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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 7:7-9

7. Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand.

7. Sic ostendit mihi: et ecce Dominus stabat (stans) super murum perpendiculi, et in manu ejus perpendiculum.

8. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:

8. Et dixit Jehova mihi, Quid tu vides Amos? Et dixi, Perpendiculum. Tunc dixit Dominus, Ecce ego pono perpendiculum in medio populi mei Israel: non adjiciam amplius ut transeam ipsum:

9. And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

9. Et destruentur excelsa Isaac, et evertentur (excidentur) sanctuaria Israel; et surgam super domum Jeroboam in gladio.

This vision opens more clearly to us what the Prophet meant before, and what was the object of his doctrine: his intention was to show the people that what they had gained by their obstinacy was only to render God implacable, and to cause him not to spare them any longer, as he had hitherto done. The meaning is, -- |God has hitherto borne with you according to his own goodness, promise not to yourselves that he will ever deal in the same manner with you; for your contumacy and waywardness has provoked him. As he sees you to be beyond measure obstinate, he must now necessarily execute on you final vengeance. There is therefore now no forgiveness provided for you; but as ye are incurable, so the Lord on his part will remain unchangeable in the rigor of his judgment, and will by no means turn to mercy.|

Interpreters explain this vision in various ways, and refinedly philosophize on the word, plumbline; and yet frigid are almost all their refinements. Were I disposed plausibly to handle this passage, I would say, that the plumbline is the law of God; for it prescribed to his people a regular order of things, which might serve as a plumbline; inasmuch as all things were directed according to the best rule. I might speak thus; but I am not disposed to refine in this manner; for I doubt not but that God meant only that this would be the last measuring; for he would punish his people without any remission and without any delay. We now apprehend the Prophet's meaning: but all this will become more evident from the words of the passage.

Thus he showed to me; and, behold, the Lord stood on a wall of a plumbline. The wall of a plumbline he calls that which had been formed by rule, as though he had said that it was a wall by a plumbline. God then stood on a plumbline-wall, and a plumbline, he says, was in his hand False then is what some interpreters say, that a plumbline was cast away by God, because he would no more perform the office of a mason in ruling his people. This is frivolous; for the Prophet testifies here expressly that a plumbline was in the hand of God.

But that which follows has an important meaning: God asks his Prophet, What sees thou, Amos? It is probable that the Prophet was astonished at a thing so mysterious. When locusts were formed, and when there was a contention by fire, he might have easily gathered what God meant; for these visions were by no means ambiguous: but when God stood on a wall with a plumbline, this was somewhat more hard to be understood; and the probability is, that the Prophet was made to feel much astonishment, that the people might be more attentive to hear his vision, as we commonly apply our thoughts more to hidden things; for we coldly attend to what we think to be easily understood; but mysteriousness, or something difficult to be known, sharpens our minds and attention. I do not then doubt but that God made the Prophet for a time to feel amazed, with the view of increasing the attention of the people. What then dost thou see, Amos? A plumbline, he says: but, at the same time, he knew not what was the meaning of this plumbline, or what was its design. Then God answers, Behold, I set a plumbline in the midst of my people; that is, I fix this to be the last rule, or the final measure, and I will not add any more to pass by them As God had twice leaped over the bounds of his judgment by sparing them, he says, now that the last end was come, |I will proceed no farther,| he says, |in forgiving them: as when a wall is formed to the plumbline, that no part may, in the least, exceed another, but that there may be regularity throughout so also this shall be the last order; this measuring shall be true and just. I will pass by them no more.| This, I have no doubt, is the real meaning of the Prophet. We now also perceive the design of the other two visions to have been to prevent the Israelites from deceiving themselves by false self-flatteries, because God was kind and favorable to them. He shows that he dealt so with them, not because they were just; for God had already begun to execute his judgments on them; and the punishments with which they had been visited were strong evidences of their crimes: for God is not without reasons angry with men, especially with his chosen people. Since then they had been already smitten once and again, the Prophet proves that they were worthy of heavier punishments; and that punishments had been mild and moderated, was to be ascribed, he says, to the indulgence of God, because he was willing to forgive his people; but that the time had now come when he would no longer pardon them; for he saw that he had to do with irreclaimable obstinacy. This is the meaning.

It now follows, And destroyed shall be the high places of Isaac, and overthrown shall be the sanctuaries (some render palaces) of Israel; and I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. The Prophet here distinctly declares, that the people in vain trusted in their temples and superstitions, for by these they kindled the more against themselves the wrath of God. He would not indeed have expressly threatened the high places and the temples, unless the Israelites had provoked in this way, as I have already said, the vengeance of God against themselves, inasmuch as they had corrupted the true and lawful worship of God.

Destroyed then shall be the high places of Isaac It may be asked, Why does he mention here the name of Isaac, which is rarely done by the Prophets? And there is also a change of one letter; for the word Isaac is commonly written with ts, tsade, but here it is written with s, shin; but it is well known that s, shin and ts, tsade, are interchangeably used. It is, however, beyond dispute, that the Prophet speaks here of the holy man Isaac; and the reason seems to be plainly this, -- because the Israelites absurdly pretended to imitate their father in their superstitions; for temples, we know, had been erected where Isaac had worshipped God, and also their father Abraham and Jacob. Inasmuch then as the Israelites boasted of the examples of holy fathers, the Prophet here condemns this vain and false boasting. They who understand by the word Isaac, that the Prophet threatens the Idumeans as well as the Israelites, have no reason for their opinion; but the reason which I have already mentioned is quite sufficient.

We indeed know, that the Israelites had ever in their mouths the examples of the fathers, like the woman of Samaria, who said to Christ, Our fathers worshipped in this mountain,' (John 4:20) So also the Israelites were wont formerly to allege, that the holy patriarchs worshipped God in those places, -- that God appeared in Bethel to holy Jacob, and also that in other places altars were built. Being armed with the examples of the fathers, they thought them to be their shield. The case is the same with the Papists in our day; when they hear of anything as having been done by the fathers, they instantly lay hold on it; but these are vain excuses. Like them were also the Israelites; hence the Prophet says, |Behold, ye gain nothing by this fallacious pretense; for destroyed shall be the high places of Isaac, even those which are now covered by an honorable name: and at the same time the temples or palaces of Israel shall be overthrown.

And I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword We learn from this last clause that things were then, as we have stated elsewhere, in a prosperous state in the kingdom of Israel, though God had in various ways wasted it before Jeroboam: but they had been ever obstinate. He afterwards restored them to a better condition; for the state of the people greatly improved under Jeroboam: he recovered many cities enlarged the borders of his kingdoms and then the people, in their affluence began to grow wanton against God. As then the Prophet thus saw that they abused God's goodness, he denounced destruction on Jeroboam; hence he says, Against the house of Jeroboam I will rise up with the sword; that is, |I will begin to execute my judgment on the offspring of the king himself; though I may spare him, yet his posterity shall not escape my hand.|

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