(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 12) Lecture Sixtieth. Amos 5:21-23 21 I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. 22 Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept [them]: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. 23 Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. Here the Prophet, anticipating an objection, shows that the Israelites deceived themselves, for they believed that God was pacified by their sacrifices: he declares all these to be useless; not only, as I think, because they themselves were impure; but because all their sacrifices were mere profanations. We have said elsewhere that sacrifices are often reprehended by the Prophets, when not accompanied by godliness and sincerity: for why did God command sacrifices to be offered to him under the law, except as religious exercises? It was hence necessary that they should be accompanied with penitence and faith. But hypocrites thought, as we have seen, that they thereby discharged their whole duty: it was then a profanation of divine worship. Though the Jews, as to the external form, had not departed from the rule of the law, yet their sacrifices were vicious, and repudiated by God: "I cannot bear them - they are a weariness to me - I repudiate them - I loathe them," - these are expressions we meet with every where in Isaiah. And yet hypocrites regarded their worship as conformable to the law; but impurity of heart vitiated all their works, and this was the reason that God rejected every thing which the Jews thought available for holiness. But different, as I think, was the design of our Prophet: for it was not only for this reason that he blamed the Israelites, - because they falsely pretended God's name in their sacrifices, but because they were apostates; for they had departed from the teaching of the law, and built for themselves a spurious temple. It is yet true that they were deluded with this false notion, that their sins were expiated by sacrifices: but God reproved the Israelites, not only for this gross error, with which the Jews were also infected but for having renounced his true and lawful worship. Hence the external form of their worship deserved to be condemned; for it was not right to offer sacrifices except on mount Zion: but they, without having the ark of the covenant, devised a worship else-where, and even there worshipped the calves. We now understand the design of the Prophet: and this ought to be carefully observed, for interpreters think that the Prophet had nothing else in view, but to condemn a false presumption in the Israelites, because they sought to satisfy God with external sacrifices, while they were yet continuing obstinately in their sins. But the other evil ought to be added, which was, that they had corrupted the true worship of God even in its outward form. Having now pointed out the prophet's object, I come to consider his words, "I have hated, I have rejected", &c. The word "chagag" means to leap and to dance: hence "chag" signifies a sacrifice as well as a festal day. Some then render the words, "I have rejected your sacrifices," and those which follow, thus, "I will not smell at your solemnities." Others render the last word, "assemblies." "'Atsar" means to restrain, and sometimes to gather: hence "'atsarah" means an assembly or a congregation. But "'otsrot" means a festal day, because the people, as it is well known, were then restrained from work, and also, because they were detained in the sanctuary. But with respect to the subject itself, it makes but little difference, whether we read assembly or a festal day: we see that what the Prophet meant was this, - that God rejected all the rites, by which the Israelites thought that he was pacified, as though they were the most effectual expiations. He does not simply declare that they were of no account before God; but he speaks much stronger and says, that God despised and abhorred them. I regard, he says, with hatred your festal days. He speaks also of burnt offerings, When ye offer me sacrifices and your gift, &c. "Minchah" properly means a gift of flour, which was an addition to the sacrifice; but it is often taken generally for any kind of offering. It is indeed certain that the Prophet meant, that however much the Israelites accumulated their ritual observances, they did nothing towards appeasing God, inasmuch as they observed not the law that was given them; and they turned also to a wrong purpose their sacrifices; for they did not exercise themselves in piety and in the spiritual worship of God, but, on the contrary, spread veils before God, that by presenting a fictitious form of worship, they might cover all their sins; for they thought themselves to be hidden from God. This is the reason why the Prophet declares that these offerings would not be received by God, "lo ertseh", "I will not accept" them. The Prophet no doubt alludes here to those promises, which are to be found everywhere in the law, as he did when he said in the last verse, "lo ariach", I will not smell. "Ruch" means to smell; and Moses often uses the expression, that God is delighted with the odour of sacrifices, or with the smell of incense. But when the Lord declares that odour is pleasant to him, he means that it is so, provided the people sacrificed rightly, that is, when they brought not sacrifices as false veils to cover their sins, but as true and real evidences of their faith and repentance; God promised in that case that sacrifices would be a sweet odour to him. Now, on the contrary, he declares that the perfume would not be acceptable to him, nor sacrifices appeasing. But sacrifices not only were acceptable to God, but also pacified him. Since then the Lord had so often said, that he would be propitious to his people, when sacrifices were offered, it was necessary expressly to cut off this confidence from the Israelites, when they dealt not faithfully with God. God never disappointed his true worshipers, but ever received them into favor, provided they approached him in sincerity. But as these hypocrites dealt falsely with him, they were necessarily disappointed of their hope, as the Prophet here declares. "The peace-offerings of your fat things, he says, I will not regard". God indeed promised in the law that he would regard their sacrifices provided they were lawful; but as the Israelites had in two ways departed from pure worship, God now justly says, I will not look on your sacrifices, nor on the peace-offerings of your fat things. He calls them the peace-offerings of fat things, intimating, that though the beasts were the choicest, they would not yet be acceptable to him; for the Lord regards not fatness, as he needs neither meat nor drink. Then, in a word, the Prophet here sets this fatness in opposition to true godliness and obedience too. In both respects there was, as we have seen, a defect among the Israelites; for they obeyed not the law as to its outward requirements, and their hearts were impure and perverse: hence all their sacrifices were necessarily polluted and corrupt. It follows, "Take away from me the multitude of thy songs". By speaking of multitude, he aims at hypocrites, who toil much in their devices without measure or end, as we see done at this day by those under the Papacy; for they accumulate endless forms of worship, and greatly weary themselves, morning and evening; in short, they spend days and nights in performing their ceremonies, and every one devises some new thing, and all these they heap together. Inasmuch, then, as men, when they have begun to turn aside from the pure word of God, continually invent various kinds of trifles, the Prophet here touches indirectly on this foolish laboriousness when he says, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs. He might have simply said, "Thy songs please me not;" but he mentions their multitude, because hypocrites, as I have said, fix no limits to their outward ceremonies: and a vast heap especially follows, when once they take to themselves the liberty of devising this or that form of worship. Hence God testifies here, that they spend labour in vain, for he rejects what he does not command, and whatever is not rightly offered to him. "And the harmony of lyres", or of musical instruments. But "nevel" was an instrument, which, as to its kind, is unknown to us now. Take away, then, from me the harmony of lyres; for the verb, take away, may refer to both clauses; though some join them to the last the verb "lo 'eshma'" I will not hear. The difference really is very little: but their view is the most probable, who join together the two clauses, 'Take away from me the multitude of thy songs and the harmony of lyres;' with which thou thinkest me to be delighted. They afterwards take "lo 'eshma'" "I will not hear," by itself. But I contend not about such minute things: it is enough to know the design of the Prophet. It now follows - Amos 5:24 But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Interpreters variously expound this verse. To some it seems an exhortation, as though the Prophet said, "Ye thrust on me victims of beasts and various ceremonies; but I regard not these things; for the interior purity of heart alone pleases me: take away then all these things, which are of no moment with me, and bring what I especially require and demands even a pure and sincere heart." Some also think that newness of life is here described by its fruits or its evidences: for the Prophet mentions not purity, speaks not of faith and repentance, but by the fruits sets forth that renovation, which God always chiefly regards, and for the sake of which he had required sacrifices under the law. The meaning then is, that hypocrites are here recalled to true worship, because they vainly and absurdly tormented themselves with their own fictions: and by requiring from them righteousness and judgment, he required a holy and pure life, or, in a word, uprightness. Others think that the Prophet turns aside here to celebrate the grace of Christ, which was to be made known in the gospel: and the verb "yigal" is rendered by many "shall be revealed;" but others more correctly derive it from the root "gal, to roll. Let justice then as it were, roll. But I will return to the second exposition. Most think that there is here a prediction of that righteousness which God was to make known by the coming of Christ; and some retain also the proper meaning of the verb "gal", to roll. They then say that the gospel is here compared to an impetuous river and a violent stream, because the Lord would rush on and penetrate through all hindrances, how many soever Satan might attempt to throw in his way. But this meaning seems not to harmonize with the Prophet's words and is in my judgment, too refined. Some again regard the verse as a threatening, and think that God here reproves the Israelites, as though he had said, that since they were trifling with and mocking him, he would at length show what was true righteousness and what was true judgment: for hypocrites think that they come not short of a perfect state, when they are veiled by their ceremonies, inasmuch as they flee to these lurking holes, when they would cover all their flagitous deeds. Hence they think not that they are guilty, for they hide their sins under their ceremonies as under Ajax's shield. Seeing then that they thus trifle with God, some interpreters think that God here sharply reproves them and says, that they were greatly deceived, for he would himself at length make known what was true righteousness. Righteousness then shall run down or be rolled; and by this verb he expresses impetuosity; but he sets it forth afterwards more clearly by "eitan", "Judgment shall be a violent stream." But hypocrites amuse themselves as children do with their puppets. Inasmuch then as they do nothing seriously, and yet desire to pacify God as with baubles, the Prophet here shakes off such delusions, as though he said, "Do you think that God is like a child? Why do you set up these trifles? Do you think that righteousness is a fictitious thing, or that judgment is a vain figment? The Lord will certainly show to you how precious righteousness is. It shall therefore run down as violent waters, as an impetuous stream. Judgment," he says "shall rush upon you and overwhelm you." This is the third meaning. But the verse may be again explained in a different way, as though God obviated an objection; for hypocrites, we know, always raise a clamour, and make no end of contending; "What! Have we then lost all our labour, while endeavoring to worship God? Is all this to go for nothing? And further, we have not only offered sacrifices, but sought also to testify that the glory of God is to us an object of concern. Since then we have had a care for religion, why should God now reject us?" The Prophet here shortly answers, - that if only they brought forth true righteousness, their course would be free; as though he said, "God will not put a check to your righteousness and rectitude:" and this must be referred to the fruit or remuneration; as though the Prophet said, "Only worship God in sincerity, and he will not disappoint you; for a reward will be laid up for you; your righteousness shall run down as a river." As it is said in another place, 'Your righteousness shall shine as the dawn,' so it is also in this, 'Your righteousness shall run down as violent waters.' There was therefore no reason for hypocrites to expostulate and say that wrong was done them by God, or that their performances were lightly esteemed, since God openly testified, that he would provide for righteousness, that it might have a free course, like an impetuous river: and this seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet. While I do not wholly reject the other expositions, I do not yet follow them; but show what I mostly approve. Then the Prophet, after having bidden them to throw aside all their fictitious and spurious forms of worship, does not now simply exhort the Israelites, as some think, to exhibit righteousness and rectitude, but expresses this in the form of a promise, "Run down shall your righteousness as impetuous waters, provided it be true, and not an empty name. Whenever God shall see in you sincere rectitude, there will certainly be prepared an ample reward for you." It follows - Amos 5:25,26 Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. The Prophet shows in this place, that he not only reproved hypocrisy in the Israelites in obtruding on God only external display of ceremonies without any true religion in the heart; but that he also condemned them for having departed from the rule of the law. He also shows that this was not a new disease among the people of Israel; for immediately at the beginning their fathers mixed such a leaven as vitiated the worship of God. He therefore proves that the Israelites had ever been given to superstitions, and could not by any means be retained in the true and pure worship of God. Have ye then caused sacrifices, victims, or an oblation to come before me in the desert for forty years? He addresses them as though they had perverted God's worship in the desert, and yet they were born many ages after; what does he mean? Even this, - the Prophet includes the whole body of the people from their first beginning, as though he said, "It is right to inclose you in the same bundle with your fathers; for you are the same with your fathers in your ways and dispositions." We hence see that the Israelites were regarded guilty, not only because they vitiated God's worship in one age by their superstitions, but also from the beginning. And he asks whether they offered victims to him: it is certain that such was their intention; for they at no time dared to deny God, by whom they had been not long before delivered, and we know that though they made for themselves many things condemned by the law, they ever adhered to this principle, "The God, who has redeemed us, is to be worshipped by us:" yea, they always proudly boasted of their father Abraham. They had never then willingly alienated themselves from God, who had chosen Abraham their father and themselves to be his people: and indeed the Prophet shortly before had said, 'Take away from me,' &c.; and then, 'when ye offer to me sacrifices and a gift of flour, I will not count them acceptable.' There seems to be an inconsistency in this - that God should deny that victims had been offered to him - and yet say that they were offered to him by the people of Israeli when, as we have stated, they had presumptuously built a profane and spurious altar. The solution is easy, and it is even this, - that the people had ever offered sacrifices to God, if we regard what they pretended to do: for good intentions as it is commonly called, so blinds the superstitious, that with great presumption they trifle with God. Hence with respect to them we may say that they sacrificed to God; but as to God, he denies that what was not purely offered was offered to him. We now then see why God says now, that sacrifices were not offered to him in the wilderness: he says so, because the people blended with his worship the leaven of idolatry: and God abhorred this depravation. This is the meaning. But another objection may be again proposed. This defection did not prevail than, and the whole people did not give their consent to idolatry; and still more, we know what the impostor Balaam said, that Jacob had no idol; and speaking in the twentieth chapter of Numbers, by the prophetic spirit, he testifies that the only true God reigned in Jacob, and that there were among them no false gods. How then does the Prophet say now that idolatry prevailed among them? The answer is ready: The greater part went astray: hence the whole people are justly condemned; and though this sin was reproved, yet they relapsed continually, as it is well known, into superstitions; and still more, they worshipped strange gods to please strumpets. Since it was so, it is no wonder that they are accused here by the Prophet of not having offered victims to God, inasmuch as they were contaminated with impure superstitions: it could not then be, that they brought anything to God. At the same time God's worship, required by his law, was of such importance, that he declared that he was worshipped by Jacob, as also Christ says, "we know what we worship," (John 4: 22;) and yet not one in a hundred among the Jews cherished the hope of eternal life in his heart. They were all Epicureans or profane; nay, the Sadducees prevailed openly among them: the whole of religion was fallen, or was at least so decayed, that there was no holiness and no integrity among them; and yet Christ says, "We know what we worship ," and this was true with regard to the law. Now then we see that the Prophets speak in various ways of Israel: when they regard the people, they say, that they were perfidious, that they were apostates, who had immediately from the beginning departed from the true and legitimate worship of God: but when they commend the grace of God, they say, that the true worship of God shone among them, that though the whole multitude had become perverted, yet the Lord approved of what he had commanded. So it is with Baptism; it is a sacred and immutable testimony of the grace of God, though it were administered by the devil, though all who may partake of it were ungodly and polluted as to their own persons. Baptism ever retains its own character, and is never contaminated by the vices of men. The same must be said of sacrifices. I shall now return to the words of the Prophet: "Have you offered to me victims for forty years in the desert?" He enhances their sin by the circumstance of their condition; for they were there shut up in a narrow and hard confinement, and yet they turned aside after their superstitions. And it was certainly a monstrous thing: God fed them daily with manna; they were therefore under the necessity, however unwilling, of looking up to heaven every day; for God constrained their unwillingness with no common favor. They knew, too, that water flowed for them miraculously from a rock. Seeing then that God constrained them thus to look up to him, how was it that they yet became vain through their own deceptions? It was, as I have said, a prodigious blindness. Hence the Prophet speaks of the forty years and of the desert, that the atrocity of their sin might more fully appear; for the Lord could not, by so many bonds, keep the people from such a madness. It now follows, "And ye have carried Sicuth your king. This place, we know, is quoted by Stephen in the seventh chapter of the Acts: but he followed the Greek version; and the Greek translator, whoever he was, was mistaken as to the word, Sicuth, and read, Sucoth, and thought the name an appellative of the plural number, and supposed it to be derived from "such", which means a tabernacle; for he translated it "skenen", as if it was said, "Ye bore the tabernacle of your king instead of the ark." But it was a manifest mistake; for the probability is, that Sicuth was the proper name of an idol. Ye bore then Sicuth your king. He called it their king by way of reproach; for they had violated that priestly kingdom, which God had instituted; for he, as a king, exercised dominion over them. Since then God would be deemed the king of Israel, as he had ascribed to himself that name, and since he promised to them a kingdom, as in due time he gave them, it was the basest ingratitude in them to seek an idol to be their king; it was indeed a denial of God which could not be borne, not to allow themselves to be governed by him. We hence see how sharply he upbraids them, for they had refused to God his own kingdom, and created for themselves the fictitious Sicuth as their king. Then it follows, "And Kiun, your images". Some think that Kiun means a cake, and "kuh" is to burn, and from this they think the word is derived; but others more correctly regard it as a proper name; and the Prophet, I have no doubt, has named here some feigned god after Sicuth. Kiun then, your images; I read the words as being in apposition. Others say, "The cake of your images;" and some render the words literally, "Kiun your images;" but yet they do not sufficiently attend to the design of the Prophet; for he seems here to ridicule the madness of the people, because they dreamt that some deity was inclosed in statues and in such masks. "Ye carried" he says "both Sicuth and Kiun, your images. I am now deprived of honor, for ye could not bear me to govern you. Ye now enjoy your King Sicuth; but, in the meantime, let us see what is the power of Sicuth and Kiun; they are nothing more than images. Seeing then that there is neither strength nor even life in them, what madness is it to worship such fictitious things?" But some think that Kiun was the image of Saturn. What the Hebrews indeed say, that this idolatry was derived from the Persian, is wholly groundless; for the Persian, we know, had no images nor statues, but worshipped only the sacred fire. As, then, the Persian had no images, the Jews fabled, in their usual way, when they said that Kiun was an image of Saturn. But all the Jews, I have no doubt, imagined that all the stars were gods, as they made images for them; for it immediately follows, "A constellation", or a star, your gods". These, he says, are your gods; even stars and images; and there is here a sarcasm ("sarkasmos") used; for the Prophet derides the folly of the people of Israel, who, being not content with the Maker of heaven and earth, sought for themselves dead gods, or rather vain devices. "Your gods then," he says, "are images and stars." But it must be observed, that he calls them images: he does not, as in other places, call them idols; and this, I say, ought to be observed, for here is refuted the foolish and puerile refinement of the Papists, who at this day excuse all their superstitions, because they have no idols; for they deny that their devices are idols. What then? They are images. Thus they hide their own baseness under the name of images. But the Prophet does not say that they were idols; he does not use that hateful word which is derived from grief or sorrow; but he says that they were images. The name then in itself has nothing base or ominous; but, at the same time, as the Lord would not have himself represented by any visible figure, the Prophet here expressly and distinctly condemns Sicuth and Kiun. The Greek translator whom Stephen followed, put down the word, types or figures, that is, images. Now, when any one says to the Papists. that their figures or images are sinful before God, they boldly deny this; but we see that their evasion avails nothing. He adds in the last place, "Which ye have made for yourselves". I prefer rendering the relative "asher" in the neuter gender, as including all their fictitious gods, and also their images, which things then ye have made for yourselves. To make these things is at all times vicious in sacred things; for we ought not to bring any thing of our own when we worship God, but we ought to depend always on the word of his mouths and to obey what he has commanded. All our actions then in the worship of God ought to be, so to speak, passive; for they ought to be referred to his command, lest we attempt any thing but what he approves. Hence, when men dare to do this or that without God's command, it is nothing else but abomination before him. And the Greeks call superstitions "ethelothreskeias"; and this word means voluntary acts of worship, such as are undertaken by men of their own accord. We now understand the whole design of the Prophet. It follows - Amos 5:27 Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name [is] The God of hosts. Here the Prophet at last denounces exile on the Israelites as though he had said that God would not suffer them any longer to contaminate the Holy Land, which had been given them as an heritage, on the condition that they acknowledged him as the only true God. God had now, for a long time, borne with the Israelites though they had never ceased to pollute his land with superstitions. He comes now to cleanse it. "I will cause you, he says, to migrate beyond Damascus"; for they thought that enemies were driven, by means of that fortress, from the whole country, and they took shelter there as in a quiet nest. The expression would have otherwise no meaning, and this is what interpreters have not noticed. They say, "I will cause you to migrate beyond Damascus" that is, to a far country; but why did the Prophet mention Damascus? This reason ought to be observed. It was because the Israelites thought that all the attacks of enemies would be prevented by having the city Damascus as their defense, which they supposed was impregnable. "That fortress," the Lord says, "will not prevent me from taking you away, and removing you as far as the Assyrians." We now see what the Prophet means, and why he expressly added the name of Damascus. It follows, "The God of hosts is his name." Here the Prophet confirms his threatening, lest hypocrites should think that he did not speak in earnest: for we know how readily they flattered themselves; and when the Lord fulminated, they remained secure. Hence the Prophet, that he might strike terror, says, that the speaker is the God of hosts, as though he said, "Ye cannot hope to escape the vengeance which God now denounces on you; for his power is infinite, he is the Lord of hosts. See then that he is prepared to destroy you except ye timely repent." This is the meaning. I will not now proceed farther. Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us to be so prone to corrupt superstitions, and that we are with so much difficulty restrained by thy word, - O grant, that we being confirmed by thy Spirit, may never turn aside either to the right hand or to the left, but be ever attentive to thee alone, and not worship thee presumptuously, nor pollute thy worship with our outward pomps, but call on thee with a sincere heart, and, recumbing on thy aid, flee to thee in all our necessities, and never abuse thy holy name, which thou hast designed to be engraven on us, but be conformed to the image of thy Son, that thou mayest be to us truly a Father, and that we may be thy children, in the name of the same Christ our Lord. Amen. Calvin, Commentary on Amos (continued in part ...13) -------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-12.txt .