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CRITICAL NOTES.] Kine] Fat and wanton, yet effeminate and luxuriant; reproved not for fierceness, but unfeeling insolence and oppression. Say]
(1) Wives here intended, voluptuous women after the analogy of Isaiah 3:16; Isaiah 32:9-13. “The sin of these women consisted in the tyrannical oppression of the poor, whilst they asked their lords, i.e. their husbands, to procure them the means of debauchery” [Keil].
(2) Others, princely oppressors, who say to their king, with whom they indulge in drink, and whom they ask to seal the bargain with wine. Oppress] Lit. continually oppress. Crush] Heb. expresses vehemence.
Amos 4:2. Holiness] which binds him to punish (Psalms 89:35). Hooks] Invaders and spoilers compared to fishers (Jeremiah 16:16; Hebrews 1:14).
Amos 4:3. Breaches] of city walls broken by the enemy. Every] one before her, i.e. without looking to right or left (cf. Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:20), as cows through a gap or fence. Cast] “The word may describe the headlong motion of the animal, and the desperate gestures of the hopeless” [pusey].
SAD PICTURES OF HUMAN LIFE.—Amos 4:1-3
Punishment is the leading thought in chap. 3, but in this sin is the prominent thought, and its consequences incidental to prove its exceeding sinfulness. Civil injustice and oppression were very common. The king and his ministers are spoken of in terms of contempt, for sharp rebuke often becomes an imperative duty.
I. Insolent abuse of prosperity. Bashan was a place of rich soil and pasturage (Micah 7:14; Jeremiah 50:19). Animals fed there were among the strongest and fattest (Deuteronomy 32:14). Bulls furnished a type of the mighty, fierce, and unfeeling men of earth; kine may indicate the luxury and effeminacy of men or women—a life of wantonness and brutish feeling. Amos points out the princes and judges as ringleaders in provocation and insolence. They grew fat and prosperous, abused their place and power, and made themselves base and contemptible. In their pleasure and grandeur they despised the herdman and the poor. They thought more highly of themselves than they ought to do. Like beasts, they found their enjoyments in self-indulgence and luxury. Men who wallow in riches and surfeit themselves in pleasure fatten themselves for slaughter. Those who live a brutish life will die a brutish death. Men in worldly honour, without true wisdom, are worse than beasts that perish. Their eminence is their peril, and their fall is disgraceful. “Man that is in honour and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.”
II. Might ruling over right. Men in prosperity and high rank often become extravagant and tyrannical. They lose the tenderness of their own, and have no sympathy with the nature of others. Might overcomes right.
1. In oppressing the poor. The poor are always with us to kindle our sympathies, teach our dependence, and fulfil the purpose of God. In true philanthropy there is present blessedness and godlike action. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” The poor must be defended, provided for, and not oppressed. They are not of a lower grade than ourselves If we mock or oppress them we reproach God. “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker.”
2. In crushing the needy. Society is a medium for illustrating the attributes of humanity, and building up the moral history of the world. It is composed of all classes, and bound together by all ties. He who is charitable to the needy exhibits moral likeness to God, and administers to the glory of Christ in heaven (Matthew 25:40). But when men gratify pride in selfishness, disregard the rights of the poor, and, like powerful cattle, trample the weak under-foot, it is a mark of an unfeeling heart and social corruption—a way to obliterate the moral character of society, and a prelude to Divine judgment. It is sad when men vent their wantonness where there is no power to resist. Not the wolf with the wolf, but the wolf with the defenceless lamb, “devouring the poor and needy from off the earth.” Yet they are found among the rulers of God’s own people, among the teachers of religion, and in the common ranks of life. “Judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
III. Confederacy in wickedness. “Bring, and let us drink.” The wicked encourage and strengthen one another in sin. “Come on,” said Pharaoh, “let us deal wisely with them.” The king and his courtiers in Israel practised oppression themselves, abetted it and connived at it in others. A sinful course cannot long prosper. Articles of luxury are dearly bought by oppression. Proud combinations against the laws of humanity and the providence of God shall be broken as tow. The builders of Babel were confounded. The conspiracies of Voltaire and his infidel school have been overthrown. In our day all social compacts and private bargains in the cause of injustice will be crushed by the irresistible power of God. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”
IV. Debauchery in social conduct. “Let us drink.” Men reap a poor harvest from cruelty and oppression when they spend it to gratify their lusts. Making merry at the cost of extortion will only mingle bitterness with wine. Tyrants to the poor are often slaves to their own passions. “Cruelty and sensuality are well matched. Inflamed passions crave for inflaming drink, and this again sets on fire the whole course of nature, and disposes to deeds of violence and shame. Nor must it be forgotten that men and women naturally mild and kind commit the most ferocious (otherwise unaccountable) acts under the influence of alcoholic drink, which exerts all the foreign tyranny of diabolical possession.”
V. Life terminating in great calamities. Consider the end of these proud oppressors. “So the days shall come upon you that he will take you away with hooks and your children with fish-hooks.” Led as an ox to the slaughter, taken as fish out of the water, neither power nor number can keep them from sudden and violent destruction.
1. Calamities fixed in time. The days hold on their steady course and advance closer and closer to the sinner. They are determined in God’s purpose and will be fitted in God’s providence.
2. Calamities with great sacrifice. From security they shall violently be taken away to a land of oppression. Their stores of violence would be cast away from their palaces. When life is at stake, treasures of gold are of no worth. “A thousand pounds for any one who will save my life,” cried a young lady in the wreck of the London. It is too late often, and none can flee away.
3. Calamities from which none can escape. They shall rush from one palace to another. Some think to be the meaning, cast themselves into one place after another and find no shelter. In wild confusion, without help and hope, they will run through the breach of the city, like a herd of cows through a fence.
4. Calamities entailed upon posterity. “Your children with fish-hooks.” People may survive in their descendants sometimes, but reckless must be that life which sweeps away posterity. Sinners entangle themselves in their own devices, and bring the judgments of God upon their families. Riches are small, and strong palaces are defenceless in the hour of death. Those who boast of wealth, and act in cruelty towards others, will be carried away without ransom and without hope.
“To the vile dust from whence they sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Amos 4:1. God’s intimate acquaintance with men.
1. He discerns their character. “Ye kine of Bashan.” Pride, wantonness, and effeminacy.
2. He detects their sins. Specifies one by one.
3. He knows their residence. “In the mountain of Samaria.” “God knows where men live. Let us seek to make our houses such as he will look on with pleasure” [Hall in loco]. “I know thy abode, and thy going out and thy coming in, and thy rage against me” (Isaiah 37:28).
Amos 4:2; Amos 3:1. Destruction inevitable. “Saith the Lord.”
2. Destruction by meanest instruments. Fish dragged by the hook, Herod destroyed by worms.
3. Destruction vindicated by God’s character. Holiness is offended by sin, and pledged to vindicate its own honour. “God swears by that holiness which they had profaned in themselves, and which they had caused to be profaned in others. God sware by himself. For he is the supreme uncreated Justice and Holiness. This justice each, in his degree, should imitate and maintain on earth, and these they had sacrilegiously violated and overthrown” [Pusey].
Amos 4:1-3. From the whole learn—
1. In proportion to the prosperity hero will be the misery of the wicked hereafter.
2. In proportion to their luxury here will be their poverty hereafter.
3. In proportion to their sins here, will be their punishment hereafter [Treasury of David].
Bane of elated life, of affluent states,
What dreary change, what ruin is not thine?” [Dyer.]
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Amos 4:1. There is not a word in our language which expresses more detestable wickedness than oppression [Butler]. Mr Cecil says that he often “had a sleepless night from having seen an instance of cruelty in the day.”
“My ear is pain’d,
My heart is sick with every day’s report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.”
Amos 4:4. Gilgal] The scene of idolatry. Multiply] Irony. Since you will not be reformed, go on, try whether God likes your sacrifices; eager as you are in worship, you will not prevent punishment. Your tithe and incense only increase guilt.
Amos 4:5. Leaven] against the law (Leviticus 2:11). Liketh] This is what you love.
UNGODLY LIFE AND FORMAL WORSHIP.—Amos 4:4-5
The prophet again turns to the people, and in bitter irony bids them pursue their course. The words describe the worship of Israel, and afford a specimen of address to desperate sinners.
I. The spirit in which they are uttered.
1. A spirit of irony. “Come to Bethel,” offer your sacrifices, and go on in your sin. It is sometimes right to cherish this spirit. Elijah to the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27); Micaiah to the priests of Ahab (1 Kings 22:15); and Christ himself (Matthew 6:2) found it necessary. “Scorns and taunts are the best answers for serious idolatry,” says Bishop Hall. “Holiness will bear us out, in disdainful scoffs and bitterness, against wilful superstition.”
2. A spirit of reproof. Multiply your sacrifices, and what better will you be? What will they avail you in the day of adversity? When will you learn wisdom? “You shall be ashamed of Bethel, your confidence.”
II. The moral condition which they indicate. Their conduct was in direct opposition to God’s will. They thought great devotion would make up for ungodly life.
1. A self-righteous spirit. They boasted of their ritual, and proclaimed their zeal and offerings. “So well did they count themselves to stand with God, that there is no mention of sin-offering or trespass-offering.” They sought the praise of men, and not the approval of God. Their motives to goodness were derived from their fellow-creatures and not from their Maker. Like the scribes and Pharisees, they worshipped to be seen of men.
2. An infatuated mind. Go on; you are resolved to have your own way, whatever God and conscience say; and you may take it. Thus some darken their foolish minds, befool themselves, and are given up to strong delusions, to believe a lie.
3. An incorrigible life. Go on; neither judgment nor mercy has any influence upon you; take the consequences. They seemed judicially given up to sin. “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.” This is an awful condition, but only a type of that just sentence which will at last be passed against all transgressors. “He that is unjust let him be unjust still, and he who is filthy let him be filthy still.”
III. The character of the worship they describe. The most wicked do not entirely abandon Christian worship. Fashion and the force of habit constrain them. Israel kept up thank-offerings, but clung to their sins.
1. Corrupt worship. The worship of God was mixed with that of idols. The altar of God and the altar at Bethel had each their gifts. So now the adoration of self and graven images is combined with the worship of the sanctuary. Money, pleasure, and popularity rival God. Unworthy motives and glaring errors are cherished in his service. But God will not permit contamination. We must worship him in the beauty of holiness.
2. Formal worship. They were devout in sacrifices of thanksgiving and free-will offerings; zealous in their tithes, punctual in their ritual, and superabundant in their diligence. They were precise in their formalities, but insincere in their hearts. They kept the letter but violated the spirit. Mint and cummin were paid, but the weightier matters of the law, judgment and mercy, were neglected. Sacrifices to God are an insult when the heart is alienated and withheld. “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.”
3. Will-worship. They did what God commanded, but in their own way, and at their own places. The preference for Bethel and Gilgal, for priests of the people instead of the sons of Levi, the setting up of the golden calves, and the use of leaven in their worship, made it mere will-worship, unacceptable and dishonouring to God. The end of true worship is to please God, but if we please ourselves we offend him. “The command, therefore, to please themselves, as they will have it so, marks the utter rejection of the worshippers.”
4. Sinful worship. All their work was transgression, and the repetition of their service was a multiplying of transgression: their worship only added more sin to their violence and frauds. Corrupt religion aggravates guilt; diligence in superstitious devotions ripens for destruction; and self-will in anti-scriptural forms leads to utter rejection of God. “Though ye offer me burnt-offerings and your meat-offerings, I will not accept them.”
“The holier worship which he deigns to bless
Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,
And feeds the widow and the fatherless” [Whittier].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Amos 4:4-5. What a sting is there—“this liketh you!” how it should pierce the conscience of every sinner—“for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel!” Far indeed was everything like levity from the prophet’s mind in treating such a subject as the sinfulness of the people; far enough was he from making a mock of sin as fools do. It was holy sorrow that prompted the irony; it was with deep solemnity of soul that he wielded that cutting weapon—and withal he could be touching and tender in expostulation [Stoughton].
Amos 4:6. Teeth] Famine, as threatened in the law (Deuteronomy 28:48; Deuteronomy 28:57; cf. 2 Kings 8:1).
Amos 4:7. Yet three] The latter rain, which fell in latter part of February and beginning of March, when most required (1 Kings 17:1). One city] Distress so great that people from one place had to go a great distance for supply, yet could not get enough to satisfy.
Amos 4:8. Wandered] Heb. indicates the trembling, unsteady gait of those exhausted in quest of food (Psalms 59:15; Psalms 109:10; Jeremiah 14:1-6).
Amos 4:9. Blasting] Lit. an exceeding scorching. Mildew] Heb. intensive. The mention of these would remind them of other judgments (Deuteronomy 28:22).
Amos 4:10. Manner] i.e. the way in which God punished Egypt (Exodus 9:3). “Palestine was by nature healthy. Hence on account of the terribleness of the scourge, God often speaks of it as of his own special sending” [Pusey].
Amos 4:11. Firebrand] Proverbial for escape from imminent danger. Yet] after all corrective measures, obstinately impenitent, and determined to persist in wicked courses!
THE CORRECTIVE MEASURES OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE.—Amos 4:6-11
In these verses God describes the different corrective measures which he employed for the purpose of effecting a change in the Israelites, and at the close of each mentioned in the series, the obstinate impenitence, under the influence of which they persisted in their wicked courses, is emphatically marked by the declaration, Yet ye have not returned unto me, saith the Lord; such repetition gives great force to the reprehension [Elzas]. The verses naturally suggest the divisions of the outline.
I. Famine. Cleanness of teeth and want of bread indicate scarcity of flesh and dearth of corn. The famine was everywhere, “in all your places.” This was no accidental failure of crops, nor owing to a combination of second causes. It was the work of God himself, who gives daily bread. “Man’s life,” says Calvin, “is not shut up in bread, but hangs on the sovereign will and good pleasure of God.”
II. Dearth and scarcity of water. They would remember times of plenty, when they had water “every man from his own well and from his own cistern.” How minute the circumstances of the calamity.
1. The time is specified. “Three months to the harvest.” A time when most needed to ripen corn and grain. This is utterly ruinous to the hopes of the farmer. A little earlier or a little later would not be so fatal, but drought three months before harvest is entirely destructive” [The Land and the Book].
2. The inequality is given. In one city and not in another; upon one field to fertilize it; not upon another, which remained unproductive. Thus were they urged to reflect upon God. In sovereign mercy he holds the key of the clouds, to open and shut at pleasure. Every drop of rain is measured and sent by Divine direction to its destination. He gives rain from heaven and fruitful seasons (Acts 14:17).
3. The distress is noticed. Inhabitants in some places were frustrated in their hopes; necessitated to go far away to seek for water, and found only a scanty and insufficient supply. Water, free to all now, was withheld from them. In trembling fear, and weak through toil, they begged from city to city. God can wither our harvests, withhold Divine influence from our schools and churches, and create natural and spiritual distress throughout the nation. “Thou art the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation.
III. Blasting and mildew. Blight would follow from scarcity of rain.
1. Vegetation suffered. The gardens which they cultivated in neglect of God, the fruit which was appearing to reward their toil, and the olive trees which they watched with care, were smitten by the blast.
2. Insects abounded. “The palmer-worm” and putrefaction devoured the fruits of the ground. Malignant air and voracious animals destroyed fruitful fields and prosperous vineyards. “The Lord shall smite thee … with blasting and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish (Deuteronomy 28:22).
IV. Pestilence and sword. Pestilence such as visited Egypt fell upon them. Young men, the hope of the country, were slain in war. Horses on which they depended were taken from them by a victorious foe. The mighty hosts which they assembled in pride were like sheep for the slaughter. The stench of men and horses, unburied on the field, poisoned the air and polluted the land. Yet this did not humble nor reclaim them. “He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence” (Psalms 78:50).
V. Total overthrow by earthquake. They seemed insensible, but the solid ground beneath them trembled with unwonted motion. The houses above their heads fell in utter confusion. Some of the inhabitants were buried in the ruins or smitten by the lightning. Others who narrowly escaped were like brands plucked out of the fire. Some were overthrown like the people in Sodom; but few, like Lot, were rescued from the danger. Yet notwithstanding these terrible judgments and displays of Divine anger Israel did not return to God. These last chastisements, which typify more than anything else the great judgment day, have failed. Therefore they must prepare to meet God as the Judge and Ruler of the Universe.
“Not thou, O Lord, from us, but we
Withdraw ourselves from thee” [French].
CHASTISEMENTS WITHOUT REFORMATION.—Amos 4:11
“Yet have ye not returned unto me,” is the cry full of grief and tenderness repeatedly uttered. God designed to bring them to repentance, but they were incorrigible and chastised in vain.
I. Man is distant from God. This is not a natural fact merely. Estrangement from God is a state of mind. The miser loving gold, the worldling drinking pleasure, and the atheist denying God—each has a specific state of mind characterized by the distinct evil. In the heart is fixed opposition to God. The will and the word of God are distasteful to the sinner. The lower sentiments and nobler faculties are influenced by his apostasy. The mind is ingrossed with things like our nature. Men talk of fancied reverence and adoration for God; but spiritually they live “having no hope, and without God in the world.”
II. God seeks to bring man to himself. The Scriptures abound with facts and figures to illustrate this truth. God seeks to recover the fallen and save the lost.
1. By mercy. Mercies given in Christ and multiplied day by day. Good beyond desert and degree to bring to God. “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”
2. By judgment. Judgments national and personal, severe, many and long-continued. God chastens in body and mind, in social and family circumstances, that we may not go astray. “Man’s wisdom consists in observing God’s unalterable appointments and suiting himself to them,” says Scott. “In the day of adversity consider.”
III. Man is often chastised without returning to God. The innumerable judgments of Israel begot no repentance. Nothing external will make us wise without due improvement of it. Sensibility to bodily pain is one thing, sorrow of heart another. “I will at this time send all my plagues upon thy heart.” God visits us in many ways, sends bereavement in the family and disappointment in business. And perhaps there is room for repetition day by day. The same judgments have continue I and new ones been inflicted, but we have not returned to God. This proves—
1. Great guilt.
2. Great provocation.
3. Great danger. The voice resounds still in Scripture and providence. “Yet ye have not returned unto me.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Amos 4:1-11. The three charges. I. Oppression of the poor (Amos 4:1-3). II. Corruption of worship (Amos 4:4-5). III. Incorrigibleness under Divine judgments (Amos 4:6-11). Learn—
1. That God has various judgments to exercise a sinful nation.
2. That judgments are changed, not removed, until a return to God.
3. That God is earnest in bringing men to repentance. “A course of sin will not prove a thriving way in the end to any, but especially to the Church, which the Lord will either make a theatre of mercy, or a field of blood, and he hath many rods for that end; for as they liked their way of sin (Amos 4:5), so he also chooseth their judgments and pours out a quiver-full of them upon them” [Hutcheson].
Amos 4:7. Withered. So will it ever be in the Church, which is God’s vineyard, if ministers give no doctrine and God no blessing, fitly resembled to rain on regard,
1. of cooling heat;
2. quenching thirst;
3. cleansing the air;
4. allaying the winds;
5. mollifying and mellowing the parched earth;
6. causing all things to grow and fructify. This rain of righteousness goes sometimes by coasts as here; God withholding showers, though clouds be full and likely enough to drop down in abundance (see Ezekiel 3:26; Hosea 9:7; Proverbs 16:1) [Trapp].
Amos 4:10. After the manner of Egypt.
1. Slaughter of young men.
2. The land filled with pestilence and locusts.
3. Harassed in this defenceless condition by the incursions from Assyria.
Amos 4:11. A firebrand plucked.
1. A scene of danger—“burning.”
2. An act of mercy—“plucked.”
3. A present uncertainty. Once in danger, now rescued. Will you continue where you are, or escape entirely to refuge?
The words will apply—
1. Temporally. “They may recall a striking deliverance in God’s providence, when others were taken and they were left. A shipwreck—a battle—an awful accident involving loss of human life—a sickness from which many others around them died” [Ryan].
2. Spiritually. Every sinner saved is a firebrand plucked from the burning. This should prompt—
1. To gratitude.
2. To earnestness in rescuing others from “the wrath of God,” which “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”
THE FIREMEN OF GOD, OR THE STRANGE PARALLEL BETWEEN FIRE AND SIN.
Fire—what is there in the moral world to which it answers? But one thing, that is, wickedness—sin against God—sin in a man’s life. Against this evil God calls all his servants to be firemen. “Put out the fires of sin,” is a nobler motto than any blazoned on the symbols of commerce and art.
I. Consider the analogy between fire and sin.
1. You cannot weigh fire in the scales. You cannot grasp it, yet it exists—you can feel and see it work. You cannot rate sin by horse power, but you feel its withering, burning influence in the soul.
2. Fire becomes sometimes almost invisible. So with sin. In the glare and noon-day of busy life some fail to see it. The dimness of religious truth to the mind is a terrible monitor of what sin is doing in the heart.
3. Sin is like fire in its attractions. A child loves to play with fire, unconscious of danger. Men toy with sin, which has indulgence for appetite, mirth to amuse, feasts for gluttons, and revelry for the reckless.
4. Sin consumes like fire. It burns down men instead of houses; the man vanishes, and only the animal, the brute, the sensualist is left.
5. Sin spreads like a fire. Wicked thoughts, evil suggestions, are the sparks that kindle the fires of sin in the soul and set communities in a blaze.
6. Sin inflicts pain like a fire. It burns, stings, and agonizes its victim. Here, in the naked conscience and despairing death, is the germ of the fire that is never quenched.
7. Sin, like fire, defaces what it touches.
8. Sin must be resisted like fire. It is an evil to be put out in heart and life.
9. Sin, like fire, if you wait too long to put it out, will render attempts useless. The soul should not be left till sin has mastery. In this world men are often beyond reasonable prospect of repentance.
II. Sin is the fire, but the sinner is the fuel. Ye were as a firebrand.
1. A firebrand is combustible, or it never would have been a firebrand. So with the sinner’s heart.
2. A firebrand has been already exposed to the fire. It is charred and blackened, and bears the marks of sin. So the sinner.
3. A firebrand has offered no effectual resistance to the flames. The sinner has not resisted sin. He is bound, and by the grace of God can resist.
4. A firebrand is ready to be kindled anew, after it has been once quenched. A spark may kindle the soul.
5. A firebrand is in the process of being consumed, and a little longer will finish it. So with the sinful heart.
6. A firebrand only needs to be let alone, and it will burn to ashes. Leave the soul to sin—the ruinous power of its own lusts—and its ruin will be complete.
7. A firebrand is a dangerous thing, if its sparks and coals come in contact with anything else. The sinner destroyeth much good.
III. But even firebrands may be saved. Sinners are sometimes plucked out of a desperate condition—Mary Magdalen, the thief on the cross, Saul of Tarsus—but the work is God’s. A converted soul is a miracle of grace. Firemen! guardians of our dwellings against a subtle and dangerous foe, be ready to rush to the scene of conflagration, when the alarm is given, night or day! The fires of sin burn all around, and perhaps within you unchecked. Be God’s firemen, and help to quench it. Nothing but the blood of Christ can put out the fires. Repent and believe, and you shall be saved. [From The Preacher’s Treasury.]
Amos 4:12. Therefore] punishments must be continued. This] not expressed, but discerned from what follows—all kinds of things imagined in the uncertainty; but the last the greatest calamity. Prepare] “When thou seest that thou hast resorted in vain to all kinds of subterfuges, since thou never wilt be able to escape from the hand of thy judge; see now at length that thou dost avert this last destruction which is hanging over thee [Calvin].
Amos 4:13] To give greater emphasis to the command, God is described as Almighty, reading the thoughts of men, creating prosperity and adversity as he changes light and darkness, subjecting all things to his control, and ruling as the Lord of Hosts. What an argument for being at peace with him.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Amos 4:6-10. We look to second causes and impute our years of dearth to wet and cold, to hot and parching seasons, to cycles of weather, to comets, and many other accidents, some real and others imaginary, and thus wilfully conceal from our view the power of God, who blesseth a land and maketh it to bring forth fruit abundantly, and who “turneth a fruitful field into barrenness for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.” The acts of God’s providence are as certainly a part of his administration now as in former ages, and as directly affect each individual of the race as they did the children of Abraham. It is to those who are subdued under his rebukes that he sends his word to heal them. They who watch the ruling hand of God shall become wiser in reading his purposes and their own necessities [Duncan].
THREATENED EVIL ESCAPED BY RETURN TO GOD.—Amos 4:12
“When he has said, ‘This will I do to thee,’ he is silent as to what he will do, in order that whilst Israel is left in uncertainty as to the particular kind of punishment (which is all the more terrible because all kinds of things are imagined), it may repent of its sins, and so avert the things which God threatens here” [Jerome]. The words indicate—
I. An expression of anger. “Therefore,” since ye persist in rebellion, regardless of former judgments and respites, “thus will I do.” Judgment must follow judgment until there is a full end. God’s hand is still lifted up, and the threat is the more severe, because nothing is mentioned. If a smitten people continue impenitent, and will not be corrected nor reclaimed, God will prosecute his work and inflict more plagues. His judgments are sadder or lighter according to our conduct under them, and terrible are those strokes which follow inflicted chastisement. “Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the Lord’s anger none escaped nor remained” (Lamentations 2:22).
II. An exhortation to repentance. When God is about to strike he waits to be prevented. Though hardened in sin, and insensible under Divine correction, men may repent, and are exhorted to return to God. Repentance is not impossible. Set about it, prepare to meet God, and he will pardon you. “If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: then will I remember my covenant.”
III. A motive to reconciliation. God can still be met—though punishment is threatened, God’s design and feelings may be seen in it. He chastens to restore. Sins may abound, but “His mercy endureth for ever.” He is willing to be thy God. He waits to be gracious and to be reconciled to thee. “Noah, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” Josiah endeavoured to ward off the threatened judgment by humiliation before God. But some foresee impending evil and escape not (Proverbs 22:3). There is a hiding-place in Christ. Let chastisements awaken you from slumber, and urge you to lay hold of the hope set before you. “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
PREPARATION TO MEET GOD
I. The solemn event. Not an ordinary event, not the meeting of man with man, but of man with his Maker. We have to meet God on earth, and especially at the judgment-day, when the atheist and the scorner, the righteous and the wicked, each one will see him for himself and not for another.
II. The needful preparation. If in judgment, prepare, for how can we contend against him? If in penitence, prepare, for he will meet us in forgiveness. A preparation of heart and life are necessary. The sinner must be reconciled; the soul must be renewed and the life be holy. “Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
III. The motives to enforce the preparation.
1. The greatness of God. If he be such as here described, what folly to oppose him, and what an argument to make our peace with him.
2. The providence of God. “Because I will do this, therefore prepare;” that is, God’s providential dealings with us are a motive to urge preparation to meet him. God comes near in judgments and great events. We should consider our ways. The doctrines of the gospel and the providences of life often fail to rouse attention. Men sleep unconscious of the presence of God and the impending danger. If we do not meet him as a Friend we shall have to meet him as a Judge. “Prepare to meet thy God.”
PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD.—Amos 4:12-13
Man forgets God. Scripture denounces this, and the great aim of its precepts, history, threatenings, and promises, is to produce and cherish the habit of remembering God. The text calls to remember God, is often applied exclusively to the meeting of God in another world; but from the context it applies to what goes on in this world also. Consider, therefore, how to meet God as he comes near.
I. During our time of probation on earth. It is common for those who dispute the reality of God’s coming to assert that he is too highly exalted to notice insignificant creatures. But in Scripture God’s greatness and man’s littleness often combine to illustrate this truth.
1. In the way of repentance. A sinful course is turning back from God, fleeing from a God of mercy to a God of anger. He calls the careless and impenitent to meet him.
(1) Quickly. Now a day of grace in which outward calls combine with inward connections. This time is precious, and will be succeeded by “a night wherein no man can work.”
(2) Carefully. “Let us search and try our ways.” Rush not carelessly and without thought to the throne of God. “Take with you words.”
(3) Decidedly. With the firm conviction that in no other way can peace and salvation be found.
2. In the way of temporal blessings. It may please him to let our life pass peaceably on—to keep off apprehended danger—to make the cup of sorrow pass from us, that we drink it not. Awful accidents and fearful calamities may have plunged others into misery, but we go on from day to day in security and peace. Meet God in a spirit of gratitude and praise.
3. In the way of temporal sorrow.
(1) Endeavour to turn judgment aside by humble prayer (Amos 7:2-6).
(2) To hear it as coming from God. We do not meet God if we look to second causes; nor profit if we do not see his hand and will
4. In the use of the means of grace God meets his people. There is no peradventure like Balaam’s in the believing use of means. Special blessings rest upon family worship, social and public worship, and when we obey the injunction “this do in remembrance of me.” But we lose much from not preparing to meet God in ordinances. Prepare with reverence and godly fear, and with earnest expectation.
5. We meet God in the works of righteousness (Isaiah 64:5). Thus we see it our duty to meet God during the time of probation. In Christ we meet him in repentance, and find him reconciled—in prosperity he calls for gratitude and praise—in judgment we bow with submission and endeavour to turn it aside—in the means of grace we should meet him with glad reverence, and earnest expectation of good things from his Fatherly bounty.
II. Prepare to meet him after the time of trial is over.
1. Very solemn and awakening is the thought of meeting God then. Here we meet him in his works and ways, there we shall meet God himself. Remember this in the engrossing concerns of uncertain life. Eternity, and not time, is the stage of our existence.
2. After death cometh the judgment, when we must “be made manifest” before the tribunal of Christ. Some will meet God in anger, and cry for rocks to fall on them; others will meet a God in mercy. No righteousness will stand them but “the righteousness of God.” Have we that righteousness? Is the thought of that day a part of your daily meditation? Give diligence to be found in him in peace and security. “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” This waiting frame of mind will be one of the greatest helps to prepare, and one of the surest signs that you are prepared to “meet your God” [Ryan].
THE DISPENSATIONS OF PROVIDENCE CARRYING OUT THE DESIGNS OF GRACE.—Amos 4:13
In true repentance we must have right views of God and his claims. The prophet here describes God in the resources of creation and the wonders of providence to induce Israel to think of him and prepare to meet him. “For” if mercy move not, let majesty. God is great, and can carry out his designs of love—
I. By his mighty power in creation. “He that formeth the mountains,” &c.
1. Power in the past. Before the mountains were brought forth God was. He created the solid parts of the earth, and reared the everlasting hills. “Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains.” They owe firmness and stability to him. The Alps and the Andes are “girded” and preserved from falling down by his power.
2. Power in the present. “And createth the wind.” The heathens believed in an inferior God, whom Jupiter appointed a store-keeper to raise and still the winds at pleasure. But God “bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries” (Jeremiah 10:12). The winds and the seas obey him. “He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.” The most solid and the most subtle, the mildest and the most terrific, agents were created by God. If we read rightly we see not only power but mind in the works of God. Men are thus encouraged to flee unto him. The salvation expected from the hills typifies deliverance from sin and protection in Christ (Psalms 89:11-12). Control over winds sets forth his dominion over minds. All creation manifests his beneficence to men.
II. By his unceasing activity in providence. “That maketh the morning darkness.” God not only created, but governs all things according to the counsel of his will. He is unceasingly active for the good of his creatures. “My Father worketh hitherto and I work.”
1. Literally God makes the morning dark. He spreads the clouds and overcasts the sky. He creates light and darkness, and gives day and night.
2. Providentially God makes the morning dark. The morning of joy and prosperity is turned into the night of sorrow and distress. The sunshine of Divine favour may be followed by retributive judgments. It is folly to trust in any means of deliverance but his. Our expectations may be darkened by unlooked-for changes. Everything that is joyous and beautiful may be effaced by darkness. “Seek him that … turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night.”
“For we have also our evening and our morn.”
III. By his omniscient presence with men. “And declareth unto man what is his thought.” He can read the heart and understand the thought afar off (Psalms 139:2). We hide our sins and do not wish to know our hearts; but “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” He reads and reveals us to ourselves and sets our sins in order before us. “The thought of God as a Creator or Preserver without,” says Pusey, “affects man but little. To man a sinner, far more impressive than all majesty of creative power, is the thought that God knows his inmost soul. God knows our thoughts more truly than we know ourselves.” There is no deceiving him in our conduct. We have to do with One who searches the heart. “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins” (Jeremiah 17:10; Psalms 7:9). The moral government of God is ever administered on the principle that man is accountable for his thoughts. The law of God weighs the purposes of men and the dispensations of God. “Give to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
“On human hearts he bends a jealous eye.”
IV. By his supreme control in all things. “The Lord, the God of hosts, is his name.” Not only the God of Israel, but the supreme Ruler of men and Disposer of all things.
1. He is supreme in the universe. “The Lord of hosts.” Head over all principalities and powers in heaven and earth. He has being in himself, and is the fountain of being and blessedness to others. “Who is over all, God blessed for ever.”
2. He makes all things subservient to his purpose. “Treadeth upon the high places of the earth.” He walks on the sea (Job 9:8), and on the wings of the wind (Psalms 104:3). He subdues the proud and dethrones the mighty. Whatever is eminent and exalts itself against him he will put down. He reigns above all creatures, controls the highest spheres of power, and everything around him stands ready to execute his will. Thus the prophet sees in the course of nature the will of God, links the physical with the moral events, and makes the one find its loftiest end in the other. National calamities are revelations of God’s wrath. But these only endanger the material welfare of a people. A God of transcendant greatness sends them to draw us to himself. Nothing will avail before him but righteousness and truth. Prepare to meet him with joy and not with grief.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Amos 4:12-13. The Rev. Mr Madan was desired one evening, by some of his companions who were with him at a coffee-house, to go and hear Mr John Wesley, who they were told was to preach in the neighbourhood, and to return and exhibit his manners and discourse for their entertainment. Mr M., educated for the bar, went with that intention, and just as he entered the place, Wesley named his text, “Prepare to meet thy God,” with a solemnity of accent which struck him, and which inspired a seriousness that increased as the good man exhorted his hearers to repentance. Mr M. returned to the coffee-room, and was asked, “if he had taken off the old Methodist?” “No, gentlemen,” said he, “but he has taken me off;” and from that time he left their company and became a converted man [Whitecross].
Amos 4:13. “I never had a sight of my soul,” said the Emperor Aurelius, “and yet I have a great value for it, because it is discoverable by its operations; and by my constant experience of the power of God, I have a proof of his being, and a reason for my veneration” [Whitecross]. Let us incessantly bear in mind, that the only thing we have really to be afraid of, is fearing anything more than God [Book of the Fathers].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Amos 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent