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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 3:1-2

1. Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,

1. Audite verbum hoc quod pronunciat Jehova super vos, filii Israel, super totam familiam eduxi (vel, ascendere feci) e terra Aegypti, dicendo,

2. You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

2. Tantummodo vos cognovi ex omnibus familiis terrae: propterea visitabo super vos omnes iniquitates vestras.

The Prophet wished doubtless by these words to confirm his own authority, for he saw that his doctrine was regarded with contempt: and it is probable that the words recited here were not only once delivered by him, but had been often repeated. We know how great was the pride and confidence of that people: it was therefore needful to beat it down, that they might be habituated to dread and fear, when God reproved them by his Prophets.

It was then the common mode of speaking, when he said, Hear the word which God has spoken concerning your, O children of Israel. He brings forward here the name of God, that they might know that they had not to do with a mortal man, or with a shepherd, such as he was. We then observe here, what I have just referred to, and that is, that the Prophet seeks to strengthen his authority as a teacher, that he might gain more respect among the people. But he adds, concerning the whole family which I brought up out of Egypt It is certain that this discourse was not addressed except to the ten tribes; why, then, does the Prophet speak here so generally? Even because the kingdom of Israel formed the greater portion of the race of Abraham, and on this account they boasted that the adoption continued to be possessed by them. Since, then, they despised the tribe of Judah, and the half-tribe of Benjamin, which was connected with it, and had ever boasted of their great number, the Prophet says here, by way of concession, that they were indeed the blessed seed, the posterity of Abraham; in a word, the elect people, whom God had redeemed from Egypt. Then the Prophet includes not here the kingdom of Judah, but concedes to the Israelites what they boasted, -- that they were the elect people, the holy race of Abraham, the very nation which had been miraculously delivered. |Let, then,| he says, |all these boastings be granted, yet God will not, on this account, desist from executing his judgment upon them.|

We now apprehend the design of the Prophet: he first seeks to gain respect for his doctrine, and takes occasion to speak of his own vocation, that he brought nothing of his own, but only discharged faithfully the office committed to him; yea, that he was the organ of the Holy Spirit, and adduced nothing from his own mind, but only spoke what the Lord had commanded him. And then, as the Israelites, relying on their large number, thought that wrong was done them, when they were severely reprehended by the Prophets, and as there was an absurd rivalship between them and the kingdom of Judah, the Prophet concedes to them that for which they were foolishly proud; but, at the same time, he shows that they in vain confided in their number, inasmuch as God summoned them to judgment, though they were the elect people, and the holy seed, and the redeemed nation. These are the main points.

The Prophet afterwards declares what he had in charge, Only you have I known of all the families of the earth: I will therefore visit you for your iniquities. Many think that he still concedes to the Israelites what they were wont to boast of, -- that they were separated from the common class of men, because the Lord had adopted them: but it seems rather to be a reproach cast on them. God then brings forward here his benefits, of which we noticed yesterday a similar instance, that he might enhance the more the sin of the people, in returning the worst recompense to God, by whom they had been so liberally and so kindly treated: |I,| he says, |have loved you only.| It is indeed true, that the Israelites, as we have in other places often observed, gloried in their privileges; but the Prophet seems not to have this in view. God then expostulates with them for being so ungrateful: You only, he says, have I known. It is indeed certain that God's care is extended to the whole human race, yea even to oxen and asses, and to the very sparrows. Even the young of ravens cry to him, and the smallest bird is fed by him. We hence see that God's providence extends to all mortal beings; but yet not in an equal degree. God has ever known all men so as to give what is needful to preserve life. God has, therefore, made his sun to rise on all the human race, and has also made the earth to produce food. Then as to the necessaries of life, he performs the office of a Father towards all men. But he has known his chosen people, because he has separated them from other nations, that they might be like his own family. Israel, then, is said to be known, because God favored them alone with a gratuitous adoption, and designed them to be a peculiar people to himself. This is the knowledge of which the Prophet now speaks.

But by saying that they only, rq, rek, had been known, he shows that they had been chosen through God's singular favor, for there was no difference between the seed of Abraham and other nations, when regarded in themselves, otherwise this exception would have been superfluous. For if there had been any superiority or merit in the people of Israel, this objection might have readily been made, |We have indeed been chosen, but not without cause, for God had respect to our worthiness.| But as they in nothing differed from other nations, and as the condition of all was alike by nature, the Lord upbraids them with this, that he had known them only; as though he said |How has it happened, that ye are my peculiar possession and heritage? Has it been by your merit? Has it been because I was more bound to you than to other nations? Ye cannot allege these things. It has therefore been my gratuitous adoption. Ye are then the more bound to me, and less excusable is your ingratitude for rendering to me so unjust a recompense.| So also Paul says, Who makes thee to differ?' (1 Corinthians 4:7) He wished to show that every excellency in men ought to be ascribed to God. For the same purpose it is said here, you only have I loved and known of all the families of the earth: |What were you? Ye were even the children of Adam, as all other nations; the same has been the beginning of all. There is then no reason for you to say, that I was attached to you by any prepossession; I freely chose you and chose you alone.| All this tends to amplify grace; and ingratitude on their part does hereby appear more evident. For had God spoken these words of his general benefits, the guilt of his chosen people would not have been so great: but when he says that they only had been chosen, when others were passed by, their impiety seemed doubtless more base and wicked in not acknowledging God in their turn, so as to devote themselves wholly to Him, to whom they owed every thing.

And the bounty of God shines forth also in this respect, that he had known the Israelites alone, though there were many other nations. Had God owed any thing to men, he would not have kept it from them; this is certain. But since he repudiated all other nations, it follows, that they were justly rejected, when he made no account of them. Whence then was it that he chose the Israelites? We here see how highly is God's grace exalted by this comparison of one people with all other nations. And the same thing also appears from these words, of all the families of the earth; as though God had said, |There were many nations in the world, the number of men was very great; but I regarded them all as nothing, that I might take you under my protection; and thus I was content with a small number, when all men were mine; and this I have done through mere favor, for there was nothing in you by which ye excelled others, nor could they allege that they were unjustly rejected. Since then I preferred you of my own will, it is evident that I was under no obligation to you.| We now then understand the design of the Prophet's words.

He then subjoins, I will therefore visit upon you your iniquities. God declares here, that the Israelites would have to suffer a heavier judgment, because they acknowledged not their obligations to God, but seemed willfully to despise his favor and to scorn him, the author of so many blessings. Since then the Israelites were bound by so many and so singular benefits, and they at the same time were as wicked as other nations the Prophet shows, that they deserved a heavier punishment, and that God's judgment, such as they deserved, was nigh at hand. This is the substance of the whole. It now follows --

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