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§ 6. The fifth vision displays the Lord standing by the altar and commanding the destruction of the temple (Amos 9:1). No one shall escape this judgment, flee whither he will (Amos 9:2-30.9.4); for God is Almighty (Amos 9:5, Amos 9:6). Their election shall not save the guilty Israelites; still they shall not be utterly destroyed (Amos 9:7-30.9.10).
I saw the Lord. It is now no longer a mere emblem that the prophet sees, but actual destruction. He beholds the majesty of God, as Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 10:1. Upon (or, by) the altar; i.e. the altar of burnt offering at Jerusalem, Where, it is supposed, the whole nation, Israelites and Judaeans, are assembled for worship. It is natural, at first sight, to suppose that the sanctuary of the northern kingdom is the scene of this vision, as the destruction of idolatry is here emblemized; but more probably Bethel is not meant, for there were more altars than one there (Amos 3:14), and one cannot imagine the Lord standing by the symbol of the calf worship. Smite. The command is mysteriously addressed to the destroying angel (comp. Exodus 12:13; 2 Samuel 24:15, etc.; 2 Kings 19:35). The lintel of the door; τὸ ἱλαστήριον; cardinem (Vulgate); better, the chapiter (Zephaniah 2:14); i.e. the capital of the columns. The word kaphtor is used in Exodus 25:31, etc; for the knop or ornament on the golden candlesticks; here the idea is that the temple receives a blow on the top of the pillars which support it sufficient to cause its overthrow. The LXX. rendering arises from a confusion of two Hebrew words somewhat similar. The posts; the thresholds; i.e. the base. The knop and the threshold imply the total destruction from summit to base. Cut them in the head, all of them; rather, break them [the capital and the thresholds] to pieces upon the head of all. Let the falling building cover them with its ruins. The Vulgate renders, avaritia enim in capite omnium, confounding two words. Jerome had the same Hebrew reading, as he translates, quaetus eorum, avaritia, as if giving the reason for the punishment. The overthrown temple presents a forcible picture of the destruction of the theocracy. The last of them (Amos 4:2); the remnant; any who escape the fall of the temple. He that fleeth, etc. All hope of escape shall be cut off.
The thought of Amos 9:1 is further expanded, the notion of flight being, as Jerome says, dissected. For dig, the LXX. reads, "be hidden;" but the expression implies a breaking through (Ezekiel 8:8). Hell (Sheol) is supposed to be in the inmost part of the earth (comp. Psalms 139:7, Psalms 139:8; Obadiah 1:4). Take them. To receive punishment.
The top of Carmel. Among the woods and thickets. There are no eaves on the summit of Carmel. "Amos tolls us that in his day the top of it was a place to hide in; nor has it changed its character in this respect ... I would not have been prompted to place 'the top of Carmel' third in such a series of hiding places, yet I can fully appreciate the comparison from my own experience. Ascending from the south, we followed a wild, narrow wady overhung by trees, bushes, and tangled creepers, through which my guide thought we could get up to the top; but it became absolutely impracticable, and we were obliged to find our way back again. And even after we reached the summit, it was so rough and broken in some places, and the thorn bushes so thickset and sharp, that our clothes were torn and our hands and faces severely lacerated; nor could I see my guide at times ten steps ahead of me. From such biblical intimations, we may believe that Carmel was not very thickly inhabited". Other writers speak of the occurrence of caves and deep valleys in the Carmel range. In the bottom of the sea. Both this and heaven (verse 2) are impracticable hiding places, and are used poetically to show the absolute impossibility of escape. Serpent (nachash, elsewhere called leviathan and tannin, Isaiah 27:1), some kind of seamonster supposed to be venomous. Dr. Pusey mentions that certain poisonous hydrophidae are found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. and may probably infest the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Captivity itself, in which state men generally, at any rate, are secure of their lives, shall not save them from the sword (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:65, etc. comp. Tobit 1:17, 18; 2:3, where we see that the murder of captives was not unusual). The prophet looks forward to the Assyrian deportation. For evil. The people are indeed subject to God's special attention, but only in order to punish them (Psalms 34:15, Psalms 34:16; Jeremiah 44:11).
To confirm the threats just uttered, the prophet dwells upon God's omnipotence, of which he gives instances. He who will do this is the Lord God of hosts, There is no copula in the Hebrew here. (So Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8.) This title, Jehovah Elohim Zebaoth, represents God not only as Ruler of the heavenly bodies, but as the Monarch of a multitude of heavenly spirits who execute his will, worship him in his abiding place, and are attendants and witnesses of his glory (see note on Haggai 1:2). Shall melt; σαλεύων; comp. Psalms 46:6; Psalms 97:5; Micah 1:4; Nahum 1:5. The expression denotes the destructive effects of the judgments of God. Shall mourn. The last clauses of the verse are a repetition of Amos 8:8, with some slight variation.
Stories; ἀνάβασιν; ascensionem (Vulgate); upper chambers, or the stages by which is the ascent to the highest heavens (comp. Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalms 104:3). His troop (aguddah); vault. The word is used for "the bonds" of the yoke in Isaiah 58:6; for "the bunch" of hyssop in Exodus 12:22. So the Vulgate here renders fasciculum suum, with the notion that the stories or chambers just mentioned are bound together to connect heaven and earth. But the clause means, God hath founded the vault or firmament of heaven upon (not in) the earth, where his throne is placed, and whence he sends the rain. The Septuagint renders, τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν αὐτοῦ, "his promise." So the Syriac. The waters of the sea. The reference is to the Deluge (Amos 5:8; Genesis 7:4, Genesis 7:11).
Israel's election to be God's people should not save them, unless their conduct corresponded with God's choice. If they opened not, they were no better in his eyes than the heathen, their delivery from Egypt had no more significance than the migration of pagan nations. Here is a contrast to Amos 6:1, etc. The children of Israel were now no dearer than the children of the Ethiopians (Cushites). The Cushites are introduced as being descendants of the wicked Ham, and black in complexion (as Jeremiah 13:23), the colour of their skin being considered a mark of degradation and of evil character. The Philipstines from Caphtor; from Cappadocia (LXX. and Vulgate). This rendering is mistaken. The immigration spoken of took place before the Exodus (see Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4); and Caphtor is either Crete (see Dillman on Genesis 10:14) or the coast land of the Delta, "which was occupied from an early period by Phoenician colonists, and thus came to be known to the Egyptians as Keft ur, or 'greater Phoenicia,'" Keft being the Egyptian name of Phoenicia" (Monthly Interpreter, 3:136). Medieval Jewish writers identified it with Damiette. The Syrians (Arum, Hebrew) from Kir; τοὺς Σύρους ἐκ βόθρου, "the Syrians out .of the ditch"; Syros de Cyrene (Vulgate); see note on Amos 1:5. "Aram" here probably means the Damascenes, Damascus shortly before the time of Moses having been occupied by a powerful body of immigrants from Armenia.
The sinful kingdom. The kingdom of all Israel and Judah, the same as the house of Jacob just below, though a different fate awaits this, regarded as the covenant nation, whose are the promises. Destroy it, etc; as was threatened (Deuteronomy 6:15). Saving that. In spite of the destruction of the wicked people, God's promises hold good, and there is still a remnant who shall be saved (Jeremiah 30:11).
For, lo! He explains how and why the whole nation is not destroyed. I will sift. Israel is to be dispersed among the nations, tried and winnowed among them by affliction and persecution, that the evil may fall to the ground and perish, and the good be preserved. The word rendered "sift" implies "to shake to and fro;" and this shaking shall show who are the true Israelites and who are the false, who retain their faith and cleave to the Lord under all difficulties, and who lose their hold of true religion and assimilate themselves to the heathen among whom they dwell. These last shall not return from captivity. The least grain; Hebrew, tseror, "pebble;" so the Vulgate, lapillus; Septuagint, σύντριμμα," fragment." It is used in 2 Samuel 17:13 of small stones in a building; here as hard groan in distinction from loose chaff (Keil). The solid grain, the good wheat, are the righteous, who, when the chaff and dust are cast away, are stored in the heavenly garner, prove themselves of the election, and inherit the promises (comp. Isaiah 6:13; Ezekiel 20:38; Matthew 3:12). Fall upon the earth; i.e. perish, be lost (1 Samuel 26:20).
If any are to be saved, it will not be the sinners; they need not flatter themselves that their wilful blindness shall secure them. The evil shall not overtake. They lulled themselves into a false security, and shut their cars against the warnings of the prophets; but that would avail them nothing. Prevent; come upon suddenly, surprise.
Part IV. EPILOGUE. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NEW KINGDOM AND THE REIGN OF MESSIAH. THE KINGDOM SHALL EMBRACE ALL NATIONS (Amos 9:11, Amos 9:12), SHALL BE ENRICHED WITH SUPERABUNDANT SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS (Amos 9:13, Amos 9:14), AND SHALL ENDURE FOREVER (Amos 9:15).
In that day. When the judgment has fallen. The passage is quoted by St. James (Acts 15:16, Acts 15:27), mostly from the Greek, in confirmation of the doctrine that the Church of God is open to all, whether Jew or Gentile. The tabernacle (sukkah): hut, or tent (as Jonah 4:5); no palace now, but fallen to low esthete, a "little house" (Amos 6:11). The prophet refers probably to the fall of the kingdom of David in the ruin wrought by the Chaldeans. Interpreted spiritually, the passage shadows forth the universal Church of Christ, raised from that of the Jews. Pusey notes that in the Talmud Christ is called "the Son of the fallen." The breaches. The house of David had sustained breaches under the hands of Jeroboam and Joash, and in the severance of the ten tribes at the hands of Assyriaus and Chaldees; these should be repaired. Unity should be restored, the captives should return, and another kingdom should be established under another David, the Messiah. Judah's temporary prosperity under Uzziah and Hezekiah would have been a totally inadequate fulfilment of the prophecy. Prophecies of the temporal and spiritual are, as usual, blended together and run up into each other. His ruins. The destroyed places of David! will build it; Hebrew, her. The whole Jewish Church (comp. Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 33:7). As in the days of old. The days of David and Solomon, the most flourishing times of the kingdom (2 Samuel 7:11, 2 Samuel 7:12, 2 Samuel 7:16). In the expression, "of old," Hebrew, "of eternity," may lurk an idea of the length of time that must elapse before the fulfilment of the promise. Septuagint, Ἀνοικοδομήσω αὐτὴν καθὼς αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ αἰῶνος, "I will build it up as are the days of eternity." This seems to signify that the building is to last forever.
That they (the true children of Israel) may possess the remnant of Edom; i.e. those who were nearest in blood, and yet most hostile of all men. David had subdued the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:16), and Amaziah had inflicted a great slaughter upon them (2 Kings 14:7); but later they recovered their independence (2 Kings 16:6, where "Edomites" should be read for "Syrians;" 2 Chronicles 28:17), and were actively hostile against the Jews. It was on this account that they were emphatically denounced by Obadiah. "The remnant" is mentioned because, according to the threat in Amos 1:11, Amos 1:12, they would be punished so that only a few would escape. The Septuagint gives ,Ὅπως ἐκζητήσωσιν οἱ κατάλοιποι τὼν ἀνθρώπων, [τὸν κύριον, Alexandrian], "That the remnant of men may earnestly seek the Lord," regarding Edom as a representative of aliens from God, and altering the text to make the sense more generally intelligible, This version, which reads "Adam," men, instead of "Edom," is endorsed by St. James. Which are called by my Name; "over whom my Name hath been called". This is closer to the Hebrew; but the meaning is much the same, viz. all those who are dedicated to God and belong to him being by faith incorporated into the true Israel. The Messianic kingdom shall be established in order that salvation may be extended to all hastens who embrace it. Saith the Lord; is the saying of Jehovah. This is added to show the immutability of the promise. The covenant God himself hath predicted it.
The prophet expatiates upon the rich blessings which shall follow the establishment of the kingdom. Under the figure of a supernatural fertility are represented the victories of grace (comp. Isaiah 11:6; Ezekiel 26:10, etc.; Ezekiel 34:25, etc.). The blessing is founded on the Mosaic promise (Leviticus 26:5). The ploughman shall overtake the reaper. Ploughing and harvest shall be continuous, without sensible interval. The treader of grapes him that soweth seed. The vintage should be so abundant that it should last till sowing time. The mountains shall drop sweet wine. This is from Joel 3:18. And all the hills shall melt. As Joel says, "shall flow with milk," in this promised land "flowing with milk and honey." Septuagint, πάντες οἱ βουνοὶ σύμφυτοι ἔσονται, "all the hills shall be planted" with vines and olives. For, as Corn. a Lapide quotes, "Bacchus amat colles" (Virg; 'Georg.,' 2:113). The hyperbolical expressions in the text are not to be taken literally; they depict in bright colours the blessings of the kingdom of Messiah. Material and temporal blessings are generally represented as closely connected with spiritual, and as figurative of them. Such predictions, understood literally, are common in the so called Sibylline Books; see e.g. lib. 3:743, etc; where, among other prodigies, we have—
Πηγάς τε ῥήξει γλυκερὰς λευκοῖο γάλακτος
One is reminded of the golden age depicted by Virgil in his fourth eclogue. Trochon cites Claudian, 'In Rufin.,' 1:381, etc.—
"... nec vomere sulcus adunco
Findetur; subitis messor gaudebit aristis.
Rorabunt querceta favis; stagnantia passim
Vina fluent, oleique lacus."
I will bring again the captivity; i.e. I will repair the misery which they have suffered. The expression is here metaphorical, and does not necessarily refer to any restoration to an earthly Canaan. Shall build the waste cities (Isaiah 54:3). All these promised blessings are in marked contrast to the punishments threatened (Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:33, Deuteronomy 28:39; compare similar premises in Isaiah 65:21, etc.).
The blessing shall last forever. They shall no more be pulled up. This was not true of the literal Israel; it must be taken of the spiritual seed, planted in God's land, the Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. "Lo," says Christ, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20)
A quest which none may elude.
We have here a vivid picture of a dreadful subject. The prophet makes a new departure in his mode of figuration. In other visions we saw the judgments of Heaven painted in terror-moving forms; the mighty forces of nature let loose and working destruction on sinners of men. Here we see, not judgments merely, but the Judge himself, active for destruction, fulminating his thunders, brandishing his two-edged sword, and spreading devastation where his anger rests. It is true all natural forces are his instruments, and their results his work. But they do not so reveal themselves to our sense. It is Scripture that shows us an omnipotent God in the forces of nature, and in every disaster they work a judgment from his hand.
I. THE GOD OF ISRAEL STANDING ON AN IDOL ALTAR. Not the altar of God at Jerusalem, but the altar for calf worship at Bethel, is probably here referred to. God's standing on the idol altar is not for purposes of fellowship. That would be a moral impossibility. "What concord hath Christ with Belial? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" Not light and darkness are less compatible, not fire and water more inherently antagonistic, than the great God, who "is all in all," and the idol which is "nothing in the world." Neither is it in token of tolerance. Between the two can be no peace, no truce, no parley. "God is a jealous God," and can have no rival. His sovereignty and supreme greatness make him necessarily intolerant here. There can be no Dagons on any terms where the ark rests. It is for purposes of destruction only. "There, where, in counterfeit of the sacrifices which Cod had appointed, they offered would-be-atoning sacrifices and sinned in them, God appeared standing, to behold, to judge, to condemn" (Pusey). When God approaches sin, it is only to destroy it. Sometimes be destroys it in saving the sinner; sometimes the sin and the sinner, hopelessly wedded, are destroyed together.
II. IDOLATERS' JUDGMENT BEGINNING AT THEIR IDOL SHRINE. "Smite the lintel," etc. This is the natural course. The lightnings of judgment strike the head of the highest sin, and strike it in the provision made for its commission. And there is a fitness in this Divine order. 1. It stops the worship. With the appliances destroyed, the observances could not go on. The interruption of sin is an intelligible and appropriate object of Divine judgment. The most effectual punishment of criminal indulgence is a visitation that stops it perforce. If not cured, at least the evil is stayed. 2. It regals the Divine hand. Two plagues had passed on Egypt without any very deep impression having been made. But when Moses smote the dust, and it became lice on man and beast, the magicians said unto Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." The miracle stopped at once the entire ceremonial of their national worship by making all the priests unclean. The idols were confounded, and Jehovah's power revealed. When a man finds his sufferings in the seat of his sins, he has materials for identifying them as the visitation of God.
III. THIS JUDGMENT FOLLOWING THEM INTO ALL THEIR RETREATS. (Amos 9:2, Amos 9:3.) Driven in terror from their idol shrines, men seek escape in diverse ways, according to their diverse characters and surroundings. but it is a vain quest. The God who is omnipresent to infallible saving effect in the case of his saints (Psalms 139:8-19.139.12) is so also to the inevitable destruction of the ungodly. One climbs the heaven of proud defiance, to be brought ignominiously down (Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4). Another "breaks through into the hell" of abject fear and self-abasement, to be dragged forth into the intolerable light. The Carmel of philosophic nescience presents no cave or grove impenetrable by the hounds of righteous judgment. Even the sea of deeper sinful indulgence has a serpent of avenging providence in its depths, from whose bite there is no escape.
IV. THIS JUDGMENT REACHING THEM THROUGH THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF ALL NATURAL CAUSES. The "sword," as representing human agency, and the "serpent," as representing the agency of natural causes, are both set in motion by God's command. The causes of nature are to God as the bodily organs to the brain, viz. servants to do his bidding. He "acts himself into them." Human wills are accessible to the will of the Supreme, and move with it as the tides with the circling moon. The Assyrian warring against Israel for his own reasons is, nevertheless, the rod of his anger in the band of Israel's God. This fact gives moral significance to many events that seem purely natural. The drunkard's bloated body, the sensualist's shattered health, the spendthrift's ruined fortunes, are results of natural laws, it is true, but of these directed and combined by supernatural power, and accomplishing Divine moral ends. The evil that comes through nature comes from its God.
The lidless eye.
God is not an absentee. He sits at the helm of things. He administers the affairs of the world which he has made. All creatures he takes cognizance of, determines their destiny, controls their actions. His kingdom ruleth over all. And this rule is moral. Under it condition takes the colour of character. God is pure to the pure, froward to the froward (Psalms 18:26). This transgressors know to their bitter cost.
I. GOD'S EYE FOLLOWS THE WICKED. In one sense his "eyes are upon the righteous" (Psalms 34:15). On the wicked they rest in a very different sense.
1. In heedfulness. Divine omniscience is an uncomfortable fact which the wicked try not to realize. "They seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord." Their whole aim is to get away from him; to be able to think thoughts he shall not know, and cherish desires he shall not sift, and do works he shall not observe (John 3:20; Isaiah cf. 27). But the project is futile (Jeremiah 23:24; Psalms 33:13; Proverbs 15:3). God is everywhere, sees everything, fills heaven and earth. No dispensation of inadvertency is possible. God will not ignore. He cannot be inattentive. Events of whatever kind, and everywhere, are infallibly submitted to his cognizance as the movements of the clouds above are faithfully mirrored in the glassy lake. He fills all things, and all that happens happens in his presence.
2. In perfect insight. "I the Lord do search the heart." Noticing things, God sees them through and through, discerns their character, and appraises their moral value. The mind and heart of man are no mystery to him. No slightest motion of either eludes his perfect knowledge. The purpose before it comes forth in action, the thought before it has matured into a purpose, the fancy before it has taken shape in evil desire,—all these are open to his eye. Even to the heathen he was totus oculus, a Being "all eye." He knows all things eternally, immeasurably, immutably, and by a single act; and men and their works and words and wishes are continually in his sight.
3. In uncompromising displeasure. God is passible. He can be affected by the actions of his creatures. His possession of genuine character ensures his genuine feeling. The moral perfection of that character ensures his feeling appropriately. "There must be so much or such kind of passibility in him that he will feel toward everything as it is, and will be diversely affected by diverse things according to their quality" (Bushnell). Therefore "he is angry with the wicked every day." Sin is to him as smoke to the eyes and vinegar to the teeth. It pains him inevitably, and leads to that infinitely pure recoil of his nature from evil, and antagonism to it, in which his wrath consists.
II. GOD'S INFLUENCES FOLLOW HIS EYE. "I set mine eye upon them for evil," etc. God's look brings evil consequences where it falls on evil things.
1. To feel is faith God to act. Much human feeling comes to nothing. No action is taken on it. Its very existence may remain unspoken. Not so with God. It is a result of his perfection that his mental or moral attitude toward any object is his active attitude toward it also. Disposition associates itself inevitably with suitable action. Feeling against sin, he must also act against it. His very feeling is equivalent to action, for his volition is power, and to will a thing is to bring it to pass.
2. God's action exactly answers to his feeling. If he regard sin as evil, he will not treat it as good. His attitude towards it must be one all round, and therefore rigorous all round. And so it is. Whatever mystery may be about certain cases, there is no mystery about the connection between all suffering and sin. In sickness, in sorrow, in anxiety, in doubt, in all forms and degrees of pain, God's eye and hand are on sinners for evil. Until sin becomes congenial to his nature, it cannot become satisfactory to the sinner.
III. GOD'S MERCY WARNS THE SINNER OF BOTH. He makes no secret of his attitude and way in reference to sin. Both are made known to those whom they most concern.
1. This course is merciful. It gives the sinner an advantage. He sees the moral quality of sin as hateful in God's sight, and its inevitable result as provoking his hostile action. He can neither sin ignorantly nor incur the penalty unawares. Forewarned, it is his fault if he is not forearmed.
2. It is moral. It tends to deter from sin, and so to save from its penal consequences. The thought that it is under God's eye ought to make sin impossible, and does make it more difficult. The knowledge that it ends inevitably in ruin does much to stay the transgressor's hand.
3. It is judicial. Sin done consciously under God's eye, and deliberately in defiance of his wrath, is specially guilty. The warning which being heeded might have deterred from sinning will greatly aggravate the guilt of it if disregarded. The truth will be, as we treat it, a buoy lifting us out of the sinful sea, or a millstone sinking us deeper in its devouring waters.
Amos 9:5, Amos 9:6
The image of the Deity in great nature's open eye.
God's wrath "is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness." And it is terrible as it is great. Impotent anger is ridiculous, but the wrath of Omnipotence overwhelms. Whatever, therefore, illustrates the power of God adds terror to his threat. And such is the effect of this passage. The stern purport of the previous commination is emphasized by the moving picture it presents of the Divine majesty and resistless might. Omnipotent resources will push forward to full accomplishment the purposes of Omniscience against doomed and abandoned Israel. We have here—
I. GOD'S NAME REVEALING HIS CHARACTER. This is the object of a name. It distingnishes the bearer from others, and this by expressing some leading characteristic.
1. The Lord. This is the word invariably substituted by the Jews for Jehovah in the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is a name of authority, and means "the supreme Lord." The Lord is over all. He is Governor and Judge in one. He does as it pleases him. He disposes of all matters, and settles all interests without appeal. He reckons with none, and none can call him to account.
2. Jehovah. This is a verb, third person, signifying "he is," and another form of the name "I am," by which God revealed himself to Moses. Its root idea is that of "underived existence;" then, as arising out of this, "independent action;" and then, as the corollary of both, "eternity and unchangeableness" (see Fairbairn). It is thus the proper name of God to man; self-existent himself, the Author of existence to all persons and things, and manifesting his existence to those capable of knowing it. Jehovah is the concrete and historical name of God. As revealed by it, he exists by his own energy, and makes to be all things that are. Absolute and undetermined, he determines absolutely all things outside himself. Unseen and invisible, he comes forth—concretes himself, as it were—in the works which his hands have made.
3. Jehovah of hosts. This title appears first in 1 Samuel 1:3, and, as has been remarked, "simultaneously with the foundation of the Jewish monarchy." It may mean Lord of (Israel's) armies (Psalms 44:9), or of celestial beings (Psalms 148:2), or of the heavenly bodies (Isaiah 40:26), or, more probably, of all three. In this wide sense we "see in the title a proclamation of the universal sovereignty of Jehovah, needed within the nation, lest that invisible sovereignty should be forgotten in the visible majesty of the king; and outside the nation, lest Jehovah should be supposed to be merely a national deity" (Kirkpatrick, on 1 Samuel). This is the God whose eye is for evil on Israel—God supreme, God absolute, and God in special relation to the hosts of Israel who had forsaken him, to the heavenly bodies which they worshipped, and to the angel hosts, the ministers to do his will on those whom he would visit in wrath.
II. GOD'S OPERATIONS REVEALING HIS WAY. What God does is a criterion of what he can do. His all-pervading activity will include in its sweep the accomplishment of the destiny again and again announced.
1. He occupies the sky. "Who buildeth his stories," etc. There were, according to a rabbinical theory, seven heavens, the seventh containing the throne of the Eternal, symbolized by Solomon's throne of ivory and gold, the six steps leading up to which symbolized in turn the six celestial regions below the highest heaven (1 Kings 10:18-11.10.20). In terms of this mystic theory is the expression, "stories of the heaven." Heaven is conceived of as a giddy height, approached by aerial steps or stages, all of them the handiwork of God. He stands on the "cloud-capped towers." He dwells in the "airy palaces." He walks on the "fleece-like floors." He makes the different levels of the firmament steps between his throne and the earth below.
2. He metamorphoses the earth. (1 Samuel 1:5.) God's word brought order out of chaos at first. "He spake, and it was done," etc. By the same word, turning order into chaos again, shall all things be dissolved (2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:11). It is little for the word that makes and unmakes, that created and will dissolve the frame of nature, to move in earthquake upheaval the solid crust of earth till it mimicks the roll of the sea, or "Nile's proud flood" in its rise and fall.
3. He distributes the waters of the sea. The sea is the most stupendous natural object. There is majesty in all its moods, and awe in its very presence. Hence in the mythology a god was allocated to it, brother to Zeus, the god of heaven and earth, and second only to him in power. And God's "way is in the sea." He rules its waves. He regulates its myriad currents and restless tides. Its great throbbing pulse beats but at his will. He holds its waters in the hollow of his hand, and concentrates or disperses them as it pleases him. He is a God, then, "whose wrath is terrible." Every force of nature he not alone controls, but wields an instrument of his will. In Amos 5:8 the same fact is plod as an inducement to seek his favour, which here appears as a reason to dread his wrath. As the same locomotive will drive the train before it or draw it after it at the engineer's will, so the fact of the omnipresent energy of God is fitted alike to alarm and to attract, but in either case to bring the sinner to his feet.
III. PHYSICAL CONVULSIONS THE COUNTERPARTS OF MORAL CONVULSION. Events in the two worlds happen according to similar if not identical laws. To a discriminating eye, the one set rises up in the likeness of the other, created so by God. "He daily buildeth his stories in the heavens when he raiseth up his saints from things below to heavenly places, presiding over them, ascending in them" (Pusey). "He toucheth the earth, and it melteth;" when he stretches out his hand in wrath on its inhabitants, and men's hearts fail them for fear. "He calleth to the waters of the sea, and poureth them out over the earth," when he makes the wicked the rod of his anger to overrun and vex society (Psalms 93:3, Psalms 93:4). Verily the God who makes the heavens his throne, the earth his footstool, the elements his playthings, and men and angels his ministers, is a Being in whose favour is life and whose power is terrible.
The exalted brought low.
"Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father." And yet the blind and infatuate Israel were always saying it. They said it in view of every imminent catastrophe. They said it in abbreviation of all argument. They said it in lieu of fit and seasonable action. They made it an amulet to hang around their neck when they rushed purblind into rebellious action. They ran into it as into an intellectual joss house, where any absurdity was raised to the dignity of a god. This last support of their false security the prophet in this passage knocks away. They had acted altogether out of character, and now—
I. APOSTATE ISRAEL CAN ONLY TAKE RANK WITH THE HEATHEN IN GOD'S ESTIMATION. National election was, no doubt, a pledge of national preservation, but only in connection with national faithfulness; for:
1. A spiritual relation with the unspiritual is impossible. "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" It is a moral impossibility. They are moral opposites and incompatible in the nature of things. Becoming assimilated to the heathen, Israel contracted themselves out of the covenant, and became "afar off," even as they.
2. A relation, when it is repudiated on either side, virtually terminates. Israel had said, "We will not have this Man to rule over us;" and the relation of favour on the one side and fealty on the other could not survive the step. God must cease to be their God when they ceased to be his people. "God chose them that they might choose him. By casting him off as their Lord and God, they cast themselves off and out of his protection. By estranging themselves from God, they became as strangers in his sight" (Pusey).
3. Acts done because of a spiritual relation existing lose their meaning when it is broken off. "Have I not brought Israel," etc.? They might think that, after bringing them out of Egypt, God Could never disown them, however unfilial and unfaithful. But had not the circumstances of their idolatry and corruption altered the ease? Theirs was not the only exodus. He had brought "the Philistines out of Caphtor, and the Syrians out of Kir;" yet these nations were aliens, and to be destroyed (Amos 1:5). If Israel conformed itself to these in character and way, then Israel's exodus would lose its significance, and be no more than events of a like kind in their distant past. What the father did for the son is no binding precedent for the case of the prodigal.
II. ACCORDINGLY, ISRAEL SHALL FARE AS THE HEATHEN DO WHO FORGET GOD. Grouping Israel like to like with heathen, God's attitude must be the same to both. They shall be treated:
1. As the objects of God's displeasure. He is angry with the wicked every day. He is angrier with those of them who sin against light and privilege. He is angriest with the spiritual renegades whose disaffection is guilty in proportion to the strength of the ties it sets aside.
2. As the victims of his destroying judgments. (Verse 8.) "And I will destroy it off the face of the earth." Strange words from a God visibly in covenant. But the covenant was broken. The theoretically "holy nation" was actually a "sinful kingdom." Israel's character was not the character to which covenant promises referred. Heathenish in corruption, what but the bolts forged for their pagan kin could fall upon their heads?
3. This in the character of defiant transgressors. (Verse 10.) "Not because they sinned aforetime, but because they persevered in sin until death" (Jerome, in Pusey). Sin may be forgiven, but impenitence never. The unpardonable sin is unforsaken sin.
III. THE JUDGMENT THAT SHALL DESTROY THE WICKED MASS SHALL LEAVE A. RIGHTEOUS REMNANT. (Verse 8.) "Except that I shall not utterly destroy the house of Jacob." God ordains no indiscriminate destruction. His bolts strike his enemies. Of his friends:
1. Not one shall perish. "Not even a little grain falls to the ground." The Divine nature, of which the righteous are partakers, is indestructible. The life of the saint is a living Christ within him (Galatians 2:20). Christ "is alive forevermore" (Revelation 1:18), and says to all in whom he is as their life, "Because I live, ye shall live also." In a mixed community the righteous sometimes die for the fault of the wicked; but their death is precious in God's sight (Psalms 116:15), and "not an hair of their head shall perish."
2. They shall be sifted out of the mass. (Verse 9.) In these graphic words the righteous minority are corn, and the corrupt masses the chaff. The nations are the sieve, and the Divine judgments the shaking of it. The result is not destruction of the grain, but separation between it and the chaff. "In every quarter of the world, and in well nigh every nation in every quarter, Jews have been found. The whole earth is, as it were, one vast sieve in the hands of God, in which Israel is shaken from one end to the other.... The chaff and dust would be blown away by the air;… but no solid corn, not one grain, should fall to the earth" (Pusey). So in other cases. God's judgments winnow men, discerning clearly between clean and unclean. When the storm is over, the seaworthy vessels are easy of identification, for they alone survive.
3. Their own sinfulness shall be sifted out of them. "What is here said of all God doth daily in each of the elect. For they are the wheat of God, which, in order to be laid up in the heavenly garner, must be pure from chaff and dust. To this end he sifts them by afflictions and troubles" (Pusey). Suffering is not purifying per se. But the suffering of the righteous is (Hebrews 12:11; 1 Corinthians 4:17). It subdues the flesh, deepens our sense of dependence on God, spiritualizes our thoughts, and tests, and by testing strengthens, faith (1 Peter 1:7). In the night of suffering come out the stars, guiding, consoling, irradiating the soul.
"Then fear not in a world like this,
And thou shalt know ere long—
Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong."
Amos 9:11, Amos 9:12
The rebuilding of the waste places.
"God hath not cast away his people, which he foreknew," as the cumulative series of woes announced might seem to indicate. As a people they conspire, rebel, and cast him off, and as a people they are scattered, decimated, and disowned. In their corporate character they cannot longer survive, But there were individuals among them who had either remained loyal or come back to their allegiance, and these stood in a different position. Not only would they be spared, but made the nucleus of a new people, and their existence the occasion of a new dispensation. Such is the burden of these verses. The sinners are destroyed, and a new prosperity blooms for the faithful remnant that survives. The waifs of the national wreck are drawn in safety from the waves, and the desolated land is renovated for their home.
I. THE RESTORATION OF DAVID'S HOUSE. David's house here is not merely the dynasty of David, but the kingdom of David, and this as a type of the kingdom of Christ. Its restoration, in the ultimate sense, is accomplished only in the establishment of the Messianic kingdom which it symbolized. "The raising up of the fallen hut of David commenced with the coming of Christ and the founding of the Christian Church by the apostles" (Keil). Interpreting the passage thus, the rabbis adopted "the Son of the fallen" as one of the titles of Christ.
1. This house has degenerated into a fallen hut before its true dignity is reached. Judah shrinks into a petty province, the royal line is represented by a carpenter's wife, and the Jewish Church is a little flock with many a black sheep, ere the set time to favour Zion comes. "Strange comment on human greatness, that the royal line was not to be employed in the salvation of the worm until it was fallen. The royal palace had to become the hut of Nazareth ere the Redeemer of the worm could be born, whose glory and kingdom were not of this world" (Pusey).
2. Its restoration will be to a state of ideal perfection. The "breaches" would be repaired, and the "ruins" rebuilt, with the effect of making it "as in the days of old;" i.e. restoring it so as to embody the original design. This restoration to an as yet unrealized ideal could be only spiritual, and the Restorer Jesus Christ. The "hut" into which the "palace" had deteriorated (2 Samuel 5:11) was transformed into a far more glorious structure when Christ sat "upon the throne of David to order it," etc. (Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:32, Luke 1:33). The ideal of the Davidic kingdom is realized in the Christian Church; there fully, and there only.
3. This restoration will be a work of Divine power. "In the days of these kingdoms shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44). The Church, composed of Spirit-quickened men, is the creature of God as no political kingdom can be. Redeemed by Jesus Christ, quickened by the Holy Ghost, made one in the white heat of heavenly grace, it is altogether a Divine thing. Every energy it has is God-given; every grace is Spirit-wrought. In this is the special glory of the Jerusalem which is above. And when, among the ruins of a Hebrew monarchy, there rises, radiant in the beauties of holiness, the kingdom of our God, then indeed the bricks are changed to hewn stones, and the sycamores to cedars, and the palace of David is rebuilt as in the days of old.
II. THE WIDE CIRCLE OF INTERESTS TO BE ADVANCED BY THIS RESTORATION. "The restoration was not to be for themselves alone. No gifts of God end in the immediate objects of his bounty and love. They were restored in order that they, the first objects of God's mercies, might win others to God" (Pusey). Those brought in were to be:
1. Gentiles as well as Jews. (Amos 9:12.) James, in his speech at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:14-44.15.17), declares the fulfilment of this prophecy in the calling of the Gentiles. Edom, as the nation most hostile to the Jews and furthest from David's house, is put by a natural figure for the whole Gentile world. The "remnant of Edom," whether mystic or natural, are the few called in each case out of the many (Matthew 20:16; Amos 1:12). "All the nations," etc; is a fuller and more literal statement of the ingathering of "the fulness of the Gentiles," when God brings his sons from afar, and his daughters from the ends of the earth. The gospel kingdom is to be the universal kingdom, "filling the whole earth," covering it with the knowledge of God, and making it, as the home of righteousness, a transfigured place.
2. The Gentiles by means of the Jews. "That they may take possession," etc. It is in Abraham and his seed that the nations are blessed. In our spiritual freedom and fulness of privilege we may not forget that Christ who founded the Church, the apostles who preached the kingdom of God and organized it, and the holy men who wrote the Scriptures as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, were, almost without exception, Jews. It is thus that "out of Zion has gone forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." To those we owe to the Jews there are no earthly obligations parallel, and the time of their graffing in again is one for which by every tie we are bound to pray.
3. Both these in virtue of a Divine appropriating act. "And all the nations upon which my Name is called;" i.e. appropriated, or marked as God's own (Genesis 48:16; Deuteronomy 28:9, Deuteronomy 28:10; Jeremiah 15:16). Those whom God saves are such as he has graciously chosen to be his own. "Whom he did foreknow them he also called." Salvation is the evolution of an external plan, which in turn is the expression of Divine electing love.
III. GOD'S PURPOSE IN THIS MATTER POTENTIALLY A FACT. "Saith Jehovah who doeth this."
1. The Divine energy is the efficient cause of events. Second causes are not independent of or coordinate with the First Cause, but the instruments in its bands. Behind all and in all is the Divine Omnipotent energy, the ultimate cause, direct or indirect, of whatever is.
2. The Divine word pledges the exercise of this Divine energy. God's word is absolute truth. It cannot be broken. If it goes before, the corresponding act will follow. As well divorce the lightning from the thunder as the work from the word of God. When he says, and what he says, and as he says, he does infallibly.
3. The Divine will constitutes the Divine energy. God wills all things into existence. His choosing that a thing shall be brings it to pass. What a source of unfailing consolation is this fact to the gracious soul! Its rich future is assured. Omnipotent power and unchanging truth have the issue in hand, and miscarriage is not to be named.
Out of the shadow into the sun.
Israel's atmosphere has cleared. The thunders are silent. The storms are blown out. The clouds are scattered. The shadow of "the great doom's image" has lifted. And now the sun comes out in the clear shining after rain. We look forth on a new land of promise, a land from which the curse of God and the track of the destroyer have disappeared. The ruins are rebuilt. The waste places bloom. The fields throw teeming crops, beyond the harvester's power to gather. The erewhile sinful and down-trodden people are prosperous and pure and free. It is a scene of idyllic beauty and peace—a happy finale to the dark storm times that have gone before. This time will be—
I. A TIME OF TEEMING PLENTY. Figures of unheard of fertility and abundance are multiplied.
1. Seed time and harvest should overlap. "The ploughman shall overtake the reaper," etc. With a certain difficulty of defining the exact idea here, the general purport of the language is plain. The teeming crops could scarcely be gathered till another seed time had come, or else growth would be so quick that the harvest would begin as soon as the seed time was over. So Shakespeare—
"Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest."
This rich promise was not now recorded for the first time. Conditionally on obedience, it had been made by the mouth of Moses seven centuries before (Leviticus 26:5). But, absolutely made, it assumes a new value now. And as the events in it are altogether impossible in the natural world, it must obviously be taken in a spiritual sense. The plenty, like the previously threatened famine (Amos 8:11), was not to be one of bread and water, but "of hearing the words of the Lord." In the spiritual sphere the seed time and the harvest may come together. The man who goes forth with seed may return with sheaves (Psalms 126:6). Indeed, the Samaritan fields were "white unto harvest" (John 4:35), when, as yet, the sowing had only begun. In such a case poetic figure becomes literal truth, and Zion, as soon as she travails, brings forth (Isaiah 66:7, Isaiah 66:8).
2. The mountains should drop wine spontaneously. The vineyards of Israel were on the mountain slopes. Of the plethora of over-rich grapes with which they would be loaded many would burst, and in the spontaneous discharge of their juice the mountains would literally "drip new wine." This process, in its spiritual analogue, is more wondrous and delightful still. Spiritual plenty has its inevitable and enriching overflow. Freely have ye received, freely give. Spiritual character is always imparting of itself in spiritual influence. From the gracious lip there drops continually the new wine of "a word in season." And the religious life, "lived not for ourselves," is a tide of helpful action beating perpetually on the shore of others' lives.
3. The hills should dissolve themselves in the products they yield. This is the force of the expression, "All the hills shall melt." The rich earth throws its own substance into the teeming crops it bears. The richer it is the larger proportion of its substance is expended in this process. Pure leaf mould would, in this way, almost totally disappear, transforming itself entirely into grain or fruit. In the spiritual sphere self-surrender for others is a law of life. Christ gave himself, and Christians give themselves, for men. "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you" (2 Corinthians 12:15) is the philosophy, not alone of Paul's, but of all Christian living. The gracious heart expends itself in helpful action. The sum total of philanthropic effort in the world is just the concreted spiritual energy of the godly company.
II. A TIME OF NATIONAL RESTORATION. (Amos 9:14.) Each term here has a spiritual reference, and the whole has an ultimate spiritual fulfilment. This comes:
1. Generally, in the breaking of every yoke by Christ. Sin is bondage—enthralment by the devil, the world, and the flesh. Ceremonialism was bondage—subjection to "weak and beggarly elements" in symbolic and wearisome observance. From both Christ comes a Liberator. He "makes an end of sin" in every aspect; "destroying the devil," "delivering from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4), and fulfilling his righteousness in men "who walk not alter the flesh." He abolishes type, substituting for it the thing typified: for the shadow, the substance; for the Law, "grace and truth."
2. For individuals, when the Son makes them free. Spiritual bondage cannot survive believing union with Christ. His blood dissolves the chains of guilt. His Spirit breaks the bonds of indwelling sin. Acceptance with God is not conditioned on an impossible obedience to the whole Law, "for we are not under the Law, but under grace" (Romans 7:6). The life of self-surrender is not made burdensome by a carnal nature, "for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us free from the law of sin and death." The conditions of the life of joyous fellowship are presented in the inwrought spirit of adoption, and the "Abba, Father" of the free, on Spirit-opened lips (Romans 8:15, Romans 8:21; John 4:18). They are free indeed, whom, trebly loosing thus, the Son makes free.
3. For the nation, when brought into the Church during the millennial era. Their conversion in the latter days is distinctly and repeatedly foretold (Hosea 3:4, Hosea 3:5; Romans 12:12, Romans 12:15, 23; 2 Corinthians 3:16). National restoration this may not strictly be, but it is more than equivalent to it. When the long wandering return, when the hearts cold and embittered for ages glow with heavenly love, when the veil drops that hung on mind and sense, when the broken-off branches are set again in the good old olive tree, a spiritual fulfilment will have come of Amos's words, more glorious than any literal or local one, as the glory of the second temple exceeds the glory of the first.
III. A TIME OF RESETTLEMENT IN THEIR OWN LAND. (Verse 15.) In three classes of events, come or coming, we have as many steps in the fulfilment of this promise.
1. The return from the Babylonish exile. The captivity was God's final, because effective, disciplinary measure. Israel was thoroughly sickened with heathen gods and heathen ways. Osiris and Isis in Egypt, and Baal and Ashtaroth in Palestine, had won, almost without wooing, an attachment which, in Babylon, Bel and Nebo could not so much as stir. The last and bitterest prescription had succeeded, and soon the patient, cured abroad, was ordered home. Amidst tremendous difficulties, Jerusalem was repaired, the temple rebuilt, and the land in a measure resettled, and so an approximate fulfilment of Amos's glowing prophecy realized (Ezra 7:13, etc.).
2. The calling of the Gentiles. They are the spiritual Israel, the true children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-48.3.9). They throw off the yoke of the mystic Babylon; "possess the kingdom forever" (Daniel 7:8-27.7.22); "inherit the earth," as their own land; repair the ruins, and restore the spiritual wastes left by sin; and they revel in "the feast of wines on the lees," etc. "Throughout the world Churches of Christ have arisen which, for the firmness of faith, may be called cities; for the gladness of hope, vineyards; and for the sweetness of charity, gardens" (Pusey).
3. The future restoration of the Jews to Palestine. This is foretold (Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 36:28; Ezekiel 37:25). God does the work (Ezekiel 34:11-26.34.13) through Gentile agency (Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 66:20). "They are to be nationally restored to the favour of God, and their acceptance publicly sealed by their restoration to their land" (David Brown, D.D.). Converted Israel will be eminent alike in character and influence in the millennial Church (Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 66:19; Ezekiel 39:29; Micah 5:7). Held again by the old people, her cities rebuilt, her grandeur restored, her broad acres reclaimed and fertile, and, above all, Jesus Christ on the throne of the nation's heart, Palestine will be indeed "the glory of all lands."
IV. ALL THIS SECURED BY INFALLIBLE GUARANTEE. There is no romancing with inspired men. What they say is coming, as God is true. The pledge of this is:
1. God's character. "Saith Jehovah," i.e. "the One who is." He is Reality as against the seeming, Substance as against the typical, Veracity as against the deceiving, Faithfulness as against the changeful. As being Benevolent he is true, human happiness depending on confidence in his character. As Independent he is true, being above all possible temptation to deceive. As Unchangeable he is true, falsehood being essentially a change of character. As Omnipotent he is true, the use of moral agents in free and yet infallible execution of his purposes being passible only as his Word is a revelation of his thought.
2. His existing relation. "Thy God." Not a God unknown. Not a God apart. Not a God untried. In his present attitude, his covenant relation, his past deeds, in all such facts is "confirmation strong." The God they connect themselves with is a God to trust. His perfections are the strands, and his relation their twining together, in the cord of confidence not quickly broken, which binds the soul to his eternal throne.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The thought of the Divine omniscience is a welcome thought to the friend, the child of God. But to the impenitent transgressor no thought is so distasteful, so distressing. If he cannot persuade himself that there is no God, he at all events hopes that the Divine eye does not rest upon him, that he is overlooked and forgotten. This vain refuge of sinners is discovered and destroyed by the revelation of this prophecy. The idolatrous temple shall be dismantled, the idolatrous altar shall be overthrown, when the Lord enters into controversy with unfaithful Israel. And in that day the sinful and deluded worshippers and priests shall be scattered. Whether slain or carried into captivity, none shall escape the eye or elude the chastening hand of the God who has been defied or forgotten. Every individual shall be dealt with upon the principles of eternal justice.
I. THE FOOLISH AND VAIN ENDEAVOURS OF SINNERS TO AVOID THE RECOMPENSE OF THEIR INIQUITY. The language of the prophet is vigorous and poetical. He pictures the smitten and scattered Israelites as delving into the abyss, as soaring to the heights of heaven, as hiding in the caves of Carmel, as crouching beneath the waters of the ocean; and all in vain. This figurative language represents the sophistry and the self-deception and the useless wiles and artifices by which the discovered sinner seeks to persuade himself that his crimes shall be unpunished.
II. THE OMNIPRESENCE OF THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE. We are reminded of that ancient acknowledgment, "Thou God seest me!" as we read this declaration, "I will set mine eyes upon them." The psalmist, in the hundred and thirty-ninth psalm, has given us the most wonderfully impressive description which is to be found even in sacred literature of the omnipresence and the omniscience of God. Next to that description, for vigour and effectiveness, comes perhaps this passage of the prophecies of Amos. At every point and at every moment the universal and all-comprehending Spirit is in closest contact with every created intelligence; and that presence which may be discerned in operation wherever any work of God in the realm of nature is studied, is equally recognizable in the intellectual, the spiritual kingdom. Every conscience is a witness to the ever-present, all-observing Deity.
III. THE CONSEQUENT CERTAINTY OF THE CARRYING OUT OF ALL THE REGAL AND JUDICIAL DECISIONS OF THE DIVINE RULER. The circumstances of Israel led to the application of this great principle to the case of the sinful and rebellious. It was a painful duty which the prophet had to perform, but as a servant of God he felt that there was no choice left him. It was his office, and it is the office of every preacher of righteousness, to say unto the wicked, "Thou shall surely die."—T.
National pride and presumption.
It is usual for nations to boast of their history, their position, their great qualities, their good fortune, their invincibility. We know this from our own observation of the nations of modern times. And in this respect all ages seem alike. There were, no doubt, very peculiar grounds for self-confidence and boastthlness on the part of the Jews. Yet such dispositions and habits were again and again censured and condemned by the inspired servants of Jehovah.
I. IT IS A BROAD GENERAL FACT THAT THE MOVEMENTS OF NATIONS ARE UNDER THE GUIDANCE OR SUPERINTENDENCE OF THE ALMIGHTY RULER. Amos is directed to point out that what was true of Israel in this respect was equally true of the Cushites, the Philistines, and the Syrians. In the case of all these nations there had been remarkable migrations and settlements. The hand of God is recognized in one as much as in the other. The Hebrews are sometimes charged with narrowness and vanity in their interpretations of Divine providence. Doubtless many of them may be justly so charged. But the language of Amos is a proof that the enlightened Jews took a far wider view. There is no contradiction between general and special providence. The nations of men, because they are men, are subject to the control and direction of God. Not one tribe is unworthy of his regard. In what manner, and to what extent, the great Ruler interposes in the political affairs of peoples it is not for our limited wisdom to decide. But the petty notion that one favoured nation enjoys the protection and guidance of Heaven, whilst other nations are neglected and uncared for, is utterly inconsistent with the teaching of the text.
III. THE GUIDANCE AND PROTECTION WHICH NATIONS HAVE ENJOYED IN THE PAST IS NO GROUND OF EXEMPTION FROM THE OPERATION OF THE MORAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. There were those in Israel who deemed it incredible that a nation so favoured as theirs had been could possibly be called upon to experience defeat, conquest, captivity, disaster. But the fact is that great privileges simply place men upon a higher level of responsibility. To whom much is given, of them will much be required. Unfaithfulness is the one great ground of censure, condemnation, punishment. Israel had sinned in separating from Judah, in setting up rival altars at Dan and Bethel, in introducing an alien religion, idolatrous sacrifices and worship, in giving way in times of prosperity to luxury, pride, covetousness, and ambition. All the mercies accorded to their forefathers could not release the Israelites from the obligation to maintain the pure religion of Jehovah, and to keep his laws and ordinances. Nor could they be a ground for exemption from the action of those laws of Divine government which are universal in their operation, and disciplinary and morally beneficial in their tendency. The Captivity and the dispersion were conclusive proofs that there is no favouritism in the administration of God's rule; that his laws are not to be defied with impunity by the most privileged of nations. Presumption is irrational and foolish, and is the sure, swift road to destruction.—T.
Sifting and salvation.
If any prediction could convince the reader of the Old Testament that the prophets spoke and wrote under a supernatural inspiration, surely this prediction must possess this virtue. The history of Israel, not only in times immediately following upon those of Amos, but throughout the centuries which have since elapsed, is just a fulfilment of this language. How picturesquely and forcibly is the truth presented under this similitude, so natural as employed by one familiar with all the processes connected with husbandry!
I. THE PROVIDENTIAL SIFTING APPOINTED FOR THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.
1. It has been determined by the Divine Ruler and Lord. "I will command," says Jehovah. Men may trace the history of the Jews with the design of showing that all the events which have occurred to that people are explicable upon ordinary principles, that Israel drops into its place when marshalled by the enlightened philosopher of history. But beneath all such theory there is an explanation which satisfies the intelligence of the thoughtful and devout student of God's Word: the Lord has ordered it.
2. It has taken place in different lands, and throughout lengthened periods. "Among all the nations," was the expression of the inspired prophet. The successive invasions of Palestine, the conquest of Israel and then of Judah, the captivity into the East, the settlements in Assyria and in Persia, the partial restoration to the land of promise, the subjection of Palestine to successive conquerors, and its subjugation by the Romans, the dispersion among the Gentiles, the scattering of the sons of Israel amongst the nations, alike in the East and the West,—these are but some of the more salient points in a history the most remarkable, the most romantic, and yet the most painful, in the Annals of mankind.
3. It has been ordained for a purpose of a moral and beneficial character. Sifting is for the purpose of separating the chaff and refuse from the pure grain. A process of sifting, winnowing, tribulation (in the literal meaning of that word), has been going on throughout the ages. Even yet the purposes of God are very partially accomplished, for the process is continued; nor is there any sign of its immediate termination.
II. THE DIVINE PRESERVATION OF THOSE SUBJECTED TO THIS TRIAL. Not a grain shall drop out of sight and perish. It is a wonderful paradox—sifting and salvation, trial and protection, scattering and gathering, alike experienced. Yet the marvellous story of the chosen people supports to the letter this ancient representation. It is the simple, actual, literal truth.
1. This protection is apparent in the preservation of the Israelites daring the Oriental captivity. This was even made to minister to the religious purity and enlightenment of a nation previously inclined to fall into idolatrous worship.
2. We recognize it equally in the preservation and the national or tribal distinctness of the Jews in the ages which have elapsed since the destruction of Jerusalem. The corn has been sifted, but the grain has not been lost. "Whom he scattereth he shall gather."
3. There is a fulfilment of this inspired declaration in the individual conversions to God which have from time to time taken place among those who have been trained among the unbelieving and rebellious. As a nation Israel has never ceased to endure chastening. But members of the community, individual sons and daughters of Jacob, have again and again been seen to turn unto the Lord whom their fathers grieved by their ingratitude and insensibility. Precious grains have thus been preserved and gathered into the garner and saved.
4. Such cases are an earnest of a more complete fulfilment of the prediction. So—such is the assurance of the Christian apostle—"all Israel shall be saved."—T.
The folly of self-confidence.
The conduct of these Israelites, and their fate, may well stand as a beacon of warning to all who have heard the Word of God with indifference and unbelief.
I. THE REASONS WHICH SHOULD PROMPT THE SINNER TO CONCERN.
1. The voice of his own conscience assures him of guilt and ill desert.
2. The warnings of Scripture should not be lost upon him, and revelation abounds with such warnings uttered upon the highest authority.
3. The examples of the impenitent who have been overtaken by judgment and destruction enforce the faithful admonitions of Holy Writ.
II. THE EXPLANATIONS OF THE SINNER'S SELF-CONFIDENCE AND PRESUMPTION. It is unquestionable that there are many who say, "The evil shall not reach nor overtake us." How can this be accounted for?
1. The voice of conscience may be silenced or unheeded.
2. The warnings of Scripture may be utterly disregarded.
3. The sinner may think rather of those instances in which judgment has been delayed than of those in which it has been hastened and fulfilled.
III. THE WISDOM AND DUTY OF IMMEDIATE REPENTANCE.
1. God's Word will certainly be verified.
2. No human power can save the impenitent.
3. The time of probation is short, and may nearly have expired.—T.
The reconstruction of the tabernacle of David.
The reference is probably not to that tabernacle which was replaced and superseded by the temple of Solomon, but to the house of David. The booth or hut may well serve as an emblem of the depressed state of the Jewish monarchy and people, not simply as they were in the time of Amos, but as the prophet foretold that they should be in days about to come. The language is very expressive, and depicts a restoration very complete. Breaches shall be closed, ruins shall be repaired, the structure shall be rebuilt. The fortunes of the people of David must indeed he dark for a season, but a brighter day shall surely dawn.
I. THE MOST GLORIOUS FULFILMENT OF THIS PROPHECY WAS IN THE ADVENT OF THE DIVINE SON OF DAVID. Jesus was recognized by the people as the descendant and successor of their national hero. They shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" He himself made the claim, only that he asserted that he was not only David's Son, but also David's Lord. Like David, he was "after God's heart;" like David, he sang praises unto God in the midst of the Church; like David, he overcame the enemies of Jehovah and of his people; like David, he reigned over the nation of Israel But unlike David, he was Divine in his nature and faultless in his character; unlike David, he was rather a spiritual than a worldly Conqueror; unlike David, he was King, not over one people, but over all mankind. In Christ the true Israel has found more than the Israel "according to the flesh" lost in David's removal.
II. THE MAIN PROOF OF THIS FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY IS TO BE FOUND IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MESSIAH'S SPIRITUAL KINGDOM. Time has given an interpretation to this language which was impossible beforehand. How truly the house of David has been more than rebuilt, the kingdom of David more than re-established, is apparent to every observer of what has occurred in the Christian centuries. The kingdom of the Redeemer is:
1. Spiritual. In which respect it is more admirable and more glorious than that of David, which was founded upon the sword, and whose sway was over, not the heart, but the outward life.
2. Universal. For whilst David reigned over a strip of Syrian territory, Christ's empire is vast, and is widening year by year. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ."
3. Everlasting. The few brief glorious years of David's reign were prophetic of that sway which shall endure forever. Of Christ's kingdom "there shall be no end."—T.
The golden age.
Nothing short of inspiration can account for such a close to such a book. Throughout his prophecies Amos has been exposing national sinfulness, threatening Divine chastisement, picturing the degradation, the desolation, the captivity of the kingdoms of Israel and of Judah. How comes it that he is able to transcend this distressing representation? to look beyond these gloomy clouds? to discern, whether far or near, the vision of a smiling earth, a happy people, a splendid prosperity, an eternal joy? It is not the force of human reasoning; it is not the impulse of delusive hope. No; it is the presence of the Divine Spirit that has purged the prophet's spiritual vision, so that he sees the glory yet to be; it is this that touches the prophet's tongue, so that the wail of sorrow and distress is changed into the shout of triumph and the song of joy.
"The world's great age begins anew,
The golden years return;
The earth doth, like a snake, renew
Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream."
I. THE PICTURE OF PROSPERITY. The inspired poet presses into the service all the resources of nature laid open to him by long years of observation and of fellowship. We notice as depicted:
1. The fruitfulness of the soil. The crops of corn, the summer vintage, follow each other in quick succession. From the laden vineyards and adown the sunny slopes flow rivers of delicious wine. The boughs of the trees are weighed down with fruit. For the tillers of the soil and the dwellers in the cities there is "enough and to spare."
2. The peopling of the towns and villages. The banished ones have returned. The once-silent streets resound with the noise of traffic, with the voices of men, with the songs of the happy.
3. Security and perpetual possession. No longer do the dwellers in the fenced cities arm themselves and man their walls against the foe; no longer do the husbandmen dread the incursions of marauders. Quiet resting places and a sure habitation are secured by the goodness of Providence. Earth seems transformed into primaeval Paradise.
II. THE REALITY WHICH THIS PICTURE REPRESENTS.
1. By many interpreters this vision of peace and happiness is deemed predictive of national prosperity still awaiting the scattered children of Israel. The land of promise shall again flow with milk and honey. Jerusalem shall again be the seat of a mighty kingdom. The hills of Judah and the plains of Ephraim shall again be tilled by the children of Jacob. A converted Israel shall—from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, and from the Jordan to the desert, from the heights of Lebanon to the river of Egypt—witness to the faithfulness of the Eternal, to the Messiah long rejected, but now and henceforth to be held in honour and to be served with devotion. Planted, and no more to be plucked up, the chosen people shall flourish like the green bay tree, like the cedar in Lebanon.
2. Other interpreters pass straight from this vision of prosperity and gladness to the spiritual prospect which it opens up to the eyes of the believers in God's Word, of the disciples of Christ. There is peace of which the seat is the conscience, the heart, of man. There is plenty for the satisfaction of man's deepest wants. There is a sure abiding place for the faithful in the care and love of the Eternal There is a kingdom which is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." There is a city of Which every renewed man becomes a denizen, nay, an immortal citizen. There is prosperity in which the poor, the feeble, the despised may share. And there are songs of gladness and of thanksgiving in which all the redeemed and saved shall join.—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The winnowing of God.
"For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth." Introduction: The free use made by Amos of all the scenes in nature. We may learn from the text three lessons.
I. THAT AMONG THOSE CALLED BY A RELIGIOUS NAME THERE EXISTS A GREAT DIVERSITY OF CHARACTER. "I will sift … as corn is sifted." If corn were gathered as manna was—pure, unmixed with deleterious or useless elements—no sifting would be needed. But it grows with other growth, thistles, poppies, darnel, etc; and it seems impossible to keep the field perfectly clear. In the physical, as in the moral, world the false grows beside the true, and the evil beside the good; and God's own law is, "Let both grow together until the harvest." Indeed, during their growth it is difficult to distinguish these. You may mistake tares for wheat, fool's parsley for the garden herb, poisonous fungi for edible mushrooms, and so forth, and only discover your error by serious or even fatal consequences. The mystery of the coexistence of good and evil, then, runs through nature. It is seen in character. "All are not Israel who are of Israel," or are called by that sacred name. Let us now exemplify this from a comparison of the times of Amos with our own.
1. Idolaters were among the prophet's hearers. They had deliberately turned from Jehovah. They held that it was a wise policy on the part of Jeroboam I. to prevent the people going to Jerusalem. They were convinced that the calves at Bethel gave a centre to their national life; and therefore, from motives political and worldly, many of them said, "These be thy gods, O Israel." Knowing as they did the history of their fathers, and the laws and ceremonies of the Mosaic institutes, they sinned against the light. Yet they still called themselves "Israel," and they were not marked out by external sign from the true people of God. No brand was on their foreheads, no curse fell on their homes, no fire of judgment overwhelmed them with destruction; but they were amongst the sleek, successful men of Samaria. In this Christian land, and in our Christian congregations, may still be found those who have forsaken God and made unto themselves other gods. Sometimes, for example, a man deifies wealth. His thoughts are concentrated on it, and his full energies are directed to its attainment. To claims made on his generosity he turns a deaf ear; over scruples about the forsaking of righteousness and mercy he rides roughshod. If at last he succeeds he says, "It is my power, and the might of my hand, that has wrought this." Yet prayerless, godless, as such men are, they still call themselves by the Christian name.
2. Amos spoke to others who were simply indifferent to religion. They considered that the questions debated between the true and false prophets were professional questions, with which they had no personal concern. Worshipping neither the calves nor Jehovah, their wish was to glide quietly through life, winning for themselves such enjoyment as was possible. Describe the attitude of many towards religion in our day—occasionally attending worship, knowing nothing of the meaning of it, and taking their chance as to the unseen future. They are known, not to us, but to God.
3. Some in the days of Amos had the character as well as the name of "Israel." They dared not, could not, go up to Jerusalem. But their families were instructed in the Scriptures. They thought of the old days when Jehovah was universally acknowledged as the Lord, and, like Jacob, they prayed in an agony of supplication, "I will not leg thee go, except thou bless me." These belonged not only to the "kingdom" but to the "house" of Israel, on which God would have mercy. (See the promise to this effect, distinguishing between the "kingdom" and the "house," in verse 8.) Such are still to be found. In business, because of their integrity and charity, their name is as ointment poured forth. In the homes, as instructors of their children, they are preparing blessings for the world. In the sanctuary their praises wing their way to heaven, and in prayer they are princes "having power with God." Now, these differing characters were and are mingled, as are the tares and wheat. They are even united, as are the chaff And the corn, and therefore the day of sifting and separation must come. It has not come yet. When corn is ripening and flowers are blossoming it is useless to send in the weeders. When the reapers are busy their scythes must cut down all growths alike. There is no time then for separation, but it comes at last. You see a heap of winnowed corn in the granary the weeds have been burned, the straw is gone, and all the chaff is scattered. So Israel was to be scattered by persecution, war, and captivity; but not one grain of God's wheat should fall upon the ground. (Text.)
II. THAT THERE ARE TESTING TIMES IN WHICH SUCH DIVERSITY ASSERTS ITSELF. The earth is here represented as a great sieve, in which Israel should be ceaselessly tossed, that the evil might be lest and the good saved. The process is still carried on. There are testing times here, and there will be a testing time hereafter.
1. Preaching, for example, sometimes so disturbs conscience, that on self-examination the man sees what is true and false in his character. Many a hearer has thus been led to ask, "Am I as the chaff which the wind driveth away?"
2. Affliction is a sieve for testing character. Job was an example of this. His distresses revealed him to himself and to his friends; and not a grain of wheat (of that which was worth preserving) was lost. Show how this is still true of the afflicted. Illness, bereavement, losses, etc; lead to serious thought, and while they sometimes destroy unfounded hopes, they give more confidence in that "hope which is the true anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast."
3. Temptation is a revealer of character. Compare the text with our Lord's words, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." What a revelation to Peter of his weakness and presumption was his denial I Illustrate by the story of the two house, built, the one on the rock, the other on the sand (Matthew 7:24 Matthew 7:27). Thus we may test ourselves. If the opportunity offers itself to gratify some passion secretly, without the least risk of detection, is the reply, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" or is the opportunity gladly seized to enjoy "the pleasures of sin for a season"?
4. Persecution tests character. It is easy to deceive ourselves when all our associations are religious. But let these be changed for worldly, sceptical, or immoral surroundings, and the reality of our religious life is proved. Then, either we say, "We must obey God rather than man," and our character is ennobled by the struggle, or the old prayer is omitted, the old Bible neglected, and the old influences blotted out of memory. All such tests as we have mentioned are sent in mercy, to lead to self-examination, and, if need be, to repentance; but Christ draws the veil of the future, and tells us further of a day when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, and:
5. When the judgment of God, according to equity, will be declared. You may escape all other trials, but you will not escape that. Affliction may leave you untouched. Amidst persecution and temptation your reputation may be unscathed. But death will scatter all delusions, and from it, and from that judgment to which it leads, there is no escape (see verse 3, "And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel," etc.). On that day there shall be "the manifestation of the sons of God;" the secret life will be commended, and the quiet service recompensed. With others the vain show will be over, the veil of outward respectability rent asunder, and the words will be heard, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity!" Then there will come the separation, as between the sheep and the goats, the tares and the wheat, the corn and the chaff. Men may have met in the same church, heard the same gospel, lived in the same home, yet above the portal of heaven is this inexorable law, "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth,… but they that are written in the Lamb's book of life." Still the words hold good, "Whosoever believeth on him shall not parish, but have everlasting life;" "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" "Among thy saints may I be found," etc.!
III. THAT OVER THE TESTING PROCESS GOD WATCHES AND RULES SO THAT NOTHING TRUE AND NOTHING GOOD MAY BE LOST. "For, lo, I will command … yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" (comp. Ma Job 3:3). Our text is true in a much broader sense than that in which we have attempted to deal with it.
1. In changes amongst the nations, where there seems little but confusion and unrest, God rules. He is testing and purifying his own people. Not a grain of his purpose will fall to the earth. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my Word shall not pass away."
2. Movements take place in ecclesiastical life. One system makes room for another. The Old Testament economy with its ceremonies, the apostolic Church with its simplicity, the mediaeval Church with its superstitions, etc; all were changed, yet of all the praises and prayers offered through past ages not a grain fell to the earth.
3. In dogmatic theology changes are still going on. Formularies and phrases die out, but the truth in them is not lost. Christ lives and reigns still, and "of his dominion there shall be no end." That which is saved by God is "the grain," that which has life in it; and planted in the earth, it shall be developed in new forms of strength and beauty.
CONCLUSION. Therefore, amidst the wreck and the fall of much that seems precious, let your hearts as Christian men be quiet from fear of evil. Have trust in God, who commands and controls, and believe that amidst all his cares you are not forgotten, amidst all these perils you will be safe. Because good is stronger than evil, and Christ is mightier than our adversary, the words of his promise are true to all believers, "They shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Great sins, great calamities, great efforts.
"I saw the Lord standing upon the altar," etc. "This chapter commences with an account of the fifth and last vision of the prophet, in which the final ruin of the kingdom of Israel is represented. This ruin was to be complete and irreparable; and no quarter to which the inhabitants might flee for refuge would afford them any shelter from the wrath of the omnipresent and almighty Jehovah." The prophet in vision sees the Almighty standing upon the altar, and hears him give the command to smite the lintel of the temple door that the posts may shake; in other words, to destroy the temple. The temple here is not, I think (though the allusion is uncertain), the temple at Jerusalem, the temple of true worship, but the temple of idolatrous worship. The passage suggests three remarks.
I. THAT UNDER THE RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT OF GOD GREAT SIN EXPOSES TO GREAT CALAMITY. How terrible the calamities here referred to! The Israelites, when threatened by the Assyrians, would flock in crowds to Bethel and implore protection from the golden calf. But the very place where they sought protection would prove their ruin. Jehovah says, "Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword," etc. The sin of these Israelites in their idolatrous worship was great. They were the descendants of Abraham, the friend of God. As a people, they were chosen of God and blessed with a thousand opportunities of knowing what was right and true in doctrine and in practice. Yet they gave themselves up to idolatry. Hence these terrible calamities. The greater the sin, the greater the punishment. "Unto whom much is given of him shall be much required; He that knoweth his Lord's will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes;" "It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah," etc.
II. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF APPROACHING CALAMITIES WILL STIMULATE TO GREAT EFFORTS FOR ESCAPE. "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down." There are here supposed attempts at escape. There is the supposed attempt to get into hell—Sheol, the dark realm of shadows, where they could conceal themselves. There is an attempt to climb Mount Carmel, twelve hundred feet in height, there to conceal themselves under the shadows, intricacies, and the crowded forests of oak, pines, laurels, etc; and also in the deep caves running down to the sea. Men in view of great dangers always seek refuge. The sinner here, when he finds death approaching, what strenuous efforts does he employ in order to escape the monster's touch! On the great day of retribution sinners are represented as crying to the rocks and mountains to fall on them.
III. THE GREATEST EFFORTS TO ESCAPE MUST PROVE UTTERLY FUTILE WHEN GOD HAS GIVEN THE SINNER UP. "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them," etc. There are many similar passages to these in the Bible, such as the following: "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there" (Psalms 139:8); "Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; yet he shall perish forever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, Where is he?" (Job 20:6, Job 20:7); "Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from me shall spoilers come unto her, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 51:53); "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 49:16). Whatever the efforts of the sinner in the prospect of approaching danger, there is no escape for him. God is everywhere, and everywhere all-seeing, all-just, and almighty.
CONCLUSION. The only way to escape utter ruin is to renounce your sin, and commit yourself unto the safe keeping of him who is the Redeemer of mankind.—D.T.
God as the Administrator of justice.
"And the Lord God of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn," etc. These words present God to us as the Administrator of justice.
I. THE DOES IT WITH THE GREATEST EASE. The administrators of justice in connection with human government have often to contend with difficulties that baffle and confound them. But the Almighty has no difficulty. "He toucheth the land, and it shall melt." By a mere touch he can punish a whole nation, nay, destroy the world. Whence come earthquakes and volcanoes? Here is their cause: "He toucheth the hills, and they smoke." Never can there be any miscarriage of justice with God. He bears it right home in every case. He has no difficulty about it. He toucheth the clouds, and they drown the world; he kindles the atmosphere and burns cities, etc.
II. HE DOES IT WITH ALL THE POWERS OF NATURE AT HIS COMMAND. "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth." His throne is on high, above all the forms and forces of the universe, and all are at his call. From those heights which he has built, those upper chambers of the universe, he can pour floods to drown a world, or rain fires which will consume the universe. Every force in nature he can make with ease an officer to execute his justice.
III. HE DOES IT DISREGARDFUL OF MERE RELIGIOUS PROFESSION. "Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?" Jehovah here repels the idea which the Israelites were so prone to entertain, that because he had brought them out of Egypt and given them the land of Canaan, they were peculiarly the objects of his concern, and could never be subdued or destroyed. He now regarded and would treat them as the Cushites, or Ethiopians, who had been transplanted from their primal location in Arabia into the midst of the barbarous nations of Africa. The Almighty, in administering justice, is not influenced by the plea of profession. A corrupt Israelite to him was as bad as an Ethiopian, though he calls Abraham his father. "Think not to say …that ye have Abraham to your father." Conventional Christians are in the eyes of God as bad as infidels or heathen. He judgeth not as man judgeth, by the outward appearance; he looketh at the heart.
IV. HE DOES IT WITH A THOROUGH DISCRIMINATION OF CHARACTER. "Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord." There were some good people amongst the Israelites, men of genuine goodness; the great Judge would not destroy them. "I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob .... I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve," etc. He would burn up the chaff, but save the wheat. Evermore will the Almighty Judge recognize and tenderly guard the virtuous and the good, however humble their position in life. He will not destroy the righteous.—D.T.
The restoration of the true moral theocracy.
"In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old," etc. In the previous verses we have had to notice the destruction of the sinful kingdom; in this paragraph we have the establishment of the true kingdom—the true moral theocracy. "In that day," i.e. when the judgment has fallen upon the sinful kingdom, and all the sinners of the people of Israel are destroyed. "The Israelites," says Dr. Henderson, "now disappear from the scene, in order to give place to a brief and prominent exhibition of the restoration of the Jews from their repressed condition during their anticipated captivity in Babylon." The Apostle James, at the first ecclesiastical council at Jerusalem, quotes this prophecy (Acts 15:16, Acts 15:17)—not, however, in its identical phraseology, but in its general meaning—and applies it to the establishment of Christ's kingdom in the world by the admission of the Gentiles into it. The old Hebrew world was for ages governed by a theocracy. God was their King. He had under him and by his appointment human rulers and other functionaries; but they were simply his instruments, and he was their King. That form of government has passed away; but it was symbolical: it was the emblem of a higher theocracy that is to be established, not over the Jews merely, but over the Gentiles and over the whole world. It was to stand forever. We shall use these words as an illustration of this theocratic government. Four thoughts are suggested concerning it.
I. IT ROSE FROM THE HUMBLEST CONDITION. "In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen." "The fallen hut of David" (Delitzsch). Not the magnificent palace of David, which the monarch built for himself on Mount Zion (2 Samuel 5:11). "It is striking that Amos, prophesying in Israel, closes with a promise, not to the ten tribes primarily, but to the royal house of David, and to Israel only through its restoration. Strange comment on human greatness, that the royal line was not to be employed in the salvation of the world until it was fallen. The royal palace had to become the hut of Nazareth ere the Redeemer of the world could be born, whoso glory and kingdom were not of this world,… who came to take from us nothing but our nature that he might sanctify it, our misery that he might bear it for us" (Pusey). Ay, this true moral theocracy had in truth a humble origin! Its Founder, who was he? The Son of a poor Jewish peasant, who commenced his life in a stable. Its first apostles, who were they? They were amongst the poorest of the poor. In its origin, indeed, its symbols are the little stone, the grain of mustard seed, and the few particles of leaven.
II. HEATHENS ARE SUBJECT TO ITS AUTHORITY. "That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my Name, saith the Lord that doeth this." The old theocracy was confined to the Jews; this one, this moral theocracy, is to extend to the heathen. Even Edom—the old and inveterate foe of the theocratic people, who may be regarded as the representative of the whole heathen world—is to be subjected to it. It shall "inherit the Gentiles." It is to have the heathen for its inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for its possession. The Bible assures us, in language most explicit and of frequent occurrence, that the time will come when from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same his Name—that is, the Name of this great moral King, Christ—shall be great among the Gentiles. Or, in the language of Daniel, "When the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him" (Daniel 7:27).
III. ABUNDANT MATERIAL PROVISIONS WILL ATTEND IT. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt." "The metaphorical language here employed is at once in the highest degree bold and pleasing. The Hebrews were accustomed to construct terraces on the sides of the mountains and other elevations, on which they planted vines. Of this fact the prophet avails himself, and represents the immense abundance of the produce to be such that the eminences themselves would appear to be converted into the juice of the grape." Just as this moral theocracy extends, pauperism will vanish. With the kingdom of God and his righteousness all necessary material good comes. "Godliness is profitable unto all things." Let this theocracy, which means the reign in human hearts of Christliness, extend, and the earth "shall yield her increase, and God, even our own God, shall bless us."
IV. LOST PRIVILEGES ARE RESTORED AS IT ADVANCES. "I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and cat the fruit of them." Three blessings, which man has lost through depravity, are here indicated.
1. Freedom. "I will bring again the captivity," or rather, "I will reverse the captivity," give them liberty. Man in a state of depravity is a slave—a slave to lust, worldliness, etc. This moral theocracy ensures freedom to all its subjects. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
2. Prosperity. "Shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof." One of the sad evils connected with man's fallen depravity is that he does not reap the reward of his labours. He builds cities and plants vineyards and makes gardens for others. Through the reign of social injustice he is prevented from enjoying the produce of his honest labours. Under this theocracy it will not be so. What a man produces he will hold and enjoy as his own.
3. Settledness. "I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God." Unregenerate man has ever been restless, homeless, unsettled. He stands not on a rock, but rather on planks floating on surging waters; he is never at rest. All the subjects of the true theocracy are established. "God is their Refuge and Strength."
CONCLUSION. Let us have faith in this predicted future of the world. This faith can alone sustain us in our arduous work; this faith has ever been the nerve of all the great men who have toiled for the world's good.
"Poet and seer that question caught
Above the din of life's fears and frets;
It marched with letters, it toiled with thought,
Through schools and creeds which the earth forgets.
And statesmen trifle and priests deceive,
And traders barter our world away;
Yet hearts to the golden promise cleave,
And still at times, 'Is it come?' they say.
"The days of the nations bear no trace
Of all the sunshine so far foretold;
The cannon speaks in the teacher's place,
The age is weary with work and gold
And high hopes wither, and memories wane,
On hearths and altars the fires are dead:
But that brave faith hath not lived in vain,
And this is all that our watcher said."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent