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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Lecture Fiftieth

We explained in yesterday's Lecture, that what the Prophet means by the three and four transgressions of Damascus, is perverse and incurable wickedness; for God here declares that he had borne long enough with the sins of Damascus, and that now he is in a manner forced to proceed to extreme rigor, seeing that there was no hope of amendment. But what follows may seem strange; for immediately the Prophet subjoins, Because they have threshed Gilead with iron wains, or serrated machines. He records here only one wickedness: where, then, were the seven of which he spoke? The answer may be easily given. By naming the three and four sins of Damascus, he means not different kinds of sins, but rather the perverseness which we have mentioned; for they had been extremely rebellious against God, and God had suspended his vengeance, till it became evident that they were unhealable. It was, therefore, not necessary to mention here seven different sins; for it was enough that Damascus, which means the kingdom of Syria, was held bound by such a degree of obstinacy, that no remedy could be applied to its transgressions; for it had for a long time tried the patience of God.

Now the Prophet subjoins, I will send fire unto the house of Hazael, which will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad. The Prophet speaks still of the kingdom of Syria; for we know that both Ben-hadad and Hazael were kings of Syria. But Jerome is much mistaken, who thinks that Ben-hadad was here put in the second place, as if he had been the successor of Hazael, while sacred history relates that Hazael came to Elisha when Ben-hadad was ill in his bed, (2 Kings 8:9;) and he was sent to request an answer. Now the Prophet declared that Hazael would be the king of Syria, and declared this not without tears; for he pitied his own people, of which this Syrian would be the destroyer. After he returned home, he strangled Ben-hadad, and took to himself the royal dignity. But it is common enough in Scripture to speak of a thing present, and then, as in this place, to add what has past, I will send fire into the house of Hazael, and this fire will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad; as though he said, |I will destroy the kingdom of Syria, I will consume it as with burning.| But he first names the house of Hazael, and then the palaces of Ben-hadad; as though he said, |No ancientness shall preserve that kingdom from being destroyed.| For, metaphorically, under the word fire, he designates every kind of consumption; and we know how great is the violence of fire. It is then as though he said, that no wealth, no strength, no fortifications, would stand in the way to prevent the kingdom of Syria from being destroyed.

He then adds, I will break in pieces the bar of Damascus The Prophet confirms what he had already said; for Damascus, being strongly fortified, might have seemed unassailable. By bar, the Prophet, mentioning a part for the whole, meant strongholds and everything which could keep out enemies. Nothing, then, shall prevent enemies from taking possession of the city of Damascus. How so? Because the Lord will break in pieces its bars.

It is then added, I will cut off, or destroy, the inhabitant from Bikoth Aven, or from the plain of Aven. It is uncertain whether this was the proper name of a place or not, though this is probable; and yet it means a plain, derived from a verb, which signifies to cut into two, or divide, because a plain or a valley divides or separates mountains; hence a valley or plain is called in Hebrew a division. Now, we know that there were most delightful plains in the kingdom of Syria, and even near Damascus. Aven also may have been the name of a place, though it means in Hebrew trouble or laborer. But whatever it may have been, the Prophet no doubt declares here, that all the plains nigh Damascus, and in the kingdom of Syria, would be deprived of their inhabitants. I will then destroy the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and the holder of the scepter from the house of Eden, or from the house of pleasure. This also may have been the name of a place, and from its situation a region, which, by its pleasantness greatly delighted its inhabitants. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, alludes, in these two words, to trouble and pleasure Removed, he says, shall be the people of Syria into Kir. The purport of this is, that the kingdom of Syria would be wasted, so that the people would be taken into Assyria; for the Prophet declares that the Assyrians would be the conquerors, and remove the spoils into their own kingdom, and lead away the people as captives; for the word city, as a part for the whole, is put here for the whole land. It now follows --

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