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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Amos 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ amos-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Amos 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime.
Burning the bones of the dead
Amos says that the Moabites were wholly perverse, that no repentance would be hoped for, as they had added crimes to crimes, and reached the highest pitch of wickedness. He mentions one thing in particular--that they had burnt the bones of the king of Edom. Some take “bones” here for courage, as though the prophet had said, that the whole strength of Edom had been reduced to ashes: but this is a strained exposition; and its authors themselves confess that they are forced into it by necessity, when yet there is none. The comment given by the rabbins does not please them,--that the body of a certain king had been burnt, and then that the Moabites had strangely applied the ashes for making a cement instead of lime. Thus the rabbins trifle in their usual way, for when an obscure place occurs, immediately they invent some fable; though there be no history, yet they exercise their wit in fabulous glosses. What need is there of running to allegory, when we may simply take what the prophet says--that “the body of the king of Edom had been burnt”: for the prophet simply charges the Moabites with barbarous cruelty. To dig up the bodies of enemies, and to burn their hones,--this is an inhuman deed, and wholly barbarous. But it was more detestable in the Moabites, who had some connection with the people of Edom. If any humanity existed in them, they ought to have restrained their passions, so as not to treat so cruelly their brethren. When they exceeded all moderation in war, and raged against dead bodies, and burnt the bones of the dead, it was extremely barbarous conduct. The meaning of the sentence is this: The Moabites could no longer be borne with, for, in this one instance, they gave an example of savage cruelty. Their treatment of their brethren, the Idumaeans, proved that they had forgotten all humanity and justice. (John Calvin.)
Amos 1:13-15; Amos 2:1-8
I will not turn away the punishment thereof.
God’s dealing with nations
I. The opportunity for repentance which all possess. The punishment of the six heathen nations, as of Judah and Israel, opens with a picture of the forbearance of God which had preceded this hour of wrath. “For three transgressions of--, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof.” The cup of iniquity was not full till the fourth transgression. God’s dealing with individuals is such--“Who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?” (Proverbs 29:1.)
II. Persistence in course of sin has only one end. “I will not turn away the punishment thereof.” Men may put far away the evil day, but all history, all prophecy, all strivings of conscience point to the certainty of ruin.
III. The causes of the divine indignation vary according to human light. In the fate of Tyrus, for instance (Amos 1:9), we see that a brotherly covenant (the league of Hiram with David and Solomon) formed no barrier to the grasping spirit of the mercantile nation. Edom (Amos 1:11) “did pursue his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity.” The heathen nations were to suffer because they had offended against those eternal principles of compassion and of truth which are written on the hearts of all men alike. Judah (Amos 2:4) and Israel (Amos 1:6-8) were judged by a higher standard, for the light had been greater. “In Judah is God known; His name is great in Israel.”
IV. The vindication of God’s ways to men which these pictures of national sin furnish is complete. The preservation of truth and purity is of far higher moment than the fate of one nation, for human society can only be founded on the eternal principles of right and wrong. The detail of Israel’s sin makes us shrink back with horror. Their law gave no power to sell an insolvent debtor, but they were ready to sell the righteous man (one in trouble through no fault of his own) for silver; and the poor (whom there was none to succour), to provide for themselves a pair of luxurious sandals. They panted after the very dust which the poor spread on their head in token of mourning, and by the vilest sin they profaned the name of God which was called on them as His people. Even their altars witnessed their extortions (Amos 1:8; Deuteronomy 24:12-13) and banquetings. Application--The prophet would have the people clearly understand the equity of the judgments which he foretold. Men can be impartial in estimating the sin of others (David and Nathan’s parable). To study God’s dealings with others will often open our eyes to our own future. (J. Telford, B. A.)
Great sufferings following great sins
This passage illustrates three truths.
1. That the sins of all the people on the earth, whatever the peculiarities of their character or conduct, are under the cognisance of God.
2. That of all the sins of the people, that of persecution is peculiarly abhorrent to the Divine nature.
I. Great sins entail great sufferings. The calamities threatened to these different tribes of different lands are of the most terrible description. But they are all such as to match their crimes.
1. The connection between great sins and great sufferings is inevitable. The Moral Governor of the world has so arranged matters that every sin brings with its own punishment, and it is only when the sin is destroyed the suffering ceases. Thank God this sin can be destroyed through faith in the mediation of Him who came to put away sin by faith in the sacrifice of Himself.
2. Tim connection between great sins and great sufferings is universal. All these sinful peoples had to realise it from their own bitter experience. It does not matter where, when, or how a man lives, his sins will find him out.
II. Great sins often entail great sufferings upon people who are not the actual offenders. “The fire,” which is here the instrument of God’s retribution to us sinners, would not only scathe the persons and consume the property of the actual offenders, but others. The fact is patent in all history and in all experience, that men here suffer for the sins of others. Two facts may reconcile our consciences to this.
1. That few, if any, suffer more than their consciences tell them they deserve.
2. That there is to come a period when the whole will appear to be in accord with the justice and goodness of God. (Homilist.)
The atrocities of barbarism and the sins of civilisation
The sins Amos condemns in the heathen are at first sight very different from those which he exposes within Israel. Not only are they sins of foreign relations, of treaty and war, while Israel’s are all civic and domestic; but they are what we call the atrocities of barbarism--wanton war, massacre and sacrilege; while Israel’s are rather the sins of civilisation--the pressure of the rich upon the poor, the bribery of justice, the seduction of the innocent, personal impurity, and other evils of luxury. So great is this difference that a critic more gifted with ingenuity than insight, might plausibly distinguish, in the section before us, two prophets with two very different views of national sin--a ruder prophet, and of course an earlier, who judged nations only by the flagrant drunkenness of their war; and a more subtle prophet, and of course a later, who exposed the masked corruptions of their religion and their peace. Such a theory would be as false as it would be plausible. For not only is the diversity of the objects of the prophet’s judgment explained by this, that Amos had no familiarity with the interior life of other nations, and could only arraign their conduct at those points where it broke into light in their foreign relations, while Israel’s civic life he knew to the very core. But Amos had besides a strong and a deliberate aim in placing the sins of civilisation as the climax of a list of the atrocities of barbarism. He would recall what men are always forgetting, that the former are really more cruel and criminal than the latter; that luxury, bribery, and intolerance, the oppression of the poor, the corruption of the innocent and the silencing of the prophet--what Christ calls offences against His little ones--are even more awful atrocities than the wanton horrors of barbarian warfare. (Geo. Adam Smith, D. D.)
That they might enlarge their borders.--
Enlarging our borders
The message that comes from the old Hebrew prophet is the injunction to make our lives broader, larger, richer than they already are. Men are enlarged by travel, but the best part of that enlargement comes from intercourse with other human beings. The world of physical nature can do much to enlarge a man, but the world of human minds and hearts can do more. A man is like a planet; he is in the field of two forces, the centrifugal and the centripetal. As he grows, two methods are open to him. His idea of perfect manhood may be reached by pruning away excrescences. This is the conventional way: it produces a Chesterfield. The other is the educating of all his faculties to their full limit: this produces a Gladstone or a Browning. It exhibits many faults in a man; but it enlarges his borders, and gives magnitude and grandeur. Every one of us desires, or thinks he desires, breadth of thought, range of sympathy. Yet at our best we are never full, rounded circles. We may openly resent any imputation of narrowness, but in our hearts we must plead guilty. Let us learn to measure ourselves. How intolerant is youth of the methods of age! Let youth learn to enlarge its borders, and include the thoughts and feelings and methods of age. Every man, if he devotes himself earnestly to his life’s calling, must be, in some degree, narrowed by it. At least, he must give so much time to it that but little remains, and but little strength, for other things. This in itself is not an evil; but it frequently happens that such a man becomes wilfully narrow, and underrates or despises pursuits and faculties which are quite as high as his own. “Enlarge your borders,” is the command of our text. Broaden your sympathies! Extend your range of observation and understanding! Pierce through to the realities of things, and do not be deceived by externals! We all sadly need this injunction. Herein lies much of the inefficiency of our modern charitable work. The visitor and visited are not in touch, and never can be until both shall have their borders enlarged. In another field our text finds ready application. It is the field of theology, Men of broad religions views are so rare in our time, that the Sodom of our modern denominational life hardly seems worthy to be saved. There is a want of intellectual capacity to see the “other side of things.” There is such a radical difference in the very texture of men’s minds, that the same facts, especially in art, in poetry, and in religion, will lead equally good and able men to widely different conclusions. Many are the forces which serve to enlarge our borders, as often without our consciousness as with it. Whatever opens up the minds and hearts of men to each other, whether it be joy or sorrow, is a blessing to them. The lessons which God teaches us through the varied experiences of life are, many of them, hard and bitter, but the wayward human heart needs deep probing. But the grandest enlargement of life is that which comes through the thought of God. It can enlarge your life by putting into your hand the key of love and compassion, which can open the doors of human hearts as can nothing else on this broad earth. A consciousness of God is the greatest broadening and deepening power which can come into any life. (Bradley Gilman.)
Thus saith the Lord: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof.
National sins and national punishment
The British nation, like the kingdom of Judah, has received innumerable favours at the hand of God. In the purity of our creed, the outward prosperity of our churches, the influence of our literature, the excellence of our laws, the freedom of our institutions, the success of our commerce, and the glory of our arms,--we are not surpassed by any nation in the world. Yet our very prosperity has been in many respects a snare to us. The advancement of true religion in the inner life and outward practice of the people has been very far from keeping pace with the outward movement of society in matters that evidently interest, us more, though they really concern us less. Under three heads the transgressions of Judah are comprehended.
I. Despising the law of the lord. The law of the Lord includes the whole revelation of His will. No truth is more plainly enforced in the Bible than this,--that national chastisenients are the consequence of national sins. But is this generally believed? Has it any practical influence upon the character and conduct of a tithe of those who profess to believe it? It is too true that, as a nation, we despise the law of the Lord.
II. Not keeping his commandments. This follows naturally the contempt of His law. Contempt of the law and disobedience are not the same thing. One may sincerely acknowledge the justice, and respect the value, of a law which his bad passions often tempt him to break. On the other hand, one may have an inward contempt for a law which he may still consider it expedient or proper to obey. But he who despises the law of God, or wilfully continues to disobey it, has no part or lot in “the righteousness which is of God by faith.” In every case in which the law is despised, the obedience of the heart is impossible, and any other obedience than that which proceeds from love and reverence is utterly worthless in the sight of God.
III. Wandering after lies, in imitation of their fathers. Instead of “lies,” some read “idols”; for the same Hebrew term stands for both. An idol is a lie. Wealth, pomp, luxury, literature, fame, power,--these are our idols, and they were the idols of our forefathers, taken collectively. In each succeeding age, the great majority have been heart idolaters--giving to various objects the place in their affections which of right belonged only to God. If there be admonition without effect, we may look for punishment without mercy. (James Mackay, B. D.)
I. Intemperance. This weighs like a millstone round the neck of the Church in this country. We are not, as a rule, sensible of the awful magnitude of this evil--of the gigantic proportions to which it has attained.
II. Infidelity. That this evil exists and is active amongst us, requires no proof. It exists in our midst in every shape, form, and degree, from the avowed Atheism, which openly blasphemes the name of God, to the refined Rationalism, which, while professing belief in Divine revelation, explains away, and empties of all their real significance, its most vital and momentous truths.
III. Superstition. While many nations of Europe--such as Austria and Italy--are casting off the yoke of superstition, this country, which was wont to be regarded as the very centre of Gospel light, and the home of spiritual freedom, would seem as if about to relinquish the position she took up after a struggle which cost tears, agonies, and the blood of some of her best and noblest sons.
IV. Indifferentism. Beyond question the most prevalent evil of our time. For one who is tainted with Infidelity, or enslaved by Superstition, there are tens of thousands utterly indifferent to their highest interests. They may give a formal and periodical attention to religious duties, but practically they are “ living without God in the world.” To moot these special evils, special agencies must be used. (R. W. Forrest, M. A.)
They have despised the law of the Lord, and have not kept His commandments.
Despising God’s law
Here the prophet charges the people of Judah with apostasy; for they had cast aside the worship of God, and the pure doctrine of religion. This was a crime the most grievous. But it may be asked, why the prophet charges the Jews with a crime so atrocious, since religion still existed among them? To this there is a ready answer: the worship of God was become corrupt among them, though they had not so openly departed from it as the Israelites. There remained, indeed, circumcision among the Israelites; but their sacrifices were pollutions, their temples were as immoral houses; they thought that they worshipped God; but as a temple had been built at Bethel contrary to God’s command, the whole worship was a profanation. The Jews were somewhat purer; but they had also degenerated from the genuine worship of God. Hence the prophet does not unjustly say here that they had despised the law of God. But notice the explanation which immediately follows,--that “they kept not His statutes.” The way by which Amos proves that the Jews were covenant-breakers, and that having repudiated God’s law, they had fallen into wicked superstitions, is by saying that they kept not the precepts of God. In these words no mere negligence is blamed; they are condemned for designedly, knowingly, and wilfully departing from the commandments of God, and devising for themselves various modes of worship. It is not then to keep the precepts of God, when men continue not under His law, but audaciously contrive for themselves new forms of worship: they regard not what God commands, but lay hold on anything pleasing that comes to their minds. This crime the prophet now condemns in the Jews. Men should confine themselves within God’s commands. (John Calvin.)
Their lies caused them to err.--
The pretence of good intention
The Jews had ever a defence ready at hand, that they did with good intent what the prophet condemned in them. They sedulously worshipped God, though they mixed their own leaven, by which their sacrifice was corrupted. It was not their purpose to spend their substance in vain, to undergo great expenses in sacrifices, and to undertake much labour, had they not thought it was service acceptable to God! As then the pretence of good intention ever deceives the unbelieving, the prophet condemns this pretence, and shows it to be wholly fallacious, and of no avail. “It is nothing,” he says. “that they pretend before God some good intention; their own lies deceive them.” And Amos no doubt, mentions here these lies, in opposition to the commands of God. As soon, then, as men swerve from God’s Word, they involve themselves in many delusions, and “cannot but go astray; and this is deserving of special notice. We indeed see how much wisdom the world claims for itself: for as soon as we invent anything, we are greatly delighted with it; and the ape, according to the old proverb, is ever pleased with its own offspring. But this vice especially prevails, when by our devices we corrupt and adulterate the worship of God. Hence the prophet here declares that what ever is added to God’s Word, and whatever men invent in their own brains, is a lie. “All this,” he says, “is nothing but imposture.” We now see of what avail is good intention: by this, indeed, men harden themselves; but they cannot make the Lord to retract what He has once declared by the mouth of His prophet. Let us then take heed to continue within the boundaries of God’s Word, and never to leap over on this or on that side; for when we turn aside ever so little from the pure Word of God, we become immediately involved in many deceptions. (John Calvin.)
Lies in the State
National sins have ever the same general features; there are always the same general features. Our lies cause us to err; there are certain false principles which we, as a people, assume to be true. These we cherish, and on these we act. They are to be found in the State, in the Church, and in society. It is, of course, far easier to point out existing evils than to effect their remedy--far easier to prove the need of reformation than to bring it about. The first step to reformation is conviction of our errors. It is the most daring impiety, and most inexcusable folly, to imagine that, in political science, it is more judicious to act upon unrighteous precedents, after the example to others, than, by adhering to the Divine precepts of a heavenly jurisprudence, to trust in God and stand alone. The great question for our nation is, How shall we best promote the glory of God by extending the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and thereby the knowledge of the truth, to every Corner of the world? Missionary societies are invaluable, but they are not doing properly national work. Many a time the progress of truth and justice has been arrested by our political expediency. It is the polestar by which our statesmen too long have steered; and to God alone we owe it that our vessel is not a wreck. “Their lies cause them to err.” (James Mackay, B. D.)
Lies in society
In all civilised communities there are many usages of society with which it is convenient and proper to comply, so far as they involve no compromise of principle. The mainspring of all men’s conduct is selfishness. Selfishness may develop itself in many forms which appear to be interesting and amiable: it is the foundation of some of our most beautiful natural instincts; and these instincts are not unfrequently mistaken for virtues. In society certain false principles are recognised--lies which cause men to err.
I. Wealth is the chief good. This is a main article in the creed of society as a whole, in every country in the world. The advantages of wealth are, in a temporal point of view, very great. Wealth is power. It secures for its possessor every gratification that can minister to the appetites, the senses, and the taste.
II. It is possible to serve God and mammon. Religion, instead of being the chief business of life, is used simply as a means of quieting the conscience and establishing a good name. The heart is set on the world exclusively; yet hopes are entertained of inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
III. A man’s possessions are his own; he may do with them what he likes. They are not his own. They are only lent him as a steward for God. But the idea of acting as a steward for God would be denounced by people in general as fanatical.
IV. Human nature is not so depraved as theologians would have us believe. Instincts are taken for virtues, and are referred to as proofs that the language of Scripture has been overstrained.
V. Zeal in the cause of Christ is fanaticism. Few would use these words, but multitudes entertain the idea which they express. Lukewarmness is commended as prudence, and while zeal is not tolerated, indifference is overlooked or excused.
VI. If a man lives a good life, it matters not what his opinions may be. But no human being lives a good life, unless the love of God is his governing motive.
VII. Forgiveness of injuries is weak and unmanly. This is directly opposed to the teaching and example of Christ.
VII. The forbearance of God can never be exhausted. Men talk of God’s mercy who forget that they are taught to believe in His holiness. By presuming upon God’s mercy men may lose their souls.
IX. Religion is not a proper subject for ordinary conversation. Satan closes our lips on the greatest of all topics, and thus isolates us from one another, lest social intercourse should promote the success of the Gospel.
X. We ought to pray, but we need not wait on god for an answer. This betokens the absence of a real belief in the efficacy of prayer. He encourages us to expect an answer, as often as we offer our petitions. These are ten of the most prevalent errors about religion which are countenanced and cherished by society. Let us take care that it is not true of us--“Their lies cause them to err, after the which their fathers have walked.” (James Mackay, B. D.)
For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof.
I. God is the sole and righteous governor of the world. Not simply of Israel, but of Israel’s enemies, Syria, Gaza, Edom, etc. Here we get a glimpse of the great truth of God’s common Fatherhood. Amos somewhat anticipated Peter, “God is no respecter of persons,” and taught that God regarded the sin of Israel as He did that of Syria and Edom. That God would bring them to judgment in common with other nations, came as a thunderclap to the people of Jeroboam
II. With Amos there came to Israel a new conception of God. Note his words (Amos 3:2). Their privileges and blessings would not exempt them from sin’s consequences. They regarded God as benevolent to them. The prophet proclaims Him as righteous (Amos 5:21-24).
II. Judgment turns, not on questions of privilege, ceremony, or profession, but on character--Upon the character manifested in our treatment of those in our power. Personal character is tested by our treatment of “the least of these My brethren.” Priest and Levite proclaimed their unmercifulness in leaving the robber-smitten man to his fate. We see in the infinite regard and tender compassion of Christ to the poor, the suffering, the outcast, a revelation of God’s character. National character similarly tested. Damascus, Edom, Tyre, Israel cursed for what they did to people “defenceless and in their power.” Doing is the gauge of being. Their greed was expressed in their utter disregard of the rights of others. Damascus rioted in the blood of defenceless Gilead (Amos 1:3). Gaza traded in men (Amos 1:6). Tyre was rich, clever, strong, enterprising, artistic, resourceful, conquering. Lust of wealth and power led them, notwithstanding their close alliance with Solomon, to trade in Hebrew captives (Amos 1:9-10). Edom became the incarnation of the demon revenge (Amos 1:11). Ammon, prompted by lust of gain, invaded with devilish ferocity the sanctity of motherhood (Amos 1:13). Israel, ceremonious, self-righteous, prosperous, idolatrous, vain, privileged, denied justice to her poor, oppressed her children, sacrificed her young life to pleasure (Amos 2:6-8). These nations were marked, as modem nations, alas! are too often, by selfishness, and wide wasting and insatiable pride.” “For these things,” etc. Samson could not destroy Gaza, but greed did. Tyre was strong to defy Assyria, to found Cathage, and set at nought Nebuchadnezzar, but was consumed by fire enkindled of her own lust. The stone houses and rocky palaces of Edom afforded no refuge from the consequences of her sins. Israel destroyed herself. He who obliterated Tyre, removed Israel, consumed Edom and Gaza. “He who obliterated Babylon, destroyed Egypt, buried Greece and Rome under the debris of their own greatness.” He still judges the nations. In reading the judgments pronounced by Amos we are reminded that--
(1) Whoever sins against man sins against God. All human interests are sacred.
(2) The law of equilibrium obtains in matters moral as well as physical. As we give we receive. Justice is of God and meted out to all. Anything that dulls the heart’s sensibilities, robs of manhood’s sympathy, destroys the faculty for humanity, prepares for hell.
(3) Character is destiny. “Salvation is character, character is the result of moral decisions made daily.”
III. Sin is cumulative. What are the three transgressions? They are not stated. The fourth only is mentioned. Why? The last is the abridgment and consummation of all the foregoing. It does not stand alone. It is but the development in the way of evil. The first sin leads to the second, and the fourth were impossible but for the former three. The growth is shown in the case of Edom (Amos 1:11). Verse 11 indicates--
(1) A time when Edom was so sensitive that the very thought of cruelty caused him to shudder.
(2) But he nursed revengeful thoughts; kept the memory of wrongs ever fresh; until the shuddering ceased. “He corrupted his compassions.”
(3) His anger grew upon him until it thoroughly conquered him. He became gradually the incarnation of brutal revenge. Gradually men ripen for judgment. To-day’s deeds are the fruit of former days. Present life is the resultant of the past. No deed, no day, no sin stands alone!
IV. The consequences of sin are inevitable. Every act of sin is self-destructive. It avenges itself. The forces of judgment are loosed by the act which violates the law. (John T. Ecob.)
They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.
No remedy for injuries
The prophet means that there was no justice nor equity among the Israelites, for they made a sale of the children of God: and it was a most shameful thing that there was no remedy for injuries. The prophet levels his reproof against the judges, who then exercised authority. The just, he says, is sold for silver: this could not apply to private individuals, but to judges, to whom it belonged to extend a helping hand to the miserable and the poor, to avenge wrongs, and to give to every one his right. It is then the same as though the prophet had said that unbridled licentiousness reigned triumphant among the Israelites, so that just men were exposed as a prey, and were set, as it were, on sale. He says, first, that they were “sold for silver,” and then he adds, “for shoes”: and this ought to be carefully observed; for when once men begin to turn aside from the right course, they abandon them selves to evil without any shame. When an attempt is first made to draw aside a man that is just and upright and free from what is corrupt, he is not immediately overcome; though a great price may be offered to him, he will yet stand firm: but when he has sold his integrity for ten pieces of gold, he may afterwards be easily bought, as is the ease with women. Judges, then, who first covet silver, that is, who cannot be corrupted except by a rich and fat bribe, will afterwards barter their integrity for the meanest reward; for there is no shame any more remaining in them. This is what the prophet points out in these words,--that they sold the just for silver; that is, they sold him for a high price, and then they could be corrupted by the meanest gift, that if one offered them a pair of shoes, they would be ready without any blush of shame to receive such a bribe. (John Calvin.)
The penalty of oppression
Two centuries ago quaint Thomas Fuller said, “If any suppose that society can be peaceful while one half is prospered and the other half pinched, let him try whether he can laugh with one side of his face while he weeps with the other.” I am not concerning myself now, however, with those outside the Church, but those within. As surely as darkness follows sunset will the alienation of the masses follow sanctimonious selfishness in the Church. If a Christian’s motto is “Look out for number one,” then let them look out for estrangement and coldness on the part of number two. The Church millionaire stands at exact antipodes to the Church millennial, and in proportion aa the former flourishes, the latter will be hopelessly deferred. It is not an orthodox creed which repels the masses, but an orthodox greed. Let a Christian man stand forth conspicuously in any community, as honest as the law of Moses, and, yet let it be seen that he is building up an immense fortune by grinding the faces of the poor and compelling them to turn the grindstone for him while he does it, and he will wean a whole generation from the Gospel. The reckless “I don’t care for the Church,” which is coming up in ever-loudening chorus from the poorer classes, is but the echo of the stolid and selfish “ I do care for myself and my own that we may live luxuriously and fare sumptuously,” which is the undeniable expression of so many Christian lives. (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks.
Sin as ingratitude
These verses form a graphic resume of the great benefits which God had bestowed on His people. Amos was master of all arts by which a nation might be roused to penitence. Hence the two pictures of man’s sin (verses 6-8) and God’s goodness are set side by side as a means of awakening the slumbering conscience of the nation, and winning them back again to the service of their almighty and changeless Friend. Only the most hardened hearts can resist the appeal which Divine mercy makes! How great the sin of Israel. It blinded them to the mercies of heaven, made them cling to vices which God had raised them up to subdue, and forget the truth and holiness which were to be exemplified in their lives. The mercies are summed up under three heads.
I. The victories which made them masters of their inheritance. “Yet destroyed I the Amorite” (verse 9). The Amorites, strongest of all Canaanite nations, are taken as the representatives of all. The greatness of the victories is measured here--
(1) By the might of the enemies. The two noblest trees of Palestine represent the prowess of the foe: “Whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks.” The Anakim were of this race, combining what are not always united, vast stature and gigantic strength. The terror of the spies (Numbers 13:1-33.) is the best witness to the power of these mighty foemen. These enemies are a type of all foes whom God subdues before His people. Passion and pride are the Anakim whom He subdues before us. Alone we were powerless, dismayed by thoughts of the encounter; yet God girded Himself as a mighty man of war, and won for us the victory.
(2) The victory is measured by the completeness of the deliverance. “ Yet destroyed I his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.” The fruit might have been borne by the breeze to some spot where it would grow again, the root, left in the earth, might have put forth new branches. Both were destroyed. Our own experience has its parallel here. God not only subdues our foes, but lays them low at our feet, where they need never rise again to harass and annoy us: rooting out the seeds of bitterness. What a claim on our devotion!
II. Deliverances which opened the way for this career of conquest. “I brought you up from the land of Egypt” (verse 10). Nothing seemed more improbable than that they should escape from their captivity. All religious life begins with such proofs of God’s power and mercy.
III. God’s mercy also provided spiritual blessings (verse 11). The Nazarites and prophets were men who withered for truth and purity. The prophet taught by his words, the Nazarite by his life. Representatives of God, they walked among His people to bind all hearts to Himself. They were to preserve the nation from the sins which had brought ruin on the old inhabitants of Canaan, to keep alive that truth and purity which secured to them the possession of their land. How rich the mercy of God! The Amorite subdued, that the people might inherit their land; the yoke of Egypt broken, that they might go up and possess their inheritance; spiritual guides raised up to keep the people from the sin, which would spoil them of their new-found treasure. Such is God’s dealing with all His people. Their path is strewn with tokens of His guardian grace. He is preparing them for a great future. Application--God’s appeal, “Is it not even thus?” (verse 11) sets the sin of Israel before us in all its baseness. The mercies were so evident that none could doubt or deny them. All sin in God’s people is base ingratitude. Remember the gifts of heaven when tempted to wander. (J. Telford, B. A.)
And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites.
Divine appointments and their frustration
The sin and folly of their conduct is manifest when we consider--
I. The author of the appointments. “I raised up.” The Founder of their nation. He whose mercies have been commemorated in the ninth to the eleventh verses, had originated these appointments. What more signal proof of the folly in attempting this reversal! Everything that God willed should have been accepted gratefully as their rule of life; yet they tampered with His appointments thus.
(1) An abiding sense of the relations which God bears to His people is a constant safe guard against the spirit which would east off all restraint. He is the Author of all our blessings.
(2) The claim on reverence for Divine appointments is not confined to His people. God’s love is boundless as the universe.
II. When we consider the character of the appointments. God was striving to preserve the national purity, to train them up in all His ways. Such was His purpose in these remarkable institutions:--the prophetic office, and the order of the Nazarites. God had raised up these workers out of the “young men” of Israel--the class which could bring the greatest energy to this arduous work, devote the longest time to it, and furnish, amid the temptations to which youth was peculiarly exposed, the strongest proof of the restraining grace of God. God still uses means to preserve men in purity. The Spirit of God is His witness; conscience is His voice; truth is His messenger; His servants, by their words, and by the example of godly lives, are our prophets and the Nazarites. How great these agencies! Seek to know them to your own salvation.
III. Were frustrated by those for whose benefit they had been made. No regard for God, no sense of their own interest, deterred them from presuming to interfere with the counsels of God. The motive which prompted such conduct marks their degradation. The Nazarites were a standing reproof of their excess and revelry; the prophets were obnoxious because they tore away the disguises by which sin sought to hide its deformity, and warned the people of danger. If the voice of the prophet was silenced, they fancied that heaven had no means of reproving sin. They forgot that God could speak in the thunder and the earthquake. Application--Man can frustrate the purposes of God. Heaven may appoint; earth may undo the appointment. The effort is proof of degradation. Success in such effort is the worst punishment of any man. Israel reaped disaster and ruin from this attempt to reverse God’s appointments. False prophets multiplied, sin increased, the nation went into captivity. (J. Telford, B. A.)
The vow of the Nazarite
Though Amos was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but a rough herdsman, and unlettered gatherer of sycamore leaves, his was one of those masculine, indignant natures which burst like imprisoned flame through the white ashes of social hypocrisy. Like Samuel before Saul, like Elijah before Ahab, like John the Baptist before Herod, like Paul before Felix, like John Huss before Sigismund, like Luther before Charles V., like John Knox before Mary, so Amos testified undaunted before the idolatry of courts and priests. One crime of that bad period was luxury and intemperance. In this text the prophet confronts Israel with the high appeal of God, whether He had not put the fire of the Spirit into the hearts of some of their sons, and they had quenched that fire by their blandishments and conventionalities; and whether He had not inspired some of their youths to take the vow of abstinence, and they with the deliberate cynicism of worldlings had tempted them to scorn and break that vow? The very essence of the vow of the Nazarite was self-dedication. The young Nazarite consecrated himself to God, he offered himself, his soul and body, a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice. The Nazarite was a marked man, and because his vow was regarded as a tacit condemnation of the popular self-indulgence, he was exposed to the sneers of the worldly, and the temptations of the base. Nevertheless, “wisdom is justified of her children.” The best men, and the bravest men, and the least conventional men, in this world have been ever the most loudly and the most scornfully abused. Little recked the true Nazarite of muttered sarcasm and bitter hate,--little as recks the sea of the foolish wild birds that scream above it. Health, strength, physical beauty, wholesomeness of life, tranquillity of soul, serene dominion over evil passions, followed in the path of early and life-long abstinence. There seems to be a special strength, a special blessing, above all, a special power of swaying the souls of others for their good, which is imparted to wise and voluntary abstinence. The hands of invisible consecration overshadow, the fire of a spiritual unction crowns the head of him who in early youth has learnt to say with his whole heart, “In strong warfare, in holy self-denial, I dedicate my youth to God.” This age wants, this England wants, the Church of Christ wants those who, self-dedicated, like the ideal Nazarite, to noble ends, have not lost the natural grace and bloom of youthful modesty. We do want natures strong and sweet and simple, to whom life is no poor collection of fragments, its first volume an obscene and noisy jest book, its last a grim tragedy or a despicable farce; but to those of whom, however small the stage, the life is a regal drama, played out before God and man. We want the spirit of willing Nazarites. And total abstinence was the central conception of the vow of the Nazarite. (The rest of the sermon is an impassioned plea against indulgence in alcoholic drinks.) (Dean Farrar.)
The vigorous young man in most danger
To supply the abundance of life in the large and rich nature of a young man is difficult; and it is that which makes his being for ten or twelve years of his youth so critical and so precarious. You will have noticed that it is not the dull men who go to pieces in a small town, but often the best men, the men who have the largest natures to fill, and who, therefore, find the town too monotonous for them. It is the same in the workshop. It is the best workmen who go furthest wrong when they begin to drink. A cabbage is perfectly happy in a back garden; and a dull young man is perfectly happy without any brilliant outlet for his energies and amusements. But the man that requires looking after is the man of strong and vigorous youth, the man of rich personality, the man of strong individuality, the all-round good fellow, who is so hard to interest and so hard to control. So much as his life is difficult to control, so much the better to the community when it is fairly won over for high purposes and noble ends. The difficulty is to get hold of the brilliant young man and interest him, and divert his strong, rich life into useful channels. (Prof. Drummond.)
But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink.
Giving wine to the Nazarite
In Israel worldly prosperity had produced its usual effect--in excessive self-indulgence, and in forgetfulness of God; and in the capital itself, more especially, the luxurious life of the upper classes contrasted painfully with the miserable destitution of those who were dependent upon them. Under the circumstances we should have expected God to interfere. And He does interfere. He calls forth a considerable number of Nazarites, and sends them as His representatives among the people. The Nazarites were a class of persons whose mode of life wan intended to be a witness to the high importance of the covenant-position of Israel. Some such took vows for a period; some for life. Their obligations were mainly to abstain from the use of all intoxicating liquor. And they were to be on their guard against ceremonial defilement. Every Nazarite who made his appearance in public would be a living protest against the sensual ways of the leading inhabitants. We, can well understand that these self-indulgent nobles and wealthy citizens would not unfrequently endeavour to induce one of these devotees to break his vow. It would be a triumph for them if they succeeded. The charge is brought against them by Amos. What lessons may be conveyed to persons situated as you and I are? There is something peculiarly bad in God’s sight in the endeavour to induce another person to act in opposition to his conscience. By “offering wine to the Nazarite we are clearly casting in our lot with the opponents of the cause of Christ. (Gordon Calthrop, M. A.)
Ruin wrought by drink
We have no means for focalising the ruin wrought by England s greatest trade. The Press cannot mirror the tithe of it, nor the gossip relate its thousandth part. The trade is everywhere, and everywhere its work is one--unceasing slaughter. Could we but see in one fearful perspective the colossal host of men and women and sweet children struck to death by the traffic in drink, a new agony of compassion would break from the Church’s heart, and the days of the trade that can only flourish as men decay would be numbered. (Great Thoughts.)
Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.
--We go to-day to the gate of the harvest-field, to see the waggon piled up aloft with many sheaves come creaking forth, making ruts along the field. What a picture is a waggon loaded with corn of you and of me, as loaded with God’s mercies! Alas! that such a sign should be capable of another reading. That while God loadeth us with mercy, we should load Him withsin. The text is only a figure, since God cannot actually be oppressed by man. God speaks to us as a great father may talk to his little child. Just as a cart has the axles bent, and as the wheels creak under the excessive load, so the Lord says that under the load of human guilt He is pressed down, until He crieth out, because He can bear no longer the iniquity of those that offend against Him.
I. Sin is very grievous and burdensome to God. There is no suggestion anywhere that the whole burden of creation is any weight to the Most High. The heathen picture Atlas stooping beneath the globe; but the eternal God, who beareth up the pillars of the universe, “fainteth not, neither is weary.” Nor does providence fatigue the Lord. His incessant working has not diminished His strength, nor is there any failing, or thought of failing, with Him. But sin burdens God, though the world cannot; and iniquity presses the Most High, though the whole weight of providence is as the small dust of the balance.
1. Sin is the great spoiler of all God’s works. Sin looked on Eden, and withered all its flowers. Nothing tarnishes beauty so much as sin, for it mars God’s imago and erases His superscription.
2. Sin makes God’s creatures unhappy. Shall not, therefore, the Lord abhor it?
3. Sin attacks God in all His attributes. It assails Him on His throne, and stabs at His existence. What is sin? Is it not an insult to God’s wisdom? Does it not abuse God’s mercy?
4. Sin is an onslaught upon God Himself. For sin is atheism of heart. Surely sin is exceedingly sinful; so it must be grievous and burdensome to God.
II. Some sins are more especially grievous to God. There is no such thing as a little sin, and yet there are degrees of guilt. There are sins which especially provoke God.
Many men are especially obnoxious to God, because of their length in sin God takes special note, and feeleth an especial weariness of sin that is mixed with obstinacy. And ingratitude is intensely burdensome to God. While it is true that sin is grievous to the Lord, it magnifies His mercy when we see that He bears the load. As the cart is not said to break, but is pressed only, so is He pressed, and yet He bears. If you or I were in God’s place, should we have borne it?
III. God, in the person of his son, did bear and take away sin. Here stood the great problem. God must punish sin, yet He desired to have mercy. Jesus comes to be the substitute for all who trust Him.
IV. If not in Christ, that same load will crush us for ever. After judgment, for a soul out of Christ, what awaits? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
(compare Hosea 8:10; Hosea 11:8):--These three passages give us an intimation, a glimpse of the burden and grief of the Infinite. What is this burden that presses on the heart of the Divine? What are the thorns under the golden crown of universal dominion? Can we know what they are? Yes, the burden of the King of princes is the sin of His creatures, and to clear it from the world is the one great problem of the Divine. If sin were committed by any who were independent of God--were it possible for such to exist--it might cause Him no such sorrow. But all are dependent on Him, closely united by creation. Sin is evidently a matter of greatest cost to God, and something much more awful than we can comprehend. Sin meets God in His world at every turn. Sin now rears its serpent head amid the glories of God’s creation, and is now working terrible damage in the fair world of our Father. It may seem a trifling thing to many; but it is a real burden and annoyance to God. It is not necessary that a man should have a sharp stone in his eye in order to feel a smart. A speck of dust, a grain of sand, will be sufficient to blot out to us for a season the glories of the most beautiful landscape. As to the presence of such a slight foreign substance, the eye is most sensitive, so is the nature of God to the presence of sin in His creature. To a Being of such great love it must be a great burden to see such multitudes of His creatures rushing on in the misery of sin. In proportion to the infinite tenderness of the Divine nature, so is the burden increased. God knows the far-reaching effects of man’s sin. It is a very common thing to represent God as existing only in unalloyed happiness. It is only like Him to take up our burdens, to know our sorrows. He Is most like God when love leads to an infinite self-sacrifice in bearing man’s burdens, and sympathising in human sorrow. We should not believe in God’s sympathy and love so much apart from this bearing some burden. We should not go to Him so readily. There was not, let us remember, in Christ, who manifested God, the appearance of submission to suffering. It was real suffering, because there was a real burden and sympathy. If the Divine Being sympathises with man, He also shows us that He wishes to have from us sympathy and love in return. We are “to sorrow a little for the burden of the King of princes.” And the measure of our power to enter into sympathy with the Divine is the measure of the strength of our spiritual character. (F. Hastings.)
This verse, as it is by some translated, is a part of the sentence or threatening, showing that God would press their place or land, and fill it with heaps of judgments and enemies, as a cart is pressed and filled with sheaves in harvest. But as it is here translated, it is a general conclusion introductory to the sentence; wherein the Lord declareth, that the multitude and variety of these their sins did so provoke His justice and patience, that He might justly complain of them as insupportable and intolerable, as a cart groans under burdens; and therefore He would punish, as is declared in the following verses. Doctrine.
1. It is the way of secure sinners to lay over the weight of all their sins on God, and on His mercy, as if He were but a cart to lie under the burden of them all, that so they may sleep the sounder and sin the faster.
2. The Lord, even toward secure sinners, will take on this burden so far, as to suffer their manners long, before He cast it off, albeit He be provoked by every sin, and doth not allow their presumptuous casting off their iniquities upon Him, yet He doth not complain nor strike, till He be pressed, “as a cart that is full of sheaves.”
3. God’s patience and long-suffering will at last weary to endure the provocations of sinners, as becoming insupportable.
4. When the cup of men’s iniquities is full, and God is about to bear them no longer, yet they may be so stupid as to need up-stirring to consider it. (George Hutcheson.)
Ill-treatment of God
Consider, then, for a moment, how bad human nature must be, if we think how ill it has treated its God. I remember William Huntington says, in his Autobiography, that one of the sharpest sensations of pain that he felt after he had been quickened by Divine grace was this: “ He felt such pity for God.” I do not know that I ever met with the expression elsewhere, but it is a very expressive one, although I might prefer to say sympathy with God and grief that He should be so evil entreated. Ah, there are many men that are forgotten, that are despised, and that are trampled on by their fellows; but there never was a man who was so despised as the everlasting God has been. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself.
Effect of sin on the sinner
We have here the supplement to the former verse: the sin which wearies God reacts on those who walk in it.
I. A picture of the decay of national prowess. It is a painful remembrance of departed power, like some castle once the seat of a nation’s strength, now in ruins. The swift are there, but their swiftness is gone; the strong remain, but only as a wreck of their former selves, unable to gather up their strength. Danger found them, like Samson in the lap of Delilah, shorn of all their boasted power. He who handles the bow dare not stand to pour his shafts on the enemy; the fleet of foot, and even the mounted soldier, should fall into the hands of the enemy, and the mighty man, once full of courage, should be glad to escape, stripped of arms and clothing, in the day of visitation. Every sentence increases the effect of this picture. What they had been and what they were forms a terrible contrast.
II. The reason for such a decay of prowess. Sin had borne this deadly fruit. All their national valour sprang from confidence in God. They knew that “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” What foe could stand before men who leaned on the arm of God? Lord Bacon says, that “man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon Divine protection and favour, gathereth a force and faith which human nature in itself could not obtain.” All their victories are proof of these words. Confidence in God had brought David off victorious in his conflict with Goliath (Deuteronomy 32:30). All was changed now. Sin had sapped their confidence in heaven, and the whole fabric of their national life was tottering to its foundations. They felt the truth of the old words, “He that offends against heaven has none to whom he can pray.” History presents many parallels to this declension. Injustice and sin have shorn great men of their strength, and left them weak in the hour of danger.
III. The effects of this decay of valour were soon evident. For them, as for us, peace depended on prowess; prowess was born of confidence in God. Foes, who were only held in check by fear, soon discovered their declension,--for such decay has many tokens,--and quickly overran their land. The floodgates were opened, and a tide of vengeance poured itself over their land. Three times Amos repeats,--the reiteration marking the certainty of their doom,--“He shall not deliver himself.” Application. Sin is ruin. He who would have victory must be loyal to heaven, then God will surely fulfil to him the great promise to Joshua (Joshua 1:5). (J. Telford, B. A.)
Prosperity and ruin
It may sound strange to say that adversity is not half so dangerous to a man as prosperity run mad, but it is true. I have read somewhere that the south wall of Whitby Abbey is more dilapidated than the north wall, thus proving that the light of the sun has been more destructive than that angry tempest that swept in from the North Sea. And the bright sunshine of prosperity has often proved more ruinous to individuals and nations than the wintry tempests of adversity. (J. Ossian Davies.)