(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
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
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
    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
    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
    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.
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...)

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