(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 8)

Lecture Fifty-sixth.
    "But I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want
of bread in all your borders; and ye turned not to me, saith
Jehovah". God here expostulates with the people on account of their
incurable perverseness; for he had tried to restore them to the
right way, not only by his word, but also by heavy punishments; but
he effected nothing. This hardness doubled the guilt of that people,
as they could not be subdued by God's chastisements.
    The Prophet now says, that the people had been chastised with
famine, "I gave them, he says, cleanness of teeth". It is a
figurative expression, by which Amos means want, and he explains it
himself by "want of bread". The whole country then labored under
want and deficiency of provisions, though the land, as it is well
known, was very fruitful. Now since the end of punishment is to turn
men to God and his service, it is evident, when no fruit follows,
that the mind is hardened in evil. Hence the Prophet shows here,
that the Israelites were not only guilty, but had also
pertinaciously resisted God, for their vices could be corrected by
no punishment. We have just mentioned famine, another kind of
punishment follows -

Amos 4:7
And also I have withholden the rain from you, when [there were] yet
three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city,
and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained
upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
    I have said that another kind of punishment is here recorded by
the Prophet; it is not, however, wholly different: for whence comes
the want we have noticed, except through drought? For when God
intends to deprive men of support, he shuts up heaven and makes it
iron, so that it hears not the earth, according to what we have
noticed elsewhere. Yet these words of the Prophet are not
superfluous; for God would have the punishment he inflicts on men to
be more attentively considered. When men are reduced to want, they
will indeed acknowledge it to be the curse of God, except they be
very stupid; but when a drought precedes, when the earth disappoints
its cultivators, and then a want of food follows, more time is given
to men to think of God's displeasure. This is the reason why the
Prophet now distinctly speaks of rain being withheld, after having
said that the people had been before visited with a deficiency of
provisions; as though he said "Ye ought to have returned, at least
after a long course of time, to a sound mind. If God had been
offended with you only for one day, and had given tokens of his
displeasure, the shortness of time might have been some excuse for
you: but as the earth had become dry; as God had restrained rain,
and as hence sterility followed, and afterwards there came want, how
great was your stupidity not to attend to so many and so successive
tokens of God's wrath?" We now perceive why the Prophet here
connects drought with want of food, the cause with the effect: it
was, that the stupidity of the people might hence be more evident.
    But he says that God had "withheld rain from them, when three
months still remained to the harvest". When it rains not for a whole
month, the earth becomes dry, and men become anxious, for it is an
ill omen: but when two months pass without rain, men begin to be
filled with apprehension and even dread; but if continual dryness
lasts to the end of the third month, it is a sign of some great
evil. The Prophet, then, here shows that the Israelites had not been
in an ordinary way chastised, and that they were very stupid, as
they did not, during the whole three months, apply their minds to
consider their sins, though God urged them, and though his wrath had
been manifested for so long a time. We now then see that the
hardness of the people is amplified by the consideration of time,
inasmuch as they were not awakened by a sign so portentous, "When
there were yet three months, he says, to the harvests I withheld
rain from you".
    Another circumstance follows, "God rained on one city, on
another he did not rain; one part was watered, and no drop of rain
fell on another". This difference could not be ascribed to chance:
except men resolved to be willfully mad, and to reject all reason,
they must surely have been constrained to confess these to have been
manifest signs of God's wrath. How came it, that one place was
rained upon, and another remained dry? that two neighboring cities
were treated so differently? Whence was this, except that God
appeared angry from heaven? The Prophet then does here again condemn
the obstinacy of the people: they did not see in this difference the
wrath of God, which was yet so very conspicuous. The import of the
whole is, that God shows that he had to do with a people past
recovery; for they were refractory and obstinate in their
wickedness, and could bear the application of no remedy. It follows

Amos 4:8
So two [or] three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but
they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the
    Marking the difference, the Prophet relates, that two or three
cities had come to one, to seek drink, and that they were not
satisfied, because the waters failed on account of so large a
number: for though the fountains could have supplied the
inhabitants, yet when such a multitude flowed from every quarter,
the very fountains became exhausted. The Prophet thus aggravates the
punishment brought by God on the Israelites; for so great was the
thirst, that whole cities had recourse to fountains, where they
heard that there was any water. It was indeed an unusual thing for
inhabitants to leave their own city and to run to another to seek
water, like wild beasts who, when satiated with prey, run far for
water: but it is an unwonted thing for men to undertake a long
journey for the sake of finding drink: for they dig wells for
themselves, and seek water by their own industry, when rivers do not
flow, or when fountains do not supply them with drink. When
therefore men are forced to leave their own homes and to seek water
at a distance, and when they exhaust the fountains, it is a portend
which ought to be observed.
    But how was it that the Israelites took no notice of God's
hand, which was then as it were visible? Hence then, as they
repented not, their obstinate blindness became quite evident. They
were no doubt terrified with fear and harassed by grief; but all
this produced no effect, for they continued in their sins, took
delight in their own superstitions, and pursued the same life as
before. Since then they divested not themselves of their own
character, nor ceased to provoke continually the wrath of God, their
hopeless and incorrigible obstinacy is here manifestly proved. This
was the Prophet's design. It follows -

Amos 4:9
I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and
your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased,
the palmerworm devoured [them]: yet have ye not returned unto me,
saith the LORD.
    Though one kind of punishment may not convince men, they are
yet thereby proved with sufficient clearness to be guilty before
God. But when in various ways he urges them, and after having tried
in vain to correct them in one way, he has recourse to another, and
still effects nothing, it hence more fully appears that they, who
are thus ever unmoved, and remain stupid whatever means God may
adopt to lead them to repentance, are altogether past recovery. This
is the drift of what the Prophet now adds: he says that they had
"been smitten by the east wind". He shows that want of food does not
always proceed from one cause; for men become hardened when they
feel only one evil: as the case is when a country labors under a
drought, it will be thought to be as it were its fate. But when God
chastises men in various ways, they ought then no doubt to be
touched and really affected: when, on the contrary, they pass by all
punishments with their eyes closed, it is certain, that they are
wholly obstinate and so fascinated by the devil, that they feel
nothing and discern nothing. This is the reason why the Prophet
records the various punishments which had been already inflicted on
the people.
    Hence he says now, that they had been smitten by the east wind,
and "by the mildew". What mischief the mildew does to the standing
corn, we know; when the sun rises after a cold rain, it burns out
its substance, so that the ears grow yellow, and rottenness follows.
God then says, that the standing corn of the people had been
destroyed by this blasting, after dryness had already prevailed
though not through the whole land in an equal degree; for God rained
on one part, while a neighboring region was parched through want of
rain: the Prophet having stated this, now mentions also the mildew.
    He says further, that the fig-trees and vines had been
consumed, that the gardens had been destroyed, and that the olive
trees had been devoured by chafers or palmer worms. Since then the
Israelites had been in so many ways warned, was it not a strange and
monstrous blindness, that being affrighted they could bear these
chastisements of God, and be not moved to return to the right way?
If the first chastisement had no effect, if the second also had been
without fruit, they ought surely at last to have repented; but as
they proceeded in their usual course, and continued like themselves
in that contumacy of which we have spoken, what any more remained
for them, but to be wholly destroyed as those who had trifled with
God? We now then understand what the Prophet means.
    Moreover, this passage teaches, as other similar passages do,
that seasons vary not by chance; that now drought prevails, and then
continual rains destroy the fruits of the earth, that now chafers
are produced, and then that heaven is filled with various
infections, - that these things happen not by chance, is what this
passage clearly shows: but that they are so many tokens of God's
wrath, set; before our eyes. God indeed does not govern the world,
according to what profane men think, as though he gave uncontrolled
license both in heaven and earth; but he now withholds rain, then he
pours it down in profusion; he now burns the corn with heat, then he
temperates the air; he now shows himself kind to men, then he shows
himself angry with them. Let us then learn to refer the whole order
of nature to the special providence of God. I mention his special
providence, lest we should dream only of some general operation, as
ungodly men do: but let us know that God would have himself to be
seen in daily events, so that the tokens of his love may make us to
rejoice, and also that the tokens of his wrath may humble us, to the
end that we may repent. Let this then be learnt from the present
words of the Prophet.
    Amos further teaches us, that wind and rain, hail and droughts
heat and cold, are arms or weapons by which God executes vengeance
on account of our sins. Whenever God then intends to inflict
punishment on us, he puts on his armour, that is, he sends either
rain, or wind, or drought, or heat, or hail. Since it is so, let us
not think that either rain or heat is fortuitous, or that they
depend on the situation of the stars as ungodly men imagine. Let us
therefore know, that all nature so obeys God's command, that when
rain falls seasonably, it is a token of his love towards us, and
that when it is unseasonable, it is a proof of his displeasure. It
is meet to think the same of heat and of cold, and of all other
things. Let us now go on with the words of the Prophet -

Amos 4:10
I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your
young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your
horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your
nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
    God now expostulates with the people, because their
perverseness had not been subdued even by additional punishments;
for he had in vain exhorted and stimulated them to repentance. He
says, that they had been smitten with pestilence. The Prophet has
hitherto spoken only of the sterility of the land, and of the fruit
being destroyed by infections; he has hitherto mentioned want only
with its causes; this only has been stated: but now he adds that the
people had been afflicted with pestilence, and also with war, and
that they had still persevered in their wickedness. Whatever
measures then God had adopted to correct the vices of the people,
the Prophet now complains and deplores, that they all had been tried
in vain. But so many upbraidings are mentioned, that God might show
that there was no more any hope of pardon, inasmuch as they thus
continued to be untractable and perverse.
    He then says that he had "sent pestilence according to the
manner of Egypt. "Derech" means a way, but is taken for mode or
manners as the 10th chapter of Isaiah 'I will smite him according to
the manner of Egypt,' says God, speaking of Sennacherib, as though
he said, "Ye know how formerly I checked the fury of Pharaoh; I will
now put on the same armour, that I may drive far from you your
energy Sennacherib." But the Prophet says here, that God had
exercised towards the Israelites the same extreme rigor which he had
used towards the Egyptians; as though he said, "I have been forced
by your obstinacy to turn my power against you: ye know how Egypt
was formerly smitten by me from kindness to your fathers; I then
showed how dear to me was your preservation, by putting forth my
strength to destroy the Egyptians: how is it that I now turn my
weapons against you for your destruction? I have been indeed always
ready to oppose your enemies, and kindly to cherish you in my
paternal bosom. As then ye are become to me like the Egyptians, how
is this and whence this change, except that ye have constrained me
by your irreclaimable wickedness?"
    We now then see why the Prophet speaks here expressly of the
Egyptians. He intimates that God could not show favor to the
Israelites, which he would have continued to show, had they not
closed the door against it; as though he said, "I had chosen you
from other nations; but now I chastise you, not as I do the
uncircumcised Gentiles, but I avowedly carry on war with you, as
though ye were Egyptians." We see how much it serves for
amplification, when Amos compares the Israelites to the Egyptians,
as though he had said that they, by their perverse wickedness, had
extinguished all God's favor, so that the memory of their gratuitous
adoption was of no more avail to them. I have therefore sent among
you pestilence after the manner of Egypt.
    And he adds, "I slew with the sword your strong" men. It was a
different kind of punishment, that all the strong had been slain,
that their horses had been led into captivity, and that, finally,
the foetor of dead bodies had ascended to suffocate them. These were
certainly unusual tokens of God's wrath. As the people had not
repented, it became now again quite evident, that their diseases
were not healable; for God had effected nothing by the application
of so many remedies. These different kinds of punishments ought to
be carefully noticed, because the Lord has collected them together,
as so many arguments to prove the contumacy of the people.
    By saying that the "foetor of camps had ascended to their
nostrils", it was the same as if he had said, "There has been no
need of external force; though no enemy had been hostile to you, ye
have yet been suffocated by your own foetor; for this came up from
your own camps into your nostrils, and deprived you of life. Since
God then had raised up this intestine putridity, ought you not to
have been at length seriously affected, and to have returned to a
right mind? Inasmuch then as no fruit followed, who does not see,
that you have been in vain chastised, and that what alone remains
for you is utter destruction? As God has hitherto stimulated you in
vain by punishments, were he to proceed, he would lose all his
labour. Since then God has hitherto to no purpose visited you with
his scourges, there is no reason why he should chastise you more
moderately: you must now then be utterly destroyed." This is the
meaning: and he further adds -

Amos 4:11
I have overthrown [some] of you, as God overthrew Sodom and
Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet
have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
    Amos proceeds further, and says, that God had used a severity
towards his chosen people similar to that which formerly he showed
towards Sodom and Gomorrah. That, we know, was a memorable evidence
of God's wraths which ought to have filled all ages with dread, as
it ought also at this day: and Scripture, whenever it graphically
paints the wrath of God, sets Sodom and Gomorrah before our eyes. It
was indeed a dreadful judgment, when God destroyed those cities with
fire from heaven, when they were consumed, and when the earth,
cleaving asunder, swallowed up the five cities. But he says that
nearly the same ruin had taken place among the people of Israel,
only that a few escaped, as when any one snatches a brand from the
burning; for the second clause of the verse ought no doubt to be
taken as a modification; for had Amos only said, that they had been
overthrown as Sodom and Gomorrah, he would have said too much. The
Prophet then corrects or modifies his expression by saying, that a
few had remained, as when one snatches a brand from the burning. But
in the meantime, they ought to have been at least moved by
punishments so grievous and dreadful, since God had manifested his
displeasure to them, as he did formerly to Sodom and Gomorrah.
    History seems, at the same time, to militate against this
narrative of Amos; for he prophesied under Jeroboam the second, the
son of Joash; and the state of the people was then prosperous, as
sacred history records. How then could it be, that the Israelites
had been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah? This difficulty may be
easily solved, if we attend to what sacred history relates; for it
says that God had pity on the Israelites, because all had been
before consumed, the free man as well as the captive, (2 Kings 14:
25, 26.) When, therefore, there was so deplorable a devastation
among the people, it was God's purpose to give them some relief for
a time. Hence he made king Jeroboam successful, so that he recovered
many cities; and the people flourished again: but it was a short
prosperity. Now Amos reminds them of what they had suffered, and of
the various means by which God had stimulated them to repentance
though they proved wholly untamable.
    Then these two things are in no way inconsistent, - that the
Israelites had been consumed before God spared them under Jeroboam,
- and that they had yet been for a time relieved from those
calamities, which proved ruinous both to the captive and to the
free, as it is expressly declared. We must, at the same time,
remember, that there was some residue among the people; for it was
God's design to show mercy on account of his covenant. The people
were indeed worthy of complete destruction; but it was God's will
that some remnant should continue, lest any one should think that he
had forgotten his covenant. We hence see why God had preserved some;
it was, that he might contend with the wickedness of the people, and
show that his covenant was not wholly void. So the Lord observed a
middle course, that he might not spare hypocrites, and that he might
not abolish his covenant; for it was necessary for that to stand
perpetually, however ungodly and perfidious the Israelites may have
been. The Prophet then shows, that God had been faithful even in
this case, and constantly kept his covenant, though all the
Israelites had fallen away from him. He at length concludes -

Amos 4:12,13
Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: [and] because I will
do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and
declareth unto man what [is] his thought, that maketh the morning
darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD,
The God of hosts, [is] his name.
    Amos here declares, in the person of God, that the people in
vain hoped for pardon, or for a modification, or an abatement, or an
end to their punishment; for God had in vain made the attempt, by
many scourges and chastisements, to subdue their extreme arrogance:
therefore, he says, "thus will I do to you". What does this particle
"koh", thus, mean? Some think that God here denounces on the
Israelites the punishments they had before experienced: but the
Prophet, I doubt not, means something much more grievous. He now
removes the exception which he lately mentioned as though be had
said, that God would execute extreme punishment on this reprobate
people without any mitigation. "This will I do to thee, Israel:"
"Thou hast already perceived with how many things I armed myself to
take vengeance on the despisers of my law; I will now deal more
severely with thee, for thy obstinacy compels me. Since, then, I
have hitherto produced no effect on you, I will now bring the last
punishment: for remedies cannot be applied to men past recovery."
"Thus", then, he says, "will I do to thee Israel."
    "And because I will do this to thee", &c. "'Ekev" means often a
reward or an end: this place may then be thus rendered: 'I will at
length surely do this to you;' but the sense the most suitable seems
to be this, Because I will this do to you, prepare to meet thy God.
The passage may be explained in two ways: either as an ironical
sentence, or as a simple and serious exhortation to repentance. If
we take it ironically, the sense will be of this kind, "Come, now,
meet me with all your obstinacy, and with whatever may serve you;
will you be able to escape my vengeance by setting up yourselves
against me, as you have hitherto done?" And certainly the Prophet,
in denouncing final ruin on the people, seems here as though he
wished designedly to touch them to the quick, when he says, "Meet
now thy God and prepare thyself:" that is, "Gather all thy strength,
and thy forces, and thy auxiliaries; try what all this will avail
thee." But as in the next chapter, the Prophet exhorts again the
Israelites to repentance, and sets before them the hope of favor,
this place may be taken in another sense, as though he said, "Since
thou seest thyself guilty, and also as thou seest that thou art
seeking subterfuges in vain, being not able by any means to elude
the hand of thy judge, then see at last, that thou meet thy God,
that thou mayest anticipate the final ruin which is impending." The
Prophets, we indeed know, after having threatened destruction to the
chosen people, ever moderate the asperity of their doctrine, as
there were at all times some remnant seed, though hidden. And
similar passages we have seen both in Joel and in Hosea. It is not,
therefore, improper to explain the words of Amos in this sense, -
that though the people were almost past hope, he yet exhorted them
to anticipate God's wrath. Prepare then thyself to meet thy God, as
though he said, "However worthy thou art of being destroyed and
though the Lord seems to have closed up the door of mercy, and
despair meets thee on every side, thou can't yet mitigate God's
wrath, provided thou prepares to meet him."
    But this preparation includes real renovation of the heart: it
then takes place, when men are displeased with themselves, when with
a changed mind they submit to God, and humbly pray for forgiveness.
There is then an important meaning in the Prophet's words, Prepare
thyself. With regard to meeting God, we know what Paul says in 1
Cor. 9:, 'If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged by the
Lord.' How comes it, then, that God deals severely with us, except
that we spare ourselves? Hence this indulgence, with which we
flatter ourselves, provokes God's wrath against us. We cannot then
meet God, except we become our own judges, and condemn our sins and
feel real sorrow. We now see what the Prophet means, if we regard
the passage as not spoken ironically.
    But that he might rouse careless men more effectually, he then
magnificently extols the power of God; and that he might produce
more reverence and fear in men, especially the hardened and the
refractory, he adorns his name with many commendations. As it was
difficult to turn the headstrong, the Prophet accumulates many
titles, to move the people, that they might entertain reverence for
God. "God," he says, "has formed the mountains, and created the
spirit," and further, "he knoweth hearts, and men themselves
understand not what they think of, except as far as God sets before
them their thoughts; God maketh the morning and the darkness, and
walketh in the high places of the earth; and his name is, Jehovah,
God of hosts." Why were all these encomiums added, but that the
hearts of men might be touched, who were before void of thought and
sunk in blind stupidity? We now understand the Prophet's object. But
what remains to be said on the words will be added in tomorrow's
Grant, Almighty God, that since by thy word thou kindly invites us
to thyself, we may not turn deaf ears to thee, but anticipate thy
rod and scourges; and that when, for the stupidity and
thoughtlessness by which we have become inebriated, thou addest
those punishments by which thou sharply urgest us to repent, - O
grant, that we may not continue wholly intractable, but at length
turn our hearts to thy service and submit ourselves to the yoke of
thy word, and that we may be so instructed by the punishments, which
thou hast inflicted on us and still inflictest, that we may truly
and from the heart turn to thee, and offer ourselves to thee as a
sacrifice, that thou mayest govern us according to thy will, and so
rule all our affections by thy Spirit, that we may through the whole
of our life strive to glorify thy name in Christ Jesus, thy Son our
Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 9...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-08.txt