(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 17)

Lecture Sixty-fifth.

Amos 7:16,17
Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest, Prophesy
not against Israel, and drop not [thy word] against the house of
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the
city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and
thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted
land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.
    Amos having shown that he must obey God, who had committed to
him the office of teaching, now turns his discourse to Amaziah, and
points out what he would gain by his insolence in daring to forbid a
Prophet, an ambassador of the God of heaven, to proclaim what he had
in command. As, then, Amaziah had proceeded into such a degree of
rashness or rather of madness Amos now assails him and says, "Hear
then now the word of Jehovah". He sets here the word or the decree
of God in opposition to the prohibition of Amaziah: for the ungodly
priest had forbidden God's servant to proclaim his words any more in
the land of Israel: "Who art thou? Thou indeed thus speakest; but
God will also speak in his turn." He shows, at the same time, the
difference between the speech of Amaziah and the word of God: the
impostor had indeed attempted to terrify the holy man so as to make
him to desist from his office, though the attempt was vain; but Amos
shows that God's word would not be without effect: "Whether I hold
my peace or speak," he seems to say, "this vengeance is suspended
over thee." But he, at the same time, connects God's vengeance with
his doctrine; for this was also necessary, that the ungodly priest
might know that he gained nothing else, by attempting to do
everything, than that he had doubly increased the vengeance of God.
    There is, therefore, great emphasis in these words, "Now hear
the word of Jehovah thou who sayest, Prophesy not". Amaziah was
indeed worthy of being destroyed by God a hundred times, together
with all his offspring: but Amos intimates that God's wrath was
especially kindled by this madness, - that Amaziah dared to put a
restraint on God, and to forbid his Spirit freely to reprove the
sins of the whole people. Since, then, he proceeded so far, Amos
shows that he would have justly to suffer the punishment due to his
presumption, yea, to his furious and sacrilegious audacity, inasmuch
as he set himself up against God, and sought to take from him his
supreme authority, for nothing belongs more peculiarly to God than
the office of judging the world; and this he does by his word and
his Prophets. As, then, Amaziah had attempted to rob God of his own
right and authority, the Prophet shows that vengeance had been
thereby increased: "Thou then, who sayest, Prophesy not against
Israel, and speak not, hear the word of Jehovah".
    Remarkable is this passage, and from it we learn that nothing
is better for us, when God rebukes us, than to descend into our own
consciences, and to submit to the sentence which proceeds from his
mouth, and humbly to entreat pardon as soon as he condemns us: for
if we be refractory, God will not cease to speak, though we a
hundred times forbid him; he will therefore go on notwithstanding
our unwillingness. Further, we may vomit forth many blasphemies; but
what can our clamorous words do? The Lord will, at the same time,
speak with effect; he will not scatter his threatening in the air,
but will really fulfill what proceeds from his mouth; and for this
reason Paul compares heavenly truth to a sword, for vengeance is
prepared for despisers. We ought therefore to take notice of this in
the Prophet's words, - that when profane men attempt to repel every
tenth and all threatening, they gain nothing by their perverseness;
for the lord will exercise his own right; and he will also join to
his word, as they say, its execution. Thou then who sayest, Prophesy
not, hear the word of Jehovah; though thou mayest growl, yet God
will not be hindered by these thy commands; but he will ever
continue complete in his own authority." And he mentions "word', as
we have already said, to show that the truth, with which the ungodly
contend, is connected with the power of God. God might indeed
destroy all the unbelieving in silence, without uttering his voice;
but he will have his Word honored, that the ungodly may know that
they contend in vain, while they vomit forth their rage against his
word, for they will at length find that in his word is included
their condemnation.
    Now, when he says, "Prophecy not against Israel, and speak not
against the house of Isaac", we may learn again from these words,
that the word Isaac is used by the Prophet by way of concession; for
the people of Israel were then wont to adduce the example of this
holy patriarch. Thus superstitious men, neglecting the law of God,
the common rule, ever turn aside to the examples of the saints; and
they do this without any discrimination; nay, as their minds are
perverted, when anything has been wrongfully done by the fathers,
they instantly lay hold on it: and then, when there is anything
peculiar, which God had approved in the fathers but wished not to be
drawn, as they commonly say, into a precedent, the superstitious
think that they have the best reason in their favour, when they can
set up such a shield against God. As, then, the Israelites had at
that time the name of their father Isaac in their mouths while they
were foolishly worshipping God in Bethel and in other places,
contrary to what the law prescribed, the Prophet Amos designedly
repeats here again the name of Isaac, expressing it probably in
imitation of what had been said by Amaziah.
    Now follows a denunciation, "Therefore thus saith Jehovah".
This "lachen", therefore, shows that Amaziah suffered punishment,
not only because he had corrupted God's worship, because he had
deceived the people by his impostures and because he had made gain
by the disguise of religion; but because he had insolently dared to
oppose the authority of God, and to turn aside the Prophet from his
office, both by hidden crafts and by open violence. Inasmuch then as
he had attempted to do this, Amos now declares that punishment
awaited him. We hence see that destruction is doubly increased, when
we set up a hard and iron neck against God, who would have us to be
pliant, and when he reproves us, requires from us at least this
modesty - that we confess that we have sinned. But when we evade, or
when we proceed still outward, this issue will at last follow - that
God will execute double vengeance on account of our obstinacy.
Therefore then Jehovah saith: and O! that this were deeply engraven
on the hearts of men; there would not then be so much rebellion at
this day prevailing in the world. But we see how daring men are; for
as soon as the Lord severely reproves them, they murmur; and then,
if they have any authority they stretch every nerve to take away
from God his own rights, and from his servants their liberty. At the
same time, when we observe the ungodly to be so blind, that they
perceive not the vengeance, such as the Prophet here denounces, to
be nigh them, and dread it not, it behooves us duly to weigh what
the Prophet here declares and that is, that perverse men, as I have
already said, do gain this only by their obstinacy - that they more
and more inflame God's displeasure.
    With respect to the kind of punishment he was to suffer, it is
said, "Thy wife in the city shall be wanton": it is so literally;
but the Prophet speaks not here of voluntary wantonness. He then
intimates that Amaziah could not escape punishment, but that his
wife would be made a prostitute, when the enemies occupied the land
of Israel. We indeed know that it was a common thing for conquerors
to abuse women: and well would it be, were the practice abolished at
this day. Besides, it was deemed lawful in that age for the
conqueror to take to himself not only the daughter but also the wife
of another. This then is the reason why the Prophet says, Thy wife
shall be a prostitute. But he says, in the city; which was far more
grievous, than if the wife of Amaziah had been led to a distance,
and suffered that reproach in an unknown country: it would have less
wounded the mind of Amaziah, if the enemies had taken away his wife,
and this disgrace had continued unknown to him, it being done in a
distant land. But when his wife was publicly and before the eyes of
all constrained to submit to this baseness and turpitude, it was
much more hard to be endured, and occasioned much greater grief. We
hence see that the punishment was much increased by this
circumstance, which the Prophet states when he says, "Thy wife shall
in the city be a prostitute.
    Then it follows, "Thy sons and thy daughters shall by the sword
fall". It is a second punishment, when he declares, that the sons
and also the daughters of the ungodly priest would be slain by the
enemies. It was indeed probable, that some also of the common people
had suffered the same evils; but God no doubt punished the
willfulness and madness of Amaziah for having dared to resist
admonitions as well as threatening.
    But he also adds, "Thy land shall be divided by a line". He
means by this statement, that there should be none to succeed
Amaziah; but that whatever land he possessed should become a prey to
the enemies. Thy land then shall be divided by a line. It may at the
same time be, that Amos speaks here generally of the land of Israel;
and this seems to me probable. I indeed allow that neither by
Amaziah nor by the other priests was the law of God kept; but we yet
know that there was some affinity between the lawful priesthood, and
the spurious priesthood which the first Jeroboam had introduced.
Hence I conjecture that Amaziah had no possessions, it being lawful
for priests to have only gardens and pastures for their cattle; but
they cultivated no lands. I am therefore disposed to extend to the
whole people what is said of the land of one man; and this opinion
is confirmed by what immediately follows.
    "But thou shalt die in a polluted land". He called that the
land of Amaziah in which he and the rest of the people dwelt; but he
calls the land into which he, with all the rest, were to be driven,
a polluted land. If any one objects and says that this punishment
did not apply to one man, the ready answer is this, - that God meant
that an especial mark should be imprinted on his common judgment,
that Amaziah might know, that he had as it were accelerated God's
vengeance, which yet he intended to turn aside, when he sent away,
as we have seen, the Prophet Amos into the land of Judah.
    It follows at last, "Israel by migrating shall migrate from his
own land". We here see that the Prophet proclaimed no private
threatening, either to Amaziah himself or to his wife or to his
children, but extended his discourse to the whole people: the fact
at the same time remains unchanged that God intended to punish the
perverseness of that ungodly man, while executing his vengeance on
the whole people. Now follows -

Chapter 8.

Amos 8:1,2
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer
And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer
fruit. Then said the LORD unto me, The end is come upon my people of
Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.

    By these words or by this vision the Prophet confirms what we
have already observed - that paternal chastisements would no longer
be exercised towards the people of Israel. God indeed, as it is well
known, had so treated that people, that he ever spared them even in
their greatest calamities. It was with a suspended hand that God
ever struck that people, until after many trials they at length
seemed so refractory, as not to be benefited by such remedies. This
subject then Amos now pursues: but a vision was shown to him to
confirm more fully God's judgment, or at least to produce a greater
impression on the minds of the people.
    God showed to him a basket full of summer-fruit. By
summer-fruit, I doubt not, he means a ripe punishment, as though he
said, that the vices of the people had ripened, that vengeance could
no longer be deferred: for an exposition of the vision immediately
follows, when he says, that the end of the people had come, &c.; and
this we have already explained in the third vision. But there is a
similarity in the Hebrew words, which cannot be expressed either in
Greek or Latin. "Kayits" means a summer-fruit, "kets" signifies an
end: one letter only is inserted in the word, summer-fruit, which
God showed in a basket; and then he adds that "kets", the end had
come. But as to the main point, we see that there is nothing
ambiguous. W will now return to the first thing.
    "Thus God showed to me". There is no need of repeating what I
have already discussed. The Prophet here prefaces, that he adduced
nothing without authority, but only faithfully related what had been
commanded him from above. And this ought to be carefully observed;
for God ever so employed his Prophets, that he yet reserved for
himself entire the right of teaching, and never transferred his own
office to men, that is, as to the authority. Then he says, "The Lord
Jehovah showed to me, and, lo, a basket of summer-fruit". We may
understand cherries by summer-fruit, and those fruits which have no
solid vigor to continue long; but this is too refined. I take the
simple meaning, that punishment had now become ripe; for the people
had not repented, though they had been so often warned; it was then
as it were summer. He showed to me a basket of summer-fruit. But as
to God asking his Prophet what he saw, we have already explained the
reason why it was done: it behaved the Prophet to be at first filled
with astonishment, that the people might be made more attentive; for
when we hear of a conference between God and the Prophet, our minds
are awakened; inasmuch as it must immediately occur to us, that
there is something worthy of being remembered. God then rouses in
this manner the minds of his people. So we see there is nothing
superfluous in this repetition.
    Now follows the exposition of the vision, "Jehovah said to me,
Come has the end on my people Israel". We perceive, then, the
meaning of the Prophet to be, - that the people had hitherto been
warned by moderate punishments; but that as they had become
hardened, extreme vengeance was nigh at hand, when God would no
longer perform the part of a father or of a physician, but would
utterly destroy those whom he had long borne with. We indeed know
that most grievous calamities had happened to the people of Israel,
even before this time; but whenever God showed forbearance, he ever
allured them to true penitence. Lest, then, they should promise such
a treatment to themselves hereafter, and by self flatteries protract
time, as hypocrites are wont to do, the Prophet declares here
expressly, that the end had come; as though he said, "Your iniquity
is ripe: now then gather the fruit; for ye cannot proceed farther,
no, not even for one day. Fruit will indeed come to you of itself."
"The end then is come, and I will no more add to pass by them". To
pass by, as we have already explained, is to be referred to
punishment. For why does God chastise his people, except that he is
solicitous for their salvation? He says, then, that he would make an
end, that he would not spend labour hereafter in correcting the
people, for he saw that nothing availed. Hence, I will not pass by
them, that is, I will execute my extreme vengeance: Il n'y faudra
plus retourner, as we commonly say. It follows -

Amos 8:3,4
And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the
Lord GOD: [there shall be] many dead bodies in every place; they
shall cast [them] forth with silence.
Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of
the land to fail.
    The Prophet touches the Israelites here, in an indirect way,
for taking such delight in their superstitions as to sing in their
prosperity, as though God was favorable to them; for the unbelieving
are wont to misconstrue both the hatred and the favor of God by the
present appearance of things. When the Turks enjoy prosperity, they
boast that God is on their side: we see also that the Papists draw
the same conclusion. It is the disposition of men not to look so
much on themselves as on external circumstances. When, therefore,
God indulges them for a time, though they be more than usually
wicked, they yet doubt not but that God is favorable to them. So the
Sodomites, to the very time in which they were overwhelmed by sudden
destruction, thought that they had peace with heaven, (Gen. 19):
this also is the reason why Isaiah says, that the ungodly had made,
as it were, a covenant with hell and death, (Isa. 28;) and we know
what Christ says of the time of Noah, that they then heedlessly
feasted and built sumptuous houses, (Matth. 24.) Such carnal
security has prevailed almost in all ages. But a special vice is
here noticed by the Prophet, namely, that the people of Israel sang
songs in their temples, as though they meant designedly to mock God:
for the voices of the Prophets resounded daily, and uttered grievous
and terrible threatening; but the people in the meantime sang in
their temples. In the same way the Papists act in the present day;
while they bellow and chant, they think that God is twice or three
times pacified; and they also congratulate themselves in their
temples, when they have everything prosperous. This abuse, then, is
what the Prophet refers to when he says, "Howlings shall be the
songs of the temple". For melody he mentions howling, as though he
said, "God will turn your songs to lamentations, though they be now
full of joy."
    He afterwards adds, "For many a carcass shall be cast down in
every place": but I prefer to render the word passively, "Cast down
everywhere with silence shall be many carcases". By these words he
intimates that there would be such a slaughter as would prevent them
from burying the dead bodies. We have said in another place that the
right of burial is commonly observed even by enemies; for it is more
than hostility to rage against the dead: and all who wish not to be
deemed wholly barbarous either bury their dead enemies, or permit
them to be buried; and there is a sort of an understanding on this
point among enemies, and the right of burial has been usually
observed in all ages, and held sacred among all nations. When
therefore dead bodies are thrown down in silence, it is an evidence
of a most grievous calamity. We hence see why the Prophet distinctly
expresses here, that many a dead body would be cast down in every
place in silence, that is, that there would be no burying of the
dead. But as we see men, though a hundred times proved guilty, yet
quarreling with God, when he executes rather a grievous punishment,
the Prophet now contends with the Israelites, and again repeats what
we have before noticed, - that God did not deal cruelly with them,
and that though he should consume and obliterate the whole people,
it would yet be for just reasons, inasmuch as they had reached the
very extremities of wickedness.
    And he assails by name the princes of the people, "Hear this,
he says, ye who tread upon or swallow up the poor". The Prophets, as
we have already stated, did not without reason direct their
discourses to the chief men, though the common people were nearly as
much involved in the same guilt. It is certain that the state of the
people of Israel was then so corrupt, that all, from the highest to
the lowest, were become degenerated and none were free from blame.
But as more guilt belongs always to leaders, this is the reason why
the Prophets treated them with more sharpness and severity: for many
of the common people go astray through thoughtlessness or ignorances
or are led on by others, but they who govern, pervert what is just
and right, and then become the originators of all kinds of
licentiousness. It is no wonder then that the Lord by his Prophets
inveighed so sharply against them; and this is now the object of the
Prophet in saying, Hear this: for there is an emphasis in the
expression, when he bids them to hear; it was either because they
did not sufficiently observe their sins, and were wholly deaf, or
because they in vain contended with God; for hypocrites think that
by evasion they can escape judgment. "Hear, he says, ye who devour
the miserable, and destroy the poor of the land". We see here some
difference marked, and that the Prophet does not generally and
indiscriminately summon the common people and the princes to God's
tribunal; but turns his discourse to the princes only. It now
follows -

Amos 8:5
Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and
the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small,
and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
    The Prophet goes on here with the same subject; for this could
not apply to the whole people, but only to the plunderers who were
able to oppress the miserable and the poor among the common people,
and who had a great abundance of corn: the same we see at this day,
- a few men in time of want have provisions hoarded up, so that they
as it were put to death miserable men by reducing them to want.
Since then the few rich held the whole people in a state of famine,
the Prophet says here, "Do you think that God deals too rigidly or
too cruelly with your inasmuch as ye have hitherto been killing men
with misery and want?" Were any one to object, and say, that the
slaughter which the Prophet has already threatened was to be common
to the whole people, and that therefore it is now improperly stated,
that the wrongs done to the people were brought on them by a few
men: to this I answers that there were other vices among the people
which required to be corrected, and this we have already seen, and
shall see again in other parts; but it was necessary to make a
beginning with the proud men, who, relying on their own dignity,
thought themselves exempt and free from the common lot. Hence it was
necessary to close their mouths: and further, the Prophet did not
spare others in their turn. But we see to what extent of mad folly
haughty men, and such as possess worldly riches and powers would
run, were not the Lord to restrain and check them. This is the
reason why the Prophet now especially addresses them.
    Ye therefore say, "When will pass the month, that we may sell
corn?" Some take "chodesh", month, for the new-moon; and it is
sometimes so taken and this interpretation is probable; for
immediately follows the word, Sabbath. "When then will pass the
month, and when will pass Sabbath, that us may be able to sell our
corn?" As it was not lawful to carry on business either on the
Sabbath or on the new-moon, whenever they rested but one day, they
thought that so much time was lost to them; for we see that the
avaricious grow weary, as their cupidity ever excites them, for they
are like an oven: and since they are thus hot, if an hour is lost
they think that a whole year has passed away; they calculate the
very moments of time. "How is it," they say, "there is no merchant
coming? I have now rested one day, and I have not gained a
earthing." As then the avaricious are so extremely careful, it is
probable that the Prophet here refers to this disease of the mind,
as though he said, "You have no rest, no relaxation. God has
commanded his people to rest on every new-moon; and his will also
is, that you should abstain from every work on the seventh day: ye
think it is time as lost, for ye get no gain." But another
exposition is equally probable, which is this, - that they expected
corn to be every month dearer; as those robbers in our day gape for
gain, who from every quarter heap together corn, and thus reduce us
to want; they look forward, month after month, and think that some
calamity may happen to increase the price of corn; frost or rain may
come, some disaster may take place; when the spring passes away,
there may come some hail or mildew; in short, they are, as it were,
laying in wait for some evil. This meaning does not ill suit this
place; at the same time they refer it to the intercalary month,
which being an addition, prolongs time, so that the year becomes
longer: and what follows, respecting the Sabbath corresponds well
with this view; as the word is to be taken in another sense than of
the seventh day, for we know that on every seventh year there was no
sloughing, no cultivation of the land, among the Jews; and the corn
was then dearer, when there was no crop. Thus then there was a prey
as it were provided for the avaricious and the extortioners.
    "When then will pass the Sabbath, that we may open our
storehouses?" They closed their storehouses, until the whole year,
without cultivation or produce or harvest, had passed away; and then
they opened their storehouses, or at least it was the time when they
in a great measure opened them. Since then they so cruelly dealt
with the people, the Prophet justly reproves them, and shows that
God did not too rigidly treat theme but recompensed them with such a
reward as they merited. Other matters we shall defer to the next
Grant, Almighty, that as thou ceases not daily to warn us in time to
repent and anticipate thy judgment, - O grant, that we may not be so
deaf and slow, as to delay until our vices be ripened, lest no
remedy should remain for us; but, on the contrary, that being tamed
and subdued by thy threatening, we may flee to thy mercy, and so
consider thy judgments while at a distance, that we may not provoke
thy wrath by our perverseness, but rather dispose thee to pardon by
striving to be reconciled to thee in the name of Christ thy Son, and
by doing this not only with the mouth and tongue, or by any other
outward means, but also with a real feeling of heart and a life
corresponding thereto, so that we may present ourselves in
uprightness and sincerity, as thy children, that thou mayest also
show thyself as a Father to us in the same Christ, thy Son, our
Lord. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 18...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-17.txt