Amos 6
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Amos was a native of the southern kingdom, but his ministry was mainly to Israel. His impartiality appears in the censures and reproaches which he addresses, as in this passage, to both Judah and Samaria. But the description applies to professing Christians today as accurately as if it had just then been written, and had been explicitly applied to such. How many who are called to devotion and diligence are "at ease," are "confident," or "secure"!

I. THE DISPOSITION AND HABIT HERE CONDEMNED. The following elements are to be recognized.

1. Self-satisfaction.

2. Self-indulgence.

3. Indifference.

4. Carelessness.

5. Negligence.


1. That they resided in places which were themselves a reminder of the character of Jehovah and of his past "dealings" with the chosen people.

2. That they occupied positions fitted to inspire them with a sense of personal responsibility. They were the distinguished chiefs of the nations - the men to whom the people looked as their leaders, and in whom they might reasonably expect to find an example of piety, unselfishness, and zeal

3. That they lived in times when the judgments of God were abroad, and when insensibility to duty and religion were all the more inexcusably culpable.


1. Divine displeasure is prophetically declared against those who are at ease when they should be at work, against those who are secure and confident when they should be examining and judging themselves, and beginning a new and better life.

2. Moral deterioration cannot but follow upon such a state of mind as is here depicted. The slothful are the first to feel the ill effects of their sloth; the habit grows, and a religious, not to say an heroic, life becomes an impossibility.

3. National disaster and punishment are entailed by the indifference and unfaithfulness of those who are called to be a nation's guides and rulers. - T.

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came! etc. "This chapter embraces the character and punishment of the whole Hebrew nation. The inhabitants of the two capitals are directly addressed in the language of denunciation, and charged to take warning from the fate of other nations (vers. 1, 2). Their carnal security, injustice, self-indulgence, sensuality, and total disregard of the Divine threatenings are next described (vers. 3-6). After which the prophet announces the Captivity and the calamitous circumstances connected with the siege of Samaria, by which it was to be preceded (vers. 7-11). He then exposes the absurdity of their conduct, and threatens them with the irruption of an enemy that should pervade the whole country (vers. 12-14)" (Henderson). The words of our text (ver. 1) denounce a state of mind which most men desiderate - "ease." Amidst the harassing cares, turmoils, and agitating events of life, men on all hands are crying out for ease. Like mariners that have long battled with tempests, they long for a calm sea in which to drop anchor and be at rest. But here there is a fearful "woe" denounced against ease. What is this ease?

I. IT IS THE EASE OF PRIDE. These great nations, Judah and Israel, the one having its seat in Zion and the other in Samaria, because of their imaginary superiority as the chief of the nations, settled down in carnal security. Those that dwelt in Zion, or Jerusalem, felt themselves safe because of its historic grandeur, its temple, the dwelling place of the Almighty, and its mountain fortifications. Those that dwelt in Samaria - the ten tribes - had the same false confidence in their safety. The mountains of Samaria, the seat both of the religion and government of a strong people, they relied upon, free from all apprehension of dangers. It was the ease of pride and overrated power.

II. IT IS THE EASE OF RUIN. "Pass ye unto Calneh [this was an ancient city built by Nimrod] and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great [one of the chief cities of Syria]: then go down to Gath of the Philistines [the great city in Philistia]." Remember these cities, be they better than these kingdoms? Are you who live at Zion and Samaria greater people than they were, more strong and invincible? Yet they are gone. Calneh gone, Hamath gone, Gath gone. All are in ruins, long, long ago. Why, then, should you feel yourselves safe and be at ease in Zion and Samaria? Their example condemns your false security and predicts your ruin. The ease here denounced is like the ease of stolid indifference or the ease of a torpid conscience, terribly general, fearfully criminal, and awfully dangerous. It must sooner or later be broken. The hurricanes of retribution must sooner or later lash the sleeping ocean into foaming fury. Souls are everywhere sleeping on the bosom of volcanoes. Oh for some voice from the heavens above or the earth beneath, to startle the men of this generation!

CONCLUSION. Learn from this subject:

1. That the mere feeling of security is no infallible proof of safety. Men are prone to deceive themselves. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Some men, like the drunkard whose vessel is going down, feel themselves safe because they are unconscious of the danger. Some men feel themselves safe because of the confidence they have in objects that are utterly unable to sustain them. The only feeling of security that warrants safety is that which springs from a conscious trust in God. Such as have this can say, "God is our Refuge and Strength," etc.

2. That great advantages may prove great curses. It was a great advantage for Judah to have Zion, and Israel to have Samaria - great in many respects, national and religious. But these advantages, because they were overrated, trusted in, put in the place of God himself, proved to them most disastrous. So it ever is. Our civilization, our literature, our Churches, our Bibles, have proved curses to millions, and will perhaps to millions more. The Pharisee in the temple is an illustration of this.

3. That retributions which have overtaken others should be a warning to us. The prophet calls upon these men of Judah and Israel to remember Calneh, Hamath, Garb. "All these things," says Paul, "happened unto them for ensamples." Learn to read our fate in history. Ungodly nations, where are Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome? Ungodly Churches, where axe the Churches of Asia Minor? - D.T.

By the "evil day" must be meant the day of account and reckoning which comes to all men and to all communities. As surely as there is a moral government and a moral Governor in the universe, so surely must all reasonable and intelligent natures be held responsible for their conduct and for their influence. Yet it is no unusual thing for men to follow the example of those who are censured in this verse.

I. THE THOUGHT OF A DAY OF ACCOUNT IS UNWELCOME TO THE UNFAITHFUL AND THE IRRELIGIOUS. Such persons need not be disbelievers in judgment, in accountability; they may accept the assurance of their own reason and conscience that an account must be rendered to the Judge of all. Yet, as the thought of a reckoning is one altogether repugnant to them, they persuade themselves that it may be indefinitely deferred. It must come, but it may not come yet; it may not come for a very long time; indeed, may be so remote that it need not be taken into consideration in arranging the plans of life. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."

II. THE DEFERRING OF THE THOUGHT OF THE DAY OF ACCOUNT WILL NOT DEFER THE DAY ITSELF. Moral law is never inoperative, is never suspended. Judgment lingereth not. The history alike of nations and of individuals proves that there is a Ruler on high, who is not remiss in carrying out his purposes. There is a reckoning in time; there will be a reckoning in eternity.

"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting, he exactly judgeth all." It is irrational and futile to imagine that by forgetting responsibility men can efface it. Such a supposition reminds of the action of the foolish ostrich who thrusts his head into a hush, and, because he loses sight of his pursuers, supposes that he has eluded them. There is no discharge in this war.

III. NEGLIGENCE CONCERNING RESPONSIBILITY MAY EVEN HASTEN THE APPROACH OF THE INEVITABLE DAY OF ACCOUNT. They who forget their accountability to God for their unfaithfulness are likely to be confirmed in their sinful courses; and, as iniquity abounds, judgment approaches. Thus the dreaded retribution is hastened rather than postponed; and the evil day which men would fain put far from them is brought near, and the tempest, which they dread and would avoid and escape, breaks upon them in all its force and fury. - T.

Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near. This is another denunciation addressed to the great men in Zion and Samaria. They are said "to keep the day of calamity afar off, and bring the seat of violence near" (Delitzsch). Three remarks are suggested by these words.

I. ALL MEN HAVE AN "EVIL DAY" IN THEIR FUTURE. Even the holiest men, men whose path through life has been most calm and prosperous, have to expect certain calamities that befall all. There are trials common to all men, whatever their condition or character - afflictions, bereavements, infirmities; these await most men. There is one evil day, however, for us all. Death is in many respects an "evil day." What mysterious sufferings it generally involves! What privileges and pleasures it terminates! What disruptions it produces! Sinner, thy death will be an evil day; and it is before thee, and it is nearer now than ever.

II. SOME MEN ADJOURN IN THOUGHT THIS "EVIL DAY." They "put far away the evil day." Ungodly men put this evil day so far on in the course of time that they seldom discern it and never realize it. It is a mere speck, seldom visible on the horizon of many years of unclouded sunshine. Why do men adjourn in thought this evil day?

1. Not because they have any doubt as to its advent. No day is more certain. Sooner shall all the wheels of nature be stopped than the sun of this day fail to break on every eye. "It is appointed to men once to die."

2. Not because they lack reminders of its approach. Every physical pain, every tolling knell, every funeral procession, every graveyard - all remind us almost every moment that our evil day is coming. Why, then, adjourn the thought? The reason is found:

1. In the strength of our material attachments.

2. In our dread of the mysterious.

3. In our lack of interest in the spiritual and material.

4. In our conscious want of preparation for the scenes of retribution.

III. NONE WHO ADJOURN THIS "EVIL DAY" IN THOUGHT CAN DELAY IT IN FACT. "And cause the seat of violence to come near." Perhaps what is meant here is that these men so ignored their coming calamities that by their conduct they hastened them on. Ignoring the evil day, they pursued such a course of injustice, falsehood, dishonesty, sinful indulgence, and impiety as served to bring it nearer. Thus the more they put it off in thought the nearer it drew, because they became more self-destructive in their conduct. A general truth is suggested here, viz. that a man who adjourns all thought of his end will pursue such a course of conduct as will hasten its approach. Some men imagine that by thinking upon death they will hasten its advent; hence their dread of making wills. But such is not the fact. He who keeps the evil day in view, rightly regards it, prepares for it, will render such a practical obedience to the laws of health as to delay rather than hasten it. "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." - D.T.

A herdsman and gatherer of wild figs like Amos, brought into contact with the nobility and the courtiers of a wealthy and luxurious city like Samaria, was likely enough to be shocked and scandalized. The judgments he formed were naturally severe, but they were not unjust or passionate. His language remains a merited and everlasting rebuke to those in high station who live for their own gratification and indulgence.

I. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE IS A SHAMEFUL MISUSE OF PRECIOUS OPPORTUNITIES. It is sometimes judged that those who are "born in the purple," those who inherit great estates, great wealth, are to be excused if they form in youth, and retain in manhood, habits of expensive self-indulgence. But as all men are, above all, the children of God, endowed with a spiritual nature and entrusted with sacred opportunities, it is not to be for a moment admitted that the advantages of high station absolve them from the obligations involved in human nature and human life. A man has no right to pamper the body and exalt it to a lordship over the spirit; he has no right to gratify his tastes as though self-gratification were the great end of existence.

II. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE IS MORALLY DEBASING AND DEGRADING. No one can live below the appointed level of humanity without paying the inevitable penalty, without incurring the inevitable deterioration. The light burns dim; the fine gold turns to clay. The couch of indolence, the feast of gluttony, the voluptuous music, the brimming bowls of wine, the costly unguents, - these are dangerous indulgences. Men may give them fine names, and call them the bounties of Divine providence. And it is quite true that the evil is not in the instruments of self-indulgence, but in the bad uses to which they are put. But none can live merely for bodily, for aesthetic, for social, enjoyment, without injuring his own character, without losing self-respect and the esteem of those whose esteem is worth having.

III. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE ON THE PART OF THE GREAT IS A BAD EXAMPLE TO THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE. Bad habits penetrate from the so called upper to the so called lower class. When the nobility and gentry are self-indulgent, the tradespeople who grow wealthy are likely to follow their example, and the poor are likely enough to grow envious and discontented. The Samaritan chiefs were reproached for misleading the people, and justly. The ignorant and the thoughtless are naturally influenced by an example of selfishness, and none can altogether escape receiving some measure of harm.

IV. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE RENDERS THE GREAT INSENSIBLE TO THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE POOR AND OPPRESSED. The language of the prophet is very touching: the self indulgent "are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." Wrapped up in their own enjoyments, comforts, and luxuries, the great fail to sympathize with those whom we call "the masses." A self-denying and benevolent and public-spirited course of conduct would have precisely an opposite effect. There is no reason m the nature of things why nobles should not feel with and for the poor and unfortunate; as a matter of fact, they often do so. But those whose absorbing thought is of self have neither heart nor time to give to their less-favoured neighbours.

V. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE OFTEN INVOLVES A SPEEDY AND FEARFUL RETRIBUTION. The table of the epicure is overthrown. The sybarite is dragged from his palace, and sent away into exile. Those who have been worthless members of their own state become banished mourners in a strange land. And the song of pleasure is exchanged for the wail of woe. - T.

That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall, etc. Here is a sketch of the way in which these leading men of the chief nations luxuriated in carnal pleasures and sensual indulgences. Observe two things.


1. These people wrought entirely for the senses. See how they slept! They provided themselves with "beds of ivory." They did not require rest for their weary limbs, otherwise beds of straw would have done. They wanted to be grand, they loved glitter, hence "beds of ivory." Here is the lust of the eye. See how they ate! "And stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall." They abounded in superfluities; they partook of the choicest dainties of nature, and that in a recumbent position. Here is the lust of the palate. See how they sang! "That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David." Musical sounds gratified their auricular sensibilities, and they chanted to the "viol." Here is the lust of the ear. See how they drank! They "drink wine in bowls." Small vessels would not do; they must take long, deep draughts of the pleasing beverage. Here again is the lust of the palate. See how they anointed themselves! With the chief ointments." They regaled their olfactory nerves with the choicest perfumes of nature. Here is the lust of the smell. See how indifferent they were to the suffering of the true Church of God! "They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." What a description this of a people that lived and wrought entirely for the senses! They were practical materialists. They had no spiritual vision, sensibilities, or experience. Their imperishable souls were submerged in the deep flowing sea of mere animal pleasures. Are there no such men now? For what do our prosperous tradesmen and the upper ten thousand live? For the most part, we fear, for the senses. Grand furniture - "beds of ivory;" choicest viands - "lambs out of the flock, and calves out of the midst of the stall;" ravishing music - "chants to the sound of the viol;" delectable beverages - the choicest wines in "bowls;" the most delicious aromas - "the chief ointments." Has carnal indulgence been more rife in any land or age than this? Matter everywhere governs spirit; the body everywhere is the despot, men are "carnal, sold under sin."

2. These people wrought without conscience. In all this there is no effort of conscience recorded, no word uttered. There is, indeed, a reference to intellectual effort, for it is said "they invented to themselves instruments of music." Carnal indulgence has ever been and is now as much, if not more than ever, the great employer of man's inventive faculties. Luxury in England today is the great employer of human ingenuity. But there is no conscience here. When conscience is touched in such a state of things, and startled by the sense of its guilt, it exclaims, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this sin and death?"


1. The loss of liberty. "Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive." Those who had taken the lead in revelry and all manner of wickedness were to be the first in the procession of captives. In such a position their disgrace would be more conspicuous. Luxury always leads to slavery: it is the eternal law of justice, that those who live to the flesh shall lose their freedom and be exiled into the region of tyranny. "Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15).

2. The loss of provisions. "And the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed." They shall have scarcity, perhaps starvation, instead of the profusion of dainties with which their tables have been spread. All this carnal indulgence and voluptuousness, this luxury in ease, and diet, and music, and aroma will not go on forever. They are abnormal conditions of human nature; retribution will one day put an end to them.

"O luxury,
Bane of elated life, of affluent states,
What ruin is not thine?... Behind thee gapes
Th' unfathomable gulf where Ashur lies
O'erwhelmed, forgotten; and high boasting Cham:
And Elam's haughty pomp; and beauteous Greece;
And the great queen of earth, imperial Rome."

(Dyer.) D.T.

The Lord God hath sworn by himself, saith the Lord the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. In order to show the voluptuous debauchees referred to in the preceding verses the terrible judgments that would overtake them, Jehovah is here represented as making a solemn oath. Whether the city here refers to Samaria or Jerusalem, or both, is of little moment. The subject is national depravity, and we infer from the words -

I. THAT DEPRAVITY MAY EXIST IN A NATION WHERE THERE IS MUCH THAT IS MAGNIFICENT. Here is a reference to the "excellency" - or, as some render it, the splendour - "of Jacob;" and here is a reference to "palaces," the homes of princes, There was much that was magnificent amongst the Jewish people of old in their own land. Great cities and their palaces, and, above all, the temple at Jerusalem, beautiful in architecture and situation, with an organized priesthood and gorgeous ceremonies. Still, its depravity at this time was wide and deep and hideous. A nation may have much that is magnificent, and yet be deeply sunk in moral corruption. Witness ancient Greece and Rome; witness England today. The arts, sculpture, painting, architecture, music, have reached their perfection, and abound. On all hands our eyes are attracted by grand churches, splendid mansions, marts, banks, museums, colleges, and galleries of art. Albeit was depravity ever more rife in any age or country than this? Greed, ambition, selfishness, sensuality, fraud, falsehood, and self-indulgence, - these, the elements of depravity and the fountains of crime, abound in all directions. It is true they do not appear in their naked deformity, as in barbaric lands. Our civilization not only spreads a veil over them, but paints and decorates them, and thus conceals their native hideousness. Still, though the devil robes himself in the garb of an angel, he is yet the devil. Poison is poison, however much you may flavour it.

II. THAT DEPRAVITY UNDER THE MOST MAGNIFICENT FORM IS UTTERLY ABHORRENT TO THE GREAT GOD. "I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces." No veil can cover it from his eye; his glance pierces through all its decorations; to his view its ornamentations add to its ugliness. The same vices displayed in the hut of a savage chief, are more hideous to him when developed in the gorgeous palaces of Christian sovereigns. "I abhor the excellency [splendour] of Jacob." God has moral sensibility. He has not only a sensibility for the beautiful in form and the perfect in arrangement, but for the moral. He loves the true, the beautiful, and the good; he loathes the false, the selfish, and the corrupt. "Oh, do not this abominable thing, which I hate" (Jeremiah 44:4).

III. THAT DEPRAVITY, WHICH IS EVER ABHORRENT TO GOD, MUST BRING RUIN ON ITS SUBJECTS. "Therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein." Observe:

1. The completeness of the ruin. "All that is therein" - utter destruction.

2. The certainty of the ruin. "The Lord God hath sworn by himself."

CONCLUSION. What an argument does this subject furnish for national seriousness and investigation! The progress of civilization is not the true progress of humanity. A nation may advance in the arts, and go back in morals; may be robed in artistic beauty, and yet be loathsome in moral corruption. Heaven will not smile on a nation because it is externally grand, but only when it is internally good. - D.T.

It was the office and function of a prophet to lose himself in becoming the vehicle of Divine communications, the organ of Divine decisions. His prefatory words were these: "Thus saith the Lord." He saw and felt the Lord's presence, not only in his own ministry, but in all the events that occurred in the range of his observation, whether affecting individuals or nations.

I. THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF AUTHORITY IN EVERY WORD OF THE LORD. Whether God addresses to men language of rebuke or reproach, of entreaty or of threatening, he speaks with authority. His invitation is that of a King; it is a command When our Lord Christ spoke in the course of his ministry, he spoke with authority. The Divine judgment is always correct, the Divine will is always obligatory.

II. ALL AGENCIES AND INSTRUMENTALITIES ARE OBEDIENT TO THE LORD'S BEHESTS. It is so with the forces of nature. "The stormy wind fulfilleth his word;" "His ministers are a flaming fire." It is so with the institutions of human society, with the purposes and the activities of men. The hand which is visible in a work may be that of a creature; the power that directs that hand may, nevertheless, be creative wisdom and creative might. God gives the word; it is executed by ten thousand ministers of his holy will. He maketh even the wrath of man to praise him.

III. THE POWER OF THE GREATEST AMONG MEN IS INCAPABLE OF RESISTING THE DIVINE COMMANDS. The "great house" and the "little house" alike are smitten when the Lord makes bare his arm. Israel and Judah, the prince and the husbandman, may know that nothing can protect them from the might of the Eternal when his decree of judgment has gone out against them. Well may the people that rebel against God tremble and fear, and remember that they are but men. - T.

The perfect naturalness and genuineness of Amos must be apparent to every reader. The sources from which he drew his graphic imagery were his own life and experiences. As a husbandman employed upon the land, he was brought into contact both with the phenomena of nature and with the processes of agriculture; and from these sources his mind was supplied with the bold similitudes which occur in his prophecies. Wishing to depict the irrational and absurd suppositions and expectations of the sinful and rebellious, he compared them to husbandmen who should attempt to drive horses up a steep cliff, or to plough the hard, barren rock by oxen.

I. JUSTICE IS THE ETERNAL LAW OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE. Here is the true and Divine bond of human society; here is the principle which should govern earthly rulers, judges, and princes. The higher men's station, the greater men's power, the more important is it that justice should guide and inspire their conduct.

II. IN A CORRUPT STATE OF SOCIETY OPPRESSION AND VIOLENCE ARE SUBSTITUTED FOR JUSTICE. Amos complained that the kings and nobles of Israel were guilty of the basest and most degrading conduct; they exchanged the sweet and wholesome fruit of righteousness for the bitterness of gall and wormwood and the poison of hemlock, i.e. for bribery, for violence, for oppressiveness. History is full of such instances. The noble institutions of society are perverted into instruments of personal ambition, aggrandizement, and wrong. Cruel kings, luxurious nobles, corrupt judges, are morally disastrous to the state; their example spreads through all classes, and faith, honour, and purity decay and perish.

III. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE THAT TRUE PROSPERITY SHOULD PREVAIL WHERE THE FOUNTAIN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS POISONED. The great men of Israel had come to confide in their own strength, in their military power, and, like so many in high estate, thought that physical force was sufficient to secure a nation's greatness. The prophet justly characterizes such a doctrine as "a thing of nought," a nonentity, an absurdity! As well may horses climb the scaur, as well may oxen plough the bare, hard rock, as a nation prosper which has renounced the Law of God, and is attempting to base its success upon physical force, military prestige, ostentations luxury, judicial corruption. We in our own days need not look far for an exemplification of the folly of such confidence. "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth." - T.

Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen? The folly of expecting real prosperity by committing acts of injustice or pursuing courses of sin is here forcibly represented by comparing it to the absurdity of attempting to run horses upon a rock or to plough the rock with oxen. The strength of the representation is increased by its interrogative form. Our subject is - Trying the impossible. Men are constantly doing this. Let us furnish a few examples.

I. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO DESTROY AN ENEMY BY PHYSICAL FORCE. An individual has an enemy, a man who hates him with an inveterate antipathy. In order to overcome him, what does he do? He disables or perhaps kills him. Or a nation has an enemy, strong and malignant. How does it seek to overcome it? In the same way, by brute force - swords, cannons, bayonets, these are employed. Now, the attempt to destroy an enemy by brute force is as absurd as to make horses run on the peaks of craggy rocks, or to put oxen to plough them. To destroy the enemy's body is not to destroy either him or his enmity. Philosophy and the Bible teach that the body is not the man; it is his, not himself. All the men that have fallen in duels, campaigns, or private assassinations are living, thinking, acting still, and await their murderers in another state. No bullet or sword can touch the man.

II. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO MAKE SOCIETY MORALLY GOOD BY MERE SECULAR INSTRUCTION. There are men who imagine that by teaching children the arts of reading, writing, ciphering, and the rudiments of science they will improve the morality of the nation. When you remember that the moral character grows out of the heart and not out of the brain, out of the likings and dislikings, not out of the ideas or intelligence, all this seems as absurd as the attempt to make horses run on rocks. Secular knowledge cannot change the heart, cannot alter a man's likes or dislikes. It may strengthen them, but not alter them. Dishonesty, uneducated, may commit petty thefts; but educated, it will legally swindle a nation. Knowledge, alas! is all in vain.

III. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO GET HAPPINESS FROM WITHOUT. All mankind are in search of happiness. "Who will show us any good?" - this is the universal cry. The great bulk seek happiness from without, from what they can see, and taste, and hear, and handle. They look for happiness in the titillation of the nerves and the gratification of the senses. Now, were man nothing but body, this would do. This does for the brute and the bird. But man is spirit; and matter in no form or combination can satisfy spirit. A man's life, or happiness, consisteth not in the abundance of material things. True happiness springs from within, not from without; arises from holy loves. hopes, aspirations, and aims. In one word, love is the well of water that springs up unto everlasting life.

IV. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO SAVE SOULS BY MINISTERING TO THEIR SELFISHNESS. There are men in all Churches who give themselves to saving souls, as they say. Salvation is the burden of all their thought and talk. But how do they endeavour to accomplish their object? By everlasting appeals to the selfish fears and hopes of men. Tragic descriptions are given of hell in order to frighten men, and sensuous descriptions of heaven in order to attract them. But can this save the soul? Impossible. It will only aggravate its damnation. Salvation consists in the extinction of all that is selfish in human nature, and in the generating, fostering, and perfecting disinterested, self-oblivious love. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it: he that loseth his life shall find it." A preacher may increase his congregation by appealing to the selfishness of his hearers, but he does not add one to the family of the good. The man who tries to save souls by constant appeals to the selfishness of human nature acts more absurdly than he who attempts to gallop horses upon the sharp peaks of rugged rocks.

V. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO CONVERT HEATHENS ABROAD BEFORE CONVERTING THE HEATHENS AT HOME. London abounds with heathens. All the heathens of the heathen world have their representatives in London; besides, the great bulk of the resident population are heathens; they are without God and without hope in the world. The influence of London upon the most distant parts of the world is a thousand times as great as that of all the missionaries from England and America. Under such circumstances, to send a few lonely men to distant peoples, who are ignorant of our language, modes of thought, and habits, with the idea of converting the world, is more absurd than to put horses to run on the rock, and oxen to plough thereon. Are we not bound to go into all the world to spread the gospel? Yes, but is there a greater world than London? and should not our sailors, our merchants, our travellers, and emigrants be the missionaries to foreign lands? Whilst your missionaries carry teaspoonfuls of the gospel here and there, your London pours out floods of depravity on every zone.

CONCLUSION. Alas! how much human effort and sacrifice are lost for the want of practical wisdom and common sense! "Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?" Yes, more successfully than we poor fools can accomplish some things that we labour to attain. - D.T.

For ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock. The meaning of this is that they had turned the best things into bad use. Judgment and righteousness, the laws of right, they had made as nauseous and noxious as "gall" and "hemlock." Our subject is man's perverting power. Our blessed Maker in our constitution has endowed us with a force which no other creature under heaven seems to have, of turning things to wrong uses, and making those things which he intended to bless us the means of misery and rain. You can see man exercising this power in many departments of action.

I. IN PHYSICAL OPERATIONS. What does he do with the iron which he discovers in the depths of the earth? Forges it into implements of human destruction. What does he do with the vineyards and the corn fields? He turns them into inebriating liquids, and rolls them like rivers of poison through every district of society. What does he do with his own physical appetites? Instead of attending to them as means of relief, he makes their gratification the chief sources of his pleasure, and thus degrades his mental and moral nature. Everywhere you see man perverting nature - perverting the metals, the rivers, the fruits, and the chemical elements of the world.

II. IN CIVIC LIFE. The principle of human government is a Divine ordinance, intended to secure equal justice and protection. But how has man perverted it! He has turned it into an instrument to benefit the few at the expense of the many, an instrument of tyranny and oppression. The principle of judicature, intended to secure for all a just administration of law, man notoriously perverts. Men are appointed to occupy the throne of judgment who are not always, or generally, known as incorruptibly just and morally pure. Hence often in the name of justice iniquities are enacted. Man's perversion of the law is proverbial as a hideous enormity. The principle of merchandise, intended to band man together by the exchange of commodities in mutual obligation and fellowship, man has awfully perverted. He has made it the instrument of cupidity, monopoly, and nameless frauds. Thus, in every part of social life you see this perverting power in action - man turning "judgment into gall, and the fruits of righteousness into hemlock."

III. IN THE RELIGIOUS SPHERE. In spiritual matters and in scenes that should be the most sacred, its action is perhaps more flagrant and formidable than anywhere else. Without going into the great world of heathenism, or even to remote parts of Christendom, look into our own religious England, and what do you see? You see the gospel ministry, which is essentially self-denying, humble, devout, turned into an arrogant and plethoric priesthood. You see gospel ceremonies, intended to adumbrate spiritual truths, employed as mystic channels of saving grace. You see a system of universal philanthropy made an instrument of miserable sectarianism and intolerable bigotry.

CONCLUSION. Do not let man say he has no power. His moral power is something stupendous. He has power to turn the things of God to the use of Satan, heavenly blessings into hellish curses. This he is doing everywhere. "Ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock." - D.T.

Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength? "Horns" are signs and symbols of power; 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" (Delitzsch). What these ancient Hebrews did is an evil prevalent in all times and lands - rejoicing in the things of nought, taking pleasure in the unreal, the empty, and the fleeting.

I. TO REJOICE IN WORLDLY WEALTH is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." Rich men everywhere are always disposed to rejoice in their wealth. Houses, lands, and funded treasures, of these worldly men are ever boasting, in these they proudly exult. But what is earthly wealth? It is, in truth, so far as the possessor is concerned, "a thing of nought." It was not his a few years ago, and may not be his tomorrow. "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven" (Proverbs 23:5). Wealth, at best, is a most unsubstantial thing; it is a mere air bubble rising on the stream of life, glittering for a moment, and then departing forever. Great fortunes are but bubbles; they vanish before a ripple on the stream or a gust in the atmosphere. "Wealth," says old Adams, "is like a bird; it hops all day from man to man as the bird from tree to tree, and none can say where it will roost or rest at night."

"Go, enter the mart where the merchantmen meet,
Get rich, and retire to some rural retreat:
Ere happiness comes, comes the season to die;
Quickly. then will thy riches all vanish and fly.
Go, sit with the mighty in purple and gold;
Thy mansions be stately, thy treasures untold;
But soon shalt thou dwell in the damp house of clay,
While thy riches make wings to themselves and away."

II. TO REJOICE IN PERSONAL BEAUTY is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." Nature has endowed some with personal charms which it has denied to others - finely chiselled features, a radiant countenance, commanding brow, symmetrical form, majestic presence. He who is thus blest has many advantages; he commands admiration and exerts an influence upon human hearts. But is this beauty a thing to rejoice in? Those who possess it do rejoice in it; many pride themselves on their good looks and fine figures. But what is beauty? It is "a thing of nought." Why rejoice in that for which we can take no credit? Does the moss rose deserve praise for unfolding more beauty and emitting more fragrance than the nettle? Who can make one hair white or black, or add one cubit to his stature? Why rejoice, too, in that which is so evanescent? Socrates called beauty "a short-lived tyranny;" and Theophrastus, "a silent cheat." One old divine says it is like an almanac - it "lasts for one year, as it were." Men are like the productions of the fields and the meadows. In the summer the variety is striking, some herbs and flowers appear in more stately form and attractive hues than others; but when old winter comes round, who sees the distinctions? Where are the plants of beauty? They are faded and gone. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field."

"Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good,
A shining gloss, that fadeth suddenly;
A flower that dies, when first it 'gins to bud;
A brittle glass, that's broken presently:
A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, faded, broken, dead within an hour.

"And as good lost is seldom or never found,
As fading gloss no rubbing will refresh,
As flowers dead lie withered on the ground,
As broken glass no cement can redress,
So beauty, blemished once, forever's lost,
In spite of physic, painting, pain, and cost."


III. TO REJOICE IN ANCESTRAL DISTINCTION is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are those who are constantly exulting in their pedigree. Some who in this country can go back to the days of William the Conqueror, how delighted they are! But who were the men that William brought over with him, and between whom he divided this England of ours? Cobblers, tailors, smiths, plunderers, men of rapine and blood, most of them destitute alike of intellectual culture and morality. But even had we come from the loins of the intellectual and moral peers of the race, what cause in this is there for rejoicing? it is truly "a thing of nought." Our ancestry is independent of us; we are not responsible for it. It is not a matter either of blame or praise. Each man is complete in himself - an accountable unity, a moral cause. A prime minister has a number of earnest servile lackeys - they are printers, jewellers, clothmakers, tailors, and such-like; in the zenith of his power he rewards them by causing them to be titled "sir," "lord," "baron," etc. In this their children rejoice. But is it not "a thing of nought"? What is there in it? Nothing.

"Knighthoods and honours borne
Without desert, are titles but of scorn."


IV. TO REJOICE IN MORAL MERITORIOUSNESS is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are many who rejoice in their morality. Like the Pharisee in the temple, they thank God they are not as "other men," They consider they are "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," whereas they are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Moral merit in a sinner is a baseless vision, a phantom of a proud heart. The man exulting in his own self-righteousness acts as foolishly as the man who endeavours to secure himself from the scorching rays of the sun under his own shadow. He seeks to bring his shadow between him and the sun, but cannot. If he runs, the shadow is before or behind him; if he falls down, the shadow falls with him, and leaves him in contact with the burning beam. No; our righteousness is "a thing of nought;" it is "filthy rags."

"Beware of too sublime a sense
Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who deems himself so great,
And his importance of such weight,
That all around, in all that's done,
Must move and act for him alone,
Will learn in school of tribulation
The folly of his expectation."


CONCLUSION. Ah me! how many on all hands are rejoicing in "a thing of nought"! Wealth, beauty, ancestry, self-righteousness, - what are these? Fleeting shadows, dying echoes. They are clouds without water; to the eye they may for a minute or two appear in gorgeous forms, but before a breeze they melt into thin air and are lost. Rejoice in the real, the spiritual, the eternal, the Divine. - D.T.

Coming when it did, this prophecy was an unmistakable proof of Divine foresight. Samaria was rejoicing and boasting because of a temporary victory obtained by her arms. The kingdom of Israel had taken horns, and by its own strength had pushed back the foe from the borders. This was the moment appointed for Amos to utter the faithful warning contained in this verse. Subsequent events proved the predictive authority from which this language proceeded. The advance of Assyria soon reminded the unbelieving and impenitent of the warning to which they had been indifferent. But we are chiefly concerned to trace the truths and to draw the lessons regarding Divine government upon earth, which this prediction so strikingly unfolds.

I. THE FACT THAT A NATION IS CHOSEN BY GOD FOR A SPECIAL PURPOSE DOES NOT EXEMPT THAT NATION FROM THE OPERATION OF THE LAWS OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. It is sometimes represented that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were treated by the Ruler of all with an especial favouritism. But such a view cannot be justified from the sacred records. Undoubtedly, this nation was selected for high purposes, and appointed to occupy a position of enlightenment and eminence; but this was in order that the Jews might fulfil the purposes of God's wisdom, might in the fulness of the time produce the Messiah, and might become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. But never was a nation subjected to more stringent discipline than the Hebrew theocracy endured. No transgression was unnoticed or unchastised. Such afflictions have indeed seldom been endured as Israel has known, both in ancient and in modern times.

II. GOD, WHO IS NOT CONFINED TO ANY SPECIAL AGENCIES, HAS OFTEN EMPLOYED ONE NATION AS THE SCOURGE BY WHICH ANOTHER NATION HAS BEEN CHASTISED. It may be asked why Assyria, an idolatrous nation, should be employed to punish the transgressions of Israel. To such a question we can give no answer; but we may point out that the moral qualities of the chastising instrument have no bearing upon the purposes of punishment. God raiseth up one and setteth down another. History is full of examples of this principle. Amidst very much that is mysterious, there is not a little that is plain. Only in the most general way is it permitted us to interpret the methods of the Divine government. But the authoritative language of this and other passages of Scripture assure us that he who doeth according to his will among the inhabitants of the earth is impressing his own great lessons and fulfilling his own great designs by the changes which occur among the nations. Even wars, conquests, and captivities are the means by which God's Law is vindicated and God's kingdom is advanced.

III. NATIONAL TRIBULATION MAY BE THE MEANS OF NATIONAL PURIFICATION AND PROGRESS. Punishment is not an end in itself; however deserved and just, it is inflicted with a view to the good of the community or individual punished, or the good of human society at large. We can to some extent trace, in the subsequent history of the Hebrew people, the beneficial results of the conquest and captivity here foretold. Idolatry, at all events, came to an end; more spiritual views of religion became general; the nation, or that portion of it which returned to the land of promise, was prepared for giving birth to the Messiah, and for furnishing the elements which were to constitute the primitive Church. Thus God brought the light of morning out of the darkness, and a spiritual spring from the long winter of affliction. - T.

But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the Lord the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness. What "nation" is here referred to as about to be raised up by God against Israel? Undoubtedly, Assyria. This Assyrian nation is here represented as overspreading the country "from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness." Hamath was a point of entrance for an invading army into Israel from the north, which had just been subjugated by Jeroboam II. The boundaries are virtually the same as those mentioned (2 Kings 14:25) as restored to Israel by Jeroboam II., "from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain," i.e. the Dead Sea, into which the river of the wilderness here mentioned flows. Do not glory in your recently acquired city, for it shall be the starting point for the foe to afflict you. How sad the contrast to the feast of Solomon, attended by a congregation from the same Hamath, the most northern boundary of Israel, to the Nile, the river of Egypt, the most southern boundary! "Unto the river of the wilderness," i.e. to Kedron, or that part of it which empties itself into the northern bay of the Dead Sea below Jericho (2 Chronicles 28:15), which city was at the southern boundary of the ten tribes (Maurer). To the river Nile, which skirts the Arabian wilderness and separates Egypt from Canaan (Grotius). If this verse includes Judah as well as Israel, Grotius's view is correct, and it agrees with 1 Kings 8:65, "Solomon held a feast, and all Israel... from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt" (Fausset). The subject suggested by the words is this - God chastising nations by nations. He now threatens to chastise the kingdoms of Judah and Israel by the Assyrian people. This is how the Almighty has acted from the beginning. He has chastised nations by nations. The history of the world is little else than a history of civil wars. Let us for a moment notice the how and the why of this.

I. THE HOW. How does the Almighty bring about wars?

1. Not by his inspiration. The God of peace does not breathe into any people greed, ambition, revenge. These principles, from which all war emanates, are repugnant to his nature. He denounces them. His grand aim in the world is to annihilate them, and in their place propagate disinterestedness, humility, and magnanimous love.

2. Not by his authority. All war is directly against his command; whilst everywhere he prohibits covetousness, pride, and revenge, he inculcates, in almost every page of inspiration and every form of utterance, love to our neighbours. The God of peace works everywhere in the world through peace, works by the peaceful influences of nature and the love of the gospel to produce "peace on earth, and good will towards men." How, then, can he be said to raise a nation to war? Simply by permission. He allows human nature freedom to work out the evil principles that are operating in it. The power of free action with which he endowed men at first he does not crush, he does not restrict; he treats it with respect, and leaves men free to do evil as well as good. He who permits the river at times to overflow its boundaries, and the subterranean fires to break forth, permits the passions of men to issue in war and bloodshed. Permission is not authorship.

II. THE WHY. Why does the Almighty chastise nations by nations? Why not employ the elements of nature or angelic intelligences? or why not do it by his own direct volition, without any instrumentality whatever? He may, for aught we know, chastise men in all these ways; but we can see reasons for his employing nations to chastise nations by wars. In acting thus:

1. Man has revealed to him in the most impressive way the wickedness of the human heart. It has been well said that war is the effect, the embodiment, and manifestation of every conceivable sin. In every war hell is revealed; its fires flash, its thunders roll, its fiends revel and shriek. For man to get rid of sin, he must be impressed with its enormity; and does not war make that impression? Does not every crimson chapter in its history reveal to the human heart the stupendous enormity of sin?

2. Man has revealed to him the utter folly of putting confidence his fellow man. War reveals falsehood, treachery, cunning, fraud, cruelty; and who can trust these? Does not war say to every man, "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm"? To day a man may fondle you as a friend, tomorrow foam at you as a fiend. "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no hope."

3. Man has revealed to him the supreme importance of cultivating the true friendship of his fellow men. What thoughtful men have not groaned and wept over the utter failure of all means to produce the results for which they were ostensibly commenced - to vindicate national honour, to establish peace? Such ends are never realized. What, then, is the lesson? Cultivate friendship with your fellow men, the friendship of man with man, family with family, tribe with tribe, nation with nation. Wars are God's moral lessons to man in tragedy. - D.T.

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