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§ 2. Second address. The prophet reproves the voluptuous women of Samaria, and fortells their captivity (Amos 4:1-3); with bitter irony he describes the people's devotion to idolatry (Amos 4:4, Amos 4:5): he shows how incorrigible they have proved themselves under God's chastisements (Amos 4:6-11); therefore they must expect further punishment, if so be that they will learn to fear the Lord (Amos 4:12, Amos 4:13).
The very women are leaders in dissoluteness and oppression. Ye kine of Bashan. Fat and well liking, such as the rich pastures of Bashan produce. Some have supposed that by this term are meant the luxurious nobles of Samaria, who are called "cows" as being effeminate and licentious. This is possible; but such grandees would be called rather "bulls of Bashan," and the "masters" mentioned just below signify more naturally these women's husbands than the kings. Pussy notes that the genders in the sentence are interchanged. "Hear ye," "your Lord," "upon you," "they shall take you," being masculine; "that oppress," "that crush," "that say," "your posterity," "ye shall go out," "each before her," "ye shall cast," feminine. Evidently the prophet addresses his reproaches to the luxurious of both sexes, though he begins with the women. The land of Bashan extended from Hermon to the Jabbok, including Gaulonitis, Auronitis, Batauea, and Trachonitis. It was always famous for its pasturage, cattle, and oaks. The Vulgate takes the term as metaphorical, and has, vaccae pingues. So Symmachus, βόες εὔτροφοι, which translation Jerome adopts. Mountain of Samaria. The hill of Shomer, on which Samaria was built (see note on Amos 3:9). Oppress the poor. This they did in ministering, or getting their husbands to minister, to their luxury and debauchery. Apparently they urged their husbands to violence and fraud in order to obtain means to satisfy their extravagance. A bad woman is thoroughly unscrupulous (see the case of Ahab and Naboth, 1 Kings 21:7, etc.). Their masters; their lords; i.e. husbands (comp. Genesis 18:12; 1 Peter 3:6). Bring, and let us drink. They invite their husbands to supply the means of debauchery and to join in their revels.
By his holiness. God swears by his holiness, which cannot tolerate iniquity, and which they had profaned (Amos 2:7; comp. Amos 6:8). That he will take you away. "That one, or they, shall take you away;" the enemy, the instrument of God's vengeance, is meant. With hooks; tsinnoth; Septuagint, ἐν ὅπλοις: Vulgate, in contis. The translation, "with hooks," is correct, the idea being that the people shall be utterly helpless and taken for destruction, like fish caught with hooks (Jeremiah 16:16; Habakkuk 1:15). Your posterity; acharith (Amos 9:1); better, your residue, those who have not been destroyed previously. The Septuagint and the Vulgate give quite a different notion to the passage. The former (according to the Vatican manuscript) has, Καὶ τοὺς μεθ ὑμῶν εἰς λέβητας ὑποκαιομένους ἐμβαλοῦσιν ἔμπυροι λοιμοί, "And fiery destroyers shall cast those with you into boiling caldrons;" the latter, Et levabunt vos in contis, et reliquias vestras in ollis ferventibus. (For the explanation of these versions, which arise from mistakes in the meanings of ambiguous words, see Schegg and Kuabenbauer.)
At the breaches made in the city walls, as cattle hurry through gaps in a fence. Thus they should go forth when Samaria was taken. Every cow at that which is before her; better, each straight before her, just where the opening offered itself (comp. Joshua 6:5, Joshua 6:20). The LXX. inserts γυμναί, "naked." And ye shall cast them into the palace; Septuagint, Καὶ ἀποῤῥιφήσεσθε εἰς τὸ ὄρος τὸ Ῥομμάν, (ῥεμμάν, Alex.), "And ye shall be cast forth into the mountain Romman; Vulgate, et projiciemini in Armon. The Syriac and Arabic Versions, and Aquila, render, "unto Mount Armon;" the Chaldee paraphrast, "far beyond the mountains of Armenia." The Hebrew expression haharmonah occurs nowhere else. Our version takes it in the sense of armon, "a palace," intending probably a palace or citadel of the enemy, which certainly ought to have been expressed. Kimchi renders, "Ye shall cast yourselves into the palace of the king." The passage is probably corrupt. If the verb is taken as passive, the unusual word must be considered to denote the place of banishment. Thus, "Ye shall be cast forth into Harmon." Whether Harmon means Armenia, as many ancient commentators thought, or not, cannot be determined. Various opinions may be seen in Keil, Schegg, Trochon, and others; but the simplest explanation is that of Orelli and Ewald, viz. that each fugitive shall fling away her idol Rimmona (the wife of the god Rimmon, 2 Kings 5:18), in order to be more free for flight (comp. Isaiah 2:20).
The prophet now turns to Israel, and ironically bids them exhibit their zeal for idolatry, and thus increase their guilt. Bethel; as the chief seat of idol worship (Amos 3:14). At Gilgal; rather, to Gilgal, "come ye" being repeated in thought. Gilgal was a strong position in the plain of Jordan, three miles east of Jericho, taking its name probably from the stone circles erected for purposes of worship in very early times. Joshua (Joshua 5:9) gave a new meaning to the old name. There is a large pool of water in this neighbourhood called Jil-julieh, about four miles from the Jordan, which is doubtless a corruption of the ancient name Gilgal. It seems to have been regarded as a holy place in Samuel's days or even before (see Judges 3:19; 1Sa 7:16; 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:14, etc.; 1 Samuel 13:8, etc.); and later was appropriated to false worship, though we have no information as to the date of this declension. Gilgal and Bethel are associated together in idolatrous worship (Amos 5:5 and in Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11). Bring your sacrifices every morning. They were careful to maintain the outward semblance of the regular Levitical worship, even beyond the letter of the Law in some respects, though their service was all the time idolatry. As this and the following clause are still ironical, Amos is speaking, not of the daily-prescribed sacrifice (olah, Numbers 28:3), but of the offerings (zebach) of individual Israelites which were not required to be presented every day. Your tithes after three years; literally, on the three of days; lishlosheth yamim; Vulgate, tribus diebus; Septuagint, εἰς τριημερίαν, "every third day." Revised Version, "every three days." So Gesenius, Ewald, Keil, Schegg, Hitzig, Baur. The prophet bids them bring their tithes, not as the Law ordered, every year (Leviticus 27:30), or, as in the ease of the second tithe, every three years (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12), but, by an ironical exaggeration, "every three days." Dr. Pusey defends the English Version on the ground of the idiomatic use of "days" for one circle of days, i.e. a year (Leviticus 25:29; Judges 17:10; 1 Samuel 27:7). But this loses the irony which is so marked in the whole passage. Keil, "If ye would offer slain sacrifices every morning, and tithe every three days, ye would only thereby increase your apostasy from the living God."
Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven; more definitely, offer by burning a thank offering of that which is leavened. This is an alteration of the prescribed ritual in two particulars. The Law forbade leaven in any meat offering consumed by fire (Le Amos 2:11; Amos 7:12); and if it allowed cakes of leavened bread to be offered on one occasion, these were not to be placed on the altar and burned, but one was to be assigned to the officiating priest, and the rest eaten at the sacrificial meal (Le Amos 7:13, Amos 7:14). The ironical charge to the Israelites is that in their unlicensed zeal they should not only burn on the altar that which was leavened, but, with the idea of being more bountiful, they should also offer .by fire that which was to be set apart for other uses. The Septuagint Version can only be explained by considering the translators to have had a different reading, καὶ ἀνέγνωσαν ἔγω νόμον, "and they read the Law without." Proclaim … publish. Make public proclamation that free will offerings are to be made, or else, like the Pharisees (Matthew 6:2), announce with ostentation that you are about to offer. The essence of such offerings was that they should be voluntary, not of command or compulsion (Leviticus 22:18, etc.; Deuteronomy 12:6). Septuagint, καὶ ἐπεκαλέσαντο ὁμολογίας, "and called for public professions" (as Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 12:17, Deuteronomy 12:18). This liketh you; this ye love; Septuagint, "Proclaim ye that the children of Israel loved these things." Their whole heart was set on this will worship.
In this and the five following verses God sets forth instances of the judgments which he had sent at various times to correct Israel; viz. famine, drought, blight, pestilence, earthquake; but all had been in vain. Five times recurs the sad refrain, "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." God's unwearied love had not conquered their rebellion. Cleanness of teeth; Septuagint, γομφιασμὸν ὀδόντων, "dulness of teeth;" Vulgate, stuporem dentium. It is not "toothache" that is meant, but famine, as is seen by the parallel term, want of bread; as Corn. a Lapide says, "Cum enim in fame et penuria dentes non habent quod mordeant et mandant, innocentes sunt et mundi." This is the first chastisement mentioned. It was threatened in the Law as a consequence of backsliding (see Leviticus 26:1-46.; Deuteronomy 28:48, Deuteronomy 28:57). The famines to which Amos alludes are not recorded. Plainly they were not fortuitous, but were providential inflictions, in accordance with previous warnings Yet have ye not returned unto me. Pusey notes that the words imply, not that they returned not at all, but that they did after a fashion return, but not so as to reach God, their repentance being a half-repentance and their worship a half-worship, and therefore unacceptable.
The second punishment is drought, as predicted (Leviticus 26:19, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:23). When there were yet three months to the harvest, and when rain was most necessary to swell the grain. The season meant is in February and March, when what was called "the latter rain" fell. In the south of Palestine the harvest commenced at the end of April, but in the northern parts it was some weeks later, so that it might be said in round numbers that it took place three months after the latter rain. I caused it to rain upon one city. That they might not attribute this drought to the blind laws of nature, God caused it to be of a partial character, giving rain to one city while he withheld it from another. One piece. The portion of ground belonging to an individual is so called (Deuteronomy 33:21; Ruth 2:3; Ruth 4:3).
This want of rain produced great dearth of water to drink, and persons had to go long distances to procure supplies. Wandered; literally trembled, staggered, as spent and exhausted by thirst. The word is used in Psalms 59:15; Psalms 109:10. The supply thus used was soon exhausted, and brought no permanent relief.
The third chastisement is occasioned by blight (Deuteronomy 28:22) and palmerworm (Deuteronomy 28:39, Deuteronomy 28:42). Blasting; the scorching east wind spoken of by Isaiah (Isaiah 27:8) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:10). Vulgate, in vento urente; Septuagint, ἐν πυρώσει, "with parching;" Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, ἀνεμοφθρία. Mildew; a blight, under the influence of which the ears of corn turned yellow and became unfruitful. "Blasting and mildew" are mentioned together in Moses' curse (Deuteronomy 28:22) and in Solomon's dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:37; comp. Haggai 2:17). The LXX. has, ἐν ἰκτέρῳ, "with jaundice." When your gardens … increased. It is better to take this sentence as the English margin, "The multitude of your gardens … hath the palmerworm devoured." So the Vulgate, Multitudinem hortorum tuorum … comedit eruca. Gardens included orchards, herbaries, and pleasure grounds. The palmerworm; gazam; Septuagint, κάμπη: Vulgate, eruca. The word occurs in Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25, and is taken by many commentators to mean some kind of locust; but it is more probable that the Greek and Latin translators are right in regarding it as "a caterpillar" (see Smith, 'Dict. of the Bible,' 2:696, etc.; 'Bible Educator,' 4:293). Amos seems to be referring to the visitation in Joel's time, if we take gazam ("biter") to be a kind of locust.
The fourth visitation is pestilence and the sword (Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:60). After the manner of Egypt. In the manner in which Egypt is stricken (comp. Isaiah 10:24, Isaiah 10:26; Ezekiel 20:30). There is here no reference to the plague of Exodus 9:3, etc; or Exodus 12:29. The allusion is to the plague which was reckoned to be epidemic in Egypt, and to other loathsome diseases for which that country was notorious (see Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:60) Sir G. Wilkinson notes that the plague used to occur about every ten years. Your young men have I slain with the sword. Pestilence and wax are allied scourges in Le Exodus 26:25. A reference may here be made to the wars with the Syrians, wherein the Israelites suffered heavy losses (2 Kings 6:25; 2Ki 8:12; 2 Kings 13:3, 2 Kings 13:7, 2 Kings 13:22). And have taken away your horses; rather, together with your captive horses, still under the regimen of "I have slain." The destruction of men and horses is mentioned in 2 Kings 13:7. The stink of your camps. These unburied caresses caused pestilence in the district. Septuagint, Καὶ ἀνήγαγον ἐν πυρὶ τὰς παρεμβολὰς ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ ὑμῶν, or, according to the Alexandrian manuscript, παρεμβολὰς ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ μου, "In my wrath against you I set fire to your camps."
The fifth visitation is the earthquake (Deuteronomy 29:23). I have overthrown. This is the word used to describe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:25; Jeremiah 20:16), and it seems better to refer the occurrence mentioned to some such convulsions of nature which caused widespread destruction, than, as Keil and others, "to the utter confusion of the state by which Israel was brought to the verge of ruin." We do not know anything about the particular earthquake to which the prophet alludes. (For an exhaustive catalogue of the earthquakes in this country, see Pusey's notes on this verse.) As God overthrew. The substitution of the name of God for the personal pronoun, when the Lord himself is speaking, is not uncommon in Hebrew. Here it rather takes the form of a quotation from Genesis. Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning (Zechariah 3:2, where see note)—a phrase which implies, not only a narrow escape, but an escape accompanied with loss. The "brand" not wholly consumed is yet blackened and diminished by the burning.
Therefore. Because all previous judgments have been in vain, therefore will I send upon them something more terrible still. Thus. God says not how; he leaves the nature of the coming chastisement in mysterious uncertainty, that the very suspense may work fear and repentance. Because I will do this (pointing back to the mysterious "thus" above) unto thee; because I am ready to bring on thee still heavier punishment. Prepare to meet thy God; Septuagint, Ἐτοιμάζου τοῦ ἐπικαλεῖσθαι τὸν Θεόν σου, "Prepare to call upon thy God." Make ready to meet thy God in judgment, turning to him with changed heart, if perchance he may forgive thee and withdraw his heavy hand. Another explanation, derived from Symmachus and adopted by a Lapide, Schegg, and others, "Praeparare ut adverseris Deo tuo"—an ironical encouragement to them to withstand God—deprives the following verse of its suitability to the context. For the prophet would hardly invite them to this contest by expatiating upon God's almightiness.
The prophet enforces his threats by declaring God's power and omniscience. He that formeth the mountain; ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ στερεῶν βροντήν, "I am he that strengtheneth thunder". The mountains are mentioned as the most solid and everlasting of his works; the wind, as the subtlest and most immaterial of created things. Declareth unto man what is his thought; i.e. man's thought; reveals man to himself shows that he knows man's thought before man puts it into words. This he does sometimes by the stings of conscience, sometimes by inspiring his prophets to declare men's secret motives and the real state of their heart. Vulgate, Annuntians homini eloquium suum, where eloquium is equivalent to cognitatio. The LXX; with some change of letters, has, ἀπαγγέλλων εἰς ἀνθρώπους τὸν Χριστὸν αὐτοῦ, "proclaiming unto men his Christ"—a reading which supports the misinterpretation of "his thought" as meaning God's thought, Christ being regarded as the Λόγος of God. Many of the Fathers have seen here a prophesy of the Messiah. See Tirinus and Corn. a Lapide on this verse. That maketh the morning darkness. Keil, after Calvin, takes these words as asyndeton for "the morning dawn and darkness." So the Septuagint, ποιῶν ὅρθρον καὶ ὁμίχλην, "making morning and gloom." This would be simply a further instance of God's creative power. The Vulgate gives, faciens matutinam nebulam; and it seems probable (comp. Amos 5:8; Amos 8:9) that the clause means that the Lord turns the dawn into darkness. This may refer to the action of clouds or an eclipse; or it may be said metaphorically of prosperity and adversity. Treadeth upon the high places of the earth. An anthropomorphic representation of the might and majesty of God, who governs all things, and has the loftiest in perfect subjection (comp. Deuteronomy 32:13; Deuteronomy 33:29; Job 9:8; Micah 1:3). The Lord, Jehovah, the eternal, self-existent, covenant God, is he who in these things manifests himself, and therefore his threats are not to be despised (Amos 5:8). In the prophet's view the laws and powers of nature have their scope in executing God's commands.
The woes of the women at ease.
By a contemptuous and striking figure, the women of Samaria are styled the "kine of Bashan." They were as kine, unmindful of the past, unheeding of the future, their attention limited to the present, and living in it only the life of sense. They were as Bashan's kine, wandering in richest pastures, overfed, indulged, and pampered, and therefore waxed voluptuous and wanton. In explanation of the special reference to them, observe—
I. THAT THE WOMEN OF A NATION ARE ALWAYS MORE OR LESS RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS SINS. This appears from the fact that:
1. They reflect the national character. Soft, and easily receptive of influence, whether good or bad, the female character is, to a greater extent than the male, a compound tincture of the prevailing qualities of the land and time. It is natural that, as reflecting the national sin, the women will be obnoxious to national punishment.
2. They form the national character. They have earliest, most constant, and most affectionate access to the young. They influence character at its softest and most pliant stage, and they approach it, moreover, on its softest side. Reflecting national character so truly, and impressing this so inevitably on the rising generation, it is through them chiefly that good or evil becomes hereditary in society.
"O woman, nature made thee
To temper man."
The "tempering" is oftener for good than ill, converting into porcelain the common clay, purifying and ennobling all she comes near.
"Woman's empire, holier, more refined,
Moulds, moves, and sways the fallen yet God-breathed mind."
But if she reigns as the devil's vicegerent, if the influences that go forth from her tend to the enthronement of corruption and wrong, she must be deposed as a matter of policy, and punished as a matter of justice (Isaiah 3:16-24; Isaiah 32:9-13).
II. A COURSE THAT INVOLVES EVIL IS AS GUILTY BEFORE GOD AS A COURSE THAT INFLICTS IT. The evil a woman does outside her family circle is largely indirect. Of the women of Israel it appears that:
1. They were self-indulgent at the necessary expense of the poor. "Which oppress the humble, which crush the needy." This would sometimes be done directly, but generally through the agency of the men. A luxurious mistress often makes a hard and oppressive master. Her extravagant demands must be met by an increased income, and that is only too likely to be sought in exactions from the dependent poor. Let it be in overcharged dues or in underpaid work, in every case the luxury that forces on the demand is responsible for the evils of the enforced supply. "Those at ease often know not that their luxuries are continually watered by the tears of the poor … but God counts wilful ignorance no excuse" (Pusey). Hood's stanza, addressed to men, is doubly pertinent to women.
"O men with sisters dear!
O men with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out,
But human creatures' lives."
The self-indulgence of the women of Israel meant really the grinding of the poor, out of whose poverty "their lords" were; driven to wring the means of carrying on their shameful excesses.
2. They encouraged their husbands in self-indulgence. "Bring, and let us drink." This was a doubling of the evil. They not only did wrong, but tempted others to do it. They wasted much, and procured the wasting of more. They were at pains to increase the number of harpies who would gorge themselves on the hard earnings of the poor.
3. This was not an isolated act, but a habit. "Oppress" is equivalent to "are continually oppressing." Luxury had settled irate a chronic social evil. The demand for fuel to feed the fire of indulgence was constant. It was a cancer eating out the well being of society continually, and devouring, generation after generation, the inheritance of the poor. The evil of it smelled rank to Heaven, and the guilt of it clamoured for punishment.
III. GOD'S OUTRAGED PERFECTIONS ARE THE GUARANTEE OF THE SINNER'S PUNISHMENT. "The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by his holiness." The occasions of God's action are often supplied by men, but the grounds of it are in himself—in the perfections of his character and the purposes of his will.
1. Holiness is God's characteristic quality. There is a universal ascription of it to him in Scripture (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:1-3; Isaiah 57:15; Habakkuk 1:13). Absolutely his "name is holy;" relatively he is the "Holy One of Israel." This holiness is an infinite contrariety to all that is morally impure. It characterizes all his other perfections, and is, in this aspect, not so much a distinct attribute as the blending together of them all. Administratively, he swears by his holiness, and sits upon the throne of his holiness (Psalms 89:35; Psalms 47:8); believers are the people of his holiness, and heaven the habitation of his holiness (Isaiah 63:18, Isaiah 63:15); whilst a synonym for the consecrated life is "holiness to the Lord."
2. God's holiness was the quality specially profaned. (Amos 2:7.) It was to profane his holy Name that they had sinned. The perfection specially sinned against is naturally the one to be vindicated. "He pledges his own holiness that he will avenge their unholiness (Pusey). Jealous of all his perfections, the one our conduct tends to obscure or hurt is the one God will most emphatically illustrate and glorify.
3. Holiness is the quality that makes punishment of sin inevitable. It is the recoil of God's infinitely pure nature from moral evil. It is the expression and sum of an essential and external antagonism to it. It is incompatible with impurity as light is with darkness, and its necessary and natural action toward it is destructive. Fundamentally it is because God is holy that he punishes, and must punish, sin.
IV. THE SINNER'S PUNISHMENT WHEN IT COMES WILL MATCH AND SQUARE WITH HIS SIN. (Amos 4:2, Amos 4:3.) Here the dovetailing of retribution with crime is very complete. There would be:
1. Deportation from luxurious scenes. "I will take you away." The indulgences become habitual would be violently interrupted. The luxurious and vicious tastes, developed into tremendous strength by long continued sensuality, would be deprived of their gratification. Instead of the high living, become by long enjoyment a thing of course, and a necessity of their life, they would have the coarse and scanty fare of slaves. To visit with want and bondage, when habits of rule and luxury have become a second nature, is a judgment bitterly felt.
2. This in a violent and painful manner. "With hooks." The figure is drawn from fishing. The drawing out of the fish by means of a hook is always painful, and is rendered doubly so by its resistance. So with the soft and delicately nurtured women of Samaria in the hands of a rough and brutal soldiery. They would suffer as a fish transfixed by a barbed hook, and their former luxury would be in a sense its own avenger.
3. This to the last one. "And your last one with fish hooks." Not one should escape. God's judgments are particular. He does not visit people in the mass, but individuals. Not a cow but would feel the cut of the drover's whip, and experience the famine pangs of the scanty pasture.
4. This in connections with their own lusts as auxiliaries. The hook that draws out the fish has been baited for it, and voluntarily swallowed, though under a wrong impression. In heathen luxury and dissolution the Hebrew women found a bait which they swallowed greedily. Now they should find that, with the bait, they had swallowed also a cruel hook, which would draw them away to suffer evils worse than they had themselves inflicted. "And be cast away to Harman" (Authorized Version, "into the palace"), i.e. probably Armenia (see Pusey). Here, being used to minister to heathenish luxury and lust, they would be victims in the matter in which they had been so long the victimizers of others. There is a nameless cruelty in debauchery, which only the victims of it know. This, with the added burden of heathen horrors, the delicate and pampered Israelitish women would now suffer. Their punishment would rise upon them in familiar shape, the resurrection of their own sin.
5. The bovine stolidity of their prosperous days would make them helpless as driven cattle in the day of calamity. "In the wall ye shall go out every one before her," i.e. "as a herd of cows go one after another through a gap in the fence" (Pusey). The level of intelligence goes down with the level of morality. The penalty of living the brutes' life of sense is a weakening of the heavenly gift of reason, by which we are distinguished from them.
Amos 4:4, Amos 4:5
Corruption and religiosity in unholy alliance.
Here the prophet turns from the women of Israel, and addresses the people at large. His language is that of strong irony. What he bids the people do is the thing he knows they have been doing and will go on doing, notwithstanding the imminence of the punishment he predicts. He means, by a sarcastic coordination of their acts of hollow worship with those of their sin-stained lives, to bring them to see themselves as God and others saw them.
I. MORAL CORRUPTION AND A ZEAL FOR RELIGIOUS FORMS MAY EXIST TOGETHER. (Amos 4:4.) Here it would seem as if the multiplication of transgressions and of observances went pari passu together.
1. The observance if religious forms involves nothing in the way of spirituality. Taste is wanted, and feeling and judgment, but that is all. Enjoyment in the formal acts of worship may be an aestheticism which is altogether apart from spirituality. The sensuous delight in music, oratory, attitudinizing, millinery, upholstery, and other ecclesiastical impedimenta is just as abundant and as much at home in the theatre as in the church, and is the same non-spiritual thing wherever found.
2. Worship may even be made so sensuous as to become the minister of luxury. Other things being equal, the largest congregations gather where the adjuncts of worship are most elaborate and most gorgeous. Many confessedly attend the house of God exclusively for the music and singing, never waiting to hear the gospel preached, or consenting to do so only for appearance' sake. And the thing is perfectly intelligible. A musical and ornate service is decenter than a music hall, and pleasanter than their own room, and makes an agreeable break in their idle Sunday afternoon. So far from such an observance involving or tending to produce spirituality of feeling, it leaves this out in the cold, and makes its appeal entirely to sense. It has no more bearing on the religious life than theatre going, or club going, or race going, or any other mode of raising the sensational wind.
3. External religious observance quiets the conscience, and so smoothe the path of the self-indulgent. Even after the sinful life has far advanced, his conscience gives the sinner trouble. Failing to prevent the sin, it suggests the performance of some compensatory work. To sin, and then do penance, is easier than to crucify the flesh and be separate from sin. And one of the commonest salves for an accusing conscience is diligence in the externals of religious observance. It looks and feels like worship, and it makes no demands on the religious faculty. Rather, by substituting an emotional exercise for one of the conscience and heart, it deadens the moral sense, and lulls the transgressor into a dangerous complacency.
II. MEN WHO REST IN FORMS ARE PRONE TO MULTIPLY THEM. This is a logical necessity. If the form be everything, then the more of it the better. Besides, the sensation produced by observing it gets stale after a time, and, in order to keep it at its first strength and freshness, there must be a continual increase of the dose. Israel illustrated this principle in two degrees.
1. They were particular about ceremonial obsevances. They offered the slain sacrifices, the praise offerings, the free offerings, and the tithes at their appointed times. In addition to the annual tithe they also gave a second tithe every three years (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12). This was keeping up to the very letter of the Law. A Pharisee in later times could not have given more circumstantial obedience to it than they did. When the opus operatum is made the whole of a religious ordinance, it is sure to be circumstantially observed; and the rule is that the more completely the spirit is lost sight of, the more elaborately is the letter observed. To the exhaustive observance of ordinances by Israel, according to our text, there was one significant exception. This was the omission of the sin offering and the trespass offering. They had no consciousness of sin. They deported themselves as men who had praise to offer and gifts to bestow, but no sin to be atoned or to confess. To the formalist an adequate idea of sin is impossible, and in his worship the question is not raised.
2. They went beyond the letter of Divine requirement. In addition to the re.ruing sacrifice required by the Law, they offered slain sacrifices (so the Hebrew) every day. Then, not content with burning unleavened cakes on the altar as a praise offering, they burned also the leavened cakes which were to be eaten at the sacrificial meal (see Keil, in loc.). As to the free offerings, they carried the provision for having them made beyond the command by having them cried. Thus, so far as forms went, the idol loving, corrupt, rebellious people were almost exemplary worshippers—went further, indeed, than true worshippers had always felt called upon to no. "It is a characteristic of idolatry and schism to profess extraordinary zeal for God's worship, and go beyond the letter and spirit of his Law by arbitrary will worship and self-idolizing fanaticism" (Lange). To compensate for the utter absence of the spirit, the letter is made to do double and vicarious duty.
III. TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO THE EXTERNAL FORM OF AN ORDINANCE TENDS TO THE VIOLATION OF THE SPIRIT OF IT. On the one hand, the spirit gets lost sight of through inattention, and on the other hand, the inventive faculty introduces practices inconsistent with it.
1. In their anxiety to offer more than was required Israel offered a thing that was forbidden. To "kindle praise offerings of that which is leavened" was contrary to Levitical law. The leavened bread of the praise offering, which they burned along with the unleavened cakes and oil, was not to be burned, but eaten (Le Amos 2:11; Amos 7:12-14). The human mind cannot add to a Divine ordinance anything in character. The addendum will either obscure or traverse the religious rite to which it is attached. God's ordinances, like his oracles, can only be added to under a heavy penalty—the penalty of mistaken action arising out of erroneous thought.
2. They destroyed the essentially spontaneous character of the free will offerings by endeavouring to make them practically compulsory. These offerings must be made of the offerer's free will (Leviticus 22:19). Made under compulsion, moral or otherwise, they lost their spontaneous character, and might as well not have been made at all. And what but compulsion was it to "proclaim and publish," or literally to "call out" for them? God's ordinance can be safely and rightly observed only in God's way. In such a matter human invention, if it interferes, is sure to err. Hence the so emphatic and frequent warnings in Scripture against "the commandments and ordinances of men."
3. This amateur tinkering of Divine institutions is very agreeable to human nature. "For so ye love it." Unspiritual men love the forms of religion if they serve as a means of escape from its realities. They love them more still if, by observing them, they can seem to accomplish a salvation by works. They love them most of all when they are partially of their own invention. Almost all human ordinances in religion are the expression of man's love of his own intellectual progeny.
IV. THE MULTIPLICATION OF ACTS OF WILL WORSHIP IS ONLY THE MULTIPLICATION OF SIN. The close association of the words "transgression" and "sacrifice" would indicate that the sacrifice itself was sinful.
1. It was not meant to please God, being an act of pure self-will. That which will please God must be meant to please him. A formal religious act, if done for our own pleasure, and not as an act of service to God, is valueless (Colossians 2:20-23). Will worship is self-worship. It is only an insidious way of "satisfying the flesh." It is a thing by which God is not honoured, but dethroned, and by which man is prejudiced with God and not commended (Isaiah 2:11).
2. It was not fitted to please him, being observed in a manner contrary to his will. God's ordinances had been altered. The alteration of form in every case had been a violation of the spirit. The ordinances were no longer God's, but something different from and inconsistent with the thing he had appointed: The observance of them was not service, but disobedience and rebellion. For the Nadabs and Abihus who offer strange fire before the Lord there is reserved the fire of his wrath and not the light of his favour.
3. It was reeking with the wickedness with which it was deliberately mixed up. "Multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices." The "obedience" to himself which "is better than sacrifice" was entirely wanting. The "mercy" to men which he will have "and not sacrifice" had been desiderated in vain. With one hand they piled high the offering, and with the other piled higher still the trespass. And in so doing they piled the mountain of a moral impossibility between them and acceptance. The form of worship, in combination with the reality of sin, is a spiritual monstrosity which, as an offering to God, may not be so much as named. God will take no gift from a sin-stained hand (Isaiah 1:15). "If we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us" (Psalms 66:18). If we lift up unclean hands in worship, he will not accept (1 Timothy 2:8). Let us "wash our hands in innocence" when we go to the "holy altar." With clouds of sin hovering over our sanctuary service no dews of Divine favour can ever fall.
Judgment the Divine retort to human sin.
This is the sad history of God's vain contendings with an incorrigible nation. In Amos 3:1-15. is an account of the mercies by which he at first had tried to draw them. All that had failed utterly. They met privilege with inappreciation, friendship with rebuff, and favour with incredible disregard. Then he had changed his tactics. They would not be drawn, perhaps they might be driven. The experiment was worth the making, and the record of it is in these verses.
I. THE VARIED VISITATIONS OF JEHOVAH. "So then God had but one gift which he could bestow, one only out of the rich storehouse of his mercies, since all besides were abused—chastisement" (Pusey). This he sent:
1. In diverse forms. He reduced them by famine, which often acts as a moral depletive, by cutting off its supply from, lust. He plagued them with pestilence—a visitation that strikes terror into the boldest hearts. He slew them with the sword of their enemies—a fate which has terrors peculiarly its own. He swallowed them up in earthquakes—the most portentous and awful of earthly phenomena.
2. In increasing severity. Famine is direful, but it is directed primarily against the means of life. Pestilence is ghastlier, for it is directed against the life itself. The sword is more terrible than either, for it takes the life with circumstances of cruelty, which are an added horror. The earthquake is the most terror-moving of all, for it summons the overwhelming forces of nature to our destruction.
3. With differentiating circumstances in different cases. There was nothing humdrum in the visitations, no pitching them on the dead level of hackneyism or prescription.
(1) The drought came three months before harvest. This was a most unseasonable and fatal time. It was in February, just when the latter rain was due. The seed would be brairded, or just in the stage in which rain was the one thing absolutely essential to life and growth. Drought at this season "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) It came on one place and not on another. Ordinarily the showers fall impartially. They water the fields of the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). They refresh the wilderness where no man is, as abundantly as the cultivated land, with its teeming population (Job 38:26). When they become eclectic, falling on one city or field and not on another, the feature reveals miraculous intervention. When, as probably in this case (see Proverbs 3:33), the watered fields or cities are those of the righteous, the adjustment is eloquent of the moral government of a God who hates sin (Isaiah 65:13). On the artificially irrigated gardens, where drought would not readily tell, he sent blasting, mildew, and worms (Amos 3:9). In the repertory of nature he found an instrument of destruction suited to every possible case, and in the allocation of these was revealed his omnipotent and resourceful hand. The overthrow of "some" when others escaped (Amos 3:11) was a providence burdened with the same lesson.
(3) The cause and its effect are set dose together for identification. "The piece whereupon it rained not withered," etc. The nearer results are to their causes the easier it is to see the connection between them. God, both in the visitation and the record of it, pointedly associates the drought with the sin, and the withering with the drought, and thus puts his signature and endorsement on his disciplinary work.
4. In minute correspondence to prophetic warnings. They were plagued with pestilence "after the manner of Egypt" (Amos 3:10). This Moses had circumstantially announced would be the result of disobeying the Law revealed on Sinai (Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:60), whilst immunity from it was promised in connection with fealty and obedience (Deuteronomy 7:15). Then, with blood curdling explicitness (Amos 3:6, Amos 3:7, Amos 3:10), famine, pestilence, the sword, and desolation (Leviticus 26:23-33), blasting, mildew, drought, and locusts (Amos 3:9; Deuteronomy 28:21-26, Deuteronomy 28:38, Deuteronomy 28:42), and, to crown all, destruction and ruin, as of Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 29:22-28), are piled (Amos 3:11), Ossa on Pelion, in prophetic intimation to Israel to be "upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed forever" (Deuteronomy 28:46). In all this the work of identifying national judgments, as from a pledge keeping and sin-avenging Jehovah, is made easy to all but the wilfully blind.
II. THEIR MEAGRE RESULTS. Judgments fell thick and wide in five varieties of terror moving severity and appositeness, and five times the prophet, gleaning vainly after the scythes of God for a grain of good result, can but repeat the sadly reproachful refrain, "Yet ye have not returned unto me, saith the Lord."
1. The sinner refuses to believe that his affliction is punishment. He attributes it to accident, or bad management, or natural causes, or the malice of others, as the case may be. While unconscious of his sin, he is necessarily blind to the significance of his suffering, and until he sees this he cannot profit by it. If men would "hear the rod and who hath appointed it" they would have realized a primary condition of improvement under it.
2. Suffering is not in itself purifying. A bad man it often makes worse. He wants to "curse God and die." Even if the hardening stops short of this, he is frequently soured and embittered. Suffering, to be beneficial, must not go alone. It prepares for other measures. It makes men more amenable to moral influence, but if no such influence be brought to bear in connection with it, it is no more fitted of itself to purify the character than ploughing is to fertilize the desert sand. "Bray a fool in a mortar, yet will not his folly depart from him."
3. The love of sin is stronger than the fear of suffering. Courses, which all observation and experience declare to be ruinous to health and happiness, are entered on deliberately by millions. Even the physical evil consequences of the early steps in sinful indulgence, which are soon felt, do not arrest the evil doer in his way. By the confirmed sinner hell itself is practically, if not consciously, preferred to reformation. Only what weakens the love of sin secures the successful application of suffering for its removal. The operation of one or ocher of these principles, or the concurrence of them all, no doubt accounted for Israel's persistent sinning even in the fire.
III. THE LAST RESORT TO WHICH GOD WILL NOW BETAKE HIMSELF. "Therefore thus will I do unto thee. The terror of these words is in nothing lessened by their vagueness. It is evident rather:
1. That the thing menaced would in point of severity be an advance upon all that had yet been done. Only thus would there be any use in adopting it. After expostulation the rod, and after the rod a sword—that is the logical order of corrective measures. "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee," was a foreshadowing of God's consistent policy.
2. It would involve being brought face to face with God. "Because I will … prepare" (Amos 3:12). The kind or occasion of the meeting with God is not explained. It is, therefore, to be taken to include all modes and occasions, whether in life, at death, or at the final judgment. And the thought of it is one of terror to the ungodly, under whatever circumstances. They can face his judgments; God is not in them, unless in figurative sense. They can face his prophets; God is not in them, unless in a spiritual sense. But to face God literally was, even to a pious Jew, like facing death (Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22); whilst to the impious it must have been the embodiment of all terror. It is from the "presence of the Lord" that the wicked in the judgment call upon the hills to hide them. That, of all things in the universe, is an ordeal they cannot face.
3. It is left undefined that it may seem the more terrible. We have hers the eloquence of silence. The terror of the threat is enhanced by its vagueness. Familiarity breeds contempt. If a thing, however bad, is exactly defined, we can familiarize ourselves with the thought of it in time, and brace our courage up to meet it. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," but our idea of it, meantime, has an element of enlargement in its very indefiniteness. God says vaguely "Thus," and stops short, that imagination may fill up the blank. His silence is charged with deeper meaning than any words could carry.
IV. ONE FINAL APPEAL BEFORE THE STROKE FALLS. "Prepare," etc.
1. Look for a meeting with God. It is inevitable. It is at hand. The fact must be faced. No good, but harm, can come out of the attempt to escape or blink it (2 Corinthians 5:10; Psalms 139:7-12).
2. Prepare for it. This is a word of hope. Meeting with God is inevitable; but it need not necessarily he injurious. Preparation for it is possible, being enjoined, and would avail something if it were made. "God never in this life bids people or individuals prepare to meet him without a purpose of good to those who do prepare" (Pusey).
3. Do this because of impending judgments. "Because I will do this unto thee." We might suppose that if God was going to destroy, the preparation to meet him would be too late. But that does not follow. When Nineveh was wicked God expressed his purpose to destroy it, but when it became penitent he spared it. Hezekiah, prayerless in the particular matter, was bidden prepare to die; but Hezekiah, praying for more life, was spared fifteen years (Isaiah 38:1, Isaiah 38:5). What God will do to us, so far as it comes within our cognizance, is conditioned by what we will do to him. Until the judgment has actually fallen, the threat of it is a message of mercy. A sentence of destruction itself is a call to repentance, and so has woven into it a thread of hope. "Because I will do this unto thee, prepare."
Burning, yet not turning.
From Moses to Amos was about seven hundred years. It is a long time with men and the works of men. But it is little in the two eternities through which the purposes of God extend. There were prophecies which it had taken all this period to mature; courses of treatment for the cure of sin pursued through all the interval, and whose last measure had not yet been taken. One of these finds record here. A new event looks out at us in the guise of an ancient prophecy (Deuteronomy 29:22-24). What seven centuries before had been conceived in the womb of time is here "delivered upon the mellowing of occasion."
I. GOD'S JUDGMENTS A FIRE. "Plucked out of the burning." A commentary on this figure is the association by Isaiah of "the spirit of judgment" and "the spirit of burning" (Isaiah 4:4). Like a fire:
1. Judgments are painful. The sensation of burning is about the most painful we know. Too severe for capital punishment, too cruel even for prisoners of war, death by burning has been generally reserved for the martyred saints. This intensest form of physical pain is a fitting symbol of the effects of God's inflictions. What he sends is the greatest of its kind. If it be pleasure it is ideal—a pleasure at his right hand forevermore. If it be pain it is phenomenal—a torment whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever.
2. They are consuming. What fire feeds on it destroys. Where the flames have passed no organic matter remains. So with God's judgments. They are the mills of God which "grind exceeding small." That on which they must fall "they destroy and consume unto the end." They are nothing if not adequate to their purpose.
3. They are purifying. By burning out what is inflammable they leave what is incombustible behind, unmixed and pure. This idea of refining is often associated with the fires of judgment (Zechariah 13:9; Ma Zechariah 3:2, Zechariah 3:3). They seize on the dross of evil, and burn it out of the mass. When their work is done there is only the fine gold of a pure nature in the crucible.
4. They are irresistible. Fuel, in contact with fire, can do nothing but burn. If the flame is to be quenched it must be done by some extra agency. To be as "tow" or "stubble" in the flames (Isaiah 1:31; Nehemiah 1:10) is the strongest possible figure for helplessness under the avenging stroke of God. Men cannot prevent it, cannot avoid it, cannot arrest it, cannot in any degree reduce its force. When he works "who shall let it"? When his day burns as an oven, who shall withstand the fire (Isaiah 43:13; Ma Isaiah 4:1)?
II. SINNERS ARE THE BRANDS ON WHICH IT FEEDS, "Ye were as a firebrand." There are certain steps which lead up to burning, whether literal or figurative. The brand was:
1. Withered. It is not on the sappy growing branch that the fire seizes. Before, in the natural course, it reaches the flames, a preliminary process has been finished. Its leaf yellows and falls, its bark shrivels, its sap dries up. Then it is mere tinder, and fit for nothing but the fire. So sin withers and kills the branches of the tree of human character. It dries up the sap of spiritual life, and so turns sere the leaf of profession, and destroys the fruit of well doing. In a little no function of life is possible, and all its uses are lost. To cut it down is all the husbandman can do, and to burn it follows in the natural course.
2. Brought to the flames. There are no prairie fires in God's domain. What is burned is first prepared, and then bound in bundles (Matthew 13:30) and then set fire to. There is no accident anywhere. The man by his ill-doing makes himself tinder, and God in his providence uses him for the only purpose he suits.
3. Combustible. Fire seeks out and feeds on what is most inflammable. There is an affinity between the two things that does not fail to bring them together. So with God's avenging fires and the fuel they consume. The vultures of his judgments spy out, and alight upon the carrion of the sinner's lusts. Every transgression of the written Law is a transgression also of the unwritten law of the nature of things, and brings punishment on and through the instrument of the sin.
III. THE BURNING THAT SCATHES WITHOUT CONSUMING. "Plucked out of the burning." This language implies:
1. A narrow escape. The brand had been in the fire, and actually alight. A little while and it would have been inextinguishable. The fires of judgment had been around Israel, and around her close and long. If she had been in them but a little longer she could not have come out alive. The narrowness of her escape was a fact charged with the double influence of fear as to what might have been, and gratitude for what actually was.
2. An escape with a certain amount of injury. The brand that has been alight has suffered. Its fair surface has been scathed and charred. It can never be its original self again. Such a thing was Israel. "Once it had been green, fresh, fragrant, with leaf or flower; now scorched, charred, blackened, all but consumed. In itself it was fit for nothing but to be cast back into the fire whence it had been rescued. Man would so deal with it, a recreation alone could restore it. Slight emblem of a soul whose freshness sin hath withered, then God's severe judgment had half consumed; in itself meet only for the everlasting fire, from which yet God withdraws it" (Pusey).
3. An escape managed for an important purpose. God tries all means before going to extremities. He threatens, menaces, sets fire to, and scorches, yet after all delays to consume.
(1) This gives the sinner a final opportunity of reconsidering his relation to sin. It is possible that a last chance of reformation may be embraced for the very reason that it is the last one. The prospect of death is a new factor in the problem of a man's relation to the Prince of life, and is likely to modify the solution.
(2) It gives him a chance of viewing sin in the light of its effects. The charred brand knows the taste of the fire. The ultimate like the immediate punishment of sin is burning. The plagued sinner has tasted the firstfruits of his terrible retribution. He can argue from it what the harvest will be. This is all in favour of his profiting under the dispensation.
IV. THE NATURE THAT WILL CONSUME BEFORE IT WILL MELT. Israel had not repented, and was not going to repent. Rescued from the flame in unspeakable mercy for a season, the brand would have to be thrust in again and burned. This unconquerable hardness was that:
1. Of a nature that had strayed. The hardest sinner is the apostate. He sins against light, against favours received, against experience enjoyed, against gracious influences felt. To have beaten down, and sinned in spite of all these deterrents, argues a hardness and determination that the stranger to gracious influences has not had an opportunity of acquiring. Paul tells us that those who have so sinned cannot be "renewed to repentance" (Hebrews 6:4-6).
2. Of a nature that had been hardened by punishment. There is a degree of induration in the back that has experienced the lash. The brand put into the fire and taken out again is hardened by the process. The criminal often leaves the prison more callous than he entered it. So with the subjects of Divine judgment. If they are not melted by it they are indurated. Hatred to God and love to the sin are intensified, rebelliousness is stirred up, self-will is put on its mettle, and so moral insensibility is increased by the process of resistance.
3. Of a nature in which sin is supreme. In most natures there is a struggle between good and evil. It is largely a question of circumstances, which will preponderate at any given time. Temptation is resisted sometimes, and sometimes yielded to, according to our mood and the manner in which it is brought to bear, This indicates a state of war between the law in the members and the law in the mind, victory inclining to Israel or to Amalek as the hands of conscience are upheld. But when a man sins invariably, under whatever pressure of temptation, and when there is no temptation at all—sins in spite of all conceivable deterrent circumstances—the case is different. He says to evil, "Be thou my good." His moral nature is inverted. He will not mould into a vessel of mercy now. He is "a vessel of wrath and fitted for destruction"
The great preparation.
"Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel," etc. Here an important duty fathers itself on a stupendous fact. An omnipotent God is in judgment with sinful Israel. His wrath has expressed itself in bolt after bolt of judgment already hurled. But these measures are far from embodying all his punitive resources. In the failure of these to bring repentance there are woes unnamed, because unutterable, still in store. If Israel, then, would have the heaviest artillery of retribution kept out of action, they had need bestir themselves in the matter of a duty the further neglect of which must precipitate disaster.
I. GOD AND MEN LIVING APART. The enjoyment of God's presence was paradise (Genesis 3:8), and will be heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17); that privilege lost is death (Genesis 3:24), and will be hell (Luke 16:26).
1. The wicked neither have God's presence nor desire it. "God drove out the man," when he became a sinner; and all men, as sinners, are "afar off." Purity and impurity are incompatible, and there can be no fellowship between them. Righteousness and unrighteousness are antagonistic, and cannot come together without coming into collision. Man's instinctive consciousness of this led him to anticipate expulsion from God's presence by trying to run away (Genesis 3:8). The separation between God and the sinner is thus by consent, and in the nature of the case, and so inevitable during the status quo.
2. The righteous enjoy it in the imperfect measure in which they desire it. The need of Divine fellowship, universal with men, becomes conscious when they become spiritual (Psalms 42:2). As supply everywhere meets demand (Philippians 4:19), and measures it, the drawing near of God is synchronous with the springing of desire for it (Matthew 5:6), as well as proportioned to its strength (Revelation 21:3). To each of us God comes when we desire him, and as we desire him. If the presence be intermittent or incognizable, it is because appreciation is inadequate, and the longing for it irregular or weak (Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 43:22).
3. To desire it perfectly and possess it fully is heaven. "Heaven is endless longing accompanied with an endless fruition" (Maclaren). In it there is perfection of the faculties which commune with God. There is perfection of opportunity for their exercise. Accordingly, there is perfect attainment of the normal result. We are "with Christ," and "know even as also we are known."
II. CERTAIN OCCASIONS ON WHICH THEY NEVERTHELESS MEET. The wicked fear God (Romans 8:15) and bate him (Romans 8:7), would be miserable in his presence (Revelation 6:16), and so do all they can to keep away from it (Job 22:17; Job 21:14). But:
1. They meet him in the dispensations of providence. He is their King. He rules their life. All the events in it are of his disposing. He is where he operates, and so in each operation of which they are the subjects they meet him. Especially does he come to them in his judgments, which they are provoking every day. Misfortune, sickness, death,—these in their order, for a widening circle, and at ever closer quarters, are occasions of meeting God which none would choose, yet none can shun.
2. They meet him in the influences of his grace. "No one's salvation is so desperate, no one is so stained with every kind of sin, but that God cometh to him by holy inspirations to bring back the wanderer to himself" (Jerome, in Pusey). The strivings of the Spirit are unnoticed often, and resisted often (Luke 19:44; Acts 7:51), and so are in the end withdrawn (Genesis 6:3); but, so far as we know, they are universal. As truly as he met the Prophet Balaam in the way does God meet men in the exercise of constraining or restraining grace.
3. They shall meet him in the judgment day. "Before him shall be gathered all nations." This meeting is sure, and will be unutterably momentous. All other meetings are preliminary and preparatory to it. It will gather up and declare and finally administer their cumulative results, The wicked shall be finally banished from God's presence, and the righteous be finally admitted to it; and so for each it shall be the great meeting and the last meeting.
III. THE PREPARATION NEEDED FOR SUCH ENCOUNTERS. Israel was evidently deficient in this; not expecting the meeting and not furnished for it. In making it we must:
1. Prepare a character. To meet God satisfactorily men must be like him. To see him on the one hand, or relish him on the other, or be capable in any sense of holding communion with him, a man must be pure (Matthew 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:14). He must bring to the meeting a character in sympathy with God's, if he would bring a blessing away.
2. Prepare a case. Man before God is a criminal, guilty, condemned, and sentenced. He wants all this reversed, and he must be able to show reason before it can be done. And what are the elements essential to his ease? Clearly the penalty he was under must have been exhaustively endured (1 Peter 2:24); the Law he is under must have been perfectly obeyed (Isaiah 42:21); both these things must have been done with the approval and by the appointment of God (Hebrews 5:4, Hebrews 5:5); and the man must be intelligently resting his case on these facts. In other words, there must be Divine vicarious obedience and death, divinely recognized, and rested in by faith. Any appearance before God apart from these must end in confusion.
3. Prepare an advocate. Man cannot plead his own case. lie has no locus standi. He can approach God only through a mediator (1 John 2:1). This mediator, to be admissible, must have Divine recognition (Isaiah 42:1; Hebrews 5:4, Hebrews 5:5); to be efficient, must have Divine power (Psalms 89:19; Matthew 28:18); and to be available, must have Divine sovereign love for men (Ephesians 5:2). These conditions meet, and meet only, and always met, in Jesus Christ. He is the one Advocate of every dispensation. Access into the antitypical holiest of all has been one thing and by one way always (Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:19-22). It is and was and shall be only spiritual and through the Son of God.
4. Prepare at once. To Israel a meeting in judgment had been long foreshadowed, and was now overdue. It might be any time, and must be soon. A surprise—and in like circumstances it is the same with all—was probable, and would be disastrous (Revelation 3:3). To prepare immediately was, therefore, a duty as urgent as it was clear (Matthew 24:44). It is ill beginning to dig a well when the house of life is already on fire.
IV. THE CONSIDERATIONS THAT MOVE US TO PREPARE. In the context these are written large. There is:
1. An implied promise. "It has hope in it to be bidden to prepare" (Pusey). The person so enjoined is not yet given up. The menaced doom is not yet inevitable. The way in which God shall be met, and so the result of the meeting, is still capable of being modified. Every call to action is an implicit promise of the result to which it naturally leads. There is also:
2. An explicit threat. "Thus will I do unto thee." There is a vagueness here that is far more terrible than the most explicit denunciation. A series of woes already sent has just been named. But there is a woe that is unutterable in reserve, and already on its way. This, because words are too weak to express it, is left to the imagination to picture. "Thus will I do unto thee," he says, and attempts to particularize no further, where the sentiment is too terrible for words. And so it is with the woe in store for all the impenitent wicked. It cannot be literally defined, and so is suggested by figures such as "the blackness of darkness" (Jud Amos 1:13), "the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). But, however figuratively represented, the woe is real, is prepared, is being kept in store, is incomparably great, and shall fall as God is true.
3. Whether we are prepared or not, the meeting with God must come. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." There is a needs be in the case. The purpose of God must be fully carded out in issuing all the matters that go down unsettled to the grave. The righteousness of God must conclusively be vindicated in meting out to all rewards according to their works. The truth of the Divine Word, pledged in promise and in threat, must be established forever in the answering of event to explicit prediction. The meeting may be a joy to us or a shame, as we choose to have it; but it must be a fact.
4. A feeling of unreadiness is a necessary step to preparation. The measure of a sinner's fancied readiness to face his Maker is the measure of his ignorance as to what real fitness implies. The man who has been brought to say, "I dare not face God," has made one step in advance. He is disillusionized. His eyes are open and his conscience awake. Self-deception and false security are at an end (Revelation 3:17, Revelation 3:18). The first step toward grappling with the facts has been taken when once we have fairly faced them. Realize that you are sinners, and the grace of God that bringeth salvation will find appreciation and an open door.
The God with whom we have to do.
God always acts in character. From the thing he is may be inferred the quality of the thing he will do. We see him here—
I. AS REVEALED BY HIS NAMES. Each Divine name and title is a Divine revelation; sets forth some one of God's incomparable perfections.
1. Jehovah. "The Being;" "the Living One." In contradistinction to idols, having real existence. In contradistinction to created things, having eternal existence. In contradistinction to all outside himself, having necessary existence. Jehovah is the true God and alone claiming faith, the self-existent God and alone giving life, the eternal God and alone conferring immortality.
2. God. "The Adorable One." The Sum of all excellence. The Object of all worship. The Inspirer of all veneration. The Being who at once deserves and commands the heart s whole allegiance and devotion.
3. Of hosts. "God of the armies." The hosts are the heavenly bodies (Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19), the angels (Joshua 5:14, Joshua 5:15; 1 Kings 22:19; Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:2), and men (Exodus 12:41). All these he made, owns, keeps, controls, and uses. He is the universal Sovereign, and "doeth according to his will" everywhere, always, and without appeal. Such a Being it is no light thing to meet. Just as it is done will utter ruin or absolute safety result.
II. AS REVEALED BY HIS WORKS. The worker puts something of himself into his work—the author into his book, the painter into his picture, the mechanic into his machine. And so with God (Psalms 19:1).
1. He produces physical phenomena. Three kinds are enumerated:
(1) solid matter, "the mountains;"
(2) gaseous matter, "the wind;"
(3) ethereal matter, "dawn, darkness."
Matter in all forms is the creature of God. Its mutations are the doing of his power. Its elements are the instruments of his hand. He does to it and by it what his own moral excellence prompts. And thus it reveals him. We
"View great Nature's open eye,
And see within it trembling lie
The portrait of the Deity."
2. He reveals mental phenomena. "Maketh known to man what is his [man's] thought." The power of introspection is peculiar to man of earthly creatures. He takes cognizance of what passes in his own mind; reads his thoughts, and analyzes the process of thinking. This is among the highest exercises of reason. It is a revelation of its marvellous powers, and so of the wisdom and power of him by whom the faculty was bestowed. If a man's thoughts are open to himself, much more are they to God. The mind can do all this; what cannot the Maker of it do (Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10)?
3. He rules moral phenomena. "Goeth over the high places of the earth." The "high places" are the exalted people. All these he rules. The highest do his bidding. From prince to peasant all are but clay in the Potter's hands. Who, then, shall strive with him? What can avail against his transcendent might? All natural forces, all creaturely existences, are but tools in his hand, and ministers that do his will. This is the God we must meet, and to meet whom we may well prepare.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Amos 4:4, Amos 4:5
The rhetorical fervour of the prophet leads him in this passage to address himself to the guilty nobles of Israel in terms of bitter irony. That descendants of Abraham should have forsaken Jehovah, should have set up altars to a golden calf, or to deities of their heathen neighbours,—this cuts the prophet to the heart. But that, even whilst acting thus, they should retain some of their ancient observances, should profess any reverence for the precepts of the Law of God,—this is the most cruel wound. Hence this language of irony, the severity of which is apparent to every reader.
I. IT IS HYPOCRISY OUTWARDLY TO REVERENCE THE ORDINANCES OF GOD WHILST REALLY SERVING GOD'S ENEMIES. Sacrifices, tithes, leaven, offerings—all of which are mentioned in this passage—were prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The sin of the Israelites lay here. All the time that they were attending to these observances, they were worshipping idols, and breaking the first and second commandments of the ten. Virtually, all men who profess Christianity, and yet love the sinful practices and pleasures of the world, are guilty of this sin. It is hypocrisy, which is worse than an open defiance of the Divine authority.
II. HYPOCRISY SEEMS TO MEET A NEED OF DEPRAVED AND SINFUL NATURES. "This liketh you;" "So ye love to have it;"—such is the reflection of Amos upon this evil conduct. Men do not "like" to break off the associations of the past; they do not "like" to turn their back upon the principles they have formerly professed; they do not "like" to forfeit the apparent advantages of conformity to the requirements of religion. Yet, at the same time, they are not willing to forsake the pleasures of sin, to deny self, to take up the cross.
III. HYPOCRISY MAY DECEIVE SOCIETY, AND MAY EVEN DECEIVE THE HYPOCRITE, BUT IT CANNOT DECEIVE GOD. The conscious aim of the hypocritical is often to impress their companions with the belief of their goodness. But in many cases men actually persuade themselves of their own piety, whilst their life is in flagrant contradiction to the assumption. Let it never be forgotten that God "searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins of the children of men;" that his scrutinizing gaze cannot be averted, nor his righteous judgment avoided. Those who multiply insincere observances really "multiply transgression." And multiplied transgressions surely involve multiplied penalties.
APPLICATION. Bethel and Gilgal are not the only spots on earth where hypocrisy has been practised. The question of all importance forevery professed worshipper to put to himself is this—Is there harmony between the language which I use in devotion and the thoughts and desires of my heart, the actions and habits of my life?—T.
National calamities are Divine chastisements.
Graphic and morally impressive is the catalogue of Divine judgments which the inspired prophet here draws up and puts upon record for the admonition of future ages.
I. OF WHAT THESE CALAMITIES CONSIST. They are thus enumerated in the several verses.
Alas! from the beginnings of human history such have been the sad and weary experiences of the nations. Some of these ills appear to be beyond human control; others of them are more or less attributable to human ignorance, to human neglect, to unbridled lust and passion. The peculiarity of their treatment in the books of Scripture is not in their description, but in the connection shown to exist between them and the moral life and probation of man, and the righteous government of God.
II. FOR WHAT INTENT THESE CALAMITIES WERE INFLICTED. They are not here regarded simply as events; even the philosophical historian does not regard them thus.
1. They convince the observant and pious mind of the concern of God in human affairs, and of God's indignation with human sin. Certain philosophers imagined the great rulers of the universe to be indifferent to all the affairs of men. The Scriptures teach us that nothing escapes Divine observation, that nothing eludes Divine justice, God's censure, or approval.
2. They induce, in the case of the right minded, repentance and reformation. When God's judgments are abroad, the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness. If events teach men that "the way of transgressors is hard," they may also teach them that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every child whom he receiveth." "Before I was afflicted," said the psalmist, "I went astray; but now have I kept thy Word."
III. IN WHAT SPIRIT THESE CALAMITIES ARE RECEIVED.
1. There can be no question that, in many instances, they are the occasion of hardening of the heart. As in the case of Pharaoh King of Egypt, afflictions may increase insensibility and rebelliousness.
2. There are cases in which chastisements of the kind here described produce national humiliation and repentance. Such was the case with Nineveh, even when Jonah preached and foretold the city's doom; the people repented even before the calamity came, and so averted it. And there were instances in the history of stiff-necked Israel where chastisement led to general abasement and repentance.
3. There are cases in which calamity fails to produce a general reformation, but is nevertheless the means of effecting in individuals a genuine repentance and a sincere conversion unto God.—T.
There is a mingling of severity and pathos in this language of Jehovah addressed to Israel. The repetition of the reproach adds to its effectiveness and solemnity. As one calamity after another is described, and as all are represented as chastisements inflicted by Divine righteousness, the touching words are added, "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord."
I. THE WANDERINGS IMPLIED. In order that there may be a return to God, there must first have been a departure from God. Such had certainly been the case with Israel. The people and their rulers had alike done wickedly in departing from their covenant God. They had mingled with the worship of Jehovah practices superstitious and idolatrous. They had broken the Divine laws of morality, and that in a flagrant and shameful manner.
II. THE SUMMONS AND INVITATION TO RETURN WHICH HAD BEEN ADDRESSED BY GOD TO ISRAEL. Dealing with sinful men, a benevolent God has not been content simply to reveal truth and to inculcate holiness. He has ever addressed the children of men as those who have disregarded the truth and disobeyed the Law. Revelation is full of declarations of Divine mercy and promises of Divine forgiveness.
III. THE CHASTISEMENTS WHICH WERE INTENDED TO PRODUCE REPENTANCE AND REFORMATION. Words proving insufficient, they were followed by acts. It is dangerous for us confidently to interpret the plans of Divine providence. Yet God most high is the supreme Ruler of the nations, and in his own Word his "dealings" with the nations are interpreted with unerring justice and truth. The several disasters recounted in this passage as having befallen Israel are declared to have been of the nature of chastisements designed to awaken refection and to call to penitence and to newness of life. "The voice of the rod" is a voice sometimes effectual, and always morally authoritative.
IV. THE INATTENTION OF ISRAEL TO THE SUMMONS AND TO THE CHASTISEMENTS. It is amazing to learn that not only the messages of prophets and authorized heralds, but even the "judgments" of the righteous Ruler, failed to produce the intended effect. Yet so it was, and those who had been often reproved hardened their neck. In this Israel was an example of that obduracy which may be discovered in all ages and in all communities. The power of man to resist the appeals and the entreaties, the commands and the chastisements, of a righteous God, is one of the most surprising and awful facts of the moral universe.
V. THE PATHETIC REPROACH. He whose power could smite and destroy the rebellious speaks as if himself wounded and distressed by the perseverance in rebellion of those he governs. It seems as if Omniscience were astonished and appalled at human obstinacy and obduracy. Hence the expostulation, the reproach addressed to the impenitent and rebellious, "Yet have ye not returned unto me."—T.
The brand snatched from the burning.
Amongst the methods employed by the Divine Ruler to bring Israel to repentance was some calamity, some "judgment," which overtook certain of the cities of the land. It may be doubtful whether we are to understand that those cities were, like Sodom, struck by lightning and partially consumed by fire from heaven; or were attacked and given to the flames by an invading, hostile force; or were overtaken by some disaster figuratively described in this pictorial language. In any case, the circumstances are naturally suggestive of reflections upon the methods and purposes of God's treatment of sinful men.
I. A STRIKING PICTURE OF PUNISHMENT FOR SIN. Like a city given to the flames, like a brand flung upon the blazing fire, is the man, the community, that, on account of disobedience and rebelliousness, is abandoned for a time and for a purpose to the ravages of affliction and calamity. How often has a sinful, proud, luxurious, oppressive nation been consigned to this baptism of fire! How often has the wilful and obdurate nature been made to endure the keen and purifying flames! The connection between sin and suffering does indeed abound in mysteries; yet it is a reality not to be denied.
II. A STRIKING PICTURE OF THE DANGER OF DESTRUCTION TO WHICH THE IMPENITENT AND SINFUL ARE EXPOSED. Fire may purify the gold from dross, but it may consume and utterly destroy the chaff. Some nations exposed to the flames of war and calamity have perished and disappeared. Some individual lives seem, at all events, to have vanished in the flames of Divine judgment. The peril is imminent and undeniable.
III. A STRIKING PICTURE OF DIVINE DELIVERANCE. As the brand is plucked, snatched from the burning, so that, although bearing the traces of fire upon it, it is not consumed, even so did it happen to Israel that Divine mercy saved, if not the community, yet many individuals, from destruction. Where, indeed, is the soul, saved from spiritual death, of which it may not be said, "Here is a brand plucked from the burning"? And there are instances of salvation in which the similitude is peculiarly appropriate. There are those whose sins have, by reason of enormity and repetition, deserved and received no ordinary punishment in this life. And amongst such there are not a few whom the pity, the wisdom, and the power of our Saviour-God have preserved from destruction, and who abide living witnesses to his delivering might and grace.
APPLICATION. Here is encouragement for those who labour for the conversion and salvation of the degraded and debased. Even such, though nigh unto burning, may be plucked by Divine mercy from the flames of judgment.—T.
Prepare to meet thy God.
Forbearance has its limits, and probation is not forever. Discipline itself is temporary, and, when the purposes of God concerning men are fulfilled, will come to an end. There is a time for preparation, and then after that comes the time for reckoning and for recompense.
I. THE PERSONS DIRECTED TO PREPARE FOR THIS MEETING.
1. Especially the disobedient, the threatened, the chastened. The previous verses make it evident that it was to these that the admonition was particularly addressed. The people of Israel, as a whole, had departed from God, and had been censured and chastened by God. It seems to have been in consequence of their impenitence and obduracy that they were addressed in the solemn language of the text.
2. Yet the appeal has surely reference to such as were learning the lessons so powerfully though so painfully inculcated by Divine providence. There were individuals disposed to profit by the awful dispensations that were befalling the nation, and by the faithful admonitions addressed by inspired prophets.
II. THE EVENT DESCRIBED AS A MEETING WITH GOD.
1. It is not to be supposed that there is ever a time when God is not in immediate contact with his creatures. We meet him at every turn, we meet him at every moment. His eye is ever upon us, his hand is ever over us. "Whither shall we flee from his presence?" To the pious soul this thought is grateful, congenial, welcome. To the irreligious soul this thought should be productive of sincere humiliation and penitence.
2. There are, however, occasions appointed by the providence of God upon which the sons of men are constrained, manifestly and unmistakably, to meet their God. Nations meet God in national crises, in solemn conjunctures of incident, of probation, of destiny. Individuals meet God in critical events in human life, in remarkable experiences of the inevitable incidence of the moral law of God.
3. All Scripture declares that there is a future judgment, when all the intelligent and accountable shall be summoned into the Divine presence and before the Divine tribunal. "After death the judgment;" "Then shall every man give account of himself to God." We are directed to keep this day of account before our view, and to live in prospect of it.
III. THE PREPARATION HERE ENJOINED.
1. In character it must be thorough and sincere. Nothing hypocritical or superficial can suffice. For the meeting anticipated is with him who is the Searcher of all hearts.
2. In nature it must consist of true repentance and true faith. A turning of the heart from evil, and a turning unto God,—these are essential. Unfeigned repentance and cordial faith are indispensable.
3. In manifestation it must be in conformity with Divine requirements. If thou wouldst meet God with holy confidence, then must thou "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God."—T.
The majesty of God.
This and several other passages in this book of prophecy prove to us that Amos was a man who lived much in communion with nature and nature's God. A herdsman and a gatherer of figs, he passed his earlier years, not in towns, in palaces, in libraries, in schools, in the temple, but beneath the open sky, and in the presence of the solemnity, the grandeur, the sublimity, of the works of the Eternal. He had climbed the mountains of Judaea, had gazed upon the rugged ranges that closed in the Dead Sea, had scanned the desert of the south, and had delighted himself in the blue waters of the Mediterranean. He had out watched the stars and greeted the glorious dawn; he had bowed his head before the tempest, and heard the voice of the Almighty in the thunder's crash. He had read the scroll which unfolds itself to every observant eye; he had listened to the language best heard in solitude and seclusion. His meditations concerning God as known, not by the book of the law, but by the book of nature, relate to—
I. GOD'S CREATIVE POWER. This he doubtless recognized wherever he turned, by day and by night, in the peaceful plain and upon the awful hills. He here refers to two instances of the Maker's might, two proofs of his incomparable majesty. "He formeth the mountains." The stability and the immensity of the mountains have ever possessed a charm and an inspiration for the sensitive and thoughtful student of nature. Little as Amos could have known of those processes by which the enduring hills have been fashioned, he was capable of appreciating their testimony to the Creator, and probably of recognizing their symbolism of Divine attributes. The wind is a phenomenon which has always impressed the observer of God's works. Its immense power and its inscrutable mystery, its tenderness as it breathes through the forests at eventide, its awfulness when it roars upon the mountains, when it lashes into fury the mighty waves of the sea, are suggestive of the manifold operations of the all-comprehending Deity. And our Lord himself has reminded us of its symbolical significance as setting forth the wonderful, varied, and inexplicable manifestations of the presence and the working of the Divine Spirit.
II. GOD'S SPIRITUAL INSIGHT. When the prophet describes God as "declaring unto man what is his thought," the language has sometimes been taken to refer to the Divine thought revealed to man; but it probably is to be interpreted of that omniscient energy by virtue of which the Eternal penetrates the spiritual nature of men and reads their thoughts afar off. That the creating Spirit is thus in perpetual and intimate contact with those created spirits into which he has breathed the breath of life, and which he has fashioned in his own likeness: this is reasonable enough. Yet the enunciation of this unquestionable truth should have two effects upon us. It should enhance our conception of God's majesty, and so call forth our adoration and our praise; and it should make us concerned as to the moral quality of the thoughts of our minds, which the omniscient and holy God must surely estimate with justice, and by a standard infinitely lofty and pure.
III. GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL RULE. If we take literally the language, "That maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth," then these clauses are additional acknowledgments of the Creator's power and wisdom as displayed in nature. But coming after the preceding clause, which refers to men's thoughts, they seem to invite another interpretation. God's presence is to be recognized in the order of the world, in the tokens of moral government, in the workings of retributive law—in a word, in the facts which are justly deemed providential.
IV. GOD'S GLORIOUS NAME. To the Hebrew mind there was a very close connection between the nature and attributes and the Name of the Divine Ruler and Lord. He was Jehovah, i.e. the Self-existing and Eternal, whose Being accounts for all being beside. He was the Lord of hosts, i.e. supreme over all powers, possessed of all might, ordering all natures and all processes according to his own wisdom. The angelic hosts of unseen ministers and warriors, the armies of Israel and of the nations, the innumerable forces that obey the Divine behests and bring to pass the Divine purposes,—all these are beneath the cognizance and the sway of the Eternal, all these are ever executing his authoritative commandments and establishing his universal and everlasting kingdom. In the presence of a Being so glorious, so mighty, so holy, what power attaches to the monition of Scripture, "Stand in awe, and sin not"!—T.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Prepare to meet thy God.
The threats which precede this summons are very indefinite. Designedly so; for the prophet wished to arouse a genera/foreboding of retribution amongst the careless people, which would have its fulfilment in national disasters, but its final consummation in another world. Such indefiniteness also makes it possible to apply his words to men of every age and country. All responsible beings must at last meet their God, and may wisely be urged to "prepare." From the time of man's fall the all-merciful Father has been calling men to return from their evil ways. Adam was encouraged to hope in his mercy. The antediluvians were faithfully warned through Noah, the preacher of righteousness. Israel was constantly being exhorted by the inspired prophets. John the Baptist had as the burden of his preaching this same word "prepare;" and it has come ringing down the centuries to make itself heard among us also.
I. THE JUDGMENT FORETOLD. It is clear that the reference is to a summons to the tribunal of God, the Judge of quick and dead. There is a sense in which we may meet God in the study of his wonderful works in nature; in the strange and sometimes startling events of his providence; in the pages of his Word; in earnest supplication at his footstool. But another special and more solemn occasion is alluded to in our text—even that day when the great white throne will be set, and every man will have to give an account of all the deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.
1. That judgment is certain to come. Even nature seems to point onward to some crisis in the future of our race. Conscience warns us that sin cannot always go unpunished, for the world is governed by a God of righteousness. Scripture constantly affirms that he has appointed a day in the which he will judge the world by that Man whom he has ordained.
2. It is quite uncertain when it will, come. "Of that day and of that hour knoweth no man." It will come suddenly and unexpectedly, as a thief in the night. Death will end our time of probation, and no one knows where and when it may meet him. Therefore "prepare to meet thy God."
3. When it comes the trial will be thorough and final. All actions, together with their motives, are under the Divine cognizance. None will escape his notice. No false excuses will avail; and, on the other hand, no mere errors will be condemned as if they were wilful sins. The good will be severed from the evil, as our Lord teaches us in the parables of the dragnet and the tares of the field.
II. THE PREPARATION NEEDED. We should not be urged to "prepare" unless by nature we were unprepared. It is merciful of our Judge to give us warning, counsel, and opportunity. He willeth not the death of a sinner, but would rather that he should repent end live. Had it not been possible for us to make ready, had he wished us only to hurry onward to a certain doom, we should not have heard this exhortation. But he gives us forewarning in many ways, and at certain seasons with peculiar force; e.g. when death enters our family, or some accident befalls ourselves.
1. We need self-examination. "Know thyself" was the advice of a heathen philosopher; but it is worth heeding by us all. We want the illumination of God's Spirit and the instruction of God's Word to aid us. "The candle of the Lord" must throw its rays into the recesses of our hearts.
2. We need confession and repentance. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
3. We need faith in the atonement of Jesus. It is said of all sinners who safely pass the great tribunal and enter into the heavenly world, "They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
III. THE REASONS URGED. These appear in the next verse.
1. God is omnipotent. "He formeth the mountains." The mightiest cannot resist him; the most subtle will not escape him.
2. God is omniscient. "He declareth unto man what is his thought." He is the Searcher of hearts (Psalms 139:2; Jeremiah 17:10). Nothing eludes his notice. There is warning in this thought for the wicked; and there is comfort for the righteous, because these may reflect that their unspoken prayers, and their secret self-denials, and their unfulfilled purposes, are all recognized by him. They are represented by our Lord (Matthew 25:37-40) as being surprised at reward coming for acts which they thought little of or had quite forgotten. "God is not unfaithful to forget your work of faith and labour of love."
Apply the words of the exhortation to the careless.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Amos 4:4, Amos 4:5
Worship abounding with abounding sin.
"Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning," etc. " keenest irony. The "The language of these verses," says Henderson, "is that of the Israelites were addicted to the worship of the golden calf, and to that of idols, whereby they contracted guilt before Jehovah, and exposed themselves to his judgments; at the same time, they hypocritically professed to keep up the observance of certain feasts which had been appointed by Moses." The subject that the text teaches is—abounding worship with abounding sin. The sins of Israel, the frauds, violences, and nameless iniquities, are referred to in the preceding chapters. Crimes ran riot amongst them at this period; and yet how religious they seemed to be! "Amos has described how zealously the people of Israel went on pilgrimage to Bethel and Gilgal and Beersheba, those places of sacred associations; with what superabundant diligence they offered sacrifice and paid tithes; how they would rather do too much than too little, so that they even burnt upon the altar a portion of the leavened loaves of the praise offering, which were only intended for the sacrificial meals, although none but unleavened bread was allowed to be offered; and, lastly, how in their pure zeal for multiplying the works of piety, they so completely mistook their nature as to summon by a public proclamation to the presentation of free will offerings, the very peculiarity of which consisted in the fact that they had no other prompting than the will of the offerer" (Delitzsch). We offer two remarks on this subject.
I. Abounding worship often IMPLIES ABOUNDING SIN. This is the case when the worship is:
1. Selfish. More than half the worship of England is purely selfish. Men crowd churches, attend to religious ceremonies, and contribute to religious institutions purely with the idea of avoiding hell and getting to a happier world than this. They do not serve God for naught. Selfishness, which is bad everywhere, is never worse than when engaged in religion.
2. Formal. When religion is attended to as a matter of form, when sentiments are expressed without conviction, services rendered without self-sacrifice, the insincerity is an insult to Omniscience. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Abounding worship is no proof of abounding virtue and abounding godliness. Often, alas! the more worship in a community, the more corruption.
II. Abounding worship often SPRINGS FROM ABOUNDING SIN. It may spring from:
1. A desire to conceal sin. Sin is an ugly thing; it is hideous to the eye of conscience. Hence efforts on all hands to conceal. Nations endeavour to conceal the terrible abominations of infernal wars by employing the ministers of religion in connection with their fiendish work. The greatest villains have often sought to conceal their villanies by worship.
2. A desire to compensate for evils. Great brewers build churches and endow religious institutions in order to compensate in some measure for the enormous evil connected with their damning trade.
3. A desire to appear good. The more corrupt a man is, the stronger his desire to appear otherwise; the more devil in a man, the more anxious he is to look like an angel.
CONCLUSION. Do not judge the character of a nation by the number of its churches, the multitude of its worshippers, or the amount of its contributions, or efforts to proselytize men to its faith.—D.T.
God's government of the world a chastising government.
"And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places" etc. In these verses the Almighty describes the various corrective measures which he had employed for effecting a moral reformation in the character of the Israelites. At the end of each chastising measure which he describes, he marks their obstinate impenitence with the expression, "Yet have ye not returned unto me." As if he had said, "The grand end of all my dealings is to bring you in sympathy, heart, and life back to me." The subject of the verses is this—God's government of the world is a chasing government; and three remarks are here suggested.
I. The chastisements employed are often OVERWHELMINGLY TERRIFIC.
1. He sometimes employs blind nature. Here is famine. "I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places." The transgressors under the Law God had threatened with famine (Deuteronomy 28:48). The Divine government has often employed famine as a ruthless and resistless messenger to chasten mankind. In the days of Elisha the demon wielded his black sceptre for seven long years (2 Kings 8:1). The second is drought. "I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied." Rain—indispensable to the life of the world—comes not by accident or Mind necessity, but by the Divine will. "He watereth the hills from his chambers." To show that the rain is entirely at the disposal of the Almighty, it came upon one field and one city, and not upon another. Hence the inhabitants of the places where it rained not had to go great distances for water, and yet "were not satisfied." This is a terrible chastisement. The third is blight. "I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens, and your vineyards, and your fig trees, and your olive tress increased, the palmerworm devoured them." A malignant atmosphere combined with devouring reptiles to destroy the produce of the land. The fourth is pestilence and the sword. "I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils." The allusion, perhaps, is to the pestilence with which God visited Egypt (Exodus 9:1-35.). The pestilence is God's destroying angel. Thus by blind nature God has often chastised mankind. He makes the stars in their courses fight against Sisera. Nature is a rod in his chastening hand; and what a rod it is! At his pleasure, by a touch, he can wake tempests that shall shake the globe, earthquakes that shall engulf cities, etc. Yes, whatever materialistic scientists may say, nature is nothing more than a rod in the hand of its Maker. The fifth is fire. "I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning."
2. He sometimes employs human wickedness. The sword is mentioned here. "Your young men have I slain with the sword." War, unlike famine, drought, pestilence, and fire, is human, devilish. It is the work of free agents, under the influence of infernal evil. But God employs it; he does not originate it, he does not sanction it, he does not inspire it; but he permits it and controls it for purposes of chastisement. Thus all things are at the use of his chastising government—matter and mind, angels and fiends, heaven and hell.
II. The chastisements employed are ever DESIGNED FOR MORAL RESTORATION. After each judgment described we have the words, "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." This is the burden and design of the whole. Note:
1. Men are alienated from the lord. They are estranged in thought, sympathy, and purpose. Like the prodigal, they are in a far country, away from their Father.
2. Their alienation is the cause of all their misery. Estrangement from God means distance, not only from virtue, but from freedom, light, progress, dignity, blessedness. Hence the benevolence of all these chastisements. They are to restore souls. "Lo all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring him back from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of the living" (Job 33:29, Job 33:30). To every unconverted man God can say, "I have chastised you in this way and in that way, on this occasion and on that, but 'yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.'"
III. The chastisements employed often FAIL IN THEIR GRAND DESIGN. "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." This shows
(1) the force of human depravity, and
(2) the force of human freedom.
Almighty goodness does not force us into goodness. Almighty love does not dragoon us into goodness. He treats us as free agents and responsible beings.—D.T.
Amos 4:12, Amos 4:13
Preparation for meeting God.
"Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel," etc. "All the means that had been employed to reform the Israelites having proved ineffectual, they are here summoned to prepare for the final judgment, which was to put an end to their national existence. To this judgment reference is emphatically made in the terms כח, 'thus;' and זאח, 'this.' There is a brief resumption of the sentence delivered in Amos 4:2 and Amos 4:3." We raise three observations from these words.
I. MAN MUST HAVE A CONSCIOUS MEETING WITH GOD. "Prepare to meet thy God." I shall see God," says Job: "whom I shall see for myself, and not another." Yes, we shall all see God. All men ought ever and everywhere to see him, for he is the great Object in the horizon, nearer to them infinitely than aught besides. But they do not. Their spiritual eye is so closed that they see him not; they are utterly unconscious of his presence. But see him they must one day. All must be Brought into conscious contact with him, and in his presence they will feel the greatest things in the universe melt into nothing- The atheist who denies his existence shall see God; the worldling who ignores his existence shall see God; the theologian who misrepresents his existence shall see God. We must all see God.
II. THIS CONSCIOUS MEETING WITH GOD REQUIRES ON OUR PART PREPARATION.
1. To meet him; reconciliation is needed. Practically we are at enmity with him. How shall an enemy stand in his presence? Who does not feel uneasy and even distressed when he confronts a man he hates, although the man may have no disposition and no power whatever to injure him? How will the soul with enmity in its heart then confront him? "I beseech you then in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
2. To meet him, moral purity is necessary. How will a consciously corrupt soul feel in the presence of absolute holiness? How are the flames of hell kindled? By the rays of Divine holiness falling on corrupt spirits.
"Eternal Light, eternal Light,
How pure the soul must be,
When, placed within thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on thee!"
III. THE PROCEDURE OF GOD IS AN ARGUMENT FOR THIS PREPARATION.
1. His procedure is terribly judicial "Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." He was approaching the sinner in judgment, moving towards him judicially. He was coming towards the Israelites as an Avenger. And so he is ever coming towards wicked men. Prepare, therefore, to meet him. He is coming as a Judge—slowly it may be, but surely and terribly.
2. His procedure is overwhelming grand. "Lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord, The God of hosts, is his Name." This magnificent description of Jehovah is given in order to urge the call to preparation.
CONCLUSION. The one mighty, loud, unceasing voice of God to man through all nature, history, and special revelation is, "Prepare to meet thy God."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Amos 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27