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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 2:9-12

9. Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.

9. Et ego exterminavi Amorrhaeum a facie ipsorum, cujus proceritas erat sicut proceritas cedrorum, et qui fortis erat sicut quercus; et perdidi fructum ejus superne et radicem ejus subtus.

10. Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.

10. Et ego eduxi vos e terra Egypti, et deduxi vos (ambulare feci vos ad verbum) in deserto per quadraginta annos ad possidendam terram Amorrhaei.

11. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the Lord

11. Et suscitavi ex filiis vestris prophetas, et ex juvenibus vestris Nazaraeos: annon etiam hoc, filii Israel? dicit Jehovah.

12. But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.

12. Et propinastis Nazaraeis vinum, et super prophetis mandastis, dicendo, Non prophetabitis.

God expostulates here with the Israelites for their ingratitude. He records the benefits he had before conferred on that people; and then shows how unworthily and disgracefully they had conducted themselves; for they forgot their many blessings and proudly despised God, and acted as if they were like other nations, and not bound to God for the singular benefit of adoption. The sum then is that God here complains that he had ill bestowed his blessings; and he reproves the people for their impiety, inasmuch as they did not lead a holier life after having been freely redeemed.

He says first, I have exterminated the Amorite before their face. God shows here that he was disgracefully defrauded by the Israelites, for whose sake he had previously destroyed the Amorites. For why were the Amorites exterminated, but that God would cleanse the land, and also, that he might give there a dwelling to his own people, that he might be purely worshipped? Then the people of Israel ought to have given up themselves wholly to the service of God; but as they neglected to do this, they frustrated the purpose of God, who had expelled the Amorites from that land, yea, and entirely destroyed them. The first complaint then is, that the children of Israel were nothing better than the Amorites, though God had given them the land, which was taken from its natives, that they might dwell in it, and on the condition, that his name should be there worshipped. Hence the Prophets say elsewhere, that they were Amorites. They ought to have been a new people; but as they followed the examples of others, in what did they differ from them? They are therefore called their posterity. But the Prophet speaks not here so severely; he only reproves the Israelites, because they differed in nothing from the Amorites, whom they knew to have been destroyed that they might be introduced into their place, and succeed to their inheritance.

It is then added, that the Amorites were tall in stature, and also that they were strong men. By these words the Prophet intimates that the Amorites were not conquered by the people's valor, but by the wonderful power of God. We indeed know that they were dreaded by the people of Israel, for they were like giants. Then the Prophet speaks here of their height and strength, that the Israelites might consider that they overcame them not by their own valor, but that the land was given them by a miracle, for they had to do with giants, on whom they could hardly dare to look. It was then God who prostrated the cedars and the oaks before his people. We hence learn, that the Israelites could not boast of their own strengths as though they took possession of the land, because by means of war they ejected their enemies; for this was done by the singular kindness of God. They could not indeed have contended with their enemies, had not that been fulfilled which the Lord had so often foretold, For you, while still, I will fight,' (Exodus 14:14) We now perceive the Prophet's intention. But we may hence farther learn, that the Israelites had not possessed the land, because they were more excellent than the Amorites, its ancient inhabitants; but because it so pleased God. There was therefore no reason for the people of Israel to be proud on account of any excellency. It hence appears that they, who did not consider this remarkable kindness done to them, were more than doubly ungrateful to God.

He says that their fruit above and root below were destroyed. By this metaphor God enlarges on what he said before, that the Amorites had been exterminated, so that none of them remained. |I have demolished,| he says, or, |I have entirely destroyed the root beneath and the fruit above; I have extinguished the very name of the nation.| And yet the Israelites were not better, though the Amorites were thus destroyed; but having succeeded in their place, they became like them: this was utterly inexcusable. The more severe God's vengeance had been towards the Amorites, the more ought the Israelites to have extolled his favor: but when with closed eyes they passed by so remarkable a testimony of God's paternal love, it appears that they were extremely wicked and ungrateful.

He afterwards subjoins, I have made you to ascend from the land of Egypt; I have made you to walk in the desert for forty years, in order to possess the land of the Amorite. The circumstances here specified are intended to confirm the same thing, that God had miraculously redeemed his people. Men, we know, for the most part extenuate the favors of God; nay, this evil is innate in us. This is the reason why the Prophet so largely describes and extols the redemption of the people. Hence he says now that they had been led out of the land of Egypt. And they ought to have remembered what had been their condition in Egypt; for there they were most miserably oppressed. When therefore that coming out was set before them, it was the same as if God had reminded them how shamefully they had been treated, and how hard had been their bondage in Egypt. That beginning ought to have humbled them, and also to have stimulated them to the cultivation of piety. When now they proudly exulted against God, when no recollection of their deliverance laid hold on them, this vice is justly laid to their charge by the Prophet: |See,| he says, |I have brought you forth from the land of Egypt; what were ye then? what was your nobility? what was your wealth or riches? what was your power? For the Egyptians treated you as the vilest slaves; your condition then was extremely ignominious; ye were as lost, and I redeemed you: and now buried is the recollection of so illustrious a kindness, which deserved to be for ever remembered.|

He afterwards adds, I have made you to walk, etc. The Prophet here reminds them of the desert, that the Israelites might know that God might have justly closed up against them an entrance into the land, though he had promised it for an inheritance to Abraham. For how was it that the Lord led them about for so long a time, except that they, as far as they could, had denied God, and rendered themselves unworthy of enjoying the promised land? Then the Prophet indirectly blames the Israelites here for having been the cause why God detained them for forty years without introducing them immediately into the promised land; which might have easily been done, had they not closed the door against themselves by their ingratitude. This is one reason why the Prophet now speaks of the forty years. And then, as God had in various ways testified his kindness towards the Israelites, he had thus bound them the more to himself; but an ungodly forgetfulness had buried all his favors. God daily rained manna on them from heaven; he also gave them drink from a dry rock; he guided them during the day by a pillar of cloud, and in the night by fire: and we also know how often God bore with them, and how many proofs he gave them of his forbearance. The Prophet, then, by speaking here of the forty years, meant to counsel the Israelites to call to mind the many favors, by which they were bound to God, while they were miraculously led by him for forty years in the desert.

He now subjoins, I have raised from your sons Prophets, and Nazarites from your young or strong men, (for vchrym, becharim, as we have elsewhere said, are called by the Hebrews chosen men;) then from your youth or chosen men have I raised Nazarites. Was it not so, O children of Israel? or certainly it was so: for the particle 'ph, aph, sometimes is a simple affirmation, and sometimes an addition. Is not then all this true, O children of Israel? saith Jehovah. God first reminds them that he had raised up Prophets from their sons. It if a remarkable proof of God's love, that he deigns to guide his people by Prophets: for if God were to speak himself from heaven, or to send his angels down, it would apparently be much more dignified; but when he so condescends as to employ mortal men and our own brethren, who are the agents of his Spirit, in whom he dwells, and by whose mouth he speaks, it cannot indeed be esteemed as highly as it deserves, that the Lord should thus accommodate himself to us in so familiar a manner. This is the reason why he now says, that he had raised up Prophets from their sons. They might have objected and said, that he had introduced the Law, and that then the heaven was moved, and that the earth shook: but he speaks of his daily favor in having been pleased to speak continually to his people, as it were, from mouth to mouth, and this by men: I have raised up, he says, Prophets from your sons; that is, |I have chosen angels from the midst of you.| The Prophets are indeed, as it were, celestial ambassadors, and God commands them to be heard, the same as if he himself appeared in a visible form. Since then he choose angels from the midst of us, is not this an invaluable favor? We hence see how much force is contained in this reproof, when the Lord says, that Prophets had been chosen from his own people.

And he mentions also the Nazarites. It appears sufficiently evident from Numbers 6:1-8, why God appointed Nazarites. Nothing is more difficult, we know, than to induce men to follow a common rule; for they ever seek something new; and hence have arisen so many devices, so many additions, in short, so many leavenings by which God's worship is corrupted; for each wishes to be more holy than another, and affects some singularity. In case then any one had a wish to consecrate himself to God beyond what was commonly required, the Lord instituted a peculiar observance, that the people might not attempt any thing without at least his permission. Hence, when any one wished to consecrate himself to God, though they were all holy, he yet observed certain regulations: he abstained from wine; he allowed his hair to grow; in a word, he observed those ceremonial rites which we find in the chapter already referred to. God now reminds the Israelites that he had omitted nothing calculated to preserve them pure and holy, and entire in his worship.

After having related these two things, he asks them, Is not all this true? The facts were indeed well known: then the question, it may be said, was superfluous. But the Prophet designedly asked the Israelites the question here -- Is it not so? that he might more deeply touch their hearts. We indeed often despise things well known, and we see how many heedlessly allow what they hear, and pass by things without any thought. Such must have been the torpidity of the Israelites; they might have confessed without disputing that all this was true, -- that the Lord had raised up Prophets from their children, and that he had given to them that peculiar service of which we have spoken; but they mighty at the same time, have contemptuously overlooked the whole, had not this been added: |What do ye mean, O Israelites? ye do indeed see that nothing has been left undone by me to retain you in my service: how then is it now, that your lust leads you away from me, and that having shaken off the yoke, ye grow thus wanton against me?| We now perceive why the Prophet inserted this clause, for it was necessary that the Israelites should be more sharply roused, that being convicted, they might acknowledge their guilt.

But it now follows, Ye have to the Nazarites quaffed wine, and on the Prophets ye have laid a command, that they should not prophesy God complains here that the service which he had instituted had been violated by the people. It seems indeed a light offense, that wine had been given to the Nazarites; for the kingdom of God, we know, is not meat and drink, (1 Corinthians 8:8) though this saying of Paul was not yet made known, it was yet true in all ages. It was then lawful for the Nazarites to drink wine, provided they used moderation. To this the simple answer is that it was lawful to drink wine, for they of their own accord undertook to abstain from it. In similar manner God forbade the priests to drink wine or strong drink whenever they entered the temple. God indeed did not wish to be served with this kind of ceremony; but his intention was to show, by such a rite, that a greater temperance is required in priests than in the people in general. His purpose then to withdraw them from the common mode of living, when they entered the temple; for they were as mediators between God and his people: they ought then to have consecrated themselves in a special manner. We now see that the priests were reminded by this external symbol, that greater holiness was required in them than in the people. The same thing must be also said of the Nazarites. The Nazarites might drink wine; but during the time they consecrated themselves to God, they were not allowed to drink wine, that they might thereby acknowledge that they were in a manner separated from the common habits of men, and were come nearer to God. We now understand why it was not lawful for the Nazarites to drink wine.

But it is frivolous for the Papists to pretend this example, and to introduce it in defense of their superstitions, and of their foolish and rash vows, which they undertake without any regard to God: for God expressly sanctioned and confirmed whatever the Nazarites did under the law. Let the Papists show a proof for their monastic vows, and foolish rites, by which they now trifle with God. We also know that there is a great difference between the Nazarites and the Papal monks; for the monks vow perpetual celibacy; others vow abstinence from flesh during life; and these things are done foolishly and rashly. They indeed think that the worship of God consists in these trifles. They promise what is not in their own power; for they renounce marriage, when they know not whether they are endued with the gift of chastity. And to abstain from flesh all their life is more foolish still, because they make this to be a part of God's service. I do, at the same time, wonder that they bring forward this example, since there are none so holy under the Papacy as to abstain from wine. As for the Carthusians and other monks of the holier sort, they seem determined to take revenge on abstinence from flesh, for they choose the sweetest and the liveliest wine; as though they intended to get a compensation for the loss and deprivation they undergo, when they pledge to God their abstinence from flesh, by reserving the best wine for themselves. These things are extremely ludicrous. Besides it is a sufficient reply if we adduce what I have already said, that the Nazarites did nothing under the law but what God in his word approved and sanctioned.

Since God then so sharply and severely reproved the Israelites for giving wine to the Nazarites, what must be expected now, when we transgress the chief commandments of God, when we corrupt his whole spiritual worship? It seemed apparently but a venial sin, so to speak, in the Nazarites to drink wine. Had they become wanton or robbed, or had they done wrong to their brethren, or committed forgery, the charge against them would have doubtless been much more atrocious. Yet the Prophet does not now abstain from bitterly complaining that they drank wine. Then, since God would have us to worship him in a spiritual manner, a much heavier charge lies against us, if we violate his spiritual worship. As, for instance, if we now pollute the sacraments, if we corrupt the purity of divine worship, if we treat his word with scorn, yea, if we transgress as to these main points of religion, much less is our excuse. Let us then remember that the Prophet here reproves the Israelites for giving wine to the Nazarites.

He then adds, that they commanded the Prophets not to prophesy. It is certain that the Prophets were not forbidden to speak, at least expressly forbidden: but when the liberty of teaching faithfully as they ought to do is taken away from God's servants, and a command to this effect is given them, it is the same thing as to reject wholly their doctrine. The Israelites wished Prophets to be among them; and yet they could not endure their plain reproofs. But when they had polluted the worship of God, when their whole conduct became dissolute, the Prophets sharply inveighed against them: this freedom could not be endured by the Israelites; they wished to be spared and flattered. What then the Prophet now lays to their charge is that they forbade God's servants to declare the word freely and honestly as God had commanded them. Hence he says, On the Prophets they have laid a charge, that they should not prophesy.

This evil reigns in the world at this day. It would indeed be an execrable audacity wholly to reject the Lord's word; this is what even ungodly men dare not openly to do: but they wish at the same time some middle course to be adopted, that God might not fully exercise authority over them. They then would gladly put restraint on the Holy Spirit, so as not to allow him to speak but within certain limitations: |See, we willingly allow thee some things, but this we cannot bear: so much asperity is extremely odious.| And under the Papacy at this day the liberty of prophesying is wholly suppressed: and among us how many there are who wish to impose laws on God's servants beyond which they are not to pass? But we see what the Prophet says here, -- that the word of God is repudiated when the freedom of teaching is restrained, and men wish to be flattered, and desire their sins to be covered, and cannot bear free admonitions.

Let us also notice the word command, which the Prophet uses. tsvh, tsue, means to order, to command, or to determine, in an authoritative manner. The Prophet then does not expostulate with them, because there were many who clamored, who murmured against the Prophets, as it is always the case; but he rather condemns the audacity of the chief men for daring to consult how they might silence the Prophets, and not allow them the free liberty of teaching, as we find it to be done even now. For not only in taverns and lurking-places do the ungodly clamor when their sins are severely reproved, but they also go forth publicly and complain that too much liberty is allowed the ministers of the word, and that some course ought to be adopted to make them speak more moderately. It is then this sacrilege that the Prophet now rebukes, when he says, that the ungodly commanded the Prophets, that they should not prophecy, as though they made a law, as though they wished to proclaim a decree, that the Prophets should not speak so boldly and so freely. It now follows --

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