We here see that God bears long, but that he will not bear always, with a provoking people, both these God here showed the prophet: Thus hath the Lord God showed me, Amos 7:1, 4, 7. He showed him what was present, foreshowed him what was to come, gave him the knowledge both of what he did and of what he designed; for the Lord God reveals his secret unto his servants the prophets, Amos 3:7.
I. We have here two instances of God’s sparing mercy, remembered in the midst of judgment, the narratives of which are so much like one another that they will be best considered together, and very considerable they are.
1. God is here coming forth against this sinful nation, first by one judgment and then by another. (1.) He begins with the judgment of famine. The prophet saw this in vision. He saw God forming grasshoppers, or locusts, and bringing them up upon the land, to eat up the fruits of it, and so to strip it of its beauty and starve its inhabitants, Amos 7:1. God formed these grasshoppers, not only as they were his creatures (and much of the wisdom and power of God appears in the formation of minute animals, as much in the structure of an ant as of an elephant), but as they were instruments of his wrath. God is said to frame evil against a sinful people, Jer. 18:11. These grasshoppers were framed on purpose to eat up the grass of the land; and vast numbers of them were prepared accordingly. They were sent in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth, after the king’s mowings. See here how the judgment was mitigated by the mercy that went before it. God could have sent these insects to eat up the grass at the beginning of the first growth, in the spring, when the grass was most needed, was most plentiful, and was the best in its kind; but God suffered that to grow, and suffered them to gather it in; the king’s mowings were safely housed, for the king himself is served from the field (Eccl. 5:9), and could as ill be without his mowings as without any other branch of his revenues. Uzziah, who was now king of Judah, loved husbandry, 2 Chron. 26:10. But the grasshoppers were commissioned to eat up only the latter growth (the edgrew we call it in the country), the after-grass, which is of little value in comparison with the former. The mercies which God give us, and continues to us, are more numerous and more valuable than those he removes from us, which is a good reason why we should be thankful and not complain. The remembrance of the mercies of the former growth should make us submissive to the will of God when we meet with disappointments in the latter growth. The prophet, in vision, saw this judgment prevailing far. These grasshoppers ate up the grass of the land, which should have been for the cattle, which the owners must of course suffer by. Some understand this figuratively of a wasting destroying army brought upon them. In the days of Jeroboam the kingdom of Israel began to recover itself from the desolations it had been under in the former reigns (2 Kgs. 14:25); the latter growth shot up, after the mowings of the kings of Syria, which we read of 2 Kgs. 13:3. And then God commissioned the king of Assyria with an army of caterpillars to come upon them and lay them waste, that nation spoken of Amos 6:14; which afflicted them from the entering of Hamath to the river of the wilderness, which seems to refer to 2 Kgs. 14:25; where Jeroboam is said to have restored their coast from the entering of Hamath to the sea of the plain. God can bring all to ruin when we think all is in some good measure repaired. (2.) He proceeds to the judgment of fire, to show that he has many arrows in his quiver, many ways of humbling a sinful nation (Amos 7:4): The Lord God called to contend by fire. He contended, for God’s judgment upon a people are his controversies with them; in them he prosecutes his action against them; and his controversies are neither causeless nor groundless. He called to contend; he did by his prophets give them notice of his controversy, and drew up a declaration, setting forth the meaning of it. Or he called for his angels, or other ministers of his justice, that were to be employed in it. A fire was kindled among them, by which perhaps is meant a great drought (the heat of the sun, which should have warmed the earth, scorched it, and burnt up the roots of the grass which the locusts had eaten the spires of), or a raging fever, which was as a fire in their bones, which devoured and ate up multitudes, or lightning, fire from heaven, which consumed their houses, as Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed (Amos 4:11), or it was the burning of their cities, either by accident or by the hand of the enemy, for fire and sword used to go together; thus were the towns wasted, as the country was by the grasshoppers. This fire, which God called for, did terrible execution; it devoured the great deep, as the fire that fell from heaven on Elijah’s altar licked up the water that was in the trench. Though the water designed for the stopping and quenching of this fire was as the water of the great deep, yet it devoured it; for who, or what, can stand before a fire kindled by the wrath of God! It did eat up a part, a great part, of the cities where it was sent; or it was as the fire at Taberah, which consumed the outermost parts of the camp (Num. 11:1); when some were overthrown others were as brands plucked out of the fire. All deserved to be devoured, but it ate up only a part, for God does not stir up all his wrath.
2. The prophet goes forth to meet him in the way of his judgments, and by prayer seeks to turn away his wrath, Amos 7:2. When he saw, in vision, what dreadful work these caterpillars made, that they had eaten up in a manner all the grass of the land (he foresaw they would do so, if suffered to go on), then he said, O Lord God! forgive, I beseech thee (Amos 7:2); cease, I beseech thee, Amos 7:5. He that foretold the judgment in his preaching to the people, yet deprecated it in his intercessions for them. He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee. It was the business of prophets to pray for those to whom they prophesied, and so to make it appear that though they denounced they did not desire the woeful day. Therefore, God showed his prophets the evils coming, that they might befriend the people, not only by warning them, but by praying for them, and standing in the gap, to turn away God’s wrath, as Moses, that great prophet, often did. Now observe here,
(1.) The prophet’s prayer: O Lord God! [1.] Forgive, I beseech thee, and take away the sin, Amos 7:2. He sees sin at the bottom of the trouble, and therefore concludes that the pardon of sin must be at the bottom of deliverance, and prays for that in the first place. Note, Whatever calamity we are under, personal or public, the forgiveness of sin is that which we should be most earnest with God for. [2.] Cease, I beseech thee, and take away the judgment; cease the fire, cease the controversy; cause they anger towards us to cease. This follows upon the forgiveness of sin. Take away the cause and effect will cease. Note, Those whom God contends with will soon find what need they have to cry for a cessation of arms; and there are hopes that though God has begun, and proceeded far, in his controversy, yet it may be obtained.
(2.) The prophet’s plea to enforce this prayer: By whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small? Amos 7:2. And it is repeated (Amos 7:5) and yet no vain repetition. Christ, in his agony, prayed earnestly, saying the same words, again and again. [1.] It is Jacob that he is interceding for, the professing people of God, called by his name, calling on his name, the seed of Jacob, his chosen, and in covenant with him. It it Jacob’s case that is in this prayer spread before the God of Jacob. [2.] Jacob is small, very small already, weakened and brought low by former judgments; and therefore, it these come, he will be quite ruined and brought to nothing. The people are few; the dust of Jacob, which was once innumerable, is now soon counted. Those few are feeble (it is the worm Jacob, Isa. 41:14); they are unable to help themselves or one another. Sin will soon make a great people small, will diminish the numerous, impoverish the plenteous, and weaken the courageous. [3.] By whom shall he arise? He has fallen, and cannot help himself up, and he has no friend to help him, none to raise him, unless the hand of God do it; what will become of him, then, if the hand that should raise him to stretched out against him? Note, When the state of God’s church is very low and very helpless it is proper to be recommended by our prayers to God’s pity.
3. God graciously lets fall his controversy, in answer to the prophet’s prayer, once and again (Amos 7:3): The Lord repented for this. He did not change his mind, for he is one mind and who can turn him? But he changed is way, took another course, and determined to deal in mercy and not in wrath. He said, It shall not be. And again (Amos 7:6), This also shall not be. The caterpillars were countermanded, were remanded; a stop was put to the progress of the fire, and thus a reprieve was granted. See the power of prayer, of effectual fervent prayer, and how much it avails, what great things it prevails for. A stop has many a time been put to a judgment by making supplication to the Judge. This was not the first time that Israel’s life was begged, and so saved. See what a blessing praying people, praying prophets, are to a land, and therefore how highly they ought to be valued. Ruin would many a time have broken in if they had not stood in the breach, and made good the pass. See how ready, how swift, God is to show mercy, how he waits to be gracious. Amos moves for a reprieve, and obtains it, because God inclines to grant it and looks about to see if there be any that will intercede for it, Isa. 59:16. Nor are former reprieves objected against further instances of mercy, but are rather encouragements to pray and hope for them. This also shall not be, any more than that. It is the glory of God that he multiplies to pardon, that he spares, and forgives, to more than seventy times seven times.
II. We have here the rejection of those at last who had been often reprieved and yet never reclaimed, reduced to straits and yet never reduced to their God and their duty. This is represented to the prophet by a vision (Amos 7:7, 8) and an express prediction of utter ruin, Amos 7:9.
1. The vision is of a plumb-line, a line with a plummet at the end of it, such as masons and bricklayers use to run up a wall by, that they may work it straight and true, and by rule. (1.) Israel was a wall, a strong wall, which God himself had reared, as a bulwark, or wall of defence, to his sanctuary, which he set up among them. The Jewish church says of herself (Song 8:10), I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. This wall was made by a plumb-line, very exact and firm. So happy was its constitution, so well compacted, and every thing so well ordered according to the model; it had long stood fast as a wall of brass. But, (2.) God now stands upon this wall, not to hold it up, but to tread it down, or, rather, to consider what he should do with it. He stands upon it with a plumb-line in his hand, to take measure of it, that it may appear to be a bowing, bulging wall. Recti est index sui et oblique—This plumb-line would discover where it was crooked. Thus God would bring the people of Israel to the trial, would discover their wickedness, and show wherein they erred; and he would likewise bring his judgments upon them according to equity, would set a plumb-line in the midst of them, to mark how far their wall must be pulled down, as David measured the Moabites with a line (2 Sam. 8:2) to put them to death. And, when God is coming to the ruin of a people, he is said to lay judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet; for when he punishes it is with exactness. It is now determined: “I will not again pass by them any more; they shall not be spared and reprieved as they have been; their punishment shall not be turned away,” Amos 1:3. Note, God’s patience, which has long been sinned against, will at length be sinned away; and the time will come when those that have been spared often shall be no longer spared. My spirit shall not always strive. After frequent reprieves, yet a day of execution will come.
2. The prediction is of utter ruin, Amos 7:9. (1.) The body of the people shall be destroyed, with all those things that were their ornament and defence. They are here called Isaac as well as Israel, the house of Isaac (Amos 7:16), some think in allusion to the signification of Isaac’s name; it is laughter; they shall become a jest among all their neighbours; their neighbours shall laugh at them. The desolation shall fasten upon their high places and their sanctuaries, either their castles or their temples, both built on high places. Their castles they thought safe, and their temples sacred as sanctuaries. These shall be laid waste, to punish them for their idolatry and to make them ashamed of their carnal confidences, which were the two things for which God had a controversy with them. When these were made desolate they might read their sin and folly in their punishment. (2.) The royal family shall sink first, as an earnest of the ruin of the whole kingdom: I will rise against the house of Jeroboam, Jeroboam the second, who was now king of the ten tribes; his family was extirpated in his son Zecharias, who was slain with the sword before the people, by Shallum who conspired against him, 2 Kgs. 15:10. How unrighteous soever the instruments were, God was righteous, and in them God rose up against that idolatrous family. Even king’s houses will be no shelter against the sword of God’s wrath.