The Prophet confirms the threatening which we have already explained; for he says that the people would be soon removed, as there was now no hope of repentance. But it must first be observed, that he speaks not here of the profane temples which Jeroboam the first had built in Dan and in Bethel, but of the true and lawful temple; for it would not have been befitting that this vision should have been made to the Prophet in one of those profane temples, from which, we know, God was far away. Had God appeared in Dan or Bethel, it would have been an indirect approbation of superstition. They are then mistaken who think that the vision was given to the Prophet in any other place than on mount Zion, as we have shown in other places. For the Prophets say not, that God had spoken either in Dan or in Bethel, nor had there been any oracle announced from these places; for God designed in every way to show that he had nothing to do with those profane rites and abominations. It is then certain that God appeared to his Prophet on mount Zion, and on the lawful altar. (59)
Let us now see the design of the vision. The greater part of interpreters think that the destruction of the kingdom and of the priesthood is predicted here, at the time when Zedekiah was taken and led ignominiously into exile, and when his children were killed, and when afterwards the temple was erased and the city demolished. But this prediction, I doubt not, ought to be extended much farther, even to the many calamities which immediately followed, by which at length the whole people were destroyed. I therefore do not confine what is here said to the demolition of the city and of the temple. But the meaning of the Prophet is the same as though he had said, that the Israelites as well as the Jews in vain boasted of their descent and of other privileges with which they had been honored: for the Lord had resolved to destroy them, and also the temple, which they employed as a cloak to cover their iniquities. We now then understand the intention of the Prophet. But this also must be noticed, — that if the Lord spared not his own temple, which he had commanded to be built, and in which he had chosen a habitation for himself, those profane temples, which he had ever despised, could not possibly escape destruction. We now see the design of this prophecy, which is the last, with the exception of the promise that is given, of which we shall speak in its proper place.
He says then that he saw God standing on the altar. The Prophet might have heard what follows without a vision; but God then, we know, was wont to sanction his predictions by visions, as we find in Numbers 12:6. God then not only intended to commit to his Prophet what he was to proclaim, but also to add authority to his doctrine; and the vision was as it were the seal, which the Israelites as well as the Jews knew to be a proof, that what the Prophet declared by his mouth proceeded from heaven.
It now follows, Smite the lintel כפתור, caphtur, is, I think, called the cover which is on the top of the posts of the temple; for the Hebrews call כפתורים, caphturim, apples. As then they painted there pomegranates and flowers, the Hebrew doctors think that the part which is above the two posts of the temple is called כפתור, caphtur. But that part of the entrance might have taken its name from its round form. However this may be, they called the highest part of the porch of the temple כפתוד, caphtur. Now the posts sustained that which they commonly called the lintel. God then says, Strike the lintel, and let the posts be moved, or let them shake, let the whole gate of the temple shake. Then he adds, And strike and break all on the head, or on the head of all. This verb is differently read by interpreters. Correctly, according to the rule of grammar, it ought to be read in the third person, and it will dash to the ground But some however, render it thus, “and dash to the ground”, or break, because he had said before, Smite. As to the meaning, it matters not much for an explanation immediately follows. Now as to what he says, “on the head”, and as to the word אחריתם, achritam, which follows, some by the head understand the priests and the rulers of the people, which view I am inclined to embrace; but when they explain אחרית, achrit, to mean posterity or children, it does not seem to suit this place; for it ought rather as I think, to he referred to the common people. As then the Prophet had spoken of the head, he now adds the people in general. The Hebrews call whatever follows or comes after by אחרית, achrit. They indeed understand posterity by it, but it is a word that has variety of meaning: for it is taken for end, for a footstep, in short, for anything that comes after. (60)
It is easy now to gather the meaning of the Prophet: A vision was exhibited to him which showed that it was decreed by God himself to smite both the chiefs and the common people: and since God begins with his temple, how can profane men hope for pardon, who had deserted the true and pure worship of God? They were all apostates: how then could they have hoped that God would be placable to them, inasmuch as he had broken down his own temple?
He now adds, I will slay with the sword, etc. We see then that this vision is to be referred to the stroke which was shortly after to be inflicted. I will slay then with the sword whatever follows, that is, the common people.
He afterwards says, Flee away from them shall not he who fleeth, nor shall he escape from them who escapeth; that is though they may think that flight is possible, their expectation will deceive them, for I shall catch them. Had the Prophet said that there would be to them no means of fleeing away, he would not have spoken with so much severity; but when he says, that when they fled, he would catch them, that when they thought that they had escaped, there would be no safety to them, he says what is much more grievous. In short, he cuts off all hope from the Israelites, that they might understand that they were certain to perish, because God had hitherto tried in vain to restore them to the right way. Inasmuch then as they had been wholly incurable, they now hear that no hope remained for them.
And since the Prophet denounces such and so dreadful a destruction of an elect people, and since the vision was exhibited to him in the temples there is no reason for us to trust in our outward profession, and to wait till God’s judgments come, as we see many are doing in our day, who are wholly careless, because they think that no evil can happen to them, inasmuch as they bear the name of God. But the Prophet here shows, that God sits in his temple, not only to protect those whom he has adopted as his people and peculiar possession, but also to vindicate his own honor, because the Israelites had corrupted his worship; and the Jews also had departed from true religion. Since then impiety everywhere prevailed, he now shows that God sits there as the punisher of sins, that his people may know that they are not to tolerate those evils, which for a time he does not punish, as though he had forgotten his office, or that he designs his favor to be the cover of their iniquity; but because he designs by degrees to draw to repentance those, who are healable, and at the same time to take away every excuse frown the reprobate. Let us proceed —
(59) Calvin is not without many expounders, who agree with him in this view; yet the reasons assigned do not apply. “Though the true God,” as Dr. Henderson justly observes, “was seen beside the idolatrous altar, it was not for the purpose of receiving homage, but of commanding that the whole of the erection and worship at Bethel should be destroyed.” — Ed.
(60) These two lines are variously explained. The words can hardly admit the meaning here given to them. The scene was in the temple, and worshippers were present. The command was to strike the lintel; the fall of the pillars or posts was the consequence: many were destroyed, and those who remained were to be killed by the sword, and not one was to escape. There seems to be here an allusion to two previous events — the shaking and pulling down of the pillars of the house of Dagon by Sampson, — and the slaughter of the priests of Baal by Jehu. I render the verse thus: — I saw the Lord standing on the altar, and he said, —“
Strike the lintel, that the pillars may shake, And break them down on the head of them all; And the remainder of them with the sword will I slay; Flee away from them shall not he who fleeth, And escape from them shall not he who escapeth.”
Junius and Tremelius, as well as Dathius, render the third and fourth lines, where the difficulty alone exists, according to the version given above; and Henderson renders the third line materially the same, —
And break them in pieces on the heads of them all.
But he retains “posterity” in the fourth line, which seems not consistent with the tenor of the passage.
The version of Junius and Tremelius is this, —
Et divide ipsos in capite ipsorum omnium, Quod autem post ipsos est gladio interrficam.
Dathius is more paraphrastic, and gives the same sense, —
Eosque diffinde ut ruant in caput omnium qui adsunt, Reliquos vero gladio interficam
Newcome, who is too fond of emendations, folllows Houbigant, who, for no reason that appears, turns the verb into the first person; and he gives this rendering of the third line, —
For I will wound them in the head, even all of them:
But this evidently does not comport with the context. — Ed.
Here the Prophet denounces horrible punishments; but not without reason, for there was astonishing torpidity in that people, as there is usually in all hypocrites when they have any shadow of excuse. They were then the only elect people in the whole world. When, therefore, they thought that they excelled others and that they were endued with singular privileges beyond all other nations, this glory inebriated them, and they imagined that God was in a manner bound to them, as we have seen in other places. This, then, was the reason why the Prophet in so many ways enlarged on the judgment of God on hypocrites; it was, that they might be terrified by the vehemence and severity of his words.
Hence he says, If they dig for themselves passages to hell, that is, to the center of the earth, for שאול, shaul, is here put for the center; thence shall my hand draw them forth; and then, If they ascend to heaven, thence I will draw them down, saith the Lord; If they hide themselves in deserts, if they flee to the top of Carmel, I will trace them out: in short, they shall find no corner either in heaven, or on the earth, or in the sea, where they can be hid from my sight. There is no need here to understand by heavens high citadels, as the Chaldean paraphraser explains it: it is a frigid paraphrase. But the Prophet speaks in an hyperbolical language of the center of the earth, of the heavens, and of the deep of the sea; as though he had said, “Should all the elements open themselves for hiding-places, yet the Israelites shall in vain try to escape, for I will follow them when sunk in the depth of the sea, I will draw them down from heaven itself; there shall, in a word, be no hiding-place for them either above or below.”
We now understand the Prophet’s meaning; and an useful warning may be hence gathered, — that when God threatens us, we in vain seek subterfuges, as his hand extends itself to the lowest deep as well as to heaven; as it is said in Psalms 139:7,‘
Where shall I flee from thy presence, O Lord? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I descend to the grave, thou art present; if I take the wings of the dawn, (or, of the morning star,) and dwell in the extremities of the sea, there also shall thy hand lead me.’
The Prophet speaks not in that psalm, as some have very absurdly philosophized, of the unlimited essence of God; but he rather shows, that we are always in his sight. So then we ought to feel assured that we cannot escape, whenever God designs to make a scrutiny as to our sins, and to summon us to his tribunal.
But we must at the same time remember, that the Prophet has not employed a superfluous heap of words; there is not here one syllable which is not important though at the first view it seems to be otherwise. But the Holy Spirit, as I have already reminded you, knowing our heedlessness, does here shake off all our self-flatteries. There is in us, we know, an innate torpor by nature, so that we despise all threatenings, or at least we are not duly moved by them. As the Lord sees us to be so careless, he rouses us by his goads. Whenever then Scripture denounces punishment on us, let us at the same time learn to join with it what the Prophet here relates; “Thou hast to do with God, what can’t thou effect now by evasions? though thou climbest to heaven, the Lord can draw thee down; though thou descendent to the abyss, God’s hand will thence draw thee forth; if thou seekest a hiding-place in the lowest depths, he will thence also bring thee forth to the light; and if thou hidest thyself in the deep sea, he will there find thee out; in a word, wherever thou betakest thyself, thou canst not withdraw thyself from the presence and from the hand of God.” We hence see the design of all these expressions, and that is, that we may not think of God as of ourselves, but that we may know that his power extends to all hiding-places. But these words ought to be subjects at meditations though it be sufficient for our purpose to include in few words what the Prophet had in view. But as we are so entangled in our vain confidences, the Prophet, as I have said, has not in vain used so many words.
Now as to what he says, I will command the serpent to bite them, some understand by נחש, nuchesh, not a serpent on hand, but the whale, or some other marine animal, as the leviathan, which is mentioned in Scripture; and we may learn from other parts of Scripture that “nachash” means not only a serpent, but also a whale or some animal living in the sea. In a word, God intimates, that he would be armed everywhere, whenever he should resolve to punish his adversaries, and that in all elements are means in readiness, by which he can destroy the wicked, who seek to escape from his hand.
Now when he says, If they go into captivity among their enemies, I will there command the sword to slay them, some interpreters confine this part to that foolish flight, when a certain number of the people sought to provide for their safety by going down into Egypt. Johanan followed them, and a few escaped, (Jeremiah 43:2) but according to what Jeremiah had foretold, when he said, ‘Bend your necks to the king of Babylon, and the Lord will bless you; whosoever will flee to Egypt shall perish;’ so it happened: they found this to be really true, though they had ever refused to believe the prediction. Jeremiah was drawn there contrary to the wish of his own mind: he had, however, pronounced a curse on all who thought that it would be an asylum to them. But the Lord permitted him to be drawn there, that he might to his last breath pronounce the Woe, which they had before heard from his mouth. But I hardly dare thus to restrict these expressions of the Prophet: I therefore explain them generally, as meaning, that exile, which is commonly said to be a civil death, would not be the end of evils to the Israelites and to the Jews; for even when they surrendered themselves to their enemies, and suffered themselves to be led and drawn away wherever their enemies pleased, they could not yet even in this way preserve their life, because the Lord would command the sword to pursue them even when exiles. This, in my view, is the real meaning of the Prophet.
He at last subjoins, I will set my eyes on them for evil, and not for good. There is a contrast to be understood in this clause: for the Lord had promised to be a guardian to his people, according to what is said in Psalms 121:4,‘
Behold, he who guards Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.’
As hypocrites ever lay hold on the promises of God without repentance and faith, without any religious feeling, and afterwards turn them to support their vain boasting, the Prophet therefore says here, that the eye of God would be upon them, not indeed in his wonted manner to protect them, as he had done from the beginning, but, on the contrary, to accumulate punishment on punishment: it was the same thing as though he said, “As I have hitherto watched over the safety of this people, whom I have chosen for myself, so I will hereafter most sedulously watch, that I may omit no kind of punishment, until they be utterly destroyed.”
And this sentence deserves to be specially noticed; for we are reminded, that though the Lord does not indeed spare unbelievers, he yet more closely observes us, and that he will punish us more severely, if he sees us to be obstinate and incurable to the last. Why so? Because we have come nearer to him, and he looks on us as his family, placed under his eyes; not that anything is hid or concealed from him, but the Scripture speaks after the manner of men. While God then favors his people with a gracious look, he yet cannot endure hypocrites; for he minutely observes their vices, that he may the more severely punish them. This then is the substance of the whole. It follows —
The Prophet repeats here nearly the same words with those we explained yesterday: he used then the similitude of a flood, which he again mentions here. But as the first clause is capable of various explanations, I will refer to what others think, and then to what I deem the most correct view. This sentence, that the earth trembles, when it is smitten by God, is usually regarded as a general declaration; and the Prophets do often exalt the power of God in order to fill us with fear, and of this we shall see an instance in the next verse. Yet I doubt not but that this is a special threatening. The Lord Jehovah, then, he says, will smite the land, and it will tremble.
Then follows the similitude of which we spoke yesterday, Mourn shall all who dwell in it; and then, It will altogether ascend as a river Here he intimates that there would be a deluge, so that the face of the earth would not appear. Ascend then shall the land as a river. The ascent of the earth would be nothing else but inundation, which would cover its surface. He afterwards adds, “and it shall be sunk”; that is, every convenience for dwelling: this is not to be understood strictly, as I have said, of the land, but is rather to be referred to men, or to the use which men make of the earth. Sunk then shall it be as by the river of Egypt We have said that Egypt loses yearly its surface, when the Nile inundates it. But as the inundation of the river is given to the Egyptians for fertilizing the land and of rendering its produce more abundant, so the Prophet here declares that the land would be like the sea, so that there would no longer be any habitation. It now follows —
The Prophet describes now in general terms the power of God, that he might the more impress his hearers, and that they might not heedlessly reject what he had previously threatened respecting their approaching ruin; for he had said, ‘Lo, God will smite the land, and it shall tremble.’ This was special. Now as men received with deaf ears those threatening, and thought that God in a manner trifled with them, the Prophet added, by way of confirmation, a striking description of the power of God; as though he said, “Ye do hear what God denounces: now, as he has clothed me with his own authority, and commanded me to terrify you by setting before you your punishment, know ye that you have to do with God himself, whose majesty ought to make you all, and all that you are, to tremble: for what sort of Being is this God, whose word is regarded by you with contempt? God is he who builds for himself chambers (62) in the heavens, who founds his jointings (63) (some render it bundles) in the earth, who calls the waters of the sea, and pours them on the face of the earth”; in a word, He is Jehovah, whose being is in himself alone: and ye exist only through his powers and whenever he pleases, he can with-draw his Spirits and then vanish must this whole world, of which ye are but the smallest particles. Since then He alone is God, and there is in you but a momentary strength, and since this great power of God, the evidences of which he affords you through the whole order of nature, is so conspicuous to you, how is it that ye are so heedless?” We now perceive why the Prophet exalts in so striking a manner the power of God.
First, in saying that God builds for himself his ascendings ( ascensiones ) in the heavens, he alludes no doubt, to the very structure of the heavens; for the element of air, we know, rises upwards, on account of its being light; and then the element of fire comes nearer to what heaven is; then follow the spheres as then the whole world above the earth is much more favorable to motion, this is the reason why the Prophet says that God has his ascents in the heavens. God indeed stands in no need of the heavens or of the air as an habitation, for he is contained in no place, being one who cannot be contained: but it is said, for the sake of men, that God is above all heavens: he is then located in his own elevated throne. But he says that he founds for himself his jointing on the earth, for this part of the world is more solid, the element of earth being grosser and denser, and therefore more firm. So also the waters, though lighter than the earth, approach it nearest. God then builds in the heavens. It is a mechanism which is in itself wonderful: when one raises to heaven his eyes, and then looks on the earth, is he not constrained to stand amazed? The Prophet then exhibits here before our eyes the inconceivable power of God, that we may be impressed by his words, and know with whom we have to do, when he denounces punishment.
He further says, Who calls the waters of the sea, and pours them on the face of the earth This change is in itself astonishing; God in a short time covers the whole heaven: there is a clear brightness, in a moment clouds supervene, which darken the whole heaven, and thick waters are suspended over our heads. Who could say that the whole sky could be so suddenly changed? God by his own command and bidding does all this alone. He calls then the waters of the sea, and pours them down Though rains, we know, are formed in great measure by vapors from the earth, yet we also know that these vapors arise from the sea, and that the sea chiefly supplies the dense abundance of moisture. The Prophet then, by taking a part for the whole, includes here all the vapors, by which rain is formed. He calls them the waters of the sea; God by his own power alone creates the rain, by raising vapors from the waters; and then he causes them to descend on the whole face of the earth. Since then the Lord works so wonderfully through the whole order of nature, what do we think will take place, when he puts forth the infinite power of his hand to destroy men, having resolved to execute the extreme judgment which he has decreed?
(62) Caenacula , in other places, ascensiones , and more correctly; for מעלות is properly ascents, steps to ascend, stairs; and hence, the places ascended to, chambers.
(63) Coagmentationes suas — his joinings, cementings; but אנדתו is in the singular number. It is difficult to ascertain its meaning. It occurs not as a verb, but from its application, its ideal meaning seems to be, to join or bind together, so as to form a compact body. It is applied in 2 Samuel 2:25, to designate a troop, a compact body of men. It signifies in Exodus 12:22, a bundle of hyssop. Newcome renders it a storehouse, deriving its meaning from the Chaldee; and Henderson renders it vault, tracing it from the Arabic, and says that it signifies the vault or arch of heaven, the hemispheric expanse, which apparently to the eye is founded on the earth; but a band or troop has been its most common acceptation.
It must be borne in mind, that it must be something on earth that corresponds or forms a contrast with ascents in the heavens. God has his ascendings, or as it were, his steps or stairs in the heavens, along which, speaking after the manner of men, he ascends: then what has he on earth? It seems to me that something firm, solid, compacted, is intended; and the earth is said to be his footstool. Hence a firm footing, standing, or station, appears to be the meaning of the word. The French translation is —
Qui fonde son batiment sur la terre — “Who founds his building on the earth.”—
The Prophet shows here to the Israelites that their dignity would be no defense to them, as they expected. We have indeed seen in many places how foolish was the boasting of that people. Though they were more bound to God than other nations, they yet heedlessly boasted that they were a holy nation, as if indeed they had something of their own, but as Paul says, they were nothing. God had conferred on them singular benefits; but they were adorned with the plumes of another. Foolish then and absurd was their glorying, when they thought themselves to be of more worth in the sight of God than other nations. But as this foolish conceit had blinded them, the Prophet says now, “Whom do you think yourselves to be? Ye are to me as the children of the Ethiopians I indeed once delivered you, not that I should be bound to you, but rather that I should have you bound to me, for ye have been redeemed through my kindness.” Some think that the Israelites are compared to the Ethiopians, as they had not changed their skin, that is, their disposition; but this view I reject as strained. For the Prophet speaks here more simply, namely, that their condition differed nothing from that of the common class of men: “Ye do excel, but ye have nothing apart from me; if I take away from you what is mine, what will you have then remaining?” The emphasis is on the word, to me, What are ye to me? For certainly they excelled among men; but before God they could bring nothing, since they had nothing of their own: nay, the more splendidly God adorned them, the more modestly and humbly they ought to have conducted themselves, seeing that they were bound to him for so many of his favors. But as they had forgotten their own condition, despised all the Prophets and felicitated themselves in their vices, he says, Are ye not to me as the children of the Ethiopians, as foreign and the most alien nations? for what that is worthy of praise can I find in you? If then I look on you, what are ye? I certainly see no reason to prefer you even to the most obscure nations.”
He afterwards adds, Have I not made to ascend, or brought, Israel from the land of Egypt? Here the Prophet reminds them of their origin. Though they had indeed proceeded from Abraham, who had been chosen by God four hundred years before their redemption; yet, if we consider how cruelly they were treated in Egypt, that tyrannical servitude must certainly appear to have been like the grave. They then began to be a people, and to attain some name, when the Lord delivered them from Egypt. The Prophet’s language is the same as though he had said, “Look whence the Lord has brought you out; for ye were as a dead carcass, and of no account: for the Egyptians treated your fathers as the vilest slaves: God brought you thence; then you have no nobility or excellency of your own, but the beginning of your dignity has proceeded from the gratuitous kindness of God. Yet ye think now that ye excel others, because ye have been redeemed: God has also redeemed the Philistines, when they were the servants of the Cappadocians; and besides, he redeemed the Syrians when they were servants to other nations.”
Some take קיר, kir, to mean Cyrene; but as this is uncertain, I pass it by as doubtful. Whatever it was, there is no ground of dispute about the subject itself; for it is certain that the Israelites are here compared with the Philistines as well as with the Syrians, inasmuch as all had been alike redeemed by the Lord, and this favor was common to all of whom he speaks. As God then pitied in former ages other nations, it was certainly not peculiar to the race of Abraham, that they had been freed by God, and by means of extraordinary miracles: “Even the Philistine will say the same, and the Syrians will say the same; but yet ye say that they are profane nations. Since it is so, ye are now divested of all excellency, that is, there is nothing of your own in you, that ye should exalt yourselves above other nations.” This is the meaning. It now follows —
Here the Prophet concludes that God would take vengeance on the Israelites as on other nations, without any difference; for they could not set up anything to prevent his judgment. It was indeed an extraordinary blindness in the Israelites, who were doubly guilty of ingratitude, to set up as their shield the benefits with which they had been favored. Though then the name of God had been wickedly and shamefully profaned by them, they yet thought that they were safe, because they had been once adopted. This presumption Amos now beats down. Behold, he says, the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are upon all the wicked Some restrict this to the kingdom of Israel, but, in my opinion, such a view militates against the design of the Prophet. He speaks indefinitely of all kingdoms as though he had said, that God would be the judge of the whole world, that he would spare no kingdoms or countries. God then will show himself everywhere to be the punisher of vices, and will summon all kingdoms before his tribunal, By destroying I will destroy from the face of the earth all the ungodly and the wicked.
Now the second clause I understand otherwise than most do: for they think it contains a mitigation of punishment, as the Prophets are wont to blend promises of favor with threatening, and as our Prophet does in this chapter. But it seems not to me that anything is promised to the Israelites: nay, if I am not much mistaken, it is an ironical mode of speaking; for Amos obliquely glances here at that infatuated presumption, of which we have spoken, that the Israelites thought that they were safe through some peculiar privilege, and that they were to be exempt from all punishment: “I will not spare unbelievers,” he says, “who excuse themselves by comparing themselves with you. Shall I tolerate your sins and not dare to touch you, seeing that you know yourselves to be doubly wicked?” We must indeed notice in what other nations differed from the Israelites; for the more the children of Abraham had been raised, the more they increased their guilt when they despised God, the author of so many blessings, and became basely wanton by shaking off, as it were, the yoke. Since then they so ungratefully abused God’s blessings, God might then have spared other nations: it was therefore necessary to bring them to punishment, for they were wholly inexcusable. As then they exceeded all other nations in impiety, the Prophet very properly reasons here from the greater to the less: “I take an account,” he says, “of all the sins which are in the world, and no nations shall escape my hand: how then can the Israelites escape? For other nations can plead some ignorance, as they have never been taught; and that they go astray in darkness is no matter of wonder. But ye, to whom I have given light, and whom I have daily exhorted to repent, — shall ye be unpunished? How could this be? I should not then be the judge of the world.” We now then perceive the real meaning of the Prophet: “Lo,” he says “the eyes of Jehovah are upon every sinful kingdom; I will destroy all the nations who have sinned from the face of the earth, though they have the pretense of ignorance for their sins; shall I not now, forsooth, destroy the house of Israel?” Here then the Prophet speaks ironically, Except that I shall not destroy by destroying the house of Israel; that is, “Do you wish me to be subservient to you, as though my hands were tied, that I could not take vengeance on you? what right have you to do this? and what can hinder me from punishing ingratitude so great and so shameful?”
He afterwards adds, For, lo, I will command, etc. The Prophet here confirms the former sentence; and hence I conclude that the second part of the preceding verse is ironically expressed; for if he had promised pardon to the Israelites, he would have gone on with the same subject; but, on the contrary, he proceeds in another direction, and says, that God would justly punish the Israelites; for the event would at length make it known, that among them not even a grain would be found, but that all would be like chaff or refuse: Lo, he says, I will shake among the nations the Israelites as corn is shaken in a sieve: a grain, he says, shall not fall on the earth; as though he said, “Though I shall scatter the Israelites through various places that they may be dispersed here and there, yet this exile shall ever be like a sieve: they now contend with me, when any grain has fallen. The event then shall show, that there is in them nothing but chaff and filth; for I will by sieving cleanse my whole floor, and nothing shall be found to remain on it.” If one objects and says, that there were some godly persons in that nation, though very small in number. This I admit to be true: but the Prophet speaks here, as in many other places, of the whole nation; he refers not to individuals. It was then true, with regard to the body of the people of Israel, that there was not one among them who could be compared to grain, for all had become empty through their iniquities; and hence they necessarily disappeared in the sieve, and were like chaff or refuse.
But it must be observed, that God here cuts off the handle for evasion, for hypocrites ever contend with him; and although they cannot wholly clear themselves, they yet extenuate their sins, and accuse God of too much severity. The Prophet then anticipates such objections, “I will command,” he says, “and will shake the house of Israel as corn is shaken.” It was a very hard lot, when the people were thus driven into different parts of the world; it was indeed a dreadful tearing. The Israelites might have complained that they were too severely treated; but God by this similitude obviates this calumny, “They are indeed scattered in their exile, yet they remain in a sieve; I will shake them, he says, among the nations: but not otherwise than corn when shaken in a sieve: and it is allowed by the consent of all that corn ought to be cleansed. Though the greater part disappears when the corn, threshed on the floor, is afterwards subjected to the fan; yet there is no one but sees that this is necessary and reasonable: no one complains that the chaff thus perishes. Why so? Because it is useless. God then shows that he is not cruel, nor exceeds moderation, though he may scatter his people through the remote regions of the earth, for he ever keeps them in a sieve.
He afterwards adds, And fall shall not a grain on the earth They translate צרור, tsarur, a stone, but צרר, tsarer is to tie, and hence this word means what is collected or, binding, as when the children of Jacob had their money tied in their sacks, they said, ‘Behold my binding;’ so also now it is taken for the solid grain. God then intimates that he would not be so rigid as not to moderate his punishment, so as to spare the innocent. I have already said that though there would be still a remnant among the people, yet what the Prophet says is true as to the whole body; for it had nothing either sound or pure. But this objection might be made: It is certain that many faithful worshipers of God were taken away into exile with the wicked; they then fell on the earth as useless chaff or refuse; but God denies that this would be the case. To this I answer, that though the Lord involves his servants with the ungodly when he executes temporal punishment, he is yet ever propitious to them; and it is certain, that however hardly they may be dealt with, they yet do not expostulate; they groan, indeed, but at the same time they acknowledge that they are mercifully treated by the Lord.
But another thing must also be remembered, — that though the Lord would not have dealt so severely with his people, had they been like the few who were good, yet not one of them was without some fault. Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, were indeed like angels among men; and it was indeed a miracle, that they stood upright in the midst of so much impiety; they were yet led into captivity. When they approached God, they could not object, that they were punished beyond what they deserved. Worthy, indeed, was Jeremiah of heavier punishment; and so was Daniel, though an example of the highest and even of angelic integrity. God then could have cast them away as refuse: it is nevertheless certain that they were wheat; and the Lord shook them in the sieve like the chaff, yet so as ever to keep them gathered under his protection; but at the same time in a hidden manner: as, for instance, the wheat on the floor is beaten together with the chaff, this is common to both; no difference can be observed in the threshing. True is this, and the case is the same when the wheat is being winnowed. When therefore the wheat is gathered, it is, together with the chaff, to be sifted by the fan, without any difference; but the wheat remains. So also it happened to the pious worshipers of God; the Lord kept them collected in the sieve. But here he speaks of the people in general; and he says that the whole people were like refuse and filth, and that they vanished, because there was no solidity in them, no use to be made of them, so that no one remained in the sieve. That God then preserved his servants, was an instance of his wonderful working. But the denunciation of punishment, here spoken of, belonged to the outward dealings of God. As then the people were like refuse or chaff shaken and driven to various places, this happened to them justly, because nothing solid was found in them. It now follows —
Amos goes on with the same subject, — that God without any measure of cruelty would execute extreme vengeance on a reprobate people: Die, he says, by the sword all the wicked of my people. In naming the wicked of the people, he meant no doubt to include the whole people; though if any one thinks that the elect are by implication excepted, who were mixed with the ungodly, I do not object: this is probable; but yet the Prophet speaks here of the people generally. He says that the wicked of the people would perish by the sword: for it was not the sin of a few that Amos here refers to, but the sin which prevailed among the whole nation. Then all the wicked of my people shall die by the sword. He points out what sort of people they were, or at least he mentions the chief mark by which their impiety might be discovered, — they obstinately despised all the judgments of God, They say, It will not draw near; nor lay hold on our account, the evil.
Security then, which of itself ever generates a contempt of God, is here mentioned as the principal mark of impiety. And doubtless the vices of men reach a point that is past hope, when they are touched neither by fear nor shame, but expect God’s judgments without any concern or anxiety. Since then they thus drove far away from themselves all threatening, while at the same time they were ill at ease with themselves, and as it were burying themselves in deep caverns, and seeking false peace to their consciences, they were in a torpor, or rather stupor, incapable of any remedy. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Prophet lays down here this mark of security, when he is showing that there was no remnant of a sound mind in this people. Die then shall all the wicked by the sword, even those who say, It will not draw near; nor anticipate us, on our account, the evil: for we can not explain the word הקדים, ekodim, in any other way than by referring it to the threatening. For the Prophets, we know, commonly declared that the day of the Lord was at hand, that his hand was already armed, that it had already seized the sword. As then the Prophets, in order to smite despisers with fear, were wont to threaten a near punishment; so the Prophet does here; wishing to expose the impious stupor of the people, he says, “You think that there will not be such haste as is foretold to you by the Prophets; but this sheer perverseness will be the cause of your ruin.”
As to the expression, It will not come on our account, from a regard to us, it deserves to be noticed. Though hypocrites confess in general, that they cannot escape the hand of God, yet they still separate themselves from the common class, as if they are secured by some peculiar privilege. They therefore set up something in opposition to God, that they may not be blended with others. This folly the Prophet indirectly condemns by saying, that hypocrites are in a quiet and tranquil state, because they think that there will be to them no evil in common with the rest, as also they say in Isaiah 28:15, ‘The scourge, if it passes, will not yet reach us.’ We now then see what the Prophet has hitherto taught, and the meaning of these four verses which we have just explained. Now follows the promise —
Here now the Prophet begins to set forth the consolation, which alone could support the minds of the godly under afflictions so severe. Threatening alone might have cast the strongest into despair; but the event itself must have overwhelmed whatever hope there might have been. Hence the Prophet now applies comfort by saying, that God would punish the sins of the people of Israel in such a way as to remember still his own promise. We know, that whenever the Prophets designed to give some hope to a distressed people, they set forth the Messiah, for in him all the promises of God, as Paul says, are Yea and Amen, (2 Corinthians 1:20) and there was no other remedy for the dispersion than for God to gather all the scattered members under one head. Hence, when the head is taken away, the Church has no head; especially when it is scattered and torn, as was the case after the time of Amos. It is no wonder then that the Prophets, after having prophesied of the destruction of the people, such as happened after the two kingdoms were abolished, should recall the minds of the faithful to the Messiah; for except God had gathered the Church under one head, there would have been no hope. This is, therefore, the order which Amos now observes.
In that day, he says, will I raise up the tabernacle of David: as though he had said, that the only hope would be, when the redeemers who had been promised would appear. This is the import of the whole. After having shown then that the people had no hope from themselves, for God had tried all means, but in vain and after having denounced their final ruin, he now subjoins, “The Lord will yet have mercy on his people, for he will remember his covenant.” How will this be? “The Redeemer shall come.” We now then understand the design of the Prophet and the meaning of the verse.
But when he speaks of the tabernacle of David, he refers, I doubt not, to the decayed state of things; for a tabernacle does notcomport with royal dignity. It is the same as though Amos had said, “Though the house of David is destitute of all excellency, and is like a mean cottage, yet the Lord will perform what he has promised; he will raise up again his kingdom, and restore to him all the power which has been lost.” The Prophet then had regard to that intervening time, when the house of David was deprived of all splendor and entirely thrown down. I will then raise up the tabernacle of David: he might have said the tabernacle of Jesse; but he seems to have designedly mentioned the name of David, that he might the more fully strengthen the minds of the godly in their dreadful desolation, so that they might with more alacrity flee to the promise: for the name of Jesse was more remote. As then the name of David was in repute, and as this oracle,‘
Of the fruit of thy loins I will set on thy throne,’ (Psalms 132:11)
was commonly known, the Prophet brings forward here the house of David, in order that the faithful might remember that God had not in vain made a covenant with David: The tabernacle then of David will I then raise up, and will fence in its breaches, and its ruins will I raise up; and I will build it as in the days of old Thus the Prophet intimates that not only the throne of David would be overthrown but also that nothing would remain entire in his mean booth, for it would decay into ruins and all things would be subverted. In short, he intimates that mournful devastation would happen to the whole family of David. He speaks, as it is well understood, metaphorically of the tabernacle: but the sense is clear, and that is, that God would restore the royal dignity, as in former times, to the throne of David.
This is a remarkable prediction, and deserves to be carefully weighed by us. It is certain that the Prophet here refers to the advent of Christ; and of this there is no dispute, for even the Jews are of this opinion, at least the more moderate of them. There are indeed those of a shameless front, who pervert all Scripture without any distinction: these and their barking we may pass by. It is however agreed that this passage of the Prophet cannot be otherwise explained than of the Messiah: for the restitution of David’s family was not to be expected before his time; and this may easily be learnt from the testimonies of other Prophets. As then the Prophet here declares, that a Redeemer would come, who would renew the whole state of the kingdom, we see that the faith of the Fathers was ever fixed on Christ; for in the whole world it is he alone who has reconciled us to God: so also, the fallen Church could not have been restored otherwise than under one head, as we have already often stated. If then at this day we desire to raise up our minds to God, Christ must immediately become a Mediator between us; for when he is taken away, despair will ever overwhelm us, nor can we attain any sure hope. We may indeed be raised up by some wind or another; but our empty confidence will shortly come to nothing, except we have a confidence founded on Christ alone. This is one thing. We must secondly observe, that the interruption, when God overthrew the kingdom, I mean, the kingdom of Judah, is not inconsistent with the prediction of Jacob and other similar predictions. Jacob indeed had said,‘
Taken away shall not be the scepter from Judah, nor a lawgiver from his bosom, or from his feet, until he shall come, the Shiloh,’ (Genesis 49:10)
Afterwards followed this memorable promise,‘
Sit of thy progeny on thy throne shall he, who shall call me his Father, and in return I will call him my Son, and his throne shall perpetually remain,’ (Psalms 132:11)
Here is promised the eternity of the kingdom; and yet we see that this kingdom was diminished under Rehoboam, we see that it was distressed with many evils through its whole progress, and at length it was miserably destroyed, and almost extinguished; nay, it had hardly the name of a kingdom, it had no splendor, no throne, no dignity, no scepter, no crown. It then follows, that there seems to be an inconsistency between these events and the promises of God. But the Prophets easily reconcile these apparent contrarieties; for they say, that for a time there would be no kingdom, or at least that it would be disturbed by many calamities, so that there would appear no outward form of a kingdom, and no visible glory. As then they say this, and at the same time add, that there would come a restoration, that God would establish this kingdom by the power of his Christ, — as then the Prophets say this, they show that its perpetuity would really appear and be exhibited in Christ. Though then the kingdom had for some time fallen, this does not militate against the other predictions. This then is the right view of the subject: for Christ at length appeared, on whose head rests the true diadem or crown, and who has been elected by Gods and is the legitimate king, and who, having risen from the dead, reigns and now sits at the Father’s right hand, and his throne shall not fail to the end of the world; nay, the world shall be renovated, and Christ’s kingdom shall continue, though in another form, after the resurrection, as Paul shows to us; and yet Christ shall be really a king for ever.
And the Prophet, by saying, as in ancient days, confirms this truth, that the dignity of the kingdom would not continue uniform, but that the restoration would yet be such as to make it clearly evident that God had not in vain promised an eternal kingdom to David. Flourish then shall the kingdom of David for ever. But this has not been the case; for when the people returned from exile, Zerobabel, it is true, and also many others, obtained kingly power; yet what was it but precarious? They became even tributaries to the kings of the Persian and of the Medes. It then follows, that the kingdom of Israel never flourished, nor had there existed among the people anything but a limited power; we must, therefore, necessarily come to Christ and his kingdom. We hence see that the words of the Prophet cannot be otherwise understood than of Christ. It follows —
By these words the Prophet shows that the kingdom under Christ would be more renowned and larger than it had ever been under David. Since then the kingdom had been greatest in dignity, and wealth, and power, in the age of David, the Prophet here says, that its borders would be enlarged; for then he says, Possess shall the Israelites the remnant of Edom He speaks here in common of the Israelites and of the Jews, as before, at the beginning of the last chapter, he threatened both. But we now apprehend what he means, — that Edom shall come under the yoke.
And it is sufficiently evident why he mentions here especially the Idumeans, and that is because they had been most inveterate enemies; and vicinity gave them greater opportunity for doing harm. As then the Idumeans harassed the miserable Jews, and gave them no respite, this is the reason why the Prophet says that they would come under the power of his elect people. He afterwards adds, that all nations would come also to the Jews. He speaks first of the Idumeans, but he also adds all other nations. I cannot finish today.
Here the Prophet describes the felicity which shall be under the reign of Christ: and we know that whenever the Prophets set forth promises of a happy and prosperous state to God’s people, they adopt metaphorical expressions, and say, that abundance of all good things shall flow, that there shall be the most fruitful produce, that provisions shall be bountifully supplied; for they accommodated their mode of speaking to the notions of that ancient people; it is therefore no wonders if they sometimes speak to them as to children. At the same time, the Spirit under these figurative expressions declares, that the kingdom of Christ shall in every way be happy and blessed, or that the Church of God, which means the same thing, shall be blessed, when Christ shall begin to reign.
Hence he says, Coming are the days, saith Jehovah, and the plowman shall draw nigh, or meet, the reaper The Prophet no doubt refers to the blessing mentioned by Moses in Leviticus 26:5 for the Prophets borrowed thence their mode of speaking, to add more credit and authority to what they taught. And Moses uses nearly the same words, — that the vintage shall meet the harvest, and also that sowing shall meet the plowing: and this is the case, when God supplies abundance of corn and wine, and when the season is pleasant and favorable. We then see what the Prophet means, that is, that God would so bless his people, that he would suffer no lack of good things.
The plowman then shall come nigh the reaper; and the treader of grapes, the bearer of seed. When they shall finish the harvest, they shall begin to plow, for the season will be most favorable; and then when they shall complete their vintage, they shall sow. Thus the fruitfulness, as I have said, of all produce is mentioned.
The Prophet now speaks in a hyperbolical language, and says, Mountains shall drop sweetness, and all the hills shall melt, that is, milk shall flow down. We indeed know that this has never happened; but this manner of speaking is common and often occurs in Scripture. The sum of the whole is, that there will be no common or ordinary abundance of blessings, but what will exceed belief, and even the course of nature, as the very mountains shall as it were flow down. It now follows —
As the prophecy we have noticed was one difficult to be believed, especially when the people were led away into exile, the Prophet comes to the help of this lack of faith, and shows that this would be no hindrance to God to lead his people to the felicity of which he speaks. These things seem indeed to be quite contrary, the one to the other, — that the people, spoiled of all dignity, should be driven to a far country to live in miserable exile, and that they should also be scattered into various parts and oppressed by base tyranny; — and that at the same time a most flourishing condition should be promised them, and that such an extension of their kingdom should be promised them, as had never been previously witnessed. Lest then their present calamities should fill their minds with fear and bind them fast in despair; he says that the Israelites shall return from exile, not indeed all; but as we have already seen, this promise is addressed to the elect alone: at the same time he speaks here simply of the people. But, this prophecy is connected with other prophecies: it ought not therefore to be extended except to that remnant seed, of whom we have before taken notice.
Restore then will I the captivity of my people Israel; and then, They shall build nested cities and dwell there; they shall plant vineyards, and their wine shall they drink; they shall make gardens, and shall eat their fruit. He reminds the people here of the blessings mentioned in the Law. They must indeed have known that the hand of the Lord was opposed to them in their exile. Hence the Prophet now shows, that as soon as the Lord would again begin to be propitious to them, there would be a new state of things; for when God shows his smiling countenance, prosperity follows and a blessed success in all things. This then is what the Prophet now intends to show, that the miserable exiles might not faint in despair, when the Lord chastised them. It follows at last —
The Prophet further mentions here a quiet dwellings in the land, for it was not enough for the people to be restored to their country, except they lived there in safety and quietness; for they might soon afterwards have been removed again. It would have been better for them to pine away in exile, than to be restored for the sake, as it were, of sporting with them, and in a short time to be again conquered by their enemies, and to be led away into another country. Therefore the Prophet says, that the people, when restored, would be in a state of tranquillity.
And he uses a most suitable comparison, when he says, I will plant them in their own land, nor shall they be pulled up any more: for how can we have a settled place to dwell in, except the Lord locates us somewhere? We are indeed as it were flitting beings on the earth, and we may at any moment be tossed here and there as the chaff. We have therefore no settled dwelling, except as far as we are planted by the hand of God, or as far as God assigns to us a certain habitation, and is pleased to make us rest in quietness. This is what the Prophet means by saying, I will plant them in their own land, nor shall they any more be pulled up How so? “Because, he says, I have given to them the land”. He had indeed given it to them before, but he suffered them to be pulled up when they had polluted the land. But now God declares that his grace would outweigh the sins of the people; as though he said, “However unworthy the people are, who dwell in this land, my gift will yet be effectual: for I will not regard what they deserve at my hands, but as I have given them this land, they shall obtain it.” We now apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
Now, if we look on what afterwards happened, it may appear that this prophecy has never been fulfilled. The Jews indeed returned to their own country, but it was only a small number: and besides, it was so far from being the case, that they ruled over neighboring nations, that they became on the contrary tributaries to them: and further still, the limits of their rule were ever narrow, even when they were able to shake off the yoke. In what sense then has God promised what we have just explained? We see this when we come to Christ; for it will then be evident that nothing has been in vain foretold: though the Jews have not ruled as to the outward appearance, yet the kingdom of God was then propagated among all nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun; and then, as we have said in other places, the Jews reigned.
Further, what is here said of the abundance of corn and wine, must be explained with reference to the nature of Christ’s kingdom. As then the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is enough for us, that it abounds in spiritual blessings: and the Jews, whom God reserved for himself as a remnant, were satisfied with this spiritual abundance.
If any one objects and says, that the Prophet does not speak here allegorically; the answer is ready at hand, even this, — that it is a manner of speaking everywhere found in Scripture, that a happy state is painted as it were before our eyes, by setting before us the conveniences of the present life and earthly blessings: this may especially be observed in the Prophets, for they accommodated their style, as we have already stated, to the capacities of a rude and weak people. But as this subject has been discussed elsewhere more at large, I only touch on it now as in passing and lightly. Now follows the Prophecy of Obadiah, who is commonly called Abdiah. (66)
End of the Commentaries on Amos.
(66) There is no Prayer here, for the Lecture is not completed: it includes a portion of the Book of Obadiah. — Ed.