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Commentary On Joel Amos Obadiah by Jean Calvin

Amos 9:1

1. I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.

1. Vidi Dominum stantem super altare, et dixit, Percute superliminare et coommovebunter postes, et affliget (vel, afflige, in modo imperativo) in capite omnes, et novissimum ipsorum (vel, posteritatem) gladio occidam; non effuget ex ipsis fugiens, neque evadet ex ipsis qui evadit.

The Prophet confirms the threatening which we have already explained; for he says that the people would be soon removed, as there was now no hope of repentance. But it must first be observed, that he speaks not here of the profane temples which Jeroboam the first had built in Dan and in Bethel, but of the true and lawful temple; for it would not have been befitting that this vision should have been made to the Prophet in one of those profane temples, from which, we know, God was far away. Had God appeared in Dan or Bethel, it would have been an indirect approbation of superstition. They are then mistaken who think that the vision was given to the Prophet in any other place than on mount Zion, as we have shown in other places. For the Prophets say not, that God had spoken either in Dan or in Bethel, nor had there been any oracle announced from these places; for God designed in every way to show that he had nothing to do with those profane rites and abominations. It is then certain that God appeared to his Prophet on mount Zion, and on the lawful altar.

Let us now see the design of the vision. The greater part of interpreters think that the destruction of the kingdom and of the priesthood is predicted here, at the time when Zedekiah was taken and led ignominiously into exile, and when his children were killed, and when afterwards the temple was erased and the city demolished. But this prediction, I doubt not, ought to be extended much farther, even to the many calamities which immediately followed, by which at length the whole people were destroyed. I therefore do not confine what is here said to the demolition of the city and of the temple. But the meaning of the Prophet is the same as though he had said, that the Israelites as well as the Jews in vain boasted of their descent and of other privileges with which they had been honored: for the Lord had resolved to destroy them, and also the temple, which they employed as a cloak to cover their iniquities. We now then understand the intention of the Prophet. But this also must be noticed, -- that if the Lord spared not his own temple, which he had commanded to be built, and in which he had chosen a habitation for himself, those profane temples, which he had ever despised, could not possibly escape destruction. We now see the design of this prophecy, which is the last, with the exception of the promise that is given, of which we shall speak in its proper place.

He says then that he saw God standing on the altar. The Prophet might have heard what follows without a vision; but God then, we know, was wont to sanction his predictions by visions, as we find in the twelfth chapter of Numbers. God then not only intended to commit to his Prophet what he was to proclaim, but also to add authority to his doctrine; and the vision was as it were the seal, which the Israelites as well as the Jews knew to be a proof, that what the Prophet declared by his mouth proceeded from heaven.

It now follows, Smite the lintel kphtvr, caphtur, is, I think, called the cover which is on the top of the posts of the temple; for the Hebrews call kphtvrym, caphturim, apples. As then they painted there pomegranates and flowers, the Hebrew doctors think that the part which is above the two posts of the temple is called kphtvr, caphtur. But that part of the entrance might have taken its name from its round form. However this may be, they called the highest part of the porch of the temple kphtvd, caphtur. Now the posts sustained that which they commonly called the lintel. God then says, Strike the lintel, and let the posts be moved, or let them shake, let the whole gate of the temple shake. Then he adds, And strike and break all on the head, or on the head of all. This verb is differently read by interpreters. Correctly, according to the rule of grammar, it ought to be read in the third person, and it will dash to the ground But some however, render it thus, |and dash to the ground|, or break, because he had said before, Smite. As to the meaning, it matters not much for an explanation immediately follows. Now as to what he says, |on the head|, and as to the word 'chrytm, achritam, which follows, some by the head understand the priests and the rulers of the people, which view I am inclined to embrace; but when they explain 'chryt, achrit, to mean posterity or children, it does not seem to suit this place; for it ought rather as I think, to he referred to the common people. As then the Prophet had spoken of the head, he now adds the people in general. The Hebrews call whatever follows or comes after by 'chryt, achrit. They indeed understand posterity by it, but it is a word that has variety of meaning: for it is taken for end, for a footstep, in short, for anything that comes after.

It is easy now to gather the meaning of the Prophet: A vision was exhibited to him which showed that it was decreed by God himself to smite both the chiefs and the common people: and since God begins with his temple, how can profane men hope for pardon, who had deserted the true and pure worship of God? They were all apostates: how then could they have hoped that God would be placable to them, inasmuch as he had broken down his own temple?

He now adds, I will slay with the sword, etc. We see then that this vision is to be referred to the stroke which was shortly after to be inflicted. I will slay then with the sword whatever follows, that is, the common people.

He afterwards says, Flee away from them shall not he who fleeth, nor shall he escape from them who escapeth; that is though they may think that flight is possible, their expectation will deceive them, for I shall catch them. Had the Prophet said that there would be to them no means of fleeing away, he would not have spoken with so much severity; but when he says, that when they fled, he would catch them, that when they thought that they had escaped, there would be no safety to them, he says what is much more grievous. In short, he cuts off all hope from the Israelites, that they might understand that they were certain to perish, because God had hitherto tried in vain to restore them to the right way. Inasmuch then as they had been wholly incurable, they now hear that no hope remained for them.

And since the Prophet denounces such and so dreadful a destruction of an elect people, and since the vision was exhibited to him in the temples there is no reason for us to trust in our outward profession, and to wait till God's judgments come, as we see many are doing in our day, who are wholly careless, because they think that no evil can happen to them, inasmuch as they bear the name of God. But the Prophet here shows, that God sits in his temple, not only to protect those whom he has adopted as his people and peculiar possession, but also to vindicate his own honor, because the Israelites had corrupted his worship; and the Jews also had departed from true religion. Since then impiety everywhere prevailed, he now shows that God sits there as the punisher of sins, that his people may know that they are not to tolerate those evils, which for a time he does not punish, as though he had forgotten his office, or that he designs his favor to be the cover of their iniquity; but because he designs by degrees to draw to repentance those, who are healable, and at the same time to take away every excuse frown the reprobate. Let us proceed --

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