(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 15)

Chapter 7.

Lecture Sixty-third.

Amos 7:1-3
1 Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed
grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter
growth; and, lo, [it was] the latter growth after the king's
2 And it came to pass, [that] when they had made an end of eating
the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech
thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he [is] small.
3 The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.
    Amos shows in this chapter that God had already often deferred
the punishments which he had yet determined to inflict on the
people; and thus he reminds the Israelites of their perverseness,
inasmuch as they had abused the forbearance of God, and repented not
after a long lapse of time: for God had suspended his judgments for
this end - that they might willingly return to the right way, as he
commonly allures men by his kindness, provided they be teachable.
Since then this forbearance of God had been without fruit, Amos
reproves the Israelites, though he had also another object in view:
for ungodly men, we know, when God spares them and does not
immediately indict the punishments they deserve, laugh at them, and
harden themselves for the future, so that they fear nothing; and
when the Lord threatens, and does not instantly execute his
vengeance, they then especially think that all threatening are mere
bugbears; and therefore they harden their minds in security and
think that they can with impunity trifle with God. Inasmuch then as
this obstinacy prevailed among the Israelites, the Prophet here
shows in various ways, that in vain they gloried, and thus securely
despised the judgment of God; for though the Lord for a time had
spared them, yet the final vengeance was not far distant. This is
the sum of the whole: but such expression must be considered in its
    A vision, he says, had been shown to him by the Lord; and the
vision was, that God himself had formed locusts. Yet some think
"yotser" to be a noun, and render it, creation; others, a swarm or a
troop. But these are forced expositions. The Lord then, I doubt not,
formed locusts in the Prophet's presence, which devoured all the
grass. He therefore says, "when the grass began to grow", that is,
"after the cuttings of the king". Here also expounders vary: some
think that the shearings of the king are referred to, when the king
had sheared his sheep. Others regard it as the mowing of hay; and
they say, that the best grass was then cut for the use of the king,
that he might feed his horses and his cattle. But these conjectures
have nothing well-founded in them. I therefore doubt not, but the
Prophet here calls that a royal cutting, when by a public order they
began to cut their meadows. It is indeed credible that there was
then some rule: as with us, no one begins the vintage at his own
will, but a certain regular time is observed; so those cuttings,
which were publicly done, were called royal; as the king's highway
is called that which is public. But yet the Prophet, I think, refers
under this figurative expression to the previous calamities, by
which the people had been already reduced as to their number.
    But we must supply this prophecy or vision to its proper time.
I doubt not, and I think that I can gather this from certain
considerations, that the Prophet here compares the time which had
preceded the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, with the
prosperous time which followed. For when Jeroboam the Second began
to reign, the kingdom was laid waste, partly by hostile incursions,
and partly by drought and heat, by inclement weather, or by
pestilence. Since then the condition of the people, as sacred
history relates, was most miserable, hence the Prophet says, that
locusts had been shown to him, which devoured all the grass and
standing corn: for he not only says, that locusts were formed, but
also that they devoured the grass, so that nothing remained, "When
they had finished, he says, to eat the grass of the earth, then I
said, Lord Jehovah", &c. Thus then the Prophet shows that sure
tokens of God's wrath had then already appeared, and that the people
had in part been already afflicted, but yet that God had afterwards
given them time for repentance.
    Now by locusts I understand a moderate kind of punishment. We
have seen elsewhere (Joel 1) that the country had been then nearly
consumed by the locusts and the cankerworms, and the like pests. But
in this place the Prophet metaphorically designates hostile
invasions, which had not immediately laid waste the whole country
but in some measure desolated it. This was indeed manifest to all,
but few viewed it as the judgment of God, as also the Lord
complains, that the perverse regard not the hand of the smiter,
(Isa. 10) Though then the Israelites saw their land consumed, they
did not think that God was displeased with them; for ungodly men do
not willingly examine themselves nor raise their eyes to heaven,
when the Lord chastises them: for they would grow, as it were,
stupid in their calamities rather than set before themselves the
judgment of God, that they may be seriously led to repentance: this
they naturally shun almost all. Hence the Prophet says that this was
especially shown to him. The calamity then was known to all, and
evident before the eyes of the people; but the Prophet alone, by a
vision, understood that God in this manner punished the sins of the
people: at the same time, the special object of the vision was, - to
make the Israelites to know that the hand of God was withheld, as it
were, in the middle of its work. They had seen the enemies coming,
they had felt many evils; but they thought that the enemies
retreated either through good fortune or some other means. They did
not consider that God had spared them, which was the main thing. It
was therefore shown to the prophet in a vision, that God spared his
people, though he had resolved to destroy the whole land.
    And the Prophet expressly declares, that God had been pacified
through his intercession and prayer: hence appears very clearly what
I have already referred to, that is, that the Prophet condemns the
unbelieving for having perversely trifled with God; for they
regarded the threatening which they had heard from the mouth of Amos
and of others as jests. Whence was this? Because God had spared
them. The Prophet shows how this took place; "The Lord," he says,
"had at first resolved to destroy you, but yet he waits for you, and
therefore suspends his extreme vengeance, that by his kindness he
may allure you to himself; and this has been done through my
prayers: for though ye think me to be adverse to you, as I am
constrained daily to threaten you, and as a heavenly herald to
denounce war on you; I yet feel compassion for you, and wish you to
be saved. There is, therefore, no reason for you to think that I am
influenced by hatred or by cruelty, when I address you with so much
severity: this I do necessarily on account of my office; but I am
still concerned and solicitous for your safety; and of this the Lord
is a witness, and the vision I now declare to you." We now see that
God's servants had so ruled and moderated their feelings, that pity
did not prevent them from being severe whenever their calling so
required; and also, that this severity did not obliterate from their
minds the feelings of compassion. Amos, as we have already seen,
severely inveighed against the people, sharply reproved their vices,
and daily summoned irreclaimable men to the tribune it of God: as he
was so vehemently indignant on account at their vices, and as he so
sharply threatened them, he might have appeared to have forgotten
all compassion; but this place shows that he had not yet divested
himself of pity, though he faithfully discharged his office, and was
not diverted from his purpose, when he saw that he had to do with
wicked and obstinate men. He was therefore severe, because God so
commanded him; it was what his calling required; but at the same
time he pitied the people.
    Let then all teachers in the Church learn to put on these two
feelings - to be vehemently indignant whenever they see the worship
of God profaned, to burn with zeal for God, and to show that
severity which appeared in all the Prophets, whenever due order
decays, - and at the same time to sympathize with miserable men,
whom they see rushing headlong into destruction, and to bewail their
madness, and to interpose with God as much as is in them; in such a
way, however that their compassion render them not slothful or
indifferent, so as to be indulgent to the sins of men. Indeed, the
temper of mind which I have mentioned ought to be possessed, so that
they may go forth as suppliants before God, and implore pardon for
miserable and wretched men: but when they come to the people, in
their new character, that they may be severe and rigid, let them
remember by whom they are sent and with what commands, let them know
that they are the ministers of God, who is the judge of the world,
and ought not therefore to spare the people: this then is to be
attended to by us.
    Now as to the word "repent", as applied to God, let us know, as
it has been elsewhere stated, that God changes not his purpose so as
to retract what he has once determined. He indeed knew what he would
do before he showed the vision to his Prophet Amos: but he
accommodates himself to the measure of men's understanding, when he
mentions such changes. It was then the eternal purpose of God, to
threaten the people, to show tokens of his displeasure, and yet to
suspend for a time his vengeance, that their perverseness might be
the more inexcusable. But in the meantime, as this was without
advantage, he sets forth another thing - that he was already armed
to execute his vengeance. God then does not relate what he had
decreed, but what the Israelites deserved, and what punishment or
reward was due to them. When, therefore, God begins to inflict
punishment on sinners, it is as though he intended to execute fully
his vengeance; he however forms a purpose in himself, but that is
hid from us. As soon then as he lifts up his finger, we ought to
regard it as owing to his mercy, that we are not instantly reduced
to nothing; when it so happens, it is as though he changed his
purpose, or as though he withheld his hand. This then ought to be
borne in mind, when the prophet says, that God created locusts to
devour all the grass, but that he suppliantly entreated God to put
an end to this calamity. He then adds, that it repented God, not
that there was any change of mind in God, but because God suddenly
and beyond hope suspended the vengeance which was near at hand. It
shall not then be.
    With regard to the clause, Be propitious, I pray; how will
Jacob rise up, or who will raise up Jacob? it appears that the
Prophet saw no other remedy, except the Lord, according to his
infinite goodness, forgave the people, and hence he prays for
pardon.  In the meantime, he shows that he prayed for the Church,
"Lord," he says, "thy hand does not now pursue strangers, but an
elect people, thy peculiar possession:" for by the name, Jacob, the
Prophet extols the covenant which God made with Abraham and the
Patriarchs; as though he said, "O God, wilt thou be inexorable
towards the people whom thou hast chosen and adopted, of whom thou
art the Father? Remember that they are neither Babylonians, nor
Egyptians, nor Assyrians, but a royal priesthood, and thy holy and
peculiar people." And there is nothing that inclines God more to
mercy than the recollection of his gratuitous covenant, as we have
elsewhere seen.
    He then says, that Jacob was "small". He does not allege the
worthiness of Jacob, or adduce any proof of excellency, but says
that he was small; as though he said, "O Lord, thou drawest forth
now thy power against miserable creatures, who are already enfeebled
enough" for he calls him small, because he had been worn out by many
calamities: and hence I said, that reference is here made to that
miserable time, of which Scripture records, when it declares that
the free as well as the captive were reduced to extreme distress,
before Jeroboam the second began to reign. Then indeed God restored
his people; but short was that favour; for immediately after the
death of king Jeroboam, a sedition arose, which proved ruinous to
the whole kingdom: his son Zachariah, as it is well known, was slain
by Shallum, (2 Kings 15.)
    How then will Jacob rise up? Some take the verb "yakum" in a
transitive sense, "Who will raise him up?" but others think it to be
a neuter verb, "How will Jacob rise up?" that is, by what means will
Jacob rise up? as "mi" may be taken to mean, how, or by what means:
How then will Jacob rise up? But this difference has little to do
with the main point It is then enough to say, that the Prophet here
speaks of the weakness of the people, that on this account God might
be more ready to forgive them. It now follows -
Amos 7
4 Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and, behold, the Lord GOD
called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did
eat up a part.
5 Then said I, O Lord GOD, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall
Jacob arise? for he [is] small.
6 The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord
    The Prophet shows that God had not once only spared the people,
but that when he was again prepared for vengeance, he still
willingly deferred it, that, if possible, the people might willingly
recover themselves: but as all were unhealable, this forbearance of
God produced no fruit. Now as to the words of the Prophet, we see
that a heavier punishment is designated by the similitude of fire,
than by what he said before when he spoke of locusts. We stated that
by locusts is to be understood ordinarily a moderate punishment, one
not so dreadful at first sight. For though the want and famine
introduced by locusts, when they consume all kinds of fruit, are
most grievous evils; yet fire sometimes strikes people with much
greater dread. Hence the Prophet shows by mentioning fire, that God
had become very indignant, having seen that the people had hardened
themselves and could not be reformed by common and usual remedies.
The Lord's usual mode of proceeding, as he declares everywhere in
Scriptures is this: At first he tries to find whether men are
capable of being healed, and applies not the most grievous
punishment, but such as may be endured; but when he perceives in
sinners hardness and obstinacy, he doubles and trebles the
punishment, yea, as he says by Moses, he increases his judgments
sevenfold (Deut. 28.) Such then was the manner which Amos now
records; for God at first created the locusts, and then he kindled a
fire, which consumed the great deep, and devoured their possession.
    The point, denoting a participial form in the word here used,
shows that they are mistaken who render "yotser" creation, of which
we have spoken before; for the point here corresponds with that in
"yotser". In both places the Lord shows himself to be the author of
punishment, which is wont to be ascribed to chance; for men imagine
that evils proceed from something else rather than from God. Hence
it was necessary for this to be distinctly expressed, as the Prophet
does also, when he says that locusts had been created by God, and
that fire had been kindled by him.
    God then "called to contend by fire". It was not without a
design that the Prophet uses the verb "ruv", which yet expositors
have not duly weighed. For he indirectly condemns the hardness of
the people, inasmuch as the Lord had already not only chastised the
vices of the people, but had also contended with men depraved and
obstinate: as when no justice can be obtained, a litigation becomes
necessary; so the Prophet says here, that God was coming prepared
with fire, to contend with the stubbornness of the people. The great
deep, he says, was consumed by this fire. Hence what I have already
said becomes more evident, - that a more dreadful punishment is here
described than in the first vision. The locusts devoured the grass
only but the fire penetrates into the utmost deep; it consumes and
destroys not only the surface of the earth, but burns up the very
roots, yea, it descends to the centre and consumes the whole earth.
They who render "chelek" a part, do not sufficiently attend to the
design of the Prophet, for he concludes that the surface of the
earth had been laid waste, because the very gulfs had not escaped
the burning. And when the fire reaches to the very bowels of the
earth, how could their possession stand, which was also exposed to
the heat of the sun? We see how the earth is burnt up by heat, when
the sun is scorching at Midsummer. We now perceive the Prophet's
    He adds, that God was again pacified. We must ever bear in mind
the object he had in view; for ungodly men thought the Prophets to
be liars, whenever God did not immediately execute the vengeance he
had denounced: but Amos here reminds them, that when God defers
punishment, he does not in vain threaten, but waits for men to
repent; and that if they still go on in abusing his patience, they
will have at last to feel how dreadful is the vengeance which awaits
all those who thus pervert the goodness of God, who hear not God
inviting them so kindly to himself. This is the meaning. It follows

Amos 7
7 Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall [made]
by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand.
8 And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A
plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the
midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:
9 And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the
sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against
the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

    This vision opens more clearly to us what the Prophet meant
before, and what was the object of his doctrine: his intention was
to show the people that what they had gained by their obstinacy was
only to render God implacable, and to cause him not to spare them
any longer, as he had hitherto done. The meaning is, - "God has
hitherto borne with you according to his own goodness, promise not
to yourselves that he will ever deal in the same manner with you;
for your contumacy and waywardness has provoked him. As he sees you
to be beyond measure obstinate, he must now necessarily execute on
you final vengeance. There is therefore now no forgiveness provided
for you; but as ye are incurable, so the Lord on his part will
remain unchangeable in the rigor of his judgment, and will by no
means turn to mercy."
    Interpreters explain this vision in various ways, and refinedly
philosophize on the word, plumbline; and yet frigid are almost all
their refinements. Were I disposed plausibly to handle this passage,
I would say, that the plumbline is the law of God; for it prescribed
to his people a regular order of things, which might serve as a
plumbline; inasmuch as all things were directed according to the
best rule. I might speak thus; but I am not disposed to refine in
this manner; for I doubt not but that God meant only that this would
be the last measuring; for he would punish his people without any
remission and without any delay. We now apprehend the Prophet's
meaning: but all this will become more evident from the words of the
    "Thus he showed to me; and, behold, the Lord stood on a wall of
a plumbline". The wall of a plumbline he calls that which had been
formed by rule, as though he had said that it was a wall by a
plumbline. God then stood on a plumbline-wall, "and a plumbline, he
says, was in his hand". False then is what some interpreters say,
that a plumbline was cast away by God, because he would no more
perform the office of a mason in ruling his people. This is
frivolous; for the Prophet testifies here expressly that a plumbline
was in the hand of God.
    But that which follows has an important meaning: God asks his
Prophet, "What sees thou, Amos?" It is probable that the Prophet was
astonished at a thing so mysterious. When locusts were formed, and
when there was a contention by fire, he might have easily gathered
what God meant; for these visions were by no means ambiguous: but
when God stood on a wall with a plumbline, this was somewhat more
hard to be understood; and the probability is, that the Prophet was
made to feel much astonishment, that the people might be more
attentive to hear his vision, as we commonly apply our thoughts more
to hidden things; for we coldly attend to what we think to be easily
understood; but mysteriousness, or something difficult to be known,
sharpens our minds and attention. I do not then doubt but that God
made the Prophet for a time to feel amazed, with the view of
increasing the attention of the people. "What then dost thou see,
Amos? A plumbline", he says: but, at the same time, he knew not what
was the meaning of this plumbline, or what was its design. Then God
answers, "Behold, I set a plumbline in the midst of my people"; that
is, I fix this to be the last rule, or the final measure, "and I
will not add any more to pass by them." As God had twice leaped over
the bounds of his judgment by sparing them, he says, now that the
last end was come, "I will proceed no farther," he says, "in
forgiving them: as when a wall is formed to the plumbline, that no
part may, in the least, exceed another, but that there may be
regularity throughout so also this shall be the last order; this
measuring shall be true and just. I will pass by them no more."
This, I have no doubt, is the real meaning of the Prophet. We now
also perceive the design of the other two visions to have been to
prevent the Israelites from deceiving themselves by false
self-flatteries, because God was kind and favorable to them. He
shows that he dealt so with them, not because they were just; for
God had already begun to execute his judgments on them; and the
punishments with which they had been visited were strong evidences
of their crimes: for God is not without reasons angry with men,
especially with his chosen people. Since then they had been already
smitten once and again, the Prophet proves that they were worthy of
heavier punishments; and that punishments had been mild and
moderated, was to be ascribed, he says, to the indulgence of God,
because he was willing to forgive his people; but that the time had
now come when he would no longer pardon them; for he saw that he had
to do with irreclaimable obstinacy. This is the meaning.
    It now follows, "And destroyed shall be the high places of
Isaac, and overthrown shall be the sanctuaries (some render palaces)
of Israel; and I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the
sword." The Prophet here distinctly declares, that the people in
vain trusted in their temples and superstitions, for by these they
kindled the more against themselves the wrath of God. He would not
indeed have expressly threatened the high places and the temples,
unless the Israelites had provoked in this way, as I have already
said, the vengeance of God against themselves, inasmuch as they had
corrupted the true and lawful worship of God.
    "Destroyed then shall be the high places of Isaac". It may be
asked, Why does he mention here the name of Isaac, which is rarely
done by the Prophets? And there is also a change of one letter; for
the word Isaac is commonly written with "tsade", but here it is
written with "sin"; but it is well known that "sin" and "tsade" are
interchangeably used. It is, however, beyond dispute, that the
Prophet speaks here of the holy man Isaac; and the reason seems to
be plainly this, - because the Israelites absurdly pretended to
imitate their father in their superstitions; for temples, we know,
had been erected where Isaac had worshipped God, and also their
father Abraham and Jacob. Inasmuch then as the Israelites boasted of
the examples of holy fathers, the Prophet here condemns this vain
and false boasting. They who understand by the word Isaac, that the
Prophet threatens the Idumeans as well as the Israelites, have no
reason for their opinion; but the reason which I have already
mentioned is quite sufficient.
    We indeed know, that the Israelites had ever in their mouths
the examples of the fathers, like the woman of Samaria, who said to
Christ, 'Our fathers worshipped in this mountain,' (John 4: 22.) So
also the Israelites were wont formerly to allege, that the holy
patriarchs worshipped God in those places, - that God appeared in
Bethel to holy Jacob, and also that in other places altars were
built. Being armed with the examples of the fathers, they thought
them to be their shield. The case is the same with the Papists in
our day; when they hear of anything as having been done by the
fathers, they instantly lay hold on it; but these are vain excuses.
Like them were also the Israelites; hence the Prophet says, "Behold,
ye gain nothing by this fallacious pretence; for destroyed shall be
the high places of Isaac, even those which are now covered by an
honorable name: and at the same time the temples or palaces of
"Israel shall be overthrown.
    "And I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword".
We learn from this last clause that things were then, as we have
stated elsewhere, in a prosperous state in the kingdom of Israel,
though God had in various ways wasted it before Jeroboam: but they
had been ever obstinate. He afterwards restored them to a better
condition; for the state of the people greatly improved under
Jeroboam: he recovered many cities enlarged the borders of his
kingdoms and then the people, in their affluence began to grow
wanton against God. As then the Prophet thus saw that they abused
God's goodness, he denounced destruction on Jeroboam; hence he says,
Against the house of Jeroboam I will rise up with the sword; that
is, "I will begin to execute my judgment on the offspring of the
king himself; though I may spare him, yet his posterity shall not
escape my hand."
Almighty God, since thou so suspendest thy hand in chastising us,
that except we be wholly blind and stupid, we must acknowledge that
we are spared in order that we may willingly return to thee, and
that being allured by the gentleness of thy forbearance, we may
submit ourselves to thee in willing obedience, - O grant, that we
may not harden our hearts, nor be slow, nor slothful, nor even
backward to repent, when thou deferrest extreme punishment, but
strive to anticipate thy final vengeance, and so submit ourselves to
thee, that we may be pardoned while it is time, and so hasten to
offer our hearts whole and sincere to thee, and so repent, while
urged by extreme danger, that there may not remain any hidden
hypocrisy in our hearts, but that we may in such a way search every
faculty of our soul, that thou mayest become to us a real and
faithful witness of that integrity which thou requires of all who
return to thee to obtain pardon through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 16...)

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