Amos 4:11
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have you not returned to me, said the LORD.
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(11) Overthrown.—Another awful calamity, an earthquake, is referred to, and perhaps a volcanic eruption. Dr. Pusey enumerates a long series of earthquakes, which distressed Palestine, though not the central parts of the country, from the time of Julian to the twelfth century. The allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah gives a hint of the fierce licence and vice which had prevailed in some parts of the Northern kingdom, and called for chastisement.

Some of you.—More accurately among you.

Brand plucked . . .—Men would cast such a brand back into the fire. “Behold the goodness and severity of God.”

4:6-13 See the folly of carnal hearts; they wander from one creature to another, seeking for something to satisfy, and labour for that which satisfies not; yet, after all, they will not incline their ear to Him in whom they might find all they can want. Preaching the gospel is as rain, and every thing withers where this rain is wanting. It were well if people were as wise for their souls as they are for their bodies; and, when they have not this rain near, would go and seek it where it is to be had. As the Israelites persisted in rebellion and idolatry, the Lord was coming against them as an adversary. Ere long, we must meet our God in judgment; but we shall not be able to stand before him, if he tries us according to our doings. If we would prepare to meet our God with comfort, at the awful period of his coming, we must now meet him in Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, who came to save lost sinners. We must seek him while he is to be found.I have overthrown some of you - The earthquake is probably reserved to the last, as being the rarest, and so the most special, visitation. Frequent as earthquakes have been on the borders of Palestine, the greater part of Palestine was not on the line, which was especially shaken by them. The line, chiefly visited by earthquakes, was along the coast of the Mediterranean or parallel to it, chiefly from Tyre to Antioch and Aleppo. Here were the great historical earthquakes, which were the scourges of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Botrys, Tripolis, Laodicea on the sea; which shattered Litho-prosopon, prostrated Baalbek and Hamath, and so often afflicted Antioch and Aleppo , while Damascus was mostly spared .

Eastward it may have reached to Safed, Tiberias, and the Hauran. Ar-Moab perished by an earthquake in the childhood of Jerome . But, at least, the evidence of earthquakes, except perhaps in the ruins of the Hauran , is slighter. Earthquakes there have been (although fewer) at Jerusalem. Yet on the whole, it seems truer to say that the skirts of Palestine were subject to destructive earthquakes, than to affirm this of central Palestine .

The earthquake must have been all the more terrible, because it was unprecedented. One or more terrible earthquakes, overthrowing cities, must have been sent, before that, on occasion of which Amos collected his prophecies. For his prophecies were uttered "two years before" that "earthquake;" and this earthquake had preceded his prophecy. "I overthrew," God says, "among you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah." He uses the word, especially used by Moses and the prophets of that dread overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, when they were turned, as it were, upside down. The earthquake is at all times the more mysterious, because unseen, unannounced, unlooked for, instantaneous, complete. The ground under a man's feet seems no longer secure: his shelter is his destruction; men's houses become their graves. Whole cities must have been utterly overthrown, for He compares the overthrow worked among them, to the overthrow of "the cities of the plain." Other visitations have heralds sent before them. War, pestilence, famine, seldom break in at once. The earthquake at once, buries, it may be, thousands or tens of thousands, each stiffened (if it were so) in that his last deed of evil; each household with its own form of misery; each in its separate vault, dead, dying, crushed, imprisoned; the remnant indeed "surviving," for most whom they loved were gone. So he says;

And ye, who escaped, were as a firebrand, plucked out of the burning - Once it had been green, fresh, fragrant, with leaf or flower; now scorched, charred, blackened, all but consumed. In itself, it was fit for nothing, but to be cast back into the fire from where it had been rescued. Man would so deal with it. A re-creation alone could restore it. Slight emblem of a soul, whose freshness sin had withered, then God's severe judgment had half-consumed; in itself, meet only for the everlasting fire, from which yet God withdraws it.

11. some of you—some parts of your territory.

as God overthrew Sodom—(De 29:23; Isa 13:19; Jer 49:18; 50:40; 2Pe 2:6; Jude 7). "God" is often repeated in Hebrew instead of "I." The earthquake here apparently alluded to is not that in the reign of Uzziah, which occurred "two years" later (Am 1:1). Traces of earthquakes and volcanic agency abound in Palestine. The allusion here is to some of the effects of these in previous times. Compare the prophecy, De 28:15-68, with Am 4:6-11 here.

as a firebrand plucked out of … burning—(Compare Isa 7:4; Zec 3:2). The phrase is proverbial for a narrow escape from utter extinction. Though Israel revived as a nation under Jeroboam II, it was but for a time, and that after an almost utter destruction previously (2Ki 14:26).

Overthrown; utterly consumed and destroyed your houses and goods.

Some of you; though it was a total consumption to those it fell on, yet it was but on some, who might be wantings to others, and by which others might see how easy it was for God to destroy them all.

As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah: we no where else read of such fire from heaven, yet it is possible some such judgment might fall on some of their cities, and not be recorded; but I do rather understand it proverbially spoken, denoting most grievous and desolating fires, or judgments.

Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning; such of you as escaped were yet in very great danger, and as firebrands in midst of the fire, where you were with others burning till infinite mercy saved a remnant, and plucked you out. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,.... Either their houses were burnt, or their bodies consumed by fire from heaven, with lightning; not whole cities, but the habitations of some particular persons, or they themselves:

and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning; some escaped such an awful calamity, their houses were not consumed, while others were; and their persons were safe, while others, just by them, were struck dead at once:

yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord; neither the judgments of God on themselves and others had any effect upon them to humble and reclaim them: such dispensations, without the grace of God is exerted, rather harden than soften; and, instead of bringing men to repentance, cause them to blaspheme; see Revelation 16:8; nor will the mercy and goodness of God, which should lead persons to repentance, attain that end, unless accompanied with the Spirit and grace of God; who, notwithstanding such mercies and deliverances, will remain senseless, stupid obdurate, and impenitent; see Revelation 9:20.

I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a {m} firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

(m) You were almost all consumed, and a few of you were wonderfully preserved; 2Ki 14:26.

11. The earthquake. This, the most terrible visitation, is reserved for the last. The earthquake is not only the most unfamiliar and the most mysterious of all the judgements enumerated; it is also the most sudden and startling, as well as the most formidable: it is as instantaneous in its operation as it is irresistible: the destruction which it works can never be guarded against, and seldom escaped.

as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah] See Genesis 19:24-25; Genesis 19:28. The same stereotyped expression recurs Deuteronomy 29:23, Isaiah 13:19, Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40, to describe a disaster ending in a state of ruin and barren desolation. The word mahpçkhâh, ‘overturning,’ ‘overthrowing,’ is always used with reference to the Cities of the Plain, either directly, as here and in the passages quoted, or allusively (Isaiah 1:7): cf. hăphçkhâh, Genesis 19:29. The verb rendered ‘overthrow’ (hâphakh) is cognate: see Genesis 19:21; Genesis 19:25; Genesis 19:29; and cf. Jeremiah 20:16, Lamentations 4:6. The ‘overthrow’ of the Cities of the Plain was due, there is good reason to believe (see Tristram, Land of Israel, pp. 348 ff.; Dawson, Egypt and Syria, pp. 124 ff.), to an eruption of bitumen (which is abundant in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea); but this may well have been accompanied by an earthquake; and in any case the comparison here relates to the destructive effects of the calamity rather than to the particular agency by which it was brought about.

and ye—i.e. those of you who escaped—were as a firebrand pluckt out of the burning] i.e. as something scorched, charred, and almost consumed: so near were you to complete destruction. For the figure, comp. Zechariah 3:2; for the thought, Isaiah 1:9.

The only earthquake in Palestine, mentioned in the O.T. (1 Kings 19:11 hardly coming into account), is the one in the reign of Uzziah, two years after Amos prophesied (Amos 1:1), which, to judge from the terms in which it is referred to long afterwards in Zechariah 14:5, must have been one of exceptional severity. Dr Pusey, in his Commentary, has collected, with great learning, from Ritter’s Erdkunde (chiefly vol. xvii.) and other sources, notices of the principal earthquakes affecting Palestine on record. On the whole, the borders of Palestine, rather than central Palestine, appear to have been the regions mostly affected. “The line chiefly visited by earthquakes was along the coast of the Mediterranean, or parallel to it, chiefly from Tyre to Antioch and Aleppo. Here were the great historical earthquakes, which were the scourges of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Botrys, Tripolis, Laodicea on the sea; which scattered Litho-prosopon, prostrated Baalbek and Hamath, and so often afflicted Antioch and Aleppo, while Damascus was mostly spared. Eastward it may have reached to Safed, Tiberias, and the Hauran,”—all, especially the Hauran, volcanic regions. Josephus (Ant. xv. 5, 2) mentions an earthquake occurring b.c. 31 in Judaea, in which some 30,000 persons perished under the ruined houses. Ar-Moab was destroyed by an earthquake in the childhood of St Jerome. The terrible earthquake of Jan. 1, 1837, affected not only Palestine, as far south as Hebron, but also many places on the north, from Beirut on the west to Damascus on the east. Robinson (B.R[155] ii. 529–531, cf. 422 f.) cites a graphic account of the havoc wrought by it at Safed, a little N.W. of the Sea of Tiberias. “Up to this moment I had refused to credit the accounts; but one frightful glance convinced me that it was not in the power of language to overstate such a ruin … Safed was, but is not.” The town was built around and upon a very steep hill; and hence when the shock came, the houses above were dashed down upon those below, causing an almost unprecedented destruction of life. “As far as the eye can reach, nothing was to be seen but one vast chaos of stones and earth, timber and boards, tables, chairs, &c. On all faces despair and dismay were painted; in numerous families, single members alone survived, in many cases mortally wounded. Eighteen days afterwards the earth continued to tremble and shake; and when a shock came more violent than the others, the people rushed out from the ruins in dismay, many began to pray with loud and lamentable cries, and females beat their bare breasts with all their strength, and tore their garments in despair.”

[155] .R. … Edw. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine (ed. 2, 1856).Verse 11. - The fifth visitation is the earthquake (Deuteronomy 29:23). I have overthrown. This is the word used to describe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:25; Jeremiah 20:16), and it seems better to refer the occurrence mentioned to some such convulsions of nature which caused widespread destruction, than, as Keil and others, "to the utter confusion of the state by which Israel was brought to the verge of ruin." We do not know anything about the particular earthquake to which the prophet alludes. (For an exhaustive catalogue of the earthquakes in this country, see Pusey's notes on this verse.) As God overthrew. The substitution of the name of God for the personal pronoun, when the Lord himself is speaking, is not uncommon in Hebrew. Here it rather takes the form of a quotation from Genesis. Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning (Zechariah 3:2, where see note) - a phrase which implies, not only a narrow escape, but an escape accompanied with loss. The "brand" not wholly consumed is yet blackened and diminished by the burning (comp. 2 Kings 13:5). But prosperity made Israel proud, so that it forgot its God. Hosea 13:6. "As they had their pasture, they became full; they became full, and their heart was lifted up: therefore have they forgotten me." This reproof is taken almost word for word from Deuteronomy 8:11. (cf. Deuteronomy 31:20; Deuteronomy 32:15.). כּמרעיתם, answering to their pasture, i.e., because they had such good pasture in the land given them by the Lord. The very thing of which Moses warned the people in Deuteronomy 8:11 has come to pass. Therefore are the threats of the law against the rebellious fulfilled upon them.
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