Amos 9:4
And though they go into captivity before their enemies, there will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set my eyes on them for evil, and not for good.
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9:1-10 The prophet, in vision, saw the Lord standing upon the idolatrous altar at Bethel. Wherever sinners flee from God's justice, it will overtake them. Those whom God brings to heaven by his grace, shall never be cast down; but those who seek to climb thither by vain confidence in themselves, will be cast down and filled with shame. That which makes escape impossible and ruin sure, is, that God will set his eyes upon them for evil, not for good. Wretched must those be on whom the Lord looks for evil, and not for good. The Lord would scatter the Jews, and visit them with calamities, as the corn is shaken in a sieve; but he would save some from among them. The astonishing preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, seems here foretold. If professors make themselves like the world, God will level them with the world. The sinners who thus flatter themselves, shall find that their profession will not protect them.Captivity - , at least, seemed safe. The horrors of war are over. Men enslave, but do not commonly destroy those whom they have once been at the pains to carry captive. Amos describes them in their misery, as "going" willingly, gladly, "into captivity before their enemies," like a flock of sheep. Yet "thence" too, out of "the captivity," God would command the sword, and it should slay them. So God had forewarned them by Moses, that captivity should be an occasion, not an end, of slaughter. "I will scatter you among the pagan, and will draw out a sword after you" Leviticus 26:33. "And among these nations shalt thou find no ease - and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life" Deuteronomy 28:65-66. The book of Esther shows how cheaply the life of a whole nation was held by Eastern conquerors; and the book of Tobit records, how habitually Jews were slain and cast out unburied (Tobit 1:17; 2:3). The account also that Sennacherib (Tobit 1:18) avenged the loss of his army, and "in his wrath killed many," is altogether in the character of Assyrian conquerors. Unwittingly he fulfilled the command of God, "I will command the sword and it shall slay them."

I will set mine eyes upon them for evil - So David says, "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from off the earth" Psalm 34:15-16. The Eye of God rests on each creature which He hath made, as entirely as if He had created it alone. Every moment is passed in His unvarying sight. But, as man "sets his eye" on man, watching him and with purpose of evil, so God's Eye is felt to be on man in displeasure, when sorrow and calamity track him and overtake him, coming he knows not how in unlooked-for ways and strange events. The Eye of God upon us is our whole hope and stay and life. It is on the Confessor in prison, the Martyr on the rack, the poor in their sufferings, the mourner in the chamber of death, for good. What when everywhere that Eye, the Source of all good, rests on His creature only for evil! "and not for good," he adds; "not," as is the wont and the Nature of God; "not," as He had promised, if they were faithful; "not," as perhaps they thought, "for good." He utterly shuts out all hope of good. It shall be all evil, and no good, such as is hell.

4. though they go into captivity—hoping to save their lives by voluntarily surrendering to the foe. Though they go into captivity; those excluded from safety every where else may perhaps hope that yet the enemy may spare. Captives are the slaves, the possession of their conquering enemies; these make profit of them by selling them to others, or employing them in labour and service.

Before their enemies: this seems to intimate some voluntariness in these people going before the conqueror, whom they hope hereby to mollify and sweeten, that he may use them well; yet this hope shall fail them too.

Thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: the enemy should, either out of cruel humour and hatred against them, or on any slight occasion and disgust, slay them as if they had commission from me so to do: neither propriety in them, nor service by them, nor profit in the sale of these poor and miserable captives, should be safety to them, they should be accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

I will set mine eyes upon them; I will perpetually watch over them, and then be sure no opportunity will be let slip.

For evil, to afflict and punish them,

and not for good, for their benefit. Thus was the course of God’s providence against them from the days Amos aimeth at unto this very day, and God hitherto hath, and still doth, make good his threat against this idolatrous, cruel, oppressing people. And though they go into captivity before their enemies,.... Alluding to the manner in which captives are led, being put before their enemies, and so carried in triumph; see Lamentations 1:5; though some think this refers to their going voluntarily into a foreign country, in order to escape danger, as Johanan the son of Kareah with the Jews went into Egypt, Jeremiah 43:5; in whom Kimchi instances:

thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them; or them that kill with the sword, as the Targum; so that though they thought by going into another country, or into an enemy's country of their own accord, to escape the sword of the enemy, or to curry favour with them, yet should not escape:

and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good: this is the true reason, why, let them be where they will, they cannot be safe, because the eyes of the omniscient God, which are everywhere, in heaven, earth, hell, and the sea, are set upon them, for their ruin and destruction; and there is no fleeing from his presence, or getting out of his sight, or escaping his hand. The Targum is,

"my Word shall be against them.''

And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.
4. Even in captivity they would not be safe; they might escape the destruction of the foe, but the Divine sword should yet overtake them.

before their enemies] Driven before them, like a flock of sheep: cf. Lamentations 1:5.

I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good] To set the eye upon is elsewhere found always in a good sense = to keep watch over, take under one’s care (see Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 39:11). For evil and not for good, as Jeremiah 21:10 (with “to set the face against”), Jeremiah 39:16; and (with “watch over”) Jeremiah 44:27. God’s watchful care and love is transformed, through His people’s sin, into hostility (cf. on Amos 6:8).Verse 4. - Captivity itself, in which state men generally, at any rate, are secure of their lives, shall not save them from the sword (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:65, etc. comp. Tobit 1:17, 18 Tobit 2:3, where we see that the murder of captives was not unusual). The prophet looks forward to the Assyrian deportation. For evil. The people are indeed subject to God's special attention, but only in order to punish them (Psalm 34:15, 16; Jeremiah 44:11). In Joel 3:2 and Joel 3:3 Joel is speaking not of events belonging to his own time, or to the most recent past, but of that dispersion of the whole of the ancient covenant nation among the heathen, which was only completely effected on the conquest of Palestine and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and which continues to this day; though we cannot agree with Hengstenberg, that this furnishes an argument in favour of the allegorical interpretation of the army of locusts in ch. 1 and 2. For since Moses had already foretold that Israel would one day be driven out among the heathen (Leviticus 26:33.; Deuteronomy 28:36.), Joel might assume that this judgment was a truth well known in Israel, even though he had not expressed it in his threatening of punishment in ch. 1 and 2. Joe 3:3 depicts the ignominious treatment of Israel in connection with this catastrophe. The prisoners of war are distributed by lot among the conquerors, and disposed of by them to slave-dealers at most ridiculous prices, - a boy for a harlot, a girl for a drink of wine. Even in Joel's time, many Israelites may no doubt have been scattered about in distant heathen lands (cf. v. 5); but the heathen nations had not yet cast lots upon the nation as a whole, to dispose of the inhabitants as slaves, and divide the land among themselves. This was not done till the time of the Romans.

(Note: After the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem, Titus disposed of the prisoners, whose number reached 97,000 in the course of the war, in the following manner: Those under seventeen years of age were publicly sold; of the remainder, some were executed immediately, some sent away to work in the Egyptian mines, some kept for the public shows to fight with wild beasts in all the chief cities of Rome; and only the tallest and most handsome for the triumphal procession in Rome (compare Josephus, de bell. Jud. vi. 9, 2, 3). And the Jews who were taken prisoners in the Jewish war in the time of Hadrian, are said to have been sold in the slave-market at Hebron at so low a price, that four Jews were disposed of for a measure of barley. Even in the contests of the Ptolemaeans and Seleucidae for the possession of Palestine, thousands of Jews were sold as prisoners of war. Thus, for example, the Syrian commander Nicanor, in his expedition against the Jews in the Maccabaean war, sold by anticipation, in the commercial towns along the Mediterranean, such Jews as should be made prisoners, at the rate of ninety prisoners for one talent; whereupon 1000 slave-dealers accompanied the Syrian army, and carried fetters with them for the prisoners (1 Maccabees 3:41; 2 Maccabees 8:11, 25; Jos. Ant. xii. 7, 3).)

But, as many of the earlier commentators have clearly seen, we must not stop even at this. The people and inheritance of Jehovah are not merely the Old Testament Israel as such, but the church of the Lord of both the old and new covenants, upon which the Spirit of God is poured out; and the judgment which Jehovah will hold upon the nations, on account of the injuries inflicted upon His people, is the last general judgment upon the nations, which will embrace not merely the heathen Romans and other heathen nations by whom the Jews have been oppressed, but all the enemies of the people of God, both within and without the earthly limits of the church of the Lord, including even carnally-minded Jews, Mohammedans, and nominal Christians, who are heathens in heart.

(Note: As J. Marck correctly observes, after mentioning the neighbouring nations that were hostile to Judah, and then the Syrians and Romans: "We might proceed in the same way to all the enemies of the Christian church, from its very cradle to the end of time, such as carnal Jews, Gentile Romans, cruel Mohammedans, impious Papists, and any others who either have borne or yet will bear the punishment of their iniquity, according to the rule and measure of the restitution of the church, down to those enemies who shall yet remain at the coming of Christ, and be overthrown at the complete and final redemption of His church.")

Before depicting the final judgment upon the hostile nations of the world, Joel notices in Joel 3:4-8 the hostility which the nations round about Judah had manifested towards it in his own day, and foretels to these a righteous retribution for the crimes they had committed against the covenant nation. Joel 3:4. "And ye also, what would ye with me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all ye coasts of Philistia? will ye repay a doing to me, or do anything to me? Quickly, hastily will I turn back your doing upon your head. Joel 3:5. That ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have brought my best jewels into your temples. Joel 3:6. And the sons of Judah and the sons of Jerusalem ye have sold to the sons of Javan, to remove them far from their border. Joel 3:7. Behold, I waken them from the place whither ye have sold them, and turn back your doing upon your head. Joel 3:8. And sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of Javan, and they sell them to the Sabaeans, to a people far off; for Jehovah has spoken it." By vegam the Philistines and Phoenicians are added to the gōyim already mentioned, as being no less culpable than they; not, however, in the sense of, "and also if one would inquire more thoroughly into the fact" (Ewald), or, "and even so far as ye are concerned, who, in the place of the friendship and help which ye were bound to render as neighbours, have oppressed my people" (Rosenmller), for such additions as these are foreign to the context; but rather in this sense, "and yea also ... do not imagine that ye can do wrong with impunity, as though he had a right so to do." מה־אתּם לי does not mean, "What have I to do with you?" for this would be expressed differently (compare Joshua 22:24; Judges 11:12); but, "What would ye with me?" The question is unfinished, because of its emotional character, and is resumed and completed immediately afterwards in a disjunctive form (Hitzig). Tyre and Sidon, the two chief cities of the Phoenicians (see at Joshua 19:29 and Joshua 11:8), represent all the Phoenicians. כל גּלילות פל, "all the circles or districts of the Philistines," are the five small princedoms of Philistia (see at Joshua 13:2). גּמוּל, the doing, or inflicting (sc., of evil), from gâmal, to accomplish, to do (see at Isaiah 3:9). The disjunctive question, "Will ye perhaps repay to me a deed, i.e., a wrong, that I have done to you, or of your own accord attempt anything against me?" has a negative meaning: "Ye have neither cause to avenge yourselves upon me, i.e., upon my people Israel, nor any occasion to do it harm. But if repayment is the thing in hand, I will, and that very speedily (qal mehērâh, see Isaiah 5:26), bring back your doing upon your own head" (cf. Psalm 7:17). To explain what is here said, an account is given in Joel 3:5, Joel 3:6 of what they have done to the Lord and His people, - namely, taken away their gold and silver, and brought their costly treasures into their palaces or temples. These words are not to be restricted to the plundering of the temple and its treasury, but embrace the plundering of palaces and of the houses of the rich, which always followed the conquest of towns (cf. 1 Kings 14:26; 2 Kings 14:14). היכליכם also are not temples only, but palaces as well (cf. Isaiah 13:22; Amos 8:3; Proverbs 30:28). Joel had no doubt the plundering of Judah and Jerusalem by the Philistines and Arabians in the time of Jehoram in his mind (see 2 Chronicles 21:17). The share of the Phoenicians in this crime was confined to the fact, that they had purchased from the Philistines the Judaeans who had been taken prisoners, by them, and sold them again as salves to the sons of Javan, i.e., to the Ionians or Greeks of Asia Minor.

(Note: On the widespread slave-trade of the Phoenicians, see Movers, Phnizier, ii. 3, p. 70ff.)

The clause, "that ye might remove them far from their border," whence there would be no possibility of their returning to their native land, serves to bring out the magnitude of the crime. This would be repaid to them according to the true lex talionis (Joel 3:7, Joel 3:8). The Lord would raise up the members of His own nation from the place to which they had been sold, i.e., would bring them back again into their own land, and deliver up the Philistines and Phoenicians into the power of the Judaeans (mâkhar beyâd as in Judges 2:14; Judges 3:8, etc.), who would then sell their prisoners as slaves to the remote people of the Sabaeans, a celebrated trading people in Arabia Felix (see at 1 Kings 10:1). This threat would certainly be fulfilled, for Jehovah had spoken it (cf. Isaiah 1:20). This occurred partly on the defeat of the Philistines by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6-7) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:8), where Philistian prisoners of war were certainly sold as slaves; but principally after the captivity, when Alexander the Great and his successors set many of the Jewish prisoners of war in their lands at liberty (compare the promise of King Demetrius to Jonathan, "I will send away in freedom such of the Judaeans as have been made prisoners, and reduced to slavery in our land," Josephus, Ant. xiii. 2, 3), and portions of the Philistian and Phoenician lands were for a time under Jewish sway; when Jonathan besieged Ashkelon and Gaza (1 Maccabees 10:86; 11:60); when King Alexander (Balas) ceded Ekron and the district of Judah (1 Maccabees 10:89); when the Jewish king Alexander Jannaeaus conquered Gaza, and destroyed it (Josephus, Ant. xiii. 13, 3; bell. Jud. i. 4, 2); and when, subsequent to the cession of Tyre, which had been conquered by Alexander the Great, to the Seleucidae, Antiochus the younger appointed Simon commander-in-chief from the Ladder of Tyre to the border of Egypt (1 Maccabees 1:59).

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