(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
    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
    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
    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?

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...)

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