Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IRREVERENCE AND INSULT OFFERED TO THE DEAD INDICATE A BASE AND ABANDONED DISPOSITION. We know nothing of the circumstance here referred to. The Moabites had made war upon the Edomites; had conquered them, had captured their king, and had slain him, and then consumed his bones with fire. This last action must be judged by the standard of the habits and feelings of the time. In some nations and at some periods cremation has been regarded as an honourable mode of disposing of dead bodies. In the time of the prophet, and among the Hebrews and their neighbors, it was held in detestation. No greater insult, no more horrible evidence of brutality, was possible. The dead are always considered, by civilized and religious communities, as entitled to tender and reverential treatment. Especially those who believe in a future life are bound to support their creed by treating a dead body as something better than a carcase. The instance of irreverence here recorded was aggravated by the fact that it was a king whose body was thus treated. War is in itself bad enough; but savage brutality renders war still worse.
II. DIVINE PROVIDENCE VISITS BRUTALITY WITH APPROPRIATE RETRIBUTION.
1. War, with all its accompanying horrors, is the doom of the savage slaughterers. They that take the sword perish by the sword. The measure they mete is measured to them again.
2. In this retribution the great suffer equally with the multitude. They who insult their neighbours' kings may suffer in the person of their own mighty ones. Fire devours the palaces as welt as the cottages, and the judges and princes are cut off and slain along with the meanest of the subjects. The Lord is King and Judge, and he will not allow those nations always to prosper which violate his Law and defy his authority. - T.
I. THE TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH WAS AGGRAVATED BY THEIR POSSESSION AND THEIR NEGLECT OF THE DIVINE LAW. From the days of the desert wanderings the Jewish people had enjoyed the unspeakable privilege of Possessing the laws of Moses, which were the laws of Jehovah. A treasure of incomparable value should have been highly esteemed and diligently used. That there were those to whom the Law was as "fine gold," as "honey and the honeycomb," cannot be questioned. But the people as a whole were insensible of their privileges, and neglected and abused them; indeed, they are charged with having despised them. The surrounding and heathen nations were not guilty of this heinous offence. Great is the sin of those who have the Word of God, but who treat it with neglect and disdain.
II. THE TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH WAS AGGRAVATED BY THEIR FAILURE TO PROFIT BY THE LESSON OF WARNING OFFERED IN THE HISTORY OF THEIR FOREFATHERS. The chosen people were taught not only by words, but by facts; not only by the books of Moses, but by the history of their ancestors. How often had the Hebrew people forsaken their God! How grievously had they sinned! And how terribly had they been scourged for their folly! Yet the lesson, emphatic and impressive though it was, was overlooked and unlearnt.
III. THE TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH WAS AGGRAVATED BY THEIR LAPSE INTO IDOLATRY. The "lies" spoken of by the prophet refer to the deceptive and hideous rites and practices of the heathen. Jehovah was the true God; the "gods of the nations" were but idols, the professions of whose worshippers and priests were delusive and vain. That those who had been trained to idolatry should persevere in it was intelligible; but that Judah should forsake the righteous, pure, and gracious God for the capricious and obscene and ridiculous divinities of the surrounding nations, was monstrous, and only to be accounted for by an awful abandonment to self and sin. The greater the height from which one falls, the deeper is his descent.
IV. THE AGGRAVATED TRANSGRESSION OF JUDAH MET WITH A SEVERE RETRIBUTION. Nebuzaradan and the army of the Chaldees fulfilled this prediction to the letter. - T.
I. UNGODLINESS IS AT THE ROOT OF A NATION'S MORAL DEBASEMENT. Israel did not, indeed, abjure religion; but Israel abjured God. "The house of their god," says the prophet with a quiet irony, referring to the idol temples which the people had taken to frequenting. The reverence of the supreme Lord of righteousness is the very root of national morality. Let a people worship such deities as were worshipped by Israel's neighbours, the Philistines, the Amorites, the Syrians, and it is well known to what fatal results such worship will surely lead. And let a nation abandon all worship, and live a life of sense, and it is certainly upon the high road to moral ruin.
II. GREED AND OPPRESSION ARE AMONG THE FRUITS OF NATIONAL UNGODLINESS. In the state of society with which Amos was conversant, these immoral habits displayed themselves in the enslavement of the poor or in their deprivation of the ordinary comforts of life. There was no human law to prevent some of the base transactions mentioned, and all belief in a Divine Law was abandoned. History gives us many proofs of the pernicious effect of secularism and superstition upon human relations. Not only are all restraints, save those of civil law and physical force, spumed and ridiculed; there is no impulse and no motive to a higher than the selfish and animal life.
III. FLAGRANT LICENTIOUSNESS IS ANOTHER FRUIT OF A NATION'S IRRELIGION. The passions which lead to such atrocities as those here mentioned are, no doubt, deep seated in human nature. But religion assists men, not in repressing them wholly, but in controlling and guiding them. It is believed by many that Amos refers to some of the practices which were encouraged by the idolatries to which the Israelites were conforming. Certain it is that infidelity is often associated with the vilest principles of an immoral life, and tends to the letting loose of that wild beast-sensual appetite - which works dire devastation in society.
APPLICATION. These considerations should induce those who prize true religion for themselves to seek its maintenance at home against the assaults of infidelity, and to seek its propagation in lands where its absence is so morally deleterious. - T.
I. A NATION SHOULD TRACE THE HAND OF GOD IN THE DELIVERANCES WROUGHT ON ITS BEHALF. Israel was established in the land of the Canaanites, of whom the Amorites are in this passage taken as the representatives. These foes of the chosen nation are pictured majestic as the cedar and mighty as the oak. Yet Jehovah had smitten them in the lofty branches, and had extirpated them from the roots, and had planted in their stead the vine brought out of Egypt. It was not by Israel's sword or bow, but by the right hand of the Lord, that the Amorites had been vanquished. A devout mind will trace the presence and the action of Divine Providence, in a nation's history. In great crises England has been succoured by the interposition of Omnipotence from the assaults of powerful and unpitying foes. The "good hand of our God" has been upon us to protect and to deliver.
II. A NATION SHOULD REMARK THE GUIDANCE OF THE ALL-WISE GOD APPARENT IN THE EVENTS OF ITS POLITICAL LIFE. "I led you:" such is the language in which Jehovah reminded the forgetful and unfaithful Hebrews of his treatment of his chosen. The epoch of wilderness wandering was the critical epoch of Israel's life; it was then that the nation was consolidated and disciplined. A marvellous story it remains to this day, the story of the forty years in the Peninsula of Sinai. Fraught, too, with encouragement for all who trust God. What Christian nation has not reason to give thanks to "him who led his people through the wilderness" for his mercy endureth forever"? The eye must be dull which cannot see, the heart must be cold winch ages not confess, the directing hand of the Eternal in the career of such a nation as our own.
III. A NATION SHOULD GRATEFULLY HONOUR GOD FOR RAISING UP WISE AND HOLY MEN AS NATIONAL TEACHERS AND EXAMPLES. The prophets and Nazarites of the Jews may represent men of sanctified genius and insight, and mental and moral force, whom Providence appoints to be the inspiration of the community towards all that is beautiful and good. A people's greatest strength and most valuable possession must be sought in its finest, purest, ablest men. God did much for Israel in the way of outward guidance and interposition; but all his mercies were transcended by the gift of heroes and saints, judges and seers, valiant, true-hearted kings, fearless prophets, faithful priests. Rich as our own country is in many other respects, its true wealth must be sought in its noblest, most unselfish sons. God give us grace to appreciate and to profit by his goodness in this respect! - T.
I. He reminds nations of the GREATNESS OF HIS KINDNESS TOWARDS THEM. In these verses he reminds Israel of two great merciful interpositions of his on their behalf.
(1) The destruction of the Amorite - the original inhabitant of Canaan. Amorite here stands for all the old Canaanites. He drove out the Canaanites that Israel might possess and enjoy the goodly land in which they then lived (Exodus 23:27).
(2) Their emancipation from Egypt and their guidance into the Holy Land. "Also I brought you up from Egypt, and led you into the promised land." These two great acts of kindness are mentioned only as specimens of millions of others. The language in which these acts are represented suggest three great truths in relation to God's conduct toward the world.
1. He often sacrifices one people in order to advance the interests of another. The old Canaanites he sacrificed for the good of Israel. in the history of the world this is often done; one country ruined for the advantage of another. This is marvellous; it clashes with our primitive ideas of justice and Divine goodness. But we cease to murmur when we remember that there is a great explaining day, and that the peoples that have been ruined for the interests of others have never suffered more from the hands of God than they have justly deserved.
2. That the mightiest human powers cannot obstruct him in his procedure. The Amorites, the original inhabitants of Canaan, were a great people. It is said their "height was like the height of cedars," and they were "strong as oaks" They were in the great field of mankind not like the tender sapling or the stunted shrub; they were tall as the cedars and mighty as the oak (Numbers 13:32, 33). Then Egypt, too, from which he delivered them, was a mighty power. Pharaoh was the greatest despot of the old world. But what was all this human power before the march of Omnipotence? The mighty Canaanite and the powerful Egyptian were as mere stubble under his feet. God will not be hindered.
3. That he fulfils his great purposes with nations by the agency of men. He crushed the Canaanites and he crushed the Egyptians, not by hurling directly from his hand the thunderbolts, No; but by the agency of Joshua and Moses. God works with men by men. By men he blesses and by men he punishes, He allows man to be the devil of man, and he makes man the saviour of man.
II. He reminds nations of THE ABUSE OF THE MERCIES HE HAD CONFERRED ON THEM. He specifies here two special mercies which he had bestowed upon Israel.
1. A spiritual ministry. "And I raised up of your sons for prophets." He gave them men whom he duly qualified to indoctrinate and inspire them with the highest truths of duty and of destiny. The greatest blessing which God bestows upon a people is a true ministry.
2. Virtuous young men. "Your young men for Nazarites." "These were young men who," to use the language of another, "bound themselves by a vow to God and his service, and, in pursuance of that, denied themselves many of the lawful delights of sense, as drinking wine and eating grapes. There were some of their young men that were in their prime for the enjoyment of the pleasures of this life, and yet voluntarily abridged themselves of them; these God raised up by the power of his grace to be monuments of his grace, to his glory, and to be his witnesses against the impieties of that degenerate age." Virtuous and high-minded young men are amongst the chief ornaments and brightest hopes of a people. But how did Israel treat these Divine mercies? "They commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not." They did not wish to hear their voices; they closed their ears to their ministry. To a great extent this is the case with our own country now. The great bulk of our people say to the pulpits of England, by their conduct, "Prophesy not;" we do not want your ministry. Sad state this - a state of sin and the precursor of ruin. How did Israel treat these virtuous young men? "They gave the Nazarites wine to drink," They caused them to break their vow. This they did, it may be, by seductive promises, or frightening threats, or abashing ridicule and reproach. A greater crime than the crime of a people endeavouring to make young men drunkards can scarcely be imagined, and this crime England is on all hands earnestly promoting. The multiplication in our midst of beer houses and gin palaces, all under the sanction of law, is an insult to Heaven, an outrage on decency, a curse to the country. It behoves every philanthropist to take his stand against this abomination, and to sweep from the earth such huge establishments of the devil as the Burton breweries and the infernal spirit distilleries, whence streams of poison flow through every grade of social life. "Every inordinate cup is unbless'd, and the ingredient is a devil;" "O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!" (Shakespeare). - D.T.
I. LIGHT IS CAST BY THIS LANGUAGE UPON THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. His repugnance to sin is here brought before us. The deities of the heathen do not seem to have been represented as hating sin, though they were pictured as resenting the neglect of their worshippers. It was otherwise with Jehovah, for he was not an invention of human ignorance and frailty. The Old Testament writers, with one consent, represent the Eternal as holy, and as hating sin as sin.
2. His distress at sin is conveyed in this declaration. This is no imperfection. Mere disapproval would have been an imperfection. But it is an encouraging view which we are justified in taking of the Divine character, as we read that God is pained by human iniquity. What an appeal to sinful man is this, "I am pressed under you"!
II. LIGHT IS CAST BY THIS LANGUAGE UPON THE NATURE OF HUMAN SIN. Men's transgressions are not unheeded by God, neither are they a matter of indifference to him. The Supreme Being is not oppressed by the vast care of the material universe. But sin is so heinous and awful that it affects his feelings - if we may use language so human. Shall man be careless with regard to that which is so felt by the infinite heart? Of all ills there can be none like this.
III. LIGHT IS CAST BY THIS LANGUAGE UPON THE PROSPECT OF REDEMPTION. This light may be dim, but it is an advance upon darkness. If man's sin is so distressing to God, there is reason to hope that Divine wisdom and grace will concur to provide means for its forgiveness and its cancelling. The feeling which is uttered in the figurative language of the text found lull expression in the cross of Christ, in the gospel of salvation. - T.
I. A PICTURE OF HUMAN GREATNESS. Man has his own standard of greatness. The prophet piles up epithets to represent man's power. In vivid colours and in rapid succession there rise before the imagination the figures of the "swift" runner who is wont to overtake his foe, the "strong" hero whose blow cleaves the helmet in twain, the "mighty" whose praise is upon all lips, the "bowman" whose arrow pierces the fugitive in the battlefield, the "swift on foot" who trusts for safety to his speed, the "horseman" whose charge has often broken the doughty ranks of the enemy, the "courageous," "the strong of his heart," whom no danger daunts.
II. A VISION OF INEVITABLE RETRIBUTION AND OF THE DISCOMFITURE OF THE ENEMIES OF GOD. Even such as those who have been described shall be powerless in the day of the Lord. Exemption from the operation of righteous law is not to be obtained by any human craft or might. The swift shall be overtaken, and the arm of the warrior shall tall powerless by his side. Justice must be vindicated; the Lord of right will never abandon his sovereign throne. - T.