Amos 6:12
"Do horses gallop on the cliffs? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood--
Labour in VainAmos 6:12
Man's Perverting PowerHomilistAmos 6:12
Man's Perverting PowerD. Thomas Amos 6:12
The Vanity of the Sinner's Principles and HopesJ.R. Thomson Amos 6:12
Trying the ImpossibleD. Thomas Amos 6:12

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?
These expressions are proverbs, taken from the familiar sayings of the east country. A proverb is generally a sword with two edges, or, if I may so say, it has many edges, or is all edge, and hence it may be turned this way and that way, and every part of it will have force and point. The connection would tolerate two senses in this place. An ancient commentator says that it has seven meanings. Like those curiously carved Chinese balls in which there is one ball within another, so in many a holy text there is sense within sense, teaching within teaching, and each one worthy of the Spirit of God. It may be that the prophet is expostulating with ungodly men upon their pursuit of happiness where it can never be found. They were endeavouring to grow rich and strong by oppression. And if any of you try to content yourselves with this world, and hope to find a heaven in the midst of your business and your family, without looking upward for it, you labour in vain. To seek after happiness in evil deeds is to plough a rock of granite. To labour after true prosperity by dishonest means is as useless as to till the sandy shore. The words may mean this, — God will not always send His ministers to call men to repentance. There is a time of ploughing, but when it is evident that the heart is wilfully hardened, then wisdom itself suggests to mercy that she should give over her efforts. Taking that sense, we remark —

I. MINISTERS LABOUR TO BREAK UP MEN'S HEARTS. They would make hearts ready to receive the heavenly Seed. Many truths are used, like sharp ploughshares, to break up the heart. We must cut into the heart with the ploughshare of the law. If we really love the souls of men, let us prove it by honest speech. The hard heart must be broken, or it will still refuse the Saviour who was sent to bind up the broken-hearted. There are some things which men may or may not have, and yet may be saved; but those things which go with the ploughing of the heart are indispensable There must be a holy fear and a humble trembling before God, there must be an acknowledgment of guilt and a penitent petition for mercy; there must, in a word, be a thorough ploughing of the soul before we can expect the seed to bring forth fruit.

II. AT TIMES MINISTERS LABOUR IN VAIN. In a short time the ploughman feels whether the plough will go or not, and so does the minister. He may use the very same words in one place which he has used in another, but he feels in one place great joy and hopefulness in his preaching, while with another audience he has heavy work and little hope. All labourers of Christ know what it is sometimes to work in heavy soil. There are rocky hearers in all congregations. On some impression is made, but it is not deep and permanent. Certain of these rocky-hearted people have been ploughed for years, and have become harder instead of softer. The sun which softens wax hardens clay, and the same Gospel which has brought others to tenderness and repentance has exercised a contrary effect upon them, and made them more careless about Divine things than they were in their youth. Why are men so extremely rocky? Some are so from a peculiar stolidity of nature. Some are hard because of their infidelity. Worldliness hardens a man in every way. With many hardness is produced by a general levity. There is no depth of earth in their superficial natures; beneath a sprinkling of shifting, worthless sand lies an impenetrable rock of utter stupidity and senselessness.

III. IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT THAT GOD'S SERVANTS SHOULD ALWAYS CONTINUE TO LABOUR IN VAIN. Labour in vain cannot be continued for ever if we consider the ploughman. Then there is the Master to be considered. Is He always to be resisted and provoked? And there are so many other people needing the Gospel who will receive it. There is a boundary to the patience of men, and even to the patience of God.

IV. THERE MUST BE AN ALTERATION THEN, AND THAT SPEEDILY. The oxen shall be taken off from such toil. It can be effected in three ways.

1. The unprofitable hearer can be removed so that he shall no more hear the Gospel from the lips of his best approved minister.

2. Another plan is to take away the ploughman. Or

3. God may say, "This piece of rock shall never trouble the ploughman any more. I will take it away." The man dies. O Lord, break up the rock, and let the seed drop among its broken substance, and get Thou a harvest from the dissolved granite at this time.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Ye have turned judgment into gall
The meaning of this is that they had turned the best things into bad use. See the working of this perverting power in many departments of action.

I. IN PHYSICAL OPERATIONS. Everywhere you see man perverting nature, perverting the metals, the rivers, the fruits, and the chemical elements of the world to bad and mischievous uses.

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. 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.

III. IN THE RELIGIOUS SPHERE. 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.


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