(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 2)

Lecture Fiftieth.

    We explained in yesterday's Lecture, that what the Prophet
means by the three and four transgressions of Damascus, is perverse
and incurable wickedness; for God here declares that he had borne
long enough with the sins of Damascus, and that now he is in a
manner forced to proceed to extreme rigor, seeing that there was no
hope of amendment. But what follows may seem strange; for
immediately the Prophet subjoins, "Because they have threshed Gilead
with iron wains", or serrated machines. He records here only one
wickedness: where, then, were the seven of which he spoke? The
answer may be easily given. By naming the three and four sins of
Damascus, he means not different kinds of sins, but rather the
perverseness which we have mentioned; for they had been extremely
rebellious against God, and God had suspended his vengeance, till it
became evident that they were unhealable. It was, therefore, not
necessary to mention here seven different sins; for it was enough
that Damascus, which means the kingdom of Syria, was held bound by
such a degree of obstinacy, that no remedy could be applied to its
transgressions; for it had for a long time tried the patience of
    Now the Prophet subjoins, "I will send fire unto the house of
Hazael, which will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad". The Prophet
speaks still of the kingdom of Syria; for we know that both
Ben-hadad and Hazael were kings of Syria. But Jerome is much
mistaken, who thinks that Ben-hadad was here put in the second
place, as if he had been the successor of Hazael, while sacred
history relates that Hazael came to Elisha when Ben-hadad was ill in
his bed, (2 Kings 8: 9;) and he was sent to request an answer. Now
the Prophet declared that Hazael would be the king of Syria, and
declared this not without tears; for he pitied his own people, of
which this Syrian would be the destroyer. After he returned home, he
strangled Ben-hadad, and took to himself the royal dignity. But it
is common enough in Scripture to speak of a thing present, and then,
as in this place, to add what has past, "I will send fire into the
house of Hazael, and this fire will devour the palaces of
Ben-hadad"; as though he said, "I will destroy the kingdom of Syria,
I will consume it as with burning." But he first names the house of
Hazael, and then the palaces of Ben-hadad; as though he said, "No
ancientness shall preserve that kingdom from being destroyed." For,
metaphorically, under the word fire, he designates every kind of
consumption; and we know how great is the violence of fire. It is
then as though he said, that no wealth, no strength, no
fortifications, would stand in the way to prevent the kingdom of
Syria from being destroyed.
    He then adds, "I will break in pieces the bar of Damascus". The
Prophet confirms what he had already said; for Damascus, being
strongly fortified, might have seemed unassailable. By bar, the
Prophet, mentioning a part for the whole, meant strongholds and
everything which could keep out enemies. Nothing, then, shall
prevent enemies from taking possession of the city of Damascus. How
so? Because the Lord will break in pieces its bars.
    It is then added, "I will cut off, or destroy, the inhabitant
from Bikoth Aven", or from the plain of Aven. It is uncertain
whether this was the proper name of a place or not, though this is
probable; and yet it means a plain, derived from a verb, which
signifies to cut into two, or divide, because a plain or a valley
divides or separates mountains; hence a valley or plain is called in
Hebrew a division. Now, we know that there were most delightful
plains in the kingdom of Syria, and even near Damascus. Aven also
may have been the name of a place, though it means in Hebrew trouble
or laborer. But whatever it may have been, the Prophet no doubt
declares here, that all the plains nigh Damascus, and in the kingdom
of Syria, would be deprived of their inhabitants. "I will then
destroy the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and the holder of the
sceptre from the house of Eden", or from the house of pleasure. This
also may have been the name of a place, and from its situation a
region, which, by its pleasantness greatly delighted its
inhabitants. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, alludes, in these two
words, to "trouble" and "pleasure". "Removed", he says, shall be the
people of Syria into Kir". The purport of this is, that the kingdom
of Syria would be wasted, so that the people would be taken into
Assyria; for the Prophet declares that the Assyrians would be the
conquerors, and remove the spoils into their own kingdom, and lead
away the people as captives; for the word city, as a part for the
whole, is put here for the whole land. It now follows -

Amos 1:6-8
6 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for
four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they
carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver [them] up to
7 But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the
palaces thereof:
8 And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that
holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against
Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the
Lord GOD.

    Amos directs here his discourse against Gaza, which the
Philistine occupied. It was situated in the tribe of Judah, towards
the sea; but as the Anakims were its inhabitants, the Philistine
kept possession of it. Then the Jews had these enemies as
"aktorekous", (guardians of the shore,), who had a greater
opportunity of doing harm from being so near: and we may learn from
the Prophet's words, that the Philistines, who dwelt at Gaza, when
they saw the Israelites oppressed by their enemies, joined their
forces to foreign allies, and that the Jews did the same. God then
now denounces punishment on them.
    As to the word, Gaza, some think that it was given to the city,
because Cambyses, when warring with the Egyptians, had deposited
there his money and valuable furniture; and because the Persian call
a treasure, gaza; but this is frivolous. We indeed know that the
Greek translators ever put "gamma" for an "ayin"; as of Omorrha they
make Gomorrha, so of Oza they make Gaza. Besides, the city had this
name before the time of Cambyses. It was then more probably thus
called from its strength: and that the Greeks rendered it Gaza was
according to their usual practice, as I have said as to other words.
But there were two Gazas; when the first was demolished, the
inhabitants built another near the sea. Hence Luke, in the 8th
chapter of the Acts says, that Gaza was a desert; and he thus makes
a difference between Gaza on the sea-side and the old one, which had
been previously demolished. But Amos speaks of the first Gaza; for
he threatens to it that destruction, through which it happened that
the city was removed to the shores of the Mediterranean.
    I come non to the Prophet's words: "God, he says, will not be
propitious to Gaza for three and four transgressions", as the
Philistine had so provoked God, that they were now wholly unworthy
of pardon and mercy. I reminded you in yesterday's Lecture, that
there is presented to us here a sad spectacles but yet useful; for
we here see so many people in such a corrupted state, that their
wickedness was become to God intolerable: but at this day the state
of things in the world is more corrupt, for iniquity overflows like
a deluge. Whatever then men may think of their evils, the Lord from
heaven sees how great and how irreclaimable is their obstinacy. It
is nothing that some throw blame on others, or look for some
alleviation, since all are ungodly and wicked: for we see that God
here declares that he would, at the same time, take vengeance on
many nations. The Idumeans might then have objected, and said, that
their neighbors were nothing better; others might have made the same
excuse; every one might have had his defense ready, if such a
pretext availed, that all were alike implicated in the same guilt
and wickedness. But we see that God appears here as a judge against
all nations. Let us not then be deceived by vain delusions, when we
see that others are like us; let every one know that he must bear
his own burden before God: "I will not then be propitious for three
and for four transgressions".
    "Because they carried away, he says, a complete captivity". The
Prophet records here a special crime, - that the Gazites took away
Jews and Israelites, and removed them as captives into Idumea, and
confined them there. I have already said that it was not the
Prophet's design to enumerate all their sins, but that he was
content to mention one crime, that the Israelites might understand
that they were involved in a heavier guilt, because they had
grievously offended both God and men. If then so severe a vengeance
was to be taken on Gaza, they ought to have known, that a heavier
vengeance awaited them, because they were guilty of more and greater
sins. But he says that they had effected a complete captivity,
inasmuch as they had spared neither women, nor children, nor old
men; for captivity is called perfect or complete, when no
distinction is made, but when all are taken away indiscriminately,
without any selection. They then carried away a complete captivity,
so that no pity either for sex or for age touched them: "that they
might shut them up, he says, in Edom".
    Now follows a denunciation of punishment, - that "God would
send a fire on the wall of Gaza, to devour its palaces". And it
hence appears that Gaza was a splendid town, and sumptuously built;
and for this reason the Prophet speaks of its palaces. He shows, at
the same time, that neither strength nor wealth would prevent God
from executing the punishment which the Gazites deserved. He names
also other cities of Palestine, even Ascalon and Azdod, or Azotus,
and Ecron. These cities the Philistine then possessed. The Prophet
then intimates, that wheresoever they might flee, there would be no
safe place for them; for the Lord would expose as a prey to enemies,
not only Gala, but also all the other cities. We may conclude that
Ascalon was the first city; for there was the royal residence,
though Gaza was the capital of the whole nation; it might yet be
that the pleasantness of its situation, and other attractions, might
have induced the king to reside there, though it was not the
metropolis; Him then "who holds the sceptre I will cut off from
Ascalon". He at last concludes, that all the remnants of Palestine
would be destroyed. Now, whenever God denounces destruction on the
Jews, he ever gives some hope, and says that the remnant would be
saved: but here the Prophet declares that whatever remained of that
nation would be destroyed; for God purposed to destroy them
altogether, and also their very name.
    He therefore adds, that "Jehovah Lord" had spoken, "saith the
Lord Jehovah". This was added for confirmation; for the Philistine
were then in possession of many and strong defenses, so that they
boldly laughed to scorn the threatening of the Prophet. He therefore
brings forward here the name of God. Now follows the prediction
respecting Tyrus: -

Amos 1:9,10
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Tyrus, and for
four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they
delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the
brotherly covenant:
But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the
palaces thereof.

    He uses nearly the same words respecting Tyrus which he did
respecting Gaza, and charges it with the same sin, which was that of
removing the Jews from their country, as refugees and exiles, into
Idumea, and of selling them as captives to the Idumeans. As of all
the rest, he declares the same of Tyrus, that they had not lightly
sinned, and that therefore no moderate chastisement was sufficient;
for they had for a long time abused God's forbearance, and had
become stubborn in their wickedness.
    But what he says, that "they had not been mindful of the
covenant of brethren", some refer to Hiram and David; for we know
that they had a brotherly intercourse, and called each other by the
name of brothers; so great was the kindness between them. Some then
think that the Tyrians are here condemned for having forgotten this
covenant; for there ought to have remained among them some regard
for the friendship which had existed between the two kings. But I
know not whether this is too strained a view: I rather incline to
another, and that is, that the Syrians delivered up the Jews and the
Israelites to the Idumeans, when yet they knew them to be brethren:
and they who implicate themselves in a matter of this kind are by no
means excusable. When I see one conspiring for the ruin of his own
brother, I see a detestable and a monstrous thing; if I abhor not a
participation in the same crime, I am involved in the same guilt.
When therefore the Syrians saw the Idumeans raging cruelly against
their brethren, for they were descended from the same family, they
ought doubtless to have shown to the Idumeans how alienated they
were from all humanity and how perfidious they were against their
own brethren and relatives. Now the Prophet says, that they had been
unmindful of the covenant of brethren, because they made themselves
assistants in so great and execrable a crime as that of carrying
away Jews into Idumea, and of shutting them up there, when they knew
that the Idumeans sought nothing else but the entire ruin of their
own brethren. This seems to be the real meaning of the Prophet.
    But he adds, that "God would send a fire on the wall of Tyrus
to consume its palaces". When this happened, cannot with certainty
be known: for though Tyrus was demolished by Alexander, as Gaza also
was, these cities, I doubt not, suffered this calamity long before
the coming of Alexander of Macedon; and it is probable, as I have
already reminded you, that the Assyrians laid waste these countries,
and also took possession of Tyrus, though they did not demolish that
city; for in Alexander's time there was no king there, it had been
changed into a republic; the people were free, and had the chief
authority. There must then have been there no small changes, for the
state of the city and its government were wholly different from what
they had been. We may then conclude that Tyrus was laid waste by the
Assyrians, but afterwards recovered strength, and was a free city in
the time of Alexander the Great. Let us now proceed: for I dwell not
on every word, as we see that the same expressions are repeated by
the Prophet.

Amos 1:11,12
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Edom, and for four,
I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he did pursue
his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger
did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever:
But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of

    The Prophet now passes to the Idumeans themselves. He had
denounced ruin on the uncircumcised nations who delivered up the
Jews into their hands: but they deserved a much heavier punishment,
because their crime was much more atrocious. The Idumeans derived
their origin, as it is well known, from their common father Isaac
and bore the same symbol of God's covenant, for they were
circumcised. Since nearness of blood, and that sacred union, could
not make them gentle to the Jews, we hence perceive how brutal was
their inhumanity. They were then unworthy of being forgiven by God,
when he became so severe a judge against heathen nations. But the
Prophet says now, that the Idumeans had sinned more than their
neighbors, and that their obstinacy was unhealable and that hence
they could no longer be borne, for they had too long abused God's
forbearance, who had withheld his vengeance until this time.
    He charges them with this crime, that "they pursued their
brother with the sword". There is here an anomaly of the number, for
he speaks of the whole people. Edom then pursued his brother, that
is, the Jews. But the Prophet has intentionally put the singular
number to enhance their crime: for he here placed here, as it were,
two men, Edom and Jacob, who were really brothers, and even twins.
Was it not then a most execrable ferocity in Edom to pursue his own
brother Jacob? He then sets before us here two nations as two men,
that he might more fully exhibit the barbarity of the Idumeans in
forgetting their kindred, and in venting their rage against their
own blood. "They have then pursued their brother with the sword";
that is, they have been avowed enemies, for they had joined
themselves to heathen nations. When the Assyrians came against the
Israelites, the Idumeans put on arms: and this, perhaps, happened
before that war; for when the Syrians and Israelites conspired
against the Jews, it is probable that the Idumeans joined in the
same alliance. However this may have been, the Prophet reproaches
them with cruelty for arming themselves against their own kindred,
without any regard for their own blood.
    He afterwards adds, "They have destroyed their own
compassions"; some render the words, "their own bowels;" and others
in a strained and improper manner transfer the relative to the sons
of Jacob, as though the Prophet had said, that Edom had destroyed
the compassions, which were due, on account of their near
relationship, from the posterity of Jacob. But the sense of the
Prophet is clearly this, - that they destroyed their own
compassions, which means, that they put off all sense of religion,
and cast aside the first affections of nature. He then calls those
the compassions of Edom, even such as he ought to have been
influenced by: but as he had thrown aside all regard for humanity,
there was not in him that compassion which he ought to have had.
    He then adds, "His anger has perpetually raged". He now
compares the cruelty of the Idumeans to that of wild beasts; for
they raged like fierce wild animals, and spared not their own blood.
They then raged perpetually, even endlessly, and "retained their
indignation perpetually". The Prophet seems here to allude to Edom
or Esau, the father of the nation; for he cherished long, we know,
his wrath against his brother; as he dared not to kill his brother
during his father's life. Hence he said, I will wait till my
father's death, then I will avenge myself, (Gen. 27: 41.) Since Esau
then nourished this cruel hatred against his brother Jacob, the
prophet here charges his posterity with the same crime; as though he
had said, that they were too much like their father, or too much
retained his perverse disposition, as they cherished and ever
retained revenge in their hearts, and were wholly implacable. There
may have been other causes of hatred between the Idumeans and the
posterity of Jacob: but they ought, notwithstanding, whatever
displeasure there may have been, to have forgiven their brethren. It
was a monstrous thing past endurance, when a regard for their own
blood did not reconcile those who were, by sacred bonds, connected
together. We now perceive the object of the Prophet: and we here
learn, that the Idumeans were more severely condemned than those
mentioned before, and for this reason, - because they raged so
cruelly against their own kindred.
    He says in the last place, "I will send fire on Teman, to
consume the palaces of Bozrah". By fire he ever means any kind of
destruction. But he compares God's vengeance to a burning fire. We
know that when fire has once taken hold, not only on a house, but on
a whole city, there is no remedy. So now the Prophet says, that
God's vengeance would be dreadful, that it would consume whatever
hatred there was among them: I will then send fire on Teman; which,
as it is well known, was the first city of Idumea. Let us now
proceed -

Amos 1:13-15
13 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of the children of
Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof;
because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that
they might enlarge their border:
14 But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall
devour the palaces thereof, with shouting in the day of battle, with
a tempest in the day of the whirlwind:
15 And their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes
together, saith the LORD.
    He now prophesies against the Ammonites, who also derived their
origin from the same common stock; for they were the posterity of
Lot, as it is well known; and Lot was counted as the son of Abraham,
as Abraham, having taken him with him from his country brought him
up, no doubt, as his own son. Then Abraham was the common father of
the Jews and of the Ammonites. Now, when the children of Ammon,
without any regard to relationship, joined their forces to those of
enemies, and conspired together, their cruelty admitted of no
excuse. And there is no doubt but that they were guilty of many
other crimes; but God, by his Prophet, enumerates not all the sins
for which he had purposed to punish them, and only points out
distinctly, as in passing, but one sin, and generally declares, that
such people were utterly past hope, for they had hardened themselves
in their wickedness.
    He therefore says of the children of Ammon, that they "rent the
pregnant women". Some take "harot" for "harim", mountains; but I see
not what can induce them, unless they think it strange that pregnant
women were rent, that the Ammonites might extend further their
borders; and for this ends it would be more suitable to regard the
word as meaning mountains; as though he said, "They have cut through
mountains, even the earth itself; there has been no obstacle through
which the Ammonites have not made their way: an insatiable cupidity
has so inflamed them, that they have rent the very mountains, and
destroyed the whole order of nature." Others take mountains
metaphorically for fortified cities; for when one seeks to take
possession of a kingdoms cities stand in his way like mountains. But
this exposition is too strained.
    Now, since "harot" mean women with child, the word, I doubt
not, is to be taken in its genuine and usual sense, as we see it to
be done in Hosea. But why does the Prophet say, that the Ammonites
had rent pregnant women? It is to show, that their cupidity was so
frantic, that they abstained not from any kind of cruelty. It is
possible that one be so avaricious as to seek to devour up the whole
earth, and yet be inclined to clemency. Alexander, the Macedonian,
though a bloody man, did yet show some measure of kindness: but
there have been others much more cruel; as the Persian, of whom
Isaiah speaks, who desired not money, but shed blood, (Isa. 13: 17,
&c.) So the Prophet says here of the Ammonites, that they not only,
by unlawful means, extended their borders, used violence and became
robbers who spoiled others of their property, but also that they did
not spare even women with child. Now this is the worst thing in the
storming of towns. When a town has wearied out an enemy, both
pregnant women, and children, and infants may, through fury, be
destroyed: but this is a rare thing, and never allowed, except under
peculiar circumstances. He then reproaches the Ammonites, not only
for their cupidity, but also for having committed every kind of
cruelty to satisfy their greediness: "they have then torn asunder
women with child, that they might extend their borders".
    "I will therefore kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, which
shall devour its palaces", (the Prophet adds nothing new, I shall
therefore go on,) "and this by tumult", or by glamour, "in the day
of war". The Prophet means that enemies would come and suddenly lay
waste the kingdom of Ammon; and that this would be the case, as a
sudden fire lays hold on wood, in the day of war; that is as soon as
the enemy attacked them, it would immediately put them to fight, and
execute the vengeance they deserved, "by a whirlwind in the day of
tempest". By these figurative terms the Prophet intimates that the
calamity destructive to the Ammonites, would be sudden.
    He finally adds, "And their king shall go into captivity, he
and his princes together". As "malkam" was an idol of the people,
some regard it here as a proper name; but he says, "malkam hu
wesaraw", 'their king, he and his princes;' hence the Prophet, no
doubt, names the king of Ammon, for he joins with him his princes.
He says then that the ruin of the kingdom would be such, that the
king himself would be led captive by the Assyrians. This prediction
was no doubt fulfilled, though there is no history of it extant.
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast designed, by so many
examples, to teach the world the fear of thy name, we may improve
under thy mighty hand, and not abuse thy forbearance, nor gather for
ourselves a treasure of dreadful vengeance by our obstinacy and
irreclaimable wickedness, but seasonably repent while thou invites
us, and while it is the accepted time, and while thou offerest to us
reconciliation, that being brought to nothing in ourselves, we may
gather courage through grace, which is offered to us through Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 3...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-02.txt