Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion.
Creation, and the Creator’s name
The text brings the works of God and the name of God into one focus, and makes use of both as an argument with man to raise himself from the low and unworthy pretences of religion, such as are represented by the calf-worship of Bethel, to Him who sits high above the magnificence of all material forms, yet deigns to listen to the whisper of a kneeling child.
I. Seek Him because He is immutable. This is declared by “the seven stars and Orion,” and by all the constellations among which the Pleiades are set. It is a wonderful thought, that when we look up to the mighty heavens, we see precisly what Adam and Eve saw. They beheld the Pleiades, that group of stars so beautifully likened to “a knot of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.” They beheld those shining orbs in which we detect the appearance of an armed warrior, and call Orion. Through all the changes of human history, those celestial bodies have shone with like brilliancy, and moved with like pomp in the great spaces overhead. The Chaldeans from their astronomical towers, the Phoenicians from their bold sea-tracks, the Egyptian sages from their mystic temples, the Idumean shepherds from their broad pastures, the Jewish kings from their palace roofs, beheld those august revelations of Almighty power and wisdom; and they are as superb, as radiant, now as then. “And the heavens are the works of Thine hands. They shall perish;.. . and they all shall wax old, as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shad be changed.” “But Thou art the same, and Thy years shad have no end.” And now look at man. “As for man, his days arc as grass: as a flower of the field so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Thus frail, and in the midst of frailty, what is to become of us? Where is the arm on which we can lean? What is the hope to which we can cling? The reply to these inquiries comes not from the oracles of human wisdom, but from Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa. “Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion.” Let us seek Him as He bids us in His Word; and when the Pleiades are bereft of their sweet influence, and when the bands of Orion are loosed, his zone of mighty worlds unclasped, and his flaming sword sheathed in eternal darkness, we shall shine with light which can never fade, and be glad with a gladness which can never die.
II. Seek Him because He is all-powerful. This also is declared by “the seven stars and Orion.” Many have looked on the Pleiades as but an insignificant group in the heavens; but that constellation has depths of glory which the unaided eye cannot reach. We count seven stars, but the telescope announces fourteen magnificent sun-like bodies clustered comparatively near to one of the seven. This, however, is not the special peculiarity of the Pleiades. For some time it was suspected that there is one great central sun, round which our planetary system, and many, if not all, other suns and systems are revolving in measured and majestic movement; and at length an eminent continental astronomer decided that a bright star in the Pleiades is the sublime centre of this sublime march. Here, then, is a thought of almost appalling grandeur. Myriads of orbs keeping their own relative position, and sweeping round and round in the path of their own revolutions; yet the vast host--suns compared with which ours is but a speck of fire--worlds of such magnitude as to dwarf ours into a mere grain of sand--all rolling through space as if doing homage to the influence of what to us is but a point of light in the blue immensity. According to this theory, those thousands of bodies are speeding along with amazing velocity; yet such is the long curve on which they travel, that it will take more than eighteen millions of years for even some of the less remote to complete one circuit round that great luminary. Now glance at Orion, as he gleams aloft in more than imperial pomp and blazonry. We may well look on this constellation with awe and wonder when we take into account the following statement in reference to it. In what is Called the sword of Orion there is a hazy glimmer, which has been thought by some to be only a kind of nebulous fluid; but Lord Rosse, having scanned it with his powerful telescope, ascertained that it is another gorgeous universe, so far away, that to an ordinary glass it only appears as a dim streak, yet having heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, of creative power and diversity surpassing all that we behold in the whole canopy of the starry heavens. But even if this daring assertion should be proved to be incorrect, and all those worlds to be no more than a conjecture, we should scarcely be conscious that aught had been subtracted from our idea of the magnitude and multiplicity of Jehovah’s works; for there are other streaks and misty appearances on the sky which are known by indubitable evidence to be gatherings of stars, huge in bulk and veiled in dazzling splendour. And here is another great motive to seek the Lord. The power evinced in “the seven stars and Orion,” and the other orbs they represent, is power wielded for the advantage of those who respond to the Divine command, “Seek ye My face.” And when terrors shake our souls, when our heart and flesh fail, what consolation we shall have in the thought that the Hand which measured out the heavens is over us, and around us, to keep us from ill. “Will He plead against me with His great power? No; but He would, put strength in me.”
III. Seek Him because of His beneficent activities. And turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waves of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth.” How beautiful is morning, as it comes with golden sandals and rosy veil through the gates of the east! Beautiful on the silent peaks of the Himalayan mountains, beautiful on the green heights of Ceylon, beautiful on the icy pinnacles of the Alps, beautiful on the broad mass of the Grampians, beautiful on the isles of the Caribbean Sea. How it is welcomed as the apparition of a smiling friend; welcomed by the Arab as it gleams on his tent; by the mariner as it turns his sails to cloth of gold; by the sentinel as it gleams on the steel of his weapons. How beautiful is night! How soft and soothing the shadows with which it enwraps the earth! What images of peace it suggests to the mind! The bird spreading its wings over its nestlings, the sheep gathered in the fold, the child in its cot, and wearied labour calmly renewing its energies for another day. That calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the earth.” How beautiful the silent processes by which the rain is distilled on the thirsty ground! Think of the oceans--those mighty reservoirs of the Most High. Think of the clouds drawn from them--now white as the snows which crown a mountain’s forehead; now gorgeous, as if woven of a thousand rainbows; now black as a funeral pall. Think of the rain, how it falls; not in a sudden and overpowering splash; not in a flood, tearing the leaves from the trees and the young shoots from the soil, but in a succession” of gentle drops. Is not this,, gracious. Being, whose hand is in the pleasing changes of day and night, and in ram from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness,” One with whom it is desirable to live in filial relationship?
IV. Seek Him because of His name. “The Lord is His name.” Now we come to the teachings of the written Word in reference to the Supreme Being. Glance at some of those ideas which the ancient saints attached to the Divine name. Jehovah-jireh--the Lord will provide. Jehovah-nissi--Jehovah my banner. This was the name which Moses gave to the altar he built as a memorial of Israel’s victory over Amalek. What a banner! A Divine perfection for every fold, radiant with the heraldry of eternal truth, and bearing a name bright as if every syllable had been wrought out in a constellation of suns. This banner is for us if we seek the Lord. Jehovah shalom--the Lord is my peace. The angel said to awestricken, affrighted Gideon, “Peace be unto thee.” Jehovah-Tsidkenu--the Lord our righteousness. This title is specially connected with the manifestation of God in Christ Jesus. “And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” In one part of the heavens there is a constellation known as the Southern Cross; and when Humboldt was in South America, he often heard the guides who con ducted him over the savannahs of Venezuela cry out, as they looked up to that constellation, “Midnight is past--the cross begins to bend.” Thank God the cross bends over us, and our midnight is past--the midnight of our fear, the mid-night of our bondage. (J. Marrat.)
The Pleiades and Orion
There are some things which make me think that it may not have been all superstition which connected the movements and appearance of the heavenly bodies with great moral events on earth. Astrology may have been something more than a brilliant heathenism.
1. Amos saw that tile God who made the Pleiades and Orion must be the God of order. It was not so much a star here and there that impressed the inspired herdsman, but seven in one group and seven in the other group. For ages they have observed the order established for their coming and going. If God can take care of the seven worlds of the Pleiades, He can probably take care of the one world we inhabit.
2. The God who made these two groups of the text was the God of light.
3. That the God who made these two archipelagos of stars must be an unchanging God.
4. That the God who made these two beacons of the Oriental night-sky must be a God of love and kindly warning. The Pleiades, rising in midsky, said to all the herdsmen and shepherds and husbandmen, “Come out and enjoy the mild weather, and cultivate your gardens and fields.” And Orion, coming in winter, warned them to prepare for tempest. The sermon that I now preach believes in a God of loving, kindly warning, the God of spring and winter, the God of the Pleiades and Orion. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
God and nature
The prophet first draws the attention of Israel to the living God who stands behind nature, determining all its movements. The atheist is rebuked by this view of things. The thought of the prophet is full of God; nature does not deny God--it demonstrates Him. God is. Those who identify God with nature until they confound the personal Cod with tile laws and forces of the world, are also rebuked by the text. Nature is not God. “He maketh the seven stars and Orion.” And the view that nature is independent of God is equally repudiated. On the contrary, the teaching of Amos is that God acts through nature. The people of Israel are summoned to look up and to behold the supreme, self-existent God, standing before and above the world, acting upon it, acting through it, with sovereign sway. He maketh the seven stars and Orion, etc. But the argument of Amos goes farther than this; he argues that God rules in the midst of the nations just as He rules in the midst of nature, and we must see His hand in human affairs as we see it in the rising and setting of stars, in tile ebbing and flowing of seas. He setteth up kings and captains, and casteth them down; He smites the splendour of nations into desolation; and again He restores their greatness and joy. The argument of the prophet proceeds on the assumption that a Divine purpose, a vast design, runs through all the evolutions of nature and all the movements of history. And in this point of view, let us say, these primitive thinkers have been confirmed by the vast majority of the philosophers who succeeded them. A few erratic philosophers have failed to discern any direction or tendency in the career of the universe; they could not detect any coherency among events, or admit that such events were working together toward any assignable result whatever. From their point of view, things and events drifted and eddied about in an utterly blind and irrational manner; temporary combinations might accidentally assume a rational appearance, but it was only accidental. Worlds, they concluded, have no definite beginning, no connection or sequence, no dramatic consistency, no definite end; all is unrelated, arbitrary, accidental, purposeless. But this interpretation has found little acceptance. Aristotle, who lived some centuries later than Amos, wrote: “In the unity of nature there is nothing unconnected or out of place, as in a bad tragedy.” And nearly all philosophy since then has in different ways confirmed this view of the universe set forth by the prophet of Israel and the philosopher of Greece. But the prophets of Israel not only recognised a distinct design running through nature and history; they saw, and this was the special merit of their mission and message, they saw that that design was spiritual and moral. Many thinkers see design and orderly progress in the world who recognise design and progress as purely intellectual. They see in nature and history nothing more than a play dramatically conducted; a story artistically developed; a picture exquisitely balanced and harmonious; an organism complete in all its parts and functions; but they miss the real heart of the thing, that the universe is the intellectual working out of the purpose of the holy God. This was the point of view of the prophets. The design they discovered in the universe did not merely satisfy their logical sense, their aesthetic sense, or their scientific sense, but their moral sense. They wished to teach that God rules the universe with a view to reveal His righteous character; His government is wholly moral; and the end of all His rule in heaven and earth is to instruct His children in righteousness, and to discipline them into holiness until they are perfect, even as their Father who is in heaven is perfect. The religious and moral idea is subtly interwoven with the universal fabric, but it is only spiritually discerned, only the devout soul follows the golden thread that runs through nature and the long, mysterious story of the race. “We are nothing but the playthings of Fate,” says the pagan mind; but we refuse the verdict of dismal atheism. He “that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night”; He who kindles the stars, and who darkens them in eclipse; He who causes His sun to rise upon the earth, and to set in night; He who makes the firmament a magnificent theatre of majestic and unfailing order, will not permit caprice and chaos in the far higher world of human history--souls are more than stars, and when a great nation is lifted up and cast down, great reasons and great ends must be assumed. If you look through this prophecy of Amos you must be struck by its intense and persistent moral tone. The fifth chapter is full of it. “Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth, seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion.” “Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.” “Seek good, and not, evil, that ye may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.” “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.” And it is thus throughout the whole prophecy--the destiny of the nation turns on righteousness, on matters of definite, practical honesty, clemency, humanity, justice, chastity, and temperance. The shepherd Amos, like David, like Job, was familiar with the constellations, and he felt how offensive the unjust and the unclean must be to Him whose faultless government is declared in the inviolable laws which govern the chaste and solemn stars. And God is still of Coo pure eyes to behold iniquity, and, according to their works does He deal with the mightiest nations. He calls us back to Himself, to His moral government and righteous laws. God has often “made the day dark” to us, and again He has “turned the shadow of death into the morning.” We live with the consciousness of these impending possibilities. Any day, any hour may witness the mighty change. These changes, so extreme and searching, are to remind us that life does not exist either for pleasure or pain, but for the perfecting of the soul in love and nobleness. He who makes the seven stars and Orion, who turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night for the education of a nation in righteousness, does the same with and for the individual. And every change is good that unsettles us in the world to settle us in God, every variation of fortune is blessed that drives us to the central reality, and makes us richer in spiritual feeling and moral fruit. In some parts of South America all seasons are singularly blended within a year; in the same locality there are many returns of spring and winter, temporary calms and temporary snows rapidly and unceasingly succeed each other, but in such places plants bloom with the greatest vigour, and are remarkable for their beauty. So, if we seek Him who maketh the seven stars and Orion, and who orders so strangely the days and nights, the summers and winters of human life, these bewildering changes shall only discipline us into more perfect strength, and make us rich in the fruits of righteousness and peace. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The glory of religion
I. The connection God has with his universe.
1. That of a Creator.
2. That of a Governor.
3. That of a Redeemer.
II. The connection which man should have with God. “Seek Him.” The pursuit implies--
1. Faith in God’s personal existence.
2. A consciousness of moral distance from God.
3. A felt necessity of friendly connection with God.
4. An assurance that such a connection can be obtained.
What a grand thing is religion! It is not a thing of mere doctrine, or ritual, or sect, or party. It is a moral pursuit of “Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion,” etc. (Homilist.)
The true object of worship
I. As the creating God. “Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion.” This suggests--
1. His unlimited power. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”
2. His manifold wisdom. “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath He established the heavens.”
3. His boundless benevolence. The sun rules the day, the moon and stars the night. God’s bounty is lavished on the world night and day.
II. As the providing God. “That calleth the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the earth.” This implies--
1. God’s government over the world. At His bidding the waters of the sea hasten to the clouds, and again fall in rain upon the face of the earth.
2. Man’s dependence upon God. Rain is a universal blessing, and is essential for growth, fertility, and happiness. The earth must be irrigated, and none can command the clouds to pour out their contents but God.
III. As the redeeming God. “And turneth the shadow of death into the morning,” This indicates--
1. God’s dominion over death.
2. His gracious presence with His people in the greatest emergency. His smiling countenance turns the shadow and darkness of death into a happy and refreshing day. They hope in death. They die in faith.
3. His faithfulness to His word unto the last. He will realise His promises to them in life, in death, and in eternity. Seek the Lord, the Creator, the Preserver, and the only Saviour. Seek Him who is mighty to save. (Joseph Jenkins.)
And turneth the shadow of death into the morning. .. the Lord is His name.
The shadow of death
I. The shadow of death falls upon the pathway of life. It is the shadow of God’s wrath, which fell upon the sunshine of His love, when man, a free agent, marred His work. No man knows when or how he will die.
II. It is best that we do not know the time or manner of our death. If we knew the time was near we might be overcome by terror or despair. If we knew the time was distant, we might presume. As it is uncertain, we need to be “always ready.”
III. We make that which was intended for our soul’s health only an occasion of falling. The uncertainty of life is a subject commonly on our lips, very seldom in our serious thoughts. All men think all men mortal but themselves.
IV. You admit the argument, do you apply it personally? There can be no greater ignorance than to ignore the inevitable. Yet Cyprian says, We will not know that which we cannot but know.
V. What is death? To the generality of the Gentiles death was dreadful, and they spoke of it as terrible, cruel, black, and blind. One of the great Italian painters, Luino, the favourite pupil of Leonardo de Vinci, has represented these departures into the unseen world by a design which, though it is but an imagination, appeals forcibly to our hopes and fears. In a grand picture of the Crucifixion, which is in the Church at Lugarno he has represented the soul of the forgiven thief coming from his lips at the moment of his death in a miniature figure of himself, robed in white, in an attitude of prayer, and welcomed by a smiling angel sent to escort him to paradise. From the mouth of the reprobate who died reviling Christ, there issues a figure struggling in agony with a cruel demon.
VI. How shall we prepare for death? We must learn to overcome our natural reluctance to think, earnestly and constantly, about our own death. The way to overcome our fear is not to evade it, but to meet and master it.
VIII. All that we think, or say, or do, has this one great purpose, that we may seek and find Him, who turneth the shadow of death into the morning.
1. He manifests Himself to the faith which worketh by love.
2. He blesses especially with His assured presence.
3. At the altar, most nearly, dearly, we realise His presence. (S. Reynolds Hole.)
Turneth the shadow of death into the morni
ng:--The Romans had thirty epithets for death; and all of them were full of the deepest dejection. “The iron slumber,” “the eternal night,” “the mower with his scythe,” “the hunter with his snares,” “the demon bearing a cup of poison,” “the merciless destroying angel,” “the inexorable jailor with keys,” “the king of terrors treading down empires”--some of them were these, the bitterness of which is indescribable. The revelation which the New Testament furnishes breaks like beautiful sunshine through the unutterable gloom. Our Lord Jesus came to bring life and immortality to light in the Gospel.
The immortal life
In the last days of a good man’s life the fear of death is usually destroyed. I am not about to assert that death has no solemnity, nor would I in any way lessen your sense of its importance. But many of our common conceptions concerning death are false and unreal. We have mistaken figures of speech for facts represented by them. Of death as a physical evil little need be said. Not seldom it appears sadly painful. Death is viewed as essentially evil, because it is assumed to be the direct result of sin. It is a penal infliction--the shame and curse of life, the outcome of our guilty rebellion. Thinking thus concerning it, many Christians are as much in fear of death as the heathen. But this theory cannot be true. It is contrary to the laws of reason and the conclusions of science, and it is opposed to the very spirit of our religion. Scripture, rightly interpreted, gives it no support. Death, instead of beings retribution, is a relenting; instead of a curse, a blessing. Whatever of death Adam by his wrong-doing introduced, Christ by His work has thrust out. The physical change called death is not the result of sin. Instead of being a dread shadow hanging over life, it is a beneficent arrangement in the constitution of nature by the infinite mercy of God. It is recorded that, among the half pagan legends which floated about Ireland during the Middle Ages, there was one in which two islands were mentioned, and named respectively Life and Death. Upon the one its inhabitants could never die. Yet all the ills of human life came to its people. At length these did their work. The cruel immortality became a curse which consumed the joy and love of life, and the people learned to regard the opposite island as a haven of repose. Then soon, with all eagerness, their launched their boats upon the gloomy waters of the lake; they reached the isle of death, leaped upon its shore, and were at rest. Death is a change from a known to an unknown state of existence. It is simply one of those changes ordained in the constitution of things through which we must pass. The eternal life is ours now, and in this world. We are within the sweep of the eternal. There is no break in the continuity of a life. Present and future are but sections of the one immortal state. This earth-side is but a small part of life. From the lower to the higher is the law of growth. Life and progress never cease. Death will check neither. Is there not sublimity in the thought that death will but free the spirit from the clogs of flesh, and usher it into a world that gives play to all its powers? Then the death of the body is nothing to be feared. It is but the laying down present powers to take up others. By it the soul becomes conscious of its relations with a new world and a new order of beings. To every Christian heart this happy revelation should come with regenerating power. He alone need fear death who is abusing life. What we are now determines what we shall be then. (George Bainton.)
The shadow of death turned into morning
I. To those who have truly sought God grim death is but a shadow. To the Christian death is but the semblance of a foe.
II. The shadow of death ushers in the eternal morning. No sooner does the shadow of death fall than the light of heaven begins to dawn. Heaven’s morning is without clouds. No cloud intercepts the intellect of the glorified. No moral mists are known there.
III. The shadow of death is often the precursor of brighter days on earth. Death of one has been followed by the conversion of others. The fortitude of departing saints often dispels the fear of death from the living. (W. Williams.)
The shadow turned
I. Every sorrow is a shadow of death. Our deepest sorrows are not always to be measured by events themselves, but by thoughts and emotions which lie at the heart of them. When we see and feel how griefs and tribulations are used by God, for softening, purifying, and elevating character, we see even here how the shadows of death are turned into the morning.
II. National or personal judgment is the shadow of death. Perhaps this is the direct reference of these words. Israel may live again.
III. Declining strength is a shadow of death. There comes the time when irremediable and irresistible disease does its steady work.
IV. Unbelief is a shadow of death. Unbelief regarded as distrust of God as a Father and Redeemer; and distrust of ourselves as destined for the glorious immortality opened to us, and prepared for us by the death and resurrection of our blessed Lord.
V. Bereavement is the shadow of death. We realise nothing till it creates vacancy with us. Some losses we can bear. After bereavement there gradually comes a morning of humble submission and rest in God. (W. M. Statham.)
The shadow of death turned into morning
The Tekoan herdsman had often seen daybreak.
1. How mightily,
2. How silently,
3. How mysteriously,
4. How mercifully God brought in the brightness of day after the gloom of night.
Is not this an illustration of what God is always doing?
I. He turneth winter to spring. How, when the wild flowers perfume the glen, and the foliage buds in the hedgerows, and birds carol under brightening skies, the shadow of death, that winter so often seems to be, is turned into morning.
II. He turneth adversity into prosperity. Thus was it with Job. Thus need it be with many in this season of commercial depression.
III. He turneth sickness to health. As with Hezekiah, “He healeth our diseases.”
IV. He turneth death to immortality. (Homilist.)