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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- PROVERBS--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
Amos prophesied somewhere around 760 BC during the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah, possibly, but not certainly, before Hosea’s earliest prophecies. This was at a time of great prosperity for both countries. Israel and Judah were at peace with each other and their major and ever threatening enemy Aram (Syria) were already weakened as a result of Assyrian depredations, so much so that 2 Kings 14.28 tells us that Jeroboam II ‘recovered -- Damascus for Israel.’ After his death it would finally be crushed by the Assyrians. Aram had thus been rendered helpless, no longer able to interfere with Israel in the way that they had in the not too distant past (2 Kings 8.12; 13.3, 22).
Consequently the northern kingdom of Israel had reason to be feeling very pleased with themselves. The tolls from the trade routes which passed through their territory were adding to their growing wealth, the weather was on the whole being kind to them resulting in good harvests, and the result was that many of the people, especially the upper classes, were growing wealthy, although, as so often, it was at the expense of the majority of the others. As a consequence of their prosperity they no doubt considered that the syncretistic religion that Jeroboam I had established at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12.26-33) had more than justified itself. How could all this prosperity possibly have happened if YHWH and the other gods whom they worshipped there were not pleased with them? (YHWH was the covenant Name of God (Genesis 13.4; Exodus 3.15), although no one knows how it should be pronounced because it was seen as too sacred to use. Thus the reader (and the versions) would substitute ‘LORD’ or ‘GOD’ when reading it out, and most translations have carried on the practise).
Unfortunately, however, there was also a bad side to all this in that they failed to see (as we so often do) the practical ways in which their lives were very far from pleasing to YHWH. Due to the fact that the debased Yahwism introduced by Jeroboam I in Israel had tended to override the covenant and become mingled with Baalism, their worship had become degraded, impure and syncretistic, YHWH was seen as almost just another nature god, and the laws of YHWH were being ignored, and this in spite of the fact that He had proved Himself by redeeming them from Egypt and giving them the land of the Amorites/Canaanites (2.9-10) having chosen them as His own special people (3.2). As so often in times of prosperity growing wealth had made people greedy for more and lacking in any consideration for others (2.6-7;8.4-6). It had become every family for itself. The old laws that had ensured that families retained their own tracts of family land through the centuries were being thrust to one side (see 1 Kings 21.1-16), and rich, greedy landowners had taken advantage of any bad times in order to foreclose on debts and loans made to the less well off in times of hardship, by taking over as much of the land as they could, ignoring the provisions that God’s law had laid out both for a generous policy with regard to loans, and for the eventual restoration of the land to its original owners (Deuteronomy 15.1-11). Greed for gold had made them override their brotherly concern for one another. While large numbers of YHWH’s people were living in dire poverty, the wealthy grew richer and richer. God was not pleased. (It is one of the quirks of human nature that the more we have, the more we want to hold on to it, or, of course, spend it on ourselves. Consequently instead of becoming generous we become possessive, and less concerned about the needs of others).
And yet, as so often with sinful man, they still thought that God would look out for them no matter how they behaved. Thus their very prosperity, often resulting from direct disobedience to YHWH’s covenant, had raised in their minds optimistic expectations that YHWH would shortly fulfil His great promises of the past, and would introduce for them a time of continuing prosperity and blessedness when all would be light and joy. They were looking forward gladly to ‘the day of YHWH’ promised by former prophets, the day when all would be set to rights and Israel through her anointed king would rule the world (e.g. Psalm 2.6-12; 22.22-31; 89.19-37).
It was into this world of naive optimism that Amos came in order to disillusion them. As a small cattle-breeder and dresser of sycamore-mulberry trees (7.14) living in Tekoa in Judah (1.1) YHWH had called him to go to Israel to show them just how far they were coming short of His requirements, and the consequent future that lay in store for them. He began by warning them that in all their prosperity they should recognise that YHWH was about to roar from Zion and speak from Jerusalem. Let them recognise that although they may have forgotten or diminished Him, He had not forgotten them and was aware of their sins. And the consequence would be that all their prosperity would disappear (1.2). Indeed while all the foreign nations around them would certainly be judged because of the way in which they had treated Israel and Judah (1.3-2.3), Judah, and especially Israel, were also to be judged, in their case in terms of their disobedience to His Law and covenant (2.4-6). They were therefore right in thinking that a Day of YHWH was coming, but wrong in what they were anticipating. That day would not be the kind that they were hoping for. For them it would be a day of darkness and not light (5.18), because God was going to bring severe judgment on His people, a judgment then expanded on in the following chapters.
Yet as always with YHWH, underneath His words there lay a call to repentance for any who would hear. It was for that reason that He sent His prophets. YHWH had no pleasure in punishing His people and rather desired that they would turn from their wickedness and live (5.4, 6a, 14-15).
The prophecy then closes with the promise that while His judgment certainly awaited them if they did not repent, that would not be allowed to thwart God’s purposes, for one day the house of David would be restored to what it once was with consequent blessing for Israel (9.11-15). He made apparent, however, that this would only be after it had first been preceded by severe judgment.
The Prophecy of Amos has an important lesson for us today. It warns us that unless our worship includes concern for social justice and a desire to help those less fortunate than ourselves, it is unacceptable to God, for what God requires, along with faith in Him, is that we be just and righteous, walking in obedience to His word, and showing due consideration for others. True spiritual worship must always go hand in hand with lives that show a practical concern for our fellow-man, because for us too a ‘day of YHWH’ is coming when Jesus Christ comes again in His glory, and in that day all will be judged, even though in different ways. We need therefore to be living in the light of that day so that it will be for us, not a day of darkness, but a day of light.
1.1 ‘The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen (cattle-breeders) of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.’
The heading is succint and presents us with full information containing source (Amos, a lowly cattle-breeder in Judah)), content (the words), occupation (cattle-breeder), the identity of those at whom his words were directed (‘Israel’, the northern kingdom in contrast with Judah), the period in which spoken (in the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam II), and even limits the commencement of his ministry to a particular year (two years before the earthquake). However, while his words may all have been delivered within a fairly short period we need not necessarily assume that they were all given at one time. The fact that his father’s name is not given points to him as having come from a lowly family.
While these opening words are basically unique to Amos, they can be compared with the opening words of other prophecies. The plural ‘words’ is found in Jeremiah 1.1 (compare also Proverbs 1.1). The idea of ‘seeing’ words (or a word from YHWH) can be paralleled with Isaiah 1.1; Micah 1.1. The idea of ‘seeing’ does not necessarily involve visions. It is used to indicate receiving, grasping and understanding divine revelation. Thus Amos wants us to recognise that his words were not of his own invention, but were revealed directly to him by YHWH.
The fact that his words began to be spoken two years prior to the massive earthquake that shook Israel and Judah (so large that its effect on the people was even remembered in the days of Zechariah (Zechariah 14.5) may indicate that that earthquake was to be seen as part of God’s judgments on them (many alive then would certainly have seen it that way, even if it did not have a lasting spiritual effect). Natural catastrophes, while not necessarily directly ‘caused’ by God in response to a particular situation, can certainly always be seen as reminders of God’s judgments, for creation was created in such a way that we would receive constant reminders of such judgments. They are a reminder that God is not only love (1 John 4.16), but also light (1 John 1.5). While God sends His rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5.45), He also similarly sends His earthquakes.
1.2 ‘And he said,
And it was one such judgment of God that Amos was declaring as about to happen. YHWH would roar from Zion and utter His voice from Jerusalem, and the result would be that even the most fruitful places would dry up. The pastures for sheep and other cattle would mourn because they had no rain (of great significance to a cattle-breeder), while the top of Mount Carmel, noted for its vegetation, would wither.
There is in these words a poignant reminder to Israel that the true Central Sanctuary was still in Jerusalem, and that it was, as it were, from there that He would ‘speak’, something backed up by the fact that Amos himself came from Judah. It was directing their minds back to the true worship of YHWH which they had so easily deserted, and reminding them of their need to turn back again to Him.
Seven Judgments Against The Neighbouring Nations, Including Judah (1.3-2.5).
The announcing of YHWH’s judgments on seven nations (including Judah) can be looked at in two ways. First it was an assurance to Israel that YHWH was watching over their basic interests and had observed the behaviour of the nations round about. By this he was gaining their interest. But even more importantly, as the inclusion of Judah brings out, Amos was cleverly gaining Israel’s consent to his message as they approved of what God was doing to those nations (we can see them nodding their heads with approval as each judgment is pronounced), with the result that when he suddenly slid the knife in and showed them that they too were coming under YHWH’s judgment his words would have hit home.
Lest Israel think that they were alone in coming under YHWH’s judgment Amos first outlined the judgment coming on the surrounding nations. It was a poignant reminder to them that in spite of their behaviour YHWH had been watching over their interests, in that He had noted the ill-treatment meted out to them by their neighbours. These were depicted in a sevenfold group of prophecies, each one following a similar pattern. The judgments would come respectively on Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab and, last but not least, Judah, and it is apparent from this that it includes all the nations immediately surrounding Israel. They were also the nations who either dwelt in the original inheritance given to Israel (Philistia, Aram, Tyre and Judah), or had had their land specifically given to them by YHWH (Edom, Ammon and Moab). They all came within YHWH’s sphere of activity (compare Psalm 60.8). Apart from Moab and Judah judgment was to come on them because of their continual bestial behaviour towards Israel. In the case of Moab it was for more general barbarism towards a related tribe. In the case of Judah it was because they had strayed from the Law of YHWH.
The nations in question were probably given in the order of the severity of the treatment that they meted out towards Israel and Judah, with Aram being the most severe, followed by Philistia and then Tyre, with Moab the least severe (nothing is in fact indicated about Moab’s behaviour towards Israel). Others have seen a geographical pattern commencing in the north east (Aram), moving to the south west (Philistia, with four cities involved), going up to the north east (Tyre), and finally dealing with the three small nations in the south east (Edom, Ammon, Moab). But all had to be included for the point of the oracles was of YHWH’s concern for the whole land that had been originally promised to Abraham and allocated to Israel, combined with the land of their acknowledged relatives, Edom, Moab and Ammon, which had specifically been given to those nations by YHWH for Lot’s sake (Deuteronomy 2.5, 9, 19). And the point was that that whole area was to be devastated because it had come short of YHWH’s most basic requirements. That is why all the nations bordering on Israel were included. YHWH’s judgments would not be restricted. They would be ‘universal’ to the whole area.
It will be noted that each description dealing with a nation commences with the refrain ‘thus says YHWH’. Nothing of what Amos warns about will come about accidentally Rather he is stressing that because YHWH has spoken, His word will actively go forth to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55.11) This declaration is then in each case followed by the reason why YHWH was acting. It was because of their multiplied transgressions. ‘For three transgressions, and for four, of --- I will not turn away their punishment because ---’. Three transgressions (three is the number of completeness) would be seen as fullness of transgression. To add a fourth was therefore to be excessive. It represented overflowing and continual transgression. The pattern then goes on to outline what they are being punished for (‘because --’), and in each case it is for some particularly heinous act of inhumanity of a type which would be condemned by all decent nations. This is then followed up with the threat of ‘fire’ on the transgressor, accompanied in all cases except Tyre, Edom and Judah by a further threat and a further assurance that it was what YHWH had spoken. The exception in the case of Tyre and Edom was probably in order to link Philistia, Tyre and Edom together because they were involved together in their inhuman slave-trading. Judah was excepted because it would still have a future. YHWH would not forget His covenant with David, therefore those who ‘held the sceptre’ would not finally be cut off in Judah’s case. ‘Fire’ was a regular means of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 16.13; Joshua 6.24; 8.8; 11.9), and may have included the thought that they were being ‘devoted as offerings to YHWH’ (compare Numbers 31.10; Deuteronomy 7.25-26; 12.3; Judges 1.8).
1). YHWH’s Judgment On Damascus (1.3-5).
YHWH’s judgment on Damascus, a city (representing Aram) which had proved through the years to be Israel’s most dangerous enemy, would be because of their continually cruel treatment of Gilead at the time when they had invaded Israel again and again, ‘threshing them with instruments of iron’. Gilead was the land east of Jordan which was especially vulnerable when the kings of Israel were weak, and was in the path of any Aramaean invasion from the north. The picture is of a huge threshing board with its iron teeth which was, as it were, being dragged over the helpless Gileadites.
Firstly YHWH has spoken against Damascus. Damascus was the capital city of Aram (Syria), with which a number of local Aramaean tribes were associated. Its ‘empire’ had had its beginnings in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 11.23-25). It thus represents the whole of Aram. They were the amalgamated people to the north of Israel, occupying land which had been designated to Israel, and who did so much damage to Israel before Assyria appeared on the scene. Three transgressions would indicate a complete number of transgressions. Four is therefore ‘over the top’. They had multiplied their transgressions against Israel. This was especially so in the case of their treatment of Gilead through which Aram had trampled again and again when invading Israel. Gilead, east of the Jordan, was an especial temptation to Aram when Israel were weak. The Aramaeans had slain the Gileadites mercilessly ‘threshing them with threshing instruments of iron’ (we might have said ‘mowing them down’ or ‘steamrollering over them’). The threshing instruments would have had points of iron attached to them for the purpose of separating the wheat from the chaff, and the picture is one of unyielding savagery, the swords of the Aramaeans no doubt doing the work of the iron teeth. The consequence of this was that Aram itself was similarly to suffer through the fires of judgment kindled by invading armies. As they had done, so would it be done to them. Benhadad was of the house of Hazael. Hazael had been the king who most assailed Israel (see 2 Kings 8.12; 10.32; 13.22), and both he, and Benhadad who followed him, suffered under the invading armies of Assyria. The burning of captured cities which resisted was common policy.
‘I will not turn away their punishment.’ Or ‘I will not reverse/revoke it (i.e. My punishment on them)’. The verb ’ashibenu can have a wide variety of meaning, the basic idea being ‘I will not turn it’.
The bar of Damascus was the great bar that held the gates of the city closed and prevented them from being opened from outside. Once that was broken access for the enemy would be simple. The valley of Aven may have been the Beqa Valley between Lebanon and anti-Lebanon. Thus both town and country would be affected. Furthermore the one who ruled in Eden would also be affected. This may refer to Beth-eden, the Bit-Adini of Assyrian records, which was a small state on the banks of the Euphrates south of Carchemish. ‘Damascus’ is thus seen as indicating all the local Aramaean tribes. No Aramaeans would escape.
After the desolation described, the people of Aram would be transported to Kir. Kir was the area from which they originally came (Amos 9.7), thus it was the equivalent of Israel being returned to Egypt. It was a sign that YHWH had ‘foreclosed’ on them. They would have lost their freedom, independence and separate identity. This policy of transportation was one for which the Assyrians (and later the Babylonians) were notorious.
2). YHWH’s Judgment On Philistia (1.6-8).
After Aram Israel’s next most dangerous enemy had been Philistia, which included the city states of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. Their border raids, during which they would take many captives in order to sell them as slaves, were a constant problem to the Israelites. For examples of their hostility see 2 Samuel 21.15-19; 1 Kings 16.15; 2 Kings 18.8; 2 Chronicles 21.16 ; 28.18. What was particularly heinous was the fact that the slave trade was a deliberate policy in itself, not just an adjunct to their general war-like activities. Whole towns were being enslaved. The failure to mention Gath indicates that Gath was at this time weak and ineffective, possibly still recovering from the depredations of Hazael (compare 6.2 and 2 Kings 12.17).
So secondly YHWH has spoken against Philistia. As with Aram the fullness of the transgression of Philistia is emphasised. They too were guilty of continually sinning against Israel in the foulest way, but in their case it was because they were making raids into Israel for the specific purpose of taking whole townships to be sold as slaves to Edom. It would appear that Edom had set up as a slave-trading nation (verses 6 and 9), and were orchestrating the trade in conjunction with Philistia and Tyre. Taking slaves in this way was seen as especially abominable by YHWH (Exodus 21.16). The consequence of their part in it was that that the walls and palaces of Gaza were to be burned with fire. As with Damascus and Aram, Gaza here represents the whole of Philistia as verse 8 makes clear.
But all the cities of Philistia were seen as involved in the slave cartel. The pattern of judgment on each of them thus follows that against the Aramaeans. The inhabitants of all the cities of Philistia would be cut off, along with their rulers, and the remnant of them would perish. In other words the destruction would be total. It is then confirmed again that this was the word of ‘the Lord YHWH’. Note the slight difference in expression introducing YHWH’s sovereignty. ‘The Lord YHWH’ is only found here in the sevenfold statement, but it is later a favourite expression of Amos (1.8; 3.7, 8, 11, 13; 4.2, 5; 5.3, 15; 7.1, 4, 6: 8.1).
3). YHWH’s Judgment On Tyre ( 1.9-10).
Israel’s third most dangerous enemy was Tyre. They had in the past had a close treaty relationship with Israel (e.g. under David, Solomon and Ahab. See 2 Samuel 5.11; 1 Kings 5.1, 11; 16.31), but this had broken down (possibly after Jehu slew Jezebel of Tyre) so that Tyre, like Philistia, had commenced raids over the border in order to seize whole towns for the purpose of selling them as slaves to Edom. It is clear that Edom had established a wholesale market in slaves, which was being fed by Philistia and Tyre. And they had each one chosen to do it to God’s people.
So thirdly YHWH has spoken against Tyre. In Tyre’s case their continual seizing of slaves out of Israel was seen as especially heinous because of their former good treaty relationship. They had forgotten ‘the brotherly covenant’ and had continually transgressed, not once or twice but time and again. They too, therefore, would in the future suffer the fires of judgment as their territory was invaded and their cities conquered. Such trading in slaves would later become a hallmark of the evil of Tyre (Joel 3.6; Ezekiel 27.13).
The omission of a final description of judgment and a concluding ‘word of YHWH’ here and in the case of Edom would appear to be in order to link Philistia, Tyre and Edom as combined together in the foul trade in human beings.
4). YHWH’s Judgment On Edom (1.11-12).
Philistia, Tyre and Edom were clearly joined together in a carefully organised slave-trading cartel, but note the growth in relative guilt as one follows the other. Philistia were at least not related to Israel, but Tyre was Israel’s longstanding treaty partner, and Edom was Israel’s brother!
So fourthly YHWH has spoken against Edom. We have already learned that Edom was the receiving market for Israelite slaves (verses 6 and 9), which were then probably sold on. But in their case it was especially heinous because they had a special ‘blood’ relationship with Judah/Israel in that they were their ‘brother’ tribe (Esau (Edom) and Jacob had originally been brothers). The ‘pursuing his brother with the sword’ and ‘casting off all pity’ probably has this slave trade in mind. While Philistia and Tyre were garnering slaves from the west, Edom were incessantly doing it from the south with particular vindictiveness. Alternately these phrases may refer to their continual harassment of Judah and Israel whenever they were weak and vulnerable, something which resulted from their continuing hatred and unyielding enmity (see 1 Samuel 14.47; 2 Samuel 8.12-14; 1 Kings 11.14-25; 2 Kings 8. 20-21; 14.7-10, 22). Either way it can be contrasted with the way in which Moses treated the Edomites when the Israelites first arrived from Egypt. He had treated them as brothers even when they had refused to let Israel pass along the King’s Highway (Numbers 20.14-21; 21.4). Once again the lack of closing comments indicates that Edom is to be seen as joined with Philistia and Tyre within YHWH’s sphere of judgment over this trade.
Their judgment too was to be one of fire, which would destroy Teman and devour the palaces of Bozrah. These two cities were probably especially involved in the slave trade, Bozrah on the King’s Highway as the receiving centre and Teman, the southernmost major city of Edom, as the despatching centre. Bozrah’s vaunted wealth would especially be targeted.
5). YHWH’s Judgment On Ammon (1.13-15).
‘The children of Ammon’, like Aram, had continually treated Gilead mercilessly. In order to enlarge their territory they had not only invaded Gilead but had deliberately targeted unborn babies. They had ‘ripped up the women with child’.
So fifthly YHWH has spoken against the Ammonites. ‘The children of Ammon’ (note the tribal designation in this case) were the least sophisticated of the nations around Israel/Judah and consisted mainly groups of half-wild tribesmen in the semi-wild land bordering on the desert. Their continual treatment of the women of Gilead (‘for three transgressions and for four’) was seen as especially appalling. The idea was of genocide in order that they could extend their borders. But for them it would result in the kindling of a fire and would result in devastation being brought on their capital city and on their splendid palaces. The picture is vivid and we can almost hear the shouting of the soldiers as they sack the city, and their deliberate kindling of the fire that would destroy the city. Rabbah was their only large city. The devastation would be similar to that of a fierce tempest in ‘the day of the whirlwind’. It would be horrendous. And the final consequence would be that their king and his princes would go into captivity, as YHWH had decreed. This last takes up the theme of ‘the one who holds the sceptre’ already commenced with Aram and Philistia (1.5, 8).
6). YHWH’s Judgment On Moab (2.1-3).
Unlike the remainder Moab are not condemned for any action against God’s people. Rather they are condemned for their deliberate desecration of the bones of the king of Edom. It was not honourable cremation that was being condemned, but an act of flagrant and vicious mistreatment of the dead (contrast 2 Kings 9.34 even of Jezebel). The idea was probably in order to prevent the possibility for him of decent burial (compare Isaiah 14.19-20) or even possibly to prevent his dimly surviving in a shadowy form in the underworld (see Ezekiel 32.18-32). We can compare Marcus Aurelius’ similar treatment of the Christian martyrs of Lyons, which was a foolish attempt to prevent their resurrection. It was an attempt to strike at the very root of YHWH’s final right to decide what became of men beyond the grave.
So sixthly YHWH has spoken against Moab, Ammon’s brother tribe. The fact that they would be punished for ‘three transgressions, and for four’, indicated that more was in mind than the sole desecration of the king of Edom’s body. That was rather selected out as an indication of their basic inhumanity in their continual warfare against Edom and Israel. The line of fortresses built between Moab and Edom was a reminder of their constant enmity. The description was possibly seen as also indicating similar atrocious treatment meted out to Israelites who were on Moab’s northern border, but it would certainly appear to have in mind an outstanding crime which had become a byword around that time, something seen as depicting the callousness and hardheartedness of Moab (compare 2 Kings 3.27 for another Moabite action which shocked Israel to the core) . Even the bloodthirsty Jehu had not been prepared to do anything like that to the body of a king’s daughter (2 Kings 9.34), even one so depraved as Ahab’s wife Jezebel. For a description of further vicious treatment of Israelites by Moab see Mesha’s boasts in the Moabite Stone. It is, however, especially significant that it was YHWH’s concern over the treatment of the king of Edom that was focused on. It emphasised YHWH’s position in Amos’s eyes as ‘Judge of all the earth’ (Genesis 18.25), and His watch over all the descendants of Abraham.
The consequence for Moab would be that the palaces in their capital city of Kerioth would be ‘devoured’, and Moab would be overwhelmed by a victorious army. This would include their king who as their ‘judge’ was responsible for ‘justice’ (an emphasis stressing the greatness of his subsequent crime) and all his princes. And this would be at the word of YHWH.
Thus as we come to the end of God’s dealings with the six nations on the borders of Israel/Judah we are presented with a picture of total judgment on the whole area, something largely carried out by the Assyrians, and finally fulfilled in later history. The delay in the coming of this judgment on these nations (for these transgressions had taken place over centuries) was presumably because their iniquity was not yet seen as ‘full’ (Genesis 15.16). They were still therefore being given time to repent. From Amos’s point of view it was a description of a ‘universal’ conflagration over all the land personally allocated by YHWH. This is one reason why the oracles must all be seen as given together. They are intended to present a total picture.
7). YHWH’s Judgment On Judah (2.4-5).
But while ‘YHWH’s people’ no doubt prided themselves on being superior morally to those round about, they were now to discover to their horror that they too would be subject to YHWH’s judgment. Thus the seventh of those who came under YHWH’s judgment (not including Israel) was Judah. Their crime is totally different from those that have gone before because they were an especially privileged people. But that did not mean that they would escape judgment. They saw themselves as different in that they had the Law of YHWH, and even boasted of the fact. But the truth was that it was this privilege that condemned them. They may not outwardly have sunk as low as the other nations, but their privileged position gave them a huge responsibility which they had failed to fulfil. They would be punished because they had rejected the Law of YHWH, had not kept His statutes, and had allowed themselves to be led astray by the lies in which their fathers had walked, the lies that had excused syncretistic worship and a softening of God’s requirements.
In the same way nominal Christians need to recognise that God requires more of them than He does of non-Christians. By taking the name of Christ they are committing themselves to a higher level of morality, the standard by which they will be judged.
So seventhly YHWH has spoken to Judah. Judah, like Israel, were the people who had been delivered out of Egypt and given the land of the Amorites (verses 9-10), and who had been given the Law of YHWH. Their crime, more heinous than all the rest, was that they had rejected that Law (Instruction) and had not kept His statutes. They had had great privilege and had failed. They had spoken lies and listened to lies, and those lies, which they had inherited from their fathers, had caused them to go astray. It is a reminder to us of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that we must hear His words and DO them (Matthew 7.21, 24, 26). We especially have been privileged to receive His instruction. If we do not obey them we too will face judgment, for it will be a sign that, whatever our claims, we have not accepted Him as our LORD Jesus Christ.
Thus while Judah had the Law of YHWH, and even the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, they shared the condemnation of the nations round about because their gross sin was their unwillingness to observe His revealed Law and obey it, and to worship truly in His holy Temple. Great privilege brings great responsibility. In consequence they also would similarly suffer the fires of judgment, and the wealth of Jerusalem would be devoured.
It will be noted again that Judah shares the shortened form previously followed in the cases of Tyre and Edom. In the case of Tyre and Edom that had been in order to link them with Philistia in their joint slave-trading operation. Here with Judah it may well have been in order to avoid any suggestion of the cessation of the house and sceptre of David which YHWH had promised would be ‘forever’.
Making Judah the seventh in the list alongside the foreign nations was a brilliant move. It demonstrated that disobedience to the covenant was equally as appalling as the other sins described and paralleled Israel’s own position in a way in which none of the other nations could. Moreover an Israel who probably felt that Judah saw itself as superior in that it had the YHWH approved Central Sanctuary and the house of David, would be only too willing to condemn their southern neighbour without thinking too much about what it involved for themselves. As Amos’ message was basically to northern Israel there is nothing incongruous in speaking of Judah here as separate from Israel, even though, as with all the prophets, in the end Amos saw Israel and Judah as one. As we shall see he can moves smoothly from the one position to the other to suit his convenience.
YHWH’s Judgment on Israel (2.6-16).
While this judgment on Israel certainly initially follows the previous sevenfold pattern it is distinctive in that it manifestly then goes on to break it. There is no mention in it of judgment by fire, which must be seen as deliberate. Amos clearly intended that we should recognise the message of the sevenfold declarations of judgment and then apply it as a whole to Israel. Israel also were to recognise that they could not separate themselves off from YHWH’s coming judgment, nor could they claim to be excluded from it on the grounds that they were not as bad as other nations, for the example of Judah was totally relevant to them. Indeed Judah were superior to them because they still held to the Central Sanctuary and acknowledged their responsibility to observe the covenant (even if they did not actually do it). Thus Israel were caught up in the condemnation of Judah We can almost see them as previously following Amos’s dissertation step by step and nodding at each stage, only to be brought up short, firstly by what he said about Judah, and then finally by its application to themselves. Thus Amos now wanted to expand on what he had prophesied and make clear that it was also applicable to themselves.
Examples Of Some Of Israel’s Transgressions (2.6-8).
He commenced his condemnation by outlining different ways in which they had broken YHWH’s Law (in the same way as Judah had done). They had flagrantly gone against His word.
Amos’s indictment of Israel was comprehensive and severe. While they were relaxing, enjoying their prosperity, Amos was determined to bring home to them the true position about themselves which was that although they thought that they were being religiously pleasing to YHWH, the fact was that all the time they were arousing His anger, even while they were worshipping.
The repetition of the introductory words ‘for three transgressions and for four’ demonstrated that he wanted them to apply what had previously been said to others to their own situation as well. They too had overflowed with transgressions. While they may not have directly indulged in the slave trade, they had undoubtedly equally sold men into slavery, for they had sold ‘the righteous’ for silver, and ‘the needy’, for a pair of shoes. In other words they had harshly foreclosed on debtors, selling them into bondage in order to obtain payment of their debts, when what they should have done was shown mercy (Deuteronomy 15.1-11). Consequently they too had been inhumane, and were slave traders in their own way. Note the reference to ‘the righteous’. This referred to those who did still seek to follow the Law of YHWH and to do what was ‘right’. And these were found mainly among the poor. Thus those whom YHWH truly loved were being mistreated, and all for the sake of silver.
The selling of the needy ‘for a pair of shoes’ may indicate the smallness of the debts for which they were sold (the value of a pair of shoes), or may be indicating that they had been sold off simply so that the vendors could obtain for themselves a pair of shoes, which otherwise they would had to expend their own money on. (It is unlikely to have in mind the symbolic use of the sandal in Deuteronomy 25.9-10; Ruth 4.8 because in those cases only one sandal was involved).
The social transgressions of Israel were then expanded on. They ‘pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor’. The picture is a vivid one and deliberately exaggerated. They are so greedy after land that they cannot even bear to see the poor workman walking away with soil on his hair without straining every sinew to obtain it. In other words they are determined to grab every bit of land available, however small, by fair means or foul, usually foul. (The amendment of the text in the MT to read ‘trample’ (reading suph rather than s’ph) is not necessary and is at the expense of this very vivid picture, although the final meaning is the same). Others see it as meaning that they pant to see the dust of the earth poured onto the head of the poor as deceitful judges give verdicts against them. Furthermore, they ‘turn aside the way of the meek’, that is, by arranging for them not to receive justice in respect of their tiny bits of land (compare Proverbs 17.23). In Israel it was the meek who should have inherited the land (Psalm 37.11), but instead the land-grabbers were busy at work, and they did not mind how they got what they wanted. All this was contrary to Deuteronomy 15.1-11.
Then followed a list of further specific transgressions of the Law :
This may refer to both father and son sharing the same cult prostitute (so prominent a feature of Baalism), or the misuse by both of a helpless servant girl, or a father insisting on his right as head of the family to have sex with his son’s wife, or a son marrying his deceased father’s beautiful young second wife. Whichever way it was, it was contrary to the Law which banned such behaviour (Leviticus 18.15; 20.12; Deuteronomy 22.30) and also protected servant girls (Exodus 21.7-11; Deuteronomy 22.28-30). Note that this kind of sin above all was seen as so abhorrent that it profaned YHWH’s holy Name (consider the similar phrase in Leviticus 18.21 which was clearly seen by Amos as covering all the previous verses). It is a reminder of how seriously God treats sexual sins.
An outer robe taken in pledge from a poor man had to be returned to its owner for his use at night (Exodus 22.25-27; Deuteronomy 24.12), and in some cases must not be taken at all (Deuteronomy 24.17). But these people were so sinful that they flagrantly presented themselves before God at nightfall at the feasts, laying down before the altar wearing these very garments that they had taken in pledge. They thus (without meaning too, it was all done callously) flaunted their disobedience before YHWH at a time when they fondly believed that they were honouring Him.
The purpose of fining was in order to make restitution to the victim (Exodus 21.19, 30, 34; 22.14; Deuteronomy 22.19). But here these Israelites were using the fines to finance their own drinking habit rather than in compensating the victim. And they were doing it in the very house of God. ‘Their God’ may be Amos’s way of indicating that the god that they worshipped was not the real YHWH at all.
They Had Transgressed In Spite Of All That YHWH Had Done For Them (2.9-12).
YHWH then described how great their debt was to Him. The land over which they were transgressing was the very land which He had graciously given to them, land which had belonged to the Amorites (Canaanites) whom He had destroyed before them, and it was in order to give them this land that He had brought them out of Egypt. How careful then they should have been to see that they used that land in accordance with His commandments. Furthermore they had no excuse for he had given them prophets and Nazirites to guide them in the right way. But what had they done? They had forbidden the prophets to prophesy, and had made the Nazirites break their vows (Numbers 6.3). Thus they had misused all YHWH’s gifts, and scorned His provision.
We also have been given both physical and spiritual provision by God, and the question also for us is as to whether we use it generously and sincerely, or whether we misuse our material possessions and neglect our spiritual provision.
2.9 “Yet I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks, yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.”
YHWH now describes how it was He Who had destroyed ‘the Amorite’ from before them. In this context ‘Amorite’ is parallel in use to ‘Canaanite’ and includes all the inhabitants of Canaan. Those whose height had been ‘like the height of cedars’ were the sons of the Anakim which they had come across in Hebron and the mountains of Judah (Numbers 13.32-33; Joshua 15.14). And God had given Israel victory over them (the whole of Israel including Judah is in mind here), attacking them from every angle, as a tree-specialist attacks both the seed producing flowers and the roots of trees in order to prevent them spreading. He had done a total annihilation job on them.
The Amorites were destroyed when after centuries of gross sin their iniquities had come to the full (Genesis 15.16). There is probably a suggestion here that Israel’s iniquities were now similarly coming to a full.
2.10 “Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.”
And even before that He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, and had led them for forty years in the wilderness, watching over them and protecting them, feeding them and healing them. And this had been precisely so that they could possess the land of the Amorites. Thus it had been a carefully thought out plan which had been carried through effectively over a long period.
Note the sudden switch to ‘you’ to make the words more direct and personal. He does not want them to think of it just in the third person.
2.11 “And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not even thus, O you children of Israel? says YHWH?”
And after that initial period of bringing forth and leading, in order to help them to keep faithful He had raised up from among them numerous prophets and Nazirites. Prophets were those raised by YHWH to bring to them ‘the word of YHWH’. These had included Moses, Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, and many other men of God (described, for example, in Kings and Chronicles). Nazirites were men who were especially dedicated to YHWH, and were thus by their lives witnesses to His holiness (Numbers 6.1 onwards). Examples of such were Samson and Samuel (Judges 13.5; 1 Samuel 1.11).
2.12 “But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘Do not prophesy’.”
But instead of benefiting by YHWH’s provision they had sought to get the Nazirites drunk in contravention of their vows, and had silenced the prophets, telling them not to prophesy. They had not wanted a good example, nor to hear the true word of YHWH. This applies whether the Nazirites were willing or not. Thus they had deliberately repudiated YHWH by silencing His messengers in one way or the other.
The Certainty of His Judgment On Israel. It Will Be Such That It Will Be Inescapable (2.13-16).
Israel’s judgment is now described in terms of being run over by a heavy cart, fully loaded, and it will be something from which there will be no escape. They will find themselves face to face with YHWH’s steamroller. As a result they will find themselves fading in strength, and discover that neither their armaments nor their speed of foot nor their horses will save them. Even the most courageous warrior, will flee in panic in that day.
2.13 “Behold, I will press you in your place, as a cart presses that is full of sheaves.”
In the day of His judgment they will be squashed under the wheels of YHWH’s anger, in the same way as a cart that is full of sheaves, and therefore very heavy, squashes anything that gets in its way, or tears up the ill-prepared road. Alternately the idea may be that they will get bogged down, as a cart that is full of sheaves gets bogged down on the ill-made road.
2.14 “And flight will perish from the swift, and the strong will not strengthen his force, nor will the mighty deliver himself,”
Nor will any natural advantage be of any use in that day, for the judgment will be inevitable on all. The swift runners will discover that they are too weak to run, those who are strong will be unable to call on their strength and make it work for them, and even the mighty warrior, or those mighty enough to employ powerful bodyguards, will be unable to deliver themselves, because of YHWH’s displeasure at them. Note the contrast with Isaiah 41.28-31 for those with whom YHWH is pleased.
2.15 “Nor will he stand who handles the bow, and he who is swift of foot will not deliver himself, nor will he who rides the horse deliver himself,”
The bowman will discover in that day that his bow is of little use to him when he is on the run. The swift of foot will discover that they are not speedy enough to avoid YHWH’s judgment. Those who have horses to flee on will discover that it will not avail them. They will be unable to deliver themselves. Once YHWH moves in to punish them, all their protective methods in which they have trusted will prove in vain.
2.16 “And he who is courageous among the mighty will flee away naked in that day, says YHWH.”
And even the bravest among the mighty warriors will flee in that day, flinging their armour and robes from them so that they can flee faster. But they will flee in vain (verse 15). And it is a day that is certain for it is confirmed by the word of YHWH.
In fact on the death of Jeroboam II things would rapidly come to a head, and it would not be many years (another forty years or so) before Samaria would be in ruins, and the cream of the people would be transported to Assyria and Media (2 Kings 17.6; 15.29). The people no doubt thought that Amos was exaggerating. But they would soon discover that his words were only too true.
The Inevitability Of Judgment, Both Because Of What YHWH Is, And Because He Will Act (3.1-10).
Following up on the idea in 2.9-10 Amos commences this section of his prophecy (introduced by ‘hear this word’ compare 4.1; 5.1), with a reminder of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and YHWH’s subsequent covenant with them at Sinai, which are the consequence of His having especially chosen them by entering into a covenant relationship with them (by His having ‘known them’), and emphasises the fact that One Who has revealed the fullness of His moral requirements in such a way must inevitably judge those who, having embraced them, ignored them. That is why Israel can be more certain of judgment than all the others who had previously been condemned in his sevenfold condemnation.
He then follows this declaration up with a list of contrasts which draw attention to the fact that each thing has its consequence, and the examples are carefully constructed to convey an important message. Thus two (a moral YHWH and a disobedient Israel) cannot walk together unless they are in agreement, which they patently are not. That is why YHWH is like a lion roaring over its prey (verses 4, 8), in contrast with Israel who are like a twittering bird caught in YHWH’s snare (verse 5). And it is all because they are not walking in agreement. The people in the city hear the ram’s horn warning of danger, and are consequently afraid, thinking that the danger comes from an external source, while all the time the evil will come on them because YHWH, Who is like a lion towards those who behave wrongly, is responsible for what will happen to them (verse 6). And all this He has revealed to His servants the prophets, with whom He is in agreement.
Foreign nations are then called on to witness what was to happen to YHWH’s people because they had failed to do what was right (verses 9-10), for even pagan nations will recognise the depths of their sinfulness in treating YHWH as they have. The consequence will be that they will soon find themselves surrounded by enemies (verse 11). Like a lion YHWH is about to eat up His erring people (verse 12), and the scraps will be there to prove that it has happened.
The passage finally closes with a declaration that as a consequence YHWH will bring judgment on the false altars at Bethel, and on the palaces and mansions of the wealthy, because both of these are evidence of Israel’s failure to fulfil the covenant. And all this is as a result of the word of YHWH (‘says YHWH’).
The Covenant Relationship Between YHWH And His People (3.1-8).
The covenant relationship between YHWH and His people is revealed in this carefully constructed passage in which there is constant reference to that relationship in one way or another. It can be analysed as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ YHWH has spoken His word against the whole family (Israel and Judah) whom He brought out of the land of Egypt, and in the parallel the Lion has roared, for the Lord YHWH has spoken. In ‘b’ the special relationship between YHWH and His people is emphasised, and in the parallel the special relationship between YHWH and His prophets. In ‘c’ for two to walk together they must be in agreement, and in the parallel the now disobedient people are afraid and it is YHWH Who has done it (because they were no longer in agreement). Centrally in ‘d’ we have a picture of the Lion Who has taken His prey, Who is contrasted with the people who like birds have fallen into the snare.
The Call For Israel To Consider YHWH’s Special Relationship With Them A Relationship Which Makes Special Demands Upon Them (3.1-2).
3.1-2 “Hear this word that YHWH has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth.’ Therefore I will visit on you all your iniquities.”
‘Hear this word that YHWH has spoken ---’ emphasises the seriousness of what he is about to say, and introduces a new oracle. What YHWH has spoken will surely come about. The language in these verses connects the children of Israel up with Exodus 20.2, ‘I am YHWH your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt’, and thus with the covenant of Sinai. Furthermore at that time YHWH had seen them as ‘My son, My firstborn’ (Exodus 4.22). They were His family (Deuteronomy 14.1 - ‘you are the sons of YHWH your God’). They were to be ‘My own treasured possession among all peoples’ (Exodus 19.5). And He had ‘known them’ (Genesis 18.19) uniquely out of ‘all the families of the earth’ (Genesis 12.3; 28.14 -both Judah and Israel are now in mind) in order that they might be a blessing to the world. They may have considered that that put them in a privileged position, a position which made them feel superior, and to a certain extent it was true, but YHWH wanted them to know that it in fact put them in a dangerous position. For how can two (YHWH and Israel) walk together except they be agreed? Thus it was precisely because they were His chosen and elect people that He would visit on them ‘all their iniquities’ which were to be seen as totally inexcusable in those whom YHWH has chosen. They above all were seen to be without excuse.
‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth.’ This phrase ties up very much with YHWH’s first call to Abraham. His purpose then had been that through His ‘knowing’ Abraham ‘all the families of the earth’ would be blessed (see Genesis 12.3 combined with 18.19). And this was later confirmed to Israel (Jacob) in Genesis 28.14 which indicates that ‘all the families of the earth’ are waiting for the blessing that will come on them through Abraham’s and Israel’s (Jacob’s) seed. And that would be because of YHWH’s special ‘knowing’ of Abraham, and through him his seed (see Genesis 18.19). And in Genesis 18.19 we are told that YHWH had distinctively ‘known’ Abraham with the express understanding that he would command his children and his household, and their descendants, to keep the way of YHWH, and to do justice and righteousness, so that by that means they might be a blessing to all the families of the earth. In other words such elective knowledge by YHWH made great demands on them. And it was through obedient response to those demands that blessing should have come on all the families of the earth. That was why their disobedience was so heinous.
In the same way we who are ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit unto the obedience of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of His blood’ (1 Peter 1.1-2) are bound to that obedience, and those who have been ‘chosen in Him before the foundation of the world’ have been so in order that they may be ‘holy and without blame before Him in love’ (Ephesians 1.4). It puts us under a great responsibility.
A Series Of Questions In Which Israel Are Asked To Consider The Consequences Of Their Situation (3.3-8).
Some see these question as simply illustrating cause and effect from everyday examples, with the aim of seeking to obtain a negative reply from each question until at last Amos suddenly puts in the crunch question (verse 6b). And for some of his listeners that might well have been how they saw it. (Each receives what he is willing to hear). But when we consider that Amos had initially opened his prophecy with a reference to YHWH as acting like a lion (‘YHWH will roar from ZION, and utter His voice from Jerusalem’ - 1.2), and applies a similar parallel in 3.8 (the lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord YHWH has spoken who can but prophesy?’), the context demands that we see in them more than that. The roaring of the lion must surely be seen as indicating that YHWH was speaking to his people. And what more effective picture of the future of sinful Israel than that of a frightened bird caught in a snare? Thus we see each question as being pregnant with significance in the context. With this in mind let us first look at them as a whole.
Like the parables of Jesus the questions at first appear to be dealing with commonplaces, but once we pierce underneath them we discover that each line has a special significance in context. How can YHWH and Israel walk together unless they are in agreement? Does not the roaring of YHWH indicate that a prey has been caught (Israel). Will not the fall of Israel indicate that a snare had been set for them by YHWH? Can His snare fail in the accomplishing of His purpose, the ensnaring of Israel?
The final two lines then apply the ‘hidden’ meaning more openly as they draw attention to the besieging of a city. The sounding of the ram’s horn is a signal of danger threatening, warning all to flee to the refuge of the city. And when evil comes on a city it is the sign that YHWH is active against it. Thus what is to happen to Israel will be proof positive that it is YHWH Who is acting against them. With this in mind we shall therefore consider the statements line by line:
3.3 “Will two walk together, except they have agreed?”
While this is certainly a general saying indicating the importance of two people agreeing if they are to walk together, for it is true that no two people will continually stay together unless they are at one with each other, in context its significance goes much deeper than that. For in the light of verses 1-2 YHWH is pointing out that He and His people cannot walk together in the covenant, in spite of His ‘knowing’ them, unless they are both in agreement about the need to walk together. Indeed His purpose in ‘knowing’ them had specifically been in order that they might walk in agreement with Him. And that they are not in such agreement has come out by the fact of their iniquities.
‘Walking with or before YHWH’ is a regular Scriptural picture of His people walking in obedience with or before Him. Consider, for example, Genesis 5.24; 6.9; 17.1; Leviticus 26.12, 27-28; Deuteronomy 11.22; 13.4; 23.14; 1 Samuel 2.30, 35; 2 Samuel 7.7; 1 Kings 2.4; 8.25; 9.4. And the idea of ‘walking in His ways’ appears more times than we could mention. Thus what is in mind here is that YHWH and His people cannot walk together, because His people are walking in iniquity.
In other words, referring back to verses 1-2, Amos is pointing out that if they had wished to enjoy the blessing of being ‘known’ by YHWH as Abraham had been, they should have walked with Him with a like mind and a similar obedience, instead of walking in the way of iniquity. And it was because of those iniquities that YHWH could no longer walk with them. Their sinfulness had made it impossible. For those people whom YHWH has ‘known’ do walk in His ways, as Abraham did. (In the words of Jesus, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me ---’ (John 10.28)).
With 1.2 in mind this is pointing out that YHWH would not have roared from Zion had He not had a prey in mind. Nor would He have roared through His prophets unless He had intended to fulfil what they said (3.7). Thus the fact that YHWH is now roaring at them demonstrates that He sees them as a prey which He has taken, and means that they should therefore consider that that in itself demonstrated their precarious position.
Thus Israel should consider that the fact that they are to be taken in a snare is proof positive that it is YHWH Who has set a snare for them, and that when that snare is sprung it will not fail to catch its prey (of course earthly hunters regularly came across snares which had been sprung and had taken nothing, but Amos’s point is that it will not happen with the divine Hunter). In other words their coming fall is inevitable.
The sudden intensification in thought that occurs here is brought out by a change in the interrogative particle to ’im from ha. Now we are getting down to the patent facts. The blowing of a ram’s horn in a city for no apparent reason would immediately strike fear into the hearts of those who heard it (compare 1 Kings 1.41). In those days no one blew a ram’s horn for fun. It was a serious matter. And if it was unexpected (and not the regular blowing of rams’ horns at a suitable feast) it clearly indicated danger, and people would be afraid. Those within the city would know that they should prepare for siege. Those outside the city would know that they should flee into the city for refuge. And in the same way now that YHWH was blowing His ram’s horn through his prophets Israel would do well to fear (‘the lion has roared, who will not fear?’ - verse 8). Let them then listen to Amos’s warning. Let them recognise that the evil that he has prophesied against Israel will actually be due to the activity of YHWH and will certainly come upon them. Indeed nothing happens without YHWH’s say-so, for all is under His control, so that they will then know that it is YHWH Who has acted against them.
He Assures Them That YHWH Does Nothing Without Revealing It To His Servants the Prophets So That They Need Not Be Caught Totally By Surprise By His Actions. However As YHWH Has Spoken Through The Prophets They Would Do Well To Take Heed (3.7-8).
Nevertheless he stresses that YHWH always gives forewarning. He never does anything without revealing it to His servants the prophets, and that with the intention of winning His people to repentance. And that is what He has done here. He has roared from Jerusalem (1.2). Should they not then be afraid? And it is because YHWH has spoken that the prophets must prophesy, even when forbidden to do so. It is Amos’s justification of his presence in Israel.
3.7 “Surely the Lord YHWH will do nothing, except he reveal his secret to his servants the prophets.”
These words stress the fairness and nobility of YHWH. While he owes men nothing, nevertheless He never does anything without giving due warning. Indeed that is why He has sent prophets. It was precisely in order to give warning so that men may have the opportunity to repent.
‘His servants the prophets.’ The phrase occurs a number of times in 2 Kings and regularly in Jeremiah. It occurs on the lips of the young prophet sent by Elisha on his approach to Jehu to prepare him for kingship (2 Kings 9.7), and in 2 Kings 17.13, 23 it is assumed as regularly used by prophets and seers prior to the fall of Samaria. There are no good grounds for denying it to Amos, (nor incidentally for calling it ‘Deuteronomic’).
3.8 “The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord YHWH has spoken, who can but prophesy?”
And in this present situation let his hearers be in no doubt. YHWH has roared (1.2), should they not then be afraid? And the Sovereign YHWH has spoken, and therefore His prophets must prophesy. Both are constrained, the people by fear and the prophets by YHWH. That is why he, a Judaean, has come from Judah bearing the burden of the Lord’s message. It is because he has been constrained by YHWH.
Amos Puts Israel On Trial Before YHWH In The Presence Of Witnesses (3.9-15).
Amos begins by calling his witnesses together in verses 9-10, giving his grounds for doing so, and then declaring YHWH’s own verdict on Israel in verses 11-12 which describe the consequences that are to come on Israel as a result of their behaviour. This is then confirmed in verse 13-15 which also make clear more grounds for Israel’s punishment. Note how they connect back to 2.6.
Amos Calls On Foreign Peoples To Witness What Is To Happen To Israel, And Why (3.9-10).
Amos calls on the influential and the wealthy (those who live in palaces) in places like Egypt and Ashdod to assemble on the mountains of Samaria to witness for themselves what is happening in Israel, and what violence and oppression is taking place in Samaria. And it is because the people who live in palaces in Samaria are not ‘doing right’ (walking in accordance with His requirements), as is evidenced by their violence and the way in which they rob the poor.
3.9 “Publish you in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria, and behold what great tumults are in it, and what oppressions amongst it.”
The call goes out to the palaces in Ashdod, an important Philistine city state, and to the palaces in the land of Egypt, for the wealthy and influential to gather as witnesses on the mountains of Samaria. YHWH is both seeking vindication for what He is about to do, and giving them their own warning as well. And they are being called on to consider the social conditions prevailing in prosperous Samaria, so as to justify YHWH’s action. It is a city of inexcusable violence, as the wealthy obtain what they want by force, and a city of oppressions, as the poor and helpless are swindled out of their possessions.
Ashdod has already been mentioned in 1.8 and was presumably selected because it was the largest and most important of the city states in Philistia. (Note how Gaza had represented the whole of Philistia in 1.6 and Damascus the whole of Aram in 1.3. Thus the naming of a city as indicating also its wider area is typical of Amos). Its mention emphasises that the witnesses are not themselves unblemished, for Ashdod has already been condemned (1.8). And yet even they will be appalled at the behaviour in Samaria. Egypt was called on because it was seen as of especial political importance, and as an external witness. It was not directly involved in the sins of Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations as described in chapters 1-2. It was also possibly called on as the place from which Israel had emerged (verse 1).
While LXX alters ‘Ashdod’ here to ‘Assyria’, presumably seeing it as a better parallel with Egypt, that is clearly wrong for two reasons. Firstly because it is Assyria who are to be the instruments of YHWH’s judgments, and Amos always avoids mentioning them, leaving the threat that they pose to the imagination, and secondly because Amos was looking around for witnesses near at hand, who had a political interest in the area. We might not see Ashdod as important from our distant perspective, but to Amos it was mighty Ashdod, representing the whole of Philistia. And along with Egypt it was conveniently situated to be called in as a witness in Samaria. Egypt had always been involved in Canaanite affairs, and in this case it was an independent witness (it has not previously been mentioned), and was important as the source from which Israel had come (verse 1).
(If we argue that Amos did not know who YHWH’s instrument of punishment would be because Assyria was not yet looming on the horizon as an important factor, we must then further conclude that in his eye they were not important enough to mention here. We cannot have it both ways).
The plural ‘mountains of Samaria’ emphasises that all Samaria is involved. What is described is going on everywhere.
3.10 “For they know not to do right, says YHWH, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.”
What the two witnesses were to witness to was the failure of Israel to do what was ‘right’, in other words, what was in accordance with the Law of YHWH, something especially demonstrated by the influential and wealthy inhabitants in their use of violence and dishonest techniques in order to get what they wanted (as outlined in 2.6-8). They could afford to employ bully boys, and had the influence to manipulate justice, thereby robbing the poor of their rights.
YHWH’s Verdict On Israel (3.11-12).
YHWH’s verdict on Israel is that an adversary will appear who will bring down Israel’s strength and plunder her palaces, and he then vividly portrays the consequences for Israel in that all that will be left of the wealthy and influential in Israel are ‘two legs and a piece of ear’.
3.11 “Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH. An adversary, even round about the land, and he will bring down your strength from you, and your palaces will be plundered.’
The consequence of Israel’s sin, and of YHWH’s intervention in her affairs, will be that they will have an adversary round about. The thought is of an invader who will occupy the land and surround Samaria. But the stress is on what that adversary will do. He will bring down their strength from them and will plunder their palaces (thus Samaria will fall). For ‘bring down their strength compare Leviticus 29.19, ‘I will break down the strength of your pride’. It may signify the smashing of their military strength, or the taking away of those things that they saw as making them ‘strong’. The plundering of their palaces is a case of them reaping what they have sowed, for they have plundered the poor.
3.12 “Thus says YHWH. As the shepherd rescues out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so will the children of Israel be rescued who sit in Samaria in the corner of a couch, and on the silken cushions of a bed.”
Amos then vividly portrays the hugeness of the disaster that will come on them in terms of what will be left of them once the Lion had finished with them. It was important for a shepherd to rescue parts of a sheep stolen by a lion so that he could prove what had happened to it, and that he himself had not stolen it. By producing parts of the animal he proved his innocence for the loss, even if it was only two legs or a piece of ear (Exodus 22.10-13). In the same way all that would be left of those who lived in luxury in Israel once YHWH had finished with them would be similar fragments, which would be evidence of what had happened to Israel.
It is possible that we should translate ‘with a corner of a couch and the leg of a bed’ (the meaning of the word for ‘leg’ or ‘silken cushions’ is uncertain). This would be a good parallel to the two legs and the piece of an ear of the dead sheep, demonstrating all that would be left of the Israelites.
The Witnesses Are Called On To Testify Against The House Of Jacob On The Basis Of What YHWH Will Do To The Instruments of Israel’s Sins (3.13-15).
Reference is probably being made here to the witnesses assembled in verse 9. As a result of what they have seen they are to testify against Israel. What they will have seen is then described. It will be punishment for Israel’s transgressions (compare 2.6), the cutting off of the horns of the false altars (thus rendering them useless), and the smiting of the luxury accommodation of the wealthy.
3.13 “Hear you, and testify against the house of Jacob, says the Lord YHWH, the God of hosts.”
The call here must surely be to the witnesses assembled in verse 9. They are to listen to what YHWH has said and testify against ‘the house of Jacob’, which is of course another name for Israel (Jacob was also called Israel), and they are to do it at the command of YHWH, the sovereign Lord and God of Hosts (in this context the God of ALL hosts, even the hosts of Assyria) on the basis of what they see as taking place.
The description of Israel as ‘the house of Jacob’ linked them back to the promises given to the patriarchs which required that those benefiting by those promises must be righteous and just. Because of YHWH’s special ‘knowing’ of Abraham, and through him his seed (3.2; see Genesis 18.19), YHWH expected that Abraham (and his seed) would command his children and his household, and their descendants, to keep the way of YHWH, and to do justice and righteousness, so that by that means they might be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Thus that was what was expected of ‘the house of Jacob’ (Genesis 28.14), and it was what they had deliberately failed to achieve by their disobedience to the covenant.
The use of the name Jacob is interesting in Amos as it is used to emphasise what is worst in Israel, and how puny they are, and is spread throughout the book in a chiastic pattern which surely cannot be accidental. This emphasises the unity of the book. Thus we have:
It will be noted how carefully the phrases are balanced as the argument goes forward.
3.14 “For in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel on him, I will also visit the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar will be cut off, and fall to the ground.”
For what these witnesses see will be YHWH’s due punishment on Israel for its transgressions (as outlined in 2.6 onwards). Included under the heading of these transgressions are the false altars of Bethel, where false syncretistic worship (Yahwism intermingled with Baalism) was being carried out. The very fact that there were plural altars increases the condemnation. Other gods apart from YHWH were being worshipped. And these altars would be rendered ineffective by having their horns (their sources of power, as the horns of a wild-ox were its source of power) cut off, so that the horns fell to the ground. Their power would be humbled before YHWH, and only a stump of the altar would be left (compare what happened to Dagon in 1 Samuel 5.1-5). A number of altars having these ‘horns’ or projections have been discovered in Palestine.
The horns of the altar were also the place where people could find a place of refuge so that they would be safe until they had had fair judgment (1 Kings 1.51). But this power would be removed from these altars because they represented false gods.
3.15 And I will smite the winter-house with the summer-house; and the houses of ivory will perish, and the great houses will have an end, says YHWH.”
And along with the destruction of the false altars, would go the destruction of all Samaria’s luxury accommodation, including both winter houses and summer houses (the height of luxury), houses with panels inlaid with ivory and containing ivory inlaid furniture (compare 1 Kings 22.39), and all the other grand houses. All would ‘have an end, and that as a result of the word of YHWH.
Excavations in Samaria have laid bare many examples of such ‘ivory inlaid’ houses.
Two Indictments Of The People Which Will Result In A Series Of Chastisements (4.1-13).
A new oracle now begins with the words ‘hear this word ---’ (compare 3.1; 5.1) and consists of indictments, first on the wealthy women of Israel (4.1-3), and then on all of Israel who are not true to YHWH (4.4-5). It then follows these up with a series of chastisements which are either a reflection of their past, or are something which will come on them, each of which closes with the phrase ‘yet you have not returned to Me, says YHWH’ (4.6-11). Finally it closes with a warning of what YHWH will now bring upon them, as he declares to them ‘prepare to meet your God O Israel’ (4.12-13), which in the context means, ‘Get ready for what is coming on you from YHWH as you face His judgment’.
Oracle Of Warning To The Wealthy Women Of Samaria (4.1-3).
We can tend to forget that the women of Israel/Judah were regularly equally guilty with the men, but the prophets never forgot it, for they saw it before their very eyes (compare Isaiah’s vivid word picture in Isaiah 3.16-4.1; 32.9-12). It was often the wives of the wealthy who pressed their demands on their husbands, causing them to oppress the poor, thereby becoming oppressors of the poor themselves. Here they are described as ‘cows of Bashan’, in other words as sleek, fattened and over-nourished. There may also be in this a hint of how they clamoured around Baal who was often portrayed in the form of a bull, as cows in heat gather round a bull.
4.1 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their lords, ‘Bring, and let us drink.’ ”
Bashan was noted for its well fed cows and its rich pasturage thus providing an apt picture of the wealthy women of Samaria, accentuated by the fact that, like sleek fat cows they gathered round the Bull (Baal) in the same way as did their husbands (verse 4). But here the main indictment is what resulted from that. Ignoring the Law of YHWH they oppressed the poor, and crushed the needy in order to enjoy their luxuries, and indulged themselves in much wine. In other words they were equally to blame for the violence and injustice meted out by their husbands, while they themselves lived lives of indolence and insobriety.
The mixture of masculine and feminine in the verses may, however, suggest that all the wealthy, both men and women, were in mind, the idea of them as ‘cows’ being connected to their attitude towards Baal (the Bull). On the other hand ‘who say to their lords’ might be seen as favouring a feminine reference, unless we see that phrase as deliberately contrasting with ‘the Lord YHWH’, with ‘lords’ signifying either the corrupt leaders of Samaria or Baal and other gods. The contrast applies in any case, indicating that whoever is in mind are looking to the wrong ‘lord’.
4.2 “The Lord YHWH has sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days will come on you, that they will take you away with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks.”
But all this was shortly to end, for the One Who is Sovereign over all, the LORD YHWH (in contrast with their ‘lords’ - verse 1), had made an oath ‘by his holiness’ (He swore by His own holiness because He was appalled at their unholiness) that the days were coming on them when they would be taken away with hooks, and then what remained of them with fish-hooks. The vivid picture is partly metaphorical (they would be caught as men catch fish), but it is also partly intended literally, for the Assyrians did regularly put hooks through the noses of their captives as they transported them to other lands (evidenced on inscriptions in the case, for example, of the Pharaoh Tirhakah).
If we see it as signifying ‘meat hooks’ (for carcasses) and ‘fish hooks’ (for fishing), we may see it as indicating that some would be carried off as dead carcasses, while others would be taken alive on the rod. But the use of hooks by the Assyrians suggests that the unpleasant road to exile is very much in mind.
“The Lord YHWH has sworn by his holiness.” Compare Psalm 89.35. It was a guarantee in His ‘set apartness’ (His uniqueness and righteousness), of His faithful fulfilling of His covenant, even the unwelcome parts.
4.3 “And you will go out at the breaches, every one straight before her, and you will cast (yourselves) into Harmon, says YHWH.”
And while the walls of Samaria might appear to them to be strong and unbreachable, those walls would be beached and they themselves would be carried off as captives through the breaches in the walls. There would be no need for the use of gates. They would be led off straight ahead. For the broken down walls of Samaria would by then be full of unofficial exits.
“And you will cause (yourselves) to be cast (hiphil - or ‘be caused to be cast’ - hophal) into Harmon, says YHWH.” We are not certain what ha harmonah, which appears only here, refers to, but it may well have been a well known place near Samaria for the casting of rubbish like the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. It is unwise to emend a text simply because our present modern knowledge is not sufficient to provide an explanation. Suggestions made have included ‘Mount Hermon’, which would require har hermon (although ha hermon would be possible, although found nowhere else, but the problem is still the lack of the end ‘h’), or connection with Ugaritic hrnm which might then signify Hermel, near Kadesh on the Orontes River. It is probably best to see it as denoting some place which would cause the ladies to wrinkle up their noses.
Oracle of Warning To All The Children Of Israel (4.4-5).
Amos constantly attacks Israel on two major subjects, false worship and social injustice. In verses 1-3 he has attacked social injustice. Now in verse 4-5 he again attacks false worship and idolatry. He points out that the superficial and syncretistic worship at the main sanctuaries in Israel is not pleasing to YHWH, and that their very acts of worship were acts of transgression. For while outwardly YHWH was worshipped there it was more as the equivalent of a nature god, whilst His worship was confused with Baalism. Furthermore the sacrifices were offered by non-Levitical priests, a continuing symbol of Israel’s total disregard for the Law of YHWH in the teaching of their sanctuaries. Their worship was self-pleasing, rather than God pleasing. How much of this is true in different ways in the worship of many churches today.
4.4-5 “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes every three days; and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of what is leavened, and proclaim freewill-offerings and publish them, for this pleases you, O you children of Israel, says the Lord YHWH.”
There is good reason for thinking that Amos proclaimed these words to the festal crowds who had come to Bethel (or Gilgal) for a regular feast, or alternatively to the crowds streaming out of Samaria to attend such feasts. The opening words in verse 4 are probably a parody of the words of invitation issued by the priests at Bethel and Gilgal (note his emphasis on ‘come --- and transgress’). Bethel (1 Kings 12.28-29, 32-33) and Gilgal (Hosea 4.15; 9.15; 12.11) were two of the major sanctuaries in Israel, and the altar at Bethel and the other syncretistic high places had been roundly and continually denounced by YHWH (see 1 Kings 13.2-5, 32, and all references to ‘the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat’). Thus by coming to those altars at Bethel and Gilgal the people of Israel were bringing no satisfaction to YHWH. Rather it meant that they were multiplying their transgressions by worshipping the wrong thing, in the wrong way and with the wrong attitude. Even though they brought their sacrifices every morning and their tithes ‘every three days’ (i.e. on the third and sixth day), all were unacceptable because they were not offered in accordance with the covenant. They were self-pleasing. Furthermore their disregard for the law of Moses in offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving of what was leavened (see Exodus 23.18; Leviticus 2.11; 6.17; 7.11-14), and in openly advertising their freewill offerings so as to gain for themselves religious admiration (compare Matthew 6.5), were both examples of self-pleasing, and thus examples of what was unacceptable to ‘the Lord YHWH’.
‘For this pleases you.’ Right from its new beginning in the time of Jeroboam I worship at Bethel had been men-pleasing. YHWH’s requirements were ignored and the king and people did what satisfied them. Priests were appointed from amongst themselves and they thoroughly enjoyed their feasts and incorporated into them whatever practise they fancied if it would make the feast more enjoyable. The lessons that YHWH had sought to teach through the feasts were lost sight of. What mattered was that the feasts be popular, pleasing, and enjoyable.
It should be noted that there were in Israel altars at which acceptable offerings could be made to YHWH as Elijah himself had made clear (1 Kings 18.30; 19.10). Scripture nowhere teaches that there was only one place where sacrifices could be offered (Deuteronomy 12 is grossly misinterpreted to suit a theory). What it teaches was that there was one Central Sanctuary at which the tribes should gather three times a year, and other altars set up where YHWH had revealed His Name (Exodus 20.24; Joshua 8.30-31) served by levitical priests, where legitimate sacrifices could be offered. Thus Mount Carmel was clearly one of the places at which YHWH had revealed His Name (1 Kings 18.30). But these altars were constantly subject to rejection by the syncretistic Yahwism in Israel because they were in opposition to the altars at Bethel, Dan, Gilgal, etc. which had been set up on man made principles, and claimed to be ‘central sanctuaries’ of a kind..
YHWH Five Times Expresses His Concern That In Spite of His Judgments Israel Have Not Returned To Him (4.6-11).
Having made clear His indictment of the women and men of Israel, both because of social injustice and because of false religious practises, YHWH now five times expresses His concern that this is evidence that Israel have not heeded His judgments in the past and returned to Him. In spite of all they have continued on in their own way. Thus they are ignoring the warnings of Leviticus 26.21, 23, 27 that if they did not respond to His judgments with repentance worse judgments would come upon them which would eventually result in exile. Notice His stress throughout on His continual attempts in the past to bring them to repentance, to persuade them to ‘turn to Him’. Up to now that had been the purpose of His judgments, but they had not succeeded in their purpose. That is why He has now come to the verge of bringing the final judgment on them mentioned by Leviticus, although still offering a glimmer of hope (5.4, 14-15). The verbs are mainly imperfects or perfects with waw consecutive and we could therefore in our minds add ‘continually’ to each one.
It is open to question whether Amos saw these judgments as past judgments (Israel had certainly experienced such judgments in the past) or as judgments coming in the near future (Hebrew tenses, unlike those in Greek and English, were not specific as to time). In fact he possibly had both in mind.
Five judgments are mentioned and five is the number of covenant. Thus the five judgments are to be seen as related to their responsibility under the covenant. Indeed all five are judgments which are clearly in view, among many others, in Leviticus 26.14-38; Deuteronomy 28-29. The five judgments are:
We can compare these ‘plagues’ coming on Israel with the ten plagues of Egypt which failed to soften Pharaoh’s heart, even though they did soften the hearts of many of his subjects. Here the plagues had failed to soften Israel’s hearts. Israel could thus be equated with Pharaoh for hardness of heart.
4.6 “And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places; yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”
The idea of ‘wanting bread’ reflects Leviticus 26.26. The idea of ‘cleanness of teeth’ occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, but is a vivid picture, and the idea behind it undoubtedly does. Both express the idea of lack of food resulting from famine and drought (compare 2 Samuel 21.1; 1 Kings 18.2; 2 Kings 4.32; 8.1). Famine was in fact a fairly common occurrence in Canaan in its mild form, but it was when it occurred year after year that it caused real hardship. However, all these famines, both light and severe, failed to cause Israel to turn to YHWH. They should have recognised that the lack of rain was the chastisement of YHWH, and have ‘returned to Him’, but instead they had probably blamed Baal (the Canaanite god of rain and storm) and sought to him. For the idea of ‘returning to YHWH’ see Deuteronomy 1.45; 30.2, 8; 1 Samuel 7.3.
‘Says YHWH.’ Neum YHWH, ‘oracle of YHWH’, indicating the giving by YHWH of a powerful prophetic word.
4.7-8 “And I also have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest, and I caused it to rain on one city, and caused it not to rain on another city, one piece was rained on, and the piece on which it did not rain withered. So two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water, and were not satisfied. Yet have you not returned unto me, says YHWH.”
The thought of YHWH withholding rain is made clear in Deuteronomy 11.17; 1 Kings 8.35; 17.1. But see also the more indirect references in Leviticus 26.19; Deuteronomy 28.23. The implication is that the falling of rain is dependent on YHWH (compare Matthew 5.45). It was a direct and deliberate ‘making redundant’ of Baal who was supposed to be the god of storm and rain. Rain withheld before the barley and wheat harvests (when there were yet three months to harvest) could have a dreadful effect on the harvest. Random and spasmodic rain was nearly as bad, certainly for those who did not receive it, for their crops and fruit would eventually wither. Lack of rain could also hit the city water supplies, especially in the mountain cities where the reliance was often on cistern water collected when it rained. The city fortunate enough to have had rain would be approached by those which had not. They would, however, often be in no position to give them as much water as they wanted. And yet even this shortage of rain and water did not cause them to return to YHWH. Oracle of YHWH.
4.9 “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew. The multitude of your gardens and your vineyards and your fig-trees and your olive-trees has the palmer-worm devoured. Yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”
For ‘blasting and mildew’ compare Deuteronomy 28.22; 1 Kings 8.37. For the palmer-worm compare Joel 1.4; 2.25. Which ‘worm’ was in the end being identified we cannot be certain as species of insects were not strictly differentiated (even though Amos was an expert on sycamore-mulberry trees), but the point was that the ravages of insects among their fruitful tress was also to be seen as the work of YHWH. Note the implication that in the final analysis YHWH controls all the ravages of nature. Their vineyards were their main source of joy and pleasure, their fig trees their source of sustenance, while their olive trees provided their main export potential. But all had at times been affected, making life continually dull and hard (contrast Deuteronomy 8.8 which presents the opposite picture which would have been their lot in the land that YHWH had given them if only they had been obedient). So God’s judgments were in the earth (see Isaiah 26.9), but none of these things had caused them to return to YHWH. When God’s judgments fail to turn men to God, then their hearts are hard indeed.
4.10 “I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt, your young men have I slain with the sword, and I have carried away your horses, and I have made the stench of your camp to come up even into your nostrils. Yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”
Up to this point the judgments had only smitten men indirectly, but like the plagues in Egypt they had now begun to strike harder. Pestilence (Leviticus 26.25; Deuteronomy 28.21; compare 2 Samuel 24.15) regularly resulting from poor food, disease ridden water, and bad sanitation, directly affected the bodies of men, while death by the sword (Leviticus 26.25, 33; Deuteronomy 28.22) inflicted on the finest of their young men who were the very bastion of the kingdom, was irreversible. Added to this was the removal of their war horses and the stench of death and disease in their war camp, especially as men suffered and died from their injuries, and the picture is one of total defeat, all resulting from the fact that YHWH, the God of Hosts and Battle, had no longer been with them. Thus they had no longer been successful in war. And yet they had still failed to return to YHWH.
4.11 “I have overthrown cities among you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning. Yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”
The final consequence of the defeat of their armies and the death of their finest young men had been that their cities had been overthrown in a similar way to Sodom and Gomorrah (compare Deuteronomy 29.23 and see Genesis 19). And yet it had not been the end, for in His goodness YHWH had delivered them like a piece of flammable wood snatched from the flames (which would have had no chance had it not been so). Up to this point He had always intervened on their behalf. And yet still they had not returned to Him. There could therefore only be one final result. They would have to meet God’s final judgment on them.
Having Failed To Respond To All God’s Pleadings By Judgment There Could Only Be One Inevitable End. Like Pharaoh Before Them They Would Have To Find Out The Severity Of His Judgment When All Else Had Failed (4.12-13).
It is made apparent that God had done all that He could to win them back to Himself, for that had been the aim of all His past judgments. But now they were coming to the end of the road. Chastening had failed, now they must face the final climax, His final judgment which would include all the above in overflowing measure. God would not be mocked. In the end, if they did not repent, men would reap what they had sown. Thus Israel must now be prepared to meet their God, the One Who turns light into darkness (a grim prospect), Who tramples on the most exalted, and Who rules over all, Whose Name is YHWH, the God of Hosts (of heaven and earth).
4.12 “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”
As they had failed to respond to a judgment here and a judgment there, now all His judgments would be piled upon them, and by this they would be brought to meet face to face with God in all His holiness and wrath (His antipathy against sin). Compare Exodus 19.17, which resulted in their pleading for ‘no more’ (Exodus 20.19). Thus in view of their continuing disobedience they must prepare to meet their God as He is, face to face with no restrictions. All the judgments of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-29 would come upon them, and more. This would include therefore destruction and exile.
4.13 “For, lo, he who forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought; who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the high places of the earth — YHWH, the God of hosts, is his name.”
Furthermore let them consider Who it is Who will do this thing. There may well in these words be a reflection of their festal worship formulae, or of some hymn, of which he is reminding them (see excursus on 9.6). The One of Whom he speaks is the One Who forms the mountains and creates the wind, Who is in control of the most powerful forces of nature, the One Who can turn morning into darkness so that there is no light (without which there is no life), and who strides like a Colossus over the highest places of the world, trampling on both ‘gods’ and men. And His Name is YHWH, the God of the hosts of heaven and earth. Similar ideas occur again in 5.8-9.
The prophetic warning gives the appearance of finality as if there was no hope. And so it would be if they did not repent. But God had not sent Amos simply as a harbinger of Doom, His hope was always that men would repent. And as, Amos will now make clear, if they did so they would find life. (But let us remember that the majority did not repent, and that all that Amos had warned of came upon them. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God unless we do so with repentant hearts).
A Lamentation Over Israel (5.1-17).
While speaking powerfully Amos had no joy in what was to happen to Israel, and having pronounced judgment on them, he now laments what must necessarily be their end if they do not repent. It demonstrates that underneath his iron words he had a tender heart. That there was opportunity to repent comes out in the continual repetition of the call to ‘seek YHWH’ and to ‘seek goodness’, and ‘live’, which is a theme of the passage (verses 4, 6, 14). But Amos has little hope of it happening, which is why he pronounces this dual funeral dirge, although combining it with a call to repentance, over them. The passage is in the form of a chiasmus, further emphasising its unity.
Opening Lamentation. Amos Pronounces A Funeral Dirge Over Israel (5.1-3).
Amos now looks ahead into the future and proclaims a funeral dirge over Israel because her hope has gone (unless she repents). He looks ahead and sees her as having received her deathblow.
5.1 ‘Hear you this word which I take up for a lamentation over you, O house of Israel.’
‘Hear you this word’ is indicative of a break in the narrative (compare 3.1; 4.1). He is taking up a new theme. For having warned of what is coming Amos now sees it as having already come, and mourns for Israel in her passing (he has no joy in what will happen to them).
The fall of a virgin was seen as a disaster in Israel. Here Israel is seen as lying in misery on the ground having lost her virginity as a result of war and of her own misbehaviour and thus having lost all hope because any who could have sustained her have gone. She will not rise for she is in despair and has nothing to rise for. She has cast herself inconsolably down on the ground recognising her ruin, and will be left there to suffer in her misery because there is no one who will raise her up. The only One Who could do so is the One Whom she has spurned. Compare the vivid description of Jerusalem in Isaiah 51.17-23 and of Babylon in Isaiah 47.1-15.
There is something especially poignant about her having been ‘cast down on her land’. That land was Israel’s inheritance from YHWH, but instead it has become their graveyard.
5.3 “For thus says the Lord YHWH,
And the reason for the virgin’s distress will be because of what has happened to her. This is pictured in terms of Israel’s inability to defend herself. The city who watched their proud regiments march forth with ram’s horns blaring, will have watched them return decimated, having been reduced to a mere company, while the smaller cities who sent a company will only have seen part of a platoon returning. That is all that would be left to the house of Israel. And it found its fulfilment, firstly in the rape of Israel which resulted in only Samaria being left (2 Kings 15.29), and then in the rape of Samaria, when the cream of the nation were transported (2 Kings 17.6) leaving only a straggled remnant, truly a despoiled virgin. Compare Deuteronomy 28.68.
The Call To Repentance And Rejection Of The False Sanctuaries (5.4-6).
YHWH therefore calls Israel to repentance before it is too late. If only they will repent and truly seek Him they will live, and avoid His fire of judgment which could otherwise break out on them. But this will not be by turning to their present sanctuaries, which can offer them no hope. Rather they need to seek to YHWH. Note the deliberate paring off of the false sanctuaries one by one. The description commences with three (Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba), sinks to two (Bethel and Gilgal) and ends as one (Bethel). One by one the sanctuaries have been removed from consideration. Beersheba would, of course, initially be safe from the depredations of Assyria, being in the Negeb south of Judah. But it would not benefit them at such a distance and was the first to be removed from the picture. It would not join the others in being destroyed. Meanwhile the full force of the invasion would come on Bethel and Gilgal, and both would be nullified until only Bethel was left, and that simply in order to be burned up.
5.4-6 “For thus says YHWH to the house of Israel,
The call to repentance is for the whole house of Israel, and is a personal call from YHWH, and the repetition of ‘seek YHWH and live’ brings out the urgency of the demand. They must turn from their false worship and their syncretistic sanctuaries to Him. It is interesting that Israelites still frequented a sanctuary in Beersheba in the Negeb. This possibly arose because of the connection of the tribe of Simeon (who had previously settled there) with Israel. The history of Simeon, which we know little about, was probably very complicated as the tribe had originally been in danger of being absorbed by Judah and yet was later seen as, at least partially, having retained its identity, and as part of the ‘ten tribes’. It suggests that a migration took place of some of the tribe to the north, while retaining a connection with Beersheba, a sanctuary which would also be a reminder of their patriarchal connections (with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel).
So their old sanctuaries were forbidden to them. But they were not called on to seek to Jerusalem. They were called on truly to seek YHWH. No doubt there were still ‘sons of the prophets’ around who could help them (in contrast with the cult prophets), as there had been in the days of Elisha some years before. There they could discover how to engage in true worship. Indeed it would clearly be useless to seek to the old syncretistic sanctuaries, for they would be taken over by the Assyrians and brought to nothing. Their only hope therefore was to seek the living God, ‘lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph’. The house of Joseph strictly represented Ephraim and Manasseh, but like ‘Ephraim’ could be used of all Israel as they made up the majority of it. And the fire would be unquenchable.
There is a play on words with regard to Gilgal. ‘Gilgal will surely go into exile’ is glgl glh yglh. And Beth-el will become awen (‘trouble’). Thus Beth-el would become Beth-awen (Bethaven - the house of trouble), as in Hosea 4.15; 5.8; 10.5.
The First Indictment On Israel (5.7)
Amos followed up his appeal to Israel to repent with a reminder of why they needed to repent. It was because they were those who turned justice into something bitter and abhorrent, and flung righteousness to the earth as though it were so much rubbish
5.7 “You who turn justice to wormwood,
The idea is that the kind of justice that they produced was as bitter as the bitter plant wormwood (see Proverbs 5.4). It was not true justice, but a justice based on bribes and favours that necessarily caused extensive bitterness. And the result was that righteousness was cast down and trampled on. It was no longer highly regarded but despised and seen as a nuisance. Compare the trampling on the poor in verse 11 which was part of the actual working out of this. (How quickly we too can cast righteousness to the ground when it does not fit in with what we want to do).
A Call To Consider YHWH’s Glory And Power (5. 8-9).
Amos’s view was that it was time that they considered with Whom they were dealing. He has already made it clear in Amos 4.13, and the description here follows a similar pattern while dealing with different aspects of creation.
The initial verb is read in on the basis of the emphasis in the passage (verses 4, 6, 14). And his purpose is to remind them that they are dealing with the God Who made the heavens, not as gods but as stars (Genesis 1.16). Both the prominent star clusters (Pleiades and Orion, or similar constellations, there are differing opinions, as to which star clusters are in mind both here and in Job 9.9; 38.31 as the old versions reveal) were created by Him, for He is the Creator of all. It is He Who brings morning once the night has finished its time, and Who closes the day by once again introducing night. Thus He has command of night and day, but with the added thought that He can turn the day into darkness at will. Furthermore He controls the waters of the sea, summoning them and pouring them out on the earth, both as rain, and in catastrophes similar to the Flood (see Psalm 29). To Israelites the controlling of the sea was one sure and certain evidence of YHWH’s power, for they feared the sea (e.g. Psalm 65.7; 78.16; 89.9; 93.4; Job 38.10-11). So this is revealed as none other than YHWH, Who alone controls all the most important aspects of creation. And in the same way He can bring sudden destruction on the strong, so that even the strong fortress is destroyed. Thus His power is ultimate.
The Second Indictment On Israel 5.10-13).
This second indictment is fuller than the first (verse 7), and is written in chiastic form. Thus:
One sign that evil has become prevalent is the attitude of people towards justice. Here we learn that in Israel those who rightly reproved men’s crimes at the place of justice (the gate area was where the town court would be held, compare Ruth 4.1-11; Deuteronomy 22.15; 25.7) were hated, while those who spoke uprightly as witnesses were abhorred. The wealthy did not want justice, they wanted favours. This despising of righteousness is the regular experience of the godly. Men will speak well of righteousness when it does not affect them, but they do not like to be reminded of their sins, nor do they like their false dealings to be exposed..
5.11a “Forasmuch therefore as you trample on the poor,
And another main sign of the evil in society was that the poor were trampled on (caused to be bowed down), and not given justice (see Exodus 23.6; Deuteronomy 16.19), and more was exacted from them than was reasonable. The lessee paid his rent in produce, and the point here was that he tended to be overcharged by greedy land-owners (who may well have seized his land in the first place). A society can always be judged by how it treats its poor, and price-fixing, and seeking to make larger profits than are justified are examples of it.
The consequence of the evil in society was that they would not finally benefit by all the effort that they had put in. Their possessions too would be trampled on. While they had been able to build themselves houses of hewn stone, expensive and probably obtained by harsh labour, their occupation of them would be temporary. And while they had planted lush vineyards with a view to good times ahead, the wine would go to others. This would be YHWH’s judgment on their sins. All that they had built up would be lost, and they would be left with nothing.
The sinfulness of their society was then reiterated. Their transgressions against YHWH’s Law were many and varied, and their sins were large. For their justices, the very men who should have been ensuring the fairness of society, afflicted the righteous and took bribes, and when the needy came for justice they did not receive their rights.
5.13 ‘Therefore he who is prudent will keep silence in such a time, for it is an evil time.’
The consequence of living in such a society was that prudent men did not speak out, because the time was evil. They knew that things had come to such a state that their words could only bring trouble on themselves and would do no good. That was why Amos had had to come to speak out for them. It was something only a prophet called by YHWH could risk. But there is also something ominous about the words, for they suggest that such efforts would be pointless because the society in question was beyond hope and beyond redemption.
The Second Call To Repentance (5.14-15).
So the call went out to those who would hear to seek good and not evil so that they might enjoy fullness of life, and in order that YHWH might truly be ‘with them’ (as they claimed that He would be at their feasts).
5.14 ‘Seek good, and not evil, that you may live, and so YHWH, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you say.’
Previously the people have been urged to seek YHWH. Now they are called on to seek good. That is not because seeking good is the same as seeking YHWH, but because those who seek YHWH must also seek good. YHWH and goodness go together. Having true life depends on seeking good and not evil, and the consequence was that those who did so would have YHWH the God of hosts with them, just as men claimed when they gathered to worship. It is apparent that the cry ‘God is with us’ was one that was prominent in their worship (compare Isaiah 7.14; 8.10 where Immanuel means ‘God is with us’).
However, whilst the call was undoubtedly to all, it was especially directed to the prudent who kept silent (verse 13). They needed encouragement in the hard times, and he wanted to assure them that they would not lose out by seeking good and not evil, for thereby they at least would enjoy fullness of life, even in the coming darkness
5.15 ‘Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate, it may be that YHWH, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.’
So again it is emphasised that they were to hate what was evil and love what was good, and especially they were to be concerned with the establishing of true justice. A fair society is a good society. It is difficult to see how Israel as a whole could be called ‘a remnant’ in the peaceful and prosperous times of Jeroboam II when the kingdom had expanded, and the idea is therefore probably that the righteous remnant who did respond (or had already responded) could hope for YHWH’s favour in the dark times ahead.
A Closing Lamentation (5.16-17).
Having previously opened with a lamentation, Amos closes with a lamentation by YHWH, for he is well aware that on the whole his words would not be heeded. (As always happens the few would respond and find fullness of life, and the majority would harden their hearts). In His lamentation YHWH envisages a whole country in mourning, both town and country, both expert mourner, and novice, both in the streets and in the vineyards, and it would be because He Himself would have passed through their country in severe and awful judgment (described briefly in 2 Kings 15.29; 17.5; 18.9-10 read in the light of Leviticus 26.24-33; Deuteronomy 28.47-58).
5.16-17 ‘Therefore thus says YHWH, the God of hosts, the Lord,’
As the people listened to the preaching and prophesying of Amos, and looked around at the prosperity and security which their nation was enjoying, we can understand why they found it very easy to dismiss his words as those of ‘a fanatic’. They did not then realise that within forty years of the commencement of Amos’s ministry, and thus within the lifetime of many of his hearers, Samaria would lay in ruins, their whole land would be devastated and in mourning, and the cream of the people would be in exile. All that they looked around at would be gone. But YHWH realised it, and He warned them of the lamentations that were coming.
The picture is one of unrelieved gloom. The streets of the cities filled with mourning, and the people of the cities, and the men working in the fields and in the vineyards and olive groves in the countryside, uniting with the professional mourners in bewailing both their own fate and the dead who lay around them. The whole land will be filled with lamentation. For the vineyards, which were usually places of joy and rejoicing, to be wailing was an indication of how bad things would be (see the similar picture in Isaiah 16.10). And all because YHWH will have ‘passed through the midst of them’ (compare Exodus 12.12). And this was not just some vision of a future possibility, it was the unbreakable, unfailing ‘word of YHWH’.
The Two Woes (5.18-6.7).
It may be that we are to see the ‘alas, alas’ (ho ho) of verse 16 as leading into these two ‘woes’ (hoy, hoy, a longer form of ho) in 5.18 and 6.1. But certainly Amos now introduces two woes/alases. The first ‘woe/alas’ is in respect of their false hopes about the day of YHWH, which they are wrongly expecting will bring them great benefits, and the second is in respect of the fact that they are at ease when they should rather be desperately concerned. Both thus deal with misunderstanding and complacency on the part of Israel.
The First Woe, Concerning The Day of YHWH (5.18-27).
A ‘woe’ was the opposite of a ‘blessed be you of YHWH’. It was the announcing of troubles and disaster that would come on His people directly from YHWH (compare Isaiah 5.8-30; 10.1-4; and see Numbers 21.29; 1 Samuel 4.7-8) in fulfilment of His warnings (Leviticus 26.14-46; Deuteronomy 28-29).
It is apparent from the context that Israel were living in expectation of ‘the day of YHWH’ (compare Isaiah 13.6, 9), and that they saw it as something to look forward to, a day which would bring ‘light’ (2 Samuel 23.4; Psalm 37.6; 112.4; 118.22-27) and worldwide domination (see Psalm 2; 22.22-31; 89.19-37; Isaiah 9.4-7). It was not in fact unusual for great kings to see themselves as destined by their national gods to rule the world. The kings of Assyria, for example, gave the credit for their victories to Assur whom they saw as having told them to go forth and subdue their world. It was as the representative of Assur that Sennacherib would proclaim his victory over all gods (except, as it turned out, YHWH). See 2 Kings 18.33-35. But in most cases this idea followed as a result of initial military success and of having a powerful army. It was different with Israel in that they considered this to be true long before they enjoyed military might, not because of their military might, but because of the superiority of their position as YHWH’s chosen people, something evidenced by the call of Abraham, who had been told that all the nations of the world would be blessed (or would bless themselves) through his seed (indicating to the ancient world that he would rule over them), and that kings would come out of him (Genesis 12.3;17.6; 18.18); by the deliverance from Egypt which had confirmed their special position (2.10; Exodus 19.5-6; Deuteronomy 32.8-9); and by the granting to them of the land of the Amorites (2.10; Exodus 23.23; Numbers 21.31; Deuteronomy 1.20; 7.1; 20.17; Joshua 24.18; etc). It was then confirmed to them by the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7.12-16) as expanded on in Psalm 2; etc. Thus they were looking for a Day of Blessing from YHWH. Amos was warning them that they must rather expect a Day of Woe. This was not, of course denying that one day YHWH would bring a Day of Blessing on His people, as 9.11-15 makes clear. It was rather emphasising that that Day could only come on those whose hearts were prepared. It could not come on a people living in open sinfulness.
The Day Of YHWH That Is Coming Come On Israel Will Be A Day Of Darkness, Not Light (5.18-20).
5.18 ‘Woe to you who desire the day of YHWH! Why would you have the day of YHWH? It is darkness, and not light.’
Amos stressed that they should not be ‘looking with longing’ (the verb is strong) for YHWH to act in a special way, because they needed to recognise that when He did so it would not introduce light but darkness. Initially this ‘day of YHWH’, as indicated here, was speaking of the day when YHWH would make His people face up to their sin by destruction and judgment, and it would descend on first the land, and then the city, of Samaria as an act of judgment. Israel should therefore not be hungering for YHWH to act, (as seemingly they did at their feasts), for when He did so it would be against them. And it would be a day of darkness, of misery and catastrophe and suffering, and not a day of light.
It is significant that they had this deep ‘longing’, not at a time when things were going badly, but at a time when all seemed to be going well, and Israel and Judah had extended their borders and were defensively strong. It was thus not a longing for deliverance resulting from despair, but a yearning desire for even better things to come, a patriotic looking forward to ruling the nations. (Like many of us, when it came to their Scriptures they were selective of ‘the good bits’ and ignored the remainder).
There would in the future be many days of YHWH. Later the phrase ‘the day of YHWH’ would refer to the devastation to be brought on the world by a gathering of nations (probably under Assyria), and especially by their Medan contingents, which would result in the destruction of proud Babylon, an initial recognition of the fact that one day it would cease for ever (Isaiah 13). It would also refer to the coming of a huge plague of locusts (or armies) on Israel/Judah (Joel 1), when YHWH was seeking to bring them to repentance. And it would refer to the final destruction of Edom (Isaiah 34.8). All these were events of history. Thus there would be a number of ‘days of YHWH’. But each ‘day of YHWH’ had in mind in the end the final dreadful day when YHWH would call all nations to account, and that is why sometimes we are not sure which day He is referring to, the near or the far. For all were deserving of judgment and would one day have to face up one way or another to a day of YHWH, with the result that in the New Testament the ‘day of the Lord’ pointed forward to the time of the second coming of Christ when the old world would be judged and destroyed, resulting in the introducing of a new heaven and a new earth (e.g. 2 Peter 3.10-13).
5.19 ‘As if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.’
This is then illustrated in picturesque fashion. When a man flees from a lion he ‘desires’ to run into a party of hunters so that he may be saved, but in fact in this instance he is given a dreadful shock when he simply runs into the arms of a bear. Lions and bears were quite common in the Israelite countryside so that this could easily occur. Or it will be like the time when a man goes into the refuge of his house, thinking that there at least he will be totally secure, only to find to his horror that when he confidently leans on the wall feeling a sense of security, he is bitten by a deadly snake. Thus in each case what comes to him is the opposite of what he expects. Thus will it be for them in the day of YHWH.
Note the emphasis on that fact that no one will be safe whether out of doors or indoors. Wherever they are tragedy will strike them.
5.20 ‘Will not the day of YHWH be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?’
That is why for them the day of YHWH will result in darkness and not light. Indeed it will be very dark and there will be no brightness in it, because for them there will be no hope beyond it. (And so it would be at the destruction of Samaria). Night time was when terror was abroad (Psalm 91.5) and it symbolised the end of life, for to be driven into darkness was to die (Job 10.22; 18.18). A day of darkness was a day which God did not observe from above, for it was a day of hopelessness (Job 3.4). It was God-forsaken. In contrast the light spelled hope (Isaiah 9.2), and to enjoy God’s light was to enjoy His blessing and presence and salvation (Isaiah 60.1).
The Day Of Darkness Is Coming Because Of The Falsity of Their Worship In That While They Worship They Ignore Justice And Righteousness (5.21-27).
Amos now emphatically brings out where their error lay. They came to YHWH with feasting and joyful assemblies, offering their different offerings and singing and making melody with their instruments, thinking that thereby they were pleasing YHWH (and the other gods), while all the time He looked on what they were doing and the noise that they were making with loathing and contempt. And this was because they were failing to truly honour Him by allowing justice and righteousness to prevail among them like a continually flowing stream that never dried up. This should they have done, and not left the other undone. He then goes on to question whether they had ever really truly worshipped Him, even in the wilderness, for even there, as now, they had on the one hand borne the Tabernacle of their King, while on the other they had borne the shrine of their images, the star of their god which they had made for themselves. Both then and now the house of Israel had engaged in the same double act, and had been equally unacceptable. Compare for the similar idea Isaiah 1.11-18.
5.21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in (literally ‘do not like to smell’) your festal assemblies.”
YHWH firstly wanted to make it clear to them that they were mistaken if they thought that He obtained any pleasure from their worship. The odour of it was not pleasant to Him. Rather He wanted them to know that He hated and despised it because it was all superficial and there was nothing underneath. What they engaged in were their feasts and not His. And similarly He wanted them to know that He took no delight in their (not His) festal gatherings in which they themselves participated with such joy. For central to the true worship of YHWH was the offering of a righteous and obedient life. There was no point in gathering to declare loyalty to YHWH if they did not keep His covenant.
5.22 “Yes, though you offer me your burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts.”
Furthermore He wanted them to know that even though they offered Him their (not His) dedicatory offerings, and their (not His) meal-offerings which celebrated the provisions of creation, He would not accept them, nor would He pay any regard to their peace-offerings, (supposedly offered in thanksgiving and in order to enjoy fellowship with YHWH) however fat they were. The worship that they delighted in was a waste of time because it was simply not acceptable. It was not the kind of worship that YHWH had provided for in the covenant, for it lacked an essential ingredient, the offering of a righteous life. To YHWH worship and righteousness went together as part of the same covenant. Both were essential ingredients. (And if the same conditions of unrighteous living prevail for us, the same is true of our worship today. We cannot come ‘in the Name of Jesus’ if what we are doing in our lives is contrary to His will, for to truly come ‘in the Name of Jesus,’ is to come as those who are aligned with Him. If we are not doing His will then we will do better to keep our mouths shut).
5.23 “Take you away from me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your viols.”
Let them also stop singing and making music (singular tense indicating the whole nation), for in so far as He heard them at all they were just making an unpleasant noise to Him if they were not truly walking in His ways. Indeed the louder their efforts the less He liked it. He simply closed His ear to it.
The viol was probably an instrument consisting of ten strings stretched over a sound box. In Egypt such instruments could be three metres (ten feet) or more high. (Compare our double bass).
5.24 “But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream.”
What they should rather do was to ensure that justice flowed smoothly through their society, and that their righteousness was not ‘on and off’, but continually flowed out of them like a perpetual river which was constantly fed with water, and flowed freely, never ceasing to flow even in the hottest dry summer. (In Israel far too many rivers dried up in the summer when there was no rain to feed them). Then they would be able to worship Him and be acceptable.
Alternately we could translate ‘let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream’ indicating that God’s righteous judgment is coming on them because of their sins (compare Isaiah 10.22).
5.25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?”
Looking on Israel past and present as one He asked whether they really thought that they, as Israel, had brought to Him genuine sacrifices and offerings during their forty years in the wilderness. The answer that they should have given, and which would have been given by an intelligent observer, was ‘no’. And this was obvious from the fact that because of their unbelief they had had to spend forty years in the wilderness at all. The point is not that they had not engaged in offering sacrifices at all, but they had not been genuinely to Him as the One Who demanded righteousness. They had, of course, actually offered sacrifices in the wilderness, but the emphasis is on the fact that that worship had had as little to do with genuine worship of YHWH as their worship at this present time. Amos was not denying that sacrifices were offered, only saying that they were not genuinely offered to YHWH. (As now they were THEIR sacrifices, not HIS).
For the truth was that they were all the same, and had been from the beginning. His present hearers were no better than their fathers. Their fathers too had mechanically brought sacrifices and offerings to Him in the wilderness for forty years. But they had not really brought them to Him, for their supposed worship had not been backed up by their lives and their behaviour in a true response to he covenant. They too had overlooked the need for justice and righteousness and obedience, which was why they had had to spend forty years in the wilderness in the first place until all had perished there, instead of only being in the wilderness for just a few months between Sinai and Kadesh, and it was why they had not been allowed to even approach the promised land.
‘Oh house of Israel.’ They and their fathers were all one together, for they revealed their oneness by behaving in the same way.
5.26 “Yes, you have borne the booth (sukkat) of your king and the pedestal (ciyyun) of your images, the star of your god (i.e. your star-god), which you made to yourselves.”
This statement is applied to both the time in the wilderness and the present, for they were really all the same within their hearts. It is saying that it had been true that outwardly they had paid lip service to Yahwism in the wilderness, just as they did today, while at the same time worshipping other gods. Thus the truth was that YHWH had not really been their King then, any more than He was now, for had He been they would not have also had shrines to their ‘king’, and pedestals for their images, even for ‘the star-god that they had made for themselves’. Their worship had thus been syncretistic then and it still was. The reference to the star-god may have had in mind current worship rather than wilderness worship, but we must bear in mind that we actually know little about their false worship in the wilderness (indeed we actually know almost nothing about the final thirty eight years in the wilderness which are on the whole passed over without comment until the actual commencement of the new approach to Canaan), apart from that of the molten calf, but that, and their association with Egypt, and the presence of Egyptians and other foreigners among them (Exodus 12.38), makes a star-god a good possibility even then. Egypt, for example, had many star-gods.
(Note. This could be translated, ‘ Yes, you have borne Sakkuth your king (or equally as ‘the shrine of Molech’), and Kaiwan your star-god, which you made to yourselves’. Sakkuth and Kaiwan are both mentioned in Assyrian text lists as gods, and names of the planet Saturn. Thus both are mentioned as star-gods. But this very fact that both were connected with Saturn does not fit in with the description of Sakkuth as on the one hand their king, and Kaiwan on the other as their star-god, unless of course the two names applied to an identical god who is mentioned in parallel. But even more importantly there is no suggestion elsewhere of the worship of Assyrian deities in Israel at this time of freedom from Assyrian oppression and no reason why Assyrian gods should have been worshipped. It is far more probable that Egyptian gods, or local gods, were in mind.
In Acts 7.43 this is cited on the basis of LXX as, ‘you took up the booth of Moloch, and the star of the god Rephan’. This would support the idea of local gods. The inference is then drawn in Acts that Israel during the time in the wilderness worshipped ‘the host of heaven’ (Canaanite sky-gods), which there is no reason to deny. But we must not take the citation of LXX as evidence that it was citing the original Hebrew text, any more than our citation of a modern translation as ‘the word o God’ is a guarantee that it has actually correctly translated the Hebrew text in all cases. End of note).
5.27 “Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, says YHWH, whose name is the God of hosts.”
And it was because of their idolatry, and their lack of true righteousness and obedience to the covenant, that YHWH had determined to send them into captivity and exile ‘beyond Damascus’. This very description fits well into a time when ideas of Assyria were still vague. Many had been taken into captivity to Damascus and its surrounding area, but this would be something far worse. They would be taken far off to a distant land. News had no doubt reached Israel and Judah, even by this time, of what Assyria did to recalcitrant nations, and such a fate was precisely what Leviticus 26.33, 38 and Deuteronomy 28.64 had foreseen.
‘Says YHWH, whose name is the God of hosts.’ All this would happen because YHWH, Whose Name is the God of hosts, had spoken. Amos’s continual mention of YHWH as ‘the God of hosts’ probably includes both the thought that He was the God of the heavenly hosts (including the stars), and also the God of all hosts on earth. In other words all activity in and upon the world of any kind was under His control.
The Second Woe On Those Who Complacently Relaxed, Depending On YHWH’s Protection, While They Also Totally Ignored His Requirements (7.1-14).
While Amos’s mission was to Israel he never overlooked the situation of Judah, and especially in decadent Jerusalem. He had already made clear in 2.4-5 that YHWH had not overlooked Judah, but had already determined their punishment. And he had spoken in 3.1 of the ‘whole family’ who had come out of Egypt. For to the prophets the separation of Israel from Judah was not a part of God’s ideal agenda, and they continued to see them as one. So now he introduces Judah alongside Israel in his reference to their capital cities, Zion and Samaria. Indeed we should recognise that many Israelites had taken up residence in Judah, especially in and around Jerusalem where the central sanctuary was, so that Israel’s fortunes were very much involved with Judah’s.
In this passage a ‘woe’ is declared on both Zion and Samaria, an thus on Judah and Israel, because of their complacency and their pride (with Aram decimated and subject to Israel, Egypt quiescent, Assyria not at present on the horizon (they were being kept busy elsewhere with Urartu), and Hamath, Calneh and Gath no longer as powerful as them, they saw themselves as ‘the chief of the nations’). But what they needed to recognise was that their security was a myth, and their pride folly, because their unscrupulous and idle ways would shortly bring YHWH’s judgment on them.
This second ‘woe’ is directed at the leadership of Judah and Israel in both Zion and Samaria. Both were under God’s intense scrutiny as they lolled about, confident that they were safe and secure and that nothing could touch them. They arrogantly saw themselves as the noble leaders (the men of note) of ‘the chief of the nations’ (Israel and Judah). And it was to such that the house of Israel had to come for guidance and leadership!
There was something especially poignant about being ‘complacently at ease’ in Zion, which is no doubt why Amos introduces the idea here. There had been such hopes when the Name of YHWH had been established in Zion by the introduction of the Ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6), and possibly even more so when the Temple of YHWH had been erected there and made into the central sanctuary, but as royal favour had grown in importance, and Zion had become the place to go in order to gain influence in the right quarters, the impact of the covenant had tended to diminish, and the true heart of the instruction of Moses had become lost as such men vied for position and wealth. Thus Zion, the visible centre of the truth of YHWH (Isaiah 2.3), had diminished into being simply another centre of secular influence and wealth, so that instead of its inhabitants thrilling to the truths of the Scriptures, and taking YHWH’s instruction out to the people (Isaiah 2.3), they indolently lay on their couches drinking and anointing themselves, satisfied with their own importance as rulers, along with Samaria, of ‘the chief of the nations’.
Not having our historical perspective, and unaware of the full truth about the world in which they lived, it was quite possible for these men actually genuinely to see their nations of Israel and Judah as ‘the chief of the nations’. Egypt was quiescent and now kept itself to itself. Assyria was far off, little known and troubling no one (except Urartu). Aram had been previously neutralised by the Assyrians, and were now subject to Israel. Calneh, Hamath and Gath could not bear comparison with them, and were also probably subject to them as well. The remainder of the surrounding nations like Moab, Ammon, Edom, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza were no threat. Israel and Judah were thus top dogs within their spheres of activity, expanding their borders in all directions, and extremely proud and self assured at the fact. We can see why, as a result of this, they had even been able to think in terms of a ‘day of YHWH’ when He would enable them to rule over a world about whose size they had a very limited conception (5.18).
6.2 “Pass you to Calneh, and see, and from there go you to Hamath the great. Then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are they better than these kingdoms? or is their border greater than your border?”
A comparison is made here between Israel/Judah on the one hand and three former great city states within the area of their activities on the other. And the question is being asked as to whether these states could bear any comparison with a resurgent Israel/Judah (‘these kingdoms’) in either quality or size, expecting the answer ‘no’, thus demonstrating that Israel/Judah were ‘the chief of the nations’.
(Some, however, see ‘these kingdoms as referring to Calneh, Hamath and Gath and therefore as indicating that any presumption to be the chief of the nations was folly).
Calneh was farthest north, associated with Arpad, and probably the Kullani of Assyrian tribute lists, being some few kilometres/miles north-north-east of Hamath (compare Isaiah 10.9). Hamath, on the east bank of the Orontes and on the main trade route from the north, was to the north of Damascus. Gath was, of course, in Philistia. All three had in the past been great city states but were by this time somewhat diminished, with Hamath and Gath at least subject to Israel and Judah (see e.g. 2 Kings 14.28; 2 Chronicles 26.6, compare 2 Chronicles 11.8). We know that Gath had been devastated by Hazael of Aram (2 Kings 12.17), and had always had an especially close association with Israel/Judah (in the beginning through Achish, see 1 Kings 2.40), and it may well be that Calneh and Hamath, who stood in the way that led from Assyria to Egypt and Palestine, had both been considerably weakened by the same Assyrian activity as had so devastated Damascus, so that their glory was no more. This obvious diminution in power may have been why they were held up as examples. It may also be, as previously suggested, that it was because all three were in some way at present under the control of Israel/Judah (e.g. 2 Kings 14.28).
There are four ways in which to see these words:
Amos now paints a picture of an indolent, arrogant Israel. He sees them as ignoring the evil day that is threatening because of YHWH’s displeasure at their ways, and instead as engaging in all kinds of violence in order to obtain their ends, and as indolent and greedy, revelling in luxury, and as totally unconcerned for the state of Israel, and for the way that the poor were continually being afflicted.
“You who put far away the evil day.” They dismissed the possibility of Israel suffering under YHWH’s anger, and experiencing the ‘evil day’ mentioned in 5.18, as a result of their ignoring of their covenant obligations (the anger and its consequences as described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-29), thereby failing to recognise that the day of YHWH was coming with all its darkness and hopelessness (5.18-20). After all, they said, do we not offer up our offerings regularly and generously, and engage in religious feasts, and make love to the gods through the cult prostitutes, and fill the air with incense? Surely the gods, (even YHWH), must be happy with this. What more could YHWH want? And they pointed out in vindication that wherever they looked all that they could see was prosperity and advancement. Where was this ‘evil day’? They failed to recognise that it was in fact just around the corner.
(How equally foolish are we when we spend our time in gaining for ourselves wealth and a name, and in seeking out pleasure and enjoyment, and looking at the things that are seen, and fail to consider the things that are unseen and the need to be about establishing the Kingly Rule of God over men when the judgments of God and the coming of Jesus Christ are just around the corner).
Others, however, see the reference to the ‘putting far away of the evil day’ as indicating the use of divination for the discernment of what day and periods were ‘unlucky’ and avoiding the evil days by staying in luxury at home, thus ‘justifiably’ avoiding their responsibilities while enjoying their leisure.
‘And cause the seat of violence to come near.’ In contrast to their ‘putting far away’ of the evil day (when YHWH sits in judgment), is their ‘bringing near’ of the seat of violence, that is, their own judgment seat by means of which they twist and distort justice. (Had they not put away thoughts of retribution they would never have dared to do what they did). This has in mind the fact that the judiciary sat to make their decisions, ready to use violence and oppression as their instruments, so as to ensure that the rich and powerful got their way, by open violence if necessary, and even more by covert ‘pressure’.
‘Who lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves on their couches.’ Beds inlaid with ivory were the height of expensive luxury and the picture is of the nobility lying indolently on them, basking in their luxury (while many starved), and having come easily from their seat of violence to their couch of luxury.
‘And eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall.’ To eat lambs and calves was another sign of luxury. In an agricultural nation to eat the livestock, except when it had been offered in thanksgiving to YHWH or to back up a vow, was frowned on, for they were seen as the very basis of the nation’s wealth and provided milk and wool. It was only the wealthy city dwellers who could behave in such a way.
‘Who sing idle songs to the sound of the viol, who invent for themselves instruments of music, like David.’ The picture is men idling away their time in pleasure by singing with no purpose other than enjoyment when they should have been actively putting right the wrongs in the country. They sang idly while the poor of Israel suffered. This is not a criticism of David who made his instruments while watching the sheep. The ‘like David’ is seen as being a comment from their own lips. These people do it idly while doing nothing for the people, totally careless about their responsibilities, but likening themselves to David although without having his conscience and concern.
‘Who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief oils (the firstfruit of the oils).’ They lie there constantly drinking wine from large bowls and pouring expensive oils over themselves (which took away their odours and also killed their lice), indolently and luxuriously unaware of the misery around them for which they were supposed to take responsibility.
‘But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.’ And in all their luxury and rich living they had no regard for the sufferings of the common people. They experienced no grief at the misery around them, for whilst Israel had grown prosperous that wealth had gone to the comparatively few, and the poor were even more exploited and hungry.
Because of their behaviour and attitudes they will be in the van of those who will be taken into exile, and for them there will be no more revelry, for it will have passed away. So much for their sense of ease and security. And in Samaria, which is chiefly in mind here, it would happen within short forty years.
6.8 “The Lord YHWH has sworn by himself,” says YHWH, the God of hosts, “I abhor the excellency of Jacob (or ‘Jacob’s pride’), and hate his palaces, therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is in it.”
The Lord YHWH Himself now added His condemnation to that of Amos. Indeed He took the situation so seriously that He swore an oath by Himself, the most sacred of oaths (compare 4.2; 8.7 for YHWH’s further oaths). And His oath was that because He hated all the outward show of excellence of Jacob (Israel), and their pride and arrogance, including all their ostentatious palaces, therefore He would deliver up the city to destruction, and all that was in it. And such would be the devastation and slaughter that everything about the slaughter would be unusual. There would be no male survivors, honourable burial would be forbidden, and there would be no official mourning for the dead. For it would be YHWH Himself Who would have done it.
6.9 “And it will come about, if there remain ten men in one house, that they will die.”
What He would do is now spelled out. Such would be the devastation and slaughter that if during it a large household be reduced to just a few (ten) men, those few men would also die. This time there would be no survivors to carry on the name.
6.10 “And when a man’s uncle will take him up, even he who burns him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and will say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, ‘Is there yet any with you?’ and he will say, ‘No’, then will he say, ‘Hush, for we may not make mention of the name of YHWH’.”
And when a relative come to burn the bodies so that they may take the bones away for burial (compare 1 Samuel 31.12-13), he would call to one who was within the house (possibly in hiding) and ask if anyone was with him, and the answer would be ‘no’. No men would be left. Possibly the idea of the burning here indicates that the situation would be very similar to that of Saul after his death. The bodies would have to be stolen away for burial because burial was being forbidden by those who wanted to make a show of the bodies. Alternatively the thought may be that plague would have stricken the house, finishing off what the invaders had started and resulting in the need to burn the bodies.
Furthermore, with such death and devastation around them there would normally be mourning for the dead, a calling in distress on the Name of YHWH, but here they were forbidden to do so because they had to recognise that it was YHWH Himself Who had brought this devastation on them. There was no one left to appeal to. The ‘hush’ signifies that they are to wait in silence in the face of YHWH’s activity, recognising its inevitability (compare Habakkuk 2.20; Zechariah 2.17; Revelation 8.1). They may weep, but so sacred was the situation as YHWH carried out His judgment that YHWH’s Name must not be brought into the situation. No attempt must be made to prevent from carrying out His set purpose. Or it may signify that such was YHWH’s hatred of Samaria’s sins that to call on YHWH’s Name would simply be to bring on them more of the same as they reminded Him of how evil they had been. Both may, of course, be in mind.
6.11 “For, behold, YHWH commands, and the great house will be smitten with breaches, and the little house with clefts.”
And here is why YHWH’s Name must not be called on for assistance. It is YHWH Himself Who is in charge of operations and commanding that the large houses be broken down, and their walls breached, and the small houses (which were too small for their walls to produce what could be called ‘breaches’) should be broken down and their walls cracked open. The picture is one of total destruction of all buildings.
6.12 “Will horses run on the rock? Will one plough there (or ‘the sea’) with oxen? that you have turned justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood,”
And all this would occur because Israel had done what was totally incongruous. No horse would run over the rocky ground, for it would soon lame itself. No oxen would be called on to plough the sea (or the rocky ground) because it would be ludicrous. But Israel had done the equivalent in that they had turned justice (what should have been so sweet) into the poison of gall, and the fruit of righteousness (delightful to the taste) into bitter wormwood. In other words they had turned the meaning of justice and righteousness upside down, totally distorting the ideas beyond comprehension so that what they indicated was no longer acceptable, but abhorrent.
‘Will one plough the sea with oxen?’ This translation is obtained (through a changing of the pointing only), by dividing babbqariym into babbaqar yam, using the same consonants from the original Hebrew text.
6.13 “You who rejoice in a thing of nought, who say, ‘Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?’ ”
Furthermore the absurdity continued. They boasted about their own strength when before YHWH it was nothing. They claimed to have ‘grown themselves horns’ (become powerful) as a result of their own strength and ability. When all the time they would simply be like a man wearing home-made horns battling in single combat against a great wild ox (Assyria).
Alternately we may translate as ‘you who rejoice about Lo-debar, who say, have we not taken for ourselves Karnaim by our own strength?’. Lo-debar (see 2 Samuel 9.4-5; 17.27; Joshua 13.26) was in northern Gilead (in Transjordan), and Karnaim even farther north in Aramaean territory. Both had been in the hands of Aramaean forces and had been delivered by the Israelites. The thought is then that they were boasting in their petty conquests, (note that their confidence was very much in themselves and not in YHWH), not having the faintest realisation of the armed might that would soon come against them which without YHWH they would be helpless to resist.
6.14 “For, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says YHWH, the God of hosts, and they will afflict you from Libo-Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.”
And they would soon discover the truth about themselves. For YHWH, God of all the hosts in heaven and earth, was about to raise up a nation against them so powerful that they would afflict them from Libo-Hamath (a now identified city) on their northern borders, to the brook of the Arabah, at the southern end of the Dead Sea, in the south (compare 2 Kings 14.25). Local invasions usually resulted in only losing part of their territory, but this invader would be so powerful that they would take over the whole land from one end to the other.
The Four Visions (7.1-8.14).
In a similar way to the seven judgments in 1.2-2.5, followed by the expanded judgment on Israel, which all initially followed a similar pattern, so here Amos now recounts three visions threatening judgment on Israel, followed by a fourth which again expands into a judgment on Israel, and all four initially follow a similar pattern. All commence with ‘thus YHWH (He) showed me, and behold --’ (7.1, 4, 7: 8.1), but they then divide into two distinct patterns as in the first two Amos appeals to YHWH to show mercy, and YHWH grants it and promises that He will not carry out the judgment, whereas in the remaining two YHWH asks Amos what he sees, and when Amos replies, declares what action He is going to take. These remaining two then expand into a wider application resulting from the action.
The patterns may be seen as follows:
Visions 1 & 2. The Locust Swarm and the Devouring Fire.
Visions 3 & 4 The Plumbline and The Basket Of Summer Fruit.
Thus in the first two visions we have an indication of YHWH’s compassion and unwillingness totally to destroy His people, and in the second two we have an indication of the inevitability of YHWH’s determined judgments and the effects that they will have on the sanctuaries and the people.
The First Vision - The Locust Swarm (7.1-3).
In this vision ‘the Lord YHWH’ showed Amos the forming of a huge swarm of locusts which devoured the vegetation of the whole land. Amos, a farmer himself, is horrified at the sight and asks that Jacob (Israel) might be spared because they are so puny that they will be unable to recover from it. At this YHWH ‘repents’ and promises that it will not happen. Israel meanwhile were blissfully unaware of what Amos’s intercession had saved them from.
Note the careful use of ‘the Lord YHWH’ in order to bring out YHWH’s sovereign activity in judgment, and ‘YHWH’ as the covenant God and the One Who shows mercy.
7.1 ‘Thus the Lord YHWH showed me, and, behold, he formed locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth, and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings.’
The Lord YHWH showed Amos the first vision. It commenced with the formation of a huge swarm of locusts, larger than any ever known before, which took place after the king had received the benefit of the first ‘mowing’ (gathering in of the initial growth). It would appear from this that the custom was for the initial growth to be reserved for the king as a kind of taxation (although it is not testified to anywhere else). Thus what would be destroyed would only indirectly affect the palace initially, but it would totally devastate the land and the people and ensure no food for the people as a whole, with no prospect of food in the future. The result would be death on a large scale, and the cessation of Israel as a nation. Amos would have seen swarms of locusts before, and the devastating effect on the trees and crops as they descended and stripped them bare, but we are quite clearly intended to see that this swarm of locusts was of supernatural magnitude like nothing ever known before.
The delay until after the initial growth was not because YHWH was showing sympathy to the king, but because it was the main crops which fed the people that were being depicted as subject to destruction. A double appearance of locusts would have been unnatural. However, there may be in this an indirect reference which would remind the people of how Joseph had stored up grain in the barns of Pharaoh so that when the huge famine came its effects fell on the ordinary people who were made destitute by it while the king gloated. Possibly here Amos is preparing for his declaration against the house of Jeroboam.
7.2 ‘And it came about that, when they made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, “O Lord YHWH, forgive, I beseech you, how will Jacob stand, for he is small?” ’
As Amos then watched in horror, the locusts ate up all the vegetation in the land, stripping the trees and the fields bare until nothing was left in the whole of Israel. Recognising that Israel could never recover from devastation and inevitable death on such a large scale Amos pleaded with the Lord YHWH for forgiveness for Israel/Jacob on the grounds of Israel’s puniness. This plea reflects Amos’s awareness that he could no longer plead the covenant, or the promises to their forefathers. He knew that the covenant was no longer valid for Israel because they had rejected it, and that such judgment was in fact the fulfilment of what the covenant had promised when such a rejection occurred. Thus he pleads with the Lord YHWH by emphasising the puniness of Israel. It was recognised that great kings revealed their greatness by their attitude towards the weakest in the land. And that was the basis of Amos’s plea. Note that there is a direct contrast in the narrative between Israel’s boast in its strength in 6.13, and the declaration of its puniness here. Israel thought that it was strong an powerful, but Amos and YHWH knew that it was weak and puny.
‘Jacob’ (y ‘qb) may have been used here instead of ‘Israel’ so as to resonate with the verb (yqwm), although the thought may have in mind Jacob’s ‘smallness’ before he became ‘Israel’. As we have already seen the term is used throughout the prophecy in a chiastic pattern, thus:
Thus the name brings out both all that is worst in Israel, and their puniness, and yet promises in the end that YHWH will show mercy, just as He had with Jacob.
7.3 ‘YHWH repented concerning this. “It shall not be, says YHWH”.’
The consequence was that YHWH repented of what He had intended to do to His people and promised that it would not happen, thereby demonstrating His love and compassion towards them. It was not forgiveness, as the second set of visions will make clear. But it was a stay of execution and a deliverance from immediate and total destruction.
As always this is seen from man’s viewpoint. Something initially prophesied would in fact now not happen. This apparently demonstrated a ‘change of mind’. God, however, Who knew the end from the beginning, had intended just such a situation from the beginning. (Compare how He sent Jonah to Nineveh to announce judgment, knowing that they would repent and escape the judgment, even though from Jonah’s viewpoint it would look as though He had ‘changed His mind’). But the emphasis on His ‘repentance’ was intended to remind His people of His good intentions towards them if only they would put their hearts right towards Him. It was an example for the people to follow. While the Muslim would resign himself and say, ‘it is the will of God’ and expect no change in the situation, the Bible believer does believe that appealing to God can alter situations because of His personal interest in them.
The Second Vision - The Consuming Fire (7.4-6).
We must remember that this was a vision not something that actually happened. It commenced with a fire from YHWH which ‘devoured the great deep’. As we have seen fire was regularly a picture of YHWH’s judgments in the initial judgments (1.4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2.2, 5, compare also 5.6), but so awesome was it that it here that it dried up the ‘the great deep (tehom)’. To the Canaanites the sea itself contained divinity as they worshipped Yam (sea). Thus as had happened with the Egyptian gods in the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 12.12), the gods of Canaan, in which Israel took such delight, were being annihilated. There may, however, be a case for seeing the great deep here as indicating the nations which had sought to swamp Israel, which as we know from chapters 1-2 were to suffer the fire of YHWH (compare how Egypt could be seen in terms of the Nile, and Mesopotamia in terms of the Tigris and the Euphrates (Isaiah 27.1; Ezekiel 29.3 and compare Psalm 46.3; 93.3-4). It is not, however, until the New Testament that such an idea becomes explicit (Revelation 13.1). Having accomplished its work in the great deep the consuming fire was about to move from sea to land and devour up the whole of the land. It was evident that so all-consuming was the fire that nothing could stand before it. All would be swallowed up. It was fire of a kind that was totally outside Amos’s experience, even though he would probably have experienced relatively large scale local fires before in the dry hot climate around Tekoa. But he had never before seen one that dried up the sea, not even the Dead Sea.
Amos therefore called on YHWH to ‘stop’ before the land had been fully devoured, again on the grounds of Israel’s puniness. He did not cry for forgiveness because YHWH’s previous reaction had demonstrated that forgiveness was not possible, only mercy. And again God had compassion on His people and spared them.
7.4 ‘Thus the Lord YHWH showed me, and, behold, the Lord YHWH called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and would have eaten up the inheritance.’
What YHWH now showed Amos was the Lord YHWH contending by fire (or we could repoint, using the same consonants, as ‘a rain of fire’) and initially devouring ‘the great deep’. In Isaiah 51.10 ‘the great deep’ is the equivalent of ‘the depths of the sea’, and thus here the awesome vision in mind is that of the sea being dried up with the intensity of the consuming fire. We need not go into detail because this was all in a vision and visions are not necessarily intended to be taken literally. Alternatively we might see the great deep as representing surrounding peoples on whom YHWH had already threatened fire (1.4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2.2, 5; 5.6; compare also Psalm 46.3; 93.3-4) with Israel and Judah in the midst of them now about to experience the same.
Then the fire advanced on the inheritance (cheleq) of Israel and would have eaten it up. We have only to imagine the intensity of a fire that dries up the sea, especially as, to the Israelites, the sea was an enemy to be feared. This was not an example of a normal fire caused by the dryness of the vegetation and the heat of the sun. It was a supernatural visitation. And the idea was of the whole land being consumed with everything in it. The drying up of the great deep (tehom) would indicate among other things the defeat of the Canaanite god Yam (at Ugarit ‘prince sea (yam)’). The raining of fire would indicate that Baal (the Canaanite of storm and lightning) had been superseded.
We may compare with this picture of a consuming fire the words of Deuteronomy 32.22 which were the result of His people having moved Him to jealousy by their behaviour, ‘for a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the depths of Sheol, and devours the earth with her increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains’. Note that the ‘foundations of the mountains’ were regularly seen as in the depths of the sea (Psalm 46.2; Jonah 2.6). Here therefore Moses’ words are seen as being literally fulfilled. It is the ‘fiery heat’ of Deuteronomy 28.22, but multiplied and extended. There may well here be an indication that YHWH was (theoretically) considering bringing about the final conflagration.
7.5 ‘Then said I, “O Lord YHWH, cease, I beseech you. How will Jacob stand, for he is small?” ’
This time a horrified Amos called on ‘the Lord YHWH’ and begged Him to ‘cease’. He could not bear what he was seeing. And although he had now recognised as a result of YHWH’s previous reply that forgiveness was not available, he once more drew attention to the puniness of ‘Jacob’. How could such a great Lord totally destroy what was so puny?
7.6 ‘YHWH repented concerning this. “This also shall not be, says the Lord YHWH.” ’
Again YHWH ‘repented’ and declared that what he had shown Amos would not in fact now happen as a result of his intercession. Perhaps also in the light of Genesis 18.23-33 it was intended to indicate that there were sufficient righteous people in Israel and Judah for YHWH to spare the world from total destruction. However that may be the visions underline the fact that YHWH was not now about to destroy His people completely. That did not, however, mean that they would escape punishment.
The Third Vision. The Vision Of The Plumb-line And The Resulting Response (7.7-17).
In this third vision YHWH carried some kind of measuring device as He stood beside a wall, presumably with the purpose of measuring it. He wanted to demonstrate to Amos that He was not acting without reason in what He was doing. Then He explained that this was also what He intended to do with Israel. He intended to measure them and not pass by them any more. It is a theme of Scripture that when YHWH measures something in one way or another divine action results (compare Isaiah 28.17; Jeremiah 31.39; Zechariah 2.1). The result in this case would be that the high places of Isaac would be desolate and the sanctuaries of Israel would be laid waste, and He would rise against the house of Jeroboam (who were responsible for not having righted the false religion set up by Jeroboam I) with the sword.
It was bad enough threatening the sanctuaries, but the reference to judgment on the king’s house could hardly have failed to produce a response, and sure enough Amaziah, the priest of the high place in Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam about what Amos had prophesied concerning him. It says much for the status of genuine prophets in Israel and Judah that Amos was not immediately arrested. But even in their deteriorated state Israel recognised that they had to handle YHWH’ prophets carefully. Their history was full of examples of what happened to those who did not (consider Moses, Elijah, Elisha, the man of God who went to Jeroboam I; and so on). So Amaziah simply told him to go back to Judah, where he had come from, to which Amos replied that that was not possible because it was YHWH Who had sent him to prophesy against Israel. And he then declared what punishment would come, both on Amaziah personally, and on Israel.
7.7 ‘Thus he showed me, and, behold, the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand.’
There is a slight change in the opening phrase in that ‘the Lord YHWH’ is not mentioned. But as we already know Who ‘He’ is, and to have mentioned His name and title here would have been to conflict with the immediate mention of ‘the Lord’, it is not surprising. We know that ‘He’ is ‘the Lord’ Who will now measure Israel. Note that Amos has seen locusts, and then consuming fire, both symbols of YHWH’s judgment. But now he sees ‘the Lord’ Himself. YHWH’s direct intervention is now being made clear.
And ‘the Lord’ (adonai) stood beside a wall with ‘a measuring tool’ (literally ‘a tin’) in his hand. If it was not a plumb-line it was something similar to it. The word ’nk means ‘lead’ or ‘tin’ (compare Akkadian ‘anaku’) and clearly here indicated a builder’s measuring instrument of some kind. It is not, however, the usual word for plumb-line, although ’nk may have been used deliberately because it sounds very similar to words for ‘moaning, groaning’ (’nch, ’nq). It may on the other hand simply have been a recognised technical term for a kind of measuring instrument or tool. The point is that YHWH was about to ‘measure’ His people like a builder would measure a wall, probably in order to see if it was straight (thus the translation plumb-line).
7.8 ‘And YHWH said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb-line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel. I will not again pass by them any more.” ’
YHWH then asked Amos what he saw (YHWH, the covenant name, is used on its own because He was talking to Amos). He wanted to ensure that Amos had observed what He was doing. And when Amos replied ‘a measuring instrument’, ‘the Lord’ (adonai - now acting over against the people) replied, ‘ See, I will set a measuring instrument in the midst of My people Israel.’ Amos could be assured that YHWH would not judge them without measuring them. Not for Him the unfair process which passed for justice in Israel. But once He had measured them He would not pass them by any more. He would ensure strict justice.
It will be noted that Amos was now silenced. He had realised that he could plead for Israel no more. Justice, tempered with mercy, must be allowed to run its course.
7.9 “And the high places of Isaac will be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
And the result was that ‘the high places of Isaac’ (the high places in Beersheba where Isaac had lived much of his adult life, compare 5.5; 8.14; Genesis 27.23-25) would be desolate because they would receive no more worshippers, and the sanctuaries within Israel would be laid waste, and the ones responsible for the continuation of the false cult (the king and his house) would be put to the sword as a result of the direct intervention of YHWH. This judgment appears to very much have in mind Leviticus 26.31 where YHWH had warned, ‘and I will lay your cities waste, and will make your sanctuaries desolate’, and Leviticus 26.25 where the sword will ‘execute vengeance for the covenant’. The word of YHWH is thus seen as being fulfilled.
Alternatively ‘Isaac’ may simply be an alternative word for ‘Jacob’ and apply to all Israel’s sanctuaries (see verse 16 where ‘the house of Isaac’ is paralleled with ‘Israel’).
So we see that central to YHWH’s judgment on Israel was that they had put other things before Him and had so diluted His worship and their view of Him, that they ignored His requirements concerning their behaviour towards others.
7.10 ‘Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words.” ’
On hearing what Amos had said against the king, Amaziah immediately sent a messenger to the king to inform him of what Amos was saying, and made it sound as treasonable as possible. He claimed that Amos was ‘conspiring against’ the king, and was proclaiming treasonable words in order to stir up any disgruntled people of Israel against the king, so much so that the land could not stand his words, they overflowed too voluminously and were too horrible. (It was, of course, incumbent on any who heard about threats to the king’s person to report the fact, but he should have reported what was actually said. There is a warning to us all here not to believe anything that we are told until we have checked the facts. More trouble has been caused by the distortion of what people have said than by almost anything else in history. Such regular distortion is one of the proofs of the utter sinfulness of the world).
7.11 “For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land’.”
He claimed, slightly inaccurately, that Amos had said that Jeroboam would die by the sword (Amos had only said ‘the house of Jeroboam’), and that the people of Israel would be led away into exile as captives (which was true - 6.7).
7.12 ‘Also Amaziah said to Amos, “O you seer, go, flee you away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there, but do not prophesy again any more at Beth-el, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a royal house.” ’
Amaziah then himself turned on Amos. It would be seen as his responsibility to preserve the public peace at Bethel and he would want it on record that he had tried to get rid of Amos without incurring the wrath of YHWH. Although accepting that he was ‘a seer’ (he may have meant it slightly insultingly indicating that he was but a small time prophet, or it may simply have indicated a prophet from Judah as opposed to Israel), he bade Amos to return to Judah, and make his living prophesying there. He clearly considered that Amos saw his position as a means of making a living. Let him then make his living in Judah, where people might be more willing to listen to him, rather than in Bethel at the sanctuary of the king of Israel. Note his emphasis on the high status of Bethel. It was the king’s sanctuary, and under the auspices of royalty. And Amaziah was proud of it. In his view therefore Amos, as a minor Judean prophet, was getting above himself and out of his depth.
7.14 ‘Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor was I a prophet’s son, but I was a cattle breeder, and a dresser of sycomore-mulberry trees,”
Amos recognised the imputation and assured Amaziah firmly that he was not that kind of prophet, nor was he a novitiate (a son of a prophet), rather he had been a small-time cattle-breeder and dresser of sycomore-mulberry trees. he had thus had every opportunity of earning a living. Sycomore-mulberry trees did not tend to grow in the highlands (and thus around Tekoa) but in the Shephelah (the lower hills) in western Judah, nearer the Philistine border. Thus it suggests that he regularly moved from one place to the other. Such trees produced a mulberry fig which dressers would nick with a sharp instrument some time prior to its being picked in order that it might ripen into a sweeter and softer fruit. Without this process it was less pleasant when it ripened. That may well have been part of Amos’s task, which would suggest that he was not a wealthy cattle-breeder but had to subsidise his income by this kind of work. On the other hand it may indicate that he was a specialist consultant.
7.15 “And YHWH took me from following the flock, and YHWH said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’.”
And he emphasised that it was YHWH Who had called him from following the flock, and had told him to, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel’. Thus he was not to be seen as a professional prophet, but as a man constrained and called by YHWH. He had therefore had no choice where he served. He had simply done as YHWH had told him just as David had done before him (compare 2 Samuel 7.8).
Note how YHWH’s, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel’ stands over against Amaziah’s ‘Go --- into the land of Judah --- and prophesy there.’ (It necessarily raised the question, which Amos answered, as to whether he should obey God rather than man. God does not always call the person that we think most appropriate.
7.16-17 “Now therefore hear you the word of YHWH, “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not go on preaching (literally ‘do not drop’) against the house of Isaac’. Therefore thus says YHWH. Your wife will be a harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, and your land will be divided by line, and you yourself will die in a land which is unclean, and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land.”
Amaziah was now to discover why it was dangerous to mess around with a prophet of YHWH, for Amos responded with a message from YHWH. He first gave the charge against Amaziah, in that he had told Amos not to prophesy in Israel, and not ‘drop’ against the house of Isaac, (this clearly equates ‘Israel’ with ‘Isaac’ as a name for Israel), in spite of the fact that he had been commanded to do so by YHWH. The idea of ‘dropping’ is taken from Deuteronomy 32.2 where it says, ‘My teaching will drop as the rain’. Incipient in this was the later teaching concerning the work of the Spirit seen in terms of rain (Isaiah 44.1-5) and the power of the word of YHWH seen in the same terms (Isaiah 55.10-13).
Then he announced YHWH’s sentence, every word of which spelled invasion and exile. Amaziah’s wife would be a prostitute in the city, presumably because she had lost her male providers through the invasion and thus had to resort to prostitution in order to survive, no doubt after having been raped by the invaders. As a consequence she would become unfit to continue as a priest’s wife, bearing his children. Their children would die by the sword so that neither the family name nor the priesthood could be perpetuated in the family. Their land would be divided up systematically by use of a measuring line. And Amaziah himself would be carried away into an unclean land, i.e. a foreign land, something totally abhorrent to a priest of the sanctuary, and something which would render him unfit to serve because he would be unable to observe fully the rules regarding cleanness and uncleanness. It is clear from this that some Levitical rules were still in place at Bethel.
It is possibly significant that the same punishments, being sent into harlotry, execution of children and dividing of the land are found in Assyrian vassal treaties. It might indicate either that they were common to many treaties, or that there is in mind here the fact that Israel would at some time be subjugated to Assyria and would then rebel. Compare Deuteronomy 28.30, although harlotry of a wife and execution of children does not appear as a consequence of rebellion in either Deuteronomy 28 or Leviticus 26.
“And Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land.” His final words then boldly cited Amaziah’s charge to the king, ‘and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land’ (verse 11). In that at least Amaziah had correctly cited him and thus he boldly confirmed it in Amaziah’s own words. As both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 had made clear, failure to observe the covenant would involve being ‘scattered among the nations’. And within forty years, in two main stages, the cream of Israelite society would be so scattered (2 Kings 15.29; 17.6). Their day of YHWH had come.
The Fourth Vision - The Vision Of The Basket Of Summer Fruit Indicating That Israel Were About To Be Harvested (8.1-14).
In his fourth vision Amos was shown a basket of summer fruit (e.g. figs and pomegranates). This was an indication that the end was near for His people Israel (the gathering of summer fruit came at the end of the agricultural year prior to the Feast of Tabernacles, in or around September). No longer would He overlook their sins. No longer would He hold back His judgment on them. Their singing of Psalms would be turned into wailings, many would die prematurely, and there would be no mourning for the dead, for men would be fearful because it was YHWH Who would have done it (6.10). And it would all be because they had been so taken up with growing rich that they had forgotten YHWH’s requirement for compassion, and mercy towards the poor and needy, and had rather sought to squeeze them dry.
The only thing that they would therefore be able to look forward to would be trembling, and mourning, and weeping (just as they had made the poor tremble and mourn and weep), and it would appear as though the world was collapsing. Even the day would appear to be shortened. And worst of all they would have no access to those who proclaimed the word of YHWH.
The Vision Of Approaching Judgment (8.1-3).
8.1 ‘ Thus the Lord YHWH showed me, and, behold, a basket of summer fruit.’
Once more we have emphasis on ‘the Lord YHWH’. The One Who was Lord over all was going about His work, and he showed Amos a basket of summer-fruit, the final harvest of the agricultural year before the rains came and the whole cycle began again.
8.2 ‘And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then YHWH said to me, “The end is come on my people Israel. I will not again pass by them any more.” ’
He then drew Amos’s attention the basket of summer fruit by asking him what he saw. And naturally Amos’s answer was, a basket of summer fruit. YHWH (note the softening of the Name when speaking to His servant) then explained the significance of the basket of summer fruit. Just as the basket of summer fruit was an indication of the end of the agricultural year, so also was it an indication in this case that His people Israel were also approaching their end. The time of harvest was near. YHWH would not pass by them any more, They were about to be brought to account. The lesson was reinforced by a play on words between ‘summer fruit’ (qayits) and ‘end’ (qets).
8.3 ‘And the songs of the temple (palace) will be wailings in that day, says the Lord YHWH. The dead bodies will be many. In every place will they cast them forth with silence.”
And it would not be pleasant. The joyous songs of their temple would become wailings in that day (compare 9.1). Compare how in 7.9 their sanctuaries would be laid waste. All joy would have gone from their worship, for they would have nothing to rejoice about. The word also means ‘palace’ and it may therefore equally indicate that the royal house and its adherents, and the houses of the rich, would have no causes for celebration, indeed, in view of what would happen to the house of Jeroboam (7.9), and the kings who followed, and to their riches, they would be in mourning. This was the word of the Lord YHWH. And there would be an overabundance of dead bodies as many would be slain. And those who cast them, out so that they could be collected by the body-gatherers (who came into service when circumstances resulted in a profusion of deaths), would do so in awed silence, not even wailing for the dead because they would not want to draw attention to them, or to themselves. It was possible that they might be the next to suffer YHWH’s judgments. Compare for this silence in such circumstances 6.10.
The Reason For The Judgment (8.4-7).
One reason for this judgment is now clearly stated (we have already been told, and will be told again, that it was partly because of false and debased worship - e.g. verse 14 ). It was because they had become so selfish, inconsiderate and uncaring of others (apart from their own circles), that God would never be able to forget it. What is described is an equally vivid picture of our own day. They took advantage of the needy by deception, and brought the poor into even deeper poverty and misery by their ways.
8.4-6 “Hear this, O you who would swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail, saying,
There is here a devastating denunciation of their hypocrisy. They were very religious, for they faithfully observed the holy days. But the truth was that they could not wait for holy days to be over so that they could once again get on with their deceitful dealings. The new moon day (Numbers 10.10.; 28.11), at the commencement of each ‘month’ (moon period), and the Sabbaths, were recognised feast days on which secular activities were forbidden. But as soon as these days were over they began again their trading for huge profits, selling wheat and other grain to city dwellers at extortionate prices, and mixing it with sweepings. They gave under weight (the ephah was a volume measurement but could be made to vary), and charged exorbitantly (the ‘shekel’, which was the weight used to weigh up how much silver was given, was made heavier than it should have been, thus requiring more silver to reach the target price). They put the poor and needy under heavy burdens, even literal bondage, for trivial amounts of ‘money’, the equivalent of a pair of shoes (compare 2.6), or a small amount of silver (the nearest equivalent to ‘money’ that they had). And they could not wait to get rid of their poor quality wheat on the unsuspecting, mixing the relatively good with what was swept up from the threshingfloor or from the floor of the barn. (No doubt they argued that it was ‘just business’). All this was in direct contravention of YHWH’s covenant (see Leviticus 19.35-36; Deuteronomy 25.13-15), and contrary to the generosity and compassion that YHWH required from His people (e.g. Deuteronomy 15.1-11).
8.7 ‘YHWH has sworn by the pride of Jacob, “Surely I will never forget any of their works.” ’
But Amos wanted them to know that they would not get away with it. YHWH saw all that they did, and Himself measured it up, and He swore by the wealth that they had built up that He would never forget anything of what they had done. (None of us should ever forget that all that we do is also similarly ‘audited’ by God. We shall receive for what we have done, whether good or bad - 2 Corinthians 5.10). There was to be no ‘easy forgiveness’. The time for forgiveness was past. Like them we also can treat God’s forgiveness too lightly. We equally need to remember that God will not easily forget what we do, unless there is true repentance, and that even when we do receive forgiveness it is only at the great cost of the sufferings of Jesus Christ on our behalf (1 Peter 2.24; 3.18).
For ‘the pride of Jacob’ compare 6.8. It represented all that they had built up for themselves and prided themselves in. They were proud of what they had ‘achieved’ and did not realise that it was forfeit because YHWH saw how it was done, and swore by it that they would have to face up to the consequences. Compare ‘the glory of the children of Israel’ in Isaiah 17.3, where the idea was that it represented their possessions and was a fading glory.
The Consequences Of The Judgment (8.8-14).
For these people there would be a heavy price to pay because of their sins. The land would tremble and all its inhabitants mourn. For YHWH was about to bring about earth shaking events which would turn everything upside down.
8.8 ‘Will not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn who dwells in it? Yes, it will rise up wholly like the River; and it will be troubled and sink again, like the River of Egypt.’
The trembling of the land might have in mind the coming earthquake (1.1), but it certainly also included the trembling of the inhabitants of the land in the face of what was coming. All concerned would be in mourning. The situation is likened to the rise and fall of the Nile in its devastating effects when it rose beyond the norm, bringing much destruction and increased unpleasant consequences. It engulfed the land, and then withdrew leaving unpleasant consequences in its wake. While the plagues of Egypt had been exceptional, many of them were amplifications of what the Nile waters regularly brought on Egypt, although to a more limited extent. This was quite apart from the benefit that it brought which was not in mind here. It may also be that Amos specifically had in mind the judgments of Exodus, and was here reminding the people of them.
‘In that day’ or ‘about that time’ refers to any fixed time of YHWH’s judgments. This is not specifically referring to ‘the end times’, even though the end times may follow this pattern. The catastrophic events relating to the sun could at various times arise as a result of the effects of a severe earthquake causing dust storms, or a volcano seriously erupting with its debris darkening the sky, or be the results of invasion, with the smoke of the destructive fires blotting out the sun. An eclipse of the sun, one of which occurred in 763 BC, may also have been indicated. It portrayed exceptionally severe judgment, which would result in deep mourning (compare Deuteronomy 28.29). Thus the feasts that they had treated so lightly (verse 5) would now become feasts of mourning, their joyous songs would become lamentations, they would clothe themselves with sackcloth (compare Isaiah 22.12; Joel 1.8, 13; Jonah 3.5) and shave their heads (compare Job 1.20; Deuteronomy 21.12-13; Jeremiah 41.5; 48.37), all as an indication of their complete misery. Indeed the mourning would be so bitter that it would be similar in depth to that of mourning the premature death of an only son. It would be a bitter day for them all.
8.11 “Behold, the days come, says the Lord YHWH, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of YHWH.”
And the land which had been so much the land where people could hear the word of YHWH through priests, preachers and prophets, would be bereft of such priests, preachers and prophets. People would not know where to look in order to feed on the word of God (they had no copies of the Scriptures of their own. They were dependent on those who were taught in the word or received YHWH’s revelation). This too would be a consequence of the destruction of Samaria and its repopulation by foreign peoples, and of their own exile.
8.12 “And they will wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east. They will run to and fro to seek the word of YHWH, and will not find it.”
The picture is of people searching desperately for the word of God. When they had had it they had despised it. Now that they were bereft of it they sought it desperately, but usually in vain. The word of God would no longer be available in what had been God’s inheritance.
The reference to north and east may suggest that ‘sea to sea’ indicated west (the Great Sea) and south (the sea of Egypt or the Dead Sea). But the phrase usually indicates ‘worldwide’ (Psalm 72.8; Zechariah 9.10), and north and east may have indicated places where they might have expected to find wisdom.
8.13 “In that day will the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst.”
And those among them who were usually so full of life, the beautiful virgins and the stalwart young men, would instead be fainting for thirst and desperate to cling onto life. All joy and pleasure would have been taken from them. It would be a dreadful day indeed when hope was taken away from those who were of an age when life should have been full of hope.
8.14 “Those who swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god, O Dan, lives,’ and, ‘As the way of Beer-sheba lives’. They will fall, and never rise up again.”
And all this would in the end be because of ‘the sin of Samaria’, in other words their false basis of worship, their syncretism of Yahwism with Baalism, and their watering down of the requirements of YHWH (compare I Kings 15.26, 34 and often in Kings). Their folly is brought out in supposed words of the worshippers. Instead of worshipping the living, eternal Creator of heaven and earth, they had worshipped what they saw as a local god limited to Dan or a watered down teaching connected with Beersheba which was idolatrous (Dan and Beersheba may be mentioned because they represented the northernmost and southernmost parts of the land outside of which YHWH was not worshipped. But even this they had defiled and despoiled). The ‘they’ may refer to the gods in question or to the worshippers. Both would fall and never rise again (interestingly in contrast to One Who did die and rise again, our Lord Jesus Christ and all who are His).
YHWH Will Inexorably Deal In Judgment With His People, Who Have Forgotten Who And What He Really Is, And There Will Therefore Be No Hiding Place For Them (9.1-10).
There is something genuinely awesome and thrilling about Amos’s opening words here as he declares, ‘I saw YHWH’ (compare Isaiah 6.1). They stand in stark contrast to ‘thus the Lord YHWH showed me’ (7.1, 4, 7; 8.1). Amos was no longer involved in what was happening except as a spectator, and was in no position to intervene as he had in 7.2, 5. Now YHWH was revealing Himself in all His genuinely awesome power as He personally carried out His judgment alone, and promised that none would escape His purpose for Israel. They had allowed themselves to forget Who and What He was, and so He would now reveal it by His activity. They had considered themselves His special people, but that had only been true while they had obeyed the covenant. Now they must recognise that they were no different than the other nations, apart from the small remnant who were true to Him, not one of whom would be lost.
The unity of the passage is confirmed by the analysis:
Note the play on words between verse 1 ‘caphtor’ (capitals) and verse 8 ‘caphtor’ (Caphtor). In ‘a’ the ‘last of them’ will be slain with the sword and not one will escape, while in the parallel ‘all the sinners of My people’ will die by the sword who claim that evil will not overtake them. In ‘b’ He will set His eyes on them, and He will search them out and slay them wherever they flee (including among the nations), and in the parallel His eyes are on them, and they will be fully sifted among the nations. In ‘c’ YHWH causes the land to rise and fall like the River of Egypt as He judges His people, and in the parallel the Israelites are declared to have come out of Egypt, but because of His judgment on them not to count for more than Philistia or Aram. Centrally in ‘d’ the greatness of YHWH is revealed.
YHWH’s Judgment Against Israel And Their False Altar is Certain And sure (9.1-4).
There is an interesting and possibly significant comparison between verse 1 here and 1 Kings 13.1 (possibly as known to Amos in the tradition). There Jeroboam I had ‘stood by the altar’ at Bethel, only to hear it cursed by the man of God. Now that curse was to be brought to its final fulfilment by YHWH Himself, as He too stood by the altar. But this time it would not only be the altar that would collapse. The command was that the whole building which contained the altar was to be made to collapse on the people, while the remainder of the people would be slain with the sword, no matter where they hid themselves. YHWH would deal with them by earthquake and sword.
9.1 ‘I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said, “Smite the capitals, that the thresholds may shake, and break them in pieces on the head of all of them, and I will slay the last of them with the sword. There shall not one of them flee away, and there shall not one of them escape.” ’
YHWH had as it were taken up the place usually occupied by the serving priests, but it was not in order to make an offering, but to call for the very structure of the sanctuary to shake and fall in pieces on the heads of all who worshipped there, while any who escaped He would slay to the last man by the sword. Not one would successfully flee away. Not one would escape. The place of sanctuary would have become a place of death. The word for ‘capitals’ is caphtor, a play on words with Caphtor in verse 8. The capitals were part of the pillars which were required to hold up the roofs of all temples around that time. The ‘thresholds’ were the bases for the doorposts. Their smiting and shaking would cause the whole sanctuary to collapse. The ‘smiting’ suggests that He was talking to the men who would carry out the demolition work. The fact that it contained worshippers points to the Canaanite method of worship. Compare how Samson brought their temple down on the heads of the worshippers (Judges 16.29-30).
His listeners would no doubt refer this to the temple at Bethel, but it could equally apply to the Temple in Jerusalem and those who were at ease in Zion (6.1). As we shall see, in his grand finale Amos dismisses the ideas of both.
Note the stark use of the title ‘Lord’ (adonai - sovereign lord). He was no longer bound to them by the covenant as YHWH, but now acted towards them as He would act towards all the nations (verse 7). They had forfeited their special status.
In vividly descriptive words YHWH assured them that wherever they sought to hide themselves, they would not escape. The grave-world (Sheol) would not protect them (compare Deuteronomy 32.22), He would drag them up from there. The heavenly world would provide no hiding place, He would simply pull them down. The top of Carmel, noted for its height and its hiding places in the caves and forests, would not conceal them, for he would search them out and find them. Even the bottom of the sea would provide no shelter, for He would command one of His great creatures to bite them. Captivity among their enemies would not protect them, for He would command the sword to slay them. And all this was because He had set His eyes on them for evil and not for good. He had had long patience with them, but now that patience was at an end. They would be an example to all of what happened to those who claimed His favour, but broke His covenant.
A Reminder Of Who It Is Who Will Do This (9.5-6).
The Lord YHWH can do all this because he is Lord of earthquakes, and is the One Who has built His mansions in the heavens, and His cellars on the earth, while also controlling the raging of the sea, and turning it into rain and storm.
9.5 ‘For the Lord, YHWH of hosts, is he who touches the land and it melts, and all who dwell in it will mourn, and it will rise up wholly like the River, and will sink again, like the River of Egypt.’
The picture here is possibly one of earthquakes (compare 1.1) and expresses His total control over the earth. Just as the Nile rises and falls under His control, so does the earth rise and fall when He brings His earthquakes, touching the land and causing it to melt, something which inevitably results in great mourning among those affected. While we may not today see YHWH as directly causing earthquakes on an individual basis, we are equally well aware that His creation has been established in such a way as to make earthquakes certain. They are part of His reminder, deliberately built into His creation, that His judgment is upon sin. His control is no less simply because He has regularised it.
On the other hand the picture could equally be that of an invading army, causing the earth to tremble. In inscriptions the great kings of the nations regularly used this kind of language to indicate the nations quaking as they advanced on them. If the approach of great kings could cause upheaval in the land, how much moreso the approach of the Lord YHWH.
‘The Lord, YHWH of hosts.’ This title, although comparable with what is found elsewhere is found in this particular form only here in Amos, possibly because it was part of the source on which he called (see excursus below).
9.6 ‘He who builds his chambers in the heavens, and has founded his vault on the earth, he who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the face of the earth, YHWH is his name.’
Furthermore YHWH has full control of heaven and earth. He has built His palace chambers in heaven, and sees the earth as His cellar, and has full control over the seas, pouring them out over the earth, both in life-giving rain, and in severe storm, vicious hurricane and deadly tidal wave.
The word for ‘chambers’ comes from the verb ‘to go up or ascend’, and indicates upper rooms, that which is ascended to. The word for ‘vault’ connects with the verb ‘to tie up, bring together’ which here involves bringing together in construction work so as to produce the cellars which are a part of the foundations.
Note how the second part of the verse parallels 5.8b. It is quite possible that Amos is calling on a hymnic source which he extracts and repeats as he will.
Brief Excursus On The Possible Hymnic Source Used By Amos.
It has been pointed out that there are certain seeming citations in Amos which possibly indicate a hymnic source, which could be either a hymn sung in the Jerusalem Temple, a hymn used by the sanctuary at Bethel, or a hymn written by Amos himself and used by such believers as presumably responded to his ministry. Alternately it may have been part of a kind of statement of faith used in worship, prepared by Amos himself for use with such believers.
Consider in this regard the following different possible citations in Amos, perhaps slightly altered in order to fit the context, which could be seen as coming together to form part of a hymn, as follows:
It will be noted that the verses contain similar themes and that two sections end with ‘YHWH is His Name’, one ends with ‘YHWH the God of hosts is His Name’, while 9.5 commences with ‘For YHWH the God of Hosts --’. Furthermore lines four & five in 5.8 parallel lines three & four in 9.6, a repetition typical of a number of Psalms (e.g. Psalm 107.8, 15, 21, 31).
There is certainly no reason why Amos should not have used a hymn which was well known in order to reach the minds of his listeners, incorporating it into his prophetically inspired message.
End of excursus.
9.7 “Are you not as the children of the Cushites to me, O children of Israel?” says YHWH. “Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Aramaeans (Syrians) from Kir?”
Some see this as indicating that all nations are under YHWH’s care and control for good (compare Deuteronomy 32.8-9), which to some extent is certainly true, but such an interpretation does not fit in with the context. In context it appears rather to imply something undesirable. The Cushites (from around the Sudan area) were proverbially well known for not being easily changeable (see Jeremiah 13.23), and the thought may therefore well be that Israel also had proved intractable, in spite of the fact that YHWH had delivered them from Egypt, indicating that YHWH saw them as incapable of repentance. Alternatively in mind may be the fact that the Cushites were a remote and far off people, with no connections with the land of promise. Thus to be like them was to be removed from any covenant relationship with YHWH of any kind whatsoever. Therefore, while they might think that they could claim special privileges as those who had been brought by YHWH out of Egypt, they should recognise the fact that in reality they were no different from their enemies against whom they boasted, for it was also YHWH Who had brought the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete), and the Aramaeans from Kir (contrast 1.5). All were in the pot of YHWH’s judgment together (chapter 1). So He wanted them to recognise that in view of their disobedience to the covenant, (obedience to which would alone have made them special as His covenant people), they would receive no different treatment from the others. In choosing to withdraw from covenant responsibility they had cancelled their privilege by their behaviour. Once again we have here the clear implication that YHWH controls the whole earth and can do as He will.
9.8 “Behold, the eyes of the Lord YHWH are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says YHWH.’
The fact of Israel’s rejection by YHWH is here confirmed. The eyes of YHWH were on ‘the sinful kingdom’, seeing all that they did, and He would therefore destroy then from the face of the earth. He would not, however, totally destroy the ‘house of Jacob’. The righteous remnant would escape. This was partly because in Judah, members from all ‘the twelve tribes’ who had escaped there, or would subsequently escape there, would survive, thus preserving within Judah that remnant of ‘the house of Jacob’ which did not make up a part of the ‘sinful kingdom’, and partly because some of the poorest people, and some who fled to the mountains, would also survive, some to flee to Judah or Egypt, others to take over small parts of the land in order to scrape a living, once it was safe to do so, before becoming, at least to some extent, absorbed into the incoming population. Thus as in Isaiah 6.13 ‘the holy seed’ would survive.
9.9 “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, in the same way as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet will not the least pebble fall on the earth.”
For Israel were shortly to be sifted among the nations, in the same way as grain was sifted in a sieve. The figure is a vivid one indicating the violent shaking of Israel in order to remove all that was merely ‘waste’. Not one pebble (compare 2 Samuel 7.13) would escape from the sieve and fall on the earth. There is here the hint that the righteous will escape, slipping like good grain through the sieve’s meshes, but the emphasis is on the certainty of judgment for the sinful. Not one would escape. This will be confirmed in verse 10.
Some translate ‘pebble’ as ‘kernel’ (although in its only other usage it meant pebble - 2 Samuel 7.13). If this were the case it would indicate the total extinction of Israel from YHWH’s purposes. There would be no good grain which could escape.
Note that this was all at YHWH’s command. It would not happen by accident, but would be a consequence of His sovereign overlordship. However, as the purpose of sifting in a sieve was so that the good grain would fall through the mesh of the sieve, while the rubbish, such as pebbles, would remain in the sieve, it is more likely that we are to see in it the distinction between YHWH’s treatment of the righteous and the sinful.
‘Among all the nations.’ Amos has already declared that Israelites would be taken captive into foreign countries (4.2-3; 5.11, 27; 6.7; 7.11, 17; 8.12; 9.4). Now we learn that it was to end for them in further judgment. They only had been ‘known’ by YHWH of ‘all the families on earth’ (3.2). Now those very nations would see their shame because they had failed in their response to His purpose for them.
9.10 “All the sinners of my people will die by the sword, who say, ‘The evil will not overtake or meet us.’ ”
All who were at present so complacent in their sinfulness, and so sure that Amos could not be right, confidently saying ‘evil will not overtake us’, would die by the sword. None would be left. It will be noted that there is an implied promise here that those few who were faithful to YHWH would in some way have His special hand on them, for they are excluded from the indictment.
The Grand Finale - Out Of Ruin YHWH Will Produce The Fulfilment Of All His Promises (9.11-15).
These verse are not to be seen as something tacked on to the prophecy as a kind of postscript, but as the end to which the whole of Amos’s prophecies have been directed. Coming as he did from Judah he was firmly imbued with the idea of YHWH’s promise to David of the everlasting continuation of his house and of its everlasting rule over the whole of Israel/Judah (2 Samuel 7.4-16). Thus to him all YHWH’s judgments could only have that in mind. It was only because of his determination not to soften the idea of that judgment that he had refrained from speaking of these promises until now (even though he had David in mind - 6.5). The message here was, however, an essential final element in his prophecy, and could not in the end be omitted. It is indeed inconceivable that a Judean prophet would not have had this in mind.
Furthermore his view of the Davidic dynasty as depicted here is very much in line with 2 Samuel 7. As a farmer his thought was not set on the Temple and the Jerusalem cult (he never mentions Israel’s desertion of the Temple), but on the pre-temple ‘booth of David’, before all the later intrusions on that simplicity (‘the booth of David’) had begun to break in an spoil things, and thus on the true house of David. There was to be a restoration of past glory based on that simplicity, the golden era as it was before it had become distorted by Solomon and his descendants. Amos saw Jerusalem as a place were Judah were sinfully ‘at ease’ (6.1), simply mimicking David (6.5), and he had little time for temples (8.3; 9.1). (Kings sees things in the same way. To the prophetic author of Kings the reign of Solomon precipitated the long slide downwards that followed his pockmarked reign). And this view of things is equally true if we translate scth as Succoth rather than booth.
It will also be noted that in chapter 1 Amos had laid great emphasis on the evil of Edom (1.6, 9, 11-12) as one who influenced the nations in the enslavement of Israel. Edom was very much involved with the nations. Now what remained of Edom was to be ‘possessed’, and the position therefore reversed, and included in that possession would be ‘all the (other) nations’. We have a reflection here of the ideas in Psalm 2. Note also that while the cities will necessarily be restored as centres of administration and places of refuge, it is the agricultural side of things that is pre-eminent. Not for Amos the glory of Jerusalem. His ideal Israel is based on the idea of the rural communities connected with local centres.
9.11-12 “In that day will I raise up the booth (or ‘Succoth’) of David which is fallen, and close up its breaches, and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations who are called by my name, says YHWH who is doing this.”
Much depends in our interpretation of these words on how we interpret the words ‘the booth (scth) of David which is fallen’. A number of suggestions have been made:
What seems most likely to us is that there is here a somewhat idealistic reference to a return to the ‘simple’ life prior to the establishment of great fortresses and temples when the eyes of kings and of men were on YHWH. It was in booths (or Succoth) that David’s men dwelt when they were serving YHWH in the field, the place where a malingering David should have been (2 Samuel 11.11). It was to his shepherd’s tent that David took the armour of Goliath. YHWH too was content to dwell in a tent and informed David that He wanted nothing more ‘sophisticated’ (2 Samuel 7.6). This could then be seen as incorporated with the idea of the need for the restoration of Israel/Judah. Amos could thus be seen as prophesying the restoration of the idealistic days of David’s purity, with a new David ruling over God’s new people in accordance with the ideal pattern.
But while speaking idealistically Amos would be well aware that people would not actually go back to living in booths, so that he might well therefore have pictured YHWH as rebuilding the ‘booth of David’ in terms of houses and regional centres without it involving the setting up of a major bureaucratic centre. (He was not an economist).
‘I will close up its breaches, and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.’ While this would aptly tie in with the interpretation that considers that scth means Succoth, it can equally aptly be seen simply as a practical acceptance of what would be involved in the establishment of a king in the pattern of the ideal David. The idea is indeed that Israel as a whole will be restored to a simple lifestyle, under the coming king of the house of David, and thus to being what it was originally ideally intended to be, (and as it idealistically was when it lived in booths in the wilderness), living under the scion of the house of David in accordance with the Law of Moses and the covenant with David as a witness to the nations.
‘That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations who are called by My Name, says YHWH who does this.’ ‘Called by My Name’ may well have in mind the nations of chapters 1-2, the nations who either dwelt in the land given by YHWH to Abraham and Israel, and had themselves been brought there by YHWH (9.7), or who had been allocated land because such land had ideally been allocated to their founders by YHWH as a result of their relationship with Abraham (Deuteronomy 2.5, 9, 19,. And the idea would be that what remained of these nations who lived within YHWH’s inheritance, but had previously oppressed Israel/Judah, would now be brought under their sway, and respond to their teaching of the Law. All these nations, including Edom (1 Samuel 14.47; 2 Samuel 8.11-14; 1 Kings 11.21-22, 25), had continually harassed Israel/Judah when they were in a position to do so (as chapters 1-2 make clear), or had indeed at times even been harassed by them. But one day all of them would be possessed by the house of David as one great kingdom under YHWH (as they had been theoretically in the days of David). Alternatively we might see the nations ‘called by My Name’ as being all nations worldwide who would respond to the call of YHWH. Either way the central thought is of a great kingdom of peace under the rule of the coming ideal David.
9.13 “Behold, the days come, says YHWH, that the ploughman will overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed, and the mountains will drop sweet wine, and all the hills will melt.”
When that time comes, said YHWH, there will be prosperity and fruitfulness in a way never known before. So productive will be the land that the plougher will follow rapidly on the heels of the reaper (there will be no need to wait for the ‘proper season’, for it will always be the proper season, and the rain will be there when needed), the treader of grapes on the heels of the one who sows the seed from which the vineyard will grow (which would normally have taken four years to mature). Even the remote mountains will be full of vineyards dropping sweet wine, and the hills will seem as though they are melting as the wine flows down them. Although this is clearly not intended to be taken literally the picture is of continual fruitfulness and abundant harvests, an agriculturalist’s heaven.
Such times of prosperity would indeed come to Israel at various times after the different exiles had occurred, when Israelites would return through the activities of such as Cyrus, and the land would again bloom and blossom, but the final idea in mind is undoubtedly the everlasting ideal kingdom, pictured in the terms of those days.
9.14 “And I will bring back the captivity of my people Israel, and they will build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they will plant vineyards, and drink their wine. They will also make gardens, and eat their fruit.”
The exile of YHWH’s people Israel would be reverted. They would be restored to their land and would rebuild their ruined cities, and inhabit them. They would re-plant their vineyards and drink their wine. They would make ‘gardens’ and eat of their fruit. Once again we have the agriculturalist’s Paradise. And once again it would have partial fulfilment after the Exiles, but is pointing finally to the ideal state.
9.15 “And I will plant them on their land, and they will no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, says YHWH your God.”
And once this replanting of His people on the land had taken place they would never again be plucked up out of their land, the land which He had given them. And this was the word of YHWH their God. It is an eternal promise, and can in the end only relate to the eternal kingdom.
So Amos is promising the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham in the fullest possible ideal way. This has, of course, never literally taken place, and indeed if we are to accept Hebrews 11.10-14 (where we learn that Abraham and his descendants looked for the fulfilment of the promises of the land in a new ‘heavenly country’, that is the new heaven and the new earth) will not be. We should remember that Amos’s words here were spoken of YHWH’s refined people, ‘the righteous’, the only ones, we have been told earlier, who would survive. This has nothing to do with a modern man-made group of people who have taken to themselves the name of Israel in Palestine who are mostly no more true descendants of Abraham than the best of us. It refers to the righteous remnant of Israel through whom YHWH would establish His Kingly Rule. And as the New Testament tells us, that righteous remnant was made up of the Apostles, and the other disciples, and the Jews who responded to their Messiah through their message, and then to the Gentiles who were incorporated into the new Israel by adoption in accordance with the Law of Moses, in other words to Christ’s new ‘congregation’ which was and is the true Israel, that is, the true people of God made up of all true believers (John 15.1-6; Matthew 16.18; Romans 2.28-29; 11.17-28; Galatians 3.29; 4.21-31; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 1.1; 2.9; James 1.1). Thus Amos here, without of course knowing the full facts, is speaking of the coming Kingly Rule of God established in Christ Jesus, which will enjoy such privileges here on earth, but which is looking with Abraham for their final fulfilment above (Hebrews 11.10-14).
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