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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 3:3-8

3. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

3. An duo ambulabunt simul nisi inter ipsos conveniat?

4. Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?

4. An rugiet leo in sylva et praeda non erit ei? an dabit leo (vel, leunculus edet, vel, emittet) vocem suam e cubili suo (vel, lustro) quum nihil ceperit?

5. Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is for him? shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?

5. An cadet avis super laqueum ad terram absque aucupe (et auceps non erit ei? Ad verbum;) an tollet auceps laqueum ex terra priusquam capturam ceperit? (ad verbum, et capiendo non capiet: sed ego redidi sensum Prophetae.)

6. Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?

6. An clanget tuba in urbe et populus non contremiscet? An erit malum in urbe quod Jehova non fecerit?

7. Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

7. Quia (vel, certe) non faciet Dominator Jehova quidquam nisi revelaverit secretum suum servis suis Prophetis.

8. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?

8. Leo rugivit, quis non timeat? Dominator Jehova locutus est, quis non prophetet?

The Prophet here accumulates similitudes which may, however, be reduced to five particulars. He first shows that he uttered no empty words, but had God's authority for what he said; and he appeals to him as his witness and approver: this is one thing. Then he shows that God designedly announces the punishment he would inflict on transgressors, that they might in time repent, and that he does not cry out for no reason, as unreflecting men grow angry for nothing, but that he is driven to anger by just causes, and therefore terrifies them by his Prophets. He teaches, thirdly, that nothing happens by chance, that the Israelites might thereby be made to consider more attentively the judgments of God. In the fourth place, he declares that men are extremely stupid, when they are not moved by the threats which they hear proceed from God. He intimates, in the fifth place, that the execution of them was ready to take place, and that when God has denounced anything, his threatenings are not vain, such as those by which children are terrified.

These, then, are the five points, which we shall hereafter notice in their due order. He at the same time confirms what he said at the beginning of the chapter, -- that God did not suddenly take vengeance on the Israelites, but called them to repentance, provided they were healable. He had indeed spoken before more distinctly, For three transgressions, and for four, I will not be propitious to them:' but now he demands attention from the people of Israel, |Hear this ye children of Israel, Will two men walk together, except they agree among themselves?| By these words he teaches, that though God might have immediately and unexpectedly brought punishment on them, he yet spared them and suspended his judgment, until they repented, provided they were not wholly irreclaimable. Amos now then confirms the truth, that God would not punish the Israelites, as he might justly, but would first try whether there was any hope of repentance.

Let us now come to the first similitude; he asks Will two walk together without agreeing? Some forcibly misapply the Prophet's words, as though the meaning was, that God was constrained to depart from that people, because he saw that they were going astray so perversely after their lusts. The sense, according to these, would be, |Do you wish me to walk with you?| that is |Do you wish that my blessing should dwell among you, that I should show to you, as usual, my paternal love, and bountifully support you? Why then do ye not walk with me, or, why should there not be a mutual consent? Why do ye not respond to me? for I am ready to walk with you.| But this exposition, as ye see, is too strained. There are other two, which are these, -- either that the Prophet intimates here that so many of God's servants did not, as it were with one mouth, threaten the Israelites in vain, -- or, that the consent of which he speaks was that of God with his Prophets. This last exposition being rather obscure, requires to be more clearly explained. Some, then, take the sense of this verse to be the following, -- |I am not alone in denouncing punishment on you; for God has before warned you by other Prophets; many of them still live; and ye see how well we agree together: we have not conspired after the manner of men, and it has not happened by any agreements that Isaiah and Micah denounce on you what ye hear from my mouth. It is then a hidden accordance, which proceeds from the Holy Spirit.| This sense is not unsuitable.

But there is a third equally befitting, to which I have briefly referred, and that is, that the Prophet here affirms that he speaks by God's command, as when two agree together, when they follow the same road; as when one meets with a chance companion, he asks him where he goes, and when he answers that he is going to a certain place, he says I am going on the same road with you. Then Amos by this similitude very fitly sets forth the accordance between God and his Prophets; for they did not rashly obtrude themselves so as to announce anything according to their own will, but waited for the call of God, and were fully persuaded that they did not by any chance go astray, but kept the road which the Lord had pointed out. This could not itself have been a sufficiently satisfactory proof of his call; but the Prophet had already entered on his course of teaching; and though nearly the whole people clamored against him, he yet had given no obscure proofs of his call. He does not then here mention the whole evidence, as though he intended to show that he was from the beginning the Prophet of God; but he only confirms, by way of reproof, what his teaching had before sufficiently attested. Hence he asks, Will two walk together except they agree among themselves? as though he said, |Ye are mistaken in judging of me, as though I were alone, and in making no account of God: ye think me to be a shepherd, and this is true; but it ought to be added, that I am sent by God and endued with the gift of prophecy. Since then I speak by God's Spirit, I do not walk alone; for God goes before, and I am his companion. Know then that whatever I bring forward proceeds not from me, but God is the author of what I teach.|

This seems to be the genuine meaning of the Prophet: by this similitude he affirms that he faithfully discharged his office, for he had not separated himself from God, but was his companion: as when two agree together to travel the same road; so also he shows that he and God were agreed. If, however, the former interpretation be more approved, I will not dispute the point; that is, that the Prophet here confirms his own doctrine by alleging that he was not alone, but had other colleagues; for it was no common confirmation, when it appeared evident that the other Prophets added their testimony to what he taught. As, however, he does not apply this similitude in this way, I know not whether such was his design: I have therefore brought forward what seems to me to be a simpler view.

The second similitude follows, Will a lion roar in the forest without a prey? Will a lion send forth his voice from his den when he has caught nothing? By this verse he intimates that God does not cry out for nothing by his Prophets; for ungodly men supposed that the air was only made to reverberate by an empty sound, when the Prophets threatened, |These,| they said, |are mere words;| as though indeed they could not find that the necessity of crying arose from themselves, because they had provoked God by their vices. Hence the Prophet, meeting their objection, says, |If lions roar not, except when they have obtained a prey, shall God cry from heaven and send forth his voice as far as the earth, when there is no prey?| The meaning is, that the word of God was very shamefully despised by the Israelites, as though there was no reason for crying, as though God was trifling with them. His word is indeed precious, and is not thrown heedlessly into the air, as if it were a mere refuse; but it is an invaluable seed. Since the Lord cries, it is not, says Amos, without a lawful cause. How so? The lions do not indeed roar without prey; God then does not cry by his Prophets, except for the best reason. It hence follows that the Israelites were hitherto extremely stupid inasmuch as they did not listen with more earnestness and attention to the teaching of the Prophets, as though God had uttered only an empty sound.

The third similitude now follows, Will a bird fall on the earth, he says, without a fowler? The Prophet means here that nothing happens without being foreseen by God; for as nets are laid for birds, so God ensnares men by his hidden punishments. Unexpectedly indeed calamity comes, and it is commonly ascribed to chance; but the Prophet here reminds us that God stretches his nets, in which men are caught, though they think that chance rules, and observe not the hand of God. They are deceived, he says; for the bird foresees not the ensnaring prepared for him; but yet he falls not on the earth without the fowler: for nets weave not themselves by chance, but they are made by the industry of the man who catches birds. So also calamities do not happen by chance, but proceed from the secret purpose of God. But we must observe, that similitudes ought not to be too strictly applied to the subject in hand. Were one to asks how God could compare himself here to a fowler, as there is craft and artifice employed in catching innocent birds, when nets are laid for them, it would be a frivolous question; for it is evident enough what the Prophet meant, and that the design of his words was to show, that punishments fall on men, and that they are ensnared through the secret purpose of God; for God has long ago foreseen what he will do, though men act heedlessly, as the birds who foresee nothing.

Then it follows in the fourth place, Will the fowler remove his snare before he has made a capture? In this second clause the Prophet intimates that the threatening of God would not be without effect; for he will execute whatever he declares. It is indeed certain, that fowlers often return home empty, and gather their nets though they have taken nothing; but the Prophet, as I have said, in using these similitudes, only states what fowlers usually do, when they are in hope of some prey. As for instance, when one spreads his nets, he will wait, and will not gather his nets until he takes some prey, if so be that a prey should come; he may indeed wait in vain all night. Then as fowlers are not wearied, and wish not to lose their labor after they have spread their nets, so also the Prophet says that God does not in vain proclaim his threatenings to serve as empty bugbears, but that his nets remain until he has taken his prey; which means, that God will really execute what he has threatened by his Prophets. The meaning then is, that God's word is not ineffectual, but when God declares any thing, it is sure to be accomplished: and hence he reproves the Israelites for receiving so heedlessly and with deaf ears all God's threatening, as though he was only trifling with them. |It will not be,| he says, |as you expect; for God will take his prey before he takes up his nets.|

He adds, in the last place, Shall a trumpet sound and the people tremble not? Here he reprehends, as I have said, the torpidity of the people, to whom all threatening were a sport: |When a trumpet sounds,| he says, |all tremble; for it is a signal of danger. All then either fly for aid or stand amazed, when the trumpet sounds. God himself cries, his voice deserves much more attention than the trumpet which fills men's minds with dread; and yet it is a sound uttered to the deaf. What then does this prove, but that madness possesses the minds of men? Are they not destitute of all judgment and of every power of reason?| We hence see that the Prophet in these words intended to show, that the Israelites were in a manner fascinated by the devil, for they had no thought of evils; and though they knew that God sounded the trumpet and denounced ruin, they yet remained heedless, and were no more moved than if all things were in a quiet state. What remains I cannot now finish.

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