It is here foretold, in the name of God, that oppressors shall be humbled and idolaters shall be hardened.
I. That proud oppressors shall be humbled for their oppressions: for he that does wrong shall receive according to the wrong that he has done. Now observe,
1. How their sin is described, Amos 4:1. They are compared to the kine of Bashan, which were a breed of cattle very large and strong, especially if, though bred there, they were fed upon the mountain of Samaria, where the pastures were extraordinarily fat. Amos had been a herdsman, and he speaks in a dialect of his calling, comparing the rich and great men, that lived in luxury and wantonness, to the kine of Bashan, which were wanton and unruly, would not be kept within the bounds of their own pasture, But broke through the hedges, broke down all the fences, and trespassed upon the neighboring grounds; and not only so, but pushed and gored the smaller cattle that were not a match for them. Those that had their summer-houses upon the mountains of Samaria when they went thither for fresh air were as mischievous as the kine upon the mountains of Bashan and as injurious to those about them. (1.) They oppress the poor and needy themselves; they crush them, to squeeze something to themselves out of them. They took advantage of their poverty, and necessity, and inability to help themselves, to make them poorer and more necessitous than they were. They made use of their power as judges and magistrates for the invading of men’s rights and properties, the poor not excepted; for they made no conscience of robbing even the hospital. (2.) They are in confederacy with those that do so. They say to their masters (to the masters of the poor, that abuse them and violently take from them what they have, when they ought to relieve them), “Bring, and let us drink; let us feast with you upon the gains of our oppression, and then we will protect you, and stand by you in it, and reject the appeals of the poor against you.” Note, What is got by extortion is commonly made use of as provisions for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof; and therefore men are tyrants to the poor because they are slaves to their appetites. Bring, and let us drink, is the language of those that crush the needy, as if the tears of the oppressed, mingled with their wine, made it drink the better. And by their associations for drinking and reveling, and an excess of riot, they strengthen their combinations for persecution and oppression, and harden the hearts of one another in it.
2. How their punishment is described, Amos 4:2, 3. God will take them away with hooks, and their posterity with fish-hooks; he will send the Assyrian army upon them, that shall make a prey of them, shall not only enclose the body of the nation in their net, but shall angle for particular persons, and take them prisoners and captives as with hooks and fish-hooks, shall draw them out of their own land as fish are drawn out of the water, which is their element, them and their children with them, or, They in their day shall be drawn out by one victorious enemy, and their posterity in their day by another, so that by a succession of destroying judgments they shall at length be wholly extirpated. These kine of Bashan thought they could no more be drawn out with a hook and a cord than the Leviathan can, Job 41:1, 2. But God will make them know that he has a hook for their nose and a bridle for their jaws, Isa. 37:29. The enemy shall take them away as easily as the fisherman takes away the little fish, and shall make it their sport and recreation. When the enemy has made himself master of Samaria, then, (1.) Some shall attempt to escape by flight: You shall go out at the breaches made in the wall of the city, every cow at that which is before her, to shift for her own safety, and make the best of her way; and now the unruly kine of Bashan are tamed, and are themselves crushed, as they crushed the poor and needy. Note, Those to whom God has given a good pasture, if they are wanton in it, will justly be turned out of it; and those who will not be kept within the hedge of God’s precept forfeit the benefit of the hedge of God’s protection, and will be forced in vain to flee through the breaches they have themselves fearfully made in that hedge. (2.) Others shall think to shelter themselves, or at least their best effects, in the palace, because it is a castle well fortified and a garrison well manned: You shall throw yourselves (so some read it), or throw them (that is, your posterity, your children, or whatever is dear to you), into the palace, where the enemy will find it ready to be seized. Note, What is got by oppression cannot long be enjoyed with satisfaction.
3. How their sentence to this punishment is ratified: The Lord God has sworn it by his holiness. He had often said it, and they regarded it not; they thought God and his prophets did but jest with them; therefore he swears it in his wrath, and what he has sworn he will not revoke. He swears by his holiness, that attribute of his which is so much his glory, and which is so much glorified in the punishment of wicked people; for, as sure as God is a holy God, those that plough iniquity and sow wickedness shall reap the same.
II. That obstinate idolaters shall be hardened in their idolatries (Amos 4:4, 5): Come to Bethel, and transgress. It is spoken ironically: “Do so; take your course; multiply your transgressions by multiplying your sacrifices, for this liketh you; but what will you do in the end hereof?” Here we see, 1. How intent they were upon the service of their idols, and how willing they were to be at cost upon them; they brought their sacrifices, and their tithes, and their free-will offerings, hoping that therein they should be accepted of God, but it was all an abomination to him. The profuseness of idolaters in the service of their false gods may shame our strait-handedness in the service of the true and living God. 2. How they mimicked God’s institutions. They had their daily sacrifice at the altar of Bethel, as God had at his altar; they had their thank-offerings as God had, only they allowed leaven in them, which God had forbidden, because their priests did not like to have the bread to heavy and tasteless as it would be if it had not leaven in it, for something to ferment it. Holy bread would not serve them, unless it were pleasant bread. 3. How well pleased they were with these services themselves: This liketh you, O you children of Israel! So you love. What was their own invention they were fond of and wedded to, and thought it must be pleasing to God because it was agreeable to their own fancy. 4. How they upbraided with it: “Come to Bethel, to Gilgal; bring the sacrifices and tithes yourselves; proclaim and publish to the nation the free-offerings, pressing them to bring in abundance of such; go on in this way;” that is, (1.) “It is plain that you are resolved to do it, whatever God and conscience say to the contrary.” (2.) “Your prophets shall let you alone in it, and not admonish you as they have done, for it is to no purpose. Let no man strive nor rebuke his neighbour.” (3.) “Your foolish hearts shall be more and more darkened and besotted, and you shall be quite given up to these strong delusions, to believe a lie.” (4.) “What will you get by it? Come to Bethel and multiply your sacrifices, and see what the better you will be, what returns you will have to your sacrifices, what stead they will stand you in in the day of distress. You shall be ashamed of Bethel your confidence,” Jer. 48:13. (5.) “Come, and transgress, come, and multiply your transgression, that you may fill up the measure of your iniquity and be ripened for ruin.” Thus Christ said to Judas, What thou doest do quickly; and to the Jews, Fill you up the measure of your fathers, Matt. 23:32.