Amos Chapter Eight
The near approach of the ruin of Israel. (1-3) Oppression reproved. (4-10) A famine of the word of God. (11-14)
Commentary on Amos 8:1-3
Amos saw a basket of summer fruit gathered, and ready to be eaten; which signified, that the people were ripe for destruction, that the year of God's patience was drawing towards a conclusion. Such summer fruits will not keep till winter, but must be used at once. Yet these judgments shall not draw from them any acknowledgement, either of God's righteousness or their own unrighteousness. Sinners put off repentance from day to day, because they think the Lord thus delays his judgments.
Commentary on Amos 8:4-10
The rich and powerful of the land were the most guilty of oppression, as well as the foremost in idolatry. They were weary of the restraints of the sabbaths and the new moons, and wished them over, because no common work might be done therein. This is the character of many who are called Christians. The sabbath day and sabbath work are a burden to carnal hearts. It will either be profaned or be accounted a dull day. But can we spend our time better than in communion with God? When employed in religious services, they were thinking of marketings. They were weary of holy duties, because their worldly business stood still the while. Those are strangers to God, and enemies to themselves, who love market days better than sabbath days, who would rather be selling corn than worshipping God. They have no regard to man: those who have lost the savour of piety, will not long keep the sense of common honesty. They cheat those they deal with. They take advantage of their neighbour's ignorance or necessity, in a traffic which nearly concerns the labouring poor. Could we witness the fraud and covetousness, which, in such numerous forms, render trading an abomination to the Lord, we should not wonder to see many dealers backward in the service of God. But he who thus despises the poor, reproaches his Maker; as it regards Him, rich and poor meet together. Riches that are got by the ruin of the poor, will bring ruin on those that get them. God will remember their sin against them. This speaks the case of such unjust, unmerciful men, to be miserable indeed, miserable for ever. There shall be terror and desolation every where. It shall come upon them when they little think of it. Thus uncertain are all our creature-comforts and enjoyments, even life itself; in the midst of life we are in death. What will be the wailing in the bitter day which follows sinful and sensual pleasures!
Commentary on Amos 8:11-14
Here was a token of God's highest displeasure. At any time, and most in a time of trouble, a famine of the word of God is the heaviest judgment. To many this is no affliction, yet some will feel it very much, and will travel far to hear a good sermon; they feel the loss of the mercies others foolishly sin away. But when God visits a backsliding church, their own plans and endeavours to find out a way of salvation, will stand them in no stead. And the most amiable and zealous would perish, for want of the water of life, which Christ only can bestow. Let us value our advantages, seek to profit by them, and fear sinning them away.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Amos》
 And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the LORD unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.
The end — Of God's patience towards Israel, the end of their ripening, they are now fully ripe, fit to be gathered.
Pass by them — God had with admirable patience spared, but now he will no more pardon or spare.
 And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord GOD: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence.
With silence — So great will be the cruelty of the enemy, that they dare not bury them, or if they do, it must be undiscerned.
 Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,
To fail — Either to root them out, or to enslave them.
 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
When — Ye that could wish there were nothing to interrupt your marketing, that look on solemn times of worship as burdensome, such was the first day of every month, and the weekly sabbath.
Small — So the ephah being too little, the poor buyer had not his due.
The shekel great — They weighed the money which they received, and had no more justice, than to make their shekel weight greater than the standard; so the poor were twice oppressed, had less than was their right, and paid more than they ought to pay.
 That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
That we may buy — They would have new moons and sabbaths over, that they might go to market to buy the poor. And when these poor owed but for a very little commodity, as suppose a pair of shoes, these merciless men would take the advantage against them, and make them sell themselves to pay the debt.
The refuse — This was another kind of oppression, corrupted wares, sold to those that were necessitous.
 The LORD hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.
Hath sworn — By himself.
Forget — Suffer to pass unpunished.
 Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.
The land — The people of it.
For this — This that you have done, and this that God will do.
And it — The judgment, the displeasure of God, shall rise and grow like a mighty wasting flood.
It — The land.
Drowned — As Egypt by the overflowing of the Nile.
 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day:
At noon — So Israel's sun did as at noon set under the dark cloud of conspiracies and civil wars by Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, and Hosea, 'till the midnight darkness drew on by Pul, Tiglath-Pilneser, and Salmaneser.
Darken — Bring a thick cloud of troubles and afflictions.
In the clear day — When they think all is safe, sure, and well settled.
 And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.
Upon all loins — All sorts of persons shall put on mourning.
Baldness — Shaving the head and beard was a sign of the greatest sadness.
A bitter day — A bitter day, which you shall wish you had never seen, shall succeed your dark night.
 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.
Shall wander — Search all places for a prophet or preacher, from the Mid-land sea to the dead sea, they shall search all corners for a prophet.
 They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.
They — Who sacrifice to and swear by the calves at Dan and Beth-el.
By the sin — Who say the idol at Dan is the true and living God.
The manner — The idol which is worshipped at Beersheba.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Amos》
08 Chapter 8
A basket of summer fruit.
A basket of summer fruit
As God set before Amos a basket of summer fruit, as a sign or parable concerning Israel; so, at harvest-tide God sets before us a basket of summer fruit, to teach us lessons to our soul’s health.
1. In preparing the earth for a harvest crop, and our lives for a crop of holiness, we must expect hard labour, and often sorrow. Whether we cultivate the fields or our souls, we must do it in the sweat of our face, with hard labour. Both the ground and our nature need cultivation, and that implies labour, and frequently sorrow. After the great fire of London, a flower called the Golden Rocket appeared, and beautified places wasted by the flame, though it had never been seen in that district before. The seeds were lying in the ground, but it needed the fire to make them live and grow. Some times we need the fire of affliction to bring out the good in us. It is God’s love, not anger, which sends the fire. Our life needs clearing, purging, that it may bring forth new and better fruit. Some of us can only be saved “as by fire.”
2. We must plough deep. The man who wants a good crop will not just scratch the surface of the earth, he will drive in the ploughshare deep. So we must drive down the ploughshare of self-examination, we must break up the hard ground of pride and self-righteousness, where no good thing can grow.
3. There must be sowing of seed. What we sow we reap. Our good deeds and our evil deeds bear their fruit here. Your words, your acts, your thoughts are seed; you may cast them forth carelessly, but like seed thoughtlessly dropped in the ground, they will grow, and if it be bad seed, you will be terrified at your harvest. Remember this,--You may not have sown bad seed, but if you have sown nothing for God, you will reap nothing from God. If you have no loving fellowship with God here, you will have none hereafter. Neglect of duty is a great sin. If we neglect our souls they degenerate, our spiritual natures grow weak. Let us learn to thank God, not only for bread which strengthens man’s heart, but also for the better bread of holy teaching which the harvest provides, bread to strengthen man’s soul. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
A basket of summer fruit
Is there any similarity between the Gospel and summer fruit? They both, in the first place, mean health. God every summer doctors the ailments of the world by the orchards and groves. The Gospel means health. It makes a man mighty for work, and strong for contest. It cures spiritual ailments. The analogy is also found in the fact that summer fruit is pleasant to the eye and the taste. So the Gospel, when a man rightly sees it and tastes it, is very pleasant. If summer fruit is not taken immediately, it soon fails. First, the speck; then a multiplication of defects; after a while a softening that is offensive; and then it is all flung out. So all religious advantages perish right speedily if you do not take them. I suppose you have noticed how swiftly the days and the years go by. Every day seems to me like “a basket of summer fruit,” the morning sky is vermilion, the noonday is opaline, the evening cloud is fire-dyed. How soon the days are gone! Notice the perishable nature of all religious surroundings. Christian associations readily fade away from the soul. Every opportunity of salvation seems to be restless until it gets away from us. Going away the sermons; going away the songs; going away the strivings of God’s eternal Spirit. The practical question is now; will you miss your chance? The day of grace will soon be past. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Religion in the garden
In our great cities one of the most welcome sights of summer is to be found in the baskets of fruit exposed for sale in the shop windows. Reflect on some of the things God would teach us from “a basket of summer fruit.”
I. Fruit is the end and reward of labour. Fruit-bearing is the end contemplated in the seed-sowing and cultivation of the husbandman. Jesus said, “My Father is the husbandman.” We are thus led to think of God working in us and for us by His grace with a constancy and care like that of the owner of a vineyard. And the end contemplated by that gracious work of God is that we should bear fruit, and thus minister to His delight and glory. We are not left ignorant as to the nature of the fruit that God looks for in man. St. Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance.” These are the results that God works for and waits to see exhibited by those who call themselves by the name of Christ. When our lives bring forth these “fruits of the Spirit,” we become, in very truth, gardens of the Lord.
II. When the fruit fails there is disappointment and loss. Many things are necessary to bring the work of the garden to a successful issue--good seed and stock, congenial soil and situation, favourable climate and intelligent cultivation. Yet when all has been attended to that wisdom and experience command, there are occasional failures that disappoint and perplex the gardener. Young trees that put forth healthy shoots and vigorous branches, and gave great promise at first, when they have grown are found to be barren and unfruitful. Some trees never blossom at all, some have blossom that never comes to fruit. Whole crops of fruit are sometimes destroyed by the pests of the garden, and are at times stolen by thieves. Over these losses the husbandman sorrows because he has laboured in vain. See the parable of the barren fig-tree. May not some of our lives he equally disappointing to God? He has surrounded us with privileges, opportunities, and helps to the attainment of a holy life, yet the spiritual results may be nowhere visible. There are the leaves of a cold morality, but no blossoms of grace; the flowers of a shallow profession, but none of the fruits of a consistent life. How long shall we continue thus to abuse the blessings of God, and try His patience as cumberers on His holy ground?
III. The glory of the garden is carried away in the fruit basket. The garden has a spent and dreary look after its beauty and treasure have been gathered. But this dreariness is only temporary. The husbandman knows well how to repair the waste. Some of us have a like experience. We can think of a time when duty demanded a great sacrifice, or when duty had to be done in the face of great danger and temptation. But then we were spent in the great effort, almost broken by the severe strain. Then God came and called us to come apart and rest a while. In delightful fellowship with Him strength and inspiration gradually returned, and we were even more ready than before when the next call of duty came. (James Menzies.)
Harvest or summer fruits
God teaches the world in two ways; by symbols and sayings. By this “basket of summer fruit” He taught Amos that Israel was ripe for judgment. These summer fruits remind us of--
I. The beneficence of God. In the summer fruit He gives us the useful and the beautiful. In these fruits of the earth pro visions are made for our physical wants. They are beautiful as well as useful. How beautiful are these fruits of the earth! Their exquisite forms, in bound less variety; their lovely tints, their bloom and gorgeous hues, how beautiful! Deep within us all is the love for the beautiful. The God who planted within us the sentiment ministers abundantly to it in these baskets of fruit. God’s beneficence in these fruits of the earth is shown to be--
II. The maturing forces of divine government. This “basket of summer fruit “ is the outcome of a very long and complicate process. Snow and ice, showers and dews, clouds and sunshine, storm and calm, bleak winds of winter, genial airs of spring, and the hot breath of summer, the constant care and toil of the labourers in the fields and orchards, have all co-operated in bringing out this result. Antecedently, this result would not have been expected. Suppose a man in the depths of winter being told for the first time that those leafless fruit trees, shivering in the winds, and hung with icicles, should, in a few months, be loaded with clusters of apples, and plums, and pears, and grapes, would he have believed it? The thing to him would have been incredible. Things will ever be occurring in God’s universe upon which antecedently no finite being could calculate. Therefore do not argue
III. THE DESTINED DECADENCE OF ALL ORGANIC LIFE. In that “ basket of summer fruit “ there is death. In a few short days it will be reduced to utter corruption. So it is with all material life: no sooner is perfection reached than decay begins. (Homilist.)
A basket of summer fruit
Fruits always seem fairest, freshest, and finest when they are seasonable--that is, when not forced into being before their proper time of ripening or preserved artificially beyond the period of their natural growth in the gardens. And each of the seasons, unless it be winter, seems to have its own peculiar fauna and flora which lend it beauty and distinction. The prophet Amos, who was a herdsman accustomed to the open air and to the nomad life of the free East, and who uses accordingly many rural figures in his writings, speaks of “a basket of summer fruit.” We may figuratively take his words, now, to represent those traits of nature and those moral results which seem to be particularly characteristic of summer.
1. In the first place we may say that there goes into the basket of summer fruits an innocent joyousness of heart. God does not intend that we should live to be happy, but He does desire that we should be happy while we live. Joy is a Christian grace. If any one has the right to be joyful it is the believer, with countless spiritual blessings at his service in this world, and all the bright, brave, beautiful things of the world to come before him. “Rejoice evermore!” is a whole Decalogue in itself. And it seems easier to rejoice in the summer time, when all things take on their brightest look, each day seems a gala day, and nature dons her loveliest garments. And we are then out of doors more, which is a condition conducing to greater health and happiness. All this now is natural and right, if the joy be drawn from the right sources and based upon the right things.
2. Very like in nature to this summer fruit of joyousness is that of gratefulness. For who makes it possible for us to be reasonably happy, innocently gleeful? It is God, who is Himself the source and fount of joy.
3. The summer is a good time to cultivate the grace of worship. The spirit of worship is for the whole year. And at no period of the year should the regular services of the sanctuary be neglected, as the manner of many is.
4. Again, there is the summer fruit of generosity, which certainly it would seem should thrive in the expansive out-of-door life of that season. When the restrictions of indoor life have given way to the freedom of the fields, the woods, and the hills, a broadening of the sympathies should certainly be experienced. If we breathe a fresher air and more of it our pulses should quicken at the same time with a more abundant fellow-feeling for mankind about us.
5. The basket of summer fruit also makes room for the grace of good humour. Summer is the “cross” season, many think, which will excuse bad temper in themselves and perhaps in others when the thermometer goes up into the nineties. The hot weather certainly tries people’s tempers, of what sort they are: and the curious thing is that the individuals who have lost their temper most often seem to have the most temper left. But the summer months should be marked by many little sufferances and patiences, which will come most surely of numerous small prayers and pleadings at the throne of grace. Let us try to be good-humoured and amiable even when circumstances might seem to excuse petulance.
6. And then no basket of summer fruit would be complete without the grace of Christian hopefulness. Hope, we may say, is the joy of the future--that is, the joy which we obtain even now from the anticipation of delights to come. Like faith, it is the “substance,” or assured impression, of things that are yet to be. And the summer time may be really a continuous jubilee, one prolonged brightsome poem--a lyric of flowers and fruits and spiritual feasting and trustful uplift of heart, as the soul, like a plant touched by a sun in the heavens and blown upon by breezes from off the eternal hills, opens out constantly into the fuller, freer life of God, and grows toward the ideals of saintly living which shall be realised at last somewhere beyond the skies and stars. We may always have summer in our hearts. There are those who have no summer, to whom it is always arctic night, chilling and drear; but the child of God has the spring-tide in his heart now, and looks hopefully forward to entrance sometime into a land where cold blasts never blow and storms never beat, but where all things are surrounded by an atmosphere of genial godliness, of beatific beauty, and perfect love. (C. A. S. Dwight.)
Ripeness for judgment
I. Wicked nations grow ripe for judgment. The “basket of summer fruit.” This symbol suggests--
1. That Israel’s present moral corruption was no hasty production. The ripe fruit in that basket did not spring forth at once, it took many months to produce. Men do not become great sinners at once. The character of a people does not reach its last degree of vileness in a few years, it takes time. The first seed of evil is to be germinated, then it grows, ripens, and multiplies until there is a crop ready for the sickle.
2. That Israel’s season for improvement was past and gone. The ripened fruit in that basket had reached a stage in which improvement was impossible. The bloom was passing away, and rottenness was setting in. Nations become incorrigible.
3. That Israel’s utter ruin was inevitable. Nothing awaited that “ basket of summer fruit” but rottenness. Its decomposition was working, and would soon reduce it to putrescent filth. So it was with Israel.
II. True prophets are made sensible of this ripeness. God gives Amos a vision for the purpose. To every true teacher God says at the outset, “What seest thou?” Hast thou a clear vision of this basket of summer fruit? Hast thou a clear idea of this subject on which thou art about to discourse? Thus He dealt with Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Paul, John.
III. Almighty God makes his prophets sensible of the ripeness of a people’s corruption in order that they may sound the alarm. Why was Amos thus Divinely impressed with the wretched moral condition of the people of Israel? Simply that he may be more earnest and emphatical in sounding the alarm. What was the calamity he was to proclaim?
I. Universal mourning. “The songs of the temple shall be howlings.” The inevitable tendency of sin is to turn songs of gladness into howlings of distress.
2. Universal death. “And there shall be many dead bodies in every place, and they shall cast them forth with silence.” (Homilist.)
1. The end of the season of trial under the emblem of a basket of summer fruit (Amos 8:1-3). The emblem meant that a period was approaching when their time of probation would be over, and the result of that would be a great destruction of life, accompanied with gloomy silence on the part of the miserable survivors. The emblem has a general application to all periods of the Church’s history. It suggests the idea of a tree which had been tended, planted, watered with the rain and the dew. It had blossomed, budded, brought forth fruit; its work was done; the fruit was gathered; no pains of the gardener, no change in the season, no influence of the sun could now alter the character of the fruit. They were either apples of Sodom, or pleasant to the eye, and good for food. Now was the time, not to cherish their growth, but to try their quality. As there are means of hastening the growth and ripeness of summer fruit, so do privileges and mercies hasten the maturity of the soul for the inheritance of the saints in light on the one hand, and for the righteous vengeance of God on the other. This consideration shows the fearful character of unrepented sin. Perseverance therein causes ripeness for judgment. It teaches us what our chief aim ought to be; not so much eagerness for outward privilege, as an earnest desire that the heart may be right with God.
2. The close connection between evil imaginations respecting God’s service, and unjust dealings towards men (Amos 8:4-6). Contempt for and abuse of God’s ordinances is here shown to be closely connected with doing wrong to the poor. He who forgets his duty towards his Maker, is sure to be wanting in his duty towards those who bear his Maker’s image. The best friends of the poor are those who earnestly contend for the rights of God.
3. The universality of Divine knowledge, on the one hand, and the effects of Divine judgments on the other (Amos 8:7-10). Man, in his hurry to become rich, often does many things unrighteously. But all things are at all times naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. No lapse of time, nor change of scene, nor combination of circumstances, nor crowding together of different pursuits, veils for one moment the acts of ungodliness and wrong which men have done. Iniquity is never forgotten till it is forgiven.
4. A crowning judgment, which implied the absence of God, the children’s food taken from them (Amos 8:11-14). Among the Jews the absence of prophetical teaching would be a famine of the Word of the Lord. Direction from Him was a part of their peculiar blessedness. The want of that direction left them in a very helpless condition. In a Christian land, where the Word of God is freely circulated, we have the law, the testimony, and direction in all the duties of life. The precepts of the Gospel are so full, and its principles so clear, that we need never be at a loss. And where there is a scriptural ministry, the public mind may be kept as clearly instructed in the will of God as ever the Jews were by the teaching of the prophets. Christian communities, however, have been visited with a famine of the Word of God. Often, in the case of individuals, a famine of the Word of God comes upon the soul. (Vincent W. Ryan, M. A.)
Ripe for gathering
The point of the vision is rather obscured by the rendering “summer fruit.” “Ripe fruit” would be better, since the emblem represents the northern kingdom as ripe for the dreadful ingathering of judgment. Just as the mellow ripeness of the fruit fixes the time of gathering it, so there comes a stage in national and individual corruption, when there is nothing to be done but to smite. That period is not reached because God changes, but because men get deeper in sin. Because “the harvest is ripe,” the sickle is called for. It is a solemn lesson, applying to each soul as well as to communities. By neglect of God’s voice, and persistence in our own evil ways, we can make ourselves such that we are ripe for judgment, and can compel long suffering to strike. The tragedy of that fruit-gathering is described with extraordinary grimness and force in the abrupt language of verse
3. The crimes that ripened men for this terrible harvest are next set forth in Amos 8:4-6. The catalogue of sins is left incomplete, as if holy indignation turned for relief to the thought of the certain juugment. Amos heaps image on image to deepen the impression of terror and confusion. Everything is turned to its opposite these threats were fulfilled in the fall of the kingdom of Israel. But that “day of the Lord” was, in principle, a miniature foreshadowing of the great final judgment. The last section (verses 11-14) specifies one feature of judgment, the deprivation of the despised Word of the Lord. The truth implied is universal in its application. God’s message neglected is withdrawn. Conscience stops if continually unheeded. The Gospel may still sound in a man’s ears, but have long ceased to reach further. There comes a time when men shall wish wasted opportunities back, and find that they can no more return than last summer’s heat. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Israel’s overthrow foretold
At home the nation of Israel appeared to the eye of its citizens to possess every needed element of stability and prosperity, in a strong government, domestic tranquillity, plentiful harvests, and multiplying riches. And looking abroad, there appeared no occasion for anxiety. But along with apparent political and economic prosperity, sad religious and moral corruption prevailed. Apostasy had accompanied revolution when Israel was founded. Other sins followed in the train of apostasy. To this people, victorious, prosperous, wealthy, avaricious, dishonest, luxurious, corrupt, immoral, irreligious, God sent a messenger with a message. Amos Goes from Tekoa to Bethel, the royal sanctuary and abode of Israel. Here he denounces the sins of the nation, proclaims the displeasure of Jehovah, and threatens destruction. Tradition reports that the fearless preacher was mobbed and beaten, scarce escaping with his life. But he had done his work. He had warned the people. The vision and the voice come down to us to-day. “Behold,” Amos says, “a basket of summer fruit.” The meaning does not lie on the surface. In Palestine fruit was the last crop to be gathered in. The sight of fruit suggested to Amos that the end of the prosperity of Israel was near. Additional force was given to this suggestion by a play upon words which we can in no way reproduce in English. The word here used for “fruit” was derived from the same root as the word which commonly signified “end.” The significance was of course primarily political. No nation could long stand which was so undermined with irreligion, and honeycombed with immorality as was the nation of Israel. Like a summer storm clouding the noon, disaster soon overshadowed the brightness of Israel’s day. Less than a hundred years after Amos came to Bethel, and was scorned and hunted thence, Shalmanezer came, and Israel was no more. It is to be remembered that the destruction of the national life of Israel was due to itself, its own faults, its own corruptions. No nation was ever destroyed from without. A people that is fit to live cannot be made to die. The Assyrians only made an end of the fruit that was already rotten as well as ripe. It is a lesson for all lands. Our prosperity is no certain token of our permanence. Size is not certain strength; numbers and riches are not certain strength. The empire of Alexander fell to pieces by its own weight. Spain was ruined by its riches. There is special warning in this chapter against one class of corrupting influences--those which grow out of the greed of gain. The dangers which beset the fabric of society in these days link themselves very largely with the production, accumulation, and distribution of wealth. The denunciations of Amos illuminate with wonderful clearness the unjust and dishonest practices which had become prevalent in that day. Greed, dishonesty, haste to be rich, may destroy, the fabric of our society. If the growth of vast fortunes and estates is regarded with popular and legislative favour, and government and society and Church are deaf to the cries and indifferent to the struggles of honest poverty, sinking deeper into abject and hopeless pauperism; and ostentation, luxury, and extravagance replace our old time simplicity, frugality, and economy; if the craze to be immensely rich fevers the blood of the whole people; if fraud, illegal or legalised, if gambling in lotteries and in futures, if corners and stock-watering, if dishonesty, in short, in all its forms continues to increase; if thus such sins as ruined Israel taint our business and social life ever deeper and deeper,--then the basket of summer fruit will become symbol as apt for us as it was for them: the end cannot be far off. The end may not, however, come in a political catastrophe of subjugation by a foreign conqueror. It came not thus to France a century ago. Learn to distrust even the prosperity which seems the greatest, and carefully to scrutinise its cost and its consequences. To seek first to be right, then to seek to prosper,--not first to prosper, regardless of right, is as important for the soul as for the nation. Let us each lay the corner-stone of our life-work in the fear of God and in Christian faith, and rear the edifice in honesty, morality, kindness, service. Then surely ours shall be “the blessing of the Lord; it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.” (D. F. Estes.)
Israel’ s overthrow foretold
The nation, God’s chosen, is doomed. This is the import of the vision. The rest of the chapter is devoted to justification of this decree and description of its execution.
1. God is just. No man ever felt this truth more deeply than Amos. He betrays its hold upon him by the way in which he constructs his prophecies. He could not endure that they should have the slightest excuse for charging God with injustice. They, however, were not concerned about God s justice, though they might pretend to question it. To them, therefore, his habit of speech must have been extremely annoying. He was like a bad conscience. No wonder that they wanted to get rid of him. The passage before us contains an excellent illustration of the point in question. He shows that the question is not, How could God destroy Israel? but, How could He prevent their destruction? A community of self-seekers is an impossibility.
2. The greater part of this passage is predictive. This is not the most essential part of prophecy. A prediction is a picture of the future. Amos saw the kingdom of Israel over thrown by the Assyrians. Probably he did not expect his conventional details would ever be fulfilled. His claim to inspiration is sufficiently vindicated by the fact that the kingdom of Israel was actually overthrown, and the people carried into captivity by a power which, when Amos prophesied, seemed on the verge of extinction. (Hinckly G. Mitchell.)
A basket of summer fruit
1. The perfection and beauty of summer affords an illustration of the goodness of God. God is the Creator as well as the Redeemer.
2. The beauty and perfection of summer suggest to us some interesting spiritual analogies.
A basket of summer fruit
Amos was a herdsman, a keeper of cattle, and all through his book you find him continually alluding to his peasant life. He is also called “a gatherer of sycamore fruit,” or better, a bruiser, a trainer or preparer of sycamore fruit. It was believed in the East that this fruit would ever ripen except it was a little bruised, and so some person was employed with an iron comb to scratch and wound the skin. Unwounded, the fruit, even when ripe, was too bitter to be eaten; but after it had been wounded, it ripened rapidly, and became sweet and eatable. Here is a basket of summer fruit which is so ripe that it has been gathered; and it is a sort of fruit--summer fruit--which will not keep, will not lay by for the winter, but must be eaten at once. Amos sees that God’s purposes were now ripe with regard to His people Israel, and that the nation had become ripe in its sin, so ripe that it must be destroyed, We may learn that there is a ripeness of men, as well as of summer fruit; there is a ripening in holiness till we are gathered by the hand of Jesus for heaven, and a ripening in sin till we are swept away with the rough hand of death, and are cast away into the rottenness of destruction.
I. God’s purposes may have a ripeness: God always times His decrees. Many men are wise too late. God proves His wisdom, not only by what He doeth, but by the time when He doeth it. Notice two of God’s greatest acts. The First Advent, and the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. Apply this great truth of the ripeness of God’s purposes to your own personal affairs. All God’s acts are well-timed.
II. Nations have their ripeness, and when they come to their ripeness they must be destroyed. We may see in this basket of summer fruit a picture of them. It was necessary to eat that ripe fruit at once. And there is need when a nation has become ripe in sin that it should be given up to destruction. There are such things as national sins, and there are consequently such things as national punishments.
III. Here is the picture of what some of us are, and all of us must be.
1. With the righteous man there is a time of ripening. The Christian when converted is, as it were, but a bud upon the tree. There is need that he grow unto perfection, and that fruit should become ripe fruit. Believers are ripened by every providence which passes over them. We are daily ripening in knowledge. In spirituality. As he ripens in spirituality, he ripens in savour.
2. There is a ripeness with which the sinful and ungodly are ripening. You are being ripened from within; the depravity of your own heart is developing itself every hour. And Satan is daily busy with you, to try and make you grow in vice. Sinners ripen in knowledge of sin, in love to sin, and in that hardness of heart which enables them to commit sin with impunity. With some sin has attained such a ripeness that they dare to blaspheme God. They have grown so rotten ripe that they will even dare to say there is no God, or think that He is blind, or ignorant, and will not see and punish sin in the sinner. It is an awful sign of nearness to hell when a man begins to think that he can doubt the existence of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A basket of summer fruit
Fruit was the last sign of harvest in Palestine. When the fruit was gathered the harvest was over. What then is the meaning of this vision of a basket of summer fruit? The meaning is that Amos saw the end. Summer fruit had a mournful suggestion about it in Palestinian times and lands. “What seest thou?” The end; the gathered harvest, the upmaking of all things, the year in its results: good or bad, there it is. Can this fruit be changed now? No. Will not the sun work some miracle of ripening upon it? Never more. What it is, that it is. There is an end of ministry, of service, of stewardship, of life. Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things, that they would consider their latter end--the basket of summer fruit, the ingathering of the fields and the vintages. How stands it with us this audit day? (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy.
I. It is execrable in its spirit.
1. It is sacrilegious. Bad as Israel was, it still kept up the mere observances of religion, yet these observances they regarded as commercial inconveniences. Avarice in heart has no reverence for religion.
2. It is dishonest. Always over-reaching, always cheating. It makes its fortunes out of the brain and muscles, the sweat and life of the needy.
3. It is cruel. Avarice deadens all social affections.
II. It is abhorrent to Jehovah. “The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.” Some render the “excellency of Jacob” the “pride of Jacob,” and suppose the expression to mean, that Israel professed to regard Him as its glory: and therefore it is by Himself, for He can swear by no one greater. God observes all the cruelties which avarice inflicts upon the poor. Nothing is more abhorrent to His benevolent nature than covetousness.
1. It is repugnant to His nature. His love is disinterested, unbounded love, working ever for the good of the universe. Greed is a hideous antagonist to this.
2. It is hostile to universal happiness. He created the universe in order to diffuse happiness; but greed is against it.
III. It is a curse to society. “Shall not the land tremble for this,” etc.
1. How God makes nature an avenging angel. He makes “the land tremble.” He “toucheth the hills and they smoke,” pours out waters as a flood.
2. How God makes a multitude to suffer on account of tile iniquities of the few. “And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations: and I will bring up sackcloth,” etc. (Homilist.)
When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn?
and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat.
Honouring the Lord’s day
The physical wants of man demand a day of rest; and it is a gracious appointment of the all-wise One, which has secured it to him. No constitution, however robust, can endure the wear and tear of unceasing labour. An experiment was once tried in England on a grand scale. Two thousand men were employed for years, seven days in a week. To make them contented to give up the blessed privilege of resting on Sundays, they received double wages for that day; or eight days’ wages for seven days’ work. It was found, however, utterly impossible to keep them healthy or moral. Things went on so badly that the old custom of resting on the Lord’s day was revived, and that, too, with immediate results. More work was accomplished in six days than in seven, and the labourers were more sober and honest. Yet there are headstrong and worldly-minded people to be found, so oaten by covetousness that they are disposed to cry out, in the complaining language of the text, “When will the Sabbath be past, that we may sell wheat?” The same physical law which requires that man should have his day of rest applies also to the brute creation. In making the land route to California, the companies which rest on Sunday invariably reach their destinations before those which journey forward without regard to God’s appointment. While man and beasts are decidedly the gainers from observing the beneficent appointment of their Creator, can we be expected to listen with patience while the despisers of God’s law ask in words of cool contempt, “When will the Sabbath be past, that we may sell wheat?” Besides the actual benefits secured by those who honour the Lord’s day, they are saved from many evils which naturally grow out of a disregard for it. The chaplain of Newgate prison, who hears the confessions of those sentenced to death, once remarked that, in almost every instance they ascribed their ruin to their desertion of the House of God, and to their violation of the day of rest. A distinguished merchant, long accustomed to extensive observation of men, was often heard to say, “When I discover one of my clerks to be a wilful neglecter of the Lord’s day, I forthwith dismiss him. Such persons cannot be trusted.” Sabbath-breaking is the sure forerunner of other sins. Moreover, we all need stated times when we can devote ourselves more unreservedly to the great work of preparing for death and the final judgment. Few are the spiritual blessings of earth, and few the joys of heaven, that have not a nearer or remoter connection with the Lord’s day. How ought the Lord’s day to be kept? Mere cessation from worldly employments will not come up to the demands of God’s law. Attendance upon public worship is the great duty of Sunday, and one which will be strictly regarded by all who desire God’s favour. A portion of the time should be spent in such reading as will tend to our spiritual improvement. (John N. Norton.)
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.
The eclipse of the sun spiritually considered
Though the heavens are full of the glory of the Lord, yet they rarely engage our devout attention, or make their voice so to be heard as that we notice it and listen. The sight and the music are so constantly repeated, and become so common, that they cease to impress us. It is well, then, that God has so wisely ordered the universe that ever and anon the monotony of these ordinary phenomena should be broken by those that are more startling and extraordinary,--such as the visitations of eclipses, comets, and earthquakes, that so men might be compelled to see their Maker’s hand and hear their Author’s voice, and know that there is indeed a God that created and that governeth the earth.
1. Such a phenomenon as the eclipse is calculated powerfully to impress upon us a lesson of gratitude for the inestimable blessing of sunlight. Like some of our greatest mercies, it is a common one, and therefore it is unappreciated. From how few hearts arise the morning orison of thankfulness, and the noonday hymn of praise. Of this, like most of God’s blessings, we need to be now and then deprived, in order to teach us how great it is. If suddenly at midday God were now and then to place the shadow of His hand before the sun, we should then feel to the full the horror of the deprivation and the great blessing of the gift. We read of those, like the Persians, who worship the Sun, and pay to it the homage that is due to its Creator. And far nobler it is to worship the sun than to walk day by day in his light with a heart thankless for the blessing.
2. A more solemn truth, of which this phenomenon may remind us, is the effect of sin on the soul of man. The darkness of eclipse will be caused by a large and opaque body coming between us and the sun. The moon will come between us and the sun. Were it not for some intervening object, God’s light would be ever shining down upon us. The eclipse will not be caused by the sun’s withdrawing his shining. God never changes. If there is darkness in the soul of man, it is to be accounted for by the fact that something or other has come between his soul and God, and eclipsed the light. Scripture teaches us that this object is sin. “Your iniquities have separated between you and God.” Every soul who is under the dominion of sin may see in the eclipse a faint image, in the natural world of the position of his soul in relation to God. It is cut off from God, and so abideth in darkness.
3. This eclipse may bring to remembrance the awful death of Him through whose work alone those sins can be removed. During His supreme agony upon the Cross there occurred a preternatural eclipse of the sun. “The sun was darkened.” It was truly a time for both nature and man to mourn.
4. The eclipse should enable us in some sort to realise the great day of the wrath of the Lord. Then “there shall be signs in the sun”; “the sun shall withdraw his shining.” That appalling eclipse will not only be total but final, and to no man who is not then found to be a child of God, and a servant of Christ, will light evermore return. (Richard Glover.)
I. The Divine hand in an apparently untimely event. The peculiar reference of the text is some sudden calamity which was to befall Israel. In nothing is the Divine sovereignty more conspicuous than in the untimely removal of useful and excellent characters from the world. The mystery attending it, however, arises more from ignorance and shortsightedness than from any other cause. We can only judge from appearances. With the real nature of the case, and the actual reasons which govern the decisions of the Eternal, we are equally unacquainted. Humanity seems to weep when her favourite sons are removed. Patriotism bears a dejected head when her brightest ornaments are no more. The world trembles when its best pillars bow before the stern hand of time and death--“when the earth is darkened in the clear day.” Even religion cannot be unmoved. Religion contemplates, and teaches us to contemplate, this world in its true light, as introductory only to a more finished state of being--as connected with the purposes and plans of heaven. It is succeeded by an emotion of triumph, that in that world in which their splendours are renewed the same voice proclaims, “My sun shall no more go down.”
II. The divine dispensations demand particular attention. The very language of the text denotes surprise, and seems intended to awaken attention--“and it shall come to pass.” So it is especially when God takes from the world important characters,--He expressly designs to arouse men from their lethargy. Fear should produce seriousness and desire for the true salvation. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The words are suggestive of early graves, and these abound. The vast majority of the race die in early life, the greater number by far in childhood; the sun goes down just as it appears in the horizon. What do these early graves show?
I. That life is absolutely in the Hands of God. Who causes the sun to go down whilst it is yet noon? He alone can arrest its majestic progress, and turn it back. So it is with human life. The human creature seems organised to live on for years; but its Maker puts an end to its course at any time He pleases, so that the first breath is often immediately succeeded by the last.
II. That man in all stages of life should hold himself ready to leave the world. He should regard himself not as a settler, but as a sojourner; not as a tree, to root itself in the earth, but a bark to float down the stream to sunnier shores.
III. That there must be a future state for the free development of human nature. What a universe of thought and sympathy and effort are crushed in germ every year by death! Potential poets, artists, statesmen, authors, preachers, buried in early graves. Why the creation of these germs--these seeds of majestic forests? Surely the wise and benevolent Author intended their full development; and for that there must be another world. (Homilist.)
Lessons of an eclipse
If the text were taken literally it would be very nearly verified in an eclipse. But the words are to be spiritually understood. Here is intended some dispensation of Divine Providence towards mankind, of which the sun’s eclipse is a suitable and proper emblem.
1. Such a day is that wherein God makes a sudden and unlooked-for change in a man’s circumstances. All may go well with a man, and his heart may be lifted up within him. Then, in great mercy to his soul, God may send him an eclipse. The bright sun of prosperity is suddenly put out.
2. God eclipses a man’s sun when He calls him suddenly and prematurely from the world. How many a bright sun is thus extinguished every day!
3. The day on which the Lord maketh a man’s sun to “go down at noon” is the day on which He is pleased to strip such a man of his opportunities and means of grace. There is a clear day of blessed opportunity for every penitent, awakened sinner in existence. None shall seek and seek in vain. But will the light shine for ever on those who will not “comprehend it”? And there are eclipse times for sincere believers. “Now, for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” And the Lord Himself sometimes appears to hide from him, and withdraw from him His customary favour, then indeed his sun is gone--his day is darkened. Seasons like these may well be called the eclipses of believers. But, blessed be God! they are, like eclipses, of short continuance. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The solar eclipse
The darkness of an eclipse may be considered--
I. As an excitement to gratitude. The present state of knowledge affords abundant reason for gratitude. We axe not ignorant of nature as our distant fathers were. Ignorance is never a simple privation of knowledge; in the absence of correct knowledge there will always be erroneous conclusions; and hence ignorance is always injurious. The regularity of the course of nature claims our gratitude on an occasion like the present. Deviations from the ordinary course are not of frequent occasion, but we are acquainted with their arrival. One reason for such deviations may be, that our sluggish faculties may be awakened to observe the wonderful works of God.
II. The darkness of an eclipse as a memoral of past facts.
1. We are reminded of the creation of the world, when “darkness was upon the face of the deep.” How concerned is God for man’s comfort! Surely man ought to be concerned for God’s glory!
2. Of the darkness with which God has surrounded Himself in His intercourse with man. How superior are the spiritual manifestations of Deity under the Gospel, to the personal manifestations of Deity under the law.
3. Of the plague of darkness which was inflicted on the Egyptians. The bewildering and distressing effects of darkness may be illustrated by a familiar example. It may have happened to us to lose our way in a field at night. Once bewildered, you wander without the least conception whither. So this plague of darkness gives us an impressive view of the value of that light which will be temporalily darkened by the expected eclipse.
4. Of the supernatural darkness at the time of the death of Jesus Christ. This could not have been occasioned by an eclipse, as the Passover was held at the time of the full moon. On this memorable instance we are taught how easily God can reverse the order of nature. The course of nature is but the will and energy of God, who “worketh all in all.”
III. The darkness of an eclipse as a reminder of events which are to come.
1. We are reminded of the time when we shall “ go whence we shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death.” The grave is dark, but we shall not perceive its darkness if we are the disciples of Jesus Christ.
2. We are reminded of the punishment of the wicked. This is spoken of as “the outer darkness.” As figurative, this seems rather to heighten our apprehensions of distress than to diminish them. (The Essex Remembrancer.)
Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will send a famine in the land.
The uses of adversity
If adversity tried and sifted men, prosperity tried and sifted them much more. Where adversity slew its thousands, prosperity slew its tens of thousands. Poets and moralists had dwelt on the sweet uses of adversity: the misuses and abuses of prosperity would furnish a far more eloquent theme. Adversity was a bitter medicine, but it was in vain to think that health could be preserved unless it were administered at one time or another. And as it was with individuals, so was it also with large masses of men. The severest trial to the morality of a people was a long period of prosperity; the most efficient instrument in the purification of a people was the sharp attack of adversity. Such at least was the lesson enforced upon Israel in the days of Amos the prophet. Never since the secession of the ten tribes had the material welfare of the nation been greater. Under two vigorous monarchs it had recovered from all its recent disasters, and had attained to somewhat of its pristine greatness. The reigning sovereign, the second Jeroboam, had largely extended the frontiers by foreign conquests; his armies had everywhere been victorious; there was wealth and plenty at home. King and people alike might well have congratulated themselves on the present condition of the nation. It was just at this crisis that the prophet Amos appeared on the scene. But though it was in a season of unexampled prosperity, the prosperity of Israel was not the burden of his message; though the armies of Jeroboam had been signally triumphant, he poured out no congratulations over these triumphs. His whole prophecy was one prolonged wail, one unbroken elegy, the funeral dirge of a dying religion, a falling dynasty, and an expiring kingdom. For prosperity was then doing its work. Luxury, revelry, and pleasure were rampant; commercial morality was low, petty frauds in trade were rife; the laws were administered for the advantage of the powerful; the poor were ground down by the tyranny of the rich. A stern moralist might have found much to lament and denounce in the vices of the age; a far-sighted politician, drawing upon long experience, might have discerned from these elements of social disorder the symptoms of a disease which, if not arrested in time, would lead to the ultimate ruin of the state. But the prophet, with a keener eye and a wider range of wisdom, firmly and unhesitatingly pronounced the result--in the very midst of the triumph of armies, in the very flush of successful self-complacency, he announced the catastrophe as imminent--“It shall come to pass, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear sky; and I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Prosperity had carried away the hearts of Israel from the true religion of their God, and it needed the deep uses of desolation and captivity to chasten them and call them back. For, first, the worship of Israel had degenerated into a religion of political expediency, a religion of conventional life; it had adapted itself to the exigencies, ay, and to the vices, of the age. It looked complacently upon the luxury, the oppression, the indolence, the carelessness, the dishonesty which prevailed on all hands; it had no word of hope, no thought of remedy for the startling social evils of the time; the overflowing wealth here, the grinding poverty there. Secondly, the religion of Israel was formal and material; it was not thought of except in an outward and material sense in the days of prosperity; and when in their captivity and heavy trials their hearts turned to it seeking solace, instead of finding comfort and help, they saw only a vague and indistinct shadow.. The experience of Israel was the experience of all who worshipped after Israel’s manner. In the moment of trial they sought the Word of God, and could not find it. They did not seek their Father’s presence when their course was smooth and even, and in their hour of danger it was withdrawn from their eyes. Whatever some men might say, their factories, their workshops, their shipping, and their coalpits, even their museums and their lecture rooms, could not supply the deepest wants of men. The highest instincts of their nature were left hungering still. The church therefore rose up as a local centre, round which the spiritual affections and life of the neighbourhood gathered. God grant that a blessing might rest upon their work that day. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
Whether these words apply to the past, or refer to the future, their awful solenmity is undiminished; the existence of tremendous power is implied. These are the utterances of a Mind whose purposes are fully settled. There is an awful determinateness about this language. The Speaker, whoever He may be, is not to be trifled with. He asserts His sovereignty over the physical and the spiritual alike. He says, “I will send a famine upon the land; every root shall be withered up,” etc.
I. A revelation of the Divine will constitutes man’s richest blessing. In the text it is referred to by implication as food. Its withdrawment is compared to a famine. Hence, also, Jesus Christ reveals Himself as the “bread of life,” the “Bread sent down from heaven,” and “the meat that endureth to life everlasting.” “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” As this natural bread is fitted to sustain these physical functions, so the spiritual bread is indispensably necessary to the prolongation of this spiritual life. We are entitled, therefore, to argue that a revelation of the Divine will constitutes man’s richest blessing. This is proved--
1. By the intellectual satisfaction arising from harmony with the Divine will. The mind can rest in God; short of God it is restless. In God it enjoys the serenest calm. The intellect finds in God all that its capacious powers demand.
2. By the moral purity arising from obedience to the Divine will. Moral purity is unattainable, except through this holy will.
3. By the inspiring views of the universe obtained through, the Divine revelation. Look at the universe apart from this Holy Book, and that universe is crowded with mysteries. But look at the universe through this Book, and at once it is flooded with celestial splendour, it is vocal with heavenly music.
II. The withdrawment of this revelation constitutes man’s direst calamity. It is described in the text as a “famine.” Why is it so great a disaster?
1. Because man would be sundered from the central life of the universe. Sever his connection with this Book and you have severed his connection with God. Amputate a limb, and having sundered it from the vital heart that limb will rot. Excise the leaf from the tree on which it trembles, and sundered from the root it shrivels and dies. So with man; take this Book away from thy mind, desist from perusing this sacred page, and thou art sundered from the central life of the universe; the heart from which thou didst derive thy nourishment has ceased to communicate with thee. Thou shalt die of famine, and of thirst.
2. Because human happiness is the result of mental conditions, and these mental conditions can be formed and sustained alone by a Divine revelation. Pure happiness is not dependent on the external.
3. Because man would be left in ignorance of his Creator’s purposes. He would resemble a traveller in an unknown country, not knowing but his very next footstep will plunge him over a precipice, or that he might fall into the pit dug by the hand of the enemy. He would find himself, indeed, surrounded by memorials of gigantic power, but he would not know what the intent of that power is in relation to him.
III. Man’s treatment of this revelation determines its continuance or suspension (Amos 8:4-10).
1. The beneficence of God in granting a revelation. When humanity fell from His favour He might have retired into the depths of everlasting silence, and never have spoken another word to a disloyal race.
2. The importance of making the best of our privileges. While the sun does shine, O toil in its light. In the years of plenty lay up for the years of scarcity.
3. The necessity of grateful appreciation on the part of the Church. It is through you who do appreciate this will that the revelation thereof is continued. But for you the world would be left in intellectual darkness, and would perish with moral hunger.
IV. The loss of this revelation will show men its preciousness. “And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” We are continually realising this principle. We never estimate our privileges aright until we are in danger of losing them, or until they have vanished from our view. We see most of the bird’s beauty when the bird spreads its wings for flight. And so with our moral privileges, when they are vanishing from our sight we behold beauties that never impressed us before. You have a striking illustration of this in the case of Saul, the first king of Israel. When he was little in his own eyes, God spake with him; he was in continual communication with the Great Ruler of the universe. But when he waxed haughty, the heavens were as brass, and God answered him no more. “Bring me up Samuel; give me some link that shall connect me with my God! Oh, the horror of this moral loneliness! Bring me up Samuel, my own teacher, that connected me with the Eternal and the Divine. Oh, for one glance of him, for one pressure of that warm hand, for one rebuke even from that stern voice!. . . Connect me with God” is the desolate cry of the lonely spirit. The withdrawment, then, of this revelation will shew its preciousness. Two facts are clear--
1. We fail to appreciate blessings with which we are most familiar. Who cares for the rising sun? who cares for that setting orb? We may see it every day; familiarity has engendered indifference. Show men some little fireworks, and they will hurry in crowds to look at them. So with God’s Book. We have it so freely that we are in danger of its total neglect. Why, the fact that you have a book that professes to come from God ought to arouse you into the most intense solicitude. The fact that we have a book that you know has come from God ought to arouse your energies into an activity that will never weary, and your gratitude into a zeal that will never cool.
2. Our non-appreciation of these privileges is a sufficient reason for their withdrawment. Oh, you know not how near may be the loss of your most precious privileges.
V. The recovery of this revelation will eventually be found impossible. “They shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord, but shall not find it.” God can retire. There are depths in the universe to which He can betake Himself, which are inaccessible to you. Spirits crying out in agony for that “old family Bible,” the very reading of which was so intolerable to them in the days of their youth; running to and fro to seek some man to guide them, but every man they address says, “I am in search of the same blessing.” They hear of some messenger of God in the far distance, with swift feet they run to him, and, alas! it is vanity--he has no message from God. “They shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” What is the picture? The human mind is a blank; that God-given brain a blank, every idea about God taken out of it. “I have held My light, and you have refused; I have taken it away,” saith God. “I have spread My board, I have given a world-wide welcome, and ye refused. I have taken the viands away, and now you are running through the universe crying for God. But God has retired into depths to which you cannot penetrate.” Such is the idea of my text. Men awakening to a sense of their privileges, when their awakening is too late. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Sin is an evil and a bitter thing. It is evil in its nature, and bitter in its consequences. It is evil with regard to God, and bitter with regard to us. Numberless are the miseries to which it has reduced individuals, families, nations, and the whole human race. Among these one of the most dreadful is famine. Yet there is a famine infinitely more dreadful than the famine of food: a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
I. The nature of this judgment. It takes in the loss of the Gospel as a dispensation administered by preaching. We may consider this famine--
1. As eternal. The means of grace and the ordinances of religion are exclusively confined to this life. If you die stranger to the power of godliness, you must continue. Your mistake will indeed be discovered, but it cannot be rectified in another world. “Now is the accepted time.”
2. As spiritual. Thus it refers to the state of the mind. It takes place when souls are reduced to such indifference and insensibility as to be morally or judicially incapable of improvement by the institutions of religion, even should they be continued among them. When a man can no longer use food, or turn it into nourishment, it is the same with regard to himself as if all provision was denied him,--death must be the consequence.
3. As doctrinal. It may then be occasioned by the removal of faithful ministers, and the succession of others of different principles. This is sure to cause a declension in the number and in the zeal of the members of churches. For the grace and truth of God always go together. When the leading doctrines of the Gospel are denied or concealed the Gospel is withdrawn.
4. As literal. This is the case when a people are deprived of the very institutions of religion, and are forbidden the assembling of themselves together according to their convictions. This may be done by the inroads and oppression of an enemy; by the encroachments of tyranny; or by the loss of liberty of conscience.
II. The dreadfulness of it.
1. Dwell upon the advantages derivable from the preaching of the Gospel. The generality of those that are called by Divine grace are saved by this instrumentality. And the usefulness of it continues through the whole of the Christian life.
2. Think of the importance of the soul and eternity. The body is the meanest part of our nature; and time is the shortest portion of our duration, by a degree no less than infinite. Our chief care ought to be, to gain spiritual wealth, spiritual honour, spiritual good,--for these regard man in his most essential claims and necessities.
3. The design of such a dispensation. Some judgments, though painful, are still profitable. They remove the human arm, but it is to lead us to a dependence on the Divine. Other judgments are in mercy, but this is in wrath. Other judgments are parental, but this is penal.
4. In estimating this curse, let us appeal to the sentiments of the righteous. In what terms does David deplore the loss of Divine assemblies?
III. The execution of this sentence. God has engaged to establish His Church universal, but this does not regard any particular body of professors.
1. Is not He who utters His threatening almighty, and so able to fulfil it?
2. Is He not just, and so disposed to fulfil it? “A God all mercy is a God unjust.”
3. Is He not faithful, and so bound to fulfil it?
4. Has not He who utters this threatening, fulfilled it already in various instances? The Jews are an eminent example. Our subject, then, demands gratitude. We have reason to bless God that we hate not had a famine of bread; but far more that He has not visited us with a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Let us be concerned to improve our privilege while we possess it. With Gospel means be concerned to obtain Gospel grace, and earnestly pray that the ministry of the Word may become the ministration of the Spirit. Finally, as it is so dreadful to be destitute of the Gospel, think how many of your fellow-creatures are in this deplorable condition. Pray that the Sun of Righteousness may arise, with healing in His wings, and comfort them with the knowledge of salvation. (William Jay.)
The dreadful consequences of spiritual famine
What an awful mystery envelops the subject of the origin of evil. It is enough for us to know that sin has entered into our world. And it is the moral murderer of mankind.
I. The statement of a privilege. “Hearing the words of the Lord.” The possession of the oracles of God and a faithful dispensation of the Gospel are privileges far surpassing every other description of good under the sun.
1. Glance at the Jewish dispensation. A dispensation means a dealing out. There are three great dispensations with regard to the children of men--the dispensation of the law, the Gospel, and judgment. The whole system of the Old Testament may be summed up in “hearing the words of the Lord.”
2. Look at the Christian dispensation.
II. The intimation of a famine. What constitutes a famine of “hearing of the words of the Lord”?
1. Where the means of instruction do not actually exist.
2. Where the means exist, but the instruction is not given.
3. Where the means of the instruction are unconnected with the Divine blessing.
III. The awful consequences of such a famine.
1. It presses upon the nobler principle of our nature.
2. It removes the great preventive of crime.
3. It dries up the only source of comfort.
4. It leaves man without a hope beyond the grave.
I. The profoundest want of human nature is a communication from the eternal mind. This is implied in the Divine menace of sending a worse famine than that of want of bread and water. It was special communications from Himself, not the ordinary communications of nature, that Jehovah here refers to; and man has no greater necessity than this; it is the one urgent and imperial need. Two great questions are everlastingly rising from the depths of the human soul--
1. How does the Eternal feel in relation to me as a sinner?
2. How am I to get my moral nature restored?
II. The greatest disease of human nature is a lack of appetite for this communication. The vast majority of souls have lost the appetite for the Divine Word. They are perishing, shrivelling up for lack of it. The worst of this.
1. Men are not conscious of it.
2. It works the worst ruin.
III. The greatest misery of human nature is a quickened appetite and no supplies.
1. The appetite will be quickened sooner or later.
2. When the appetite is quickened, and there is no supply, it is an inexpressible calamity. (Homilist.)
The Word of the Lord
We are taught by this text the inestimable value of the inspired Word.
1. We are dependent on it for the regeneration of our souls. The facts, doctrines, promises, warnings, invitations, examples of the Word are employed by the Spirit in opening blind eyes, quickening dead sensibilities, subduing the unruly wills and affections of sinful men.
2. We are beholden to this Word for true enlightenment. A fierce war is at present raging round the Bible. We entertain no apprehension as to the result of the present controversies. The Bible has survived many a storm.
3. In the written Word are also found the springs of consolation. The Scriptures were “written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort thereof might have hope.” The Bible was not written to furnish us with a cosmogony, to be a text-book of geology, or a manual of astronomy. It would have been a positive calamity if Divine revelation had superseded the active exercise of the human intellect by anticipating the results of modem science and research.
4. We are under obligation to the revealed Word for its power of protection in time of danger and temptation, and most deeply should we feel this obligation.
5. We must think of this Word in relation to our spiritual advancement. Many devices are being adopted for the strengthening of the faith, the kindling of love, the quickening of zeal. But I have the greatest confidence in the closer dealing of individual Christians with the Divine Word. Then let us learn to prize our privileges more highly than heretofore. (R. W. Forrest, M. A.)
There is no sign of the unthankfulness and ungratefulness of the heart of man more striking than the tendency to disparage and forget the commonest mercies, because they are common. It may be that God will teach us tile worth of privilege by depriving us of it.
I. The judgment denounced in this text. A famine of “hearing the Word of the Lord.” The Gospel of salvation, the Word that bringeth life and peace, is often beautifully figured under the emblem of water, purifying from all uncleanness, and refreshing and reviving the fainting spirit. So the Gospel is often figured under the simple symbol of bread. Jesus said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven!” The, bread and water of life signify all the rich blessings of salvation. The famine here threatened is a dearth of the heavenly manna. This famine we may trace in various gradations at different periods of the Church. Trace it in its lighter and less terrible visitations. When God withdraws the living power and influence of His Spirit, so that it does not accompany the Word. Then there is a barrenness, a blight, and a powerlessness in the ministry of the Word, and on the face of the Church. Trace it more manifestly in the corruption or abstraction of the great living doctrines of the Gospel of Christ. The dry morality of a Cicero or a Socrates may usurp the place of the living “truth as it is in Christ Jesus.” The same calamity may be inflicted upon a Church or people when the ministry of the Word is entirely suppressed or suspended. Thus it was in the Jewish Church of old, and in the Christian times designated as the “Dark Ages.”
II. The terribleness of the judgment thus denounced. A natural famine is a fearful visitation. The famine God here threatens is altogether more severe and terrible. The greatness of the calamity is seen because on the faithful ministration of God’s Word depends all that is moral, beautiful, great, glorious in a land or in a church. What does our own country owe to the “liberty of prophesying”? We take a higher view when we remind you that the “life is more than meat, and the body than raiment.” The soul is lost without the Saviour. It is “by the foolishness of preaching” that it pleases God to “save them that believe.” Let the free Gospel be withdrawn, and all would be darkness and death.
III. What may be occasions that provoke the great God to inflict such a calamity as upon a church or a people?
1. Neglect of and indifference to the precious oracles of God.
2. Making the Word of God into an idol. The Bible itself may come between the soul and the God it reveals.
3. Disregard of and forsaking the faithful ministration of the truth.
4. We may make too much of men, and too little of the Master; too much of human wisdom, and too little of Divine.
5. The supplementing and adding to God’s Word, as if it were insufficient; or the darkening or perverting it, as though man’s interpretation were essential, and the Spirit of God were not His own interpreter.
6. The means and ordinances may be exalted to the depreciation of the “foolishness of the preaching” of the Word of God. God’s sacraments do not act as magical charms; the Spirit of God teaches man as a rational and responsible agent. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)
It is a characteristic principle of Divine warnings, that the woes which they denounce upon guilty men generally consist in the mere withdrawal of abused privileges, and the desertion of men to gain their own ends in their own ways. There needs nothing for man’s everlasting ruin, but that God should let him alone. If God exercise no positive energy of His grace to rescue him from destruction, all is done that need be done to make this destruction sure, and without a remedy. As a practical illustration of this principle, you find the Scriptures warning men of their dangers in an unconverted state, under the simple idea and shape of destitution and want. God departs from them, leaves them, hides His face from them, lets them alone; and they thus gain the punishment which their guilt deserves, as the harvest of their own sowing and the fruit of their own planting. This principle forms the point upon which the warning of our present text is rested. Famine, with all its attendant, multiform evils, is the simple result of continued want and deprivation. If God withholds His rain and His snow from heaven, all the horrors of famine come upon man without any direct effort or act on his part to confirm or increase it. So God proclaims to sinful men the result of their negligence of His grace and contempt of the spiritual mercies which have been long continued to them in vain. He will withdraw all direct spiritual interposition and leave them to the barrenness of their own nature.
I. The evils of spiritual famine. The Lord treats it as a curse and a punishment. Man lives not by bread only, but by the words which proceed out of the mouth of the Lord. Man’s real life is fed by communications of Divine grace. Take from the soul of man its heavenly nourishment, and you leave it a prey to the gnawing of eternal want, and the mere vessel of eternal wrath and anguish. The full evils of this spiritual famine this world cannot display, nor can man, in his present state, apprehend them.
II. The facts which constitute a spiritual famine. These are facts of man’s experience here. To constitute such a famine there is, sometimes, an entire removal from a people of all the ordinances and privileges of the Gospel, that only life-giving Word of God, Or there is found a withdrawal from a community who still retain the name, if not the external form of Christianity, the preaching of the Gospel in its peculiar truths. Or, though the truth of God be still proclaimed, there is no power communicated from above to carry it with life-giving efficacy to the souls of men.
III. The circumstances which lead to this spiritual famine. Some of these are on the side of the preacher of the Word. There may be; in the pulpit, a hiding of the light of the Gospel; or a spirit of sectarian division and controversy. Or a conformity among professing Christians to the course of this world. An unbelieving rejection of the spiritual claims of the Gospel, and a misimprovement of the mercies which a Saviour bestows, lead a people with certainty to this famine of the Word of the Lord. The habit of unmoved and heartless hearing of the Gospel prepares the way for the certain loss of all the blessings which the Gospel gives. And a neglect of the appointed ordinances and institutions of the Gospel leads to the same result.
IV. The way in which the evils of spiritual famine may be averted. Prize highly the faithful dispensation of the Word of God. And pray for the success of the Word of God. Its great object is the conversion of the ungodly, and the restoration of this fallen world to God. Let this object, in all its magnitude and importance, be kept before you. (T. S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
The worst starvation
One of the most ghastly tales in history is that of a king who condemned a prisoner to be starved to death in a palace filled with gold, silver, and the most precious stones in the world. For a while the sight of diamonds and rubies, any one of which would purchase provisions for a year, delighted the hapless victim. But when the fever of hunger began to burn, and the weakness and languor of starvation unnerved him, the very sight of the treasures maddened him. It is but a faint picture of the human soul, surrounded with all the earthly things that can be desired, yet famishing for love, for peace, for rest in God. (J. R. Miller.)
The “sin of Samaria” means the idolatry of Samaria. The words suggest a thought or two in relation to religious sincerity.
I. Religious sincerity is no proof of the accuracy of religious creed. Those Israelites seem to have been sincere in their worship of the golden calf. “They swore by it.” That dumb idol to them was everything. To it they pledged the homage of their being. A man is sincere when he is faithful to his convictions; but if his convictions are unsound, immoral, ungodly, his sincerity is a crime. The fact that thousands have died for dogmas is no proof of the truth of their dogmas. The words suggest--
II. That religious sincerity is no protection against the punishment that follows error. “They shall fall, and rise no more.” The sincerity of the Israelites in their worship in Bethel and at Dan prevented not their ruin. There are those who hold that man is not responsible for his beliefs--that so long as he is sincere he is a true man, and all things will go well with him. In every department of life God holds a man responsible for his beliefs. If a man take poison into his system, sincerely believing that it is nutriment, will his belief save him? (Homilist.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》