We have here the justice of God passing sentence upon a provoking people; and observe,
I. With what solemnity the sentence is passed. The prophet saw in vision the Lord standing upon the altar (Amos 9:1), the altar of burnt-offerings; for the Lord has a sacrifice, and multitudes must fall as victims to his justice. He is removed from the mercy-seat between the cherubim, and stands upon the altar, the judgment-seat, on which the fire of God used to fall, to devour the sacrifices. He stands upon the altar, to show that the ground of his controversy with this people was their profanation of his holy things; here he stands to avenge the quarrel of his altar, as also to signify that the sin of the house of Israel, like that of the house of Eli, shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever, 1 Sam. 3:14. He stands on the altar, to prohibit sacrifice. Now the order given is, Smite the lintel of the door of the temple, the chapiter, smite it with such a blow that the posts may shake, and cut them, wound them in the head, all of them; break down the doors of God’s house, or of the courts of his house, in token of this, that he is going out from it, and forsaking it, and then all judgments are breaking in upon it. Or it signifies the destruction of those in the first place that should be as the door-posts to the nation for its defence, so that, they being broken down, it becomes as a city without gates and bars. “Smite the king, who is as the lintel of the door, that the princes, who are as the posts, may shake; cut them in the head, cleave them down, all of them, as wood for the fire; and I will slay the last of them, the posterity of them, them and their families, or the least of them, them and all that are employed under them; or, I will slay them all, them and all that remain of them, till it comes to the last man; the slaughter shall be general.” There is no living for those on whom God has said, I will slay them, no standing before his sword.
II. What effectual care is taken that none shall escape the execution of this sentence. This is enlarged upon here, and is intended for warning to all that provoke the Lord to jealousy. Let sinners read it, and tremble; as there is no fighting it out with God, so there is no fleeing from him. His judgments, when they come with commission, as they will overpower the strongest that think to outface them, so they will overtake the swiftest that think to out-run them, Amos 9:2. Those of them that flee, and take to their heels, shall soon be out of breath, and shall not flee away out of the reach of danger; for, as sometimes the wicked flee when none pursues, so he cannot flee away when God pursues, though he would fain flee out of his hand. Nay, he that escapes of them, that thinks he has gained his point, shall not be delivered. Evil pursues sinners, and will arrest them. This is here enlarged upon by showing that wherever sinners flee for shelter from God’s justice, it will overtake them, and the shelter will prove but a refuge of lies. What David says of the ubiquity of God’s presence (Ps. 139:7-10) is here said of the extent of God’s power and justice. (1.) Hell itself, though it has its name in English from its being hilled, or covered over, or hidden, cannot hide them (Amos 9:2): “Though they dig into hell, into the centre of the earth, or the darkest recesses of it, yet thence shall my hand take them, and bring them forth to be made public monuments of divine justice.” The grave is a hiding-place to the righteous from the malice of the world (Job 3:17), but it shall be no hiding-place to the righteous from the justice of God; thence God’s hands shall take them, when they shall rise in the great day to everlasting shame and contempt. (2.) Heaven, though it has its name from being heaved, or lifted up, shall not put them out of reach of God’s judgments; as hell cannot hide them, so heaven will not. Though they climb up to heaven in their conceit, yet thence will I bring them down. Those whom God brings to heaven by his grace shall never be brought down; but those who climb thither themselves, by their own presumption, and confidence in themselves, will be brought down and filled with shame. (3.) The top of Carmel, one of the highest parts of the dust of the world in that country, shall not protect them: “Though they hide themselves there, where they imagine nobody will look for them, I will search, and take them out thence; neither the thickest bushes, nor the darkest caves, in the top of Carmel, will serve to hide them.” (4.) The bottom of the sea shall not serve to conceal them; though they think to hide themselves there, even there the judgments of God shall find them out, and lay hold on them: Thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them, the crooked serpent, even the dragon that is in the sea, Isa. 27:1. They shall find their plague and death where they hope to find shelter and protection; diving will stand them in no more stead than climbing. (5.) Remote countries will not befriend them, nor shall less judgments excuse them from greater (Amos 9:4): Thought they go into captivity before their enemies, who carry them to places at a great distance, and mingle them with their own people, among whom they seem to be lost, yet that shall not serve their turn: Thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them, the sword of the enemy, or one another’s sword. When God judges he will overcome. That which binds on all this, makes their escape impossible and their ruin inevitable, is that God will set his eyes upon them for evil, and not for good. His eyes are in every place, are upon all men and upon all the ways of men, upon some for good, to show himself strong on their behalf, but upon others for evil, to take notice of their sins (Job 13:27) and take all opportunities of punishing them for their sins. Their case is truly miserable who have the providence of God: and all the dispensations of it, against them, working for their hurt.
3. What a great and mighty God he is that passes this sentence upon them, and will take the executing of it into his own hands. Threatenings are more or less formidable according to the power of him that threatens. We laugh at impotent wrath; but the wrath of God is not so; it is omnipotent wrath. Who knows the power of it? What he had before said he would do (Amos 8:8) is here repeated, that he would make the land melt and tremble, and all that dwell therein mourn, that the judgment should rise up wholly like a flood, and the country should be drowned, and laid under water, as by the flood of Egypt, Amos 9:5. But is he able to make his words good? Yes, certainly he is; he does but touch the land and it melts, touch the mountains and they smoke; he can do it with the greatest ease, for, (1.) He is the Lord God of hosts, who undertakes to do it, the God who has all the power in his hand, and all creatures at his beck and call, who having made them all, and given them their several capacities, makes what use he pleases of them and all their powers. Very miserable is the case of those who have the Lord of hosts against them, for they have hosts against them, the whole creation at war with them. (2.) He is the Creator and governor of the upper world: It is he that builds his stories in the heavens, the celestial orbs, or spheres, one over another, as so many stories in a high and stately palace. They are his, for he built them at first, when he said, Let there be a firmament, and he made the firmament; and he builds them still, is continually building them, not that they need repair, but by his providence he still upholds them; his power is the pillars of heaven, by which it is borne up. Now he that has the command of those stories is certainly to be feared, for thence, as from a castle, he can fire upon his enemies, or cast upon them great hailstones, as on the Canaanites, or make the stars in their courses, the furniture of those stories, to fight against them, as against Sisera. (3.) He has the management and command of this lower world too, in which we dwell, the terraqueous globe, both earth and sea, so that, which way soever his enemies think to make their escape, he will meet them, or to make opposition, he will match them. Do they think to make a land-fight of it? He has founded his troop in the earth, his troop of guards, which he has at command, and makes use of for the protection of his subjects and the punishment of his enemies. All the creatures on earth make one bundle (as the margin reads it), one bundle of arrows, out of which he takes what he pleases to discharge against the persecutors, Ps. 7:13. They are all one army, one body, so closely are they connected, and so harmoniously and so much in concert do they act for the accomplishing of their Creator’s purposes. Do they think to make a sea-fight of it? He will be too hard for them there, for he has the waters of the sea at command; even its waves, the most tumultuous rebellious waters, do obey him. He calls for the waters of the sea in the course of his common providence, causes vapours to ascend out of it, and pours them out in showers, the small rain and the great rain of his strength, upon the face of the earth; this was mentioned before as a reason why we should seek the Lord (Amos 5:8) and make him our friend, as it is here made a reason why we should fear him and dread having him for our enemy.
4. How justly God passes this sentence upon the people of Israel. He does not destroy them by an act of sovereignty, but by an act of righteousness; for (Amos 9:8), it is a sinful kingdom, and the eyes of the Lord are upon it, discovering it to be so; he sees the great sinfulness of it, and therefore he will destroy it from off the face of the earth. Note, When those kingdoms that in name and profession were holy kingdoms, and kingdoms of priests, as Israel was, become sinful kingdoms, no other can be expected than that they should be cut off and abandoned. Let sinful kingdoms, and sinful families, and sinful persons too, see the eyes of the Lord upon them, observing all their wickedness, and reserving the notice of it for the day of reckoning and recompence. This being a sinful kingdom, see how light God makes of it, Amos 9:7.
(1.) Of the relation wherein he stood to it: Are you not as children of Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? A sad change! Children of Israel become as children of the Ethiopians! [1.] They were so in themselves; that was their sin. It is a thing to be greatly lamented that the children of Israel often become as children of the Ethiopians; this children of godly parents degenerate, and become the reverse of those that went before them. Those that were well-educated, and trained up in the knowledge and fear of God, and set out well, and promised fair, throw off their profession and become as bad as the worst. How has the gold become dim! [2.] The were so in God’s account, and that was their punishment. He valued them no more, though they were children of Israel, than if they had been children of the Ethiopians. We read of one in the title of Ps. 7:1-17 that was Cush (an Ethiopian, as some understand it) and yet a Benjamite. Those that by birth and profession are children of Israel, if they degenerate, and become wicked and vile, are to God no more than children of the Ethiopians. This is an intimation of the rejection of the unbelieving Jews in the days of the Messiah; because they embraced not the doctrine of Christ, the kingdom of God was taken from them, they were unchurched, and cast out of covenant, became as children of the Ethiopians, and are so to this day. And it is true of those that are called Christians, but do no live up to their name and profession, that rest in the form of piety, but live under the power of reigning iniquity, that they are to God as children of the Ethiopians; he rejects them, and their services.
(2.) See how light he makes of the favours he had conferred upon them; they thought he would not, he could not, cast them off, and put them upon a level with other nations, because he had done that for them which he had not done for other nations, whereby they thought he was bound to them, so as never to leave them. “No,” says he, “The favours shown to you are not so distinguishing as you think they are: Have I not brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt?” It is true I have; but I have also brought the Philistines from Caphtor, or Cappadocia, where they were natives, or captives, or both; they are called the remnant of the country of Caphtor (Jer. 47:4), and the Philistim are joined with the Caphtorim, Gen. 10:14. In like manner the Syrians were brought up from Kir when they had been carried away thither, 2 Kgs. 16:9. Note, If God’s Israel lose the peculiarity of their holiness, they lose the peculiarity of their privileges; and what was designed as a favour of special grace shall be set in another light, shall have its property altered, and shall become an act of common providence; if professors liken themselves to the world, God will level them with the world. And, if we live not up to the obligation of God’s mercies, we forfeit the honour and comfort of them.
5. How graciously God will separate between the precious and the vile in the day of retribution. Though the wicked Israelites shall be as the wicked Ethiopians, and their being called Israelites shall stand them in no stead, yet the pious Israelites shall not be as the wicked ones; no, the Judge of all the earth will do right, more right than to slay the righteous with the wicked, Gen. 18:25. His eyes are upon the sinful kingdom, to spy out those in it who preserve their integrity and swim against the stream, who sigh and cry for the abominations of their land, and they shall be marked for preservation, so that the destruction shall not be total: I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, not ruin them by wholesale and in the gross, good and bad together, but I will distinguish, as becomes a righteous judge. The house of Israel shall be sifted as corn is sifted; they shall be greatly hurried, and shaken, and tossed, but still in the hands of God, in both his hands, as the sieve in the hands of him that sifts (Amos 9:9): I will sift the house of Israel among all nations. Wherever they are shaken and scattered, God will have his eye upon them, and will take care to separate between the corn and chaff, which was the thing he designed in sifting them. (1.) The righteous ones among them, that are as the solid wheat, shall none of them perish; they shall be delivered either from or through the common calamities of the kingdom; not the least grain shall fall on the earth, so as to be lost and forgotten—not the least stone (so the word is), for the good corn is weighty as a stone in comparison with that which we call light corn. Note, Whatever shakings there may be in the world, God does and will effectually provide that none who are truly his shall be truly miserable. (2.) The wicked ones among them who are hardened in their sins shall all of them perish, Amos 9:10. See what a height of impiety they have come to: They say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us. They think they are innocent, and do not deserve punishment, or that the profession they make of relation to God will be their exemption and security from punishment, or that they shall be able to make their part good against the judgments of God, that they shall flee so swiftly from them that they shall not overtake them, or guard so carefully against them that they shall not prevent or surprise them. Note, Hope of impunity is the deceitful refuge of the impenitent. But see what it will come to at last: All the sinners that thus flatter themselves, and affront God, shall die by the sword, the sword of war, which to them shall be the sword of divine vengeance; yea, though they be the sinners of my people, for their profession shall not be their protection. Note, Evil is often nearest those that put it at the greatest distance from them.