By these words or by this vision the Prophet confirms what we have already observed — that paternal chastisements would no longer be exercised towards the people of Israel. God indeed, as it is well known, had so treated that people, that he ever spared them even in their greatest calamities. It was with a suspended hand that God ever struck that people, until after many trials they at length seemed so refractory, as not to be benefited by such remedies. This subject then Amos now pursues: but a vision was shown to him to confirm more fully God’s judgment, or at least to produce a greater impression on the minds of the people.
God showed to him a Basket full of summer-fruit. By summer-fruit, I doubt not, he means a ripe punishment, as though he said, that the vices of the people had ripened, that vengeance could no longer be deferred: for an exposition of the vision immediately follows, when he says, that the end of the people had come, etc.; and this we have already explained in the third vision. But there is a similarity in the Hebrew words, which cannot be expressed either in Greek or Latin. קיץ, kits means a summer-fruit, קץ, kots, signifies an end: one letter only is inserted in the word, summer-fruit, which God showed in a basket; and then he adds that קץ, kots, the end had come. But as to the main point, we see that there is nothing ambiguous. We will now return to the first thing.
Thus God showed to me. There is no need of repeating what I have already discussed. The Prophet here prefaces, that he adduced nothing without authority, but only faithfully related what had been commanded him from above. And this ought to be carefully observed; for God ever so employed his Prophets, that he yet reserved for himself entire the right of teaching, and never transferred his own office to men, that is, as to the authority. Then he says, The Lord Jehovah showed to me, and, lo, a basket of summer-fruit. We may understand cherries by summer-fruit, and those fruits which have no solid vigor to continue long; but this is too refined. I take the simple meaning, that punishment had now become ripe; for the people had not repented, though they had been so often warned; it was then as it were summer. He showed to me a basket of summer-fruit. But as to God asking his Prophet what he saw, we have already explained the reason why it was done: it behaved the Prophet to be at first filled with astonishment, that the people might be made more attentive; for when we hear of a conference between God and the Prophet, our minds are awakened; inasmuch as it must immediately occur to us, that there is something worthy of being remembered. God then rouses in this manner the minds of his people. So we see there is nothing superfluous in this repetition.
Now follows the exposition of the vision, Jehovah said to me, Come has the end on my people Israel We perceive, then, the meaning of the Prophet to be, — that the people had hitherto been warned by moderate punishments; but that as they had become hardened, extreme vengeance was nigh at hand, when God would no longer perform the part of a father or of a physician, but would utterly destroy those whom he had long borne with. We indeed know that most grievous calamities had happened to the people of Israel, even before this time; but whenever God showed forbearance, he ever allured them to true penitence. Lest, then, they should promise such a treatment to themselves hereafter, and by self flatteries protract time, as hypocrites are wont to do, the Prophet declares here expressly, that the end had come; as though he said, “Your iniquity is ripe: now then gather the fruit; for ye cannot proceed farther, no, not even for one day. Fruit will indeed come to you of itself.” The end then is come, and I will no more add to pass by them. To pass by, as we have already explained, is to be referred to punishment. For why does God chastise his people, except that he is solicitous for their salvation? He says, then, that he would make an end, that he would not spend labor hereafter in correcting the people, for he saw that nothing availed. Hence, I will not pass by them, that is, I will execute my extreme vengeance: Il n’y faudra plus retourner , as we commonly say. It follows —
The Prophet touches the Israelites here, in an indirect way, for taking such delight in their superstitions as to sing in their prosperity, as though God was favorable to them; for the unbelieving are wont to misconstrue both the hatred and the favor of God by the present appearance of things. When the Turks enjoy prosperity, they boast that God is on their side: we see also that the Papists draw the same conclusion. It is the disposition of men not to look so much on themselves as on external circumstances. When, therefore, God indulges them for a time, though they be more than usually wicked, they yet doubt not but that God is favorable to them. So the Sodomites, to the very time in which they were overwhelmed by sudden destruction, thought that they had peace with heaven, (Genesis 19:14): this also is the reason why Isaiah says, that the ungodly had made, as it were, a covenant with hell and death, (Isaiah 28:15) and we know what Christ says of the time of Noah, that they then heedlessly feasted and built sumptuous houses, (Matthew 24:38) Such carnal security has prevailed almost in all ages. But a special vice is here noticed by the Prophet, namely, that the people of Israel sang songs in their temples, as though they meant designedly to mock God: for the voices of the Prophets resounded daily, and uttered grievous and terrible threatening; but the people in the meantime sang in their temples. In the same way the Papists act in the present day; while they bellow and chant, they think that God is twice or three times pacified; and they also congratulate themselves in their temples, when they have everything prosperous. This abuse, then, is what the Prophet refers to when he says, Howlings shall be the songs of the temple For melody he mentions howling, as though he said, “God will turn your songs to lamentations, though they be now full of joy.”
He afterwards adds, For many a carcass shall be cast down in every place: but I prefer to render the word passively, “Cast down everywhere with silence shall be many carcases” (54). By these words he intimates that there would be such a slaughter as would prevent them from burying the dead bodies. We have said in another place that the right of burial is commonly observed even by enemies; for it is more than hostility to rage against the dead: and all who wish not to be deemed wholly barbarous either bury their dead enemies, or permit them to be buried; and there is a sort of an understanding on this point among enemies, and the right of burial has been usually observed in all ages, and held sacred among all nations. When therefore dead bodies are thrown down in silence, it is an evidence of a most grievous calamity. We hence see why the Prophet distinctly expresses here, that many a dead body would be cast down in every place in silence, that is, that there would be no burying of the dead. But as we see men, though a hundred times proved guilty, yet quarreling with God, when he executes rather a grievous punishment, the Prophet now contends with the Israelites, and again repeats what we have before noticed, — that God did not deal cruelly with them, and that though he should consume and obliterate the whole people, it would yet be for just reasons, inasmuch as they had reached the very extremities of wickedness.
(54) The literal rendering of the verse seems to be this —
And they shall howl the songs of the temple: Many a dead body shall be in every place; — “Cast it away, be silent.”
The expressions are abrupt, but very striking. What would be commonly said is mentioned, “Cast it away,” etc. Newcome translates as follows: —“
There shall be many dead bodies in every place: And men shall say, Cast forth, be silent.”
Very tame is this, compared with the original literally rendered. To introduce, And men shall say, lessens the force of the sentence. — Ed.
And he assails by name the princes of the people, Hear this, he says, ye who tread upon or swallow up the poor The Prophets, as we have already stated, did not without reason direct their discourses to the chief men, though the common people were nearly as much involved in the same guilt. It is certain that the state of the people of Israel was then so corrupt, that all, from the highest to the lowest, were become degenerated and none were free from blame. But as more guilt belongs always to leaders, this is the reason why the Prophets treated them with more sharpness and severity: for many of the common people go astray through thoughtlessness or ignorances or are led on by others, but they who govern, pervert what is just and right, and then become the originators of all kinds of licentiousness. It is no wonder then that the Lord by his Prophets inveighed so sharply against them; and this is now the object of the Prophet in saying, Hear this: for there is an emphasis in the expression, when he bids them to hear; it was either because they did not sufficiently observe their sins, and were wholly deaf, or because they in vain contended with God; for hypocrites think that by evasion they can escape judgment. Hear, he says, ye who devour the miserable, and destroy the poor of the land. We see here some difference marked, and that the Prophet does not generally and indiscriminately summon the common people and the princes to God’s tribunal; but turns his discourse to the princes only. It now follows —
The Prophet goes on here with the same subject; for this could not apply to the whole people, but only to the plunderers who were able to oppress the miserable and the poor among the common people, and who had a great abundance of corn: the same we see at this day, — a few men in time of want have provisions hoarded up, so that they as it were put to death miserable men by reducing them to want. Since then the few rich held the whole people in a state of famine, the Prophet says here, “Do you think that God deals too rigidly or too cruelly with your inasmuch as ye have hitherto been killing men with misery and want?” Were any one to object, and say, that the slaughter which the Prophet has already threatened was to be common to the whole people, and that therefore it is now improperly stated, that the wrongs done to the people were brought on them by a few men: to this I answer, that there were other vices among the people which required to be corrected, and this we have already seen, and shall see again in other parts; but it was necessary to make a beginning with the proud men, who, relying on their own dignity, thought themselves exempt and free from the common lot. Hence it was necessary to close their mouths: and further, the Prophet did not spare others in their turn. But we see to what extent of mad folly haughty men, and such as possess worldly riches and powers would run, were not the Lord to restrain and check them. This is the reason why the Prophet now especially addresses them.
Ye therefore say, When will pass the month, that we may sell corn? Some take חדש, chedash, month, for the new-moon; and it is sometimes so taken and this interpretation is probable; for immediately follows the word, Sabbath. When then will pass the month, and when will pass Sabbath, that we may be able to sell our corn? As it was not lawful to carry on business either on the Sabbath or on the new-moon, whenever they rested but one day, they thought that so much time was lost to them; for we see that the avaricious grow weary, as their cupidity ever excites them, for they are like an oven: and since they are thus hot, if an hour is lost they think that a whole year has passed away; they calculate the very moments of time. “How is it,” they say, “there is no merchant coming? I have now rested one day, and I have not gained a farthing.” As then the avaricious are so extremely careful, it is probable that the Prophet here refers to this disease of the mind, as though he said, “You have no rest, no relaxation. God has commanded his people to rest on every new-moon; and his will also is, that you should abstain from every work on the seventh day: ye think it is time as lost, for ye get no gain.” But another exposition is equally probable, which is this, — that they expected corn to be every month dearer; as those robbers in our day gape for gain, who from every quarter heap together corn, and thus reduce us to want; they look forward, month after month, and think that some calamity may happen to increase the price of corn; frost or rain may come, some disaster may take place; when the spring passes away, there may come some hail or mildew; in short, they are, as it were, laying in wait for some evil. This meaning does not ill suit this place; at the same time they refer it to the intercalary month, which being an addition, prolongs time, so that the year becomes longer: and what follows, respecting the Sabbath corresponds well with this view; as the word is to be taken in another sense than of the seventh day, for we know that on every seventh year there was no sloughing, no cultivation of the land, among the Jews; and the corn was then dearer, when there was no crop. Thus then there was a prey as it were provided for the avaricious and the extortioners.
When then will pass the Sabbath, that we may open our storehouses? They closed their storehouses, until the whole year, without cultivation or produce or harvest, had passed away; and then they opened their storehouses, or at least it was the time when they in a great measure opened them. Since then they so cruelly dealt with the people, the Prophet justly reproves them, and shows that God did not too rigidly treat theme but recompensed them with such a reward as they merited. Other matters we shall defer to the next Lecture.
Here still he speaks of the avarice of the rich, who in time of scarcity held the poor subject to themselves and reduced them to slavery. He had spoken before of the Sabbaths, and he had spoken of deceitful balances; he now adds another kind of fraud, — that by selling the refuse of wheat, they bought for themselves the poor. We indeed know what is the influence of poverty and pressing want, when men are oppressed with famine; they would rather a hundred times sell their life, than not to rescue themselves even by an invaluable price: for what else is food but the support of life? Men therefore will ever value their life more than all other things. Hence the Prophet condemns this iniquity — that the rich gaped for such an opportunity. They saw that corn was high in price; “Now is the time for the poor to come into our possession, for we hold them as though they were ensnared; so then we can buy them for a pair of shoes.” But the other circumstance increases this iniquity, — that they sold the refuse of the wheat; and when they reduced to bondage the poor, they did not feed them; they mingled filth and offscourings with the wheat, as it is wont to be done; for we know that such robbers usually do this, when want presses upon the common people; they sell barley for wheat, and for barley they sell chaff and refuse. This kind of wrong is not new or unusual, as we learn from this passage. Now follows a denunciation of punishment —
God, having made known the vices of the rich, now shows that he would be their judge and avenger: for were they only reproved, they would not have cared much, like the usurer mentioned by Horace, who said, “The people may hiss me, but I felicitate myself.” So also these robbers were wont to do, when they were filled: though the whole people exclaimed against them, though God thundered from heaven, they laughed everything to scorn; for they were utterly destitute of every shame; and they were also become hardened; and insatiable cupidity had so blinded and demented them, that they had cast aside every care for what was right and becoming. Since it was so, God now declares that they could not escape punishment; and that this threatening might more effectually penetrate into their hearts, the Prophet makes use of an oath in the name of God, Jehovah, he says, hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob
An old interpreter has rendered the words, “He has sworn against the pride of Jacob:” but he did not sufficiently consider the design of the Prophet; for he speaks not here of vice, but of that dignity which the Lord had conferred on the posterity of Abraham; for we have before seen this expression, ‘I abhor the excellency of Jacob.’ Some give this rendering, “I abhor the pride of Jacob,” as though God were speaking there of perverse haughtiness. But he, on the contrary, means, that the Israelites were deceived, for they thought themselves safe and secure, because they were introduced into great favor by a singular privilege. “This,” the Lord says, “will profit them nothing: I have hitherto been kind and bountiful to the children of Abraham; but I now abhor this whole dignity.” So also he says now in this place, Jehovah hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob. They were proud of their dignity which yet was the free gift of God, hence God interposes a form of oath, the fittest to reprove their presumption. Some at the same time give this translation, “By myself, (at least they give this explanation,) by myself have I sworn:” for God was the glory of Jacob. Others think that by this word, גאון, gaun, is designated the sanctuary; for this was the excellency of Jacob, because God had chosen it as a habitation for himself in the midst of his people: hence, also, He is often said to dwell between the cherubim; not that he was inclosed in the sanctuary, but because the people perceived there his presence, his favor, and his power. But I rather understand by the term, excellency, in this place, the adoption, by which God had separated for himself that people from the rest of the world. Sworn then hath Jehovah. How? By the excellency of Jacob: and thus he glances in a severe manner at the ingratitude of the people, as they did not own themselves to be in every respect bound to God; for they had been peculiarly chosen, when yet other nations in many things excelled them. It was doubtless an invaluable favor for that ignoble people to have been chosen to be God’s peculiar possession and heritage. Hence the Prophet now rightly introduces God as being angry; and the form of the oath is suited to set forth the people’s ingratitude: “What! do ye now rise up against me, and elevate your horns? By what right? Under what pretext? Who are ye? I chose you, and ye truly repay me with this reward, — that though ye owe me all things, ye seek to defraud me of my right. I therefore swear by the excellency of Jacob, — I swear by the benefits which I conferred on you, — that I will not allow that which is justly precious in my sight to be disgracefully profaned. Whatever then I have hitherto bestowed on you, I will return on your own heads, and, as ye deserve, ye shall miserably perish.” This is the meaning.
We hence see that the oath which the Prophet uses, ought to be applied to the present case. He says, I shall never forget all your works, that is, none of your works shall be passed by unpunished. For though conscience sometimes disturbs hypocrites yet they think that many things may be concealed; and if the hundredth part, or at farthest the tenth, must be accounted for, they think this to be quite enough: “Why! God may perhaps observe this or that, but many faults will escape him.” Since then hypocrites thus heedlessly deceive themselves, the Prophet says, “Nothing can ever be hid from my sight; nay, as I now know all their works, I will show that all their sins are recorded in my books, in my memory, so that all things shall at last be called to an account.” It now follows —
He confirms what the last verse contains in other words: and the question is emphatical, for it is a double affirmation. A question, we know, is usually put, when there is no measure of doubt on the subject. God then asks here as of a thing certain, how they could remain in safety, who had so perverted every thing right and just, who had violated all equity, who were influenced by no feelings of humanity, — how could such continue safe? It was impossible. We hence see why the Prophet here uses a question; it was, that he might more fully confirm what he declares.
Shall not the land, he says, make a tumult? (55) when these disturb all order, when they mingle, as the proverb is, heaven and earth together, can the earth remain quiet under such a violent confusion? when all reason and equity is confounded, how, he says, can the land do otherwise than make a tumult? And though the Prophet ascribes not here either clamor or speech to the land; it is yet a sort of personification, when he says that the earth must necessarily make a tumult, while it sustains such inhabitants; for between them there was no agreement. Since then their way of living was extremely turbulent, the land itself must necessarily be agitated.
He afterwards adds, And mourn shall every one who dwells in it He now shows that the inhabitants of the earth shall feel that commotion of which he predicts: for the earth, ceasing to fulfill its offices, constrains its inhabitants to lament and mourn. And then there is another metaphor which sets forth the moving of the earth, that it will rise as a river to destroy men with a deluge. Many render what follows, “It shall be driven away and closed up like the river of Egypt.” But after the Prophet has spoken of inundation of the earth, he turns his discourse to the men whom this inundation would drown and swallow up. Hence, the real sense is, that their habitations would be destroyed, as by a deep gulf, in a way similar to the Nile, which, by overflowing the whole country, seems to make a sea of what had been inhabited. As the Prophet’s words lead us as by the hand, I wonder how those skillful in the Hebrew language could have blended things so different, for they give this explanation, “The land shall be raised up, as a river, and then it shall be destroyed and driven away;” and they refer this to the land; and then, “it shall be sunk down:” this also they apply to the land; except that some give this rendering, “It shall discharge itself like the river of Egypt.” But I translate otherwise, “It shall heave up whole as a river, and shall be driven away, and shall be immersed as by the river of Egypt.” It shall heave up, he says, that is, the land as a river; so that there will be no habitation for men: “I have given this land to my people that they might live in it; but the land itself shall heave up as a river; there shall be an inundation of the whole land.” And then when he says, It shall be driven away and sunk, this ought not to be referred to the land itself, but to the inhabitants or to the people. (56)
He had said before, כאר, kar, as a river; but now he says, כיאור, kiaur, which I explain as meaning, as by the river of Egypt. The Nile, we know, overflows annually and covers the whole plain of Egypt. The Prophet therefore borrowed a similitude from the Nile; and he says, that such would be God’s vengeance, that the land would be like a river, and its dwellings would be immersed and carried away, or annihilated: for when there is no surface of land, it seems to have been cleared away. So then he says now, It shall be driven away, It shall be sunk. This is the simple explanation; and ע, oin, is to be understood; for שקע, shiko, is to sink or to cover. Here, ה, he is only put, but ע, oin, is to be understood, and there is also a double reading pointed out. (57) We now then perceive the Prophet’s meaning. But it follows —
(55) Shake or move is the most current meaning of the word, and the most suitable to this place. Newcome renders it, “be shaken;” Henderson, “tremble;” and Grotius, “be moved.” — Ed.
(56) A different view is given by Newcome and also by Henderson. Newcome translates thus, —
And shall not all of it rise up as the river, And be driven out of its place and sunk down as the river of Egypt?
Henderson renders the lines in the same sense, though in different words, —
Shall not all of it rise like the river? Shall it not be driven and subside Like the river of Egypt?
The question is unnecessarily retained, borrowed from the first line of the verse. It is seldom, if ever, that this is the case in Hebrew; it is not consistent with the simplicity of the language. It is evidently the earthquake that is here compared to the rising and subsiding of a river. I would therefore render the whole verse thus, —
Shall not for this the land shake, And every inhabitant in it mourn? For heave up as a river shall the whole of it, And it shall be agitated and subside like the river of Egypt.
Here is the heaving, the agitation, and the subsidence of the earth in an earthquake. — Ed.
(57) He means evidently the Keri, the marginal reading. — Ed.
The Prophet speaks here metaphorically of the punishments which were then to the people nigh at hand: and as prosperity and success deceived the Israelites, the Prophet makes use of this significative mode of speaking: “Ye congratulate yourselves on account of your wealth and other things which delight you, as though God could not turn light into darkness; and as God spares you, ye think that it will ever be the same with you; but God can, he says, turn light into darkness: a dark night therefore will overtake you even at mid-day.” We now understand why the Prophet employed this figurative expression, — that God would obscure the sun, or cause it to go down, and would on a clear day send darkness to obscure the earth. It was not, it is certain, the eclipse of the sun; and the Prophet did not mean this. But these figurative expressions must be first noticed, and then we must see what they import.
Were any one disposed to lay-hold on what is literal and to cleave to it, his notions would be gross and insipid, not only with regard to the writings of the Prophets, but also with regard to all other writings; for there is no language which has not its figurative expressions. There is then in this passage a remarkably significative mode of speaking, — that God would make the sun to go down or to become cloudy at mid-day. But we must especially notice the design of the Prophet, which was to show, that the Israelites trusting in their prosperity, thought themselves to be beyond the reach of danger; hence their security and hence their torpor, and at length their perverseness and their contempt of God: since then the Prophet saw that they abused the benefits of God, he says, “What! the Lord indeed has caused your sun to rise; but cannot he make it to set, yea, even at mid-day? Ye now exult in its light; but God will suddenly and unexpectedly send darkness to cover your heads.” There is then no reason for hypocrites to flatter themselves, when God smiles on them and treats them indulgently; for in this manner he invites them to repentance by the sweetness of his goodness, as Paul says Romans 2:3. But when he sees them stubbornly wanton, then he turns his benefits into punishments. This then is what the Prophet means: “God,” he says, “will make the sun to set at mid-day, and will darken the clear day.” Let us go on —
The Prophet pursues the same subject; but he omits the figurative mode which he had before adopted. He therefore denounces vengeance more openly, — that God would turn their festal-days into mourning, and their songs into lamentation. This was designedly mentioned; for the Israelites, we know, flattered themselves on account of their ceremonies by which at the same time they more and more provoked God’s displeasure: for the worship of God, which they pretended to perform, was mere superstition, and was therefore a profanation of true religion. Though then they thus brought on themselves God’s judgment by their wicked ceremonies, they yet thought that they were sufficiently disguised; for as Jeremiah says, ceremonies are to hypocrites the dens of robbers, (Jeremiah 7:10.) So here the Prophet speaks expressly of festal-days and of songs, — “Think ye that I am pacified on your feast-days, when ye offer sacrifices to me, or rather to idols under my name; and think ye that I am delighted with your songs? these things are so regarded by me, that they the more excite my wrath. Your festal-days then will I turn to mourning, and your songs to lamentation. At the same time, the Prophet threatens generally what we have before noticed, — that there would be mourning among the whole people for having too long abused the forbearance of God; I will then turn your joy into mourning. This is the sum of the whole. We have already shown why he names feast-days and songs, and that is, because they thought them to be expiations to turn aside God’s vengeance, when yet they were fans by which they kindled more and more the fire of his displeasure.
He afterwards adds, I will make to come up on all backs the sackcloth, and on every head baldness. These are various modes of speaking, which refer to the same thing: for they were wont to put on sackcloth and they were wont to shave their heads when in grief and mourning. The Prophet then means, that there would be extreme sorrow among the people, that having cast away all delights, they would be constrained to give up themselves entirely to weeping, lamentation, and grief. I will then make to come up on all loins the sackcloth, that is, I will make each one to put off all valuable and soft clothing and to put on sackcloth; and also to shave their heads, and even to tear off their hair, as they were wont to do. We indeed know that the orientals were more disposed to adopt external tokens of sorrow than we are. It was in truth the levity of that country that accounts for their playing the part of actors in mourning; and from this practice of mourning our Prophet borrowed his mode of speaking.
He afterwards subjoins, I will set her (he speaks of the Israelites under the name of land) in mourning as for an only begotten This similitude occurs also in another place, ‘They shall mourn as for an only-begotten,’ says Zechariah Zechariah 12:10; so also in other places; so that there is no need of a long explanation. For when one has many children and one dies, he patiently bears his death; but when any one is bereaved of an only-begotten, there is no end nor moderation to his grief; for there is no comfort remaining. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that there would be grief, such as that which is felt for an only-begotten.
And he shows that these calamities would not be for a short time only, Her posterity, he says, shall be as in the day of bitterness (58) For hypocrites drive away, or at least moderate, their fear of punishment by imagining that God will not be so severe and rigid but for a short time, — “O! it cannot be God will for long punish our sins; but it will be like mist which soon passes away.” Thus hypocrites felicitate themselves. Then the Prophet does not without reason subjoin this second clause, that their posterity shall be as in the day of bitterness. Hence when they shall think themselves freed from all evils, then new ones shall succeed, so that their posterity shall even doubly grieve; for they shall feel more bitterness than their fathers. It now follows —
(58) Both this and the former line are rendered differently by Newcome, more consistently with the words of the original —
And I will make it as a mourning for an only son, And the end thereof as a day of bitterness.
The pronoun “it,” and also “thereof,” is the feminine ה : Newcome refers it to הדברה, this matter, or this event, understood: or in case ארף, land, be the antecedent, he thinks that כאבל, “as a mourning,” should be rendered participially, as “one who mourns.” Either of these constructions may suit the original; but another seems preferable. The antecedent to “it appears to be אבל, “mourning,” in the first line of the verse. Our own version is no doubt the correct one, and not that which Calvin adopts; only the last line may be better rendered thus, as Junius and Tremelius do —“
And the end of it as that of the bitterest day.”—
Here now the Prophet fulminates, for he denounces not temporal punishments, but final destruction, and what proves to be an evidence of reprobation, and that is, that God would deprive the Israelites of every light of truth, so that they would wander as the blind in the dark. It is indeed certain, that they had been before this time bereaved of sound doctrine; for falsehoods and superstitions prevailed among them; and we have seen that in the land of Israel the true and faithful servants of God suffered cruel tyranny. But yet God restrained the people, as it were, against their will; when they fled away from him, and withdrew themselves from under his government, he still goaded them, and tried as by force to restore them to the way of safety. God thus contended with the wickedness of the people for many years, to the time of our Prophet, yea, until the ten tribes were banished; for these, we know, were led to exile first, and at length the kingdom of Israel was abolished; but the Lord ceased not to stretch forth his hand. Now when he saw that the labor of his servants was vain and useless, when he saw that no fruit proceeded from his word, when he saw that his name was profaned and his kindness trodden under foot, he denounced final vengeance, as though he said, “I am now broken down with weariness, I have hitherto borne with your cries, and though by many kinds of punishment I have endeavored to restore you, I have yet observed a moderate course, that there might not be wanting some remedy for you. It has not, therefore, been my fault that your diseases have not been healed; for I have often sent Prophets to draw you to repentance, but without any success. I will now then take away my word from you.” But as celestial doctrine is the spiritual food of the soul, the Prophet rightly adopts this metaphor, that the Lord would send a famine. This figure, then is borrowed from the efficacy and nature of God’s word: for to what purpose does God send to us Prophets and teachers, but to feed us with spiritual food? As he sustains our bodies by bread and water, or wine, and other aliments, so also he nourishes our souls and sustains our spiritual life by his word. Since, then, spiritual doctrine is our spiritual aliment, the Prophet very properly says, that there would come a famine.
I will then send a famine, not of bread or of water, but of hearing the word of God. The antithesis amplifies or exaggerates the severity of the punishment, as though he had said, that it would be endurable to wander in hunger and thirst, and to seek roots on mountains, and to seek water in distant rivers: but a bodily famine, he says, is not what shall be grievous to them, — what then? They shall be in hunger and thirst, and shall seek the word of God, and nowhere find it. But that we may better understand the meaning of the Prophet, we must notice what Paul says, — that we are fed by the Lord as by the head of a family, when the word is offered to us, (Titus 1:3) for teachers go not forth of themselves, but when they are sent from above. As then the head of a family provides meat and sustenance for his children and servants, so also the Lord supplies us daily with spiritual food by true and faithful teachers, for they are as it were his hands. Whenever then pure doctrine is offered to us, let us know that the teachers who speak and instruct us by their ministrations are, as it were, the hand of God, who sets food before us, as the head of a family is wont to do to his children: this is one thing. And certainly since the Lord cares for our bodies, we must also know that our souls are not neglected by him: and further, since the earth produces not corn and other things of itself, but God’s blessing is the source of all fruitfulness and abundance, is not his word a much more precious food? Shall we then say that it comes to us by chance? It is hence no wonder that the Prophet sets here the deprivation of sound doctrine among God’s judgments; as though he said, “Whenever men are faithfully taught, it is a proof of God’s singular kindness, and a testimony of his paternal care. As God then has hitherto discharged towards you the office of the kindest father of a family, so now he will deprive you of meat and drink, that is, those which are spiritual.” Now, in the second place, we must observe, that when we abuse God’s bounty, our ingratitude deserves this recompense, that want should teach us that God ought not to have been despised in his benefits. This is generally true: for when we intemperately indulge in luxury when God gives us abundance of bread and wine, we fully deserve that this intemperance and excess should be cured by famine and want. But bread and wine are of no great value, and soon pass away: when therefore we abuse celestial doctrine, which is far more precious than all earthly things, what punishment does not such willfulness deserve? It is therefore no wonder that God should take away his word from all ungrateful and profane men, when he sees it treated with mockery or disdain: and this truth ought to be carefully considered by us at this day; for we see with how little reverence the greater part of men receive the celestial doctrine, which at this time is so bountifully offered to us. God has indeed in our age opened the wonderful treasures of his paternal bounty in restoring to us the light of truth. What fear there is now? What religion? Some scoff, some disdain, some indeed profess to receive what is said, but they pass it by negligently, being occupied with the cares and concerns of this world, and some furiously oppose, as the Papists do. Since then the perverseness or the wickedness, or the carelessness of the world, is so great, what can we expect, but that the Lord will send a much thicker darkness than that in which we have been before immersed, and suffer us to go astray and wander here and there in hunger and thirst? If then we fear God, this punishment, or rather the denunciation of this punishment, ought ever to be before our eyes. And the antithesis also, as it is very important should be carefully considered; for the Prophet by the comparison increases the punishment: it shall not, he says, be the want of meat and drink, for such a divine visitation would be more tolerable; but it shall be a spiritual famine. Inasmuch then as we are too much entangled by our flesh, these words ought to arouse us, that we may more attentively reflect on this dreadful punishment, and learn to fear the famine or want of the soul more than that of our bodies. When the sterility of the land threatens us with famine, we are all anxiety, and no day passes, in which this anxious question does not ten times occur to us, — “What will become of us? We now suffer from famine and want, and we are, as yet, distant from the harvest three or four months.” All feel anxious, and in the meantime we are not touched by any concern when the Lord threatens us with spiritual want. Since then we are so disposed to be overanxious for this frail life, it is the more necessary for us to take notice at the comparison mentioned by our Prophet.
But it may be here asked, Why does he say that they should be so famished as to run here and there, and wander from sea to sea, from the south even to the east, since this ought to be counted as one of God’s favors; for what more grievous thing can happen to us, than that the Lord should render us stupid and unconcerned? But when we are touched with some desire for sound doctrine, it evidently appears that there is some religion in us; we are not destitute of the Spirit of God, though destitute of the outward medium: and then comes what Christ says,‘
Knock, and it shall be opened to you; seek, and ye shall find,’ (Matthew 7:7)
Therefore this denunciation of the Prophet seems not, it is said, so severe and dreadful. But we must observe, that the Prophet does not speak here strictly of famine, as though he said, that the Israelites would feel the want of God’s word, that they would really look for it, that they would sincerely seek it, but that they would perceive by the punishment itself, that nothing is more to be dreaded than to be deprived of the spiritual food of the soul. An example of this is found in Esau: when he saw that he had lost his birth-right, he cried and howled. He did not do this either from a right feeling, or because he had returned to a sound mind; but he was urged on by despair only: and then he sent forth lamentations and howlings, as though he were a wild beast. An anxiety like this is what the Prophet describes here. We hence learn, that the reprobate, when they see themselves deprived of God’s favors, are not really moved, so that they repent, but only feel strong agonies, so that they torment themselves without any benefit, and do not turn themselves to God.
What then is this to seek? We must notice what he said before — that they shall wander from sea to sea, and then, that they shall run here and there. When the faithful perceive any token of God’s wrath, they immediately conclude and clearly see, that there is no remedy but to retake themselves directly to God: but the ungodly, what do they do? They disquiet themselves, and make a great noise. It is then this empty and false feeling of which the Prophet speaks. Now then the question is answered. But we must at the same time observe, what the best way is to recover the favor of God, when we are deprived of it; and it is this, — to consider our state, and to return to him under a due consciousness of God’s judgment, and to seek to be reconciled to him. Thus will he restore what he has taken away. But if our obstinacy be like that of the Israelites, God will deprive us of his benefits, and not only those which are necessary to support our present life, but also of the spiritual food of the soul: then in vain will our howlings rend the air, for he will not give us an upright spirit to return to him; but we shall in vain bite the bridle, we shall in vain torment ourselves: for he will not suffer us to come where we ought, that is, he will not lead us to true repentance nor to a genuine calling on him, but we shall pine away in our evils without any remedy.
The Prophet, having threatened spiritual famine, now adds, that the people would in every respect be barren and destitute of every good: for I take not thirst here in the same sense as before; but that they should be dried up through the want of all things. It is indeed the worst deprivation when men are parched up with thirst; and this is what the Prophet threatens here. A country may suffer from want of provision, while there is water enough to drink; but when not even this remains, it is an evidence of a heavier and of almost the extreme curse of God. We now perceive what the Prophet meant, which was this, — that when God should take away his word, by which the souls of men are nourished up to eternal life, the Israelites would be then in want also of all blessings, so that they would not only be without bread, but also without water; and he mentions a circumstance which would greatly aggravate the evil, Faint, he says, shall the fair virgins and the youth in their vigor It seems unnatural, that those who are vigorous, and can run to get supply for their wants, should faint: but the Prophet, as I have said, wished to show that there would be no escape, but that God would distress the strongest, when he sent such a famine, and with it the want also of drink.
He afterwards mentions the reason why the Lord would inflict such punishments on his people; it was, because they had prostituted themselves to wicked superstitions; They swear, he says, by the sin of Samaria; they say, Live does thy God, Dan; Live does the way of Beersheba Some understand “sin” here metaphorically, (as it is taken also in many other places,) as meaning sin-offerings, which are called by the Hebrews אשמות, ashimut, and by the Latins piacula — expiations: but this exposition is too refined. The Prophet then speaks only of the idols of Israelites: and they are called wickedness or sin, because superstitious men, we know, delight in their own devices. He therefore calls an idol sin by way of reproach, though they gave it the honorable name of a god. They swear, he says, in or by the sin of Samaria He calls it the sin of Samaria, for thence arose all their corruptions, it being the royal residence and the chief city of the whole country. Since then superstition proceeded from thence, the Prophet does not without reason say that all the idolatry, throughout the whole land, was the sin of Samaria; for he regarded the source where impiety originated.
And he afterwards explains himself by saying, Live does thy God, Dan; and, Live does the way of Beersheba: for we know that temples were raised both in Dan and in Beersheba. He then subjoins two forms of an oath, but for this end, — to show the character of the sin of Samaria, which he mentions. They swear then by the gods of Samaria, who were really detestable; for there is no greater atrocity in the sight of God than idolatry: but he afterwards adds, that they were gods who were worshipped at Dan and at Beersheba. What some say of the word דרך, darek, that it means pilgrimage or the way that leads there, is frivolous and puerile; for the Prophet, no doubt, used a common expression. He therefore calls custom “the way of Beersheba”, such as then was by common consent receded and approved. They then who swear by these fictitious forms of worship shall be parched, or pine away, with thirst
He then adds, They shall fall, and rise again no more; that is, their stroke shall be incurable, for God has hitherto employed moderate punishments, which could not heal them, as they had been obdurate in their evils. The Prophet then declares now that there would be no more any prospect of a remedy for them, and that the wound which God would inflict would be fatal, without any hope of being healed. This is the meaning. Let us now proceed —