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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Amos 8

 

 

Verses 1-14

EXPOSITION

Amos 8:1-14

§ 5. In the fourth vision, the basket of summer fruit, the Lord shows that the people is ripe for judgment. Explaining this revelation, Amos denounces the oppression and greed of the chieftains (verses 4-10), and warns them that those who despise the Word of God shall some day suffer from a famine of the Word (verses 11-14).

Amos 8:1

A basket of summer fruit; Septuagint, ἄγγος ἰξευτοῦ, "a fowler's vessel;" Vulgate, uncinus pomorum, which Jerome explains," Sicut uncino rami arborum detrahuntur ad poma carpenda, ita ego proximum captivitatis tempus attraxi." The word chelub is taken to mean "a basket of wickerwork;" it is used for "a cage" in Jeremiah 5:27, but is found nowhere else. The gathering of fruit was the last harvest of the year, and thus fitly typified the final punishment of Israel. This is set forth by the play on the word in the next verse.

Amos 8:2

The end (kets). This is very like the word for "fruit" (kaits). Pass by (see note on Amos 7:8).

Amos 8:3

The songs of the temple; Septuagint, τὰ φατνώματα τοῦ ναοῦ, "the pannels of the temple;" Vulgate, cardines templi. These versions point to a different reading. It is better rendered, "the songs of the palace," referring to the songs of the revellers mentioned already (Amos 6:5). These shall be changed into howlings of lamentation for the dead which lie around (comp. Amos 8:10). There shall be many dead bodies. The Hebrew is more forcible: "Many the corpses: in every place he hath cast them forth. Hush!" The Lord is represented as casting dead bodies to the ground, so that death is everywhere; and the interjection "hush!" (comp. Amos 6:10) is an admonition to bend beneath the hand of an avenging God (comp. Zephaniah 1:7). Orelli takes it as an expression of the apathy that accompanies severe and irremediable suffering—suffering too deep for words. The Greek and Latin versions take this onomatopoetic word has! "hush!" as a substantive. Thus the Septuagint, ἐπιῤῥίψω σιωπήν, "I will cast upon them silence;" Vulgate, projicietur silentium—an expressive rendering, but one not supported by grammatical considerations.

Amos 8:4

The prophet, by admonishing the grandees of their iniquities, which they will not cast away, shows how ripe they are for judgment. That swallow up; better, that pant after (Amos 2:6, Amos 2:7), like a beast after its prey, eager to devour. Even to make the poor of the land to fail; and cause the meek of the land to fail. They grasp at the property of the unresisting poor, adding field to field, and impoverishing them in various ways, to root them out of the land.

Amos 8:5

When? expresses impatience and desire, as in the hymn—

"Thy joys when shall I see?"

The new moon. The first day of the month was a holiday, on which all trade was suspended. It is not mentioned in Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy; but its observance is enjoined in Numbers 28:11, and various notices of this occur in later Scriptures; e.g. 1 Samuel 20:5; 2 Kings 4:23; Hosea 2:11; Colossians 2:16. These greedy sinners kept the festivals, indeed, but they grudged the time given to them, and considered it as wasted. The sabbath. Compare the difficulties with which Nehemiah had to contend in upholding the sanctity of the sabbath (Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15-22). May set forth; literally, open; so Septuagint, καὶ ἀνοίξομεν θησαυρόν. The word expresses the opening of the granaries and storehouses. The ephah, by which corn was measured (see note on Micah 6:10). This they made small, and so gave lees than was paid for. The shekel. The weight by which money was weighed. This they made great, and thus gained too high a price for the quantity of corn. Coined money of determined value seems not to have been used before the return from Captivity, all payments of fixed amount previous to that period being made by weighing (comp. Genesis 23:16; Genesis 33:19; Genesis 43:21; Exodus 30:13; Isaiah 46:6). Falsifying the balances by deceit; better, as in the Revised Version, dealing falsely with balances of deceit. To increase their gains they falsified their scales or used fraudulent weights (see Le 19:36). Thus they cheated the poor probably in three ways—by small measure, exorbitant price, and light weight.

Amos 8:6

Buy the poor for silver (comp. Amos 2:6). The probable meaning is that they so reduced the poor marl by their exactions and injustice, that he was compelled to pay his debt by selling himself into slavery (Le 25:39; Deuteronomy 15:12). For a pair of shoes. For the smallest debt they would deal in this harsh manner. The refuse; literally, that which fell through the sieve; Septuagint, ἀπὸ παντὸς γεννήματος ἐμπορευσόμεθα, "We will trade in every kind of produce;" Vulgate, Quisquilias frumenti vendamus, "Let us sell the refuse of corn."

Amos 8:7

Such crimes as these, which sap the very foundations of social life, shall meet with vengeance. The Excellency of Jacob. This is a title of God himself, as in Hosea 5:5; Hosea 7:10, where it is rendered "pride." Thus the Lord is said to swear by his holiness (Amos 4:2), by his soul. So here he swears by himself, who is the Glory and Pride of Israel; as truly as he is this, he will punish. The Vulgate treats the sentence differently, Juravit in superbium Jacob, i.e. "The Lord hath sworn against the pride of Jacob," against the arrogancy with which they treat the poor, and trust in their riches, and deem themselves scours. So the Septuagint, ὀμνύει κύριος κατὰ τῆς ὑπερηφανίας ἰακώβ, I will never forget, so as to leave unpunished. Literally, if I forget, equivalent to a most decided denial, as Hebrews 4:8, Hebrews 4:5, etc. "Nec mirum est, si Deus jurare dicatur; quum dormientibus dormiat et vigilantibus vigilet; hisque qui sibi thesaurizaverunt iram in die irae dicatur irasci" (St. Jerome).

Amos 8:8

Shall not the land tremble for this? "This" is the coming judgment, or the oath with which God announced it in the previous verse and the prophet asks, "Shall not the land tremble as with an earthquake when the Lord comes to judgement?" The LXX; rendering ἐπὶ τούτοις, takes the reference to be to the "works" or sins of the people (Amos 8:7); but the thought in these two verses is the punishment of the transgressions, not the transgressors themselves. And it shall rise up wholly as a flood (Amos 9:5). The LXX; pointing differently, renders, καὶ ἀναβήσεται ὡς ποταμὸς συντέλεια, "And destruction shall come up as a river;" the Vulgate, Et ascendet quasi fluvius universus; it is best, however, to refer both clauses to the Nile: "Yea, it shall rise up wholly like the river"—the land shall heave and swell like the waters of the Nile at its annual rising. And it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt; better, it shall be tossed up and sink again, like the river of Egypt—a picturesque comparison, which would allude to a phenomenon well known to the Israelites. It is as though the whole earth were turned into a sea, tossing and labouring under a tempestuous wind (comp. Isaiah 24:4).

Amos 8:9

I will cause the sun to go down at noon. This is probably to be taken metaphorically of a sudden calamity occurring in the very height of seeming prosperity, such as the fate of Israel in Pekah's time, and Pekah's own murder (2 Kings 15:29, 2 Kings 15:30; see also 2 Kings 17:1-6). A like metaphor is common enough; e.g. Joel 2:2 : Joel 3:15; Micah 3:6; Job 5:14; Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 15:9. Hind calculates that there were two solar eclipses visible in Palestine in Amos's time, viz. June 15, B.C. 763, and February 9, B.C. 784. Some have suggested that the prophet here predicts the latter in the year of Jeroboam's death; but this, it is discovered, would have been so partial as hardly to be noticeable at Samaria. And it is improbable that such natural phenomena, unconnected with God's moral government, should be the subject of the prophet's prediction (Pusey). Doubtless a sudden reverse is signified (comp. Matthew 24:29, etc.), expressed in terms rendered particularly appropriate by some late and well remembered eclipse. The Fathers note here how the earth was darkened at the Passion of our Lord.

Amos 8:10

I will turn your feasts into mourning, etc. (comp. Amos 8:3 : Amos 5:16, Amos 5:17; Lamentations 5:15; Hosea 2:11; Tobit 2:6). Sackcloth. A token of mourning (1 Kings 20:31; Isaiah 15:3; Joel 1:8, Joel 1:13). Baldness. On shaving the head as a sign of mourning, see note on Micah 1:16; and comp. Job 1:20; Isaiah 3:24; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 47:5; Ezekiel 7:18). I will make it; Ponam eam (Vulgate); sc. terram. But it is better to take it to refer to the whole state of things mentioned before. The mourning for an only son was proverbially severe, like that of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:12, etc.; comp. Jeremiah 6:26; Zechariah 12:10). And the end thereof as a bitter day. The calamity should not wear itself out; it should be bitter unto the end. Septuagint, θήσομαιτοὺς μέτ αὐτοῦ ὡς ἡμέραν ὀδύνης, "I will make … those with him as a day of anguish."

Amos 8:11

This shall be the bitterness at the end; they had rejected the warnings of the prophets (Amos 7:12, etc.); now the Word of God and the light of his teaching should fail them. Famine. When the light of God's revelation is withdrawn, their longing for the Word, however sore and great, shall remain unsatisfied, like that of Saul (1 Samuel 28:6). They may grieve like the psalmist, "We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us any that knoweth how long" (Psalms 74:9); but it will be in vain (see a similar punishment threatened, Lamentations 2:9; Ezekiel 7:26; Micah 3:7).

Amos 8:12

They shall wander; literally, they shall reel. The verse implies the eagerness of their unsatisfied desire, which seeks everywhere for the revelation which for their sin is denied them. From sea to sea. This expression is taken, by Keil and others, to mean here "all the world over," as Psalms 72:8; Micah 7:12; Zechariah 9:10; but it is probably used by the prophet in a more restricted sense, as it would not be natural for him to refer in the first place to the seeking of the words of God beyond the limits of the Holy Land. Therefore "from sea to sea" means from the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean; and from the north even to the east—from the north round again to the east, the south not being mentioned, because there alone was the true worship of God to be found, and they refused to seek it there (Pusey). Of course, according to the wide scope taken by prophecy, which is not exhausted by one fulfilment, we may see hero the fate of the Jews to the present time hopelessly seeking Messiah and the Word of God, never finding that which they once recklessly rejected. By some error the LXX. render, σαλευθήσονται ὕδατα ἀπὸ τῆς θαλάσσης κ. τ. λ; unless they mean, "They shall be tossed as waters," etc.

Amos 8:13

This verse is parallel to the preceding. The thirst, spiritual and physical, shall affect the fair virgins and young men—those in all the freshness, beauty, and vigour of youth. Shall faint; literally, shall be veiled, covered, expressive of the feeling of faintness, when the sight grows dim and a mantle of darkness drops over one (Jonah 4:8). If the strongest thus fail, much more will the rest succumb to the threatened calamity.

Amos 8:14

They who trusted in idols shall find no help in them. They who swear by. Those who reverence and worship, as Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20. The sin of Samaria. The golden calf at Bethel (comp. Deuteronomy 9:21; Hosea 8:5, Hosea 8:6). Septuagint, κατὰ τοῦ ἱλασμοῦ σαμαρείας, "by the propitiation of Samaria." Thy god, O Dan, liveth; i.e. as thy god liveth, by the life of thy god. This was the other calf erected at Dan, near the source of the Jordan, in the extreme north (1 Kings 12:29). The manner of Beersheba liveth; Septuagint, ζῆ ὁ θεός σου βηρσαβεέ, "Thy god, O Beersheba, lives." Some commentators, ancient and modem, think that the actual road which led to Beersheba is here meant, and would translate, "As the way to Beersheba liveth," "By the life of the way to Beersheba," as Mohammedans swear by the pilgrimage to Mecca. But it is best to take the word rendered "manner" in the sense of "way," as ὁδὸς is used in Acts (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23) for mode of worship, or form of religion, the ritual, or use of the service there. (For Beersheba, see note on Amos 5:5.) From Dan to Beersheba is just a hundred and forty-four miles. They shall fall, etc. This was partially fulfilled by the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and the deportation of its inhabitants; and its truth to this day is demonstrated by the fate of the Jews who will not receive Jesus as the promised Messiah.

HOMILETICS

Amos 8:1-3

A nation ripe for ruin.

While immunity lasts iniquity will go on. Men only love it less than they fear suffering. In the actual presence of the penalty the hand of the transgressor is stayed. The murderer will not strike the death blow under a policeman's eye. The blasphemer will not move a lip when the thunderbolt is crashing through his roof. But by so little does the one feeling master the other that if punishment be not both certain and at hand, the fear of it will fail to deter from sin. "My lord delayeth his coming." Let escape be out of the question, yet even the chance of respite will turn the scale in favour of doing the forbidden thing. Israel, sentenced and to be destroyed some time, sinned with a high hand. Israel, sentenced to be destroyed soon, yet sinned still. Perhaps Israel, sentenced to be destroyed at once, may be brought to bay. Here God tries the experiment.

I. THERE IS A TIME WHEN THE VINE OF SODOM RIPENS ITS FRUIT. Sin has its day. It disturbs the harmony of things, and when derangement reaches a climax a catastrophe comes, and arrests the process with a "thus far and no further." Israel's wicked course had reached this critical point.

1. Idolatry, the archetypal sin against the first table, had practically superseded the worship of God. It was the religion of the king, and court and people. It was established and endowed, by the state. Its rites were observed at Bethel and elsewhere, in profane mimicry of the Levitical worship at Jerusalem. The substitution of it for the worship of Jehovah was part of the royal policy. Short of this the national apostasy could go no further. Interference, if it would be in time to save anything, must take place at once.

2. Oppression, the archetypal sin against the second table, had reduced society to dissolution. The safeguards of property, liberty, and life were alike removed (Amos 3:9, Amos 3:10; Amos 5:7, Amos 5:12; Amos 6:3). The order of society had been converted into chaos. Incapable of using liberty without perverting it into licorice, it was high time to deprive Israel of the grossly abused trust. As slaves they would be under a regime of the strong arm, which was the only one that suited them in present circumstances. There are chains forging somewhere for the man who can neither consider others nor rule himself.

II. SUCH RIPENING FOREBODES AN EARLY GATHERING. (Amos 8:2. "The end is come upon my people of Israel.") The sickle is put in as soon as the harvest is ripe. No practical husbandry could delay the operation longer.

1. The crop has then reached the limits of its growth. Like the corn ripe unto harvest, or the grape purple and mellow, the natural life of Israel had fully developed itself. Tastes were matured, habits acquired, and characters settled into crystalline form. Things generally had put on an aspect of finality, and the sickle of judgment that follows the ripening of character need no longer wait. Let the ripe sinner beware the scythe. The fruits of unrighteousness full grown are suggestive of the harvesters on their way.

2. It is then ready to serve its natural purpose. Green grapes are useless in the vat, and green faggots would only put out the fire. It is in the harvest, when both are mature, that the wheat and the tares alike are sent to their ultimate destination. One purpose, a high and noble one, Israel had at last proved their unfitness to serve; their exclusive fitness for another purpose had only now by the same events become apparent. Reward and punishment alike take typical form only when they have reference to lives and characters which have assumed an aspect of finality. The hard grain and the dry faggot are waiting respectively for the mill and for the fire.

3. After this it will be in the way of the next crop. When the reaper goes the ploughman comes. If the harvesting were neglected the ploughing must be postponed. Israel had failed utterly to accomplish its Divine mission, and, left longer alone, would only prevent its accomplishment by other agency. "Take the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents." The unfruitful become in a little while cumberers of the ground, and a necessary measure of practical husbandry is then to cut them off.

4. At this stage it will begin naturally to decay. Overripe fruit will "go bad "at once. If not used or preserved when ripe, it will be lost altogether. National decline waits on the development of national corruption. Israel become utterly dissolute would go to pieces according to a natural law, even if the Assyrian never came. Indeed, it was in the degeneracy already apparent that the invader saw his opportunity and found the occasion of his coming. The disease that stops the career of the sensualist means God's judgment on one side, and the natural breakdown of his constitution on the other.

III. THE DUNGHILL IS THE DESTINATION OF ALL TAINTED PRODUCE. (Amos 8:3.) The incorrigible wrong doer is involved at last in overwhelming calamity. God's judgments must fall, his mercy notwithstanding. Indeed, they are an aspect of it. "A God all mercy is a God unjust." He is leaving the lion to prey on the lamb. The most merciful course is that which offers most effective opposition to the wicked doings of wicked men. Israel's manners are past reforming, and past enduring. By their intolerable abuse of freedom they showed their fitness only to be slaves. And according to character and capacity they must be treated. What is bad for the table may be good for the dunghill. The life of many had become a curse, and it only remained to stop that, and make their death a warning. That is one crop which even the sluggard's garden cannot refuse to bear (Proverbs 24:30-32).

IV. THE OCCASION OF SUCH A HARVEST HOME TOO DEPLORABLE FOR WORDS. (Amos 8:3, "Hush!") When judgment is overwhelming, silence is fitting.

1. As opposed to songs. These had resounded from the palace. They spoke of mirth and revelry. But they would be turned into yells ere long. In awestruck anticipation of the utterance of pain and horror, the prophet bids the revellers be silent.

2. As opposed to lamentations. You cannot always "give sorrow words." There is a grief that "speaks not"—the grief of the overwrought heart. "I was dumb, opening not the mouth, because this stroke was thine." Such grief would befit a time like this. Words, however strong, must be beneath the occasion. Let them then remain unspoken, and let the eloquence of silence meet the overwhelming severity of the visitation.

3. As opposed to reproaches. Israel had outlived the period of probation, and therefore of expostulation. Its "great transgression" was committed, its course unchangeably chosen, its doom sealed. The condemned and sentenced murderer is removed to his cell in silence. In sterner measures than abuse of words must his crime be expiated. His very life is to be exacted, and windy denunciation may well be spared. "Let him alone" is of all measures the most sternly significant. It is the preternatural hush of the elemental world, presaging the thunder crash that shall make the very earth to reel.

Amos 8:4-6

The covetous man's way.

Punishment, however stern, is proportioned rigidly to sin. They answer to each other as face to face. From the contemplation of Israel's deplorable fate we turn to the horrors of her crime. And they are dark beyond exaggerating. To idolatry, dethroning God and robbing him of his glory, is added covetousness defrauding and destroying men. Indeed, the one is but a department of the other. The worst type of mammon worshipper, the covetous, is an idolater in a very real sense. And Israel's covetousness, detached as it was from all religious restraints, and operating in a purely heathen connection, was of the most aggravated and repulsive kind. Acting in character, observe that—

I. IT SELECTS AN EASY PREY. (Amos 8:4, "the poor; the meek.")

1. The poor cannot defend themselves. Their poverty makes them helpless, and the weakness which ought to commend them to protection commends them to plunder. Covetousness, the meanest of the vices in any circumstances, goes down to the nadir of paltriness when it wrings its gold "from the hard hands" of the poor.

2. The meek will not resist. Their position and disposition are both against it. They would "rather suffer wrong." And they get enough of it to suffer. Weak on one hand, and unresisting on the other, they are a doubly tempting prey to the pitiless vulture's beak.

II. IT HAS MURDER IS ITS HEART. "Gape to destroy," as the beast of prey its victim at hand. There is a covetousness that puts its own paltriest gain above another's life. It will have men's money although their life should pay the forfeit. This is the very spirit of murder. To make money, at the necessary cost of human life, is to break the sixth commandment as well as the eighth.

III. IT HANKERS AFTER SUNDAY TRADING. (Amos 8:5, "When is the new moon over," etc.?) These people retained the form of sabbath observance, but the reality had been altogether abandoned. They occupied its sacred hours with wishes that they were over. "Sabbath days and sabbath work are a burden to carnal hearts" (Henry). The hours drag heavily. Time-killing devices are exhausted. "Behold, what a weariness it is!" is the verdict on God's day, given weekly through all their years. "When shall I come add appear before God?" a question that the spiritually minded ask, is one which the carnally minded cannot even understand. They are making markets mentally in the very house of God, and, with the words of worship on their lips, "their heart goes after covetousness." From Sunday devising to Sunday transacting of business the step is but a small one—too small not to be taken when opportunity and temptation meet.

IV. IT PRACTICES UNFAIR DEALING. (Amos 8:5, Amos 8:6.) As they fear not God, neither do they regard man. When religion is abandoned, morality is undermined. Given arced present, and religious restraint absent, and dishonest dealing is inevitable.

1. One device is the use of a false balance. "Make the ephah small, and the shekel great," i.e. give thirteen pounds to the stone, and charge twenty-one shillings to the pound. They perpetrate thus a double swindle, robbing "with both hands earnestly." Such fraud is too unscientific and direct for any but the coarser cheats. There are more delicate ways of fraudulent dealing, which the more refined rogues affect. Such a method is:

2. Selling an adulterated or inferior article. "The refuse of the corn we will sell" (Amos 8:6). This is probably the commonest form of commercial fraud. There are few who possess the strength of moral fibre to avoid it entirely. We might arrange it on a graduated scale. At one end is the man who bluntly sells one thing under the name of another. At the other end is the man who, in selling, insinuates the impression that the thing is of better quality than it really is. Between these two are dishonest artifices of all varieties and shades. All, however, originate in covetousness, eventuate in injustice, and deserve the generic name of fraud.

V. IT TRAFFICS IN HUMAN LIFE, AND THAT FOR A CONTEMPTIBLE PRICE. (Amos 8:6.) The law, compelling the poor to sell themselves to their creditors to work for what they owed, was enforced in the case of the paltriest debts, and the needy might be brought into bondage for want of the price of even a pair of shoes. To work such hardship on such trifling occasion argues inhumanity too gross to be long endured. The worker has inverted the natural order, has lost out the sense of reverence, is blind to the dignity of human nature, and has conclusively shown that he is an eyesore, and his life a curse, to the society in which he lives. His selfishness puts the least interest of his own above the most essential interest of others. His greed of gain has so intensified that he is blind at last to all other considerations. He has fallen altogether beneath the human level, and when a man has done this, the chances are that he has lived his day. Well may we pray, "Incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not to covetousness."

Amos 8:7

Confirming by an oath.

God's judgments sometimes take, and will continue to take, the wicked by surprise (Matthew 24:36-39). But this need not be, and should not be, and can be only where blindness, or heedlessness, or incredulity make warning useless. God always warns before he strikes. Sometimes he warns by divers methods at once. Often he warns again and again. Invariably he warns with a solemnity that makes disbelief a crime and stupid. Here is a case in point.

I. THE OATH THAT CANNOT BE BROKEN. "God is not a man, that he should lie." To do so would be a natural impossibility, a contradiction of himself. For the same reason his truthfulness can have no degrees; his slightest word is absolutely inviolable. Yet to human apprehension an oath is peculiarly convincing, and, accommodating himself to men's weakness, God condescends, on peculiarly, solemn occasions, not merely to say, but swear. Here he swears:

1. By himself. "The Pride of Jacob" is Jehovah himself. Elsewhere explicitly God swears by "himself" (Jeremiah 51:14), by his "great Name" (Jeremiah 44:26), by his "holiness" (Amos 4:2), by his "life" (Ezekiel 33:11). This is of necessity. Men "swear by the greater." God, "because he can swear by no greater, swears by himself" (Hebrews 6:17, Hebrews 6:13). In this form of oath the greatest Being is invoked, and so the maximum of solemnity is reached, whether it is God who swears or man.

2. By himself in his ideal relation to Israel. "By the Pride of Jacob" Israel, alas! did not "glory in the Lord." They gloried in their idols. "These be thy gods, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt," they had said, in their blind fatuity, of the molten calf. God had been forgotten and his wonders ignored before they were many days accomplished, and in this forgetfulness they had persistently gone on. Yet was he none the less their Glory still, the Strength of Israel, their Light and Life, the Founder, Builder, Sustainer, of their kingdom, the one Source and Spring of all that made them great, This fundamental relation he emphasizes here in vowing vengeance on their sin. By this character, as their Life and Strength and Excellence, he swears he will now degrade and destroy them utterly. The nearer God's tie to the rebels, the greaser outrage is their rebellion, and the more embittered the after relations. It is on the ruins of violated friendship that the most irreconcilable enmity arises. Not even the heathen is as hateful, or doomed to a fate as direful, as the apostate.

II. THE RECORD THAT CANNOT BE ERASED. "I will not forget and forever." To forget is to forgive, put out of sight, treat as non-existent. "I will remember their iniquities no more." Sin unatoned for cannot be forgiven. God must be just in his justifying, and justice demands satisfaction. From the provided satisfaction the unbelieving sinner has turned away, and so from the grace of his own salvation. Neither can sin unforsaken. The sinner is in actual conflict with God, and the rebel may not he forgiven with arms in his hands. Neither can sin unrelated of. Still loving sin, the impenitent is not in a moral condition to appreciate pardon, and the gift of God is not to be thrown away. By such a threefold cord was Israel bound to inevitable destruction.

III. THE WORKS THAT CANNOT BE FORGOTTEN. There are sins more heinous, and for the authors of which it will be less tolerable in the judgment than for others (Matthew 11:22).

1. Such are the sins committed against the poor and needy. "God hath chosen the poor of this world" Their poverty presents the minimum of resistance to his grace. Their hardships excite his special pity. Their helplessness commends them to his special protection. He gives them the most prominent place in his religion. He champions them against their enemies. He requires his people to do the same. He identifies himself with them in the judgment, and he deals with men then in terms of their relation to the duties they owe the needy (Matthew 25:35-45). While God is "the Avenger of all such," oppression of the poor shall not go unpunished.

2. Such especially are the sins committed against the poor by those who bear his Name. The clement of beneficence bulked large in Judaism. Besides the general injunctions to regard the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), there were special enactments allocating to them a poor tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28, Deuteronomy 14:29), the spontaneous produce of the soil (Le 25:5), the droppings from the sheaves, and the produce of the corners of the fields (Le 19:9, 10; 23:22), also sheaves accidentally dropped (Deuteronomy 24:19), as much from vineyard or field as the hungry wayfarer required to eat on the spot (Deuteronomy 23:24, Deuteronomy 23:25), and periodical entertainments at the tables of the rich (Deuteronomy 16:10, Deuteronomy 16:11). Thus nothing could be more utterly antagonistic to the genius of the Jewish religion than to rob or oppress the poor. The Israelite guilty of it sinned against Scripture, against custom, against education, against every deterrent powerful with men and increasing guilt before God. Christianity, too, is essentially benevolent. To "love one another," and "do good unto all," is the very spirit and essence of the religion of Christ. Injustice or oppression under Christian auspices is sin in its most abominable and heinous form.

Amos 8:8-10

Carried away as with a flood.

A man in earnest is always graphic. If he be also inspired he can afford to be explicit. In this passage Amos is both. The words were spoken before the convulsions they foretell, and written after some of them had occurred. But the descriptions of events, transpired between the speaking and the writing, have no flavour of an ex post facto deliverance. There is a bare record of the original verbal utterance without the attempt to write into any part of it details of what meantime had become history. Such an apologetic device, suicidal in any case, is a thing to which a man who is God's mouthpiece could not and needs not stoop.

I. THE EARTH TREMBLING WHEN GOD SWEARS. "For this" (verse 8), i.e. the oath of God, and its purport. That oath means a catastrophe on the way in the shock of which the earth would tremble. The very utterance of it was a cause of trembling. "He uttered his voice, the earth melted." His word is a word of power. It operates in the physical forces, and shakes the whole frame of nature. In the poetic language of the psalmist, "the voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars," "shaketh the wilderness," "divideth the flames of fire." In the world of matter, as in the world of spirit, the great ultimate force is the word of God.

II. THE CREATION SUFFERING IN THE SUFFERINGS OF MEN. Man sins, and the earth is smitten. It was so at first with the ground. It was so at the Deluge with the lower animals and plants. It is so here. The universe is one throughout, and all its parts are in closest connection and interdependence. "Not a leaf rotting on the highway but is an indissoluble part of solar and stellar worlds" (Carlyle). Our life, our animal spirits, our reason itself, have fundamental and probably undiscovered relations with the sun and moon and stars. Relations so intimate may be assumed to be mutual, and we need not be surprised if we find casualties meant primarily for either extending to both.

III. GOD'S JUDGMENTS, LONG MENACED, TAKE THE INCREDULOUS BY SURPRISE AT LAST. (Verse 9.) The antediluvians were no better prepared for the Flood by their hundred and twenty years' warning. They absorbed themselves in their work and pleasure, and knew not till the Flood came (Matthew 24:38). So with the Sodomites, warned by Lot (Genesis 19:14); and the inhabitants of Jerusalem at its capture, warned by Christ (Matthew 24:33). Warning is thrown away on unbelief, and its end is always a surprise. In this case the sun would set at noon. The end would come untimely. In the midst of days and prosperity Israel would be cut off. There would be no anticipation, no fear, no suspicion even, of such an event. So with the ungodly at last. The judgment will surprise them and look untimely, but only because their incredulity will be unconquerable.

IV. RETRIBUTION CLOSELY ADJUSTED TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CRIMINAL. (Verse 10.) Sinners are smitten in their joys. The covetous in their possessions, the luxurious in their luxuries, the revellers in their revelries. When sackcloth and ashes are substituted for "ivory couches," and baldness for hair fragrant with the chief ointments, when howls rend the throats till lately melodious in song, the stroke is identified as that of One who never "beats the air." The fly of judgment, selecting infallibly the sore spot of the sufferer, reveals its mission as from God himself. The joys in which the sinner is smitten are, moreover, those most closely connected with his sins. God's stroke is as obviously righteous as appropriate. Falling on the sins that provoke them, God's judgments are self-interpreting. Israel's luxurious appliances were simply plunder, the wages of iniquity, sometimes even the price of blood. Hence God singles them out for special attack, and will plague Israel rigorously in every pleasure that has its root in sin.

V. THE FINALITY OF GOD'S RETRIBUTIVE ACT. The rule is that judgment is more severe in proportion as it is long delayed.

1. It makes an end. The sun goes down, and ends the day of life. After that nothing can come but night—the night of death. Destruction for sinners of Israel, destruction for all such sinners while the world stands, is the Divine provision. When the last measure of retribution is executed, the last shred of the sinner's good has been torn away.

2. That end unspeakably bitter. The wine cup of God's fury is necessarily a bitter draught. There is wounded dignity in it, and wasted mercy, and outraged love, and all ingredients which are gall and wormwood in the mouth. They are digging for themselves Marah pools no branch can sweeten, who "heap up wrath against the day of wrath," etc.

3. That bitterness the bitterness of utter desolation. "And make it like mourning for an only one." That is bitter mourning indeed. The loss of an only one is total loss, including our all. It is irreparable loss, for the dead cannot come back. It is loss not physical merely, nor sentimental merely, but loss wringing the heart strings, and leaving us with the very jewel of life torn from its setting. Such is the mourning in which unforgiven sin is expiated at last. It is heart agony, unrelieved, unmitigated, and never to end. "Son, remember;" "There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth;" "Their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched."

Amos 8:9

A sunset at noon.

This language is at once prophetic and figurative. It predicts an event in the moral world under the figure of an analogous event in the physical world. The symbolical event is not an eclipse of the sun, which the language does not suit, but his going down at midday; and the event symbolized is clearly death in the midst of young life. Israel was rich and prosperous and young. To all outward seeming she was just in the meridian of her life. But her sun would never reach the west. Her end would be premature, sudden, and tragic. As if the sun dropped in an instant beneath the horizon from mid-sky, and the radiancy of noon gave place in that instant to the darkness of night; so Israel's day would darken suddenly, and the night of death fall in a sky all lit with the golden glow of noon.

I. THERE IS TO MEN A NATURAL TERM OF EXISTENCE, WHICH IS THEIR DAY. There is a natural life term to all earthly creatures. This varies endlessly for each, between limits so far apart as a millennium and a day. There are cheloniae that lengthen out their slow existence to centuries, and there are insects that sport out their little life in an afternoon. Intermediate between these widely distant limits is man with his three score years and ten (Psalms 90:10). This period is his day. Beyond it few may hope, and none expect, to live. To reach it even there must be normal conditions of life within and around. This is not a long time at best, Let the utmost diligence be used, and the work that can be done in it is not much. Take from it the two childhoods, infancy and infirm age, and it becomes greatly shorter still. Not more than fifty active years enter into the longest life. On the most sanguine assumption these are the working hours of our day of life. What we do for God and men is done while they pass. They may not be so many, but they can scarcely be more, and if they are all given us we may thankfully reckon that we have lived our time.

II. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONAL OASES IN WHICH THIS PERIOD IS CUT SHORT. The normal life term is not the actual one. The overwhelming majority never see it. When the septuagenarian has his birthday feast, the friends of his youth are not one in ten among the guests. From childhood till that hour they have been dropping off, and now nine-tenths and more are gone.

1. A moiety of the race die in childhood. Infant mortality is an obscure subject. Whether from the standpoint of equity or economy, there is much in it we cannot explain. Their death before they have transgressed brings up the solemn mystery of original sin, and the suffering of one for the sin of another (Romans 5:14). Then their death before activity begins or consciousness dawns, and so apparently before they have been used, raises the almost equally perplexing question—Is there, so far as this life goes, a single human being made in vain?

2. Many more die before or at maturity. They are healthy till growth is almost complete. The body has acquired the strength and hardness needed for the burden of life's work. The mind has received the training which fits it to solve the problems of existence, and govern and use the body in accomplishing the highest purposes of both. Yet just now, when the tool has been formed and tempered and finished, it is broken before it has once been used at its best in the more serious work of life. Here we are face to face not only with an apparently purposeless creation, but also with what seems an unproductive training.

3. Many also die with their work to all appearance unfinished, or only well begun. Their capacity is growing; their field is widening; their influence is increasing. They are in the full swing of activity and usefulness. Yet at the very moment when the richest fruit of their life work is beginning to form, they are cut down—cut down, too, where their death leaves a permanent blank, and no one is available to take up their work. Their mysterious character and solemn interest prepare a field for faith in the fact that—

III. THESE SUNSETS AT NOON ARE DIVINELY ORDERED. "I will cause," etc. To kill and to make alive are Divine prerogatives. Let the sun set where he will, the event is God's doing. And, in the light of Scripture and observation, a philosophy of such events is not altogether impossible to conceive.

1. Take noon sunsets in sin. These are often untimely and far from unaccountable.

2. Take noon sunsets in grace. These also are not unknown. The good die young. Sometimes they die through the sin of others, sometimes in consequence of sin of their own. These, however, are the occasions only of their removal. The reason of it lies deep in the purposes of God.

Amos 8:11-14

The scarcity that swallows the residue of good.

To waste is to want, in things temporal and spiritual alike. Abuse is inevitably followed by deprivation, and the prodigal is one who is purveying for himself a suit of rags. God caps our "will not" with his "shall not," and the rude hand of change soon spills the cup of good we have refused to taste. Under the operation of this law the nation of Israel would now come. They had wasted the Word of God, neglecting it, despising it, and at last forbidding it to be spoken. Now they should "want" it as a penal result. It would, be taken from them in anger, and that at a time when even their inappreciation would long for it as for life itself. Observe here—

I. THE WORST OF ALL FAMINES. "Not a hungering for bread, nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Jehovah." This is a new form of disaster, and one that is specially severe. This follows from the fact that:

1. It is in the spiritual sphere. "Fear not them which kill the body." It is the least part of us. Whether it live or die, enjoy or suffer, is a question involving trivial interests, and these during a limited period. The soul is the man, and its well being, next to God's glory, the great interest. For its injury there is no compensation, for its loss no parallel. When it suffers, the worst has happened.

2. It is due to the loss of a necessary of spiritual life. The deepest need of humanity is a communication from God. "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God," etc. Hence the Word which God speaks is the Word of life. Apart from it spiritual life is impossible.

3. This loss at a time when it would be most keenly felt. "The Word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision." The mere fact of the sudden withdrawal of the Word would create an immediate demand for it. In this case the demand would rest on a practical necessity. "Crushed by oppressors, hearing only of gods more cruel than those who make them, how will they hunger and thirst for any tidings of One who cares for the weary and heavy laden?" (Maurice).

II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT PROVOKE IT. The unique rigour of the penalty suggests some special circumstances in the provoking crime. One of these would be:

1. Extreme heinousness. "There is a sin unto death." It will never be forsaken. It precludes the idea of penitence. It involves the perversion, or rather inversion, of character, which "calls evil good, and good evil." There is nothing for it but the extreme penalty of being let alone. And even that will be inflicted. Saul had provoked it when "God answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." Israel had provoked it when God said to his servant, "Thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover" (Ezekiel 3:26; Ezekiel 7:26). When a man sins on principle, he is not far off "a famine of hearing the words of the Lord."

2. Failure of other judgments to turn. "Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more." Other judgments bad been for reformation and had failed; this would be for destruction—the only alternative left. When "cure" is out of the question, what else is to be done but "kill"?

3. Chafing under and rejecting the Word itself. Israel had heard more of the words of the Lord than they wished. They had made an effort to get rid of them, or some of them, by forbidding his prophets to speak his message. More of the Word to men in that mind would have been thrown away, and God never wastes his gifts. If we shut our eyes, he will take away the light. If we close our ears, "the voice of the charmer" will soon be silent. The men who will not have the words of the Lord shall be treated to a dispensation of silence.

III. THE PERSONS IT ASSAILS. When judgment falls upon a nation, the righteous often suffer with the wicked. Yet here there are persons against whom the shock is specially directed. They are:

1. Those who put their trust in idols. The idolater would naturally feel the extreme of dislike to the Word of God, and adopt the strongest measures against his prophets. He was therefore in that moral condition which needed, and that opposing attitude which provoked, the heaviest stroke. God will not give his "praise to graven images," and he will give the man who trusts in them an early opportunity of discovering whether they will suffice for his needs. The more unreservedly he has chosen them, the more entirely will he be left to them.

2. The young and buoyant among these. (Verse 13.) Youth and hope are hardest to overcome. There is a buoyancy in them, and a recuperative energy, that rises above calamity to which the old and broken would succumb. Yet even these would not avail. Physical suffering, breaking down even youth and vigour, mental suffering, overwhelming the most buoyant hopefulness, were among the enginery of the wrath of God.

IV. THE EFFECTS IT PRODUCES. These are distressing as the calamity producing them is stern (verse 12).

1. They seek the Word in rain. It is sought as a last resource. In the extremity of trouble, and the failure of other help, men turn perforce to God. And then the quest is vain. It is made too late, and from a motive to which there is no promise given (Proverbs 1:24-28). It is sought in an extremity, as the lesser evil of two; and in abject fear, in which there is no element of loyalty or love; and, thus sought, cannot in the nature of things be found. The time for God to give it has passed, because the time has passed in which men might have received it to any effect of spiritual good.

2. They faint in the search. "They shall reel from sea to sea." The word [reel] is used of the reeling of drunkards, of the swaying to and fro of trees in the wind, of the quivering of the lips of one agitated, and then of the unsteady seeking of persons bewildered, looking for what they know not where to find" (Pusey) It is characteristic that search is made everywhere but in the South, where alone the true worship of God was, and where, if anywhere, his Word might have been found. Wrong seeking is wrong all round, and so is of necessity in vain. It is a less of effort, which is "a grievous labour won." It wearies itself out in aimless blind exertion, made out of season, and vitiated by the very ills that drive men to make it.

3. They fall and never rise. God will "make an end." The time for it had come. Sin had reached a climax. Evil character had reached a final fixity. Calamity had ceased to improve. The tardy anxiety for a Divine communication meant simply that every other resource was exhausted. "Cut it down" is the one process of husbandry for which the tree is fitted.

HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON

Amos 8:1

Ripeness in iniquity.

The figure here employed by Amos comes very naturally from him who had been a gatherer of the fruit of the sycomore tree. But at the same time, it is somewhat of a shock to the reader of this prophecy to find such a similitude employed for such a purpose. Our associations with "a basket of summer fruit" are all agreeable; but here the ripeness is in iniquity, and is unto condemnation and destruction.

I. A PAST PROCESS OF MATURITY IN SIN IS IMPLIED. As the fruit has been ripened during months of growth unto maturity, so the nation of Israel has gradually and progressively come to such a condition as that lamented and censured by the prophet of the Lord.

1. Past privileges have been misused. No nation had been so favoured as the descendants of Jacob; the greater the privileges, the greater the guilt of neglect and abuse.

2. Past warnings have been despised. If the people could not, in the exercise of their own faculties, foresee the end of all their misdeeds, they had no excuse, for prophet after prophet had arisen to rebuke them for unfaithfulness, and to warn them of impending judgment.

3. Past invitations have been unheeded. Often had the messengers of God mingled promises with threats, invitations with censure. But in vain. The voice of the charmer had been disregarded; the tenderness of Divine compassion had been despised. Hence the process of deterioration had gone on. And circumstances which should have ripened the national character into heroic virtue, into saintly piety, had only served to mature irreligiousness and rebellion. Thus the sun and the showers which ripen the corn and the wholesome fruit bring also every poisonous growth to perfection.

II. A SPEEDY PROSPECT OF CONSEQUENT DESTRUCTION IS REVEALED. The ripe fruit speaks not only of the sunshine of the bygone days, but of the consumption which awaits it. In this passage the figurative language of the prophet is to be interpreted as foreboding approaching ruin. "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."

1. Perseverance in irreligiousness issues in deterioration of character. The very years, the very privileges, which make the good man better, make the bad man worse. It was so with Israel as a nation. The operation of the same law may be traced in human society today.

2. Perseverance in irreligiousness will, under the Divine government, involve chastisement and punishment. The captivity foretold was to be accompanied by the desolation of the capital and the cessation, or at least the interruption, of national life. "The end is come," saith God, "to my people Israel; The prosperity and superficial peace of the wicked must be brought to a disgraceful close.—T.

Amos 8:2

My people.

The occurrence of this expression in such a connection as this is very amazing and very encouraging. Even when, by the mouth of his prophet, the Lord is uttering language of regretful denunciation, the prediction of sore chastisement, he still calls Israel his own! God's ways are indeed higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.

I. THIS LANGUAGE IN A REMINISCENCE OF PAST ELECTION. God called Israel his people, because he had chosen them from among the nations of the earth, to be the depositary of his truth, the recipients of his Law, the instrument of his purposes among men. As early associations are strong amongst men, as we always retain a tender interest in those whom we have watched over, befriended, and benefited from their childhood, so the Lord represents himself as cherishing kindness for the people whom he had called as it were in their childhood, and nursed into maturity. He did not forget the days "when Israel was a child."

II. THIS LANGUAGE IS PROOF OF PRESENT KINDNESS. tie does not say, "Ye were my people;" for they are his people still.

Mine is an unchanging love,

Higher than the heights above;

Deeper than the depths beneath;

Free and faithful, strong as death."

Even in carrying out his threats of punishment, Jehovah does not act in anger and vindictiveness. He is the Father chastening the child whom he loveth. He does not abandon the disobedient; he subjects them to discipline which may restore them to submission and to filial love.

III. THIS LANGUAGE IS PREDICTIVE OF FUTURE RECONCILIATION. As long as God says, "My people," there is hope for the future. He has not abandoned; he will not abandon. The city may be razed, but it shall be built again. There shall be captivity; but he deviseth means whereby his banished ones shall return. Wounds shall be healed. The grave shall give up her dead. The wanderer shall return, and shall be clasped to the Father's patient, yearning, rejoicing heart. "My people" are mine forever.

APPLICATION. God in the midst of wrath remembers mercy. When sin is recognized and realized as such, when chastening has answered its purpose, when the disobedient are penitent and the rebellious are submissive, then is there hope. Not in any excellence connected with man's repentance, but in the grace of the Father's heart, in the faithfulness of the Father's promises. Not Israel alone, but mankind at large, are designated by the Eternal "my people." Therefore he who sent his Son to seek and to save that which is lost is described as "the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe."—T.

Amos 8:4-6

Covetousness.

It was not for heterodoxy in theology, it was not for remissness in ritual, that Amos chiefly reproached the Israelites. It was for injustice, violence, and robbery; it was for seeking their own wealth and luxury at the expense of the sufferings of the poor. Avarice, or undue love of worldly possessions, is a serious vice; covetousness, or the desiring to enrich self at the cost of neighbours, is something very near a crime, for to crime it too often leads.

I. THE MORAL DISEASE OF COVETOUSNESS. The symptoms may differ in different states of society; and there are details in the text which apply rather to the state of society in Samaria of old than to the England of today. But the malady is the same, deep-rooted in the moral constitution of sinful men. This sin is:

1. Injurious to the person who commits it. He who sets his affection upon this world's good, who carries his selfishness so far as to deprive, or even to wish to deprive, his neighbour of what is his—far more he who uses fraud or violence to gratify this desire—is working his own ruin. He is subverting the standard of value, by setting the material above the spiritual. He is dragging his aspirations down from the stars above his head to the dust beneath his feet.

2. Mischievous to society. If all men follow the example of the covetous, and long for the possessions of others, then human society becomes a den of wild beasts bent upon devouring one another, and earth becomes a very hell. Instead of being members one of another, in the case supposed, every man sees an enemy in his neighbour, and seeks his harm. The bonds of society are strained, are even broken.

3. Displeasing to God. In the ten commandments a place was found for the prohibition of this spiritual offence: "Thou shalt not covet." This fact is sufficient to show how hateful is this sin in the eyes of the great Lord and Ruler of all.

II. THE DIVINE REMEDY FOR COVETOUSNESS.

1. The recognition of the benevolence and bounty of God. From him cometh down "every good gift and every perfect boon." He is the Giver of all, who openeth his hands, and supplieth the need of every living thing. He who would share the Divine nature must cherish an ungrudging and liberal spirit.

2. The remembrance of the "unspeakable Gift," and of the incomparable sacrifice of the Redeemer. Our Saviour's whole aim was to impart to men the highest blessings, and in the quest of this aim he gave his life for us. His constraining love alone is able to extirpate that selfishness which in human nature is the very root of covetousness.

3. The adoption of the counsels and the submission to the spirit of Christ. It was his saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."—T.

Amos 8:7

The mercy of God.

This language is actual truth, although it is based upon and accords with the experience of created intelligences. Memory is one of the primitive endowments of intellect, admitted to be such even by philosophers, who are very loth to admit that the mind of man can possess any such endowments. A man who should never forget would indeed be a marvel, a miracle. But it would be inconsistent with our highest conceptions of God to suppose it possible for anything to escape his memory. In his mind there is, of course, neither past nor future, for time is a limitation and condition of finite intelligence. To the Eternal all is present; all events to him are one eternal now.

I. A GENERAL TRUTH CONCERNING THE DIVINE NATURE AND GOVERNMENT. Nothing is unobserved by God, and nothing is forgotten by him. All men's actions as they are performed photograph themselves indelibly upon the very nature of the Omniscient and Eternal. Nothing needs to be revived, for nothing ever becomes dim.

II. A SOLEMN TRUTH CONCERNING THE CONDUCT AND PROSPECTS OF THE SINFUL. Parents forget the wrong doing of their children, and rulers those of their subjects. Hence many evil deeds escape the recompense which is their due. But Jehovah, who "remembered" (to use the expression necessarily accommodated to our infirmity) all the acts of rebellion of which the chosen people had been guilty, does not lose the record of any of the offences committed by men. On the contrary, they are written "in a Book of remembrance"—a book one day to he unrolled before the eyes of the righteous Judge.

III. A PRECIOUS ASSURANCE CONCERNING THE GOOD PURPOSES AND ACTIONS WHICH GOD DISCERNS AND REMARKS IN HIS PEOPLE. Thus we find saintly men of old in their prayers beseeching the Lord to remember them: "Remember me, O Lord, for good;" "Remember me with the favour thou showest unto thy people." He who said, "I know thy works," who said, "I will never forget any of their works," is a Being to whom we may safely commend ourselves and all that is ours which he himself creates and which he approves.

APPLICATION.

1. In our confessions let us be frank and open with God, who searcheth the heart, and who forgetteth nothing. It would be folly to suppose that he forgets our sins; it would be wickedness to strive to forget them ourselves. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive."

2. In our prayers for pardon let us bear in mind that there is a sense in which he will "remember no more" the offences of his penitent and believing people. He will treat us as if he had forgotten all our rebellion, and as if he remembered only our purposes and vows of loyalty.—T.

Amos 8:10

A bitter day.

There is something incongruous in this language. Day is the bright and beauteous gift of God, and its sunlight and all the glory it reveals may justly be taken as the emblem of happiness and prosperity. The light is sweet; the day is joyous. Yet here there is depicted a bitter day! The context makes it evident that this is attributable to sin, which makes all sweet things bitter, and all bright things dim.

I. THE BITTER DAY OF ISRAEL CONTRASTS WITH BYGONE DAYS OF SWEETNESS. Festivals and songs are mentioned in the context as distinctive of the religious life of the chosen people. And in times of national plenty and prosperity there had never been wanting abundance and even luxury, mirth and music, festivity and joy. These things have vanished into the past now that the "bitter day" has dawned.

II. THE BITTER DAY OF ISRAEL IS MARKED BY CIRCUMSTANCES OF TERRIBLE DISTRESS. The sun goes down, the land is darkened, mourning and lamentation are heard, sackcloth is worn, the hair is shaved off the heads lately anointed for the banquet and wreathed with flowers; the signs are those of "mourning for an only son." The fallen and wretched condition of the nation could not be depicted more graphically. The prophet artist is skilful to heighten the dark colours which are expressive of Israel's woe.

III. THE BITTER DAY OF ISRAEL IS THE RESULT OF ISRAEL'S SINS. What is called misfortune and calamity is often really punishment. There was nothing accidental in what befell this nation. On the contrary, Israel brought disaster upon itself by unfaithfulness, disobedience, rebellion. As the people had sown, so they were to reap. Under the government of a just God it cannot be otherwise. The fruit of sin cannot be otherwise than bitter.

IV. THE BITTER DAY OF ISRAEL IS SUGGESTIVE OF LESSONS OF WISDOM TO EVERY NATION. The rule of a righteous God is a fact not to be disputed. The retributive consequences of that rule are not to be evaded. Let not the people imagine a vain thing, or the rulers take counsel together against the Lord.—T.

Amos 8:11

Famine of the Word of God.

There are many blessings which are not suitably valued until they are withdrawn and missed. It is so with bodily health, with political liberty, with domestic happiness. And the prophet assumes that it will be found the same with the Word of God. When it is possessed—when the Scriptures are read and the Gospel is heard—it is too often the ease that the privilege is unappreciated. But what must it be to be shut off from all communication with Heaven! And such, it was foretold, was to be the lot of Israel in the days of retribution and calamity which were about to overtake Israel

I. THE WORDS OF GOD ARE TO THE SOUL AS BREAD AND WATER TO THE BODY. Man's bodily constitution is such that food and drink are a necessity to health and even to life; to be even partially starved is to be disabled and to be rendered wretched. Even so, the truth, the righteousness, the love of God, are the necessary aliment of the spiritual nature. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Fellowship with God by his Word is indispensably necessary in order that a high, holy, and acceptable service may be rendered.

II. A FAMINE OF THE WORD OF GOD IS TO BE DREADED AS DETRIMENTAL TO SPIRITUAL LIFE AND WELL BEING.

1. If the knowledge of God himself be withheld, there is for man no solution of all the mysteries of the universe, the mysteries of his being.

2. If the Law of God be concealed, there is no sufficient guide through human life.

3. If the gospel of Christ be withheld, there is no peace for the conscience, no sufficient inspiration for duty, no assurance of immortality.

4. If revelation be denied, there is no power, no principle sufficient to guide and to govern human society.

III. THOSE WHO POSSES THE WORD OF GOD SHOULD BY THESE CONSIDERATIONS BE INDUCED TO STUDY IT AND TO USE IT ARIGHT. Neglect of the Divine Word may not in our case entail the actual deprivation foretold in the text. But it certainly will entail an indifference and insensibility to the truth, which will be equally injurious and disastrous. Now the Word is ours; let us listen to it with reverence and faith; let us obey it with alacrity and diligence. "Walk in the light while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you."—T.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Amos 8:1-3

Ripeness for judgment.

"Thus hath the Lord God showed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit," etc. The text suggests three general truths.

I. WICKED NATIONS GROW RIPE FOR JUDGMENT. The "basket of summer fruit," now presented in vision to Amos, was intended to symbolize that his country was ripe for ruin. This symbol suggests:

1. That Israel's preset moral corruption was no hasty production. The ripe fruit in that basket did not spring forth at once; it took many months to produce. It came about by a slow and gradual process. Men do not become great sinners at once. The character of a people does not reach its last degree of vileness in a few years; it takes time. The first seed of evil is to be quickened, then it grows, ripens, and multiplies until there is a crop ready for the sickle.

2. That Israel's season for improvement was least and gone. The ripened fruit in that basket had reached a stage in which improvement was impossible. The bloom was passing away, and rottenness was setting in. Nations become incorrigible. The time comes when it may be said—The harvest is past, all cultivation is impossible. What boots your sowing seed under the burning sun of July or August? The fructifying forces of nature will not cooperate with you.

3. That Israel's utter ruin was inevitable. Nothing awaited that "basket of summer fruit" but rottenness. Its decomposition was working, and would soon reduce it to putrescent filth. So it was with Israel.

II. TRUE PROPHETS ARE MADE SENSIBLE OF THIS RIPENESS. God gives Amos a vision for the purpose. "Thus hath the Lord God showed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer frail Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel." God always gives his true ministers a clear vision of the subjects of their discourse. This clearness of vision is in truth their call and qualification for their Divine mission. Men, alas! often assume the work of the ministry whose mental vision is so dim that they are unable to see anything with vivid clearness; hence they always move in a haze, and their language is circumlocutory and ambiguous. Amongst the vulgar, those who should be condemned for their obtuseness get credit for their profundity. To every true teacher God says at the outset, "What seest thou?" Hast thou a clear vision of this basket of summer fruit? Hast thou a clear idea of this subject on which thou art about to discourse? Thus he dealt with Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Paul, John.

III. ALMIGHTY GOD MAKES HIS PROPHETS SENSIBLE OF THE RIPENESS OF A PEOPLE'S CORRUPTION IN ORDER THAT THEY MAY SOUND THE ALARM. Why was Amos thus divinely impressed with the wretched moral condition of the people of Israel? Simply that he might be more earnest and emphatical in sounding the alarm. "'The end is come upon my people of Jsrael; I will not again pass by them any more. And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cut them forth with silence." What was the calamity he was to proclaim?

1. Universal mourning. "The songs of the temple shall be howlings." Where the shouts of mirth and the songs of joy had been heard, there should be nothing but the howlings of distress. The inevitable tendency of sin is to turn songs of gladness into howlings of distress.

2. Universal death. "And there shall be many dead bodies in every place; and they shall cast them forth with silence." The reference is to sword, pestilence, and famine multiplying the dead so rapidly as to render impossible the ordinary decencies and ceremonies at funerals. "Cast them forth with silence."

CONCLUSION. How stands our country? Is not its moral depravity ripening in every direction? Is it not filling up its measure of iniquities, treasuring up wrath against the last day? Does it not become all true teachers to sound the alarm? The time seems past for crying, "Peace and safety." Destruction is at hand; the fields are white for harvest.—D.T.

Amos 8:4-10

Avarice.

"Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land. to fail," etc. The prophet here resumes his denunciatory discourse to the avaricious oppressors of the people. The verses may be taken as God's homily to greedy men. "Hear this." Hush! pay attention to what I am going to say. Listen, "ye that swallow up the needy." The words suggest three remarks concerning avarice.

I. IT IS EXECRABLE IN ITS SPIRIT.

1. It is sacrilegious. "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?" Bad as Israel was, it still kept up the outward observances of religion, yet these observances they regarded as commercial inconveniences. In their hearts they wished them away, when they seemed to obstruct their greedy plans. With sacrilegious spirit, they treated religious institutions as worthless in comparison with sordid gain. Avarice in heart has no reverence for religion.

2. It is dishonest. "Making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit." It is always overreaching, always cheating; it generally victimizes the poor; it makes its fortunes out of the brain and muscles, the sweat and life, of the needy.

3. It is cruel. "Ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes." Avarice deadens all social affections, steels the heart, and makes its subject utterly indifferent to all interests but its own; it will swallow up, or as some render it, gape after, the needy just as the wild beast pants after its prey. "Greedy men are a generation whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from amongst men" (Proverbs 30:14).

II. IT IS ABHORRENT TO JEHOVAH. "The Lord hath sworn by the Excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works." Some render the "Excellency of Jacob" the "Pride of Jacob," and suppose the expression to mean that Israel professed to regard him as its Glory; and therefore it is by himself that he swears, for he can swear by no one greater. God observes all the cruelties which avarice inflicts upon the poor. Nothing is more abhorrent to his benevolent nature than covetousness. One of the leading principles in his moral code is, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house," etc. Against no sin did his blessed Son preach more earnestly. "Take heed, beware of covetousness," said he (Luke 12:1-59.]5). He closes the gates of heaven against covetousness. "The covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven" (1 Corinthians 6:10).

1. It is repugnant to his nature. His love is disinterested, unbounded love, working ever for the good of the universe. Greed is a hideous antagonist to this.

2. It is hostile to universal happiness. He created the universe in order to diffuse happiness; but greed is against it.

III. IT IS A CURSE TO SOCIETY. See what punishment comes on the land through this! "Shall not the land tremble for this," etc.? Observe:

1. How God makes nature an avenging angel He makes "the land tremble." He "toucheth the hills, and they smoke;" pours out waters as a flood. He can make the world of waters deluge the earth as the overflowing Nile at times inundates the land of Egypt. He can (to use human language) roll back the sun. "I will cause the sun to go down at noon."

2. How God makes a multitude to suffer on account of the iniquities of the few. "And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations; and I will bring up sackcloth," etc.

CONCLUSION. Avoid covetousness. It is the chief of the principalities and powers of darkness. It may be considered the great fountain whence all the streams of crime and misery flow forth. It is eternally opposed to the virtue and happiness of the universe. The fable of Midas in Grecian mythology is strikingly illustrative of this tremendous evil. Bacchus once offered Midas his choice of gifts. He asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. Bacchus consented, though sorry that he had not made a better choice. Midas went his way rejoicing in his newly acquired power which he hastened to put to the test. He could scarcely believe his eyes when he found a twig of an oak, which he had plucked, become gold in his hand. He took up a stone, and it changed to gold. He touched a sod; it did the same. He took an apple from a tree; you would have thought he had robbed the garden of the Hesperides. His joy knew no bounds; and when he got home he ordered the servants to set a splendid repast on the table. Then he found to his dismay that whether he touched bread, it hardened in his hand, or put a morsel to his lips, it defied his teeth. He took a glass of wine, but it flowed down his throat like melted gold. In utter terror, fearing starvation, be held up his arms shining with gold to Bacchus, and besought him to take back his gift. Bacchus said, "Go to the river Pactolus: trace the stream to its fountainhead; there plunge your head and body in, and wash away your fault and its punishment." Hence Midas learned to hate wealth and splendour.—D.T.

Amos 8:11-13

Soul famine.

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord," etc. The Israelites now despised the message of the prophets, and by a just retribution, in addition to all their other calamities, they should experience a total withdrawal of all prophetic communications. In whatever direction they might proceed, and whatever efforts they might make to obtain information relative to the issue of their trouble, they should meet with nothing but disappointment. The subject of these words is soul famine, and they suggest three general remarks.

I. THAT THE PROFOUNDEST WANT OF HUMAN NATURE IS A COMMUNICATION FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. This is implied in the Divine menace of sending a worse famine than the mere want of bread and water. They were special communications from himself, not the ordinary communications of nature, that Jehovah here refers to. And man has no greater necessity than this; it is the one urgent and imperial need. Two great questions are everlastingly rising from the depths of the human soul

1. How does the Eternal feel in relation to me as a sinner? Nature tells me how he feels in relation to me as a creature; but nature was written before I fell.

2. How am I to get my moral nature restored? I have a sense of guilt that is sometimes intolerable; the elements of my nature are in eternal conflict; I have sadly terrible forebodings of the future. Now, the special Word of God can alone answer these questions. These are the problems of men the world over. God's Word is to the human soul what food is to the bodythat which alone can strengthen, sustain, and satisfy. But as the soul is of infinitely greater importance than the body, the Divine Word is more needed than material food.

II. THAT THE GREATEST DISEASE OF HUMAN NATURE IS A LACK OF APPETITE FOR THIS COMMUNICATION. Which is the greater want of the body—the want of food, or the want of appetite for food? The latter, I trow, for the latter implies disease. It is so with the soul. The vast majority of souls have lost the appetite for the Divine Word. They are perishing, shrivelling up, for the lack of it. The desire is gone. They die, not for the want of the food, but for the want of appetite. As a rule, the starvation of souls is not for the lack of food, but for the lack of appetite. The worst of this disease is

III. THAT THE GREATEST MISERY OF HUMAN NATURE IS A QUICKENED APPETITE AND NO SUPPLIES. "They shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord, and shall not find it."

1. The appetite will be quickened sooner or later. Sometimes—would it were ever so!—it is quickened here, where supplies abound. Hear Job's cry, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" And hear Saul's cry at Endor, "Bring me up Samuel." Oh for one word from his lips, one loving sentence from the mouth of the great Father! "Bring me up Samuel"

2. When the appetite is quickened and there is no supply, it is an inexpressible calamity. Such a period will come. "The days shall come," says Christ, "when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it" (Luke 17:22). And again, "Ye shall seek me, and not find me: for where I am, thither ye cannot come" (John 7:34). Oh miserable state of immortal souls, to be crying to the heavens, and those heavens to be as hard as brass!—D.T.

Amos 8:14

Religious sincerity.

"They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again." "The sin of Samaria" means the idolatry of Samaria. In Samaria they worshipped the golden calf as the chief object; but it would seem there were other inferior idols. The god of Dan was the golden calf sot up by Jeroboam in Dan (1 Kings 12:1-33.). "The fulfilment," says Delitzsch, "of these threats commenced with the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and the carrying away of the ten tribes into exile in Assyria, and continues to this day in the case of that portion of the Israelitish nation which is still looking for the Messiah, the Prophet promised by Moses, and looking in vain because they will not hearken to the preaching of the gospel concerning the Messiah who appeared as Jesus." The words suggest a thought or two in relation to religious sincerity.

I. THAT RELIGIOUS SINCERITY IS NO PROOF OF THE ACCURACY OF RELIGIOUS CREED. These Israelites seem to have been sincere in their worship of the golden calf; "they swore by it." That dumb idol to them was everything. To it they pledged the homage of their being. Yet how blasphemously erroneous, how contrary to the expresss mandate of Jehovah, "Thou shalt have none other gods but me"! How contrary to the dictates of common sense and all sound reasoning! Idolatry, in every form and everywhere, is a huge falsehood. Hence sincerity is no proof that a man has the truth. There are millions of men in all theologies and religions, who are so sincere in believing lies, that they will fight for their lies, make any sacrifice for their lies, die for their lies. Error, perhaps, can number more martyrs than truth. Saul of Tarsus was sincere when he was persecuting the Church and endeavouring to blot the name of Christ from the memory of his age. "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth," etc. (Acts 26:9). Hence sincerity is not necessarily virtuous. A man is sincere when he is faithful to his convictions; but if his convictions are unsound, immoral, ungodly, his sincerity is a crime. The fact that thousands have died for dogmas is no proof of the truth of their dogmas.

II. THAT RELIGIOUS SINCERITY IS NO PROTECTION AGAINST THE PUNISHMENT THAT FOLLOWS ERROR. "They shall fall, and never rise up again." The sincerity of the Israelites in their worship in Bethel and at Dan prevented not their ruin. There are those who bold that man is not responsible for his beliefs—that so long as he is sincere he is a truthful man, and all things will go well with him. In every department of life God holds a man responsible for his beliefs. If a man takes poison into his system, sincerely believing that it is nutriment, will his belief save him? Error leads evermore to disappointment, confusion, and oftentimes to utter destruction. To follow error is to go away from reality; and to leave reality is to leave safety and peace.

CONCLUSION. Whilst there is no true man without sincerity, sincerity of itself does act make a man true. When a man's convictions correspond and square with everlasting realities, then his sincerity is of incomparable world.—D.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 8:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/amos-8.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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