Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning…
No sterner picture of an utterly rotten social state was ever drawn than this book gives of the luxury, licentiousness, and oppressiveness of the ruling classes. This passage deals with the religious declension underlying the moral filth, and sets forth the self-willed idolatry of the people (vers. 4, 5); their obstinate resistance to God's merciful chastisement (vers. 6-11); and the heavier impending judgment (vers. 12, 13).
1. Indignant irony flashes in that permission or command to persevere in the calf worship. The seeming command is the strongest prohibition. The lessons of this burst of sarcasm are plain. The subtle influence of self creeps in even in worship, and makes it hollow, unreal, and powerless to bless the worshipper. Obedience is better than costly gifts. Men will lavish gifts far more freely in apparent religious service, which is but the worship of their reflected selves, than in true service of God. And the purity of willing offerings is marred when they are given in response to a loud call, or when given, are proclaimed with acclamations.
2. The blaze of indignation changes into wounded tenderness. Mark the sad cadence of the fivefold refrain. "Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord." To Amos, famine, drought, blasting, locusts, pestilence, and probably earthquake, were messengers of God, and Amos was taught of God. If we looked deeper we should see more clearly. To the prophet's eye the world is all aflame with a present God. Amos had another principle. God sent physical calamities because of moral delinquencies, and for moral and religious ends. These disasters were meant to bring Israel back to God, and were at once punishments and reformatory methods. Amos's lesson as to the purpose of trials is not antiquated. Amos also teaches the awful power which we have of resisting God's efforts to draw us back. The true tragedy of the world is that God calls and we refuse.
3. Again the mood changes, and the issue of protracted resistance is prophesied (vers. 12, 13). Long-delayed judgments are severe, in proportion as they are slow. The contact of Divine power with human rebellion can only end in one way, and that is too terrible for speech. The certainty of judgment is the basis of a call to repentance, which may avert it. The meeting referred to is not judgment after death, but the impending destruction of the northern kingdom. But Amos's prophetic call is not misapplied when directed to the final day of the Lord. The conditions of meeting the Judge, and being "found of Him in peace," are that we should be "without spot and blameless"; and the conditions of being so spotless and uncensurable axe repentance and trust. Only we have Jesus as the brightness of the Father's glory to trust in, and His all-sufficient work to trust to for pardon and purifying.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years: