justice. In either case it is the ideal of rightness.
2. It is righteousness as it exists in God. God is universal Perfection—"Light," "Love," "Truth," "the Holy One," "the righteous God," and all in ideal form. He is, in fact, the typical moral Being. Each grace exists in him in its highest form. His righteousness is unspotted righteousness, and the realized ideal of all that righteousness ought to be.
3. It is this righteousness as it is revealed in Scripture. Scripture is the rule of man, just as being the revelation of God. What he is is our Model. What he does is our Exemplar. What he is and does and requires is the burden of Scripture—a formulation of his whole will "To the Law and to the testimony," etc. By the Law must Israel be tried, its true character revealed, and its fitting destiny settled. "Those that have sinned in the Law shall be judged by the Law." The Law is the unerring plumb line, exposing every deviation from the moral perpendicular.
III. THE TESTING. "Behold, I will set," etc. (Amos 7:8). This is to apply the plumb line to the wall, so as to reveal irregularity if it exists.
1. This is no longer to be put off. "I shall pass by it no more." The limit of Divine forbearance was now reached. No more passing by, no longer indulgence, no further forgiveness, no more postponement of the vengeance vowed. There is a last word of God to every man, and after it nothing can come but the blow.
2. The wall is to be tried by the rule it was built by. (Amos 7:7.) "He destroys it by that same rule of right wherewith he had built it. By that law, that right, those providential leadings, that grace which we have received, by the same we are judged" (Pusey). God has only one standard, and he uses it always. Things ought to be as he made them, and he tries them to discover if they are so. The measure of divergence from original righteousness, whether in men or Churches, is the measure of guilt in the diverging party. Comparison with its own pure ideal would bring out Israel's corruption in the strongest light.
3. The testing is to be one of the entire nation. "The wall is not the emblem of Samaria, or of any one city. It is the strength and defence of the whole people" (Pusey). There was general deflection, sad to discover this there will be a general plumbing. All the wall must be tested before it can be all destroyed.
IV. THE DEMOLITION. The wall is found to have bowed, and the word is given to pull it down. In this destruction would be involved:
1. The idolatrous places. "The sacrificial heights of Isaac," all the high places at Dan, Bethel, and Gilgal, where idol worship was carried on. In the wasting of these would appear, on the one hand, the vanity of idol worship, and, on the other, God's special wrath against it—matters which it was necessary to emphasize in the mind of idol loving Israel.
2. Idolatrous objects. "The holy things of Israel" (Amos 7:9) are the objects and adjuncts of their idolatrous worship. Dan and Bethel, as rivals of Jerusalem, having been desolated, Baal, Ashtaroth, etc; as rivals of Jehovah, would be destroyed. Broken idols and levelled shrines would alone remain, a commentary on the impotence of the "lying vanities" to which blinded Israel persistently turned.
3. The Hebrew monarchy. "The house of Jeroboam" was the reigning family. It was the last dynasty of the Israelitish monarchy. In it and with it was to perish (Hosea 1:4), and did perish, "the kingdom of the house of Israel." The royal house was so identified with the national idol worship as of necessity to be involved in whatever destruction this provoked. It was specially fitting, moreover, that the family of the arch-idolater should be the one to sink in the burning grave of the idolatry he set up.
Machination foiled by fearless candour.
Amos had deserved well of Israel. He took a more practical interest in their welfare than any other man from the king down. He saw their sin, and lamented it; their impending ruin. and would have averted it; their one way of escape, and pressed its adoption strenuously. Had they not been as blind as besotted, they would have revered him as a national benefactor. But the reformation he preached meant the abandonment of rooted habits and the harassing of vested interests in sin, neither of which would be so much as named. Accordingly, Amos anticipated the experience of all reformers since, in being assailed by a policy of falsehood, backed by force. We have here—
I. A MEDDLING PRIEST. "The priest of Bethel" was the chief idol priest at the sanctuary of the golden calf there. His position and functions were in profane mimicry of those of the high priest at Jerusalem. In making this charge:
1. He appeals to force. The tyrant Jeroboam was the embodiment of irresponsible power in Israel. Idolatry is the religion of brute force. Its appeal to the strong arm as the only argument worth using is characteristic. Error eschews argument. The kingdom of darkness instinctively fears the light. What is an outrage on reason takes its shelter fitly behind a sword. "My kingdom is not of this world;" "The weapons of your warfare are not carnal." The true religion makes its appeal to truth. The religion that appeals to the sword is prima facie false.
2. He is prompted by jealousy. He had a vested interest in the national idolatry. To abolish it would be to take the bread out of his mouth. Like the chief priests and scribes with Christ, and the Ephesian silversmiths with Paul, Amaziah was striking for his livelihood. "He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." Conflicting self-interest, actual or supposed, is a constant and effective obstacle in the way of the religious life. It is the preliminary necessity of leaving all in act or spirit that makes the followers of the Lord so few.
3. He makes a lying accusation. (Verse 11.) Amos had not really made either statement. That applied to Jeroboam had been made about Jeroboam's house. That about Israel had been accompanied by a call to repentance, and a conditional promise of escape, which modified its character altogether. The charge, therefore, consists of a lie and a half-truth, and is an attempt to work on the king's personal fears, by construing into a conspiracy against his kingdom and life what Amos did to save both. For this now stale device persecutors in all ages have shown a characteristic predilection. Christ was calumniously accused of speaking against Caesar (Luke 23:2; John 19:12; Matthew 22:21). Paul was falsely charged with "doing contrary to the decrees of Caesar," and "stirring up sedition among the Jews" (Acts 17:7; Acts 24:5). And often since has the assertion of liberty of conscience been construed into rebellion against the civil power. Falsehood and violence are the traditional propaganda of the kingdom of darkness.
4. He judges the prophet's morals by the standard of his own. (Verse 12.) His relation to his own office was utterly sordid. He held the office of priest for the "bit of bread" it secured him. And he assumes that Amos is like himself. It is thus that the saint "judges the world, yet himself is judged of no man." Forming an estimate of the righteous, the wicked leave conscience out of the computation, and so vitiate the finding.
5. He condemns idolatry by the argument he uses in its defence. (Verse 13.) "The king's sanctuary," set up and consecrated by the king, maintained by his authority, and subordinated to his purposes. The national idolatry was a creature of the king. Its claim to be a religion was no stronger than his claim to be a god. For religious ordinances state authority is so inadequate as only to expose them to suspicion—the suspicion of adjustment to a state policy rather than to the Word and glory of God.
II. A FAITHFUL PROPHET. Like every true man, Amos was:
1. Humble. (Verse 14.) He remembers and confesses his lowly origin. He asks no respect but such as might be due to his native condition. He treats the prophetic office as an entirely unmerited dignity. His exercise of it was disinterested. He was neither a professional prophet nor the son of one. His prophesying was an incident, and the trust of Divine grace. The man whom office spoils was unfit for it. The religion that is puffed up by employment in God's work was never intelligent, or of a high order.
2. Loyal to his Divine commission. (Verse 15.) In a believing life God is all. His will is the supreme interest and exclusive rule. God has chosen the man, and that means unconditional consecration. God has commissioned him, and he makes the fact the basis of his whole life programme. "I must work the works of him that sent me." That is a comprehensive life maxim. In the spiritual circle nothing is held supremely important but that God's work be done.
3. Zealous. Amos made the salvation of Israel a personal concern and his life effort. He could think, speak, be active about nothing else. "The land could not bear his words," so vehement were they and so persistent. The advocacy that will take no refusal, that must be either yielded to or silenced, is that which alone beseems the stupendous importance of the cause of God. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." If this is not an all-absorbing passion, it is not after the one Example.
4. Bold. (Verses 16, 17.) Prohibition is treated as a challenge. It only leads him to repeat and emphasize. There is no bravado in this, but only a supreme regard for the principle, "We ought to obey God rather than men." The King's messenger, on the King's business, must brook obstruction from none. The best soldier is the boldest. Perfect devotion to and faith in his Captain speaks in absolute fearlessness in his service.
5. Explicit. (Verse 17.) The heathen oracles always "paltered in a double sense." After the event their deliverances could be reconciled with whatever happened. But the prophet, delivering God's message, is sure of his ground. He specifies details with confidence, for no jot or tittle of the Divine Word can fail. As in other cases, the fulfilment of this particular detail of the prophecy is not recorded (Isaiah 22:17, Isaiah 22:18; Jeremiah 29:22), nor could it be expected to be in the condensed account of the Scripture narrative. "Scripture hath no leisure to relate all which befalls those of the viler sort." Yet the broad fact of the Captivity and exile, accompanied by all the horrors of Oriental warfare, forms a constructive record of the events.
III. A HARROWING PICTURE. (Verse 17.) These are the horrors born of idolatry. When Amaziah came to suffer them in his family he would know practically what his chosen idolatry was, and made of men.
1. Family dishonour. "Wife dishonoured," etc. A common atrocity (Isaiah 13:16; Zechariah 14:2), and to all concerned the most diabolically cruel conceivable. Between this crime and idolatry there are analogies, and probably affinities, in virtue of which the one is figuratively called by the name of the other (Jeremiah 3:9; Ezekiel 23:37). The patron of the one is fitly punished by being made the victim of the other. The conduct of Turkish troops in recent wars, in respect to this matter, is a commentary on the assertion that Mohammedanism is a valuable protest against idolatry.
2. Family impoverishment. A Hebrew's property is inalienable. If he lost it by mismanagement, it reverted to his family at the jubilee. But the Assyrian would know nothing of jubilees. The chance of disgorgement was small when he had eaten up the inheritance.
3. Family extermination. We all like to perpetuate our name and family. The Hebrew had this feeling in almost unparalleled strength. To die childless was with him the sum of all disaster. What more appropriate than that it should wait on idolatry, "the sum of all sin"?
4. Dishonoured death. Dying in a strange country, both Jacob and Joseph made provision for being buried in their own land (Genesis 47:30; Genesis 50:25; Hebrews 11:22). No Jew could die happy expecting burial in a heathen country. Exposure to such a fate would cap the climax of Amaziah's wretchedness.
5. Exile for all Israel They had polluted their land, and were unworthy longer to remain in it. They had become assimilated to the heathen in their character and ways, and would be associated with them yet on closer terms. It was a holiday heathenism they were in love with, and they would be cured of their penchant by a sight of it in its working dress.
IV. A CLENCHING ARGUMENT. "The word of Jehovah." It was Amos who spoke it; but the word was God's. And it cannot be broken. The Divine truth is pledged to it. The Divine energy is lodged in it. The Divine purpose is couched in it, The thing it affirms is potentially a fact.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
In the language which the prophet employed in his appeal to God, he copied that of the great leader and lawgiver of his nation; and he was probably encouraged by remembering that Moses had not pleaded for Israel in vain.
I. THE PROMPTING TO INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Why should one man plead with God on another's behalf? It is evident that there is in human nature not only a principle of self-love, but also a principle of sympathy and benevolence. Amos interceded for the nation from which he sprang, in which he was interested, and which was endeared to him by sacred associations. He was well aware of his countrymen's offences, and of God's just displeasure with them. He knew and had foretold that retribution should befall them. Yet he entreated mercy—a withholding of judgment, a little respite at the least. He identified himself with the sinful, and sought forbearance.
II. THE GROUND OF CONFIDENCE IN INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Amos could not ask for the withholding of punishment on the ground that punishment was undeserved; for he confessed that the people's sin had merited chastening. His reliance was not upon justice, but upon mercy. It was forgiveness he besought; and forgiveness presumes disobedience on the part of the subject and offence taken on the part of the ruler. In pleading for our fellow men, as in pleading for ourselves, we have to rely upon the pity and loving kindness of our God.
III. THE PLEA BY WHICH INTERCESSORY PRAYER IS URGED. "Who is Jacob?" is the language of the prophet. "Who is Jacob, that he should stand, that he should endure, if such a visitation befall him? He is feeble and impoverished." Thus, whilst the main reliance of him who intercedes must ever be upon the character and promises of the Eternal, he will naturally bring before God—as well known to the Omniscient—the weakness and helplessness of those whose interest he would promote. God is not as man. Men sometimes are found willing to favour the great, though they are indifferent to the woes of the obscure; whilst with God need, poverty, and helplessness are a commendation to compassion and assistance.
IV. THE SUCCESSFUL ISSUE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. The entreaty of the prophet was not in vain. The calamity—whether we understand it literally, as a plague of locusts, or figuratively, as the invasion by Pul—was averted and withdrawn. This is but one of many instances in Old and New Testament Scripture in which God represents himself as willing to listen to the pleading of the pious on behalf of their sinful fellow men. It is one office of the Church of Christ to plead perpetually for mankind, uttering the plaintive and effectual intercession, "Spare them, good Lord!"—T.
The repentance of Jehovah.
Whatever it was of which the Lord is here said to have repented, the meaning, the lesson, is the same. The plague of locusts, the incursion of the foe, was stayed, and it was stayed in consequence of the prophet's intercession, and because of the pity and loving kindness of Jehovah.
I. NO CHANGE IS ASSERTED IN THE CHARACTER, THE GOVERNMENT, THE WILL, OF THE ETERNAL. In this sense the Lord is not a man that he should repent. Whilst all men are subject not only to vicissitudes of circumstances, but to variations in disposition, and even in principles of action, God is a stranger to all such mutability. "I," says he, "am the Lord that changeth not." Well for us is it that this is so; that we have not to do with a mutable, a capricious deity. Because he is the Lord that changeth not, therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.
II. BUT ALL THE THREATS OF THE DIVINE JUDGE ARE CONDITIONAL UPON HUMAN CONDUCT. The whole of revelation bears out this statement. What God commands he enforces with the promise of reward and with the threat of punishment. This is in accordance with his character and position as the Moral Governor of his universe. He does not, as an earthly tyrant might do, take pleasure in inflicting punishment upon any of his dependent creatures. On the contrary, he desireth not the death of a sinner. If the threatened respond to the appeal of Heaven, if they turn from their wickedness, they shall surely live, and not die. He repenteth him of the evil, and is favourable and forgiving towards the penitent.
III. THE DIVINE REPENTANCE DEMANDS THE ADORATION AND THE PRAISE OF THOSE WHO OWE TO IT THEIR SALVATION. There is not one child of Adam who is not indebted to the repentance of Jehovah for the sparing of life, for long suffering, for the aversion of judgment. In fact, but for this, the original sentence against the sinner must have been fulfilled, and the race of mankind must have perished. Every successive interposition of Divine mercy has been the evidence of that relenting which exclaims, "How shall I give thee up?" And the advent and sacrifice of Immanuel, the mediatorial scheme, the redemption of mankind, the recovery of the lost, are all to be attributed to this same cause. The fountain of salvation must be discovered in the repentance of the Unchanging. It is a paradox; but it is a paradox honouring to God and life giving to man.—T.
The plumb line of judgment.
The pictorial style of Amos here sets before us in an impressive and memorable way a great truth. Whether in a dream or in a prophetic ecstasy, the prophet beheld one with a plumb line standing by a wall. He recognized in the wall the palaces, the temples, the city ramparts of Samaria; in the figure, a representation of the eternal Ruler of the nations; in the plumb line, the emblem of just and orderly procedure. And a voice explained the vision as predictive of the destruction and ruin of the capital of Israel, in execution of the decree of Divine justice against the unfaithful, sinful, rebellious, and impenitent people.
I. THE SIN OF MAN MAY EXHAUST THE PATIENCE OF GOD. It must not, indeed, be supposed that the Divine nature is susceptible of capricious changes, such as men are liable to experience. But we have to consider God as the moral Governor of the nations of mankind. And we are taught that he is, as we say, in earnest in the laws which he promulgates, and in the promises and threats by which he accompanies them. He will not continue to threaten, and then falsify his owm words, by withholding punishment from those who withhold repentance. With no weariness, with no irritability, but with a righteous judgment and a compassionate heart, he will execute his threats.
II. THE JUST RETRIBUTION OF GOD IS ACCORDING TO UNCHANGING AND INFLEXIBLE RULES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. In human punishment there is often an element of caprice and an element of vindictiveness. From the Divine mind both are forever absent. No sinner can complain, or ever will be able to complain, that he has been punished beyond his deserts. On the contrary, he will ever recognize that wisdom and righteousness have characterized all the appointments of the eternal King. The plumb line is employed not only in construction but in destruction. And God who has made men's moral nature, and who roles over it and in it, will not violate his principles of righteousness in the administration of his government or in the execution of his sentences.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IS A POWERFUL ENCOURAGEMENT TO REPENTANCE AND OBEDIENCE. It is a dissuasive from sin and impenitence, inasmuch as it is a guarantee that rebellion shall not go unpunished. It is an inducement to repentance, for it is part of God's unchanging purpose that the penitent and submissive shall receive pardon and acceptance. And it is not to be forgotten that God's purposes of mercy are as much distinguished by law as are his purposes of punishment. Mercy is in accordance with the "plumb line" of Divine righteousness, and in his gospel God appears, as he is, just and "the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus."—T.
Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15
The herdsman becomes a prophet.
The simple dignity of Amos's reply to Amaziah must strike every reader with admiration. The priest of Bethel treated him as a professional prophet, who had a calling which he was Constrained to fulfil in some place or other. But Amos did not prophesy because he had been trained to the prophetic vocation; he prophesied because the Lord constrained him to do so. The Lord had made him very sensitive to the prevailing sins of his countrymen, had sent him with a message of warning to the court of Samaria, and had imparted to him supernatural qualifications for the fulfilment of this sacred ministry.
I. GOD IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON EDUCATION OR LEARNING FOR THE QUALIFICATION OF THE AGENTS HE SELECTS. Amos was not the first or the last unlettered, intellectually uncultivated man employed by Infinite Wisdom upon a high and sacred ministry of usefulness. There were in Palestine "schools of the prophets," but in these Amos was not trained. The spiritual power, which is the true "note" of a prophetic calling, is not confined to those who are reared in seats of learning, who have acquired the scholarship which is imparted by the intellectual discipline of school and university.
II. GOD CAN, HOWEVER, GIVE AN EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF HIS OWN, EFFECTIVE FOR THE PURPOSES OF A SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. It is a common mistake to suppose that those who have not been educated in the way which is familiar to us have not been educated at all The Lord taught Amos in the solitude of the fields, the valleys, the hills of Judea, as he tended the cattle, as he gathered the fruit of the sycomore. His education was, in a sense, very thorough. It gave him insight into the mighty works of the Creator, into his wonderful ways in dealing with the children of men, into the secrets of the human heart. His writings are a sufficient proof of his familiarity with the works and ways of God. His sublime descriptions of natural scenery, of the heavens and the earth, his minute acquaintance with the processes of growth and of husbandry, his knowledge of the human heart and all its conflicts,—these are evidences that his mind was not uninformed or untrained.
III. AN UNLETTERED BUT DIVINELY TAUGHT NATURE MAY BE A BLESSING TO MEN, AND MAY BRING GLORY TO GOD. The service which Amos rendered to Israel, to Judah, to the Church of God in subsequent ages, is a proof that God can use instruments, which seem to man's wisdom unsuitable, in order to effect his own purposes. The power of this prophet's ministry is unquestionable. To some extent his message was heeded; and that it was not more effective was not owing to any fault in him, but rather to the hardness of heart which distinguished those to whom he was sent. At the same time, there was so manifest an evidence of Divine power in the life and work of Amos as must have impressed all who knew him with the conviction that the power of God was upon him. A Divine election, Divine qualifications, may be as really present in the case of a minister of religion who has enjoyed every social and educational advantage, as in the case of him who is called from the plough to prophesy in the name of the Lord. But the impression upon the popular mind is in the former case far more deep, and naturally so. Thus God is honoured, whilst witness is borne to him before men, and the cause of righteousness is maintained and advanced.—T.
Amos was one of the "goodly fellowship of the prophets," who once witnessed for God on earth, and who now praise God in heaven. There was a long succession of prophets in Hebrew history, and especially during one epoch of that history. The Christian dispensation has also enjoyed the benefit of prophetic gifts and prophetic ministrations.
I. THE AUTHOR AND THE AUTHORITY OF PROPHECY. No true prophet ever spake the counsels of his own wisdom merely. The preface to a prophetic utterance is this: "Thus saith the Lord." "The Lord took me," says Amos, in his simple, graphic style, "as I was following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy."
1. The prophet was called and appointed by the Lord of all truth and power.
2. The prophet was entrusted by the Lord with a special message. It was these facts that aggravated the guilt of those who were inattentive to the Divine message, who rejected and persecuted the Divine messengers.
II. THE MATTER AND SUBSTANCE OF PROPHECY. The function of the prophet was to utter forth the mind and will of the Eternal. Sometimes it is supposed that it was his special duty to declare things to come, to foretell. Doubtless the prophet was often directed to warn of evils about to descend upon the guilty and impenitent. But to foretell was not so much his distinctive office as to tell forth the commands and the counsels of the Lord.
III. THE PROPHET AS THE VEHICLE OF PROPHECY. Personality, loving intelligence and will, a truly human nature,—such was the condition to be fulfilled by the chosen vehicle of the Divine purposes. Men of temperaments as different as Elijah and Jeremiah were selected by him who can make use of every instrument for the fulfilment of his own purposes. One thing was necessary, that the prophet's whole nature should be penetrated by the Spirit of God, that he should give himself up entirely to become the minister and the messenger of Eternal Wisdom.
IV. THE METHODS OF PROPHECY. Speech was no doubt the chief means by which the prophet conveyed his message to his fellow men; speech of every kind, bold and gentle, figurative and plain, commanding and persuasive. Life was no inconsiderable part of prophecy. There were cases in which the very actions and habits of the prophet were a testimony to men. Symbols were not infrequently employed in order to impart lessons which could be better taught thus than by the logical forms of speech. God made use of every method which human nature allowed and the conditions of the prophetic ministry suggested.
V. THE PURPORT OF PROPHECY. An agency so special and so highly qualified must have aimed at an end proportionably important and valuable. It may be noted that:
1. Prophecy was largely intended to lead sinful people to repentance and reformation.
2. To encourage the obedient and spiritual amidst difficulties and persecutions.
3. To introduce higher views of religion than those current at the time, and thus to prepare the way for the dispensation of the Messiah, for the religion of the Spirit, for the universal kingdom of truth and righteousness.—T.
A polluted land.
If in Amos we have an example of a faithful prophet, in Amaziah we have an example of an unfaithful priest. One servant of the Lord seems in this narrative to be set against another; but, in fact, the priest was a nominal servant, whilst the prophet was sincere and devoted. The fate predicted for Amaziah was indeed terrible; but we discern in its appointment, not the malice of a human foe, but the justice of a Divine Ruler. Among the circumstances which enhanced the horror of this fate is mentioned the pollution of the heathen land in which the wicked priest should close his life.
I. A LAND MAY BE POLLUTED NOTWITHSTANDING ITS WEALTH, LUXURIOUSNESS, AND POLITICAL EMINENCE AND POWER. Some of the ancient monarchies of the world were no less remarkable for moral corruption than for grandeur, prosperity, and military strength. Such was the case with Assyria. And it is well to be upon our guard against the deceptiveness of external appearances. The semblance of national greatness may mislead us in our judgment. The surface may deceive; there may be much to outward view fascinating and commanding. Yet beneath the surface there may be injustice, oppression, selfishness, wretchedness, and disunion; the land may be polluted by vice and, if not by idolatry, yet by practical atheism.
II. A LAND MAY BE POLLUTED ALTHOUGH IT BE CHOSEN AS THE SCENE OF THE EXECUTION OF PURPOSES OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. It must not be supposed that, because certain nations were appointed by Divine providence to be the ministers of retribution upon Israel, those nations must have been morally admirable or even superior to that upon which their power was exercised for purposes of chastisement. The records of the Old Testament Scriptures are decisive upon this point. Idolatrous people were permitted to scourge Israel for idolatry. A polluted land was to be the means of cleansing those defiled by sin.
III. TO CLEANSE A LAND FROM POLLUTION IS THE HIGHEST END WHICH THE PATRIOTIC AND RELIGIOUS CAN SET BEFORE THEM. Splendour, opulence, military power, are in the view of the enlightened as nothing compared with the righteousness which exalteth a nation.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Revelation and prayer.
"Thus hath the Lord God showed unto me," etc. This portion of the Book of Amos (Amos 7:1-17 and Amos 8:1-14) contains four symbolical visions respecting successive judgments that were to be inflicted on the kingdom of Israel. They were delivered at Bethel, and in all probability at the commencement of the prophet's ministry. Each of them, as it follows in the series, is more severe than the preceding. The first presented to the mental eye of the prophet a swarm of young locusts, which threatened to cut off all hope of the harvest (verses 1-3); the second, a fire which effected a universal conflagration (verses 4-6); the third, a plumb line ready to be applied to mark out the edifices that were to be destroyed (verses 7-9); and the fourth, a basket of ripe fruit, denoting the near and certain destruction of the kingdom (Amos 8:1-3). The intervening eight verses which conclude the seventh chapter (verses 10-17) contain an account of the interruption of Amos by Amaziah the priest of Bethel, whose punishment is specially predicted. In point of style, this portion differs from that of the rest of the book, being almost exclusively historical and dialogistic (Henderson). In the words we have two subjects of thought—A Divine revelation leading to human prayer, and human prayer leading to a Divine revelation.
I. A DIVINE REVELATION LEADING TO HUMAN PRAYER.
1. Here is a Divine revelation. What is the revelation? It is a vision of judgments made to the mind of the prophet. Both judgments are symbolically represented.
(1) Destruction by grasshoppers at the beginning, or the "shooting up of the latter growth after the king's mowings."‹am-1› The prophet saw the devouring grasshoppers eating up the grass of the land. No agents are too insignificant for the employment of Jehovah. He can inflict terrible judgments by insects. Here was a prospect of famine set before the prophet.
(2) Destruction by fire. "Thus hath the Lord God showed unto me: and, behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part." Perhaps this represents a great drought, the sun's fire burning up all vegetation. It is said this fire "devoured the great deep." It drank up the pools, the lakes, the rivers. Thus in two symbolical forms is a Divine revelation made to the mind of Amos. Most terrible and alarming is the prospect of his country, thus divinely spread out before him. God makes revelations of his mind to his people. "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?"
2. Here is a human prayer. What is the prayer? Here it is: "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." And again, in verse 5, "O Lord God, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." "Forgive." This calamity is brought on by the sin of the nation. Forgive the sin; remove the moral cause of the judgment. "By whom shall Jacob arise?" Or, better, "How can Jacob stand? for he is small." Jacob's—the nation's—weakness is the plea of the prayer for forgiveness. The Israelites had been greatly reduced by internal commotions and hostile invasions, and were now on the point of being attacked by the Assyrians, but purchased their retreat by a payment of a thousand talents of silver (2 Kings 15:19, 2 Kings 15:20). The nation was now so weakened that it was unable to stand before another invader. How can Jacob stand? The time has come when men may well ask this question in relation to the Church. How can it stand? The numbers are decreasing, viewed in relation to the growth of the population. By whom shall it arise? Not by statesmen, scientists, ritualists, priests. A new order of men is required to enable the Church to stand. Heaven raise them up!
II. HUMAN PRAYER LEADING TO A DIVINE REVELATION. The prophet prays, and the great God makes a new revelation—a revelation of mercy. "The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord." "The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God." "Repented," which means merely that he appeared to Amos as if he repented. The Immutable One changeth not. Though we are far enough from holding the absurdity that human prayer effects any alteration in the ordinances of nature or the purposes of the Almighty, we nevertheless hold with a tenacious faith the doctrine that a man gets from God by prayer that which he would not get without it. Indeed, in every department of life man gets from the Almighty, by a certain kind of activity, that which he would never obtain without the effort. A man has a field which he has never tilled, and on which Providence has bestowed no crop for many a long year. He tills it this year, and in autumn God crowns it with his goodness. Another man has no health; for many years he has neglected the conditions of physical vigour, and he is infirm and afflicted. This year he attends rigorously to the laws of his physical well being. He takes the proper exercise, the right food, the pure air, and he feels his infirmities and his pains decrease, and new vigour pulsating through his veins. Another man has never enjoyed the light of Divine knowledge; his soul has been living in the region of indolence; he has neglected all the means of intelligence. He alters his course and sots to work; he reads and thinks, studies God's holy book, and prays; he feels his nature gradually brightening under the genial rays of truth. Thus everywhere God reveals to man his goodness in connection with his activity, which never comes without human effort. It is so in prayer. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." It puts the soul in that angle on which the Divine light falls, in that soil in which its intellectual and moral powers will grow. "Ask, and ye shall receive."
"More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friends?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God."
Man's moral character.
"Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand," etc. "Behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line," viz. perpendicular. "Amos." "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19), as he saith to Moses, "I know thee by name" (Exodus 33:12, Exodus 33:17). "He calleth his own sheep by name" (John 10:3). "Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel." No longer are the symbols, as in the former two, stated generally; this one is expressly applied to Israel. God's long suffering is worn out by Israel's perversity; so Amos ceases to intercede, as Abraham did in the case of Sodom. The plummet line was used, not only in building, but in destroying houses (2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8). It denotes that God's judgments are measured out by the exactest rules of justice. Here it is placed in the midst of Israel; i.e. the judgment is not to be confined to an outer part of Israel, as by Tiglath-Pileser—it is to reach the very centre. This was fulfilled when Shalmaneser, after a three years' siege of Samaria, took it, in the ninth year of Hoshea the King of Israel, and carried away Israel captive finally to Assyria (2 Kings 17:3, 2 Kings 17:5, 2 Kings 17:6, 2 Kings 17:23). "I will not again pass by them any more." I will not forgive them any more (Amos 8:2; Proverbs 19:11; Micah 7:18). "And the high places," dedicated to idols, "of Isaac." They boasted of following the example of their forefather Isaac, in erecting high places at Beersheba (Amos 5:5); but he and Abraham erected them before the temple was appointed at Jerusalem. But these Israelites did so after the temple had been fixed as the only place for sacrifices and worship. The mention of Isaac and Israel is in all probability intended simply to express the names which their posterity boasted in, as if they would ensure their safety; but these shall not save them. Homiletically, we may use these words as suggesting certain things concerning man's moral character.
I. THERE IS A KIND OF MASONRY IN THE FORMATION OF MAN'S CHARACTER. "Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb line." A plumb line is an architectural instrument; and the wall on which the Lord stood was being measured by a plumb line. Moral masonry is suggested. Man's character may be compared to masonry in several respects.
1. It has one foundation. Walls are built, not upon two, but upon one foundation. So is every man's character. There is some one principle on which it is organized, some one fount to which you can trace all the streams of human activity. The principle is the paramount affection of the man. Whatever he loves most, governs him. If he loves pleasure most, his character is sensual; if he loves money most, his character is worldly; if he loves wisdom most, his character is philosophic; if he loves God most, his character is Divine, etc.
2. It has a variety of materials. In a building there are earth, lime, stones, bricks, wood, iron, etc. These are brought together into a whole. Character is not formed of one set of actions, thoughts, impulses, volitions. All kinds of acts enter into it, mental, moral, muscular, personal, political, religious—all are materials in the building.
3. It is a gradual advancement. You cannot build a house in a day; stone by stone it must advance: so the formation of character is a slow work. Men cannot become either devils or saints at once, cannot spring into these characters by a bound. It takes time to build up a Satan, and a longer time still to build up a seraph within us. Acts make habits; habits make character.
II. THREE IS A DIVINE STANDARD BY WHICH TO TEST MAN'S CHARACTER. Here is the great God standing on the wall with a "plumb line" in his hand, with which to test his people Israel. What is the Divine "plumb line" by which to test character? Here it is: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." Or, perhaps more intelligibly, the moral character of Christ: "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." That spirit is love for God and men. Without love we are "nothing." Here is a plumb line. Are you Christly? If not, your moral masonry is not architecturally sound or symmetric. He who now stood before Amos on the wall, with a "plumb line in his hand," stands today amongst men with this moral test of character.
III. THERE IS A TERRIBLE RUIN FOR THOSE WHOSE CHARACTERS WILL NOT BEAR THE TEST OF THIS PLUMB LINE. "Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword." See this test applied on the day of judgment, as represented in Matthew 25:31-46, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory," etc.—D.T.
The conventional and the genuine priests of a people.
"Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam King of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words," etc. In these words we have types of two classes of priests who are ever found amongst the people.
I. THE CONVENTIONAL PRIEST OF A PEOPLE. Amaziah was the recognized, authorized, conventional priest of Bethel—the chief priest of the royal sanctuary of the calves at Bethel. He was the recognized religious teacher—a kind of archbishop. We find this man doing three things which such conventional priests have done in all ages, and are doing now.
1. He was in close intimacy with the king. He "sent to Jeroboam King of Israel." Conventional priests have always an eye upward, always towards kings and those in authority; they have generally proved ready to obey their behests, study their caprices, and wink at their abominations. In their prayers they will often insult the Omniscient by describing their royal masters, whatever their immoralities, as "our most religious," "our most gracious sovereign." As a rule, they are the mere creatures of kings.
2. He seeks to expel an independent teacher from the dominion of the king. He seeks to do this in two ways.
(1) By appealing to the king. He does this in a spirit that has ever characterized his class—by brining against Amos the groundless charge of treason. "Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words." By a base slander he endeavours to influence the king against the true teacher. He does this:
(2) By alarming the prophet. "Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court." It does not appear that the king took any notice of the message which this authorized religious teacher had sent him concerning Amos; hence, in order to carry out his malignant purpose, he addresses the prophet and says, "O thou seer, go, flee thee away." Not imagining that Amos could be actuated by any higher principle than that of selfishness, which reigned in his own heart, the priest advised him to consult his safety by fleeing across the frontier into the kingdom of Judah, where he might obtain his livelihood by the unrestrained exercise of his prophetical gifts. Here, then, we have, in this Amaziah, a type of many so called authorized religious teachers of a country. Two feelings inspire them—a miserable servility towards their rulers, and a cruel envy towards their religious rivals. They want to sweep the land of all schismatics. Thank God, the days of the Amaziahs, through the advancement of popular intelligence, are drawing to a close!
II. HERE WE HAVE THE GENUINE PRIEST OF A PEOPLE, Amos seems to have been a prophet not nationally recognized as such. He was no professional prophet. Observe three things concerning the prophet.
1. He is not ashamed of his humble origin. "I was no prophet"—that is, "I am not a prophet by profession,"—"neither was I a prophet's son." By the son of a prophet he means a disciple or pupil. He had not studied in any prophetic college. On the contrary, "I am nothing but a poor labouring man"—"an herdsman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit." No true prophet is ever ashamed of his origin, however humble. As a rule, the greatest teachers of the world have struggled up from the regions of poverty and obscurity. From the lower grades of social life the Almighty generally selects his most eminent servants; "not many mighty does he call."
2. He is conscious of the Divinity of his mission. "The Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel." Amos seems to have had no doubt at all as to the tact that the Lord called him. How he was called does not appear. When God calls a man to work, the man knows it. No argument will convince him to the contrary. The conventional teacher may say, "You are unauthorized, unrecognized, unordained; you have intruded yourself into the holy calling." But the true teacher knows when he is divinely called, and under this impression he carries on his work. "The Lord took me as I followed the flock,"
3. In the name of Heaven he denounces the conventional priest. In return for this rebellion against Jehovah, Amos foretells for the priest the punishment which will fall upon him when the judgment shall come upon Israel, meeting his words, "Thou sayest, Thou shalt not prophesy," with the keen retort, "Thus saith Jehovah." The punishment is thus described in verse 17, "Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city," i.e. at the taking of the city she will become a harlot through violation. His children also would be slain by the foe, and his lauded possessions assigned to others, viz. to the fresh settlers in the land. He himself, viz. the priest, would die in an unclean land, that is to say, in the land of the Gentiles; in other words, would be carried away captive, and that with the whole nation, the carrying away of which is repeated by Amos in the words which the priest had reported to the king (verse 11) as a sign that what he has prophesied will assuredly stand (Delitzsch).
CONCLUSION. To which class of teachers dost thou belong, my brother? That represented by Amaziah, who, though recognized by his king and country as the true teacher, was nevertheless destitute of loyalty to the one true God and the spirit of true philanthropy and honest manhood; or that represented by Amos, who although a poor labourer, unrecognized by his country as a true teacher, yet was called of God and manfully fulfilled his Divine mission? Heaven multiply in this country and throughout the world religions teachers of this Amos type!—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany