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Complacent Self-Indulgence Will Be Punished


Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,

and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,

the notables of the first of the nations,

to whom the house of Israel resorts!


Cross over to Calneh, and see;

from there go to Hamath the great;

then go down to Gath of the Philistines.

Are you better than these kingdoms?

Or is your territory greater than their territory,


O you that put far away the evil day,

and bring near a reign of violence?



Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,

and lounge on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock,

and calves from the stall;


who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,

and like David improvise on instruments of music;


who drink wine from bowls,

and anoint themselves with the finest oils,

but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!


Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,

and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.


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The Prophet now directs his discourse not only to the Israelites, to whom he was especially given as an instructor and teacher, but includes the Jews also: and yet he addresses not all indiscriminately, but only the chief men, who were intent on their pleasures, as though they were exempt from the common miseries: for he does not, as many suppose, reprove here luxury and pride only; but we must remember a fact connected with their case, — that they were not awakened by God’s judgments; when God severely punished the sins of the people, the chief men remained ever heedlessly in their own dregs. This security is now condemned by our Prophet.

And this is a very common evil, as we may see, in the present day. For when the Lord afflicts a country with war or with famine, the rich make great gain of such evils. They abuse the scourges of God; for we see merchants getting rich in the midst of wars, inasmuch as they scrape together a booty from every quarter. For they who carry on war are forced to borrow money, and also the peasants and mechanics, that they may pay taxes; and then, that they may live, they are obliged to make unjust conditions: thus the rich increase in wealth. They also who are in authority, and in favor at the court of princes, make more gain in wars, in famine, and in other calamities, than during times of peace and prosperity: for when peace nourishes, the state of things is then more equable; but when the poor are burdened, the rest grow fat. And this is the evil now noticed by the Prophet.

Hence he pronounces here a curse on the secure and those at ease; not that it is an evil thing, or in itself displeasing to God, when any one quietly enjoys his leisure; but, not to be moved, when the Lord openly shows himself to be displeased and angry, when his scourges are manifestly inflicted, but to indulge ourselves more in pleasures, — this is to provoke him, as it were, designedly. The secure, then, and the presumptuous the Prophet here condemns, for it became them to humble themselves when they saw that God was incensed against them. They were not indeed more just than the multitude; and when God treated the common people with such severity, ought not the chiefs to have looked to themselves, and have examined their own life? As they did not do this, but made themselves drunk with pleasures, and put far off every fear and thought that the scourges of God were nothing to them, — this was a contempt deservedly condemned by the Prophet. We see that God was in the same manner greatly displeased, as it is recorded in Isaiah: when he called them to mourning, they sang with the harp, and, according to their custom, feasted sumptuously and joyfully, (Isaiah 23:12) As then they thus persevered in their indulgences, the Lord became extremely angry; for it was, as though they avowedly despised him and scorned all his threatening.

We now observe the design of the Prophet, which interpreters have not sufficiently noticed. It behaves us indeed ever to keep in view these scourges of God, by which he began to visit the sins of the people. God can by no means endure, as I have said, such a contumacy as this, — that men should go on in the indulgence of their sins and never regard their judge and feel no guilt. Hence the Prophet says, Woe to you who are secure in Zion, who are confident, that is, who are without any fear, on the mount of Samaria 4242    
    “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion,
And to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria.”
—Dr. Henderson.

   From not considering the main drift of what follows in this chapter, critics have proposed emendations in this verse. The careless and the secure, both at Jerusalem and Samaria, are evidently meant. Newcome renders the last line nearly the same with Henderson —

   “And that rest secure in the mountain of Samaria.”

   So that the word “trust” in our version is not correct. The word used means often to be confident or secure, as well as to trust; but the law of parallelism requires it to be in the former sense here; as they were at ease in Zion, so they were confident or secure on the mount of Samaria. — Ed.
He names here the mount of Zion and the mount of Samaria; for these were the chief cities of the two kingdoms, as we all know. The whole country had been laid waste with various calamities; the citizens of Jerusalem and of Samaria were, at the same time, wealthy; and then trusting in their strongholds, they despised God and all his judgments. This then was the security, full of contumacy, which is condemned by the Prophet.

He then mentions their ingratitude: he says that these mountains had been celebrated from the beginning of the nations, and that the Israelites entered into them. God here upbraids both the Jews and Israelites with having come to a foreign possession: for they had got those cities, not by their own valour, but the Lord drove out before them the ancient inhabitants. Seeing then that they perceived not that a safe dwelling was given them there by the Lord, that they might purely worship him and submit to his government, their ingratitude was inexcusable. The Prophet then, after having inveighed against the gross and heedless security, with which the chiefs of both kingdoms were inebriated, now mentions their ingratitude: “Ye are not natives, but ye have come in, for God did go before you, for it was his will to give you this land as your possession: why then are you now so inflated with pride against him? For before your time these cities were certainly well known and celebrated; and yet this was of no avail to the natives themselves. Why then do ye not now fear the Lord’s judgment and repent, when he threatens you? Yea, when he shows his scourges to you?” We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning in this verse. It now follows —

By this representation Amos shows that there was no excuse for the Jews or the Israelites for sleeping in their sins, inasmuch as they could see, as it were in a mirror, the judgments which God brought on heathen nations. It is a singular favor, when God teaches us at the expense of others: for he could justly punish us as soon as we transgress; but this he does not, on the contrary he spares us; and at the same time he sets others before us as examples. This is, as we have said a singular favor: and this is the mode of teaching which our Prophet now adopts. He says, that Calneh and Hamath, and Gath, were remarkable evidences of God’s wrath, by which the Israelites might learn, that they had no reason to rest on their wealth, to rely on their fortresses, and to think themselves free from all dangers; for as God had destroyed these cities, which seemed impregnable, so he could also cut off Jerusalem and Samaria, whenever he pleased. This is the real meaning of the Prophet.

Some read the sentence negatively “Are not these places better than your kingdoms?” But this is not consistent with the Prophet’s words. Others attend not to the object of the Prophet; for they think that the blessings of God are here compared, as though he said, “God deals more liberally with you than with the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, and the neighboring nations.” For Calneh was situated in the plain of Babylon, as it is evident from Genesis 10:10; and Hamath was also a celebrated city, mentioned in that chapter, and in many other places; and Gath was a renowned city of the Philistines. In this opinion therefore interpreters mostly agree; that is, that there is set forth here God’s bounty to the Jews and Israelites, seeing that he had favored them with a rich and fertile country, and preferred them to other nations. But this view seems not to me to be the correct one; for when a comparison is made between Calneh and Jerusalem, Babylon was no doubt the more fruitful and the more pleasant country, as we learn from all histories. The Prophet then does not speak here of the ancient condition of these places, but shows, as I have already said, that it availed these cities nothing, that they were wealthy, that they were fortified by all kinds of defenses; for God, at last, executed vengeance on them. Hence the Prophet declares that the same was now nigh the Jews and the Israelites.

“What will hinder the hand of God,” he says, “from delivering you to destruction? For if men could have arrested God’s wrath by any fortresses, certainly Calneh and Hamath, and Gath, would have resisted by their forces; but the Lord has yet executed his vengeance on these cities, though fortified; your confidence then is nothing but infatuation, which deceives you.” Jeremiah uses a similar language, when he says, ‘Go to Shiloh,’ (Jeremiah 7:12) He certainly does not remind the Jews, that the Lord had more splendidly adorned them than Shiloh; but he had quite a different thing in view. Shiloh had indeed been eminent, for it had long afforded a dwelling to the ark of the covenant; the sanctuary of God had been there. But at that time the place was deserted; and Jeremiah sets before the eyes of the people its sad desolation, that they might know that they ought to dread the same event, except they repented; for if they hardened their necks, nothing could prevent God from dealing with them as he did before with the inhabitants of Shiloh.

We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, Go and pass into Calneh, and see In bidding them to see, he no doubt refers to the dreadful change which had taken place there. For Calneh had been a strongly fortified city, and possessed supreme power; and the neighboring country was also no less pleasant than fruitful: but it was now a solitary place; for Babylon, as it is well known, had swallowed up Calneh. Since then the place afforded such a spectacle, the Prophet rightly says, Pass over into Calneh, and see; that is consider, as in a mirror, what men can gain by their pride and haughtiness, when they harden themselves against God: for this was the cause of destruction to that celebrated city.

From thence, he says, go to Hamath, רבה, rebe, the great; which was a well-known city of Assyria; and see there, “How has it happened that a city so famous was entirely overthrown, except that the Lord could not endure so great a perverseness? As they had abused his patience, he at length executed his vengeance. The same thing also happened to your neighbors.” For the Jews and the Israelites were not far distant from Gath. Now then since there were so many evidences of God’s wrath before their eyes, justly does the Prophet here inveigh against their want of thought, inasmuch as they feared not God’s judgment, which was nigh at hand.

Are they then better? that is, is the condition of these cities better than that of the two kingdoms, Judah and Israel? and then, Is their border larger than your border? They have indeed been reduced to such straits, that they even pay tribute for their houses, whereas formerly they occupied a wide extent of country, and ruled, as it were, with extended wings, far and wide: but God has taken away those territories: for all these cities are become tributaries. See, he says, Is their border larger than your border? It now follows —

The Prophet here reproves the Jews and Israelites for another crime, — that they had often provoked God’s wrath, and ceased not by their sins to call forth new punishments, and in the meantime rejected, through their haughtiness and obstinacy, all his threatening, as if they were vain, and would never be executed on them. We must ever remember what I have said before, — that the Prophet speaks not here of the whole people, but of the chiefs; for the expression, that they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, could not have been applied to the common people. This discourse then was addressed particularly to the judges and counselors, and those who were in power in both kingdoms, in Judah as well as in Israel.

But it is a remarkable saying, that they drove far off the evil day, while they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, or of violence; as though he said, “Ye seek for yourselves a fever by your intemperance, and yet ye drive it far off, as drunken men are wont to do, who swallow down wine without any moderation; and when a physician comes or one more moderate, and warns them not to indulge in excess, they ridicule all their forebodings: ‘What! will a fever seize on me? I am wholly free from fever; I am indeed accustomed to drink wine.’” Such are ungodly men, when they provoke God’s wrath as it were designedly, and at the same time scorn all threatening, as though they were safe through some special privilege. We now then see what the Prophet had in view by saying, that they drove far the evil day, and yet drew nigh the throne of iniquity He means, that they drew nigh the throne of iniquity, when the judges strengthened themselves in their tyranny, and took the liberty to steal, to rob, to plunder, to oppress. When therefore they thus hardened themselves in all kinds of licentiousness, they then drew nigh the throne of iniquity. And they put away the evil day, because they were touched by no alarm; for when the Prophets denounced God’s vengeance, they regarded it as a fable.

In short, Amos charges here the principal men of the two kingdoms with two crimes, — that they ceased not to provoke continually the wrath of God by subverting and casting under foot all equity, and by ruling the people in a tyrannical and haughty manner — and that, in the mean time, they heedlessly despised all threatening, prolonged time, and promised impunity to themselves: even when God seriously and sharply addressed them, they still thought that the evil day was not nigh. Passages of this kind meet us everywhere in the Prophets, in which they show their indignation at this kind of heedlessness, when hypocrites putting off every feeling of grief, as though they had fascinated themselves, laughed to scorn all the Prophets, because they thought that the hand of God was far removed from them. Thus they are spoken of by Isaiah, as saying,

‘Let us eat and drink, since we must die,’
(Isaiah 22:13)

They indeed thought that the Prophets did not seriously threaten them; but they regarded the mention of a near destruction as an empty bugbear. We now then understand what the Prophet meant. It follows —

Amos still pursues the reproof we have noticed at the beginning of the chapter, — that the chief men, of whom he speaks, cast away from them all cares and anxieties, and indulged in pleasures, while the whole country was miserably distressed. We must ever bear in mind what I have already said, — that luxury is not simply reprehended by the Prophet, as some incorrectly think, without sufficiently considering what is said, for it is not what the Prophet treats of; but he upbraids the Israelites for setting up an iron neck against God’s judgments, yea, for shamelessly trifling with God, while he was endeavoring to lead them by degrees to repentance. The Prophet complains that nothing availed with them.

He then says, first, that they slept on ivory beds. To use ivory beds was not in itself bad, except that excess is ever to be condemned; for, when we give up ourselves to pomps and pleasures, we certainly are not then free from sin: indeed, every desire for present things, which exceeds moderation, is ever justly reprehensible. And when men greedily seek splendor and display, or become ambitious and proud, or are given to delicacies, they are guilty of vices ever condemned by God. But it might be, that one used an ivory bed, who was yet willing to lie on the ground: for we know that there was then a great abundance of ivory, and that it was commonly used in Asia. Italy formerly knew not what it was to use a bed of ivory, that is, before the victory of Lucius Scipio: but after the king Antiochus was conquered, then Italy freely used ivory beds and fineries; and thus luxury broke down their courage and effeminated them.

I will come now to our Prophet: it might have been that ivory was not then so valuable in Judea: they might then have used ivory beds without blame. But Amos ever regards the miseries of those times. The rich then ought to have given up all their luxuries, and to have betaken themselves to dust and ashes, when they saw that God was incensed with them, when they saw that the fire of his vengeance was kindled. We now then perceive why Amos was so indignant against those who slept on ivory beds.

He adds, And who extend themselves on their beds: for סרח, sarech, is properly to extend; it means also to become fetid; and further, it means to be superfluous; and therefore some render the words, “upon ivory beds and superfluities;” but this is strained, and agrees not with what follows, upon their couches. The Prophet then, I have no doubt, points out here the manners of those who so heedlessly indulged themselves: “Ye extend,” he says, “your legs and your arms on your couches, as idle men, accustomed to indulgences, are wont to do. But the Lord will awaken you in a new way; his scourges ought to have roused you, but ye remain asleep. Hence, since God could not terrify you by his rods, nothing more remains but to draw you forth against your will to be punished.” This was the reason why the Prophet said that they extended themselves on their couches.

Ye eat also the lambs from the flock, and the calves from the midst of the rich pasture, or of the stall. I prefer taking מרבק, merebek, for folds. Since then they loved fat meat, the Prophet reproves this luxury: he had indeed in view, as it has been already said, the then calamitous time; for if the rich had in their usual way feasted, and had even taken fat meat, they would not have deserved so severe a punishment: but when the Lord called them to mourning, and when the signals of his wrath spread horror all around, it was a stupidity not to be endured, for them to continue their indulgences, which they ought, on the contrary, to have renounced. Indeed, this passage agrees with that of Isaiah, to which I have already referred. It now follows —

The word פרט, pereth, means to divide; so some explain it, and derive it from the clusters which remain after the vintage, because there are not then thick grapes, but a cluster here and there, and a great distance between: hence they think that the participle הפורטים, epurethim, is to be taken here metaphorically as meaning to divide by marks, as music has its various notes; for except there be a distinct variety in singing, the sound would be confused, and would produce no pleasing effect. Who sing then with the harps and have invented for themselves, after the example of David, musical instruments.

The Prophet still continues his discourse, and shows that these men lived sumptuously; as though they did not belong to the common class, they delighted themselves, against God’s will, not only in the common mode of living, but even sought new pleasures, as if they were continually at marriage feasts, or celebrating birthdays. As then they had no season for mourning, they pursued their own indulgences; and this is what the Prophet now reprehends. If then any one thinks that music is in these words condemned, he is much deceived, as it appears from the context. Indeed, the Prophet never dealt so rigidly with that people, but he ever kept to this point — that they were extremely torpid, nay, destitute of common sense, who perceived not that God showed himself angry with them, in order that they might flee immediately to the standard of repentance and humbly deprecate, with mourning, the wrath of God, as they ought to have done. It was therefore meet ever to set before them Gods wrath, which ought to have humbled the Jews and the Israelites, inasmuch as they ever obstinately set up against God their own indifference.

In saying that after the example of David they invented for themselves musical instruments, he no doubt greatly aggravated their sin by this comparison: for it is not likely that they had abused this pretext, as hypocrites do, who are wont to boast of the examples of the saints, when they seek to disguise their own vices, — “What!” some will say, “Did not David use musical instruments?” Others will say, “Had not Solomon very splendid palaces?” And some will add, “Had not Abraham a company of servants in his house?” So every one lays hold on what may avail for an excuse: and thus the examples of the saints are absurdly referred to by many. But it seems not probable that this was done by those whom Amos now addresses: but, on the contrary, he appears sharply to reprove them for provoking God’s wrath by self indulgence, and for manifesting their perverseness, while David employed musical instruments in the exercises of religion, to raise up his mind to God. No doubt, David, when in a peaceful state, after having been delivered from all dangers, could also amuse himself: but he applied musical instruments to another purpose — to sound forth the praises of God in the temple, that thereby he and other godly persons might together elevate their thoughts to a religious devotion. While David then, even in a state of peace and prosperity, did not allow his mind to become sunk in vain self-indulgences, these men, when God appeared angry, when he spread terror by so many tokens of his vengeance, yet dared contumaciously to follow their own ways, so that they left off nothing of their usual pomp and of their accustomed pleasures.

We now see the design of the comparison which the Prophet makes: He aggravates, I have no doubt, their sin, because they regarded not the example of David, but transferred musical instruments to serve the purpose of gross and beastly indulgences, and thus they did when God was opposed to them, when he had begun to terrify them by his vengeance. Let us proceed —

Amos now reproaches the chiefs of both kingdoms for drinking wine in bowls, that is, in vessels either elegantly formed or precious. Some think “silver” to be understood “in vessels of silver:” but there is no need of regarding any thing as understood in the Prophet’s words. The meaning is, that those men were sufficiently convicted of brutish stupidity, inasmuch as they did not forsake their indulgences, when God manifested his terrible vengeance. Since God then did thus what tended to humble them, their madness and blindness were conspicuous enough; for they indulged themselves, they drank wine according to their usual custom, when they ought to have betaken themselves, as we have said, to fasting, lamentation, and mourning, to sackcloth and ashes.

They drank wine in bowls, and further, they anointed themselves with the chief ointments Christ, we know, was anointed at least twice, (Luke 7:38 Matthew 26:7) and this practice was not blamed in David, nor in king Hezekiah, nor in others. Since then anointing was not in itself sinful, we see that the Prophet must have something particular in view. He meant to show, that when God manifested tokens of his wrath, nothing then remained for those who were conscious of having done evil, but humbly to abstain, like guilty persons, from all indulgences, that they might, by fasting and mourning, excite the mercy of God: as the Israelites had not done this, the Prophet expostulated with them. There is no need of seeking, any other interpretation of this place.

For he immediately subjoins, that they grieved not for the bruising of Joseph These words are to be read in connection with the former, and ought to be applied to the whole discourse. The Prophet then does not specifically blame the Jews and Israelites because they drank wine in bowls, because they anointed themselves with the best and most precious ointment, because they reposed on ivory beds, because they extended themselves on their couches, because they ate the best meat; but because they securely indulged in such delights, and grieved not for the distress of their brethren, for God had miserably afflicted the whole kingdom before their eyes. How much had four tribes already suffered? and how much the whole land and those who lived in the country? Ought God to have spared any longer these chiefs? It is indeed certain, that those who were still free from these calamities were especially culpable. Since then they did not consider the wrath of God, which was evident enough before their eyes, it was a proof of stupidity wholly insane, and showed them who still indulged themselves to have been utterly besides themselves.

We now then understand the full meaning of the Prophet; and hence he says, They shall emigrate at the head of the emigrants, that is, “when there shall be an emigration, they shall be the first in order of time. I have hitherto indulgently spared you; but as I see that you have abused my forbearance, ye shall certainly be the forerunners of others; for ye shall go first into captivity. And my rigor shall begin with you, because I see that I have hitherto lost all my labor in attempting, kindly and paternally to call you to repentance. Ye shall now then migrate at the head of the emigrants

And come shall the mourning of those who extend themselves, סרוחים, saruchim 4343     The words are וסר מרזה סרוחים, usar merezach saruchim, — an instance of striking alliteration. But Calvin’s rendering, though amounting in its general import to the same thing, is certainly not the correct one. סר never means to come, but the reverse, to depart. To decline, to turn aside or away, or to depart, is its common signification. Then מרזה is properly shouting, either for grief or for joy; here evidently for the latter; and it may be rendered here mirth; so the clause may be thus translated —
   And depart shall the mirth of the recumbents,
or, of those who stretch themselves.

   Dr. Henderson’s version is the following: —

   And the shouting company of those that recline shall depart.

   The translation of Symmachus is, “Taken away shall be the company of the voluptuous, ἑταιρεία τρυφητων” The idea of “banquet” for the word here used, is what the Rabbins have given to it. — Ed.
; that is, “Ye indeed lie down, (as he had said before,) ye extend yourselves on your couches; but mourning shall come to you. Ye think that you can escape punishment, when ye repose quietly on your beds; but though your chambers be closed, though ye move not a finger, yet mourning shall come to you.” We now see the connection between the words, mourning and resting in idleness and indulgence. The word סרח, sarech, means indeed properly to recumb; and hence some render the passage, “Mourning shall rest on you:” but the more received meaning is, Mourning shall come on you while recumbing. Though then they stretched out themselves on their beds, that they might pleasantly and softly recumb and rest themselves, yet mourning would come to them, that is, would enter into their chambers.