Here is, I. The judgment of Moab, another of the nations that bordered upon Israel. They are reckoned with and shall be punished for three transgressions and for four, as those before. Now, 1. Moab’s fourth transgression, as theirs who were before set to the bar, was cruelty. The instance given refers not to the people of God, but to a heathen like themselves: The king of Moab burnt the bones of the king of Edom into lime. We find there was war between the Edomites and the Moabites, in which the king of Moab, in distress and rage, offered his own son for a burnt-offering, to appease his deity, 2 Kgs. 3:26, 27. And it should seem that afterwards he, or some of his successors, in revenge upon the Edomites for bringing him to that extremity, having an advantage against the king of Edom, seized him alive and burnt him to ashes, or slew him and burnt his body, or dug up the bones of their dead king, of that particularly who had so straitened him, and, in token of his rage and fury, burnt them to lime. and perhaps made use of the powder of his bones for the white-washing of the walls and ceilings of his palace, that he might please himself with the sight of that monument of his revenge. Est vindicta bonum vita jucundius ipsa—Revenge is sweeter than life itself. It is barbarous to abuse human bodies, for we ourselves also are in the body; it is senseless to abuse dead bodies, nay, it is impious, for we believe and look for their resurrection; and to abuse the dead bodies of kings (whose persons and names ought to be in a particular manner respected and had in veneration) is an affront to majesty; it is an argument of a base spirit for those to trample upon a dead lion who, were he alive, would tremble before him. 2. Moab’s doom for this transgression is, (1.) A judgment of death. Those that deal cruelly shall be cruelly dealt with (Amos 2:2): Moab shall die; the Moabites shall be cut off with the sword of war, which kills with tumult, with shouting, and with sound of trumpet, circumstances that make it so much the more terrible, as the lion’s roaring aggravates his tearing. Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, Isa. 9:5. (2.) It is a judgment upon their judge, who had passed the sentence upon the bones of the king of Edom that they should be burnt to lime: I will cut him off, says God (Amos 2:3); he shall know there is a judge that is higher than he. The king, the chief judge, and all the inferior judges and princes, shall be cut off together. If the people sometimes suffer for the sin of their princes, yet the princes themselves shall not escape, Jer. 48:47. Thus far is the judgment of Moab.
II. Judah also is a near neighbour to Israel, and therefore, now that justice is riding the circuit, that shall not be passed by; that nation has made itself like the heathen and mingled with them, and therefore the indictment here runs against them in the same form in which it had run against all the rest: For these transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; their sins are as many as the sins of other nations, and we find them huddled up with them in the same character, Jer. 9:26; “As for Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, jumble them together; they are all alike;” the sentence here also is the same (Amos 2:5): “I will send a fire upon Judah, though it is the land where God is known, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, though it is the holy city, and God has formerly been known in its palaces for a refuge,” Ps. 48:3. But the sin here charged upon Judah is different from all the rest. The other nations were reckoned with for injuries done to men, but Judah is reckoned with for indignities done to God, Amos 2:4. 1. They put contempt upon his statutes and persisted in disobedience to them: They have despised the law of the Lord, as if it were not worth taking notice of, nor had any thing in it valuable; and herein they despised the wisdom, justice, and goodness, as well as the authority and sovereignty, of the Lawmaker; this they did, in effect, when they kept not his commandments, made no conscience of them, took no care about them. 2. They put honour upon his rivals, their idols, here called their lies which caused them to err; for an image is a teacher of lies, Hab. 2:18. And those that are led away into the error of idolatry are by that led into a multitude of other errors, Uno dato absurdo mille sequuntur—One absurdity draws after it a thousand. God is an infinite eternal Spirit; but, when the truth of God is by idolatry changed into a lie, all his other truths are in danger of being so changed likewise; thus their idols caused them to err, and God justly gave them up to strong delusions; nor was it any excuse for their sin that they were lies after which their father walked, for they should rather have taken warning than taken pattern by those that perished with these lies in their right hand.
III. We now at length come to the words which Amos saw concerning Israel. The reproofs and threatenings having walked the round, here they centre, here they settle. He begins with them as with the rest: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; it all these nations must be punished for their iniquities, shall Israel go unpunished? Observe here what their sins were, for which God would reckon with them. 1. Perverting justice. This was the sin of those who were entrusted with the administration of justice, the judges and magistrates, and all parties concerned. They made nothing of selling a righteous man, and his righteous cause when it came to be tried before them, for a piece of silver; sentence was passed, not according to the merits of the cause, but the bribe always turned the scale, and judgment was set to sale by auction to the highest bidder. They would sell the life and livelihood of a poor man for a pair of shoes, for the least advantage to themselves that could be proposed to them; give them but a pair of shoes, and the cause of a poor man, who could not give them as much as that, should be betrayed, and left at the mercy of those that will have no mercy. They will rather play at small game that sit out. For a piece of bread such a man will transgress. Note, Those who will wrong their consciences for any thing will come at length to do it for next to nothing; those who begin to sell justice for silver will in time be so sordid as to see it for a pair of shoes, for a pair of old shoes. 2. Oppressing the poor, and seeking to benefit themselves by doing them a mischief: They pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor; they swallow up the poor with the utmost greediness, and make a prey of those that are in sorrow with dust on their heads, poor orphans that are in mourning for their parents; they catch at them to get their estates into their hands; they never rest till they have got the heads of the poor in the dust, to be trodden on. Or, They pant after the dust of the earth, that is, silver and gold, white and yellow dust; they covet it earnestly, and levy it upon the head of the poor by their unjust exactions. Note, Men’s seeking to enrich themselves by the impoverishing of others is a transgression which God will not long turn away the punishment of. This is turning aside the way of the meek, contriving to do injury to those who, they know, are mild and patient and will bear injury. They invade their rights, break their measures, and obstruct the course of justice in favour of them, not suffering them to go on with their righteous cause; this is turning aside their way. Note, The more patiently men bear injuries that are done them the greater is the sin of those that injure them, and the more occasion they have to expect that God will give them redress, and take vengeance for them. I, as a deaf man, heard not, and then thou wilt hear. 3. Abominable uncleanness, even incest itself, such as it not named among the Gentiles, that a man should have his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5:1), his father’s concubine: A man and his father will go in unto the same young woman, as black an instance as any other of an unbounded promiscuous lust; and yet where the former iniquities of oppression and extortion are this also is found; for laws of modesty seldom hold those that have broken the bands of justice and cast away its cords from them. This wickedness is such a scandal to religion, and the profession of it, that those who are guilty of it are looked upon as designing thereby to profane God’s holy name, and to render it odious among the heathen, as if he countenanced the villainies which those who pretend relation to him allow themselves in, and were altogether such a one as they. 4. Regaling themselves and yet pretending to honour their God with that which they had got by oppression and extortion, Amos 2:8. They add idolatry to their injustice, and then think to atone for their injustice with their idolatry. (1.) They make merry with that which they have unjustly squeezed from the poor. They lay themselves down at ease, and in state, and stretch themselves upon clothes laid to pledge, which they ought to have restored the same night, according to the law, Deut. 24:12, 13. And they drink the wine of the condemned, of such as they have fined and laid heavy mulcts upon, spending that in sensuality which they have got by injustice. (2.) They think to make atonement for this by feasting on the gains of oppression before their altars, and drinking this wine in the house of their God, in the temples where they worshipped their calves, as if they would make God a partner in their crimes by making him a partner of the profits of them—service good enough for false gods; but the true God will not thus be mocked; he has declared that he hates robbery for burnt-offerings, and cannot be served acceptably but with that which is got honestly.