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Yet Have Ye Not Returned!
In this chapter they are reminded of the various means whereby God had been speaking, with a view to recalling them to Himself; but the sad result had been that they pursued their ways of sin regardless of warning or punishment. They despised the chastisement of the Lord.
It is probably the great women of Israel who are addressed in vers. 1 Timothy 3:0; for in place of “kine of Bashan,” the feminine form is used in the original. Luxurious, insolent, and self-pleasing, these haughty dames oppressed the poor and crushed the needy, that they might minister to their own carnal desires. Indifferent to the sorrows their ill-gotten pleasures entailed on others, they feasted and rejoiced; forgetting that the Holy One of Israel was looking on. He had sworn by His holiness to visit upon them their sins, taking them away in the midst of their folly, as the angler hooks the greedy fish that fancies not there is danger lurking in the bait so temptingly displayed.
Verses 4 and 5 have been variously understood; some seeing therein a call to repentance seriously addressed to the consciences of the people. In this case they consider “the sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven,” to be according to the word of God, as set forth in Leviticus 7:13, where leavened bread accompanied the sacrifice of thanksgiving as the offerer’s acknowledgment of his own personal unworthiness.
But a thank-offering was only in place when the people were in a right state before God. To call them to the schismatic altar of Bethel, there to bring a thank-offering, when they needed a sin-offering, would surely be contrary to the mind of God.
I understand the passage, therefore, to be one of solemn irony, after the manner of Elijah’s taunts to the priests of Baal. In fact, it would seem as though the prophet were saying, “Bring a sacrifice of leaven as a thank-offering, for so liketh you, O ye children of Israel!” There is no thought of the leaven here accompanying a slain victim or a presentation of first-fruits; but the leaven is the offering which they are ironically called to bring. The whole passage is a sad commentary on the pitifully low state of Israel, whose whole system of worship was but iniquity and transgression, while yet they prided themselves on their pomp and ritual.
Does not He who gazes down upon the pretentiousness of a guiltier Christendom regard it with even greater abhorrence? Where conscience is active it will surely lead to departure from iniquity of so glaring a character.
That there was no thought in the mind of God of accepting a sacrifice offered at Bethel or Gilgal is plain from ch. 5:5. All that circled around these centres of apostasy was abhorrent to Him who had set His name in Jerusalem; though there, alas, it had also been profaned.
Because of what we have been considering, He had sent a grievous famine upon them, “giving them cleanness of teeth in all their cities, and want of bread in all places;” but there had been no evidence of repentance, and He had to say, “Yet have ye not returned unto Me!” (ver. 6). The rain too He had withheld, and that in such a way as to lead to inquiry and exercise, had conscience been at all active, giving rain to one city and withholding it from another; but again comes the solemn refrain, “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” (vers. 7, 8); and with blasting and mildew He had smitten them, so that their scanty crop was ruined ere it reached perfection; and if the orchards, vineyards and gardens seemed to do well, the palmer worm (the locust in its most voracious form) was sent to destroy them. But there had been no awakening-conscience remained dormant. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” (ver. 9).
With pestilence too He had visited them, “after the manner of Egypt;” the putrid carcases of their goodliest sons, together with their horses slain in battle, polluting the air so that they breathed in disease and death. But none seem to have discerned who it was who afflicted them, and so they returned not unto Him (ver. 10).
A great physical catastrophe, possibly an earthquake, with an accompanying conflagration, had added to their woes. He had overthrown some of them after the fashion of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, so that the survivors were as firebrands plucked out of the burning: yet had they not returned unto Him (ver. 11). Failing to discern His hand in all that had befallen them, they sought only to escape the rod, hearing it not, nor yet Him who had appointed it. Such is ever the way of man untouched by divine grace. Shutting his eyes to the most palpable evidences of God’s dealing, he pursues his careless way till the pit closes upon him.20
Because of their utter indifference, there remained only one thing more: they must meet Him in judgment whose warnings and acts of discipline they had despised. “Therefore ... prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” (ver. 12).
For though they knew Him not, yet He who formed the mountains and created the winds, declaring unto man his secret thoughts and making the morning darkness, treading on earth’s high places, was Jehovah, the mighty God of hosts (ver. 13).
Him they must meet-but how? And you too, my reader, have this before you, if still unsaved. Think well how you will stand in that great day of His wrath!
For the believer walking carelessly, this word also has an application. Taking his own way, he may despise the chastisement of the Lord, and fail to hearken to His reproving voice. But not for long can he so continue. Sooner or later God must be met, and all be solemnly gone into in His presence. Oh, then, keep short accounts with Him who knows the secrets of all hearts!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Amos 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany