God is here contending with proud oppressors, and showing them,
I. The heinousness of the sin they were guilty of; in short, they had the character of the unjust judge (Luke 18:2) that neither feared God nor regarded man.
1. Observe them in their devotions, and you will say, “They had no reverence for God.” Bad as they are, they do indeed keep up a show and form of godliness; they observe the sabbath and the new moon; they put some difference between those days and other days, but they were soon weary of them, and had no affection at all to them, for their hearts were wholly set upon the world and the things of it. It is a sad character which this gives of them, that they said, When will the sabbath be gone, that we may sell corn? Yet is still the character of many that are called Christians. (1.) They were weary of sabbath days. “When will they be gone?” They were weary of the restraints of the sabbaths and the new-moons, and wished them over because they might do no servile work therein. They were weary of the work or business of the sabbaths and new-moons, snuffed at it (Mal. 1:13), and were, as Doeg, detained before the Lord (1 Sam. 21:7); they would rather have been any where else than about God’s altars. Note, Sabbath days and sabbath work are a burden to carnal hearts, that are always afraid of doing too much for God and eternity. Can we spend our time better than in communication with God? And how much time do we spend pleasantly with the world? Will not the sabbath be gone before we have done the work of it and reaped the gains of it? Why then should we be in such haste to part with it? (2.) They were fond of market-days: they longed to be selling corn and setting forth wheat. When they were employed in religious services they were thinking of their marketings; their hearts went after their covetousness (Ezek. 33:31), and thus made my Father’s house a house of merchandise, nay, a den of thieves. They were weary of holy duties because their worldly business stood still the while; in this they were as in their element, but in God’s sanctuary as a fish upon dry ground. Note, Those are strangers to God, and enemies to themselves, that love market days better than sabbath days, that would rather be selling corn than worshipping God.
2. Observe them in their conversations, and you will see they have no regard to man; and this commonly follows upon the former; those that have lost the savour of piety will not long retain the sense of common honesty. They neither do justly nor love mercy. (1.) They cheat those they deal with. When they sell their corn they impose upon the buyer, both in giving out the goods and in receiving the money for them. They measure him the corn by their own measure, and pretend to give him what he agreed for, but they make the ephah small. The measure is scanty, and not statute-measure, and so they wrong him that way. When they receive his money they must weigh fit in their own scales, by their own weights, and the shekel they weigh by is above standard: They make the shekel great, so that the money, being found too light, must have more added to it; and so they cheat that way too, and this under colour and pretence of exactness in doing justice. By such wicked practices as these men show such a greediness of the world, such a love of themselves, such a contempt of mankind in general, of the particular persons they deal with, and of the sacred laws of justice, as prove them to have in their hearts neither the fear nor the love of that God who has so plainly said that false weights and balances are an abomination to him. Another instance of their fraudulent dealing is that they sell the refuse of the wheat, and, taking advantage of their neighbour’s ignorance or necessity, make them take it at the same price at which they sell the finest of the wheat. (2.) The are barbarous and unmerciful to the poor: They swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land to fail. [1.] They valued themselves so much on their wealth that they looked upon all that were poor with the highest contempt imaginable; they hated them, could not endure them, but abandoned them, and therefore did what they could to make them cease, not by relieving them to make them cease to be poor, but by banishing and destroying them to make them cease to be, or at least to be in their land. But he who thus reproaches the poor despises his Maker, in whose hands rich and poor meet together. [2.] They were so eager to increase their wealth, and make it more, that they robbed the poor to enrich themselves; and they fastened upon the poor, to make a prey of them, because they were not able to obtain any redress nor to resist or revenge the violence of their oppressors. Those riches that are got by the ruin of the poor will bring ruin on those that get them. They swallowed up the poor by making them hard bargains, and cheating them in those bargains; for therefore they falsify the balances by deceit, not only that they may enrich themselves, may have money at command, and so may have every thing else (as they think) at command too, but that they may impoverish those about them, and bring them so low that they may force them to become slaves to them, and so, having drained them of every thing else, they may have their labour for nothing, or next to nothing. Thus they buy the poor for silver; they bring them and their children into bondage, because they have not wherewithal to pay for the corn they have bought; see Neh. 5:2-5. And there were so many that they were reduced to this extremity that the price was very low; and the oppressors had beaten it down so that you might buy a poor man to be your slave for a pair of shoes. Property was first invaded and then liberty; it is the method of oppressors first to make men beggars and then to make them their vassals. Thus is the dignity of the human nature lost in the misery of those that are trampled on and the tenderness of it in the sin of those that trample on them.
II. The grievousness of the punishment that shall be inflicted on them for this sin. When the poor are injured they will cry unto God, and he will hear their cry, and reckon with those that are injurious to them, for, they being his receivers, he takes the wrongs done to them as done to himself, Exod. 22:23, 24.
1. God will remember their sin against them: He has sworn by the excellency of Jacob (Amos 8:7), by himself, for he can swear by no greater; and who but he is the glory and magnificence of Jacob? He has sworn by those tokens of his presence with them, and his favour to them, which they had profaned and abused, and had done what they could to make them detestable to him; for he is said (Amos 6:8) to abhor the excellency of Jacob. He swears in his wrath, swears by his own name, that name which was so well known and was so great in Israel. He swears, Surely I will never forget any of their works, but upon all occasions they shall be remembered against them, for more is implied than is expressed. I will never forget them is as much as to say, I will never forgive them; and then it proclaims the case of these unjust unmerciful men to be miserable indeed, eternally miserable; woe, and a thousand woes, to that man that is cut off by an oath of God from all benefit by pardoning mercy; and those have reason to fear judgment without mercy that have shown no mercy.
2. He will bring utter ruin and confusion upon them. It is here described largely, and in a great variety of emphatic expressions, that, if possible, they might be frightened into a sincere repentance and reformation. (1.) There shall be a universal terror and consternation: Shall not the land tremble for this (Amos 8:8), this land, out of which you thought to drive the poor? Shall not every one mourn that dwells therein? Certainly he shall. Note, Those that will not tremble and mourn as they ought for national sins shall be made to tremble and mourn for national judgments; those that look without concern upon the sins of the oppressors, which should make them tremble, and upon the miseries of the oppressed, which should them mourn, God will find out a way to make them tremble at the fury of those that oppress them and mourn for their own losses and sufferings by it. (2.) There shall be a universal deluge and desolation. When God comes forth against them the waters of trouble and calamity shall rise up wholly as a flood, that swells, when it is dammed up, and soon overflows its banks. Every thing shall make against them. That with which they thought to check the progress of God’s judgments shall but make them rise the higher. Judgments shall force their way as the breaking forth of waters. The whole land shall be cast out, and drowned, and laid under water, as the land of Egypt is every year by the overflowing of its river Nile. Or the expressions may allude to some former judgments of God. Their ruin shall rise up wholly as a flood, as Noah’s flood, which overwhelmed the whole world, so shall this the whole land; and the land shall be cast out, and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt, as Pharaoh and his Egyptians were buried in the Red Sea, which was to them the flood of Egypt, both which judgments, as this which is here threatened, were the punishment of violence and oppression, which the Lord is the avenger of.
3. It shall surprise them, and come upon them when they little think of it (Amos 8:9): “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, when it is in its full strength and lustre, at their noon, when they promise themselves a long afternoon, and think they have at least half a day good before them. The earth shall be darkened in the clear day, when every thing looks pleasant and hopeful.” Thus uncertain are all our creature-comforts and enjoyments, even life itself; the highest degree of health and prosperity often proves the next degree to sickness and adversity; Job’s sun went down at noon; many are taken away in the midst of their days, and their sun goes down at noon. In the midst of life we are in death. Thus terrible are the judgments of God to those that sleep in security; they are to them as the sun’s going down at noon; the less they are expected the more confounding they are. When they cry Peace and safety then sudden destruction comes, comes as a snare, Luke 21:35.
4. It shall change their note, and mar all their mirth (Amos 8:10): I will turn your feasts into mourning, as (Amos 8:3) the songs of the temple into howlings. Note, The end of the sinner’s mirth and jollity is heaviness. As to the upright there arises light in the darkness, which gives them the oil of joy for mourning, so on the wicked their falls darkness in the midst of light, which turns their laughter into mourning, their joy into heaviness. So great, so general, shall the desolation be, that sackcloth shall be brought upon all loins, and baldness upon every head, instead of the well-set hair and the rich garments they used to wear. The mourning at that day shall be as mourning for an only son, which denotes the most bitter and lasting lamentation. But are there are no hopes that when things are at the worst they will mend, and that at evening time it will yet be light? No, even the end thereof shall be as a bitter day, a day of bitter mourning; that state of impenitent sinners grows worse and worse, and the last of all will be the worst of all. This shall you have at my hand, you shall lie down in sorrow.