Am 4:1-13. Denunciation of Israel's Nobles for Oppression; and of the Whole Nation for Idolatry; and for Their Being Unreformed Even by God's Judgments: Therefore They Must Prepare for the Last and Worst Judgment of All.
1. kine of Bashan -- fat and wanton cattle such as the rich pasture of Bashan (east of Jordan, between Hermon and Gilead) was famed for (De 32:14; Ps 22:12; Eze 39:18). Figurative for those luxurious nobles mentioned, Am 3:9, 10, 12, 15. The feminine, kine, or cows, not bulls, expresses their effeminacy. This accounts for masculine forms in the Hebrew being intermixed with feminine; the latter being figurative, the former the real persons meant.
say to their masters -- that is, to their king, with whom the princes indulged in potations (Ho 7:5), and whom here they importune for more wine. |Bring| is singular, in the Hebrew implying that one |master| alone is meant.
2. The Lord -- the same Hebrew as |masters| (Am 4:1). Israel's nobles say to their master or lord, Bring us drink: but |the Lord| of him and them |hath sworn,| &c.
by his holiness -- which binds Him to punish the guilty (Ps 89:35).
he will take yon away -- that is God by the instrumentality of the enemy.
with hooks -- literally, |thorns| (compare 2Ch 33:11). As fish are taken out of the water by hooks, so the Israelites are to be taken out of their cities by the enemy (Eze 29:4; compare Job 41:1, 2; Jer 16:16; Hab 1:15). The image is the more appropriate, as anciently captives were led by their conquerors by a hook made to pass through the nose (2Ki 19:28), as is to be seen in the Assyrian remains.
3. go out at the breaches -- namely, of the city walls broken by the enemy.
every cow at that which is before her -- figurative for the once luxurious nobles (compare |kine of Bashan,| Am 4:1) shall go out each one right before her; not through the gates, but each at the breach before him, not turning to the right or left, apart from one another.
ye shall cast them into the palace -- |them,| that is, |your posterity,| from Am 4:2. You yourselves shall escape through the breaches, after having cast your little children into the palace, so as not to see their destruction, and to escape the more quickly. Rather, |ye shall cast yourselves into the palace,| so as to escape from it out of the city [Calvin]. The palace, the scene of the princes' riots (Am 3:10, 15; 4:1), is to be the scene of their ignominious flight. Compare in the similar case of Jerusalem's capture, the king's escape by way of the palace, through a breach in the wall (Eze 12:5, 12). Gesenius translates, |Ye shall be cast (as captives) into the (enemy's) stronghold|; in this view, the enemy's stronghold is called |palace,| in retributive contrast to the |palaces| of Israel's nobles, the store houses of their robberies (Am 3:10).
4. God gives them up to their self-willed idolatry, that they may see how unable their idols are to save them from their coming calamities. So Eze 20:39.
Beth-el -- (Am 3:14).
Gilgal -- (Ho 4:15; 9:15; 12:11).
sacrifices every morning -- as commanded in the law (Nu 28:3, 4). They imitated the letter, while violating by calf-worship the spirit, of the Jerusalem temple-worship.
after three years -- every third year; literally, |after three (years of) days| (that is, the fullest complement of days, or a year); |after three full years.| Compare Le 25:20; Jud 17:10, and |the days| for the years, Joe 1:2. So a month of days is used for a full month, wanting no day to complete it (Ge 29:14, Margin; Nu 11:20, 21). The Israelites here also kept to the letter of the law in bringing in the tithes of their increase every third year (De 14:28; 26:12).
5. offer -- literally, |burn incense|; that is, |offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with burnt incense and with leavened bread.| The frankincense was laid on the meat offering, and taken by the priest from it to burn on the altar (Le 2:1, 2, 8-11). Though unleavened cakes were to accompany the peace offering sacrifice of animals, leavened bread was also commanded (Le 7:12, 13), but not as a |meat offering| (Le 2:11).
this liketh you -- that is, this is what ye like.
6-11. Jehovah details His several chastisements inflicted with a view to reclaiming them: but adds to each the same sad result, |yet have ye not returned unto Me| (Isa 9:13; Jer 5:3; Ho 7:10); the monotonous repetition of the same burden marking their pitiable obstinacy.
cleanness of teeth -- explained by the parallel, |want of bread.| The famine alluded to is that mentioned in 2Ki 8:1 [Grotius]. Where there is no food to masticate, the teeth are free from uncleanness, but it is the cleanness of want. Compare Pr 14:4, |Where no oxen are, the crib is clean.| So spiritually, where all is outwardly smooth and clean, it is often because there is no solid religion. Better fighting and fears with real piety, than peace and respectable decorum without spiritual life.
7. withholden ... rain ... three months to ... harvest -- the time when rain was most needed, and when usually |the latter rain| fell, namely, in spring, the latter half of February, and the whole of March and April (Ho 6:3; Joe 2:23). The drought meant is that mentioned in 1Ki 17:1 [Grotius].
rain upon one city ... not ... upon another -- Any rain that fell was only partial.
8. three cities wandered -- that is, the inhabitants of three cities (compare Jer 14:1-6). Grotius explains this verse and Am 4:7, |The rain fell on neighboring countries, but not on Israel, which marked the drought to be, not accidental, but the special judgment of God.| The Israelites were obliged to leave their cities and homes to seek water at a distance [Calvin].
9. blasting -- the blighting influence of the east wind on the corn (Ge 41:6).
when ... gardens ... increased -- In vain ye multiplied your gardens, &c., for I destroyed their produce. Bochart supports Margin, |the multitude of your gardens.|
palmer worm -- A species of locust is here meant, hurtful to fruits of trees, not to herbage or corn. The same east wind which brought the drought, blasting, and mildew, brought also the locusts into Judea [Bochart], (Ex 10:13).
10. pestilence after the manner of Egypt -- such as I formerly sent on the Egyptians (Ex 9:3, 8, &c.; Ex 12:29; De 28:27, 60). Compare the same phrase, Isa 10:24.
have taken away your horses -- literally, |accompanied with the captivity of your horses|; I have given up your young men to be slain, and their horses to be taken by the foe (compare 2Ki 13:7).
stink of your camps -- that is, of your slain men (compare Isa 34:3; Joe 2:20).
to come up unto your nostrils -- The Hebrew is more emphatic, |to come up, and that unto your nostrils.|
11. some of you -- some parts of your territory.
as God overthrew Sodom -- (De 29:23; Isa 13:19; Jer 49:18; 50:40; 2Pe 2:6; Jude 7). |God| is often repeated in Hebrew instead of |I.| The earthquake here apparently alluded to is not that in the reign of Uzziah, which occurred |two years| later (Am 1:1). Traces of earthquakes and volcanic agency abound in Palestine. The allusion here is to some of the effects of these in previous times. Compare the prophecy, De 28:15-68, with Am 4:6-11 here.
as a firebrand plucked out of ... burning -- (Compare Isa 7:4; Zec 3:2). The phrase is proverbial for a narrow escape from utter extinction. Though Israel revived as a nation under Jeroboam II, it was but for a time, and that after an almost utter destruction previously (2Ki 14:26).
12. Therefore -- as all chastisements have failed to make thee |return unto Me.|
thus will I do unto thee -- as I have threatened (Am 4:2, 3).
prepare to meet thy God -- God is about to inflict the last and worst judgment on thee, the extinction of thy nationality; consider then what preparation thou canst make for encountering Him as thy foe (Jer 46:14; Lu 14:31, 32). But as that would be madness to think of (Isa 27:4; Eze 22:14; Heb 10:31), see what can be done towards mitigating the severity of the coming judgment, by penitence (Isa 27:5; 1Co 11:31). This latter exhortation is followed up in Am 5:4, 6, 8, 14, 15.
13. The God whom Israel is to |prepare to meet| (Am 4:12) is here described in sublime terms.
wind -- not as the Margin, |spirit.| The God with whom thou hast to do is the Omnipotent Maker of things seen, such as the stupendous mountains, and of things too subtle to be seen, though of powerful agency, as the |wind.|
declareth unto man ... his thought -- (Ps 139:2). Ye think that your secret thoughts escape My cognizance, but I am the searcher of hearts.
maketh ... morning darkness -- (Am 5:8; 8:9). Both literally turning the sunshine into darkness, and figuratively turning the prosperity of the ungodly into sudden adversity (Ps 73:12, 18, 19; compare Jer 13:16).
treadeth upon ... high places -- God treadeth down the proud of the earth. He subjects to Him all things however high they be (Mic 1:3). Compare De 32:13; 33:29, where the same phrase is used of God's people, elevated by God above every other human height.