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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 1:3-5

3. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:

3. Sic dixit Jehova, Super tribus sceleribus Damasci et super quatuor non ero propitius ei; quia trituraverunt serris (vel, tribulis ferreis) Gilead.

4. But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad.

4. Et mittam ignem in domum Chasael, et vorabit palatia Ben-Adad.

5. I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the Lord.

5. Et confringam vectem Damasci et excidam habitatorem ex Bikath-Aven (vel, ex planitie Aven, vel, molestiae vel, doloris: alii vertunt, ex templo idoli) et tenentem sceptrum e domo Eden (alii appellative accipiunt, e domo voluptatis;) et transferetur populus Syriae Kirah (in Kir) dicit Jehova.

It is singular that Amos said that his words were concerning Israel, and that he should now turn to speak of Damascus and the country of Syria. This seems inconsistent; for why does he not perform the office committed to him? why does he not reprove the Israelites? why does he not threaten them? why does he not show their sins? and why does he speak of the destruction then nigh to the people of Syria? But it is right here to consider what his design was. He shows briefly, in the last verse, that ruin was nigh the Israelites; for God, who had hitherto spared them, was now resolved to ascend his tribunal. But now, that he might better prepare the Israelites, he shows that God, as a judge, would call all the neighboring nations to an account. For had the Prophet threatened the Israelites only, they might have thought that what they suffered was by chance, when they saw the like things happening to their neighbors: |How is it credible that these evils and calamities have flowed from God's vengeance, since the Idumeans, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Syrians, and the Sidonians, are implicated in these evils in common with ourselves? For if God's hand pursues us, it is the same with them: and if it is fate, that with blind force exercises its rule over the Moabites, the Idumeans, and the Syrians, the same thing, doubtless, is to be thought of our case.| Thus all the authority of the Prophet must have lost its power, except the Israelites were made to know that God is the judge of all nations.

We must also bear in mind, that the kingdom of Israel was laid waste, together with other neighboring countries, as war had spread far and wide; for the Assyrian, like a violent storm, had extended through the whole of that part of the world. Not only, then, the Israelites were distressed by adversities at that time, but all the nations of which Amos prophesied. It was hence necessary to add the catalogue which we here find, that the Israelites might have as many confirmations respecting God's vengeance, as the examples which were presented to their eyes, in the dire calamities which everywhere prevailed. This is to be borne in mind. And then the Prophet regarded another thing: If the Idumeans, the Moabites, the Syrians, and Ammonites, were to be treated so severely, and the Prophet had not connected the Israelites with them, they might have thought that they were to be exempted from the common punishments because God would be propitious to them; for hypocrites ever harden themselves the more, whenever God spares them: |See, the Ammonites and the Moabites are punished; the Idumeans, the Syrians, and other nations, are visited with judgment: God then is angry with all these; but we are his children, for he is indulgent to us.| But the Prophet puts here the Israelites in the same bundle with the Moabites, the Idumeans, and other heathen nations; as though he said, |God will not spare your neighbors; but think not that ye shall be exempt from his vengeance, when they shall be led to punishment; I now declare to you that God will be the judge of you all together.|

We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He wished here to set before the eyes of the Israelites the punishment of others to awaken them, and also to induce them to examine themselves for we often see, that those who are intractable and refractory in their disposition, when directly addressed are not very attentive; but when they hear of the sins of others, and especially when they hear something of punishment, they will attend. The Prophet therefore designed by degrees to lead the Israelites to a teachable state of mind, for he knew them to be torpid in their indulgences, and also blinded by presumption, so that they could not be easily brought under the yoke: hence he sets before them the punishment which was soon to fall on neighboring nations.

We must yet observe that there was another reason I do not throw aside what I have already mentioned; but the Prophet no doubt had this also in view, -- that God would punish the Syrians, because they cruelly raged against the Israelites especially against Gilead and its inhabitants. As God, then, would inflict so grievous a punishment on the Syrians, because they so cruelly treated the inhabitants of Gilead, what was to be expected by the Israelites themselves who had been insolent towards God, who had violated his worship who had robbed him of his honor, who had in their turn destroyed one another! For, as we shall hereafter see, there was among them no equity, no humanity; they had forgotten all reason. Since, then, the Israelites were such, how could they hope that so many and so detestable crimes should go unpunished, when they saw that the Syrians, though uncircumcised, were not to be spared, because they so cruelly treated professed enemies, on whom they lawfully made war?

I now come to the words of the Prophet: Thus saith Jehovah, For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, will not be propitious to it; literally, I will not convert it : but I take this actively that God would not turn himself to mercy, or that he would not be propitious to Damascus. We know that Damascus was the capital of Syria; And the Prophet here, by mentioning a part for the whole, threatens the whole people, and summons all the Syrians to God's tribunal, because they had inhumanely treated, as we shall see, the city of Gilead. But he says, God will not be propitious for three and four transgressions of Damascus. Some take this meaning, |For three transgressions I have been propitious, for four I will not be.| But there is no need of adding anything to the Prophet's words; for the most suitable sense here is that for the many sins of Damascus God would not be propitious to it: and the Prophet, I have no doubt, intended by the two numbers to set forth the irreclaimable perverseness of the Syrians. Seven in Scripture is an indefinite number, and is taken, as it is well known, to express what is countless. By saying then, three and four transgressions, it is the same as if he had said seven: but the Prophet more strikingly intimates the progress the Syrians made in their transgressions, until they became so perverse that there was no hope of repentance. This then is the reason, that God declares that he would no more forgive the Syrians, inasmuch as without measure or limit they burst forth into transgressions and ceased not, though a time for change was given them. This is the true meaning. And the Prophet repeats the same form of speech in speaking of Gaza, of Amman, of Edom, and of other nations.

Let us learn from this place, that God, whom the world regards as too cruel, when he takes vengeance on sins, shows really and by sure proof the truth of what he declares so often of himself in Scripture, and that is, that he bears long and does not quickly take vengeance: though men are worthy to perish yet the Lord suspends his judgments. We have a remarkable proof of this in these prophecies; for the Prophet speaks not only of one people but of many. Hence God endured many transgressions not only in the Syrians, but also in other nations: there was not then a country in which a testimony to God's forbearance did not exist. It hence appears, that the world unjustly complains of too much rigor, when God takes vengeance, for he ever waits till iniquity, as it was stated yesterday, reaches its highest point.

There is besides presented to us here a dreadful spectacle of sins among so many nations. At the same time, when we compare that age with ours, it is certain that greater integrity existed then: all kinds of evils so overflow at this day, that compared with the present, the time of Amos was the golden age; and yet we hear him declaring here, that the people of Judah and of Israel, and all the other nations, were monstrously wicked, so that God could not bring them to repentance. For he testifies not here in vain, that he would punish wickedness wholly obstinate since they had not turned to him, who had advanced to the number seven; that is, who had sinned, as it has been before stated, without measure or limits: and this ought also to be noticed in the Prophet's words; but I cannot now proceed farther.

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