The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa.
Though a native of the kingdom of Judah, Amos was sent with a message to the ten tribes. The unity of the two kingdoms was not the less real that their histories were divergent. In its origin, idea, and ultimate aim, the theocracy was one. The division which took place after the death of Solomon was a departure from the original conception, and the fruit of human sin. Yet, like many other events in which the Divine purpose seems to fail, it was so overruled as to promote the very end which it apparently frustrated. Not only were the two kingdoms a source of moral discipline — a mutual check to each other — but a richer, fuller illustration of God's dealings with His people was rendered possible than would .otherwise have been attainable. This unity in diversity, and diversity in unity, this double development, which is yet one, must not be overlooked if we would understand aright the history of God's covenant people. Whatever the two kingdoms were to their own thoughts, they were one in the eyes of God. During the vigorous reign of Jeroboam II., the kingdom of the ten tribes attained to a high pitch of prosperity and power. As this resulted from energy in the administration, rather than in any deeper moral principle, it only hastened the progress of inward decay. Luxury, oppression of the poor, lewdness, and profligacy in its many varied forms, followed in the train. It was thus to a people at the crisis of their destiny, in the height of apparent, but delusive prosperity, that Amos, the humble herdman of Tekoa, and gatherer of sycamore fruit, was sent. The circumstances of his mission gave occasion to a new step being taken in advance in the development of the prophetic testimony. Joel, Amos's immediate predecessor, prophesied to those who were chargeable, indeed, with much formality and shallowness of profession, and were therefore justly liable to severe chastisement, but who were yet free from gross and open vice. Hence, in unveiling the great movements of the future, he still identifies generally the covenant people with the friends of God and the objects of Divine deliverance; and "the nations" generally with the enemies of God, and the objects of His righteous vengeance. In reading the Book of Amos, we find ourselves breathing another atmosphere. The prophet no doubt first proclaims exterminating judgment against the surrounding nations, but this is only the prelude to the announcement of a similar doom on the chosen people themselves, who were eagerly following in the footsteps of the heathen. The prospect is held out, indeed, of blessing in the end, but not in a form that could convey the slightest comfort or hope to that ungodly generation. To them at least it was made abundantly plain that, like their rebellious fathers of old, they should spend their days in a wilderness of tribulation, and should not be permitted to see the promised rest. The book consists of a somewhat lengthened introduction, chaps, 1. 2. — followed by two chief divisions. The first, chaps. 3.-6., in the simple form of prophetic addresses. The second, chaps, 7.-9., in a series of visions. The whole being concluded with a promise of future deliverance and blessing.
This was the earliest of four prophets, who all appeared during the time when Assyria was the .greatest world power, the other three being Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. It was probably during the latter half of Jeroboam's reign that the prophet Amos appeared. It was the age of Israel's greatest splendour; but prosperity, as is so often the case, brought the saddest evils in its train. Although the Book of Kings passes quickly over the reign of Jeroboam, and gives the briefest details, yet the pages of Amos and Hosea abound with descriptions of the fearful evils which had crept in along with the renewed prosperity of the nation. The simplicity which had once characterised the national life had completely gone. In defiance of the Mosaic law, a class of nobles had arisen, who possessed large estates, into which they swept the smaller holdings, and "misused their power to oppress the masses, who had sunk into a condition of poverty, and in some cases even actual slavery." Notwithstanding the terrible social evils, a show of worship was kept up. The people sedulously attended the sanctuaries, and brought in abundance their sacrifices and burnt-offerings. It would have seemed most unlikely that the luxurious Israelite nobles and this humble man, Amos, would ever have anything to do with each other. Yet this was the man whose voice was to ring throughout the nation in unsparing condemnation of its many vices. Amos may be pictured as a lonely man, whose spirit was deeply stirred within him by the blow-ledge of the sins which were being committed by the people: a man with a heart completely given to God, his whole being consecrated to Jehovah's service. In the silence of his native fields Amos was spoken to by Jehovah, and received the commission to be His prophet. He responded to the call. Like so many others, he forsook all to obey the Divine summons. He journeyed into the territory of Israel, and made Bethel, Samaria, and other places his headquarters. The average observer would have seen in the northern kingdom a nation at the zenith of its prosperity, and would not have thought of its fall. But the keen eye of the prophet pierced through the glittering cover which wealth had thrown over the foulest corruption... There are two truths of vast importance on which Amos especially insists. He "starts from the thought of the universal sovereignty of God." That is the one truth. The other is the need for righteousness. If the words which, more than any others, describe the nature of his prophecies had to be given, we could find none more appropriate than these: "Let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty (or overflowing) stream" (Amos 7:7-17
). The prophet taught persistently that God is ever closely watching the doings of nations and of men, and that He will reward or punish them in accordance with the eternal law of righteousness. The great lesson he has emphasised is, that every sinful nation, no matter how great and prosperous it may seem, will assuredly perish; that the real strength of a people consists in righteousness.
The prophet was by birth and residence a citizen of Judea. He belonged to the district of Tekoa, a small town some twelve miles south of Jerusalem, perched on a high hill, looking away eastwards across a waste of barren hills to the Dead Sea peeping through their interstices, and the lofty tableland of Moab bounding the horizon beyond. It stands on the edge of the desert, where the fringes of agriculture thin away into a wilderness of rock and sand, broken only by scattered patches of scanty pasturage. The town can never have been much more than a prosperous village; but the adjacent soil is fruitful and kindly, and its oil and honey became celebrated for their excellence. For strategic purposes, it was fortified by Rehoboam, and it had the advantage of lying in a region intersected by some of the busiest highways of commerce. Its inhabitants might see much and hear more, and, in connection with trading caravans, be drawn into travel and become acquainted with the world and its doings. The place was thus, in several ways, not unsuitable for the training of a prophet; and it is arbitrary to argue, as two or three scholars have recently done, because there is now no sycamore culture in the district, and because Amos possesses an intimate knowledge of the north, that therefore we must look for another Tekoa somewhere in Samaria Spite of a floating tradition to the contrary, which still survives in popular circles, the literary merits of the Book of Amos must be rated very high. The general information of the writer is comprehensive and minute. He can paint in detail the religious customs, the social conditions, the local circumstances and vicissitudes of every part of the northern kingdom. With the geography and history, the alliances and feuds, trade relations, national institutions, and aspirations of the neighbouring nations, he is thoroughly familiar. He is possessed of profound ideas about nature, providence, the movements of races, and their place and function in the ,world's government. For breadth of survey, for strength and massiveness of conception, alike in morals and in religion, he is not surpassed by any of the prophets. He is a poet, orator, philosopher, statesman. But in those days and in his social environment, he might be all this without being a man of books and cities. Native genius, interest in the traditions of his people, intercourse with passing caravans, personal visits to distant parts, and a spirit awake to the presence and working of God in human history, past, present, and future, — these were influences potent enough to educate the man, and admirably adapted to prepare the way for the prophet. And this school was equally open to him, whether he was a poor man, living by his labour, now in one service, now in another, or a prosperous sheep-master and wealthy owner of fig orchards. remarks that Amos was "rude in speech, but not in knowledge"; and Jewish tradition has been pleased to credit him with a stutter or impediment of speech. This is probably the origin of a mistaken idea that his book is badly written, or at least betrays the rusticity of its author. On the contrary; the Hebrew of Amos ranks among the purest and most powerful compositions of the Old Testament. His language is choice and melodious, possibly in a few peculiar spellings recording a provincial pronunciation, or more likely the slips of the copyists' pens. His style is terse, dramatic, and simple, but very pointed and forcible. He loves brief uninvolved sentences, though occasionally carried away into passionate appeal or lyrical outbursts of poetic delineation. He indulges much in question, apostrophe, and exclamation. He is an orator more than an artist, or a bard. With all his simplicity we find traces of paranomasia, rhythmic arrangement, and rhetorical construction. His exposition abounds in rich and varied imagery derived from nature, and striking illustrations taken from everyday life. The ordered arrangement, compact style, and general literary finish of his book suggest slow, careful, and leisurely construction, while the fire of its invective, the impetus of its appeals, and the terrible directness of its denunciation prove it the record and embodiment of speech originally orally delivered On the surface Amos may seem to make too much of mere morality, but it is only an appearance. With him, to do right is to serve God, and the motive must be the love of God and of our neighbour.
THE SPHERE OF LIFE HE OCCUPIED. He was a "herdman." God has often selected the chief messengers of His truth from men in the humbler walks of life. Elisha, David, etc. Our Lord Himself came from a peasant cottage in Nazareth. In this fact we have two things.
1. Worldly pride divinely rebuked,
2. Human nature divinely honoured.
II. THE AGE IN WHICH AMOS LIVED. Two events are specified.
1. The political event of this period. "In the days of Uzziah, King of Judah." A comparatively peaceful and prosperous period.
2. The physical event of this period. Two years before the earthquake. Why is the period of his life thus described?(1) Because you cannot rightly judge a man's character unless you understand the circumstances under which he lived.(2) You cannot estimate the value of a man's mission unless you correctly judge of the moral character of his times.
III. THE MISSION TO WHICH HE WAS CALLED. What was it to pronounce Divine judgment? He announced it —
1. As coming according to his vision.
2. As coming in a terrible form.
3. As issuing from a scene of mercy.
4. As fraught with calamitous results.What an argument for repentance!
Amos was not ashamed of his descent. He was not a farmer, but a farm-labourer. Who cares to be on very close intimacy with a field-hand, or a cow-herd? To a little outdoor work Amos added the process of cleaning and preparing the fruit, either for preservation or for sale. Whilst he was doing his farm-work and attending to his fruit, a blast from heaven struck his deeper consciousness, and he stood up a prophet. The Lord will bring His prophets just as He pleases, and from what place He chooses. Amos was a field-hand, and yet he was fearless; he was all the more fearless because he was a field-hand. A farmer could not have been so fearless. Amos was a farm-labourer, yet he was equal to the occasion. Education is never equal to anything that is supremely great. There are times in human history when inspiration must go to the front — talent must go behind, genius must go into the first place. When we are inspired we forget our rags. When God calls. let not man despise. God's elections are startling. Amos begins where all rude, energetic minds begin; they begin in denunciation. Judgment seems to be a natural work for them to conduct. Amos issues his judgment against Damascus, Gaza, Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, Israel, — all round the circle that judgment-fire sparkles and blazes. It seems so much easier to denounce than to discriminate. Even young prophets began with thunder and lightning. Amos again and again says, "I will send a fire." And the nobles were lying on divans of ivory, having corrupted themselves to the point of rottenness. There are times in human history when only the disinfectant that can work the real miracle is fire. Fire never fails. We need voices of this kind; they help to keep the average of human history well up to the mark.
It is well to notice —
1. The importance of prophecy in an evidential point of view, as one of the supernatural elements of the Bible. To the honest, earnest, impartial inquirer, no more convincing or impressive proof of the truth of this revealed Word can be offered than its propHetic element affords. The age of miracles is past. The testimony of the "more sure (confirmed) word of prophecy," as it has been fulfilled, and as it is daily being fulfilled before our eyes, is all the more important.
2. The importance of the Old Testament Scriptures. The prophet Amos alleges his own inspiration. Much has been made by hostile critics of the supposed discrepancies and contradictions of Scripture; but how little has been said about its marvellous unity! What is it which imparts this unity?
3. In the Book of Amos is illustrated a principle of the Divine dealing. Amos was one of the people, and not in the order of the prophets. The Lord had suddenly and unexpectedly called and commissioned him to be a prophet of Israel. And so, in working for God, the question is not so much whether it is Amos the rude, or Isaiah the polished; the question is, are we verily and indeed called of Him? Are we qualified by His grace, and anointed by His Spirit?
4. The doctrine of a special providence is here strikingly set forth. Judgments were appointed to descend on several nations in succession. Than this there can be nothing more certain, that national sins draw down national judgments and punishments. Men are apt to think they may escape in a crowd. We have each our share in public misfortune and in national guilt, and in God's sight are held liable accordingly. But it is also true, that a special providence works in and with each of God's true children.
One point of interest in the Book of Amos is its testimony to the power of inspiration and religion on the untaught and uncultivated mind. It shows how such a mind may strike out bold, simple pathways, and forcible expressions, which arrest us with a greater force than even those of the more refined and cultivated. Imagery borrowed from natural scenery and its circumstances, will be among the most forcible modes of expression which such men will use. We may often gather important lessons from this influence of nature on the mind. She teaches us to dive more into her own calm and profound depth, to read the will of God. In Amos we have a mind accustomed to see duties or acts of religion through images borrowed from the external world. But not only does the form of nature influence the ruder mind of the peasant; he is influenced by the customs and conventionalities of the society in which he lives. Amos makes use of these frequently in connection with his religious mission. One practical question opens out to us, it is the real condition and value of the uneducated mind under the influences of religion. There is often an inclination alike to overrate as to underrate this; and serious injury is done by both tendencies.
Do you remember what was the immediate agent in Bishop Hannington's conversion? Someone sent him a little book. Hannington determined to read every word of it, so he began with the preface. He became impressed with the notion that the book was unscholarly. "I therefore threw the book away, and refused to read it." Some time after he was leaving Exeter for St. Petherwyn, and he spied the old book. He knew his friend would ask him if he had read it. "I suppose I must read through it, and so I stuffed it into my portmanteau. At Petherwyn I took the book out, and read the first chapter. I disliked it so much that I determined never to touch it again. I rather think I flung the book across the room. So back into my portmanteau it went, and remained until my visit to Hurst, when I again saw it, and thought I might as well read it, so as to be able to tell the sender about it. So once more I took the old thing, and read straight on for three chapters or so, until at last I came upon that called, 'Do you feel your sins forgiven?' And by means of this my eyes were opened. I was in bed at the time, reading. I sprang out of bed, and leaped about the room rejoicing and praising God that Jesus died for me. From that day to this I have lived under the shadow of His wings in the assurance of faith that I am His and He is mine." The Lord used that which was apparently contemptible to be a minister of salvation! What appeared to James Hannington to be despicable turned out to be the instrument of his redemption. Now God loves to use the apparently base and ignoble, and the despised! He loves to send His power along commonplace wires! He calls into His service some uncultured speaker, whose words tumble out in disorder, and whose thoughts are wanting in logical succession, and He fills the ungainly speech with power, and through the rough utterance there come spiritual stabs that pierce to the very hearts of the hearers. He loves to use some letter which is devoid of literary grace, and written with no grammatical accuracy, and He fills it with the dynamic of the Holy Ghost, and it is mighty to the bringing down of strongholds.
Many of God's most distinguished workmen have been called from scenes of the humblest labour. It was when toiling over a shoemaker's bench that Carey's soul was filled with a zeal for missionary labour. Morrison was once a maker of shoe-lasts. John Williams, of Erromanga, was called from the blacksmith's shop. Dr. Livingstone from working in a cotton mill. Our Saviour also called His disciples from among the fishermen.
Which he saw concerning Israel.
The prophet was specifically appointed for the Israelites, though born elsewhere. But how, and on what occasion, he migrated into the kingdom of Israel, we know not. It is probable that this was designedly arranged, that God might check the insolence of the people, who flattered themselves so much in their prosperity. Since the Israelites had hitherto rejected God's servants, they were now con. strained to hear a foreigner and a shepherd condemning them for their sins, and exercising the office of a judge: he who proclaims an impending destruction is a celestial herald. This being the case, we hence see that God had not in vain employed the ministry of this prophet; for He is wont to choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and He takes prophets and teachers from the lowest grade to humble the dignity of the world, and puts the invaluable treasure of His doctrine in earthen vessels, that His power, as Paul teaches us, may be made more evident. But there was a special reason as to the prophet Amos; for he was sent on purpose severely to reprove the ten tribes; and he handled them with great asperity. For he was not polite, but proved that he had to do with those who were not to be treated as men, but as brute beasts; yea, worse in obstinacy than brute beasts; for there is some docility in oxen and cows, and especially in sheep, for they hear the voice of their shepherd, and follow where he leads them. The Israelites were all stubbornness, and wholly untameable. It was then necessary to set over them a teacher who would not treat them courteously, but exercise towards them his native rusticity.
Two years before the earthquake
Palestine lies almost in the centre of one great volcanic region of the earth's surface, that, namely, which includes the basin of the Mediterranean, and the provinces of Western or Central Asia. Traces of that volcanic action are found in every direction. The black basaltic rocks of the Hauran, the hot springs of Tiberias, and Emmaus, and Gadara, the naphtha fountains near the Dead Sea, the dykes of porphyry, and other volcanic rocks that force their way through thy limestone, the many caves in the limestone rock themselves, — all these show that we are treading on ground where the forces of the hidden fires of the earth have been, in times past, in active operation. We are, that is, in a zone of earthquakes. On some of these earthquakes, tremendous in their phenomena, and in the extent of the desolation caused by them, we have full details, in earlier and even in contemporary history. The Jewish writer, Josephus
, speaks of one which occurred in B.C. 31
, as having destroyed many villages, and countless flocks, and herds, and human lives, which he estimates (with somewhat, perhaps, of Oriental vagueness as to statistics) now at ten, and now at thirty thousand. Herod and his army, who were then carrying on war against the Arabs, were only saved by their being encamped in tents, and so free from the peril of falling houses. As it was, he had to combat the panic and depression which it spread through his troops, and with something of a sceptical epicureanism, to assure them that these natural phenomena were not signs of greater evils to come, but were calamities by themselves, having no connection with any others that followed or preceded them. Within the last thirty years again the shocks of an earthquake were felt over the whole of Syria, in Beirdt, Damascus, Cyprus; Safed was almost utterly destroyed; Tiberias was left little better than a heap of ruins, and one-third of the population perished, to the number of a thousand. Rivers forsook their beds, and left them dry for hours. The hot springs that flow into the Sea of Tiberias were largely swollen in volume, and the level of the lake was raised. One such convulsion has left its impress on the history of the kingdom of Judah. It seems to have been the first great earthquake in the history of Israel. It occurred in the time of Uzziah (Amos 1:1
; Zechariah 14:5
). There is no trace of anything of the kind in the Book of Judges, or in the earlier history of the Kings.
The Lord will roar from Zion.
The prophet not only shows here, that God was the Author of his doctrine, but at the same time he distinguishes between the true God, and the idols, which the first Jeroboam made, when by this artifice he intended to withdraw the ten tribes from the house of David, and wholly to alienate them from the tribe of Judah: it was then that he set up the calves in Dan and Bethel. The prophet now shows that all these superstitions are condemned by the true God. "Jehovah then will roar from Zion, He will utter His voice from Jerusalem." He, no doubt, wished here to terrify the Israelites, who thought they had peace with God. Since, then, they abused His long-suffering, Amos now says that they would find at length that He was not asleep. "When God, then, shall long bear with your iniquities, He will at last rise up for judgment." By "roaring" is signified the terrible voice of God; but the prophet here speaks of God's voice, rather than of what are called actual judgments really executed, that the Israelites might learn that the examples of punishments which God executes in the world happen not by chance or at random, but proceed from His threatenings; in short, the prophet intimates that all punishments which God inflicts on the ungodly and the despisers of His Word. are only the executions of what the prophets proclaimed, in order that men, should there be any hope of their repentance, might anticipate the destruction which they hear to be nigh. The prophet commends very highly the truth of what God teaches, by saying that it is not what vanishes, but what is accomplished; for when He destroys nations and kingdoms, it comes to pass according to prophecies.
THE CHANGE WHICH SIN WORKS IN THE RELATIONS BETWEEN EARTH AND HEAVEN. "The Lord will roar from Zion." The figure is that of a lion ready for its prey. Can this be He of whose tenderness Moses spoke? (Deuteronomy 32:9-14
.) What had wrought such a change between God and His people? Years of wandering, and rebellion, and sin can alone explain this change. Contrast between the friendship and the enmity of God a fruitful means to awaken the sinner and save His own people from wandering (Isaiah 40:11
II. THE PLACE FROM WHICH DANGER SHOULD COME — Zion and Jerusalem. These were the centres of the old national worship — places that God had chosen to put His name there. In the palaces of Zion God had been known for a refuge. Sin turned the sources of peace and prosperity into the seat of their mightiest enemy.
III. THE TIME OF THE PROPHECY OF WOE. An era of hope. Prosperity had returned (2 Kings 14:25). The prophecy burst upon them like thunder out of a blue sky, or as if one, in full tide of health, should see his own funeral procession pass. However dazzling the prosperity to which sin may have raised men, its time of most luxuriant growth is often the hour of its blasting. "The Judge standeth at the door."
IV. THE VISITATION WAS TO TOUCH THEM ON THE SIDE WHERE THEY WOULD MOST FEEL IT — temporal prosperity. "The habitations of the shepherds shall mourn" — poetic personification of the ruin that should come to that class of which Amos had so recently been a member. "Carmel" — the place of surpassing fertility — abounding in rich pastures, olives, and vines. God takes what men prize most if haply their heart may be softened by His visitation. Application(1) The concurrence of testimony among all Divine messengers to the certainty of vengeance due for wrong. Only false prophets can utter the "smooth things" which sinners would fain hear.(2) The change in God's dealings with men wrought by sin.
I will not turn away the punishment thereof.
The order of God's threatenings seems to have been addressed to gain the hearing of the people. The punishment is first denounced upon their enemies, and that, for their sins, directly or indirectly against themselves, and God in them. Then, as to those enemies themselves, the order is not of place or time, but of their relations to God's people. It begins with their most oppressive enemy, Syria; then Philistia, the old and ceaseless, although less powerful enemy; then Tyre, not an oppressor, as these, yet violating a relation which they had not, the bonds of a form or friendship and covenant; malicious also and hard hearted through covetousness. Then followed Edom, Ammon, Moab, who burst the bonds of blood also. Lastly, and nearest of all, it falls on Judah, who had the true worship of the true God among them, but despised it. Every infliction on those like ourselves finds an echo in our own consciences. Israel heard and readily believed God's judgments upon others. It was not tempted to set itself against believing them. How then could it refuse to believe of itself what it believed of others like itself? "Change but the name, the tale is told of thee," Horace says. The course of the prophecy convicted them, as the things written in Holy Scripture for our ensamples convict Christians. If they who sinned without law, perished without law, how much more should they who have sinned in the law be judged by the law? God's judgments rolled, round like a thunder-cloud, passing from land to land, giving warning of their approach, at last to gather and centre on Israel itself, except it repent. In the visitations of others it was to read its own; and that the more, the nearer God was to them. Israel is placed last, because on it the destruction was to fall to the uttermost, and rest there.
The prophet shows that God, as a Judge, would call all the neighbouring nations Co account. Had the prophet threatened the Israelites only, they might have thought that what they suffered was by chance, when they saw the like things happening to their neighbours. Thus all the authority of the prophet must have lost its power, except the Israelites were made to know that God is the Judge of all nations. Amos puts the Israelites in the same bundle with the Moabites, the Idumaeans, and other heathen nations; as though he had said, "God will not spare your neighbours; but think not that ye shall be exempt from His vengeance, when they shall be led to punishment: I now declare to you that God will be the Judge of you all together." The design of Amos was —
1. To set before the eyes of the Israelites the punishment of others to awaken them, and also to induce them to examine themselves. He designed to lead them into a teachable frame of mind: for he knew them to be torpid in their indulgences, and also blinded by presumption, so that they could not be easily brought under the yoke.
2. He had this also in view, that God would punish the Syrians, because they cruelly raged against the Israelites, especially against Gilead and its inhabitants. As God, then. would inflict so grievous a punishment on the Syrians, because they so cruelly treated the inhabitants of Gilead, what was to be expected by the Israelites themselves, who had been insolent towards God, who had isolated His worship, who had robbed Him of His honour, who had in their turn destroyed one another? For there was among them no equity, no humanity; they had forgotten all reason.
That the sins of all the peoples on the earth, whatever the peculiarities of their character or country, are under the cognisance of God. Seven countries are named here. Heaven's omniscient eye detected the sill of each man of all the various men and nations. God's knowledge of men's sins should —(1) Lead men to great circumspection in their daily life. They should sedulously avoid evil. They should devoutly pursue good;(2) impress men with the wonderful patience of God. This patience implies the greatest power; and the greatest compassion;(3) impress men with the certainty of a future retribution.
Because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments
We be many ways guilty of cruelty.
1. If we exercise tyrannous cruelty, in inflicting punishments.
2. If we fight with or beat our neighbour, or maim his body. This is a breach of the sixth commandment.
3. If we procure any way the death of our neighbour, whether it be by sword, famine, poison, false accusation, or otherwise.
4. If we use any of God's creatures hardly.
5. If because of our neighbours' infirmities, we use him discourteously, and make him our laughingstock or taunting recreation.
6. If we injure a stranger.
7. If we molest any widow, or fatherless children.
8. If we wrong the poor. This we may do —
(1)If we lend money to the poor upon usury.
(2)If we pay not the poor labourer his hire.
(3)If we restore not the pledge of the poor.
(4)If we withdraw our corn from the poor.
The sin of inflicting suffering.
I. PERSECUTION IS A MOST ARROGANT CRIME. The religious persecutor acts upon the assumption that his ideas of religion are absolutely true. that his theological knowledge is the test by which all other opinions are to be tried; shows an arrogance before which servile spirits bow, but from which all thoughtful and noble men recoil with disgust and indignation But his arrogance is shadowy and harmless compared with the arrogance of him who enters the temple of human conscience and claims dominion over the moral workings of the soul. Yes, such arrogant men abound in all ages, and are by no means rare, even in this age and land of what is called civil and religious liberty.
II. PERSECUTION IS A MOST ABSURD CRIME. Far wiser is the fool who would legislate for the winds or the waves, and like Canute give commands to the billows, than he who attempts to legislate for human thoughts and moral convictions. And truth never seems to rise in greater power and majesty than under the hand of cruel persecution.
III. PERSECUTION IS A MOST CRUEL CRIME. What ruthless inhumanities are here charged against the various peoples mentioned. It has often been observed, that no anger is so savage as the anger which springs up between relations of blood. A brotherly hate is the chief of hates. No animosity burns with a more hellish heat than that connected with religion.
I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus, which shall devour the palaces thereof.
To follow out the accomplishment of the prophecies respecting Tyre, under the conduct of so good a guide as Bishop Newton, is a most interesting occupation. He gives the following quotation from Maundrell. "This city, standing in the sea, upon a peninsula, promises at a distance something very magnificent. But when you come to it, you find no similitude of that glory for which it was so renowned in ancient times. On the north side, it was an old Turkish, ungarrisoned castle; besides which you see nothing here but a mere Babel of broken walls, pillars, vaults, etc., there being not so much as one entire house left; its present inhabitants are only a few poor wretches, harbouring themselves in the vaults, and subsisting chiefly upon fishing, who seem to be preserved in this place by Divine providence, as a visible evidence, how God has fulfilled His word concerning Tyre, namely, that it should be 'as a top of a rock, a place for fishers to dry their nets on.'" Newton himself says: "Such hath been the fate of this city, once the most famous in the world for trade and commerce. But trade is a fluctuating thing: it passed from Tyre to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Venice, from Venice to Antwerp, from Antwerp to Amsterdam and London, the English rivalling the Dutch, as the French are now rivalling both. All nations almost are now wisely applying themselves to trade; and it behoves those who are in possession of it to take the greatest care they do not lose it. It is a plant of tender growth, and requires sun and soil and fine seasons to make it thrive and flourish. It will not grow like the palm tree, which, with the more weight and pressure, rises the more. Liberty is a friend to that, as that is a friend to liberty. But the greatest enemy to both is licentiousness, which tramples upon all law and lawful authority, encourages riots and tumults, promotes drunkenness and debauchery, sticks at nothing to supply its extravagance, practises every art of illicit gain, ruins credit, ruins trade, and will, in the end, ruin liberty itself. Neither kingdoms nor commonwealths, neither public companies nor private persons, can long carry on a beneficial, flourishing trade without virtue and what virtue teacheth, sobriety, industry, frugality, modesty, honesty, punctuality, humanity, charity, the love of our country, and the fear of God. The prophets will inform us how the Tyrians lost it; and the like causes will always produce the like effects."
For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof. 1.
A threatening. Here a certain number is put for an uncertain. It may be treated jointly. Three and foyer make seven. Thus may be indicated the multitude and magnitude of the wickedness, and the greatness and heaviness of the punishment. It may be treated severally, and in this sense; going on still, even to a fourth time, in provoking Me, and adding obstinacy and impenitency to their side, I will bear them no longer.
2. The equity. These Idumaeans were stubbornly wicked, and heaped up sin upon sin.
3. Execution of judgment. "I win send a fire." Fire is put in Scripture for a most grievous plague, by sword, or famine, or pestilence. Now for the application. — Edom is a special type of the kingdom of Anti-Christ. Antichristian Esau is Edom. The similitude between them we will consider —
1. In their persons;
2. in their sins; and
3. in their judgments.
I will not turn away the punishment thereof. I.
THE OPPORTUNITY FOR REPENTANCE WHICH ALL POSSESS. The punishment of the six heathen nations, as of Judah and Israel, opens with a picture of the forbearance of God which had preceded this hour of wrath. "For three transgressions of —, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof." The cup of iniquity was not full till the fourth transgression. God's dealing with individuals is such — "Who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?" (Proverbs 29:1
II. PERSISTENCE IN COURSE OF SIN HAS ONLY ONE END. "I will not turn away the punishment thereof." Men may put far away the evil day, but all history, all prophecy, all strivings of conscience point to the certainty of ruin.
III. THE CAUSES OF THE DIVINE INDIGNATION VARY ACCORDING TO HUMAN LIGHT. In the fate of Tyrus, for instance (Amos 1:9), we see that a brotherly covenant (the league of Hiram with David and Solomon) formed no barrier to the grasping spirit of the mercantile nation. Edom (Amos 1:11) "did pursue his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity." The heathen nations were to suffer because they had offended against those eternal principles of compassion and of truth which are written on the hearts of all men alike. Judah (Amos 2:4) and Israel (vers. 6-8) were judged by a higher standard, for the light had been greater. "In Judah is God known; His name is great in Israel."
IV. THE VINDICATION OF GOD'S WAYS TO MEN WHICH THESE PICTURES OF NATIONAL SIN FURNISH IS COMPLETE. The preservation of truth and purity is of far higher moment than the fate of one nation, for human society can only be founded on the eternal principles of right and wrong. The detail of Israel's sin makes us shrink back with horror. Their law gave no power to sell an insolvent debtor, but they were ready to sell the righteous man (one in trouble through no fault of his own) for silver; and the poor (whom there was none to succour), to provide for themselves a pair of luxurious sandals. They panted after the very dust which the poor spread on their head in token of mourning, and by the vilest sin they profaned the name of God which was called on them as His people. Even their altars witnessed their extortions (ver. 8; Deuteronomy 24:12, 13) and banquetings. Application — The prophet would have the people clearly understand the equity of the judgments which he foretold. Men can be impartial in estimating the sin of others (David and Nathan's parable). To study God's dealings with others will often open our eyes to our own future.
This passage illustrates three truths.
1. That the sins of all the people on the earth, whatever the peculiarities of their character or conduct, are under the cognisance of God.
2. That of all the sins of the people, that of persecution is peculiarly abhorrent to the Divine nature.
I. GREAT SINS ENTAIL GREAT SUFFERINGS. The calamities threatened to these different tribes of different lands are of the most terrible description. But they are all such as to match their crimes.
1. The connection between great sins and great sufferings is inevitable. The Moral Governor of the world has so arranged matters that every sin brings with its own punishment, and it is only when the sin is destroyed the suffering ceases. Thank God this sin can be destroyed through faith in the mediation of Him who came to put away sin by faith in the sacrifice of Himself.
2. Tim connection between great sins and great sufferings is universal. All these sinful peoples had to realise it from their own bitter experience. It does not matter where, when, or how a man lives, his sins will find him out.
II. Great sins often entail great sufferings UPON PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT THE ACTUAL OFFENDERS. "The fire," which is here the instrument of God's retribution to us sinners, would not only scathe the persons and consume the property of the actual offenders, but others. The fact is patent in all history and in all experience, that men here suffer for the sins of others. Two facts may reconcile our consciences to this.
1. That few, if any, suffer more than their consciences tell them they deserve.
2. That there is to come a period when the whole will appear to be in accord with the justice and goodness of God.
The sins Amos condemns in the heathen are at first sight very different from those which he exposes within Israel. Not only are they sins of foreign relations, of treaty and war, while Israel's are all civic and domestic; but they are what we call the atrocities of barbarism — wanton war, massacre and sacrilege; while Israel's are rather the sins of civilisation — the pressure of the rich upon the poor, the bribery of justice, the seduction of the innocent, personal impurity, and other evils of luxury. So great is this difference that a critic more gifted with ingenuity than insight, might plausibly distinguish, in the section before us, two prophets with two very different views of national sin — a ruder prophet, and of course an earlier, who judged nations only by the flagrant drunkenness of their war; and a more subtle prophet, and of course a later, who exposed the masked corruptions of their religion and their peace. Such a theory would be as false as it would be plausible. For not only is the diversity of the objects of the prophet's judgment explained by this, that Amos had no familiarity with the interior life of other nations, and could only arraign their conduct at those points where it broke into light in their foreign relations, while Israel's civic life he knew to the very core. But Amos had besides a strong and a deliberate aim in placing the sins of civilisation as the climax of a list of the atrocities of barbarism. He would recall what men are always forgetting, that the former are really more cruel and criminal than the latter; that luxury, bribery, and intolerance, the oppression of the poor, the corruption of the innocent and the silencing of the prophet — what Christ calls offences against His little ones — are even more awful atrocities than the wanton horrors of barbarian warfare.
That they might enlarge their borders
The message that comes from the old Hebrew prophet is the injunction to make our lives broader, larger, richer than they already are. Men are enlarged by travel, but the best part of that enlargement comes from intercourse with other human beings. The world of physical nature can do much to enlarge a man, but the world of human minds and hearts can do more. A man is like a planet; he is in the field of two forces, the centrifugal and the centripetal. As he grows, two methods are open to him. His idea of perfect manhood may be reached by pruning away excrescences. This is the conventional way: it produces a Chesterfield. The other is the educating of all his faculties to their full limit: this produces a Gladstone or a Browning. It exhibits many faults in a man; but it enlarges his borders, and gives magnitude and grandeur. Every one of us desires, or thinks he desires, breadth of thought, range of sympathy. Yet at our best we are never full, rounded circles. We may openly resent any imputation of narrowness, but in our hearts we must plead guilty. Let us learn to measure ourselves. How intolerant is youth of the methods of age! Let youth learn to enlarge its borders, and include the thoughts and feelings and methods of age. Every man, if he devotes himself earnestly to his life's calling, must be, in some degree, narrowed by it. At least, he must give so much time to it that but little remains, and but little strength, for other things. This in itself is not an evil; but it frequently happens that such a man becomes wilfully narrow, and underrates or despises pursuits and faculties which are quite as high as his own. "Enlarge your borders," is the command of our text. Broaden your sympathies! Extend your range of observation and understanding! Pierce through to the realities of things, and do not be deceived by externals! We all sadly need this injunction. Herein lies much of the inefficiency of our modern charitable work. The visitor and visited are not in touch, and never can be until both shall have their borders enlarged. In another field our text finds ready application. It is the field of theology, Men of broad religions views are so rare in our time, that the Sodom of our modern denominational life hardly seems worthy to be saved. There is a want of intellectual capacity to see the "other side of things." There is such a radical difference in the very texture of men's minds, that the same facts, especially in art, in poetry, and in religion, will lead equally good and able men to widely different conclusions. Many are the forces which serve to enlarge our borders, as often without our consciousness as with it. Whatever opens up the minds and hearts of men to each other, whether it be joy or sorrow, is a blessing to them. The lessons which God teaches us through the varied experiences of life are, many of them, hard and bitter, but the wayward human heart needs deep probing. But the grandest enlargement of life is that which comes through the thought of God. It can enlarge your life by putting into your hand the key of love and compassion, which can open the doors of human hearts as can nothing else on this broad earth. A consciousness of God is the greatest broadening and deepening power which can come into any life.
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