(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 6)

Lecture Fifty-fourth.
    In our last Lecture were noticed these words of Amos - that a
"whole people tremble at the sound of a trumpet"; he now seems to
add a sentence wholly different, and says, "No calamity happens,
except through God". But he had before said what we already noticed
respecting the sound of the trumpet, that the people might
understand that nothing happens by accident, and that punishments
are, for just reasons, inflicted by the Lord; and this he soon after
confirms by saying, that God did nothing, without having first
revealed his secret to his Prophets. The meaning then is that the
people at Israel were extremely stupid for not having repented after
so many warnings; nay, they remained still in their perverseness,
though they had been constrained by the most powerful means.
    We now then comprehend what the Prophet means; but that the
whole subject may be made more clear, let us notice this intervening
sentence, "there is no evil in the city which God has not done". By
these words the Prophet reminds us, that calamities happen not by
chance, as the vulgar of mankind believe; for the words, "Prosperous
or adverse fortunes" are, we know, in the mouths of all, as though
God was idle in heaven, and took no care of human affairs. Hence,
whatever happens, the world usually ascribes it to fortune. But the
Prophet here shows that the government of this world is administered
by God, and that nothing happens except through his power. He does
not, indeed, treat here of sin: but the Prophet, according to the
usual practice, calls whatever is adverse to us, "ra'ah", evil.
Whatever, then, we naturally shun, is usually called an evil; and
this mode of speaking Amos follows here, as God is said by Isaiah to
have in his power night and day, light and darkness, good and evil,
(Isa. 45. 7.) When good and evil are spoken of there, it is certain
that what is referred to is prosperity and adversity. So also here,
the Prophet teaches that men are chastised by God whenever anything
adverse happens to them, as though he said that fortune rules not,
as the world imagines, and that things do not take place at random;
but that God is at all times the judge of the world. In short, Amos
wished to recall the people to an examination of their lives, as
though he summoned them to the tribunal of God; and he showed by
evident external tokens that God was justly offended with the
Israelites: "Ye see that you are severely dealt with, do you think
that God sleeps idly in heaven? Since nothing happens but by the
will of God, he now designs to awaken you by treating you with so
much sharpness and severity, so that you may know your vices." We
now then perceive the design of the Prophet in saying, that there
was no evil in the city which God had not done.
    In a similar manner, also, does God by Jeremiah sharply
expostulate with the people, because they imputed slaughters in war,
famine, and other evils, to fortune. When, therefore, any calamity
happened, the Jews complained of bad fortune, as the world are wont
to do. God was displeased and severely reproved this profane notion;
for the government of the world was thus taken away from him: for,
were any thing to take place against his will, so much would be
abstracted from his power; and farther men would grow hardened in
their sins; for however grievously he might punish them, they would
not yet acknowledge his hand: they might indeed cry out under the
strokes, and feel how severe his scourges were; but they would not
regard the hand of the striker, which is the principal thing, as it
is stated elsewhere, (Isa. 9: 13.) Then the Prophet takes this as
granted, that, whenever any calamity happens, men are extremely
stupid, if they are not roused and reflect on their sins, and
consider the tokens of God's wrath, so as to flee to him, and
confess themselves guilty and implore his mercy.
    But he had before spoken of the sound of the trumpet; for every
excuse was thereby taken away from the Israelites, as God had not
only recalled them to the right way by his scourges but also
preceded these by his word: and he shows how justly he was
displeased with them; hence the Prophet adds another sentence, "For
the Lord Jehovah will do nothing without revealing his secret to his
servants, the Prophets". The Prophet declares in this verse, that
God dealt not with the Israelites as with heathen nations; for God
punished other people without warning them by his word; he summoned
to judgment neither the Idumeans, nor the Ammonites, nor the
Egyptians, but executed his vengeance, though he never addressed
them. Different was his dealing with the Israelites; for God not
only brought on them such punishment as they deserved, but he
preceded it by His word, and showed beforehand what evil was nigh
them, that they might anticipate it; he indeed gave them time to
repent, and was ready to pardon them, had they been capable of being
restored. Now then the Prophet aggravates the guilt of the people,
because they had not only been chastised by the Lord, but they
might, if they chose, have turned aside their punishment; instead of
doing so they hardened themselves in their wickedness.
    God then will do nothing without revealing his secret to his
servants, the Prophets. This ought to be confined to that people,
and it ought also to be confined to the punishments of which the
Prophet speaks. It is certain that God executes many judgments which
are hid both from men and angels; and Amos did not intend to impose
a necessity on God, as if he was not free to do any thing without
previously revealing it; such was not the Prophet's design; but his
object was simply to condemn the Israelites for their irreclaimable
perverseness and obstinacy, that, having been warned, they did not
seriously think of repenting, but despised all God's threatening,
and even scorned them. God then will do nothing, that is, "God will
not treat you in an ordinary way, as he does with other nations,
whom he chastises without speaking to them. They, for the most part,
understand not what is done; but God in a paternal manner kindly
reminds you of your sins, shows why he resolves to chastise you and
forewarns you, that you may have time to seek and ask forgiveness."
    God therefore reveals his secret to his Prophets; that is, "He
does not suddenly or unexpectedly punish you, as he might do, and as
ye see that he does with respect to others; but he proclaims what he
will do, and sends his messengers, as though they were heralds sent
to denounce war on you; and at the same time they open a way for
reconciliation, provided ye are not wholly past recovery, and
perverse in your wickedness. Ye are then doubly inexcusable, if God
can do nothing by his word and by the punishment which he afterwards
subjoins to his word." We now comprehend the object of the Prophet.
Then foolish is the question, at least unreasonable, "Does God here
bind himself by a certain law, that he will do nothing, but what he
previously reveals to his Prophets?" For Amos means not this, but
only affirms that it was the common method which the Lord adopted in
chastising that people. It is certain, that the Prophets did not
know many things; for God distributed his Spirit to them by measure:
all things then were not revealed to the Prophets. But Amos here
only intimates that God did not deal with his chosen people as he
did with heathen nations; for these often found God unexpectedly
displeased with them, and had no time to reflect, that they might
repent. Much more kindly and mercifully has God acted, says Amos,
with that people; for God was unwilling suddenly to overwhelm or to
surprise them, but has warned them by his Prophets. We see how
widely this doctrine opens; but it is enough to understand the
Prophet's design, and to know the purpose to which his discourse
ought to be applied.
    God then will do nothing without revealing first his secret to
the Prophets. He calls it a secret, because men are perplexed when
God executes vengeance on them, and stand amazed: but when they are
in time warned, then what God designs becomes evident to them, and
they know the cause and the source of punishment. Thus then the
secret is revealed which was hid from miserable men: and the guilt
of the people is doubled, when, after these threatening, they do not
    It now follows, "The lion roars who would not fear? The Lord
Jehovah speaks, who would not prophesy?" In this verse the Prophet
reproved the Israelites for their usual contentions with the
Prophets when their sins were sharply reprehended. Thus indeed are
men wont to do; they consider not that Prophets are sent from above,
and that there is a charge committed to them. Hence, when Prophets
are severe in their words, the world clamors and wrangles: "What do
these men intend? Why do they urge us so much? Why do they not allow
us to rest quietly? for they provoke against us the wrath of God."
Whenever then men are roused, they immediately menace God's Prophets
with strife and contention, and regard not threatening as coming
from God himself. This vice the Prophet now condemns: "The lion
roars, he says, who would not fear? God speaks, who would not
prophesy?" "Ye think that I am your adversary; but ye can gain
nothing by quarreling with me: were I silent, the voice of God would
of itself be formidable enough. The evil then proceeds not from my
mouth, but from God's command; for I am constrained, willing or
unwilling, to obey God: he has chosen me to be a Prophet, and has
showed what he intends that I should proclaim. What can I do, he
says? I am not at liberty to invent revelations; but I faithfully
bring forth to you what has been delivered to me by the Lord. How
great then is your madness, that ye contend with me, and consider
not that your strife and contention is with God himself?" We now see
what the Prophet meant, and also understand, why he adduced the four
similitudes, of which we have already spoken. I now proceed with the
remaining context.

Amos 3:9
Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of
Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria,
and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed
in the midst thereof.
    Amos begins here to set judges over the Israelites; for they
would not patiently submit to God's judgment: and he constitutes and
sets over them as judges the Egyptians and Idumeans. This prophecy
no doubt increasingly exasperated the minds of the people, who were
already very refractory and rebellious; but yet this was necessary.
God, indeed, had cited them to his tribunal, as long as a hope of
reconciliation remained: when they became angry on account of God's
threatening, clamored against his servants, yea, and obstinately
disputed, as though they were guilty of no fault, what remained, but
that God should constitute judges over them, whom the Prophet names,
even the Egyptians and Idumeans? "Ye cannot bear my judgment;
unbelievers, who are already condemned, shall pronounce sentence
upon you. I am indeed your legitimate judge; but as ye have
repudiated me, I will prove to you how true my judgment is; I will
be silent, the Egyptians shall speak." And who were these Egyptians?
Even those who were equally guilty with the Israelites, and labored
under the same charges, or were at least not far from deserving a
similar punishment; and yet God would compel the Israelites to hear
the sentence that was to be pronounced on them by the Egyptians and
Idumeans. We know how proudly the Israelites gloried in their
primogeniture; but the Lord here exposes to scorn this arrogance,
because they made such bad use of his benefits. We now then perceive
the Prophet's intention.
    "Publish, he says, in the palaces of Ashdod, in the palaces of
the land of Egypt, and say" - what? "Assemble on the mountains of
Samaria. He would have the Egyptians and the Idumeans to meet
together, and the mountains of Samaria to be as it were the theatre,
though the idea of a tribunal is more suitable to the similitude
that is used. It was then, as though the Egyptians and Idumeans were
to be seated on an elevated place; and God were to set before them
the oppressions, the robberies and iniquitous pillages, which
prevailed in the kingdom of Israel. "Assemble then on the mountains
of Samaria". The Prophet alludes to the situation of the country:
for though Samaria was situated on a plain, there were yet mountains
around it; and they thought themselves hid there, and were as wine
settled on its lees. God says now, "Let the Egyptians and Idumeans
meet and view the scene; I will allot them a place, from which they
can see how greatly all kinds of iniquity prevail in the kingdom of
Israel. They indeed dwell in their plain, and think themselves
sufficiently defended by the mountains around; but from these
mountains even the very blind will be able to see how abominable and
shameful is their condition."
    Let them come and see, he says, "the oppressions in the midst
of her". The word he uses is "mehumot", tumults; but he means
oppressions, committed without any regard to reason or justice, when
all things are done with glamour and violence. "Let them see then
the oppressions, let them see the distresses." He speaks of their
deeds; he afterwards mentions the persons; but the Prophet means the
same thing, though he uses different forms of expression, that is,
that the kingdom of Israel was filled with many crimes; for plunder
of every kind prevailed there and men kept within no bounds of
moderation, but by tumult and clamour pillaged the poor and the
miserable. It now follows -

Amos 3:10
For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence
and robbery in their palaces.
    In this verse he confirms what I have already said of
oppressions: he says that they despised every thing right. But not
to know this lessens not their guilt, as though they ignorantly
offended; but the Prophet means, on the contrary, that they had cast
away tar from them everything that was just and allowed themselves
all liberty in sinning, without any discrimination, without any
shame; as though he said, "They are brute animals, who are void of
all judgments of all reason, and of all shame; for they seek not to
have a light understanding any more." here then he accuses the
Israelites of wilful blindness; for they hardened themselves in
every evil, and extinguished all judgments shame and reasons so that
they no longer distinguished between what was just and unjust: and
he mentions one thing in particular - that they accumulated much
wealth by plunder and robbery. The Israelites were no doubt guilty
of many other crimes; but by stating a part for the whole, he
mentions one thing which includes other things, and intimates,, that
the people were wholly given to all kinds of crimes, and that as
they had cast aside every shame, obliterated every distinction, and
repudiated every regard for justice, they abandoned themselves to
every kind of wickedness. This, is the import of the Prophet's
    But our Prophet points out here the gross sins of the
Israelites, because he had previously constituted the blind as their
judges. Hence it was the same as though he had said, "Though the
Egyptians and the Idumeans are void of light, yet your iniquity is
so palpable, that they will be able to perceive it. There is indeed
no necessity of any subtle disputation, since plunders and pillages
are carried on with so much violence, since no moderation or equity
is any longer observed, and no shame exists; but men rush headlong
with blind impetuosity into every kind of evil; so that the very
blind, though without eyes, can know what your state is. Then the
Egyptians and Idumeans will perceive your vices, when located on the
neighboring mountains." This is the meaning. It now follows -

Amos 3:11,12
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary [there shall be]
even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from
thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.
Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the
lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel
be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in
Damascus [in] a couch.

    The Prophet here announces the punishment God would inflict on
the Israelites. "An enemy, he says, and indeed one around you", &c.
Some think "tsar" to be a verb in the imperative mood; but this
cannot be maintained. But Amos, here declares that an enemy was near
the Israelites, who would besiege them on every side. The ungodly
are ever wont to seek escapes, and if they see the smallest hole,
they think that they can escape. Strange is the presumption of men
with regard to God: when they see themselves hemmed in, they are
really frightened, yea, they become wholly disheartened; but yet
they seek subterfuges on the right hand and on the left, and never
submit to God except when constrained. This is the reason why the
Prophet now says, that "an enemy was near, and indeed around" them;
as though he said, "You have no reason to think that there is any
way of escape open to you; for God has hemmed you in on every side;
there is therefore a siege which so confines you, that you in vain
hope to escape." An enemy, he says, is indeed around - "around the
whole land, who will take away from thee thy strength". Here the
Prophet removes from the Israelites their vain confidence; for they
could not think of God's vengeance, while looking on their own
power. They indeed thought that they had sufficient protection in
their own large number, riches, and arms, as men are wont to set up
against God what proceeds from himself, as though creatures could do
anything against him, and as though God could not take away, when he
pleases, what he has given: and yet such is the blindness of men.
Hence the Prophet says, that all the wealth and all the strength in
which the Israelites excelled would be useless, inasmuch as "an
enemy, he says, armed by God, shall take from thee thy strength; and
thy palaces shall be plundered".
    In the next verse he leaves some hope, though this is not
avowedly done. For when he says that some would be saved, as when a
shepherd snatches from the jaws of a lion the ear of a sheep or two
legs, it is not the Prophet's design to mitigate the severe judgment
of which he had before spoken; but shows, on the contrary, that when
any should be saved, it would not be because the people would defend
themselves, or were able to resist; but that it would be as when a
trembling shepherd snatches some small portion of a spoil from the
lion's mouth. We must bear in mind what I have just said of the
proud confidence of the people; for the Israelites thought that they
were safe enough from danger; and therefore despised all
threatenings. But what does Amos say? "Think not," he says, "that
there will be any defense for you, for your enemies will be like
lions, and there will be no more strength in you to resist them than
in sheep when not only wolves but lions, seize them and take them as
their prey." When any thing is then saved, it is as it were by a
miracle; the shepherd may perhaps take a part of the ear or two legs
from the lion's mouth when he is satisfied. The shepherd dares not
to contend with the lion; he always runs away from him, but the lion
will have his prey and devour it at his pleasure; when he leaves a
part of the ear or two legs, the shepherd will then seize on them,
and say, "See, how many sheep have been devoured by lions:" and
these will be the proof's of his loss. So now the Prophet says, "The
Lord will expose you as a prey to your enemies, and their rapacity
will not be less dreaded by you than that of a lion: in vain then ye
think yourselves defended by your forces; for what is a sheep to a
lion? But if any part of you should remain, it will be like an ear
or a leg: and still more, - as when a lion devours a sheep, and
leaves nothing after having taken his prey until he is satisfied, so
shall it happen to you".
    They are then mistaken who think that the preceding commination
is here designedly mitigated; for the Prophet does not do this, but
continues the same subject, and shows that the whole people would
become a prey, that their enemies would be like lions, and that they
would have no strength to resist. Some hope, I indeed allow, is here
given to the people; for, as it has been before seen, God intended
that there should ever be some remnant as a seed among that chosen
people. This, I admit, is true: but we must yet regard what the
Prophet treats of; and what he had in view. He then did not intend
here expressly to console the Israelites; though incidentally he
says, that some would remain, yet his object was to show that the
whole kingdom was now given up as a prey to lions, and that nothing
would be saved except a very small portion, as when a shepherd
carries away an ear when the wolves and lions had been satiated. It
follows -

Amos 3:13,14
Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord GOD, the
God of hosts,
That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon
him, I will also visit the altars of Bethel: and the horns of the
altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.

    Amos, I have no doubt, added this passage, to show that the
superstitions, in which he knew the Israelites falsely trusted,
would be so far from being of any help to them, that they would, on
the contrary, lead them to ruin, because the people were by them
provoking God's wrath the more against themselves. When the
Israelites heard that God was offended with them, they looked on
their sacrifices and other superstitions, as their shield and cover:
for thus do hypocrites mock God. But we know that the sacrifices
offered at Bethel were mere profanations; for the whole worship was
spurious. God had indeed chosen to himself a place where he designed
sacrifices to be offered. The Israelites built a temple without any
command, nay, against the manifest prohibition of God. Since then
they had thus violated and corrupted the whole worship of God,
strange was their madness to dare to obtrude on God their
superstitions, as though they could thus pacify his displeasure! The
Prophet then rebukes now this stupidity and says, "In the day when
God shall visit the sins of Israel, he will inflict punishment on
the sitars of Bethel". By the sins, which the Prophet mentions, he
means plunder, unjust exactions, robbery, and similar crimes; for
there prevailed then, as we have seen, among the people, an
unbridled cruelty, avarice, and perfidiousness.
    Hence he says now, When God "shall visit the sins" of Israel;
that is, when he shall punish avarice, pride, and cruelty; when he
shall execute vengeance on pillages and robberies, he shall then
visit also the altars of Bethel. The Israelites thought that God
would be propitious to them while they sacrificed though they were
wholly abandoned in their lives: they indeed thought that every
uncleanness was purified by their expiations; and they thought that
God was satisfied while they performed an external worship. Hence,
when they offered sacrifices, they imagined that they thus made a
compact with God, and presented such a compensation, that he dared
not to punish their sins. Their own fancy greatly deceives them,"
says Amos. For, as we know, this was, at the same time, their
principal sin, - that they rashly dared to change the worship of
God, that they dared to build a temple without his command; in
short, that they had violated the whole law. God then will begin
with superstitions in executing judgment for the sins of the people.
We now then understand the Prophet's design in saying, that God
would visit the altars of Bethel when inflicting punishment on the
sins of Israel.
    But as it was difficult to produce conviction on this subject,
the Prophet here invites attention, "Hear ye, and testify, he says,
in the house of Jacob". Having bidden them to hear, he introduces
God as the speaker: for the Israelites, as we know they were wont to
do, might have pretended that Amos had, without authority,
threatened such a punishment. "Nothing is mine," he says. We then
see the design of this address, when he says, "Hear": he shows God
to be the author of this prophecy, and that nothing was his own but
the ministration. Hear ye, then, and testify in the louse of Jacob.
By the word testify, he seals his prophecy that it might have more
weight, that they might not think that it was a mere mockery, but
might know that God was dealing seriously with them, Then testify ye
in the house of Jacob. And for the same purpose are the titles which
he ascribes to God, The Lord Jehovah, he says, the God of hosts. He
might have used only one word, "Thus saith Jehovah," as the prophets
mostly do; but he ascribes dominion to him, and he also brings
before them his power, - for what end? To strike the Israelites with
terror, that vain flatteries might no longer, as heretofore, take
possession of them; but that they might understand, that so far were
they from doing anything towards pacifying God's wrath by their
superstitions, that they thereby the more provoked him.
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as we so provoke thee daily by
our sins, that we are worthy of eternal destruction, and no good
remains in us, and though we are severely chastised with temporal
punishments, thou dost not yet take from us the hope of that mercy,
which thou hast promised in thy Son to those who truly and from the
heart repent and call on thee as their Father, - O grant, that being
touched with the sense of our evils, we may, in true humility, and
with the genuine feeling of penitence, offer ourselves as a
sacrifice to thee, and seek pardon with such groaning, that having
undergone temporal punishments, we may finally enjoy that grace
which is laid up for all sinners, who truly and from the heart turn
to thee and implore that mercy which has been prepared for all those
who really prove themselves to be the members of thine only begotten
Son. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 7...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-06.txt