Amos here again exhorts the Israelites to repentance; and it was an address common to all, though the greater part, as we have said, were altogether past recovery; but it was necessary, as long as they continued a chosen people, to call them to repentance; for they had not been as yet abdicated. We further know, that the Prophets preached in order to invite some to God, and to render others inexcusable. With regard to the end and design of public teaching, it is, that all should in common be called: but God’s purpose is different; for he intends, according to his own secret counsel, to draw to himself the elect, and he designs to take away all excuse from the reprobate, that their obstinacy may be more and more apparent. We must further bear in mind, that while the people of Israel continued, the doctrine of repentance and faith was preserved among them; and the reason was that to which I have alluded, because they remained as yet in the fold of God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet gives again to the Israelites the hope of pardon, provided they repented.
Thus saith Jehovah to the house of Israel, Seek me, and ye shall live. This sentence has two clauses. In saying, Seek me, the Prophet exhorts the Israelites to return to a sane mind: and then he offers them the mercy of God, if only they sought from the heart to reconcile themselves to him. We have elsewhere said that men cannot be led to repentance, unless they believe that God will be propitious to them; for all who think him to be implacable, ever flee away from him, and dread the mention of his name. Hence, were any one through his whole life to proclaim repentance, he could effect nothing, except he were to connect with this the doctrine of faith, that is, except he were to show that God is ready to give pardon, if men only repent from the heart. These two parts, then, which ought not to be separated, the Prophet here connects together very wisely and for the best reason, when he says, Seek me, and ye shall live; intimating that the gate of mercy was still open, provided the Israelites did not persevere in their obstinacy. But, at the same time, he lays this to their charge, — that they willfully perished through their own fault; for he shows that in themselves was the only hindrance, that they were not saved; for God was not only ready to receive them into favor, but also anticipated and exhorted them, and of his own free will sought reconciliation. How then was it, that the Israelites despised the salvation offered to them? This was the madness which he now charges them with; for they preferred ruin to salvation, inasmuch as they returned not to God when he so kindly invited them, Seek me, and ye shall live The same thing is stated in another place, where it is said, that God seeketh not the death of a sinner, (Eze_18:32)
But as we have already said, the Prophets spoke thus in common to all the people, but their doctrine was not to all efficacious; for the Lord inwardly attracted his elect, and others were rendered inexcusable. But still this is true, that the whole blame, that they perished, were in the children of Israel, for they refused the salvation offered to them. What indeed was the cause of their destruction, but their own obstinacy? And the root of the evil, was it not in their own hearts? Then none of them could evade the charge made against them by the Prophet, — that they were the authors of their own ruin, for each of them must have been conscious of his own perverseness.
Seek ye Me and ye shall live – Literally, “seek Me; and live.” Wonderful conciseness of the word of God, which, in two words, comprises the whole of the creature’s duty and his hopes, his time and his eternity. The prophet users the two imperatives, inoneing both, man’s duty and his reward. He does not speak of them, as cause and effect, but as one. Where the one is, there is the other. To seek God is to live. For to seek God is to find Him, and God is Life and the Source of life. Forgiveness, grace, life, enter the soul at once. But the seeking is diligent seeking. : “It is not to seek God anyhow, but as it is right and meet that He should be sought, longed for, prayed for, who is so great, a Good, constantly, fervently, yea, to our power, the more constantly and fervently, as an Infinite Good is more to be longed for, more loved than all created good.” The object of the search is God Himself. “Seek Me,” that is, seek God for Himself, not for anything out of Him, not for His gifts, not for anything to be loved with Him. This is not to seek Him purely. All is found in Him, but by seeking Him first, and then loving Him in all, and all in Him. “And ye shall live,” first by the life of the body, escaping the enemy; then by the life of grace now, and the life of glory hereafter, as in that of the Psalmist, “your heart shall live who seek God” Psa_69:32.
Cambridge Bible Driver
Seek ye me, and ye shall live] The Heb. is more forcible and concise: ‘Seek ye me, and live’: cf. Gen. 42:18 ‘This do, and live.’ To seek God was a standing expression for consulting Him by a prophet, or an oracle, even on purely secular matters (cf. Gen. 25:22; Ex. 18:15; 1 Sam. 9:9; 2 Ki. 3:11, 8:8, 22:13, 18; Jer. 37:7; Ez. 14:3, 20:1, 3); but it is also used of seeking or caring for (Jer. 30:14) Him more generally, by paying regard to His revealed will, and studying to please Him by the practice of a righteous and holy life, Hos. 10:12; Is. 9:13; Jer. 10:21; Zeph. 1:6; Is. 55:6, 58:2, 65:10; Ps. 9:10, 24:6; 34:10, 78:34, &c. The latter is the sense, which the expression has here. Seek ye me, says the prophet, in Jehovah’s name, by the means that I approve, and you will live, i.e. escape the threatened destruction.
But Amos afterwards defines the character of true repentance, when he says, Seek not Bethel, go not to Gilgal, pass not over to Beersheba Some think that the Prophet here repudiates all the disguises, which are usually pretended by hypocrites. We indeed know that when God calls such men to himself, that they seek indirect and tortuous courses; for none of them return sincerely and willingly to God. Men indeed see that they are justly reproved for having departed from God: but when they are called back to him they take a circuitous course, as I have said, and not the straight road. Thus, though they pretend to seek God, they seek subterfuges that they may not present themselves to him. All this is no doubt true; but the Prophet advances farther; for he shows here, that the Israelites by going to Bethel not only lost all their labor, but also grievously offended God; for superstition was in itself condemnable. If Amos had preached at Jerusalem, he might have said, “Go not into the temple, for in vain ye offer sacrifices;” as indeed he does say hereafter, “Come not with your flock.” For he there shows, that God is not to be pacified by ceremonies; nay, in that very chapter, he rejects feast-days and sacrifices; but in this place he ascends higher, and says that these two things are wholly contrary — to seek God, and to seek Bethel; as though he said, “If ye from the heart return to me, renounce all the superstitions to which you have been hitherto attached.”
It is indeed a proof of true conversion, when the sinner is displeased with himself on account of his sins and hates the things which before pleased him and with a changed mind devotes himself wholly to God. It is of this that the Prophet now treats; as though he said, “If there is in you a purpose to return to God, cast away all your superstitions; for these two things — true religion and idolatry, cannot be joined together. As long then as ye remain fixed in that false worship, to which you have accustomed yourselves, ye continue alienated from God. Then reconciliation with him demands that you bid adieu to all your corrupt forms of worship.” The import of the whole then is this, — that the Israelites could not be reconciled to God, except they departed from their superstitions. Let them turn away, he says, from Bethel, and Gilgal, and Beersheba
We indeed know that the calves were made at Bethel; and Gilgal, no doubt, became celebrated for the passing of the people over Jordan, and also, as it is well known, for the circumcising of the children of Abraham; and as to Beersheba, we know that Abraham dwelt there for a long time, and frequently offered sacrifices to God. Now, this vicious zeal (κακοζηλία — evil zeal or affectation) ever prevails in the world; without reason or judgment it lays hold on something special, when it undertakes to set up the worship of God, as we see to be the case under the Papacy. But God has prescribed to us a certain rule according to which he is to be worshipped; it is not then his will that there should be a mixture of our inventions. When therefore the posterity of Abraham presumptuously availed themselves of his example, and when they extolled the memorable event of the circumcision, God repudiated all contrivances of this kind; for as it was well known, it was expressly his will to be worshipped at Jerusalem; and by appointing one tabernacle and one altar, he designed to cherish unity and concord among the people. We now then understand that it was the intention of Amos to show, that the conversion of the people would be fictitious, until they turned away from all the superstitions and vicious modes of worship, in which they had habituated themselves: hence, Seek not Bethel, come not is Gilgal, pass not over to Beersheba.
The same thing may be said at this day to those who wish to blend the dregs of the Papacy with the pure and holy worship of God; for there are at this day many go-betweens, (mediatores ) who, while they see that our doctrine cannot be disapproved of, yet wish to contrive some middle course; that is, they wish to reconcile Popery with the doctrine of the Gospel. But the Prophet shows that such a mixture cannot be endured by God. How so? Because light cannot agree with darkness. Hence, corruptions, except they be abolished, will always subvert the true worship of God. We now see, that the lesson conveyed by this doctrine is, that the pure worship of God cannot be restored while the corruptions of the world, which are contrary to his word, prevail.
Come not then to Gilgal, for by migrating it shall migrate There is an alliteration in the words of the Prophet, “Gilgal by rolling shall be rolled;” for Gilgal means rolling. Were such a phraseology allowable, it would be this, “Gilgal by gilling shall be gilled;” that is, it shall be rolled with quick rolling. God intimates that this place, under the protection of which the Israelites thought themselves safe, would be destroyed, as it had been already destined for destruction. Gilgal then be migrating shall migrate; not that the place could remove, but that it would be wholly demolished, so that nothing should remain there but dreadful tokens of God’s vengeance.
Jamison, Fausset, & Brown
seek not Beth-el — that is, the calves at Beth-el.
Gilgal — (See on Amo_4:4).
Beer-sheba — in Judah on the southern frontier towards Edom. Once “the well of the oath” by Jehovah, ratifying Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech, and the scene of his calling on “the Lord, the everlasting God” (Gen_21:31, Gen_21:33), now a stronghold of idolatry (Amo_8:14).
Gilgal shall surely go into captivity — a play on similar sounds in the Hebrew, Gilgal, galoh, yigleh: “Gilgal (the place of rolling) shall rolling be rolled away.”
Beth-el shall come to naught — Beth-el (that is, the “house of God”), called because of its vain idols Beth-aven (that is, “the house of vanity,” or “naught,” Hos_4:15; Hos_10:5, Hos_10:8), shall indeed “come to naught.”
But (and) seek not Bethel – Israel pretended to seek God in Bethel. Amos sets the two seeking, as incompatible. The god, worshiped at Bethel, was not the One God. To seek God there was to lose Him. “Seek not God,” he would say, “and a phantom, which will lead from God.”
And pass not to Beersheba – Jeroboam I pretended that it was too much for Israel to go up to Jerusalem. And Yet Israel thought it not too much to go to the extremest point of Judah toward Idumaea , perhaps, four times as far south of Jerusalem, as Jerusalem lay from Bethel. For Beersheba is thought to have lain some thirty miles south of Hebron , which is twenty-two miles south of Jerusalem ; while Bethel is but twelve to the north. So much pains will people take in self-willed service, and yet not see that it takes away the excuse for neglecting the true. At Beersheba, Abraham “called upon the name of the Lord, the everlasting God” Gen_21:33. There God revealed Himself to Isaac and Jacob Gen_26:23-24; Gen_46:1. There, because He had so revealed Himself, Judah made a place of idolatry, which Israel, seeking nought besides from Judah, sought. Beersheba was still a town or large village in the time of Jerome. Now all is swept away, except “some foundations of ruins,” spread over 34 of a mile, “with scarcely one stone upon another” . The wells alone remain , with the ancient names.
Gilgal shall surely go into captivity – The verbal allusions in the prophets are sometimes artificial; sometimes, they develop the meaning of the word itself, as when Zephaniah says, “Ekron (probably the “firm-rooting”) “shall be uprooted” Zep_2:4; sometimes, as here, the words are connected, although not the same. In all cases, the likeness of sound was calculated to fix them in men’s memories. It would be so, if one with authority could say, “Paris perira” , “Paris shall perish” or “London is undone.” Still more would the words, Hag-gilgal galo yigleh, because the name Gilgal still retained its first meaning, “the great rolling , and the word joined with it had a kindred meaning. Originally it probably means, “swept clear away.” God first “rolled away the reproaeh of Egypt” Jos_5:9 from His people there. Then, when it made itself like the pagan, it should itself be rolled clear away Jer_51:25. Gilgal was originally in Benjamin, but Israel had probably annexed it to itself, as it had Bethel and Jericho 1Ki_16:34, both of which had been assigned by Joshua to Benjamin Jos_18:21-22.
And Bethel shall come to nought – Hosea had called “Bethel, God’s house,” by the name of “Bethaven Hos_4:15; Hos_10:5, Vanity-house.” Amos, in allusion to this probably, drops the first half of the name, and says that it shall not merely be “house of vanity,” but “Aven, vanity” itself. “By sin the soul, which was the house or temple of God, becomes the temple of vanity and of devils.”
Cambridge Bible Driver
But seek me not, as I am sought by the worshippers at Beth-el and your other sanctuaries: their end will be only destruction.
seek not Beth-el] Here ‘seek’ is used in the first of the two senses indicated on v. 4: comp. (in connexion with a place) Deut. 12:5. On ‘Beth-el’ and ‘Gilgal,’ see on 3:14 and 4:4.
and cross not over to Beer-sheba] i.e. pass not over the frontiers to it. Beer-sheba was situated in the extreme south of Judah (comp. the expression “from Dan even to Beersheba”), some 50 miles S.S.W. of Jerusalem, and 30 miles S.W. of Hebron; hence it lay far beyond the territory of Israel, and a visit to it must have been the occasion of a special pilgrimage. Beer-sheba was an ancient sanctuary, hallowed by associations of the patriarchs (Gen. 21:31–33, 22:19, 26:23–25, 31–33, 28:10, 46:1): it is mentioned as an important place in 1 Sam. 8:2; and in Amos’ time it was a popular resort for pilgrims from N. Israel. No doubt Beer-sheba, situated as it was on the edge of the desert, owed its importance to its wells, two of which, yielding a copious supply of pure and clear water, still remain.
for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity] into exile (on 1:5). In the Hebrew there is a play on the name Gilgal (gālōh yigleh): it suggested to the ear (though not, of course, etymologically) the word gālāh, to ‘go into exile,’ and the prophet declares, so to say, that its fate will fulfil the omen of its name, its end will be exile. There is another play of the same kind in Hos. 12:11 Gilead and Gilgal will become gallim, ruined heaps, on the furrows of the field: see also, with other place-names, Is. 10:30, 15:9; Jer. 6:1; Mic. 1:10, 11, 13, 14; Zeph. 2:4.
and Beth-el shall come to nought] shall come to trouble. Here also there is a play on the name, though one of a different kind. “Beth-el,” ‘House of God,’ as a seat of unspiritual worship, was called in mockery (see Hos. 4:15, 5:8, 10:5, cf. 10:8) “Beth-aven,” ‘House of trouble (or idols’); and Amos, playing on the double application of the word, says that it shall become a trouble,—no source of strength or support to its frequenters, but a cause of trouble; it will be ruined itself, and will bring them to ruin likewise. The play may have been suggested by the fact that there was actually, a little E. of Bethel, a place called Beth-aven (Jos. 7:2, 18:12; 1 Sam. 13:5, 14:23). (The rend. ‘come to nought’ is too strong, though ‘come to vanity’ would be permissible (see Is. 41:29, Zech. 10:2): āven seems to have included the ideas of what is wearisome, troubling, disappointing, valueless; and hence it may denote, according to the context, trouble, worthless conduct (iniquity), a worthless state (vanity, ruin), and also worthless things, i.e. idols, 1 Sam. 15:23, Is. 66:3; cf. the passages of Hosea just quoted; also Am. 1:5 with the note.)
He then adds, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live This repetition is not superfluous: the Prophet confirms what I have already stated, that such was the opposition between the true and legitimate worship of God, and idolatry and superstition, that the people of Israel, as long as they retained their corruptions, proved that they had nothing to do with God, whatever they may have pretended with their mouths and by their ceremonies. Seek God, he says, and ye shall live; and this repetition was very useful for this end, that hypocrites might know that they were justly condemned, inasmuch as they did not consecrate themselves wholly to God; for they were ever ready to contend with God whenever they could. “Why does God deal so strictly with us? why does he not concede to us at least something? for we do not deny him every thing. But if we do what we think to be right, why does he not indulge us at least on this account?” But when God not only urges hypocrites by his doctrine, but visits them also with punishments then they become angry, and even raise a clamor. Hence the Prophet, the second time, calls them to this duty, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live; as though he said, “Ye will gain nothing by evasion; for if any one seeks God truly and from the heart, God will not disappoint him; he will receive him into favor and will bless him. That ye then pine away in your calamities, impute this to your own obstinacy and stubbornness: it is so, because ye do not truly seek God; for while ye retain your corruptions, as I have said before, ye do not seek him.”
But he adds Lest he pass on like a fire. צלח, tselach, means to pass on, to advance; it means also to break out, and sometimes to prosper; but, in this place, the Prophet no doubt meant what I have said. Then it is, Lest he advance like fire upon the house of Joseph and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it in Bethel. The kind of vengeance which God threatened is not here expressed, but it may be easily understood. There is, therefore, in the meaning no obscurity; for he declares, that if the Israelites hardened their hearts against God, a burning was nigh at hand, which would seize on them, devour, and consume them. There shall come then or shall advance, a fire upon the house of Joseph; some say, shall burst out, which amounts to the same thing. By the house of Joseph is meant Ephraim; for he was, we know, the second son of Joseph; and, by taking a part for the whole, the Prophets usually include the ten tribes, as it is well known, when they mention Ephraim; and the kingdom of Israel is sometimes called the house of Joseph. Lest then he ascend as fire into the house of Joseph, and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it: this was said, because the Israelites never thought that they should be thus consumed by a sudden burning. The fire then shall devour the house of Joseph, and there will be none to quench it.
In the verse before I omitted one thing, to which I shall now advert. The Prophet said, that Bethel would be for a trouble, or be nothing. Bethel, we know, is called in another place Bethaven, the house of iniquity; and Aven means in Hebrew sometimes iniquity, sometimes grief or trouble, sometimes labor or difficulty, and sometimes nothing. It is not to be taken for iniquity in this place; this is certain: but Amos, on the contrary, speaks of punishment, which awaited that place, since it was abominable in the sight of God. As then he had said of Gilgal, that it would be rolled; so now he says of Bethel, that it would be for a trouble or grief, or be nothing. Either senses would be appropriate; — that Bethel, from which the Israelites hoped for a remedy to all their evils, would be to them a trouble, that is, the cause of their ruin, or that it would be nothing; as though he had said, that their hopes would be fallacious and empty in expecting any relief from Bethel. It afterwards follows —
Seek ye the Lord and ye shall live – Literally, “seek the Lord and live;” being united to Him, the Fountain of life. He reimpresses on them the one simple need of the creature, “seek God,” the one true God as He revealed Himself, not as worldly people, or the politicians of Jeroboam’s court, or the calf-priests, fabled of Him. “Seek Him.” For in Him is all; without Him, nothing.
Lest He break out like fire in Bethel – Formerly the Spirit of God came vehemently down upon Sansom Jdg_14:6, Jdg_14:19; Jdg_15:14 and Saul 1Sa_10:6; 1Sa_11:6 and David 1Sa_16:13, to fit them as instruments for God; as did the Evil spirit, when God departed from Saul 1Sa_18:10. So now, unless they repented, God Himself would suddenly show His powerful presence among them, but, as He had revealed Himself to be, “the, Lord thy God is a consuming Fire” Deu_4:24. “And devour” it, literally, “and it” (the fire) “shall devor, and” there be “none to quench” it “in” (better, “for”) Bethel.” Bethel, the center of their idol-hopes, so far from aiding them then, shall not be able to help itself, nor shall there be any to help it. The fire of God kindles around it, and there is none to quench it for her (as in Jer_4:4).
Montanus: “The whole place treateth of mercy and justice. The whole ground of people’s punishment, calamities, condemnation is ascribed to their own fault and negligence, who neglect the deliverance often promised and offered them by God, and ‘love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil’ Joh_3:19. Whoever is not saved, the whole blame lies in their own will and negligence and malice. God, who ‘willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ 2Pe_3:9, Himself unsought, seeks, entreats, ceases not to monish, exhort, set before them their guilt, that they may cease to prepare such evil for themselves. But they neither give Him entrance, nor hear His entreaties, nor admit the warnings of the divine mercy, which if they neglect, they must needs be made over to His justice. The goodness of God is lacking to no one, save those who are wanting to themselves. Wherefore, having often besought them before, He invites them yet again to salvation, putting forth that His Name, so full of mysteries of mercy; ‘Seek the Lord and live,’” seek Him who is, the Unchangeable. He who had willed their salvation, still willed it, for He “changes not” Mal_3:6. “He adds threatenings, that those whom He calls to life, He might either allure by promises, or scare from death through fear of the impending evil.”
The Prophet expresses here more fully what he briefly and obscurely touched upon as to the passing of God through the land; for he shows that the Israelites acted strangely in setting up the name of God as their shield, as though they were under his protection, and in still entertaining a hope, though oppressed with many evils, because God had promised that they should be the objects of his care: he says that this was an extremely vain pretense. He yet more sharply reproves their presumption by saying, “Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah!” This appears, even at the firstview, to be very severe; but we need not wonder that the Prophet burns with too much indignation towards hypocrites, from whom that security, through which they became ferocious against God, could hardly be shaken off. And we see that the holy Spirit treats hypocrites everywhere with much more severity than those who are openly impious and wicked: for the despisers of God, how stupid soever they may be, do not yet excuse their vices; but hypocrites seek ever to draw in God into the quarrel, and they have their veils to cover their turpitude: it was therefore necessary to treat them, as the Prophet does here, with sharpness and severity.
Woe, he says, to those who desire the day of Jehovah! Some expound this day of Jehovah of the day of death, and pervert the meaning of the Prophet; for they think that the Prophet speaks here of desperate men, who seek self-destruction, or lay violent hands on themselves. Woe, then, to those who desire the day of Jehovah, that is, who have recourse to hanging or to poison, as no other remedy appears to them. But the Prophet, as I have already reminded you, does here on the contrary rouse hypocrites. Others think that the contempt which Amos has before noticed, is here reproved; and this in part is true; but they do not sufficiently follow up the Prophet’s design; for they do not observe what is special in this place, — that hypocrites flattered themselves, falsely assuming this as a truth, that they were the people of God, and that God was bound to them.
Though, then, the Israelites had been a hundred times perfidious, they yet continued arrogantly to boast of their circumcision; and then the law and the sacrifices, and all their ceremonies, were to them as banners, — “O! we are a holy nation, and God’s heritage; we are the children of Abraham, and the redeemed of the Lord; we are a priestly kingdom.” As then these things were ready in the mouth of all, the Prophet says, “Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah!” And, indeed, when the Lord had begun to punish them for their sins, they still said, “The Lord, it may be, intends to try our constancy: but how can he destroy us? for he would then be false; his covenant cannot be made void: it is then certain that we shall be saved, and that he will be shortly reconciled to us.” They did not indeed expect that God would be propitious to them; but as they were overwhelmed with many evils, they sought to allay their sorrows by such a drug.
When therefore the Prophet saw, that the Israelites so waywardly flattered themselves, and so foolishly and wickedly laid claim to the name of God, he says, Woe to those who desire the day of Jehovah! What will this be, he says, to you? The day of Jehovah will be darkness and not light; as though he said, “God is an enemy to you, and the nearer he comes to you, the more grievously you must be afflicted: he will bring nothing to you but devastation, for he will come armed to destroy you. There is therefore no reason for you to boast that you are a chosen people, that you are a priestly kingdom, for ye are fallen away from the favor of God; and this is to be imputed to your own misconduct. God then is armed for your destruction; and whenever he will appear, he will at the same time pursue you with cruelty and violence; and it will be for your destruction that God will come thus armed to you. Whenever then the Lord will come, your evils must necessarily be increased. The day then of Jehovah will be darkness and not light.” He afterwards confirms this truth —
Woe unto you that desire – for yourselves.
The Day of the Lord – There were “mockers in those days” 2Pe_3:3-4; Jud_1:18, as there are now, and as there shall be in the last. And as the “scoffers in the last days” 2Pe_3:3-4; Jud_1:18 shall say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” so these said, “let Him make speed and hasten His work, that we way see it, and let the council of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it” Isa_5:19. Jeremiah complained; “they say unto me, where is the word of the Lord? let it come now!” Jer_17:15. And God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, the days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? The vision that he seeth is for many days, and he prophesieth of the times far off” Eze_12:22, Eze_12:27. “They would shew their courage and strength of mind, by longing for the Day of the Lord, which the prophets foretold, in which God was to shew forth His power on the disobedient.”
Lap.: “Let it come, what these prophets threaten until they are hoarse, let it come, let it come. It is ever held out to us, and never comes. We do not believe that it will come at all, or if it do come, it will not be so dreadful after all; it will go as it came.” It may be, however, that they who scoffed at Amos, cloked their unbelief under the form of desiring the good days, which God had promised by Joel afterward.
Jerome: “There is not,” they would say, “so much of evil in the captivity, as there is of good in what the Lord has promised afterward.” Amos meets the hypocrisy or the scoff, by the appeal to their consciences, “to what end is it to you?” They had nothing in common with it or with God. Whatever it had of good, was not for such as them. “The Day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.” Like the pillar of the cloud between Israel and the Egyptians, which betokened God’s presence, every day in which He shows forth His presence, is a day of light and darkness to those of different characters.
The prophets foretold both, but not to all. These scoffers either denied the Coming of that day altogether, or denied its terrors. Either way, they disbelieved God, and, disbelieving Him, would have no share in His promises. To them, the Day of the Lord would be unmixed darkness, distress, desolation, destruction, without one ray of gladness. The tempers of people, their belief or disbelief, are the same, as to the Great Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment. It is all one, whether people deny it altogether or deny its terrors. In either case, they deny it, such as God has ordained it. The words of Amos condemn them too. “The Day of the Lord” had already become the name for every day of judgment, leading on to the Last Day. The principle of all God’s judgments is one and the same. One and the same are the characters of those who are to be judged. In one and the same way, is each judgment looked forward to, neglected, prepared for, believed, disbelieved. In one and the same way, our Lord has taught us, will the Great Day come, as the judgments of the flood or upon Sodom, and will find people prepared or unprepared, as they were then. Words then, which describe the character of any day of Judgment, do, according to the Mind of God the Holy Spirit, describe all, and the last also. Of this too, and that chiefly, because it is the greatest, are the words spoken, “Woe unto you, who desire,” amiss or rashly or scornfully or in misbelief, “the Day of the Lord, to what end is it for you? The Day of the Lord is darkness and not light.”
Rup.: “This sounds a strange woe. It had not seemed strange, had he said, ‘Woe to you, who fear not the Day of the Lord.’ For, ‘not to fear,’ belongs to bad, ungodly people. But the good may desire it, so that the Apostle says, ‘I desire to depart and to be with Christ’ Phi_1:23. Yet even their desire is not without a sort of fear. For ‘who can say, I have made my heart clean?’ Pro_20:9. Yet that is the fear, not of slaves, but of sons; ‘nor hath it torment,’ 1Jo_4:18, for it hath ‘strong consolation through hope’ Heb_6:18; Rom_5:2. When then he says, ‘Woe unto you that desire the Day of the Lord,’ he rebuketh their boldness, ‘who trust in themselves, that they are righteous’ Luk_18:9.”
“At one and the same time,” says Jerome, “the confidence of the proud is shaken off, who, in order to appear righteous before people, are accustomed to long for the Day of Judgment and to say, ‘Would that the Lord would come, would that we might be dissolved and be with Christ,’ imitating the Pharisee, who spake in the Gospel, “God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are” Luk_18:11-12.
For the very fact, that they “desire,” and do not fear, “the Day of the Lord,” shows, that they are worthy of punishment, since no man is without sin 2Ch_6:36, and the “stars are not pure in His sight” Job_25:5. And He “concluded all under sin, that he might have mercy upon all” Gal_3:22; Rom_11:32. Since, then, no one can judge concerning the Judgment of God, and we are to “give account of every idle word” Mat_12:36, and Job “offered sacrifices” Job_1:5 daily for his sons, lest they should have thought something perversely against the Lord, what rashness it is, to long to reign alone! 1Co_4:8. In troubles and distresses we are accustomed to say, ‘would that we might depart out of the body and be freed from the miseries of this world,’ not knowing that, while we are in this flesh, we have place for repentance; but if we depart, we shall hear that of the prophet, “in hell who will give Thee thanks?” Psa_6:5. That is “the sorrow of this world” 2Co_7:10, which worketh “death,” wherewith the Apostle would not have him sorrow who had sinned with his father’s wife; the sorrow whereby the wretched Judas too perished, who, “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” 2Co_2:7, joined murder Mat_27:3-5 to his betrayal, a murder the worst of murders, so that where he thought to find a remedy, and that death by hanging was the end of ills, there he found the lion and the bear, and the serpent, under which names I think that different punishments are intended, or else the devil himself, who is rightly called a lion or bear or serpent.”
Cambridge Bible Driver
Woe unto you that] Ah! they that.… The interjection Hōy (the same as that used in 1 Ki. 13:30 &c. quoted on v. 16) implies commiseration rather than denunciation. It is used frequently, as here, to introduce an announcement of judgement: Is. 1:4, 24, 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22, 29:1, 15 &c. (Woe … Is. 3:9, 11, 6:5, 24:16 &c., is a different word, and is followed by the prep. to).
the day of Jehovah] i.e. the day in which Jehovah manifests Himself in triumph over His foes. The expression is based probably upon the Hebrew use of day as equivalent to day of battle or victory (Ez. 13:5; cf. Is. 9:4, the ‘day’ of Midian, i.e. the day of victory over Midian). From the present passage it appears to have been a current popular idea that Jehovah would one day manifest Himself, and confer some crowning victory upon His people: Amos points out that whether that will be so or not, depends upon Israel’s moral condition; the ‘day of Jehovah,’ such as the people imagine, would not be necessarily a day of victory to Israel over foreign powers, but a day in which Jehovah’s righteousness would be vindicated against sin, whether among foreign nations or His own people: so long therefore as Israel neglects to amend its ways, and continues to treat ritual as a substitute for morality, it will find Jehovah’s day to be the reverse of what it anticipates, a day not of triumph but of disaster. The ‘day of Jehovah,’ as thus understood by Amos, becomes a figure which is afterwards often employed by the prophets in their pictures of impending judgement. The conception places out of sight the human agents, by whom actually the judgement, as a rule, is effected, and regards the decisive movements of history as the exclusive manifestation of Jehovah’s purpose and power. The prophets, in adopting the figure, develope it under varying imagery, suggested partly by the occasion, partly by their own imagination. Thus Isaiah (2:12–21) represents it as directed against the various objects of pride and strength which Judah had accumulated in the days of Uzziah; Joel (2:1 ff.) derives his imagery from a recent visitation of locusts (as described in ch. 1): for other examples, see Zeph. 1:7, 14–16; Is. 13:6–10, 24:8; Joel 3:14–16. Comp. further W. R. Smith, Prophets, pp. 397 f.; Schultz, O.T. Theol. ii. 354 ff.; Davidson on Zeph. 1:7.
to what end is it for you?] what good will it do you? See Gen. 27:46, where substantially the same Hebrew expression is thus paraphrased in A.V., R.V.
darkness, and not light] figures, respectively, of disaster, and of prosperity or relief, as often in the Hebrew poets: see e.g. Is. 5:30, 8:22, 9:2, 58:8, 59:9; Jer. 13:16.
Here is expressed more clearly what the Prophet had said before, — that hypocrites can have no hope, that the various changes, which may take place, will bring them any alleviation. Hypocrites, while straying in circuitous courses, do indeed promise better things to themselves, when the condition of the times is changed: and as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, so hypocrites imitate the true servants of God. But it is a false imitation; for these are only fading flowers, no fruit follows; and besides, they proceed not from a living root. When the children of God are at any time pressed down by adverse events, they sustain and patiently nourish their faith with this consolation, — that clouds soon pass away: so also when the Lord chastises them with temporal punishment, he will presently return into favor with them. Hypocrites present the same outward appearance; but they widely differ from the faithful: for when the faithful promise to themselves a prosperous issue, they are at the same time touched with a sense of their own evils, and study to reconcile themselves to God; but hypocrites continue immersed in their vices and boldly despise God; and at the same time they see here and there, and when any change happens they think that they have got rid of all evils. Inasmuch then as they deceived themselves with vain consolation, the Prophet now says, “You have no cause to think that it will be better with you, when one calamity shall pass away; for the same thing will happen to you, as when one flees away from a lion and meets with a bear, as when one escapes from a bear, and betakes himself to his own house, and there a serpent finds him: while he is leaning with his hand on the wall, a serpent bites him. Thus the Lord has in readiness various and many ways, by which he can punish you. When therefore ye shall have sustained one battle, when one enemy departs, the battle will be immediately renewed and that by another enemy: when a foreign power does not rage through the kingdom of Israel, the Lord will consume you either by famine, or by want, or by pestilence.” We then see how well the context of the Prophet harmonizes together.
Cambridge Bible Driver
Examples of a condition beset by perils, in which men escape from one danger, only to fall into another, perhaps worse.
a bear] Bears are now found only in the far north of Palestine, about Mount Hermon, but they were once common in all parts of the country, and were dangerous both to human beings (2 Ki. 2:24; Lam. 3:10) and to sheep (1 Sam. 17:34): the bear is coupled with the lion, also, in Lam. 3:10.
and entered into the house &c.] taking refuge from the bear, and encountered there an unsuspected danger, being bitten by a serpent which had concealed itself in a crevice of the wall.
“You have no reason,” he says, “to hope for any light from the day of Jehovah.” Why? “For Jehovah will not come, except when armed; for, as ye conduct yourselves in a hostile manner towards him, he must necessarily take vengeance. He will, therefore, bring with him no light, except it may be to fulminate against you: but his appearance will be dreadful, even darkness and thick darkness; and then, when he ceases to pursue you in one way, he will assail you in another; and, when foreign enemies spare you, God will find means by which he may destroy you in your own land without the agency of men; for ye have already found what the sterility of the land is, and what pestilence is: the Lord then has all such modes of vengeance in his own hand. Think not, therefore, that there will be any alleviation to you, were the world to change a hundred times, and were the condition of the country wholly different.”
But the Prophet did not intend here to drive all those indiscriminately into despair, who were guilty of grievous offenses, but his design was to shake off from hypocrites their self-flatteries, that by such proofs they might be led to know that God would be ever like himself. If, then, they wished to return into favor with him, he shows that a change was needful: when they put off their perverse conduct, God would be instantly ready to give them pardon; but, if they proceeded in their vices and obstinate wickedness, and always continued in that hardness, in which they had hitherto indulged, he declares, that the day of Jehovah would be ever to them dark and gloomy, and that, though the Lord does not always use the same kind of rod, he yet has means innumerable, by which he can destroy a perverse nation, such as the Israelites then were.
Here the Prophet, anticipating an objection, shows that the Israelites deceived themselves, for they believed that God was pacified by their sacrifices: he declares all these to be useless; not only, as I think, because they themselves were impure; but because all their sacrifices were mere profanations. We have said elsewhere that sacrifices are often reprehended by the Prophets, when not accompanied by godliness and sincerity: for why did God command sacrifices to be offered to him under the law, except as religious exercises? It was hence necessary that they should be accompanied with penitence and faith. But hypocrites thought, as we have seen, that they thereby discharged their whole duty: it was then a profanation of divine worship. Though the Jews, as to the external form, had not departed from the rule of the law, yet their sacrifices were vicious, and repudiated by God: “I cannot bear them — they are a weariness to me — I repudiate them — I loathe them,” — these are expressions we meet with every where in Isaiah. And yet hypocrites regarded their worship as conformable to the law; but impurity of heart vitiated all their works, and this was the reason that God rejected every thing which the Jews thought available for holiness. But different, as I think, was the design of our Prophet: for it was not only for this reason that he blamed the Israelites, — because they falsely pretended God’s name in their sacrifices, but because they were apostates; for they had departed from the teaching of the law, and built for themselves a spurious temple.
It is yet true that they were deluded with this false notion, that their sins were expiated by sacrifices: but God reproved the Israelites, not only for this gross error, with which the Jews were also infected but for having renounced his true and lawful worship. Hence the external form of their worship deserved to be condemned; for it was not right to offer sacrifices except on mount Zion: but they, without having the ark of the covenant, devised a worship else-where, and even there worshipped the calves. We now understand the design of the Prophet: and this ought to be carefully observed, for interpreters think that the Prophet had nothing else in view, but to condemn a false presumption in the Israelites, because they sought to satisfy God with external sacrifices, while they were yet continuing obstinately in their sins. But the other evil ought to be added, which was, that they had corrupted the true worship of God even in its outward form.
Having now pointed out the prophet’s object, I come to consider his words, I have hated, I have rejected, etc. The word חגג, chegig, means to leap and to dance: hence חג, cheg, signifies a sacrifice as well as a festal day. Some then render the words, “I have rejected your sacrifices,” and those which follow, thus, “I will not smell at your solemnities.” Others render the last word, “assemblies.” עצר, otser, means to restrain, and sometimes to gather: hence עצרה, ostare, means an assembly or a congregation. But עצרת, osteret, means a festal day, because the people, as it is well known, were then restrained from work, and also, because they were detained in the sanctuary. But with respect to the subject itself, it makes but little difference, whether we read assembly or a festal day: we see that what the Prophet meant was this, — that God rejected all the rites, by which the Israelites thought that he was pacified, as though they were the most effectual expiations. He does not simply declare that they were of no account before God; but he speaks much stronger and says, that God despised and abhorred them. I regard, he says, with hatred your festal days. He speaks also of burnt offerings,
Outward, formal worship will not avert the threatened danger or secure the favour of God in the day of visitation. Your feast days (chaggim); your feasts; your counterfeit worship, the worship of the true God under an idol symbol (compare God’s repudiation of merely formal worship in Isa_1:11-15). I will not smell; οὐ μὴ ἀσφρανθῶ θυσίας. No sweet savour ascends to God from such sacrifices; so the phrase is equivalent to “I will not accept,” “I will take no delight in” (comp.. Gen_8:21; Exo_29:18; Le Exo_26:31). Solemn assemblies; πανηγύρεσιν; atsaroth; the convocations for the keeping of the great festivals.
I hate, I despise your feasts – Israel clave to its heart’s sin, the worship of the true God, under the idol-form of the calf; else, it would fain be conscientious and scrupulous. It had its “feasts” of solemn “joy” and the “restraint” of its “solemn assemblies” , which all were constrained to keep, abstaining from all servile work. They offered “whole burnt offerings,” the token of self-sacrifice, in which the sacrificer retained nothing to himself, but gave the whole freely to God. They offered also “peace offerings,” as tokens of the willing thankfulness of souls at peace with God. What they offered, was the best of its kind, “fatted beasts.”
Hymns of praise, full-toned chorus, instrumental music! What was missing, Israel thought, to secure them the favor of God? Love and obedience. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” And so those things, whereby they hoped to propitiate God, were the object of His displeasure. “I hate, I despise, I will not accept” with good pleasure; “I will not regard,” look toward, “I will not hear, will not smell.” The words, “I will not smell,” reminded them of that threat in the law” Lev_26:31, “I will make your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savor of your sweet odors.” In so many ways does God declare that He would not accept or endure, what they all the while were building upon, as grounds of their acceptance. And yet so secure were they, that the only sacrifice which they did not offer, was the sin or trespass offering. Worshiping “nature,” not a holy, Personal, God, they had no sense of unholiness, for which to plead the Atoning Sacrifice to come. Truly each Day of Judgment unveils much self-deceit. How much more the Last!
Cambridge Bible Driver
Amos 5:21. I hate, I reject your feast days] your pilgrimages, ḥaggim denoting not feasts or festivals in general, but in particular the three great annual feasts (viz. of Unleavened Cakes, Weeks, and Booths), which were accompanied by a pilgrimage to a sanctuary, and at which, according to the old law, every male was required to appear yearly before Jehovah (Ex. 23:14, 17, 34:23; Deut. 16:16 f.). Ḥag (the sing.) is the same word as the Arab. ḥaj, the name by which the great Meccan pilgrimage is known. Reject, as Jer. 2:37, 6:30 al.; cf. on 2:4.
I will not smell in] fig. for take no delight in (R.V.): cf. Lev. 26:31 and Is. 11:3.
solemn assemblies] ‘ăẓārāh (or ‘ăẓéreth) means a gathering or assembly (Jer. 9:2), especially one held for a religious purpose, πανήγυρις, as 2 Ki. 10:20 (in honour of Ba‘al): it is used here in a general sense, as Is. 1:13 (where the thought also is parallel), Joel 1:14, 2:15; but it is also used specially (a) of the gathering of pilgrims on the 7th day of the Feast of Unleavened Cakes (Deut. 16:8); (b) of the gathering on the 8th or supernumerary day of the Feast of Booths (Lev. 25:30; Num. 29:35; Neh. 8:18; 2 Chr. 7:9); (c) by the later Jews, of the Feast of Weeks, Jos. Ant. iii. 10, 6 (Ἀσάρθα), and in the Mishna, &c.
When ye offer me sacrifices and your gift, etc. מנחה, meneche, properly means a gift of flour, which was an addition to the sacrifice; but it is often taken generally for any kind of offering. It is indeed certain that the Prophet meant, that however much the Israelites accumulated their ritual observances, they did nothing towards appeasing God, inasmuch as they observed not the law that was given them; and they turned also to a wrong purpose their sacrifices; for they did not exercise themselves in piety and in the spiritual worship of God, but, on the contrary, spread veils before God, that by presenting a fictitious form of worship, they might cover all their sins; for they thought themselves to be hidden from God.
This is the reason why the Prophet declares that these offerings would not be received by God, לא ארצה, la areste, I will not accept them. The Prophet no doubt alludes here to those promises, which are to be found everywhere in the law, as he did when he said in the last verse, לא אריח, la arich, I will not smell רוחה, ruch, means to smell; and Moses often uses the expression, that God is delighted with the odour of sacrifices, or with the smell of incense. But when the Lord declares that odour is pleasant to him, he means that it is so, provided the people sacrificed rightly, that is, when they brought not sacrifices as false veils to cover their sins, but as true and real evidences of their faith and repentance; God promised in that case that sacrifices would be a sweet odour to him. Now, on the contrary, he declares that the perfume would not be acceptable to him, nor sacrifices appeasing. But sacrifices not only were acceptable to God, but also pacified him. Since then the Lord had so often said, that he would be propitious to his people, when sacrifices were offered, it was necessary expressly to cut off this confidence from the Israelites, when they dealt not faithfully with God. God never disappointed his true worshipers, but ever received them into favor, provided they approached him in sincerity. But as these hypocrites dealt falsely with him, they were necessarily disappointed of their hope, as the Prophet here declares.
The peace-offerings of your fat things, he says, I will not regard God indeed promised in the law that he would regard their sacrifices provided they were lawful; but as the Israelites had in two ways departed from pure worship, God now justly says, I will not look on your sacrifices, nor on the peace-offerings of your fat things He calls them the peace-offerings of fat things, intimating, that though the beasts were the choicest, they would not yet be acceptable to him; for the Lord regards not fatness, as he needs neither meat nor drink. Then, in a word, the Prophet here sets this fatness in opposition to true godliness and obedience too. In both respects there was, as we have seen, a defect among the Israelites; for they obeyed not the law as to its outward requirements, and their hearts were impure and perverse: hence all their sacrifices were necessarily polluted and corrupt.
Cambridge Bible Driver
Amos 5:22. The commonest and most popular kinds of sacrifice are particularized as rejected by Jehovah. The burnt- and peace-offerings are often mentioned in the historical books, and were frequently sacrificed together (Ex. 20:24, 32:6; Jud. 20:26, 21:4; 1 Sam. 10:8, 13:9; 2 Sam. 6:17, 24:25; 1 Ki. 3:15; cf. Is. 1:11, where ‘the fat of fed beasts’ is an allusion to the peace-offering). The peace-offering, being the sacrifice most commonly offered, is also often called ‘sacrifice’ (lit. slaughtering) simply: Ex. 18:12; Deut. 12:6; 1 Sam. 6:15 al.).
meat offerings] meal-offerings, or cereal offerings. The word ‘meat’ has altered its meaning since the time when the A.V. was made, and is now restricted to flesh: so that the rendering ‘meat offering’ for offerings consisting exclusively of either parched corn or various preparations of flour (see Lev. 2) has become altogether misleading. The Heb. word minḥah means properly a present or gift, especially one offered to a king or noble, to do him homage or secure his favour (Gen. 32:13, 43:11; 1 Sam. 10:27), and euphemistically for tribute, 2 Sam. 8:2, 6 &c.: hence it is used sometimes in a general sense of gifts offered in sacrifice to God (Gen. 4:3, 4, 5; Num. 16:15; 1 Sam. 2:17, 29, 26:19); in the priestly sections of the Pent., on the other hand, it is used exclusively in the narrower and technical sense of a ‘meal-offering.’ It seems therefore that the custom must have gradually grown up of designating animal sacrifices by their special names (burnt-offering, peace-offering &c.), while minḥah was more and more restricted to vegetable offerings alone. This double application of the term sometimes makes it uncertain whether ‘offering’ in general, or ‘meal-offering’ in particular, is denoted by it. Where, however, as here, it stands beside the names of two other species of sacrifice, it has the presumption of being used to denote a special kind likewise (cf. Jos. 22:23; Jud. 13:23; 1 Ki. 8:64).
fat beasts] or fatlings, 2 Sam. 6:13, 1 Ki. 1:9, 19, 25, and (in the same connexion) Is. 1:11 (where, on account of the word fat, with which it is joined, it is in the English version rendered fed beasts). In the ‘peace-offering’ the fat parts were those which were specially set apart to be “burnt” (הקטיר), i.e. consumed in sweet smoke (cf. on 4:5), upon the altar (Lev. 3:3–5, 9–11, 14–16).
It follows, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs By speaking of multitude, he aims at hypocrites, who toil much in their devices without measure or end, as we see done at this day by those under the Papacy; for they accumulate endless forms of worship, and greatly weary themselves, morning and evening; in short, they spend days and nights in performing their ceremonies, and every one devises some new thing, and all these they heap together. Inasmuch, then, as men, when they have begun to turn aside from the pure word of God, continually invent various kinds of trifles, the Prophet here touches indirectly on this foolish laboriousness (stultan sedulitatem — foolish sedulity) when he says, Take away from me the multitude of thy songs. He might have simply said, “Thy songs please me not;” but he mentions their multitude, because hypocrites, as I have said, fix no limits to their outward ceremonies: and a vast heap especially follows, when once they take to themselves the liberty of devising this or that form of worship. Hence God testifies here, that they spend labor in vain, for he rejects what he does not command, and whatever is not rightly offered to him.
And the harmony of lyres, or of musical instruments. But נבל, nabel, was an instrument, which, as to its kind, is unknown to us now. Take away, then, from me the harmony of lyres; for the verb,take away, may refer to both clauses; though some join them to the last the verb “lo לא אשמע, la ashimo, I will not hear. The difference really is very little: but their view is the most probable, who join together the two clauses, ‘Take away from me the multitude of thy songs and the harmony of lyres;’ with which thou thinkest me to be delighted. They afterwards take לא אשמע “I will not hear,” by itself. But I contend not about such minute things: it is enough to know the design of the Prophet. It now follows —
Take thou away from Me – Literally, “from upon Me,” that is, from being a burden to Me, a weight on Me. So God says by Isaiah, “your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth; they are a burden upon Me; I am weary to bear them” Isa_1:14. Their “songs” and hymns were but a confused, tumultuous, “noise,” since they had not the harmony of love.
For – (And) the melody of thy viols I will not hear – Yet the “nebel,” probably a sort of harp, was almost exclusively consecrated to the service of God, and the Psalms were God’s own writing. Doubtless they sounded harmoniously in their own ears; but it reached no further. Their melody, like much Church-music, was for itself, and ended in itself. : “Let Christian chanters learn hence, not to set the whole devotion of Psalmody in a good voice, subtlety of modulation and rapid intonation, etc., quavering like birds, to tickle the ears of the curious, take them off to themselves and away from prayer, lest they hear from God, ‘I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’ Let them learn that of the Apostle, ‘I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also’ 1Co_14:15.” Augustine, in Psa_30:1-12; Enarr. iv. (p. 203. Oxford Translation) L.: “If the Psalm prays, pray; if it sorrows, sorrow; if it is glad, rejoice; if full of hope, hope; if of fear, fear. For whatever is therein written, is our mirror.”
Augustine in Ps. 119 (n. 9. T. v. p. 470. Old Testament) L.: “How many are loud in voice, dumb in heart! How many lips are silent, but their love is loud! For the ears of God are to the heart of man. As the ears of the body are to the mouth of man, so the heart of man is to the ears of God. Many are heard with closed lips, and many who cry aloud are not heard.” Dionysius: “God says, ‘I will not hear,” as He says, ‘praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner’ (Ecclesiaticus 15:9), and, ‘to the ungodly saith God, what hast thou to do, to declare My statutes?’ Psa_50:16, and, ‘he that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination’ Pro_28:9. It is not meant hereby that the wicked ought wholly to abstain from the praise of God and from prayers, but that they should be diligent to amend, and know that through such imperfect services they cannot be saved.” The prophet urges upon them the terribleness of the Day of Judgment, that they might feel and flee its terribleness, before it comes. He impresses on them the fruitlessness of their prayers, that, amending, they might so pray, that God would hear them.
Interpreters variously expound this verse. To some it seems an exhortation, as though the Prophet said, “Ye thrust on me victims of beasts and various ceremonies; but I regard not these things; for the interior purity of heart alone pleases me: take away then all these things, which are of no moment with me, and bring what I especially require and demands even a pure and sincere heart.”
Some also think that newness of life is here described by its fruits or its evidences: for the Prophet mentions not purity, speaks not of faith and repentance, but by the fruits sets forth that renovation, which God always chiefly regards, and for the sake of which he had required sacrifices under the law. The meaning then is, that hypocrites are here recalled to true worship, because they vainly and absurdly tormented themselves with their own fictions: and by requiring from them righteousness and judgment, he required a holy and pure life, or, in a word, uprightness.
Others think that the Prophet turns aside here to celebrate the grace of Christ, which was to be made known in the gospel: and the verb יגל, igel, is rendered by many “shall be revealed;” but others more correctly derive it from the root גל, igel, to roll. Let justice then as it were, roll. But I will return to the second exposition. Most think that there is here a prediction of that righteousness which God was to make known by the coming of Christ; and some retain also the proper meaning of the verb גל, gal, to roll. They then say that the gospel is here compared to an impetuous river and a violent stream, because the Lord would rush on and penetrate through all hindrances, how many soever Satan might attempt to throw in his way. But this meaning seems not to harmonize with the Prophet’s words and is in my judgment, too refined.
Some again regard the verse as a threatening, and think that God here reproves the Israelites, as though he had said, that since they were trifling with and mocking him, he would at length show what was true righteousness and what was true judgment: for hypocrites think that they come not short of a perfect state, when they are veiled by their ceremonies, inasmuch as they flee to these lurking holes, when they would cover all their flagitous deeds. Hence they think not that they are guilty, for they hide their sins under their ceremonies as under Ajax’s shield. Seeing then that they thus trifle with God, some interpreters think that God here sharply reproves them and says, that they were greatly deceived, for he would himself at length make known what was true righteousness. Righteousness then shall run down or be rolled; and by this verb he expresses impetuosity; but he sets it forth afterwards more clearly by איתן, aitan, “Judgment shall be a violent stream.” But hypocrites amuse themselves as children do with their puppets. Inasmuch then as they do nothing seriously, and yet desire to pacify God as with baubles, the Prophet here shakes off such delusions, as though he said, “Do you think that God is like a child? Why do you set up these trifles? Do you think that righteousness is a fictitious thing, or that judgment is a vain figment? The Lord will certainly show to you how precious righteousness is. It shall therefore run down as violent waters, as an impetuous stream. “Judgment,” he says “shall rush upon you and overwhelm you.” This is the third meaning.
But the verse may be again explained in a different way, as though God obviated an objection; for hypocrites, we know, always raise a clamor, and make no end of contending; “What! Have we then lost all our labor, while endeavoring to worship God? Is all this to go for nothing? And further, we have not only offered sacrifices, but sought also to testify that the glory of God is to us an object of concern. Since then we have had a care for religion, why should God now reject us?” The Prophet here shortly answers, — that if only they brought forth true righteousness, their course would be free; as though he said, “God will not put a check to your righteousness and rectitude:” and this must be referred to the fruit or remuneration; as though the Prophet said, “Only worship God in sincerity, and he will not disappoint you; for a reward will be laid up for you; your righteousness shall run down as a river.” As it is said in another place, ‘Your righteousness shall shine as the dawn,’ so it is also in this, ‘Your righteousness shall run down as violent waters.’ There was therefore no reason for hypocrites to expostulate and say that wrong was done them by God, or that their performances were lightly esteemed, since God openly testified, that he would provide for righteousness, that it might have a free course, like an impetuous river: and this seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet. While I do not wholly reject the other expositions, I do not yet follow them; but show what I mostly approve.
Then the Prophet, after having bidden them to throw aside all their fictitious and spurious forms of worship, does not now simply exhort the Israelites, as some think, to exhibit righteousness and rectitude, but expresses this in the form of a promise, “Run down shall your righteousness as impetuous waters, provided it be true, and not an empty name. Whenever God shall see in you sincere rectitude, there will certainly be prepared an ample reward for you.” It follows —
But let judgment run down as waters; let judgment roll on; Septuagint, καὶ κυλισθήσεται ὡς ὕδωρ κρίμα, “and judgment shall roll along as water.” Et revelabitur quasi aqua judicium (Vulgate). This verse has been explained in different ways. Hitzig, Keil, with many ancient commentators, find in it a threat of chastisement, “the flooding of the land with judgment and the punitive righteousness of God.” Pusey, Professor Gandell, and others consider it to be a call to amendment. “He bids them let judgment, which had hitherto been perverted in its course, roll on like a mighty tide of waters, sweeping before it all hindrances,” filling the whole land with righteousness. Schegg makes it to be a promise of the coming of the day of the Lord, that is, the revelation of Messiah. But such a promise in this position is very forced and unnatural. The second interpretation seems most suitable. In the midst of the denunciation of men’s formal worship, the prophet announces their duty in the present crisis, attention to which could alone win God’s favour. Judgment and righteousness, long neglected and forgotten, should permeate the land like refreshing streams of water—a simile of special signification to an inhabitant of an Eastern country, where the neighbourhood of a perennial stream was as delightful as it was unusual. Mighty (ethan); ἄβατος, “impassable”; fortis (Vulgate). The word may mean “strong,” or “perennial.” “Whence the seventh month, just before the early rain, was called the month Ethanim, i.e. the month of the perennial streams, when they alone flowed” (Pusey).
Cambridge Bible Driver
Amos 5:24. Justice, between man and man, is what Jehovah demands: no ceremonial, however punctiliously observed, is a substitute in Jehovah’s eyes for moral duties. The argument is exactly that of Is. 1, where Jehovah rejects similarly the entire body of ritual observances, celebrated at the Temple of Jerusalem, on account of the moral shortcomings of the worshippers; and where the exhortation is similarly to observe the elementary duties of civic morality—“Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes: seek judgement, set right the oppressor, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Is. 1:10–17).
run down] roll on; R.V. roll down: let justice, which has hitherto been too often thwarted and obstructed in its course, roll on, as waters, in one perpetual flow; and righteousness as an overflowing stream. Stream is in the Heb. naḥal, a word for which there is no proper English equivalent, but which corresponds really to the Arabic wādy, so often found in descriptions of travel in Palestine. The naḥal, or wādy, is a torrent running down through a narrow valley, which in the rainy season forms usually a copious stream, while in summer it may be reduced to a mere brook or thread of water, or may even be entirely dry. Righteousness, Jehovah claims, should roll on like a perennial (or ever-flowing) wādy, like a wādy which is never so dried up, but flows continuously. The word rendered ever-flowing (êthān) is the term applied specially to characterize such a perennial wādy. It is one of the words (like hibhlīg, v. 9), of which the true meaning was lost by the Jews, and was recovered only when Arabic began to be compared systematically with Hebrew, some two centuries ago. The renderings strong, mighty, strength, are in reality guesses made from the context by the mediæval Jewish commentators, whom the translators of the Authorised Version often followed as their guide. Examples of the word: Ex. 14:27 (see R.V. marg.), Ps. 74:15; and in a metaphorical sense, Jer. 5:15 (of a nation whose numbers are never diminished), 49:19 and Num. 24:21 (of an abiding, never-failing habitation).
Others understand judgement and righteousness here of God’s punitive justice (cf. Is. 1:27, 5:16, 28:17; and for the figure, Is. 10:22 “a consumption, overflowing with righteousness”); but the former interpretation, which is the usual one, is more agreeable with the context.
The Prophet now directs his discourse not only to the Israelites, to whom he was especially given as an instructor and teacher, but includes the Jews also: and yet he addresses not all indiscriminately, but only the chief men, who were intent on their pleasures, as though they were exempt from the common miseries: for he does not, as many suppose, reprove here luxury and pride only; but we must remember a fact connected with their case, — that they were not awakened by God’s judgments; when God severely punished the sins of the people, the chief men remained ever heedlessly in their own dregs. This security is now condemned by our Prophet.
And this is a very common evil, as we may see, in the present day. For when the Lord afflicts a country with war or with famine, the rich make great gain of such evils. They abuse the scourges of God; for we see merchants getting rich in the midst of wars, inasmuch as they scrape together a booty from every quarter. For they who carry on war are forced to borrow money, and also the peasants and mechanics, that they may pay taxes; and then, that they may live, they are obliged to make unjust conditions: thus the rich increase in wealth. They also who are in authority, and in favor at the court of princes, make more gain in wars, in famine, and in other calamities, than during times of peace and prosperity: for when peace nourishes, the state of things is then more equable; but when the poor are burdened, the rest grow fat. And this is the evil now noticed by the Prophet.
Hence he pronounces here a curse on the secure and those at ease; not that it is an evil thing, or in itself displeasing to God, when any one quietly enjoys his leisure; but, not to be moved, when the Lord openly shows himself to be displeased and angry, when his scourges are manifestly inflicted, but to indulge ourselves more in pleasures, — this is to provoke him, as it were, designedly. The secure, then, and the presumptuous the Prophet here condemns, for it became them to humble themselves when they saw that God was incensed against them. They were not indeed more just than the multitude; and when God treated the common people with such severity, ought not the chiefs to have looked to themselves, and have examined their own life? As they did not do this, but made themselves drunk with pleasures, and put far off every fear and thought that the scourges of God were nothing to them, — this was a contempt deservedly condemned by the Prophet. We see that God was in the same manner greatly displeased, as it is recorded in Isaiah: when he called them to mourning, they sang with the harp, and, according to their custom, feasted sumptuously and joyfully, (Isa_23:12) As then they thus persevered in their indulgences, the Lord became extremely angry; for it was, as though they avowedly despised him and scorned all his threatening.
We now observe the design of the Prophet, which interpreters have not sufficiently noticed. It behaves us indeed ever to keep in view these scourges of God, by which he began to visit the sins of the people. God can by no means endure, as I have said, such a contumacy as this, — that men should go on in the indulgence of their sins and never regard their judge and feel no guilt. Hence the Prophet says, Woe to you who are secure in Zion, who are confident, that is, who are without any fear, on the mount of Samaria (42) He names here the mount of Zion and the mount of Samaria; for these were the chief cities of the two kingdoms, as we all know. The whole country had been laid waste with various calamities; the citizens of Jerusalem and of Samaria were, at the same time, wealthy; and then trusting in their strongholds, they despised God and all his judgments. This then was the security, full of contumacy, which is condemned by the Prophet.
He then mentions their ingratitude: he says that these mountains had been celebrated from the beginning of the nations, and that the Israelites entered into them. God here upbraids both the Jews and Israelites with having come to a foreign possession: for they had got those cities, not by their own valour, but the Lord drove out before them the ancient inhabitants. Seeing then that they perceived not that a safe dwelling was given them there by the Lord, that they might purely worship him and submit to his government, their ingratitude was inexcusable. The Prophet then, after having inveighed against the gross and heedless security, with which the chiefs of both kingdoms were inebriated, now mentions their ingratitude: “Ye are not natives, but ye have come in, for God did go before you, for it was his will to give you this land as your possession: why then are you now so inflated with pride against him? For before your time these cities were certainly well known and celebrated; and yet this was of no avail to the natives themselves. Why then do ye not now fear the Lord’s judgment and repent, when he threatens you? Yea, when he shows his scourges to you?” We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning in this verse. It now follows —
Them that are at ease in Zion; living in fancied security and self-pleasing (Isa_32:9, Isa_32:11; Zep_1:12). Judah is included in the denunciation, because she is equally guilty; the whole covenant nation is sunk in the same dangerous apathy. Septuagint, τοῖς ἐξουθενοῦσι Σιών, “them that set at naught Zion.” The same rendering is found in the Syriac, and can be supported by a small change in the Hebrew. It may have been intended thus to confine the announcement to Israel alone, in conformity with the prophet’s chief scope. But he has introduced mention of Judah elsewhere, as Amo_2:4; Amo_6:5; Amo_9:11, and his sense of his own people’s careless ease may well lead him to include them in his warning.
Trust in the mountain of Samaria. The city was deemed impregnable, and it kept the Assyrians at bay for three years before it was finally taken (2Ki_18:9, etc.; see notes on Amo_3:9 and Amo_4:1). Another rendering, not so suitable, is, the careless ones upon the mountain of Samaria. The point, however, is the supposed impregnability of the city which occasioned a feeling of perfect security.
Which are named chief of the nations; rather, to the notable men of the chief of nations; i.e. the principal men of Israel, which had the proud title of the chief of the nations because it was beloved and elected of God, and was designed to keep alive true religion, and to set an example to the rest of the world (Exo_19:5; Nm Exo_1:17; Deu_4:20; 2Sa_7:23). Septuagint, ἀπετρόγησαν ἀρχὰς ἐθνῶν, “they plucked the chiefs of the nations,” where the verb is a mistaken Tendering. To whom the house of Israel came; or, come. Resort for counsel and judgment (2Sa_15:4), and who ought therefore to be patterns of righteousness and equity. The rendering of the Vulgate, ingredientes pompatice domum Israel, “entering with pomp into the house of Israel” (which does not agree with the present Hebrew text), implies that these chieftains carried themselves haughtily in the congregation of Israel.
Woe to them that are at ease – The word always means such as are recklessly at their ease, “the careless ones,” such as those whom Isaiah bids Isa_32:9-11, “rise up, tremble, be troubled, for many days and years shall ye be troubled.” It is that luxury and ease, which sensualize the soul, and make it dull, stupid, hard-hearted. By one earnest, passing word, the prophet warns his own land, that present sinful ease ends in future woe. “Woe unto them that laugh now: for they shall mourn and weep” Luk_6:25. Rup.: “He foretells the destruction and captivity of both Judah and Israel at once; and not only that captivity at Babylon, but that whereby they are dispersed unto this day.” Luxury and deepest sins of the flesh were rife in that generation (see Joh_8:9; Rom_2:21-24; Luk_11:39, Luk_11:42; Mat_23:14, Mat_23:23, Mat_23:26), which killed Him who for our sakes became poor.
And trust in the mountain of Samaria – Not in God. Samaria was strong (see the note above at Amo_3:9), resisted for three years, and was the last city of Israel which was taken. “The king of Assyria came up throughout all the land and went up to Samaria, and besieged it 2Ki_17:5. Benhadad, in that former siege, when God delivered them 2Ki_7:6, attempted no assault, but famine only.
Which are named the chief of the nations – Literally, “the named of the chief of the nations,” that is, those who, in Israel, which by the distinguishing favor of God were “chief of the nations,” were themselves, marked, distinguished, “named.” The prophet, by one word, refers them back to those first princes of the congregation, of whom Moses used that same word Num_1:17. They were “heads of the houses of their fathers Num_1:4, renowned of the congregation, heads of thousands in Israel Num_1:16. As, if anyone were to call the Peers, “Barons of England,” he would carry us back to the days of Magna Charta, although six centuries and a half ago, so this word, occurring at that time , here only in any Scripture since Moses, carried back the thoughts of the degenerate aristocracy of Israel to the faith and zeal of their forefathers, “what” they ought to have been, and “what” they were. As Amalek of old was “first of the nations” Num_24:20 in its enmity against the people of God , having, first of all, shown that implacable hatred, which Ammon, Moab, Edom, evinced afterward, so was Israel “first of nations,” as by God. It became, in an evil way, “first of nations,” that is, distinguished above the heat by rejecting Him.
To whom the house of Israel came, or have come – They were, like those princes of old, raised above others. Israel “came” to them for judgment; and they, regardless of duty, lived only for self-indulgence, effeminacy, and pride. Jerome renders in the same sense, “that enter pompously the house of Israel,” literally, “enter for themselves,” as if they were lords of it, and it was made for them.
Amos still pursues the reproof we have noticed at the beginning of the chapter, — that the chief men, of whom he speaks, cast away from them all cares and anxieties, and indulged in pleasures, while the whole country was miserably distressed. We must ever bear in mind what I have already said, — that luxury is not simply reprehended by the Prophet, as some incorrectly think, without sufficiently considering what is said, for it is not what the Prophet treats of; but he upbraids the Israelites for setting up an iron neck against God’s judgments, yea, for shamelessly trifling with God, while he was endeavoring to lead them by degrees to repentance. The Prophet complains that nothing availed with them.
He then says, first, that they slept on ivory beds. To use ivory beds was not in itself bad, except that excess is ever to be condemned; for, when we give up ourselves to pomps and pleasures, we certainly are not then free from sin: indeed, every desire for present things, which exceeds moderation, is ever justly reprehensible. And when men greedily seek splendor and display, or become ambitious and proud, or are given to delicacies, they are guilty of vices ever condemned by God. But it might be, that one used an ivory bed, who was yet willing to lie on the ground: for we know that there was then a great abundance of ivory, and that it was commonly used in Asia. Italy formerly knew not what it was to use a bed of ivory, that is, before the victory of Lucius Scipio: but after the king Antiochus was conquered, then Italy freely used ivory beds and fineries; and thus luxury broke down their courage and effeminated them.
I will come now to our Prophet: it might have been that ivory was not then so valuable in Judea: they might then have used ivory beds without blame. But Amos ever regards the miseries of those times. The rich then ought to have given up all their luxuries, and to have betaken themselves to dust and ashes, when they saw that God was incensed with them, when they saw that the fire of his vengeance was kindled. We now then perceive why Amos was so indignant against those who slept on ivory beds.
He adds, And who extend themselves on their beds: for סרח, sarech, is properly to extend; it means also to become fetid; and further, it means to be superfluous; and therefore some render the words, “upon ivory beds and superfluities;” but this is strained, and agrees not with what follows, upon their couches. The Prophet then, I have no doubt, points out here the manners of those who so heedlessly indulged themselves: “Ye extend,” he says, “your legs and your arms on your couches, as idle men, accustomed to indulgences, are wont to do. But the Lord will awaken you in a new way; his scourges ought to have roused you, but ye remain asleep. Hence, since God could not terrify you by his rods, nothing more remains but to draw you forth against your will to be punished.” This was the reason why the Prophet said that they extended themselves on their couches.
Ye eat also the lambs from the flock, and the calves from the midst of the rich pasture, or of the stall. I prefer taking מרבק, merebek, for folds. Since then they loved fat meat, the Prophet reproves this luxury: he had indeed in view, as it has been already said, the then calamitous time; for if the rich had in their usual way feasted, and had even taken fat meat, they would not have deserved so severe a punishment: but when the Lord called them to mourning, and when the signals of his wrath spread horror all around, it was a stupidity not to be endured, for them to continue their indulgences, which they ought, on the contrary, to have renounced. Indeed, this passage agrees with that of Isaiah, to which I have already referred. It now follows —
That lie upon beds of ivory; couches inlaid with ivory (see note on Amo_3:15) at meals. The prophet substantiates his denunciation by describing their selfish luxury and debauchery. Stretch themselves literally, are poured out; Septuagint, κατασπαταλῶντες, “wantoning.” Out of the midst of the stall. Calves put up to be fattened. They do this presumably net on festivals, when it would have been proper and excusable, but every day.
That lie upon beds (that is, sofas) of ivory – that is, probably inlaid with ivory. The word might, in itself, express either the bed, in which they slept by night, or the divan, on which the Easterns lay at their meals; “and stretch themselves,” literally, “are poured” out , stretching their listless length, dissolved, unnerved, in luxury and sloth, “upon their couches,” perhaps under an awning: “and eat the lambs,” probably “fatted lambs (as in Deu_32:14; Psa_37:20; 1Sa_15:9; Jer_51:40), out of the flock,” chosen, selected out of it as the best, and “calves out of the midst of the stall;” that is, the place where they were tied up (as the word means) to be fatted. They were stall-fed, as we say, and these people had the best chosen for them.
“He shews how they ‘draw nigh the seat of violence.’ They lay on beds or couches of ivory, and expended thereon the money wherewith their poor brethren were to be fed. Go now, I say not into the houses of nobles, but into any house of any rich man, see the gilded and worked couches, curtains woven of silk and gold, and walls covered with gold, while the poor of Christ are naked, shivering, shriveled with hunger. Yet stranger is it, that while this is everywhere, scarce anywhere is there who now blames it. Now I say, for there were formerly. ‘Ye array,’ Ambrose says , ‘walls with gold, men ye bare. The naked cries before your door and you neglect him; and are careful with what marbles you clothe your pavement. The poor seeketh money, and hath it not; man asketh for bread, and thy horse champeth gold. Thou delightest in costly ornaments, while others have not meal. What judgment thou heapest on thyself, thou man of wealth! Miserable, who hast power to keep so many souls from death, and hast not the will! The jewel of thy ring could maintain in life a whole population.’ If such things are not to be blamed now, then neither were they formerly.”
Cambridge Bible Driver
Amos 6:4. That lie upon divans (3:12) of ivory] i.e. divans, the frames of which were inlaid with ivory: cf. the “ivory couches,” and “great ivory seats,” which Sennacherib boasts that he received from Hezekiah (K.A.T.2 p. 293 bottom, referred to by Mitchell).
and are stretched out upon their couches] The older custom in Israel was to sit while eating (Gen. 27:19; Judg. 19:6; 1 Sam. 20:5, 24; 1 Ki. 13:20), whether upon a rug or carpet spread out on the floor, or (2 Ki. 4:10) on a seat: the custom of reclining at table is first mentioned here; it was not impossibly a foreign fashion introduced from Syria, and is in any case viewed by the shepherd-prophet as a signal mark of effeminacy and luxury. Of course, in later times—probably through Greek or Aramaic influence—it became general (Ecclus. 41:19; Matt. 9:10, 26:7, &c.).
lambs] Heb. kārīm, not the usual word for lambs, and denoting apparently such as, from their age or kind, were a special delicacy (cf. Deut. 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:9).
and calves out of the midst of the stall] Brought directly from the place where they were tied up (such, as Arabic shews, is the meaning of the word) to be fatted. Cf. Luke 15:23.
The word פרט, pereth, means to divide; so some explain it, and derive it from the clusters which remain after the vintage, because there are not then thick grapes, but a cluster here and there, and a great distance between: hence they think that the participle הפורטים, epurethim, is to be taken here metaphorically as meaning to divide by marks, as music has its various notes; for except there be a distinct variety in singing, the sound would be confused, and would produce no pleasing effect. Who sing then with the harps and have invented for themselves, after the example of David, musical instruments.
The Prophet still continues his discourse, and shows that these men lived sumptuously; as though they did not belong to the common class, they delighted themselves, against God’s will, not only in the common mode of living, but even sought new pleasures, as if they were continually at marriage feasts, or celebrating birthdays. As then they had no season for mourning, they pursued their own indulgences; and this is what the Prophet now reprehends. If then any one thinks that music is in these words condemned, he is much deceived, as it appears from the context. Indeed, the Prophet never dealt so rigidly with that people, but he ever kept to this point — that they were extremely torpid, nay, destitute of common sense, who perceived not that God showed himself angry with them, in order that they might flee immediately to the standard of repentance and humbly deprecate, with mourning, the wrath of God, as they ought to have done. It was therefore meet ever to set before them Gods wrath, which ought to have humbled the Jews and the Israelites, inasmuch as they ever obstinately set up against God their own indifference.
In saying that after the example of David they invented for themselves musical instruments, he no doubt greatly aggravated their sin by this comparison: for it is not likely that they had abused this pretext, as hypocrites do, who are wont to boast of the examples of the saints, when they seek to disguise their own vices, — “What!” some will say, “Did not David use musical instruments?” Others will say, “Had not Solomon very splendid palaces?” And some will add, “Had not Abraham a company of servants in his house?” So every one lays hold on what may avail for an excuse: and thus the examples of the saints are absurdly referred to by many. But it seems not probable that this was done by those whom Amos now addresses: but, on the contrary, he appears sharply to reprove them for provoking God’s wrath by self indulgence, and for manifesting their perverseness, while David employed musical instruments in the exercises of religion, to raise up his mind to God. No doubt, David, when in a peaceful state, after having been delivered from all dangers, could also amuse himself: but he applied musical instruments to another purpose — to sound forth the praises of God in the temple, that thereby he and other godly persons might together elevate their thoughts to a religious devotion. While David then, even in a state of peace and prosperity, did not allow his mind to become sunk in vain self-indulgences, these men, when God appeared angry, when he spread terror by so many tokens of his vengeance, yet dared contumaciously to follow their own ways, so that they left off nothing of their usual pomp and of their accustomed pleasures.
We now see the design of the comparison which the Prophet makes: He aggravates, I have no doubt, their sin, because they regarded not the example of David, but transferred musical instruments to serve the purpose of gross and beastly indulgences, and thus they did when God was opposed to them, when he had begun to terrify them by his vengeance. Let us proceed —
That chant. The word parat (ἅπαξ λεγόμενον) means rather “to prattle,” “to sing idle songs,” as the Revised Version translates it. The reading of the Septuagint varies between ἐπικρατοῦντες. “excelling,” and ἐπικροτοῦντες, the latter of which words might mean “applauding.” Viol (see note on Amo_5:23). Invent to themselves instruments of music, like David. As David devised stringed instruments and modes of singing to do honour to God and for the service of his sanctuary, so these debauchees invented new singing and playing to grace their luxurious feasts. The Septuagint rendering, which Jerome calls “sensus pulcherrimus,” is not to be explained by the present Hebrew text, however true to fact it may be considered, Ὡς ἑστηκότα ἐλογίσαντο καὶ οὐχ ὡς φεύγοντα. “Regarded them as abiding and not as fleeting things.”
That chant to the voice of the lyre – Accompanying “the voice of the lyre” with the human voice; giving vocal expression and utterance to what the instrumental music spoke without words. The word, which Amos alone uses in this one place, describes probably a hurried flow of unmeaning, unconsidered words, in which the rhythm of words and music was everything, the sense, nothing; much like most glees.
The English margin “quaver” has also some foundation in the root, but does not suit the idiom so well, which expresses that the act was something done “to the voice of the lyre,” accompanying the music, not altering the music itself. In fact, they would go together. An artificial, effeminate music which should relax the soul, frittering the melody, and displacing the power and majesty of divine harmony by tricks of art, and giddy, thoughtless, heartless, soulless versifying would be meet company. Debased music is a mark of a nation’s decay, and promotes it. The Hebrew music seems to have been very simple; and singing appears to have been reserved almost exclusively for solemn occasions, the temple-service, or the greeting of victory 1Sa_18:7. “Singing men and singing women” were part of the state of David and Solomon 2Sa_19:35; Ecc_2:8. Else the music at the feasts of the rich appears rather to be mentioned with blame Isa_5:12; Isa_24:9. Songs they had Pro_25:20; but the songs, for which the Hebrew exiles were celebrated, and which their Babylonian masters required them to sing, “the songs of Zion” Psa_137:3-4, were the hymns of the temple, “the Lord’s song.”
And invent to themselves instruments of music – The same pains, which David employed on music to the honor of God, they employed on their light, enervating unmeaningful music, and, if they were in earnest enough, justified their inventions by the example of David. Much as people have justified our degraded, sensualizing, immodest dancing, by the religious dancing of Holy Scripture! The word can mean no other than devised. David then did “devise” and “invent” instruments of music for the service of God. He introduced into the temple-service the use of the stringed instruments, the “kinnor,” (the “lyre”) and the “nebel” (the “harp”) in addition to the cymbals. Whence these, in contrast with the trumpets, are called “the instruments of David” (2Ch_29:26, compare 2Ch_29:25, and 1Ch_15:16, 1Ch_15:19-21, 1Ch_15:24). Probably, in adapting them to the temple-service, he, in some way, improved the existing instrument; having been, in early youth, remarkable for his skill upon the harp 1Sa_16:16, 1Sa_16:18, 1Sa_16:23. As he elevated the character and powers of the, perhaps rude, instrument which he found, and suited it to the service of God, so these people refined it doubtless, as they thought, and suited it for the service of luxury and sensuality. But what harm, they thought, in amending the music of their day, since so did David?
Amos now reproaches the chiefs of both kingdoms for drinking wine in bowls, that is, in vessels either elegantly formed or precious. Some think “silver” to be understood “in vessels of silver:” but there is no need of regarding any thing as understood in the Prophet’s words. The meaning is, that those men were sufficiently convicted of brutish stupidity, inasmuch as they did not forsake their indulgences, when God manifested his terrible vengeance. Since God then did thus what tended to humble them, their madness and blindness were conspicuous enough; for they indulged themselves, they drank wine according to their usual custom, when they ought to have betaken themselves, as we have said, to fasting, lamentation, and mourning, to sackcloth and ashes.
They drank wine in bowls, and further, they anointed themselves with the chief ointments Christ, we know, was anointed at least twice, (Luk_7:38 Mat_26:7) and this practice was not blamed in David, nor in king Hezekiah, nor in others. Since then anointing was not in itself sinful, we see that the Prophet must have something particular in view. He meant to show, that when God manifested tokens of his wrath, nothing then remained for those who were conscious of having done evil, but humbly to abstain, like guilty persons, from all indulgences, that they might, by fasting and mourning, excite the mercy of God: as the Israelites had not done this, the Prophet expostulated with them. There is no need of seeking, any other interpretation of this place.
For he immediately subjoins, that they grieved not for the bruising of Joseph These words are to be read in connection with the former, and ought to be applied to the whole discourse. The Prophet then does not specifically blame the Jews and Israelites because they drank wine in bowls, because they anointed themselves with the best and most precious ointment, because they reposed on ivory beds, because they extended themselves on their couches, because they ate the best meat; but because they securely indulged in such delights, and grieved not for the distress of their brethren, for God had miserably afflicted the whole kingdom before their eyes. How much had four tribes already suffered? and how much the whole land and those who lived in the country? Ought God to have spared any longer these chiefs? It is indeed certain, that those who were still free from these calamities were especially culpable. Since then they did not consider the wrath of God, which was evident enough before their eyes, it was a proof of stupidity wholly insane, and showed them who still indulged themselves to have been utterly besides themselves.
Wine in bowls (misraqim); sacrificial bowls; used in libations of wine and in the sprinkling of blood (comp. Exo_38:3; Num_7:13, etc.; 1Ch_28:17; 2Ch_4:8, 2Ch_4:22; Zec_9:15; Zec_14:20). These vessels the luxurious and sacrilegious princes employed in their feasts, proving thus their impiety and their excess (comp. Dan_5:2). Septuagint, οἱ πίνοντες τὸν διυλισμένον οἶνον, “who drink strained wine.”
The chief ointments. Such as were used in Divine service (Exo_30:23, etc.), and nowhere else. If they had felt as they ought to feel in this time of rebuke and sorrow, they would, like mourners, have refrained from anointing themselves (Rth_3:3; 2Sa_14:2); but, on the contrary, they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. The coming ruin of the ten tribes affects them not; in their selfish voluptuousness they have no sympathy with calamity and suffering, and shut their eyes to coming evil.
“The affliction of Joseph” is probably a proverbial expression derived from the narratives in Gen_37:25, etc; and Gen_40:14, Gen_40:23 (comp. Gen_42:21).
Cambridge Bible Driver
Amos 6:6. that drink with bowls of wine] Not satisfied with ordinary cups. Bowl is properly a throwing-vessel, the root zāraḳ signifying to throw or dash in a volume, Lev. 1:5, 11, &c. (not to sprinkle, which is hizzāh, Lev. 4:6, 17, &c.); and elsewhere it is always used of the large bowls or basins from which the blood was thrown in a volume against the altar (Ex. 27:3; 1 Ki. 7:40; 2 Ki. 12:13; Zech. 9:15, 14:20: see Lev. 1:5, 11, 3:2, 8, 13; 2 Ki. 16:13, 15; 2 Chr. 29:22. Sprinkle, in these and similar passages, is incorrect: it should be throw or dash). The luxurious nobles of Samaria at their banquets drank their wine from bowls of similarly large size.
and anoint with the first of oils] oils of the choicest kind. The practice of anointing the body, especially after washing (Ruth 3:3), was common in the East: it both soothed and refreshed the skin, and was a protection against the heat. As a rule, fresh olive-oil was used for the purpose (Deut. 28:40; Mic. 6:15), but aromatic spices and perfumes were often added, especially by the rich (1 Ki. 10:10; Ez. 27:22; cf. Mark 14:3, 5); and such choice and costly compounds are alluded to here. Anointing was in particular practised on festal occasions; and oil was accordingly a mark of joy (Ps. 23:5, 45:7, 92:10; Is. 61:3; Eccl. 9:8), while not to anoint oneself was a token of mourning (2 Sam. 14:2).
but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph] more lit., are not sick for the breach (or wound) of Joseph. The words bring out the irony of their position: immersed themselves in a vortex of pleasure, they are unconcerned by the thought of the breach or wound in the body politic, i.e. the impending material ruin, the signs of which the prophet can only too clearly discern, though they are invisible to the self-satisfied political leaders of the nation. For the term breach (or wound), applied to a nation, cf. Is. 30:26; Jer. 6:14 (“the breach of the daughter of my people”), 8:21, 10:19, 14:17, 30:12, 15; Nah. 3:19; Lam. 2:13 (A.V., R.V., often “hurt”).
We now then understand the full meaning of the Prophet; and hence he says, They shall emigrate at the head of the emigrants, that is, “when there shall be an emigration, they shall be the first in order of time. I have hitherto indulgently spared you; but as I see that you have abused my forbearance, ye shall certainly be the forerunners of others; for ye shall go first into captivity. And my rigor shall begin with you, because I see that I have hitherto lost all my labor in attempting, kindly and paternally to call you to repentance. Ye shall now thenmigrate at the head of the emigrants
And come shall the mourning of those who extend themselves, סרוחים, saruchim ; that is, “Ye indeed lie down, (as he had said before,) ye extend yourselves on your couches; but mourning shall come to you. Ye think that you can escape punishment, when ye repose quietly on your beds; but though your chambers be closed, though ye move not a finger, yet mourning shall come to you.” We now see the connection between the words, mourning and resting in idleness and indulgence. The word סרח, sarech, means indeed properly to recumb; and hence some render the passage, “Mourning shall rest on you:” but the more received meaning is, Mourning shall come on you while recumbing. Though then they stretched out themselves on their beds, that they might pleasantly and softly recumb and rest themselves, yet mourning would come to them, that is, would enter into their chambers.
Therefore now (that is, shortly) shall they go captive with the first (at the head) of those who go captive – They had sought eminence; they should have it. Jerome: “Ye who are first in riches, shall, the first, endure the yoke of captivity, as it is in Ezekiel, ‘begin from My sanctuary’ Eze_9:6, that is, from the destruction of the Temple which is holy. For ‘mighty men shall be mightily tormented’ (Wisdom Eze_6:6); and, ‘to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more’ Luk_12:48.”
And the banquet – Probably, “the screech.” The root, רדסח radsach, whose consonants contain most of those of our screech, signifies the loud sharp cry, which the mind cannot control, either in revelry or distress. Here it is probably, the drunken scream, or reckless cry of revelry, whose senseless shrillness is more piercing, in its way, than the scream of distress, of which Jeremiah Jer_16:5 uses it. For it is the scream of the death of the soul. Amos seems to have purposely joined together similar harsh sibilants or guttural sounds in order the more to express the harshness of that scream of luxurious self-indulgence. סרוּחים מרזח mı̂rezach seruchı̂ym, the screech of the outstretched.” Of this he says, “it shall depart,” and forever. “In that very day all his thoughts perish” Psa_146:4. It shall “depart;” but by what should it be replaced to those to whom it was their god and their all? On earth, by siege, pestilence, death or captivity: after death, by hell to the unrepentant.