Amos 6:13
Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13) A thing of nought refers to the calf-worship, the idol that Israel is glorying and trusting in, the idolatrous travesty of the Eternal that they call “the excellency of Jacob.” (Comp. Amos 6:8, and Amos 8:7.)

Taken to us hornsi.e., instruments of resistance and aggression, the horn being symbolic of strength (Jeremiah 48:25; Psalm 75:10; Psalm 89:17; Psalm 92:10; 1Samuel 2:10). The sacred historian takes quite a different view of the success of Jeroboam II. (2Kings 14:26-27). These boasters reckoned the success of arms as due to their own ingenuity or “power.” (Comp. the language put into the mouth of Pharaoh by Ezekiel 29:3 : “My river is my own: I made it for myself.”)

Amos 6:13-14. Ye which rejoice in a thing of naught — Ye who place confidence in your strength, which will avail you nothing when God withdraws his blessing from you; which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our strength? — Have we not, by our strength, been victors over our neighbours? This boast seems chiefly founded upon the success which Jeroboam II. had in restoring the ancient dominion of Israel, and recovering it from the Syrians, who had brought them very low: see 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 14:15. But behold, I will raise up against you a nation, &c. — The Assyrians were the nation here spoken of, who, it is here denounced, should afflict them from one end of the land to the other; which they accordingly did some time after, making an entire conquest of the country. Hamath was the boundary of the land of Israel to the north: see Numbers 34:8; 2 Kings 14:25 : and the river of the wilderness, by which is meant the river Nile, or, as it is called, Joshua 15:47, the river of Egypt, was the southern boundary.

6:8-14 How dreadful, how miserable, is the case of those whose eternal ruin the Lord himself has sworn; for he can execute his purpose, and none can alter it! Those hearts are wretchedly hardened that will not be brought to mention God's name, and to worship him, when the hand of God is gone out against them, when sickness and death are in their families. Those that will not be tilled as fields, shall be abandoned as rocks. When our services of God are soured with sin, his providences will justly be made bitter to us. Men should take warning not to harden their hearts, for those who walk in pride, God will destroy.Who rejoice - (Literally, "the rejoicers!" Amos, as is his wont, speaks of them with contempt and wonder at their folly, "the rejoicers!" much as we say, the cowards! the renegades!) "in a thing of nought," literally, "a non-thing," ("no-whit, nought") not merely in a thing valueless, but in a "non-thing," that has no existence at all, as nothing has any substantial existence out of God. This "non-thing" was their power, strength, empire, which they thought they had, but which was soon to shrivel away as a scroll.

Which say - , (as before, "the sayers!" they who have this saying habitually in their month) have we not taken to ourselves horn? The horn is the well-known symbol of strength which repels and tosses away what opposes it, as the bull doth its assailant. Moses, in his blessing, had used this symbol, of the strength of the tribe of Joseph, and as being a blessing, he spoke of it, as the gift of God. "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of buffalos; with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth; and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh" Deuteronomy 33:17. To this blessing, doubtless, Zedekiah the false prophet referred , when he "made him horns of iron, and said" to Ahab, "Thus saith the Lord, with these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou hast consumed them." The Psalmist said, "through Thee will we push down our enemies," as with a horn Psalm 44:5-7; and adds, "For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. For Thou hast saved us from our enemies." Israel ascribed God's gift to himself. He had been repeatedly and greatly victorious; he had conquered every enemy, with whom he had of old been at strife; he ascribed it to himself, and forfeited it. "By our own strength," he said, instead of, "by the help of God;" as if we were to ascribe our Indian victories to our generals or our armies, and to substitute self-praise for Te Deums on days of thanksgiving.

Lap.: "The sinner rejoiceth in a non-thing. Sin is a 'non-thing':

(1) as being a thing of nought, that is, vain and valueless.

(2) Its pleasure is fleeting; from where the Psalmist says, "all the men, whose hands are mighty, have found nothing" Psalm 76:5.

(3) Sin brings the sinner to nothing, that is, destruction and death, temporal and eternal.

(4) Sin is the privation of good; but privation is a mere negative; that is, nothing.

(5) Sin deprives of God who is All and the Creator of all.

(6) Sin is nothing, because it cleaves to and joys in creatures and opposes them and prefers them to the Creator.

For creatures, compared to the Creator, are shadows of things, not the very things, and so are nothing. For the Being and Name of God is, I am that I am, that is, I am He who alone have true, full, solid, eternal, infinite, Being; but creatures participate from Me a shadow of their true being, for their being is so poor, brief, fleeting, unstable, perishing, that, compared to Mine, they may rather be said, not to be, than to be. So then as creatures have no true being, so neither have they true good, but only a shadow of good. So also as to truth, wisdom, power, justice, holiness and other attributes. These have in God their real being; in creatures a shadow of being only. Whence God is called in Scripture alone wise Romans 16:27, alone mighty 1 Timothy 6:15, alone immortal 1 Timothy 6:16, alone Lord Isaiah 37:20, alone holy Revelation 15:4, alone good Luke 18:19; because He alone has true, full, uncreated and infinite wisdom, power, goodness, etc. But the sinner, in that he delights in creatures not in the Creator, delights in a shadow, a nothing, not in the true Being. But, because these shadows of creatures amid the dimness of this life appear great to man in his blindness, (as the mountains, at sunset, cast broad and deep shadows,) he admires and pursues these shadows, like the dog in the fable, who, seeing the shadow of the meat in the water, magnified in the water, snatched at it, and so lost the meat and did not attain the shadow. O Lord, dispel our darkness, lighten our eyes, that we may love and seek, not the shadows of honors, riches, and pleasures, which, like meteors, (dazzle here on earth our mind's eye, but may with fixed gaze, behold, love, and compass the real honors, riches, pleasures themselves, which Thou hast from eternity laid up and prepared in heaven for those who love Thee."

13. rejoice in a thing of naught—that is, in your vain and fleeting riches.

Have we not taken to us horns—that is, acquired power, so as to conquer our neighbors (2Ki 14:25). Horns are the Hebrew symbol of power, being the instrument of strength in many animals (Ps 75:10).

Ye which rejoice, glorying with a joy and satisfaction, with hope and confidence,

in a thing of nought; in your victories, alliances, fortifications, and idols, all which draw you away from God, and from seeking him as he will be found.

Which say, tell the prophets that reprove you and foretell your downfall, you say to them, notwithstanding all that God threatens,

Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength? you have raised yourselves to dominion and greatness by your wisdom, courage, and success, and by the same you will maintain it and so you put off the day of evil.

Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought,.... In their wealth and riches, which are things that are not, because of the uncertainty of them; and, in comparison of true riches, have no solidity and substance in them, Proverbs 23:5; or in any of the things of this world, the lusts of it, the honours of it, human wisdom or strength; all are things of nought, of no worth, give no satisfaction, and are of no continuance, and not to be gloried in, Jeremiah 9:23; or in their idols, for an idol is nothing in the world, 1 Corinthians 8:4; and yet they rejoiced in them, Acts 7:41; or in their own works of righteousness, as men of a pharisaical temper do, as these people were; these indeed are something, when done in obedience to the will of God, and according to that, and from right principles, and in the exercise of faith and love, and with a view to the glory of God, and as they are evidences of true grace, and profitable to men, and tend to glorify God, and serve the interest of religion; but they are things of nought, and not to be rejoiced and gloried in, in the business of justification before God, and in the affair of salvation: the same may be said of a mere outward profession of religion depended on, and all external rites and ceremonies, or submission to outward ordinances, whether legal or evangelical. The phrase may be rendered, "in that which is no word" (i); is not the word of God, nor according to it; indeed everything short of Christ and his righteousness, and salvation by him, are things of nought, and not to be rejoiced in, Philippians 3:3;

which say, have we not taken to us horns by our own strength? by which we have pushed our enemies, got victory over them, and obtained power, dominion, and authority; all which horns are an emblem of. So Sanchoniatho (k) says, Astarte put upon her own head a bull's head, as an ensign of royalty, or a mark of sovereignty; by which, as Bishop Cumberland (l) thinks, is plainly meant the bull's horns, since it is certain that a horn, in the eastern languages, is an emblem or expression noting royal power, as in 1 Samuel 2:10; and in other places; see Daniel 7:24; thus the kings of Egypt wore horns, as Diodorus relates; and perhaps for the same reason the Egyptians adorned Isis with horns (m). And all this they ascribed not to God, but to themselves. The Targum interprets "horns" by riches; but it rather signifies victory (n), and power and government, which they took to themselves, and imputed to their own strength, valour, and courage: very probably here is an allusion to their ensigns, banners, shields, or helmets, on which horns might be figured or engraven, being the arms of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, the chief of the ten tribes, who are here spoken of Ephraim is often put for the ten tribes, or the kingdom of Israel; and Joseph, whose son he was, "his glory was like the firstling of a bullock, and his horns" are said to be like "the horns of unicorns: with them", it is promised, "he shall push the people together, to the ends of the earth, and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh", Deuteronomy 33:17; and it may be, as the lion seems to be the ensign of the tribe of Judah, to which he is by Jacob compared; so the ox or the unicorn might be the ensign of the tribe of Ephraim: and so the ancient Jews, as Aben Ezra on Numbers 2:2; observes, say, that the form of a man was on the standard of Reuben; and the form of a lion on the standard of Judah; and the form of an ox on the standard of Ephraim, &c. and others (o) of them say that the standard of Joseph was dyed very black, and was figured for the two princes of Ephraim and Manasseh; upon the standard of Ephraim was figured an ox, because "the firstling of a bullock"; and on the standard of Manasseh was figured an unicorn, because "his horns are like the horns of unicorns". Now the Israelites, or those of the ten tribes, at the head of which Ephraim was, set up their banners, not in the name of the Lord, but in their own strength; and attributed their conquests and dominions to their own conduct and courage, the horns of their own strength, and not to God (p). And this also is the language of such persons, who ascribe regeneration and conversion, faith, repentance, the cleansing of a man's heart, and the reformation of his life, yea, his whole salvation, to the power and strength of his free will, when man has no strength at all to effect any of these things; these are all vain boasts, and very disagreeable and offensive to the Lord; and for such like things persons stand here reproved by him, and threatened with woes; for woe must be here supplied from Amos 6:1.

(i) "in non verbo", Montanus. (k) Apud Euseb. Evangel. Prepar. l. 2. p. 38. (l) Sanchoniatho's History, p. 35. (m) Vid. Pignorii Mensa Isiaca, p. 30. (n) "Vieimus, et domitum pedibus calcamus amorem, Venerunt capiti cornua sera meo". Ovid. Amor. l. 3. Eleg. 10. (o) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 2. fol. 178. 3.((p) Vid. Lydium de Re Militari, l. 4. c. 4. p. 164.

Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us {p} horns by our own strength?

(p) That is, power and glory.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
13. Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought] Lit. in a no-thing, a non-entity, what has no substantial existence, and is destined to pass away when the hour of trial comes, i.e. their boasted, but unreal, material prosperity. Hebrew poets, by prefixing to a term the negative , sometimes express the pointed and emphatic negation of an idea: cf. a not-people, a not-god, Deuteronomy 32:17; Deuteronomy 32:21, a not-man, Isaiah 31:8, i.e. something as different as possible from a people, a god, or a man. See Kautzsch’s edition of Gesenius’s Heb. Grammar, § 152. 1 note.

which say, Have we not, &c.] The Israelites are represented as priding themselves on the power which they had newly acquired under Jeroboam II., and the acquisition of which they attribute to their own exertions. For a similar overweening speech, placed in the mouth of the people of Ephraim, see Isaiah 9:10. The horn is a figure often used in Hebrew poetry to denote the strength which repels and tosses away whatever is opposed to it: cf. Deuteronomy 33:17 (of the double tribe of Joseph); Psalm 75:5; Psalm 75:10; Psalm 89:17[180].

[180] Wellhausen, following Grätz, takes the Hebrew expressions rendered respectively a thing of nought and horns as two proper names, viz. Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9:4 f., 2 Samuel 17:27) and Ḳarnaim (1Ma 5:26, and perhaps in the ‘Ashteroth-Karnaim, i. e. “ ‘Ashtaroth of (or near) Ḳarnaim,” of Genesis 14:5), two towns, both on the east of Jordan, the conquest of which by Jeroboam II. he supposes to be the subject of the Israelites’ boast: so G. A. Smith, p. 176 f. But these towns (though Ḳarnaim was strongly situated) hardly seem to have been places of great importance; nor is it the manner of the Hebrew prophets to mention specially such successes; lâḳaḥ, also, is not the word properly used of taking a town (lâkhad), whereas to take for oneself (with the reflexive ל) is an idiom constantly used in the sense of providing oneself with (Leviticus 23:40; Isaiah 8:1; Jeremiah 36:2; Jeremiah 36:28; Ezekiel 4:1; Ezekiel 5:1; Zechariah 11:15 &c.). At most the conquests of these places may be alluded to, in the words used.

Verse 13. - In a thing of nought; a nothing - a thing which does not really exist, viz. your prosperity and power. Horns; symbols of strength (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11); the idea being derived from the wild bull, the strongest animal of their fauna. Their boast was a consequence of the successful wars with the Syrians (2 Kings 14:25-28). The prophet proceeds to demolish their proud vaunt. Amos 6:13This judgment also, they, with their perversion of all right, will be unable to avert by their foolish trust in their own power. Amos 6:12. "Do horses indeed run upon the rock, or do men plough (there) with oxen, that ye turn justice into poison, and the fruit of the righteousness into wormwood? Amos 6:13. They who rejoice over what is worthless, who say: with our strength we make ourselves horns! Amos 6:14. For, behold, I raise over you, O house of Israel, is the saying of Jehovah, the God of hosts, a nation; and they will oppress you from the territory of Hamath to the brook of the desert." To explain the threat in Amos 6:11, Amos now calls attention in Amos 6:12, under two different similes, to the perversity with which the haughty magnates of Israel, who turn right into bitter wrong, imagine that they can offer a successful resistance, or bid defiance with their own strength to the enemy, whom the Lord will raise up as the executor of His judgment. The perversion of right into its opposite can no more bring salvation than horses can run upon rocks, or any one plough upon such a soil with oxen. In the second question בּסּלע (on the rock) is to be repeated from the first, as the majority of commentators suppose. But the two questions are not to be taken in connection with the previous verse in the sense of "Ye will no more be able to avert this destruction than horses can run upon rocks," etc. (Chr. B. Mich.). They belong to what follows, and are meant to expose the moral perversity of the unrighteous conduct of the wicked. For הפכתּם וגו, see Amos 5:7; and for ראשׁ, Hosea 10:4. The impartial administration of justice is called the "fruit of righteousness," on account of the figurative use of the terms darnel and wormwood. These great men, however, rejoice thereby in לא דבר, "a nothing," or a thing which has no existence. What the prophet refers to may be seen from the parallel clause, viz., their imaginary strength (chōzeq). They rested this hope upon the might with which Jeroboam had smitten the Syrians, and restored the ancient boundaries of the kingdom. From this might they would take to themselves (lâqach, to take, not now for the first time to create, or ask of God) the horns, to thrust down all their foes. Horns are signs and symbols of power (cf. Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11); here they stand for the military resources, with which they fancied that they could conquer every foe. These delusions of God-forgetting pride the prophet casts down, by saying that Jehovah the God of hosts will raise up a nation against them, which will crush them down in the whole length and breadth of the kingdom. This nation was Assyria. Kı̄ hinnēh (for behold) is repeated from Amos 6:11; and the threat in Amos 6:14 is thereby described as the resumption and confirmation of the threat expressed in Amos 6:11, although the kı̄ is connected with the perversity condemned in Amos 6:12, Amos 6:13, of trusting in their own power. Lâchats, to oppress, to crush down. On the expression לבוא חמת, as a standing epithet for the northern boundary of the kingdom of Israel, see Numbers 34:8. As the southern boundary we have נחל הערבה instead of ים הערבה (2 Kings 14:25). This is not the willow-brook mentioned in Isaiah 15:7, the present Wady Sufsaf, or northern arm of the Wady el-Kerek (see Delitzsch on Isaiah, l.c.), nor the Rhinokorura, the present el-Arish, which formed the southern boundary of Canaan, because this is constantly called "the brook of Egypt" (see at Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4), but the present el-Ahsy (Ahsa), the southern border river which separated Moab from Edom (see at 2 Kings 14:25).
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