(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 9)

Lecture Fifty-seventh.
    We have explained the last verse of the fourth chapter, except
that there remains something to be said of the glorious
representation given of God by the Prophet. He says first, that he
had formed the mountains then that he had "created the spirits",
afterwards that he "declares to man what is his thoughts, makes the
morning and the darkness, and walks on the high places of the
earth". Such an accumulation of words might seem superfluous, only
this main thing must be borne in mind, that it was necessary for
men, whose minds were exceedingly torpid to be aroused that they
might seriously consider what we have seen had been denounced on
them. Hence the Prophet sought to shake off from the Israelites
their thoughtlessness, by setting God before them in his greatness;
for when his name only is announced, he is wholly neglected by the
greatest part of men. It was therefore necessary that something
should be added, that they who were asleep might be awakened, and
understand how great and how fearful the power of God is. This is
the design of all that we read here.
    The word "ruach" is interpreted in two ways. Some refer it to
the wind, and others to the soul of man. If we take it for the wind,
it will join suitably with the creation of mountains, for the winds
emerge from them on account of their cavity. If you understand it of
man's soul, it will agree with the following clause. It appears to
me more probable that the Prophet speaks of man's soul; though one
may possibly choose to connect both, so that there is an allusion to
wind, and that yet Amos, about to speak of thought, first mentions
the spirit.
    But what the Prophet says, that God announces to men what their
thought is - this is done in various ways. We indeed know that the
end of teaching is, that men may confess their guilt, who before
flattered themselves; we know also that the word of God is like a
two-edged sword, which penetrates into the bones and marrow, and
distinguishes between thoughts and feelings, (Heb. 4: 12.) God then
thus draws men out of their recesses into the light; and he also
convinces them without the word; for we know how powerful are the
secret movements of the Spirit. But the Prophet meant only here,
that the Israelites had to do with God, who is the searcher of
hearts, and from whom nothing is hid, however concealed it may be.
Each one is to himself the best witness of his own thoughts; but the
Prophet ascribes to God a higher degree, for he understands whatever
any one conceives in his mind, better than he who seems to have all
his own thoughts well understood. Since men therefore craftily hide
themselves, the Prophet here reminds them that they cannot succeed,
for God understands what they inwardly think better than they
themselves. We now then perceive what he substantially means.
    Some explain the words, that God makes the morning darkness, as
if Amos had said, that he converts light into darkness; but we ought
rather to consider a copulative to be understood; 'for he here
declares the power of God, not only as displayed in once creating
the world, but also in preserving the order of nature, and in
minutely regulating the changes of times and seasons. Let us now
proceed to the fifth chapter.

Chapter 5.

Amos 5:1
Hear ye this word which I take up against you, [even] a lamentation,
O house of Israel.
    Some render the verse thus, "Hear ye this word, because upon
you, or for you, I raise a lamentation:" but we shall hereafter
speak more at large as to the proper rendering. Let us see what the
subject is. The Prophet here denounces on the Israelites the
punishment they had deserved; and yet they did not think that it was
nigh; and they ferociously despised, I have no doubt, the
denunciation itself, because no chance had as yet taken place, which
might have pointed out such a destruction. Hence the Prophet and his
threatenings were both despised.
    He however threatens them here in severe terms with the
judgment of God, which they feared not: and this is the reason why
he says, "Hear ye". It was not, indeed, without reason that he thus
began and intimated that they greatly flattered themselves, nay,
that they stopped their ears against wholesome counsels: the
admonition would have been otherwise superfluous. The Prophet then
indirectly reproves that supine indifference in which the Israelites
indulged themselves.
    But with regard to the words, some, as I have before mentioned,
refer this lamentation to Amos himself, as though he had said, that
he lamented the state of the people, finding that they were so
stupid, and did not perceive how dreadful the wrath of God is.
Since, then, they thus flattered themselves in their sins, those
interpreters think that the Prophet here assumes the character of a
mourner for that irreclaimable people. "Hear, he says, this word"
even because I lament over you. For the more refractory the people
were, the more touched with grief the prophet no doubt was: for he
saw how horrible the judgment of God was, which was nigh them, on
account of their stubbornness. No wonder then that the Prophet says
here, that he undertook or raised lamentation for the people; and
this mode of speaking is common in Scripture.
    But yet I rather think that another sense is more suitable to
this place, which becomes evident by putting in an exegetic
particle, "Hear ye then this word which I raise upon you", even "a
lamentation", &c. The word "masa'", rendered burden, is derived from
the verb "nasa'", which means to raise up: and there is a striking
allusion to the subject treated of here. For the Prophet does not
here simply teach the people, nor comfort them, nor does he only
warn them, but he denounces on them the last punishment. We hence
see the import of the expression, to raise up a word; it was the
same as though he said, "I lay on you this prophecy:" for a burden
is laid on the shoulders of men when God's wrath is denounced.
    It afterwards follows, Even "a lamentations O house of Israel";
which means, "I raise upon you a word, which will constrain you to
mourn and lament: though now ye are so refractory against God, that
ye spurn all warnings, and reject all threatening; yet this word
shall at last prove mournful to you." This seems to be the genuine
sense of the Prophet: in the first place, he reproves the stupidity
of the people of Israel, by demanding a hearing; then he reproves
their contempt of God in despising all threatenings; and he shows
also that this prophecy would prove mournful to them for having so
long trifled with God, "The lament of the house of Israel shall be
this word, which I now raise up upon you." it follows -

Amos 5:2
The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is
forsaken upon her land; [there is] none to raise her up.
    This was substantially the vengeance which was now nigh the
Israelites, though they rested securely, and even scorned all the
threatening of God. The virgin of Israel, he says, has fallen.
Expounders have too refinedly explained the word virgin; for they
think that the people of Israel are here called a virgin, because
God had espoused them to himself, and that though they ought to have
observed spiritual chastity towards God, they yet abandoned
themselves to all kinds of pollutions: but a virgin, we know, is a
title given for the most part by the Prophets to this or that people
on account of their delicacies; for Babylon, no less than Samaria or
the people of Israel, is called a virgin. Certainly this refined
interpretation cannot be applied to Babylon, to Egypt, to Tyre, and
to other places. I have therefore no doubt but the Prophet here
arraigns the Israelites, because they, relying on their strength,
indulged themselves. They were quiet in their own retreats, and when
all kinds of blessings abounded, they lived daintily and
sumptuously. As then they were indulging themselves in such
pleasures he calls them a virgin. "The virgin of Israel then has
fallen, and shall no more rise again".
    A condition may be here included, as an exhortation to
repentance immediately follows: we may then fitly regard this as
being understood, "except they timely repent:" otherwise the
Israelites must have fallen without hope of restoration. But we may
also refer this to the body of the people: fallen then had the
virgin of Israel, not so however that they were all destroyed, as we
shall hereafter see; for the Prophet says that the tenth part would
remain: but this is rightly said of the people generally; for we
know that the kingdom had so fallen, that it never afterwards did
rise. A remnant of the tribe of Judah did indeed return to
Jerusalem; but the Israelites are at this day dispersed though
various parts of the world; yea, they are hid either in the
mountains of Armenia, or in other regions of the East. Since then
what the Prophet here denounces has been really fulfilled as to the
whole kingdom, we may take the place without supposing any thing
understood, "Fallen has the virgin of Israel." For as God showed
mercy when the people as a body were destroyed, that some remained,
is what does not militate with the prophecy, that the whole body had
fallen. Fallen then has the virgin of Israel, nor will she any more
rise again; that is, the kingdom shall not by way of recovery be
restored; and this, we know, has never taken place.
    "Forsaken is she, he says, on her own land, and there is none
to raise her up"; which means, that she will continue fallen: though
she may remain in her own place, she will not yet recover what she
had lost. We now understand the Prophet's meaning; and, at the same
time, we see that that people had so fallen, as never to rise again,
as it has been stated, into a kingdom. Let us now proceed -

Amos 5:3
For thus saith the Lord GOD; The city that went out [by] a thousand
shall leave an hundred, and that which went forth [by] an hundred
shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
    The Prophet now expresses more clearly what he had before said,
- that the kingdom would perish and yet so that the Lord would
preserve some remnants. Then as to the body of the people, Israel
had fallen; but as to a few remnants they were saved; but they were
a small numbers such as the Prophet mentions. We hence see that some
hope of mercy was given to God's chosen people, and that in the
meantime destruction was denounced on the whole nation. We have
already seen that their wickedness was past hope; it was therefore
necessary to announce to them the sentence of final ruin; but it was
so done, as not to drive to despair the faithful few, who remained
hid among the multitude.
    "The city then, from which a thousand went forth, shall have a
hundred remaining; and the city from which went forth a hundred,
shall have ten". Armies were wont formerly to be decimated, when any
sedition had been made: but God threatens the Israelites here with a
much heavier judgment, that only the tenth part would be saved from
ruin. We now then perceive the design of the Prophet. Now this could
not alleviate the grief of the people; but the hypocrites were more
exasperated, on hearing that few would be saved, and that all hope
of deliverance was cut off from them. When, therefore, they saw that
God dealt with them with so much severity, envy increased their
griefs and more embittered their minds; and this was what the
Prophet designed; for it was of no use to apply any solace to the
despisers of God: but as God knew that there were some seed
remaining among the people, he intended to provide for the
miserable, who would have been a hundred times swallowed up with
grief, had no mitigation been offered them. The Prophet then directs
his discourse to the few, when he says, "In the city from which a
thousand had gone forth there will be a hundred; and in that from
which a hundred went forth, ten will remain alive." It now follows -

Amos 5
4 For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and
ye shall live:
5 But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to
Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel
shall come to nought.
6 Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in
the house of Joseph, and devour [it], and [there be] none to quench
[it] in Bethel.
    Amos here again exhorts the Israelites to repentance; and it
was an address common to all, though the greater part, as we have
said, were altogether past recovery; but it was necessary, as long
as they continued a chosen people, to call them to repentance; for
they had not been as yet abdicated. We further know, that the
Prophets preached in order to invite some to God, and to render
others inexcusable. With regard to the end and design of public
teaching, it is, that all should in common be called: but God's
purpose is different; for he intends, according to his own secret
counsel, to draw to himself the elect, and he designs to take away
all excuse from the reprobate, that their obstinacy may be more and
more apparent. We must further bear in mind, that while the people
of Israel continued, the doctrine of repentance and faith was
preserved among them; and the reason was that to which I have
alluded, because they remained as yet in the fold of God. It is no
wonder then that the Prophet gives again to the Israelites the hope
of pardon, provided they repented.
    "Thus saith Jehovah to the house of Israel, Seek me, and ye
shall live". This sentence has two clauses. In saying, Seek me, the
Prophet exhorts the Israelites to return to a sane mind: and then he
offers them the mercy of God, if only they sought from the heart to
reconcile themselves to him. We have elsewhere said that men cannot
be led to repentance, unless they believe that God will be
propitious to them; for all who think him to be implacable, ever
flee away from him, and dread the mention of his name. Hence, were
any one through his whole life to proclaim repentance, he could
effect nothing, except he were to connect with this the doctrine of
faith, that is, except he were to show that God is ready to give
pardon, if men only repent from the heart. These two parts, then,
which ought not to be separated, the Prophet here connects together
very wisely and for the best reason, when he says, "Seek me, and ye
shall live"; intimating that the gate of mercy was still open,
provided the Israelites did not persevere in their obstinacy. But,
at the same time, he lays this to their charge, - that they
willfully perished through their own fault; for he shows that in
themselves was the only hindrance, that they were not saved; for God
was not only ready to receive them into favor, but also anticipated
and exhorted them, and of his own free will sought reconciliation.
How then was it, that the Israelites despised the salvation offered
to them? This was the madness which he now charges them with; for
they preferred ruin to salvation, inasmuch as they returned not to
God when he so kindly invited them, Seek me, and ye shall live. The
same thing is stated in another place, where it is said, that God
seeketh not the death of a sinner, (Ezek. 18: 32.)
    But as we have already said, the Prophets spoke thus in common
to all the people, but their doctrine was not to all efficacious;
for the Lord inwardly attracted his elect, and others were rendered
inexcusable. But still this is true, that the whole blame, that they
perished, were in the children of Israel, for they refused the
salvation offered to them. What indeed was the cause of their
destruction, but their own obstinacy? And the root of the evil, was
it not in their own hearts? Then none of them could evade the charge
made against them by the Prophet, - that they were the authors of
their own ruin, for each of them must have been conscious of his own
    But Amos afterwards defines the character of true repentance,
when he says, "Seek not Bethel, go not to Gilgal, pass not over to
Beersheba". Some think that the Prophet here repudiates all the
disguises, which are usually pretended by hypocrites. We indeed know
that when God calls such men to himself, that they seek indirect and
tortuous courses; for none of them return sincerely and willingly to
God. Men indeed see that they are justly reproved for having
departed from God: but when they are called back to him they take a
circuitous course, as I have said, and not the straight road. Thus,
though they pretend to seek God, they seek subterfuges that they may
not present themselves to him. All this is no doubt true; but the
Prophet advances farther; for he shows here, that the Israelites by
going to Bethel not only lost all their labour, but also grievously
offended God; for superstition was in itself condemnable. If Amos
had preached at Jerusalem, he might have said, "Go not into the
temple, for in vain ye offer sacrifices;" as indeed he does say
hereafter, "Come not with your flock." For he there shows, that God
is not to be pacified by ceremonies; nay, in that very chapter, he
rejects feast-days and sacrifices; but in this place he ascends
higher, and says that these two things are wholly contrary - to seek
God, and to seek Bethel; as though he said, "If ye from the heart
return to me, renounce all the superstitions to which you have been
hitherto attached."
    It is indeed a proof of true conversion, when the sinner is
displeased with himself on account of his sins and hates the things
which before pleased him and with a changed mind devotes himself
wholly to God. It is of this that the Prophet now treats; as though
he said, "If there is in you a purpose to return to God, cast away
all your superstitions; for these two things - true religion and
idolatry, cannot be joined together. As long then as ye remain fixed
in that false worship, to which you have accustomed yourselves, ye
continue alienated from God. Then reconciliation with him demands
that you bid adieu to all your corrupt forms of worship." The import
of the whole then is this, - that the Israelites could not be
reconciled to God, except they departed from their superstitions.
Let them turn away, he says, from Bethel, and Gilgal, and Beersheba.
    We indeed know that the calves were made at Bethel; and Gilgal,
no doubt, became celebrated for the passing of the people over
Jordan, and also, as it is well known, for the circumcising of the
children of Abraham; and as to Beersheba, we know that Abraham dwelt
there for a long time, and frequently offered sacrifices to God.
Now, this vicious zeal ("kakodzelia" - evil zeal or affectation)
ever prevails in the world; without reason or judgment it lays hold
on something special, when it undertakes to set up the worship of
God, as we see to be the case under the Papacy. But God has
prescribed to us a certain rule according to which he is to be
worshipped; it is not then his will that there should be a mixture
of our inventions. When therefore the posterity of Abraham
presumptuously availed themselves of his example, and when they
extolled the memorable event of the circumcision, God repudiated all
contrivances of this kind; for as it was well known, it was
expressly his will to be worshipped at Jerusalem; and by appointing
one tabernacle and one altar, he designed to cherish unity and
concord among the people. We now then understand that it was the
intention of Amos to show, that the conversion of the people would
be fictitious, until they turned away from all the superstitions and
vicious modes of worship, in which they had habituated themselves:
hence, Seek not Bethel, come not is Gilgal, pass not over to
    The same thing may be said at this day to those who wish to
blend the dregs of the Papacy with the pure and holy worship of God;
for there are at this day many go-betweens, who, while they see that
our doctrine cannot be disapproved of, yet wish to contrive some
middle course; that is, they wish to reconcile Popery with the
doctrine of the Gospel. But the Prophet shows that such a mixture
cannot be endured by God. How so? Because light cannot agree with
darkness. Hence, corruptions, except they be abolished, will always
subvert the true worship of God. We now see, that the lesson
conveyed by this doctrine is, that the pure worship of God cannot be
restored while the corruptions of the world, which are contrary to
his word, prevail.
    "Come not then to Gilgal, for by migrating it shall migrate".
There is an alliteration in the words of the Prophet, "Gilgal by
rolling shall be rolled;" for Gilgal means rolling. Were such a
phraseology allowable, it would be this, "Gilgal by gilling shall be
gilled;" that is, it shall be rolled with quick rolling. God
intimates that this place, under the protection of which the
Israelites thought themselves safe, would be destroyed, as it had
been already destined for destruction.
    Gilgal then be migrating shall migrate; not that the place
could remove, but that it would be wholly demolished, so that
nothing should remain there but dreadful tokens of God's vengeance.
    He then adds, "Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live". This
repetition is not superfluous: the Prophet confirms what I have
already stated, that such was the opposition between the true and
legitimate worship of God, and idolatry and superstition, that the
people of Israel, as long as they retained their corruptions, proved
that they had nothing to do with God, whatever they may have
pretended with their mouths and by their ceremonies. Seek God, he
says, and ye shall live; and this repetition was very useful for
this end, that hypocrites might know that they were justly
condemned, inasmuch as they did not consecrate themselves wholly to
God; for they were ever ready to contend with God whenever they
could. "Why does God deal so strictly with us? why does he not
concede to us at least something? for we do not deny him every
thing. But if we do what we think to be right, why does he not
indulge us at least on this account?" But when God not only urges
hypocrites by his doctrine, but visits them also with punishments
then they become angry, and even raise a clamour. Hence the Prophet,
the second time, calls them to this duty, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall
live; as though he said, "Ye will gain nothing by evasion; for if
any one seeks God truly and from the heart, God will not disappoint
him; he will receive him into favour and will bless him. That ye
then pine away in your calamities, impute this to your own obstinacy
and stubbornness: it is so, because ye do not truly seek God; for
while ye retain your corruptions, as I have said before, ye do not
seek him."
    But he adds "Lest he pass on like a fire". "Tsalach" means to
pass on, to advance; it means also to break out, and sometimes to
prosper; but, in this place, the Prophet no doubt meant what I have
said. Then it is, "Lest he advance like fire upon the house of
Joseph and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it in
Bethel". The kind of vengeance which God threatened is not here
expressed, but it may be easily understood. There is, therefore, in
the meaning no obscurity; for he declares, that if the Israelites
hardened their hearts against God, a burning was nigh at hand, which
would seize on them, devour, and consume them. There shall come then
or shall advance, a fire upon the house of Joseph; some say, shall
burst out, which amounts to the same thing. By the house of Joseph
is meant Ephraim; for he was, we know, the second son of Joseph;
and, by taking a part for the whole, the Prophets usually include
the ten tribes, as it is well known, when they mention Ephraim; and
the kingdom of Israel is sometimes called the house of Joseph. Lest
then he ascend as fire into the house of Joseph, and consume it, and
there be none to extinguish it: this was said, because the
Israelites never thought that they should be thus consumed by a
sudden burning. The fire then shall devour the house of Joseph, and
there will be none to quench it.
    In the verse before I omitted one thing, to which I shall now
advert. The Prophet said, that Bethel would be for a trouble, or be
nothing. Bethel, we know, is called in another place Bethaven, the
house of iniquity; and Aven means in Hebrew sometimes iniquity,
sometimes grief or trouble, sometimes labour or difficulty, and
sometimes nothing. It is not to be taken for iniquity in this place;
this is certain: but Amos, on the contrary, speaks of punishment,
which awaited that place, since it was abominable in the sight of
God. As then he had said of Gilgal, that it would be rolled; so now
he says of Bethel, that it would be for a trouble or grief, or be
nothing. Either senses would be appropriate; - that Bethel, from
which the Israelites hoped for a remedy to all their evils, would be
to them a trouble, that is, the cause of their ruin, or that it
would be nothing; as though he had said, that their hopes would be
fallacious and empty in expecting any relief from Bethel. It
afterwards follows -

Amos 5:7
Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the
    Here the Prophet, after having inveighed against superstitions,
comes to the second table of the law. The Prophets are sometimes
wont to shake off self-complacencies from hypocrites, when they
spread before God their external veils, by saying that all their
ceremonies are useless, except accompanied with integrity of heart:
but in this place the Prophet expressly condemns in the Israelites
two things; that is, that they had corrupted the true worship of
God, departed from the doctrine of the law, and polluted themselves
with ungodly superstitions; and he also reprehends them for their
wicked and dishonest conduct towards men, - for their disregard of
what was right and equitable, - for plunder, cruelty, and fraud.
This second subject the Prophet handles, when he says, that they
converted judgment into wormwood and allowed righteousness to fall
on the ground. But the rest I must defer till to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us to be so entangled, not
only by depraved lusts, but also by the allurements of Satan, and by
our own ignorance and blindness, - O grant, that being roused by thy
word we may at the same time learn to open our eyes to thy wholesome
warnings by which thou callest us to thyself: and since we cannot do
this without thy Spirit being our guide and leader, grant that he
may enlighten our eyes, to the end that, being truly and from the
heart tarried to thee, we may know that thou art propitious and
ready to hear all who unfeignedly seek thee, and that, being
reconciled to thee in Christ, we may also know that troll art to us
a propitious Father, and that thou wilt bestow on us all kinds of
blessings, until thou at length gatherest us to thy celestial
kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 10...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-09.txt