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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 5:14

14. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.

14. Quaerite bonum et non malum, ut vivatis; et erit hoc modo Jehova, Deus exercituum, vobiscum, quemadmodum dixistis.

The Prophet again repeats, that it was only owing to the Israelites themselves that it was not well with them; for God was ready to grant them his blessing; but they designedly sought a curse for themselves. Inasmuch, then, the hypocrites are wont to put away from themselves the blame of every evil, and to complain of their miseries, as though the Lord afflicted them unjustly, the Prophet here shows, that no evil happened to the Israelites, but what they procured by their vices: and at the same time he exhorts them to repentance, and gives them the hope of pardon, provided they hardened not their hearts to the last. He therefore bids them to seek good; but by adding, seek not evil, his words are full of meaning, as though he had said, that they were so fixed in their own wickedness, that they could not be torn away from it. The import of the whole, then, is this -- that the Israelites could not complain of being too severely treated by God, because they suffered not themselves to be kindly dealt with. And the Prophet assigns this as the reason -- that they were not only alienated from what was good, but that they also with avidity and eager desire followed what was evil: in the meantime he exhorts them to repentance and adds a promise the more to encourage them.

Seek then good, he says, that ye may live; And then he adds, And thus God will be with you, as ye have said. Here the wickedness of the people is reproved who sought to bind God to themselves; for hypocrites are wont to misapply the promises: when they presumptuously reject God himself, they still wish him to be under an obligation to them. Thus they gloried that they were the children of Abraham, an elect people; circumcision was to them like a royal diadem; they sought to be superior to all other nations: and thus they abused the name of God, and at the same time they petulantly scorned both the word of God and his Prophets. As, then, they ever boasted that God was dwelling in the midst of them, the Prophet says, |Then and thus will God be with you if ye seek what is good or the doing of good;| for to seek good is nothing else than to endeavor to do good; as though he said |Change your nature and your manners; for hitherto iniquity has prevailed among you; you have been violent, and rapacious, and fraudulent: begin now to do good, then God will be with you.|

There is therefore a great emphasis to be laid on the particle kn, can, thus will God be with you: for the Prophet reminds them of what so often occurs in the law, |Be ye holy, for I am holy,| who dwell in the midst of you, (Leviticus 11:44) God shows, in these words, that it could not be that he would dwell with the Israelites except they sanctified themselves, that there might be a mutual agreement. But they had no regard for holiness, and yet wished God to be bound to them. This false confidence the Prophet derides, and says, that a certain condition is fixed in the law, according to which God would dwell in the midst of them. Thus then will God be in the midst of you; that is, when he sees that you strive after uprightness and the doing of good.

I have already explained what this means, as ye have said; for he proves that foolish vaunting to be false which was heard among the Israelites: |Has not the Lord chosen and adopted us as his people? Is not the ark of the covenant a sure pledge of his presence? How then could he depart from us? God would deny himself, were he not to keep his pledged faith; for he covenanted with our fathers, that we should be his flock even to the end of the world.| Since, then, they thus foolishly boasted, and were, at the same time, covenant breakers, the Prophet says, |Ye boast, indeed, by your mouth that God is in the midst of you, but see what he in his turn stipulates and requires from you. If, then, ye respond to his call, he will not surely be wanting to his pledged faith; but as ye willfully depart from him, he must necessarily become alienated from you.| We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet in these words. It follows --

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