You only have I known of all the families of the earth.
Sin in the highly-favoured
This is shameful ingratitude. The honour and blessing conferred on the Israelites gave the stain of ingratitude to every act of transgression of which they were guilty. It is direct rebellion. “You only have I known,” so as to reveal to you My will. Iniquity in you is disobedience to express commands, revolt against My authority. It is a dishonour offered to God. The privilege of being called after the name of God brings with it the danger of profaning that name by transgression. The nearer in privilege, the nearer we are to judgment. Distinguished blessings are leading to distinguished reward, or to distinguished punishment.
1. We are taught here that the providence of God prepares good and evil for man. View what are called common mercies in their origin, and “understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.” Evil is also prepared for the sinner, in the sense of calamity, judgment.
2. We are taught by the prophet’s vindication of the doctrine of a special providence to be very earnest when affliction comes in, working together with God, that it may do us good. Remember that God intended that sorrow to come as it did come, and when it did come.
3. When the trumpet of God’s Word is sounded by His ministers, let us give heed to the note of warning or exhortation.
4. When there is evil in the land, let us with reverence acknowledge the hand of God.
5. The Lord revealeth His secret to His servants the prophets.
(1) He does this by giving them spiritual apprehension of the truths of His Holy Word, causes them to see terror in the threatenings thereof, sweetness in its promises, duty in its precepts.
(2) Nothing is coming upon man that has not been revealed.
(3) The Holy Spirit directs the thoughts and words of His ministering servants, so as best to suit the particular need of those whom they address. At all times the sincere preaching of the Word may be expected to give offence. See how dangerous is the conduct of those who despise, oppose, revile, and persecute men of God for telling them plain truth with faithfulness and honesty. See where the true strength of a faithful dispenser of God’s Word lies. The strength of the servant lies in his conviction that he is doing his Master’s will. (Vincent W. Ryan, M. A.)
Elected for what?
Here was this desert prophet, with keen, prayer-washed eyes, piercing through the shows of things to the unclean realities behind. He disinterred the moral corruption that lurked behind their whited professions. What answer did the people make to this rude child of the desert? He stood there, rude in speech and in dress, despised by the official priest, a mere field-preacher, proclaiming to the grandees of the metropolis that the moral corruption of the people was eating away the vital elements of the national strength and that in galloping consumption they were hastening on to a terrible and fatal retribution. What answer did they make? They fell back upon their belief in God. Their reply to the herdman was found in their doctrine of providence. What was that doctrine? It was this: Their nation was the favourite of the Lord. They were hedged about with peculiar sanctities. “We only are known unto the Lord. Only between us and the Lord is there the intercourse which implies security. Thy threats, O Amos, are as noisy nothings. They are meaningless and terrorless.” Such was the refuge in which the people found their security. “We are the children of privilege. Privilege implies favour. Favour guarantees security.” Such was their doctrine of election, and I am not altogether sure that their doctrine is banished from the minds of all men to-day. Now let us mark the answer of the Lord through the mouth of His prophet. We have heard the false doctrine of election; now let us hear the true doctrine which is enshrined in the words of our text. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore”--note the swift, piercing logic--“therefore I will punish you.” The false doctrine ran thus--“You only have I known: therefore I will indulge you.” The true doctrine culminates in fire--“You only have I known: therefore I will punish you.” “You only have I known”--I marked you out for special office. I appointed you to discharge a special function. I elected you to special service. But the office has been prostituted. The function has been ignored. The service has been despised. “Therefore I will punish you.” I singled you out from among men, that all men through you might be blessed. But ye have defiled your mission, and, instead of being a centre of saving health, ye have become a noisome pestilence. That is the expression of a Divine method of government which prevails in all time. Election does not mean security. Security is dependent upon the discharge of the duty which election creates. There is an aristocracy of the election, a chosen few, and these are they who have fulfilled the obligations of their election, and are therefore qualified to enter into the peace and joy of their Lord. Election therefore does not, in the first place, create security. It creates responsibility, and my security or insecurity depends upon the manner in which that responsibility is regarded. There is nothing which can ensure the protecting presence of the Most High God except moral agreement. “Can two walk together. . .?” cries the prophet in the verse which follows my text. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” If there is to be helpful and intimate companionship between two people, there must be profound agreement, and if I am to enjoy the companionship of the great God, with all that that companionship means of consoling and sheltering grace, if God and I are to walk together, we must be agreed, and my part of the agreement must be faithful and unconditional obedience to all His revealed will. Election; the prophet declared that it could only be found in the fact of obedience. They had been elected to duty; not in the election, but in the duty would they find the defences which are as invulnerable ramparts against their foes. Election means selection to service. The Lord’s specialities are for the sake of generalities. An individual is elected that he may serve a nation. A nation is elected that she may serve a race. A call is not a self-securing privilege; it is the entrustment of an office. To evade my responsibility is to destroy my defences, and to bring down swift retribution from God. “ You only have I known: therefore I will punish you.” Election, then, means selection for special service. This doctrine of election is here applied to nations. Certain nations are specially known by God. He whispers to them peculiar secrets, that they may proclaim them upon the house-tops to the nations of the world. Greece was specially known by God. The warm breath of the Lord came upon her people, and endowed her with that exquisite sense of the beautiful which has made her distinguished among all the nations of time. She revelled in the joy of perception, and exulted in the creation of lovely forms. God opened her eyes to the holiness of beauty, and gave her a mission to the race. And “the Gentiles have come to her light.” All the nations go to Greece to school. We go to the treasury of her graces for our own adornments. The Lord God elected her by special endowment, that by her election she might serve a race. Rome was specially known by God. She was His own handiwork. He fashioned her into special aptitude, giving her the endowment of a peculiar passion for order, a genius for polity, government, and empire. He breathed into her life the instinct of law, and by the speciality of her election He determined the speciality of her mission. “And the Gentiles have come to her light.” The foundations of modern jurisprudence are laid in ancient Rome. She has been the schoolmistress to all the nations. Israel was specially known by God. He breathed into her life a special genius for religion, a rare instinct for the Unseen and Eternal. To her He whispered the sublime truth of the unity of God and the august verities of the moral law. “And the Gentiles have come to her light.” Just as beauty is of the Greeks, and law of the Romans, so salvation is of the Jews! Israel was exalted, as a city set upon a hill, that the light of revelation might shine out upon the nation, yea, even upon them that were afar off. May it not be that the Lord has held secret communion with every nation, and whispered to her some peculiar message which makes her life distinctive and unique? It is along this line that I can travel with the least trembling when I contemplate the appalling divisions which distract the race. I gain some assurance from a broad application of this doctrine of election. Each nation has been specially elected. All nations are dependent upon each; each is dependent upon all. Because of the Divine distribution of gifts absolute severance is impossible. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: nor, again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Each nation is specially known of God, specially elected to unique and individual service. In this doctrine of the election of nations, which is an election to mutual service, and which entails mutual dependence, I base my hope of the ultimate practical comity of nations, and the realised brotherhood of the race. But now let us apply the prophet’s doctrine to the life of the individual, as we have applied it to the life of the nation. The prophet’s doctrine is this--election is not election to security, except through the discharge of obligation. Election is election to the service of o hers. How many of us, then, have been elected? Are there any exempt from the election? We are all known, all elected, all called--for the election is a call to individual faithfulness, and our response will determine whether the election shall issue in sunshine or in fire. Each life has its own peculiar mission. God appoints for each a special and individual task. My mission is my election. I may not know what my mission is. That matters not. God knows. My part is to discharge the duty that lies nearest, and then the next, and the next, and the next, and God will guide and control the connected purpose and mission. How can I turn the election into a glad consciousness of protecting providence and eternal security? By a spirit of obedience. By faithfulness in that which is least. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Humiliation under God’s chastisement
We enjoy great and peculiar privileges as a people. Religious light; civil liberty; public credit; individual exertions; private wealth; national power; commercial prosperity. Let us not forget that privilege involves responsibility. The very adoption of sons carries with it the certainty of fatherly correction; for what son is there whom the father chasteneth not? We must be prepared to expect that, as there are occasions where a father’s love is manifested in the correction of his child, and the affection that he feels is expressed by the chastisement he applies, so there are times when the same necessity may compel God to adopt a different mode of treatment from that which He generally employs, and to prove the love that He feels for His children by the judgments that He brings upon them. Nothing seems more natural, nothing more probable, than that a period of great scientific advancement, and of great commercial prosperity, should be a season of great forgetfulness of God. There are multitudes who habitually forget their dependence on God; who form their plans, pursue their inquiries, calculate their gains, without reference to Him. If punishment is to begin, where can it begin so appropriately as in noticing that forgetfulness of God which seems to be the sin that doth most, easily beset us; and in teaching us the humbling but unwelcome truth of our entire dependence on God? In time of national distress, let us pray, as Elijah prayed; and as his prayers prevailed for the people, when the people had avowed their allegiance to God, so let us hope that the prayer of faith shall still maintain its character, and that to an humbled, penitent, and believing people the blessing will never be refused. (Henry Raikes, M. A.)
God’s alarm to Great Britain
In this chapter we have a denunciation of judgments against Israel, together with the grounds and reasons of it. Notice--
1. The special regard God had to His people. It is as if He should say, “My heart has been set upon you, My thoughts of kindness have been peculiarly towards and concerning you.
2. The awful visitation which even God’s regard to them engaged Him to bring upon them. “Therefore I will punish you.” As to Israelites indeed, though God visits their iniquities with temporal judgments, it is with a design of love and of advantage to their souls. 3: The ground and reason of this, and that was their iniquities. “I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
I. What have been Great Britain’s eminent mercies?
1. Our temporal mercies, which purely relate to the things of this life.
2. Our mercies with regard to religious concerns, and to spiritual and eternal blessings.
II. What have been our abuses of these eminent mercies? How have we rioted upon the bounties of providence! Has not our plenty been turned into means and occasions of feeding our pride and ambition, our intemperance, luxury, and debauchery? How unfruitful have we been under the means of grace. Has not the Holy Spirit, been grieved and provoked to withdraw from our solemn assemblies? And when we speak of religion, have we much more than the name?
III. What reason we have to fear that God will visit us with judgments for all these iniquities and abuses of his mercies.
1. Our provocations are exceeding great.
2. The honour of God, as the great Governor of the world, is concerned to show His righteous resentment against a professing people that are guilty of such exceeding high provocations.
3. The threatenings of God’s Word give us reason to fear His bringing judgments upon us.
4. The examples God has made of other communities, and particularly of His professing people, for their iniquities, may justly raise our fears of His doing the same by us.
5. God has already taken up a controversy with us.
IV. What course is to be taken for preventing such awful visitations? Public national sins must be followed with public national breaking them off by repentance and returning to the Lord. When dangers lie at the door of kingdoms and nations, the only method of preventing them, according to God’s ordinary rule of procedure in His government of this world, is national humiliation, fasting, and repentance for and departure from the provoking evils that have incensed His wrath against us, with earnest supplication and prayer for national forgiveness of national sins. (J. Guyse, D. D.)
A nation’s guilt and punishment are graduated according to the scale of its privileges.
I. Our privileges. Knowledge, as it relates to God, signifies approval, love. Israel had been unto the Lord a peculiar treasure above all people. Is there not a remarkable parallel between our own position and that of ancient Israel? When we pass in review our own national history we may well stand amazed at God’s marvellous dealings with us. To us, pre eminently and emphatically, beyond all nations of the earth, has the kingdom of God, taken from the Jews for their unworthiness, been given. Truly our privileges are as incomparable as they are priceless.
II. Our penalties. Whether as a Church or a nation, we should be on our guard against unfaithfulness. We have the Word of the living God in our keeping. But are we as faithful to this trust as we ought to be? Do we not sometimes give a very halting and restricted testimony to the truth? (R. W. Forrest, M. A.)
Privilege and punishment
I. The privilege. So surpassing had been the tenderness of God, so intimate the relationship in which He had stood to them, that it appeared as if He had ignored all other nations to magnify His mercy to them. They alone had had the presence of God in their midst, with a Divinely appointed priesthood, and a law given by the mouth of God. Other nations were as worthy as they. It was only the mercy of God which had chosen them. God exalts His people now to the highest privilege. He reveals His truth and makes known His character to them.
II. The punishment. This was a necessary result of their trangression.
1. Because theirs was no common sin. The clearest light, the richest mercy, the strongest warnings, the most awful threatenings failed to deter them from wandering into forbidden paths. Punishment is proportioned to privilege. Can we wonder, then, that Divine indignation should be kindled against those who multiplied trangressions?
2. It was necessary that God should vindicate His own character. He had taught them by warning and example how deeply He hated sin. The story of Achan, the history of the spies, the fate of the whole congregation of Israel showed that the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men.
3. To a certain extent the punishment was remedial. God hoped to awaken the people from the stupor into which sin had thrown them. (J. Telford, B. A.)
A specially blest people
Now it is a fact that some men are far more highly favoured by heaven than others. Some have more health, some more riches, some more intellect, some more friendships, some more means of spiritual improve ment.
I. They are oftentimes the greatest sinners. Who of all the people on the face of the earth were greater sinners than the Israelites? Yet they were specially favoured of heaven. England is a specially favoured land, but where is there more moral corruption? It is true that civilisation has so decorated it that its loathsomeness is to some extent concealed; but here it is. The corpse is painted, but it is still a putrid mass.
II. They are exposed to special punishment. “Therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities.” It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, etc. Therefore “I will punish you.” I who know all your sins, I who abhor all your sins, I who have power to punish you.
III. They should, like all people, place them selves in harmony with God. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed? “
1. Agreement with God is essential to the well-being of all intelligent existences. No spirit in the universe can be happy without thorough harmony with the will and mind of God.
2. The condition of all sinners is that of hostility to the will of God. (Homilist.)
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
Agreement with God
Order is the first law of heaven’s empire. In the material world God has secured it by absolute power. In the world of mind His authority has enjoined it. And in the next state of human existence His omnipotent justice will enforce it. In the present world God has simply enjoined order; and if we obey not the great laws of moral harmony, we make our own happiness impossible. If two are not agreed, they cannot walk together. The enjoyments of friendship demand a harmony of sentiment; the classifications of political parties, and all efficient party movements, whether good or bad, demand it. What efficiency can there be in that commercial house whose partners are agreed about no one of the great principles of trade? The text is part of a solemn reproof addressed to the Israelites. They thought that because they had been taken into covenant with God, and had been careful in observing the ceremonials of the Jewish ritual, God walked with them, approved of them, and blessed them. But the prophet here presents this great principle: “You must agree with Me, and then I will walk with you; the union between us must be a moral union.” Man, as unconverted, has no moral union with God. Between God and these His creatures there is no common taste, there are no common principles, no common ends nor plans. Observe God and man in the exercise of love in its two branches, complacency and benevolence. God loves all excellence. Humility, faith, penitence, the spirit of prayer,--these are the features of character of greatest price in God s sight. But it is not so with the world. The selection of our companions, and the ground of that selection, if we would examine it closely, would perfectly expose to us our character as it is in the eyes of God. If we choose the pious, we have, so far, an evidence of our reconciliation to God. In the exercise of their benevolence men do not choose as God chooses. It is often said that no man can love his enemies. Then no man can dwell with God, no man can wear God’s moral image. We may test the condition of our affections by another object--the law of God. If its” requirements please us not, if its threatenings seem too severe, then with us God is not agreed. Another object tests the heart; the Son of God manifested in human nature. Does your heart exalt Him? If your heart, in all these points, has no sympathy with God, how can He delight in you? Communion of soul, to be intimate and delightful, must be intelligent and cordial on those points which both parties deem of the highest moment. If you have no such fellowship with God here, what will you do in heaven? (E. N. Kirk, A. M.)
The conditions of intercourse and union with God
The terms on which man can have converse with God, intercourse with His love, and experience of His mercy, are unchangeably the same in every age of the world. Without coincidence in sentiment, judgment, and disposition, there can be no cordial union or harmony between the Creator and the creature. “He that is joined to the Lord, is one spirit.”
1. In order that God and man should walk together in all the endearments of the Christian covenant, there must be a harmony of judgment concerning the Scripture plan of salvation. Man must acquiesce in what God has so solemnly declared and imposed.
2. There must be a correspondence of sentiment upon the rule by which redeemed creatures are to be governed, and the duties they must fulfil towards God and towards man. The moral law is still authoritative as a rule of life.
3. Man and God cannot walk together, unless the mind of both have reference to the same end. That which the Most High contemplated, when He redeemed you on the Cross of His Son, was the advancing of His own honour, and the salvation of your souls. What then is your aim? (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
A pair of friends
They do not need to be agreed about everything. The two whom the prophet would fain see walking together are God and Israel. Two may walk together, but they have to be agreed thus far, at any rate, that both shall wish to be together, and both be going the same road.
I. that blessed companionship that may cheer a life. “Walking with God” means ordering the daily life under the continual sense that we are ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye. “Walking after God” means conforming the will and active efforts to the rule that He has laid down. High above these conceptions of a devout life is the idea of “walking with God.” For to walk before Him may have in it some tremor, and may be undertaken in the spirit of a slave. And walking after Him may be a painful effort to keep His distant figure in sight. But to walk with Him implies a constant quiet sense of the Divine presence, which forbids that we should ever feel lonely. As the companions pace along side by side, words may be spoken by either, or blessed silence may be eloquent of perfect trust and rest. Such a life of friendship with God is possible for every one of us. If we are so walking, it is no piece of fanaticism to say that there will be mutual communications. The two may walk together. That is the end of all religion. All culminates in this true, constant fellowship between men and God. Get side by side with God. Fellowship with Him is the climax of all religion. It is also the secret of all blessedness, the only thing that will make a life absolutely sovereign over sorrow, and fixedly imperturbed by all tempests, and invulnerable to all “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Hold fast by God, and you have an amulet against every evil, and a shield against every foe, and a mighty power that will calm and satisfy your whole being.
II. The sadly incomplete reality, in much Christian experience, which contrasts with this possibility. Perhaps few so-called Christians habitually feel, as they might do, the depth and blessedness of this communion. And only a very small percentage of us have anything like the continuity of companionship which the text suggests as possible. There may be, and therefore there should be, running unbroken through a Christian life, one long bright line of communion with God, and happy inspiration from the sense of His presence with us. Is it a line in my life, or is there but a dot here and a dot there, and long breaks between?
III. An explanation of the failure to realise this continual presence. The explanation is that the two are not agreed. That is why they are not walking together. The consciousness of God’s presence with us is a very delicate thing. At bottom, there is only one thing that separates a soul from God, and that is sin of some sort. Remember that very little divergence will, if the two paths are prolonged far enough, part their other ends by a world. There may be scarcely any conscious ness of parting company at the beginning. Take care of little divergencies that are habitual. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
”--This points to an essential condition of union between the Lord Jesus Christ, and those who really are His. Fellowship with the Lord is obviously the highest privilege of the creature. In every age this has been regarded as the highest favour that could possibly be given to man. All the most distinguished worthies of ancient Scripture history have this, above everything else, as their distinguishing glory and their privilege--to live in the society of the invisible God. And it is the privilege of every true Christian to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into his heart, and to live in constant fellowship, through Him, with the unseen God. They that live most in the society of the everlasting God must, more or less, be partakers of His own Divine attributes. And what joy belongs to such a life as this! Before we can really know Him there must be a substantial agreement between ourselves and Him. There are only too many Christians who are living out of fellowship with God. And it is only too possible to fail from fellowship with Him. Then the highest privilege in our life is gone. We must have permitted some cause of disagreement to arise between ourselves and Him. The relationship in which we stand is of such a character that the superior Being must be supreme. God’s way being the way of absolute perfection, any attempt on our part to assert our own desire, as in opposition to the Divine will, must be an offence against our own nature and our own interest, just as surely as it is an offence against His Divine pleasure. There must be a complete and continual yielding up, a concession of our natural inclinations to His Divine will, if we are to rise to that which He desires we should attain to, and possess the blessedness which we may, even here, experience. This is our life-work--to bring our human wills into conformity with Him; to watch every little cause of disagreement, and to eliminate it as fast as it makes its appearance. Our blessed Lord is our example in this respect. Our Lord had a human will, though it was not a Sinful will. Contemplate Adam unfallen, and put beside him the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will find that they both have the same tastes and proclivities, naturally, because they are both specimens of genuine humanity. What was our Lord’s course of conduct, starting from this point? He lays it down as the first law of His human life, that He has come into the world, “not to do His own will, but the will of Him who had sent Him.” Having accepted this as the great taw of His conduct, lower considerations, considerations connected with pleasure and pain, take a completely subordinate position. There was the complete devotion of the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Divine will. The result was that God and He were walking together in holy union. No doubt at times our Lord felt strangely solitary. But there was one thing that stayed Him in the midst of all His trials, and cheered Him in the midst of all His sorrows,--“He that hath sent Me is with Me.” The life of Jesus was a constant rendering up of pleasure to God. It was lived out, not as under an iron law, but with a feeling of filial delight in doing what pleased the Father; and the result of this was an unbroken harmony between the two wills, and the continuous presence within His own nature of the Father, for whom, and by whom He lived. The will of man, yielding to the will of God, became the will of God. That will always be the effect of the surrender of our will to Him. The more our human will is yielded over to Him, the more complete does the fellowship of our nature with His become, and the two are able so closely to “walk together” that they become united in an indissoluble union. It is our highest privilege, and our deepest and truest wisdom, to follow the example of our blessed Lord and Master in the maintenance of the continuous attitude of agreement towards God, who claims the lordship of our nature. Agree with Him in little things. Anything like a life of fellowship with God is altogether impossible until the first act of agreement has taken place. There are many who are always trying to rise into a life of fellowship with God without taking the primary step towards it. If you have not come into fellowship with God, you are disagreed with respect to your nature. There is a property quarrel between you. He lays His hand upon that nature of yours, and says, “It is Mine.” God is a Sovereign, He has laid down certain laws. Where is the man or woman who has kept them? Moreover, God and the unrenewed sinner are in a state of disagreement with respect to the position which the sinner has to take. It is one of helplessness. Let me come closer. The disagreement is a personal one. There is something that has slipped in between thee and thy God. And the disagreement has arisen with thee, rebellious sinner. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The condition essential to a walk with God
Unless there be congeniality of character, there may be outward alliance, but there cannot be that intimate communion which the alliance itself is supposed to imply. And a sameness of tendency or pursuit appears evidently to form an immediate link between parties who would otherwise have had little in common. Men of science seem attracted towards each other, though they may be strangers by birth and even by country. Our text, though it may with great justice be applied to human associations, furnishing a rule which ought to guide us in forming them, was originally intended, and originally delivered, to refer to intercourse between man and God. The Israelites flattered themselves that they should still enjoy the favour of God, that the relation which made Him specially their guardian might still be maintained, while they lived in wickedness. “Not so,” says God, “the thing is impossible; two cannot walk together, except they be agree.
I. What is it for man to walk with God? Two walking together denotes their having the same object, or pursuing the same end. In scriptural phrase it not only marks a man out as pious, but as eminently pious. A man who habitually “walked with God” would be one who had a constant sense of the Divine presence, and a thorough fixing of the affections on things above.
1. A man who walks with God must have a constant sense of the Divine presence. He lives in the full consciousness that the eye of his Maker is ever upon him, so that he cannot take a single unobserved step, or do the least thing which escapes Divine notice.
2. The expression indicates a thorough fixing of the affections on things above. It is the description of a man who, whilst yet in the flesh, may be said to have both his head and his heart in heaven. To “walk with God” implies a state of concord and co-operation: a state in fact, on man’s part, of what we commonly under stand by religion, the human will having become harmonious with the Divine, and the creature proposing the same object as the Creator.
II. The absolute necessity of agreement between man and God in order to their “walking together.” The “agreement” is clearly given as indispensable to the “walking together.” Some process of reconciliation is necessary ere there can be friendly intercourse between a human being and the Divine. And how may God and man “walk together” when they are agreed? Whatever the moral change which may pass upon man, it is certain that he remains to the last a being of corrupt passions and unholy tendencies. We must take heed not to narrow or circumscribe the results of Christ’s work of redemption. The process of agree ment, as undertaken and completed by Christ, had respect to continuance as well as to commencement. It was not a process for merely bringing God and man into friendship; it was a process for keeping them in friendship. But the “walking together” could not last if it were not that the Mediator ever lives as an Intercessor: it could not last, if it were not that the work of the Son procured for us the influences of the Spirit. Another point of view is that to question whether “two can walk together except they be agreed,” is really to assert an impossibility. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. Consider this impossibility with reference to a future state. And we have no right to think that this agreement between God and man is ever affected, unless at least commenced on this side the grave. Time is for beginnings, eternity is for completions. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
The law and the conscience--their quarrel made up
There must be a reason why questions are put in the Bible and not answered there. It is intended that each learner should sit down, and, by the analogy of faith applied to his own experience, work out an answer for himself. The question in the text arises out of a particular ease in the experience of Israel; but it is expressed in a general form, and contains a rule of universal application. We apply to God’s law and man’s conscience.
I. The disagreement.
1. The fact that there is alienation. God’s law is His manifested, will for the government of His creatures. It is holy, just, and good; it is perfect as its Author. Observe the steadfastness of God’s laws as applied to material things. His moral law, ruling spirits, is as inexorable as His physical law, ruling matter. It has no softness for indulged sins. It never changes and never repents. The law never saved a sinner; if it did, it would no longer be a law. The law, by its very nature, can have no partialities and no compunctions. It never saves those who transgress, and never weeps for those who perish. The conscience in man is that part of his wonderful frame that comes into closest contact with God’s law--the part of the man that lies next to the fiery law, and feels its burning. When first the conscience is informed and awakened it discovers itself guilty and the law angry. There is not peace between the two, and, by the constitution of both, they are neighbours. There is need of peace in so close a union, and there is not peace. The conscience is pierced by the law, the sharp arrow of the Lord, and the convicted feels himself a lost, a dead man. Where there is mutual hatred distance may diminish its intensity; but where the antagonists are forced into contact, the nearness exasperates the hate.
2. The consequence of this disagreement between the two is, they cannot walk together. Emnity tends to produce distance. The law, indeed, remains what it was, and where it was; but the offending and fearing conscience seeks, and in one sense obtains, a separation. The conscience cannot bear the burning contact of a condemning law, and forcibly pushes it away. But distance is disobedience. To walk with the law is to live righteously; not to live with the law, is to live in sin. There are certain special features of the disagreement in this case that aggravate the breach and increase its effects,
(1) The party who has injured another hates that other most heartily, and cannot afford to forgive. The injurer must foment the quarrel; it is his only source of relief. The wrong-doer is miserable when he whom he has injured is near.
(2) There is not only the memory of a past grudge, but also the purpose of a future injury.
II. The reconciliation.
1. The nature of the reconciliation, and the means of attaining it. The agreement between the law and the conscience is a part of the great reconciliation between God and man, which is effected in and by Jesus Christ. He is our peace. Peace of conscience follows in the train of justification. Peace is accomplished not by persuading the law to take less, but by giving it all that it demands. The law s demands are satisfied by the Lord Jesus Christ, the substitute of sinners. He has already accomplished the work. My conscience begins to love God’s law when God’s law ceases to condemn me; and God’s law ceases to condemn me when I am in Christ Jesus.
2. The effect of the agreement is obedience to the law--that is, the whole Word of God. The Word still condemns the sins that linger in you; but this does not renew the quarrel. You are on the side of the law, and against your own besetting sins. Practical application to sinners and to saints. (W. Arnot.)
We must be in harmony with God
When the battle was fought between the Monitor and the Cumberland, you remember that the Cumberland was sunk in water so shallow that her topgallants remained above the waves. A friend of mine, who was in Governor Andrew’s cabinet, had a friend in the hold of the Cumberland as she went down. He was the surgeon, and was so absorbed in his attention to the wounded that he didn’t escape from the hold of the vessel, and came near death by the rushing in of the howling brine. But, being a bold man, he kept in view” the light which streamed through the hatchways, and, aiding himself by the rigging, at last, almost dead, reached the surface, and was taken into a boat and saved. Now, the insidious and almost unseen expectation that works in human nature is, that when we go down in the sea of death and eternity we shall in some way escape out of ourselves, and swim away from our own personalities, and thus leave the Cumberland at the bottom of the sea. The trouble with that theory is, that we are the Cumberland, and the Cumberland cannot swim away from the Cumberland, can it? You will not get away from yourself and the laws that are implied in the structure of that nature. How can you walk with yourself unless you are agreed with yourself--that is, with the plan of your soul? And I hold a man’s soul is made to be conscious and be in harmony with God, just as assuredly as the hand is made to shut toward the front and not toward the back. You will not get away from that plan of your individualities. You drop your body, but that is not you. How do I know but there are many empty sleeves of soldiers of the Union here? They may have left all their limbs at Gettysburg, and have been trundled here to-night, yet we should have said they are here. Thoreau said he had no interest in cemeteries, because he had no friends there. The body is not you. Your dropping the body is not the dropping of your personality. You are going as a personality into the unseen holy with your consciousness, your reason, your whole mental nature, social and moral. Your intellectual perceptions, perhaps all that is moral in you, may be quickened in activity when the flesh is dropped. That seems more probable than the reverse; and now, “How can two walk together unless they be agreed?” The plan of your nature is not likely to be changed to-morrow, or the day after; unless you come into harmony with it always, the dissonance of your nature with itself will be its own great and lasting punishment. The Cumberland cannot swim out of the Cumberland. (Joseph Cook.)
Matrimonial harmony or discord
Our subject is the mutual duties of husbands and wives. As individuals we are fragments. God makes the race in parts, and then He gradually puts us together. What I lack you make up; what you lack I make up. I have no more right to blame a man for being different from me than a driving wheel has a right to blame the iron shaft that holds it to the centre. John Wesley balances Calvin’s “Institutes.” The difficulty is that we are not satisfied with the work that God has given us to do. For more compactness, and that we may be more useful, we are gathered in still smaller circles in the home group. And there you have the same varieties again. If the husband be all impulse, the wife must be all prudence. If one sister be sanguine in her temperament, the other must be lymphatic. Mary and Martha are necessities. The institution of marriage has been defamed in our day. Attempt bus been made to turn marriage into a mere commercial enterprise.
1. My first counsel to you who are setting up homes for yourselves is,--Have Jesus in your new home; let Him who was a guest at Bethany be in your household. Let the Divine blessing drop upon your every hope and expectation.
2. Exercise to the very last possibility of your nature the law of forbearance. Never be ashamed to apologise when you have done wrong in domestic affairs.
3. Do not carry the fire of your temper too near the gunpowder.
4. Make your chief pleasure circle round your home.
5. Cultivate sympathy of occupation.
6. Let love preside in your home. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Will a lion roar in the forest when he hath no prey?
I. Retribution springs out of the nature of things. Poiset, in his travels, states that the lion has two different modes of hunting his prey. When not very hungry he contents himself with watching behind a bush for the animal which is the object of his attack till it approaches; when by a sudden leap he attacks it, and seldom misses his aim. But if he is famished he does not proceed so quietly; but impatient and full of rage, he leaves his den, and fills with his terrific roar the echoing forest. His voice inspires all beings with terror, no creature deems itself safe in its retreat; all flee they know not whither, and by this means some fall into his fangs. The naturalness of punishment is perhaps the prophet’s point. It is so with moral retribution. It springs from the constitution of things, Every sin carries with it its own penalty. No positive infliction is required; God has only to leave the sinner alone, and his sins will find him out.
II. Retribution is not accidental, but arranged. The bird is not taken in a snare by chance. The fowler has been there, and made preparation for its entanglement and ruin. Every sinner is a bird that must be caught.
III. Retribution always sounds a timely alarm. Heaven does not punish without warnings. Nature warns. Providence warns. Conscience warns.
IV. Retribution, however it comes, is always Divine. God is in all. He has established the connection between sin and suffering. He has planned and laid the snare. The everlasting destruction with which the sinner is punished comes from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. ( Homilist.)
Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?
God as the author of evil
The principal scope and design of the prophecy of Amos is this,--Though the Jews had by their sins provoked God to send many heavy judgments upon them, yet were they still so stupid and senseless as neither to be prevailed on by them to amend their lives, nor so much as once consider whence those judgments came. If God sent fire, plague, or famine, they regarded them as accidents, ill-will of enemies, or misfortunes. And so all God’s judgments lost their designs. Even God’s prophets, who were sent to correct these false notions, were despised. When God saw the disease grown desperate, and the patient not so much as enduring the sight of the physician, He awoke as a giant refreshed with wine, and to make His power known, inspired one of the herdmen of Tekoah with such knowledge as was wonderful for him, and sent him to assure them all that their sufferings were from heaven, that they were God’s visitation for their sins, and that nothing but speedy repentance could prevent their ruin. As if he had said, There is the such thing as chance or fate in all your sufferings. They are all the effect of God’s overruling providence, without whose knowledge and appointment not one hair falls from your head. But some, by reason of the doubtful signification of the Hebrew word evil, have made God the author of their sins.
I. First, then, we must clear these words from this blasphemous abuse of them. When Adam sinned, he found this excuse for himself, to lay the fault upon God (Genesis 3:12). And some of his unhappy offspring have gone yet further, “and thought God altogether such an one as themselves” (Psalms 50:21). To prevent this dangerous and fundamental error, God has taken care, throughout all the Scriptures, to work in us true and proper notions of Himself, His justice, holiness, and mercy, and make us such a discovery of His own perfections as might work us up to the highest degree of holiness and virtue. To make God the author of sin is to make Him act contrary to Himself and to His own nature. Let not any one persuade you, therefore, that God is the author of evil in this sense, and by His unutterable decrees compels mankind to that which He Himself detests and hates. This indeed cannot be the meaning of Amos in this text, unless he contradicts himself, and the whole design of his prophecy. He is sent to reprove the Israelites for their sins, and to assure them that all the miseries they suffered were God’s visitation.
II. Let us now consider the words of the text in their genuine and natural sense, namely, that there is no evil, no calamity or misery in a city or country which God is not the author of. Therefore, in all the judgments that befall us, we should learn to see God’s hand, and humble ourselves under His visitation. For a more distinct and methodical consideration of the judgments and calamities that befall a kingdom for their sins, see--
1. That when God first made the world, He so ordered the connection and dependence of causes and effects in the whole course of it as that very many sins naturally produce mischief and sorrow to the authors of them. In open and visible judgments this is true also. Luxury and drunkenness tend to impair our health and our estates, and either hurry us untimely to our graves, or else continue us here in beggary and want, unpitied and unrelieved. Sloth and idleness clothe a man with rags (Proverbs 23:21). All this, though the usual consequence of the order of nature, is properly ascribed to God as the author of it. The man of lusts sins against his own body. A quarrelsome temper brings a man continually into broils and dangers. The old liar gets this reward, that nobody believes in him. He that soweth discord among others must not expect to live at home in peace. And envy is the rottenness of the bones. In all these cases the punishment is the natural effect and consequence of the sin.
2. When this doth not happen, and sins are great and daring, God sometimes breaks through all the course of nature and disturbs the order of the world to make His power and His justice known, to vindicate the honour of His providence, and cast vengeance upon the sinner. Not that God hath any delight to hurry the world into confusion and destroy His own creatures; but it is sometimes necessary for God to make Himself known by the judgments which He executeth. Illustrate by cases of Flood, Sodom, Korah, Sennacherib, Belshazzar, Jerusalem, Babylon, etc. Because, in these proceedings, the Almighty is forced to break through the harmony and goodness which Him self saw in His own creation, He never makes use of them but upon great and pressing occasions, when sinners become daring and impudent, and defy God and His providence.
3. God oftentimes by His wisdom so directs and manages the natural effects of second causes, and which are produced by a heap of circum stances that seem only casual and incidental to other special ends and designs of His providence, and makes them become the executioners of His wrath against sinners. Those things which seem casual to us, cannot be so to God the author of them. God orders the common accidents of the world to proper ends and designs of His providence; and many of those evils which seem the effects only of chance are really designed by God as punishment for our sins. In the following eases God’s hand more visibly appears to us.
(1) When judgments are national and public.
(2) When the calamities bear a particular relation to, and often times the very stamp and character of the sin.
Then if the Lord hath at this time drawn a sword against us, let us also proclaim war against the sins which caused them; always remembering that as there is no evil in a city but from the Lord, so there is no deliverance but from Him also. Let us turn unto the Lord with all our hearts, and He will have mercy on us. Let us resolve to be religious in good earnest, and by the holiness of our lives call louder to heaven for mercies than ever our sins have done for judgments. Let God’s righteousness go before us in all our actions, then shall His glory he our reward. (John Willes, D. D.)
The Christian’s view of public calamity
The well-instructed Christian will refer all events to the overruling providence of God. The text, in referring to evil, does not mean natural evil, such as blindness, disease, and death; nor moral evil, or the contrariety of men’s actions. It refers particularly to social evil, social calamity.
1. Moral evil Divinely overruled. Nothing can take place without God’s knowledge. But we must remember that He never suggests an unholy thought or purpose. While God leaves sinners to take such a course as their own evil hearts desire, He overrules or controls their sin for the accomplishment of His own will. Illustrate cases of Joseph, and the crucifixion of our blessed Lord.
2. But we refer to social evil Divinely inflicted, sometimes by human instruments, sometimes without. Of calamities in the community the text speaks. It is too customary to overlook the hand of God in these things, and to confine our attention to second causes. God could keep back the ambitious desires, and curb the evil passions of sinful men, but He allows them to take the direction upon which their own wicked hearts are bent, and uses them as instruments of His wrath. This subject gives--
(1) To worldly men a solemn warning.
(2) To the afflicted believer this subject affords abundant consolation. (J. G. Breay, B. A.)
The Christian’s duty in public calamity
By “evil” here we understand “calamities.” Men may have been concerned in bringing them on; but God overrules all things for the accomplishment of His own purposes. The truth is clearly established, that the sorrows of a nation may be traced to the sins of a nation. The improvement to be made from this subject is--
I. The duty of intercession with god for the removal of national calamity. We need go no further than this prophet for a proof of the efficacy of prayer (Amos 7:1-6).
II. Labour among men for the promotion of national holiness. Enumerate some national sins. The advances of popery. Sabbath breaking. Infidelity, especially in literature.
III. Confide in the protection of god in the midst of national danger. If you are in Christ, you have no cause for fear. The consciousness of sinfulness will lead you to submit to personal trial as Job did. The Lord frequently makes a distinction in times of calamity between those who are His people and those who are not. Observe how Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:4-6) describes the Lord’s people. They “sigh and.cry for the sins of others.” If you can see iniquity unmoved, if you see men going to destruction and the laws of God and man set at defiance, without grief, and without doing all that is in your power to stem the torrent, you see that you have not the mark of God’s people, and you must perish with a careless and ungodly world.
1. Acknowledge God’s hand in every judgment.
2. Do all in your power to spread the knowledge of God’s will. (J. G. Breay, B. A.)
The mission of evil
I. The fact that all evil comes from the Lord. By evil understand the evil of punishment. God cannot be the author of evil as sin. He may permit it and overrule it. Every calamity we suffer is from the hand of God. This is universally acknowledged when by calamities are meant earthquakes, tempests, hurricanes, diseases, etc. Other evils are plainly traceable to our own agency, and so the agency of God is easily ignored. Such are the diseases and poverty and wretchedness brought on by intemperance or idleness. But while we admit human agency and human guilt in many of the calamities which we suffer, we ought, at the same time, to acknowledge the hand of God in them all. They all come with His knowledge; they all come by His permission; they all come by His appointment. As all these calamities, of a public character, which come immediately from the hands of men, are to be traced to the hand of God, so also may those calamities which come upon families and individuals. The rod which corrects you may be sharp and heavy, and the evil agency of men may be seen in every blow which you receive, but the rod is still in the hand of God, and He regulates both the number and the severity and the duration of your chastisements.
II. If all evil comes from the hand of God, why does He send such evils? We cannot suppose that He is changeable, and capricious, and unjust, and cruel; that He inflicts willingly, that He has pleasure in the miseries of mankind. It may, therefore, be stated generally, that national Calamities are the punishment of national sins. Among the Israelites idolatry was a great and prevailing sin, and many of the calamities which came upon them came because they gave God’s glory unto other gods, and His praise unto graven images. The truth applies to individuals. There is a strange perverseness in multitudes which lead’s them to imagine that they are suffering for the sins of others. They can see guilt in others, but none in themselves. No man ever really suffered for the sins of others. Others may have been the agents in inflicting, the sin was his own.
III. How should we act when God sends such evils?
1. It becomes us to acknowledge that all the evils we suffer come from God.
2. It becomes us to acknowledge that all the calamities we feel or fear are most just. There cannot be unrighteousness with God.
3. We should bewail and forsake those sins which have provoked God to send such evils upon us.
4. Stand in awe, and sin not, lest a worse thing befall you. God has been visiting you in anger, but we trust it has also been in loving-kindness.
5. Be much engaged in prayer. There are two things for which you should pray.
(1) That God would remove the evils which you are suffering.
(2) That God would sanctify to your use the calamities which you have suffered. (W. S. Smart.)
Lessonsof the cholera
There is no doubt that in all ages there has been as much evil done, and as much good prevented, during epidemics, by certain theological theories on what are rightly called God’s judgments, as there has been good done and evil overcome by the self-denying devotion of those who hold these theories. In fact, the good they do is less than the evil. Devotion to the sick relieves a few individuals; a superstitious idea leads astray all the souls of a nation for centuries, and retards the salutary work of science. It is very hard on scientific men that their conscientious obstructors in every age have been those religious men who, from want of faith in a God of order and truth, and from blind cleaving to blind opinions, have opposed instead of assisting those whose objects were the welfare of the race through the discovery of truth. It is almost too strange to think that the spirit of the inquisitors who condemned Galileo has not yet died out. Cholera as a judgment. The home of this dreadful disease is in India. But we have no real knowledge of how it originates, of the cause of its curious periodicity, of the means whereby it is propagated. Nor have we any knowledge how to cure it. The disease is singularly capricious. Put yourself back into old Athenian times, what would be the result of such a new phenomenon, which they could refer to no law? It could not be the work of any of their common gods. At once they leaped to the conclusion that it was the doing of some unknown god, whom, in soma way or other, they had offended. Hence they strove to propitiate him by sacrifice and prayer. The story goes that, at least once, they let loose some sheep from the Areopagus, and wherever the wandering animals lay down, built an altar to the unknown deity, and sacrificed them to appease his wrath. One thing they did not do. They did not try to investigate the causes of the disease; they did not collect facts about it. They assumed it was supernatural, instead of assuming it was natural. We, who know God as the Unalterable, the Uncapricious, whose unchangeable love constitutes unchangeable law, we do not impute this plague, of which we know nothing, and the strangeness of which seems to separate it from other diseases, to a caprice on the part of God which He will remove on our imploring Him to let us off. Yet a part of our religious world is guilty, with regard to the cholera, of grosser superstition than the Athenians. We talk, and pray, and teach, as if it had no natural cause, obeyed no natural laws. We call it, theologically, not religiously, a judgment of God, and we use the term with a supernatural meaning attached to it. What are the results of this superstition? According to this theory, the cholera is supernatural. “Nothing will stop it but prayer.” So all energy is diminished, all effort against the evil is crushed. Fortunately, though the supernatural theory is taught, it is not generally acted upon. It is good for exciting fear for hiding from men’s eyes the real evils which the cholera points out to us as deserving of God’s anger. It is good for nothing else. It creates a miserable fear and terror. God is regarded as a foe who is to be bought off, or coaxed by prayer, to give up His wrath. Is there no truth then in the phrase, “a judgment of God”? Yes, plenty of truth. These things--famine, pestilence, revolution war--are judgments of the Ruler of the world. A Ruler who rules in an orderly manner. Each judgment is connected with its proper cause, and is the result of a violation of a particular law, or set of laws. God says, Find out My laws, and accord with them your action, and My judgment will become to you not punishment but blessing. Sometimes the scientific man, enamoured of his laws and his results, says so-called judgments are nothing but natural laws working out their results. The Christian believes judgment to be much more. These natural laws, these series of causes and effects are ordered by a Divine intelligence and a moral will. Their violation is a transgression, but the moment man becomes aware that evil follows on their violation, it is not only a transgression but a sin. Moral guilt attends the nation which refuses to take measures for the extinguishing of disease. We find ourselves not only in the presence of mere law, we are brought into the presence of God. These judgments are God’s judgments. He is displaying His justice in punishment, but the very punishment itself is a proof of His love. For the disease does not only punish evils, it points them out, it discloses to us the evils we were ignorant of, in order that we may remedy them. This is God’s love in judgment. Apply these principles to the cholera. The conditions in which it develops itself are national sins. It laid its finger on the disgrace of England, the canker which eats into the heart of a nation--the neglected state of the poor. Again, it has been proved that want of a continual supply of pure water is the fruitful cause, not only of cholera, but of half the diseases that decimate the poor. Cholera can be diminished, as smallpox has been, by destroying the conditions when it becomes deadly to life. In Cheshire, years ago, some new plants, quite unknown beforehand in the country, sprang up beside the canals by Which the salt was carried and in the pools around the salt works. At last some one recognised the plants as those which haunt the ledges of the rocks just above the flow of the tide, but within the wash of the spray. The germs of the plants had been carried inland, by wind or bird, for years, but the conditions under which they could grow had only recently arisen. So with cholera. The poison-germ may be in the air, but everything depends on conditions of development, and these, in measure, are in our control. (S. A. Brooke, M. A.)
A visitation from God
I. God exercises a constant and minute superintendence over men. Objections--
1. The magnitude of the universe.
2. The dignity of the Divine Governor.
3. The extreme regularity of every process.
II. God punishes nations as such.
1. Nations are morally responsible as such.
2. They are capable of joint operations, as--
(1) In flaming laws;
(2) In the administration of laws;
(3)In their public institutions;
(4) In their procedure towards others;
(5) In their general manners.
3. Sacred history teaches national responsibility. Sodom, Egypt, Canaanites, Nineveh, Babylon, Jewish history, Israel’s dispersion.
4. Nations can be dealt with only in time.
III. With what feelings God’s dealings with nations should be regarded.
(1) Forsaking ordinances.
(2) Violating the Sabbath.
2. Repentance. Including--
(2) Reformation. (J. Stewart.)
Is God the author of moral evil?
This text is very liable to a wrong interpretation. It strongly asserts by its question that God is the author of evil. But of what evil?
I. Not of moral evil, which is sin, but of natural evil, which is calamity. And why of that? Many have not scrupled, directly or indirectly, to charge God with being the author of evil as sin. What is moral evil? It is the evil of what is done or thought or said by a moral agent, contrary to the rule of moral conduct laid down for him by God, his moral Governor. The brutes, without understanding of moral good or evil, are incapable of committing moral evil. Man chose to act contrary to the rule laid down for him by God. Sin is the transgression of the law. Then God cannot in any way, directly or indirectly, be the author of sin. To Him it is the abominable thing. No circumstances can justify a sin. God gave us appetites and passions, but not to be abused. He expressly forbids their abuse. One of the most subtle modes of charging God with abetting wickedness is by abusing the doctrines of grace. “God must give faith in Christ, and change the heart. He has not done this for me. Therefore I am justified in following the devices and desires of my own heart.” Wherever there is moral evil, one thing is clear and sure, “The Lord hath not done it”; it was the sinner’s own doing. Our most conclusive proof that God cannot be the author of moral evil, which should settle the matter for ever is, His gift of His Son, to become man and to die, as the one only and sufficient atonement for sin. This shows sin to be infinitely evil in His sight; it proves His solemn detestation of all iniquity.
II. God does send natural evil or calamity; and why? The distinction between natural and moral evil is easy to be observed. A child may learn it. Moral evil is what is contrary to moral duty, committed by a moral agent. Natural evil is that which, occurring contrary to the usual course and order of things, disturbs the being so interfered with. Not a calamity can befall a city, not a trouble light upon an individual, without the hand of God permitting and directing it. Guard against hard thoughts of God. God deals thus in the way of punishment and correction. In the case of a city or a country sinning against God, the connection is often more evident between the sin and the punishment than in the case of individuals. It is good to read history with a Christian eye. We should seriously mistake if, wherever we saw calamity or trouble, we inferred that there had been peculiar sin. Though God is not the author of moral evil, He is the author of deliverance from it, through His Son Jesus Christ. Through Christ we may be fully pardoned and fully justified, and in due time fully sanctified; and then what will become of natural evils? For Christ is the Saviour from all evils. (John Hambleton, M. A.)
National calamities the consequence of national sin
The evil here dealt with is not moral evil, it is the suffering of evil or calamity. The text does not attribute to God the production of sin, but the infliction of that penal or corrective evil which God may lay on a city or nation, to punish it duly for sin, and to correct it, and bring it back to God. The world is composed of good and evil. Of good, which was in it as it came from God; of evil, that entered into it when it became infected with sin. In this world, while we have much that is real good and that is imaginary good, we have both real and imaginary good commingled with what is evil; and it becomes a problem of no easy solution to tell whether the one or the other doth generally predominate. When we enjoy uninterrupted and unmingled good we are disposed to attribute all the good we enjoy to ourselves. We easily forget God. The moment that evil is inflicted on us, our pride is alarmed by the injury to our feelings. We begin to look beyond self, and search for some cause to which we can attribute the evil we endure. Some attribute to chance. Others to a general law of nature. The particular actings of these general laws they take entirely out of the hands of God, and only look to this second instrumentality by which, according to their ideas, the general laws impressed on the creation of God are found to operate. The consequence of this will be that good will be enjoyed and self will be honoured; or if, perchance, nature, or the God of nature, be acknowledged, yet the secondary cause will be their own skill, or industry, or application, or some other such cause that still leaves God out of His temple and sets up humanity. Or, on the other hand, if evil be endured, it will be attributed to any cause but to God. Here it is that the Spirit of God comes in as our instructor. Wherever there is evil, in the sense of calamity, “the Lord hath done it.”
I. The evil in the city.
1. The commercial distress of the times. Men are ready to attribute such evil to any cause whatever but to the true cause--sin in the heart of man, and God putting His hand on that sin to punish it, or reform those who are the subjects of it.
2. The extended want of employment where employment was abundantly enjoyed. Why is there want of employment? Attribute it to the stagnation of trade--what is the cause of that? The sin of the people and the judgment of God. Attribute it to an overflowing population--what is the reason that employment does not hold pace with population? It is simply because the population are not educated in the knowledge of God, not educated in the principles of morality.
3. Comparative famine and the pestilence.
4. The disunion of the land. This is to be attributed to our national sin; for God in His mercy is able to take away all these disunions, and He will remedy all these evils the moment He has taught us, rich and poor, to repent of our individual sins and turn to the living God.
5. Sabbath-breaking. There is one great cause or effect of the national depravity of morals.
II. The important lesson to be drawn from the fact, “the Lord hath done it.” No individual, no Church, no minister is free from a share in the national sins. It is the object of God, by bringing calamity on us, to make us think of Him. The moment man thinks of God, he is compelled to think of himself, because he is God’s reflected image. So man asks, Why am I like God, and yet so unlike Him? There is not a portion of the land which is not suffering from these sins--the neglect of the education of the people and Sabbath-breaking. Whenever God sends a calamity on the land, He sends with it a voice, calling upon His own people to do all the good they can by the means of the evil He inflicts on them and on others. Two great lessons to be derived from the subject.
1. The mercy of God in the infliction of evil as Calamity.
2. There is but one remedy for the evils of the land--the Lord Jesus Christ. (Henry Cooke, D. D., LL. D.)
I. All the calamities which befall a great state are sent the overruling providence of God. Case of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:14-16); and Tyre (Isaiah 23:9-11). But if the hand of God was manifested in the punishment and destruction of idolatrous individuals and nations, much more plainly do the judgments that so frequently befell God’s own people, the Jews, seem to have been the result of a judicial sentence from heaven, passed upon them for their transgressions. The evil spoken of in the text is not criminal evil, but the punishment that follows the commission of sin and all the inconveniences which accompany it. This is termed the evil of punishment or penal evil. This may be ascribed to God. The evil of sin, or moral evil, is from ourselves; it is our own doing; but the evil of trouble and suffering for sin, individual and national, is from God, is His doing, whatever be the immediate instruments by which He chooses to inflict it.
II. In addition to individual character, and the other obvious relations in life men have to sustain, God regards them in their collective capacity, and visits them with national judgments. This great truth cannot be too often insisted on. Each of us belongs to a country which has its claims upon him, in return for the benefits he receives from it. When any particular country is subject to peculiar national advantages or evils, the inhabitants of that country are benefited or injured by them. But what experience teaches us is the method that has been found necessary to be adopted for the mutual help of society, and which we find coincide with the laws of nature, Scripture teaches us is the plan upon which God’s moral government over man is conducted; namely, that God regards man in his national capacity, and rewards or punishes him accordingly.
III. Attempt to justify these important doctrines of Holy Writ.
1. The relationship which exists among men, as members of society upon earth, will have no existence in another state.
2. God rewards or punishes nations in this world that they may be led, in their national capacity, to acknowledge His authority, and to regulate their affairs according to His will, and in obedience to His commands. It was on this very account that the Almighty purposed to form the Jewish State into a theocracy. Lesson--
1. We should learn to acknowledge the hand of God in the chastening visits of His providence, and humble ourselves before Him as parts of a guilty nation.
2. We should endeavour to ascertain the cause, or causes, of afflictive dispensations, so that we may be enabled to put from us the “accursed thing” that is so offensive to our Maker.
3. We should be thankful to God that we have hitherto so mercifully escaped the judgments, and in gratitude to Him give liberally of our substance in aid of those on whom the judgments have fallen. (Joseph Peer, M. A.)
A city aroused
Men are always ready to overestimate the importance of the times in which they live. The ordinary appears wonderful. Our fathers felt and said about their times just as we say and feel about ours. These are not the most stirring times ever seen in our land. We need not think that all social order is going to be destroyed because sometimes our city is aroused, by sounds that are somewhat alarming, from its complacent quest of wealth, comfort, and amusement.
1. It is a very natural thing to fear approaching danger. The trumpet blown in the city is intended to cause alarm. It may tell of an approaching army. Or the danger may be from within; the trumpet-blast of some conspiracy.
2. Fear is a great preservative power. The certain consequences of any evil cause are a great preventive force. God intended they should have this effect. His Word often appeals to this faculty of fear. And we too may tell of the judgment that must be faced by individuals as by nations. We may tell of the retributions that must follow. The trumpet of warning must give no uncertain sound. It must ring in the centre of a man’s soul.
3. The Divine purpose in permitted evil. It is to the same end as the trumpet-blast. Calamity calls for consideration. The cause must be found out and the evil removed. Things that are evil in some way God wills. It is for the devout student to consider calamities and inquire into the cause of moral evil. When a city has to suffer, the inhabitants should consider. Illustrate from time when the Romans attacked Jerusalem. London may not be more wicked in proportion than Paris, or Vienna, or Berlin, or Rome, or New York, or Melbourne. It is, however, the largest city in the world. Men will be compelled to inquire as to whether much physical evil is not the result of a debased moral state, arising from a neglect of God’s Word, God’s laws, God’s worship, God’s day, and God’s love. For this the Church itself may be answerable. Her pride and laziness, wealth, and sectarian bitterness may have fostered the evils, It is for God’s Church to be aroused to a lively interest in all that concerns the temporal and spiritual welfare of people around. She has something to say on social questions. Christians should be foremost in all movements for elevating men, or extending the sway of liberty and justice. They must not fold their hands and say, “All will be well.” They must do something to make things better. As individuals, have we listened to the warning trumpet? Have we sought to understand God’s dealing with us in the difficulties, the disappointments, the losses, the sorrows, the afflictions, the bereavements of life? (Frederick Hastings.)
On the agency of God in human calamities
Evil here is not the commission of iniquity, but the pressure of distress. Consider the Lord’s agency in the infliction of evil, in contradistinction to--
I. chance. The truth is, chance is a mere term of human ignorance. The only rational meaning of the word is that we are in ignorance of the cause or causes of the event. There is an atheism which denies the existence of a God altogether. And there is an atheism which admits the existence, but denies all superintendence of human or created beings,” and of their respective concerns. We might as well have no God as no providence. The sentiment of the text is the reverse of this. It is, that there is a God, and that He directs and governs all things. In what strong and delightful terms is the doctrine of a universal and particular providence expressed by Him who “ spake as never man spake” (Matthew 10:29-31).
II. Distinguish the agency of Jehovah from that of idols. There is a tendency in man to two opposite extremes, atheism and superstition. Superstition is the offspring of guilty fears; and the general character of the gods of the heathen, in many cases indicated by their very forms, accords with the nature of their origin. Again, there has discovered itself, wherever the knowledge of the true God has been imparted, a mournfully consistent propensity to forget Him, to overlook His superintendence, to leave Him out of our thoughts.
III. Divine agency may be regarded in contradistinction to an exclusive attention to second causes. How frequently is something called Nature deified! And second and subordinate causes are so contemplated and insisted on, as to indicate an exclusion from the mind of the great originating cause of all being, and the supreme uncontrolled Director of all events! In accounting for our calamities we are in imminent danger of this kind of atheism. All second causes are under the unceasing and sovereign control of the First. Thus it is with the elements of nature. There are laws; we forget that they are His laws. We have not done enough when we have accounted for disease from the state of the atmosphere, for the desolations of the storm from the theory of the winds, for deficient crops from blight and grub and mildew. We must go higher. We must rise to Him by whom all these, with every other power of mischief, are commissioned to work their respective effects. The same great general truth applies to men and to the events of history, in which men are the agents. Learn that the existing national evils or calamities, though inflicted by a power which we cannot resist, are not inflicted in ca rice. It is painful to hear the inconsiderate manner in which many speak of the Divine “sovereignty.” While God may retain in His own mind the special causes of particular visitations, He has not left us in ignorance of the great general cause of all suffering. Natural evil is the offspring of moral evil. All good is from God; all evil is from the sinner himself. All evil is of the nature of punitive, righteous retribution. (Ralph Wardlaw, D. D.)
The finger of God
The inscription which adorns the south entablature of the monument by London Bridge, and the ancient custom of this corporation remind us that we are assembled to commemorate one of the most awful calamities under which this city ever mourned, the great fire of 1666. Why are such calamities sent? Whatever agents God employs, they are only permitted to act just so fax as He has ordained, and no farther. Sometimes to punish, sometimes to reward. This principle is evident from those records of causes and effects, of predictions and fulfilments, which the revealed Word of God supplies. I know how much this Word has been despised by the world, neglected by the careless, held in disrepute by the wise, obscured by one Church, hidden by a second, and intonated into empty sound by a third; but still this, and this alone, is the written memorial of providence, the act of God’s legislature, the rule of His judgment, the cause of the acquittal, or of the condemnation of man. Trace the history of causes and effects in God’s Word. In minute circumstances man contrives, and God disposes. Man is free to act, God directs the blow. Who were the agents of the fire of 1666? Many were accused; but the “London Gazette” of that time wisely said, “The whole was the effect of an unhappy chance: or, to speak better, the heavy hand of God upon us for our sins, showing us the terror of His judgment in thus raising the fire.” Why was London thus marked for destruction? It was for our example. There was sin there--sin, perhaps, which God would not pardon. There were then great provocations against God. The moral improprieties and extravagancies of the court and of the nobility were notorious. The iniquities which reigned there were too open for concealment. And there is evil in the city still. And there are judgments of the Lord still afflicting us. But from that extremity of woe, time, the restorer of all things, raises up the fallen city. The power of providence, which brought this evil upon her, cheers her with substantial visions of future peace and plenty. And so it ever is. He who afflicts, corrects, punishes, is also the Redeemer and Restorer. (S. Reed Cattley, M. A.)
“Evil,” or suffering, as chastisement or condemnation:--“Temptation,” or testing, may be trial from God, or with evil intent from the devil or wicked persons. Glory, may mean either brightness, splendour, or goodness, loveliness of character. “Evil” may be either sin or suffering. The second sense of evil is to be found in the text.
I. “Evil,” as punishment for sins, “done” by God. Amos foretells suffering as merited by sin (verse 2). Yet a visitation of chastening mercy (Isaiah 45:7; Jeremiah 5:9; Jeremiah 5:12). Troubles in a city, or family, or people, may be punishing providences. They may be chastisement or condemnation.
II. National sins bring on national judgments. God has declared the responsibility of a people. Plague, invasion, dearth, may be evils sent by Him to whom it “belongeth justly to punish sinners.” Amos calls to repentance. Judgments are conditional God reveals that men may escape.
III. As to individuals, special sufferings may be punishment for special sins. Let us have a “may be” in judging others. In the case of the true believer afflictions are for purifying, for profit, and generally, for glorifying God. Be not hasty in regarding evil as a token of God’s anger towards you. Yet humbly examine and judge. Look above second causes. Receive the hand of God upon you for good. Of some special sin repented of, “covered,” the sorrow, the consequent “evil” may remain. Closing period of David’s life. Manasseh truly turned, but he could not help seeing the mischief that he had done. Faith’s comfort when regarding affliction as the punishment of sin is that it comes from the Everlasting Love; not from chance or fate, but from the “Father of Mercies,” perfect in wisdom and justice. “In the way of Thy judgments have we waited for Thee.” (W. O. Purton.)
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.
Prophecy: a disclosure of God’s secrets
I. God and the prophet (or God’s revelations to the prophet). The seventh verse gives a striking picture of the dignity of the prophetic office. God, the Ruler of the earth, is watching the tides of human life. Before God interposes He admits the prophets into His councils and reveals to them what is yet concealed from the world (Genesis 18:17). Deluge to Noah, etc. The lives of all the prophets of Israel illustrate Amos’s words.
II. The prophet and the world (or the prophet’s utterances to the world). The prophet, admitted to the secrets of God, was bound to utter them. He was a daysman between heaven and earth. Aware of danger, he would neither have been a man nor a patriot had he failed to prophesy. God foretold the evil that He might escape the pain of inflicting it. They were reckoned troublers of the land (Ahab to Elijah), yet they persisted in their message. Application. God still reveals His purposes concerning men. The fate of individuals is not known, but the fate of sin and the sinner is clearly revealed. Listen to all warnings. Regard every one who utters them as a friend who may aid you to avert the evil. Do not attempt to silence such warning voices (Acts 4:20; Acts 5:20; Acts 5:29; 1 Corinthians 9:16). (J. Telford, B. A.)
On the argument from prophecy
This has been the least understood of all the evidences in support of Christianity. Superior difficulties attend the subject. Not difficulties which stagger our faith, but such as require attention to overcome. Trace out the causes from which the difficulties attending this subject have arisen. The obscurity of the prophecies is generally supposed to have arisen from the metaphorical or figurative language in which they are conveyed. But figurative language is not necessarily obscure; it is the style that always did, and still does, predominate throughout all the East. It is the natural language of all rude and uncivilised nations, and may be made, if a writer is inclined to make it so, as clear and as intelligible as the most literal expressions. The obscurity of prophecies neither did nor does arise from any one peculiarity, property, or principle of language. It is still more evident that it did not arise from anything in the subject to which they allude. For whatever event is capable of being described after it has happened, is equally capable of being described before it has happened, the change of tenses being in this case the only thing required. The obscurity of the prophets can be attributed to nothing else, but to the original intention and plan of their Divine Author. The full evidence of prophecy does by no means appear from the discussion of one or of a few single predictions concerning Messiah, but from the consideration of all the prophecies taken together, dispersed as they arc throughout the Bible. We have the same right to unite them into one body of evidence, that we every day assume, of drawing the character of any eminent person in the records of history, by the general tone of all his actions compared with one another and taken together. The prophecies are not only dispersed in various parts of Scripture, but are in most places connected with some other circumstance or transaction near the time at which they were delivered, and to which and to its immediate consequences they also allude. These events are often so interwoven in the very texture of the prophecy that to separate them requires a superior knowledge of ancient history, and superior powers of discrimination. Besides the predictions of Moses and the prophets, the law itself, the Mosaical and Levitical law forms in its very structure and essence a distinct series of prophecy. The ceremonies of Jewish worship were a shadow of good things to come, whilst the body was of Christ. To extract the prophetical matter out of the Levitical law, and to show what weight it has, as an evidence for Christianity, requires not only sagacity, but in a much higher degree, the greatest sobriety, moderation, and good sense. May not these difficulties suggest some arguments even in favour of the pretensions of prophecy?
1. The evidence of prophecy is by no means absolutely necessary to the proof of a Divine revelation. The working of miracles is of itself sufficient to prove that a teacher came from God. The Divine authority of Moses, for instance, was never foretold by any prophecy, but was grounded on the belief of his miracles alone.
2. The evidence drawn from the ancient Jewish history is considerably increased by the obscurity of the prophets, which has been so much complained of. Obscurity, at least before their completion, was in the original intention of their Divine Author. No one, before their com pletion, was able to unravel or understand them, so no one but God was able to work their accomplishment. Other means might co-operate, but the obscurity of the prophecies alone was a sufficient guard and security for reserving their completion in the hands of God Himself. We have shown that it is from a view of the whole, not from single predictions, that our arguments are drawn. Such a view carries with it the force of the strongest circumstantial evidence, which in many cases is more convincing than evidence which is direct. Independent circumstances are facts, not liable to suspicion, unbiassed and invariable. Should an unbeliever insinuate any suspicion of collusion in the first settling of Christianity, his argument would immediately lose its force when applied to the prophecies. It must insinuate a collusion between persons of different countries, who lived many centuries distant from one another, between our first parents, and all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs who succeeded. (W. Pearce, D. D., F. R. S.)
The irrepressibility of moral truth
I. God has made a special revelation to his servants. “He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.” In all ages God has selected men to whom He has made communications of Himself. The Bible is indeed a special revelation.
1. Special in its occasion. It is made on account of the abnormal moral condition into which man has fallen,--made in consequence of human sin and its dire consequences.
2. Special in its doctrines.
II. That the right reception of this special revelation necessitates preaching. “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” The idea is, that the men who have rightly taken the truth into them can no more conceal it than men can avoid terror at the roar of the lion. There are some truths which men may receive and feel no disposition to communicate, such as the truths of abstract science, which have no relation to the social heart. But Gospel truth has such a relation to the tenderest affections of the spirit that their genuine recipients find them to be irrepressible. “Who can but prophesy?” None but those who have not received the truth. (Homilist.)
God’s message through the prophets
God has given to different nations different missions. He has given to Rome the mission of teaching the world the meaning of law; to Greece the meaning of art and philosophy; to the Hebrew race the meaning of religion. He has given this race this message: Tell the world what you can learn of God and His relation to men. The Hebrew people have added nothing to the architecture, the art, the philosophy of life; but they have been a prophetic race--discoverers of God. In this race there were pre-eminently religious men, who saw God more clearly than their fellows, and God’s relation to mankind more clearly, and God’s relation to human events more clearly, and told their fellows what they saw. And, from all their telling, natural selection says the scientist, providence says the theologian--I say the two are the same--elected those that had in them the most vital truth, the most enduring, the most worthy to endure. Thus we have in the Old Testament something like two score of writers, the most spiritually-minded of a spiritually-minded race, telling us what they have discovered concerning God. This is the Bible. It is the gradual discovery of God in the hearts and through the tongues of prophets who were themselves members of a prophetic race. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
The lion hath roared, who will not fear?--
The power of looking at facts in the face
St. Bernard has described the first stage of the vision of God as the Vision Distributive, in which the eager mind distributes her attention upon common things and common duties in themselves. It was in this elementary school that the earliest of the new prophets passed his apprenticeship and received his gifts. Others excel Amos in the powers of the imagination and the intellect. But by the incorrupt habits of his shepherd life, by daily wakefulness to its alarms, and daily faithfulness to its opportunities, he was trained in that simple power of appreciating facts and causes, which, applied to the great phenomena of the spirit and of history, forms his distinction among his peers. In this we find perhaps the reason why he records of himself no solemn hour of cleansing and initiation. “Jehovah took me from following the flock, and Jehovah said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.” Amos was of them of whom it is written, “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching.” Through all his hard life this shepherd had kept his mind open and his conscience quick, so that when the Word of God came to him he knew it, as fast as he knew the roar of the lion across the moor. Certainly there is no habit which so much as this of watching facts with a single eye and a responsible mind is indispensable alike in the humblest duties and in the highest speculations of life. When Amos gives those naive illustrations of how real the voice of God s to him, we receive them as the tokens of a man, honest and awake. (Geo. Adam Smith, D. D.)
They know not to do right.
Safety in righteousness
1. The real security of wealth is justice in its acquisition and liberality in its use. Where there is much wealth, unjustly gotten, or unmercifully stored up, there an object for Divine punishment exists. Such wealth will be spoiled by enemies from within or from without.
2. This part of the prophecy supplies a most powerful motive to quicken our zeal for true religion. The history of the world has been a history of the rise and fall of many false religions, and of the rise and progress of the true religion. One false system after another has reared its head, exerted its power, destroyed its victims, and been smitten and brought to ruin. The Christian religion, small in its beginnings, has been developed in its principles, and expanded in its dominion, from the time when the germ of all its blessings was planted in the mind and heart of man in the promise, that “the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.” With patient, cheerful zeal, therefore, should we labour in the cause of true religion. It supplies a living link between us and the first true believers in God. Its principles never die.
3. We learn to be earnest in securing our interest in “that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Every earthly house shall fall. The strong castle, the spacious mansion, the elegant abode of refinement and taste, the luxurious retreat from toil, sheltered from the heat or protected against the cold--all must one day come to ruin. Let us realise this in our thoughts, and receive admonition therefrom. (Vincent W. Ryan, M. A.)
Ignorance hinders religion
Ignorance of the price of pearls makes the idiot slight them. Ignorance of the worth of diamonds makes the fool choose a pebble before them. Ignorance of the satisfaction learning affords--that makes the peasant despise and laugh at it; and we very ordinarily see how men tread and trample on those plants which are the greatest restoratives, because they know not the virtue of them: and the same may justly be affirmed of religion,--the reason why men meddle no more with it is because they are not acquainted with the pleasantness of it. (Anthony Horneck.)
Therefore thus saith the Lord God; An adversary there shall be even round about the land.
The spoiler spoiled
In the previous verse Amos has pronounced God’s verdict on the proud citizens of Samaria; here he proclaims the punishment which is about to come upon them.
I. The first word of the passage, “therefore,” shows us that this spoiling is the direct result of their own sin. They had chosen their path--that of remorseless greed, and of luxury won by oppression and tyranny--and it was the path on which the avenging angels walked with the vials of God’s wrath. Their sin was to be punished by the loss of everything which it seemed to have secured. The history of Assyria is another illustration of this connection between sin and punishment (Isaiah 33:1; Nahum, etc.). God will surely spoil every spoiler.
II. The fruits of this course of oppression. The treasures gained by sin pass away by plunder. “An adversary” (verse 11). Sixty years later the king of Assyria besieged Samaria as Amos foretold, and rifled their glorious palaces. They had filled them with stores of wealth, and had revelled there in luxury; but these things only served to whet the appetite for plunder which brought Assyria to their gates. They built their winter houses and their summer houses, their great houses and their houses of ivory, regardless of the despair of the poor, and of the curses of the oppressed. Even God’s threatenings had not been able to check them for a moment. What end had it served? They had a few years of revelry, but at last that for which they had sacrificed a good conscience and the favour of God was snatched from them in a moment. What an ignominious end verse 12 describes. Melanchthon’s mother said, “Ill-gotten wealth but loss secures.” How true it is! If never before, yet when death comes that for which a man has sacrificed character and conscience is taken from him, and, robbed of all he prized, he must stand in the presence of his Judge.
III. The failure of every stay on which such men might rest in the time of trouble, “In the day that I shall visit the trangressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.” The idols should perish in the same hour as their worshippers, involved in a common destruction. It was from Bethel that they looked for deliverance. There they had presented their offerings and paid their tithes, but the idols failed them in their hour of trouble, and fell by the same visitation. Every arm of flesh must fail when God’s judgments come. (J. Telford, B. A.)
The shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs or a piece of an ear.
The destroyer and the rescuer
I. There is a destroying power at work in the world.
1. Variously represented. Here, the lion devouring the sheep. In New Testament, “the roaring,” etc.; in Old Testament, “the serpent beguiling,” etc.; in New Testament, “that old serpent,” etc.
2. His doings are described. Paradise ruined; Abel murdered; the old world destroyed; Sodom and Gomorrah burned; mankind desolated by pestilence, plague, war, famine, physical tortures, burning anxieties--souls lost.
3. He possesses mighty power. Called “prince of the power of the air”; “ruler of the darkness,” etc. Unites an angel’s strength with a fiend’s malignity. Has great power, but not all power.
4. Possessed of supreme subtlety. An angel of light, a lurking beast, a hidden serpent. Marvellously skilful in adapting temptation and detecting opportunities. Persuades those in most danger that they are most safe.
II. There is a rescuing power at work in the world. He is possessed of all power, and of all wisdom.
III. God is ready to receive even the fragments. Nothing was left but “ two legs and a piece of an ear,” vet the shepherd rescues and accepts these.
1. Total destruction was very near:
2. None need despair.
3. None may presume.
IV. That which is rescued is for active service. “Two legs “--motion, activity. “Piece of an ear.” “Faith cometh by hearing,” etc. God speaks to the heart through the ear. (R. Berry.)
A miserable remnant
Here we have an illustration borrowed from scenes with which Amos was familiar. A part of the shepherd’s office in those regions consists in defending the flock against the attacks of wild beasts, as well as the depredations of robbers. As a check against carelessness about the loss of the sheep in either of these ways, it was a part of the shepherd’s duty to rescue what he could from the beast that had torn a sheep. Such remains would prove the truth of his account of the matter; and show, perhaps, on some occasions, that he had not refused to attack the beast which had seized the prey. Jacob could say, in respect of his care of Laban’s sheep, that he had not availed himself of any immunity which such a custom conferred on the shepherd. “That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it.” And his wicked sons were but speaking a language in common use, when they showed their father the bloody garment of Joseph. Layard has the following passage in his book on “Nineveh.” “Violent altercations arose on the subject of missing beasts. Heavy responsibilities which the Effendi did not seem to admit, were thrown upon the wolves. Some time elapsed before these questions were satisfactorily settled; ears having been produced, oaths taken, and witnesses called, with the assistance of wolves and the rot, the diminution in the flock was fully accounted for.” The prophet’s language conveys the meaning, that after God’s righteous vengeance had wrought out its purposes amongst the sinful people of Israel, their condition would be that of a miserable remnant, without any of the glory which once belonged to them as a nation: with just enough evidence left to show that they had been a part of it, and with marks upon that remnant which would show how they had been exposed to violence and spoil. (Vincent W. Ryan, M. A.)
And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord.
The houses of ivory
A devout attention to the passing operations of providence is repaid abundantly in our increased knowledge of God, as a man’s character is discerned by his deeds; and as We are wont to say, “Actions speak louder than words,” so the character of God is learned by His providence. A due attention to both revelations of God--in His Word and in His works--will be found of essential service to the better understanding and embrace of both. God’s works are the dramatic parable; the practical commentary upon His Word--they reflect light severally on each other. The obscurities of providence are elucidated by Scripture, and the declarations of Scripture are verified by providence. We are apt to be peculiarly affected at the spectacle of fallen greatness. When by calamity or death God calls upon “princes to remember that they are but men,” we are proportionably affected by their visitation. Let us earnestly pray that the Lord may make this voice of departed royalty a proclamation of warning to all our souls, that so the bereavement which has clothed the nation in the form of mourning may be the means of bringing real sorrow after a godly sort into our hearts. (Joseph B. Owen, M. A.)