The first words of the chapter are the contents of these verses; but they sound very strangely, and contrary to the sentiments of a vain world: Woe to those that are at ease! We are ready to say, Happy are those that are at ease, that neither feel any trouble nor fear any, that lie soft and warm, and lay nothing to heart; and wise we think are those that do so, that bathe themselves in the delights of sense and care not how the world goes. Those are looked upon as doing well for themselves that do well for their bodies and make much of them; but against them this woe is denounced, and we are here told what their ease is, and what the woe is.
I. Here is a description of their pride, security, and sensuality, for which God would reckon with them.
1. They were vainly conceited of their own dignities, and thought those would secure them from the judgments threatened and be their defence against the wrath both of God and man. (1.) Those that dwelt in Zion thought that was honour and protection enough for them, and they might there be quiet from all fear of evil, because it was a strong city, well fortified both by nature and art (we read of Zion’s strong-holds and her bulwarks), and because it was a royal city, where were set the thrones of the house of David (it was the head-city of Judah, and therefore truly great), and especially because it was the holy city, where the temple was, and the testimony of Israel; those that dwelt there doubted not but that God’s sanctuary would be a sanctuary to them and would shelter them from his judgments. The temple of the Lord are these, Jer. 7:4. They are haughty because of the holy mountain, Zeph. 3:11. Note, Many are puffed up with pride, and rocked asleep in carnal security, by their church-privileges, and the place they have in Zion. (2.) Those that dwelt in the mountain of Samaria, though it was not a holy hill, like that of Zion, yet they trusted in it, because it was the metropolis of a potent kingdom, and perhaps, in imitation of Jerusalem, was the head-quarters of its religion; and by lapse of time the hill of Shemer became with them in as good repute as the hill of Zion ever was. They hoped for salvation from these hills and mountains. (3.) Both these two kingdoms valued themselves upon their relation to Israel, that prince with God, which they looked upon as masking them the chief of the nations, more ancient and honourable than any of them; the first-fruits of the nations (so the word is), dedicated to God and sanctifying the whole harvest. The house of Israel came to them, that is, was divided into those kingdoms, of which Zion and Samaria were the mother cities. Those that were at ease were the princes and rulers, the great men, that were chief of the nations, chief of those two kingdoms, and to whom, having their residence in Zion and Samaria, the whole house of Israel applied for judgment. Note, It is hard to be great and not to be proud. Great nations and great men are apt to overvalue themselves, and to overlook their neighbours, because they think they a little overtop them. But, for a check to their pride and security, the prophet bids them take notice of those cities that were within the compass of their knowledge, that had been as illustrious in their time as ever Zion or Samaria was, and yet were destroyed, Amos 6:2. “Go to Calneh (which was an ancient city built by Nimrod, Gen. 10:10), and see what has become of that, it is now in ruins; so is Hamath the great, one of the chief cities of Syria. Sennacherib boasts of destroying the gods of Hamath. Gath was likewise made desolate by Hazael, and not long ago, 2 Kgs. 12:17. Now were they better than these kingdoms of Judah and Israel? Yes, they were, and their border greater than your border, so that they had more reason than you to be confident of their own safety; yet you see what has become of them, and dare you be secure? Art thou better than populous No?” Nah. 3:8. Note, The examples of others’ ruin forbid us to be secure.
2. They persisted in their wicked courses upon a presumption that they should never be called to an account for them (Amos 6:3): “You put far away the evil day, the day of reckoning, as a thing that shall never come, or you look upon it as at such a distance that it makes no impression at all upon you; you put it far away, and think you can still put it yet further, and adjourn it de die in diem—from day to day, and therefore you cause the seat of violence to draw near; you venture upon all acts of injustice and oppression, and have fellowship with the throne of iniquity, which frames mischief by a law, Ps. 94:20. You cause that to come near, as if that would be your protection from these judgments which really ripens you for them.” Note, Therefore men take sin to be near them, because they take judgment to be far off from them; but those deceive themselves who thus mock God.
3. They indulged themselves in all manner of sensual pleasures and delights, Amos 6:4-6. These Israelites were perfect epicures and slaves to their appetites. Their dignities (in consideration of which they ought to have been examples of self-denial and mortification), they thought, would justify them in their sensuality; the gains of their oppression and violence, they thought, would bear the charge of it; and they put the evil day at a distance, that they might give them no disturbance in it. That which they are here charged with is not in itself sinful (these things might be soberly and moderately used), but they placed their happiness in the gratification of their carnal appetites; and though they were men in office, that had business to mind, they gave themselves up to their pleasures, spent their time in them, and threw away their thoughts, and cares, and estates upon them. They were in these enjoyments as in their element. Their hearts were upon them; they exceeded all bounds in them, and this at a time when God in his providence was calling them to weeping and mourning, Isa. 22:12, 13. When they were under guilt and wrath, and the judgments of God were ready to break in upon them, they called for wine and strong drink, presuming that to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant (Isa. 56:12), thus walking contrary to God and setting his justice at defiance. (1.) They were extravagant in their furniture. Nothing would serve them but beds of ivory to sleep upon, or to sit on at their meat, when sackcloth and ashes would have become them better. (2.) They were lazy, and humoured themselves in the love of ease. They did not only lie down, but stretched themselves upon their couches, when they should have stirred up themselves to their business; they were willingly slothful, and took a pride in doing nothing; they abound in superfluities (so the margin reads it), when many of their poor brethren wanted necessaries. (3.) They were nice and curious in their diet, must have every thing of the best and abundance of it: They ate the lambs out of the flock (lambs by wholesale) and the calves out of the midst of the stall, the fattest they could lay their hand on; and these perhaps not out of their own flock and their own stall, but taken by oppression from the poor. (4.) They were merry and jovial, and diverted themselves at their feasts with music and singing: They chant to the sound of the viol, sing and play in concert, and they invent new-fashioned instruments of music, striving herein, more than in any thing else, to excel their ancestors; they set their wits on work to contrive how to please their fancy. Some men never show their ingenuity but in their luxury; on that they bestow all their faculty of invention and contrivance. They invent instruments of music, like David, entertain themselves with that which formerly used to be the entertainment of kings only. Or it intimates their profaneness in their mirth; they mimicked the temple-music, and made a jest of that, because, it may be, it was old-fashioned, and they took a pride in bantering it as the Babylonians did when they urged the captives to sing to them the songs of Zion; such was Belshazzar’s profaneness when he drank wine in temple-bowls, and such is theirs that sing vain and loose songs in psalm-tunes, on purpose to ridicule a divine institution. (5.) They drank to excess, and never thought they could pour down enough: They drank wink in bowls, not in glasses, or cups (as Jer. 35:5); they hate to be stinted, and must have large draughts, and therefore make use of vessels that they can steal a draught out of. (6.) They affected the strongest perfumes: They anoint themselves with the chief ointments, to please the smell, and to make them more in love with their own bodies, and to guard against those presages of putrefaction which they carry about with them while they live. No ordinary ointments would serve their turn; they must have the chief, such as were far-fetched and dear-bought, when cheaper would have served as well.
4. They had no concern at all for the interests of the church of God, and of the nation, that were sinking and going to decay: They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph; the church of God, including both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (which are called Joseph, Ps. 80:1), was in distress, invaded, insulted, and broken in upon. As to their own kingdom which they were entrusted with the government of, the affairs of which they were directors of, the peace of which they were the conservators of, great breaches were made upon it, upon its peace and welfare; and they were so besotted that they were not aware of them, so indulgent of their pleasures that they never laid them to heart, and had such an aversion to the thing called business that they were in no care or concern to get them repaired. It is all one to them whether the nation sink or swim, so that they can but lie at ease and live in pleasure. Particular persons that belonged to Joseph were in affliction, and they took no cognizance of their case of the wrongs and hardships they sustained and the troubles they were in, nor took any care to relieve them, and right them, contrary to the temper of holy Job, who, when he was in prosperity, wept with him that was in misery and his soul was grieved for the poor, Job 30:25. Some think that, in calling the afflicted church Joseph, there is an allusion to the story of Pharaoh’s butler, who, when he preferred to give the cup again into his master’s hand, remembered not Joseph, but forgot him, Gen. 40:21, 23. Thus they drank wine in bowls, but were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Note, Those are commonly careless of the troubles of others who are set upon their own pleasures; and it is a great offence to God when his church is in affliction and we are not grieved for it, nor lay it to heart.
II. Here is the doom passed upon them (Amos 6:7): Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and shall fall into all the miseries that attend captives; and the banquet of those that stretched themselves upon their couches shall be removed. Their plenty shall be taken from them, and they from it, because they made it the food and fuel of their lusts. 1. Those who lived in luxury shall lose even their liberty; and by being brought into servitude shall be justly punished for the abuse of their dignity and dominion. 2. Those who trusted in the delights and pleasures of their own land shall be carried away into a strange land, and so made ashamed of their pride and confidence; they shall go captive. 3. Those who placed their happiness in the pleasures of sense, and set their hearts upon them, shall be deprived of those pleasures; their banquet shall be removed, and they shall know what it is to fare hard. 4. Those who stretched themselves shall be made to contract themselves, and to come into a less compass. 5. Those who put the evil day far from them shall find it nearer to them than it is to others; those shall go captive with the first who flattered themselves with hopes that if trouble did come they should be the last who should be seized by it. Those are ripening apace for trouble themselves who lay not to heart the trouble of others and of the church of God. Those who give themselves to mirth, when God calls them to mourning, will find it a sin that shall not go unpunished, Isa. 22:14.