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A Lament for Israel’s Sin


Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:


Fallen, no more to rise,

is maiden Israel;

forsaken on her land,

with no one to raise her up.



For thus says the Lord G od:

The city that marched out a thousand

shall have a hundred left,

and that which marched out a hundred

shall have ten left.



For thus says the L ord to the house of Israel:

Seek me and live;


but do not seek Bethel,

and do not enter into Gilgal

or cross over to Beer-sheba;

for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,

and Bethel shall come to nothing.



Seek the L ord and live,

or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,

and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.


Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,

and bring righteousness to the ground!



The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,

and turns deep darkness into the morning,

and darkens the day into night,

who calls for the waters of the sea,

and pours them out on the surface of the earth,

the L ord is his name,


who makes destruction flash out against the strong,

so that destruction comes upon the fortress.



They hate the one who reproves in the gate,

and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.


Therefore because you trample on the poor

and take from them levies of grain,

you have built houses of hewn stone,

but you shall not live in them;

you have planted pleasant vineyards,

but you shall not drink their wine.


For I know how many are your transgressions,

and how great are your sins—

you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,

and push aside the needy in the gate.


Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;

for it is an evil time.



Seek good and not evil,

that you may live;

and so the L ord, the God of hosts, will be with you,

just as you have said.


Hate evil and love good,

and establish justice in the gate;

it may be that the L ord, the God of hosts,

will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.



Therefore thus says the L ord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

In all the squares there shall be wailing;

and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!”

They shall call the farmers to mourning,

and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;


in all the vineyards there shall be wailing,

for I will pass through the midst of you,

says the L ord.


The Day of the L ord a Dark Day


Alas for you who desire the day of the L ord!

Why do you want the day of the L ord?

It is darkness, not light;


as if someone fled from a lion,

and was met by a bear;

or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,

and was bitten by a snake.


Is not the day of the L ord darkness, not light,

and gloom with no brightness in it?



I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.


Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.


Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.


But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


25 Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves; 27therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the L ord, whose name is the God of hosts.


It is probable that in this verse also, the judges are reproved by the Prophet, though what is here said may be extended to the whole people: but as nearly the whole discourse is leveled against the judges, I readily subscribe to the opinion, that the Prophet now accuses the judges on this account, — because they could not bear to be reproved for the great license they allowed themselves, but, on the contrary, abhorred all those who reproved them. What then he says as to the reprover being hated in the gate, is to be thus explained: When judges sat in the gate and perverted justice and right, and when any one reminded them of their duty, they haughtily rejected all admonitions, and even hated them. In the gate then, that is, They who ought to rule others, and to correct whatever vice there may be among the people, cannot themselves bear any reprover, when their own vices require strong remedies.

And well would it be, if this disease were healed at this day. We indeed see that kings, and those in authority, wish to be deemed sacred, and they will allow no reproof. Instantly the majesty of God is violated in their person; for they complain and cry out, whenever teachers and God’s servants dare to denude their wicked conduct. This vice then, which the Prophet condemns, is not the vice of one time; for, even in the present day, those who occupy the seats of judgment wish to be exempt from all reproofs, and would claim for themselves a free liberty in sinning, inasmuch as they think not that they belong to the common class of men, and imagine themselves exempt from all reprehension; in short, they wish to rule without any equity, for power with them is nothing but unbridled licentiousness. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning. It now follows —

The Prophet here declares, that though the judges enriched themselves by plunder, yet God would not allow them to enjoy their booty, but that he would deprive them of the great wealth they had accumulated. This is the import of the whole. We hence see that the Prophet contends not here with the common people, but professedly attacks the chief men, inasmuch as from them did proceed all the prevailing evil.

The first thing is, they imposed burdens on the poor, and then, they took away corn from them He says first, “A burden have you laid”, or, “ye have trodden on the poor;” for the verb may be taken in either sense, and it matters not which as to the import of the passage. It is not indeed often that we meet with a verb of four letters; 3434     The verb is בושסכם, from בושם but in ten MSS. Of Kennicott, and in five of D’Rossi, the ו is left out: and then ש is supposed to be put for ס, as Amos in another place, Amos 7:14, puts ס for ש. The verb בס, and in its reduplicate form בסס, occurs in other places, and means to tread or trample under foot. The expression here literally is, “your trampling;” but such a form may often be expressed in our language, “ye trample.” The connection of the whole verse will be better seen by the following version: —
   Therefore, as ye trample on the poor,
And tribute of corn extort from him,

Houses of hewn stone you may build,
But ye shall not dwell in them;
Vineyards of delight ye may plant,
But ye shall not drink their wine.

   — Ed.
but interpreters explain this as meaning to tread under foot or to lay a burden. The Prophet, I doubt not, accuses here the judges of not sparing miserable men, but of burdening them with tributes and exactions; for this is to burden the poor. Then he adds, “Ye have taken a load of corn”. The Prophet had doubtless fixed here on a species of cruelty in robbing others, the most detestable. When judges take money, or any other gift, it is less odious than when the poor are compelled to carry corn to them on their shoulders. It was the same as though they surrendered their very life to their plunderers; for when judges constrained loads of corn to be brought to them, it was as though they strangled the poor, or drew blood from their veins, inasmuch as they robbed them of their food and support. We now perceive what the Prophet meant: You have, he says, oppressed the poor, and taken from them a load of corn. Some render בר, ber, chosen, but improperly.

Ye shall therefore build, etc. He declares here that they would not realize their hope, though they plundered on all sides to build palaces, and though they got great possessions to enrich themselves and their heirs: “This self-love,” he says, “will deceive you; defraud, rob, plunder; but the Lord will at length strip you of all your robberies: for after having been venal, and prostituted not only your souls but your shame for gain, and after having spent much labor and expense in building, ye shall not dwell in your palaces; and when ye shall have planted vineyards with great expense and care, ye shall not drink their wine.” Isaiah also speaks in the same strain,

‘O plunderer, thou shalt be exposed to plunders’
(Isaiah 33:1)

Experience also teaches the same thing; for we see how the Lord transfers from one to another the possessions of this world: he who seems to provide riches after his death for his heirs for ever, passes his whole life, as we see, without enjoying his own property; for he is hungry in the midst of the greatest abundance, and even famishes himself. This is very frequently the case. And then when his abundance comes to his heirs, it falls into the hands of prodigals, who soon dissipate the whole. And sometimes the Lord allows not that such vast wealth should have heirs, and it is scattered here and there, and the very name is extinguished, though the name to such haughty and wealthy men is a great object, as they commonly wish it to be eminent in the world for some hundred ages after their death.

This passage of the Prophet ought therefore to be especially noticed. He tells us that unjust gains were laid up by these robbers and wicked plunderers, in order to amass great riches; but he adds, “The Lord will spoil them, and will not suffer them to enjoy their abundance, however anxiously they had collected it from all quarters.” Let us now proceed —

The Prophet introduces God here as the speaker, that the threatening might be more authoritative: for we know, at it has been before stated, that the Prophets were despised by haughty men; but when God himself appeared as it were before them, it was strange if no fear laid hold on them; they had at least no excuse for their presumption, if God’s name did not touch their hearts and humble them.

I know, he says, your iniquities; as though he said, “Ye do not think yourselves bound to render an account to men, as probably no such account; will be rendered by you; but how will you be able, think you, to escape my tribunal? for I am your judge, and mine is the government: however ferociously ye now tread on the poor, and evasively contend with me, your crimes must necessarily be judged by me; I know your crimes. And as the rich by their splendor covered every wickedness, particularly the magistrates, who were adorned with a public character, God says that their turpitude was fully known to him: as though he said “Contend as much as you please, still your iniquities are sufficiently apparent to me; ye will gain nothing by your subtle evasions.” Moreover, he reprehends them not merely for slight offenses, but says that they were wholly past being borne with. When something is done amiss by the highest power, indulgence is commonly granted; for nothing is more difficult than for one who sustains so great and heavy a burden, to retain so much integrity as to be free from every blame: but the Lord shows here that they were not lightly culpable, but that their crimes were so grievous and flagrant that they could not be endured. We now then understand what was the object of the Prophet.

When therefore their own greatness dazzles the eyes of proud men, let us know that they cannot deprive God of his right; for though he may not judge them to-day, he will yet shortly ascend his tribunal: and he reminds them, that those pompous displays by which they cover their many crimes, are only shadows which will vanish. This is what the Prophet means.

Then he calls them, The oppressors of the just He enumerates here some particulars, with regard to which, the iniquity of the judges whom he now addresses might be, as it were, felt to be gross and abominable. Ye oppress he says, the just; this was one thing: then follows another, They take כפר, capher, expiation, or, the price of redemption. The Prophet, I have no doubt, meant to point out here something different from the former crime. Though interpreters blend these two things, I yet think them to be wholly different; for these mercenary judges made an agreement with the wicked, whenever any homicide or other violence was perpetrated; in short, whenever any one implicated himself in any grievous sin, they saw that there was a prey taken, and anxiously gaped for it: they wished murders to be committed daily, that they might acquire gain. Since, then, these judges were thus intent on bribery, the Prophet accuses them as being takers of ransom. They ought to have punished crimes; this they did not; but they let go the wicked unpunished; they spared murderers, and adulterers, and robbers, and sorcerers not indeed without rewards, for they brought the price of redemption, and departed as if they were innocent.

We now perceive what the Prophet means here; and well would it be were this crime not so common: but at this day, the cruelty of many judges appears especially in this — that they hunt for crimes for the sake of gain, which seems to be as it were a ransom; for this is the proper meaning of the word כפר, capher. As then this evil commonly prevails it is no wonder that the Prophet, while reprehending the corruptions of his time, says, that judges took a ransom.

Then he adds, The poor they turn aside from judgment in the gate This is the third crime: the Prophet complains, that they deprived miserable men of their right, because they could not bring so large a bribe as the rich; though relying on the goodness of their cause, they thought themselves sure of victory. The Prophet complains, that they were disappointed of their hope, and their right was denied them in the gate, that is, in the court of justice; for we know that it was an ancient custom for judges to sit in the gates, and there to administer justice; And hence Amos mentions here gate twice: and what he complains of was the more disgraceful, inasmuch as the judicial court was, as it were, a sacred asylum, to which injured men resorted, that they might have their wrongs redressed. When this became the den of robbers, what any more remained for them? We now then see that the Prophet speaks not here of the common people, but that he mainly levels his reproofs against the rulers. Let us go on —

Some interpreters think that a punishment is here denounced on the people of Israel, and that is, that the Lord would deprive them of Prophets and teachers. We indeed know that nothing is more to be dreaded, than that the Lord should extinguish the light of sound doctrine, and suffer us to go astray in darkness, yea, to stumble, and to rush headlong to ruin, as they do who are destitute of wholesome counsels. But I think that the meaning is quite different. Another exposition may be deemed probable, which is this, that the prudent dared not to speak on account of the prevailing tyranny; for Amos had said before that the judges, who then ruled, would not bear reproof. Hence, the prudent were forced to be silent at that time, for that time was evil; and every liberty of teaching was taken away. And this meaning opens still wider; for the silent would have to bear the wrongs done to them, and to devour inwardly their own groans, for they dared not to complain; nay, the very teachers did not oppose the torrent, for they saw that it was not the time to resist haughty and violent men. But this view may be also fitly applied to God’s judgment, that the prudent would be silent, being put in fear: for silence is often connected with fear: and it is a dreadful judgment of God, when the prudent closes his mouth, or puts his hand, as it is said elsewhere, on his mouth.

As to the first exposition, I have already rejected it, and it has certainly nothing in its favor: but the second may be accommodated to the general meaning of the Prophet, that is, the prudent shall be silent at that time, because all liberty shall be taken away. I am, at the same time, unwilling thus to restrict it, as they do; for it became not a wise man to pass by in silence sins so grievous: though tyrants threatened hundred deaths, yet those on whom was laid the necessity of teaching ought not to have been silent. But the Prophet here speaks not of what the prudent would do or omit to do; on the contrary, he intimates, that whenever they began to speak, the arrogance of the judges would be so great as to repel all reproofs. The prudent then shall be silent, not willingly; for that, as I have said, would have been unworthy of wise men. And the Prophet here, by way of honor, calls those prudent who rightly discern things, who are not led away by corruptions, but remain upright; who, though they see the whole order of things collapsing, and though they see heaven and earth, as it were, mingled together, yet retain a sound judgment. Since the Prophet speaks of such men, he certainly does not mean that they would be willingly silent; for it would have been a base indolence in them thus to betray the truth and a good cause. What then does he mean? Even this — that the wickedness of tyrants would be so great, as not to allow one word to be declared by the prudent; when any one came forth to reprove their vices, he was not suffered.

When therefore he says, that the time would be evil, he means, that such audacity would prevail, that all liberty would be denied to wise men. They would then be forced to be silent, for they could effect nothing by speaking, nay, they would have no freedom of speech allowed them: and though they attempted to discharge their office, yet tyrannical violence would instantly impose silence on them. Similar was the case with Lot, of whom it is said that he groaned and vexed his own heart, (Genesis 16:1) He was constrained, I have no doubt, to be silent after having often used free reproofs; nay, he doubtless exposed himself to many dangers by his attempts to reprove the Sodomites. Such seems to me to be the meaning of the Prophet, when he says, that the prudent would be silent, because these tyrants would impose silence on all teachers, — now throwing them into prisons, then banishing them, — now denouncing death on them, then visiting them with some punishment, or loading them with reproaches, or treating them with ridicule as persons worthy of contempt. We now understand the Prophet’s, design. We may further observe, that men have then advanced to the extremity of evil, when reception is no more given to sound doctrine and salutary counsels, and when all liberty is sternly suppressed, so that prudent men dare not to reprove vices, however rampant they may be, which even children observe, and the blind feel. When licentiousness has arrived to this pitch, it is certain that the state of things is past recovery and that there is no hope of repentance or of a better condition: and this was the meaning of the Prophet.

The Prophet again repeats, that it was only owing to the Israelites themselves that it was not well with them; for God was ready to grant them his blessing; but they designedly sought a curse for themselves. Inasmuch, then, the hypocrites are wont to put away from themselves the blame of every evil, and to complain of their miseries, as though the Lord afflicted them unjustly, the Prophet here shows, that no evil happened to the Israelites, but what they procured by their vices: and at the same time he exhorts them to repentance, and gives them the hope of pardon, provided they hardened not their hearts to the last. He therefore bids them to seek good; but by adding, seek not evil, his words are full of meaning, as though he had said, that they were so fixed in their own wickedness, that they could not be torn away from it. The import of the whole, then, is this — that the Israelites could not complain of being too severely treated by God, because they suffered not themselves to be kindly dealt with. And the Prophet assigns this as the reason — that they were not only alienated from what was good, but that they also with avidity and eager desire followed what was evil: in the meantime he exhorts them to repentance and adds a promise the more to encourage them.

Seek then good, he says, that ye may live; And then he adds, And thus God will be with you, as ye have said. Here the wickedness of the people is reproved who sought to bind God to themselves; for hypocrites are wont to misapply the promises: when they presumptuously reject God himself, they still wish him to be under an obligation to them. Thus they gloried that they were the children of Abraham, an elect people; circumcision was to them like a royal diadem; they sought to be superior to all other nations: and thus they abused the name of God, and at the same time they petulantly scorned both the word of God and his Prophets. As, then, they ever boasted that God was dwelling in the midst of them, the Prophet says, “Then and thus will God be with you if ye seek what is good or the doing of good;” for to seek good is nothing else than to endeavor to do good; as though he said “Change your nature and your manners; for hitherto iniquity has prevailed among you; you have been violent, and rapacious, and fraudulent: begin now to do good, then God will be with you.”

There is therefore a great emphasis to be laid on the particle כן, can, thus will God be with you: for the Prophet reminds them of what so often occurs in the law, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” who dwell in the midst of you, (Leviticus 11:44) God shows, in these words, that it could not be that he would dwell with the Israelites except they sanctified themselves, that there might be a mutual agreement. But they had no regard for holiness, and yet wished God to be bound to them. This false confidence the Prophet derides, and says, that a certain condition is fixed in the law, according to which God would dwell in the midst of them. Thus then will God be in the midst of you; that is, when he sees that you strive after uprightness and the doing of good.

I have already explained what this means, as ye have said; for he proves that foolish vaunting to be false which was heard among the Israelites: “Has not the Lord chosen and adopted us as his people? Is not the ark of the covenant a sure pledge of his presence? How then could he depart from us? God would deny himself, were he not to keep his pledged faith; for he covenanted with our fathers, that we should be his flock even to the end of the world.” Since, then, they thus foolishly boasted, and were, at the same time, covenant breakers, the Prophet says, “Ye boast, indeed, by your mouth that God is in the midst of you, but see what he in his turn stipulates and requires from you. If, then, ye respond to his call, he will not surely be wanting to his pledged faith; but as ye willfully depart from him, he must necessarily become alienated from you.” We now then perceive the meaning of the Prophet in these words. It follows —

The Prophet inculcates the same truth; and he did this designedly; for he saw that nothing was more difficult than to bring this people to repentance, who, in the first place, were by nature refractory; and, in the second place, were hardened by long habit in their vices. For Satan gains dominion by degrees in the hearts of men, until he renders them wholly stupid so that they discern not between right and wrong. Such, then, was the blindness which prevailed among the people of Israel: it was therefore necessary often to goad them as Amos does here.

Hence he bids them to hate evil and to love good. And this order ought to be preserved, when we desire really to turn to God and to repent. Amos here addresses perverse men, who were so immersed in their own wickedness, that they distinguished no longer between light and darkness: it was therefore not without reason that he begins with this sentence, that they should hate evil; as though he had said, that there had been hitherto a hostile disagreement between them and God, and that therefore a change was necessary, in order that they might return to him. For when any one has already wished to devote himself to God’s service, this exhortation to hate evil is superfluous: but when one is sunk still in his own vices, he has need of such a stimulant. The Prophet therefore does here reprove them; and though they flattered themselves, he yet shows that they were greatly addicted to their vices.

He afterwards adds, Love good. He intimates, that it would be a new thing for them to cultivate benevolence, and to apply themselves to what was right. The import of the whole is this, — that the Israelites would have no peace with God, until they were wholly changed and became new men; for they were now strangers to goodness, and given to wickedness and depravity. But Amos mentions here only a part of repentance: for טוב, thub, no doubt means the doing of good, as iniquity is properly called רע, ro [the doing of evil.] He speaks not here of faith, or of prayer to God, but describes repentance by its fruits; for our faith, as it has been stated in other places, is proved in this way; it manifests itself, when sincerity and uprightness towards one another flourish in us, when we spontaneously love one another and perform the duties of love. Thus then by stating a part for the whole, is repentance here described; that is, the whole, as they commonly say, is shown by a part.

But now the Prophet adds, And set up judgment in the gate He here glances at the public state of things, of which we have largely spoken in our yesterday’s lecture. A deluge of iniquity had so inundated the land, that in the very courts of justice, and in the passing of judgments, there was no longer any equity, any justice. Since then corruption had taken possession of the very gates, the Prophet exhorts them to set up judgment in the gate; it may be, he says, that God will show mercy to the remnants of Joseph. The Prophet shows here that it was hardly possible that the people should continue safe; nay, that this was altogether hopeless. But as the common degeneracy, like a violent tempest, carried away the good along with it, the Prophet here admonishes the faithful not to despond, though they were few in number, but to retake themselves to God, to suffer others to fall away and to run headlong to ruin, and at the same time to provide for their own safety, as those who flee away from the burning.

We now then understand the object of the Prophet: for when the whole multitude, given up to destruction, had laid aside every care for their safety, a few remained, who yet suffered themselves to be borne along, as though a tempest, as it has been said, had carried them away. The Prophet then does here give comfort to such good men as were still alive, and shows that though the people were sinking, there was no reason for them to despair, for the Lord still promised to be propitious to them. What this doctrine teaches is this, — that ten ought not to regard what a thousand may do; but they ought to hear God speaking, rather than to abandon themselves with the multitude; when they see men blindly and impetuously running headlong to their own ruin, they should not follow them, but rather listen to God, and not reject his offered salvation. However much then their small number may dishearten them, they ought not yet to suffer God’s promises to be forced or snatched away from them, but fully to embrace them.

The expression, it may be, is not one of doubt, as it has been stated in another place, (Joel 2:1) but the Prophet, on the contrary, intended sharply to stimulate the faithful, that he might, as it was needful, increase their alacrity. Whenever then פן, pen, lest perhaps or אולי, auli, it may be, is set down, let us know, that they are not intended to leave men’s minds in suspense or perplexity, that they may despond or come to God in doubt; but that a difficulty is thereby implied, in order to stir them up and to increase the ardor of their desire: and this is necessary in a mixed state of things, for we see how great is the indolence of our flesh. Even they who desire to return to God, do not hasten with that ardor which becomes them, but creep slowly, and hardly draw themselves along; and then when many obstacles meet them, they who would have been otherwise full of courage, almost despair at every step. It is therefore necessary to apply such goadings as these, “Take heed; for when any one is beset on every side by fire, he will not long delay, nor think with himself how he may escape without any hurt and without any inconvenience; but he will risk danger rather than that he should by delay or tardiness deprive himself of a way of escape. So also ye see, that iniquity surrounds you on every side; what then is to be done except that each of you must quickly flee away?”

We now then perceive the design of the Prophet in saying, It may be that he will show mercy. The sum of the whole is this, — That there was need of a great change, that they might become altogether new men, who had hitherto devoted themselves to wickedness, — and then, that the few should not wait until the whole multitude joined them; for though the people resolved to go astray, yet God ought to have been attended to, when recalling the few to himself and bidding them to escape, as it were, from the burning, — and, thirdly, that there is stated here a difficulty, that those still healable might not come tardily to God, but that they might strive against impediments and quickly run to him seeing that they could not without great effort extricate themselves; they were therefore to come to God, not slowly; but having overcome all difficulties, they were on the contrary, to flee to him. It now follows —

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