(Calvin, Commentary on Amos, part 20)

Lecture Sixty-eighth.

Amos 9:7
[Are] ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of
Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land
of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from

    The Prophet shows here to the Israelites that their dignity
would be no defense to them, as they expected. We have indeed seen
in many places how foolish was the boasting of that people. Though
they were more bound to God than other nations, they yet heedlessly
boasted that they were a holy nation, as if indeed they had
something of their own, but as Paul says, they were nothing. God had
conferred on them singular benefits; but they were adorned with the
plumes of another. Foolish then and absurd was their glorying, when
they thought themselves to be of more worth in the sight of God than
other nations. But as this foolish conceit had blinded them, the
Prophet says now, "Whom do you think yourselves to be? Ye are to me
as the children of the Ethiopians. I indeed once delivered you, not
that I should be bound to you, but rather that I should have you
bound to me, for ye have been redeemed through my kindness." Some
think that the Israelites are compared to the Ethiopians, as they
had not changed their skin, that is, their disposition; but this
view I reject as strained. For the Prophet speaks here more simply,
namely, that their condition differed nothing from that of the
common class of men: "Ye do excel, but ye have nothing apart from
me; if I take away from you what is mine, what will you have then
remaining?" The emphasis is on the word, "to me", What are ye "to
me"? For certainly they excelled among men; but before God they
could bring nothing, since they had nothing of their own: nay, the
more splendidly God adorned them, the more modestly and humbly they
ought to have conducted themselves, seeing that they were bound to
him for so many of his favors. But as they had forgotten their own
condition, despised all the Prophets and felicitated themselves in
their vices, he says, "Are ye not to me as the children of the
Ethiopians, as foreign and the most alien nations? for what that is
worthy of praise can I find in you? If then I look on you, what are
ye? I certainly see no reason to prefer you even to the most obscure
    He afterwards adds, "Have I not made to ascend, or brought,
Israel from the land of Egypt?" Here the Prophet reminds them of
their origin. Though they had indeed proceeded from Abraham, who had
been chosen by God four hundred years before their redemption; yet,
if we consider how cruelly they were treated in Egypt, that
tyrannical servitude must certainly appear to have been like the
grave. They then began to be a people, and to attain some name, when
the Lord delivered them from Egypt. The Prophet's language is the
same as though he had said, "Look whence the Lord has brought you
out; for ye were as a dead carcass, and of no account: for the
Egyptians treated your fathers as the vilest slaves: God brought you
thence; then you have no nobility or excellency of your own, but the
beginning of your dignity has proceeded from the gratuitous kindness
of God. Yet ye think now that ye excel others, because ye have been
redeemed: God has also redeemed the Philistines, when they were the
servants of the Cappadocians; and besides, he redeemed the Syrians
when they were servants to other nations."
    Some take "kir" to mean Cyrene; but as this is uncertain, I
pass it by as doubtful. Whatever it was, there is no ground of
dispute about the subject itself; for it is certain that the
Israelites are here compared with the Philistines as well as with
the Syrians, inasmuch as all had been alike redeemed by the Lord,
and this favor was common to all of whom he speaks. As God then
pitied in former ages other nations, it was certainly not peculiar
to the race of Abraham, that they had been freed by God, and by
means of extraordinary miracles: "Even the Philistine will say the
same, and the Syrians will say the same; but yet ye say that they
are profane nations. Since it is so, ye are now divested of all
excellency, that is, there is nothing of your own in you, that ye
should exalt yourselves above other nations." This is the meaning.
It now follows -

Amos 9:8,9
Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD [are] upon the sinful kingdom, and
I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will
not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD.
For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among
all nations, like as [corn] is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the
least grain fall upon the earth.

    Here the Prophet concludes that God would take vengeance on the
Israelites as on other nations, without any difference; for they
could not set up anything to prevent his judgment. It was indeed an
extraordinary blindness in the Israelites, who were doubly guilty of
ingratitude, to set up as their shield the benefits with which they
had been favored. Though then the name of God had been wickedly and
shamefully profaned by them, they yet thought that they were safe,
because they had been once adopted. This presumption Amos now beats
down. "Behold, he says, the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are upon all
the wicked". Some restrict this to the kingdom of Israel, but, in my
opinion, such a view militates against the design of the Prophet. He
speaks indefinitely of all kingdoms as though he had said, that God
would be the judge of the whole world, that he would spare no
kingdoms or countries. God then will show himself everywhere to be
the punisher of vices, and will summon all kingdoms before his
tribunal, "By destroying I will destroy from the face of the earth
all the ungodly and the wicked".
    Now the second clause I understand otherwise than most do: for
they think it contains a mitigation of punishment, as the Prophets
are wont to blend promises of favor with threatening, and as our
Prophet does in this chapter. But it seems not to me that anything
is promised to the Israelites: nay, if I am not much mistaken, it is
an ironical mode of speaking; for Amos obliquely glances here at
that infatuated presumption, of which we have spoken, that the
Israelites thought that they were safe through some peculiar
privilege, and that they were to be exempt from all punishment: "I
will not spare unbelievers," he says, "who excuse themselves by
comparing themselves with you. Shall I tolerate your sins and not
dare to touch you, seeing that you know yourselves to be doubly
wicked?" We must indeed notice in what other nations differed from
the Israelites; for the more the children of Abraham had been
raised, the more they increased their guilt when they despised God,
the author of so many blessings, and became basely wanton by shaking
off, as it were, the yoke. Since then they so ungratefully abused
God's blessings, God might then have spared other nations: it was
therefore necessary to bring them to punishment, for they were
wholly inexcusable. As then they exceeded all other nations in
impiety, the Prophet very properly reasons here from the greater to
the less: "I take an account," he says, "of all the sins which are
in the world, and no nations shall escape my hand: how then can the
Israelites escape? For other nations can plead some ignorance, as
they have never been taught; and that they go astray in darkness is
no matter of wonder. But ye, to whom I have given light, and whom I
have daily exhorted to repent, - shall ye be unpunished? How could
this be? I should not then be the judge of the world." We now then
perceive the real meaning of the Prophet: "Lo," he says "the eyes of
Jehovah are upon every sinful kingdom; I will destroy all the
nations who have sinned from the face of the earth, though they have
the pretence of ignorance for their sins; shall I not now, forsooth,
destroy the house of Israel?" Here then the Prophet speaks
ironically, Except that I shall not destroy by destroying the house
of Israel; that is, "Do you wish me to be subservient to you, as
though my hands were tied, that I could not take vengeance on you?
what right have you to do this? and what can hinder me from
punishing ingratitude so great and so shameful?"
    He afterwards adds, "For, lo, I will command," &c. The Prophet
here confirms the former sentence; and hence I conclude that the
second part of the preceding verse is ironically expressed; for if
he had promised pardon to the Israelites, he would have gone on with
the same subject; but, on the contrary, he proceeds in another
direction, and says, that God would justly punish the Israelites;
for the event would at length make it known, that among them not
even a grain would be found, but that all would be like chaff or
refuse: "Lo, he says, I will shake among the nations the Israelites
as corn is shaken in a sieve: a grain, he says, shall not fall on
the earth"; as though he said, "Though I shall scatter the
Israelites through various places that they may be dispersed here
and there, yet this exile shall ever be like a sieve: they now
contend with me, when any grain has fallen. The event then shall
show, that there is in them nothing but chaff and filth; for I will
by sieving cleanse my whole floor, and nothing shall be found to
remain on it." If one objects and says, that there were some godly
persons in that nation, though very small in number. This I admit to
be true: but the Prophet speaks here, as in many other places, of
the whole nation; he refers not to individuals. It was then true,
with regard to the body of the people of Israel, that there was not
one among them who could be compared to grain, for all had become
empty through their iniquities; and hence they necessarily
disappeared in the sieve, and were like chaff or refuse.
    But it must be observed, that God here cuts off the handle for
evasion, for hypocrites ever contend with him; and although they
cannot wholly clear themselves, they yet extenuate their sins, and
accuse God of too much severity. The Prophet then anticipates such
objections, "I will command," he says, "and will shake the house of
Israel as corn is shaken." It was a very hard lot, when the people
were thus driven into different parts of the world; it was indeed a
dreadful tearing. The Israelites might have complained that they
were too severely treated; but God by this similitude obviates this
calumny, "They are indeed scattered in their exile, yet they remain
in a sieve; I will shake them, he says, among the nations: but not
otherwise than corn when shaken in a sieve:" and it is allowed by
the consent of all that corn ought to be cleansed. Though the
greater part disappears when the corn, threshed on the floor, is
afterwards subjected to the fan; yet there is no one but sees that
this is necessary and reasonable: no one complains that the chaff
thus perishes. Why so? Because it is useless. God then shows that he
is not cruel, nor exceeds moderation, though he may scatter his
people through the remote regions of the earth, for he ever keeps
them in a sieve.
    He afterwards adds, "And fall shall not a grain on the earth".
They translate "tsror" a stone, but "tsarar" is to tie, and hence
this word means what is collected or, binding, as when the children
of Jacob had their money tied in their sacks, they said, 'Behold my
binding;' so also now it is taken for the solid grain. God then
intimates that he would not be so rigid as not to moderate his
punishment, so as to spare the innocent. I have already said that
though there would be still a remnant among the people, yet what the
Prophet says is true as to the whole body; for it had nothing either
sound or pure. But this objection might be made: It is certain that
many faithful worshipers of God were taken away into exile with the
wicked; they then fell on the earth as useless chaff or refuse; but
God denies that this would be the case. To this I answer, that
though the Lord involves his servants with the ungodly when he
executes temporal punishment, he is yet ever propitious to them; and
it is certain, that however hardly they may be dealt with, they yet
do not expostulate; they groan, indeed, but at the same time they
acknowledge that they are mercifully treated by the Lord.
    But another thing must also be remembered, - that though the
Lord would not have dealt so severely with his people, had they been
like the few who were good, yet not one of them was without some
fault. Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Shadrach, Meshech, and
Abednego, were indeed like angels among men; and it was indeed a
miracle, that they stood upright in the midst of so much impiety;
they were yet led into captivity. When they approached God, they
could not object, that they were punished beyond what they deserved.
Worthy, indeed, was Jeremiah of heavier punishment; and so was
Daniel, though an example of the highest and even of angelic
integrity. God then could have cast them away as refuse: it is
nevertheless certain that they were wheat; and the Lord shook them
in the sieve like the chaff, yet so as ever to keep them gathered
under his protection; but at the same time in a hidden manner: as,
for instance, the wheat on the floor is beaten together with the
chaff, this is common to both; no difference can be observed in the
threshing. True is this, and the case is the same when the wheat is
being winnowed. When therefore the wheat is gathered, it is,
together with the chaff, to be sifted by the fan, without any
difference; but the wheat remains. So also it happened to the pious
worshipers of God; the Lord kept them collected in the sieve. But
here he speaks of the people in general; and he says that the whole
people were like refuse and filth, and that they vanished, because
there was no solidity in them, no use to be made of them, so that no
one remained in the sieve. That God then preserved his servants, was
an instance of his wonderful working. But the denunciation of
punishment, here spoken of, belonged to the outward dealings of God.
As then the people were like refuse or chaff shaken and driven to
various places, this happened to them justly, because nothing solid
was found in them. It now follows -

Amos 9:10
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The
evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.
    Amos goes on with the same subject, - that God without any
measure of cruelty would execute extreme vengeance on a reprobate
people: "Die, he says, by the sword all the wicked of my people". In
naming the wicked of the people, he meant no doubt to include the
whole people; though if any one thinks that the elect are by
implication excepted, who were mixed with the ungodly, I do not
object: this is probable; but yet the Prophet speaks here of the
people generally. He says that the wicked of the people would perish
by the sword: for it was not the sin of a few that Amos here refers
to, but the sin which prevailed among the whole nation. Then all the
wicked of my people shall die by the sword. He points out what sort
of people they were, or at least he mentions the chief mark by which
their impiety might be discovered, - they obstinately despised all
the judgments of God, "They say, It will not draw near; nor lay hold
on our account, the evil".
    Security then, which of itself ever generates a contempt of
God, is here mentioned as the principal mark of impiety. And
doubtless the vices of men reach a point that is past hope, when
they are touched neither by fear nor shame, but expect God's
judgments without any concern or anxiety. Since then they thus drove
far away from themselves all threatening, while at the same time
they were ill at ease with themselves, and as it were burying
themselves in deep caverns, and seeking false peace to their
consciences, they were in a torpor, or rather stupor, incapable of
any remedy. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Prophet lays down
here this mark of security, when he is showing that there was no
remnant of a sound mind in this people. Die then shall all the
wicked by the sword, even those who say, It will not draw near; nor
anticipate us, on our account, the evil: for we can not explain the
word "takdim" in any other way than by referring it to the
threatening. For the Prophets, we know, commonly declared that the
day of the Lord was at hand, that his hand was already armed, that
it had already seized the sword. As then the Prophets, in order to
smite despisers with fear, were wont to threaten a near punishment;
so the Prophet does here; wishing to expose the impious stupor of
the people, he says, "You think that there will not be such haste as
is foretold to you by the Prophets; but this sheer perverseness will
be the cause of your ruin."
    As to the expression, It will not come "on our account", from a
regard to us, it deserves to be noticed. Though hypocrites confess
in general, that they cannot escape the hand of God, yet they still
separate themselves from the common class, as if they are secured by
some peculiar privilege. They therefore set up something in
opposition to God, that they may not be blended with others. This
folly the Prophet indirectly condemns by saying, that hypocrites are
in a quiet and tranquil state, because they think that there will be
to them no evil in common with the rest, as also they say in Isa.
28: 15, 'The scourge, if it passes, will not yet reach us.' We now
then see what the Prophet has hitherto taught, and the meaning of
these four verses which we have just explained. Now follows the
promise -

Amos 9:11
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen,
and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins,
and I will build it as in the days of old:

    Here now the Prophet begins to set forth the consolation, which
alone could support the minds of the godly under afflictions so
severe. Threatening alone might have cast the strongest into
despair; but the event itself must have overwhelmed whatever hope
there might have been. Hence the Prophet now applies comfort by
saying, that God would punish the sins of the people of Israel in
such a way as to remember still his own promise. We know, that
whenever the Prophets designed to give some hope to a distressed
people, they set forth the Messiah, for in him all the promises of
God, as Paul says, are Yea and Amen, (2 Cor. 1: 20:) and there was
no other remedy for the dispersion than for God to gather all the
scattered members under one head. Hence, when the head is taken
away, the Church has no head; especially when it is scattered and
torn, as was the case after the time of Amos. It is no wonder then
that the Prophets, after having prophesied of the destruction of the
people, such as happened after the two kingdoms were abolished,
should recall the minds of the faithful to the Messiah; for except
God had gathered the Church under one head, there would have been no
hope. This is, therefore, the order which Amos now observes.
    "In that day, he says, will I raise up the tabernacle of David:
as though he had said, that the only hope would be, when the
redeemers who had been promised would appear. This is the import of
the whole. After having shown then that the people had no hope from
themselves, for God had tried all means, but in vain and after
having denounced their final ruin, he now subjoins, "The Lord will
yet have mercy on his people, for he will remember his covenant."
How will this be? "The Redeemer shall come." We now then understand
the design of the Prophet and the meaning of the verse.
    But when he speaks of the tabernacle of David, he refers, I
doubt not, to the decayed state of things; for a tabernacle does not
comport with royal dignity. It is the same as though Amos had said,
"Though the house of David is destitute of all excellency, and is
like a mean cottage, yet the Lord will perform what he has promised;
he will raise up again his kingdom, and restore to him all the power
which has been lost." The Prophet then had regard to that
intervening time, when the house of David was deprived of all
splendor and entirely thrown down. I will then raise up the
tabernacle of David: he might have said the tabernacle of Jesse; but
he seems to have designedly mentioned the name of David, that he
might the more fully strengthen the minds of the godly in their
dreadful desolation, so that they might with more alacrity flee to
the promise: for the name of Jesse was more remote. As then the name
of David was in repute, and as this oracle, 'Of the fruit of thy
loins I will set on thy throne,' (Ps. 132: 11,) was commonly known,
the Prophet brings forward here the house of David, in order that
the faithful might remember that God had not in vain made a covenant
with David: "The tabernacle then of David will I then raise up, and
will fence in its breaches, and its ruins will I raise up"; and I
will build "it as in the days of old". Thus the Prophet intimates
that not only the throne of David would be overthrown but also that
nothing would remain entire in his mean booth, for it would decay
into ruins and all things would be subverted. In short, he intimates
that mournful devastation would happen to the whole family of David.
He speaks, as it is well understood, metaphorically of the
tabernacle: but the sense is clear, and that is, that God would
restore the royal dignity, as in former times, to the throne of
    This is a remarkable prediction, and deserves to be carefully
weighed by us. It is certain that the Prophet here refers to the
advent of Christ; and of this there is no dispute, for even the Jews
are of this opinion, at least the more moderate of them. There are
indeed those of a shameless front, who pervert all Scripture without
any distinction: these and their barking we may pass by. It is
however agreed that this passage of the Prophet cannot be otherwise
explained than of the Messiah: for the restitution of David's family
was not to be expected before his time; and this may easily be
learnt from the testimonies of other Prophets. As then the Prophet
here declares, that a Redeemer would come, who would renew the whole
state of the kingdom, we see that the faith of the Fathers was ever
fixed on Christ; for in the whole world it is he alone who has
reconciled us to God: so also, the fallen Church could not have been
restored otherwise than under one head, as we have already often
stated. If then at this day we desire to raise up our minds to God,
Christ must immediately become a Mediator between us; for when he is
taken away, despair will ever overwhelm us, nor can we attain any
sure hope. We may indeed be raised up by some wind or another; but
our empty confidence will shortly come to nothing, except we have a
confidence founded on Christ alone. This is one thing.
    We must secondly observe, that the interruption, when God
overthrew the kingdom, I mean, the kingdom of Judah, is not
inconsistent with the prediction of Jacob and other similar
predictions. Jacob indeed had said, 'Taken away shall not be the
sceptre from Judah, nor a lawgiver from his bosom, or from his feet,
until he shall come, the Shiloh,' (Gen. 49: 10.) Afterwards followed
this memorable promise, 'Sit of thy progeny on thy throne shall he,
who shall call me his Father, and in return I will call him my Son,
and his throne shall perpetually remain,' (Ps. 132: 11,12.) Here is
promised the eternity of the kingdom; and yet we see that this
kingdom was diminished under Rehoboam, we see that it was distressed
with many evils through its whole progress, and at length it was
miserably destroyed, and almost extinguished; nay, it had hardly the
name of a kingdom, it had no splendor, no throne, no dignity, no
sceptre, no crown. It then follows, that there seems to be an
inconsistency between these events and the promises of God. But the
Prophets easily reconcile these apparent contrarieties; for they
say, that for a time there would be no kingdom, or at least that it
would be disturbed by many calamities, so that there would appear no
outward form of a kingdom, and no visible glory. As then they say
this, and at the same time add, that there would come a restoration,
that God would establish this kingdom by the power of his Christ, -
as then the Prophets say this, they show that its perpetuity would
really appear and be exhibited in Christ. Though then the kingdom
had for some time fallen, this does not militate against the other
predictions. This then is the right view of the subject: for Christ
at length appeared, on whose head rests the true diadem or crown,
and who has been elected by Gods and is the legitimate king, and
who, having risen from the dead, reigns and now sits at the Father's
right hand, and his throne shall not fail to the end of the world;
nay, the world shall be renovated, and Christ's kingdom shall
continue, though in another form, after the resurrection, as Paul
shows to us; and yet Christ shall be really a king for ever.
    And the Prophet, by saying, "as in ancient days", confirms this
truth, that the dignity of the kingdom would not continue uniform,
but that the restoration would yet be such as to make it clearly
evident that God had not in vain promised an eternal kingdom to
David. Flourish then shall the kingdom of David for ever. But this
has not been the case; for when the people returned from exile,
Zerobabel, it is true, and also many others, obtained kingly power;
yet what was it but precarious? They became even tributaries to the
kings of the Persian and of the Medes. It then follows, that the
kingdom of Israel never flourished, nor had there existed among the
people anything but a limited power; we must, therefore, necessarily
come to Christ and his kingdom. We hence see that the words of the
Prophet cannot be otherwise understood than of Christ. It follows -

Amos 9:12
That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen,
which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.
    By these words the Prophet shows that the kingdom under Christ
would be more renowned and larger than it had ever been under David.
Since then the kingdom had been greatest in dignity, and wealth, and
power, in the age of David, the Prophet here says, that its borders
would be enlarged; for then he says, "Possess shall the Israelites
the remnant of Edom". He speaks here in common of the Israelites and
of the Jews, as before, at the beginning of the last chapter, he
threatened both. But we now apprehend what he means, - that Edom
shall come under the yoke.
    And it is sufficiently evident why he mentions here especially
the Idumeans, and that is because they had been most inveterate
enemies; and vicinity gave them greater opportunity for doing harm.
As then the Idumeans harassed the miserable Jews, and gave them no
respite, this is the reason why the Prophet says that they would
come under the power of his elect people. He afterwards adds, that
all nations would come also to the Jews. He speaks first of the
Idumeans, but he also adds all other nations. I cannot finish
Grant, Almighty God, that as we see everywhere so many evident
tokens of thy displeasure, and more grievous ones are impeding, if
we indeed duly consider how grievously we have provoked thy wrath,
and how wickedly also the whole world at this day rages against thee
and at the same time abuses thy many and excellent benefits, - O
grant, that we may ever remember thy covenant and entertain a
perpetual confidence in thy only-begotten Son, that whenever it may
please thee to sift us, thou mayest keep us in safety, until we
come, not into any earthly storehouse but into thy celestial
kingdom, where we may become partakers of that glory which thy Son
has obtained for us, who has once for all redeemed us that we may
ever remain under his guardianship and protection. Amen.

Calvin, Commentary on Amos
(continued in part 21...)

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