Amos 5:4
For thus said the LORD to the house of Israel, Seek you me, and you shall live:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Seek . . . live.—Search after God is rewarded by finding Him, and this is life in the highest sense.

Amos

THE SINS OF SOCIETY

Amos 5:4 - Amos 5:15
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The reign of Jeroboam II, in which Amos prophesied, was a period of great prosperity and of great corruption. Amos, born in the Southern Kingdom, and accustomed to the simple life of a shepherd, blazed up in indignation at the signs of misused wealth and selfish luxury that he saw everywhere, in what was to him almost a foreign country. If one fancies a godly Scottish Highlander sent to the West end of London, or a Bible-reading New England farmer’s man sent to New York’s ‘upper ten,’ one will have some notion of this prophet, the impressions made, and the task laid on him. He has a message to our state of society which, in many particulars, resembles that which he had to rebuke.

There seems to be a slight dislocation in the order of the verses of the passage, for Amos 5:7 comes in awkwardly, breaking the connection between Amos 5:6 and Amos 5:8, and itself cut off from Amos 5:10, to which it belongs. If we remove the intruding verse to a position after Amos 5:9, the whole passage is orderly and falls into three coherent parts: an exhortation to seek Jehovah, enforced by various considerations {Amos 5:4 - Amos 5:9}; a vehement denunciation of social vices {Amos 5:7, Amos 5:10 - Amos 5:13}; and a renewed exhortation to seek God by doing right to man {Amos 5:14 - Amos 5:15}.

Amos’s first call to Israel is but the echo of God’s to men, always and everywhere. All circumstances, all inward experiences, joy and sorrow, prosperity and disaster, our longings and our fears, they all cry aloud to us to seek His face. That loving invitation is ever sounding in our ears. And the promise which Amos gave, though it may have meant on his lips the continuance of national life only, yet had, even on his lips, a deeper meaning, which we now cannot but hear in it. For, just as to ‘seek the Lord’ means more to us than it did to Israel, so the consequent life has greatened, widened, deepened into life eternal. But Amos’s narrower, more external promise is true still, and there is no surer way of promoting true well-being than seeking God. ‘With Thee is the fountain of life,’ in all senses of the word, from the lowest purely physical to the highest, and it is only they who go thither to draw that will carry away their pitchers full of the sparkling blessing. The fundamental principle of Amos’s teaching is an eternal truth, that to seek God is to find Him, and to find Him is life.

But Amos further teaches us that such seeking is not real nor able to find, unless it is accompanied with turning away from all sinful quests after vanities. We must give up seeking Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba, seats of the calf worship, if we are to seek God to purpose. The sin of the Northern Kingdom was that it wanted to worship Jehovah under the symbol of the calves, thus trying to unite two discrepant things. And is not a great deal of our Christianity of much the same quality? Too many of us are doing just what Elijah told the crowds on Carmel that they were doing, trying to ‘shuffle along on both knees.’ We would seek God, but we would like to have an occasional visit to Bethel. It cannot be done. There must be detachment, if there is to be any real attachment. And the certain transiency of all creatural objects is a good reason for not fastening ourselves to them, lest we should share their fate. ‘Gilgal shall go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought,’ therefore let us join ourselves to the Eternal Love and we shall abide, as it abides, for ever.

The exhortation is next enforced by presenting the consequences of neglecting it. To seek Him is life, not to seek Him incurs the danger of finding Him in unwelcome ways. That is for ever true. We do not get away from God by forgetting Him, but we run the risk of finding in Him, not the fire which vitalises, purifies, melts, and gladdens, but that which consumes. The fire is one, but its effects are twofold. God is for us either that fire into which it is blessedness to be baptized, or that by which it is death to be burned up. And what can Bethel, or calves, or all the world do to quench it or pluck us out of it?

Once more the exhortation is urged, if we link Amos 5:8 with Amos 5:6, and supply ‘Seek ye’ at its beginning. Here the enforcement is drawn from the considerations of God’s workings in nature and history. The shepherd from Tekoa had often gazed up at the silent splendours of the Pleiades and Orion, as he kept watch over his flocks by night, and had seen the thick darkness on the wide uplands thinning away as the morning stole op over the mountains across the Dead Sea, and the day dying as he gathered his sheep together. He had cowered under the torrential rains which swept across his exposed homeland, and had heard God’s voice summoning the obedient waters of the sea, that He might pour them down in rain. But the moral government of the world also calls on men to seek Jehovah. ‘He causeth destruction to flash forth on the strong, so that destruction cometh upon the fortress.’ High things attract the lightning. Godless strength is sure, sooner or later, to be smitten down, and no fortress is so impregnable that He cannot capture and overthrow it. Surely wisdom bids us seek Him that does all these wonders, and make Him our defence and our high tower.

The second part gives a vivid picture of the vices characteristic of a prosperous state of society which is godless, and therefore selfishly luxurious. First, civil justice is corrupted, turned into bitterness, and prostrated to the ground. Then bold denouncers of national sins are violently hated. Do we not know that phase of an ungodly and rich society? What do the newspapers say about Christians who try to be social reformers? Are the epithets flung at them liker bouquets or rotten eggs? ‘Fanatics and faddists’ are the mildest of them. Then the poor are trodden down and have to give large parts of their scanty harvests to the rich. Have capital and labour just proportions of their joint earnings? Would a sermon on Amos 5:11 be welcome in the suburbs of industrial centres, where the employers have their ‘houses of hewn stone’? Such houses, side by side with the poor men’s huts, struck the eye of the shepherd from Tekoa as the height of sinful luxury, and still more sinful disproportion in the social condition of the two classes. What would he have said if he had lived in England or America? Justice, too, was bought and sold. A murderer could buy himself off, while the poor man, who could not pay, lost his case. We do not bribe juries, but {legal} justice is an expensive luxury still, and counsel’s fees put it out of the reach of poor men.

One of the worst features of such a state of society as Amos saw is that men are afraid to speak out in condemnation of it, and the ill weeds grow apace for want of a scythe. Amos puts a certain sad emphasis on ‘prudent,’ as if he was feeling how little he could be called so, and yet there is a touch of scorn in him too. The man who is over-careful of his skin or his reputation will hold his tongue; even good men may become so accustomed to the glaring corruptions of society in the midst of which they have always lived, that they do not feel any call to rebuke or wage war against them; but the brave man, the man who takes his ideals from Christ, and judges society by its conformity with Christ’s standard, will not keep silence, and the more he feels that ‘It is an evil time’ the more will he feel that he cannot but speak out, whatever comes of his protest. What masquerades as prudence is very often sinful cowardice, and such silence is treason against Christ.

The third part repeats the exhortation to ‘seek,’ with a notable difference. It is now ‘good’ that is to be sought, and ‘evil’ that is to be turned from. These correspond respectively to ‘Jehovah,’ and ‘Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba,’ in former verses. That is to say, morality is the garb of religion, and religion is the only true source of morality. If we are not seeking the things that are lovely and of good report, our professions of seeking God are false; and we shall never earnestly and successfully seek good and hate evil unless we have begun by seeking and finding God, and holding Him in our heart of hearts. Modern social reformers, who fancy that they can sweeten society without religion, might do worse than go to school to Amos.

Notable, too, is the lowered tone of confidence in the beneficial result of obeying the Prophet’s call. In the earlier exhortation the promise had been absolute. ‘Seek ye Me, and ye shall live’; now it has cooled to ‘it may be.’ Is Amos faltering? No; but while it is always true that blessed life is found by the seeker after God, because He finds the very source of life, it is not always true that the consequences of past turnings from Him are diverted by repentance. ‘It may be’ that these have to be endured, but even they become tokens of Jehovah’s graciousness, and the purified ‘remnant of Joseph’ will possess the true life more abundantly because they have been exercised thereby.Amos 5:4-5. For — Or rather, nevertheless, seek ye me, and ye shall live — That is, ye shall be prosperous again; for life, in the Scripture language, is used to express prosperity, or happiness. This shows, that what was said in the 2d verse, of their being fallen to rise no more, is to be taken as it is there explained; namely, in case they did not repent, but continued in their wickedness. But seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, &c. — The places here named, it is probable, were all seats of idolatrous worship. The sense of the verse, therefore, is, that if they continued in their idolatries they should certainly be carried into captivity, and come to naught — For it was only by returning and seeking God’s favour by true repentance and humiliation, and ceasing from their idolatry, that they could be saved from ruin.5:1-6 The convincing, awakening word must be heard and heeded, as well as words of comfort and peace; for whether we hear or forbear, the word of God shall take effect. The Lord still proclaims mercy to men, but they often expect deliverance from such self-invented forms as make their condemnation sure. While they refuse to come to Christ and to seek mercy in and by him, that they may live, the fire of Divine wrath breaks forth upon them. Men may make an idol of the world, but will find it cannot protect.Seek ye Me and ye shall live - Literally, "seek Me; and live." Wonderful conciseness of the word of God, which, in two words, comprises the whole of the creature's duty and his hopes, his time and his eternity. The prophet users the two imperatives, inoneing both, man's duty and his reward. He does not speak of them, as cause and effect, but as one. Where the one is, there is the other. To seek God is to live. For to seek God is to find Him, and God is Life and the Source of life. Forgiveness, grace, life, enter the soul at once. But the seeking is diligent seeking. : "It is not to seek God anyhow, but as it is right and meet that He should be sought, longed for, prayed for, who is so great, a Good, constantly, fervently, yea, to our power, the more constantly and fervently, as an Infinite Good is more to be longed for, more loved than all created good." The object of the search is God Himself. "Seek Me," that is, seek God for Himself, not for anything out of Him, not for His gifts, not for anything to be loved with Him. This is not to seek Him purely. All is found in Him, but by seeking Him first, and then loving Him in all, and all in Him. "And ye shall live," first by the life of the body, escaping the enemy; then by the life of grace now, and the life of glory hereafter, as in that of the Psalmist, "your heart shall live who seek God" Psalm 69:32. 4. Seek ye me, and ye shall live—literally, "Seek … Me, and live." The second imperative expresses the certainty of "life" (escape from judgment) resulting from obedience to the precept in the first imperative. If they perish, it is their own fault; God would forgive, if they would repent (Isa 55:3, 6). For, or yet, truly.

Thus saith the Lord; amidst all those threats there is still a reserve, a conditional proviso, and the Lord here does by his prophet declare it.

Unto the house of Israel; though apostate both in sacred and civil things, though polluted and defiled greatly, and this through many scores of years, yet after all repentance would help them.

Seek ye me; inquire for my law, and repent of your despising it, obey it in all things for the future, inquire diligently what promises I have made and wait for them, believe, obey, and repent; for this is to seek the Lord, when a people have turned from the Lord, as you have done, O house of Israel.

Ye shall live; it shall be well with you, your persons, families, and the whole kingdom shall prosper, as the Hebrew phrase importeth. For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel,.... Or "yet" (a), notwithstanding all this, though such judgments were threatened and denounced, and such desolations should certainly come, in case of impenitence, and an obstinate continuance in a course of sin; yet hopes are given of finding mercy and kindness upon repentance and reformation, at least to the remnant of them; see Amos 5:15;

seek ye me; seek my fear, as the Targum; fear and reverence, serve and worship, the Lord God; return unto him by repentance; seek to him by prayer and supplication; acknowledge your sins, and humble yourselves before him, and implore his pardoning grace and mercy:

and ye shall live; in your own land, and not be carried out of it; live comfortably, in great plenty of good things; and live spiritually, enjoying the favour of God, and his presence in his ordinances, and live eternally in the world to come.

(a) "attamen", Grotius.

For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4–10. Proof that Israel merits the fate which has just been pronounced against it: it has sought Jehovah by a ritual which He does not value, and it has spurned the virtues which He really prizes.

Seek ye me, and ye shall live] The Heb. is more forcible and concise: ‘Seek ye me, and live’: cf. Genesis 42:18 ‘This do, and live.’ To seek God was a standing expression for consulting Him by a prophet, or an oracle, even on purely secular matters (cf. Genesis 25:22; Exodus 18:15; 1 Samuel 9:9; 2 Kings 3:11; 2 Kings 8:8; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 22:18; Jeremiah 37:7; Ezekiel 14:3; Ezekiel 20:1; Ezekiel 20:3); but it is also used of seeking or caring for (Jeremiah 30:14) Him more generally, by paying regard to His revealed will, and studying to please Him by the practice of a righteous and holy life, Hosea 10:12; Isaiah 9:13; Jeremiah 10:21; Zephaniah 1:6; Isaiah 55:6; Isaiah 58:2; Isaiah 65:10; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 24:6; Psalm 34:10; Psalm 78:34, &c. The latter is the sense, which the expression has here. Seek ye me, says the prophet, in Jehovah’s name, by the means that I approve, and you will live, i.e. escape the threatened destruction.Verse 4. - The more formal proof that Israel has merited her punishment here begins. In calling her to repentance the prophet contrasts God's requirements with her actual conduct. Seek ye me, and ye shall live. Two imperatives: "Seek me, and (so) live;" duty and its reward. "Seek me in the appointed way, and ye shall be saved from destruction" (comp. Genesis 42:18). "The guilt of Ephraim is bound together: his sin is preserved. Hosea 13:13. The pains of a travailing woman come upon him: he is an unwise son; that he does not place himself at the time in the breaking forth of children." Hosea 13:12 is a special application of Deuteronomy 32:34 to the ten tribes. Tsârūr, bound up in a bundle, like a thing which you wish to take great care of (compare Job 14:17; 1 Samuel 25:29). The same thing is applied in tsâphūn, hidden, carefully preserved, so as not to be lost (Job 21:19). "All their sins are preserved for punishment" (Chald.). Therefore will pains overtake Ephraim like a woman in labour. The pains of childbirth are not merely a figurative representation of violent agony, but of the sufferings and calamities connected with the refining judgments of God, by which new life was to be born, and a complete transformation of all things effected (cf. Micah 4:9-10; Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 26:17; Matthew 24:8). He cannot be spared these pains, for he is a foolish son (cf. Deuteronomy 32:6, Deuteronomy 32:28.). But in what respect? This is explained in the words כּי עת וגו, "for at the time," or as עת cannot stand for לעת, more correctly "when it is time," he does not place himself in, i.e., does not enter, the opening of the womb. Mishbar bânı̄m is to be explained as in 2 Kings 19:3 and Isaiah 37:3; and עמד, c. ב as in Ezekiel 22:30. If the child does not come to the opening at the right time, the birth is retarded, and the life of both mother and child endangered. The mother and child are one person here. And this explains the transition from the pains of the mother to the behaviour of the child at the time of birth. Ephraim is an unwise son, inasmuch as even under the chastening judgment he still delays his conversion, and will not let himself be new-born, like a child, that at the time of the labour-pains will not enter the opening of the womb and so come to the birth.
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