(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 7)

Lecture Fifty-fifth.
    One thing escaped me yesterday: pain in my head prevented me to
look on the book. The Prophet says in the twelfth verse, that the
children of Israel would be so delivered as when a shepherd rescues
only an ear, or some part of a sheep: he adds, "So the children of
Israel shall be rescued who dwell in Samaria in a corner of a bed,
and at Damascus on a couch. This similitude I did not explain. Some
think that Damascus is here compared with Samaria, as the more
opulent city; for Jeroboam the Second had extended the limits of his
kingdom to that city, and subdued some portion of the kingdom of
Syria: they then suppose, that Samaria is called a corner of a bed
on account of its confined state, and Damascus a couch; but there is
no reason for this. He might have better called Damascus a bed.
Others give this exposition, "They who shall escape among the people
of Israeli shall not be the valiant and the brave, who will oppose
the attack of the enemy, or with arms in hand defend themselves; but
those shall be safe who will hide themselves and flee to their
beds." But the Prophet seems here to compare Damascus and Samaria to
beds for this reason, because the Israelites thought that they would
find in them a safe receptacle: "Thought then ye dwell at Samaria
and Damascus as in a safe nest, it will yet be a miracle if a few of
you will escape; it will be as when a shepherd carries away the ear
of a sheep, after the lion has satiated himself." This seems to be
the genuine meaning of the Prophet; for I doubt not but that he
derides the foolish confidence in which the Israelites indulged
themselves, thinking that they were secure from all danger when shut
up within the gates of Samaria or of Damascus. "Ye think that these
nests will be safe for you; but lions, shall break through, and
hardly one in a hundred, or in a thousand, shall in a corner of a
bed escape; it will be as when a lion leaves an ear or part of a
leg." Let us now proceed -

Amos 3:15
And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the
houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an
end, saith the LORD.
    Amos shows again that in vain the great people trusted in their
wealth and fortified places; for these could not hinder God from
drawing them forth to punishment. As then abundance blinds men, and
as they imagine themselves to be as it were inaccessible, especially
when dwelling in great palaces, the Prophet here declares, that
these houses would be no impediment to prevent God's vengeance to
break through; "I will then destroy the winter-house together with
the summer-house". Amos no doubt intended by this paraphrase to
designate the palaces. The poor deem it enough to have a cottage
both for winter and summer; for they change not the parts of their
buildings, so as to inhabit the hotter in winter, and to refresh
themselves in the colder during summer: no such advantage is
possessed by the poor, for they are content with the same dwelling
through life. But as the rich sought warmth in winter, and had their
summer compartments, the Prophet says, that their large and
magnificent buildings would be no protection to the rich, for God's
vengeance would penetrate through them; I will destroy then the
winter with the summer house.
    And then he says, "Fail shall the houses of ivory". We now see
more clearly that the Prophet speaks here against the rich and the
wealthy, who inhabited splendid and magnificent palaces. Perish then
shall the houses of ivory and fail shall the great houses; some say,
"many houses", but improperly; for the Prophet continues the game
idea; and as he had before mentioned houses of ivory so he now calls
them great houses; for they were not only built for use and
convenience, like common and plebeian houses, but also for show and
display; for the rich, we know, are ever lavish and profuse, not
only in their table and dress, but also in their palaces. This is
the meaning. Now follows -

Chapter 4.

Amos 4:1
Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that [are] in the mountain of
Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to
their masters, Bring, and let us drink.
    He who divided the chapters seems not to have well considered
the Prophet's argument: for he pursues here his reproof of the rich,
and he had been prophesying against the chief men in the kingdom of
Israel. We indeed know how much ferocity there is in the rich, when
they become formidable to others by their power. Hence the Prophet
here laughs to scorn their arrogance: "Hear, he says, this word"; as
though he said, "I see how it will be; for these great and pompous
men will haughtily despise my threatening, they will not think
themselves exposed to God's judgment; and they will also think that
wrong is done to them: they will inquire, 'Who I am,' and ask, 'How
dares a shepherd assail them with so much boldness?"' Hear then ye
cows; as though he said, that he cared not for the greatness in
which they prided themselves. "What then is your wealth? It is even
fatness: then I make no more account of you than of cows; ye are
become fat; but your power will not terrify me; your riches will not
deprive me of the liberty of treating you as it becomes me and as
God has commanded me." We hence see that the Prophet here assails
with scorn the chief men of the kingdom, who wished to be sacred and
untouched. The Prophet asks by what privilege they meant to excuse
themselves for not hearing the word of the Lord. If they pleaded
their riches and their own authority; "These," he says, "are fatness
and grossness; ye are at the same time cows and I will regard you as
cows; and I will not deal with you less freely than I do with my
cattle." We now then perceive the Prophet's intention.
    But he goes on with his similitude: for though he here accuses
the chiefs of the kingdom of oppressing the innocent and of
distressing the poor, he yet addresses them in the feminine gender,
"who dwell, he says, on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the
poor, who consume the needy, who say", &c. He does not think them
worthy of the name of men; and yet they wished to be viewed a class
separate from the common people, as though they were some heroes or
halfgods. The Prophet, by way of contempt, calls them here cows; and
he also withholds from them the name of men. Bashan, we know,
derived its name from fatness; it was a very rich mountain, and
celebrated for its pastures: as the fertility of this mountain was
well known among that people, the Prophet gave the name of the cows
of Bashan to those fat and full men: and it was right that they
should be thus roughly handled, because through fatness, as it is
usually the case, they had contracted dullness; for when men abound
in riches, when they become great in power, they forget themselves
and despise God, for they think themselves beyond the reach of
danger. As then this security makes the rich torpid and inattentive
to any threatenings, and disobedient to God's Word, so that they
regard all counsels superfluous, the Prophet here rebukes them with
greater asperity, and addresses them, by way of reproach, under the
name of cows. And when he says that they were on the mountain of
Samaria, this is still ironical; for they might have made this
objection, that they dwelt in the royal city, and were watchful over
the state of the whole nation, and that the kingdom stood through
their counsels and vigilance: "I see how it is," he says; "Ye are
not on mount Bashan, but on the mount of Samaria; what is the
difference between Samaria and Bashan? For ye are there inebriated
with your pleasures: as cows, when fattened, are burdened with their
own weight, and can hardly draw along their own bodies; so it is
with you, such is your slowness through your gluttony. Samaria then,
though it may seem to be a watch-tower, is yet nothing different
from mount Bashan: for ye are not there so very solicitous (as ye
pretend) for the public safety; but, on the contrary, ye devour
great riches; and as your cupidity is insatiable, the whole
government is nothing else to you than fatness or a rich pasturage."
    But the Prophet chiefly reproves them, because they oppressed
the poor and consumed the needy. Though the rich, no doubt, did
other wrongs, yet as they especially exercised cruelty towards the
miserable, and those who were destitute of every help, this is the
reason why the Prophet here elates expressly that the poor and the
needy were oppressed by the rich: and we also know, that God
promises special aid to the miserable, when they find no help on
earth; for it more excites the mercy of God, when all cruelly rage
against the distressed, when no one extends to them a helping hand
or deigns to aid them.
    He adds, in the last place, what they say to their masters. I
wonder why interpreters render this in the second person, "who say
to your masters;" for the Prophet speaks here in the third person:
they seem therefore designedly to misrepresent the real meaning of
the Prophet; and by masters they understand the king and his
counselors, as though the Prophet here addressed his words to these
chief men of the kingdom. Their rendering then is unsuitable. But
the Prophet calls those masters who were exactors, to whom the poor
were debtors. The meaning is, that the king's counselors and judges
played into the hands of the rich, who plundered the poor; for when
they brought a bribe, they immediately obtained from the judges what
they required. They are indeed to be bought by a price who hunt for
nothing else but a prey.
    They said then to their masters, "Bring and we shall drink";
that is, "Only satiate my cupidity, and I will adjudge to thee what
thou wouldest demand: provided then thou bringest me a bribe, care
not, I will sell all the poor to thee." We now comprehend the design
of the Prophet: for he sets forth here what kind those oppressions
were of which he had been complaining. "Ye then oppress the poor, -
and how? Even by selling them to their creditors, and by selling
them for a price. Hence, when a reward is offered to you, this
satisfies you: Ye inquire nothing about the goodness of the cause,
but instantly condemn the miserable and the innocent, because they
have not the means of redeeming themselves: and the masters to whom
they are debtor; who through your injustice hold them bound to
themselves, pay the price: there is thus a mutual collusion between
you." It now follows -

Amos 4:2
The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall
come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your
posterity with fishhooks.
    Here Amos declares what sort of punishment awaited those fat
cattle, who being well fed despised God, and were torpid in their
fatness. He therefore says, that the days were nigh, when they
should be taken away together with all that they had, and all their
posterity, as by a hook of a fisher.
    But to give more effect to his combination, he says that God
"had sworn by his sanctuary". The simple word of God ought indeed to
have been sufficient: but as we do not easily embrace the promises
of God, so also hypocrites and the reprobate are not easily
terrified by his threatening; but they laugh to scorn, or at least
regard as empty, what God's servants declare. It was then necessary
that God should interpose this oath, that secure men might be more
effectually aroused.
    "The Lord then has sworn by his sanctuary". It is singular that
God should swear by his temple rather than by himself: and this
seems strange; for the Lord is wont to swear by himself for this
reason, - because there is none greater by whom he can swear, as the
Apostle says, (Heb. 6: 16.) God then seems to transfer the honor due
to himself to stones and wood; which appears by no means consistent.
But the name of the temple amounts to the same thing as the name of
God. God then says that he had sworn by the sanctuary, because he
himself is invisible, and the temple was his ostensible image, by
which he exhibited himself as visible: it was also a sign and symbol
of religion, where the face of God shone forth. God did not then
divest himself of his own glory, that he might adorn with it the
temple; but he rather accommodated himself here to the rude state of
men; for he could not in himself be known, but in a certain way
appeared to them in the temple. Hence he swore by the temple.
    But the special reason, which interpreters have not pointed
out, ought to be noticed, and that is, that God, by swearing by his
sanctuary, repudiated all the fictitious forms of worship in which
the Israelites gloried, as we have already seen. The meaning is
this, - "God, who is rightly worshipped on mount Zion, and who seeks
to be invoked there only, swears by himself; and though holiness
dwells in himself alone, he yet sets before you the symbol of his
holiness, the sanctuary at Jerusalem: he therefore repudiates all
your forms of worship, and regards your temples as stews or
brothels." We hence see that there is included in this expression a
contrast between the sanctuary, where the Jews rightly and
legitimately worshipped God, and the spurious temples which Jeroboam
built, and also the high places where the Israelites imagined that
they worshipped him. We now then understand what is meant by the
words, that God sware by his sanctuary.
    And he sware by his sanctuary, that the days would come, yea,
were nigh, in which they should be "taken away with hooks", or with
shields. "Tsanah" means in Hebrew to be cold: but "tsinot" denotes
shields in that language, and sometimes fishing-hooks. Some yet
think that the instrument by which the flesh is pulled off is
intended, as though the Prophet still alluded to his former
comparison. But another thing, which is wholly different, seems to
be meant here, and that is, that these fat cows would be drawn out
as a little fish by a hook; for afterwards he mentions a thorn or a
hook again. It is the same as though he had said, "Ye are indeed of
great weight, and ye are very heavy through your fatness; but this
your grossness will not prevent God from quickly taking you away, as
when one draws out a fish by a hook." We see how well these two
different similitudes harmonize: "Ye are now trusting in your own
fatness, but God will draw you forth as if ye were of no weight at
all: ye shall therefore be dragged away by your enemies, not as fat
cows but as small fishes, and a hook will be sufficient, which will
draw you away into remote lands." This change ought to have
seriously affected the Israelites, when they understood that they
would be stripped of their fatness and wealth, and then taken away
as though they were small fishes, that a hook was enough, and that
there would be no need of large wagons. It follows -

Amos 4:3
And ye shall go out at the breaches, every [cow at that which is]
before her; and ye shall cast [them] into the palace, saith the
    The Prophet expresses now, in different words, what would be
the future calamity of that kingdom; but he still speaks of the rich
and the chief men. For though he threatened also the common people
and the multitude, it was not yet needful expressly to name them,
inasmuch as when God fulminates against the chief men, terror ought
surely to seize also the humbler classes. The Prophet then
designedly directs his discourse still to the judges and the king's
counselors, "Ye shall go forth at the breaches, every one of you".
We see that he continues as yet the same mode of speaking, for he
counts not those pompous and haughty masters as men, but still
represents them as cows, "Every one", that is, every cow, he says,
"shall go forth through the breaches over against it". We know how
strictly the rich observe their own ranks and also how difficult it
is to approach them. But the Prophet says here, that the case with
them would be far different: "There will not be," he says, "a triple
wall or a triple gate to keep away all annoyances, as when ye live
in peace and quietness; but there will be breaches on every side,
and every cow shall go forth through these breaches; yea, "shall
throw herself down from the very palace": neither the pleasures nor
the indulgence, in which ye now live, shall exist among you any
more; no, by no means, but ye will deem it enough to seek safety by
flight. Each of you will therefore rush headlong, as when a cow,
stung by the gadfly or pricked by goads runs madly away." And we
know how impetuous is the flight of cows. So also it will happen to
your says the Prophet. We now then perceive the import of the words.
    Some take "harmonah" for Armenian because the Israelites were
led away into that far country; and others, take it for the mount
Amanus; but for this there is no reason. I do not take its as some
do, as meaning, "In the palace," but, on the contrary, "From the
palace," or, from the high place. Ye shall then throw yourselves
down from the palace; that is, "Ye shall no more care for your pomps
and your pleasures, but will think it enough to escape the danger of
death, even with an impetuosity like that of beasts, as when cows
run on headlong without any thought about their course."
    It was not without reason that he repeated the name of God so
often; for he intended to shake off from the Israelites their
self-complacencies; inasmuch as the king's counselors and the
judges, as we have already stated, were extremely secure and
careless; for they were in a manner stupefied by their own fatness.
It follows -

Amos 4:4-6
4 Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression;
and bring your sacrifices every morning, [and] your tithes after
three years:
5 And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim
[and] publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children
of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
6 And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto
me, saith the LORD.

    The Prophet here again pours contempt on the perverse
confidence, in which the Israelites were become hardened. They
thought, indeed, that their worship was fully approved by God, when
they offered Sacrifices in Bethel and Gilgal. But the Prophet here
shows, that the more sedulously they labored in performing sacred
things, the more grievously they offended God, and the heavier
judgment they gained for themselves. "What do you obtain by wearying
yourselves, when ye so strictly offer sacrifices, and omit nothing
that is prescribed in the law of God? Only this - that you provoke
God's wrath more and more." But he condemns not the Israelites for
thinking that they rendered a compensation, as hypocrites were wont
to think, and were on this account often reproved by the Prophets;
but he denounces their modes of worship as vicious and false, and
abominable before God. The Prophets reprobated sacrifices for two
reasons; - first, because hypocrites brought them before God as a
compensation, that they might escape the punishment they deserved,
as though they paid God what they owed. Thus at Jerusalem, in the
very temple, they profaned the name of God; they offered sacrifices
according to what the law prescribed, but disregarded the true and
legitimate end; for they thought that God was pacified by the blood
of beasts, by incense, and other external rites: it was therefore a
preposterous abuse. Hence the Prophets often reproved them, inasmuch
as they obtruded their sacrifices on God as a compensation, as
though they were real expiations for cleansing away sins: this, as
the Prophets declared, was extremely puerile and foolish. But,
secondly, Amos now goes much farther; for he blames not here the
Israelites for thinking that they discharged their duty to God by
external rites, but denounces all their worship as degenerate and
perverted, for they called on God in places where he had not
commanded: God designed one altar only for his people, and there he
wished sacrifices to be offered to him; but the Israelites at their
own will had built altars at Bethel and Gilgal. Hence the Prophet
declares that all their profane modes of worship were nothing but
abominations, however much the Israelites confided in them as their
    This is the reason why he now says "Go ye to Bethel". It is the
language of indignation; God indeed speaks ironically, and at the
same time manifests his high displeasure, as though he had said,
that they were wholly intractable, and could not be restrained by
any corrections, as we say in French, Fai du pis que to pouvras. So
also God speaks in the 20th chapter of Ezekiel, 'Go, sacrifice to
your idols.' When he saw the people running headlong with so much
pertinacity into idolatry and superstitions, he said, "Go;" as
though he intended to inflame their minds. It is indeed certain,
that God does not stimulate sinners; but he thus manifests his
extreme indignation. After having tried to restrain men, and seeing
their ungovernable madness, he then says, "Go;" as though he said,
"Ye are wholly irreclaimable; I effect nothing by my good advice;
hear, then, the devil, who will lead you where you are inclined to
go: Go then to Bethel, and there transgress; go to Gilgal, and
transgress there again; heap sins on sins."
    But how did they transgress at Bethel? Even by worshipping God.
We here see how little the pretence of good intention avails with
God, which hypocrites ever bring forward. They imagine that,
provided their purpose is to worship God, what they do cannot be
disapproved: thus they wanton in their own inventions, and think
that God obtains his due, so that he cannot complain. But the
Prophet declares all their worship to be nothing else than
abomination and execrable wickedness, though the Israelites,
trusting in it, thought themselves safe. "Add, then, to transgress
in Gilgal; and offer your sacrifices in the morning; be thus
diligent, that nothing may be objected to you, as to the outward
    "After three years", that is, in the third year, "bring also
your tenths"; for thus it was commanded, as we read in Deut. 14.
Though, then, the Israelites worshipped God apparently in the
strictest manner, yet Amos declares that the whole was vain and of
no worth, yea, abominable before God, and that the more they wearied
themselves, the more they kindled the wrath of God against
themselves. And to the same purpose is the next verse. "And burn
incense with the leaven of thank offering". He speaks of
peace-offerings; sacrifices of thanksgiving were wont to be offered
with leaven; but with other sacrifices they presented cakes and
unleavened bread. It was lawful in peace-offerings to offer leaven.
However sedulous, then, the Israelites were in performing these
rites, the Prophet intimates that they were in no way approved by
God inasmuch as they had departed from the pure command of the law.
Some take leaven in a bad sense, as meaning a vicious and impure
sacrifice, which the law required to be free from leaven; but this
view seems not suitable here; for nothing is here condemned in the
Israelites, but that they had departed from what the law prescribed,
that they had presumptuously changed the place of the temple, and
also raised up a new priesthood. They were in other things careful
and diligent enough; but this defection was the chief abomination.
It could not then be, that God would approve of deprivations; for
obedience, as it is said elsewhere, is of more account before him
than all sacrifices, (1 Sam. 15: 22.) Proclaim, he says, "nedavot",
voluntary oblations. What he means is, "Though ye not only offer
sacrifices morning and evenings as it has been commanded you, though
ye not only present other sacrifices on festivals, but also add
voluntary oblations to any extent, yet nothing pleases me."
    "Bring forth then, and proclaim voluntary offerings"; that is,
"Appoint solemn assemblies with great pomp; yet this would be
nothing else than to add sin to sin: ye are acting wickedly for this
reason, - because the very beginning is impious."
    But the last part of the verse must be noticed, "For so it has
pleased you, O children of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah". By
saying that the Israelites loved to do these things, he reprobates
their presumption in devising at their own will new modes of
worship; as though he said, "I require no sacrifices from you except
those offered at Jerusalem; but ye offer them to me in a profane
place. Regard then your sacrifices as offered to yourselves, and not
to me." We indeed know how hypocrites ever make God a debtor to
themselves; when they undertake any labour in their frivolous
ceremonies, they think that God is bound to them. But God denies
that this work was done for him, for he had not enjoined it in his
law. "It has thus pleased you," he says, "Vous faites cela pour
votre plaisir et bien mettez le sur vos comptes." We then see what
Amos meant here by saying, 'It has so pleased you, O children of
Israel:' it is, as if he had said, "Ye ought to have consulted me,
and simply to have obeyed my word, to have regarded what pleased me,
what I have commanded; but ye have despised my word, neglected my
law, and followed what pleased yourselves, and proceeded from your
own fancies. Since, then, your own will is your law, seek a
recompense from yourselves, for I allow none of these things. What I
require is implicit submission, I look for nothing else but
obedience to my law; as ye render not this but according to your own
will, it is no worship of my name."
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou wouldest have our life to be
formed by the rule of thy law, and hast revealed in it what pleaseth
thee, that we may not wander in uncertainty but render thee
obedience, - O grant, that we may wholly submit ourselves to thee,
and not only devote our life and all our labors to thee, but also
offer to thee as a sacrifice our understanding and whatever prudence
and reason we may possess, so that by spiritually serving thee, we
may really glorify thy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 8...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-07.txt