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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 4:1

1. Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.

1. Audite verbum hoc vaccae Basan, qui estis in monte Samariae, quae opprimitis pauperes, quae conteritis egenos, quae dicitis dominis eorum, Affer et bibemus.

He who divided the chapters seems not to have well considered the Prophet's argument: for he pursues here his reproof of the rich, and he had been prophesying against the chief men in the kingdom of Israel. We indeed know how much ferocity there is in the rich, when they become formidable to others by their power. Hence the Prophet here laughs to scorn their arrogance: Hear, he says, this word; as though he said, |I see how it will be; for these great and pompous men will haughtily despise my threatening, they will not think themselves exposed to God's judgment; and they will also think that wrong is done to them: they will inquire, Who I am,' and ask, How dares a shepherd assail them with so much boldness?' |Hear then ye cows; as though he said, that he cared not for the greatness in which they prided themselves. |What then is your wealth? It is even fatness: then I make no more account of you than of cows; ye are become fat; but your power will not terrify me; your riches will not deprive me of the liberty of treating you as it becomes me and as God has commanded me.| We hence see that the Prophet here assails with scorn the chief men of the kingdom, who wished to be sacred and untouched. The Prophet asks by what privilege they meant to excuse themselves for not hearing the word of the Lord. If they pleaded their riches and their own authority; |These,| he says, |are fatness and grossness; ye are at the same time cows and I will regard you as cows; and I will not deal with you less freely than I do with my cattle.| We now then perceive the Prophet's intention.

But he goes on with his similitude: for though he here accuses the chiefs of the kingdom of oppressing the innocent and of distressing the poor, he yet addresses them in the feminine gender, who dwell, he says, on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who consume the needy, who say, etc. He does not think them worthy of the name of men; and yet they wished to be viewed a class separate from the common people, as though they were some heroes or halfgods. The Prophet, by way of contempt, calls them here cows; and he also withholds from them the name of men. Bashan, we know, derived its name from fatness; it was a very rich mountain, and celebrated for its pastures: as the fertility of this mountain was well known among that people, the Prophet gave the name of the cows of Bashan to those fat and full men: and it was right that they should be thus roughly handled, because through fatness, as it is usually the case, they had contracted dullness; for when men abound in riches, when they become great in power, they forget themselves and despise God, for they think themselves beyond the reach of danger. As then this security makes the rich torpid and inattentive to any threatenings, and disobedient to God's word, so that they regard all counsels superfluous, the Prophet here rebukes them with greater asperity, and addresses them, by way of reproach, under the name of cows. And when he says that they were on the mountain of Samaria, this is still ironical; for they might have made this objection, that they dwelt in the royal city, and were watchful over the state of the whole nation, and that the kingdom stood through their counsels and vigilance: |I see how it is,| he says; |Ye are not on mount Bashan, but on the mount of Samaria; what is the difference between Samaria and Bashan? For ye are there inebriated with your pleasures: as cows, when fattened, are burdened with their own weight, and can hardly draw along their own bodies; so it is with you, such is your slowness through your gluttony. Samaria then, though it may seem to be a watch-tower, is yet nothing different from mount Bashan: for ye are not there so very solicitous (as ye pretend) for the public safety; but, on the contrary, ye devour great riches; and as your cupidity is insatiable, the whole government is nothing else to you than fatness or a rich pasturage.|

But the Prophet chiefly reproves them, because they oppressed the poor and consumed the needy. Though the rich, no doubt, did other wrongs, yet as they especially exercised cruelty towards the miserable, and those who were destitute of every help, this is the reason why the Prophet here elates expressly that the poor and the needy were oppressed by the rich: and we also know, that God promises special aid to the miserable, when they find no help on earth; for it more excites the mercy of God, when all cruelly rage against the distressed, when no one extends to them a helping hand or deigns to aid them.

He adds, in the last place, what they say to their masters. I wonder why interpreters render this in the second person, who say to your masters; for the Prophet speaks here in the third person: they seem therefore designedly to misrepresent the real meaning of the Prophet; and by masters they understand the king and his counselors, as though the Prophet here addressed his words to these chief men of the kingdom. Their rendering then is unsuitable. But the Prophet calls those masters who were exactors, to whom the poor were debtors. The meaning is, that the king's counselors and judges played into the hands of the rich, who plundered the poor; for when they brought a bribe, they immediately obtained from the judges what they required. They are indeed to be bought by a price who hunt for nothing else but a prey.

They said then to their masters, Bring and we shall drink; that is, |Only satiate my cupidity, and I will adjudge to thee what thou wouldest demand: provided then thou bringest me a bribe, care not, I will sell all the poor to thee.| We now comprehend the design of the Prophet: for he sets forth here what kind those oppressions were of which he had been complaining. |Ye then oppress the poor, -- and how? Even by selling them to their creditors, and by selling them for a price. Hence, when a reward is offered to you, this satisfies you: Ye inquire nothing about the goodness of the cause, but instantly condemn the miserable and the innocent, because they have not the means of redeeming themselves: and the masters to whom they are debtor; who through your injustice hold them bound to themselves, pay the price: there is thus a mutual collusion between you.| It now follows --

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