(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 3)

Chapter 2.

Lecture Fifty-first.

Amos 2:1-3
1 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for
four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he
burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:
2 But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces
of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, [and]
with the sound of the trumpet:
3 And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay
all the princes thereof with him, saith the LORD.
    Now Amos prophesies here against the Moabites, and proclaims
respecting them what we have noticed respecting the other nations, -
that the Moabites were wholly perverse, that no repentance would be
hoped for, as they had added crimes to crimes, and reached the
highest pitch of wickedness; for, as we have said, the number,
seven, imports this. The Prophet then charges the Moabites here with
perverseness: and hence we learn that God's vengeance did not come
hastily upon them, for their wickedness was intolerable since they
thus followed their crimes. But he mentions one thing in particular,
- that "they had burnt the bones of the king of Edom".
    Some take bones here for courage, as though the Prophet had
said, that the whole strength of Edom had been reduced into ashes:
but this is a strained exposition; and its authors themselves
confess that they are forced to it by necessity, when yet there is
none. The comment given by the Rabbis does not please them, - that
the body of a certain king had been burnt, and then that the
Moabites had strangely applied the ashes for making a cement instead
of lime. Thus the Rabbis trifle in their usual way; for when an
obscure place occurs, they immediately invent some fable; though
there be no history, yet they exercise their wit in fabulous
glosses; and this I wholly dislike: but what need there is of
running to allegory, when we may simply take what the Prophet says,
that the body of the king of Edom had been burnt: for the Prophet, I
doubt not, charges the Moabites with barbarous cruelty. To dig up
the bodies of enemies, and to burn their bones, - this is an inhuman
deed, and wholly barbarous. But it was more detestable in the
Moabites, who had some connection with the people of Edom; for they
descended from the same family; and the memory of that relationship
ought to have continued, since Abraham brought up Lot, the father of
the Moabites; and thus the Moabites were under an obligation to the
Idumeans. If then any humanity existed in them, they ought to have
restrained their passions, so as not to treat so cruelly their
brethren. Now, when they exceeded all moderation in war, and raged
against dead bodies, and burnt the bones of the dead, it was, as I
have said, an extremely barbarous conduct. The meaning then is, that
the Moabites could no longer be borne with; for in this one
instance, they gave an example of savage cruelty. Had there been a
drop of humanity in them, they would have treated more kindly their
brethren, the Idumeans; but they burnt into lime, that is, into
ashes, the bones of the king of Edom, and thereby proved that they
had forgotten all humanity and justice. We now understand the
Prophet's meaning.
    He therefore adds a threatening, "I will send a fire on Moab,
which shall devour the palaces of Keriot". We have stated that what
the Prophet means by these modes of speaking is that God would
consume the Moabites by a violent punishment as by a burning fire,
that fortified places could not hinder him from executing his
vengeance, and that though they were proud of their palaces, yet
these would avail them nothing.
    And he subjoins, "Moab shall die with tumult, with noise, with
the sound of the trumpet"; that is, I will send strong enemies, who
will come and make no peace with the Moabites, but will take
possession of every place, and of fortified cities, by force and by
the sword. For what the Prophet means by tumult, by shouting, by the
sound of the trumpet, is, that the Moabites would not come under the
power of their enemies by certain agreements and compacts, as when a
voluntary surrender is made, which usually mitigates the hostile
rage of enemies; no, he says, it shall not be so; for their enemies
shall have not only their wealth but their lives also.
    He finally adds, "And I will cut off the judge from the midst
of her, and will slay her princes, saith Jehovah". God here
declares, that the kingdom of the Moabites and the people shall be
no more; for we know that men cannot exist as a body without some
civil government. Wherever then there is an assemblage of men, there
must be princes to rule and govern them. Hence, when God declares
that there would be no more a judge among the Moabites, it is the
same thing as if he had said, that their name would be blotted out;
for had the people of Moab continued, some princes must have
necessarily, as we have said, remained among them. When princes then
are destroyed, the people must also perish, for there is no security
for them. The Prophet then denounces not here a temporary punishment
on the Moabites, but utter ruin, from which they were never to rise.
This is the meaning. Let us now proceed -

Amos 2:4,5
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Judah, and for
four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they
have despised the law of the LORD, and have not kept his
commandments, and their lies caused them to err, after the which
their fathers have walked:
But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces
of Jerusalem.

    Amos turns now his discourse to the tribe of Judah, and to that
kingdom, which still continued in the family of David. He has
hitherto spoken of heathen and uncircumcised nations: what he said
of them was a prelude of the destruction which was nigh the chosen
people; for when God spared not others who had through ignorance
sinned, what was to become of the people of Israel, who had been
taught in the law? For a servant, knowing his master's will, and
doing it not, is worthy of many stripes, (Luke 12: 47.) God could
not, then, forgive the children of Abraham, whom he had adopted as
his peculiar people, when he inflicted each grievous punishments on
heathen nations, whose ignorance, as it is commonly thought by men,
was excusable. It is indeed true, that all who sin without law will
justly perish, as Paul says in Rom. 2, but when a comparison is made
between the children of Israel and the wretched heathens, who were
immersed in errors, the latter were doubtless worthy of being
pardoned, when compared with that people who had betrayed their
perverseness, and, as it were, designedly resolved to bring on
themselves the vengeance of God.
    The Prophet then having hitherto spoken of the Gentiles, turns
his discourse now to the chosen people, the children of Abraham. But
he speaks of the tribe of Judah, from which he sprang, as I said at
the beginning; and he did this, lest any one should charge him with
favoring his own countrymen: he had, indeed, migrated into the
kingdom of Israel; but he was there a stranger. We shall now see how
severely he reproved them. Had he, then, been silent as to the tribe
of Judah, he might have been subject to calumny; for many might have
said, that there was a collusion between him and his own countrymen
and that he concealed their vices, and that he fiercely inveighed
against their neighbors, through a wicked emulation, in order to
transfer the kingdom again into the family of David. Hence, that no
such suspicion might tarnish his doctrine, the Prophet here summons
to judgment the tribe of Judah, and speaks in no milder language of
the Jews than of other nations: for he says, that they, through
their stubbornness, had so provoked God's wrath, that there was no
hope of pardon; for such was the mass of their vices, that God would
now justly execute extreme vengeance, as a moderate chastisement
would not be sufficient. We now then understand the Prophet's
    I come now to the words: "For they have despised, he says, the
law of Jehovah". Here he charges the Jews with apostasy; for they
had cast aside the worship of God, and the pure doctrine of
religion. This was a crime the most grievous. We hence see, that the
Prophet condemns here freely and honestly as it became him, the
vices of his own people, so that there was no room for calumny, when
he afterwards became a severe censor and reprover of the Israelites;
for he does not lightly touch on something wrong in the tribe of
Judah, but says that they were apostates and perfidious, having cast
aside the law of God. But it may be asked, why the Prophet charges
the Jews with a crime so atrocious, since religions as we have seen
in the Prophecies of Hosea, still existed among them? But to this
there is a ready answer: the worship of God was become corrupt among
them, though they had not so openly departed from it as the
Israelites. There remained, indeed, circumcision among the
Israelites; but their sacrifices were pollutions, their temples were
brothels: they thought that they worshipped God; but as a temple had
been built at Bethel contrary to God's command, the whole worship
was a profanation. The Jews were somewhat purer; but they, we know,
had also degenerated from the genuine worship of God. Hence the
Prophet does not unjustly say here, that they had despised the law
of God.
    But we must notice the explanation which immediately follows, -
that "they kept not his statutes". The way then by which Amos proves
that the Jews were covenant-breakers, and that having repudiated
God's law, they had fallen into wicked superstitions, is by saying,
that they kept not the precepts of God. It may, however, appear that
he treats them here with too much severity; for one might not
altogether keep God's commands either through ignorance or
carelessness, or some other fault, and yet be not a covenant-breaker
or an apostate. I answer, - That in these words of the Prophet, not
mere negligence is blamed in the Jews; but they are condemned for
designedly, that is, knowingly and willfully departing from the
commandments of God, and devising for themselves various modes of
worship. It is not then to keep the precepts of God, when men
continue not under his law, but audaciously contrive for themselves
new forms of worship; they regard not what God commands, but lay
hold on anything pleasing that comes to their minds. This crime the
Prophet now condemns in the Jews: and hence it was that they had
despised the law of God. For men should never assume so much as to
change any thing in the worship of God; but due reverence for God
ought to influence them: were they persuaded of this - that there is
no wisdom but what comes from God - they would surely confine
themselves within his commands. Whenever then they invent new and
fictitious forms of worship, they sufficiently show that they regard
not what the Lord wills, what he enjoins, what he forbids. Thus,
then, they despise his law, and even cast it away.
    This is a remarkable passage; for we see, first, that a most
grievous sin is condemned by the Prophet, and that sin is, that the
Jews confined not themselves to God's law, but took the liberty of
innovating; this is one thing: and we also learn how much God values
obedience, which is better, as it is said in another place, than all
sacrifices, (1 Sam. 15: 22.) And that we may not think this a light
or a trifling sin, let us notice the expression - that they despised
the law of God. Every one ought to dread this as the most monstrous
thing; for we cannot despise the law of God without insulting his
majesty. And yet the Holy Spirit declares here, that we repudiate
and reject the law of God, except we wholly follow what it commands,
and continue within the limits prescribed by it. We now perceive
what the Prophet means.
    But he also adds, that "their own lies deceived or caused them
to go astray". He here confirms his preceding doctrine; for the Jews
had ever a defense ready at hand, that they did with good intent
what the Prophet condemned in them. They, forsooth! sedulously
worshipped God, though they mixed their own leaven, by which their
sacrifices were corrupted: it was not their purpose to spend their
substance in vain, to undergo great expenses in sacrifices, and to
undertake much labour, had they not thought that it was service
acceptable to God! As then the pretence of good intention, (as they
say,) ever deceives the unbelieving, the Prophet condemns this
pretence, and shows it to be wholly fallacious, and of no avail. "It
is nothing," he says, "that they pretend before God some good
intention; their own lies deceive them." And Amos, no doubt,
mentions here these lies, in opposition to the commands of God. As
soon then as men swerve from God's word, they involve themselves in
many delusions, and cannot but go astray; and this is deserving of
special notice. We indeed see how much wisdom the world claims for
itself: for as soon as we invent anything we are greatly delighted
with it; and the ape, according to the old proverb, is ever pleased
with its own offspring. But this vice especially prevails, when by
our devices we corrupt and adulterate the worship of God. Hence the
Prophet here declares, that whatever is added to God's word, and
whatever men invent in their own brains is a lie: "All this," he
says, "is nothing but imposture." We now see of what avail is good
intention: by this indeed men harden themselves; but they cannot
make the Lord to retract what he has once declared by the mouth of
his Prophet. Let us then take heed to continue within the boundaries
of God's word, and never to leap over either on this or on that
side; for when we turn aside ever so little from the pure word of
God, we become immediately involved in many deceptions.
    It then follows, "After which have walked their fathers";
literally it is, "Which their fathers have walked after them": but
we have given the sense. The Prophet here exaggerates their sin, the
insatiable rage of the people; for the children now followed their
fathers. This vice, we know, prevailed in all ages among the Jews;
leaving the word of God, they ever followed their own dreams, and
the delusions of Satan. Since God had now often tried to correct
this vice by his Prophets, and no fruit followed, the Prophet
charges them here with hardness, and by this circumstance enhances
the sin of the Jews: "It is nothing new," he says, "for children to
imitate their fathers, and to be wholly like them: they are then the
bad eggs of bad ravens." So also said Stephen, 'Ye are hard and
uncircumcised in heart, and resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers
also did formerly,' (Acts 7.) We now understand the intention of the
    But we hence learn of what avail is the subterfuge resorted to
by the Papists, when they boast of antiquity. For they set up
against the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, this shield, - that
theirs is the old religion, that they have not been the first
founders, but that they follow what has been handed down to them
from early times, and observed for many ages. When the Papists
boastingly declare all this, they think that they say enough to put
God to silence, and wholly to reject his Word. But we see how
frivolous is this sort of caviling, and how worthless before God:
for the Prophet does not concede to the Jews the example of the
fathers as an excuse, but sets forth their sin as being greater
because they followed their perfidious fathers, who had forsaken the
Law of the Lord. The same thing is also said by Ezekiel, 'After the
precepts of your fathers walk not,' (chap. 20.) We now see what sort
of crime is that of which the Prophet speaks. At last a threatening
follows, "The Lord saith, Fire will I send on Judah, which shall
devour the palaces of Jerusalem.' But all this we have already
explained. Let us now proceed -

Amos 2:6
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for
four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because they
sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;

    The Prophet here assails the Israelites, to whom he had been
sent, as we have said at the beginning. He now omits every reference
to other nations; for his business was with the Israelites to whom
he was especially appointed a teacher. But he wished to set before
them, as in various mirrors, the judgment of God, which awaited
them, that he might the more effectually awaken them: and he wished
also to exhibit in the Jews themselves an example of the extreme
vengeance of God, though there was greater purity among them, at
least a purer religion, and more reverence for God prevailed as yet
among them. He in this way prepared the Israelites, that they might
not obstinately and proudly reject his doctrine. He now then
addresses them, and says that they continued unmoved in their many
sins. The import of the whole is, that if the Moabites, the
Idumeans, the Tyrians, the Sidonians, and other nations, and that if
the Jews as well as these were irreclaimable in their obstinacy, so
that their diseases were incurable, and their wickedness such as God
could no longer endure, the Israelites were also in the same
condition; for they also continued perverse in their wickedness, and
provoked God, and repented not, though God had waited long, and
exhorted them to repent.
    It is now meet for us to bear in mind what we have before said,
- that if impiety was so rampant in that age, and the contempt of
God so prevailed, that men could not be restored to a sane mind, and
if iniquity everywhere overflowed, (for Amos accuses not a few
people, but many nations,) let us at this day beware, lest such
corruptions prevail among us; for, certainly, the world is now much
worse than it was then: nay, since the Prophet says here, that both
the Israelites and the Jews were wholly irreclaimable in their
obstinacy, there is no excuse for us at this day for deceiving
ourselves with an empty name, because we have the symbol of faith,
having been baptized; and in case we have other marks, which seem to
belong to the Church of God, let us not think that we are therefore
free from guilt, if we allow ourselves that unruliness condemned
here by the Prophet both in the Israelites and in the Jews; for they
had become hardened against all instructions, against all warnings.
Let, then, these examples rouse our attention, lest we, like them,
harden ourselves so much as to constrain the Lord to execute on us
extreme vengeance.
    Let us now especially observe what the Prophet lays to the
charge of Israel. He begins with their cruel deeds; but the whole
book is taken up with reproofs; there is to the very end a continued
accusation as to those crimes which then prevailed among the people
of Israel. He does not then point out only one particular crime, as
with respect to the other nations; but he scrutinizes all the vices
of which the people were guilty, as though he would thoroughly
anatomize them. But these we shall notice in their proper order.
    Now as to the first thing, the Prophet says, that "the just"
among the Israelites "was sold for silver, yea, for shoes". It may
be asked, Why is it that he does not begin with those superstitions,
in which they surpassed the Jews? for if God had resolved to destroy
Jerusalem and his own temple, because they had fallen away into
superstitious and spurious modes of worship, how much more ought
such a judgment to have been executed on the Israelites, as they had
perverted the whole law, and had become wholly degenerate; and even
circumcision was nothing but a profanation of God's covenant? Why,
then, does not the Prophet touch on this point? To this I answer, -
That as superstition had now for many years prevailed among them,
the Prophet does not make this now his subject; but we shall
hereafter see, that he has not spared these ungodly deprivations
which had grown rampant among the Israelites. He indeed sharply
arraigns all their superstitions; but he does this in its suitable
place. It was now necessary to begin with common evils; and this was
far more opportune than if he had at first spoken of superstitions;
for they might have said, that they did indeed worship God. He
therefore preferred condemning the Jews for alienating themselves
from the pure commandments of God; and as to the Israelites, he
reproves here their gross vices. But after having charged them with
cruelty, shameless rapacity, and many lusts, after having exposed
their filthy abominations, he then takes the occasion, as being then
more suitable of exclaiming against superstitions. This order our
Prophet designedly observed, as we shall see more fully from the
connection of his discourse.
    I now return to the words, that they "sold the just for silver,
and the poor for shoes". He means that there was no justice nor
equity among the Israelites, for they made a sale of the children of
God: and it was a most shameful thing, that there was no remedy for
injuries. For we hence, no doubt, learn, that the Prophet levels his
reproof against the judges who then exercised authority. The just,
he says, is sold for silver: this could not apply to private
individuals, but to judges, to whom it belonged to extend a helping
hand to the miserable and the poor, to avenge wrongs, and to give to
every one his right. It is then the same as though the Prophet had
said, that unbridled licentiousness reigned triumphant among the
Israelites, so that just men were exposed as a prey, and were set,
as it were, on sale. He says, first, that they were sold for
"silver", and then he adds for "shoes": and this ought to be
carefully observed; for when once men begin to turn aside from the
right course, they abandon themselves to evil without any shame.
When an attempt is first made to draw aside a man that is just and
upright and free from what is corrupt, he is not immediately
overcome; though a great price may be offered to him, he will yet
stand firm: but when he has sold his integrity for ten pieces of
gold, he may afterwards be easily bought, as the case is usually
will women. A woman, while she is pure, cannot be easily drawn away
from her conjugal fidelity: she may yet be corrupted by a great
price; and when once corrupted, she will afterwards prostitute
herself, so that she may be bought for a crust of bread. The same is
the case with judges. They, then, who at first covet silver, that
is, who cannot be corrupted except by a rich and fat bribe, will
afterwards barter their integrity for the meanest reward; for there
is no shame any more remaining in them. This is what the Prophet
points out in these words, - That they sold the just for silver;
that is, that they sold him for a high price, and then that they
were corrupted by the meanest gift, that if one offered them a pair
of shoes, they would be ready without any blush of shame to receive
such a bribe.
    We now then see the crime of which Amos accused the Israelites.
They could not raise an objection here, which they might have done,
if he touched their superstitions. He wished therefore to acquire
authority by reprobating first their manifest and obvious crimes. He
afterwards, as it has been stated, speaks in its proper place, of
that fictitious worship, which they, after having rejected the Law
of God, embraced. It follows -

Amos 2:7
That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and
turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in
unto the [same] maid, to profane my holy name:

    Here Amos charges them first with insatiable avarice; they
panted for the heads of the poor on the dust of the earth. This
place is in my judgment not well understood. "Sha'af" means to pant
and to breathe, and is taken often metaphorically as signifying to
desire: hence some render the words, "They desire the heads of the
poor to be in the dust of the earth;" that is, they are anxious to
see the innocent cast down and prostrate on the ground. But there is
no need of many words to refute this comment; for ye see that it is
strained. Others say, that in their cupidity they cast down the
miserable into the dust; they therefore think that a depraved
cupidity is connected with violence, and they put the lust for the
deed itself.
    But what need there is of having recourse to these extraneous
meanings, when the words of the Prophet are in themselves plain and
clear enough? He says that they "panted for the heads of the poor on
the ground"; as though he had said, that they were not content with
casting down the miserable, but that they gaped anxiously, until
they wholly destroyed them. There is then nothing to be changed or
added in the Prophet's words, which harmonize well together, and
mean, that through cupidity they panted for the heads of the poor,
after the poor had been cast down, and were laid prostrate in the
dust. The very misery of the poor, whom they saw to be in their
power, and lying at their feet, ought to have satisfied them: but
when such an insatiable cupidity still inflamed them, that they
panted for more punishment on the poor and the miserable, was it not
a fury wholly outrageous? We now perceive the Prophet's meaning: He
points out again what he has said in the former verse, - that the
Israelites were given to rapacity, avarice, and cruelty of every
    He adds at last, "and the way of the miserable they pervert".
He still inveighs against the judges; for it can hardly comport with
what belongs to private individuals, but it properly appertains to
judges to pervert justice, and to violate equity for bribery; so
that he who had the best cause became the loser, because he brought
no bribe sufficiently ample. We now see what was the accusation he
alleged against the Israelites. But there follows another charge,
that of indulge in lusts.
Grant, almighty God, that since we see so grievous punishments
formerly executed on unbelievers who had never tasted of the pure
knowledge of thy word, we may be warned by their example, so as to
abstain from all wickedness, and to continue in pure obedience to
thy word; and that, as thou hast made known to us that thou hatest
all those superstitions and depravations by which we turn aside from
thy word, - O grant, that we may ever be attentive to that role
which has been prescribed to us by thee in the Law, as well as in
the Prophets and in the Gospel, so that we may constantly abide in
thy precepts, and be wholly dependent on the words of thy month, and
never turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but
glorify thy name, as thou has commanded us, by offering to thee a
true, sincere, and spiritual worship, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 4...)

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