In these verses is threatened,
I. A general judgment of spiritual famine coming upon the whole land, a famine of the word of God, the failing of oracles and the scarcity of good preaching. This is spoken of as a thing at some distance: The days come, they will come hereafter, when another kind of darkness shall come upon that land of light. When Amos prophesied, and for a considerable time after, they had great plenty of prophets, abundant opportunities of hearing the word of God, in season and out of season; they had precept upon precept and line upon line; prophecy was their daily bread; and it is probable that they surfeited upon it, as Israel on the manna, and therefore God threatens that hereafter he will deprive them of this privilege. Probably in the land of Israel there were not so many prophets, about the time that their destruction came upon them, as there were in the land of Judah; and when the ten tribes went into captivity they saw not their signs, there were no more any prophets, none to show them how long, Ps. 74:9. The Jewish church, after Malachi, had no prophets for many ages; and some think this threatening looks further yet, to the blindness which has in part happened to Israel in the days of the Messiah, and the veil that is on the heart of the unbelieving Jews. They reject the gospel, and the ministers of it that God sends to them, and covet to have prophets of their own, as their fathers had, but they shall have none, the kingdom of God being taken from them and given to another people. Observe here,
1. What the judgment itself is that is threatened. It is a famine, a scarcity, not of bread and water (which are the necessary support of the body, and the want of which is very grievous), but a much sorer judgment than that, even a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. There shall be no congregations for ministers to preach to, nor any ministers to preach, nor any instructions and abilities given to those that do set up for preachers, to fit them for their work. The word of the Lord shall be precious and scarce; there shall be no vision, 1 Sam. 3:1. They shall have the written word, Bibles to read, but no ministers to explain and apply it to them, the water in the well, but nothing to draw with. It is a gracious promise (Isa. 30:20) that though they have a scarcity of bread they shall have plenty of the means of grace. God will give them the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, but their eyes shall see their teachers; and it was a common saying among the Puritans that brown bread and the gospel are good fare. But it is here a threatening that on the contrary they should have plenty enough of bread and water, and yet their teachers should be removed. Now, (1.) This was the departure of a great part of their glory from their land. This made their nation great and high, that to them were committed the oracles of God; but, when these were taken from them, their beauty was stained and their honour laid in the dust. (2.) This was a token of God’s highest displeasure against them. Surely he was angry indeed with them when he would no more speak to them as he had done, and had abandoned them to ruin when he would no more afford them the means of bringing them to repentance. (3.) This made all the other calamities that were upon them truly melancholy, that they had no prophets to instruct and comfort them from the word of God, nor to give them any hopeful prospect. We should say at any time, and shall say in a time of trouble, that a famine of the word of God is the sorest famine, the heaviest judgment.
2. What will be the effect of this (Amos 8:12): They shall wander from sea to sea, from the sea of Tiberias to the Great Sea, from one border of the country to another, to see if God will send them prophets, either by sea or land, from other countries; since they have none among themselves, they shall go from the north to the east; when they are disappointed in one place they shall try another, and shall run to and fro, as men at a loss, and in a hot pursuit to seek the word of the Lord, to enquire if there be any prophets, any prophecy, any message from God, but they shall not find it. (1.) Though to many this is no affliction at all, yet some will be very sensible of it as a great grievance, and will gladly travel far to hear a good sermon; but they shall sensibly feel the loss of those mercies which others have foolishly sinned away. (2.) Even those that slighted prophets when they had them shall wish for them as Saul did for Samuel, when they are deprived of them. Many never know the worth of mercies till they feel the want of them. Or it may be meant thus, Though they should thus wander from sea to sea, in quest of the word of God, yet shall they not find it. Note, The means of grace are moveable things; and the candlestick, when we think it stands most firmly, may be removed out of its place (Rev. 2:5); and those that now slight the days of the son of man may wish in vain to see them. And in the day of this famine the fair virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst (Amos 8:13); those who, one would think, could well enough have borne the toil, shall sink under it. The Jewish churches, and the masters of their synagogues, some take to be meant by the virgins and the young men; these shall lose the word of the Lord, and the benefit of divine revelation, and shall faint away for want of it, shall lose all their strength and beauty. Those that trust in their own merit and righteousness, and think they have no need of Christ, others take to be meant by the fair virgins and the choice young men; they shall faint for thirst, when those that hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ shall be abundantly satisfied and filled.
II. The particular destruction of those that were ringleaders in idolatry, Amos 8:14. Observe, 1. The sin they are charged with: They swear by the sin of Samaria, that is, by the god of Samaria, the idol that was worshipped at Bethel, not far off from Samaria. Thus did they glory in their shame, and swear by them as their god which was their iniquity, thinking that could help them which would certainly ruin them, and giving the highest honour to that which they should have looked upon with the utmost abhorrence and detestation. They say, Thy god, O Dan! liveth; that was the other 836 golden calf, a dumb deal idol, and yet caressed and complimented as if it had been the living and true God. They say, The manner, or way, of Beer-sheba liveth; they swore by the religion of Beer-sheba, the way and manner of worship used there, which they looked upon as sacred, and therefore swore by and appealed to as a judge of controversy. Thus the papists swear by the mass, as the manner of Beer-sheba. 2. The destruction they are threatened with. Those who thus give that honour to idols which is due to God alone will find that the God they affront is thereby made their enemy, so that they shall fall, and the gods they serve cannot stand their friends, so that they shall never rise again. They will find that God is jealous and will resent the indignity done him, and that he will be victorious and it is to no purpose to contend with him.
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