(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 19) Lecture Sixty-seventh. Amos 8:13,14 In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again. The Prophet, having threatened spiritual famine, now adds, that the people would in every respect be barren and destitute of every good: for I take not thirst here in the same sense as before; but that they should be dried up through the want of all things. It is indeed the worst deprivation when men are parched up with thirst; and this is what the Prophet threatens here. A country may suffer from want of provision, while there is water enough to drink; but when not even this remains, it is an evidence of a heavier and of almost the extreme curse of God. We now perceive what the Prophet meant, which was this, - that when God should take away his word, by which the souls of men are nourished up to eternal life, the Israelites would be then in want also of all blessings, so that they would not only be without bread, but also without water; and he mentions a circumstance which would greatly aggravate the evil, "Faint, he says, shall the fair virgins and the youth in their vigor". It seems unnatural, that those who are vigorous, and can run to get supply for their wants, should faint: but the Prophet, as I have said, wished to show that there would be no escape, but that God would distress the strongest, when he sent such a famine, and with it the want also of drink. He afterwards mentions the reason why the Lord would inflict such punishments on his people; it was, because they had prostituted themselves to wicked superstitions; "They swear, he says, by the sin of Samaria; they say, Live does thy God, Dan; Live does the way of Beersheba". Some understand "sin" here metaphorically, (as it is taken also in many other places,) as meaning sin-offerings, which are called by the Hebrews "'ashamot", and by the Latins piacula - expiations: but this exposition is too refined. The Prophet then speaks only of the idols of Israelites: and they are called wickedness or sin, because superstitious men, we know, delight in their own devices. He therefore calls an idol sin by way of reproach, though they gave it the honorable name of a god. They swear, he says, in or by the sin of Samaria. He calls it the sin of Samaria, for thence arose all their corruptions, it being the royal residence and the chief city of the whole country. Since then superstition proceeded from thence, the Prophet does not without reason say that all the idolatry, throughout the whole land, was the sin of Samaria; for he regarded the source where impiety originated. And he afterwards explains himself by saying, "Live does thy God, Dan; and, Live does the way of Beersheba": for we know that temples were raised both in Dan and in Beersheba. He then subjoins two forms of an oath, but for this end, - to show the character of the sin of Samaria, which he mentions. They swear then by the gods of Samaria, who were really detestable; for there is no greater atrocity in the sight of God than idolatry: but he afterwards adds, that they were gods who were worshipped at Dan and at Beersheba. What some say of the word "derech", that it means pilgrimage or the way that leads there, is frivolous and puerile; for the Prophet, no doubt, used a common expression. He therefore calls custom "the way of Beersheba", such as then was by common consent receded and approved. They then who swear by these fictitious forms of worship shall be parched, or pine away, with thirst. He then adds, "They shall fall, and rise again no more"; that is, their stroke shall be incurable, for God has hitherto employed moderate punishments, which could not heal them, as they had been obdurate in their evils. The Prophet then declares now that there would be no more any prospect of a remedy for them, and that the wound which God would inflict would be fatal, without any hope of being healed. This is the meaning. Let us now proceed - Chapter 9. Amos 9:1 I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered. The Prophet confirms the threatening which we have already explained; for he says that the people would be soon removed, as there was now no hope of repentance. But it must first be observed, that he speaks not here of the profane temples which Jeroboam the first had built in Dan and in Bethel, but of the true and lawful temple; for it would not have been befitting that this vision should have been made to the Prophet in one of those profane temples, from which, we know, God was far away. Had God appeared in Dan or Bethel, it would have been an indirect approbation of superstition. They are then mistaken who think that the vision was given to the Prophet in any other place than on mount Zion, as we have shown in other places. For the Prophets say not, that God had spoken either in Dan or in Bethel, nor had there been any oracle announced from these places; for God designed in every way to show that he had nothing to do with those profane rites and abominations. It is then certain that God appeared to his Prophet on mount Zion, and on the lawful altar. Let us now see the design of the vision. The greater part of interpreters think that the destruction of the kingdom and of the priesthood is predicted here, at the time when Zedekiah was taken and led ignominiously into exile, and when his children were killed, and when afterwards the temple was erased and the city demolished. But this prediction, I doubt not, ought to be extended much farther, even to the many calamities which immediately followed, by which at length the whole people were destroyed. I therefore do not confine what is here said to the demolition of the city and of the temple. But the meaning of the Prophet is the same as though he had said, that the Israelites as well as the Jews in vain boasted of their descent and of other privileges with which they had been honored: for the Lord had resolved to destroy them, and also the temple, which they employed as a cloak to cover their iniquities. We now then understand the intention of the Prophet. But this also must be noticed, - that if the Lord spared not his own temple, which he had commanded to be built, and in which he had chosen a habitation for himself, those profane temples, which he had ever despised, could not possibly escape destruction. We now see the design of this prophecy, which is the last, with the exception of the promise that is given, of which we shall speak in its proper place. He says then that he "saw God standing on the altar". The Prophet might have heard what follows without a vision; but God then, we know, was wont to sanction his predictions by visions, as we find in the twelfth chapter of Numbers. God then not only intended to commit to his Prophet what he was to proclaim, but also to add authority to his doctrine; and the vision was as it were the seal, which the Israelites as well as the Jews knew to be a proof, that what the Prophet declared by his mouth proceeded from heaven. It now follows, "Smite the lintel". "Kaphtor" is, I think, called the cover which is on the top of the posts of the temple; for the Hebrews call "kaphtorim" apples. As then they painted there pomegranates and flowers, the Hebrew doctors think that the part which is above the two posts of the temple is called "kaphtor". But that part of the entrance might have taken its name from its round form. However this may be, they called the highest part of the porch of the temple "Kaphtor". Now the posts sustained that which they commonly called the lintel. God then says, "Strike the lintel, and let the posts be moved", or let them shake, let the whole gate of the temple shake. Then he adds, And strike and break all on the, or on the head of all. This verb is differently read by interpreters. Correctly, according to the rule of grammar, it ought to be read in the third person, "and it will dash to the ground". But some however, render it thus, "and dash to the ground", or break, because he had said before, Smite. As to the meaning, it matters not much for an explanation immediately follows. Now as to what he says, "on the head", and as to the word "'acharitam", which follows, some by the head understand the priests and the rulers of the people, which view I am inclined to embrace; but when they explain "'acharit" to mean posterity or children, it does not seem to suit this place; for it ought rather as I think, to he referred to the common people. As then the Prophet had spoken of the head, he now adds the people in general. The Hebrews call whatever follows or comes after by "'acharit". They indeed understand posterity by it, but it is a word that has variety of meaning: for it is taken for end, for a footstep, in short, for anything that comes after. It is easy now to gather the meaning of the Prophet: A vision was exhibited to him which showed that it was decreed by God himself to smite both the chiefs and the common people: and since God begins with his temple, how can profane men hope for pardon, who had deserted the true and pure worship of God? They were all apostates: how then could they have hoped that God would be placable to them, inasmuch as he had broken down his own temple? He now adds, "I will slay with the sword", &c. We see then that this vision is to be referred to the stroke which was shortly after to be inflicted. I will slay then with the sword whatever follows, that is, the common people. He afterwards says, "Flee away from them shall not he who fleeth, nor shall he escape from them who escapeth"; that is though they may think that flight is possible, their expectation will deceive them, for I shall catch them. Had the Prophet said that there would be to them no means of fleeing away, he would not have spoken with so much severity; but when he says, that when they fled, he would catch them, that when they thought that they had escaped, there would be no safety to them, he says what is much more grievous. In short, he cuts off all hope from the Israelites, that they might understand that they were certain to perish, because God had hitherto tried in vain to restore them to the right way. Inasmuch then as they had been wholly incurable, they now hear that no hope remained for them. And since the Prophet denounces such and so dreadful a destruction of an elect people, and since the vision was exhibited to him in the temples there is no reason for us to trust in our outward profession, and to wait till God's judgments come, as we see many are doing in our day, who are wholly careless, because they think that no evil can happen to them, inasmuch as they bear the name of God. But the Prophet here shows, that God sits in his temple, not only to protect those whom he has adopted as his people and peculiar possession, but also to vindicate his own honor, because the Israelites had corrupted his worship; and the Jews also had departed from true religion. Since then impiety everywhere prevailed, he now shows that God sits there as the punisher of sins, that his people may know that they are not to tolerate those evils, which for a time he does not punish, as though he had forgotten his office, or that he designs his favor to be the cover of their iniquity; but because he designs by degrees to draw to repentance those, who are healable, and at the same time to take away every excuse frown the reprobate. Let us proceed - Amos 9:2-4 2 Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down: 3 And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them: 4 And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good. Here the Prophet denounces horrible punishments; but not without reason, for there was astonishing torpidity in that people, as there is usually in all hypocrites when they have any shadow of excuse. They were then the only elect people in the whole world. When, therefore, they thought that they excelled others and that they were endued with singular privileges beyond all other nations, this glory inebriated them, and they imagined that God was in a manner bound to them, as we have seen in other places. This, then, was the reason why the Prophet in so many ways enlarged on the judgment of God on hypocrites; it was, that they might be terrified by the vehemence and severity of his words. Hence he says, "If they dig for themselves passages to hell", that is, to the centre of the earth, for "she'ol" is here put for the centre; "thence shall my hand draw them forth; and then, If they ascend to heaven, thence I will draw them down", saith the Lord; "If they hide themselves in deserts, if they flee to the top of Carmel, I will truce them out": in short, they shall find no corner either in heaven, or on the earth, or in the sea, where they can be hid from my sight. There is no need here to understand by heavens high citadels, as the Chaldean paraphraser explains it: it is a frigid paraphrase. But the Prophet speaks in an hyperbolical language of the centre of the earth, of the heavens, and of the deep of the sea; as though he had said, "Should all the elements open themselves for hiding-places, yet the Israelites shall in vain try to escape, for I will follow them when sunk in the depth of the sea, I will draw them down from heaven itself; there shall, in a word, be no hiding-place for them either above or below." We now understand the Prophet's meaning; and an useful warning may be hence gathered, - that when God threatens us, we in vain seek subterfuges, as his hand extends itself to the lowest deep as well as to heaven; as it is said in Ps. 139: 7, 'Where shall I flee from thy presence, O Lord? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I descend to the grave, thou art present; if I take the wings of the dawn, (or, of the morning star,) and dwell in the extremities of the sea, there also shall thy hand lead me.' The Prophet speaks not in that psalm, as some have very absurdly philosophized, of the unlimited essence of God; but he rather shows, that we are always in his sight. So then we ought to feel assured that we cannot escape, whenever God designs to make a scrutiny as to our sins, and to summon us to his tribunal. But we must at the same time remember, that the Prophet has not employed a superfluous heap of words; there is not here one syllable which is not important though at the first view it seems to be otherwise. But the Holy Spirit, as I have already reminded you, knowing our heedlessness, does here shake off all our self-flatteries. There is in us, we know, an innate torpor by nature, so that we despise all threatenings, or at least we are not duly moved by them. As the Lord sees us to be so careless, he rouses us by his goads. Whenever then Scripture denounces punishment on us, let us at the same time learn to join with it what the Prophet here relates; "Thou hast to do with God, what can't thou effect now by evasions? though thou climbest to heaven, the Lord can draw thee down; though thou descendent to the abyss, God's hand will thence draw thee forth; if thou seekest a hiding-place in the lowest depths, he will thence also bring thee forth to the light; and if thou hidest thyself in the deep sea, he will there find thee out; in a word, wherever thou betakest thyself, thou canst not withdraw thyself from the presence and from the hand of God." We hence see the design of all these expressions, and that is, that we may not think of God as of ourselves, but that we may know that his power extends to all hiding-places. But these words ought to be subjects at meditations though it be sufficient for our purpose to include in few words what the Prophet had in view. But as we are so entangled in our vain confidences, the Prophet, as I have said, has not in vain used so many words. Now as to what he says, "I will command the serpent to bite them, some understand by "nachash" not a serpent on hand, but the whale, or some other marine animal, as the leviathan, which is mentioned in Scripture; and we may learn from other parts of Scripture that "nachash" means not only a serpent, but also a whale or some animal living in the sea. In a word, God intimates, that he would be armed everywhere, whenever he should resolve to punish his adversaries, and that in all elements are means in readiness, by which he can destroy the wicked, who seek to escape from his hand. Now when he says, "If they go into captivity among their enemies, I will there command the sword to slay them", some interpreters confine this part to that foolish flight, when a certain number of the people sought to provide for their safety by going down into Egypt. Johanan followed them, and a few escaped, (Jer. 43: 2:) but according to what Jeremiah had foretold, when he said, 'Bend your necks to the king of Babylon, and the Lord will bless you; whosoever will flee to Egypt shall perish;' so it happened: they found this to be really true, though they had ever refused to believe the prediction. Jeremiah was drawn there contrary to the wish of his own mind: he had, however, pronounced a curse on all who thought that it would be an asylum to them. But the Lord permitted him to be drawn there, that he might to his last breath pronounce the Woe, which they had before heard from his mouth. But I hardly dare thus to restrict these expressions of the Prophet: I therefore explain them generally, as meaning, that exile, which is commonly said to be a civil death, would not be the end of evils to the Israelites and to the Jews; for even when they surrendered themselves to their enemies, and suffered themselves to be led and drawn away wherever their enemies pleased, they could not yet even in this way preserve their life, because the Lord would command the sword to pursue them even when exiles. This, in my view, is the real meaning of the Prophet. He at last subjoins, "I will set my eyes on them for evil, and not for good". There is a contrast to be understood in this clause: for the Lord had promised to be a guardian to his people, according to what is said in Ps. 121: 4, 'Behold, he who guards Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.' As hypocrites ever lay hold on the promises of God without repentance and faith, without any religious feeling, and afterwards turn them to support their vain boasting, the Prophet therefore says here, that the eye of God would be upon them, not indeed in his wonted manner to protect them, as he had done from the beginning, but, on the contrary, to accumulate punishment on punishment: it was the same thing as though he said, "As I have hitherto watched over the safety of this people, whom I have chosen for myself, so I will hereafter most sedulously watch, that I may omit no kind of punishment, until they be utterly destroyed." And this sentence deserves to be specially noticed; for we are reminded, that though the Lord does not indeed spare unbelievers, he yet more closely observes us, and that he will punish us more severely, if he sees us to be obstinate and incurable to the last. Why so? Because we have come nearer to him, and he looks on us as his family, placed under his eyes; not that anything is hid or concealed from him, but the Scripture speaks after the manner of men. While God then favors his people with a gracious look, he yet cannot endure hypocrites; for he minutely observes their vices, that he may the more severely punish them. This then is the substance of the whole. It follows - Amos 9:5 And the Lord GOD of hosts [is] he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as [by] the flood of Egypt. The Prophet repeats here nearly the same words with those we explained yesterday: he used then the similitude of a flood, which he again mentions here. But as the first clause is capable of various explanations, I will refer to what others think, and then to what I deem the most correct view. This sentence, that the earth trembles, when it is smitten by God, is usually regarded as a general declaration; and the Prophets do often exalt the power of God in order to fill us with fear, and of this we shall see an instance in the next verse. Yet I doubt not but that this is a special threatening. "The Lord Jehovah, then, he says, will smite the land, and it will tremble". Then follows the similitude of which we spoke yesterday, "Mourn shall all who dwell in it"; and then, It will altogether ascend as a river". Here he intimates that there would be a deluge, so that the face of the earth would not appear. Ascend then shall the land as a river. The ascent of the earth would be nothing else but inundation, Which would cover its surface. He afterwards adds, "and it shall be sunk"; that is, every convenience for dwelling: this is not to be understood strictly, as I have said, of the land, but is rather to be referred to men, or to the use which men make of the earth. "Sunk then shall it be as by the river of Egypt". We have said that Egypt loses yearly its surface, when the Nile inundates it. But as the inundation of the river is given to the Egyptians for fertilizing the land and of rendering its produce more abundant, so the Prophet here declares that the land would be like the sea, so that there would no longer be any habitation. It now follow - Amos 9:6 [It is] he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD [is] his name. The Prophet describes now in general terms the power of God, that he might the more impress his hearers, and that they might not heedlessly reject what he had previously threatened respecting their approaching ruin; for he had said, 'Lo, God will smite the land, and it shall tremble.' This was special. Now as men received with deaf ears those threatening, and thought that God in a manner trifled with them, the Prophet added, by way of confirmation, a striking description of the power of God; as though he said, "Ye do hear what God denounces: now, as he has clothed me with his own authority, and commanded me to terrify you by setting before you your punishment, know ye that you have to do with God himself, whose majesty ought to make you all, and all that you are, to tremble: for what sort of Being is this God, whose word is regarded by you with contempt? God is he "who builds for himself chambers in the heavens, who founds his jointings (some render it bundles) in the earth, who calls the waters of the sea, and pours them on the face of the earth"; in a word, He is Jehovah, whose being is in himself alone: and ye exist only through his powers and whenever he pleases, he can with-draw his Spirits and then vanish must this whole world, of which ye are but the smallest particles. Since then He alone is God, and there is in you but a momentary strength, and since this great power of God, the evidences of which he affords you through the whole order of nature, is so conspicuous to you, how is it that ye are so heedless?" We now perceive why the Prophet exalts in so striking a manner the power of God. First, in saying that God "builds for himself his ascendings in the heavens", he alludes no doubt, to the very structure of the heavens; for the element of air, we know, rises upwards, on account of its being light; and then the element of fire comes nearer to what heaven is; then follow the spheres. as then the whole world above the earth is much more favorable to motion, this is the reason why the Prophet says that God has his ascents in the heavens. God indeed stands in no need of the heavens or of the air as an habitation, for he is contained in no place, being one who cannot be contained: but it is said, for the sake of men, that God is above all heavens: he is then located in his own elevated throne. But he says that he founds for himself his jointing on the earth, for this part of the world is more solid, the element of earth being grosser and denser, and therefore more firm. So also the waters, though lighter than the earth, approach it nearest. God then builds in the heavens. It is a mechanism which is in itself wonderful: when one raises to heaven his eyes, and then looks on the earth, is he not constrained to stand amazed? The Prophet then exhibits here before our eyes the inconceivable power of God, that we may be impressed by his words, and know with whom we have to do, when he denounces punishment. He further says, "Who calls the waters of the sea, and pours them on the face of the earth". This change is in itself astonishing; God in a short time covers the whole heaven: there is a clear brightness, in a moment clouds supervene, which darken the whole heaven, and thick waters are suspended over our heads. Who could say that the whole sky could be so suddenly changed? God by his own command and bidding does all this alone. He calls then the waters of the sea, and pours them down. Though rains, we know, are formed in great measure by vapors from the earth, yet we also know that these vapors arise from the sea, and that the sea chiefly supplies the dense abundance of moisture. The Prophet then, by taking a part for the whole, includes here all the vapors, by which rain is formed. He calls them the waters of the sea; God by his own power alone creates the rain, by raising vapors from the waters; and then he causes them to descend on the whole face of the earth. Since then the Lord works so wonderfully through the whole order of nature, what do we think will take place, when he puts forth the infinite power of his hand to destroy men, having resolved to execute the extreme judgment which he has decreed? Prayer. Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast showed to us by evidences so remarkable that all things are under thy command, and that we, who live in this world through thy favor, are as nothing, for thou couldest reduce us to nothing in a moment, - O grant, that being conscious of thy power, we may reverently fear thy hand, and be wholly devoted to thy glory; and as thou kindly offerest thyself to us as a Father, may we be drawn by this kindness, and surrender ourselves wholly to thee by a willing obedience, and never labour for any thing through life but to glorify thy name, as thou hast redeemed us through thy only begotten Son, that so we may also enjoy through him that eternal inheritance which is laid up for us in heaven. Amen. Calvin, Commentary on Amos (continued in part 20...) -------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-4/cvams-19.txt .