Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. RURAL AND MENIAL OCCUPATIONS WERE NO BARRIER TO THE ENJOYMENT OF DIVINE FAVOUR OR TO ELECTION TO SPECIAL AND HONOURABLE SERVICE. This lesson, taught by the career of Amos, was taught again by the election of the apostles of the Lord Christ. The great of this world are often apt to regard men of lowly station with disdain, but God takes no heed of social and artificial distinctions.
II. THE SECLUSION OF A PASTORAL LIFE WAS A SUITABLE TRAINING FOR THE PROPHETIC VOCATION. As David, when guarding the sheepfolds and leading the flocks to water, enjoyed many opportunities for solitary meditation and for devout communion with God, so Amos in the lonely pastures of Tekoah must have listened to the voice that speaks especially to the quiet and the contemplative, the voice of inspiration and of grace.
III. THE RURAL SURROUNDINGS OF THE PROPHET AFFORDED HIM MUCH APPROPRIATE AND STRIKING IMAGERY. The rain and the harvest, the sheep and the lion, the bird and the snare, the fish and the hook, the cart and the sheaf, the earthquake, the fire, and the flood, etc., are all pressed into the service of this poetic prophecy. God taught his servant lessons which stood him in good stead in after years.
IV. BY RAISING AMOS FROM THE HERDSMAN'S TO THE PROPHET'S LIFE GOD MAGNIFIED HIS OWN GRACE. The cultivated and the polished are liable to take credit to themselves for the efficiency of their ministry. But when the comparatively untaught and those who have enjoyed but few advantages are raised to a position in which they do a great work for God, "the excellency of the power is seen to be of God himself." - T.
I. THAT GOD OFTEN CHOOSES HIS SERVANTS FROM AMONGST MEN OF LOW ESTATE. We often quote the words (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28), "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen." But we glide over the surface of that assurance without noting, as we should do, its deep significance and profound truth. As a matter of history, however, it is true that the world is most indebted, not to its kings, but to its shepherds, fishermen, and tentmakers. In the stress of poverty and toil, not in the indulgences of luxury, the noblest characters have been formed. It is what a man is, and not what a man lugs, that fits him for the service of God. The Church has lost much moral power by ignoring that. No one can visit our places of worship without noticing that members of the artisan class are conspicuous by their absence. Their energy and activity are too often antagonistic to religion. And since they form the basis of society, and it is ultimately their work which makes our wealth, the outlook is sufficiently serious. Doubtless they are to blame, but the Church is to blame also. Abstention from places of worship is often due, in its initial stage, to absence of welcome; to the unexpressed desire, on the part of Christians, to treat certain of their fellow men as a separate class, which is "to be done good to" with effusive benevolence. Once more let it be true that "the rich and the poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all," that "the poor have the gospel preached to them," and we shall see a marvellous change. Those who now, when intelligent, are too often cynically sceptical, or, when degraded, are too often sunk low in drunkenness, will become as of yore - amongst the noblest upholders of love, righteousness, and truth.
II. THAT GOD DESIRES HIS SERVANTS TO DO THEIR WORK NATURALLY. Amos drew almost all his illustrations from the natural objects and scenes with which he was familiar in his calling among the herdmen. Perfect naturalness is a source of moral power to any teacher, especially to a teacher of religious truth. Nothing is more offensive in him than pretence, unreality, and affectation. To ape the style of another man, to speak confidently on subjects which have not been personally studied, etc., brings nothing but contempt. Be real and genuine, and thoroughly yourself, wherever you are, but most of all in speaking for God. Amos the herdman would not put on the style of Solomon the king. He was as wise as David was when he put off the armour of Saul because it was untried and therefore unsuitable. The shepherd lad was mightiest with the shepherd's sling and stone.
III. THAT GOD MAKES HIS WORLD TO BE VOCAL WITH TEACHING. The prophecy of Amos is crowded with scenes which the herdman had witnessed. It is worthy of study, if only as a bold picture of the incidents of village life in the East in olden days. Let us trust ourselves to his guidance in imagination. We see the gin set for the bird, and the snare spread for the game. We hear the roar of the lion in the thicket when he has caught his prey, and stand by the fisherman with his hooks, as with skill and patience he plies his craft. We watch the man fleeing from the lion only to meet the bear, and the fugitive bandit hoping for refuge in the caverns of Mount Carmel. We follow Amos to the field. Here the ploughman and vinedresser are busy at work; and there the gardens, cursed with mildew and blasting, bear no fruit. Now we hear the chirp of the grasshopper in the meadow, and now the patter of the rain as it falls after the king's mowings. In harvest time, as we walk with Amos, we see the laden cart pressed down with the weight of the sheaves, and hear the thud of the flail as it falls on the threshing floor, and watch the corn beaten out flung into the sieve, and note that while the chaff is scattered "not the least grain fails upon the earth." Then in the evening, when the land is quiet, and the heavens are glorious with stars, we hear Amos speak of him who "made the Pleiades and Orion," who makes the day dark with night, and then, in all the splendour of the Oriental dawn, turns the shadow of death into morning. What an example is he to us! Let us re-echo the prayer of Keble -
"Thou, who hast given me eyes to see IV. THAT GOD WOULD HAVE HOLY THOUGHTS ASSOCIATED WITH ORDINARY THINGS. We all know the power of association. Sometimes we hear a riddle or a joke which presents a text or hymn in a ludicrous aspect. We never hear the text or the hymn afterwards without being reminded of the grotesque thought. Hence such "jesting which is not convenient," and which is unhappily a staple ingredient of American burnout, should be repressed by thoughtful men. Our endeavour should be in the opposite direction. Instead of making sacred things profane, let us rather make profane things sacred, so that the prophecy of Zechariah shall be fulfilled, "In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar." All things belong to God. He is present in the fields as well as in his house. He is near us in our homes as well as in our temples; and the life we live as Christian men has sanctity, whether it be spent in the engagements of business or in the services of the sanctuary. Let us seek grace to follow in the footsteps of Amos, or rather in the footsteps of One infinitely greater than he; and then when we see the sower in the field, or the merchant in his business, when we gaze on the lilies in the garden, or on the tares amid the corn, we shall have sweet thoughts of those higher truths which our Lord has associated with them. The voice from heaven still says, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." - A.R.
IV. THAT GOD WOULD HAVE HOLY THOUGHTS ASSOCIATED WITH ORDINARY THINGS. We all know the power of association. Sometimes we hear a riddle or a joke which presents a text or hymn in a ludicrous aspect. We never hear the text or the hymn afterwards without being reminded of the grotesque thought. Hence such "jesting which is not convenient," and which is unhappily a staple ingredient of American burnout, should be repressed by thoughtful men. Our endeavour should be in the opposite direction. Instead of making sacred things profane, let us rather make profane things sacred, so that the prophecy of Zechariah shall be fulfilled, "In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar." All things belong to God. He is present in the fields as well as in his house. He is near us in our homes as well as in our temples; and the life we live as Christian men has sanctity, whether it be spent in the engagements of business or in the services of the sanctuary. Let us seek grace to follow in the footsteps of Amos, or rather in the footsteps of One infinitely greater than he; and then when we see the sower in the field, or the merchant in his business, when we gaze on the lilies in the garden, or on the tares amid the corn, we shall have sweet thoughts of those higher truths which our Lord has associated with them. The voice from heaven still says, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." - A.R.
I. OBSERVE WHENCE THE VOICE OF THREATENING PROCEEDS.
1. It is the voice of the Lord - that voice which assumes now the accents of compassion and mercy, and again the tones of wrath, but which is always authoritative.
2. It proceeds from the sacred city, which was the favoured abode of Jehovah.
II. AND WHITHER THE VOICE OF THREATENING PENETRATES. From the habitations of the shepherds in the south, to the flowery Carmel in the north, this roar makes itself heard. That is to say, it fills the land. Judah and Israel alike have by disobedience and rebellion incurred Divine displeasure, and against both alike the denunciations of the prophet go forth.
III. CONSIDER THE EFFECT WHICH THE VOICE OF THREATENING SHOULD PRODUCE.
1. Reverent attention.
2. Deep humiliation and contrition.
3. Repentance and prayer.
4. Such reformation as the heavenly summons imperatively demands. - T.
I. THE OFFENCE OF DAMASCUS.
1. In itself this consisted of atrocious cruelty. The records inform us that war frequently prevailed between Syria and Israel. By Gilead in this passage we understand the land possessed by the Israelites on the east side of Jordan. The inhabitants of this pastoral territory were treated by the Syrians in a way fitted to awaken the indignation even of those who lived in times when saw, go cruelty was but the too common accompaniment of war. The unfortunate Israelites who were conquered in war seem to have been literally torn to pieces and mangled by the threshing implements fitted with wheels and armed with teeth of iron. Thus was God's image defaced and God's Law defied.
2. The offence was aggravated by repetition. Thrice, nay, four times, had the Damascenes offended the Divine Ruler of men by their violence and inhumanity. The sin was thus shown to be no mere outbreak of passion, but a habit, evincing a corrupt and degraded nature.
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF DAMASCUS.
1. Observe upon whom it came.
(1) Upon the king, the rulers and princes of the land. These were the leaders in the nefarious practices here censured. Their ambition and unfeeling selfishness accounted for the sin; and upon them came down the righteous penalty. The annals of many a nation may prove to the reflective student of history that a righteous retribution visits those royal houses which have been infamous for selfish ambition, for perfidy, for tyranny, for serf-indulgence. The King of kings asserts his authority, and brings down the lofty from the throne.
(2) The people of Syria shared in the disaster, which thus became national. They may have been misled by their rulers, but it seems rather to have been the case that there was sympathy between kings and subjects, and that the soldiers in the Syrian army delighted in the opportunity of venting their evil passions upon their prostrate foes.
2. Observe in what the punishment consisted.
(1) Destruction ("a fire") came upon the royal house.
(2) The splendid and powerful city was laid open to the incursion of the enemy. The brazen "bar" which secured the city gate was broken.
(3) The people were carried into captivity, the worst misfortune which could humiliate and distress a nation. - T.
B.C. 772 and 746, and therefore laboured about the same time as Hosea. In his time idolatry, with its concomitant evils and immoralities of every description, reigned with uncontrolled sway amongst the Israelites, and against these evils he hurls his denunciations. The book has been divided into three or four parts: First, sentences pronounced against the Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Jews, and the Israelites (ch. 1 and 2). Second, special discourses delivered against Israel (ch. 3 to 6). Third, visions, partly of a consolatory and partly of a comminatory nature, in which reference is had both to the times that were to pass over the ten tribes previous to the coming of the Messiah, and finally to what was to take place under his reign (ch. 7 to 9). His style is marked by perspicuity, elegance, energy, and fulness. His images are mostly original, and taken from the natural scenery with which he was familiar. We may say that the whole passage, extending from Amos 1:13 to ch. 2:8, illustrates the three following great truths:
1. The sins of all the people on the earth, whatever the peculiarities of their character or conduct, are under the cognizance of God.
2. That of all the sins of the people, that of persecution is peculiarly abhorrent to the Divine nature.
3. That these sins expose to suffering not only the actual offenders, but others also. The first and second of these truths we will not here notice; but to the third we must now give a moment's attention. In all the passages to which we have referred at the head of this sketch punishment is the, subject. We offer two remarks on this subject.
I. GREAT SINS ENTAIL GREAT SUFFERINGS. The calamities threatened to these different tribes of different lands are of the most terrible description. But they are all such as to match their crimes.
1. The connection between great sins and great sufferings is inevitable. The moral Governor of the world has so arranged matters that every sin brings with it its own punishment, and it is only when the sin is destroyed the suffering ceases. Thank God, this sin can be destroyed through faith in the mediation of him who came to put away sin by faith in the sacrifice of himself.
2. The connection between great sins and great sufferings is universal. All these sinful peoples had to realize it from their own bitter experience. It does not matter where, when, or how a man lives, his sins will find him out.
II. GREAT SINS OFTEN ENTAIL GREAT SUFFERINGS UPON PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT THE ACTUAL OFFENDERS. "The fire," which is here the instrument of God's retribution to us sinners, would not only scathe the persons and consume the property of the actual offenders, but others. The fact is patent in all history and in all experience, that men here suffer for the sins of others. We are so rooted together in the great field of life, that if the tares are pulled up the wheat will be injured if not destroyed. The cry of men in all ages has been, "Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquities." Two facts may reconcile our consciences to this.
1. That few, if any, suffer more than their consciences tell them they deserve.
2. That there is to come period when the whole will appear to be in accord with the justice and goodness of God. - D.T.
terque quaterque beatus - 'three and four times happy;' or, 'with three and four,' that is, with seven transgressions - a number of perfection, intimating that they have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and are, ripe for ruin; or, 'with three' (that is, a variety of sins), and with a fourth especially, which is specified concerning each of them, though the other three are not, as Proverbs 30:15, 18, 21, 29. Where we read of 'three things, yea, four,' generally one seems to be more especially intended" (Henry). Now, the sin especially referred to here as the "fourth" is taken to be that of persecution, that is, the sin of inflicting suffering upon others because of their peculiar religious convictions and doings. Other sins innumerable, varied and heinous, they had committed, but this fourth seems to be the crowning of their evil. Persecution has been called the measure filling sin of any people, the sin that will be taken into account on the last great day. "I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat," etc.
I. PERSECUTION IS A MOST ARROGANT CRIME. The religious persecutor acts upon the assumption that his ideas of religion are absolutely true, that his theological knowledge is the test by which all other opinions are to be tried. Such a man is represented by the apostle as one that "sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Presumptuous mortal! The proud tyrant who has won his way through seas of blood to the throne, and claims authority over men's bodily movements, shows an arrogance before which servile spirits bow, but from which all thoughtful and noble men recoil with disgust and indignation. But his arrogance is shadowy and harmless compared with the arrogance of him who enters the temple of human conscience, and claims dominion over the moral workings of the soul. Yes, such arrogant men abound in all ages, and are by no means rare even in this age and land of what is called civil and religious liberty. The most arrogant title that mortal man can wear is "Vicar of Christ."
II. PERSECUTION IS A MOST ABSURD CRIME. Far wiser is the fool who would legislate for the winds or the waves, and, like Canute, give commands to the billows than he who attempts to legislate for human thoughts and moral convictions. Still more foolish to attempt to crush men's religious beliefs by inflicting civil disabilities or corporeal suffering. In sooth, the way to give life, power, and influence to religious errors is to persecute. And truth never seems to rise in greater power and majesty than under the bloody hand of cruel persecution. It has been well said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
"A blameless faith was all the crime the Christian martyr knew; III. PERSECUTION IS A MOST CRUEL CRIME. What ruthless inhumanities are in these verses charged against the various peoples mentioned - those of Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, etc.! It has often been observed that no anger is so savage as the auger which springs up between relations of blood. A brotherly hate is the chief of hates; and it may be truly said that there is no animosity that burns with a more hellish heat than that connected with religion. Gibbon, referring to the cruelties inflicted upon the early Christians, says, "They died in torments, and their torments were embittered by insult and derision. Some were nailed on crosses, others sewn up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the fury of dogs; others, again, smeared over with combustible material, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied by a horse race and honoured with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer." - D.T.
III. PERSECUTION IS A MOST CRUEL CRIME. What ruthless inhumanities are in these verses charged against the various peoples mentioned - those of Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, etc.! It has often been observed that no anger is so savage as the auger which springs up between relations of blood. A brotherly hate is the chief of hates; and it may be truly said that there is no animosity that burns with a more hellish heat than that connected with religion. Gibbon, referring to the cruelties inflicted upon the early Christians, says, "They died in torments, and their torments were embittered by insult and derision. Some were nailed on crosses, others sewn up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the fury of dogs; others, again, smeared over with combustible material, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied by a horse race and honoured with the presence of the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the dress and attitude of a charioteer." - D.T.
I. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY WEALTH AND PROSPERITY. Philistia was a fertile plain, abounding in all material riches. The people not only possessed the produce of a fruitful soil; they were versed in the arts of life, being famous as artificers and craftsmen; and they enjoyed the fruits of commerce both by sea and land. There is danger lest., prosperous nation should trust in its riches. Yet history tells us that the wealthiest communities have been overtaken by the righteous judgments of God.
II. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY UNION AND CONFEDERACY. The five cities of the Philistines were leagued together; each supported the other, and every one furnished a contingent to the national armies. Union is strength. But the united strength of the Philistines could not avail them in the day of the Lord. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
III. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY POWERFUL ALLIANCES. The Philistines on the west of Judah leagued with the Edomites on the east. And when the Philistines gained an advantage over the Jews, they delivered their foes into the hands of their allies of Mount Self. But Edom was not able to deliver her confederate in the time of trial and of retribution.
IV. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS NOT AVERTED BY CRUELTY TO A FOE. Human policy sometimes urges that the complete destruction of an enemy by the sword or by captivity is the surest protection against revenge. But Divine government dominates human policy. The crafty and the cruel must submit to the decrees of the Judge of the whole earth. - T.
I. THE DEEPEST FOUNDATION FOR NATIONAL FRIENDSHIPS IS THEIR COMMON BROTHERHOOD IN THE FAMILY OF GOD. The Creator has made them of one blood, has appointed the bounds of their habitation, has given to each nation its own advantages, its own opportunities, its own responsibilities. Each has thus a service to render to the Lord and Father of all; and consequently each has a claim to the respect and good will of neighbouring nations.
II. NATIONAL FRIENDSHIP IS RECOMMENDED AND PROMOTED BY MUTUAL INTEREST. The exchange of commodities which had taken place between Tyre and Jerusalem may be regarded as an example of the use which one country may be to another - a use in some way or other always to be reciprocated. In peace every nation may supply the lack of others; whilst in war both nations so engaged inflict loss and injury. No doubt, when excited by passion, nations lose sight of their welfare; yet it is wall to cultivate in men's minds the conviction that unity and concord are of the highest material as well as moral advantage.
III. NATIONAL FRIENDSHIP MAY BE CEMENTED BY SOLEMN COVENANTS AND ALLIANCES. Human nature is such that it is contributive to many desirable ends that men should enter into solemn compact and should ratify covenants with one another. When nations enter into friendly alliance, it is always regarded as peculiarly base when one nation, without overpowering reason for doing so, turns against the other, and betrays or attacks it. Such seems to have been the action of Tyre.
IV. BROTHERLY COVENANTS BETWEEN NATIONS CANNOT BE VIOLATED WITH IMPUNITY. Tyre was one of the great cities of antiquity, especially famous for maritime and Commercial prosperity. Proud and confident in its greatness, Tyre little anticipated the fate which Providence had in reserve for it. Yet the inspired prophet foresaw the ruin of Tyre, and connected that ruin with the perfidy for which the city was in this passage so justly blamed. The Lord who rules in the whole earth is a Judge righteous and supreme, whose sentences will surely be executed. - T.
I. KINDRED INVOLVES SACRED OBLIGATIONS TO MUTUAL REGARD AND SUCCOUR. Moses had addressed Edom as a brother, and Israel had forborne to attack Edom, even when tempted to do so by most unneighbourly, unbrotherly conduct. The proper response to such conduct would have been something very different from what is here recorded. Amongst all nations, and in every stage of society, common descent from one ancestor is accepted as a bond of brotherhood and a pledge of friendliness.
II. THERE ARE INSTANCES IN WHICH THESE OBLIGATIONS ARE UTTERLY DISREGARDED. Such was the case with the Edomites. We trace in their conduct towards their kinsmen of Israel several stages of iniquity.
1. Aggression. Edom "pursued his brother with the sword."
2. Pitiless anger. Edom "corrupted his compassions."
3. Implacability. Edom "kept his wrath forever." Such treatment would have been unjustifiable from any nation towards another; but the relation and circumstances made it flagrantly and atrociously wicked in the instance under consideration.
III. VIOLATION OF OBLIGATIONS SO SACRED INCURS DIVINE DISPLEASURE AND MERITED PUNISHMENT. A nation sins and a nation suffers. Doubtless innocent persons endure in many cases the sufferings which the guilty deserve. This is a mystery of Divine providence. Yet it is evident that cities, tribes, nations, may be, and often have been, chastised, as a proof of the Divine rule, as a correction for human disobedience, and as an inducement to repentance. - T.
I. GREED OF TERRITORY IS A NATIONAL SIN. How many a nation has been possessed with a selfish desire to "enlarge its border"! When population increases, emigration and colonization may become necessary, and may be for good. What is blamed is the desire for a neighbour's land, the extirpation or subjugation of friendly neighbours, in order to obtain room for expansion or increase of luxury or of power.
II. GREED OF TERRITORY LEADS TO NEFARIOUS CRUELTY. The instance here mentioned is no doubt an extreme one; it shows convincingly that Ammon had no sense of humanity, compassion, or decency. Alas! the annals of our race afford too many an instance of the cruelty to which ambition leads. The history of the Spaniards in America is a sufficient proof of the awful lengths to which conquerors will go when urged by greed of power or of gold. And settlers even from our own land have not seldom been guilty of most indefensible cruelty and oppression towards the natives of the territories they have acquired. For the protection of aborigines it has been necessary to awaken public opinion, to institute special laws; Men plead necessity or expediency in defence or in extenuation of conduct which is a reproach to any people.
III. GREED OF TERRITORY AND ITS FRUITS ARE NOT UNNOTICED BY HIM WHO RULES OVER ALL. "The earth is the Lord's." He has "given it to the children of men." But when he beholds sordid greed animate men to robbery, and not to robbery only but to inhumanity and vile cruelty, his indignation is aroused. Amos makes use of the fire, the tempest, the whirlwind, to set forth the retribution which must overtake the capital of Ammon, its king and princes. But the Lord reigneth over all lands. The violent shall not always prosper. The day shall come when their schemes shall be defeated, and they themselves be laid low in the dust. - T.