(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 13)

Chapter 6.

Lecture Sixty-first.

Amos 6:1
Woe to them [that are] at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of
Samaria, [which are] named chief of the nations, to whom the house
of Israel came!

    The Prophet now directs his discourse not only to the
Israelites, to whom he was especially given as an instructor and
teacher, but includes the Jews also: and yet he addresses not all
indiscriminately, but only the chief men, who were intent on their
pleasures, as though they were exempt from the common miseries: for
he does not, as many suppose, reprove here luxury and pride only;
but we must remember a fact connected with their case, - that they
were not awakened by God's judgments; when God severely punished the
sins of the people, the chief men remained ever heedlessly in their
own dregs. This security is now condemned by our Prophet.
    And this is a very common evil, as we may see, in the present
day. For when the Lord afflicts a country with war or with famine,
the rich make great gain of such evils. They abuse the scourges of
God; for we see merchants getting rich in the midst of wars,
inasmuch as they scrape together a booty from every quarter. For
they who carry on war are forced to borrow money, and also the
peasants and mechanics, that they may pay taxes; and then, that they
may live, they are obliged to make unjust conditions: thus the rich
increase in wealth. They also who are in authority, and in favor at
the court of princes, make more gain in wars, in famine, and in
other calamities, than during times of peace and prosperity: for
when peace nourishes, the state of things is then more equable; but
when the poor are burdened, the rest grow fat. And this is the evil
now noticed by the Prophet.
    Hence he pronounces here a curse on the secure and those at
ease; not that it is an evil thing, or in itself displeasing to God,
when any one quietly enjoys his leisure; but, not to be moved, when
the Lord openly shows himself to be displeased and angry, when his
scourges are manifestly inflicted, but to indulge ourselves more in
pleasures, - this is to provoke him, as it were, designedly. The
secure, then, and the presumptuous the Prophet here condemns, for it
became them to humble themselves when they saw that God was incensed
against them. They were not indeed more just than the multitude; and
when God treated the common people with such severity, ought not the
chiefs to have looked to themselves, and have examined their own
life? As they did not do this, but made themselves drunk with
pleasures, and put far off every fear and thought that the scourges
of God were nothing to them, - this was a contempt deservedly
condemned by the Prophet. We see that God was in the same manner
greatly displeased, as it is recorded in Isaiah: when he called them
to mourning, they sang with the harp, and, according to their
custom, feasted sumptuously and joyfully, (Isa. 23: 12.) As then
they thus persevered in their indulgences, the Lord became extremely
angry; for it was, as though they avowedly despised him and scorned
all his threatening.
    We now observe the design of the Prophet, which interpreters
have not sufficiently noticed. It behaves us indeed ever to keep in
view these scourges of God, by which he began to visit the sins of
the people. God can by no means endure, as I have said, such a
contumacy as this, - that men should go on in the indulgence of
their sins and never regard their judge and feel no guilt. Hence the
Prophet says, "Woe to you who are secure in Zion, who are confident,
that is, who are without any fear, on the mount of Samaria". He
names here the mount of Zion and the mount of Samaria; for these
were the chief cities of the two kingdoms, as we all know. The whole
country had been laid waste with various calamities; the citizens of
Jerusalem and of Samaria were, at the same time, wealthy; and then
trusting in their strongholds, they despised God and all his
judgments. This then was the security, full of contumacy, which is
condemned by the Prophet.
    He then mentions their ingratitude: he says that these
mountains had been celebrated from the beginning of the nations, and
that the Israelites entered into them. God here upbraids both the
Jews and Israelites with having come to a foreign possession: for
they had got those cities, not by their own velour, but the Lord
drove out before them the ancient inhabitants. Seeing then that they
perceived not that a safe dwelling was given them there by the Lord,
that they might purely worship him and submit to his government,
their ingratitude was inexcusable. The Prophet then, after having
inveighed against the gross and heedless security, with which the
chiefs of both kingdoms were inebriated, now mentions their
ingratitude: "Ye are not natives, but ye have come in, for God did
go before you, for it was his will to give you this land as your
possession: why then are you now so inflated with pride against him?
For before your time these cities were certainly well known and
celebrated; and yet this was of no avail to the natives themselves.
Why then do ye not now fear the Lord's judgment and repent, when he
threatens you? Yea, when he shows his scourges to you?" We now
perceive the Prophet's meaning in this verse. It now follows -

Amos 6:2
Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the
great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: [be they] better
than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?
    By this representation Amos shows that there was no excuse for
the Jews or the Israelites for sleeping in their sins, inasmuch as
they could see, as it were in a mirror, the judgments which God
brought on heathen nations. It is a singular favour, when God
teaches us at the expense of others: for he could justly punish us
as soon as we transgress; but this he does not, on the contrary he
spares us; and at the same time he sets others before us as
examples. This is, as we have said a singular favor: and this is the
mode of teaching which our Prophet now adopts. He says, that Calneh
and Hamath, and Gath, were remarkable evidences of God's wrath, by
which the Israelites might learn, that they had no reason to rest on
their wealth, to rely on their fortresses, and to think themselves
free from all dangers; for as God had destroyed these cities, which
seemed impregnable, so he could also cut off Jerusalem and Samaria,
whenever he pleased. This is the real meaning of the Prophet.
    Some read the sentence negatively "Are not these places better
than your kingdoms?" But this is not consistent with the Prophet's
words. Others attend not to the object of the Prophet; for they
think that the blessings of God are here compared, as though he
said, "God deals more liberally with you than with the Chaldeans,
the Assyrians, and the neighboring nations." For Calneh was situated
in the plain of Babylon, as it is evident from Gen. 10; and Hamath
was also a celebrated city, mentioned in that chapter, and in many
other places; and Gath was a renowned city of the Philistines. In
this opinion therefore interpreters mostly agree; that is, that
there is set forth here God's bounty to the Jews and Israelites,
seeing that he had favored them with a rich and fertile country, and
preferred them to other nations. But this view seems not to me to be
the correct one; for when a comparison is made between Calneh and
Jerusalem, Babylon was no doubt the more fruitful and the more
pleasant country, as we learn from all histories. The Prophet then
does not speak here of the ancient condition of these places, but
shows, as I have already said, that it availed these cities nothing,
that they were wealthy, that they were fortified by all kinds of
defenses; for God, at last, executed vengeance on them. Hence the
Prophet declares that the same was now nigh the Jews and the
    "What will hinder the hand of God," he says, "from delivering
you to destruction? For if men could have arrested God's wrath by
any fortresses, certainly Calneh and Hamath, and Gath, would have
resisted by their forces; but the Lord has yet executed his
vengeance on these cities, though fortified; your confidence then is
nothing but infatuation, which deceives you." Jeremiah uses a
similar language, when he says, 'Go to Shiloh,' (Jer. 7: 12.) He
certainly does not remind the Jews, that the Lord had more
splendidly adorned them than Shiloh; but he had quite a different
thing in view. Shiloh had indeed been eminent, for it had long
afforded a dwelling to the ark of the covenant; the sanctuary of God
had been there. But at that time the place was deserted; and
Jeremiah sets before the eyes of the people its sad desolation, that
they might know that they ought to dread the same event, except they
repented; for if they hardened their necks, nothing could prevent
God from dealing with them as he did before with the inhabitants of
    We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet, when he says,
"Go and pass into Calneh, and see". In bidding them to see, he no
doubt refers to the dreadful change which had taken place there. For
Calneh had been a strongly fortified city, and possessed supreme
power; and the neighboring country was also no less pleasant than
fruitful: but it was now a solitary place; for Babylon, as it is
well known, had swallowed up Calneh. Since then the place afforded
such a spectacle, the Prophet rightly says, "Pass over into Calneh,
and see"; that is consider, as in a mirror, what men can gain by
their pride and haughtiness, when they harden themselves against
God: for this was the cause of destruction to that celebrated city.
    "From thence, he says, go to Hamath", "rabah", the great; which
was a well-known city of Assyria; and see there, "How has it
happened that a city so famous was entirely overthrown, except that
the Lord could not endure so great a perverseness? As they had
abused his patience, he at length executed his vengeance. The same
thing also happened to your neighbors." For the Jews and the
Israelites were not far distant from Gath. Now then since there were
so many evidences of God's wrath before their eyes, justly does the
Prophet here inveigh against their want of thought, inasmuch as they
feared not God's judgment, which was nigh at hand.
    Are they then better? that is, is the condition of these cities
better than that of the two kingdoms, Judah and Israel? and then,
"Is their border larger than your border?" They have indeed been
reduced to such straits, that they even pay tribute for their
houses, whereas formerly they occupied a wide extent of country, and
ruled, as it were, with extended wings, far and wide: but God has
taken away those territories: for all these cities are become
tributaries. See, he says, Is their border larger than your border?
It now follows -

Amos 6:3
Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to
come near;

    The Prophet here reproves the Jews and Israelites for another
crime, - that they had often provoked God's wrath, and ceased not by
their sins to call forth new punishments, and in the meantime
rejected, through their haughtiness and obstinacy, all his
threatening, as if they were vain, and would never be executed on
them. We must ever remember what I have said before, - that the
Prophet speaks not here of the whole people, but of the chiefs; for
the expression, that they drew nigh the throne of iniquity could not
have been applied to the common people. This discourse then was
addressed particularly to the judges and counselors, and those who
were in power in both kingdoms, in Judah as well as in Israel.
    But it is a remarkable saying, that they "drove far off the
evil day, while they drew nigh the throne of iniquity", or of
violence; as though he said, "Ye seek for yourselves a fever by your
intemperance, and yet ye drive it far off, as drunken men are wont
to do, who swallow down wine without any moderation; and when a
physician comes or one more moderate, and warns them not to indulge
in excess, they ridicule all their forebodings: 'What! will a fever
seize on me? I am wholly free from fever; I am indeed accustomed to
drink wine.'" Such are ungodly men, when they provoke God's wrath as
it were designedly, and at the same time scorn all threatening, as
though they were safe through some special privilege. We now then
see what the Prophet had in view by saying, that they drove far the
evil day, and yet drew nigh the throne of iniquity. He means, that
they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, when the judges strengthened
themselves in their tyranny, and took the liberty to steal, to rob,
to plunder, to oppress. When therefore they thus hardened themselves
in all kinds of licentiousness, they then drew nigh the throne of
iniquity. And they put away the evil day, because they were touched
by no alarm; for when the Prophets denounced God's vengeance, they
regarded it as a fable.
    In short, Amos charges here the principal men of the two
kingdoms with two crimes, - that they ceased not to provoke
continually the wrath of God by subverting and casting under foot
all equity, and by ruling the people in a tyrannical and haughty
manner - and that, in the mean time, they heedlessly despised all
threatening, prolonged time, and promised impunity to themselves:
even when God seriously and sharply addressed them, they still
thought that the evil day was not nigh. Passages of this kind meet
us everywhere in the Prophets, in which they show their indignation
at this kind of heedlessness, when hypocrites putting off every
feeling of grief, as though they had fascinated themselves, laughed
to scorn all the Prophets, because they thought that the hand of God
was far removed from them. Thus they are spoken of by Isaiah, as
saying, 'Let us eat and drink, since we must die,' (Isa. 23: 13.)
They indeed thought that the Prophets did not seriously threaten
them; but they regarded the mention of a near destruction as an
empty bugbear. We now then understand what the Prophet meant. It
follows -

Amos 6:4
That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their
couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of
the midst of the stall;
    Amos still pursues the reproof we have noticed at the beginning
of the chapter, - that the chief men, of whom he speaks, cast away
from them all cares and anxieties, and indulged in pleasures, while
the whole country was miserably distressed. We must ever bear in
mind what I have already said, - that luxury is not simply
reprehended by the Prophet, as some incorrectly think, without
sufficiently considering what is said, for it is not what the
Prophet treats of; but he upbraids the Israelites for setting up an
iron neck against God's judgments, yea, for shamelessly trifling
with God, while he was endeavoring to lead them by degrees to
repentance. The Prophet complains that nothing availed with them.
    He then says, first, that they slept on ivory beds. To use
ivory beds was not in itself bad, except that excess is ever to be
condemned; for, when we give up ourselves to pomps and pleasures, we
certainly are not then free from sin: indeed, every desire for
present things, which exceeds moderation, is ever justly
reprehensible. And when men greedily seek splendor and display, or
become ambitious and proud, or are given to delicacies, they are
guilty of vices ever condemned by God. But it might be, that one
used an ivory bed, who was yet willing to lie on the ground: for we
know that there was then a great abundance of ivory, and that it was
commonly used in Asia. Italy formerly knew not what it was to use a
bed of ivory, that is, before the victory of Lucius Scipio: but
after the king Antiochus was conquered, then Italy freely used ivory
beds and fineries; and thus luxury broke down their courage and
effeminated them.
    I will come now to our Prophet: it might have been that ivory
was not then so valuable in Judea: they might then have used ivory
beds without blame. But Amos ever regards the miseries of those
times. The rich then ought to have given up all their luxuries, and
to have betaken themselves to dust and ashes, when they saw that God
was incensed with them, when they saw that the fire of his vengeance
was kindled. We now then perceive why Amos was so indignant against
those who slept on ivory beds.
    He adds, "And who extend themselves on their beds": for
"sarach" is properly to extend; it means also to become fetid; and
further, it means to be superfluous; and therefore some render the
words, "upon ivory beds and superfluities;" but this is strained,
and agrees not with what follows, upon their couches. The Prophet
then, I have no doubt, points out here the manners of those who so
heedlessly indulged themselves: "Ye extend," he says, "your legs and
your arms on your couches, as idle men, accustomed to indulgences,
are wont to do. But the Lord will awaken you in a new way; his
scourges ought to have roused you, but ye remain asleep. Hence,
since God could not terrify you by his rods, nothing more remains
but to draw you forth against your will to be punished." This was
the reason why the Prophet said that they extended themselves on
their couches.
    "Ye eat also the lambs from the flock, and the calves from the
midst of the rich pasture", or of the stall. I prefer taking
"marbek" for folds. Since then they loved fat meat, the Prophet
reproves this luxury: he had indeed in view, as it has been already
said, the then calamitous time; for if the rich had in their usual
way feasted, and had even taken fat meat, they would not have
deserved so severe a punishment: but when the Lord called them to
mourning, and when the signals of his wrath spread horror all
around, it was a stupidity not to be endured, for them to continue
their indulgences, which they ought, on the contrary, to have
renounced. Indeed, this passage agrees with that of Isaiah, to which
I have already referred. It now follows -

Amos 6:5
That chant to the sound of the viol, [and] invent to themselves
instruments of music, like David;
    The word "parat" means to divide; so some explain it, and
derive it from the clusters which remain after the vintage, because
there are not then thick grapes, but a cluster here and there, and a
great distance between: hence they think that the participle
"haportim" is to be taken here metaphorically as meaning to divide
by marks, as music has its various notes; for except there be a
distinct variety in singing, the sound would be confused, and would
produce no pleasing effect. "Who sing then with the harps and have
invented for themselves, after the example of David, musical
    The Prophet still continues his discourse, and shows that these
men lived sumptuously; as though they did not belong to the common
class, they delighted themselves, against God's will, not only in
the common mode of living, but even sought new pleasures, as if they
were continually at marriage feasts, or celebrating birthdays. As
then they had no season for mourning, they pursued their own
indulgences; and this is what the Prophet now reprehends. If then
any one thinks that music is in these words condemned, he is much
deceived, as it appears from the context. Indeed, the Prophet never
dealt so rigidly with that people, but he ever kept to this point -
that they were extremely torpid, nay, destitute of common sense, who
perceived not that God showed himself angry with them, in order that
they might flee immediately to the standard of repentance and humbly
deprecate, with mourning, the wrath of God, as they ought to have
done. It was therefore meet ever to set before them Gods wrath,
which ought to have humbled the Jews and the Israelites, inasmuch as
they ever obstinately set up against God their own indifference.
    In saying that after the example of David they invented for
themselves musical instruments, he no doubt greatly aggravated their
sin by this comparison: for it is not likely that they had abused
this pretext, as hypocrites do, who are wont to boast of the
examples of the saints, when they seek to disguise their own vices,
- "What!" some will say, "Did not David use musical instruments?"
Others will say, "Had not Solomon very splendid palaces?" And some
will add, "Had not Abraham a company of servants in his house?" So
every one lays hold on what may avail for an excuse: and thus the
examples of the saints are absurdly referred to by many. But it
seems not probable that this was done by those whom Amos now
addresses: but, on the contrary, he appears sharply to reprove them
for provoking God's wrath by self indulgence, and for manifesting
their perverseness, while David employed musical instruments in the
exercises of religion, to raise up his mind to God. no doubt, David,
when in a peaceful state, after having been delivered from all
dangers, could also amuse himself: but he applied musical
instruments to another purpose - to sound forth the praises of God
in the temple, that thereby he and other godly persons might
together elevate their thoughts to a religious devotion. While David
then, even in a state of peace and prosperity, did not allow his
mind to become sunk in vain self-indulgences, these men, when God
appeared angry, when he spread terror by so many tokens of his
vengeance, yet dared contumaciously to follow their own ways, so
that they left off nothing of their usual pomp and of their
accustomed pleasures.
    We now see the design of the comparison which the Prophet
makes: He aggravates, I have no doubt, their sin, because they
regarded not the example of David, but transferred musical
instruments to serve the purpose of gross and beastly indulgences,
and thus they did when God was opposed to them, when he had begun to
terrify them by his vengeance. Let us proceed -

Amos 6:6,7
That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief
ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive,
and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.
    Amos now reproaches the chiefs of both kingdoms for drinking
wine in bowls, that is, in vessels either elegantly formed or
precious. Some think "silver" to be understood "in vessels of
silver:" but there is no need of regarding any thing as understood
in the Prophet's words. The meaning is, that those men were
sufficiently convicted of brutish stupidity, inasmuch as they did
not forsake their indulgences, when God manifested his terrible
vengeance. Since God then did thus what tended to humble them, their
madness and blindness were conspicuous enough; for they indulged
themselves, they drank wine according to their usual custom, when
they ought to have betaken themselves, as we have said, to fasting,
lamentation, and mourning, to sackcloth and ashes.
    They drank "wine in bowls", and further, they anointed
themselves  with the chief ointments". Christ, we know, was anointed
at least twice, (Luke 7: 38; Matth. 26: 7;) and this practice was
not blamed in David, nor in king Hezekiah, nor in others. Since then
anointing was not in itself sinful, we see that the Prophet must
have something particular in view. He meant to show, that when God
manifested tokens of his wrath, nothing then remained for those who
were conscious of having done evil, but humbly to abstain, like
guilty persons, from all indulgences, that they might, by fasting
and mourning, excite the mercy of God: as the Israelites had not
done this, the Prophet expostulated with them. There is no need of
seeking, any other interpretation of this place.
    For he immediately subjoins, that they "grieved not for the
bruising of Joseph". These words are to be read in connection with
the former, and ought to be applied to the whole discourse. The
Prophet then does not specifically blame the Jews and Israelites
because they drank wine in bowls, because they anointed themselves
with the best and most precious ointment, because they reposed on
ivory beds, because they extended themselves on their couches,
because they ate the best meat; but because they securely indulged
in such delights, and grieved not for the distress of their
brethren, for God had miserably afflicted the whole kingdom before
their eyes. How much had four tribes already suffered? and how much
the whole land and those who lived in the country? Ought God to have
spared any longer these chiefs? It is indeed certain, that those who
were still free from these calamities were especially culpable.
Since then they did not consider the wrath of God, which was evident
enough before their eyes, it was a proof of stupidity wholly insane,
and showed them who still indulged themselves to have been utterly
besides themselves.
    We now then understand the full meaning of the Prophet; and
hence he says, "They shall emigrate at the head of the emigrants",
that is, "when there shall be an emigration, they shall be the first
in order of time. I have hitherto indulgently spared you; but as I
see that you have abused my forbearance, ye shall certainly be the
forerunners of others; for ye shall go first into captivity. And my
rigor shall begin with you, because I see that I have hitherto lost
all my labour in attempting, kindly and paternally to call you to
repentance. Ye shall now then migrate at the head of the emigrants."
    "And come shall the mourning of those who extend themselves,
"seruchim"; that is, "Ye indeed lie down, (as he had said before,)
ye extend yourselves on your couches; but mourning shall come to
you. Ye think that you can escape punishment, when ye repose quietly
on your beds; but though your chambers be closed, though ye move not
a finger, yet mourning shall come to you." We now see the connection
between the words, mourning and resting in idleness and indulgence.
The word "sarach" means indeed properly to recumb; and hence some
render the passage, "Mourning shall rest on you:" but the more
received meaning is, Mourning shall come on you while recumbing.
Though then they stretched out themselves on their beds, that they
might pleasantly and softly recumb and rest themselves, yet mourning
would come to them, that is, would enter into their chambers.

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou showest thyself at this day to
be justly offended with us, and our own consciences reprove us,
inasmuch as dreadful tokens appear, by which we may learn how much
and in how many ways we have provoked thy wrath, -  O grand, that we
may be really touched with the consciousness of our evils, and being
afflicted in our hearts, may be so humbled, that without any outward
affliction, we may wholly submit ourselves to be reproved by thee,
and at the same time flee to that mercy which is laid up for us, and
which thou daily offerest to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 14...)

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