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1. For Worship, Chastisement.

Amos iv. 4-13.

In chap. ii. Amos contrasted the popular conception of religion as worship with God's conception of it as history. He placed a picture of the sanctuary, hot160 with religious zeal, but hot too with passion and the fumes of wine, side by side with a great prospect of the national history: God's guidance of Israel from Egypt onwards. That is, as we said at the time, he placed an indoors picture of religion side by side with an open-air one. He repeats that arrangement here. The religious services he sketches are more pure, and the history he takes from his own day; but the contrast is the same. Again we have on the one side the temple worship—artificial, exaggerated, indoors, smoky; but on the other a few movements of God in Nature, which, though they all be calamities, have a great moral majesty upon them. The first opens with a scornful call to worship, which the prophet, letting out his whole heart at the beginning, shows to be equivalent to sin. Note next the impossible caricature of their exaggerated zeal: sacrifices every morning instead of once a year, tithes every three days instead of every three years.291291   Ver. 4: cf. 1 Sam. i.; Deut. xiv. 28. Wellhausen offers another exegesis: Amos is describing exactly what took place at Bethel—sacrifice on the morning, i.e. next to the day of their arrival, tithes on the third day thereafter. To offer leavened bread was a departure from the older fashion of unleavened.292292   See Wellhausen's note, and compare Lev. vii. 13. To publish their liberality was like the later Pharisees, who were not dissimilarly mocked by our Lord: When thou doest alms, cause not a trumpet to be sounded before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.293293   Matt. vi. 2. There is a certain rhythm in the taunt; but the prose style seems to be resumed with fitness when the prophet describes the solemn approach of God in deeds of doom.

161

Come away to Bethel and transgress,
At Gilgal exaggerate your transgression!
And bring every morning your sacrifices,
Every three days your tithes!
And send up the savour of leavened bread as a thank-offering,
And call out your liberalities—make them to be heard!
For so ye love
to do, O children of Israel:
Oracle of Jehovah.

But I on My side have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places—yet ye did not return to Me: oracle of Jehovah.

But I on My side withheld from you the winter rain,294294   גֶשֶׁם: Hist. Geog., p. 64. It is interesting that this year (1895) the same thing was threatened, according to a report in the Mittheilungen u. Nachrichten des D.P.V., p. 44: "Nachdem es im December einigemal recht stark geregnet hatte besonders an der Meeresküste ist seit kurz vor Weihnachten das Wetter immer schön u. mild geblieben, u. wenn nicht weiterer Regen fällt, so wird grosser Wassermangel entstehen denn bis jetzt (16 Febr.) hat Niemand Cisterne voll." The harvest is in April-May. while it was still three months to the harvest: and I let it rain repeatedly on one city, and upon one city I did not let it rain: one lot was rained upon, and the lot that was not rained upon withered; and two or three cities kept straggling to one city to drink water, and were not satisfied—yet ye did not return to Me: oracle of Jehovah.

I smote you with blasting and with mildew: many of your gardens and your vineyards and your figs and your olives the locust devoured—yet ye did not return to Me: oracle of Jehovah.

I sent among you a pestilence by way of Egypt:295295   Or in the fashion of Egypt, i.e. a thoroughly Egyptian plague; so called, not with reference to the plagues of Egypt, but because that country was always the nursery of the pestilence. See Hist. Geog., p. 157 ff. Note how it comes with war. I slew162 with the sword your youths—besides the capture of your horses—and I brought up the stench of your camps to your nostrils—yet ye did not return to Me: oracle of Jehovah.

I overturned among you, like God's own overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah, till ye became as a brand plucked from the burning—yet ye did not return to Me: oracle of Jehovah.

This recalls a passage in that English poem of which we are again and again reminded by the Book of Amos, The Vision of Piers Plowman. It is the sermon of Reason in Passus V. (Skeat's edition):—

"He preved that thise pestilences · were for pure synne,

And the southwest wynde · in saterday et evene

Was pertliche296296   Apertly, openly. for pure pride · and for no poynt elles.

Piries and plomtrees · were puffed to the erthe,

In ensample ze segges297297   Men. · ze shulden do the bettere.

Beches and brode okes · were blowen to the grounde.

Torned upward her tailles · in tokenynge of drede,

That dedly synne at domesday · shal fordon298298   Undo. hem alle."

In the ancient world it was a settled belief that natural calamities like these were the effects of the deity's wrath. When Israel suffers from them the prophets take for granted that they are for the people's punishment. I have elsewhere shown how the climate of Palestine lent itself to these convictions; in this respect the Book of Deuteronomy contrasts it with the climate of Egypt.299299   Hist. Geog., Chap. iii., pp. 73 f. And although some, perhaps rightly, have scoffed at the exaggerated form of the belief, that God is angry with the sons of men every time drought or floods happen, yet the instinct is sound which in all ages has led religious people to163 feel that such things are inflicted for moral purposes. In the economy of the universe there may be ends of a purely physical kind served by such disasters, apart altogether from their meaning to man. But man at least learns from them that nature does not exist solely for feeding, clothing and keeping him wealthy; nor is it anything else than his monotheism, his faith in God as the Lord both of his moral life and of nature, which moves him to believe, as Hebrew prophets taught and as our early English seer heard Reason herself preach. Amos had the more need to explain those disasters as the work of the God of righteousness, because his contemporaries, while willing to grant Jehovah leadership in war, were tempted to attribute to the Canaanite gods of the land all power over the seasons.

What, however, more immediately concerns us in this passage is its very effective contrast between men's treatment of God and God's treatment of men. They lavish upon Him gifts and sacrifices. He—on His side—sends them cleanness of teeth, drought, blasting of their fruits, pestilence, war and earthquake. That is to say, they regard Him as a being only to be flattered and fed. He regards them as creatures with characters to discipline, even at the expense of their material welfare. Their views of Him, if religious, are sensuous and gross; His views of them, if austere, are moral and ennobling. All this may be grim, but it is exceeding grand; and short as the efforts of Amos are, we begin to perceive in him something already of the greatness of an Isaiah.

And have not those, who have believed as Amos believed, ever been the strong spirits of our race, making the very disasters which crushed them to the earth the tokens that God has great views about them? Laugh164 not at the simple peoples, who have their days of humiliation, and their fast-days after floods and stunted harvests. For they take these, not like other men, as the signs of their frailty and helplessness; but as measures of the greatness God sees in them, His provocation of their souls to the infinite possibilities which He has prepared for them.

Israel, however, did not turn even at the fifth call to penitence, and so there remained nothing for her but a fearful looking forward to judgment, all the more terrible that the prophet does not define what the judgment shall be.

Therefore thus shall I do to thee, O Israel: because I am going to do this to thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. For, lo, He that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth to man what His thought is, that maketh morning darkness, and marcheth on the high places of earth, Jehovah, God of Hosts, is His Name.300300   This and similar passages are dealt with by themselves in Chap. XI.


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