(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 mowings. 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 order. 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 GOD. 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 design. 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 passage. "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." Prayer. 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...) -------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-15.txt .