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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 5:4-6

4. For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:

4. Quia sic dicit Jehova domui Israel, Querite me, et vivetis.

5. But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.

5. Et ne quaeratis Bethel, et in Gilgal ne eatis, et ne transeatis in Berseba; quia Gilgal migrando migrabit, et Bethel erit in nih ilum (vel, in molestiam.)

6. Seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.

6. Quaerite Jehovam et vivetis; ne transeat (vel, scindat) quasi ignis domum Joseph, et absorbeat, et non sit extinguens in Bethel.

Amos here again exhorts the Israelites to repentance; and it was an address common to all, though the greater part, as we have said, were altogether past recovery; but it was necessary, as long as they continued a chosen people, to call them to repentance; for they had not been as yet abdicated. We further know, that the Prophets preached in order to invite some to God, and to render others inexcusable. With regard to the end and design of public teaching, it is, that all should in common be called: but God's purpose is different; for he intends, according to his own secret counsel, to draw to himself the elect, and he designs to take away all excuse from the reprobate, that their obstinacy may be more and more apparent. We must further bear in mind, that while the people of Israel continued, the doctrine of repentance and faith was preserved among them; and the reason was that to which I have alluded, because they remained as yet in the fold of God. It is no wonder then that the Prophet gives again to the Israelites the hope of pardon, provided they repented.

Thus saith Jehovah to the house of Israel, Seek me, and ye shall live. This sentence has two clauses. In saying, Seek me, the Prophet exhorts the Israelites to return to a sane mind: and then he offers them the mercy of God, if only they sought from the heart to reconcile themselves to him. We have elsewhere said that men cannot be led to repentance, unless they believe that God will be propitious to them; for all who think him to be implacable, ever flee away from him, and dread the mention of his name. Hence, were any one through his whole life to proclaim repentance, he could effect nothing, except he were to connect with this the doctrine of faith, that is, except he were to show that God is ready to give pardon, if men only repent from the heart. These two parts, then, which ought not to be separated, the Prophet here connects together very wisely and for the best reason, when he says, Seek me, and ye shall live; intimating that the gate of mercy was still open, provided the Israelites did not persevere in their obstinacy. But, at the same time, he lays this to their charge, -- that they willfully perished through their own fault; for he shows that in themselves was the only hindrance, that they were not saved; for God was not only ready to receive them into favor, but also anticipated and exhorted them, and of his own free will sought reconciliation. How then was it, that the Israelites despised the salvation offered to them? This was the madness which he now charges them with; for they preferred ruin to salvation, inasmuch as they returned not to God when he so kindly invited them, Seek me, and ye shall live The same thing is stated in another place, where it is said, that God seeketh not the death of a sinner, (Ezekiel 18:32)

But as we have already said, the Prophets spoke thus in common to all the people, but their doctrine was not to all efficacious; for the Lord inwardly attracted his elect, and others were rendered inexcusable. But still this is true, that the whole blame, that they perished, were in the children of Israel, for they refused the salvation offered to them. What indeed was the cause of their destruction, but their own obstinacy? And the root of the evil, was it not in their own hearts? Then none of them could evade the charge made against them by the Prophet, -- that they were the authors of their own ruin, for each of them must have been conscious of his own perverseness.

But Amos afterwards defines the character of true repentance, when he says, Seek not Bethel, go not to Gilgal, pass not over to Beersheba Some think that the Prophet here repudiates all the disguises, which are usually pretended by hypocrites. We indeed know that when God calls such men to himself, that they seek indirect and tortuous courses; for none of them return sincerely and willingly to God. Men indeed see that they are justly reproved for having departed from God: but when they are called back to him they take a circuitous course, as I have said, and not the straight road. Thus, though they pretend to seek God, they seek subterfuges that they may not present themselves to him. All this is no doubt true; but the Prophet advances farther; for he shows here, that the Israelites by going to Bethel not only lost all their labor, but also grievously offended God; for superstition was in itself condemnable. If Amos had preached at Jerusalem, he might have said, |Go not into the temple, for in vain ye offer sacrifices;| as indeed he does say hereafter, |Come not with your flock.| For he there shows, that God is not to be pacified by ceremonies; nay, in that very chapter, he rejects feast-days and sacrifices; but in this place he ascends higher, and says that these two things are wholly contrary -- to seek God, and to seek Bethel; as though he said, |If ye from the heart return to me, renounce all the superstitions to which you have been hitherto attached.|

It is indeed a proof of true conversion, when the sinner is displeased with himself on account of his sins and hates the things which before pleased him and with a changed mind devotes himself wholly to God. It is of this that the Prophet now treats; as though he said, |If there is in you a purpose to return to God, cast away all your superstitions; for these two things -- true religion and idolatry, cannot be joined together. As long then as ye remain fixed in that false worship, to which you have accustomed yourselves, ye continue alienated from God. Then reconciliation with him demands that you bid adieu to all your corrupt forms of worship.| The import of the whole then is this, -- that the Israelites could not be reconciled to God, except they departed from their superstitions. Let them turn away, he says, from Bethel, and Gilgal, and Beersheba

We indeed know that the calves were made at Bethel; and Gilgal, no doubt, became celebrated for the passing of the people over Jordan, and also, as it is well known, for the circumcising of the children of Abraham; and as to Beersheba, we know that Abraham dwelt there for a long time, and frequently offered sacrifices to God. Now, this vicious zeal (kakozelia -- evil zeal or affectation) ever prevails in the world; without reason or judgment it lays hold on something special, when it undertakes to set up the worship of God, as we see to be the case under the Papacy. But God has prescribed to us a certain rule according to which he is to be worshipped; it is not then his will that there should be a mixture of our inventions. When therefore the posterity of Abraham presumptuously availed themselves of his example, and when they extolled the memorable event of the circumcision, God repudiated all contrivances of this kind; for as it was well known, it was expressly his will to be worshipped at Jerusalem; and by appointing one tabernacle and one altar, he designed to cherish unity and concord among the people. We now then understand that it was the intention of Amos to show, that the conversion of the people would be fictitious, until they turned away from all the superstitions and vicious modes of worship, in which they had habituated themselves: hence, Seek not Bethel, come not is Gilgal, pass not over to Beersheba.

The same thing may be said at this day to those who wish to blend the dregs of the Papacy with the pure and holy worship of God; for there are at this day many go-betweens, (mediatores) who, while they see that our doctrine cannot be disapproved of, yet wish to contrive some middle course; that is, they wish to reconcile Popery with the doctrine of the Gospel. But the Prophet shows that such a mixture cannot be endured by God. How so? Because light cannot agree with darkness. Hence, corruptions, except they be abolished, will always subvert the true worship of God. We now see, that the lesson conveyed by this doctrine is, that the pure worship of God cannot be restored while the corruptions of the world, which are contrary to his word, prevail.

Come not then to Gilgal, for by migrating it shall migrate There is an alliteration in the words of the Prophet, |Gilgal by rolling shall be rolled;| for Gilgal means rolling. Were such a phraseology allowable, it would be this, |Gilgal by gilling shall be gilled;| that is, it shall be rolled with quick rolling. God intimates that this place, under the protection of which the Israelites thought themselves safe, would be destroyed, as it had been already destined for destruction. Gilgal then be migrating shall migrate; not that the place could remove, but that it would be wholly demolished, so that nothing should remain there but dreadful tokens of God's vengeance.

He then adds, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live This repetition is not superfluous: the Prophet confirms what I have already stated, that such was the opposition between the true and legitimate worship of God, and idolatry and superstition, that the people of Israel, as long as they retained their corruptions, proved that they had nothing to do with God, whatever they may have pretended with their mouths and by their ceremonies. Seek God, he says, and ye shall live; and this repetition was very useful for this end, that hypocrites might know that they were justly condemned, inasmuch as they did not consecrate themselves wholly to God; for they were ever ready to contend with God whenever they could. |Why does God deal so strictly with us? why does he not concede to us at least something? for we do not deny him every thing. But if we do what we think to be right, why does he not indulge us at least on this account?| But when God not only urges hypocrites by his doctrine, but visits them also with punishments then they become angry, and even raise a clamor. Hence the Prophet, the second time, calls them to this duty, Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live; as though he said, |Ye will gain nothing by evasion; for if any one seeks God truly and from the heart, God will not disappoint him; he will receive him into favor and will bless him. That ye then pine away in your calamities, impute this to your own obstinacy and stubbornness: it is so, because ye do not truly seek God; for while ye retain your corruptions, as I have said before, ye do not seek him.|

But he adds Lest he pass on like a fire. tslch, tselach, means to pass on, to advance; it means also to break out, and sometimes to prosper; but, in this place, the Prophet no doubt meant what I have said. Then it is, Lest he advance like fire upon the house of Joseph and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it in Bethel. The kind of vengeance which God threatened is not here expressed, but it may be easily understood. There is, therefore, in the meaning no obscurity; for he declares, that if the Israelites hardened their hearts against God, a burning was nigh at hand, which would seize on them, devour, and consume them. There shall come then or shall advance, a fire upon the house of Joseph; some say, shall burst out, which amounts to the same thing. By the house of Joseph is meant Ephraim; for he was, we know, the second son of Joseph; and, by taking a part for the whole, the Prophets usually include the ten tribes, as it is well known, when they mention Ephraim; and the kingdom of Israel is sometimes called the house of Joseph. Lest then he ascend as fire into the house of Joseph, and consume it, and there be none to extinguish it: this was said, because the Israelites never thought that they should be thus consumed by a sudden burning. The fire then shall devour the house of Joseph, and there will be none to quench it.

In the verse before I omitted one thing, to which I shall now advert. The Prophet said, that Bethel would be for a trouble, or be nothing. Bethel, we know, is called in another place Bethaven, the house of iniquity; and Aven means in Hebrew sometimes iniquity, sometimes grief or trouble, sometimes labor or difficulty, and sometimes nothing. It is not to be taken for iniquity in this place; this is certain: but Amos, on the contrary, speaks of punishment, which awaited that place, since it was abominable in the sight of God. As then he had said of Gilgal, that it would be rolled; so now he says of Bethel, that it would be for a trouble or grief, or be nothing. Either senses would be appropriate; -- that Bethel, from which the Israelites hoped for a remedy to all their evils, would be to them a trouble, that is, the cause of their ruin, or that it would be nothing; as though he had said, that their hopes would be fallacious and empty in expecting any relief from Bethel. It afterwards follows --

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