Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Amos 8:1-3). The intervening eight verses which conclude the seventh chapter (vers. 10-17) contain an account of the interruption of Amos by Amaziah the priest of Bethel, whose punishment is specially predicted. In point of style, this portion differs from that of the rest of the book, being almost exclusively historical and dialogistic (Henderson). In the words we have two subjects of thought - A Divine revelation leading to human prayer, and human prayer leading to a Divine revelation.
I. A DIVINE REVELATION LEADING TO HUMAN PRAYER.
1. Here is a Divine revelation. What is the revelation? It is a vision of judgments made to the mind of the prophet. Both judgments are symbolically represented.
(1) Destruction by grasshoppers at the beginning, or the "shooting up of the latter growth after the king's mowings." The prophet saw the devouring grasshoppers eating up the grass of the land. No agents are too insignificant for the employment of Jehovah. He can inflict terrible judgments by insects. Here was a prospect of famine set before the prophet.
(2) Destruction by fire. "Thus hath the Lord God showed unto me: and, behold, the Lord God called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part." Perhaps this represents a great drought, the sun's fire burning up all vegetation. It is said this fire "devoured the great deep." It drank up the pools, the lakes, the rivers. Thus in two symbolical forms is a Divine revelation made to the mind of Amos. Most terrible and alarming is the prospect of his country, thus divinely spread out before him. God makes revelations of his mind to his people. "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?"
2. Here is a human prayer. What is the prayer? Here it is: "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." And again, in ver. 5, "O Lord God, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." "Forgive." This calamity is brought on by the sin of the nation. Forgive the sin; remove the moral cause of the judgment. "By whom shall Jacob arise?" Or, better, "How can Jacob stand? for he is small." Jacob's - the nation's - weakness is the plea of the prayer for forgiveness. The Israelites had been greatly reduced by internal commotions and hostile invasions, and were now on the point of being attacked by the Assyrians, but purchased their retreat by a payment of a thousand talents of silver (2 Kings 15:19, 20). The nation was now so weakened that it was unable to stand before another invader. How can Jacob stand? The time has come when men may well ask this question in relation to the Church. How can it stand? The numbers are decreasing, viewed in relation to the growth of the population. By whom shall it arise? Not by statesmen, scientists, ritualists, priests. A new order of men is required to enable the Church to stand. Heaven raise them up!
II. HUMAN PRAYER LEADING TO A DIVINE REVELATION. The prophet prays, and the great God makes a new revelation - a revelation of mercy. "The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord." "The Lord repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord God." "Repented," which means merely that he appeared to Amos as if he repented. The Immutable One changeth not. Though we are far enough from holding the absurdity that human prayer effects any alteration in the ordinances of nature or the purposes of the Almighty, we nevertheless hold with a tenacious faith the doctrine that a man gets from God by prayer that which he would not get without it. Indeed, in every department of life man gets from the Almighty, by a certain kind of activity, that which he would never obtain without the effort. A man has a field which he has never tilled, and on which Providence has bestowed no crop for many a long year. He tills it this year, and in autumn God crowns it with his goodness. Another man has no health; for many years he has neglected the conditions of physical vigour, and he is infirm and afflicted. This year he attends rigorously to the laws of his physical well being. He takes the proper exercise, the right food, the pure air, and he feels his infirmities and his pains decrease, and new vigour pulsating through his veins. Another man has never enjoyed the light of Divine knowledge; his soul has been living in the region of indolence; he has neglected all the means of intelligence. He alters his course and sots to work; he reads and thinks, studies God's holy book, and prays; he feels his nature gradually brightening under the genial rays of truth. Thus everywhere God reveals to man his goodness in connection with his activity, which never comes without human effort. It is so in prayer. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." It puts the soul in that angle on which the Divine light falls, in that soil in which its intellectual and moral powers will grow. "Ask, and ye shall receive."
"More things are wrought by prayer
I. THE PROMPTING TO INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Why should one man plead with God on another's behalf? It is evident that there is in human nature not only a principle of self-love, but also a principle of sympathy and benevolence. Amos interceded for the nation from which he sprang, in which he was interested, and which was endeared to him by sacred associations. He was well aware of his countrymen's offences, and of God's just displeasure with them. He knew and had foretold that retribution should befall them. Yet he entreated mercy - a withholding of judgment, a little respite at the least. He identified himself with the sinful, and sought forbearance.
II. THE GROUND OF CONFIDENCE IN INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Amos could not ask for the withholding of punishment on the ground that punishment was undeserved; for he confessed that the people's sin had merited chastening. His reliance was not upon justice, but upon mercy. It was forgiveness he besought; and forgiveness presumes disobedience on the part of the subject and offence taken on the part of the ruler. In pleading for our fellow men, as in pleading for ourselves, we have to rely upon the pity and loving kindness of our God.
III. THE PLEA BY WHICH INTERCESSORY PRAYER IS URGED. "Who is Jacob?" is the language of the prophet. "Who is Jacob, that he should stand, that he should endure, if such a visitation befall him? He is feeble and impoverished." Thus, whilst the main reliance of him who intercedes must ever be upon the character and promises of the Eternal, he will naturally bring before God - as well known to the Omniscient - the weakness and helplessness of those whose interest he would promote. God is not as man. Men sometimes are found willing to favour the great, though they are indifferent to the woes of the obscure; whilst with God need, poverty, and helplessness are a commendation to compassion and assistance.
IV. THE SUCCESSFUL ISSUE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. The entreaty of the prophet was not in vain. The calamity - whether we understand it literally, as a plague of locusts, or figuratively, as the invasion by Pul - was averted and withdrawn. This is but one of many instances in Old and New Testament Scripture in which God represents himself as willing to listen to the pleading of the pious on behalf of their sinful fellow men. It is one office of the Church of Christ to plead perpetually for mankind, uttering the plaintive and effectual intercession, "Spare them, good Lord!" - T.
I. NO CHANGE IS ASSERTED IN THE CHARACTER, THE GOVERNMENT, THE WILL, OF THE ETERNAL. In this sense the Lord is not a man that he should repent. Whilst all men are subject not only to vicissitudes of circumstances, but to variations in disposition, and even in principles of action, God is a stranger to all such mutability. "I," says he, "am the Lord that changeth not." Well for us is it that this is so; that we have not to do with a mutable, a capricious deity. Because he is the Lord that changeth not, therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.
II. BUT ALL THE THREATS OF THE DIVINE JUDGE ARE CONDITIONAL UPON HUMAN CONDUCT. The whole of revelation bears out this statement. What God commands he enforces with the promise of reward and with the threat of punishment. This is in accordance with his character and position as the Moral Governor of his universe. He does not, as an earthly tyrant might do, take pleasure in inflicting punishment upon any of his dependent creatures. On the contrary, he desireth not the death of a sinner. If the threatened respond to the appeal of Heaven, if they turn from their wickedness, they shall surely live, and not die. He repenteth him of the evil, and is favourable and forgiving towards the penitent.
III. THE DIVINE REPENTANCE DEMANDS THE ADORATION AND THE PRAISE OF THOSE WHO OWE TO IT THEIR SALVATION. There is not one child of Adam who is not indebted to the repentance of Jehovah for the sparing of life, for long suffering, for the aversion of judgment. In fact, but for this, the original sentence against the sinner must have been fulfilled, and the race of mankind must have perished. Every successive interposition of Divine mercy has been the evidence of that relenting which exclaims, "How shall I give thee up?" And the advent and sacrifice of Immanuel, the mediatorial scheme, the redemption of mankind, the recovery of the lost, are all to be attributed to this same cause. The fountain of salvation must be discovered in the repentance of the Unchanging. It is a paradox; but it is a paradox honouring to God and life giving to man. - T.
I. THE SIN OF MAN MAY EXHAUST THE PATIENCE OF GOD. It must not, indeed, be supposed that the Divine nature is susceptible of capricious changes, such as men are liable to experience. But we have to consider God as the moral Governor of the nations of mankind. And we are taught that he is, as we say, in earnest in the laws which he promulgates, and in the promises and threats by which he accompanies them. He will not continue to threaten, and then falsify his owm words, by withholding punishment from those who withhold repentance. With no weariness, with no irritability, but with a righteous judgment and a compassionate heart, he will execute his threats.
II. THE JUST RETRIBUTION OF GOD IS ACCORDING TO UNCHANGING AND INFLEXIBLE RULES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. In human punishment there is often an element of caprice and an element of vindictiveness. From the Divine mind both are forever absent. No sinner can complain, or ever will be able to complain, that he has been punished beyond his deserts. On the contrary, he will ever recognize that wisdom and righteousness have characterized all the appointments of the eternal King. The plumb line is employed not only in construction but in destruction. And God who has made men's moral nature, and who roles over it and in it, will not violate his principles of righteousness in the administration of his government or in the execution of his sentences.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IS A POWERFUL ENCOURAGEMENT TO REPENTANCE AND OBEDIENCE. It is a dissuasive from sin and impenitence, inasmuch as it is a guarantee that rebellion shall not go unpunished. It is an inducement to repentance, for it is part of God's unchanging purpose that the penitent and submissive shall receive pardon and acceptance. And it is not to be forgotten that God's purposes of mercy are as much distinguished by law as are his purposes of punishment. Mercy is in accordance with the "plumb line" of Divine righteousness, and in his gospel God appears, as he is, just and "the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." - T.
2 Timothy 2:19), as he saith to Moses, "I know thee by name" (Exodus 33:12, 17). "He calleth his own sheep by name" (John 10:3). "Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel." No longer are the symbols, as in the former two, stated generally; this one is expressly applied to Israel. God's long suffering is worn out by Israel's perversity; so Amos ceases to intercede, as Abraham did in the case of Sodom. The plummet line was used, not only in building, but in destroying houses (2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8). It denotes that God's judgments are measured out by the exactest rules of justice. Here it is placed in the midst of Israel; i.e. the judgment is not to be confined to an outer part of Israel, as by Tiglath-Pileser - it is to reach the very centre. This was fulfilled when Shalmaneser, after a three years' siege of Samaria, took it, in the ninth year of Hoshea the King of Israel, and carried away Israel captive finally to Assyria (2 Kings 17:3, 5, 6, 23). "I will not again pass by them any more." I will not forgive them any more (Amos 8:2; Proverbs 19:11; Micah 7:18). "And the high places," dedicated to idols, "of Isaac." They boasted of following the example of their forefather Isaac, in erecting high places at Beersheba (Amos 5:5); but he and Abraham erected them before the temple was appointed at Jerusalem. But these Israelites did so after the temple had been fixed as the only place for sacrifices and worship. The mention of Isaac and Israel is in all probability intended simply to express the names which their posterity boasted in, as if they would ensure their safety; but these shall not save them. Homiletically, we may use these words as suggesting certain things concerning man's moral character.
I. THERE IS A KIND OF MASONRY IN THE FORMATION OF MAN'S CHARACTER. "Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb line." A plumb line is an architectural instrument; and the wall on which the Lord stood was being measured by a plumb line. Moral masonry is suggested. Man's character may be compared to masonry in several respects.
1. It has one foundation. Walls are built, not upon two, but upon one foundation. So is every man's character. There is some one principle on which it is organized, some one fount to which you can trace all the streams of human activity. The principle is the paramount affection of the man. Whatever he loves most, governs him. If he loves pleasure most, his character is sensual; if he loves money most, his character is worldly; if he loves wisdom most, his character is philosophic; if he loves God most, his character is Divine, etc.
2. It has a variety of materials. In a building there are earth, lime, stones, bricks, wood, iron, etc. These are brought together into a whole. Character is not formed of one set of actions, thoughts, impulses, volitions. All kinds of acts enter into it, mental, moral, muscular, personal, political, religious - all are materials in the building.
3. It is a gradual advancement. You cannot build a house in a day; stone by stone it must advance: so the formation of character is a slow work. Men cannot become either devils or saints at once, cannot spring into these characters by a bound. It takes time to build up a Satan, and a longer time still to build up a seraph within us. Acts make habits; habits make character.
II. THREE IS A DIVINE STANDARD BY WHICH TO TEST MAN'S CHARACTER. Here is the great God standing on the wall with a "plumb line" in his hand, with which to test his people Israel. What is the Divine "plumb line" by which to test character? Here it is: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." Or, perhaps more intelligibly, the moral character of Christ: "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." That spirit is love for God and men. Without love we are "nothing." Here is a plumb line. Are you Christly? If not, your moral masonry is not architecturally sound or symmetric. He who now stood before Amos on the wall, with a "plumb line in his hand," stands today amongst men with this moral test of character.
III. THERE IS A TERRIBLE RUIN FOR THOSE WHOSE CHARACTERS WILL NOT BEAR THE TEST OF THIS PLUMB LINE. "Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more: and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword." See this test applied on the day of judgment, as represented in Matthew 25:31-46, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory," etc. - D.T.
I. THE CONVENTIONAL PRIEST OF A PEOPLE. Amaziah was the recognized, authorized, conventional priest of Bethel - the chief priest of the royal sanctuary of the calves at Bethel. He was the recognized religious teacher - a kind of archbishop. We find this man doing three things which such conventional priests have done in all ages, and are doing now.
1. He was in close intimacy with the king. He "sent to Jeroboam King of Israel." Conventional priests have always an eye upward, always towards kings and those in authority; they have generally proved ready to obey their behests, study their caprices, and wink at their abominations. In their prayers they will often insult the Omniscient by describing their royal masters, whatever their immoralities, as "our most religious," "our most gracious sovereign." As a rule, they are the mere creatures of kings.
2. He seeks to expel an independent teacher from the dominion of the king. He seeks to do this in two ways.
(1) By appealing to the king. He does this in a spirit that has ever characterized his class - by brining against Amos the groundless charge of treason. "Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words." By a base slander he endeavours to influence the king against the true teacher. He does this:
(2) By alarming the prophet. "Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court." It does not appear that the king took any notice of the message which this authorized religious teacher had sent him concerning Amos; hence, in order to carry out his malignant purpose, he addresses the prophet and says, "O thou seer, go, flee thee away." Not imagining that Amos could be actuated by any higher principle than that of selfishness, which reigned in his own heart, the priest advised him to consult his safety by fleeing across the frontier into the kingdom of Judah, where he might obtain his livelihood by the unrestrained exercise of his prophetical gifts. Here, then, we have, in this Amaziah, a type of many so called authorized religious teachers of a country. Two feelings inspire them - a miserable servility towards their rulers, and a cruel envy towards their religious rivals. They want to sweep the land of all schismatics. Thank God, the days of the Amaziahs, through the advancement of popular intelligence, are drawing to a close!
II. HERE WE HAVE THE GENUINE PRIEST OF A PEOPLE, Amos seems to have been a prophet not nationally recognized as such. He was no professional prophet. Observe three things concerning the prophet.
1. He is not ashamed of his humble origin. "I was no prophet" - that is, "I am not a prophet by profession," - "neither was I a prophet's son." By the son of a prophet he means a disciple or pupil. He had not studied in any prophetic college. On the contrary, "I am nothing but a poor labouring man" - "an herdsman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit." No true prophet is ever ashamed of his origin, however humble. As a rule, the greatest teachers of the world have struggled up from the regions of poverty and obscurity. From the lower grades of social life the Almighty generally selects his most eminent servants; "not many mighty does he call."
2. He is conscious of the Divinity of his mission. "The Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel." Amos seems to have had no doubt at all as to the tact that the Lord called him. How he was called does not appear. When God calls a man to work, the man knows it. No argument will convince him to the contrary. The conventional teacher may say, "You are unauthorized, unrecognized, unordained; you have intruded yourself into the holy calling." But the true teacher knows when he is divinely called, and under this impression he carries on his work. "The Lord took me as I followed the flock,"
3. In the name of Heaven he denounces the conventional priest. In return for this rebellion against Jehovah, Amos foretells for the priest the punishment which will fall upon him when the judgment shall come upon Israel, meeting his words, "Thou sayest, Thou shalt not prophesy," with the keen retort, "Thus saith Jehovah." The punishment is thus described in ver. 17, "Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city," i.e. at the taking of the city she will become a harlot through violation. His children also would be slain by the foe, and his lauded possessions assigned to others, viz. to the fresh settlers in the land. He himself, viz. the priest, would die in an unclean land, that is to say, in the land of the Gentiles; in other words, would be carried away captive, and that with the whole nation, the carrying away of which is repeated by Amos in the words which the priest had reported to the king (ver. 11) as a sign that what he has prophesied will assuredly stand (Delitzsch).
CONCLUSION. To which class of teachers dost thou belong, my brother? That represented by Amaziah, who, though recognized by his king and country as the true teacher, was nevertheless destitute of loyalty to the one true God and the spirit of true philanthropy and honest manhood; or that represented by Amos, who although a poor labourer, unrecognized by his country as a true teacher, yet was called of God and manfully fulfilled his Divine mission? Heaven multiply in this country and throughout the world religions teachers of this Amos type! - D.T.
I. GOD IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON EDUCATION OR LEARNING FOR THE QUALIFICATION OF THE AGENTS HE SELECTS. Amos was not the first or the last unlettered, intellectually uncultivated man employed by Infinite Wisdom upon a high and sacred ministry of usefulness. There were in Palestine "schools of the prophets," but in these Amos was not trained. The spiritual power, which is the true "note" of a prophetic calling, is not confined to those who are reared in seats of learning, who have acquired the scholarship which is imparted by the intellectual discipline of school and university.
II. GOD CAN, HOWEVER, GIVE AN EDUCATION AND TRAINING OF HIS OWN, EFFECTIVE FOR THE PURPOSES OF A SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. It is a common mistake to suppose that those who have not been educated in the way which is familiar to us have not been educated at all The Lord taught Amos in the solitude of the fields, the valleys, the hills of Judea, as he tended the cattle, as he gathered the fruit of the sycomore. His education was, in a sense, very thorough. It gave him insight into the mighty works of the Creator, into his wonderful ways in dealing with the children of men, into the secrets of the human heart. His writings are a sufficient proof of his familiarity with the works and ways of God. His sublime descriptions of natural scenery, of the heavens and the earth, his minute acquaintance with the processes of growth and of husbandry, his knowledge of the human heart and all its conflicts, - these are evidences that his mind was not uninformed or untrained.
III. AN UNLETTERED BUT DIVINELY TAUGHT NATURE MAY BE A BLESSING TO MEN, AND MAY BRING GLORY TO GOD. The service which Amos rendered to Israel, to Judah, to the Church of God in subsequent ages, is a proof that God can use instruments, which seem to man's wisdom unsuitable, in order to effect his own purposes. The power of this prophet's ministry is unquestionable. To some extent his message was heeded; and that it was not more effective was not owing to any fault in him, but rather to the hardness of heart which distinguished those to whom he was sent. At the same time, there was so manifest an evidence of Divine power in the life and work of Amos as must have impressed all who knew him with the conviction that the power of God was upon him. A Divine election, Divine qualifications, may be as really present in the case of a minister of religion who has enjoyed every social and educational advantage, as in the case of him who is called from the plough to prophesy in the name of the Lord. But the impression upon the popular mind is in the former case far more deep, and naturally so. Thus God is honoured, whilst witness is borne to him before men, and the cause of righteousness is maintained and advanced. - T.
I. THE AUTHOR AND THE AUTHORITY OF PROPHECY. No true prophet ever spake the counsels of his own wisdom merely. The preface to a prophetic utterance is this: "Thus saith the Lord." "The Lord took me," says Amos, in his simple, graphic style, "as I was following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy."
1. The prophet was called and appointed by the Lord of all truth and power.
2. The prophet was entrusted by the Lord with a special message. It was these facts that aggravated the guilt of those who were inattentive to the Divine message, who rejected and persecuted the Divine messengers.
II. THE MATTER AND SUBSTANCE OF PROPHECY. The function of the prophet was to utter forth the mind and will of the Eternal. Sometimes it is supposed that it was his special duty to declare things to come, to foretell. Doubtless the prophet was often directed to warn of evils about to descend upon the guilty and impenitent. But to foretell was not so much his distinctive office as to tell forth the commands and the counsels of the Lord.
III. THE PROPHET AS THE VEHICLE OF PROPHECY. Personality, loving intelligence and will, a truly human nature, - such was the condition to be fulfilled by the chosen vehicle of the Divine purposes. Men of temperaments as different as Elijah and Jeremiah were selected by him who can make use of every instrument for the fulfilment of his own purposes. One thing was necessary, that the prophet's whole nature should be penetrated by the Spirit of God, that he should give himself up entirely to become the minister and the messenger of Eternal Wisdom.
IV. THE METHODS OF PROPHECY. Speech was no doubt the chief means by which the prophet conveyed his message to his fellow men; speech of every kind, bold and gentle, figurative and plain, commanding and persuasive. Life was no inconsiderable part of prophecy. There were cases in which the very actions and habits of the prophet were a testimony to men. Symbols were not infrequently employed in order to impart lessons which could be better taught thus than by the logical forms of speech. God made use of every method which human nature allowed and the conditions of the prophetic ministry suggested.
V. THE PURPORT OF PROPHECY. An agency so special and so highly qualified must have aimed at an end proportionably important and valuable. It may be noted that:
1. Prophecy was largely intended to lead sinful people to repentance and reformation.
2. To encourage the obedient and spiritual amidst difficulties and persecutions.
3. To introduce higher views of religion than those current at the time, and thus to prepare the way for the dispensation of the Messiah, for the religion of the Spirit, for the universal kingdom of truth and righteousness. - T.
I. A LAND MAY BE POLLUTED NOTWITHSTANDING ITS WEALTH, LUXURIOUSNESS, AND POLITICAL EMINENCE AND POWER. Some of the ancient monarchies of the world were no less remarkable for moral corruption than for grandeur, prosperity, and military strength. Such was the case with Assyria. And it is well to be upon our guard against the deceptiveness of external appearances. The semblance of national greatness may mislead us in our judgment. The surface may deceive; there may be much to outward view fascinating and commanding. Yet beneath the surface there may be injustice, oppression, selfishness, wretchedness, and disunion; the land may be polluted by vice and, if not by idolatry, yet by practical atheism.
II. A LAND MAY BE POLLUTED ALTHOUGH IT BE CHOSEN AS THE SCENE OF THE EXECUTION OF PURPOSES OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. It must not be supposed that, because certain nations were appointed by Divine providence to be the ministers of retribution upon Israel, those nations must have been morally admirable or even superior to that upon which their power was exercised for purposes of chastisement. The records of the Old Testament Scriptures are decisive upon this point. Idolatrous people were permitted to scourge Israel for idolatry. A polluted land was to be the means of cleansing those defiled by sin.
III. TO CLEANSE A LAND FROM POLLUTION IS THE HIGHEST END WHICH THE PATRIOTIC AND RELIGIOUS CAN SET BEFORE THEM. Splendour, opulence, military power, are in the view of the enlightened as nothing compared with the righteousness which exalteth a nation. - T.