Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 27: Joel, Amos, Obadiah, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel.
1. Audite verbum hoc quod ego tollo super vos, lamentum domus Israel.
Some render the verse thus, “Hear ye this word, because upon you, or for you, I raise a lamentation:” but we shall hereafter speak more at large as to the proper rendering. Let us see what the subject is. The Prophet here denounces on the Israelites the punishment they had deserved; and yet they did not think that it was nigh; and they ferociously despised, I have no doubt, the denunciation itself, because no chance had as yet taken place, which might have pointed out such a destruction. Hence the Prophet and his threatenings were both despised.
He however threatens them here in severe terms with the judgment of God, which they feared not: and this is the reason why he says, Hear ye. It was not, indeed, without reason that he thus began and intimated that they greatly flattered themselves, nay, that they stopped their ears against wholesome counsels: the admonition would have been otherwise superfluous. The Prophet then indirectly reproves that supine indifference in which the Israelites indulged themselves.
But with regard to the words, some, as I have before mentioned, refer this lamentation to Amos himself, as though he had said, that he lamented the state of the people, finding that they were so stupid, and did not perceive how dreadful the wrath of God is. Since, then, they thus flattered themselves in their sins, those interpreters think that the Prophet here assumes the character of a mourner for that irreclaimable people. Hear, he says, this word even because I lament over you. For the more refractory the people were, the more touched with grief the prophet no doubt was: for he saw how horrible the judgment of God was, which was nigh them, on account of their stubbornness. No wonder then that the Prophet says here, that he undertook or raised lamentation for the people; and this mode of speaking is common in Scripture.
But yet I rather think that another sense is more suitable to this place, which becomes evident by putting in an exegetic particle, Hear ye then this word which I raise upon you, even a lamentation, etc. The word משא, mesha, rendered burden, is derived from the verb נשא, nusha, which means to raise up: and there is a striking allusion to the subject treated of here. For the Prophet does not here simply teach the people, nor comfort them, nor does he only warn them, but he denounces on them the last punishment. We hence see the import of the expression, to raise up a word; it was the same as though he said, “I lay on you this prophecy:” for a burden is laid on the shoulders of men when God’s wrath is denounced.
It afterwards follows, Even a lamentation, O house of Israel; which means, “I raise upon you a word, which will constrain you to mourn and lament: though now ye are so refractory against God, that ye spurn all warnings, and reject all threatening; yet this word shall at last prove mournful to you.” This seems to be the genuine sense of the Prophet: in the first place, he reproves the stupidity of the people of Israel, by demanding a hearing; then he reproves their contempt of God in despising all threatenings; and he shows also that this prophecy would prove mournful to them for having so long trifled with God, “The lament of the house of Israel shall be this word, which I now raise up upon you.” it follows —
2. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up.
2. Cecidit nec adjiciet ut resurgat virgo Israel: relicta est super terram suam; non est qui attollat.
This was substantially the vengeance which was now nigh the Israelites, though they rested securely, and even scorned all the threatening of God. The virgin of Israel, he says, has fallen Expounders have too refinedly explained the word virgin; for they think that the people of Israel are here called a virgin, because God had espoused them to himself, and that though they ought to have observed spiritual chastity towards God, they yet abandoned themselves to all kinds of pollutions: but a virgin, we know, is a title given for the most part by the Prophets to this or that people on account of their delicacies; for Babylon, no less than Samaria or the people of Israel, is called a virgin. Certainly this refined interpretation cannot be applied to Babylon, to Egypt, to Tyre, and to other places. I have therefore no doubt but the Prophet here arraigns the Israelites, because they, relying on their strength, indulged themselves. They were quiet in their own retreats, and when all kinds of blessings abounded, they lived daintily and sumptuously. As then they were indulging themselves in such pleasures he calls them a virgin. The virgin of Israel then has fallen, and shall no more rise again.
A condition may be here included, as an exhortation to repentance immediately follows: we may then fitly regard this as being understood, “except they timely repent:” otherwise the Israelites must have fallen without hope of restoration. But we may also refer this to the body of the people: fallen then had the virgin of Israel, not so however that they were all destroyed, as we shall hereafter see; for the Prophet says that the tenth part would remain: but this is rightly said of the people generally; for we know that the kingdom had so fallen, that it never afterwards did rise. A remnant of the tribe of Judah did indeed return to Jerusalem; but the Israelites are at this day dispersed though various parts of the world; yea, they are hid either in the mountains of Armenia, or in other regions of the East. Since then what the Prophet here denounces has been really fulfilled as to the whole kingdom, we may take the place without supposing any thing understood, “Fallen has the virgin of Israel.” For as God showed mercy when the people as a body were destroyed, that some remained, is what does not militate with the prophecy, that the whole body had fallen. Fallen then has the virgin of Israel, nor will she any more rise again; that is, the kingdom shall not by way of recovery be restored; and this, we know, has never taken place.
Forsaken is she, he says, on her own land, and there is none to raise her up; which means, that she will continue fallen: though she may remain in her own place, she will not yet recover what she had lost. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning; and, at the same time, we see that that people had so fallen, as never to rise again, as it has been stated, into a kingdom. Let us now proceed —
3. For thus saith the Lord God; The city that went out by a thousand shall leave an hundred, and that which went forth by an hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
3. Quia sic dicit Dominus Jehova, Urbs e qua egrediebantur mille, manebunt in ea centum; et e qua egrediebantur centum, manebunt (ad verbum, restabunt) decem domui Israel.
The Prophet now expresses more clearly what he had before said, — that the kingdom would perish and yet so that the Lord would preserve some remnants. Then as to the body of the people, Israel had fallen; but as to a few remnants they were saved; but they were a small numbers such as the Prophet mentions. We hence see that some hope of mercy was given to God’s chosen people, and that in the meantime destruction was denounced on the whole nation. We have already seen that their wickedness was past hope; it was therefore necessary to announce to them the sentence of final ruin; but it was so done, as not to drive to despair the faithful few, who remained hid among the multitude.
The city then, from which a thousand went forth, shall have a hundred remaining; and the city from which went forth a hundred, shall have ten. Armies were wont formerly to be decimated, when any sedition had been made: but God threatens the Israelites here with a much heavier judgment, that only the tenth part would be saved from ruin. We now then perceive the design of the Prophet. Now this could not alleviate the grief of the people; but the hypocrites were more exasperated, on hearing that few would be saved, and that all hope of deliverance was cut off from them. When, therefore, they saw that God dealt with them with so much severity, envy increased their griefs and more embittered their minds; and this was what the Prophet designed; for it was of no use to apply any solace to the despisers of God: but as God knew that there were some seed remaining among the people, he intended to provide for the miserable, who would have been a hundred times swallowed up with grief, had no mitigation been offered them. The Prophet then directs his discourse to the few, when he says, “In the city from which a thousand had gone forth there will be a hundred; and in that from which a hundred went forth, ten will remain alive.” It now follows —
4. For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:
4. Quia sic dicit Jehova domui Israel, Querite me, et vivetis.
5. But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.
5. Et ne quaeratis Bethel, et in Gilgal ne eatis, et ne transeatis in Berseba; quia Gilgal migrando migrabit, et Bethel erit in nih ilum (vel, in molestiam.)
6. Seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.
6. Quaerite Jehovam et vivetis; ne transeat (vel, scindat) quasi ignis domum Joseph, et absorbeat, et non sit extinguens in Bethel.
Amos here again exhorts the Israelites to repentance; and it was an address common to all, though the greater part, as we have said, were altogether past recovery; but it was necessary, as long as they continued a chosen people, to call them to repentance; for they had not been as yet abdicated. We further know, that the Prophets preached in order to invite some to God, and to render others inexcusable. With regard to the end and design of public teaching, it is, that all should in common be called: but God’s purpose is different; for he intends, according to his own secret counsel, to draw to himself the elect, and he designs to take away all excuse from the reprobate, that their obstinacy may be more and more apparent. We must further bear in mind, that while the people of Israel continued, the doctrine of repentance and faith was preserved among them; and the reason was that to which I have alluded, because they remained as yet in the fold of God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet gives again to the Israelites the hope of pardon, provided they repented.
Thus saith Jehovah to the house of Israel, Seek me, and ye shall live. This sentence has two clauses. In saying, Seek me, the Prophet exhorts the Israelites to return to a sane mind: and then he offers them the mercy of God, if only they sought from the heart to reconcile themselves to him. We have elsewhere said that men cannot be led to repentance, unless they believe that God will be propitious to them; for all who think him to be implacable, ever flee away from him, and dread the mention of his name. Hence, were any one through his whole life to proclaim repentance, he could effect nothing, except he were to connect with this the doctrine of faith, that is, except he were to show that God is ready to give pardon, if men only repent from the heart. These two parts, then, which ought not to be separated, the Prophet here connects together very wisely and for the best reason, when he says, Seek me, and ye shall live; intimating that the gate of mercy was still open, provided the Israelites did not persevere in their obstinacy. But, at the same time, he lays this to their charge, — that they willfully perished through their own fault; for he shows that in themselves was the only hindrance, that they were not saved; for God was not only ready to receive them into favor, but also anticipated and exhorted them, and of his own free will sought reconciliation. How then was it, that the Israelites despised the salvation offered to them? This was the madness which he now charges them with; for they preferred ruin to salvation, inasmuch as they returned not to God when he so kindly invited them, Seek me, and ye shall live The same thing is stated in another place, where it is said, that God seeketh not the death of a sinner, (Eze 18:32)
But as we have already said, the Prophets spoke thus in common to all the people, but their doctrine was not to all efficacious; for the Lord inwardly attracted his elect, and others were rendered inexcusable. But still this is true, that the whole blame, that they perished, were in the children of Israel, for they refused the salvation offered to them. What indeed was the cause of their destruction, but their own obstinacy? And the root of the evil, was it not in their own hearts? Then none of them could evade the charge made against them by the Prophet, — that they were the authors of their own ruin, for each of them must have been conscious of his own perverseness.
But Amos afterwards defines the character of true repentance, when he says, Seek not Bethel, go not to Gilgal, pass not over to Beersheba Some think that the Prophet here repudiates all the disguises, which are usually pretended by hypocrites. We indeed know that when God calls such men to himself, that they seek indirect and tortuous courses; for none of them return sincerely and willingly to God. Men indeed see that they are justly reproved for having departed from God: but when they are called back to him they take a circuitous course, as I have said, and not the straight road. Thus, though they pretend to seek God, they seek subterfuges that they may not present themselves to him. All this is no doubt true; but the Prophet advances farther; for he shows here, that the Israelites by going to Bethel not only lost all their labor, but also grievously offended God; for superstition was in itself condemnable. If Amos had preached at Jerusalem, he might have said, “Go not into the temple, for in vain ye offer sacrifices;” as indeed he does say hereafter, “Come not with your flock.” For he there shows, that God is not to be pacified by ceremonies; nay, in that very chapter, he rejects feast-days and sacrifices; but in this place he ascends higher, and says that these two things are wholly contrary — to seek God, and to seek Bethel; as though he said, “If ye from the heart return to me, renounce all the superstitions to which you have been hitherto attached.”
It is indeed a proof of true conversion, when the sinner is displeased with himself on account of his sins and hates the things which before pleased him and with a changed mind devotes himself wholly to God. It is of this that the Prophet now treats; as though he said, “If there is in you a purpose to return to God, cast away all your superstitions; for these two things — true religion and idolatry, cannot be joined together. As long then as ye remain fixed in that false worship, to which you have accustomed yourselves, ye continue alienated from God. Then reconciliation with him demands that you bid adieu to all your corrupt forms of worship.” The import of the whole then is this, — that the Israelites could not be reconciled to God, except they departed from their superstitions. Let them turn away, he says, from Bethel, and Gilgal, and Beersheba
We indeed know that the calves were made at Bethel; and Gilgal, no doubt, became celebrated for the passing of the people over Jordan, and also, as it is well known, for the circumcising of the children of Abraham; and as to Beersheba, we know that Abraham dwelt there for a long time, and frequently offered sacrifices to God. Now, this vicious zeal (κακοζηλία — evil zeal or affectation) ever prevails in the world; without reason or judgment it lays hold on something special, when it undertakes to set up the worship of God, as we see to be the case under the Papacy. But God has prescribed to us a certain rule according to which he is to be worshipped; it is not then his will that there should be a mixture of our inventions. When therefore the posterity of Abraham presumptuously availed themselves of his example, and when they extolled the memorable event of the circumcision, God repudiated all contrivances of this kind; for as it was well known, it was expressly his will to be worshipped at Jerusalem; and by appointing one tabernacle and one altar, he designed to cherish unity and concord among the people. We now then understand that it was the intention of Amos to show, that the conversion of the people would be fictitious, until they turned away from all the superstitions and vicious modes of worship, in which they had habituated themselves: hence, Seek not Bethel, come not is Gilgal, pass not over to Beersheba.
The same thing may be said at this day to those who wish to blend the dregs of the Papacy with the pure and holy worship of God; for there are at this day many go-betweens, (mediatores) who, while they see that our doctrine cannot be disapproved of, yet wish to contrive some middle course; that is, they wish to reconcile Popery with the doctrine of the Gospel. But the Prophet shows that such a mixture cannot be endured by God. How so? Because light cannot agree with darkness. Hence, corruptions, except they be abolished, will always subvert the true worship of God. We now see, that the lesson conveyed by this doctrine is, that the pure worship of God cannot be restored while the corruptions of the world, which are contrary to his word, prevail.
Come not then to Gilgal, for by migrating it shall migrate There is an alliteration in the words of the Prophet, “Gilgal by rolling shall be rolled;” for Gilgal means rolling. Were such a phraseology allowable, it would be this, “Gilgal by gilling shall be gilled;” that is, it shall be rolled with quick rolling. God intimates that this place, under the protection of which the Israelites thought themselves safe, would be destroyed, as it had been already destined for destruction. Gilgal then be migrating shall migrate; not that the place could remove, but that it would be wholly demolished, so that nothing should remain there but dreadful tokens of God’s vengeance.
He then adds, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live This repetition is not superfluous: the Prophet confirms what I have already stated, that such was the opposition between the true and legitimate worship of God, and idolatry and superstition, that the people of Israel, as long as they retained their corruptions, proved that they had nothing to do with God, whatever they may have pretended with their mouths and by their ceremonies. Seek God, he says, and ye shall live; and this repetition was very useful for this end, that hypocrites might know that they were justly condemned, inasmuch as they did not consecrate themselves wholly to God; for they were ever ready to contend with God whenever they could. “Why does God deal so strictly with us? why does he not concede to us at least something? for we do not deny him every thing. But if we do what we think to be right, why does he not indulge us at least on this account?” But when God not only urges hypocrites by his doctrine, but visits them also with punishments then they become angry, and even raise a clamor. Hence the Prophet, the second time, calls them to this duty, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live; as though he said, “Ye will gain nothing by evasion; for if any one seeks God truly and from the heart, God will not disappoint him; he will receive him into favor and will bless him. That ye then pine away in your calamities, impute this to your own obstinacy and stubbornness: it is so, because ye do not truly seek God; for while ye retain your corruptions, as I have said before, ye do not seek him.”
But he adds Lest he pass on like a fire. צלח, tselach, means to pass on, to advance; it means also to break out, and sometimes to prosper; but, in this place, the Prophet no doubt meant what I have said. Then it is, Lest he advance like fire upon the house of Joseph and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it in Bethel. The kind of vengeance which God threatened is not here expressed, but it may be easily understood. There is, therefore, in the meaning no obscurity; for he declares, that if the Israelites hardened their hearts against God, a burning was nigh at hand, which would seize on them, devour, and consume them. There shall come then or shall advance, a fire upon the house of Joseph; some say, shall burst out, which amounts to the same thing. By the house of Joseph is meant Ephraim; for he was, we know, the second son of Joseph; and, by taking a part for the whole, the Prophets usually include the ten tribes, as it is well known, when they mention Ephraim; and the kingdom of Israel is sometimes called the house of Joseph. Lest then he ascend as fire into the house of Joseph, and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it: this was said, because the Israelites never thought that they should be thus consumed by a sudden burning. The fire then shall devour the house of Joseph, and there will be none to quench it.
In the verse before I omitted one thing, to which I shall now advert. The Prophet said, that Bethel would be for a trouble, or be nothing. Bethel, we know, is called in another place Bethaven, the house of iniquity; and Aven means in Hebrew sometimes iniquity, sometimes grief or trouble, sometimes labor or difficulty, and sometimes nothing. It is not to be taken for iniquity in this place; this is certain: but Amos, on the contrary, speaks of punishment, which awaited that place, since it was abominable in the sight of God. As then he had said of Gilgal, that it would be rolled; so now he says of Bethel, that it would be for a trouble or grief, or be nothing. Either senses would be appropriate; — that Bethel, from which the Israelites hoped for a remedy to all their evils, would be to them a trouble, that is, the cause of their ruin, or that it would be nothing; as though he had said, that their hopes would be fallacious and empty in expecting any relief from Bethel. It afterwards follows —
7. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth.
7. Qui convertunt in absynthium judicium, et justitiam in terra dimittunt.
Here the Prophet, after having inveighed against superstitions, comes to the second table of the law. The Prophets are sometimes wont to shake off self-complacencies from hypocrites, when they spread before God their external veils, by saying that all their ceremonies are useless, except accompanied with integrity of heart: but in this place the Prophet expressly condemns in the Israelites two things; that is, that they had corrupted the true worship of God, departed from the doctrine of the law, and polluted themselves with ungodly superstitions; and he also reprehends them for their wicked and dishonest conduct towards men, — for their disregard of what was right and equitable, — for plunder, cruelty, and fraud. This second subject the Prophet handles, when he says, that they converted judgment into wormwood and allowed righteousness to fall on the ground. But the rest I must defer till tomorrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us to be so entangled, not only by depraved lusts, but also by the allurements of Satan, and by our own ignorance and blindness, — O grant, that being roused by thy word we may at the same time learn to open our eyes to thy wholesome warnings by which thou callest us to thyself: and since we cannot do this without thy Spirit being our guide and leader, grant that he may enlighten our eyes, to the end that, being truly and from the heart tarried to thee, we may know that thou art propitious and ready to hear all who unfeignedly seek thee, and that, being reconciled to thee in Christ, we may also know that thou art to us a propitious Father, and that thou wilt bestow on us all kinds of blessings, until thou at length gatherest us to thy celestial kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ye who convert judgment into wormwood, and leave righteousness on the ground. We stated yesterday why the Prophet added this sentence: he wished in every way to prove the Israelites guilty. Having inveighed against their superstitions, he now adds, that they acted also falsely and iniquitously towards men. And he attacks the chiefs who ruled the people, not because they were alone culpable, but because they drew with them the whole community. We know that diseases descend from the head to the whole body: and this is the reason why the Prophet directs his address especially to the rulers. He says that they turned judgment to wormwood. This similitude often occurs. Nothing, we know, is sweeter than justice, when every one gains his own right; for this serves much to preserve peace. Hence nothing can be more gratifying to us, than when uprightness and equity prevail. This is the reason why the Prophet calls that iniquitous state of things bitterness, when no regard is had for justice and rectitude. He says also that righteousness was cast down on the ground, or thrown to the ground. Now the judges ought to have defended what was right among the people: for this, we know, is the duty enjoined them: and the Prophet now lays this to their charge that they left justice on the ground — that they suffered it to lie prostrate. We now perceive the Prophet’s design. It follows —
8. Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:
8. Qui facit Pleiades et Orionem, qui convertit in lucem matutinam tenebras, et diem in noctem obtenebrescere facit: qui vocat aquas maris et effundit super superficiem terrae: Jehova nomen ejus.
Some interpreters connect this verse with the former, and think that what the Prophet had said before is here explained; but they are greatly mistaken, and misrepresent the meaning of the Prophet. We have indeed said, that the Prophet shows in that verse that the Israelites were not only perfidious and covenant-breakers with regard to God, having fallen away from his pure worship, but that they also acted iniquitously and dishonestly towards men: but these interpreters think that God is, by a metaphor, called righteousness and that religion is called judgment. This is in no way the mind of the Prophet; nay, it is, as I have already said, wholly different.
What, then, does the Prophet mean? I take this verse by itself; but yet we must see why the Prophet proclaims to us, in such sublime terms, the power of God. We know how heedlessly hypocrites trifle with Gods as though they had to do with a child: for they imagine a god according to their own fancy; yea, they transform him whenever they please, and think him to be delighted with frivolous trifles. Hence it is, that the way of pacifying God is with them so easy. When in various ways they provoke God’s wrath, there is in readiness some little expiation, and they think that it is a satisfaction to God. As then hypocrites imagine that God is similar to a dead idol, this is the reason why the Prophet, in order to banish these delusions, shows that the nature of God is far different. “What sort of being,” he says, “do you think God to be? for ye bring your worthless and frivolous expiations as though God would be satisfied with these trifles, as though he were a child or some silly woman: but God is He who makes the Pleiades and Orion, who turns darkness into morning, who changes day into night, who pours forth on the earth the waters of the sea 31 Go to now, and set forth your play-things, as though access to God were open to you, when ye labor to pacify him with your trifles.” We now perceive the Prophet’s object: we see how this verse ought to be taken separately, and yet to be connected with the main discourse of the Prophet; for after having inveighed against the gross vices of the people, seeing he had to contend with the headstrong, yea, with the mockers of God, he grows angry and sharply exclaims, “What do ye think or feign God to be?” Then the Prophet sets forth the character of God as being far different from what hypocrites imagine him to be in their own fancies. “What are your notions of him?” he says. “You indeed make God to be like a child; but he made the Pleiades and Orion.”
Some translate כימה, kime, Arcturus. There is no need of laboring much about such names; for the Jews, ignorant of the liberal sciences, cannot at this day certainly determine what stars are meant; and they show also their complete ignorance as to herbs. They are indeed bold enough; they define what every word means; but yet they betray, as I have said, their own want of knowledge. And our Prophet was a shepherd, and had never learnt astronomy in his youth, or in his manhood. He therefore speaks of the stars according to the common notions of his age: but he, no doubt, selected two stars of an opposite influence. The Pleiades (which are also called the seven Stars) are, we know, mild; for when they rise, they moderate the rigor of the cold, and also bring with them the vernal rain. But Orion is a fiercer star, and ever excites grievous and turbulent commotions both at its rising and setting. 32 This being the case, the Prophet names here those stars most commonly known. He says “Since the Lord changes the seasons, so that the mildness of the spring follows the rigor of winter, and since days succeed nights, and darkness comes after the light, and since it is God who renders a serene heaven suddenly cloudy by raising vapors from the veins of the earth, or from the sea, since all these changes manifest to us the wonderful power of God, how is it that men so presumptuously trifle with him? Whence is this so great a stupidity, unless they wholly overlook the works of God, and leave him a name only, and see not what is before their eyes?” We hence see how beautifully and how strikingly the Prophet does here set forth the power of God, and how opportunely he speaks of it. He then maketh the Pleiades and Orion
And he adds, He changeth darkness into the morning, he maketh the day to grow dark into night Here he brings before us the various changes of times. The night turns not into day by chance, nor does darkness come over the earth by chance when the sun has ceased to shine. Since then this variety ought to awaken even the unwilling, and to constrain them to adore God, how is it that his majesty is treated by men with such mockery, that they bring their frivolous expiations, and think him to be no more angry with them when they present to him what is worthless and childish, as when a nurse by a pleasing sound soothes an infant? I say again, whence is this so great a stupor, except that men willfully close their eyes to so bright a display, by which God shows himself to us, that he might constrain us all to adore his name? We now see why the Prophet describes the various changes which daily take place.
He speaks also of the waters of the sea, Who calleth, he says, the waters of the sea, and poureth them on the surface of the earth Some explain this of fountains; for they think that all waters proceed from the sea, and that fountains are nothing else but as it were the eyes of the sea: but this passage ought rather to be viewed as referring to rains; for the power of God is not so conspicuous in the waters which come from the earth, as when he suddenly darkens the heavens with vapors. For whence is it, that the heavens, a while ago clear, is now cloudy? We see clouds rising, — but at whose command? Philosophers indeed assign some natural causes; they say that vapors are drawn up both from the earth and the sea by the heat of the sun: but why is this done to-day rather than yesterday? Whence is this diversity, except that God shows that the element of water is under his control, and also the air itself, as veil as the vapors, which are formed as it were out of nothing? For what is vapor but gross air, or air condensed? and yet vapors arise from the hollow places of the earth as well as from the sea. Certainly the water could not of itself produce a new element: it is ponderous, and vapors rise up on high: how is it that water thus loses its own nature? But vapors are in a middle state between air and water, and yet they ascend above the air, and arise from the earth to the heavens. The Prophet therefore does not without reason say, that waters are called, that is, that these vapors are called, from the sea, and are afterwards poured on the surface of the earth. This may be understood of the clouds as well as of rain; for clouds extend over the earth and surround us; and rain is poured on the earth. This is doubtless the wonderful work of God.
Hence the Prophet concludes, Jehovah is his name It is not the idol which you have devised for yourselves; for your expiations might indeed draw a smile from a child but they cannot satisfy the judgment of God. Then think that you have to do with God himself, and let these fallacious delusions deceive you no longer.” It follows —
9. That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.
9. Qui fortificat vastatorem super robustum, et vastator super munitiones ascendet. 33
The Prophet speaks not now of the ordinary works of God, in which his majesty, inspiring the highest reverence, as well as his dread power, shines forth; but he more closely urges the Israelites, who had become so hardened in their vices, that they were wholly inflexible. Here then the Prophet charges them with contumacy and says, “What, think you, will take place? Ye are strong; but God will stir up robbers against you, who will prevail, and beat down and chatter in pieces that obduracy, through which you now resist God.” Thus after having filled them with dread by setting before them the course of nature, he now holds forth this threats that they would themselves have to feel the power of God: for however callous they were, and though in their ferocity they dared to rise up against God, he declares that it would avail them nothing; inasmuch as there was in God’s hand a waster, who would prevail against their obduracy.
And a waster, he says, shall ascend on the very fortresses, or shall enter the fortresses. The Prophet here, in an indirect way, laughs to scorn the vain confidence which filled the Israelites, on observing that they were inclosed in fortified cities and had defenses and a powerful army. All this, he says, will be wholly useless to them when God will raise up strong depredators, who will penetrate through well fortified gates, and leap over walls, and enter strongly defended cities. We now apprehend what the Prophet had in view in these words.
It will now be easy to apply this doctrine to our own instruction: Whenever we are not suitably moved, either by the truth, or by warnings, or by threatenings, let this come to our minds which the Prophet teaches here, namely, that God cannot be mocked, and that hypocrites gain nothing by their delusive ceremonies, when they sacrifice and present their expiations, which by no means please God, — how so? We may indeed easily learn the reason from the nature of God himself. Hence, that we may not transform God, let us learn to raise up our eyes to behold him, and also to look on all things around us; and this will constrain us to adore and fear his great power. It follows —
10. They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.
10. Oderunt (odio habent) in porta corripientem, et loquentem rectum abominantur.
It is probable that in this verse also, the judges are reproved by the Prophet, though what is here said may be extended to the whole people: but as nearly the whole discourse is leveled against the judges, I readily subscribe to the opinion, that the Prophet now accuses the judges on this account, — because they could not bear to be reproved for the great license they allowed themselves, but, on the contrary, abhorred all those who reproved them. What then he says as to the reprover being hated in the gate, is to be thus explained: When judges sat in the gate and perverted justice and right, and when any one reminded them of their duty, they haughtily rejected all admonitions, and even hated them. In the gate then, that is, They who ought to rule others, and to correct whatever vice there may be among the people, cannot themselves bear any reprover, when their own vices require strong remedies.
And well would it be, if this disease were healed at this day. We indeed see that kings, and those in authority, wish to be deemed sacred, and they will allow no reproof. Instantly the majesty of God is violated in their person; for they complain and cry out, whenever teachers and God’s servants dare to denude their wicked conduct. This vice then, which the Prophet condemns, is not the vice of one time; for, even in the present day, those who occupy the seats of judgment wish to be exempt from all reproofs, and would claim for themselves a free liberty in sinning, inasmuch as they think not that they belong to the common class of men, and imagine themselves exempt from all reprehension; in short, they wish to rule without any equity, for power with them is nothing but unbridled licentiousness. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. It now follows —
11. Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.
11. Quia calcastis pauperem (vel, onus imposuistis,) et onus frumenti abstulistis ab eo, domos excisionis (hoc est, ex lapide quadrato) aedificabitis, et non habitabitis in illis; vineas desiderabiles plantabitis, et non bibetis vinum earum.
The Prophet here declares, that though the judges enriched themselves by plunder, yet God would not allow them to enjoy their booty, but that he would deprive them of the great wealth they had accumulated. This is the import of the whole. We hence see that the Prophet contends not here with the common people, but professedly attacks the chief men, inasmuch as from them did proceed all the prevailing evil.
The first thing is, they imposed burdens on the poor, and then, they took away corn from them He says first, “A burden have you laid”, or, “ye have trodden on the poor;” for the verb may be taken in either sense, and it matters not which as to the import of the passage. It is not indeed often that we meet with a verb of four letters; 34 but interpreters explain this as meaning to tread under foot or to lay a burden. The Prophet, I doubt not, accuses here the judges of not sparing miserable men, but of burdening them with tributes and exactions; for this is to burden the poor. Then he adds, “Ye have taken a load of corn”. The Prophet had doubtless fixed here on a species of cruelty in robbing others, the most detestable. When judges take money, or any other gift, it is less odious than when the poor are compelled to carry corn to them on their shoulders. It was the same as though they surrendered their very life to their plunderers; for when judges constrained loads of corn to be brought to them, it was as though they strangled the poor, or drew blood from their veins, inasmuch as they robbed them of their food and support. We now perceive what the Prophet meant: You have, he says, oppressed the poor, and taken from them a load of corn. Some render בר, ber, chosen, but improperly.
Ye shall therefore build, etc. He declares here that they would not realize their hope, though they plundered on all sides to build palaces, and though they got great possessions to enrich themselves and their heirs: “This self-love,” he says, “will deceive you; defraud, rob, plunder; but the Lord will at length strip you of all your robberies: for after having been venal, and prostituted not only your souls but your shame for gain, and after having spent much labor and expense in building, ye shall not dwell in your palaces; and when ye shall have planted vineyards with great expense and care, ye shall not drink their wine.” Isaiah also speaks in the same strain,
‘O plunderer, thou shalt be exposed to plunders’
Experience also teaches the same thing; for we see how the Lord transfers from one to another the possessions of this world: he who seems to provide riches after his death for his heirs for ever, passes his whole life, as we see, without enjoying his own property; for he is hungry in the midst of the greatest abundance, and even famishes himself. This is very frequently the case. And then when his abundance comes to his heirs, it falls into the hands of prodigals, who soon dissipate the whole. And sometimes the Lord allows not that such vast wealth should have heirs, and it is scattered here and there, and the very name is extinguished, though the name to such haughty and wealthy men is a great object, as they commonly wish it to be eminent in the world for some hundred ages after their death.
This passage of the Prophet ought therefore to be especially noticed. He tells us that unjust gains were laid up by these robbers and wicked plunderers, in order to amass great riches; but he adds, “The Lord will spoil them, and will not suffer them to enjoy their abundance, however anxiously they had collected it from all quarters.” Let us now proceed —
12. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right
12. Quia cognosco magnas iniquitates vestras (vel, multas, רבים) et robusta scelera vestra; efflictores justi, sublatores redemptionis, et pauperes in porta declinare faciunt (hoc est, causa cadere faciunt.)
The Prophet introduces God here as the speaker, that the threatening might be more authoritative: for we know, at it has been before stated, that the Prophets were despised by haughty men; but when God himself appeared as it were before them, it was strange if no fear laid hold on them; they had at least no excuse for their presumption, if God’s name did not touch their hearts and humble them.
I know, he says, your iniquities; as though he said, “Ye do not think yourselves bound to render an account to men, as probably no such account; will be rendered by you; but how will you be able, think you, to escape my tribunal? for I am your judge, and mine is the government: however ferociously ye now tread on the poor, and evasively contend with me, your crimes must necessarily be judged by me; I know your crimes. And as the rich by their splendor covered every wickedness, particularly the magistrates, who were adorned with a public character, God says that their turpitude was fully known to him: as though he said “Contend as much as you please, still your iniquities are sufficiently apparent to me; ye will gain nothing by your subtle evasions.” Moreover, he reprehends them not merely for slight offenses, but says that they were wholly past being borne with. When something is done amiss by the highest power, indulgence is commonly granted; for nothing is more difficult than for one who sustains so great and heavy a burden, to retain so much integrity as to be free from every blame: but the Lord shows here that they were not lightly culpable, but that their crimes were so grievous and flagrant that they could not be endured. We now then understand what was the object of the Prophet.
When therefore their own greatness dazzles the eyes of proud men, let us know that they cannot deprive God of his right; for though he may not judge them to-day, he will yet shortly ascend his tribunal: and he reminds them, that those pompous displays by which they cover their many crimes, are only shadows which will vanish. This is what the Prophet means.
Then he calls them, The oppressors of the just He enumerates here some particulars, with regard to which, the iniquity of the judges whom he now addresses might be, as it were, felt to be gross and abominable. Ye oppress he says, the just; this was one thing: then follows another, They take כפר, capher, expiation, or, the price of redemption. The Prophet, I have no doubt, meant to point out here something different from the former crime. Though interpreters blend these two things, I yet think them to be wholly different; for these mercenary judges made an agreement with the wicked, whenever any homicide or other violence was perpetrated; in short, whenever any one implicated himself in any grievous sin, they saw that there was a prey taken, and anxiously gaped for it: they wished murders to be committed daily, that they might acquire gain. Since, then, these judges were thus intent on bribery, the Prophet accuses them as being takers of ransom. They ought to have punished crimes; this they did not; but they let go the wicked unpunished; they spared murderers, and adulterers, and robbers, and sorcerers not indeed without rewards, for they brought the price of redemption, and departed as if they were innocent.
We now perceive what the Prophet means here; and well would it be were this crime not so common: but at this day, the cruelty of many judges appears especially in this — that they hunt for crimes for the sake of gain, which seems to be as it were a ransom; for this is the proper meaning of the word כפר, capher. As then this evil commonly prevails it is no wonder that the Prophet, while reprehending the corruptions of his time, says, that judges took a ransom.
Then he adds, The poor they turn aside from judgment in the gate This is the third crime: the Prophet complains, that they deprived miserable men of their right, because they could not bring so large a bribe as the rich; though relying on the goodness of their cause, they thought themselves sure of victory. The Prophet complains, that they were disappointed of their hope, and their right was denied them in the gate, that is, in the court of justice; for we know that it was an ancient custom for judges to sit in the gates, and there to administer justice; And hence Amos mentions here gate twice: and what he complains of was the more disgraceful, inasmuch as the judicial court was, as it were, a sacred asylum, to which injured men resorted, that they might have their wrongs redressed. When this became the den of robbers, what any more remained for them? We now then see that the Prophet speaks not here of the common people, but that he mainly levels his reproofs against the rulers. Let us go on —
13. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
13. Propterea prudens in tempore hoc silebit, quia tempus hoc malum est. 35
Some interpreters think that a punishment is here denounced on the people of Israel, and that is, that the Lord would deprive them of Prophets and teachers. We indeed know that nothing is more to be dreaded, than that the Lord should extinguish the light of sound doctrine, and suffer us to go astray in darkness, yea, to stumble, and to rush headlong to ruin, as they do who are destitute of wholesome counsels. But I think that the meaning is quite different. Another exposition may be deemed probable, which is this, that the prudent dared not to speak on account of the prevailing tyranny; for Amos had said before that the judges, who then ruled, would not bear reproof. Hence, the prudent were forced to be silent at that time, for that time was evil; and every liberty of teaching was taken away. And this meaning opens still wider; for the silent would have to bear the wrongs done to them, and to devour inwardly their own groans, for they dared not to complain; nay, the very teachers did not oppose the torrent, for they saw that it was not the time to resist haughty and violent men. But this view may be also fitly applied to God’s judgment, that the prudent would be silent, being put in fear: for silence is often connected with fear: and it is a dreadful judgment of God, when the prudent closes his mouth, or puts his hand, as it is said elsewhere, on his mouth.
As to the first exposition, I have already rejected it, and it has certainly nothing in its favor: but the second may be accommodated to the general meaning of the Prophet, that is, the prudent shall be silent at that time, because all liberty shall be taken away. I am, at the same time, unwilling thus to restrict it, as they do; for it became not a wise man to pass by in silence sins so grievous: though tyrants threatened hundred deaths, yet those on whom was laid the necessity of teaching ought not to have been silent. But the Prophet here speaks not of what the prudent would do or omit to do; on the contrary, he intimates, that whenever they began to speak, the arrogance of the judges would be so great as to repel all reproofs. The prudent then shall be silent, not willingly; for that, as I have said, would have been unworthy of wise men. And the Prophet here, by way of honor, calls those prudent who rightly discern things, who are not led away by corruptions, but remain upright; who, though they see the whole order of things collapsing, and though they see heaven and earth, as it were, mingled together, yet retain a sound judgment. Since the Prophet speaks of such men, he certainly does not mean that they would be willingly silent; for it would have been a base indolence in them thus to betray the truth and a good cause. What then does he mean? Even this — that the wickedness of tyrants would be so great, as not to allow one word to be declared by the prudent; when any one came forth to reprove their vices, he was not suffered.
When therefore he says, that the time would be evil, he means, that such audacity would prevail, that all liberty would be denied to wise men. They would then be forced to be silent, for they could effect nothing by speaking, nay, they would have no freedom of speech allowed them: and though they attempted to discharge their office, yet tyrannical violence would instantly impose silence on them. Similar was the case with Lot, of whom it is said that he groaned and vexed his own heart, (Ge 16:1) He was constrained, I have no doubt, to be silent after having often used free reproofs; nay, he doubtless exposed himself to many dangers by his attempts to reprove the Sodomites. Such seems to me to be the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, that the prudent would be silent, because these tyrants would impose silence on all teachers, — now throwing them into prisons, then banishing them, — now denouncing death on them, then visiting them with some punishment, or loading them with reproaches, or treating them with ridicule as persons worthy of contempt. We now understand the Prophet’s, design. We may further observe, that men have then advanced to the extremity of evil, when reception is no more given to sound doctrine and salutary counsels, and when all liberty is sternly suppressed, so that prudent men dare not to reprove vices, however rampant they may be, which even children observe, and the blind feel. When licentiousness has arrived to this pitch, it is certain that the state of things is past recovery and that there is no hope of repentance or of a better condition: and this was the meaning of the Prophet.
Grant, Almighty God, that as we cannot see with our eyes thy infinite and incomprehensible glory, which is hid from us, we may learn at least by thy works, what thy great power is, so as to be humbled under thy mighty hand, and never trifle with thee as hypocrites are wont to do; but to bring a heart really sincere, and also pure hands, that our whole life may testify that a true fear of thy name prevails, in our hearts: and grant, that whilst we devote ourselves wholly to thy service, we may courageously and with invincible hearts, fight against all these corruptions, by which we are on every side beset, until, having finished our warfare, we attain to that celestial rest, which has been prepared for us by Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
14. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
14. Quaerite bonum et non malum, ut vivatis; et erit hoc modo Jehova, Deus exercituum, vobiscum, quemadmodum dixistis.
The Prophet again repeats, that it was only owing to the Israelites themselves that it was not well with them; for God was ready to grant them his blessing; but they designedly sought a curse for themselves. Inasmuch, then, the hypocrites are wont to put away from themselves the blame of every evil, and to complain of their miseries, as though the Lord afflicted them unjustly, the Prophet here shows, that no evil happened to the Israelites, but what they procured by their vices: and at the same time he exhorts them to repentance, and gives them the hope of pardon, provided they hardened not their hearts to the last. He therefore bids them to seek good; but by adding, seek not evil, his words are full of meaning, as though he had said, that they were so fixed in their own wickedness, that they could not be torn away from it. The import of the whole, then, is this — that the Israelites could not complain of being too severely treated by God, because they suffered not themselves to be kindly dealt with. And the Prophet assigns this as the reason — that they were not only alienated from what was good, but that they also with avidity and eager desire followed what was evil: in the meantime he exhorts them to repentance and adds a promise the more to encourage them.
Seek then good, he says, that ye may live; And then he adds, And thus God will be with you, as ye have said. Here the wickedness of the people is reproved who sought to bind God to themselves; for hypocrites are wont to misapply the promises: when they presumptuously reject God himself, they still wish him to be under an obligation to them. Thus they gloried that they were the children of Abraham, an elect people; circumcision was to them like a royal diadem; they sought to be superior to all other nations: and thus they abused the name of God, and at the same time they petulantly scorned both the word of God and his Prophets. As, then, they ever boasted that God was dwelling in the midst of them, the Prophet says, “Then and thus will God be with you if ye seek what is good or the doing of good;” for to seek good is nothing else than to endeavor to do good; as though he said “Change your nature and your manners; for hitherto iniquity has prevailed among you; you have been violent, and rapacious, and fraudulent: begin now to do good, then God will be with you.”
There is therefore a great emphasis to be laid on the particle כן, can, thus will God be with you: for the Prophet reminds them of what so often occurs in the law, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” who dwell in the midst of you, (Le 11:44) God shows, in these words, that it could not be that he would dwell with the Israelites except they sanctified themselves, that there might be a mutual agreement. But they had no regard for holiness, and yet wished God to be bound to them. This false confidence the Prophet derides, and says, that a certain condition is fixed in the law, according to which God would dwell in the midst of them. Thus then will God be in the midst of you; that is, when he sees that you strive after uprightness and the doing of good.
I have already explained what this means, as ye have said; for he proves that foolish vaunting to be false which was heard among the Israelites: “Has not the Lord chosen and adopted us as his people? Is not the ark of the covenant a sure pledge of his presence? How then could he depart from us? God would deny himself, were he not to keep his pledged faith; for he covenanted with our fathers, that we should be his flock even to the end of the world.” Since, then, they thus foolishly boasted, and were, at the same time, covenant breakers, the Prophet says, “Ye boast, indeed, by your mouth that God is in the midst of you, but see what he in his turn stipulates and requires from you. If, then, ye respond to his call, he will not surely be wanting to his pledged faith; but as ye willfully depart from him, he must necessarily become alienated from you.” We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet in these words. It follows —
15. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
15. Odio habete malum et dilligite bonum; et statuite in porta judicium, si forte misereatur Jehova Deus exercituum reliquiarum Joseph.
The Prophet inculcates the same truth; and he did this designedly; for he saw that nothing was more difficult than to bring this people to repentance, who, in the first place, were by nature refractory; and, in the second place, were hardened by long habit in their vices. For Satan gains dominion by degrees in the hearts of men, until he renders them wholly stupid so that they discern not between right and wrong. Such, then, was the blindness which prevailed among the people of Israel: it was therefore necessary often to goad them as Amos does here.
Hence he bids them to hate evil and to love good. And this order ought to be preserved, when we desire really to turn to God and to repent. Amos here addresses perverse men, who were so immersed in their own wickedness, that they distinguished no longer between light and darkness: it was therefore not without reason that he begins with this sentence, that they should hate evil; as though he had said, that there had been hitherto a hostile disagreement between them and God, and that therefore a change was necessary, in order that they might return to him. For when any one has already wished to devote himself to God’s service, this exhortation to hate evil is superfluous: but when one is sunk still in his own vices, he has need of such a stimulant. The Prophet therefore does here reprove them; and though they flattered themselves, he yet shows that they were greatly addicted to their vices.
He afterwards adds, Love good. He intimates, that it would be a new thing for them to cultivate benevolence, and to apply themselves to what was right. The import of the whole is this, — that the Israelites would have no peace with God, until they were wholly changed and became new men; for they were now strangers to goodness, and given to wickedness and depravity. But Amos mentions here only a part of repentance: for טוב, thub, no doubt means the doing of good, as iniquity is properly called רע, ro [the doing of evil.] He speaks not here of faith, or of prayer to God, but describes repentance by its fruits; for our faith, as it has been stated in other places, is proved in this way; it manifests itself, when sincerity and uprightness towards one another flourish in us, when we spontaneously love one another and perform the duties of love. Thus then by stating a part for the whole, is repentance here described; that is, the whole, as they commonly say, is shown by a part.
But now the Prophet adds, And set up judgment in the gate He here glances at the public state of things, of which we have largely spoken in our yesterday’s lecture. A deluge of iniquity had so inundated the land, that in the very courts of justice, and in the passing of judgments, there was no longer any equity, any justice. Since then corruption had taken possession of the very gates, the Prophet exhorts them to set up judgment in the gate; it may be, he says, that God will show mercy to the remnants of Joseph. The Prophet shows here that it was hardly possible that the people should continue safe; nay, that this was altogether hopeless. But as the common degeneracy, like a violent tempest, carried away the good along with it, the Prophet here admonishes the faithful not to despond, though they were few in number, but to retake themselves to God, to suffer others to fall away and to run headlong to ruin, and at the same time to provide for their own safety, as those who flee away from the burning.
We now then understand the object of the Prophet: for when the whole multitude, given up to destruction, had laid aside every care for their safety, a few remained, who yet suffered themselves to be borne along, as though a tempest, as it has been said, had carried them away. The Prophet then does here give comfort to such good men as were still alive, and shows that though the people were sinking, there was no reason for them to despair, for the Lord still promised to be propitious to them. What this doctrine teaches is this, — that ten ought not to regard what a thousand may do; but they ought to hear God speaking, rather than to abandon themselves with the multitude; when they see men blindly and impetuously running headlong to their own ruin, they should not follow them, but rather listen to God, and not reject his offered salvation. However much then their small number may dishearten them, they ought not yet to suffer God’s promises to be forced or snatched away from them, but fully to embrace them.
The expression, it may be, is not one of doubt, as it has been stated in another place, (Joe 2:1) but the Prophet, on the contrary, intended sharply to stimulate the faithful, that he might, as it was needful, increase their alacrity. Whenever then פן, pen, lest perhaps or אולי, auli, it may be, is set down, let us know, that they are not intended to leave men’s minds in suspense or perplexity, that they may despond or come to God in doubt; but that a difficulty is thereby implied, in order to stir them up and to increase the ardor of their desire: and this is necessary in a mixed state of things, for we see how great is the indolence of our flesh. Even they who desire to return to God, do not hasten with that ardor which becomes them, but creep slowly, and hardly draw themselves along; and then when many obstacles meet them, they who would have been otherwise full of courage, almost despair at every step. It is therefore necessary to apply such goadings as these, “Take heed; for when any one is beset on every side by fire, he will not long delay, nor think with himself how he may escape without any hurt and without any inconvenience; but he will risk danger rather than that he should by delay or tardiness deprive himself of a way of escape. So also ye see, that iniquity surrounds you on every side; what then is to be done except that each of you must quickly flee away?”
We now then perceive the design of the Prophet in saying, It may be that he will show mercy. The sum of the whole is this, — That there was need of a great change, that they might become altogether new men, who had hitherto devoted themselves to wickedness, — and then, that the few should not wait until the whole multitude joined them; for though the people resolved to go astray, yet God ought to have been attended to, when recalling the few to himself and bidding them to escape, as it were, from the burning, — and, thirdly, that there is stated here a difficulty, that those still healable might not come tardily to God, but that they might strive against impediments and quickly run to him seeing that they could not without great effort extricate themselves; they were therefore to come to God, not slowly; but having overcome all difficulties, they were on the contrary, to flee to him. It now follows —
16. Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing.
16. Quapropter dicit Jehova Deus exercituum, Dominus, In omnibus compitis lamentum, et in omnibus viis dicent, Vae, vae; et vocabunt agricolam ad luctum, et lamentum erit super omnes peritos luctus.
The particle of inference, set down here, confirms what has been already said, — that the Israelites vainly flattered themselves, though they were in the worst condition. And as the Prophet knew that there would be no end to their evasions, being, as they were, perverse hypocrites, he cuts off all their subterfuges by saying, that God had now announced his purpose concerning them, and that however they might object this or that, God’s judgment could no longer be deferred by delay, for their iniquity was more than sufficiently proved.
Therefore Jehovah, he says, God of hosts, the Lord, saith. He again repeats the attributes of God, in order to set forth his supreme power; as though he had said, that the Israelites gained nothing by acting the part of sophisters with God; for that he is the supreme judge, against whom there is no appeal, and whose sentence cannot be revoked. Hence we see that what is here checked is that waywardness which deceived the Israelites, while they continued to clamor against God. Thus then saith Jehovah; this was said, that they might understand that they were depraved in their disposition, corrupt in morals, wholly given to wickedness, and without a particle of goodness in them.
Thus then saith God, In all the streets of concourse there shall be lamentation, and in all the highways they shall say, Woe! Woe! 36 The Prophet disputes not here with them, nor denounces their vices, but speaks only of punishment; as though he had said, that the litigation was decided, that there was no need of an accuser; for nothing now remained but that God should execute his vengeance on them, inasmuch as he had already contended more than enough with them. And this mode of teaching frequently occurs in the Prophets; and it ought to be observed, that we may not think that we can gain anything by our evasions, when the Lord regards us as guilty. Let us then dread the punishment, which is prepared for all the intractable and the obstinate. They shall say, he says, in all the highways, Woe! Woe! They now prattle and think to prevail by their loquacity: when they murmur against God, they think that a delay is thus attained, that he dares not to inflict punishment; but God nevertheless proceeds with his judgment; they shall cry, Woe! Woe! there will be no time then for devising shifts, but they will be wholly taken up with wailing.
They shall call, he says, the husbandman to mourning Some think אכר, acar, derived from נכר, nucar, which is to own, or, to make, one’s self a stranger: and they are induced to regard it so only for this reason, because the Prophet immediately mentions those who were skillful in mourning. But, as all the Hebrews agree as to the meaning of this word, I am unwilling, without authority to make any change: and it also harmonizes well with what the Prophet says. At the same time, those Hebrew interpreters are wrong, who think that the order is inverted, as though it ought to have been thus, “The skillful in lamentation shall call husband men to mourning.” But the Prophet, I doubt not, meant, that all were to be led together to mourning; for, though the manner was different, yet, in the first place, he appoints mourning to husbandmen, and then he shows that it would be common to all those who were wont to mourn.
Let us then consider what the Prophet says, Lamentation to all the skillful in mourning. Eastern nations we know, exercised themselves in acting grief, and so they do at this day. We find, indeed, that they practiced all manner of gesticulations: a greater moderation at least is seen among us, however heavy the grief may be. And this custom in former times came also into Europe; for we know that there were women hired to mourn at Rome; and we know that there were everywhere those who lamented. They therefore mourned for wages. This vicious custom the Prophet notices: but it is not discussed here whether this was done rightly or foolishly: for the Prophet here only refers to a common custom; ‘There will be lamentations’ he says, ‘to all the skillful in mourning;’ that is, all who are wont to employ their labor in weeping will now be fully occupied. This is the first, though the last in order, at least it is the middle between two other clauses. Now, the two others follow, which are these, — that the very husbandmen would be led to mourning, — and then that there would be lamentation in all the highways. But why does the Prophet say, that all the skillful in mourning were to be occupied in lamentation? Because the common calamity would thus constrain them. He further adds, that this grief would not be feigned; but that as destruction would prevail through the cities and fields none would be exempt. However much the husbandmen were unaccustomed to such rites, they would yet wail and learn this new art, says the Prophet. We now then see what these words mean: but the next verse must be joined to them —
17. And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the Lord
17. Et in omnibus vineis lamentum, quia transibo in medio tui, inquit Jehova.
A reason is now added, why the whole country would be taken up with lamentation and mourning; for the Lord would pass through the whole land. Surely nothing was more to be desired, than that God should visit his own land; but he here declares that he would pass through as an enemy. As then an enemy runs through a country and spreads devastation wherever he comes, such would be the passing through, which the Prophet now threatens. “God, then, of whom ye boast, as dwelling in the midst of you, will come forth, lay waste, and consume the whole land, as when an enemy spreads ruin far and wide.”
But the Prophet seems to allude to the passing of God, described by Moses in Ex 11. The Lord then passed through the middle of Egypt; that is, his wrath pervaded the whole land; no corner was safe or tranquil, for God’s vengeance penetrated through every part of it. So also now the Prophet intimates, that the land of Israel would be like that of Egypt; for the Lord, who then testified his love towards the children of Abraham, would now, on the contrary, show himself an enemy to them, while passing through the midst of them. And the Prophet again indirectly ridicules the vain confidence by which the Israelites were blinded, while they used God’s name as a pretext, as it will more clearly appear from what follows, for he says —
18. Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.
18. Vae desiderantibus diem Jehovae! Ad quid hoc vobis? Dies Jehovae ipse tenebrae et non lux.
The Prophet expresses here more fully what he briefly and obscurely touched upon as to the passing of God through the land; for he shows that the Israelites acted strangely in setting up the name of God as their shield, as though they were under his protection, and in still entertaining a hope, though oppressed with many evils, because God had promised that they should be the objects of his care: he says that this was an extremely vain pretense. He yet more sharply reproves their presumption by saying, “Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah!” This appears, even at the firstview, to be very severe; but we need not wonder that the Prophet burns with too much indignation towards hypocrites, from whom that security, through which they became ferocious against God, could hardly be shaken off. And we see that the holy Spirit treats hypocrites everywhere with much more severity than those who are openly impious and wicked: for the despisers of God, how stupid soever they may be, do not yet excuse their vices; but hypocrites seek ever to draw in God into the quarrel, and they have their veils to cover their turpitude: it was therefore necessary to treat them, as the Prophet does here, with sharpness and severity.
Woe, he says, to those who desire the day of Jehovah! Some expound this day of Jehovah of the day of death, and pervert the meaning of the Prophet; for they think that the Prophet speaks here of desperate men, who seek self-destruction, or lay violent hands on themselves. Woe, then, to those who desire the day of Jehovah, that is, who have recourse to hanging or to poison, as no other remedy appears to them. But the Prophet, as I have already reminded you, does here on the contrary rouse hypocrites. Others think that the contempt which Amos has before noticed, is here reproved; and this in part is true; but they do not sufficiently follow up the Prophet’s design; for they do not observe what is special in this place, — that hypocrites flattered themselves, falsely assuming this as a truth, that they were the people of God, and that God was bound to them. Though, then, the Israelites had been a hundred times perfidious, they yet continued arrogantly to boast of their circumcision; and then the law and the sacrifices, and all their ceremonies, were to them as banners, — “O! we are a holy nation, and God’s heritage; we are the children of Abraham, and the redeemed of the Lord; we are a priestly kingdom.” As then these things were ready in the mouth of all, the Prophet says, “Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah!” And, indeed, when the Lord had begun to punish them for their sins, they still said, “The Lord, it may be, intends to try our constancy: but how can he destroy us? for he would then be false; his covenant cannot be made void: it is then certain that we shall be saved, and that he will be shortly reconciled to us.” They did not indeed expect that God would be propitious to them; but as they were overwhelmed with many evils, they sought to allay their sorrows by such a drug.
When therefore the Prophet saw, that the Israelites so waywardly flattered themselves, and so foolishly and wickedly laid claim to the name of God, he says, Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah! What will this be, he says, to you? The day of Jehovah will be darkness and not light; as though he said, “God is an enemy to you, and the nearer he comes to you, the more grievously you must be afflicted: he will bring nothing to you but devastation, for he will come armed to destroy you. There is therefore no reason for you to boast that you are a chosen people, that you are a priestly kingdom, for ye are fallen away from the favor of God; and this is to be imputed to your own misconduct. God then is armed for your destruction; and whenever he will appear, he will at the same time pursue you with cruelty and violence; and it will be for your destruction that God will come thus armed to you. Whenever then the Lord will come, your evils must necessarily be increased. The day then of Jehovah will be darkness and not light.” He afterwards confirms this truth —
19. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.
19. Quemadmodum si quis fugiat coram leone, et occurrat ei ursus; et veniat domum suam, et nitatur manu sua super parietem, et eum mordeat coluber.
20. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
20. Annon tenebrae dies Jehovae et non lux? et caligo et non splendor ei?
Here is expressed more clearly what the Prophet had said before, — that hypocrites can have no hope, that the various changes, which may take place, will bring them any alleviation. Hypocrites, while straying in circuitous courses, do indeed promise better things to themselves, when the condition of the times is changed: and as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, so hypocrites imitate the true servants of God. But it is a false imitation; for these are only fading flowers, no fruit follows; and besides, they proceed not from a living root. When the children of God are at any time pressed down by adverse events, they sustain and patiently nourish their faith with this consolation, — that clouds soon pass away: so also when the Lord chastises them with temporal punishment, he will presently return into favor with them. Hypocrites present the same outward appearance; but they widely differ from the faithful: for when the faithful promise to themselves a prosperous issue, they are at the same time touched with a sense of their own evils, and study to reconcile themselves to God; but hypocrites continue immersed in their vices and boldly despise God; and at the same time they see here and there, and when any change happens they think that they have got rid of all evils. Inasmuch then as they deceived themselves with vain consolation, the Prophet now says, “You have no cause to think that it will be better with you, when one calamity shall pass away; for the same thing will happen to you, as when one flees away from a lion and meets with a bear, as when one escapes from a bear, and betakes himself to his own house, and there a serpent finds him: while he is leaning with his hand on the wall, a serpent bites him. Thus the Lord has in readiness various and many ways, by which he can punish you. When therefore ye shall have sustained one battle, when one enemy departs, the battle will be immediately renewed and that by another enemy: when a foreign power does not rage through the kingdom of Israel, the Lord will consume you either by famine, or by want, or by pestilence.” We then see how well the context of the Prophet harmonizes together.
“You have no reason,” he says, “to hope for any light from the day of Jehovah.” Why? “For Jehovah will not come, except when armed; for, as ye conduct yourselves in a hostile manner towards him, he must necessarily take vengeance. He will, therefore, bring with him no light, except it may be to fulminate against you: but his appearance will be dreadful, even darkness and thick darkness; and then, when he ceases to pursue you in one way, he will assail you in another; and, when foreign enemies spare you, God will find means by which he may destroy you in your own land without the agency of men; for ye have already found what the sterility of the land is, and what pestilence is: the Lord then has all such modes of vengeance in his own hand. Think not, therefore, that there will be any alleviation to you, were the world to change a hundred times, and were the condition of the country wholly different.”
But the Prophet did not intend here to drive all those indiscriminately into despair, who were guilty of grievous offenses, but his design was to shake off from hypocrites their self-flatteries, that by such proofs they might be led to know that God would be ever like himself. If, then, they wished to return into favor with him, he shows that a change was needful: when they put off their perverse conduct, God would be instantly ready to give them pardon; but, if they proceeded in their vices and obstinate wickedness, and always continued in that hardness, in which they had hitherto indulged, he declares, that the day of Jehovah would be ever to them dark and gloomy, and that, though the Lord does not always use the same kind of rod, he yet has means innumerable, by which he can destroy a perverse nation, such as the Israelites then were.
Grant, Almighty God, that seeing we are so sleepy, yea, so fascinated by our sins, that nothing is more difficult than to put off our own nature and to renounce that wickedness to which we have become habituated, — O grant, that we, being really awakened by thy scourgings, may truly return to thee, and that, having wholly changed our disposition and renounced all wickedness, we may sincerely, and from the heart, submit ourselves to thee, and so look forward to the coming of thy Son, that we may cheerfully and joyfully wait for him, by ever striving after such a renovations of life as may strip us of our flesh and all corruptions, until, being at length renewed after thine image, we become partakers of that glory, which has been obtained for us by the blood of the same, thy only-begotten Son. Amen.
21. I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
21. Odi, reprobavi dies festos vestros, et non olfaciam in solennitatibus vestris (alii legunt, sacrificia vestra, et non olfaciam in congregationibus vestris; sed de vocibus postea dicam suo loco.)
22. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
22. Certe si obtuleritis mihi holocausta et munera vestra, grata non habebo: et pacifica pinguium vestrorum non respiciam.
23. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
23. Tolle a me multitudinem canticorum tuorum; et concertum lyrarum tuarum non audiam.
Here the Prophet, anticipating an objection, shows that the Israelites deceived themselves, for they believed that God was pacified by their sacrifices: he declares all these to be useless; not only, as I think, because they themselves were impure; but because all their sacrifices were mere profanations. We have said elsewhere that sacrifices are often reprehended by the Prophets, when not accompanied by godliness and sincerity: for why did God command sacrifices to be offered to him under the law, except as religious exercises? It was hence necessary that they should be accompanied with penitence and faith. But hypocrites thought, as we have seen, that they thereby discharged their whole duty: it was then a profanation of divine worship. Though the Jews, as to the external form, had not departed from the rule of the law, yet their sacrifices were vicious, and repudiated by God: “I cannot bear them — they are a weariness to me — I repudiate them — I loathe them,” — these are expressions we meet with every where in Isaiah. And yet hypocrites regarded their worship as conformable to the law; but impurity of heart vitiated all their works, and this was the reason that God rejected every thing which the Jews thought available for holiness. But different, as I think, was the design of our Prophet: for it was not only for this reason that he blamed the Israelites, — because they falsely pretended God’s name in their sacrifices, but because they were apostates; for they had departed from the teaching of the law, and built for themselves a spurious temple.
It is yet true that they were deluded with this false notion, that their sins were expiated by sacrifices: but God reproved the Israelites, not only for this gross error, with which the Jews were also infected but for having renounced his true and lawful worship. Hence the external form of their worship deserved to be condemned; for it was not right to offer sacrifices except on mount Zion: but they, without having the ark of the covenant, devised a worship else-where, and even there worshipped the calves. We now understand the design of the Prophet: and this ought to be carefully observed, for interpreters think that the Prophet had nothing else in view, but to condemn a false presumption in the Israelites, because they sought to satisfy God with external sacrifices, while they were yet continuing obstinately in their sins. But the other evil ought to be added, which was, that they had corrupted the true worship of God even in its outward form.
Having now pointed out the prophet’s object, I come to consider his words, I have hated, I have rejected, etc. The word חגג, chegig, means to leap and to dance: hence חג, cheg, signifies a sacrifice as well as a festal day. Some then render the words, “I have rejected your sacrifices,” and those which follow, thus, “I will not smell at your solemnities.” Others render the last word, “assemblies.” עצר, otser, means to restrain, and sometimes to gather: hence עצרה, ostare, means an assembly or a congregation. But עצרת, osteret, means a festal day, because the people, as it is well known, were then restrained from work, and also, because they were detained in the sanctuary. But with respect to the subject itself, it makes but little difference, whether we read assembly or a festal day: we see that what the Prophet meant was this, — that God rejected all the rites, by which the Israelites thought that he was pacified, as though they were the most effectual expiations. He does not simply declare that they were of no account before God; but he speaks much stronger and says, that God despised and abhorred them. I regard, he says, with hatred your festal days. He speaks also of burnt offerings,
When ye offer me sacrifices and your gift, etc. מנחה, meneche, properly means a gift of flour, which was an addition to the sacrifice; but it is often taken generally for any kind of offering. It is indeed certain that the Prophet meant, that however much the Israelites accumulated their ritual observances, they did nothing towards appeasing God, inasmuch as they observed not the law that was given them; and they turned also to a wrong purpose their sacrifices; for they did not exercise themselves in piety and in the spiritual worship of God, but, on the contrary, spread veils before God, that by presenting a fictitious form of worship, they might cover all their sins; for they thought themselves to be hidden from God.
This is the reason why the Prophet declares that these offerings would not be received by God, לא ארצה, la areste, I will not accept them. The Prophet no doubt alludes here to those promises, which are to be found everywhere in the law, as he did when he said in the last verse, לא אריח, la arich, I will not smell רוחה, ruch, means to smell; and Moses often uses the expression, that God is delighted with the odour of sacrifices, or with the smell of incense. But when the Lord declares that odour is pleasant to him, he means that it is so, provided the people sacrificed rightly, that is, when they brought not sacrifices as false veils to cover their sins, but as true and real evidences of their faith and repentance; God promised in that case that sacrifices would be a sweet odour to him. Now, on the contrary, he declares that the perfume would not be acceptable to him, nor sacrifices appeasing. But sacrifices not only were acceptable to God, but also pacified him. Since then the Lord had so often said, that he would be propitious to his people, when sacrifices were offered, it was necessary expressly to cut off this confidence from the Israelites, when they dealt not faithfully with God. God never disappointed his true worshipers, but ever received them into favor, provided they approached him in sincerity. But as these hypocrites dealt falsely with him, they were necessarily disappointed of their hope, as the Prophet here declares.
The peace-offerings of your fat things, he says, I will not regard God indeed promised in the law that he would regard their sacrifices provided they were lawful; but as the Israelites had in two ways departed from pure worship, God now justly says, I will not look on your sacrifices, nor on the peace-offerings of your fat things He calls them the peace-offerings of fat things, intimating, that though the beasts were the choicest, they would not yet be acceptable to him; for the Lord regards not fatness, as he needs neither meat nor drink. Then, in a word, the Prophet here sets this fatness in opposition to true godliness and obedience too. In both respects there was, as we have seen, a defect among the Israelites; for they obeyed not the law as to its outward requirements, and their hearts were impure and perverse: hence all their sacrifices were necessarily polluted and corrupt.
It follows, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs By speaking of multitude, he aims at hypocrites, who toil much in their devices without measure or end, as we see done at this day by those under the Papacy; for they accumulate endless forms of worship, and greatly weary themselves, morning and evening; in short, they spend days and nights in performing their ceremonies, and every one devises some new thing, and all these they heap together. Inasmuch, then, as men, when they have begun to turn aside from the pure word of God, continually invent various kinds of trifles, the Prophet here touches indirectly on this foolish laboriousness (stultan sedulitatem — foolish sedulity) when he says, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs. He might have simply said, “Thy songs please me not;” but he mentions their multitude, because hypocrites, as I have said, fix no limits to their outward ceremonies: and a vast heap especially follows, when once they take to themselves the liberty of devising this or that form of worship. Hence God testifies here, that they spend labor in vain, for he rejects what he does not command, and whatever is not rightly offered to him.
And the harmony of lyres, or of musical instruments. But נבל, nabel, was an instrument, which, as to its kind, is unknown to us now. Take away, then, from me the harmony of lyres; for the verb, take away, may refer to both clauses; though some join them to the last the verb “lo לא אשמע, la ashimo, I will not hear. The difference really is very little: but their view is the most probable, who join together the two clauses, ‘Take away from me the multitude of thy songs and the harmony of lyres;’ with which thou thinkest me to be delighted. They afterwards take לא אשמע “I will not hear,” by itself. But I contend not about such minute things: it is enough to know the design of the Prophet. It now follows —
24. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
24. Et decurret quasi aquae judicium, et justitia quasi torrens violentus.
Interpreters variously expound this verse. To some it seems an exhortation, as though the Prophet said, “Ye thrust on me victims of beasts and various ceremonies; but I regard not these things; for the interior purity of heart alone pleases me: take away then all these things, which are of no moment with me, and bring what I especially require and demands even a pure and sincere heart.”
Some also think that newness of life is here described by its fruits or its evidences: for the Prophet mentions not purity, speaks not of faith and repentance, but by the fruits sets forth that renovation, which God always chiefly regards, and for the sake of which he had required sacrifices under the law. The meaning then is, that hypocrites are here recalled to true worship, because they vainly and absurdly tormented themselves with their own fictions: and by requiring from them righteousness and judgment, he required a holy and pure life, or, in a word, uprightness.
Others think that the Prophet turns aside here to celebrate the grace of Christ, which was to be made known in the gospel: and the verb יגל, igel, is rendered by many “shall be revealed;” but others more correctly derive it from the root גל, igel, to roll. Let justice then as it were, roll. But I will return to the second exposition. Most think that there is here a prediction of that righteousness which God was to make known by the coming of Christ; and some retain also the proper meaning of the verb גל, gal, to roll. They then say that the gospel is here compared to an impetuous river and a violent stream, because the Lord would rush on and penetrate through all hindrances, how many soever Satan might attempt to throw in his way. But this meaning seems not to harmonize with the Prophet’s words and is in my judgment, too refined.
Some again regard the verse as a threatening, and think that God here reproves the Israelites, as though he had said, that since they were trifling with and mocking him, he would at length show what was true righteousness and what was true judgment: for hypocrites think that they come not short of a perfect state, when they are veiled by their ceremonies, inasmuch as they flee to these lurking holes, when they would cover all their flagitous deeds. Hence they think not that they are guilty, for they hide their sins under their ceremonies as under Ajax’s shield. Seeing then that they thus trifle with God, some interpreters think that God here sharply reproves them and says, that they were greatly deceived, for he would himself at length make known what was true righteousness. Righteousness then shall run down or be rolled; and by this verb he expresses impetuosity; but he sets it forth afterwards more clearly by איתן, aitan, “Judgment shall be a violent stream.” But hypocrites amuse themselves as children do with their puppets. Inasmuch then as they do nothing seriously, and yet desire to pacify God as with baubles, the Prophet here shakes off such delusions, as though he said, “Do you think that God is like a child? Why do you set up these trifles? Do you think that righteousness is a fictitious thing, or that judgment is a vain figment? The Lord will certainly show to you how precious righteousness is. It shall therefore run down as violent waters, as an impetuous stream. “Judgment,” he says “shall rush upon you and overwhelm you.” This is the third meaning.
But the verse may be again explained in a different way, as though God obviated an objection; for hypocrites, we know, always raise a clamor, and make no end of contending; “What! Have we then lost all our labor, while endeavoring to worship God? Is all this to go for nothing? And further, we have not only offered sacrifices, but sought also to testify that the glory of God is to us an object of concern. Since then we have had a care for religion, why should God now reject us?” The Prophet here shortly answers, — that if only they brought forth true righteousness, their course would be free; as though he said, “God will not put a check to your righteousness and rectitude:” and this must be referred to the fruit or remuneration; as though the Prophet said, “Only worship God in sincerity, and he will not disappoint you; for a reward will be laid up for you; your righteousness shall run down as a river.” As it is said in another place, ‘Your righteousness shall shine as the dawn,’ so it is also in this, ‘Your righteousness shall run down as violent waters.’ There was therefore no reason for hypocrites to expostulate and say that wrong was done them by God, or that their performances were lightly esteemed, since God openly testified, that he would provide for righteousness, that it might have a free course, like an impetuous river: and this seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet. While I do not wholly reject the other expositions, I do not yet follow them; but show what I mostly approve. 37
Then the Prophet, after having bidden them to throw aside all their fictitious and spurious forms of worship, does not now simply exhort the Israelites, as some think, to exhibit righteousness and rectitude, but expresses this in the form of a promise, “Run down shall your righteousness as impetuous waters, provided it be true, and not an empty name. Whenever God shall see in you sincere rectitude, there will certainly be prepared an ample reward for you.” It follows —
25. Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?
25. An victimas et munus (est מנחה) obtulistis mihi in deserto quadraginta annis, domus Israel?
26. But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.
26. Et sustulistis Sicuth Regem vestrum, et Chion, imagines vestras, stellam deorum vestrorum (vel, deos vestros,) quae fecistis vobis.
The Prophet shows in this place, that he not only reproved hypocrisy in the Israelites in obtruding on God only external display of ceremonies without any true religion in the heart; but that he also condemned them for having departed from the rule of the law. He also shows that this was not a new disease among the people of Israel; for immediately at the beginning their fathers mixed such a leaven as vitiated the worship of God. He therefore proves that the Israelites had ever been given to superstitions, and could not by any means be retained in the true and pure worship of God.
Have ye then caused sacrifices, victims, or an oblation to come before me in the desert for forty years? He addresses them as though they had perverted God’s worship in the desert, and yet they were born many ages after; what does he mean? Even this, — the Prophet includes the whole body of the people from their first beginning, as though he said, “It is right to inclose you in the same bundle with your fathers; for you are the same with your fathers in your ways and dispositions.” We hence see that the Israelites were regarded guilty, not only because they vitiated God’s worship in one age by their superstitions, but also from the beginning. And he asks whether they offered victims to him: it is certain that such was their intention; for they at no time dared to deny God, by whom they had been not long before delivered; and we know that though they made for themselves many things condemned by the law, they ever adhered to this principle, “The God, who hath redeemed us, is to be worshipped by us:” yea, they always proudly boasted of their father Abraham. They had never then willingly alienated themselves from God, who had chosen Abraham their father and themselves to be his people: and indeed the Prophet shortly before had said, ‘Take away from me,’ etc.; and then, ‘when ye offer to me sacrifices and a gift of flour, I will not count them acceptable.’ There seems to be an inconsistency in this — that God should deny that victims been offered to him — and yet say that they were offered to him by the people of Israel, when, as we have stated, they had presumptuously built a profane and spurious altar. The solution is easy, and it is even this, — that the people had ever offered sacrifices to God, if we regard what they pretended to do: for good intention, as it is commonly called, so blinds the superstitious, that with great presumption they trifle with God. Hence with respect to them we may say that they sacrificed to God; but as to God, he denies that what was not purely offered was offered to him. We now then see why God says now that sacrifices were not offered to him in the wilderness: he says so, because the people blended with his worship the leaven of idolatry: and God abhorred this depravation. This is the meaning.
But another objection may be again proposed. This defection did not prevail long, and the whole people did not give their consent to idolatry; and still more, we know what the impostor Balaam said, that Jacob had no idol; and speaking in the twentieth chapter of Numbers, 38 by the prophetic spirit, he testifies that the only true God reigned in Jacob, and that there were among them no false gods. How then does the Prophet say now that idolatry prevailed among them? The answer is ready: The greater part went astray: hence the whole people are justly condemned; and though this sin was reproved, yet they relapsed continually, as it is well known, into superstitions; and still more, they worshipped strange gods to please strumpets. Since it was so, it is no wonder that they are accused here by the Prophet of not having offered victims to God, inasmuch as they were contaminated with impure superstitions: it could not then be, that they brought anything to God. At the same time God’s worship, required by his law, was of such importance, that he declared that he was worshipped by Jacob, as also Christ says,
“We know what we worship,” (Joh 4:22;)
and yet not one in a hundred among the Jews cherished the hope of eternal life in his heart. They were all Epicureans or profane; nay, the Sadducees prevailed openly among them: the whole of religion was fallen, or was at least so decayed, that there was no holiness and no integrity among them; and yet Christ says, “We know what we worship;” and this was true with regard to the law.
Now then we see that the Prophets speak in various ways of Israel: when they regard the people, they say, that they were perfidious, that they were apostates, who had immediately from the beginning departed from the true and legitimate worship of God: but when they commend the grace of God, they say, that the true worship of God shone among them, that though the whole multitude had become perverted, yet the Lord approved of what he had commanded. So it is with Baptism; it is a sacred and immutable testimony of the grace of God, though it were administered by the devil, though all who may partake of it were ungodly and polluted as to their own persons. Baptism ever retains its own character, and is never contaminated by the vices of men. The same must be said of sacrifices.
I shall now return to the words of the Prophet: 39 Have you offered to me victims for forty years in the desert? He enhances their sin by the circumstance of their condition; for they were there shut up in a narrow and hard confinement, and yet they turned aside after their superstitions. And it was certainly a monstrous thing: God fed them daily with manna; they were therefore under the necessity, however unwilling, of looking up to heaven every day; for God constrained their unwillingness with no common favor. They knew, too, that water flowed for them miraculously from a rock. Seeing then that God constrained them thus to look up to him, how was it that they yet became vain through their own deceptions? It was, as I have said, a prodigious blindness. Hence the Prophet speaks of the forty years and of the desert, that the atrocity of their sin might more fully appear; for the Lord could not, by so many bonds, keep the people from such a madness.
It now follows, And ye have carried Sicuth your king. This place, we know, is quoted by Stephen Ac 7:42-43: but he followed the Greek version; and the Greek translator, whoever he was, was mistaken as to the word, Sicuth, and read, Sucoth, and thought the name an appellative of the plural number, and supposed it to be derived from סוך suk, which means a tabernacle; for he translated it σκήνην as if it was said, “Ye bore the tabernacle of your king instead of the ark.” But it was a manifest mistake; for the probability is, that Sicuth was the proper name of an idol. Ye bore then Sicuth your king. He called it their king by way of reproach; for they had violated that priestly kingdom, which God had instituted; for he, as a king, exercised dominion over them. Since then God would be deemed the king of Israel, as he had ascribed to himself that name, and since he promised to them a kingdom, as in due time he gave them, it was the basest ingratitude in them to seek an idol to be their king; it was indeed a denial of God which could not be borne, not to allow themselves to be governed by him. We hence see how sharply he upbraids them, for had refused to God his own kingdom, and created for themselves the fictitious Sleuth as their king.
Then it follows, And Kiun, your images Some think that כיון, Kiun, means a cake, and כוה, kue, is to burn, and from this they think the word is derived; but others more correctly regard it as a proper name; and the Prophet, I have no doubt, has named here some reigned god after Sleuth. Kiun then, your images; I read the words as being in apposition. Others say, “The cake of your images;” and some render the words literally, “Kiun your images;” but yet they do not sufficiently attend to the design of the Prophet; for he seems here to ridicule the madness of the people, because they dreamt that some deity was inclosed in statues and in such masks. “Ye carried,” he says, “both Sicuth and Kiun, your images. I am now deprived of honor, for ye could not bear me to govern you. Ye now enjoy your King Sicuth; but, in the meantime, let us see what is the power of Sicuth and Kiun; they are nothing more than images. Seeing then that there is neither strength nor even life in them, what madness is it to worship such fictitious things?”
But some think that Kiun was the image of Saturn. What the Hebrews indeed say, that this idolatry was derived from the Persians, is wholly groundless; for the Persians, we know, had no images nor statues, but worshipped only the sacred fire. As, then, the Persians had no images. the Jews fabled, in their usual way, when they said that Kiun was an image of Saturn. But all the Jews, I have no doubt, imagined that all the stars were gods, as they made images for them; for it immediately follows, A constellation, or a star, your gods These, he says, are your gods; even stars and images; and there is here a sarcasm (σαρκασμος;) used; for the Prophet derides the folly of the people of Israel, who, being not content with the Maker of heaven and earth, sought for themselves dead gods, or rather vain devices. “Your gods then,” he says, “are images and stars.”
But it must be observed, that he calls them images: he does not, as in other places, call them idols; and this, I say, ought to be observed, for here is refuted the foolish and refinement of the Papists, who at this day excuse all their superstitions, because they have no idols; for they deny that their devices are idols. What then? They are images. Thus they hide their own baseness under the name of images. But the Prophet does not say that they were idols; he does not use that hateful word which is derived from grief or sorrow; but he says that they were images. The name then in itself has nothing base or ominous; but, at the same time, as the Lord would not have himself represented by any visible figure, the Prophet here expressly and distinctly condemns Sicuth and Kiun. The Greek translator whom Stephen followed, put down the word, types or figures, that is, images. Now, when any one says to the Papists that their figures or images are sinful before God, they boldly deny this; but we see that their evasion avails nothing.
He adds in the last place, Which ye have made for yourselves I prefer rendering the relative אשר, asher, in the neuter gender, as including all their fictitious gods, and also their images, which things then ye have made for yourselves. To make these things is at all times vicious in sacred things; for we ought not to bring any thing of our own when we worship God, but we ought to depend always on the word of his mouth, and to obey what he has commanded. All our actions then in the worship of God ought to be, so to speak, passive; for they ought to be referred to his command, lest we attempt any thing but what he approves. Hence, when men dare to do this or that without God’s command, it is nothing else but abomination before him. And the Greeks call superstitions εθελοθρησκείας; and this word means voluntary acts of worship, such as are undertaken by men of their own accord. We now understand the whole design of the Prophet. It follows —
27. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
27. Et migrare faciam vos ultra Damascum, dicit Jehova, Deus exercituum nomen ejus.
Here the Prophet at last denounces exile on the Israelites as though he had said that God would not suffer them any longer to contaminate the Holy Land, which had been given them as an heritage, on the condition that they acknowledged him as the only true God. God had now, for a long time, borne with the Israelites though they had never ceased to pollute his land with superstitions. He comes now to cleanse it. I will cause you, he says, to migrate beyond Damascus; for they thought that enemies were driven, by means of that fortress, from the whole country, and they took shelter there as in a quiet nest. The expression would have otherwise no meaning, and this is what interpreters have not noticed. They say, “I will cause you to migrate beyond Damascus” 40 that is, to a far country; but why did the Prophet mention Damascus? This reason ought to be observed. It was because the Israelites thought that all the attacks of enemies would be prevented by having the city Damascus as their defense, which they supposed was impregnable. “That fortress,” the Lord says, “will not prevent me from taking you away, and removing you as far as the Assyrians.” We now see what the Prophet means, and why he expressly added the name of Damascus.
It follows, The God of hosts is his name 41 Here the Prophet confirms his threatening, lest hypocrites should think that he did not speak in earnest: for we know how readily they flattered themselves; and when the Lord fulminated, they remained secure. Hence the Prophet, that he might strike terror, says, that the speaker is the God of hosts, as though he said, “Ye cannot hope to escape the vengeance which God now denounces on you; for his power is infinite, he is the Lord of hosts. See then that he is prepared to destroy you except ye timely repent.” This is the meaning. I will not now proceed farther.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us to be so prone to corrupt superstitions, and that we are with so much difficulty restrained by thy word, — O grant, that we being confirmed by thy Spirit, may never turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but be ever attentive to thee alone, and not worship thee presumptuously, nor pollute thy worship with our outward pomps, but call on thee with a sincere heart, and, recumbing on thy aid, flee to thee in all our necessities, and never abuse thy holy name, which thou hast designed to be engraven on us, but be conformed to the image of thy Son, that thou mayest be to us truly a Father, and that we may be thy children, in the name of the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The verse, as evidently understood by Calvin, is to be thus rendered —
“He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
Who turns darkness into morning,
And darkens the day to night,
Who calls the waters of the sea,
And pours them on the face of the earth, —
Jehovah is his name.”
This is the rendering of the Septuagint. It is not consonant with the character of Hebrew to borrow a word, as it is done in our version, from a preceding verse. Newcome has prefixed the words, “That have forsaken;” on what authority it does not appear. The obvious construction of the passage given above. — Ed.
Commentators are not agreed as to the meaning of the words rendered here, Pleiades and Orion, כימה, and כסיל. They are found only in two other places, Job 9:9, and Job 38:31; and in the first of these in conjunction with עש, in our version, Arcturus, and also in the second with מזרות, Mazzaroth. Most think that all these were names given by the Hebrews to certain stars or constellations. It is evident, that with the exception of the last, Mazzaroth, the words, Pleiades, etc., are names borrowed from the Greek poets, and first introduced by the translators of the Septuagint: but they observe no consistency; for in Job 9:9, they render כימה, Αρκτουρος, and in Job 38:31; πλειας and in Amos the sentence is paraphrased and the word is left out. Again, כסיל is rendered ἕσπερος, the evening star, in Job 9:9 and Ωρίωνος in Job 38:31 while עש is translated ἕσπερος, and in Job 9:9, πλειας. This confusion proves that the translators exercised no discrimination. The Vulgate exhibits a similar inconsistency.
Parkhurst’s view is the most satisfactory, and corresponds with the terms used in connection with the words in Job 38:31, and with the context here. The genial heat, according to him, is כימה, and the cold is כסיל. The passage in Job is, “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, כימה, or loose the bands of Orion? כסיל;” which influences מעדנות, the delights, the pleasures, the delicacies) of the genial heat, ,כימהor open contradictions of the cold? כסיל In the present passage what things God is continually doing are referred to, and not his past works, which would be the case where the constellations intended. Then the first line would run this: —
He who makes the genial heat and the cold.
Thus the whole passage would agree well together, as relating the various acts of God as the supreme agent in the material world. — Ed.
This version differs widely from ours, but is no doubt nearer the meaning of the original. Newcome’s translation is as follows —
Who scattereth desolation over the strong,
And bringeth desolation over the fortress.
What comes nearest the original is the rendering proposed by Parkhurst, and is striking and poetical: the first line is this —
Who causeth the waster to laugh at strength.
The verb here used means primarily to laugh or to smile, and in a secondary sense, to be refreshed or made cheerful, or to be comforted. It is here in Hiphil, the causative mood. The whole verse may be thus rendered: —
Who causeth the waster to laugh at strength;
And a waster on the fortress he will bring.
The verb is בושסכם, from בושם but in ten MSS. Of Kennicott, and in five of D’Rossi, the ו is left out: and then ש is supposed to be put for ס, as Amos in another place, Am 7:14, puts ס for ש. The verb בס, and in its reduplicate form בסס, occurs in other places, and means to tread or trample under foot. The expression here literally is, “your trampling;” but such a form may often be expressed in our language, “ye trample.” The connection of the whole verse will be better seen by the following version: —
Therefore, as ye trample on the poor,
And tribute of corn extort from him, —
Houses of hewn stone you may build,
But ye shall not dwell in them;
Vineyards of delight ye may plant,
But ye shall not drink their wine.
This verse literally rendered from the Hebrew is as follows: —
Therefore, the prudent at that time will be silent;
For a time of evil will that be.
It is a rule, which may be viewed as nearly if not wholly, universal, that the substantive verb, to be, whenever understood and not expressed in the original, is to be rendered in the same tense with the other verbs in the sentence. So here, “A time of evil will that be,” and not, “is;” for the previous verb is in the future tense.
There are many instances of the neglect of this rule in our version, as in Ps 23:4, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;” it ought to be, “for thou wilt be with me.” And then the line which follows ought be rendered in the same way, for the verb is in the future tense, — “Thy rod and thy staff, they will comfort me.” — Ed.
Henderson gives a better rendering of these two lines, —
In all the broad places there shall be wailing,
And in all the streets, they shall say, Oh! Oh!
רחבות, from רחב, to be dilated, and to be made broad or wide, mean broad places or broad streets: and חוצות, from חצה, to divide, signify the common streets, by which the town is divided. The exclamations, הו, הו, are rendered by Calvin, Vae! Vae! Eheu, in Latin, and Woe, in our language come nearest to sound in the original. —Ed.
There appears here a great candor in our Author: but the first view of the passage seems the most natural and obvious, as presented in our version, with which that of Newcome and Henderson agrees. Having before exhorted them to “take away” what they thought much of, the Prophet now exhorts them to attend to judgment and justice. The two verses, 23 and 24, may be thus rendered: —
23. Remove from me the multitude of thy songs,
And the music of thy harps; I will not hear them.
24. And let judgment roll down like waters,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.
I prefer rendering המון, “multitude,” with Calvin, rather than “noise,” with our version and Newcome, or “sound” with Henderson. It forms a variety as to the next clause. In idiomatic English the expressions would be—”thy many songs and thy harmonious harps.” The two verses ought to be read as connected; and the 24th should begin with “And,” ו, and not “But.” — Ed.
Calvin is perhaps referring to Nu 23:21, wherein the Douay version is: —
21. There is no idol in Jacob,
neither is there an image god to be seen in Israel. etc.
No commentator has given us a satisfactory rendering of these two verses. Perhaps that of Calvin, as a whole, comes nearest to the original. The question, Have ye, etc., is considered by many as not implying a negation but a concession, as though it had been said, “I grant this; ye did offer,” etc.; and then, what is said in verse 26 was what they did besides. It was this mixture of two worships, the worship of God and the worship of idols, that is here brought against the Israelites. I venture to present the following translation: —
Did you bring me sacrifices and oblation in the wilderness
For forty years, O house of Israel?
You did also bear Sacut, your king,
And Kiun, which were your images;
A star was your god,
Which ye formed for yourselves.
That the hosts of heaven were the objects of their worship, is evident from Stephen’s Sermon in Ac 7:42, “Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven.” Stephen then refers to, and quotes this passage, not from the Hebrew, but almost literally from the Septuagint. Instead of, “their figures which ye have made for yourselves,” he has, “figures which ye made to worship them.” He gives the meaning, but not the words.
Between the words of Amos, in Hebrew, and those of Stephen, there is a material, though not verbal agreement. Two objects of idolatrous worship are mentioned, and also their images, but their names are different. The probability is, that those used by Amos were not current at the time the Greek version was made, and that the names by which those deities were then known were used. Moloch, indeed, means a king, but applied, like Baal, to several heathen gods; and Kiun is said to be Arabic, and Remphan is an Egyptic term, designating the same star or planet, which critics suppose to have been Saturn. Moloch, as Grotius suggests, had the figure of a king, and Kiun that of a star.
Here is another instance in which the meaning and not the words, is given by Stephen in Ac 7:43. In this instance, the Septuagint is the same with the Hebrew text, “beyond Damascus;” but Stephen says, “beyond Babylon.” The same quarter is meant, though the name of the place is different. — Ed.
There seems to be a peculiar propriety in introducing this sentence. The Israelites became the worshippers of the hosts of heaven; then the Prophet says, that Jehovah is the God of Hosts. What folly, then, it was to worship the hosts of heaven, and to forsake the God of them! — Ed.