(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 5) Lecture Fifty-third. Amos 2:14-16 14 Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself: 15 Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and [he that is] swift of foot shall not deliver [himself]: neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself. 16 And [he that is] courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the LORD. I explained yesterday the verse, in which the Prophet says, in the name of God, that the people were like a grievous and heavy burden, as though they were a wagon laden with many sheaves. I stated that the Prophet's words are differently explained by many interpreters, who give this view, - that God compares himself to a loaded wagon, under which the people were to be crushed. But no necessity constrains us to take the same verb in two senses, active and neuter, as they do; and then the comparison seems not quite suitable; and farther, it is better, as I have said, to say, that God complains, that he was loaded and pressed down under the people, than to render "tachteichem" "In your place;" for this is wholly a strained rendering. But most suitable is the Prophet's meaning, when understood as the complaint of God, that it was a grievous thing to bear the burdens of the people, when he saw that they were men of levity, and, at the same time, burdensome. Hence the Prophet now denounces vengeance such as they deserved; and he says first, "Perish shall flight from the swift", &c., that is, no one will be so swift as to escape by fleeing; and the valiant shall do nothing by fighting; for it is to confirm strength when one resists an adversary and repels assaults. The valiant, therefore, shall fight with no advantage; and then, "The strong shall not deliver his own life: he who holds the bow shall not stand"; that is, he who is equipped with a bow, and repels his enemy at a distance, shall not be able to stand in his place. "He who is swift on foot shall not be able to flee, nor he who mounts a horse"; which means that whether footmen or horsemen, they shall not, by their celerity, be able to escape death. And, lastly, he who is stout and intrepid in heart among the valiant shall "flee away naked", being content with life alone, and only anxious to provide for his own safety. The Prophet intimates by all these words, that so grievous would be the slaughter of the people, that it would be a miracle if any should escape. We now then see how severely the prophet at the very beginning handled this people. He no doubt observed their great obduracy: for he would not have assailed them so sharply at first, had they not been for a long time rebellious and had despised all warnings and threatening. Amos was not the first who addressed them; but the Israelites had hardened themselves against all threatenings before he came to them. It therefore behaved him sharply to reprove them, as God treats men according to their disposition. I come now to the third chapter. Chapter 3. Amos 3:1,2 Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. The Prophet wished doubtless by these words to confirm his own authority, for he saw that his doctrine was regarded with contempt: and it is probable that the words recited here were not only once delivered by him, but had been often repeated. We know how great was the pride and confidence of that people: it was therefore needful to beat it down, that they might be habituated to dread and fear, when God reproved them by his Prophets. It was then the common mode of speaking, when he said, "Hear the word which God has spoken concerning your, O children of Israel". He brings forward here the name of God, that they might know that they had not to do with a mortal man, or with a shepherd, such as he was. We then observe here, what I have just referred to, and that is, that the Prophet seeks to strengthen his authority as a teacher, that he might gain more respect among the people. But he adds, "concerning the whole family which I brought up out of Egypt". It is certain that this discourse was not addressed except to the ten tribes; why, then, does the Prophet speak here so generally? Even because the kingdom of Israel formed the greater portion of the race of Abraham, and on this account they boasted that the adoption continued to be possessed by them. Since, then, they despised the tribe of Judah, and the half-tribe of Benjamin, which was connected with it, and had ever boasted of their great number, the Prophet says here, by way of concession, that they were indeed the blessed seed, the posterity of Abraham; in a word, the elect people, whom God had redeemed from Egypt. Then the Prophet includes not here the kingdom of Judah, but concedes to the Israelites what they boasted, - that they were the elect people, the holy race of Abraham, the very nation which had been miraculously delivered. "Let, then," he says, "all these boastings be granted, yet God will not, on this account, desist from executing his judgment upon them." We now apprehend the design of the Prophet: he first seeks to gain respect for his doctrine, and takes occasion to speak of his own vocation, that he brought nothing of his own, but only discharged faithfully the office committed to him; yea, that he was the organ of the Holy Spirit, and adduced nothing from his own mind, but only spoke what the Lord had commanded him. And then, as the Israelites, relying on their large number, thought that wrong was done them, when they were severely reprehended by the Prophets, and as there was an absurd rivalship between them and the kingdom of Judah, the Prophet concedes to them that for which they were foolishly proud; but, at the same time, he shows that they in vain confided in their number, inasmuch as God summoned them to judgment, though they were the elect people, and the holy seed, and the redeemed nation. These are the main points. The Prophet afterwards declares what he had in charge, "Only you have I known of all the families of the earth: I will therefore visit you for your iniquities". Many think that he still concedes to the Israelites what they were wont to boast of, - that they were separated from the common class of men, because the Lord had adopted them: but it seems rather to be a reproach cast on them. God then brings forward here his benefits, of which we noticed yesterday a similar instance, that he might enhance the more the sin of the people, in returning the worst recompense to God, by whom they had been so liberally and so kindly treated: "I," he says, "have loved you only." It is indeed true, that the Israelites, as we have in other places often observed, gloried in their privileges; but the Prophet seems not to have this in view. God then expostulates with them for being so ungrateful: "You only", he says, "have I known". It is indeed certain that God's care is extended to the whole human race, yea even to oxen and asses, and to the very sparrows. Even the young of ravens cry to him, and the smallest bird is fed by him. We hence see that God's providence extends to all mortal beings; but yet not in an equal degree. God has ever known all men so as to give what is needful to preserve life. God has, therefore, made his sun to rise on all the human race, and has also made the earth to produce food. Then as to the necessaries of life, he performs the office of a Father towards all men. But he has known his chosen people, because he has separated them from other nations, that they might be like his own family. Israel, then, is said to be known, because God favored them alone with a gratuitous adoption, and designed them to be a peculiar people to himself. This is the knowledge of which the Prophet now speaks. But by saying that they "only", "rak", had been "known", he shows that they had been chosen through God's singular favor, for there was no difference between the seed of Abraham and other nations, when regarded in themselves, otherwise this exception would have been superfluous. For if there had been any superiority or merit in the people of Israel, this objection might have readily been made, "We have indeed been chosen, but not without cause, for God had respect to our worthiness." But as they in nothing differed from other nations, and as the condition of all was alike by nature, the Lord upbraids them with this, that he had "known them only"; as though he said "How has it happened, that ye are my peculiar possession and heritage? Has it been by your merit? Has it been because I was more bound to you than to other nations? Ye cannot allege these things. It has therefore been my gratuitous adoption. Ye are then the more bound to me, and less excusable is your ingratitude for rendering to me so unjust a recompense." So also Paul says, 'Who makes thee to differ?' (1 Cor. 4: 7.) He wished to show that every excellency in men ought to be ascribed to God. For the same purpose it is said here, you only have I loved and known of all the families of the earth: "What were you? Ye were even the children of Adam, as all other nations; the same has been the beginning of all. There is then no reason for you to say, that I was attached to you by any prepossession; I freely chose you and chose you alone." All this tends to amplify grace; and ingratitude on their part does hereby appear more evident. For had God spoken these words of his general benefits, the guilt of his chosen people would not have been so great: but when he says that they only had been chosen, when others were passed by, their impiety seemed doubtless more base and wicked in not acknowledging God in their turn, so as to devote themselves wholly to Him, to whom they owed every thing. And the bounty of God shines forth also in this respect, that he had known the Israelites alone, though there were many other nations. Had God owed any thing to men, he would not have kept it from them; this is certain. But since he repudiated all other nations, it follows, that they were justly rejected, when he made no account of them. Whence then was it that he chose the Israelites? We here see how highly is God's grace exalted by this comparison of one people with all other nations. And the same thing also appears from these words, of all the families of the earth; as though God had said, "There were many nations in the world, the number of men was very great; but I regarded them all as nothing, that I might take you under my protection; and thus I was content with a small number, when all men were mine; and this I have done through mere favor, for there was nothing in you by which ye excelled others, nor could they allege that they were unjustly rejected. Since then I preferred you of my own will, it is evident that I was under no obligation to you." We now then understand the design of the Prophet's words. He then subjoins, "I will therefore visit upon you your iniquities". God declares here, that the Israelites would have to suffer a heavier judgment, because they acknowledged not their obligations to God, but seemed willfully to despise his favor and to scorn him, the author of so many blessings. Since then the Israelites were bound by so many and so singular benefits, and they at the same time were as wicked as other nations the Prophet shows, that they deserved a heavier punishment, and that God's judgment, such as they deserved, was nigh at hand. This is the substance of the whole. It now follows - Amos 3 3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed? 4 Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing? 5 Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin [is] for him? shall [one] take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all? 6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done [it]? 7 Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. 8 The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy? The Prophet here accumulates similitudes which may, however, be reduced to five particulars. He first shows that he uttered no empty words, but had God's authority for what he said; and he appeals to him as his witness and approver: this is one thing. Then he shows that God designedly announces the punishment he would inflict on transgressors, that they might in time repent, and that he does not cry out for no reason, as unreflecting men grow angry for nothing, but that he is driven to anger by just causes, and therefore terrifies them by his Prophets. He teaches, thirdly, that nothing happens by chance, that the Israelites might thereby be made to consider more attentively the judgments of God. In the fourth place, he declares that men are extremely stupid, when they are not moved by the threats which they hear proceed from God. He intimates, in the fifth place, that the execution of them was ready to take place, and that when God has denounced anything, his threatenings are not vain, such as those by which children are terrified. These, then, are the five points, which we shall hereafter notice in their due order. He at the same time confirms what he said at the beginning of the chapter, - that God did not suddenly take vengeance on the Israelites, but called them to repentance, provided they were healable. He had indeed spoken before more distinctly, 'For three transgressions, and for fours I will not be propitious to them:' but now he demands attention from the people of Israel, "Hear this ye children of Israel, Will two men walk together, except they agree among themselves?" By these words he teaches, that though God might have immediately and unexpectedly brought punishment on them, he yet spared them and suspended his judgment, until they repented, provided they were not wholly irreclaimable. Amos now then confirms the truth, that God would not punish the Israelites, as he might justly, but would first try whether there was any hope of repentance. Let us now come to the first similitude; he asks "Will two walk together without agreeing?" Some forcibly misapply the Prophet's words, as though the meaning was, that God was constrained to depart from that people, because he saw that they were going astray so perversely after their lusts. The sense, according to these, would be, "Do you wish me to walk with you?" that is "Do you wish that my blessing should dwell among you, that I should show to you, as usual, my paternal love, and bountifully support you? Why then do ye not walk with me, or, why should there not be a mutual consent? Why do ye not respond to me? for I am ready to walk with you." But this exposition, as ye see, is too strained. There are other two, which are these, - either that the Prophet intimates here that so many of God's servants did not, as it were with one mouth, threaten the Israelites in vain, - or, that the consent of which he speaks was that of God with his Prophets. This last exposition being rather obscure, requires to be more clearly explained. Some, then, take the sense of this verse to be the following, - "I am not alone in denouncing punishment on you; for God has before warned you by other Prophets; many of them still live; and ye see how well we agree together: we have not conspired after the manner of men, and it has not happened by any agreements that Isaiah and Micah denounce on you what ye hear from my mouth. It is then a hidden accordance, which proceeds from the Holy Spirit." This sense is not unsuitable. But there is a third equally befitting, to which I have briefly referred, and that is, that the Prophet here affirms that he speaks by God's command, as when two agree together, when they follow the same road; as when one meets with a chance companion, he asks him where he goes, and when he answers that he is going to a certain place, he says I am going on the same road with you. Then Amos by this similitude very fitly sets forth the accordance between God and his Prophets; for they did not rashly obtrude themselves so as to announce anything according to their own will, but waited for the call of God, and were fully persuaded that they did not by any chance go astray, but kept the road which the Lord had pointed out. This could not indwell have been a sufficiently satisfactory proof of his call; but the Prophet had already entered on his course of teaching; and though nearly the whole people clamored against him, he yet had given no obscure proofs of his call. He does not then here mention the whole evidence, as though he intended to show that he was from the beginning the Prophet of God; but he only confirms, by way of reproof, what his teaching had before sufficiently attested. Hence he asks, "Will two walk together except they agree among themselves?" as though he said, "Ye are mistaken in judging of me, as though I were alone, and in making no account of God: ye think me to be a shepherd, and this is true; but it ought to be added, that I am sent by God and endued with the gift of prophecy. Since then I speak by God's Spirit, I do not walk alone; for God goes before, and I am his companion. Know then that whatever I bring forward proceeds not from me, but God is the author of what I teach." This seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet: by this similitude he affirms that he faithfully discharged his office, for he had not separated himself from God, but was his companion: as when two agree together to travel the same road; so also he shows that he and God were agreed. If, however, the former interpretation be more approved, I will not dispute the point; that is, that the Prophet here confirms his own doctrine by alleging that he was not alone, but had other colleagues; for it was no common confirmation, when it appeared evident that the other Prophets added their testimony to what he taught. As, however, he does not apply this similitude in this way, I know not whether such was his design: I have therefore brought forward what seems to me to be a simpler view. The second similitude follows, "Will a lion roar in the forest without a prey? Will a lion send forth his voice from his den when he has caught nothing?" By this verse he intimates that God does not cry out for nothing by his Prophets; for ungodly men supposed that the air was only made to reverberate by an empty sound, when the Prophets threatened, "These," they said, "are mere words;" as though indeed they could not find that the necessity of crying arose from themselves, because they had provoked God by their vices. Hence the Prophet, meeting their objection, says, "If lions roar not, except when they have obtained a prey, shall God cry from heaven and send forth his voice as far as the earth, when there is no prey?" The meaning is, that the word of God was very shamefully despised by the Israelites, as though there was no reason for crying, as though God was trifling with them. His word is indeed precious, and is not thrown heedlessly into the air, as if it were a mere refuse; but it is an invaluable seed. Since the Lord cries, it is not, says Amos, without a lawful cause. How so? The lions do not indeed roar without prey; God then does not cry by his Prophets, except for the best reason. It hence follows that the Israelites were hitherto extremely stupid inasmuch as they did not listen with more earnestness and attention to the teaching of the Prophets, as though God had uttered only an empty sound. The third similitude now follows, "Will a bird fall on the earth, he says, without a fowler?" The Prophet means here that nothing happens without being foreseen by God; for as nets are laid for birds, so God ensnares men by his hidden punishments. Unexpectedly indeed calamity comes, and it is commonly ascribed to chance; but the Prophet here reminds us that God stretches his nets, in which men are caught, though they think that chance rules, and observe not the hand of God. They are deceived, he says; for the bird foresees not the ensnaring prepared for him; but yet he falls not on the earth without the fowler: for nets weave not themselves by chance, but they are made by the industry of the man who catches birds. So also calamities do not happen by chance, but proceed from the secret purpose of God. But we must observe, that similitudes ought not to be too strictly applied to the subject in hand. Were one to asks how God could compare himself here to a fowler, as there is craft and artifice employed in catching innocent birds, when nets are laid for them, it would be a frivolous question; for it is evident enough what the Prophet meant, and that the design of his words was to show, that punishments fall on men, and that they are ensnared through the secret purpose of God; for God has long ago foreseen what he will do, though men act heedlessly, as the birds who foresee nothing. Then it follows in the fourth place, "Will the fowler remove his snare before he has made a capture?" In this second clause the Prophet intimates that the threatening of God would not be without effect; for he will execute whatever he declares. It is indeed certain, that fowlers often return home empty, and gather their nets though they have taken nothing; but the Prophet, as I have said, in using these similitudes, only states what fowlers usually do, when they are in hope of some prey. As for instance, when one spreads his nets, he will wait, and will not gather his nets until he takes some prey, if so be that a prey should come; he may indeed wait in vain all night. Then as fowlers are not wearied, and wish not to lose their labour after they have spread their nets, so also the Prophet says that God does not in vain proclaim his threatenings to serve as empty bugbears, but that his nets remain until he has taken his prey; which means, that God will really execute what he has threatened by his Prophets. The meaning then is, that God's word is not ineffectual, but when God declares any thing, it is sure to be accomplished: and hence he reproves the Israelites for receiving so heedlessly and with deaf ears all God's threatening, as though he was only trifling with them. "It will not be," he says, "as you expect; for God will take his prey before he takes up his nets." He adds, in the last place, "Shall a trumpet sound and the people tremble not?" Here he reprehends, as I have said, the torpidity of the people, to whom all threatening were a sport: "When a trumpet sounds," he says, "all tremble; for it is a signal of danger. All then either fly for aid or stand amazed, when the trumpet sounds. God himself cries, his voice deserves much more attention than the trumpet which fills men's minds with dread; and yet it is a sound uttered to the deaf. What then does this prove, but that madness possesses the minds of men? Are they not destitute of all judgment and of every power of reason?" We hence see that the Prophet in these words intended to show, that the Israelites were in a manner fascinated by the devil, for they had no thought of evils; and though they knew that God sounded the trumpet and denounced ruin, they yet remained heedless, and were no more moved than if all things were in a quiet state. What remains I cannot now finish. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou art pleased daily to exhort us to repentance, and dost not suddenly execute thy judgment by which we might be in an instant overwhelmed, but givest us time to seek reconciliation, - O grant, that we may now attend to thy teaching, and all thy admonitions and threatenings, and become teachable and obedient to thee, lest thou be constrained on finding us hardened against thy threatening, and wholly irreclaimable, to bring on us extreme vengeance: make us then so to submit ourselves to thee in the spirit of teachableness and obedience, that being placed under the protection of thy Son, we may truly call on thee as our Father, and find thee to be so in reality, when thou shalt show to us that paternal love, which thou hast promised, and which we have all experienced from the beginning, who have truly and from the heart called on thy name, through the same, even Christ our Lord. Amen. Calvin, Commentary on Amos (continued in part 6...) -------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-05.txt .