(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 14) Lecture Sixty-second. Amos 6:8 The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. God here declares that he would not desist, because he had hitherto loaded his people with many benefits: for he had now changed his purpose, so that he would no longer continue his favors. And this was designedly added by the Prophet; for hypocrites, we know, grow hardened, when they consider what dignity had been conferred on them; for they think their possessions to be firm and perpetual: hence they become haughty towards God. Since then hypocrites act thus foolishly, the Prophet justly says that it would avail them nothing, that they had hitherto excelled in many endowments for God no longer regarded their excellency. The word "ga'on" means in Hebrew pride and also excellency; but it is to be taken here in a good sense, as it is in many other places. In Isaiah 2, it cannot be taken otherwise than for glory, for it is applied to God. So also in Psalm 47: 'The glory of Jacob, whom I loved; he had fixed the inheritance of God.' The gifts of God ever deserve praise: hence the Prophet in this place inveighs not against pride; but, on the contrary, he shows that the Israelites were deceived; for they set up their excellency and nobility in opposition to God, as though they were to be thus exempt from all punishment. God then says that he had now rejected this excellency, which yet was his gift; but as the Israelites had abused his benefits, they were therefore to be esteemed of no account. The meaning then is, - that there is no acceptance of persons before God, that the dignity which had been conferred on the people of Israel was now of no moment; for it was a mere mask: they were unworthy of adoption, they were unworthy of the priesthood and kingdom. It was then the same as if the Prophet had said, "I will judge you as the common people and heathens; for your dignity, of which ye are stripped, is now of no account with me." They had indeed long before departed from God; they were therefore wholly unworthy of being owned by God as his inheritance. I detest then the excellency of Jacob, and his palaces; that is, all the wealth with which they have been hitherto adorned. But the Prophet does not take either palaces or excellency in a bad sense; on the contrary, he shows that God's blessings are no safeguards to the wicked, so as to avoid the judgment which they deserve. He afterwards adds, "I will deliver up the city and its fulness"; that is, "Though ye are now full of wealth, I will empty you of all your abundance". Hence, "I will deliver up the city together with its fulness", that is, its opulence. But that this threatening might not be slighted, the Prophet confirms it by interposing an oath. Hence he says, that God had sworn. And as we know that God's name is precious to him, it is certain that it was not in vain adduced here, but on account of the hardness and contumacy of those who were wont to set at nought a11 the prophecies, and were wont in particular to regard as nothing all threatenings. This was the reason why the Prophet wished thus to ratify what he had said: it was, that hypocrites might understand that they could not escape the vengeance which he had denounced. The form o, swearing, as it is, may seem apparently improper; but God in this place puts on the character of man, as he does often in other places. He swears by his soul, that is, by his life, as though he were one of mankind. But we ought to accustom ourselves to such forms, in which God familiarly accommodates himself to our capacities: for what Hilary philosophizes about the soul, as though God the Father swore by his own wisdom, is frivolous: that good man certainly exposed his own doctrine to ridicule, while he was attempting to refute the Arians. "God the Father, he says, swears by his own wisdom. Now he who is wont to swear by himself, could not swear by an inferior; but wisdom is the only begotten Son of God: hence it follows, that the Son is equal to the Father." These things at first sight seem plausible; but they are puerile trifles. Let it then be observed, that God borrows from men this mode of swearing; as though he said, "If men be believed when swearing by their life, which yet is evanescent, of how much greater weight must that oath be, by which I pledge my own life?" Since God thus speaks, surely the whole world ought to tremble. We now apprehend the Prophet's design. Let us go on - Amos 6:9 And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die. The Prophet here amplifies the calamity, which was nigh the people; as though he had said, that God would not now take moderate vengeance on that reprobate people, for he did nothing by dealing moderately with them: there was therefore nigh at hand the heaviest vengeance, which would reduce the people to nothing. This is the import of the Prophet's words when he says, that "ten, if remaining in the same house, would die". But in naming ten survivors, he intimates that a slaughter had preceded, which had taken away either the half or at least some part of the family, since ten remained. At the same time this number shows how severe and dreadful a judgment of God awaited that people, that "ten" would be taken away together. But it rarely happens, even when a direful pestilence prevails, that so numerous a family entirely perishes; when three out of four, or six or five out of eight, are taken away, it is a diminution which usually greatly terrifies men: but when ten are taken away together, and no one is left, it is an evidence of an awful vengeance. We see then that the Prophet here denounces on the people utter ruin, for they could not be reformed by milder punishments: when God tried to recall them to a sane mind, he effected nothing. There was therefore no remedy for their desperate diseases: it was hence necessary entirely to take away those who were thus incurable. Perish then shall the ten, who shall remain in one house. It follows - Amos 6:10 And a man's uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that [is] by the sides of the house, [Is there] yet [any] with thee? and he shall say, No. Then shall he say, Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the LORD. In the beginning of the verse the Prophet expresses more clearly what he had just said, - that the pestilence would be so severe as to consume the whole family: for when he speaks of an uncle coming to bury the dead, he shows, that unless neighbors performed their duty, bodies would remain without the honor of a burial: but this never happened, except during extreme devastation; for though the pestilence destroyed many in the same city, there were yet always some who buried the dead. When therefore it was necessary for uncles to perform this office, it was evident how great the calamity would be. This the Prophet meant to express in these words, "His uncle shall take him away"; that is, his uncle shall take away each of the dead. But this office, being servile, as I have said, was wont to be committed to mercenaries; and when a father or an uncle was constrained to do this, it was a proof of great confusion. An uncle then shall come and take him away. "Sharaph" means to burn; it is written here with "samech", but the change of "shin" into "samech" is well known. Hence, many render the words, "and shall burn him in order to take away his bones"; and this interpretation seems to suit the place. Then it is, "he will burn him, that he may carry his bones out of the house". Dead bodies, as it is well known, were usually carried forth and burnt publicly. But as one man could not carry out a dead body especially an old man, and Amos mentions an uncle, he says, that another plan would be necessary, that the uncle would burn his nephews at home, that he might have the bones only to carry out, as he could not carry forth their dead bodies. This seems to me to be the real meaning of the Prophet. For they who explain this of a maternal uncle, have no reason on their side: it was enough to mention one only when men were so few. If indeed a maternal uncle be added to the paternal one, a great number of men would seem to have been still remaining. But when mention is made only of one uncle, this circumstance agrees best with what I have stated. An uncle shall come, he shall take him; and then, he will burn him that he may carry forth his bones. The bones could be easier carried out when the body was burnt, for the burden was not so heavy. We now then perceive the meaning of the words. It follows, "And he will say to him who shall be at the sides of the house". By the sides of the house, understand the next dwellings. He will then inquire, "Is there yet any one with thee?" that is, Is any one of thy neighbors alive? We cannot indeed explain the sides of the house as meaning the inner parts of the house, except one understands a reference to be made to strangers or lodgers, as though the Prophet said, "If there will be any lodger, he will seek retreat in some corner of the house." Then the uncle, when the whole house had become desolate, should he by chance meet a guest, says, "Is there any one with thee? And he shall say, There is an end", or a decay. Though there be some ambiguity in the words, we yet see what the Prophet meant, and what he had in view. He indeed confirms what he had previously declared in the person of God, which was, - that though ten remained alive in one house, yet all of them would die together, so that there would not be, no not one survivor; for the uncle, on inquiring respecting his nephews, whether any remained, would hear, that there was an end, that all had perished together. Now, the design of these words was to strike men with terror; for we know how great their stupidity is, as long as God spares them: but when they feel his hand, they then dread, though they are not moved by any threatenings. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet denounces here at large on the Israelites the dreadful judgment, which they would not dread, being, as we have seen, extremely secure and thoughtless. It follows, "And he will say; Be silent; for it is not meet to mention the name of Jehovah". This place is differently explained. Some think that their extreme wickedness is here noticed, that those who died, even in their last moments, would not mention the name of God. They thus then expound the words, - "Be silent," as though it were the expression of one indignant or of one who denied God. Be silent, then; for they remembered not the name of God, that is, those whom God would have humbled, repented not of their perverseness; even death itself could not bring them to the right way. Others give this exposition: "Be silent, for it is not meet to mention the name of God"; that is, "What can God's name do to us? for we abhor it as a bad and an unhappy omen; for God brings us no joy". The wicked dread the name of God, and wish it to be wholly obliterated. But it seems to me that the Prophet's design is another, which interpreters have not sufficiently weighed. We first find that the hypocrites, whom he reproves, boasted of God's name; for they said in adversity that it was the day of the Lord, as though they expected a change for the better. The Prophet now says, that the time would come when this boasting would cease, for they would perceive that God was offended with them, and they would no longer falsely pretend his name, as they had been wont to do. There is then a contrast to be understood between what is here said, and what is said in a former verse. The Prophet had previously inveighed against their rash vaunting, when they pretended the name of God without any shame, "O! we are God's people, we are a holy nation, we are God's heritage". As, then, they were become thus arrogant, and yet had cast away God far from them, the Prophet now says, "These delusions shall then cease, by which ye now deceive yourselves; God will not suffer you wickedly to abuse his name, as we have ever hitherto done; and ye still go on in this iniquity. Ye shall at that time," he says, "be silent respecting God's name; yea, it will be a dread to you." We now apprehend the Prophet's object: he means that such would be the grievousness of this last calamity, that the Israelites would really find that God was an enemy incensed against them, so that they would cast aside the false glorying which filled them with pride; yea, that they would dread the very name of God, for they would know that nothing would be better for them than to be hid from his presence. As it is said of the reprobate, 'They will say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Bury us,' (Rev. 6: 16 ) so also in this place, the Prophet says, that when hypocrites shall be struck and seriously frightened by God's judgments, their false vauntings will continue no longer; for they would find that to be near God is to be near destruction. Be silent, then, for there is no reason for us to remember the name of Jehovah. It follows - Amos 6:11 For, behold, the LORD commandeth, and he will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts. This verse is added only to confirm the former sentence. The Prophet indeed intimates, that the common people, as well as the chiefs, in vain trusted in their quiet state; for the Lord would destroy them all together, from the highest to the lowest. Behold, Jehovah, he says, commands &c.; by using the word commands, he means, that God had many reasons why he should take away and destroy them all. But he goes farther than this, and intimates that their destruction was dependent on the sole will of God; as though he said, "Though the Lord may not send for ministers of vengeance, though he may not prepare great forces, yet his word only, whenever it shall go forth, will consume you all." We now then perceive what the Prophet means by the word "commands." He afterwards adds, "He will smite the great house with confusions", or, according to some, with breaking. "Rasas" means properly to mingle. The Prophet therefore, I doubt not, refers here to those dreadful falls which commonly happen to great and splendid palaces. When a cottage is overturned so great a ruin is not occasioned by its weight; nay, when its ruin begins to appear, fragments fall down one after another, so that the whole work falls without any violence. This, I say, is the case with small and common houses; but when there is a great building, its downfall is tremendous. I am therefore inclined to render the word "confusion," and the difference between small and great houses will then be more evident. Great houses then shall be smitten with confusions, but small houses shall be smitten with fissures or clefts. But yet, as I have already reminded you, the Prophet means that there would be a ruin, both to the principal men and to the common people, so that they would all perish, from the least to the greatest. We hence learn how great was the corruption of that people; for God punishes none but the wicked. It then follows that equity was everywhere subverted and that all orders of men were become vicious and corrupt. It follows - Amos 6:12 Shall horses run upon the rock? will [one] plow [there] with oxen? for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock: This verse interpreters misrepresent; for some think that the Prophet, by these figurative expressions, means, that the people were wholly unprofitable as to any thing good; as some one says, "The slothful ox wishes for the saddle, the horse wishes to plough." They therefore suppose that this is the meaning of the words, "Ye are no more fitted to lead a good life than a horse is to run on a rock, or an ox to plough on a rock." Others think that the Prophet complains that the order of things was subverted as though he said, "Ye have alike confounded all equity government, and justice. In short, ye have subverted all right; as when one tries to ride swiftly over a high rock, or attempts to plough there, which is contrary to the nature of things: ye are therefore become monsters." Others, again, understand that the Prophet here complains that he had lost all his labour; for he had been singing, according to the common proverb, to the deaf. "What do I effect as to this iron generation? It is the same as if one tried to ride on the rock, to mount a rock on a swift horse; or as if one attempted to plough there; both which are impossible. So now, when I address stupid men, there is no fruit to my labour, and no advantage is gained." But let us see whether a fitter and a more suitable meaning can be elicited. We have already observed how secure the Israelites were; for they thought that God was, in a manner, bound to them, for he had pledged his faith to be a father to them. This adoption of God puffed up their hearts. The Prophet now reproves this presumptuous security; and, in a fitting manner, "Can a horse," he says, "run on a rock? and can an ox plough in a stony place? So there is not among you a free course to God's blessings. Ye ought indeed to have been the vineyard and the field of the Lord; justice and judgment ought to have reigned among, you but "ye have turned judgment into gall" ("r'osh", which is variously taken, but as to the sense it matters but little,) "ye have then turned judgment into gall, and righteousness into hemlock". Since then ye are so perverse, a way for God's blessings is doubtless closed up. It cannot be that the Lord will act towards you in a manner like himself; for he must necessarily be refractory towards the refractory, as he is gentle towards the gentle". The Prophet seems to me to mean this and if any one impartially considers the whole verse, he will easily find out the truth of what I have stated, namely, that the Prophet here reproves the supreme haughtiness of the Israelitic people, who thought God bound to them though, at the same time, they, as it were, designedly provoked his wrath. "Ye think", he says, "that God will be always propitious to you; whence is this confidence? Is it because he has adopted you, because he made a covenant with your fathers? True he has done so; but what sort of covenant was it? What was engaged on your part? Was it not that ye would be perfect before him? But ye have turned judgment into gall, and righteousness into hemlock. Since then ye are thus covenant-breakers, what can God now do? Do you wish him to proceed in the same course, and to bestow on you his blessings? Ye do not allow them to be bestowed. For ye are become like craggy rocks. How can God proceed in his course? how can he continue his benefits to you? He can certainly no more do so than a horse, however nimble he may be, can run swiftly on a rock or an ox plough on a rock." We now understand what the Prophet means in this place. A confirmation of this view now follows, and from this connection the truth of what I have stated will become more evident. Amos 6:13 Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength? This verse will seem better connected with the last, if we bear in mind the view to which I have referred: for the Prophet inveighs again against the careless contempt with which the Israelites were filled. "Ye rejoice, he says, in a thing y of nought". A thing of nought he calls those fallacies, by which they were wont to deceive, not only others, but also their own selves. For hypocrites not only falsely pretend the name of God, but also deceive themselves by self flatteries, when they arrogate to themselves the name of Church, and the empty title of adoption and other things. We see this to be the case at this day with the Papists, who are puffed up with nothing; who not only with sacrilegious audacity twist the Word of God against us, that they may appear to be the true Church, but also harden themselves: and though they are ill at ease with themselves, they yet lull themselves asleep by such deceptions as these, "God could not have suffered his Church to err; we have indeed succeeded the apostles: and though there are among us many vices and corruptions, yet God abides with us; and all who think not with us are schismatic; nay, though we may be supported by no reasons, yet their defection is not to be borne with. Let us then continue in our own state, for the Lord approves of our hierarchy." Thus the Papists not only deal in trifles to deceive the ignorant, but also harden themselves against God. Such was the blindness of the people of Israel. Hence the Prophet here reproves them, because they rejoiced in nothing; 'In no word,' he says, for so it is; but it means that they rejoiced in nothing; for they involved themselves in mere fallacies, and thus set up their empty delusions in opposition to God and his judgments. "Who say, have we not in our own strength raised up for ourselves horns?" Horns, we know are taken in Hebrew for eminence, for strength, for elevation, or for any sort of defense. Hence the expression means the same as though they had said, "Are we not more than sufficiently fortified by our own strength?" It is however certain that they did not say this openly; but as the Prophet possessed the discernment of the Holy Spirit, he penetrated into their hearts and brought out what was hid within. We indeed know this to be the power of the word, as the apostle teaches in the fourth chapter to the Hebrews: for the word partakes of the nature of God himself, from whom it has proceeded; and as God is a searcher of hearts, so also the word penetrates to the marrow, to the inmost thoughts of men, and distinguishes between the feelings and the imaginations. This spiritual jurisdiction ought therefore to be noticed, when the Prophets allege against the ungodly such gross blasphemies; for it is certain that they had not actually pronounced the words used by the Prophet; but yet their pride had no other meaning, than that they had raised horns to themselves by their own strength. They were indeed separated from the Lord; in the meantime they wished to abide safe through their own power. What did they mean? They had become alienated from God, and yet they sought to be in a state of safety, and thought themselves to be beyond any danger. Whence came this privilege? For they certainly ought to have sheltered themselves under God's shadow, if they wished to be safe. But as they renounced God, and despised all his instructions, nay, as they were manifestly his enemies, whence was this safety to come, which they promised to themselves, except they sought to derive their strength from themselves? We now perceive the Prophet's design: He reproves the Israelites for being content with a false and empty title and for heedlessly despising God, and for only pretending a form of religion instead of its reality; it was this so gross a vice that he condemned in them: and he shows at the same time, that they put on horns by which they assailed God; for while they were separated from him, they promised to themselves a secure and happy state. It at length follows - Amos 6:14 But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the LORD the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness. At last follows a denunciation, and this is the close of the chapter. God then after having seriously exposed the vices which prevailed among the people of Israel, again declares that vengeance of which he had shortly before reminded then; but with this difference only - that God now points out the kind of punishment which he would inflict on the Israelites. He had said before, 'Behold God commands;' and then he had spoken of calamity, but expressed not whence that calamity would come: but he now points it out in a special manner, "Behold he says I am raising up against you, O house of Israel, a nation, who will straiten you from the entrance into Hemath to the river", &c. The Prophet no doubt speaks here of the Assyrians, and expresses in strong terms how dreadful the war with the Assyrians would be, which was now nigh at hand; for though large was their land and country, (and being large and spacious it had many outlets,) yet the Prophet shows that there would be everywhere straits, when the Lord would raise up on high that nation. I am then stirring up a nation against you. He again calls the Lord, the God of hosts, for the same reason as before, - that they might understand that all the Assyrians were at God's disposal, and that they would stir up war whenever he gave them a signal. The Lord then shall raise up a nation, who will straiten you. In what place? He speaks not here of strait places, but of a spacious country, which, as it has been stated, had many outlets. But after the Lord had armed against them the Assyrians, all the most spacious places were made strait to them, "Ye shall be everywhere confined, so that there will be open no escape from death." Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that since we are extremely deaf to those so many holy warnings by which thou continuest to recall us to thyself, and since we ever harden ourselves against those threatenings, by which thou terrifiest us, that thou mayest break or at least correct our hardness, - O grant, that we may, though late, yet in time, before final vengeance comes, attend to thy word and submit ourselves to thee, and in a teachable spirit undertake thy yoke, that thou mightest receive us into favor, and vouchsafe to us thy paternal kindness, and being at length reconciled to us, thou might grant us thy blessings, which thou hast promised to all thy children, who are the members of thy only begotten Son our Lord. Amen. Calvin, Commentary on Amos (continued in part 15...) -------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-14.txt .