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Lecture Fifty-fourth

In our last Lecture were noticed these words of Amos — that a whole people tremble at the sound of a trumpet; he now seems to add a sentence wholly different, and says, No calamity happens, except through God. But he had before said what we already noticed respecting the sound of the trumpet, that the people might understand that nothing happens by accident, and that punishments are, for just reasons, inflicted by the Lord; and this he soon after confirms by saying, that God did nothing, without having first revealed his secret to his Prophets. The meaning then is that the people at Israel were extremely stupid for not having repented after so many warnings; nay, they remained still in their perverseness, though they had been constrained by the most powerful means.

We now then comprehend what the Prophet means; but that the whole subject may be made more clear, let us notice this intervening sentence, there is no evil in the city which God has not done. By these words the Prophet reminds us, that calamities happen not by chance, as the vulgar of mankind believe; for the words, “Prosperous or adverse fortunes” are, we know, in the mouths of all, as though God was idle in heaven, and took no care of human affairs. Hence, whatever happens, the world usually ascribes it to fortune. But the Prophet here shows that the government of this world is administered by God, and that nothing happens except through his power. He does not, indeed, treat here of sin: but the Prophet, according to the usual practice, calls whatever is adverse to us, רעה, roe, evil. Whatever, then, we naturally shun, is usually called an evil; and this mode of speaking Amos follows here, as God is said by Isaiah to have in his power night and day, light and darkness, good and evil, (Isaiah 45:7) When good and evil are spoken of there, it is certain that what is referred to is prosperity and adversity. So also here, the Prophet teaches that men are chastised by God whenever anything adverse happens to them, as though he said that fortune rules not, as the world imagines, and that things do not take place at random; but that God is at all times the judge of the world. In short, Amos wished to recall the people to an examination of their lives, as though he summoned them to the tribunal of God; and he showed by evident external tokens that God was justly offended with the Israelites: “Ye see that you are severely dealt with, do you think that God sleeps idly in heaven? Since nothing happens but by the will of God, he now designs to awaken you by treating you with so much sharpness and severity, so that you may know your vices.” We now then perceive the design of the Prophet in saying, that there was no evil in the city which God had not done.

In a similar manner, also, does God by Jeremiah sharply expostulate with the people, because they imputed slaughters in war, famine, and other evils, to fortune. When, therefore, any calamity happened, the Jews complained of bad fortune, as the world are wont to do. God was displeased and severely reproved this profane notion; for the government of the world was thus taken away from him: for, were any thing to take place against his will, so much would be abstracted from his power; and farther men would grow hardened in their sins; for however grievously he might punish them, they would not yet acknowledge his hand: they might indeed cry out under the strokes, and feel how severe his scourges were; but they would not regard the hand of the striker, which is the principal thing, as it is stated elsewhere, (Isaiah 9:13) Then the Prophet takes this as granted, that, whenever any calamity happens, men are extremely stupid, if they are not roused and reflect on their sins, and consider the tokens of God’s wrath, so as to flee to him, and confess themselves guilty and implore his mercy.

But he had before spoken of the sound of the trumpet; for every excuse was thereby taken away from the Israelites, as God had not only recalled them to the right way by his scourges but also preceded these by his word: and he shows how justly he was displeased with them; hence the Prophet adds another sentence, For the Lord Jehovah will do nothing without revealing his secret to his servants, the Prophets. The Prophet declares in this verse, that God dealt not with the Israelites as with heathen nations; for God punished other people without warning them by his word; he summoned to judgment neither the Idumeans, nor the Ammonites, nor the Egyptians, but executed his vengeance, though he never addressed them. Different was his dealing with the Israelites; for God not only brought on them such punishment as they deserved, but he preceded it by His word, and showed beforehand what evil was nigh them, that they might anticipate it; he indeed gave them time to repent, and was ready to pardon them, had they been capable of being restored. Now then the Prophet aggravates the guilt of the people, because they had not only been chastised by the Lord, but they might, if they chose, have turned aside their punishment; instead of doing so they hardened themselves in their wickedness.

God then will do nothing without revealing his secret to his servants, the Prophets. This ought to be confined to that people, and it ought also to be confined to the punishments of which the Prophet speaks. It is certain that God executes many judgments which are hid both from men and angels; and Amos did not intend to impose a necessity on God, as if he was not free to do any thing without previously revealing it; such was not the Prophet’s design; but his object was simply to condemn the Israelites for their irreclaimable perverseness and obstinacy, that, having been warned, they did not seriously think of repenting, but despised all God’s threatening, and even scorned them. God then will do nothing, that is, “God will not treat you in an ordinary way, as he does with other nations, whom he chastises without speaking to them. They, for the most part, understand not what is done; but God in a paternal manner kindly reminds you of your sins, shows why he resolves to chastise you and forewarns you, that you may have time to seek and ask forgiveness.”

God therefore reveals his secret to his Prophets; that is, “He does not suddenly or unexpectedly punish you, as he might do, and as ye see that he does with respect to others; but he proclaims what he will do, and sends his messengers, as though they were heralds sent to denounce war on you; and at the same time they open a way for reconciliation, provided ye are not wholly past recovery, and perverse in your wickedness. Ye are then doubly inexcusable, if God can do nothing by his word and by the punishment which he afterwards subjoins to his word.” We now comprehend the object of the Prophet. Then foolish is the question, at least unreasonable, “Does God here bind himself by a certain law, that he will do nothing, but what he previously reveals to his Prophets?” For Amos means not this, but only affirms that it was the common method which the Lord adopted in chastising that people. It is certain, that the Prophets did not know many things; for God distributed his Spirit to them by measure: all things then were not revealed to the Prophets. But Amos here only intimates that God did not deal with his chosen people as he did with heathen nations; for these often found God unexpectedly displeased with them, and had no time to reflect, that they might repent. Much more kindly and mercifully has God acted, says Amos, with that people; for God was unwilling suddenly to overwhelm or to surprise them, but has warned them by his Prophets. We see how widely this doctrine opens; but it is enough to understand the Prophet’s design, and to know the purpose to which his discourse ought to be applied.

God then will do nothing without revealing first his secret to the Prophets. He calls it a secret, because men are perplexed when God executes vengeance on them, and stand amazed: but when they are in time warned, then what God designs becomes evident to them, and they know the cause and the source of punishment. Thus then the secret is revealed which was hid from miserable men: and the guilt of the people is doubled, when, after these threatening, they do not repent.

It now follows, The lion roars who would not fear? The Lord Jehovah speaks, who would not prophesy? In this verse the Prophet reproved the Israelites for their usual contentions with the Prophets when their sins were sharply reprehended. Thus indeed are men wont to do; they consider not that Prophets are sent from above, and that there is a charge committed to them. Hence, when Prophets are severe in their words, the world clamors and wrangles: “What do these men intend? Why do they urge us so much? Why do they not allow us to rest quietly? for they provoke against us the wrath of God.” Whenever then men are roused, they immediately menace God’s Prophets with strife and contention, and regard not threatening as coming from God himself. This vice the Prophet now condemns: The lion roars, he says, who would not fear? God speaks, who would not prophesy? “Ye think that I am your adversary; but ye can gain nothing by quarreling with me: were I silent, the voice of God would of itself be formidable enough. The evil then proceeds not from my mouth, but from God’s command; for I am constrained, willing or unwilling, to obey God: he has chosen me to be a Prophet, and has showed what he intends that I should proclaim. What can I do, he says? I am not at liberty to invent revelations; but I faithfully bring forth to you what has been delivered to me by the Lord. How great then is your madness, that ye contend with me, and consider not that your strife and contention is with God himself?” We now see what the Prophet meant, and also understand, why he adduced the four similitudes, of which we have already spoken. I now proceed with the remaining context.

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