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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 5:25-26

25. Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?

25. An victimas et munus (est mnchh) obtulistis mihi in deserto quadraginta annis, domus Israel?

26. But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.

26. Et sustulistis Sicuth Regem vestrum, et Chion, imagines vestras, stellam deorum vestrorum (vel, deos vestros,) quae fecistis vobis.

The Prophet shows in this place, that he not only reproved hypocrisy in the Israelites in obtruding on God only external display of ceremonies without any true religion in the heart; but that he also condemned them for having departed from the rule of the law. He also shows that this was not a new disease among the people of Israel; for immediately at the beginning their fathers mixed such a leaven as vitiated the worship of God. He therefore proves that the Israelites had ever been given to superstitions, and could not by any means be retained in the true and pure worship of God.

Have ye then caused sacrifices, victims, or an oblation to come before me in the desert for forty years? He addresses them as though they had perverted God's worship in the desert, and yet they were born many ages after; what does he mean? Even this, -- the Prophet includes the whole body of the people from their first beginning, as though he said, |It is right to inclose you in the same bundle with your fathers; for you are the same with your fathers in your ways and dispositions.| We hence see that the Israelites were regarded guilty, not only because they vitiated God's worship in one age by their superstitions, but also from the beginning. And he asks whether they offered victims to him: it is certain that such was their intention; for they at no time dared to deny God, by whom they had been not long before delivered; and we know that though they made for themselves many things condemned by the law, they ever adhered to this principle, |The God, who hath redeemed us, is to be worshipped by us:| yea, they always proudly boasted of their father Abraham. They had never then willingly alienated themselves from God, who had chosen Abraham their father and themselves to be his people: and indeed the Prophet shortly before had said, Take away from me,' etc.; and then, when ye offer to me sacrifices and a gift of flour, I will not count them acceptable.' There seems to be an inconsistency in this -- that God should deny that victims been offered to him -- and yet say that they were offered to him by the people of Israel, when, as we have stated, they had presumptuously built a profane and spurious altar. The solution is easy, and it is even this, -- that the people had ever offered sacrifices to God, if we regard what they pretended to do: for good intention, as it is commonly called, so blinds the superstitious, that with great presumption they trifle with God. Hence with respect to them we may say that they sacrificed to God; but as to God, he denies that what was not purely offered was offered to him. We now then see why God says now that sacrifices were not offered to him in the wilderness: he says so, because the people blended with his worship the leaven of idolatry: and God abhorred this depravation. This is the meaning.

But another objection may be again proposed. This defection did not prevail long, and the whole people did not give their consent to idolatry; and still more, we know what the impostor Balaam said, that Jacob had no idol; and speaking in the twentieth chapter of Numbers, by the prophetic spirit, he testifies that the only true God reigned in Jacob, and that there were among them no false gods. How then does the Prophet say now that idolatry prevailed among them? The answer is ready: The greater part went astray: hence the whole people are justly condemned; and though this sin was reproved, yet they relapsed continually, as it is well known, into superstitions; and still more, they worshipped strange gods to please strumpets. Since it was so, it is no wonder that they are accused here by the Prophet of not having offered victims to God, inasmuch as they were contaminated with impure superstitions: it could not then be, that they brought anything to God. At the same time God's worship, required by his law, was of such importance, that he declared that he was worshipped by Jacob, as also Christ says,

|We know what we worship,| (John 4:22;)

and yet not one in a hundred among the Jews cherished the hope of eternal life in his heart. They were all Epicureans or profane; nay, the Sadducees prevailed openly among them: the whole of religion was fallen, or was at least so decayed, that there was no holiness and no integrity among them; and yet Christ says, |We know what we worship;| and this was true with regard to the law.

Now then we see that the Prophets speak in various ways of Israel: when they regard the people, they say, that they were perfidious, that they were apostates, who had immediately from the beginning departed from the true and legitimate worship of God: but when they commend the grace of God, they say, that the true worship of God shone among them, that though the whole multitude had become perverted, yet the Lord approved of what he had commanded. So it is with Baptism; it is a sacred and immutable testimony of the grace of God, though it were administered by the devil, though all who may partake of it were ungodly and polluted as to their own persons. Baptism ever retains its own character, and is never contaminated by the vices of men. The same must be said of sacrifices.

I shall now return to the words of the Prophet: Have you offered to me victims for forty years in the desert? He enhances their sin by the circumstance of their condition; for they were there shut up in a narrow and hard confinement, and yet they turned aside after their superstitions. And it was certainly a monstrous thing: God fed them daily with manna; they were therefore under the necessity, however unwilling, of looking up to heaven every day; for God constrained their unwillingness with no common favor. They knew, too, that water flowed for them miraculously from a rock. Seeing then that God constrained them thus to look up to him, how was it that they yet became vain through their own deceptions? It was, as I have said, a prodigious blindness. Hence the Prophet speaks of the forty years and of the desert, that the atrocity of their sin might more fully appear; for the Lord could not, by so many bonds, keep the people from such a madness.

It now follows, And ye have carried Sicuth your king. This place, we know, is quoted by Stephen in the seventh chapter of the Acts: but he followed the Greek version; and the Greek translator, whoever he was, was mistaken as to the word, Sicuth, and read, Sucoth, and thought the name an appellative of the plural number, and supposed it to be derived from svk suk, which means a tabernacle; for he translated it skenen as if it was said, |Ye bore the tabernacle of your king instead of the ark.| But it was a manifest mistake; for the probability is, that Sicuth was the proper name of an idol. Ye bore then Sicuth your king. He called it their king by way of reproach; for they had violated that priestly kingdom, which God had instituted; for he, as a king, exercised dominion over them. Since then God would be deemed the king of Israel, as he had ascribed to himself that name, and since he promised to them a kingdom, as in due time he gave them, it was the basest ingratitude in them to seek an idol to be their king; it was indeed a denial of God which could not be borne, not to allow themselves to be governed by him. We hence see how sharply he upbraids them, for had refused to God his own kingdom, and created for themselves the fictitious Sleuth as their king.

Then it follows, And Kiun, your images Some think that kyvn, Kiun, means a cake, and kvh, kue, is to burn, and from this they think the word is derived; but others more correctly regard it as a proper name; and the Prophet, I have no doubt, has named here some reigned god after Sleuth. Kiun then, your images; I read the words as being in apposition. Others say, |The cake of your images;| and some render the words literally, |Kiun your images;| but yet they do not sufficiently attend to the design of the Prophet; for he seems here to ridicule the madness of the people, because they dreamt that some deity was inclosed in statues and in such masks. |Ye carried,| he says, |both Sicuth and Kiun, your images. I am now deprived of honor, for ye could not bear me to govern you. Ye now enjoy your King Sicuth; but, in the meantime, let us see what is the power of Sicuth and Kiun; they are nothing more than images. Seeing then that there is neither strength nor even life in them, what madness is it to worship such fictitious things?|

But some think that Kiun was the image of Saturn. What the Hebrews indeed say, that this idolatry was derived from the Persians, is wholly groundless; for the Persians, we know, had no images nor statues, but worshipped only the sacred fire. As, then, the Persians had no images. the Jews fabled, in their usual way, when they said that Kiun was an image of Saturn. But all the Jews, I have no doubt, imagined that all the stars were gods, as they made images for them; for it immediately follows, A constellation, or a star, your gods These, he says, are your gods; even stars and images; and there is here a sarcasm (sarkasmos;) used; for the Prophet derides the folly of the people of Israel, who, being not content with the Maker of heaven and earth, sought for themselves dead gods, or rather vain devices. |Your gods then,| he says, |are images and stars.|

But it must be observed, that he calls them images: he does not, as in other places, call them idols; and this, I say, ought to be observed, for here is refuted the foolish and refinement of the Papists, who at this day excuse all their superstitions, because they have no idols; for they deny that their devices are idols. What then? They are images. Thus they hide their own baseness under the name of images. But the Prophet does not say that they were idols; he does not use that hateful word which is derived from grief or sorrow; but he says that they were images. The name then in itself has nothing base or ominous; but, at the same time, as the Lord would not have himself represented by any visible figure, the Prophet here expressly and distinctly condemns Sicuth and Kiun. The Greek translator whom Stephen followed, put down the word, types or figures, that is, images. Now, when any one says to the Papists that their figures or images are sinful before God, they boldly deny this; but we see that their evasion avails nothing.

He adds in the last place, Which ye have made for yourselves I prefer rendering the relative 'sr, asher, in the neuter gender, as including all their fictitious gods, and also their images, which things then ye have made for yourselves. To make these things is at all times vicious in sacred things; for we ought not to bring any thing of our own when we worship God, but we ought to depend always on the word of his mouth, and to obey what he has commanded. All our actions then in the worship of God ought to be, so to speak, passive; for they ought to be referred to his command, lest we attempt any thing but what he approves. Hence, when men dare to do this or that without God's command, it is nothing else but abomination before him. And the Greeks call superstitions ethelothreskeias; and this word means voluntary acts of worship, such as are undertaken by men of their own accord. We now understand the whole design of the Prophet. It follows --

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