(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 11)

Lecture Fifty-ninth.

Amos 5:14
Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God
of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
    The Prophet again repeats, that it was only owing to the
Israelites themselves that it was not well with them; for God was
ready to grant them his blessing; but they designedly sought a curse
for themselves. Inasmuch, then, the hypocrites are wont to put away
from themselves the blame of every evil, and to complain of their
miseries, as though the Lord afflicted them unjustly, the Prophet
here shows, that no evil happened to the Israelites, but what they
procured by their vices: and at the same time he exhorts them to
repentance, and gives them the hope of pardon, provided they
hardened not their hearts to the last. He therefore bids them to
seek good; but by adding, seek not evil, his words are full of
meaning, as though he had said, that they were so fixed in their own
wickedness, that they could not be torn away from it. The import of
the whole, then, is this - that the Israelites could not complain of
being too severely treated by God, because they suffered not
themselves to be kindly dealt with. And the Prophet assigns this as
the reason - that they were not only alienated from what was good,
but that they also with avidity and eager desire followed what was
evil: in the meantime he exhorts them to repentance and adds a
promise the more to encourage them.
    "Seek then good, he says, that ye may live"; And then he adds,
"And thus God will be with you, as ye have said". Here the
wickedness of the people is reproved who sought to bind God to
themselves; for hypocrites are wont to misapply the promises: when
they presumptuously reject God himself, they still wish him to be
under an obligation to them. Thus they gloried that they were the
children of Abraham, an elect people; circumcision was to them like
a royal diadem; they sought to be superior to all other nations: and
thus they abused the name of God, and at the same time they
petulantly scorned both the word of God and his Prophets. As, then,
they ever boasted that God was dwelling in the midst of them, the
Prophet says, "Then and thus will God be with your if ye seek what
is good or the doing of good;" for to seek good is nothing else than
to endeavor to do good; as though he said "Change your nature and
your manners; for hitherto iniquity has prevailed among you; you
have been violent, and rapacious, and fraudulent: begin now to do
good, then God will be with you."
    There is therefore a great emphasis to be laid on the particle
"ken", "thus" will God be with you: for the Prophet reminds them of
what so often occurs in the law, "Be ye holy, for I am holy," who
dwell in the midst of you, (Lev. 11: 44.) God shows, in these words,
that it could not be that he would dwell with the Israelites except
they sanctified themselves, that there might be a mutual agreement.
But they had no regard for holiness, and yet wished God to be bound
to them. This false confidence the Prophet derides, and says, that a
certain condition is fixed in the law, according to which God would
dwell in the midst of them. Thus then will God be in the midst of
you; that is, when he sees that you strive after uprightness and the
doing of good.
    I have already explained what this means, as we have said; for
he proves that foolish vaunting to be false which was heard among
the Israelites: "Has not the Lord chosen and adopted us as his
people? Is not the ark of the covenant a sure pledge of his
presence? How then could he depart from us? God would deny himself,
were he not to keep his pledged faith; for he covenanted with our
fathers, that we should be his flock even to the end of the world."
Since, then, they thus foolishly boasted, and were, at the same
time, covenant breakers, the Prophet says, "Ye boast, indeed, by
your mouth that God is in the midst of you, but see what he in his
turn stipulates and requires from you. If, then, ye respond to his
call, he will not surely be wanting to his pledged faith; but as ye
willfully depart from him, he must necessarily become alienated from
you." We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet in these
words. It follows -

Amos 5:15
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the
gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the
remnant of Joseph.

    The Prophet inculcates the same truth; and he did this
designedly; for he saw that nothing was more difficult than to bring
this people to repentance, who, in the first place, were by nature
refractory; and, in the second place, were hardened by long habit in
their vices. For Satan gains dominion by degrees in the hearts of
men, until he renders them wholly stupid so that they discern not
between right and wrong. Such, then, was the blindness which
prevailed among the people of Israel: it was therefore necessary
often to goad them as Amos does here.
    Hence he bids them "to hate evil and to love good". And this
order ought to be preserved, when we desire really to turn to God
and to repent. Amos here addresses perverse men, who were so
immersed in their own wickedness, that they distinguished no longer
between light and darkness: it was therefore not without reason that
he begins with this sentence, that they should hate evil; as though
he had said, that there had been hitherto a hostile disagreement
between them and God, and that therefore a change was necessary, in
order that they might return to him. For when any one has already
wished to devote himself to God's service, this exhortation to hate
evil is superfluous: but when one is sunk still in his own vices, he
has need of such a stimulant. The Prophet therefore does here
reprove them; and though they flattered themselves, he yet shows
that they were greatly addicted to their vices.
    He afterwards adds, "Love good". He intimates, that it would be
a new thing for them to cultivate benevolence, and to apply
themselves to what was right. The import of the whole is this, -
that the Israelites would have no peace with God, until they were
wholly changed and became new men; for they were now strangers to
goodness, and given to wickedness and depravity. But Amos mentions
here only a part of repentance: for "tov" no doubt means the doing
of good, as iniquity is properly called "ra'" [the doing of evil.]
He speaks not here of faith, or of prayer to God, but describes
repentance by its fruits; for our faith, as it has been stated in
other places, is proved in this way; it manifests itself, when
sincerity and uprightness towards one another flourish in us, when
we spontaneous]y love one another and perform the duties of love.
Thus then by stating a part for the whole, is repentance here
described; that is, the whole, as they commonly say, is shown by a
    But now the Prophet adds, "And set up judgment in the gate". He
here glances at the public state of things, of which we have largely
spoken in our yesterday's lecture. A deluge of iniquity had so
inundated the land, that in the very courts of justice, and in the
passing of judgments, there was no longer any equity, any justice.
Since then corruption had taken possession of the very gates, the
Prophet exhorts them to set up judgment in the gate; it may be, he
says, that God will show mercy to the remnants of Joseph. The
Prophet shows here that it was hardly possible that the people
should continue safe; nay, that this was altogether hopeless. But as
the common degeneracy, like a violent tempest, carried away the good
along with it, the Prophet here admonishes the faithful not to
despond, though they were few in number, but to retake themselves to
God, to suffer others to fall away and to run headlong to ruin, and
at the same time to provide for their own safety, as those who flee
away from the burning.
    We now then understand the object of the Prophet: for when the
whole multitude, given up to destruction, had laid aside every care
for their safety, a few remained, who yet suffered themselves to be
borne along, as though a tempest, as it has been said, had carried
them away. The Prophet then does here give comfort to such good men
as were still alive, and shows that though the people were sinking,
there was no reason for them to despair, for the Lord still promised
to be propitious to them. What this doctrine teaches is this, - that
ten ought not to regard what a thousand may do; but they ought to
hear God speaking, rather than to abandon themselves with the
multitude; when they see men blindly and impetuously running
headlong to their own ruin, they should not follow them, but rather
listen to God, and not reject his offered salvation. However much
then their small number may dishearten them, they ought not yet to
suffer God's promises to be forced or snatched away from them, but
fully to embrace them.
    The expression, "it may be", is not one of doubt, as it has
been stated in another p]ace, (Joel 2,) but the Prophet, on the
contrary, intended sharply to stimulate the faithful, that he might,
as it was needful, increase their alacrity. Whenever then "pen",
lest perhaps or "'ulai", it may be, is set down, let us know, that
they are not intended to leave men's minds in suspense or
perplexity, that they may despond or come to God in doubt; but that
a difficulty is thereby implied, in order to stir them up and to
increase the ardor of their desire: and this is necessary in a mixed
state of things, for we see how great is the indolence of our flesh.
Even they who desire to return to God, do not hasten with that ardor
which becomes them, but creep slowly, and hardly draw themselves
along; and then when many obstacles meet them, they who would have
been otherwise full of courage, almost despair at every step. It is
therefore necessary to apply such goadings as these, "Take heed; for
when any one is beset on every side by fire, he will not long delay,
nor think with himself how he may escape without any hurt and
without any inconvenience; but he will risk danger rather than that
he should by delay or tardiness deprive himself of a way of escape.
So also ye see, that iniquity surrounds you on every side; what then
is to be done except that each of you must quickly flee away?"
    ~e now then perceive the design of the Prophet in saying, "It
may be that he will show mercy". The sum of the whole is this, -
That there was need of a great change, that they might become
altogether new men, who had hitherto devoted themselves to
wickedness, - and then, that the few should not wait until the whole
multitude joined them; for though the people resolved to go astray,
yet God ought to have been attended to, when recalling the few to
himself and bidding them to escape, as it were, from the burning, -
and, thirdly, that there is stated here a difficulty, that those
still healable might not come tardily to God, but that they might
strive against impediments and quickly run to him seeing that they
could not without great effort extricate themselves; they were
therefore to come to God, not slowly; but having overcome all
difficulties, they were on the contrary, to flee to him. It now
follows -

Amos 5:16
Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing
[shall be] in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways,
Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such
as are skillful of lamentation to wailing.
    The particle of inference, set down here, confirms what has
been already said, - that the Israelites vainly flattered
themselves, though they were in the worst condition. And as the
Prophet knew that there would be no end to their evasions, being, as
they were, perverse hypocrites, he cuts off all their subterfuges by
saying, that God had now announced his purpose concerning them, and
that however they might object this or that, God's judgment could no
longer be deferred by delay, for their iniquity was more than
sufficiently proved.
    "Therefore Jehovah, he says, God of hosts, the Lord, saith". He
again repeats the attributes of God, in order to set forth his
supreme power; as though he had said, that the Israelites gained
nothing by acting the part of sophisters with God; for that he is
the supreme judge, against whom there is no appeal, and whose
sentence cannot be revoked. Hence we see that what is here checked
is that waywardness which deceived the Israelites, while they
continued to clamour against God. Thus then saith Jehovah; this was
said, that they might understand that they were depraved in their
disposition, corrupt in morals, wholly given to wickedness, and
without a particle of goodness in them.
    "Thus then saith God, In all the streets of concourse there
shall be lamentation, and in all the highways they shall say, Woe!
Woe!" The Prophet disputes not here with them, nor denounces their
vices, but speaks only of punishment; as though he had said, that
the litigation was decided, that there was no need of an accuser;
for nothing now remained but that God should execute his vengeance
on them, inasmuch as he had already contended more than enough with
them. And this mode of teaching frequently occurs in the Prophets;
and it ought to be observed, that we may not think that we can gain
anything by our evasions, when the Lord regards us as guilty. Let us
then dread the punishment, which is prepared for all the intractable
and the obstinate. They shall say, he says, in all the highways,
Woe! Woe! They now prattle and think to prevail by their loquacity:
when they murmur against God, they think that a delay is thus
attained, that he dares not to inflict punishment; but God
nevertheless proceeds with his judgment; they shall cry, Woe! Woe!
there will be no time then for devising shifts, but they will be
wholly taken up with wailing.
    "They shall call, he says, the husbandman to mourning". Some
think "'ikar", derived from "nachar", which is to own, or, to make,
one's self a stranger: and they are induced to regard it so only for
this reason, because the Prophet immediately mentions those who were
skillful in mourning. But, as all the Hebrews agree as to the
meaning of this word, I am unwilling, without authority to make any
change: and it also harmonizes well with what the Prophet says. At
the same time, those Hebrew interpreters are wrong, who think that
the order is inverted, as though it ought to have been thus, "The
skillful in lamentation shall call husband men to mourning." But the
Prophet, I doubt not, meant, that all were to be led together to
mourning; for, though the manner was different, yet, in the first
place, he appoints mourning to husbandmen, and then he shows that it
would be common to all those who were wont to mourn.
    Let us then consider what the Prophet says, "Lamentation to all
the skillful in mourning". Eastern nations we know, exercised
themselves in acting grief, and so they do at this day. We find,
indeed, that they practiced all manner of gesticulations: a greater
moderation at least is seen among us, however heavy the grief may
be. And this custom in former times came also into Europe; for we
know that there were women hired to mourn at Rome; and we know that
there were everywhere those who lamented. They therefore mourned for
wages. This vicious custom the Prophet notices: but it is not
discussed here whether this was done rightly or foolishly: for the
Prophet here only refers to a common custom; 'There will be
lamentations' he says, 'to all the skillful in mourning;' that is,
all who are wont to employ their labour in weeping will now be fully
occupied. This is the first, though the last in order, at least it
is the middle between two other clauses. Now, the two others follow,
which are these, - that the very husbandmen would be led to
mourning, - and then that there would be lamentation in all the
highways. But why does the Prophet say, that all the skillful in
mourning were to be occupied in lamentation? Because the common
calamity would thus constrain them. He further adds, that this grief
would not be feigned; but that as destruction would prevail through
the cities and fields none would be exempt. However much the
husbandmen were unaccustomed to such rites, they would yet wail and
learn this new art, says the Prophet. We now then see what these
words mean: but the next verse must be joined to them -

Amos 5:17
And in all vineyards [shall be] wailing: for I will pass through
thee, saith the LORD.
    A reason is now added, why the whole country would be taken up
with lamentation and mourning; for the Lord would pass through the
whole land. Surely nothing was more to be desired, than that God
should visit his own land; but he here declares that he would pass
through as an enemy. As then an enemy runs through a country and
spreads devastation wherever he comes, such would be the passing
through, which the Prophet now threatens. "God, then, of whom ye
boast, as dwelling in the midst of you, will come forth, lay waste,
and consume the whole land, as when an enemy spreads ruin far and
    But the Prophet seems to allude to the passing of God,
described by Moses in Exod. 11. The Lord then passed through the
middle of Egypt; that is, his wrath pervaded the whole land; no
corner was safe or tranquil, for God's vengeance penetrated through
every part of it. So also now the Prophet intimates, that the land
of Israel would be like that of Egypt; for the Lord, who then
testified his love towards the children of Abraham, would now, on
the contrary, show himself an enemy to them, while passing through
the midst of them. And the Prophet again indirectly ridicules the
vain confidence by which the Israelites were blinded, while they
used God's name as a pretext, as it will more clearly appear from
what follows, for he says -

Amos 5:18
Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end [is] it
for you? the day of the LORD [is] darkness, and not light.
    The Prophet expresses here more fully what he briefly and
obscurely touched upon as to the passing of God through the land;
for he shows that the Israelites acted strangely in setting up the
name of God as their shield, as though they were under his
protection, and in still entertaining a hope, though oppressed with
many evils, because God had promised that they should be the objects
of his care: he says that this was an extremely vain pretence. He
yet more sharply reproves their presumption by saying, "Woe to those
who desire the day of Jehovah!" This appears, even at the first
view, to be very severe; but we need not wonder that the Prophet
burns with to much indignation towards hypocrites, from whom that
security, through which they became ferocious against God, could
hardly be shaken off. And we see that the holy Spirit treats
hypocrites everywhere with much more severity than those who are
openly impious and wicked: for the despisers of God, how stupid
soever they may be, do not yet excuse their vices; but hypocrites
seek ever to draw in God into the quarrel, and they have their veils
to cover their turpitude: it was therefore necessary to treat them,
as the Prophet does here, with sharpness and severity.
    "Woe, he says, to those who desire the day of Jehovah!" Some
expound this day of Jehovah of the day of death, and pervert the
meaning of the Prophet; for they think that the Prophet speaks here
of desperate men, who seek self-destruction, or lay violent hands on
themselves. Woe, then, to those who desire the day of Jehovah, that
is, who have recourse to hanging or to poison, as no other remedy
appears to them. But the Prophet, as I have already reminded you,
does here on the contrary rouse hypocrites. Others think that the
contempt which Amos has before noticed, is here reproved; and this
in part is true; but they do not sufficiently follow up the
Prophet's design; for they do not observe what is special in this
place, - that hypocrites flattered themselves, falsely assuming this
as a truth, that they were the people of God, and that God was bound
to them. Though, then, the Israelites had been a hundred times
perfidious, they yet continued arrogantly to boast of their
circumcision; and then the law and the sacrifices, and all their
ceremonies, were to them as banners, - "O! we are a holy nation, and
God's heritage; we are the children of Abraham, and the redeemed of
the Lord; we are a priestly kingdom." As then these things were
ready in the mouth of all, the Prophet says, "Woe to those who
desire the day of Jehovah!" And, indeed, when the Lord had begun to
punish them for their sins, they still said, "The Lord, it may be,
intends to try our constancy: but how can he destroy us? for he
would then be false; his covenant cannot be made void: it is then
certain that we shall be saved, and that he will be shortly
reconciled to us." They did not indeed expect that God would be
propitious to them; but as they were overwhelmed with many evils,
they sought to allay their sorrows by such a drug.
    When therefore the Prophet saw, that the Israelites so
waywardly flattered themselves, and so foolishly and wickedly laid
claim to the name of God, he says, Woe to those who desire the day
of Jehovah! What will this be, he says, to you? The day of Jehovah
will be darkness and not light; as though he said, "God is an enemy
to you, and the nearer he comes to you, the more grievously you must
be afflicted: he will bring nothing to you but devastation, for he
will come armed to destroy you. There is therefore no reason for you
to boast that you are a chosen people, that you are a priestly
kingdom, for ye are fallen away from the favor of God; and this is
to be imputed to your own misconduct. God then is armed for your
destruction; and whenever he will appear, he will at the same time
pursue you with cruelty and violence; and it will be for your
destruction that God will come thus armed to you. Whenever then the
Lord will come, your evils must necessarily be increased. The day
then of Jehovah will be darkness and not light." He afterwards
confirms this truth -

Amos 5:19
As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into
the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.
[Shall] not the day of the LORD [be] darkness, and not light? even
very dark, and no brightness in it?

    Here is expressed more clearly what the Prophet had said
before, - that hypocrites can have no hope, that the various
changes, which may take place, will bring them any alleviation.
Hypocrites, while straying in circuitous courses, do indeed promise
better things to themselves, when the condition of the times is
changed: and as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, so
hypocrites imitate the true servants of God. But it is a false
imitation; for these are only fading flowers, no fruit follows; and
besides, they proceed not from a living root. When the children of
God are at any time pressed down by adverse events, they sustain and
patiently nourish their faith with this consolation, - that clouds
soon pass away: so also when the Lord chastises them with temporal
punishment, he will presently return into favor with them.
Hypocrites present the same outward appearance; but they widely
differ from the faithful: for when the faithful promise to
themselves a prosperous issue, they are at the same time touched
with a sense of their own evils, and study to reconcile themselves
to God; but hypocrites continue immersed in their vices and boldly
despise God; and at the same time they see here and there, and when
any change happens they think that they have got rid of all evils.
Inasmuch then as they deceived themselves with vain consolation, the
Prophet now says, "You have no cause to think that it will be better
with you, when one calamity shall pass away; for the same thing will
happen to you, as when one flees away from a lion and meets with a
bear, as when one escapes from a bear, and betakes himself to his
own house, and there a serpent finds him: while he is leaning with
his hand on the wall, a serpent bites him. Thus the Lord has in
readiness various and many ways, by which he can punish you. When
therefore ye shall have sustained one battle, when one enemy
departs, the battle will be immediately renewed and that by another
enemy: when a foreign power does not rage through the kingdom of
Israel, the Lord will consume you either by famine, or by want, or
by pestilence." We then see how well the context of the Prophet
harmonizes together.
    "You have no reason," he says, "to hope for any light from the
day of Jehovah." Why? "For Jehovah will not come, except when armed;
for, as ye conduct yourselves in a hostile manner towards him, he
must necessarily take vengeance. He will, therefore, bring with him
no light, except it may be to fulminate against you: but his
appearance will be dreadful, even darkness and thick darkness; and
then, when he ceases to pursue you in one way, he will assail you in
another; and, when foreign enemies spare you, God will find means by
which he may destroy you in your own land without the agency of men;
for ye have already found what the sterility of the land is, and
what pestilence is: the Lord then has all such modes of vengeance in
his own hand. Think not, therefore, that there will be any
alleviation to you, were the world to change a hundred times, and
were the condition of the country wholly different."
    But the Prophet did not intend here to drive all those
indiscriminately into despair, who were guilty of grievous offenses,
but his design was to shake off from hypocrites their
self-flatteries, that by such proofs they might be led to know that
God would be ever like himself. If, then, they wished to return into
favor with him, he shows that a change was needful: when they put
off their perverse conduct, God would be instantly ready to give
them pardon; but, if they proceeded in their vices and obstinate
wickedness, and always continued in that hardness, in which they had
hitherto indulged, he declares, that the day of Jehovah would be
ever to them dark and gloomy, and that, though the Lord does not
always use the same kind of rod, he yet has means innumerable, by
which he can destroy a perverse nation, such as the Israelites then
Grant, Almighty God, that seeing we are so sleepy, yea, so
fascinated by our sins, that nothing is more difficult than to put
off our own nature and to renounce that wickedness to which we have
become habituated, - O grant, that we, being really awakened by thy
scourgings, may truly return to thee, and that, having wholly
changed our disposition and renounced all wickedness, we may
sincerely, and from the heart, submit ourselves to thee, and so look
forward to the coming of thy Son, that we may cheerfully and
joyfully wait for him, by ever striving after such a renovations of
life as may strip us of our flesh and all corruptions, until, being
at length renewed after thine image, we become partakers of that
glory, which has been obtained for us by the blood of the same, thy
only-begotten Son. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 12...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-11.txt