Here, I. God complains of his people’s incorrigibleness under the judgments which he had brought upon them in order to their humiliation and reformation. He had by several tokens intimated to them his displeasure, with this design, that they might by repentance make their peace with him; but it had not that effect.
1. It is five times repeated in these verses, as the burden of the charge, “Yet have you not returned unto me, saith the Lord; you have been several times corrected, but in vain; you are not reclaimed, there is no sign of amendment. You have been sent for by one messenger after another, but you have not come back, you have not come home.” (1.) This intimates that that which God designed in all his providential rebukes was to reduce them to their allegiance, to influence them to return to him. (2.) That, if they had returned to their God, they would have been accepted, he would have bidden them welcome, and the troubles they were in would have been removed. (3.) That the reason why God sent further troubles was because former troubles had not done the work, otherwise it is no pleasure to the Almighty that he should afflict. (4.) That God was grieved at their obstinacy, and took it unkindly that they should force him to do that which he did so unwillingly: “You have not returned to me from whom you have revolted, to me with whom you are in covenant, to me who stands ready to receive you, to me who have so often called you.” Now,
2. To aggravate their incorrigibleness, and to justify himself in inflicting greater judgments, he recounts the less judgments with which he had tried to bring them to repentance.
(1.) There had sometimes been a scarcity of provisions, though there was no visible cause of it (Amos 4:6): “I have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, for you had no meat to chew, whereby your teeth might be fouled,” especially no flesh, which dirties the teeth. Or, I have given you emptiness of teeth, nothing to fill your mouths with. “Bread, the staff of life, has been wanting, for you have sown much and brought in little,” as Hag. 1:9. Some think this refers to that seven years’ famine that was in Elisha’s time, which we read of 2 Kgs. 8:1. Now when God thus took away their corn in the season thereof, because they had prepared it for Baal, they should have said, We will go and return to our first husband, having paid dearly for leaving him; but it had not that effect. They have not returned to me, saith the Lord.
(2.) Sometimes they had wanted rain, and then of course they wanted the fruits of the earth. This evil was of the Lord: I have withholden the rain from you. God has the key of the clouds, and, if he shut up, who can open? Amos 4:7. The rain was withheld when there were yet three months to the harvest, at the time when they used to have it, and therefore the withholding of it was an extraordinary thing, and, if the course of nature was altered, they must therein own the hand of the God of nature; and it was at a time when they most needed it, and therefore the want of it was a very sore judgment, and blasted their expectations of a crop at harvest. And one circumstance which made this very remarkable was that when there were some places that wanted rain, and withered for want of it, there were other places near adjoining that had it in abundance. God caused it to rain upon one city, and not upon another, in the same country; nay, he caused it to rain upon one field, one piece of a field, and it was thereby made fruitful and flourishing, but on the next field, on the other side of the hedge, nay, on another part of the same field, it rained not at all, and it was so long without rain that all the products of it withered. No doubt this was literally true, and there were many instances of it which were generally taken notice of. Now, [1.] By this it appeared that the withholding of the rain was not casual, but by a divine direction and disposal, and that the cloud which waters the earth is turned round about by the counsels of God, to do whatsoever he commands it, whether for correction, or for his land, or for his mercy, Job 37:12-18. Rain does not go by planets (as common people speak), but as God sends it by his winds. [2.] We have reason to think that those cities on which it rained not were the most infamous for wickedness, such as Bethel and Gilgal (Amos 4:4), and that those on which it rained were such as retained something of religion and virtue among them. And so in the town-fields it rained or rained not, upon the piece, according as the owner was; for we are sure the curse of the Lord is in the house, and upon the ground, of the wicked, but he blesses the habitation of the just, and his field is a field that the Lord has blessed. [3.] It would be the greater grief and vexation to those whose fields withered for want of rain to see their neighbours’ fields well watered and flourishing. My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry, Isa. 65:13. The wicked shall see it, and be grieved. Probably those that were oppressed were rained upon, and so they recovered their losses, while the oppressors withered, and so lost their gains. [4.] Yet, as to the nation in general, it was a mixture of mercy with the judgment, and, consequently, strengthened the call to repentance and reformation, and encouraged them to hope for all mercy, in their returns to God, since there was so much mercy even in God’s rebukes of them. But, because they did not make good use of this gracious allay to the extremity of the judgment, they had not the benefit of it, which otherwise they might have had, for (Amos 4:8) two or three cities wandered at uncertainty, as beggars, unto one city, to drink water, and, if possible, to have some to carry home with them, but they were not satisfied; it was but here and there one city that had water, while many wanted, and then it was not, as usual, Usus communis aquarum—Water is free to all. Those that had it had occasion for it, or knew not how soon they might, and therefore could afford but little to those that wanted, saying, Lest there be not enough for us and you. Those that came drank water, but they were not satisfied, because they drank it by measure, and with astonishment; and those that drink of this water shall thirst again, John 4:13. They were not satisfied, because their desires were greedy, and what they had God did not bless to them, Hag. 1:6. And now, one would think, when they met with all this disappointment, they should have considered their ways and repented; but it had not that effect: “Yet have you not returned to me, no, not so much as to pray in a right manner for the former and latter rain,” Zech. 10:1. See the folly of carnal hearts; they will wander from city to city, from one creature to another, in pursuit of satisfaction, and still they miss of it; they labour for that which satisfies not (Isa. 55:2), and yet, after all, they will not return to God, will not incline their ear to him in whom they might have satisfaction. The preaching of the gospel is as rain; God sometimes blesses one place with it more than another; some countries, some cities, are, like Gideon’s fleece, wet with this dew, while the ground about is dry; all withers where this rain is wanting. But it were well if people were but as wise for their souls as they are for their bodies, and, when they have not this rain near them, would go and seek it where it is to be had; and, if they seek aright, they shall not seek in vain.
(3.) Sometimes the fruits of their ground were eaten up by caterpillars, or blasted with mildew, Amos 4:9. Heaven and earth are armed against those who have made God their enemy. When God pleased, that is, when he was displeased, [1.] They suffered by a malignant air, the influence of which, either too hot or too cold, blasted their fruits, with a force that could be neither discerned nor resisted, and against which there was no defence. [2.] They suffered by malignant animals. Their vineyards and gardens yielded their increase in great abundance, so did their fig-trees and olive-trees; but the palmer-worm devoured them before the fruits were ripe, and fit to be gathered in. This was either the same judgment with that which we read of Joel 1:4-6, or a less judgment of the same nature, sent before to give warning of that. But they did not take warning: Yet have you not returned unto me.
(4.) Sometimes the plague had raged among them, and the sword of war had cut off multitudes, Amos 4:10. The pestilence is God’s messenger; this he sent among them, with directions whom to strike dead, and it was done. It was a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; deaths were scattered among them by the hand of a destroying angel at midnight. And perhaps this pestilence, as that of Egypt, fastened upon the first-born. In the way of Egypt (so the margin); when they were making their escape to Egypt, or going thither to seek for aid, the pestilence seized them by the way and stopped their journey. The sword of war is likewise the sword of the Lord; this was drawn among them with commission; and then it slew their young men, the strength of the present generation and the seed of the next. God says, I have slain them; he avows the execution. The slain of the Lord are many. The enemy took away their horses, and converted them to their own use; and the dead carcases of those that were slain either with sword or pestilence were so many, and for want of surviving friends were left so long unburied, that the stench of their camps came up into their nostrils, and was both noisome and dangerous, and might put them in mind of the offensiveness of their sin to God. And yet this did not prevail to humble and reclaim them: You have not returned to him that smites you. Such a rueful woeful sight as this prevailed not to make them religious.
(5.) In these and other judgments some were remarkably cut off, and made monuments of justice, others were remarkably spared, and made monuments of mercy, the setting of which the one over against the other one would have thought likely to work upon them, but it had not its effect, Amos 4:11. [1.] Some were quite ruined, their families destroyed, and themselves in them: I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps they were consumed with lightning, as Sodom was, or the houses were, in some other way, burnt to the ground, and the inhabitants in them. Sodom and Gomorrah are said to be condemned with an overthrow, and so made an example, 2 Pet. 2:6. God had threatened to destroy the whole land with such an overthrow as that of Sodom, Deut. 29:23. But he began with some particular places first, to give them warning, or perhaps with some particular persons, whose sins went beforehand to judgment. [2.] Others very narrowly escaped: “You were many of you as a firebrand plucked out of the burning, like Lot out of Sodom, when the fire had already kindled upon you; and yet you hate sin never the more for the danger it has brought you to, nor love God ever the more for the deliverance he wrought for you. You that have been so signally delivered, and in such a distinguishing way, have not returned unto me.”
II. God, in the close, calls upon his people, now at length, in this their day, to understand the things that belong to their peace, before they were hidden from their eyes, Amos 4:12, 13. Observe here,
1. How God threatens them with sorer judgments than any they had yet been under: “Therefore, seeing you have not been wrought upon by correction hitherto, thus will I do unto thee, O Israel!” He does not say how he will do, but it shall be something worse than had come yet, John 5:14. Or, “Thus I will go on to do unto thee, following one judgment with another, like the plagues of Egypt, till I have made a full end.” Nothing but reformation will prevent the ruin of a sinful people. If they turn not to him, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. I will punish you yet seven times more, if you will not be reformed; so it was written in the law, Lev. 26:23, 24.
2. How he awakens them therefore to think of making their peace with God: “Seeing I will do this unto thee, and there is no remedy, prepare to meet they God, O Israel!” that is, (1.) “Consider how unable thou art to meet him as a combatant.” Some make it to be spoken by way of irony or challenge: “Prepare to meet God, who is coming forth to contend with thee. What armour of proof canst thou put on? What courage canst thou steel thyself with? Alas! it is but putting briers and thorns before a consuming fire, Isa. 27:4, 5. Art thou able with less than 10,000 to meet him that comes forth against thee with more than 20,000?” Luke 14:31. (2.) “Resolve therefore to meet him as a penitent, as a humble suppliant, to meet him as thy God, in covenant with thee, to submit, and stand it out no longer.” We must prepare to meet God in the way of his judgments (Isa. 26:8), to take hold on his strength, that we may make peace. Note, Since we cannot flee from God we are concerned to prepare to meet him; and therefore he gives us warning, that we may prepare. When we are to meet him in his ordinances we must prepare to meet him, prepare to seek him.
3. How he sets forth the greatness and power of God as a reason why we should prepare to meet him, Amos 4:13. If he be such a God as he is here described to be, it is folly to contend with him, and our duty and interest to make our peace with him; it is good having him our friend and bad having him our enemy. (1.) He formed the mountains, made the earth, the strongest stateliest parts of it, and by the word of his power still upholds it and them. Whatever are the products of the everlasting mountains, he formed them; whatever salvation is hoped for from hills and mountains, he is the founder of it, Ps. 89:11, 12. He that formed the great mountains can make them plain, when they stand in the way of his people b10 ‘s salvation. (2.) He creates the wind. The power of the air is derived from him, and directed by him; he brings the wind out of his treasures, and orders from what point of the compass it shall blow; and he that made it rules it; even the winds and the seas obey him. (3.) He declares unto man what is his thought. He makes known his counsel by his servants the prophets to the children of men, the thought of his justice against impenitent sinners, and the thought of good he thinks towards those that repent. He can also make known, for he perfectly knows, the thought that is in man’s heart; he understands it afar off, and in the day of conviction will set the evil thoughts among the other sins of sinners in order before them. (4.) He often makes the morning darkness, by thick clouds overspreading the sky immediately after the sun rose bright and glorious; so when we look for prosperity and joy he can dash our expectations with some unlooked-for calamity. (5.) He treads upon the high places of the earth, is not only higher than the highest, but has dominion over all, tramples upon proud men, and upon the idols that were worshipped in the highest places. (6.) Jehovah the God of hosts is his name, for he has his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being, and all the hosts of heaven and earth are at his command. Let us humble ourselves before this God, prepare to meet him, and give all diligence to make him our God, for happy are the people whose God he is, who have all this power engaged for them.