AMOS

John A. Jelinek

INTRODUCTION

Author. The title of the book comes from its human author whose name means "burden bearer" or "load carrier." Amos is not mentioned in other biblical books or in any inscription archaeologists have uncovered. Amos was a shepherd (noqed) or sheep breeder, and he described himself as a herdsman (boqer; 7:14). He possibly owned or managed large herds and may have been in charge of shepherds, though the terms used do not necessarily suggest this. Amos described himself as a grower of sycamore figs (7:14), a variety of the mulberry family, producing fig-like fruit.

Amos’s authorship is supported by the claim of the book (1:1; 7:14), by the pastoral language (7:1–4, 14–15), and by the contents demonstrating his knowledge of an outdoor lifestyle (3:4–5, 12; 5:8–9; 9:9). Amaziah’s suggestion that he "flee away to the land of Judah" (7:12) implies that he was from Judah.

Date. An older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, Amos was active during the reigns of both Jeroboam II (793–753 BC, in Israel) and Uzziah (790–739 BC, in Judah). Most scholars date Amos’s ministry toward the end of this period; however, since Jotham was coregent with Uzziah during the latter part of his reign (2Kg 15:5; 2Ch 26:21), a date between 760 and 755 BC is likely more accurate.

During Jeroboam’s reign, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were relatively weak. Aram, Israel’s nearest enemy, had been brought under subjection for a time (2Kg 14:25–28). Adad-Nirari III of Assyria completed a successful conquest of Damascus in 802 BC, but he did not extend his influence over Israel. These factors helped forge a time of economic development in Israel.

Amos ministered two years before the earthquake (1:1), joining Zechariah, who mentioned an earthquake during the reign of Uzziah (Zch 14:5). Josephus related that an earthquake occurred when Uzziah entered the temple and was struck with leprosy (2Ch 26:16–20; Josephus, Ant. 9.10.4). Excavations at Hazor and Samaria point to evidence of a violent earthquake in Israel about 760 BC (Philip J. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah—An Archaeological Commentary [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1988], 21). A 760 BC date may account for his omission of the name of King Jotham, a coregent with Uzziah from 750 to 739 BC. Amos was a contemporary of the other eighth-century prophets: Jonah, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah.

Recipients. Amos wrote his book just after Israel had attained its greatest power and prosperity under Jeroboam II (793–753 BC), and had at last triumphed over the Syrians. Jeroboam extended his borders beyond those achieved by Solomon, conquering Ammon, Moab, Damascus, and Jordan. With prosperity came pride and idolatry. The rich gained extravagance through exploitation of the poor. Idolatrous shrines arose in Gilgal, Dan, and Beersheba, with Baal worship in Bethel. Amos directed his message against Bethel’s priest and prophets (1Kg 12:27–33).

Judah and Israel’s commerce thrived (Am 8:5), an upper class emerged (4:1–3), and expensive homes were built (3:15; 5:11). The rich enjoyed an indulgent lifestyle (6:1–6), while the poor became targets for legal and economic exploitation (2:6–7; 5:7, 10–13). Contrary to Mosaic law, slavery for debt was easily accepted (2:6; 8:6). Standards of morality had sunk to a low (2:7). Formal "religion" thrived as people participated in yearly festivals (4:4; 5:5; 8:3, 10) offering their sacrifices enthusiastically (4:5; 5:21–23). Believing that God was with them, they considered themselves immune to disaster (5:14, 18–20; 6:1–3; 9:10). Yet inconsistent with their professed belief, they worshiped pagan deities along with the Lord.

Israel was successful because Aram and Philistia, Israel’s traditional enemies, lacked the military might to challenge her. Assyria was dealing with its own internal problems at this time. In this season of prosperity, likely in the midst of the New Year feast at the central shrine of Bethel, Amos appeared to disturb Israel’s complacency.

Purpose and Themes. As one of the 12 Minor Prophets, Amos belongs to the early era of the prophets. Recent studies tracking common themes and warnings of the Minor Prophets indicate that this collection of books needs to be viewed as a whole. One Jewish tradition holds that these 12 are arranged chronologically with the first six books coming from the eighth century, the next three from the seventh century, and the final three dating to the postexilic period. Amos would belong to this early era. Amos provides background for understanding the spiritual state of affairs in Israel while reinforcing the law’s warnings concerning sanctifying the presence of the Lord in His land. Amos’s prophecy exhibits a remarkable correspondence to the Torah, which suggests that there was an authoritative body of law that Amos identified as the "law of the Lord" (2:4).

Amos is tightly written poetry, often with three word-units to the line (this brevity is typical of earlier Hebrew poetry). Most of what is not strictly poetry (lacking clear rhythm or exhibiting weak parallelism) shows care in its composition. Features that contribute to this impression include alliteration (e.g., 5:4–6; 6:13–14; 9:14); puns (e.g., 8:1–2; 9:14); chiasm (e.g., 5:4–6a and all of 5:1–17); unexpected words (e.g., "sins are great" 5:12); and graphic word pictures (5:19).

By genre, Amos is a prophetic book containing oracles (speeches originating from God and delivered on His behalf). Prophets predating the exile used more judgment oracles, and the exilic prophets used more salvation oracles. Amos contains hymns (1:2; 4:13; 5:8–9), visions (7:1–9; 8:1–3; 9:1–4), narrative (7:10–17), and a disputation speech (rhetorical questions arguing a case, 3:3–6), all typical of prophetic communication styles.

One way to view the structure of the book is to identify its common elements in their contribution to the book. After an introduction indicating Amos’s call, the book includes eight judgment speeches/oracles against nations (1:3–2:16). Then follow three "hear this" oracles describing the reasons for the judgment (3:1–5:17) and two woe oracles (5:18–6:14). Then Amos added four visions to show how bad the future judgment will be (7:1–8:3) and a final "hear this" oracle for those who "trample the needy" (8:4–14). The book concludes with a final vision of the restoration of the fallen house of David (9:11–15).

OUTLINE

I. Introduction: The Call of Amos (1:1–2)

II. Body: The Message of Judgment (1:3–9:10)

A. The Oracles of Judgment (1:3–2:16)

1. The Oracle against Syria (1:3–5)

2. The Oracle against Philistia (1:6–8)

3. The Oracle against Tyre (1:9–10)

4. The Oracle against Edom (1:11–12)

5. The Oracle against Ammon (1:13–15)

6. The Oracle against Moab (2:1–3)

7. The Oracle against Judah (2:4–5)

8. The Oracle against Israel (2:6–16)

B. The Reasons for Israel’s Judgment (3:1–6:14)

1. Israel’s Oppression of Others Despite Their Own Privileged Position (3:1–15)

2. Israel’s Economic Exploitation of the Poor (4:1–13)

3. Israel’s Stubborn Refusal to Repent (5:1–17)

4. Israel’s Hypocritical Worship (5:18–27)

5. Israel’s Comfortable Complacency Despite Warnings of Judgment (6:1–14)

C. The Results of Judgment (7:1–9:10)

1. The Vision of the Locust Swarm (7:1–3)

2. The Vision of a Fire (7:4–6)

3. The Vision of the Plumb Line (7:7–17)

4. The Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit (8:1–14)

5. The Vision of the Lord beside the Altar (9:1–10)

III. Conclusion: The Restoration of the Davidic House (9:11–15)

COMMENTARY ON AMOS

I. Introduction: The Call of Amos (1:1–2)

1:1. Amos was from among the sheepherders of Tekoa, ten miles south of Jerusalem in Judah. Amos may have been a prosperous and influential Judahite, but there is no indication that he was a priest or had any connection with the ruling classes in Judah. Amos’s rural background had a profound effect on him and his writing (cf. 1:2; 2:9; 3:4–5; 5:19–20, 24; 6:12; 7:1–6; 8:1; 9:3–15).

Amos’s visions became prophecies concerning Israel during the reigns of Uzziah (790–739 BC) in Judah and Jeroboam II (793–753 BC) in Israel two years before the earthquake. Earthquakes were associated with the Lord’s appearances as a warrior (cf. Jdg 5:4; 2Sm 22:8; Ps 77:18; Is 13:13) so Amos’s use of an earthquake here could signal the Lord’s approach. Amos lived in a day of relative political stability, material prosperity, and geographical expansion for Israel and Judah (cf. 1:6; 6:2, 13; 2Kgs 14:23–29). Uzziah and Jeroboam II were competent kings, and their respective kingdoms enjoyed peace. Aramea, whose borders were about 60 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee, had not recovered from its defeat by Adad-Nirari III of Assyria in 802 BC, and Assyria’s power peaked later under Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 BC).

1:2. As a lion announcing attack (3:4), the Lord roars, announcing his judgment on Israel. "The Lord" is the emphatic first word in the Hebrew sentence; usually a verb comes first. God had been Israel’s shepherd. As such, He was supposed to care for them. Amos used a shepherd’s fear of a lion attack to focus Israel’s attention on her peril. All the land would mourn, from the shepherds’ pasture grounds in the lowland to the summit of the Carmel mountain range. God promised to discipline His people if they proved unfaithful to His Mosaic covenant (Dt 28:20–24).

II. Body: The Message of Judgment (1:3–9:10)

A. The Oracles of Judgment (1:3–2:16)

The order of the oracles contributes to the impact Amos intended. Foreign nations precede the nearer relatives of the Israelites, with Judah as her closest kin. In Amos’s rhetoric of entrapment, Israel felt "a noose of judgment" tighten round her own throat. From the distant city of Damascus, Amos moved in ever-tightening circles toward Israel. Israel likely approved the denunciation of her heathen neighbors and applauded God’s indictment of Judah because of their historical animosities. Then, the northern kingdom of Israel would be shocked to find itself in the center of judgment.

1. The Oracle against Syria (1:3–5)

1:3–4. Damascus, capital of ancient Syria, received judgment for their abuse of Gilead (cf. 2Kg 8:12–29). Aramean centers of power and pagan worship were destroyed by Tiglath-pileser III between 734 and 732 BC. The saying for three transgressions ofand for four is Amos’s trademark expression (see vv. 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6) meaning "for numerous sins" (cf. Jb 5:19). Three transgressions represent fullness, and the fourth suggests an overflow of them (poetically symbolizing completeness). Comparing parallels in Proverbs using a "three, even four" numerical pattern (see Pr 30:15–16, 18–19), one expects to find four specific sins in each oracle. Yet after specifying one or two sins, Amos frequently broke off the presentation of a list, announced judgment, and indicted another nation—as the target of God’s anger lay elsewhere.

Transgressions (pishe, "rebellion against a covenantal oath") signifies that these sins were against God. For each of Israel’s enemies Amos cited only the transgression making judgment inevitable. Fire is used in all but the last oracle to symbolize the destructive power of a military leader (cf. Nm 21:27–30). Hazael, the founder of the Syrian dynasty (841–806 BC) and Ben-hadad, his son, repeatedly invaded Israel between 842 and 802 BC. Israel had suffered greatly during battles with the Syrians (they were also known as the Arameans), especially in the Transjordan (cf. 2Kg 8:7–12; 10:32–33).

Amos’s Oracles of Judgment Encircle Israel (1:3–2:16)

Adapted from The New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Copyright 2009 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.

1:5. The gate bar of Damascus symbolized the breach of the city’s last defense. Aven means "wickedness" and may refer to Baalbek or the Biq’ah Valley in Lebanon. Baal(im) means "Lord" or "God" in ancient Canaanite. Baalbek was probably named after Baal-Biq’ah, the west Semitic weather god and "lord of the plains" of Lebanon who was worshiped there. Beth-eden ("house of pleasure") refers to the royal house (Bit-Adini, on the Euphrates River). God had originally brought the Arameans to their place in the land from Kir (Kerak in what is now modern Jordan, 9:7); now He will reverse their lot and send them back! The Assyrians killed King Rezin in 732 and exiled the Arameans to Kir.

2. The Oracle against Philistia (1:6–8)

1:6–8. The Philistines were a non-Semitic people who came to the land of Israel from the Aegean (possibly Crete, c. the 12th century BC). The Philistines’ control of iron supplies and their tight political organization of cities made them Israel’s rival for centuries. Gaza, a chief city of Philistia (an Egyptian garrison town) received the Lord’s judgment because of their having deported an entire population (or people "at peace," shelema) to Edom as slaves (cf. Jl 3:4–8). During Jehoram’s reign (852–841 BC), the Philistines and Arabs plundered the temple and sold the people into slavery (2Ch 21:16–17). The divine image assured human dignity (Gn 1:26–27), yet the Philistines treated people as commodities for profit. The Lord vowed to destroy the Philistine power centers (citadels, Am 1:7) leaving no surviving remnant (v. 8). Four of the five major cities of Philistia are indicted, except Gath, a town that had already fallen (cf. 6:2; 2Kg 12:17).

The Lord God ("Sovereign Lord," a title that occurs 19 times in Amos and five times in the other Minor Prophets; cf. Ob 1; Mc 1:2; Hab 3:19; Zph 1:7; Mal 1:6) vowed to cut off the remnant of the Philistines. Uzziah and Hezekiah invaded Philistia (2Ch 26:6), and a succession of Assyrian conquerors captured these towns (Daniel D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, Oriental Institute Publications [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1924], 2:31–32). During the Maccabean period (169–134 BC) the Philistines passed out of existence.

3. The Oracle against Tyre (1:9–10)

1:9–10. Tyre (on the coast of the Mediterranean, north of Israel, a colony of Sidon, modern Sur), the leading city of Phoenicia, also had delivered up an entire population in slavery to Edom, breaking the covenant of brotherhood. This is the sole explicit reference to slave trade by Tyre in Scripture, though Ezk 27–28 alludes to Tyre’s trade practices. Since Israel was the injured partner, the pact between Solomon and Hiram (1Kg 5:1–12) or later relations established through Ahab and Jezebel are in view (1Kg 16:29–31). Where two or more rulers relate as equals, treaty language referred to partners as "brother." Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre in 332 BC (cf. Ezk 26–28), and Phoenicia never revived as a major power, fulfilling this prophecy.

4. The Oracle against Edom (1:11–12)

1:11–12. Edom, a people descended from Esau and Israel’s bitterest enemy whose territory was south and east of the Dead Sea, had exhibited hostility toward Israel their brother (cf. Gn 25:29–30). Historically (Nm 20:14–18), Moses was rebuffed with the threat of the sword when he sought Israel’s safe passage through Edom’s territory. God put fear of Israel into Edom as they entered the land (Dt 2:2–4) and Obadiah warned Edom not to gloat over Judah’s captivity (Ob 10–12). God sent armies to destroy Edom’s southern region with its central cities (Am 1:12). Southern Edom, Teman, was occupied by Esau’s descendants (Temanites) southeast of the Dead Sea. Fulfilling this prophecy, Bozrah (modern Busayra, Jordan), a northern city, was subjugated by the Assyrians (eighth century BC) and later by the Nabateans (fourth century BC).

5. The Oracle against Ammon (1:13–15)

1:13–15. The army of Ammon, which was the region east of the Jordan River (the Ammonite people being Lot’s descendants, Gn 19:30–38), brutally attacked Israel, killing the pregnant women living in Gilead (west of Ammon), to enlarge their borders to the west. Gilead, an eponym of the Gileadites, grandson of Manasseh, was a fertile, mountainous region, northeast of the Dead Sea allotted to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. Gilead extended from the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to the northern end of the Dead Sea (the modern kingdom of Jordan). The Lord would destroy the capital city of the Ammonites, and take their king and his princes into captivity. Rabbah (modern Amman), the capital, and Ammon’s walled cities would fall in battle to Assyria (eighth century BC), Nebuchadnezzar (586 BC) and later to Antiochus III (c. 218 BC).

6. The Oracle against Moab (2:1–3)

2:1–3. Ammon and Moab, descendants of the daughters of Lot, sinned by burning the bones of the king of Edom (King Mesha). A peaceful burial ("gathered to one’s fathers") was sacred, and burning human remains indicated a desire to destroy the peace of a man for eternity. Such treatment of a corpse reflected a lack of respect for man created in God’s image. While other oracles highlight crimes against God’s covenant people, an aspect of Torah transcended Israel in obligation (see Rm 1:18ff.). The Noahic covenant provides background for the Lord’s indictment (cf. Gn 9:5–7; Is 24:5). Kerioth (or Hezron) was a major city in Moab. As a result of their desecrations the Lord would destroy the leaders of Moab in the tumult of battle under Nebuchadnezzar in 598 BC.

7. The Oracle against Judah (2:4–5)

2:4–5. In Amos’s case against Judah, the multiple transgressions of Judah are an elaboration of one sin: they rejected the law of the Lord by disobeying His statutes. They followed false gods. In Amos’s rhetoric of entrapment, Israel would presume Judah, as the seventh nation listed, to be the focus of Amos’s oracles. Judah’s sin, lack of covenant faithfulness to her Lord, makes it the worst nation thus far in the list, and seemingly appropriate for a climactic pronouncement. However, Amos was not finished with his oracles, and an even stronger pronouncement was made concerning Israel.

God treated Judah with the same justice granted Israel’s neighbor nations. Judah’s failure to obey the Mosaic covenant stemmed from their listening to false prophets and worshiping idols (kazib, lies, e.g., 2Kg 18:4–6; 21:11); these were evidences of their apostasy. God would destroy Judah and Jerusalem by fire through Nebuchadnezzar’s attack in 586 BC (cf. 2Kg 25:1–12).

8. The Oracle against Israel (2:6–16)

2:6–8. Israel was God’s target all along, as the length of this oracle indicates. Using the second person ("you") rather than the third ("they") in 2:10 suggests that Amos delivered these oracles orally to Israel prior to their inclusion in this book. Those who sell the righteous are the creditors. The poor or needy were victims of the dishonest legal and economic practices in Israel (cf. 5:10–12). Seven sins were charged (five in vv. 6–8; two in v. 12) to Israel’s account. This oracle follows the same structure and formulas as the preceding oracles, yet the accusation and judgment are more detailed. Israel took advantage of righteous and needy people for material advantage, selling them into debtor’s slavery (cf. 2Kg 4:1–7). Those seven sins included the following:

The first sin for which Israel was indicted involved taking bribes for as little money as what a pair of sandals cost, in exchange for a man’s life. Israel should have been generous toward the poor (Dt 15:7–11), but their sin devalued human life.

The second sin was legal corruption. Moses had called for impartiality (cf. Ex 23:4; Dt 16:19), but Israel’s courts sided with creditors against debtors (Am 2:7). Oppressors were so greedy that they would pant after the very dust that the poor threw on their heads in mourning.

Israel’s third sin (2:7b) was that fathers and sons were having sexual intercourse with the same girl. This may have been with temple prostitutes, concubines, or female relatives (cf. Ex 21:7–11; Lv 18:8, 15). Whichever, their behavior showed contempt for God’s holy name (cf. Ex 3:13–15; cf. Lv 18:6–18; 20:11).

Amos renounced a fourth sin (2:8). The Israelites failed to return garments taken as pledges for debts. Creditors could take a garment as collateral toward debt (Dt 24:17), but were to return it to the owner before nightfall (Ex 22:26–27). Perpetrators took these garments before pagan altars at feasts honoring whatever god they worshiped.

The fifth sin related to idolatry among the Israelites (2:8; cf. v. 4). They used the wine that they had received as fines extracted from the poor to honor heathen gods.

2:9–10. Other nations under God’s judgment had not enjoyed Israel’s special blessings. Yet in spite of God’s destroying the Amorite before them in the land, Israel had breached the covenant. Enemies who had been as strong and tall as cedars or oaks (cf. Nm. 13:28–33; Dt 1:26–28), the Lord destroyed completely, from their fruit above to their root below. The Amorites, the most formidable of the Canaanites, represented all the displaced Canaanites (cf. Gn 15:16). The defeat of these powerful enemies demonstrated God’s love for His people. God reminded Israel that He had redeemed them from Egypt and had led them safely through the wilderness forty years. He had preserved them so they could take possession of the land of the Amorite. By shifting to the second person (you, v. 10), Amos strengthened the force of God’s appeal by making it more direct.

2:11–12. God had raised up spiritual leaders in the land: prophets and Nazirites from among the Israelites’ sons (Dt 18:15–18). Prophets relayed God’s messages to them, and Nazirites were ordinary citizens who dedicated themselves completely to the Lord by vow and restraint. The order of blessings is arranged to highlight the exodus, the central of the three blessings mentioned and the most important event in Israel’s history.

Israel’s sixth and seventh sins highlighted her ungrateful response to His grace. Israel encouraged Nazirites to drink wine and commanded the prophets to stop prophesying!

2:13–16. Burdened by the sinfulness of His people, the Lord was like a wagonweighted down to capacity. Alternately, Amos pictured Israel being crushed by God like any object under the wheels of a heavily laden cart. The Lord was to Israel like a cart loaded with sheaves at harvest, creaking beneath a load of sin and oppression and hastening the day when He would bear Israel’s sins no longer.

In previous oracles Amos likened God’s judgment to fire. Here he described God’s wrath coming on Israel with seven images of panic in battle (v. 14) as a parallel to the previous sevenfold description of Israel’s sins (2:6–12). First, the swift will not escape. Second, the stalwart (chazaq), a term used of God’s own strength or the strength of a military force, will have his strength fail. Third, the warrior, or gibbor ("hero"), a common term for a mighty man, will lose his life. Fourth, the archer who grasps the bow would find no place for his feet. Fifth and sixth, those swift of foot, along with the horsemen, will not be able to save their own lives. Seventh, when the Lord intervenes, even the bravest among the warriors will flee naked, a sign of shame and defeat on the field of battle. Running provided no escape, resistance left no place to stand, and no leader could deliver his people from the onslaught of the enemy. Past heroes had routed the Canaanites, but here the leaders will be unable to deliver even themselves.

B. The Reasons for Israel’s Judgment (3:1–6:14)

In the next three chapters Amos focused his attention on Israel’s rejection of God’s Word and how this led to the corruption of her life. God measured their faithfulness in the treatment of their fellow man, not in glorious homes or in stately liturgy. In five messages in four chapters (chaps. 3–6) Amos explained the reasons for God’s judgment. Appeals for repentance occur within each message. The first three messages begin with the words "Hear this" (3:1; 4:1; 5:1), and the last two begin with the Hebrew word hoy, translated "Alas" (5:18) and "Woe" (6:1).

1. Israel’s Oppression of Others Despite Their Own Privileged Position (3:1–15)

3:1–2. Amos summoned Israel to hear the first reason that God would judge them. It was because they had oppressed others in spite of a privileged relationship with Him. He initially addressed this message to both Israel and Judah, the entire family, but later he focused his warning mainly on Israel (vv. 9, 12). Israel’s unique relationship with God required a unique discipline.

God spoke directly as Amos moved from the second person (which the Lord has spoken, 3:1) to the first person singular (you only have I chosen, 3:2). You only alluded to the special privilege of covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:3–6). God’s sovereign and elective choice for blessing (spiritual privilege), however, required stern measures for disobedience (greater accountability). God had chosen (or "known," yada’; cf. Jr. 1:5) Israel and had revealed himself to Israel as to no other people.

3:3–8. Amos asked seven intensifying questions in vv. 3–6 to convey the certainty of God’s intervention, suggesting that everyone knows that certain causes inevitably produce certain effects. The questions in vv. 3–5 expect a negative answer, and the questions in v. 6 expect a positive answer. Verses 7–8 draw the conclusion that prophets speak when God has made His will clear.

The question, Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment? suggests that Israel and God are not walking on the same path together. They could not travel together toward God’s intended destination for the nation unless they did so on terms of the covenant bond between them (cf. v. 2). Amos’s remaining questions show how an unjust action (sin) leads to a just effect (God’s discipline). Just as a lion does not roar if he has no reason to, when he has no prey, so also the Lord is not coming to Israel without cause. Similarly, a bird will not fall into a trap on the ground with nothing as bait for it. Trumpets blown in cities cause the people to tremble in fear of impending danger. Even so, when calamity happens to a city, the Lord Himself has done it.

This ominous progression, to the point where God Himself initiates human calamity, brought Amos to his statement on the need to speak: Who can but prophesy? God does nothing to His people unless He first warns them through secret counsel to one of His prophets (vv. 7–8; cf. Jr 23:18, 22). Obviously God does many things without giving a particular revelation to His people. Yet as only imbeciles ignore the roar of a lion, so only a fool ignores God’s word. Amos must prophesy or incur the wrath of the Lion.

3:9–10. Israel would experience unparalleled oppression from God because of her ignorance of how to do what is right. Because of the tumults within her, Amos called for witnesses to proclaim on the citadels (i.e., the people living in them) in Ashdod in Philistia and to those in Egypt to bear witness against Israel. Moses’ law required two witnesses in cases involving the death penalty (Dt 17:6). Israel’s sin resulted in an inability to do what is right (n kohah, "straightness"). Israel’s sin hid the straight path from them.

3:11–15. An enemy was headed for Israel. The judgment would come in three waves (vv. 11, 12, 13–15). In the first wave, an enemy would surround the land of Israel to destroy and loot its impressive citadels (Assyria did this in 722 BC). The second wave would leave only a small remnant of the people surviving, similar to when a shepherd snatches a remaining fragment of a sheep from the mouth of an attacking wild animal to prove that he had not stolen the sheep (cf. Ex 22:10–13). The judgment would be similar to someone stealing everything in a house and the owner being able to retain only a piece of his bed. An enemy would steal away the people, and few would escape. A shepherd represented God in Israel (e.g., Ps 23:1), the One who rescues His people, but when God visited to judge, all such symbols of comfort were reversed.

In the third wave, God would destroy both the pagan altars that Jeroboam I had erected at Bethel and her people who worshiped there (cf. 1Kg 12:26–30). Altars at Bethel and Dan had supplanted the temple in Jerusalem for those who lived in Israel in the north. Judah, however, continued to worship at Jerusalem. Bethel’s altar was Israel’s most popular religious center. The horns of this altar, symbolic of the strength of its deity (or mercy for refuge) would be cut off and would fall to the ground, showing their god’s impotence (1Kg 1:50). God would destroy winter and summer homes of royal families, indicating a thorough invasion. Some embellished their great houses with expensive ivory decorations (cf. Ps 45:8).

2. Israel’s Economic Exploitation of the Poor (4:1–13)

4:1–3. A command to hear this word, addressed to the women of Samaria, presented the second reason Israel would be judged—their economic exploitation of the poor and needy. Addressing the wealthy Samaritan women as cows of Bashan, God condemned them for taking advantage of the poor and the lifestyle that fostered it. Bashan, a luxuriant region east and northeast of the Sea of Galilee, had plentiful cattle fodder (cf. Ps 22:12; Jr 50:19). These women, along with their husbands, were oppressing the poor to provide luxury for themselves. Reversing divinely ordained roles, they ordered their husbands to wait on them (cf. Is 32:9–13). This warning was so serious that seven times Amos asserted declares the Lord (vv. 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11), thereby expressing the divine authority of his message against them.

God had sworn by His holiness to bring judgment in harmony with that holiness. Judgment would cart them off as butchers carry beef (with meat hooks) and as fishermen carry fish. Assyrian reliefs show captive people led by a rope attached to a ring in the jaw or lip (W. King, Annals of the Kings of Assyria [London: British Museum, 1902], 116–20, 125–26). An enemy would carry the bodies of these women through breaches in Samaria’s walls toward Harmon (Mount Hermon, north of Bashan) in the deportation to Assyria.

4:4–5. Exacerbating the economic exploitation of the needy was Israel’s pretense of spirituality. Amos sarcastically condemned the sin of religious hypocrisy in Israel by inviting the people to enter Bethel (meaning "the house of God"), not to worship, but to transgress (the law)! This parodied the summons of Israel’s priests to come to the sanctuary to worship (cf. Pss 95:6; 96:8–9). Gilgal (from galal, "to roll"), another Israelite worship center where exiles entered the land erecting memorial stones (Jos 4:20–24), was a place of pilgrimage and sacrifices (cf. Hs 4:15; 9:15). At Gilgal, God had removed the reproach of Egypt from His people (cf. Jos 5:9), but now their transgressions were multiplying their sinfulness.

God mockingly urged Israel: bring your sacrifices every morning and your tithes every three days (not three years as the law required; Dt 14:28–29). Though Israelites were careful to worship regularly, Israel’s empty and insincere ritual demeaned God’s worth. Thank offering[s], offered to celebrate peace with God (Lv 7:11–16), were actually rebellious acts. Passion for outward religious activity is not the same as worshiping God, and the rote discharge of religious activity is an insult to Him.

4:6–11. Israel should have recognized God’s warnings as covenant curses from Deuteronomy but the nation ignored them. Famine (cleanness of teeth because there was no food to cause discoloration and decay) and drought came (Dt 28:17, 48), expressing God’s displeasure (cf. 1Kg 8:37). God withheld the rain when it was needed most, three months before their harvest (Am 4:7–8; cf. Dt 28:22–24). Sirocco winds, plant diseases, and insects blighted their gardens, vineyards, and fruit trees (Am 4:9; cf. Dt 28:18, 22, 38–40). Wars had brought various plagues, and many Israelite soldiers died (Am 4:10; cf. 1Kg 8:33, 37). God was judging them as He formerly had plagued the Egyptians. The stench of dead bodies sent a divine message (cf. Dt 28:21–22, 28).

Conquest of key cities did not stir the Israelites to repentance (Am 4:11; cf. Dt 28:62). Comparing these overthrown cities to Sodom and Gomorrah, Amos indicated complete destruction (cf. Is 1:9; Jr 50:40). God had rescued His people like a firebrand snatched from a blaze, as He had formerly extracted Lot from Sodom (Gn 19). He sometimes ordains suffering so people will return to Him (cf. Heb 12:6), but God repeatedly lamented over Israel: Yet you have not returned to Me (Am 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11).

4:12–13. God spoke bluntly: Israel should prepare to meet Him as they would prepare to encounter an enemy in battle (cf. Ex 19:10–19). The words prepare and meet indicate a confrontation with Israel’s most formidable opponent imaginable: The Lord God of hosts (Am 4:13). He is the one who forms mountains and creates the intangible wind, knows people’s thoughts, turns dawn into darkness, and steps on the hills of Israel like a giant approaching Samaria.

3. Israel’s Stubborn Refusal to Repent (5:1–17)

Besides oppression of the innocent (3:1–15) and exploitation of the poor (4:1–13), the third reason God would judge Israel was that the nation had stubbornly refused to repent when warned.

A Possible Chiastic Approach to Amos 5:1–17


A dirge and a description of certain judgment (5:1–3)
B A call for individuals to repent (5:4–6)
            C An accusation of legal injustice (5:7)
                                                    D A portrait of a sovereign God behind judgment (5:8–9)
                    C’ An accusation of legal injustice (5:10–13)
    B’ A call for individuals to repent (5:14–15)
        A’ A dirge and a description of certain judgment (5:16–17)

 

5:1–2. As in the two previous oracles (3:1; 4:1), but here using a chiastic structure (see chart above), Amos began with the word hear, this time summoning Israel to listen to a dirge taken up on her behalf. Heightening the tragedy, Amos proclaimed death for virgin daughter Israel, who could not be raised to continue the family line. Prophets used dirges to foretell the death of a city, people, or nation (e.g., Jr 7:29; Ezk 26:17–18). Amos thus foretold Israel’s death at the height of her prosperity—an experience akin to reading one’s own obituary. Fallen, in such funeral songs, usually meant "fallen in battle" (2Sm 1:19; 3:34; Lm 2:21). No one came to her aid (cf. Jdg 6:13; 2Kg 21:14), and she lay neglected in her land, dispossessed where she should have found an inheritance.

5:3. A city that sent a thousand soldiers against her enemies would see only a hundred survive. Smaller towns would be destroyed by 90 percent. The last 20 years of Israel’s northern kingdom saw the nation’s domestic policies in ruins, with successive political coups (cf. 2Kg 15–17) until 722 BC when Sargon II of Assyria deported the remnant of the population.

5:4–5. Given this grim prospect, Amos issued a call for individual repentance. In Genesis, Bethel is associated with Jacob, making it significant to a nation that had taken Jacob’s new name as theirs. Jacob came to Bethel twice, meeting God. In the national consciousness of Israel, at Bethel, God revealed Himself. Amos, however, warned the nation, do not resort to Bethel but seek God and live. The life-giving presence of the Lord is found not in a place, but in a vital relationship. In effect, Israel was honoring Bethel as a talisman for power.

Gilgal, about 25 miles northeast of Jerusalem near Jericho, was the site of the first national encampment under Joshua (Jos 4:19). Saul was confirmed in his kingship there (1Sm 11:14–15), and Israel was loyal to Saul’s house. Amos spoke of Gilgal going into captivity (cf. Am 5:27). Gilgal historically received an inheritance and a promise, yet God was preparing to banish its inhabitants! At Beersheba (about 50 miles southwest of Jerusalem), all three patriarchs were assured of God’s redeeming presence (Gn 21:31; 26:23; 46:1–4). Amos averred that though Israel might seek God’s companionship for blessing at Beersheba, those who would cross over would find futility. Sacred places did not make Israel legitimate partakers of God’s promises.

5:6. Though judgment and death were inevitable for the nation as a whole, individuals could still seek the Lord and live. The Lord invited the Israelites to seek Him so they might live (see also vv. 4, 14–15). Otherwise God’s judgment would break forth like a fire and consume the house of Joseph (Ephraim, Joseph’s son, Israel’s main tribe).

5:7. One reason for Israel’s judgment was that they turned sweet justice into bitter wormwood. Wormwood is also associated with poison. In Israel’s contempt for what was right (cf. Pr 1:3; 2:9; Is 1:21), the judicial system should have functioned like medicine: healing wrongs and delivering the oppressed. But Israel had turned it into poison.

5:8–9. Since the Lord made the Pleiades (traditionally understood in the ancient world as a grouping of seven stars in the constellation Taurus) and Orion, He could certainly bring His will to pass on earth. Pleiades rose before daybreak portending the onset of spring, and Orion rose after sunset signaling the onset of winter. God controls daily cycles and seasons, brings light out of darkness, and darkens day into night. He who calls for the waters of the sea to form clouds that empty them on the land could easily change Israel’s fate from prosperity to adversity. Israel’s pagan neighbors attributed such activities to their idols, but the Lord is the only God who flashes forth like lightning from heaven, striking strong oppressors and bringing an end to their fortresses.

5:10–13. Israel reviled anyone who reproved them and sought neither a just verdict in the gate (where city elders sat) nor a truthful witness. Israel came to Bethel (v. 5) and departed (vv. 10–12) unchanged. They participated in the rites, they sang, they left, and nothing had changed. Justice was still bitter (vv. 7a, 12c, the poor were denied justice in the gate), and the righteous man was still overthrown (vv. 7b, 12b, they were distressing the righteous by accepting bribes).

The rich in Israel viewed the poor as there merely to be exploited. More important than serving God, they exact[ed] tribute and weighed the bribes in their hand. The Bethel of Jacob in Genesis was to be a place where Israel could come under the transforming influence of the God of Jacob. Instead, the nation, by continuing in sin, had revealed that its motivation in coming was personal profit. The prudent person never voiced an opinion that went against profit because it was an evil time. To this situation, God proclaimed His just retribution of exile.

5:14–15. Amos urged Israel to seek good rather than evil so they could live (cf. vv. 4–6). Establishing a just society (in the gate) gives substance to an otherwise intangible confession of God. God defends and does not prosecute those who bear this fruit. Repentance creates the conditions that make it viable (perhaps) for God to bless.

5:16–17. Amos’s second dirge described the certainty of Israel’s judgment in familiar Passover allusions. God would now pass through the midst of His people in judgment (cf. Ex 12:12) resulting in wailing in all the plazas of Israel. Everyone would lament conditions of divine judgment, not just the professional mourners, but even the poor outlying farmer who would have to bury his oppressors. Vineyards, often places of joy and merriment, would be full of mourning and wailing.

4. Israel’s Hypocritical Worship (5:18–27)

Amos’s lament began with "alas" (hoy, "woe"), in contrast with the first three in this section that began with the word "hear" (3:1; 4:1; 5:1). This lament focuses on Israel’s insincere worship as the fourth reason for future judgment.

5:18. The opening word alas (hoy, "woe"), suggests impending doom for the one who eagerly anticipated the day of the Lord. Earlier prophets heralded a day when God would conquer Israel’s enemies and establish His rule over the world (e.g., Is 24:21–23; Jl 3:18–21; for a fuller treatment of the day of the Lord see the comments on Jl 2:28–3:21). Israel sought such a divine blessing, but Amos foretold a time of darkness and not light, when God would fight against Israel, not for her. In the near future, the day of the Lord meant impending judgment on the nation of Israel via Assyrian attack. This does not, however, give a complete picture of the day of the Lord, which is also characterized by eschatological judgment on the nations and a pouring out of divine blessing upon God’s people (cf. Is 4:2–6; 30:26; Hs 2:18–23; Jl 3:9–21; Am 9:11–15; Mc 4:6–8; Zph 2:7; Zch 14:6–9).

5:19. The coming day of the Lord meant inescapable tragedy for Israel. Thinking they had escaped one enemy (flees from a lion), they would face another (a bear meets him). Assuming security in their homeland (goes home), deadly judgment would overtake them (a snake bites him; cf. 9:3). To escape from any one terror would be considered a miracle, yet each one turns out to be no escape at all!

5:20–22. The coming day of the Lord would be characterized by darkness instead of light and gloom, not joy (cf. Jl 2:1–2, 10–11). A brighter day of the Lord was also coming (Am 9:11–15), but first will come a dark day to purify the nation. Thus Israel had half of the picture. God commanded the Israelites to observe several feasts and one fast each year, likely the festivals in view (v. 21). Yet God rejected their solemn assemblies because they were going through the motions of worship. The threefold I hate, I reject, and nor do I delight emphasize how much God detests such worship. Israel "hated" justice (v. 10); the Lord "hates" (v. 21) hypocritical worship. God would not accept (lit., "smell") an offering’s sweet savor or take any notice of any of their offerings (cf. 4:4–5). In God’s plan, worship must further the development of spiritual character and be accompanied by justice, or it is merely empty emotions. God requires justice in our person-to-person relationships.

5:23–24. In contrast to vv. 21–22 (which use plural pronouns), vv. 23 and 24 use a singular pronoun your, indicating a call for individuals to repent. Negatively, their celebrations in songs must cease as so much noise in God’s ears. He would not listen, shutting His ears as well as His nostrils. Positively, the Lord wanted justice and righteousness (cf. Mc 6:8) rather than religiosity and external rituals. Token practices of justice and righteousness do not honor God.

5:25–26. The Lord asked if Israel really presented their sacrifices to Him sincerely when they were in the wilderness for forty years. Hypocritical worship marked them from the beginning (e.g., Ex 32). In the wilderness Israel had carried shrines of Sikkuth your king (Am 5:26; Sakkut, the Assyrian war god), perhaps unauthorized shrines honoring Yahweh or other deities (cf. Ac 7:42–43). Kiyyun, your images, refers to the Assyrian astral deity also known as Kaiwan (Saturn). Amos ridiculed these gods by substituting the vowels of the Hebrew word for "abomination" (shiqqus) into their names. The Lord was to be Israel’s King (cf. Dt 33:5; Ps 10:16). Now, heading into exile, they must bear the burden of the idol they have created (since Sikkuth could not "bear" them up). The star of your gods [or god] refers to the planet Saturn, represented by Kiyyun.

5:27. Because of this hypocritical worship, God promised that the Israelites would go into exile beyond Damascus (cf. 4:3). Exile meant more than the ruin of defeat and capture; it meant being removed from the land God sanctified.

5. Israel’s Comfortable Complacency Despite Warnings of Judgment (6:1–14)

Opening the fifth lament in this section with the word hoy (alas, woe), Amos cited Israel’s living at ease and comfort, choosing to ignore or disbelieve the prophet’s warnings, as the fifth reason that the nation would be judged.

6:1. Amos began this message announcing a coming woe (hoy; cf. 5:18), warning those living in comfortable affluence in Israel that God’s hand would bring destruction upon them. Those who felt at ease in Zion and secure in Samaria were susceptible to complacent attitudes because of their belief in Jerusalem’s invincibility. Samaria, likewise, stood on a high hill (the mountain of Samaria) that was easily defensible. These distinguished men regarded Israel, and Judah, as the foremost of nations of the day.

6:2–3. Israel’s leaders were unconcerned with military conquests of nations lesser than themselves. Amos challenged them to visit other cities that had once considered themselves great. Calneh and Hamath were city-states in northern Aram overrun by Shalmaneser III of Assyria in 854–846 BC. Gath had been a notable city in Philistia, but fell before Hazael of Aram in 815 BC and again to Uzziah of Judah in 760 BC. Other cities had the sense to know that they were in trouble; yet those dwelling in Samaria lacked any sense of impending calamity. Unrepentant hearts hastened the day of terror (or seat of violence); refusing to acknowledge their sins. They imagined that they were putting off the day, whereas in reality they were bringing it near.

6:4–6. The affluence of Samaritan leaders promoted a false sense of security that insulated them from their real situation. Those who recline on beds of ivory also ate the best, most tender meat obtainable. Calves from the midst of the stall refers to animals specially restrained for fattening. Archaeologists have uncovered these stalls with their hitching posts in Megiddo and Beersheba. In the everyday life of commoners, eating meat was a luxury few common Israelites would have enjoyed regularly.

They imitated King David and improvised songs, but exalted themselves rather than praising God. They consumed wine by the bowlful rather than in cups and they would anoint their bodies with the finest of oils to preserve physical appearances. Their preoccupation with personal leisure diluted their ability to discern and mourn the coming ruin of Joseph, a reference to the coming destruction and exile. Joseph is used here for the northern kingdom of Israel since Joseph’s two sons were Ephraim and Manasseh.

6:7–8. Their complacency made them first in line to go into exile. Their banqueting would cease; they would sprawl on soft couches no longer. God placed high value on having the right priorities in the stewardship of His resources. Thus the Lord God vowed the complete devastation of Samaria. He had sworn by Himself (by His own life or nephesh; cf. 4:2; 8:7) to exile Israel. Because God can swear by no one greater than Himself (cf. Heb 6:13–14) this expression emphasized the certainty of what was sworn. The arrogance of Jacob probably refers to the city of Samaria. The citadels were a mark of this arrogant confidence God despised.

6:9–11. God’s judgment would be such that if ten men took refuge in one house, they could not preserve their lives. Survivors, understanding that judgment proceeded from God, would not allow the Lord’s name to be mentioned lest that act draw His attention and result in their deaths. God would command the utter destruction of all houses in Samaria, both great and small, and the houses of the rich and poor would perish with them.

6:12–14. Amos posed absurd questions to prompt agreement with God’s judgments. Injustice is as absurd as horses running on rocky crags or oxen plowing rocks. Israel’s leaders had sown injustice where righteousness was expected. The result was that their decisions killed the poor as surely as though they had given them poison. Humanity’s sin causes people to boast in nothing. Many felt confident because Jeroboam II recaptured territory Israel had formerly surrendered to Aram (cf. 2Kg 14:25), including the town of Lodebar east of the Jordan River (cf. 2Sm 9:4; 17:27). Yet Amos made light of this feat, purposefully mispronouncing the city "Lo-dabar," meaning "not a thing."

Israel boasted that they had taken the stronghold of Karnaim (lit., "a pair of horns," about 20 miles east of the Dead Sea) by their own strength. In God’s scheme, however, Karnaim was insignificant. The Lord God of Hosts announced that He was raising up a nation against the house of Israel. God would prove His strength, and Israel would fall to an oppressor (Assyria) who would afflict them from Hamath (north) to the brook of the Arabah (south, the Dead Sea).

C. The Results of Judgment (7:1–9:10)

The last section of Amos has five visions, depicting what the results of God’s judgment will look like. These visions also balance God’s retributive justice with His compassion. God’s holiness requires that justice be satisfied when His law is violated, yet He is compassionate for the sake of mercy toward the repentant.

The first four visions have the same introductory formula ("Thus the Lord God showed me," 7:1; 7:4; 7:7; 8:1) while the first two visions have a common structure: An introductory formula, a description, Amos’s intercession for Israel, and God’s decision. The historical incident at the temple at Bethel (7:10–17) suggests that Amos was at Bethel when he originally gave these messages (although that does not indicate when or where he wrote this book).

1. The Vision of the Locust Swarm (7:1–3)

7:1–2. God showed Amos a locust-swarm He was forming after the king’s mowing (a taxation feeding the king’s house and animals; cf. Dt 28:38–42) … eating the vegetation of the land. Thus the people’s food (the spring crop) was under threat, leaving little provision until the fall harvest. Amos prayed and asked the sovereign Lord to pardonJacob (Israel) for Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness, as a small nation could not survive such devastating judgment. God viewed Israel as small, in contrast to those in Israel who believed it was strong and invincible (cf. Am 6:1–3, 8, 13).

7:3. God’s response to Amos was immediate and gracious. The Lord relented on this judgment (changed His mind about this). Fervent prayers of righteous individuals, like Amos, can alter the events of history (cf. Jms 5:13–18). Although Amos used an anthropomorphism (the Lord changed His mind) for the sake of his readers’ understanding, this should not be taken literally (see Nm 23:19; Is 41:21–29). Rather, this may be understood in harmony with other declarations made by God (e.g., Is 46:8–11 where God connects his ability to know the future with His own deity) as a consistent application of His justice. When a person repents, God does not change but He relates to him in accordance with His unchanging nature, for His nature allows Him to exercise grace to repentant sinners as He wills. Similarly, when one is unrepentant, God acts in accord with His unchanging justice or his mercy and hardens whomever He wills.

2. The Vision of a Fire (7:4–6)

7:4–6. In his second vision the Lord God showed Amos a vision of a great fire that consumed all the farm land in Israel. Unlike the fire that consumed the capital cities in chaps. 1 and 2, Amos saw a scorching heat wave that resulted in a drought. The great deep refers to subterranean waters that feed springs (cf. Gn 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; 49:25). Great heat with consequent drought was another divine consequence for covenantal unfaithfulness (Dt 28:22). Amos interceded, using virtually the same prayer as Am 7:2, and again the Lord relented.

3. The Vision of the Plumb Line (7:7–17)

7:7–9. Amos’s third vision does not depict an event and its outcome; instead it presents an image. The Lord asked Amos to identify the plumb line in the vision. A plumb line was a string with a weight on the end used to determine if a vertical structure like a wall or foundation was completely straight. Since God was the One testing, the standard He used is true; the Lord was about to test Israel by the standard of the covenant. The Lord announced that intercession would not avail; He would spare them no longer. The nation was so far out of plumb that God would tear it down. God would use the sword (cf. Dt 32:42) to destroy the high places and the temple sanctuaries. Amos may have used Isaac simply as a synonym for "Jacob" and "Israel," or it may reflect the veneration for the patriarch Isaac that Israel displayed in making pilgrimages south to Beersheba (cf. Am 5:5; 8:14), Isaac’s birthplace.

7:10–11. The event described here followed and grew out of the preceding visions in general, and the vision of the plumb line in particular, specifying an example of God’s plumb line proving someone to be crooked. Key words occur in the visions and the event at Bethel but not elsewhere in Amos (e.g., "Isaac," vv. 9, 16, and "sanctuary," vv. 9, 13). Amos’s placement of this event here anticipates the overall rejection of God’s Word in Israel.

Amaziah, an apostate priest who served at Bethel, considered Amos’s prophesies treasonous. So he sent a message to Jeroboam (II), in which he charged Amos with conspiring against the king in the midst of Jeroboam’s kingdom. Amaziah held Amos in suspicion on two counts: By what authority could he proclaim visions about a future destruction of Israel’s worship centers and the royal family? Does he not prophesy for personal profit? Amaziah gave a fair assessment of Amos’s words (cf. vv. 8–9 with v. 11), and personalized the danger of Amos to the king, thereby inciting him to action.

7:12–13. Amaziah approached Amos, telling him to move back to Judah and to earn his living there (cf. 1:1). By referring to Amos as a seer (a term for a prophet; cf. 1Sm 9:9; 2Sm 24:11), Amaziah was disparaging Amos’s visions. Telling him to eat bread in Judah, he hinted that Amos get a job prophesying in Judah (cf. Ezk 13:17–20) rather than Bethel, as it was the king’s sanctuary and a royal residence.

7:14–15. Amos responded that he was not a prophet by his own choosing or by birth. It was common and expected for sons to follow in their father’s line of work. Amos had not been trained in one of the schools of the prophets (cf. 2Kg 2:1–15; 4:1). He earned his living as a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs (see Introduction). God often calls people from their present work into His service. Amos 7:15 repeats the words the Lord for emphasis. Amos left his former occupation to obey a divine calling (the Lord took me).

7:16–17. Amos announced the word of the Lord for Amaziah. Because he had forbade Amos to prophesy against Israel, his wife would become a harlot in the city of Bethel. For a priest’s wife to turn to harlotry would be publicly humiliating, since priests were forbidden to marry such women (Lv 21:7, 14). Sons and daughters falling by the sword implied the end of Amaziah’s family line. The text records no fulfillment of it, but as a prophet, Amos foretold that Amaziah’s property would go to the Assyrians in the future, as he would die in a pagan (unclean) land.

4. The Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit (8:1–14)

8:1–3. In the fourth vision of this section, Amos revealed that the Lord God showed him a basket of summer fruit. Amos’s first three visions, culminating with the vision of the plumb line, showed that judgment was deeply deserved. Amaziah’s response to Amos’s preaching exposed the fraud of the spiritual headship of Israel as the warning from God was rejected. This vision of the basket of summer fruit showed the time was ripe (impending) for executing judgment. Like the fruit in the basket, Israel would be consumed soon. This vision gave rise to the prophetic oracles that follow (vv. 4–6, 7–10, 11–14), explaining the nature of the imminent judgment.

A wordplay exists in 8:2 between the word for summer fruit (qayis) and the word for the end (qes). Amos saw a basket of qayis. God replied, "Yes, the qes has come." Palace singers (who had been composing royal songs, 6:5) will turn to wailing as corpses cover the land (8:3). So many bodies will result from the enemy’s slaughter that the living would dispose of them in silence. Like so much rotten fruit, dead Israelites would be castforth.

8:4–6. Judgment was imminent because of Israel’s oppressions, which trample the needy and crush them (cf. 4:1). Amos exposed Israel’s motivation: to do away with the humble of the land. Their religious hypocrisy was evident in their resenting worship on the new moon and the sabbath, which kept them from going back to the work of cheating (making the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger). Merchants defied the law and tampered with the scales (e.g., Lv 19:35–36).

8:7. Amos described more fully the predicted wailing and silence in Israel (cf. v. 3) that would take place when the imminent judgment arrived. Again Amos said that the Lord has sworn (cf. 4:2; 6:8) indicating the certainty of coming judgment. The pride of Jacob refers to Israel’s arrogance (cf. 6:8). Some see a reference to God Himself (cf. 1Sm 15:29), but this is unlikely since the force is greater when it refers to the unchanging nature of Israel’s pride (J. A. Motyer, The Day of the Lion: The Message of Amos [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974], 179).

8:8–10. These sins would cause the land to quake from the Lord’s approach. The judgment would be cosmic in scope and accompanied by national mourning. Perhaps a literal earthquake did occur, though likely trembling with fear is also in view. The waves of terror and destruction would be like the rising and falling of the Nile River.

In that (unnaturally bad) day, God would send darkness over the land (eclipses had occurred previously in 784 and 763 BC), so even the sun will go into mourning with the rest of creation. Joyous festivals will turn into mourning ceremonies. People will wear sackcloth and shave their heads (baldness) as signs of grief. Mourning the death of an only son meant extinguishing hope for the future through the provision for one’s old age. The end of that day would be bitter indeed. This prediction saw the day as the coming Assyrian conquest but was intended to foreshadow the eschatological day of the Lord (cf. comments on 5:18).

8:11–14. The few remaining Israelites would be silent as they disposed of the corpses of their fellows (cf. v. 3), but God would also be silent, withholding words from His people. This famine of the nourishment and refreshment God’s Word provides would send people to stagger from sea to sea. It is better to be without food than without a word from God. The people will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but to no avail. Even those capable of great endurance in quests (beautiful virgins and the young men) will give up from exhaustion. Israel rejected the Lord’s words to them (2:11–12; 7:10–13), so He would not send further revelation to them. Apostate Israelites who swore in the name of pagan deities would fall and not rise again because their idols would not uplift them. Amos described the prominent idol (Asherah; cf. Jdg 6:25; 2Kg 23:4) as the guilt of Samaria. From Dan (north) to Beersheba (south), Israelites would seek some word from their gods and find none.

5. The Vision of the Lord beside the Altar (9:1–10)

9:1. Amos’s final vision differs from the preceding four. In this one Amos played no active part in the vision, but he saw the Lord standing beside the altar (at Bethel). The Lord commanded that some unidentified person should smite the capitals that supported the roof of the temple so that its foundation stones would shake and the structure would fall down (cf. Jdg 16:29–30; Is 6:4). The Lord would slaywith the sword any priests and worshipers who survived the temple collapse. No one would escape with his life.

9:2–4. Even if they tried to dig into Sheol (here, the earth) or ascend to heaven (cf. Ps 139:7–8) God’s hand was there to bring them down. If neither heights nor depths can separate people from the love of God (Rm 8:38–39), neither can they hide them from God’s wrath, whether hiding on Mount Carmel (the highest elevation in Israel), or on the floor of the sea. The Lord seeks out the guilty and sends His agents, even if that is a serpent in the sea (cf. Am 5:19; Jb 26:12–13). Those who would try to escape His judgment by going into captivity the Lord would slay with the sword. Normally God watched over His people for their good, but here He promised to set His eyes against them for evil (that is, "misfortune," "calamity" in the form of destruction as judgment against their sins).

9:5–6. Amos presented God’s character in an inclusio: The Lord God of hosts who would judge the Israelites is the one of whom Amos concluded, The Lord is His name. Israel’s sovereign Lord controls and leads armies, both heavenly and earthly. By His touch the landmelts like ice when a human finger presses on it. He alters the course of earthly matters to rise and fall, to ebb and flow, like the waters of the Nile of Egypt. His control of heavenly issues is seen in that His upper chambers in the heavens (His dwelling) are as a vaulted dome over the earth and He manages the rain that poursout on the face of the earth. The word vault is difficult. A vaulted dome is foreign to the architecture of the period, and it may better refer to something bound together or clustered. Although God did indeed create a round earth, this verse should not be used to support that idea.

9:7–10. God asked Israel if she was any different from those nations whose fates he orchestrated. Ethiopia (Cushites) was a remote people, on the edge of the earth from an ancient Near Easterner’s perspective, yet God watched over them. He had separated the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete; cf. Dt 2:23) and the Arameans (Syrians) from Kir in Mesopotamia (cf. Am 1:5). Though they were Israel’s enemies, God had been gracious to them as He had been to Israel. Israel considered herself superior, but she was no less accountable than these nations. Referring to the pagan nations again at the end of the book, Amos came full circle (cf. 1:1–15) as the Lord’s sovereignty brackets this prophecy like bookends.

While the Lord looked over all earth’s kingdoms, his eyes were on the sinful kingdom to destroy it. Israel would reap God’s justice for any other sinful nation (9:8; cf. 3:1–2). Yet He promised not to totally destroy the house of Jacob, because of His covenant (cf. 5:4–6, 14–15, 23–24; see also the comments on Rm 8:28–29). God sifted all Israelites as grain in a sieve, separating the people deserving judgment from the righteous. The righteous person would slip through, but God would retain the unrighteous for judgment. God determines just how much sinfulness makes His punishment inevitable. None who claimed that they would escape that calamity could escape the Lord’s sword!

III. Conclusion: The Restoration of the Davidic House (9:11–15)

God’s judgment, however fierce, does not destroy without purpose. God stands boldly against the sinful nation that presumes on His grace. One’s past relationship with God is not license for sin. The Lord knows His own and separates out a faithful remnant for His purposes, as this final section of the book makes clear.

9:11–12. Amos’s warnings of divine wrath are also balanced with the prospect of the eventual triumph of God’s kingdom. The relationship that God created with His people has a future, and His people will be vindicated at the end of time. Like other eighth-century prophets to Israel and Judah, Amos found reason to hope (e.g., Is 40–66; Hs 2:10–11, 14–23; Mc 2:12–13).

In that day God will miraculously intervene and also restore the fallen booth (dynasty) of David that had suffered some destruction (9:11). David’s "tent" had suffered major damage because of the division of the nation into two parts (Israel in the north, Judah in the south), though it had not yet collapsed. In the future God would rebuild it as in the days of old, with a descendant of David ruling over a united kingdom (Jr 30:3–10; Ezk 37:15–28; Hs 3:4–5). This restoration will follow in the millennium after the judgments of the tribulation. Some may regard this statement as a postexilic insertion into the text after David’s house had fallen, but this final oracle is genuinely from Amos and is a prophetic restoration of David’s house even before it fell. It reflects both eighth-century terminology and eschatology that had been held long prior to his day by orthodox Israelites (J. D. W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos, CBC [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975], 25–26)

Other nations will participate in the blessings on the house of David, and Israel will be a source of blessing to them. What follows is a transparent allusion to Nm 24:17–19, which speaks of the day when the Messiah the star from Jacob comes, and Edom will become the possession of Israel. Therefore Amos stated that Israel will possess the remnant of Edom. The Edomites, who had formerly been implacable enemies (cf. Ob 19), here represent all of Israel’s enemies. All the nations associated with the name of the Lord will also enjoy His lordship as the One who does this. This use of parallelism explains the LXX translation of this text. Just as Edom is parallel to the nations, so the LXX paraphrastically translates Edom as "Adam" or "mankind," indicating the same point as the Masoretic Text, that the nations will all know the Lord in the messianic kingdom. Additionally, in Ac 15:16–18, James quoted the LXX of Am 9:11–12, making the same point about the Gentiles.

James’s citation of this passage at the Jerusalem council (cf. Ac 15:11–18) does not indicate that this prophecy is fulfilled in the Church. The phrase in that day clearly puts the fulfillment at the end of days, with the establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom. More likely, James used this text to make an application of a principle. Thus, the words of Amos agree with the situation in the early Church. James’s point is that even as Gentiles will know the Lord in the messianic kingdom without converting to Judaism, so also, Gentiles in the Church Age can become followers of Israel’s Messiah as Gentiles without first converting to Judaism (also see the comments on Ac 15:16–21).

In Am 9:12, Amos spoke of Israel possessing the remnant of Edom, forming a canonical link with the next book of the 12 Minor Prophets. In that one, Obadiah picked up the same theme and promised that at the end of days Israel "will possess the mountain of Esau" (Ob 18–19).

9:13–15. The blessings of the millennial Davidic kingdom include the restoration of the land. The land will be so fertile that farmers planting seed for the next harvest will push reapers of the same fields to finish their work so they can plant the next crop. The mountains will be full of fruitful grapevines described as dripping with sweet (the best) wine. All the hills will be dissolved in the sense of flowing down with abundant produce. In the Messiah’s kingdom (cf. Is 65:17–25), the curse that afflicts creation (Rm 8:20–21) is lifted and the productivity of the land returns when Satan is banished (Rv 20:1–3).

Israel will return to the land and rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will enjoy security, abundant food, and blessings possible only in peacetime (cf. Lv 26:6; Dt 28:6). Israel will put roots down in the promised land, never to leave it again (Mc 4:4–7; Zch 14:11). Nothing in Israel’s historical restoration after exile fulfilled the promises given here. These promises are yet to be fulfilled in the millennium when Jesus Christ, David’s descendent, rules from Jerusalem.

Thus Amos concluded his book of judgment with an emphasis on future hope for Israel. Even though the overall message of Amos’s book was judgment for disobedience, there was ultimate hope that one day the house of David would be restored, leading to the full restoration of the people of Israel. The central implication is that Israel’s entire hope rests on the coming of the future Son of David, the Messiah of Israel, identified in the NT as Jesus of Nazareth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.

Dyer, Charles H., and Eugene H. Merrill. The Old Testament Explorer. Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001.

Feinberg, Charles L. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1990.

Finley, Thomas J. Joel, Amos, Obadiah. The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1990.

Hubbard, David A. Joel and Amos. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1989.

McComiskey, Thomas Edward. "Amos." In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985.

Motyer, J. A. The Day of the Lion: The Message of Amos. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974.

Smith, G. Amos: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989.

Watts, J. D. W. Vision and Prophecy in Amos. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

 

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