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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 7:1-3

1. Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king's mowings.

1. Sic ostendit mihi Dominus, et ecce formans locustas principio ascensionis herbae (hoc est, quum incipit herba ascendere: lqs, proprie significat secundam herbam, quam vocamus, Regian) et ecce herba post sectiones (vel, tonsuras, ut alii vertunt) Regis.

2. And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.

2. Et factum est dum perficeret ad comendendum (hoc est, quum jam fere in totum absumpsisset herbam terrae,) tunc dixi, Adonai Jehova, parce, obsecro: quis stabit (vel, quis restituet) Jacob, quia parvus est?

3. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord.

3. Poenituit Jehovam super hoc; Non erit, dixit Jehova.

Amos shows in this chapter that God had already often deferred the punishments which he had yet determined to inflict on the people; and thus he reminds the Israelites of their perverseness, inasmuch as they had abused the forbearance of God, and repented not after a long lapse of time: for God had suspended his judgments for this end -- that they might willingly return to the right way, as he commonly allures men by his kindness, provided they be teachable. Since then this forbearance of God had been without fruit, Amos reproves the Israelites, though he had also another object in view: for ungodly men, we know, when God spares them and does not immediately indict the punishments they deserve, laugh at them, and harden themselves for the future, so that they fear nothing; and when the Lord threatens, and does not instantly execute his vengeance, they then especially think that all threatening are mere bugbears; and therefore they harden their minds in security and think that they can with impunity trifle with God. Inasmuch then as this obstinacy prevailed among the Israelites, the Prophet here shows in various ways, that in vain they gloried, and thus securely despised the judgment of God; for though the Lord for a time had spared them, yet the final vengeance was not far distant. This is the sum of the whole: but such expression must be considered in its order.

A vision, he says, had been shown to him by the Lord; and the vision was, that God himself had formed locusts. Yet some think yvtsr, iutsar, to be a noun, and render it, creation; others, a swarm or a troop. But these are forced expositions. The Lord then, I doubt not, formed locusts in the Prophet's presence, which devoured all the grass. He therefore says, when the grass began to grow, that is, after the cuttings of the king Here also expounders vary: some think that the shearings of the king are referred to, when the king had sheared his sheep. Others regard it as the mowing of hay; and they say, that the best grass was then cut for the use of the king, that he might feed his horses and his cattle. But these conjectures have nothing well-founded in them. I therefore doubt not, but the Prophet here calls that a royal cutting, when by a public order they began to cut their meadows. It is indeed credible that there was then some rule: as with us, no one begins the vintage at his own will, but a certain regular time is observed; so those cuttings, which were publicly done, were called royal; as the king's highway is called that which is public. But yet the Prophet, I think, refers under this figurative expression to the previous calamities, by which the people had been already reduced as to their number.

But we must supply this prophecy or vision to its proper time. I doubt not, and I think that I can gather this from certain considerations, that the Prophet here compares the time which had preceded the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, with the prosperous time which followed. For when Jeroboam the Second began to reign, the kingdom was laid waste, partly by hostile incursions, and partly by drought and heat, by inclement weather, or by pestilence. Since then the condition of the people, as sacred history relates, was most miserable, hence the Prophet says, that locusts had been shown to him, which devoured all the grass and standing corn: for he not only says, that locusts were formed, but also that they devoured the grass, so that nothing remained, When they had finished, he says, to eat the grass of the earth, then I said, Lord Jehovah, etc. Thus then the Prophet shows that sure tokens of God's wrath had then already appeared, and that the people had in part been already afflicted, but yet that God had afterwards given them time for repentance.

Now by locusts I understand a moderate kind of punishment. We have seen elsewhere (Joel 1:4) that the country had been then nearly consumed by the locusts and the cankerworms, and the like pests. But in this place the Prophet metaphorically designates hostile invasions, which had not immediately laid waste the whole country but in some measure desolated it. This was indeed manifest to all, but few viewed it as the judgment of God, as also the Lord complains, that the perverse regard not the hand of the smiter, (Isaiah 10:3,4) Though then the Israelites saw their land consumed, they did not think that God was displeased with them; for ungodly men do not willingly examine themselves nor raise their eyes to heaven, when the Lord chastises them: for they would grow, as it were, stupid in their calamities rather than set before themselves the judgment of God, that they may be seriously led to repentance: this they naturally shun almost all. Hence the Prophet says that this was especially shown to him. The calamity then was known to all, and evident before the eyes of the people; but the Prophet alone, by a vision, understood that God in this manner punished the sins of the people: at the same time, the special object of the vision was, -- to make the Israelites to know that the hand of God was withheld, as it were, in the middle of its work. They had seen the enemies coming, they had felt many evils; but they thought that the enemies retreated either through good fortune or some other means. They did not consider that God had spared them, which was the main thing. It was therefore shown to the prophet in a vision, that God spared his people, though he had resolved to destroy the whole land.

And the Prophet expressly declares, that God had been pacified through his intercession and prayer: hence appears very clearly what I have already referred to, that is, that the Prophet condemns the unbelieving for having perversely trifled with God; for they regarded the threatening which they had heard from the mouth of Amos and of others as jests. Whence was this? Because God had spared them. The Prophet shows how this took place; |The Lord,| he says, |had at first resolved to destroy you, but yet he waits for you, and therefore suspends his extreme vengeance, that by his kindness he may allure you to himself; and this has been done through my prayers: for though ye think me to be adverse to you, as I am constrained daily to threaten you, and as a heavenly herald to denounce war on you; I yet feel compassion for you, and wish you to be saved. There is, therefore, no reason for you to think that I am influenced by hatred or by cruelty, when I address you with so much severity: this I do necessarily on account of my office; but I am still concerned and solicitous for your safety; and of this the Lord is a witness, and the vision I now declare to you.| We now see that God's servants had so ruled and moderated their feelings, that pity did not prevent them from being severe whenever their calling so required; and also, that this severity did not obliterate from their minds the feelings of compassion. Amos, as we have already seen, severely inveighed against the people, sharply reproved their vices, and daily summoned irreclaimable men to the tribune it of God: as he was so vehemently indignant on account at their vices, and as he so sharply threatened them, he might have appeared to have forgotten all compassion; but this place shows that he had not yet divested himself of pity, though he faithfully discharged his office, and was not diverted from his purpose, when he saw that he had to do with wicked and obstinate men. He was therefore severe, because God so commanded him; it was what his calling required; but at the same time he pitied the people.

Let then all teachers in the Church learn to put on these two feelings -- to be vehemently indignant whenever they see the worship of God profaned, to burn with zeal for God, and to show that severity which appeared in all the Prophets, whenever due order decays, -- and at the same time to sympathize with miserable men, whom they see rushing headlong into destruction, and to bewail their madness, and to interpose with God as much as is in them; in such a way, however that their compassion render them not slothful or indifferent, so as to be indulgent to the sins of men. Indeed, the temper of mind which I have mentioned ought to be possessed, so that they may go forth as suppliants before God, and implore pardon for miserable and wretched men: but when they come to the people, in their new character, that they may be severe and rigid, let them remember by whom they are sent and with what commands, let them know that they are the ministers of God, who is the judge of the world, and ought not therefore to spare the people: this then is to be attended to by us.

Now as to the word repent, as applied to God, let us know, as it has been elsewhere stated, that God changes not his purpose so as to retract what he has once determined. He indeed knew what he would do before he showed the vision to his Prophet Amos: but he accommodates himself to the measure of men's understanding, when he mentions such changes. It was then the eternal purpose of God, to threaten the people, to show tokens of his displeasure, and yet to suspend for a time his vengeance, that their perverseness might be the more inexcusable. But in the meantime, as this was without advantage, he sets forth another thing -- that he was already armed to execute his vengeance. God then does not relate what he had decreed, but what the Israelites deserved, and what punishment or reward was due to them. When, therefore, God begins to inflict punishment on sinners, it is as though he intended to execute fully his vengeance; he however forms a purpose in himself, but that is hid from us. As soon then as he lifts up his finger, we ought to regard it as owing to his mercy, that we are not instantly reduced to nothing; when it so happens, it is as though he changed his purpose, or as though he withheld his hand. This then ought to be borne in mind, when the prophet says, that God created locusts to devour all the grass, but that he suppliantly entreated God to put an end to this calamity. He then adds, that it repented God, not that there was any change of mind in God, but because God suddenly and beyond hope suspended the vengeance which was near at hand. It shall not then be

With regard to the clause, Be propitious, I pray; how will Jacob rise up, or who will raise up Jacob? it appears that the Prophet saw no other remedy, except the Lord, according to his infinite goodness, forgave the people, and hence he prays for pardon. In the meantime, he shows that he prayed for the Church, |Lord,| he says, |thy hand does not now pursue strangers, but an elect people, thy peculiar possession:| for by the name, Jacob, the Prophet extols the covenant which God made with Abraham and the Patriarchs; as though he said, |O God, wilt thou be inexorable towards the people whom thou hast chosen and adopted, of whom thou art the Father? Remember that they are neither Babylonians, nor Egyptians, nor Assyrians, but a royal priesthood, and thy holy and peculiar people.| And there is nothing that inclines God more to mercy than the recollection of his gratuitous covenant, as we have elsewhere seen.

He then says, that Jacob was small. He does not allege the worthiness of Jacob, or adduce any proof of excellency, but says that he was small; as though he said, |O Lord, thou drawest forth now thy power against miserable creatures, who are already enfeebled enough| for he calls him small, because he had been worn out by many calamities: and hence I said, that reference is here made to that miserable time, of which Scripture records, when it declares that the free as well as the captive were reduced to extreme distress, before Jeroboam the second began to reign. Then indeed God restored his people; but short was that favor; for immediately after the death of king Jeroboam, a sedition arose, which proved ruinous to the whole kingdom: his son Zachariah, as it is well known, was slain by Shallum, (2 Kings 15:8-10)

How then will Jacob rise up? Some take the verb yqvm, ikum, in a transitive sense, |Who will raise him up?| but others think it to be a neuter verb, |How will Jacob rise up?| that is, by what means will Jacob rise up? as my, mi, may be taken to mean, how, or by what means: How then will Jacob rise up? But this difference has little to do with the main point It is then enough to say, that the Prophet here speaks of the weakness of the people, that on this account God might be more ready to forgive them. It now follows --

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