(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 4)

Lecture Fifty-second.

    It follows, in the seventh verse, that "the son and the father
entered in into the same maid". The Prophet here charges the people
of Israel with the unbridled lusts which prevailed then among them;
which were promiscuous and even incestuous. It is, we know, a
detestable monstrosity when a father and a son have connection with
the same woman; for the common feeling of mankind abhors such
flagitousness. But the Israelites were so much addicted to their own
lusts, that the father and the son had the same woman in common; as
indeed it must happen when men allow themselves excessive
indulgences. A strumpet will, indeed, readily admit a son and a
father without any difference, for she has no shame; and no fear of
God restrains abandoned women given up to filthiness. It hence
becomes a common thing for a father and a son to pollute themselves
by an incestuous concubinage. But it is no diminution of guilt
before God, when men, blinded by their lusts, make no difference,
and without any discrimination, and without any shame, follow their
own sinful propensities. Whenever this happens, it certainly proves
that there is no fear of God, and that even the common feeling of
nature is extinct. Hence the Prophet now justly condemns in the
Israelites this crime, that the father and the son entered in into
the same woman.
    An amplification of this crime is also added, - that they thus
polluted "the holy name of God". We indeed know that the people of
Israel were chosen for this end - that the name of God might be
supplicated by them; and well known is that declaration, often
repeated by Moses, 'Be ye holy, for I am holy' (Lev. 11: 44.) Hence
the children of Israel could not defile themselves without polluting
at the same time the name of God, which was engraven on them. God
then complains here of this profanation; for the children of Israel
not only contaminated themselves, but also profaned whatever was
sacred among them, inasmuch as the name of God was exposed to
reproach, when the people thus gave way to their filthy lusts. We
now understand what the Prophet means. It follows -

Amos 2:8
And they lay [themselves] down upon clothes laid to pledge by every
altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned [in] the house of
their god.
    Here the Prophet again inveighs against the people's
avariciousness, and addresses his discourse especially to the chief
men; for what he mentions could not have been done by the common
people, as the lower and humbler classes could not make feasts by
means of spoils gained by judicial proceedings. The Prophet then
condemns here, no doubt, the luxury and rapacity of men in high
stations. "They lie down, he says, on pledged clothes nigh every
altar". God had forbidden, in his law, to take from a poor man a
pledge, the need of which he had for the support of life and daily
use, (Exod. 22: 26.) For instance, it was prohibited by the law to
take from a poor man his cloak or his coat, or to take the covering
of his bed, or any thing else of which he had need. But the Prophet
now accuses the Israelites, that they took away pledges and clothes
without any distinction, and lay down on them nigh their altars.
This belonged to the rich.
    Then follows another clause, which, strictly speaking, must be
restricted to the judges and governors, "They have drunk the wine of
the condemned in the house, or in the temple, of their God". This
may also be understood of the rich, who were wont to indulge in
luxury by means of ill-gotten spoils: for they litigated without
cause; and when they gained judgment in their favor, they thought it
lawful to fare more sumptuously. This expression of the Prophet may
therefore be extended to any of the rich. But he seems here to
condemn more specifically the cruelty and rapaciousness of the
judges. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view by saying,
that they lay down on pledged garments.
    He then says that "they drank wine derived from fines", which
had been laid on the condemned. But this circumstance, that is
added, ought to be observed, - that they "lay down near altars and
drank" in the very temple: for the Prophet here laughs to scorn the
gross superstition of the Israelites, that they thought that they
were discharging their duty towards God, provided they came to the
temple and offered sacrifices at the altar. Thus, indeed, are
hypocrites wont to appease God, as if one by puppets played with a
child. This has been a wickedness very common in all ages, and is
here laid to the charge of the Israelites by the Prophet: they dared
with an open front to enter the temple, and there to bring the
pledged garments, and to feast on their spoils. Hypocrites do ever
make a den of thieves of God's temple, (Matth. 21: 13;) for they
think that all things are lawful for them, provided they put on the
appearance, by external worship, of being devoted to God. Since,
then, the Israelites promised themselves impunity and took liberty
to sin, because they performed religious ceremonies, the Prophet
here sharply reproves them: they even dared to make God a witness of
their cruelty by bringing pledged garments and by blending their
spoils with their sacrifices, as though God had a participation with
    We hence see that rapaciousness and avarice are not alone
condemned here by the Prophet, but that the gross superstition of
the Israelites is also reprobated, because they thought that there
would be no punishment for them, though they plundered and robbed
the poor, provided they reserved a part of the spoil for God, as
though a sacrifice from what had been unjustly got were not an
abomination to him.
    But it may be asked, Why does the Prophet thus condemn the
Israelites for they had no sacred temple; and we also know (as it
has been elsewhere stated) that the temples, in which they thought
that they worshipped God, were filthy brothels, and full of all
obscenity. How is it, then, that the Prophet now so sharply inveighs
against them, because they mingled their spoils with their impure
sacrifices? To this the answer is, That he had regard to their
views, and derided the grossness of their minds, that they thus
childishly trifled with the God whom they imagined for themselves.
We say the same at this day to the Papists, - that they blend
profane with sacred things, when they prostitute their masses, and
also when they trifle with God in their ceremonies. It is certain.
that whatever the Papists do is an abomination; for the whole of
religion is with them adulterated: but they yet cease not to wrong
God, whose name they pretend to profess. Such also were then the
Israelites: though they professed still to worship God, they were
yet sacrilegious; though they offered sacrifices to the calves in
Dan and in Bethel, they yet reproached God, for they ever abused his
name. This, then, is the crime the Prophet now condemns in them. But
what I have said must be remembered, - that this blind assurance is
reprehended in the Israelites, that they thought spoils to be lawful
provided they professed to worship God: but they thus rendered
double their crime, as we have said; for they tried to make God the
associate of robbers, mingling as they did their pollutions with
their sacrifices. Let us proceed -

Amos 2:9-12
9 Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height [was] like
the height of the cedars, and he [was] strong as the oaks; yet I
destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.
10 Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty
years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.
11 And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men
for Nazarites. [Is it] not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith
the LORD.
12 But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the
prophets, saying, Prophesy not.
    God expostulates here with the Israelites for their
ingratitude. He records the benefits he had before conferred on that
people; and then shows how unworthily and disgracefully they had
conducted themselves; for they forgot their many blessings and
proudly despised God, and acted as if they were like other nations,
and not bound to God for the singular benefit of adoption. The sum
then is that God here complains that he had ill bestowed his
blessings; and he reproves the people for their impiety, inasmuch as
they did not lead a holier life after having been freely redeemed.
    He says first, "I have exterminated the Amorite before their
face". God shows here that he was disgracefully defrauded by the
Israelites, for whose sake he had previously destroyed the Amorites.
For why were the Amorites exterminated, but that God would cleanse
the land, and also, that he might give there a dwelling to his own
people, that he might be purely worshipped? Then the people of
Israel ought to have given up themselves wholly to the service of
God; but as they neglected to do this, they frustrated the purpose
of God, who had expelled the Amorites from that land, yea, and
entirely destroyed them. The first complaint then is, that the
children of Israel were nothing better than the Amorites, though God
had given them the land, which was taken from its natives, that they
might dwell in it, and on the condition, that his name should be
there worshipped. Hence the Prophets say elsewhere, that they were
Amorites. They ought to have been a new people; but as they followed
the examples of others, in what did they differ from them? They are
therefore called their posterity. But the Prophet speaks not here so
severely; he only reproves the Israelites, because they differed in
nothing from the Amorites, whom they knew to have been destroyed
that they might be introduced into their place, and succeed to their
    It is then added, that the "Amorites were tall" in stature, and
also that they were "strong" men. By these words the Prophet
intimates that the Amorites were not conquered by the people's
valour, but by the wonderful power of God. We indeed know that they
were dreaded by the people of Israel, for they were like giants.
Then the Prophet speaks here of their height and strength, that the
Israelites might consider that they overcame them not by their own
valour, but that the land was given them by a miracle, for they had
to do with giants, on whom they could hardly dare to look. It was
then God who prostrated the cedars and the oaks before his people.
We hence learn, that the Israelites could not boast of their own
strengths as though they took possession of the land, because by
means of war they ejected their enemies; for this was done by the
singular kindness of God. They could not indeed have contended with
their enemies, had not that been fulfilled which the Lord had so
often foretold, 'For you, while still, I will fight, (Exod. 14: 14.)
We now perceive the Prophet's intention. But we may hence farther
learn, that the Israelites had not possessed the land, because they
were more excellent than the Amorites, its ancient inhabitants; but
because it so pleased God. There was therefore no reason for the
people of Israel to be proud on account of any excellency. It hence
appears that they, who did not consider this remarkable kindness
done to them, were more than doubly ungrateful to God.
    He says that their "fruit above and root below were destroyed".
By this metaphor God enlarges on what he said before, that the
Amorites had been exterminated, so that none of them remained. "I
have demolished," he says, or, "I have entirely destroyed the root
beneath and the fruit above; I have extinguished the very name of
the nation." And yet the Israelites were not better, though the
Amorites were thus destroyed; but having succeeded in their place,
they became like them: this was utterly inexcusable. The more severe
God's vengeance had been towards the Amorites, the more ought the
Israelites to have extolled his favor: but when with closed eyes
they passed by so remarkable a testimony of God's paternal love, it
appears that they were extremely wicked and ungrateful.
    He afterwards subjoins, "I have made you to ascend from the
land of Egypt; I have made you to walk in the desert for forty
years, in order to possess the land of the Amorite". The
circumstances here specified are intended to confirm the same thing,
that God had miraculously redeemed his people. Men, we know, for the
most part extenuate the favors of God; nay, this evil is innate in
us. This is the reason why the Prophet so largely describes and
extols the redemption of the people. Hence he says now that they had
been led out of the land of Egypt. And they ought to have remembered
what had been their condition in Egypt; for there they were most
miserably oppressed. When therefore that coming out was set before
them, it was the same as if God had reminded them how shamefully
they had been treated, and how hard had been their bondage in Egypt.
That beginning ought to have humbled them, and also to have
stimulated them to the cultivation of piety. When now they proudly
exulted against God, when no recollection of their deliverance laid
hold on them, this vice is justly laid to their charge by the
Prophet: "See," he says, "I have brought you forth from the land of
Egypt; what were ye then? what was your nobility? what was your
wealth or riches? what was your power? For the Egyptians treated you
as the vilest slaves; your condition then was extremely ignominious;
ye were as lost, and I redeemed you: and now buried is the
recollection of so illustrious a kindness, which deserved to be for
ever remembered."
    He afterwards adds, "I have made you to walk", &c. The Prophet
here reminds them of the desert, that the Israelites might know that
God might have justly closed up against them an entrance into the
land, though he had promised it for an inheritance to Abraham. For
how was it that the Lord led them about for so long a time, except
that they, as far as they could, had denied God, and rendered
themselves unworthy of enjoying the promised land? Then the Prophet
indirectly blames the Israelites here for having been the cause why
God detained them for forty years without introducing them
immediately into the promised land; which might have easily been
done, had they not closed the door against themselves by their
ingratitude. This is one reason why the Prophet now speaks of the
forty years. And then, as God had in various ways testified his
kindness towards the Israelites, he had thus bound them the more to
himself; but an ungodly forgetfulness had buried all his favors. God
daily rained manna on them from heaven; he also gave them drink from
a dry rock; he guided them during the day by a pillar of cloud, and
in the night by fire: and we also know how often God bore with them,
and how many proofs he gave them of his forbearance. The Prophet,
then, by speaking here of the forty years, meant to counsel the
Israelites to call to mind the many favors, by which they were bound
to God, while they were miraculously led by him for forty years in
the desert.
    He now subjoins, "I have raised from your sons Prophets, and
Nazarites from your young or strong men", (for "bachurim", as we
have elsewhere said, are called by the Hebrews chosen men;) then
from your youth or chosen men have I raised Nazarites. Was it not
so, O children of Israel? or certainly it was so: for the particle
"aph" sometimes is a simple affirmation, and sometimes an addition.
Is not then all this true, O children of Israel? saith Jehovah. God
first reminds them that he had raised up Prophets from their sons.
It if a remarkable proof of God's love, that he deigns to guide his
people by Prophets: for if God were to speak himself from heaven, or
to send his angels down, it would apparently be much more dignified;
but when he so condescends as to employ mortal men and our own
brethren, who are the agents of his Spirit, in whom he dwells, and
by Whose mouth he speaks, it cannot indeed be esteemed as highly as
it deserves, that the Lord should thus accommodate himself to us in
so familiar a manner. This is the reason why he now says, that he
had "raised up Prophets from their sons". They might have objected
and said, that he had introduced the Law, and that then the heaven
was moved, and that the earth shook: but he speaks of his daily
favor in having been pleased to speak continually to his people, as
it were, from mouth to mouth, and this by men: I have raised up, he
says, Prophets from your sons; that is, "I have chosen angels from
the midst of you." The Prophets are indeed, as it were, celestial
ambassadors, and God commands them to be heard, the same as if he
himself appeared in a visible form. Since then he choose angels from
the midst of us, is not this an invaluable favor? We hence see how
much force is contained in this reproof, when the Lord says, that
Prophets had been chosen from his own people.
    And he mentions also the Nazarites. It appears sufficiently
evident from Num. chap. 6, why God appointed Nazarites. Nothing is
more difficult, we know, than to induce men to follow a common rule;
for they ever seek something new; and hence have arisen so many
devices, so many additions, in short, so many leavenings by which
God's worship is corrupted; for each wishes to be more holy than
another, and affects some singularity. In case then any one had a
wish to consecrate himself to God beyond what was commonly required,
the Lord instituted a peculiar observance, that the people might not
attempt any thing without at least his permission. Hence, when any
one wished to consecrate himself to God, though they were all holy,
he yet observed certain regulations: he abstained from wine; he
allowed his hair to grow; in a word, he observed those ceremonial
rites which we find in the chapter already referred to. God now
reminds the Israelites that he had omitted nothing calculated to
preserve them pure and holy, and entire in his worship.
    After having related these two things, he asks them, "Is not
all this true?" The facts were indeed well known: then the question,
it may be said, was superfluous. But the Prophet designedly asked
the Israelites the question here - Is it not so? that he might more
deeply touch their hearts. We indeed often despise things well
known, and we see how many heedlessly allow what they hear, and pass
by things without any thought. Such must have been the torpidity of
the Israelites; they might have confessed without disputing that all
this was true, - that the Lord had raised up Prophets from their
children, and that he had given to them that peculiar service of
which we have spoken; but they mighty at the same time, have
contemptuously overlooked the whole, had not this been added: "What
do ye mean, O Israelites? ye do indeed see that nothing has been
left undone by me to retain you in my service: how then is it now,
that your lust leads you away from me, and that having shaken off
the yoke, ye grow thus wanton against me?" We now perceive why the
Prophet inserted this clause, for it was necessary that the
Israelites should be more sharply roused, that being convicted, they
might acknowledge their guilt.
    But it now follows, "Ye have to the Nazarites quaffed wine, and
on the Prophets ye have laid a command, that they should not
prophesy". God complains here that the service which he had
instituted had been violated by the people. It seems indeed a light
offense, that wine had been given to the Nazarites; for the kingdom
of God, we know, is not meat and drink, (1 Cor. 8: 8) though this
saying of Paul was not yet made known, it was yet true in all ages.
It was then lawful for the Nazarites to drink wine, provided they
used moderation. To this the simple answer is that it was lawful to
drink wine, for they of their own accord undertook to abstain from
it. In similar manner God forbade the priests to drink wine or
strong drink whenever they entered the temple. God indeed did not
wish to be served with this kind of ceremony; but his intention was
to show, by such a rite, that a greater temperance is required in
priests than in the people in general. His purpose then to withdraw
them from the common mode of living, when they entered the temple;
for they were as mediators between God and his people: they ought
then to have consecrated themselves in a special manner. We now see
that the priests were reminded by this external symbol, that greater
holiness was required in them than in the people. The same thing
must be also said of the Nazarites. The Nazarites might drink wine;
but during the time they consecrated themselves to God, they were
not allowed to drink wine, that they might thereby acknowledge that
they were in a manner separated from the common habits of men, and
were come nearer to God. We now understand why it was not lawful for
the Nazarites to drink wine.
    But it is frivolous for the Papists to pretend this example,
and to introduce it in defense of their superstitions, and of their
foolish and rash vows, which they undertake without any regard to
God: for God expressly sanctioned and confirmed whatever the
Nazarites did under the law. Let the Papists show a proof for their
monastic vows, and foolish rites, by which they now trifle with God.
We also know that there is a great difference between the Nazarites
and the Papal monks; for the monks vow perpetual celibacy; others
vow abstinence from flesh during life; and these things are done
foolishly and rashly. They indeed think that the worship of God
consists in these trifles. They promise what is not in their own
power; for they renounce marriage, when they know not whether they
are endued with the gift of chastity. And to abstain from flesh all
their life is more foolish still, because they make this to be a
part of God's service. I do, at the same time, wonder that they
bring forward this example, since there are none so holy under the
Papacy as to abstain from wine. As for the Carthusians and other
monks of the holier sort, they seem determined to take revenge on
abstinence from flesh, for they choose the sweetest and the
liveliest wine; as though they intended to get a compensation for
the loss and deprivation they undergo, when they pledge to God their
abstinence from flesh, by reserving the best wine for themselves.
These things are extremely ludicrous. Besides it is a sufficient
reply if we adduce what I have already said, that the Nazarites did
nothing under the law but what God in his word approved and
    Since God then so sharply and severely reproved the Israelites
for giving wine to the Nazarites, what must be expected now, when we
transgress the chief commandments of God, when we corrupt his whole
spiritual worship? It seemed apparently but a venial sin, so to
speak, in the Nazarites to drink wine. Had they become wanton or
robbed, or had they done wrong to their brethren, or committed
forgery, the charge against them would have doubtless been much more
atrocious. Yet the Prophet does not now abstain from bitterly
complaining that they drank wine. Then, since God would have us to
worship him in a spiritual manner, a much heavier charge lies
against us, if we violate his spiritual worship. As, for instance,
if we now pollute the sacraments, if we corrupt the purity of divine
worship, if we treat his word with scorn, yea, if we transgress as
to these main points of religion, much less is our excuse. Let us
then remember that the Prophet here reproves the Israelites for
giving wine to the Nazarites.
    He then adds, that they "commanded the Prophets not to
prophesy". It is certain that the Prophets were not forbidden to
speak, at least expressly forbidden: but when the liberty of
teaching faithfully as they ought to do is taken away from God's
servants, and a command to this effect is given them, it is the same
thing as to reject wholly their doctrine. The Israelites wished
Prophets to be among them; and yet they could not endure their plain
reproofs. But when they had polluted the worship of God, when their
whole conduct became dissolute, the Prophets sharply inveighed
against them: this freedom could not be endured by the Israelites;
they wished to be spared and flattered. What then the Prophet now
lays to their charge is that they forbade God's servants to declare
the word freely and honestly as God had commanded them. Hence he
says, On the Prophets they have laid a charge, that they should not
    This evil reigns in the world at this day. It would indeed be
an execrable audacity wholly to reject the Lord's word; this is what
even ungodly men dare not openly to do: but they wish at the same
time some middle course to be adopted, that God might not fully
exercise authority over them. They then would gladly put restraint
on the Holy Spirit, so as not to allow him to speak but within
certain limitations: "See, we willingly allow thee some things, but
this we cannot bear: so much asperity is extremely odious." And
under the Papacy at this day the liberty of prophesying is wholly
suppressed: and among us how many there are who wish to impose laws
on God's servants beyond which they are not to pass? But we see what
the Prophet says here, - that the word of God is repudiated when the
freedom of teaching is restrained, and men wish to be flattered, and
desire their sins to be covered, and cannot bear free admonitions.
    Let us also notice the word "command", which the Prophet uses.
"Tsuh" means to order, to command, or to determine, in an
authoritative manner. The Prophet then does not expostulate with
them, because there were many who clamored, who murmured against the
Prophets, as it is always the case; but he rather condemns the
audacity of the chief men for daring to consult how they might
silence the Prophets, and not allow them the free liberty of
teaching, as we find it to be done even now. For not only in taverns
and lurking-places do the ungodly clamour when their sins are
severely reproved, but they also go forth publicly and complain that
too much liberty is allowed the ministers of the word, and that some
course ought to be adopted to make them speak more moderately. It is
then this sacrilege that the Prophet now rebukes, when he says, that
the ungodly commanded the Prophets, that they should not prophecy,
as though they made a law, as though they wished to proclaim a
decree, that the Prophets should not speak so boldly and so freely.
It now follows -

Amos 2:13
Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed [that is] full
of sheaves.

    The verb "'ik" in Hebrew is often transitive, and it is also a
neuter. This place then may admit of two interpretations. The first
is, that God was pressed under the Israelites, as a wagon groans
under too much weight; and so God expostulates by Isaiah, that he
was weighed down by the Israelites, 'Ye constrain me,' he says, 'to
labour under your sins' (Isa. 1: 14.) The sense then, that God was
pressed down under them, may be viewed as not unsuitable: and yet
the more received interpretation is this, "Behold, I will bind you
fast as a wagon is bound." I am, however, more inclined to take the
first meaning, - that God here reprehends the Israelites, because he
had been pressed down by them: for "tachteichem" properly signifies,
"Under you," which some render, but strainedly, "Is your place:" for
when the verb is transitive, they say, that "tachteichem" must be
rendered "In your place:" but this is frigid and forced; and the
whole passage will run better, if we say, "I am bound fast under
you, as though ye were a wagon full of sheaves;" that is, "Ye are to
me intolerable." For God carried that people on his shoulders; and
when they loaded him with the burden of iniquities, it is no wonder
that he said that they were like a wagon - a wagon filled with many
sheaves: "Ye are light as wind, but ye are also to me very
burdensome, and I am forced at length to shake you off:" and this he
afterwards shows.


Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only redeemed us by the
blood of thy only begotten Son, but also guides us during our
earthly pilgrimage, and suppliest us with whatever is needful, - 0
grant, that we may not be unmindful of so many favors, and turn away
from thee and follow our sinful desires, but that we may continue
bound to thy service, and never burden thee with our sins, but
submit ourselves willingly to thee in true obedience, that by
glorifying thy name we may carry thee both in body and soul, until
thou at length gatherest us into that blessed kingdom which has been
obtained for us by the blood of thy Son. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 5...)

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