For three transgressions of Israel, etc. - To be satisfied of the exceeding delinquency of this people, we have only to open the historical and prophetic books in any part; for the whole history of the Israelites is one tissue of transgression against God. Their crimes are enumerated under the following heads: -
6. They punished the people by unjust and oppressive fines, and served their tables with wine bought by such fines. Or it may be understood of their appropriating to themselves that wine which was allowed to criminals to mitigate their sufferings in the article of death; which was the excess of inhumanity and cruelty.
For three transgressions of Israel, and for four - In Israel, on whom the divine sentence henceforth rests, the prophet numbers four classes of sins, running into one another, as all sins do, since all grievous sins contain many in one, yet in some degree distinct:
(1) Perversion of justice;
(2) oppression of the poor;
(4) luxury with idolatry.
They sold the righteous for silver - It is clear from the opposite statement, “that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes,” that the prophet is not speaking of judicial iniquity, but of actual buying and selling. The law allowed a Hebrew who was poor to sell himself, and a Hebrew to buy him until the year of release; yet this too with the express reserve, that the purchaser was forbidden to “serve himself with him with the service of a slave, but as a hired servant and a sojourner stroll he be with thee” Leviticus 25:39-40. The thief who could not repay what he stole, was to “be sold for his theft” Exodus 22:2-3. But the law gave no power to sell an insolvent debtor. It grew up in practice. The sons and daughters of the debtor Nehemiah 5:5, or “his wife and children” Matthew 18:25, nay even the sons of a deceased debtor 2 Kings 4:1, were sold. Nehemiah rebuked this sharply. In that case, the hardness was aggravated by the fact that the distress had been fomented by usury. But the aggravation did not constitute the sin. It seems to be this merciless selling by the creditor, with Amos rebukes. The “righteous” is probably one who, without any blame, became insolvent. The “pair of shoes,” that is, sandals, express the trivial price, or the luxury for which he was sold. They had him sold “for the sake of a pair of sandals,” that is, in order to procure them. Trivial in themselves, as being a mere sole, the sandals of the Hebrew women were, at times, costly and beautiful (Song of Song of Solomon 7:1 ; Ezra 10; Judith 16:9). Such a sale expressed contempt for man, made in the image of God, that he was sold either for some worthless price, or for some needless adornment.
That pant after the dust of the earth - Literally, “the panters!” with indignation. Not content with having rent from him the little hereditary property which belonged to each Israelite, these creditors grudged him even the “dust,” which, as a mourner, he strewed on his head Job 2:12, since it too was “earth.” Covetousness, when it has nothing to feed it, craves for what is absurd or impossible. What was Naboth‘s vineyard to a king of Israel with his “ivory palace?” What was Mordecai‘s refusal to bow to one in honor like Haman? What a trivial gain to a millionaire? The sarcasm of the prophet was the more piercing, because it was so true. People covet things in proportion, not to their worth, but to their worthlessness. No one covets what he much needs. Covetousness is the sin, mostly not of those who have not, but of those who have. It grows with its gains, is the less satisfied, the more it has to satisify it, and attests its own unreasonableness, by the uselessness of the things it craves for.
And turn aside the way of the meek - So Solomon said, “A wicked” man “taketh a bribe out of the bosom, to pervert the ways of judgment.” (Proverbs 17:23. God had laid down the equality of man, made in His own image, and had forbidden to favor either poor Exodus 23:3 or rich Exodus 23:6. Amos calls these by different names, which entitled them to human sympathy; “poor, depressed, lowly; poor,” in their absolute condition; “depressed,” as having been brought low; “lowly,” as having the special grace of their state, the wonderful meekness and lowliness off the godly poor. But all these qualities are so many incentives to injury to the ungodly. They hate the godly, as a reproach to them; because “he is clean contrary to their doings, his life is not like other people‘s; his ways are of another fashion” (Wisdom Amos 2:12, Amos 2:15). Wolves destroy not wolves but sheep. Bad people circumvent not the bad but the good. Besides the easiness of the gain, there is a devilish fascinating pleasure to the bad, to overreach the simple and meek, because they are such.
They love also to “turn aside the way of the meek,” by, “turning them from what is truly right and good; “or from the truth; or again to thwart them in all their ways and endeavors, by open injustice or by perverting justice. Every act of wrong prepares the way for the crowning act; and so “the turning aside the way of the meek” foreshadowed and prepared for the unjust judgment of Him who was “the Meek and Lowly” One Matthew 11:29, the selling the righteous for a trilling sum prepared for the selling “the Holy One and the Just” Acts 3:14 for “the thirty pieces of silver.”: “Contrariwise, whoso is truly wise, cordially venerates the humble and abject, the poor and simple, and prefers them in his own heart to himself, knowing that God has ‹chosen the poor, and the weak things of the world, and things despised, and things which are not‘ 1 Corinthians 1:27-28; and that Christ hath likened Himself to such, saying in the Psalm, ‹I am poor and sorrowful‘ Psalm 69:29.”
The same damsel - This is not expressly forbidden by the law, except in the case of marriage, the father being forbidden to marry his son‘s widow, and the son to take his father‘s widow to wife Leviticus 18:8, Leviticus 18:15. Abominations, unless they had become known to Israel in Egypt, were not expressly forbidden, but were included in the one large prohibition, which, as our Lord explains, forbade every offence, bearing upon it. Israel must have so understood the law, since Amos could upbraid them with this, which is not forbidden by the letter of the law, as a willful insult to the Majesty of God. Reverence was due from the son to the father, example from the father to the son. But now the father was an example of evil to the son; and the son sinned in a way which had no temptation except its irreverence. People, sated with ordinary sin seek incitement to sin, in its very horrors. Probably this sin was committed in connection with their idol worship (see the note at Hosea 4:14). The sin of marrying the father‘s widow was “fornication not so much as named among the Gentiles” 1 Corinthians 5:1; it was unknown, as seemingly legalizing what was so unnatural. Oppression of the poor, wronging the righteous, perverting the way of the meek, laid the soul open for any abomination.
To profane My Holy Name - that is, as called upon them, as the people of God. God had said, “ye shall keep My commandments and do them (Leviticus 22:31-32; add Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 21:6). “I” am “the Lord, and ye shall not defile My Holy Name. For I will be sanctified among the children of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” The sins of God‘s people are a reproach upon Himself. They bring Him, so to say, in contact with sin. They defeat the object of His creation and revelation. He created man in His Image, to bear His likeness, to have one will with Himself. In effect, through sin, He has created rebels, deformed, unlike. So long as He bears with them, it seems as if He were indifferent to them. Those to whom He has not revealed Himself, must needs think that He takes no account of what He permits unnoticed. Israel, whom God had separated from the pagan, did, by “mingling with the pagan and learning their works” Psalm 106:35, all which in them lay, to “profane” His “Holy Name.” They acted as if they had no other purpose than to defile it (see the note at Hosea 8:4).
Had such been their object, they could not have done it more effectually, they could not have done otherwise. In deliberate sin, people act, at last, in defiance of God, in set purpose to dishonor Him. The Name of God has ever since been blasphemed, on account of the sins of the Jews, as though it were impossible that God should have chosen for His own, a people so “laden with iniquities” Isaiah 1:4. Nathan‘s words to David, “Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” 2 Samuel 12:14, have been fulfilled until this day. How much more, Christians, who not only are called “the people of God” but bear the name of Christ incorporated in their own. Yet have we not known Muslims flee from our Christian capital, in horror at its sins? “He lives like a Christian,” is a proverb of the Polish Jews, drawn from the debased state of morals in Socinian Poland. The religion of Christ has no such enemies as Christians. Dionysius: “As the devout by honoring God, shew that He is Holy, Great, Most High, who is obeyed in holiness, fear and reverence, so the ungodly, by dishonoring God, exhibit God as far as in them lies, as if lie were not holy. For they act so as if evil were well-pleasing to Him, and induce others to dishonor Him. Wherefore the Apostle saith; “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you” Romans 2:24; and by Ezekiel the Lord saith oftentimes, “Ye have profaned My Holy Name. And I will sanctify My great Name which wets profaned among the pagan, which ye hare profaned in the midst of them” Ezekiel 36:23. The devout then are said to “magnify,” sanctify, “exalt God;” the unrighteous to “profane Ezekiel 13:19, despise, God.”
They lay themselves down - They condensed sin. By a sort of economy in the toil of sinning, they blended many sins in one; idolatry, sensuality, cruelty, and, in all, the express breach of God‘s commandments. The “clothes” here are doubtless the same as the “raiment” in the law, the large enfolding cloak, which by day was wrapped over the long loose shirt, the poor man‘s only dress besides, and by night was his only bedding Exodus 22:26-27. God had expressly commanded, “If the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge” Deuteronomy 24:12-13; in any case “thou shalt deliver him the pledge again, when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee; and it shall be righteousness to thee before the Lord thy God.” Here the “garments laid to pledge” are treated as the entire property of the creditors.
They “stretch” their listless length along upon them in their idol-feasts “by every altar.” Ezekiel speaks of a “stately bed,” upon which they “sat, and a table prepared before it” Ezekiel 23:41. Isaiah; “Upon a lofty and high mountain, hast thou set up thy bed; even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice; thou hast enlarged thy bed; thou hast loved their bed; thou providedst room” Isaiah 57:7-8. In luxury and state then, and withal in a shameless publicity, they “lay on the garments” of the despoiled “by every altar.” The multiplication of altars Hosea 8:11; Hosea 10:1; Hosea 12:11 was, in itself, sin. By each of these multiplied places of sin they committed fresh sins of luxury and hard-heartedness, (perhaps, from the character of the worship of nature, yet grosser sins,) “and drink the wine of the condemned,” or (as the English margin more exactly) “the amerced,” those whom, unjustly, persons in any petty judicial authority had “amerced,” expending in revelry and debanchery in the idol‘s temple what they had unjustly extorted from the oppressed.
There is no mask too transparent to serve to hide from himself one who does not wish to see himself. Nothing serves so well as religion for that self-deceit, and the less there is of it, or the more one-sided it is, the better it serves. For the narrower it is, the less risk of impinging on the awful reality of God‘s truth; and half a truth as to God is mostly, a lie which its half-truth makes plausible. So this dreadful assemblage of cruelty, avarice, malice, mockery of justice, unnatural debauchery, hard-heartedness, was doubtless smoothed over to the conscience of the ten tribes by that most hideous ingredient of all, that “the house of their god” was the place of their ill-purchased revelry. People do not serve their idols for nothing; this costly service at Bethel was not for nought. They did all these things; but they did something for “the Deity” or “Nature” or “Ashtoreth;” and so “the Deity” was to be at peace with them. Amos, with wonderful irony, marks the ghastly mixture of sin and worship, “they drank the wine of the amerced” - where? “in the house of their God,” condemning in five words their luxury, oppression, perversion of justice, cruelty, profaneness, unreal service and real apostasy. What hard-heartedness to the willfully-forgotten poor is compensated by a little Church-going!
Yet - (and I) I (Emphatic) destroyed Such were “their” doings; such their worship of “their God.” And what had “God” done? what was it, which they thus requited?
The Amorite - These, as one of the mightiest of the Canaanite tribes, stand in Moses for all. Moses, in rehearsing to them the goodness of God and their backsliding, reminds them, how he had said, “Ye have come to the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord your God giveth you” Deuteronomy 1:20; and that they, using this same word, said, “Because the Lord hateth us, He hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us” Deuteronomy 1:27. The aged Joshua, in rehearsing God‘s great deeds for Israel, places first by itself the destruction of the Amorite before them, with the use of this same idiom, “I brought you into the land of the Amorites which dwelt on the other side of Jordan - and I destroyed them before you.” The Amorites were descended from the 4th son of Canaan Genesis 10:16.
At the invasion of Chedorlaomer, a portion of them dwelt at Hazezon-Tamar or Engedi, half way on the west side of the Dead Sea, and at Hebron near it (Genesis 14:7, Genesis 14:13; compare Genesis 13:18; 2 Chronicles 20:2). Their corruption had not yet reached its height, and the return of Israel was delayed to the four hundredth year, “because the iniquity of the Amorite was not yet full” Genesis 15:16. When Israel returned, the Amorites, (together with the Hittites and the Jebusites) held the hill country Numbers 13:29; Deuteronomy 1:7, Deuteronomy 1:44, Jerusalem, Hebron, Gibeon 2 Samuel 21:2, and, on the skirts of the mountains westward Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon Joshua 10:3, Joshua 10:5. They dwelt on the side of the Jordan westward Joshua 5:1, besides the two kingdoms which they had formed east of Jordan, reaching to Mount Hermon Deuteronomy 3:8 and Bashan up to the territory of Damascus. Afterward a small remnant remained only in the portion of Dan, and in the outskirts of Judah, from the south of the Dead Sea, Maaleh Akrabbim (Scorpion-pass) and Petra Judges 1:35-36. Those near Idumea were probably absorbed in Edom; and the remnant in Dan, after becoming tributary to Ephraim Judges 1:35-36, lost their national existence perhaps among the Philistines, since we have thenceforth only the single notice in the days of Samuel after the defeat of the Philistines, “there was peace between Israel and the Amorites” 1 Samuel 7:14.
Whose height was like the height of the cedars - The giant sons of Anak were among the Amorites at “Hebron” Numbers 13:22 (called for a time Kiriath Arba Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13-14 from their giant father) “Debir, Ahab, and the mountains of Judah and Israel Joshua 11:21. The valley of Rephaim” 2 Samuel 5:18, southwest of Jerusalem, connects this giant race with the Amorites, as does the fact that Og, king of the Amorites in Basan, was “of the remnant of the Rephaim” Deuteronomy 3:11; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:19. Basan and Argob were, in Moses‘ time, still called “the land of Rephaim” Deuteronomy 3:13. The Rephaim, with the Perizzites, dwelt still in woody mountains near Ephraim; from where, on the complaint that the lot of the sons of Joseph was too narrow, Joshua bade his tribe to expel them Joshua 17:15, Joshua 17:18. The Rephaim are mentioned between the Perizzites and the Amorites Genesis 15:20-21, in God‘s first promise of the land to Abraham‘s seed, and perhaps some intermixture of race gave the giant stature to the Amorites. It is clear from Amos that the report of the spies, “all the people that we saw in it were men of stature” Numbers 13:32, was no exaggeration, nor did Joshua and Caleb deny “this.” The name of the Amorite is probably connected with “commanding,” describing some quality of their forefather, which descended to his race.
Whose height was like the height of cedars - Giant height is sometimes a cause of weakness. Amos, in a degree like Hosea combines distinct images to make up the idea of stateliness and strength. The cedar is the ideal of eastern trees for height Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 17:22; Ezekiel 31:3; 1 Kings 4:33; 2 Kings 14:9, stretching forth its arms as for protection, “It groweth to an exceeding height, and with increasing time ever riseth higher.” The oak has its Hebrew name from strength. The more majestic the tall strength of the Amorite, the more manifest that Israel “got not the land in possession by their own sword” Psalm 44:3, who had counted themselves, in sight of the Amorite, “as grasshoppers” Numbers 13:33. God, who gave him that strength, took it away, as we say, “root and branch,” leaving him no show above, no hope of recovered life below (see Hosea 9:16; Job 18:16; Ezekiel 17:9). Having compared each Amorite to a majestic tree, he compares the excision of the whole nation to the cutting down of that one tree, so swift, so entire, so irrecoverable. Yet the destruction of the Amorite, a mercy to Israel in the purpose of God, was a warning to israel when it became as they. God‘s terrors are mercies to the repentant; God‘s mercies are terrors to the impenitent. “Ye shall keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not commit any of these abominations,” was the tenure upon which they held the Lord‘s land, “that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you” Leviticus 18:26,38.
Also I - (Literally, “And I,” I, emphatic; thus and thus did ye to Me; and thus and thus, with all the mercy from the first, did I to you,) I brought you up from the land of Egypt It is this language in which God, in the law, reminded them of that great benefit, as a motive to obedience; “I brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; Deuteronomy 6:12; only there, since God has not as yet “brought them up” into the land which He promised them, but they were yet in the wilderness, He says, “brought them forth;” here, “brought them up,” as to a place of dignity, His own land.
And led you forty years through the wilderness - These are the very words of the law (Deuteronomy 29:4, (5 English), and reminded them of so many benefits during the course of those “forty years,” which the law rehearsed; the daily supply of manna, the water from the rock, the deliverance from the serpents and other perils, the manifold forgivenesses. To be “led forty years through the wilderness,” alone, had been no kindness, but a punishment. It was a blending of both. The abiding in the wilderness was punishment or austere mercy, keeping them back from the land which they had shown themselves unqualified to enter: God‘s “leading” them was, His condescending mercy. The words, taken from the law, must have re-awakened in the souls of Israelites the memory of mercies which they did not mention, how that same book relates “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about; He instructed him; He kept him as the apple of His eye. The Lord alone did lead him” Deuteronomy 32:10, Deuteronomy 32:12. In the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went until ye came to this place” Deuteronomy 1:31; or that minute tender care, mentioned in the same place (Deuteronomy 29:4, (5, English)), “your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.” But unless Israel had known the law well, the words would only have been very distantly suggestive of mercy, that it must have been well with them even in the wilderness, since God “led them.” They had then the law in their memories, in Israel also, but distorted it or neglected it.
And I raised up of your sons for prophets - Amos turns from outward mercies to inward, front past to present, from miracles of power to miracles of grace. God‘s past mercies live on in those of today; the mercies of today are the assurance to us that we have a share in the past; His miracles of grace are a token that the miracles of His power are not our condemnation. God had, from the time of Moses, “raised up” prophets. Eldad and Medad Numbers 11:26-29 were images Of those, whom God would raise up beyond the bounds of His promise. Samuel was an Ephrathite 1 Samuel 1:1; Ahijah the Shilonite, that is, of Shiloh in Ephraim, lived on to old age in the kingdom of the ten tribes after their schism, the witness against the apostasy of Jeroboam 1 Kings 14:7-14; 1 Kings 15:29, yet acknowledged by the king whose rise and of the destruction of whose house he prophesied 1 Kings 14:2, 1 Kings 14:4.
Jehu, son of Hanani, was the prophet of both kingdoms 1 Kings 16:1, 1 Kings 16:7, 1 Kings 16:12; 2 Chronicles 19:2; 2 Chronicles 20:34; Micaiah, son of Imlah, was well known to Ahab, as “prophesying evil concerning him” 1 Kings 22:8, 1 Kings 22:18 continually; unknown to Jehoshaphat 1 Kings 22:7. That wondrous pair, marvelous for superhuman sanctity and power among the marvelous miracles of God, Elijalh and Elisha, were both “sons” of Israel, whom God “raised up; Elijjah the Tishbite” 1 Kings 17:1, born doubtless at Thisbe, a village of Naphthali, and one of the sojourners in Gilead; Elisha of Abelmeholah 1 Kings 19:16, on the west side of the valley of the Jordan. And even now He had raised up to them of their own “sons,” Hosea and Jonah. Their presence was the presence of God among them, who, out of the ordinary way of His Providence, “raised” them “up” and filled them with His Spirit; and where the presence of God is, if there is fear, yet there is also hope.
And of your young men for Nazarites - The Nazarite was a fruit of the grace of God in its moral and religions workings, superhuman in holiness and self-denial, as the prophets were of that same grace, conferring superhuman wisdom and knowledge also. Of both, God says, “I raised up,” teaching that both alike, holiness of life and superhman wisdom, were His own special gift to each individual, His own creation. God survived His people, called, and “raised up,” by His grace, out of the crowd, those souls which responded to His call. The life of the Nazarites was a continual protest against the self-indulgence and worldliness of the people. It was a life above nature. Unless any prophet like Samuel 1 Samuel 1:11, was also a Nazarite, they had no special office except to live that life. Their life taught. Nay, it taught in one way the more, because they had no special gifts of wisdom or knowledge, nothing to distinguish them from ordinary people, except extraordinary grace.
They were an evidence, what all might do and be, if they used the grace of God. The power of the grace of God shows itself the more wondrously in these who have nought beside. The essence of the Nazarite life, as expressed by its name, was “separation,” separation from things of the world, with a view to God. The separation was not, necessarily, for more than a limited time. In such case, it answered to the strictness of the Christian Lent. It was a considerable discipline for a time. In those simpler days, when luxury had not been so busy, the absolute prohibition of anything fermented Numbers 6:3-4, whether from the grape or any other substance or vinegar made of either, or any liquor or refreshing food or drink, made in any way from the grape, fresh or dry, its husks or its kernels, while it cut off every evasion, involved the giving up not only every drink, in any way exciting or stimulating, but very much also, which was refreshing. Water, which in the east has seldom the freshness of ours, was their only drink. This, which to individuals may be an easy rule, would not be so in the main.
Those only think an undeviating rule slight, who have never tried one, nor set themselves on system to conquer self-will. Such a rule would not be acted upon, except for God. The long never-shorn hair was probably intended to involve the neglect of personal appearance. Yet this was the body only of the vow; its soul was the dedication to God. The Nazarite not only “separated himself from” Numbers 6:3 those earthly things; he “separated himself to” the Lord Numbers 6:2, Numbers 6:5-6: he “consecrated to the Lord the days of his separation Numbers 6:12: all the days of his separation he was holy to the Lord Numbers 6:8: the separation of his God was upon his head.” Numbers 6:7. The vow was a great and singular thing. “When man or woman shall vow a special vow of a Nazarite” Numbers 6:2. The ritual of the Nazarite likened him to the priest. Giving him no priestly office, it yet even intensified some of the rules of the priesthood.
The priest was to abstain from wine and strong drink, only “when” he “went into the tabernacle of the congregations,” that he might “put difference between holy and unholy, and teach Israel the statutes” of the Lord Leviticus 10:9-11: the Nazarite, so long as he remained such. The priest might defile himself for certain very near dead Leviticus 21:1-3; the high priest alone and the Nazarite, “neither for father nor mother” Leviticus 21:11-12; Numbers 6:7: and that for the kindred reason; the high priest, “because the crown of the anointing oil of his God” was “upon him;” the Nazarite, “because the consecration of his God was upon his head!” His consecrated hair was called by the self-same name Numbers 6:19 as the mitre of the priest. It appears to have been woven into “seven locks” Judges 16:13, itself a number of consecration. If his consecration came to an end, that hair was mingled with the sacrifice Numbers 6:18, and on “his” hands alone, besides the priest‘s at his consecration, was part of the offering laid Numbers 6:19.
All Israel was, in God‘s purpose, “a kingdom of priests” Exodus 19:6; and, among them, the Nazarite was brought yet nearer, not to the priest‘s office, but to his character. This must have diffused itself indefinitely through the outward and inward life. Further strictness probably lay in the spirit of the vow. The outward appearance of the Nazarites appears to have been changed by their abstemiousness. “Her Nazarites were purer than snow; they were whiter than milk” Lamentations 4:7. Their countenance had that transparent purity, which sometimes results from a pure abstemious life; as Athanasius is said to have been “bloodless.” John the Immerser, the counterpart of Elijah, ate only of the food of the wilderness, “locusts and wild honey;” his clothing was the hair cloth Luke 1:15; Luke 7:33; Matthew 3:4.
Of James the Just it is related with reference to the Nazarite vow; “He was holy from his mother‘s womb; wine and strong drink he drank not, nor ate any living thing; the razor came not up upon his head; he anointed him not with oil, and he used not a bath.” Nazarites there had been in the most disorganized times of Israel. The histories of Samson and Samuel stand over against one another, as Nazarites who, the one forfeited, the other persevered in, his vocation. Elijah‘s ascetic character is as if he had been one of them, or deepened the lines of their rule. Ahaziah‘s ungodly messengers described him contemptously as “a man, lord of hair,” as though he had nothing but his prophet‘s broad mantle of hair, and “the leather girdle about his loins”.
The Rechabites, although Kenites by origin 1 Chronicles 2:55, had been enrolled in the people of God, and had received a rule from their father, uniting with the abstinence of the Nazarites, a mode of life which kept them aloof from the corruptions of cities Jeremiah 35:7, Jeremiah 35:9. The rules of their Nomadic life were consecrated to God, for He says, “There shall not be cut off from Jonadub, the son of Rechab, a man standing before Me for ever” Jeremiah 35:19, that is, as the servant of God. God uses as to them the term which marks the service of the Levites Deuteronomy 10:8, priests Judges 20:28, and prophets 1 Kings 17:1. Jonadab, the author of their rule, was plainly an ascetic, through whose presence Jehu hoped to cast a religious character over his ambitious execution of God‘s command.
But the value which the artful, though impetuous 2 Kings 9:20, bloodstained, captain attached to the presence of the ascetic shows the weight which they had with the people. Strange sight it must have been, the energetic warrior in his coat of mail, and the ascetic, as energetic, in his hair-cloth. Deeper far the cotrast within. But the more marvelous the contrast, the more it attests the influence which the unworldly ascetic had over the world. Like the garb of the prophets, their appearance was a standing rebuke to a life of sense. Like the patriarchs, it professed that they were “strangers and pilgrims upon the earth.” They who sought nothing of the world or of time, were a witness to the belief in their eternal home. The Nazarites must now have been a numerous body, since Amos speaks of them, as a known class, like the prophets, of whose numbers we hear incidentally.
Yet the memory of these, who, amid the general corruption, were, each in his own sphere, centers of pure faith and life, is embalmed in these few words only. So little reason is there to think that God‘s commands were neglected by all, because their observance is not related. Amos appeals publicly to the people that the fact was so, that God had raised up Nazarites as well as prophets among them. He had His “little flock” Luke 12:32, His “seven thousand” 1 Kings 19:18, who escaped the eye even of Elijah. The gift of the Nazarites was a special favor to Israel, as a memorial what the grace of God could do for man, what man could do, with the grace of God. His “raising up Nazarites, out of their young men,” men in their first bloom of unmarried, virgin (Deuteronomy 32:25; 2 Chronicles 36:17; Jeremiah 51:22; and in the plur. Psalm 78:63; Psalm 148:12; Isaiah 23:4;. Jeremiah 31:13; Lamentations 1:18; Lamentations 2:21; Zechariah 9:17; and by Amos himself, Amos 8:13), life their picked “very chosen men,” such as furnished the prime of their warriors, stengthened that teaching.
Even now, one devoted to God in his youth is a witness for God, leaven of the world around him. But the Nazarite had also to bear an outward mark for good, to be singular. His appearance bespoke that he had chosen God. His vow was not only a living up to the law; it lay beyond the law, the free-will offering of those whom God called. At an age, when so many do things unlawful, to gratitfy passion, these abstained even from things lawful. “Canst thou not do what these youths and these maidens can? or can they either in themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God?” was Augustine‘s upbraiding of himself, on the eve of his conversion, in thought of those who were living a devoted virgin life.
Is it not even thus? - It were enough that God, the Truth, said it. But He condemns not, without giving space for excuse or defense. So he describes the Day of Judgment Matthew 25:24-30, Matthew 25:41-45; Matthew 22:11. “The books were opened - and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” Revelation 20:12. Now, in the time of grace, the question asks, what, written under the picture of Christ crucified, once converted a sinner; “This have I done for thee: What doest thou for Me?” What did they? What had they done? What would they do?
But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink - Literally, “and,” (this, on their part, was the consequence of what God did for them) “ye caused the Nazarites to drink wine.” God appointed; Israel strove to undo His appointment. God “raised up Nazarites,” as a testimony to them; they sought to make His servants break their vow, in order to rid themselves of that testimony. Their pains to destroy it, is a strong proof of its power. The world is mad against true religion, because it feels itself condemned by it. People set themselves against religion and the religious, the Church or the priesthood, only when and because they feel their power on God‘s side against them. What people despise, they do not oppose. “They kill us, they do not despise us,” were true words of a French priest, as to the “reign of reason” in the first French revolution. If the people in power had not respected the Nazarites, or felt that the people respected them, they would not have attempted to corrupt or to force them to break their vow. The word, “cause” them “to drink,” does not express whether they used constraint or seduction. Israel‘s consciences supplied it. Yet since they “persecuted the prophets” and put them to death, it seems likely that Amos means that they used violence, either by forcing the wine into their mouths, as the swine-flesh was forced into the mouth of Eleazar (Amos 7:13. Jeroboam I was prevented only by miracle 1 Kings 13:4 from seizing the prophet who denounced the altar at Bethel. Ahab, during the famine foretold by Elijah, sought him everywhere to destroy him 1 Kings 18:10-12, and Jezebel, after the miracle at Carmel and the death of her prophets, swore by her gods to do so 1 Kings 19:2-3. Ahab‘s last act was to imprison Micaiah 1 Kings 22:26-27, the son of Imlath, for prophesying his death, when adjured by himself to speak truly.
Ahaziah, his son, undeterred by the fire from heaven which destroyed two captains, each with his fifty, sent yet a 3d to take Elijah, when he prophesied that the king would not recover from his sickness 2 Kings 1:9-13. Jehoram, his second son, swore by God to destroy Elisha, 2 Kings 6:31, laying the evils of the siege to the prophet, as the Romans did the evils of their decaying empire to the Christian. Micah and Isaiah, a little later, speak of such opposition, in Judah, as habitual Micah 2:6; Isaiah 30:10-11; much more in Israel, where the opposition to God‘s law was more fundamental, and where God‘s prophet‘s had been all but exterminated. Even Asa, in his degenerate days, imprisoned Hanani for prophesying that he would “have wars” 2 Chronicles 16:7, 2 Chronicles 16:10; Joash killed Zechariah son of Jehoiada 2 Chronicles 24:20-21; Amaziah silenced the prophet who rebuked him, “Art thou made of the king‘s council? forbear. Why shouldest thou be smitten?” 2 Chronicles 25:15-16.
Jehoiakim sent even into Egypt to fetch Uriah and killed him Jeremiah 26:20-23. Jeremiah‘s life was one continuous encounter with false accusations Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 37:13; Jeremiah 38:4, contradictions by false prophets (Jeremiah 23:17 ff; Jeremiah 27:9-10, Jeremiah 27:14-16; Jeremiah 15:10, mockery Jeremiah 17:15; Jeremiah 20:7-8; Jeremiah 23:33, persecution Jeremiah 17:18, imprisonment Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 32:3; Jeremiah 33:1; Jeremiah 37:15-21; Jeremiah 38:6-13, attempts to destroy him (Jeremiah 11:18-21; Jeremiah 18:18, Jeremiah 18:20-23; Jeremiah 26:8 ff; Jeremiah 36:26). The complaint was, as here, “wherefore dost thou prophesy?” Jeremiah 32:3. What, when our Lord gives it as the characteristic of Jerusalem, that she was “the slayer of the prophets, the stoner of those sent unto her?” They would not have slain the prophets, if they could have silenced them.
People are loath to go to extremities with God; they will make an armistice with Him; their awe of holiness makes them inwardly shrink from laying hands on it. Like the wolf in the fable, they must have a plea against it; and that plea against those who have the truth is obstinacy. If the Christians would have abstained from converting the world, they would not have been persecuted. The Chief-priests at first sought simply to silence the Apostles Acts 4:18, Acts 4:21; then they enforced their command with scourges Acts 5:40; then persecuted them and the Christians to death Acts 7:57-59; Acts 8:1-4; Acts 9:1-2; Acts 12:1-3; Acts 22:4-5. Direct contumacy to God‘s known voice and silencing His messenger, is a last stage of obduracy and malice, which leaves God no further avenue to the soul or the people. His means of grace are exhausted when the soul or people not only deaden His voice within, but obstruct it without. One who, through vehemence of his passions, refuses to hear, is within the reach of the grace of God, afterward. He who stifles God‘s word to others has mostly hardened his heart deliberately and maliciously in unlove to man, as well as contempt of God. Hence, God speaks, as though this brought the day of grace to a close.
Behold, I am pressed under you - God bore His people, as the wain bears the sheaves. “Ye yourselves have seen,” He said to them by Moses, “how I bare you on eagle‘s wings, and brought you unto Myself” Exodus 19:4. “Thou hast seen how the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place” Deuteronomy 1:31. And by Isaiah, “He bare them and carried them all the days of old” Isaiah 63:9; and, “which are born” by Me “from the belly, which are carried from the womb” Isaiah 46:3. Now, He speaks of Himself as wearied by them, as by Isaiah, “thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities” Isaiah 43:24; and by Malachi, “ye have wearied the Lord: yet ye say, where with have we wearied Him?” Malachi 2:17. His long-suffering was, as it were, worn out by them. He was straitened under them, as the wain groans under the sheaves with which it is over-full. The words are literally, “Behold I, I” (emphatic I, your God, of whom it would seem impossible) “straiten myself” (that is, of My own Will allow Myself to be straitened“under you”,
“As the wain full for itself,” that is, as full as ever it can contain, is “straitened, groans,” as we say. God says, (the word in Hebrew is half active) that He allows Himself to be straitened, as in Isaiah, He says, “I am weary to bear,” literally, “I let Myself be wearied.” We are simply passive under weariness or oppressiveness: God endures us, out of His own free condescension in enduring us. But it follows, that when He shall cease to endure our many and grievous sins, He will cast them and the sinner forth from Him.
Israel relied, against God, on his own strength. “Have we not,” they said, “taken to us horns by our own strength?” Amos 6:13. Amos tells them then, that every means of strength, resistance, flight, swiftness of foot, of horse, place of refuge, should fail them. Three times he repeats, as a sort of dirge, “he shall not deliver himself.”
Therefore the flight shall perish - (Probably place of flight Job 11:20; Psalm 142:5; Jeremiah 25:35). They had despised God, as their “place of refuge”, so “the place of refuge, should perish from the swift,” as though it were not. He should flee amain, but there would be no “place to flee unto.” God alone “renews strength;” therefore “the strong” man should not “strengthen his force or might,” should not be able to gather or “collect his strength” as we say. Fear should disable him. “The handler of the bow” (as in Jeremiah 46:9), and who by habit is a skilled archer, although himself out of the immediate reach of the enemy, and able, unharmed, to annoy him and protect the fugitives, “shall not stand” (as in Jeremiah 46:21; Nahum 2:8). Panic should overtake him. The “mighty” man, the “fleet of foot” should “not deliver,” yea, “the horseman” should not “deliver himself;” yea, he who, “among the mighty,” was “strongest of his heart,” firm-souled among those of mightiest prowess, “shall flee away naked,” that is, bared of all, armor or dress, which might encumber his flight “in that day” which the Lord made a day of terror His own day.
Saith the Lord - Probably literally, “the secret utterance of the Lord.” Amos, more than Hosea, uses this special authentication of his words, which is so common in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. He claims a knowledge, which those around him had not, and ratifies it by the express appeal to the direct, though secret, revelation of God; what those who were not of God, would deny; what they who were of God, would believe.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Amos 2:4". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". "www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/amos-2.html. 1870.