That drink wine in bowls - Perhaps the costliness of the drinking vessels, more than the quantity drank, is that which is here reprehended by the prophet. Drinking vessels of the most costly materials, and of the most exquisite workmanship, are still in use; and as to precious ointments and perfumes among the Jews, we have a proof that the contents of one small box was worth three hundred denarii, at least seven pounds ten shillings sterling. See the case in the Gospel, John 12:5; (note), and the note there.
That drink wine in bowls - (Literally, as the English margin, “drink in bowls,” literally, “sprinkling vessels, of wine”). The word is elsewhere used only of the “bowls,” out of which the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled. Probably Amos was referring to the first offering of the Princes in the wilderness, with whom he had already tacitly contrasted these Princes. They had shown zeal for God in offering the massive bowls for the service of the tabernacle: the like zeal had these princes for the service of their own “god Philemon 3:19, their belly.” It may be too, (since misbelief and sensuality are necessarily irreverent) that they used for their revels vessels which had at one time been employed in sprinkling the blood of their idol-sacrifices. There was no additional desecration in it. The gold and silver vessels of the temple were consecrated by being offered to God, by His hallowing of the temple through His presence, by being used in the typical sacrifices. The gold and silver, creatures of God, were desecrated by being employed in idol-worship, of which indeed sensuality was a part. Their employment in this luxury was only a continuance of their desecration, which it did but illustrate. It is nothing incredible, since among Christians, the fonts of the Church have been turned into horsetroughs by sects who disbelieved in Baptism. The vessels were, probably, large, since those offered for the tabernacle weighed 70 shekels. Private luxury vied with the fictitious sanctuary, which aped the sanctuary of God. Perhaps Amos would express the capacity of these vessels by saying, “that drink in bowls of wine.” Like swine in the trough, they immersed themselves in their drink, “swimming in mutual swill.”
All this they did, he expresses, habitually. He speaks of these their acts in a form expressing an ever-renewed present, “the putters off, the liers on couches of ivory, the out-stretched, the eating, the drinking,” men whose lives were spent in nothing else; the voluptuaries, sensualists, “good-fellows” of Israel.
Anoint themselves with the chief ointments - Anointing the body was a sort of necessary 2 Chronicles 28:15 in the hot climate of the East, for bodily health. “Not” to anoint the body was the exception, as in mourning 2 Samuel 14:2. But necessaries become a vehicle for luxury. For health, olive-oil sufficed Deuteronomy 28:40. For the service of God, a rich ointment was appointed, to which odorous substances, myrrh, cinnamon, the odoriferous reed, and cassia Exodus 30:23-25. gave a scent emblematic of the fragrance of holiness. In order to separate what was sacred from ordinary uses, God forbade, on pain of death, to imitate this ointment, or “pour it on the flesh of man” Exodus 30:32-33. Luxury vied with religion, and took to itself either the same, or ointment more costly. “They anointed themselves with the chief” (kind) “of ointments;” those which held the first, highest rank among them. Nothing better or so good was left for what they thought to be the service of God, as, in times a little past, anything was thought good enough for a Church, nothing too good for a dwelling-house. Gorgeous adornments of man‘s house were thought splendor and good taste and fit employment of wealth; slight adornment of the house of God was thought superstition.
But - (And)
d they are not grieved - (Literally, “grieve not themselves,”) admit no grief, shut out all grief, “for the affliction” (literally, “breach”) of “Joseph.” The name of the patriarch, Ephraim‘s father, recalled his suffering from his brethren. His brethren cast him into a “pit without water” Genesis 37:24, probalby an empty leaking well, (much as was that into which Jeremiah Jeremiah 38:6 was cast,) damp, fetid, and full of loathsome creatures. They “saw the anguish of his soul when he besought them, and would not hear” Genesis 42:21. But what did they? “They sat down to eat bread” Genesis 37:25. So did these rich men deal with all their brethren, all Ephraim. They suffered not in, or with, any sufferings, present or future, of individuals or the whole. “Cast off thought,” “cast off care,” is the motto of sensualists and of the worldly; “seize joyous the present hour, and leave the future,” said the pagan. This was the effect of their luxury and life of sense.
The prophet recounts, they stretched themselves listlessly, ate choice food, sang glees, drank deep, anointed themselves with the very best ointment, “and grieved” not themselves for any sufferings of their own flesh and blood. It followed, of necessity, from the rest. Luxury shuts out suffering, because any vivid knowledge of or dwelling upon sufferings must needs disturb its ease. Selfish wealth persuades itself that there is no suffering, lest it should be forced to think of it; it “will” think distress either too little, so that it can relieve itself, or so great that it cannot be relieved; or it will philosophise upon distress and misery, as though it were best relieved by its own luxuries. Any how it will not know or hear of its details, it will not admit grief. Lap.: “Mercilessness is the own daughter of pleasure.” “This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread, and careless ease had she and her daughters; and the hand of the poor and needy she strengthened not” Ezekiel 16:49. “Seest thou,” says Chrysostom, “how he blames a delicate life? For in these words he accuses not covetousness, but prodigality only. And thou eatest to excess, Christ not even for need; thou various cakes, He not so much as dry bread; thou drinkest choice wine, but on Him thou hast not bestowed so much as a cup of cold water in His thirst. Thou art on a soft, embroidered bed; He is perishing with the cold. Be then the banquets clear from covetousness, yet they are accursed because, while thou doest all beyond thy need, to Him thou givest not even His need; and that, living in luxury on what is His!”
And yet what was this luxury, which the prophet so condemns? What, in us, were simplicity. What scarce anyone thought of diminishing, while two million, close by, were wasting away by famine‘s horrors; chairs or sofas inlaid, fat lamb or veal; wine; perfumes; light music. The most delicate ingredient of those perfumes, cinnamon, enters into our food. “Looking at our times,” says a writer at the close of the 16th century, “I marvel at the spareness of the ancients, and think that it would be well with us, if any above the poor were content with what were, of old, delicacies to kings and nobles. Happy were these times, if they could imitate even what the prophets blame in nobles. In the Gospel, “the King” who “made a marriage feast for His Son said, I have prepared My dinner, My oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come unto the marriage” Matthew 22:2, Matthew 22:4.
When a “fatted calf” was killed for a feast, it was thought the best cheer, as when Abraham entertained Angels, or in that feast of the Father who, when He had received back His son, said, “bring hither the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry: for this My son was dead and is alive again” Luke 15:23-24. So then the prophet accuses the nobles of luxury, because they ate fat oxen and lambs. For the table of Solomon, the wealthiest of monarchs, there were brought “fat oxen, and oxen, out of the pastures, sheep, besides hart and roebuck and fallow deer and fatted fowls” 1 Kings 4:23. “Now” whatever is produced in sea or earth or sky, people think to be born to satisfy their appetites. Who could recount the manifold forms of food and condiments, which all-inventing gluttony has devised? Books had to be written; no memory sufficed. In this ocean, wealthiest patrimonies have discharged themselves and disappeared.
Among the Romans, Fabius, for devouring his patrimony, was called Gurges (whirlpool). Were this the practice now, he would have many great people surnamed from him, who, poor through gluttony, prey on the patrimonies of the poor, retain the property of the rich against their wills, and live on what is another‘s. It were little to consume whole patrimonies in luxury, were it not that the virtues and nerves of the mind were also consumed and vices of all sorts crept in. Shame to copy the luxury of pagan, and despise their care for maintaining temperance. We need not old examples. Such was the frugality of our Spaniards, 70 years ago, before they adopted foreign manners, that the rich had but mutton, roast and boiled, at their tables, nobles alone had poultry. Well were it then, if, in matter of food, we did only, what the prophet in his time blamed.” Spain has sunk under its luxury to a third-rate power. What can await England? What can await it, when the prophet‘s blame were praise, and Dives is the pattern and ideal of the charity of most of us, and luxury, vanity, and selfindulgence are held to be the best way of ministering to the poor? Marvelous “imitation of Christ!” Once, to “forsake all” was to “follow” Christ. Now, to possess all, heap up all, to expend nothing save on self, and to “shew mercy on the poor” by allowing them to minister to our luxuries, is, according to the new philosophy of wealth, to be the counterfeit of Christian charity.
“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.... Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.” Te 53.1
“Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!” “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.” Te 53.2
These words of warning and command are pointed and decided. Let those in positions of public trust take heed lest through wine and strong drink they forget the law, and pervert judgment. Rulers and judges should ever be in a condition to fulfill the instruction of the Lord: “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” Te 53.3
The Lord God of heaven ruleth. He alone is above all authority, over all kings and rulers. The Lord has given special directions in His word in reference to the use of wine and strong drink. He has forbidden their use, and enforced His prohibitions with strong warnings and threatenings. But His forbidding the use of intoxicating beverages is not an exercise of arbitrary authority. He seeks to restrain men, in order that they may escape from the evil results of indulgence in wine and strong drink. Degradation, cruelty, wretchedness, and strife follow as the natural results of intemperance. God has pointed out the consequences of following this course of evil. This He has done that there may not be a perversion of His laws, and that men may be spared the widespread misery resulting from the course of evil men who, for the sake of gain, sell maddening intoxicants.—Drunkenness and Crime, pages 4-6. Te 53.4Read in context »