(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
    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
    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
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.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 15...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-14.txt