John Calvin, Commentary on Amos

Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets by John Calvin.

Now first translated from the original Latin, by the Rev. John Owen,
vicar of Thrussington, Leicestershire.

Volume Second. Joel, Amos, Obadiah

WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1950, Michigan.
Printed in the United States of America.

The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Prophet Amos

Lecture Forty-ninth.
    He shows himself the time when he began to discharge his office
of a teacher; but it does not appear how long he prophesied. The
Jews indeed, think that his course was long; he continued his
office, as they write, under four kings. But he mentions here only
the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam. His purpose was to mark the time
when he began to execute his office of a Prophet, but not to express
how long he labored for God in that office; and why he mentions only
the beginning, we shall in its proper place notice. It is, indeed,
certain, that he commenced his work under king Uzziah, and under
king Jeroboam: and this also is to be noticed, that he was appointed
a Prophet to the kingdom of Israel. For though he arose from the
tribe of Judah, yet the Lord, as we shall see set him over the
kingdom of Israel. He sometimes turns his discourse to the tribe of
Judah, but only, as it were, accidentally, and as occasion led him;
for he mainly addressed the Ten Tribes. I now come to his words.

Chapter 1.

Amos 1:1
The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw
concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the
days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before
the earthquake.
    Amos boasts not here, in speaking of his own words, that he
adduced anything as from himself, but avows himself to be only the
minister of God; for he immediately adds that he received them by a
vision. God himself raised up the Prophets and employed their
labour; And, at the same time, guided them by his Spirit, that they
might not announce anything but what had been received from him, but
faithfully deliver what had proceeded from him alone. These two
things then, well agree together, - that the prophecies which follow
were the words of Amos and that they were words revealed to him from
above; for the word "chazah" which Amos uses, properly means, to see
by revelation; and these revelations were called prophecies.
    But he says, that he "was among the shepherds of Tekoa". This
was a mean towns and had been shortly before surrounded by walls and
had ever been previously a village. He then mentions not his
country, because it was celebrated, or as though he could derive
thereby more authority or renown: but, on the contrary he calls
himself a Tekoan, because God drew him forth from an obscure place,
that he might set him over the whole kingdom of Israel. They are
therefore mistaken, as I think, who suppose that Amos was called one
of the shepherds on account of his riches, and the number of his
flocks; for when I weigh every thing, I see not how could this be. I
indeed allow that "nokdim" are not only shepherds who do the work,
but men possessing flocks, carrying on a large business; for the
king of Moab is said to have been a "noked", and that he fed large
flocks; but it was by hired shepherds. As to the Prophets I do not
see how this can be applied to him; for Tekoa was not a place famous
for wealth; and as I have said, it was a small town, and of no
opulence. I do not then doubt, but that Amos, by saying that he was
a shepherd, pours contempt on the pride of the king of Israel, and
of the whole people; for as they had not deigned to hear the
Prophets of God, a keeper of sheep was sent to them.
    It must be further noticed, that he is not called a shepherd of
Tekoa, but "from Tekoa"; and interpreters have not observed this
preposition. We shall see in chapter seven, that though Amos sprang
from the tribe of Judah, he yet dwelt in the kingdom of Israel: for
the priest, after he had slandered him before the king, bade him to
go elsewhere, and to eat his own bread, and not to disturb the peace
of the country. He therefore dwelt there as a stranger in a land not
his own. Had he been rich, and possessing much wealth, he would have
surely dwelt at home: why should he change his place? Since then it
appears evident, that he was a sojourner in the land of Israel, he
was, no doubt, one of the common people. So that his low condition
was intended for this purpose, - that God might thereby repress the
arrogance of the king of Israel, and of the whole people; for we
know how much inflated they were on account of the fruitfulness of
their land and their riches. Hence Amos was set over them as a
Prophet, being a shepherd, whom God had brought from the sheepfolds.
    The time also is to be observed, when he is said to have seen
these prophecies; it was "in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, two
years before the earth-quake, and in the days of Jeroboam, the son
of Joash". What the state of that time was, I described in
explaining the prophecies of Hosea. Sacred history relates that the
kingdom of Israel flourished under the second Jeroboam; for though
he was an ungodly and wicked man, yet God spared then his people,
and caused that not only the ten tribes should remain entire, but
also that Jeroboam should enlarge his kingdom; for he had recovered
some cities which had been lost. The state of the people was then
tranquil, and their prosperity was such as filled them with pride,
as it commonly happens. Uzziah also so reigned over the tribe of
Judah, that nothing adverse prevailed there. Shortly after followed
the earthquake. The time this earthquake happened, sacred history
does not mention. But Josephus says, that it was when Uzziah seized
on the priestly office, and was smitten with leprosy. He therefore
makes that stroke of leprosy and the earthquake to be at the same
time. But Amos, as well as other Prophets, spoke of it as a thing
well known: thus Zechariah, after the people's return, refers to it
in chapter 14:, 'There shall be to you a terror, such as was in the
earthquake under king Uzziah.' He states not the year, but it was
then commonly known.
    Then the Prophet meant nothing more than to show by this event,
that he denounced God's vengeance on the Israelites, when they were
in prosperity, and were immersed, as it were, in their pleasures.
And satiety, as it ever happens, made them ferocious; hence he was
not well received; but his authority is hereby more confirmed to us;
for he did not flatter the people in their prosperity, but severely
reproved them; and he also predicted what could not be foreseen by
human judgment, nay, what seemed to be altogether improbable. Had he
not then been endued with the heavenly Spirit, he could not have
foretold future calamities, when the Jews, as I have already said,
as well as the Israelites, and others, promised themselves all kinds
of prosperity; for God then spared the kingdom of Israel and the
kingdom of Judah, nor did he execute his judgment on neighboring
    We must now observe this also, that the words which he "saw"
were "concerning Israel". We hence learn, as I have already said
that the Prophet was specifically appointed for the Israelites,
though born elsewhere. But how and on what occasion he migrated into
the kingdom of Israel, we know not; and as to the subject in hand,
it matters not much: but it is probable, as I have said before, that
this was designedly done, that God might check the insolence of the
people, who flattered themselves so much in their prosperity. Since,
then, the Israelites had hitherto rejected God's servants, they were
now constrained to hear a foreigner and a shepherd condemning them
for their sins, and exercising the office of a judge: he who
proclaims, an impending destruction is a celestial herald. This
being the case, we hence see that God had not in vain employed the
ministry of this Prophet; for he is wont to choose the weak things
of the world to confound the strong, (1 Cor. 1) and he takes
Prophets and teachers from the lowest grade to humble the dignity of
the world, and puts the invaluable treasure of his doctrine in
earthly vessels, that his power, as Paul teaches us, may be made
more evident (1 Cor. 4.)
    But there vas a special reason as to the Prophet Amos; for he
was sent on purpose severely to reprove the ten tribes: and, as we
shall see, he handled them with great asperity. For he was not
polite, but proved that he had to do with those who were not to be
treated as men, but as brute beasts; yea, worse in obstinacy than
brute beasts; for there is some docility in oxen and cows, and
especially in sheep, for they hear the voice of their shepherd, and
follow where he leads them. The Israelites were all stubbornness,
and wholly untamable. It was then necessary to set over them a
teacher who would not treat them courteously, but exercise towards
them his native rusticity. Let us now proceed; for of the kingdom of
Uzziah and of Jeroboam the son of Joash, the second of that name, we
have spoken on the first chapter of Hosea. It now follows -

Amos 1:2
And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from
Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the
top of Carmel shall wither.
    He employs here the same words which we explained yesterday in
the last chapter of Joel; but for another purpose. By saying,
'Jehovah from Zion shall roar,' Joel intended to set forth the power
of God, who had been for a time silent, as though he was not able to
repel his enemies. As God was then despised by the ungodly, Joel
declares that he had power, by which he could instantly break down
and destroy all his enemies and defend his Church and chosen people.
But now Amos, as he addresses the Israelites, does here defend the
pure worship of God from all contempt and declares to the
Israelites, that how much soever they wearied themselves in their
superstitions they still worshipped their own devices; for God
repudiated all the religion they thought they had. There is, then,
to be understood an implied or indirect contrast between mount Zion
and the temples which the first Jeroboam built in Dan and Bethel.
The Israelites imagined that they worshipped the God of their
feather Abraham; and there were in those places greater pomps than
at Jerusalem. But the Prophet Amos pours contempt on all these
fictitious forms of worship; as though he said, "Ye indeed boast
that the God of Abraham is honored and worshipped by you; but ye are
degenerate, ye are covenant breakers, ye are perfidious towards God;
he dwells not with you, for the sanctuaries, which you have made for
yourselves, are nothing but brothels; God has chosen no habitation
for himself, except mount Zion; there is his perpetual rest: Roar
then will Jehovah from Zion."
    We now see what the Prophet had in view: for he not only shows
here, that God was the author of his doctrine, but at the same time
distinguishes between the true God and the idols, which the first
Jeroboam made, when by this artifice he intended to withdraw the ten
tribes from the house of David and wholly to alienate them from the
tribe of Judah: it was then that he set up the calves in Dan and
Bethel. The Prophet now shows that all these superstitions are
condemned by the true God: "Jehovah then shall roar from Zion, he
will utter his voice from Jerusalem". He no doubt wished here to
terrify the Israelites, who thought they had peace with God. Since,
then, they abused his long-suffering, Amos now says that they would
find at length that he was not asleep. "When God then shall long
bear with your iniquities, he will at last rise up for judgment."
    By roaring is signified, as we said yesterday, the terrible
voice of God; but the Prophet here speaks of God's voice, rather
than of what are called actual judgments really executed, that the
Israelites might learn that the examples of punishments which God
executes in the world happen not by chance, or at random, but
proceed from his threatening; in short, the Prophet intimates that
all punishments which God inflicts on the ungodly and the despisers
of his word, are only the executions of what the Prophets
proclaimed, in order that men, should there be any hope of their
repentance, might anticipate the destruction which they hear to be
nigh. The Prophet then commends here very highly the truth of what
God teaches, by saying that it is not what vanishes, but what is
accomplished; for when he destroys nations and kingdoms, it comes to
pass according to prophecies: "God then shall utter his voice from
    Then it follows, "And mourn shall the habitations of
shepherds". "'Aval" means to mourn, and also to be laid waste, and
to perish. Either sense will well suit this place. If we read,
"mourn", &c., then we must render the following thus, "and ashamed
shall be the head, or top, of Carmel". But if we read, "perish",
&c., then the verb "bosh" must be translated, "wither"; and as we
know that there were rich pastures on Carmel, I prefer this second
rendering: "wither then shall the top of Carmel"; and the first
clause must be taken thus, "and perish shall the habitations of
    As to what is intended, we understand the Prophet's meaning to
be, that whatever was pleasant and valuable in the kingdom of Israel
would now shortly perish, because God would utter his voice from
Zion. The meaning then is this, - "Ye now lie secure, but God will
soon, and even suddenly, put forth his power to destroy you; and
this he will do, because he denounces on you destruction now by me,
and will raise up other Prophets to be heralds of his vengeance:
this will God execute by foreign and heathen nations; but yet your
destruction will be according to these threatening which ye now
count as nothing. Ye indeed think them to be empty words; but God
will at length show that what he declares will be fully
    With respect to Carmel, there were two mountains of this name;
but as they were both very fertile, there is no need to take much
trouble to inquire of which Carmel the Prophet speaks. Sufficient is
what has been said, - that such a judgment is denounced on the
kingdom of Israel as would consume all its fatness; for as we shall
hereafter see, and the same thing has been already stated by the
Prophet Hosea, there was great fertility as to pastures in that
    We must, at the same time, observe, that the Prophet, who was a
shepherd, speaks according to his own character, and the manner of
life which he followed. Another might have said, 'Mourn shall the
whole country, tremble shall the palaces,' or something like this;
but the Prophet speaks of mount Carmel, and of the habitations of
shepherds, for he was a shepherd. His doctrine no doubt was
despised, and many profane men probably said, "What! he thinks that
he is still with his cows and with his sheep; he boasts that he is
God's prophet, and yet he is ever engrossed by his stalls and his
sheepfolds." It is then by no means improbable, but that he was thus
derided by scornful men: but he purposely intended to blunt their
petulance, by mingling with what he said as a Prophets those kinds
of expressions which savored of his occupation as a shepherd. Let us
now proceed -

Amos 1:3-5
3 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for
four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they
have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:
4 But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall
devour the palaces of Benhadad.
5 I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant
from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the
house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto
Kir, saith the LORD.
    It is singular that Amos said that his words were concerning
Israel, and that he should now turn to speak of Damascus and the
country of Syria. This seems inconsistent; for why does he not
perform the office committed to him? why does he not reprove the
Israelites? why does he not threaten them? why does he not show
their sins? and why does he speak of the destruction then nigh to
the people of Syria? But it is right here to consider what his
design was. He shows briefly, in the last verse, that ruin was nigh
the Israelites; for God, who had hitherto spared them, was now
resolved to ascend his tribunal. But now, that he might better
prepare the Israelites, he shows that God, as a judge, would call
all the neighboring nations to an account. For had the Prophet
threatened the Israelites only, they might have thought that what
they suffered was by chance, when they saw the like things happening
to their neighbors: "How is it credible that these evils and
calamities have flowed from God's vengeance, since the Idumeans, the
Moabites, the Ammonites, the Syrians, and the Sidonians, are
implicated in these evils in common with ourselves? For if God's
hand pursues us, it is the same with them: and if it is fate, that
with blind force exercises its rule over the Moabites, the Idumeans,
and the Syrians, the same thing, doubtless, is to be thought of our
case." Thus all the authority of the Prophet must have lost its
power, except the Israelites were made to know that God is the judge
of all nations.
    We must also bear in mind, that the kingdom of Israel was laid
waste, together with other neighboring countries, as war had spread
far and wide; for the Assyrian, like a violent storm, had extended
through the whole of that part of the world. Not only, then, the
Israelites were distressed by adversities at that time, but all the
nations of which Amos prophesied. It was hence necessary to add the
catalogue which we here find, that the Israelites might have as many
confirmations respecting God's vengeance, as the examples which were
presented to their eyes, in the dire calamities which everywhere
prevailed. This is to be borne in mind. And then the Prophet
regarded another thing: If the Idumeans, the Moabites, the Syrians,
and Ammonites, were to be treated so severely, and the Prophet had
not connected the Israelites with them, they might have thought that
they were to be exempted from the common punishments because God
would be propitious to them; for hypocrites ever harden themselves
the more, whenever God spates them: "See, the Ammonites and the
Moabites are punished; the Idumeans, the Syrians, and other nations,
are visited with judgment: God then is angry with all these; but we
are his children, for he is indulgent to us." But the Prophet puts
here the Israelites in the same bundle with the Moabites, the
Idumeans, and other heathen nations; as though he said, "God will
not spare your neighbours; but think not that ye shall be exempt
from his vengeance, when they shall be led to punishment; I now
declare to you that God will be the judge of you all together."
    We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He wished here to
set before the eyes of the Israelites the punishment of others to
awaken them, and also to induce them to examine themselves for we
often see, that those who are intractable and refractory in their
disposition, when directly addressed are not very attentive; but
when they hear of the sins of others, and especially when they hear
something of punishment, they will attend. The Prophet therefore
designed by degrees to lead the Israelites to a teachable state of
mind, for he knew them to be torpid in their indulgences, and also
blinded by presumption, so that they could not be easily brought
under the yoke: hence he sets before them the punishment which was
soon to fall on neighbouring nations.
    We must yet observe that there was another reason I do not
throw aside what I have already mentioned; but the Prophet no doubt
had this also in view, - that God would punish the Syrians, because
they cruelly raged against the Israelites especially against Gilead
and its inhabitants. As God, then, would inflict so grievous a
punishment on the Syrians, because they so cruelly treated the
inhabitants of Gilead, what was to be expected by the Israelites
themselves who had been insolent towards God, who had violated his
worship who had robbed him of his honor, who had in their turn
destroyed one another! For, as we shall hereafter see, there was
among them no equity, no humanity; they had forgotten all reason.
Since, then, the Israelites were such, how could they hope that so
many and so detestable crimes should go unpunished, when they saw
that the Syrians, though uncircumcised, were not to be spared,
because they so cruelly treated professed enemies, on whom they
lawfully made war?
    I now come to the words of the Prophet: "Thus saith Jehovah,
For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, will not be
propitious to it; literally, "I sill not convert it": but I take
this actively that God would not turn himself to mercy, or that he
would not be propitious to Damascus. We know that Damascus was the
capital of Syria; And the Prophet here, by mentioning a part for the
whole, threatens the whole people, and summons all the Syrians to
God's tribunal, because they had inhumanely treated, as we shall
see, the city of Gilead. But he says, God will "not be propitious
for three and four transgressions of Damascus". Some take this
meaning, "For three transgressions I have been propitious, for four
I will not be." But there is no need of adding anything to the
Prophet's words; for the most suitable sense here is that for the
many sins of Damascus God would not be propitious to it: and the
Prophet, I have no doubt, intended by the two numbers to set forth
the irreclaimable perverseness of the Syrians. Seven in Scripture is
an indefinite number, and is taken, as it is well known, to express
what is countless. By saying then, three and four transgressions, it
is the same as if he had said seven: but the Prophet more strikingly
intimates the progress the Syrians made in their transgressions,
until they became so perverse that there was no hope of repentance.
This then is the reason, that God declares that he would no more
forgive the Syrians, inasmuch as without measure or limit they burst
forth into transgressions and ceased not, though a time for change
was given them. This is the true meaning. And the Prophet repeats
the same form of speech in speaking of Gaza, of Amman, of Edom, and
of other nations.
    Let us learn from this place, that God, whom the world regards
as too cruel, when he takes vengeance on sins, shows really and by
sure proof the truth of what he declares so often of himself in
Scripture, and that is, that he bears long and does not quickly take
vengeance: though men are worthy to perish yet the Lord suspends his
judgments. We have a remarkable proof of this in these prophecies;
for the Prophet speaks not only of one people but of many. Hence God
endured many transgressions not only in the Syrians, but also in
other nations: there was not then a country in which a testimony to
God's forbearance did not exist. It hence appears, that the world
unjustly complains of too much rigor, when God takes vengeance, for
he ever waits till iniquity, as it was stated yesterday, reaches its
highest point.
    There is besides presented to us here a dreadful spectacle of
sins among so many nations. At the same time, when we compare that
age with ours, it is certain that greater integrity existed then:
all kinds of evils so overflow at this day, that compared with the
present, the time of Amos was the golden age; and yet we hear him
declaring here, that the people of Judah and of Israel, and all the
other nations, were monstrously wicked, so that God could not bring
them to repentance. For he testifies not here in vain, that he would
punish wickedness wholly obstinate since they had not turned to him,
who had advanced to the number seven; that is, who had sinned, as it
has been before stated, without measure or limits: and this ought
also to be noticed in the Prophet's words; but I cannot now proceed
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us to be of a disposition so
hard and rebellious, that we are not, without great difficulty,
drawn to thee, - O grant, that we may at least be subdued by the
threatenings thou daily denouncest on us, and be so subdued, that
being also drawn by thy word, we may give up ourselves to thee, and
not only suffer ourselves to be constrained by punishments and
collections, but also obey thee with a willing mind, and most
readily offer ourselves to thee as a sacrifice of obedience, so that
being ruled by the Spirit of thy Son, we may at length attain that
blessed rest, which has been prepared for us by the same thy Son our
Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 2...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-01.txt