(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
    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
    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
    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.


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)

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