I. The Prophet
Amos is the prophet whose book stands third among the “Twelve” in the Hebrew canon. No other person bearing the same name is mentioned in the Old Testament, the name of the father of the prophet Isaiah being written differently (ס, ‘amots). There is an Amos mentioned in the genealogical series Luk_3:25, but he is otherwise unknown, and we do not know how his name would have been written in Hebrew. Of the signification of the prophet’s name all that can be said is that a verb with the same root letters, in the sense of to load or to carry a load, is not uncommon in the language.
2. Native Place
Tekoa, the native place of Amos, was situated at a distance of 5 miles South from Bethlehem, from which it is visible, and 10 miles from Jerusalem, on a hill 2,700 ft. high, overlooking the wilderness of Judah. It was made a “city for defense” by Rehoboam (2Ch_11:6), and may have in fact received its name from its remote and exposed position, for the stem of which the word is a derivative is of frequent occurrence in the sense of sounding an alarm with the trumpet: e.g. “Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haccerem” (Jer_6:1 the King James Version). The same word is also used to signify the setting up of a tent by striking in the tent-pegs; and Jerome states that there was no village beyond Tekoa in his time. The name has survived, and the neighborhood is at the present day the pasture-ground for large flocks of sheep and goats. From the high ground on which the modern village stands one looks down on the bare undulating hills of one of the bleakest districts of Palestine, “the waste howling wilderness,” which must have suggested some of the startling imagery of the prophet’s addresses. The place may have had – as is not seldom the case with towns or villages – a reputation for a special quality of its inhabitants; for it was from Tekoa that Joab fetched the “wise woman” who by a feigned story effected the reconciliation of David with his banished son Absalom (2 Sam 14). There are traces in the Book of Am of a shrewdness and mother-wit which are not so conspicuous in other prophetical books.
3. Personal History
The particulars of a personal kind which are noted in the book are few but suggestive. Amos was not a prophet or the son of a prophet, he tells us (Amo_7:14), i.e. he did not belong to the professional class which frequented the so-called schools of the prophets. He was “among the herdsmen of Tekoa” (Amo_1:1), the word here used being found only once in another place (2Ki_3:4) and applied to Mesha, king of Moab. It seems to refer to a special breed of sheep, somewhat ungainly in appearance but producing, an abundant fleece. In Amo_7:14 the word rendered “herdman” is different, and denotes an owner of cattle, though some, from the Septuagint rendering, think that the word should be the same as in Amo_1:1. He was also “a dresser of sycomore-trees” (Amo_7:14). The word rendered “dresser” (Revised Version) or “gatherer” (the King James Version) occurs only here, and from the rendering of the Septuagint (κνίζων) it is conjectured that there is reference to a squeezing or nipping of the sycamore fig to make it more palatable or to accelerate its ripening, though such a usage is not known in Palestine at the present day.
4. His Preparation
Nothing is said as to any special preparation of the prophet for his work: The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amo_7:15, the English Revised Version). In these words he puts himself in line with all the prophets who, in various modes of expression, claim a direct revelation from God. But the mention of the prophetic call in association with the mention of his worldly calling is significant. There was no period interposed between the one and the other, no cessation of husbandry to prepare for the work of prophesying. The husbandman was prepared for this task, and when God’s time came he took it up. What was that preparation? Even if we suppose that the call was a momentary event, the man must have been ready to receive it, equipped for its performance. And, looking at the way in which he accomplished it, as exhibited in his book, we can see that there was a preparation, both internal and external, of a very thorough and effective character.
(1) Knowledge of God
First of all, he has no doubt or uncertainty as to the character of the God in whose name he is called to speak. The God of Amos is one whose sway is boundless (Amo_9:2), whose power is infinite (Amo_8:9 f), not only controlling the forces of Nature (Amo_4:1-13; Amo_5:8 f) but guiding the movements and destinies of nations (Amo_6:1,Amo_6:14; Amo_9:7). Moreover, He is righteous in all His ways, dealing with nations on moral principles (Amo_1:3; Amo_2:1); and, though particularly favorable to Israel, yet making that very choice of them as a people a ground for visiting them with sterner retribution for their sins (Amo_3:2). In common with all the prophets, Amos gives no explanation of how he came to know God and to form this conception of His character. It was not by searching that they found out God. It is assumed that God is and that He is such a Being; and this knowledge, as it could come only from God, is regarded as undisputed and undisputable. The call to speak in God’s name may have come suddenly, but the prophet’s conception of the character of the God who called him is no new or sudden revelation but a firm and well-established conviction.
(2) Acquaintance with History of His People
Then his book shows not only that he was well acquainted with the history and traditions of his nation, which he takes for granted as well known to his hearers, but that he had reflected upon these things and realized their significance. We infer that he had breathed an atmosphere of religion, as there is nothing to indicate that, in his acquaintance with the religious facts of his nation, he differed from those among whom he dwelt, although the call to go forth and enforce them came to him in a special way.
(3) Personal Travel
It has been conjectured that Amos had acquired by personal travel the accurate acquaintance which he shows in his graphic delineations of contemporary life and conditions; and it may have been the case that, as a wool-merchant or flock-master, he had visited the towns mentioned and frequented the various markets to which the people were attracted.
(4) Scenery of His Home
Nor must we overlook another factor in his preparation: the scenery in which he had his home and the occupations of his daily life. The landscape was one to make a solemn impression on a reflective mind: the extensive desert, the shimmering waters of the Dead Sea, the high wall of the distant hills of Moab, over all which were thrown the varying light and shade. The silent life of the desert, as with such scenes ever before him, he tended his flock or defended them from the ravages of wild beasts, would to one whose thoughts were full of God nourish that exalted view of the Divine Majesty which we find in his book, and furnish the imagery in which his thoughts are set (Amo_1:2; Amo_3:4 f; Amo_4:13; Amo_5:8; Amo_9:5 f). As he is taken from following the flock, he comes before us using the language and figures of his daily life (Amo_3:12), but there runs through all the note of one who has seen God’s working in all Nature and His presence in every phenomenon. Rustic he may be, but there is no rudeness or rusticity in his style, which is one of natural and impassioned eloquence, ordered and regular as coming from a mind which was responsive to the orderly working of God in Nature around him. There is an aroma of the free air of the desert about his words; but the prophet lives in an ampler ether and breathes a purer air; all things in Nature and on the field of history are seen in a Divine light and measured by a Divine standard.
5. His Mission
Thus, prepared in the solitudes of the extreme south of Judah, he was called to go and prophesy unto the people of Israel, and appears at Bethel the capital of the Northern Kingdom. It may be that, in the prosecution of his worldly calling, he had seen and been impressed by the conditions of life and religion in those parts. No reason is given for his mission to the northern capital, but the reason is not far to seek. It is the manner of the prophets to appear where they are most needed; and the Northern Kingdom about that time had come victorious out of war, and had reached its culmination of wealth and power, with the attendant results of luxury and excess, while the Southern Kingdom had been enjoying a period of outward tranquillity and domestic content.
The date of the prophet Amos can approximately be fixed from the statement in the first verse that his activity fell “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.” Both these monarchs had long reigns, that of Uzziah extending from 779 to 740 bc and that of Jeroboam II from 783 to 743 bc. If we look at the years when they were concurrently reigning, and bear in mind that, toward the end of Uzziah’s reign, Jotham acted as co-regent, we may safely place the date of Amos at about the year 760 bc. In a country in which earthquakes are not uncommon the one here mentioned must have been of unusual severity, for the memory of it was long preserved (Zec_14:5). How long he exercised his ministry we are not told. In all probability the book is the deposit of a series of addresses delivered from time to time till his plain speaking drew upon him the resentment of the authorities, and he was ordered to leave the country (Amo_7:10). We can only conjecture that, some time afterward, he withdrew to his native place and put down in writing a condensed record of the discourses he had delivered.
Amos boasts not here, in speaking of his own words, that he adduced anything as from himself, but avows himself to be only the minister of God; for he immediately adds that he received them by a vision. God himself raised up the Prophets and employed their labor; And, at the same time, guided them by his Spirit, that they might not announce anything but what had been received from him, but faithfully deliver what had proceeded from him alone. These two things then, well agree together, — that the prophecies which follow were the words of Amos and that they were words revealed to him from above; for the word חזה, chese, which Amos uses, properly means, to see by revelation; and these revelations were called prophecies.
But he says, that he was among the shepherds of Tekoa. This was a mean towns and had been shortly before surrounded by walls and had ever been previously a village. He then mentions not his country, because it was celebrated, or as though he could derive thereby more authority or renown: but, on the contrary he calls himself a Tekoan, because God drew him forth from an obscure place, that he might set him over the whole kingdom of Israel. They are therefore mistaken, as I think, who suppose that Amos was called one of the shepherds on account of his riches, and the number of his flocks; for when I weigh every thing, I see not how could this be. I indeed allow that נקדים, nukodim are not only shepherds who do the work, but men possessing flocks, carrying on a large business; for the king of Moab is said to have been a נקד, nukod, and that he fed large flocks; but it was by hired shepherds. As to the Prophets I do not see how this can be applied to him; for Tekoa was not a place famous for wealth; and as I have said, it was a small town, and of no opulence. I do not then doubt, but that Amos, by saying that he was a shepherd, pours contempt on the pride of the king of Israel, and of the whole people; for as they had not deigned to hear the Prophets of God, a keeper of sheep was sent to them.
It must be further noticed, that he is not called a shepherd of Tekoa, but from Tekoa; and interpreters have not observed this preposition. We shall see in chapter seven, that though Amos sprang from the tribe of Judah, he yet dwelt in the kingdom of Israel: for the priest, after he had slandered him before the king, bade him to go elsewhere, and to eat his own bread, and not to disturb the peace of the country. He therefore dwelt there as a stranger in a land not his own. Had he been rich, and possessing much wealth, he would have surely dwelt at home: why should he change his place? Since then it appears evident, that he was a sojourner in the land of Israel, he was, no doubt, one of the common people. So that his low condition (ignobilitias —ignobility) was intended for this purpose, — that God might thereby repress the arrogance of the king of Israel, and of the whole people; for we know how much inflated they were on account of the fruitfulness of their land and their riches. Hence Amos was set over them as a Prophet, being a shepherd, whom God had brought from the sheepfolds.
The time also is to be observed, when he is said to have seen these prophecies; it was in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, two years before the earth-quake, and in the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash. What the state of that time was, I described in explaining the prophecies of Hosea. Sacred history relates that the kingdom of Israel flourished under the second Jeroboam; for though he was an ungodly and wicked man, yet God spared then his people, and caused that not only the ten tribes should remain entire, but also that Jeroboam should enlarge his kingdom; for he had recovered some cities which had been lost. The state of the people was then tranquil, and their prosperity was such as filled them with pride, as it commonly happens. Uzziah also so reigned over the tribe of Judah, that nothing adverse prevailed there. Shortly after followed the earthquake. The time this earthquake happened, sacred history does not mention. But Josephus says, that it was when Uzziah seized on the priestly office, and was smitten with leprosy. He therefore makes that stroke of leprosy and the earthquake to be at the same time. But Amos, as well as other Prophets, spoke of it as a thing well known: thus Zechariah, after the people’s return, refers to it in chapter 14: (Zec_14:5),
‘There shall be to you a terror, such as was in the earthquake under king Uzziah.’
He states not the year, but it was then commonly known.
Then the Prophet meant nothing more than to show by this event, that he denounced God’s vengeance on the Israelites, when they were in prosperity, and were immersed, as it were, in their pleasures. And satiety, as it ever happens, made them ferocious; hence he was not well received; but his authority is hereby more confirmed to us; for he did not flatter the people in their prosperity, but severely reproved them; and he also predicted what could not be foreseen by human judgment, nay, what seemed to be altogether improbable. Had he not then been endued with the heavenly Spirit, he could not have foretold future calamities, when the Jews, as I have already said, as well as the Israelites, and others, promised themselves all kinds of prosperity; for God then spared the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, nor did he execute his judgment on neighboring nations.
We must now observe this also, that the words which he saw were concerning Israel. We hence learn, as I have already said that the Prophet was specifically appointed for the Israelites, though born elsewhere. But how and on what occasion he migrated into the kingdom of Israel, we know not; and as to the subject in hand, it matters not much: but it is probable, as I have said before, that this was designedly done, that God might check the insolence of the people, who flattered themselves so much in their prosperity. Since, then, the Israelites had hitherto rejected God’s servants, they were now constrained to hear a foreigner and a shepherd condemning them for their sins, and exercising the office of a judge: he who proclaims, an impending destruction is a celestial herald. This being the case, we hence see that God had not in vain employed the ministry of this Prophet; for he is wont to choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong, (1Co_1:26) and he takes Prophets and teachers from the lowest grade to humble the dignity of the world, and puts the invaluable treasure of his doctrine in earthly vessels, that his power, as Paul teaches us, may be made more evident (2Co_4:7.)
But there was a special reason as to the Prophet Amos; for he was sent on purpose severely to reprove the ten tribes: and, as we shall see, he handled them with great asperity. For he was not polite, but proved that he had to do with those who were not to be treated as men, but as brute beasts; yea, worse in obstinacy than brute beasts; for there is some docility in oxen and cows, and especially in sheep, for they hear the voice of their shepherd, and follow where he leads them. The Israelites were all stubbornness, and wholly untamable. It was then necessary to set over them a teacher who would not treat them courteously, but exercise towards them his native rusticity. Let us now proceed; for of the kingdom of Uzziah and of Jeroboam the son of Joash, the second of that name, we have spoken on the in Hos_1:1. It now follows —
Heading. The words. So Jeremiah begins his prophecy (Jer_1:1), and the writer of Ecclesiastes (Ecc_1:1). That the words am not those of Amos, but of Jehovah, is shown by the succeeding clause, “which he saw.”
Herdmen. The Hebrew word noked used here is found in 2Ki_3:4, applied to Mesha King of Moab, a great “sheepmaster;” hence some have considered that Amos was not a mere mercenary, but a rich possessor of flocks. His own words, however (Amo_7:14, Amo_7:15), decide his position as that of a poor labouring man.
Tekoah. A small town of Judah (see above in the account of the author, Introduction, § II.). He saw, with inward intuition. Hence his “words” were inspired (comp. Isa_2:1; Hab_1:1). Concerning Israel chiefly, mention of Judah being introduced only incidentally and as connected with the destinies of Israel The Septuagint reads, by some mistake, “concerning Jerusalem.”
In the days. (For the date of the prophecy, see above, Introduction, § III.)
Earthquake. No mention is made of this event in the historical books. It was remembered in after years (see Zec_14:5), and Amos alludes to it as a token of the judgment which he foretold, such catastrophes being regarded as signs of the majesty of God and his vengeance on sinners (comp. Exo_19:18 : Psa_68:8; Mic_1:4; Hab_3:6, Hab_3:10), Josephus (‘Ant.’ 9.10. 4) attributes this earthquake to God’s displeasure at Uzziah’s usurpation of the priest’s office (2Ch_26:16).
The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen – “Amos begins by setting forth his own nothingness, and withal the great grace of his Teacher and Instructor, the Holy Spirit, referring all to His glory.” He, like David, Peter, Paul, Matthew, was one of “the weak things of the world, whom God chose to confound the mighty.” He was himself a herdsman only “among herdsmen;” but the words which he spake were not his own. They were words which he saw, not with eyes of flesh, but “with that vision wherewith words can be seen, the seer’s vision in the mind.”
They were “words concerning,” or rather “upon Israel,” heavy words coming upon the heavy transgressions of Israel. The Hebrew word “saw” is not of mere sight, but of a vision given by God. Amos only says that they were “his” words, in order immediately to add, that they came to him from God, that he himself was but the human organ through which God spake.
Two years before the earthquake – This earthquake must plainly have been one of the greatest, since it was vividly in people’s memories in the time of Zechariah, and Amos speaks of it as “the earthquake.” The earthquakes of the east, like that of Lisbon, destroy whole cities. In one, a little before the birth of our Lord , “some ten thousand were buried under the ruined houses.” This terrific earthquake (for as such Zechariah describes it) was one of the preludes of that displeasure of God, which Amos foretold. A warning of two years, and time for repentance, were given, “before the earthquake” should come, the token and beginning of a further shaking of both kingdoms, unless they should repent. In effect, it was the first flash of the lightning which consumed them.
He employs here the same words which we explained yesterday in the Lecture on Joel; but for another purpose. By saying, ‘Jehovah from Zion shall roar,’ Joel intended to set forth the power of God, who had been for a time silent, as though he was not able to repel his enemies. As God was then despised by the ungodly, Joel declares that he had power, by which he could instantly break down and destroy all his enemies and defend his Church and chosen people. But now Amos, as he addresses the Israelites, does here defend the pure worship of God from all contempt and declares to the Israelites, that how much soever they wearied themselves in their superstitions they still worshipped their own devices; for God repudiated all the religion they thought they had. There is, then, to be understood an implied or indirect contrast between mount Zion and the temples which the first Jeroboam built in Dan and Bethel. The Israelites imagined that they worshipped the God of their father Abraham; and there were in those places greater displays (pompae — pomps) than at Jerusalem. But the Prophet Amos pours contempt on all these fictitious forms of worship; as though he said, “Ye indeed boast that the God of Abraham is honored and worshipped by you; but ye are degenerate, ye are covenant breakers, ye are perfidious towards God; he dwells not with you, for the sanctuaries, which you have made for yourselves, are nothing but brothels; God has chosen no habitation for himself, except mount Zion; there is his perpetual rest: Roar then will Jehovah from Zion.”
We now see what the Prophet had in view: for he not only shows here, that God was the author of his doctrine, but at the same time distinguishes between the true God and the idols, which the first Jeroboam made, when by this artifice he intended to withdraw the ten tribes from the house of David and wholly to alienate them from the tribe of Judah: it was then that he set up the calves in Dan and Bethel. The Prophet now shows that all these superstitions are condemned by the true God: Jehovah then shall roar from Zion, he will utter his voice from Jerusalem. He no doubt wished here to terrify the Israelites, who thought they had peace with God. Since, then, they abused his long-suffering, Amos now says that they would find at length that he was not asleep. “When God then shall long bear with your iniquities, he will at last rise up for judgment.”
By roaring is signified, as we said yesterday, the terrible voice of God; but the Prophet here speaks of God’s voice, rather than of what are called actual judgments really executed, that the Israelites might learn that the examples of punishments which God executes in the world happen not by chance, or at random, but proceed from his threatening; in short, the Prophet intimates that all punishments which God inflicts on the ungodly and the despisers of his word, are only the executions of what the Prophets proclaimed, in order that men, should there be any hope of their repentance, might anticipate the destruction which they hear to be nigh. The Prophet then commends here very highly the truth of what God teaches, by saying that it is not what vanishes, but what is accomplished; for when he destroys nations and kingdoms, it comes to pass according to prophecies: God then shall utter his voice from Jerusalem
Then it follows, And mourn shall the habitations of shepherds אבל, abel, means to mourn, and also to be laid waste, and to perish. Either sense will well suit this place. If we read, mourn, etc. , then we must render the following thus, and ashamed shall be the head, or top, of Carmel. But if we read, perish, etc. , then the verb בש besh must be translated, wither; and as we know that there were rich pastures on Carmel, I prefer this second rendering: wither then shall the top of Carmel; and the first clause must be taken thus, and perish shall the habitations of shepherds
As to what is intended, we understand the Prophet’s meaning to be, that whatever was pleasant and valuable in the kingdom of Israel would now shortly perish, because God would utter his voice from Zion The meaning then is this, — “Ye now lie secure, but God will soon, and even suddenly, put forth his power to destroy you; and this he will do, because he denounces on you destruction now by me, and will raise up other Prophets to be heralds of his vengeance: this will God execute by foreign and heathen nations; but yet your destruction will be according to these threatening which ye now count as nothing. Ye indeed think them to be empty words; but God will at length show that what he declares will be fully accomplished.”
With respect to Carmel, there were two mountains of this name; but as they were both very fertile, there is no need to take much trouble to inquire of which Carmel the Prophet speaks. Sufficient is what has been said, — that such a judgment is denounced on the kingdom of Israel as would consume all its fatness; for as we shall hereafter see, and the same thing has been already stated by the Prophet Hosea, there was great fertility as to pastures in that kingdom.
We must, at the same time, observe, that the Prophet, who was a shepherd, speaks according to his own character, and the manner of life which he followed. Another might have said, ‘Mourn shall the whole country, tremble shall the palaces,’ or something like this; but the Prophet speaks of mount Carmel, and of the habitations of shepherds, for he was a shepherd. His doctrine no doubt was despised, and many profane men probably said, “What! he thinks that he is still with his cows and with his sheep; he boasts that he is God’s prophet, and yet he is ever engrossed by his stalls and his sheepfolds.” It is then by no means improbable, but that he was thus derided by scornful men: but he purposely intended to blunt their petulance, by mingling with what he said as a Prophets those kinds of expressions which savored of his occupation as a shepherd. Let us now proceed —
Keil & Delitzsch
Amo_1:1 contains the heading, which has already been discussed in the Introduction; and אֲשֶׁר חָזָה (“which he saw”) refers to דִּבְרֵי עָמוֹס (the words of Amos). Amo_1:2 forms the Introduction, which is attached to the heading by וַיֹּאמַר, and announces a revelation of the wrath of God upon Israel, or a theocratic judgment.
Amo_1:2. “Jehovah roars out of Zion, and He utters His voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the head of Carmel withers.” The voice of Jehovah is the thunder, the earthly substratum in which the Lord manifests His coming to judgment (see at Joe_3:16). By the adoption of the first half of the verse word for word from Joel, Amos connects his prophecy with that of his predecessor, not so much with the intention of confirming the latter, as for the purpose of alarming the sinners who were at east in their security, and overthrowing the delusive notion that the judgment of God would only fall upon the heathen world. This delusion he meets with the declaration, that at the threatening of the wrath of God the pastures of the shepherds, i.e., the pasture-ground of the land of Israel (cf. Joe_1:19), and the head of the forest-crowned Carmel, will fade and wither. Carmel is the oft-recurring promontory at the mouth of the Kishon on the Mediterranean (see the comm. on Jos_19:26 and 1Ki_18:19), and not the place called Carmel on the mountains of Judah (Jos_15:55), to which the term רֹאשׁ (head) is inapplicable (vid., Amo_9:3 and Mic_7:14). Shepherds’ pastures and Carmel individualized the land of Israel in a manner that was very natural to Amos the shepherd. With this introduction, Amos announces the theme of his prophecies. And if, instead of proceeding at once to describe still further the judgment that threatens the kingdom of Israel, he first of all enumerates the surrounding nations, including Judah, as objects of the manifestation of the wrath of God, this enumeration cannot have any other object than the one described in our survey of the contents of the book. The enumeration opens with the kingdoms of Aram, Philistia, and Tyre (Phoenicia), which were not related to Israel by any ties of kinship whatever.
And he said. This is the commencement of “the words” of Amos (verse 1); and herein the prophet gives a short summary of the judgment which he has to pronounce. The following clause is a repetition of Joe_3:16; and Amos thus connects his prophecy with that of his predscessor, to show the unity of prophetic mission, and to warn the Jews that God’s punishments are not directed exclusively on heathen nations. To the nations denounced by Joel, Amos adds others of Israel’s enemies, viz. Syria, Ammon, and Moab. Roar … voice. The thunder is the voice of God announcing his coming to judge.
From Zion. Not from Dan and Bethel, the seats of idolatrous worship, but from Jerusalem, the abode of his presence. The habitations; better, the pastures. It is only natural that Amos, the shepherd, should use such terms to express the idea that the whole land, from Jerusalem on the south to Carmel on the north, should feel the vengeance of the Lord. Shall mourn; explained by the following term, shall wither; i.e. shall lose their verdure (comp. Jer_12:11; Hos_4:3).
The top of Carmel. This is the Mount Carmel, which stretches boldly into the sea on the south of the Bay of Acre, and is remarkable for its extreme fertility, its rich pastures, its vines, olives, fruits, and flowers. Thomson, ‘The Land and the Book;’ writes thus about it: “The celebrated ridge, called in the Bible Merest Carmel, and by the Arabs Jebel Kurmul, or Mar Elyas, in honour of Elijah, is an extension of the hills of Samaria, in a northwesterly direction, for a distance of about eighteen miles, terminating in the bold promontory of Carmel, which descends almost literally into the sea. It is steep and lofty where it overhangs the Mediterranean above Haifa, and on that face which overlooks the Plain of Acre on the north, and that of Esdraelon towards the southeast. There is no special excellency in Carmel at the present day, whatever may be said of Sharon. Its name, Kurmul, or Kerm-el, signifies ‘the vineyard of God;’ but its vineyards have all disappeared. It was a glorious mountain, however, and a prominent landmark; according to Jeremiah (Jer_46:18), Carmel was a resort of herdsmen.
Amos says, ‘The habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither,’ in the time of the threatened judgment, and this implies that its pastures were not ordinarily liable to wither. This may, in part, have been occasioned by the heavy dews which its lofty elevation, so near the sea, causes to distil nightly upon its thirsty head. I found it quite green and flowery in midsummer. It was a noble pasture field, and, in reference to that characteristic, Micah utters his sweet prayer, ‘Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.'”
The Lord will roar – Amos joins on his prophecy to the end of Joel’s, in order at once in its very opening to attest the oneness of their mission, and to prepare people’s minds to see, that his own prophecy was an expansion of those words, declaring the nearer and coming judgments of God. Those nearer judgments, however, of which he spake, were but the preludes of the judgments of the Great Day which Joel foretold, and of that last terrible voice of Christ, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” of whom Jacob prophesies; “He couched, He lay down as a lion, and as a young lion; who shall raise Him up?” Gen_49:9. God is said to “utter His” awful “voice from Zion and Jerusalem,” because there He had set His Name, there He was present in His Church. It was, as it were, His own place, which He had hallowed by tokens of His presence, although “the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him.” In the outset of his prophecy, Amos warned Israel, that there, not among themselves in their separated state, God dwelt. Jeremiah, in using these same words toward Judah, speaks not of Jerusalem, but of heaven; “The Lord shall roar from on high, and utter His voice from His holy habitation” Jer_25:30. The prophecy is to the ten tribes or to the pagan: God speaks out of the Church. He uttereth His Voice out of Jerusalem, as He saith, “Out of Zion shall go forth, the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” Isa_2:3, “where was the Temple and the worship of God, to shew that God was not in the cities of Israel, that is, in Dan and Bethel, where were the golden calves, nor in the royal cities of Samaria and Jezreel, but in the true religion which was then in Zion and Jerusalem.”
And the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn – Perhaps, with a feeling for the home which he had loved and left, the prophet’s first thought amid the desolation which he predicts, was toward his own shepherd-haunts. The well-known Mount Carmel was far in the opposite direction in the tribe of Asher. Its name is derived from its richness and fertility, perhaps “a land of vine and olive yards.” In Jerome’s time, it was “thickly studded with olives, shrubs and vineyards.” “Its very summit of glad pasturcs.”
It is one of the most striking natural features of Palestine. It ends a line of hills, 18 miles long, by a long bold headland reaching out far into the Mediterranean, and forming the south side of the Bay of Acco or Acre. Rising 1,200 feet above the sea , it stands out “like some guardian of its native strand;” yet withal, it was rich with every variety of beauty, flower, fruit, and tree. It is almost always called “the Carmel,” “the rich garden-ground.” From its neighborhood to the sea, heavy dews nightly supply it with an ever-renewed freshness, so that in mid-summer it is green and flowery . Travelers describe it, as “quite green, its top covered with firs and oaks, lower down with olives and laurels, and everywhere excellently watered.” “There is not a flower,” says Van de Velde , “that I have seen in Galilee or on the plains along the coasts, that I do not find here again on Carmel. It is still the same fragrant lovely mountain as of old.” : “Its varied world of flowers attracts such a number of the rarer vari-colored insects that a collector might for a whole year be richly employed.” “It is a natural garden and repository of herbs.”
Its pastures were rich, so as to equal those of Bashan. “It gives rise to a number of crystal streams, the largest of which gushes from the spring of Elijah” Jer_50:19; Nah_1:4. It had abundant supplies in itself. If it too became a desert, what else would be spared? “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Luk_23:31. All, high and low, shall be stricken in one common desolation; all the whole land, fromm “the pastures of the shepherds” in the south to Mount Carmel in the North. And this, as soon as God had spoken. “He spake, and it was made.” So now, contrariwise, He uttercth His Voice, and Carmel hath languished. Its glory hath passed away, as in the twinkling of an eye. God hath spoken the word, and it is gone.
What depended on God’s gifts, abides; what depended on man, is gone. There remains a wild beauty still; but it is the beauty of natural luxuriance. “All,” says one who explored its depths , “lies waste; all is a wilderness. The utmost fertility is here lost for man, useless to man. The vineyards of Carmel, where are they now? Behold the long rows of stones on the ground, the remains of the walls; they will tell you that here, where now with difficulty you force your way through the thick entangled copse, lay, in days of old, those incomparable vineyards to which Carmel owes its name.”
The Prophet here assails the Israelites, to whom he had been sent, as we have said at the beginning. He now omits every reference to other nations; for his business was with the Israelites to whom he was especially appointed a teacher. But he wished to set before them, as in various mirrors, the judgment of God, which awaited them, that he might the more effectually awaken them: and he wished also to exhibit in the Jews themselves an example of the extreme vengeance of God, though there was greater purity among them, at least a purer religion, and more reverence for God prevailed as yet among them. He in this way prepared the Israelites, that they might not obstinately and proudly reject his doctrine. He now then addresses them, and says that they continued unmoved in their many sins. The import of the whole is, that if the Moabites, the Idumeans, the Tyrians, the Sidonians, and other nations, and that if the Jews as well as these were irreclaimable in their obstinacy, so that their diseases were incurable, and their wickedness such as God could no longer endure, the Israelites were also in the same condition; for they also continued perverse in their wickedness, and provoked God, and repented not, though God had waited long, and exhorted them to repent.
It is now meet for us to bear in mind what we have before said, — that if impiety was so rampant in that age, and the contempt of God so prevailed, that men could not be restored to a sane mind, and if iniquity everywhere overflowed, (for Amos accuses not a few people, but many nations,) let us at this day beware, lest such corruptions prevail among us; for, certainly, the world is now much worse than it was then: nay, since the Prophet says here, that both the Israelites and the Jews were wholly irreclaimable in their obstinacy, there is no excuse for us at this day for deceiving ourselves with an empty name, because we have the symbol of faith, having been baptized; and in case we have other marks, which seem to belong to the Church of God, let us not think that we are therefore free from guilt, if we allow ourselves that unruliness condemned here by the Prophet both in the Israelites and in the Jews; for they had become hardened against all instructions, against all warnings. Let, then, these examples rouse our attention, lest we, like them, harden ourselves so much as to constrain the Lord to execute on us extreme vengeance.
Let us now especially observe what the Prophet lays to the charge of Israel. He begins with their cruel deeds; but the whole book is taken up with reproofs; there is to the very end a continued accusation as to those crimes which then prevailed among the people of Israel. He does not then point out only one particular crime, as with respect to the other nations; but he scrutinizes all the vices of which the people were guilty, as though he would thoroughly anatomize them. But these we shall notice in their proper order.
Now as to the first thing, the Prophet says, that the just among the Israelites was sold for silver, yea, for shoes. It may be asked, Why is it that he does not begin with those superstitions, in which they surpassed the Jews? for if God had resolved to destroy Jerusalem and his own temple, because they had fallen away into superstitious and spurious modes of worship, how much more ought such a judgment to have been executed on the Israelites, as they had perverted the whole law, and had become wholly degenerate; and even circumcision was nothing but a profanation of God’s covenant? Why, then, does not the Prophet touch on this point? To this I answer, — That as superstition had now for many years prevailed among them, the Prophet does not make this now his subject; but we shall hereafter see, that he has not spared these ungodly deprivations which had grown rampant among the Israelites. He indeed sharply arraigns all their superstitions; but he does this in its suitable place. It was now necessary to begin with common evils; and this was far more opportune than if he had at first spoken of superstitions; for they might have said, that they did indeed worship God. He therefore preferred condemning the Jews for alienating themselves from the pure commandments of God; and as to the Israelites, he reproves here their gross vices. But after having charged them with cruelty, shameless rapacity, and many lusts, after having exposed their filthy abominations, he then takes the occasion, as being then more suitable of exclaiming against superstitions. This order our Prophet designedly observed, as we shall see more fully from the connection of his discourse.
I now return to the words, that they sold the just for silver, and the poor for shoes. He means that there was no justice nor equity among the Israelites, for they made a sale of the children of God: and it was a most shameful thing, that there was no remedy for injuries. For we hence, no doubt, learn, that the Prophet levels his reproof against the judges who then exercised authority. The just, he says, is sold for silver: this could not apply to private individuals, but to judges, to whom it belonged to extend a helping hand to the miserable and the poor, to avenge wrongs, and to give to every one his right. It is then the same as though the Prophet had said, that unbridled licentiousness reigned triumphant among the Israelites, so that just men were exposed as a prey, and were set, as it were, on sale. He says, first, that they were sold for silver, and then he adds for shoes: and this ought to be carefully observed; for when once men begin to turn aside from the right course, they abandon themselves to evil without any shame. When an attempt is first made to draw aside a man that is just and upright and free from what is corrupt, he is not immediately overcome; though a great price may be offered to him, he will yet stand firm: but when he has sold his integrity for ten pieces of gold, he may afterwards be easily bought, as the case is usually will women. A woman, while she is pure, cannot be easily drawn away from her conjugal fidelity: she may yet be corrupted by a great price; and when once corrupted, she will afterwards prostitute herself, so that she may be bought for a crust of bread. The same is the case with judges. They, then, who at first covet silver, that is, who cannot be corrupted except by a rich and fat bribe, will afterwards barter their integrity for the meanest reward; for there is no shame any more remaining in them. This is what the Prophet points out in these words, — That they sold the just for silver; that is, that they sold him for a high price, and then that they were corrupted by the meanest gift, that if one offered them a pair of shoes, they would be ready without any blush of shame to receive such a bribe.
We now then see the crime of which Amos accused the Israelites. They could not raise an objection here, which they might have done, if he touched their superstitions. He wished therefore to acquire authority by reprobating first their manifest and obvious crimes. He afterwards, as it has been stated, speaks in its proper place, of that fictitious worship, which they, after having rejected the Law of God, embraced. It follows —
They sold the righteous for silver. The first charge against Israel is perversion of justice. The judges took bribes and condemned the righteous, i.e. the man whose cause was good. Pusey thinks that the literal selling of debtors by creditors, contrary to the Law (Exo_21:7; Le Exo_25:39; Neh_5:5), is meant (comp. Amo_8:6 and Mat_18:25).
The needy for a pair of shoes. For the very smallest bribe they betray the cause of the poor (comp. Eze_13:19); though, as sandals were sometimes of very costly materials (So Amo_7:1; Eze_16:10; Judith 16:9), the expression might mean that they sold justice to obtain an article of luxury. But the form of expression is opposed to this interpretation.
For three transgressions of Israel, and for four – In Israel, on whom the divine sentence henceforth rests, the prophet numbers four classes of sins, running into one another, as all sins do, since all grievous sins contain many in one, yet in some degree distinct:
(1) Perversion of justice;
(2) oppression of the poor;
(4) luxury with idolatry.
They sold the righteous for silver – It is clear from the opposite statement, “that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes,” that the prophet is not speaking of judicial iniquity, but of actual buying and selling. The law allowed a Hebrew who was poor to sell himself , and a Hebrew to buy him until the year of release; yet this too with the express reserve, that the purchaser was forbidden to “serve himself with him with the service of a slave, but as a hired servant and a sojourner stroll he be with thee” Lev_25:39-40. The thief who could not repay what he stole, was to “be sold for his theft” Exo_22:2-3. But the law gave no power to sell an insolvent debtor. It grew up in practice. The sons and daughters of the debtor Neh_5:5, or “his wife and children” Mat_18:25, nay even the sons of a deceased debtor 2Ki_4:1, were sold. Nehemiah rebuked this sharply. In that case, the hardness was aggravated by the fact that the distress had been fomented by usury. But the aggravation did not constitute the sin. It seems to be this merciless selling by the creditor, with Amos rebukes. The “righteous” is probably one who, without any blame, became insolvent. The “pair of shoes,” that is, sandals, express the trivial price, or the luxury for which he was sold. They had him sold “for the sake of a pair of sandals,” that is, in order to procure them. Trivial in themselves, as being a mere sole, the sandals of the Hebrew women were, at times, costly and beautiful (Son_7:1; Ezra 10; Judith 16:9). Such a sale expressed contempt for man, made in the image of God, that he was sold either for some worthless price, or for some needless adornment.
Here Amos charges them first with insatiable avarice; they panted for the heads of the poor on the dust of the earth. This place is in my judgment not well understood. שאף, shaph, means to pant and to breathe, and is taken often metaphorically as signifying to desire: hence some render the words, “They desire the heads of the poor to be in the dust of the earth;” that is, they are anxious to see the innocent cast down and prostrate on the ground. But there is no need of many words to refute this comment; for ye see that it is strained. Others say, that in their cupidity they cast down the miserable into the dust; they therefore think that a depraved cupidity is connected with violence, and they put the lust for the deed itself.
But what need there is of having recourse to these extraneous meanings, when the words of the Prophet are in themselves plain and clear enough? He says that they panted for the heads of the poor on the ground; as though he had said, that they were not content with casting down the miserable, but that they gaped anxiously, until they wholly destroyed them. There is then nothing to be changed or added in the Prophet’s words, which harmonize well together, and mean, that through cupidity they panted for the heads of the poor, after the poor had been cast down, and were laid prostrate in the dust. The very misery of the poor, whom they saw to be in their power, and lying at their feet, ought to have satisfied them: but when such an insatiable cupidity still inflamed them, that they panted for more punishment on the poor and the miserable, was it not a fury wholly outrageous? We now perceive the Prophet’s meaning: He points out again what he has said in the former verse, — that the Israelites were given to rapacity, avarice, and cruelty of every kind.
He adds at last, and the way of the miserable they pervert. He still inveighs against the judges; for it can hardly comport with what belongs to private individuals, but it properly appertains to judges to pervert justice, and to violate equity for bribery; so that he who had the best cause became the loser, because he brought no bribe sufficiently ample. We now see what was the accusation he alleged against the Israelites. But there follows another charge, that of indulgence in lusts.
That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor. This is the second charge—oppression of the poor. The obscure expression in the text is capable of two explanations. Hitzig, Pusey, Trochon, assume that its meaning is that in their avarice and cupidity the usurers or tyrannous rich men grudge even the dust which the poor man strews upon his head in token of his sorrow at being brought to so low a state. But this seems unnatural and farfetched, and scarcely in harmony with the simple style of Amos. The other explanation, supported by Kimchi, Sehegg, Keil, and Knabenbauer, is preferable. These oppressors desire eagerly to see the poor crushed to the earth, or so miserable as to scatter dust on their heads. The poor (dal, not the same word as in verse 6); depressed, as brought low in condition. The Septuagint joins this with the previous clause, “And the poor for sandals, the things that tread on the dust of the earth, and smote on the heads of the needy.” The Vulgate gives, Qui conterunt super pulverem terrae capita pauperum, “Who bruise the heads of the poor on the dust of the earth.”
Turn aside the way of the meek. They thwart and hinder their path of life, and force them into crooked and evil ways. Or way, according to Kimchi, may mean “judicial process,” as Pro_17:23. This gives, to the clause much the same meaning as Pro_17:6. The meek are those who are lowly and unassuming (see note on Zep_2:3).
And a man and his father will go in unto the same maid; LXX; Εἰσεπορεύοντο πρὸς τὴν αὐτὴν παιδίσκην. The Vulgate, which omits “the same,” is closer to the Hebrew, Et filius ac pater ejus ierunt ad puellam, though the Greek doubtless gives the intended meaning. This sin, which was tantamount to incest, was virtually forbidden (Le Pro_18:8, Pro_18:15; Pro_20:11). Some (as Ewald, Maurer, Gandell) see here an allusion to the organized prostitution in idol temples (Hos_4:14), but this seems unnecessary. To profane my holy Name (Le 22:32). Such crimes dishonoured the God who called them his people, so that to them could be applied what St. Paul says (Rom_2:24), “The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you” (comp. Le Pro_20:3; Eze_36:20, Eze_36:23). The word lemaan, “in order that,” implies that they committed these sins, not through ignorance, but intentionally, to bring discredit upon the true faith and worship.
That pant after the dust of the earth – Literally, “the panters!” with indignation. Not content with having rent from him the little hereditary property which belonged to each Israelite, these creditors grudged him even the “dust,” which, as a mourner, he strewed on his head Job_2:12, since it too was “earth.” Covetousness, when it has nothing to feed it, craves for what is absurd or impossible. What was Naboth’s vineyard to a king of Israel with his “ivory palace?” What was Mordecai’s refusal to bow to one in honor like Haman? What a trivial gain to a millionaire? The sarcasm of the prophet was the more piercing, because it was so true. People covet things in proportion, not to their worth, but to their worthlessness. No one covets what he much needs. Covetousness is the sin, mostly not of those who have not, but of those who have. It grows with its gains, is the less satisfied, the more it has to satisify it, and attests its own unreasonableness, by the uselessness of the things it craves for.
And turn aside the way of the meek – So Solomon said, “A wicked” man “taketh a bribe out of the bosom, to pervert the ways of judgment.” (Pro_17:23. God had laid down the equality of man, made in His own image, and had forbidden to favor either poor Exo_23:3 or rich Exo_23:6. Amos calls these by different names, which entitled them to human sympathy; “poor, depressed, lowly; poor,” in their absolute condition; “depressed,” as having been brought low; “lowly,” as having the special grace of their state, the wonderful meekness and lowliness off the godly poor. But all these qualities are so many incentives to injury to the ungodly. They hate the godly, as a reproach to them; because “he is clean contrary to their doings, his life is not like other people’s; his ways are of another fashion” (Wisdom Amo_2:12, Amo_2:15). Wolves destroy not wolves but sheep. Bad people circumvent not the bad but the good. Besides the easiness of the gain, there is a devilish fascinating pleasure to the bad, to overreach the simple and meek, because they are such.
They love also to “turn aside the way of the meek,” by , “turning them from what is truly right and good; “or from the truth; or again to thwart them in all their ways and endeavors, by open injustice or by perverting justice. Every act of wrong prepares the way for the crowning act; and so “the turning aside the way of the meek” foreshadowed and prepared for the unjust judgment of Him who was “the Meek and Lowly” One Mat_11:29, the selling the righteous for a trilling sum prepared for the selling “the Holy One and the Just” Act_3:14 for “the thirty pieces of silver.” : “Contrariwise, whoso is truly wise, cordially venerates the humble and abject, the poor and simple, and prefers them in his own heart to himself, knowing that God has ‘chosen the poor, and the weak things of the world, and things despised, and things which are not’ 1Co_1:27-28; and that Christ hath likened Himself to such, saying in the Psalm, ‘I am poor and sorrowful’ Psa_69:29.”
The same damsel – This is not expressly forbidden by the law, except in the case of marriage, the father being forbidden to marry his son’s widow, and the son to take his father’s widow to wife Lev_18:8, Lev_18:15. Abominations, unless they had become known to Israel in Egypt, were not expressly forbidden, but were included in the one large prohibition, which, as our Lord explains, forbade every offence, bearing upon it. Israel must have so understood the law, since Amos could upbraid them with this, which is not forbidden by the letter of the law, as a willful insult to the Majesty of God. Reverence was due from the son to the father, example from the father to the son. But now the father was an example of evil to the son; and the son sinned in a way which had no temptation except its irreverence. People, sated with ordinary sin seek incitement to sin, in its very horrors. Probably this sin was committed in connection with their idol worship (see the note at Hos_4:14). The sin of marrying the father’s widow was “fornication not so much as named among the Gentiles” 1Co_5:1; it was unknown, as seemingly legalizing what was so unnatural. Oppression of the poor, wronging the righteous, perverting the way of the meek, laid the soul open for any abomination.
To profane My Holy Name – that is, as called upon them, as the people of God. God had said, “ye shall keep My commandments and do them (Lev_22:31-32; add Lev_20:3; Lev_18:21; Lev_21:6). “I” am “the Lord, and ye shall not defile My Holy Name. For I will be sanctified among the children of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” The sins of God’s people are a reproach upon Himself. They bring Him, so to say, in contact with sin. They defeat the object of His creation and revelation. He created man in His Image, to bear His likeness, to have one will with Himself. In effect, through sin, He has created rebels, deformed, unlike. So long as He bears with them, it seems as if He were indifferent to them. Those to whom He has not revealed Himself, must needs think that He takes no account of what He permits unnoticed. Israel, whom God had separated from the pagan, did, by “mingling with the pagan and learning their works” Psa_106:35, all which in them lay, to “profane” His “Holy Name.” They acted as if they had no other purpose than to defile it (see the note at Hos_8:4).
Had such been their object, they could not have done it more effectually, they could not have done otherwise. In deliberate sin, people act, at last, in defiance of God, in set purpose to dishonor Him. The Name of God has ever since been blasphemed, on account of the sins of the Jews, as though it were impossible that God should have chosen for His own, a people so “laden with iniquities” Isa_1:4. Nathan’s words to David, “Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” 2Sa_12:14, have been fulfilled until this day. How much more, Christians, who not only are called “the people of God” but bear the name of Christ incorporated in their own. Yet have we not known Muslims flee from our Christian capital, in horror at its sins? “He lives like a Christian,” is a proverb of the Polish Jews, drawn from the debased state of morals in Socinian Poland. The religion of Christ has no such enemies as Christians. Dionysius: “As the devout by honoring God, shew that He is Holy, Great, Most High, who is obeyed in holiness, fear and reverence, so the ungodly, by dishonoring God, exhibit God as far as in them lies, as if lie were not holy. For they act so as if evil were well-pleasing to Him, and induce others to dishonor Him. Wherefore the Apostle saith; “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you” Rom_2:24; and by Ezekiel the Lord saith oftentimes, “Ye have profaned My Holy Name. And I will sanctify My great Name which wets profaned among the pagan, which ye hare profaned in the midst of them” Eze_36:23. The devout then are said to “magnify,” sanctify, “exalt God;” the unrighteous to “profane Eze_13:19, despise, God.”
Here the Prophet again inveighs against the people’s avariciousness, and addresses his discourse especially to the chief men; for what he mentions could not have been done by the common people, as the lower and humbler classes could not make feasts by means of spoils gained by judicial proceedings. The Prophet then condemns here, no doubt, the luxury and rapacity of men in high stations. They lie down, he says, on pledged clothes nigh every altar. God had forbidden, in his law, to take from a poor man a pledge, the need of which he had for the support of life and daily use, (Exo_22:26) For instance, it was prohibited by the law to take from a poor man his cloak or his coat, or to take the covering of his bed, or any thing else of which he had need. But the Prophet now accuses the Israelites, that they took away pledges and clothes without any distinction, and lay down on them nigh their altars. This belonged to the rich.
Then follows another clause, which, strictly speaking, must be restricted to the judges and governors, They have drunk the wine of the condemned in the house, or in the temple, of their God This may also be understood of the rich, who were wont to indulge in luxury by means of ill-gotten spoils: for they litigated without cause; and when they gained judgment in their favor, they thought it lawful to fare more sumptuously. This expression of the Prophet may therefore be extended to any of the rich. But he seems here to condemn more specifically the cruelty and rapaciousness of the judges. We now then perceive what the Prophet had in view by saying, thatthey lay down on pledged garments.
He then says that they drank wine derived from fines, which had been laid on the condemned. But this circumstance, that is added, ought to be observed, — that they lay down near altars and drank in the very temple: for the Prophet here laughs to scorn the gross superstition of the Israelites, that they thought that they were discharging their duty towards God, provided they came to the temple and offered sacrifices at the altar. Thus, indeed, are hypocrites wont to appease God, as if one by puppets played with a child. This has been a wickedness very common in all ages, and is here laid to the charge of the Israelites by the Prophet: they dared with an open front to enter the temple, and there to bring the pledged garments, and to feast on their spoils. Hypocrites do ever make a den of thieves of God’s temple, (Mat_21:13) for they think that all things are lawful for them, provided they put on the appearance, by external worship, of being devoted to God. Since, then, the Israelites promised themselves impunity and took liberty to sin, because they performed religious ceremonies, the Prophet here sharply reproves them: they even dared to make God a witness of their cruelty by bringing pledged garments and by blending their spoils with their sacrifices, as though God had a participation with robbers.
We hence see that rapaciousness and avarice are not alone condemned here by the Prophet, but that the gross superstition of the Israelites is also reprobated, because they thought that there would be no punishment for them, though they plundered and robbed the poor, provided they reserved a part of the spoil for God, as though a sacrifice from what had been unjustly got were not an abomination to him.
But it may be asked, Why does the Prophet thus condemn the Israelites for they had no sacred temple; and we also know (as it has been elsewhere stated) that the temples, in which they thought that they worshipped God, were filthy brothels, and full of all obscenity. How is it, then, that the Prophet now so sharply inveighs against them, because they mingled their spoils with their impure sacrifices? To this the answer is, That he had regard to their views, and derided the grossness of their minds, that they thus childishly trifled with the God whom they imagined for themselves. We say the same at this day to the Papists, — that they blend profane with sacred things, when they prostitute their masses, and also when they trifle with God in their ceremonies. It is certain that whatever the Papists do is an abomination; for the whole of religion is with them adulterated: but they yet cease not to wrong God, whose name they pretend to profess. Such also were then the Israelites: though they professed still to worship God, they were yet sacrilegious; though they offered sacrifices to the calves in Dan and in Bethel, they yet reproached God, for they ever abused his name. This, then, is the crime the Prophet now condemns in them. But what I have said must be remembered, — that this blind assurance is reprehended in the Israelites, that they thought spoils to be lawful provided they professed to worship God: but they thus rendered double their crime, as we have said; for they tried to make God the associate of robbers, mingling as they did their pollutions with their sacrifices. Let us proceed —
For three transgressions of Israel, etc. – To be satisfied of the exceeding delinquency of this people, we have only to open the historical and prophetic books in any part; for the whole history of the Israelites is one tissue of transgression against God. Their crimes are enumerated under the following heads: -
1. Their judges were mercenary and corrupt. They took bribes to condemn the righteous; and even for articles of clothing, such as a pair of shoes, they condemned the poor man, and delivered him into the hands of his adversary.
2. They were unmerciful to the poor generally. They pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor; or, to put it on the head of the poor; or, they bruise the head of the poor against the dust of the earth. Howsoever the clause is understood, it shows them to have been general oppressors of the poor, showing them neither justice nor mercy.
3. They turn aside the way of the meek. They are peculiarly oppressive to the weak and afflicted.
4. They were licentious to the uttermost abomination; for in their idol feasts, where young women prostituted themselves publicly in honor of Astarte, the father and son entered into impure connections with the same female.
5. They were cruel in their oppressions of the poor; for the garments or beds which the poor had pledged they retained contrary to the law, Exodus 22:7-26, which required that such things should be restored before the setting of the sun.
6. They punished the people by unjust and oppressive fines, and served their tables with wine bought by such fines. Or it may be understood of their appropriating to themselves that wine which was allowed to criminals to mitigate their sufferings in the article of death; which was the excess of inhumanity and cruelty.
Keil & Delitzsch
After this introduction, the prophet’s address turns to Israel of the ten tribes, and in precisely the same form as in the case of the nations already mentioned, announces the judgment as irrevocable. At the same time, he gives a fuller description of the sins of Israel, condemning first of all the prevailing crimes of injustice and oppression, of shameless immorality and daring contempt of God (Amo_2:6-8); and secondly, its scornful contempt of the benefits conferred by the Lord (Amo_2:9-12), and threatening inevitable trouble in consequence (Amo_2:13-16). Amo_2:6. “Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they sell the righteous for money, and the poor for a pair of shoes. Amo_2:7. They who pant after dust of the earth upon the head of the poor, and bend the way of the meek: and a man and his father go to the same girl, to desecrate my holy name. Amo_2:8. And they stretch themselves upon pawned clothes by every altar, and they drink the wine of the punished in the house of their God.”
The prophet condemns four kinds of crimes. The first is unjust treatment, or condemnation of the innocent in their administration of justice. Selling the righteous for silver, i.e., for money, refers to the judges, who were bribed to punish a man as guilty of the crime of which he was accused, when he was really tsaddı̄q, i.e., righteous in a judicial, not in a moral sense, or innocent of any punishable crime. Bakkeseph, for money, i.e., either to obtain money, or for the money which they had already received, viz., from the accuser, for condemning the innocent. בַּעֲבוּר, on account of, is not synonymous with בְ pretii; for they did not sell the poor man merely to get a pair of sandals for him, as the worst possible slave was certainly worth much more than this (cf. Exo_21:32); but the poor debtor who could not pay for a pair of shoes, i.e., for the merest trifle, the judge would give up to the creditor for a salve, on the strength of the law in Lev_25:39 (cf. 2Ki_4:1).
As a second crime, Amos reproves in v. 7a their thirst for the oppression of the quiet in the land. דַּלִּים, ταπεινοί, and עֲנָוִים, πραεῖς. The address is carried on in participles, in the form of lively appeal, instead of quiet description, as is frequently the case in Amos (cf. Amo_5:7; Amo_6:3., 13, Amo_8:14), and also in other books (cf. Isa_40:22, Isa_40:26; Psa_19:11). In the present instance, the article before the participle points back to the suffix in מִכְרָם, and the finite verb is not introduced till the second clause. שָׁאַף, to gasp, to pant, to long eagerly for earth-dust upon the head of the poor, i.e., to long to see the head of the poor covered with earth or dust, or to bring them into such a state of misery, that they scatter dust upon their head (cf. Job_2:12; 2Sa_1:2). The explanation given by Hitzig is too far-fetched and unnatural, viz., that they grudge the man in distress even the handful of dust that he has strewn upon his head, and avariciously long for it themselves.
To bend the way of the meek, i.e., to bring them into a trap, or cast them headlong into destruction by impediments and stumblingblocks laid in their path. The way is the way of life, their outward course. The idea that the way refers to the judgment or legal process is too contracted. The third crime is their profanation of the name of God by shameless immorality (Amo_2:7); and the fourth, desecration of the sanctuary by drinking carousals (Amo_2:8).
A man and his father, i.e., both son and father, go to the girl, i.e., to the prostitute. The meaning is, to one and the same girl; but ‘achath is omitted, to preclude all possible misunderstanding, as though going to different prostitutes was allowed. This sin was tantamount to incest, which, according to the law, was to be punished with death (cf. Lev_18:7, Lev_18:15, and Lev_20:11). Temple girls (qedēshōth) are not to be thought of here. The profanation of the name of God by such conduct as this does not indicate prostitution in the temple itself, such as was required by the licentious worship of Baal and Asherah (Ewald, Maurer, etc.), but consisted in a daring contempt of the commandments of God, as the original passage (Lev_22:32) from which Amos took the words clearly shows (cf. Jer_34:16).
By lema‛an, in order that (not “so that”), the profanation of the holy name of God is represented as intentional, to bring out the daring character of the sin, and to show that it did not arise from weakness or ignorance, but was practised with studious contempt of the holy God. Begâdı̄m chăbhulı̄m, pawned clothes, i.e., upper garments, consisting of a large square piece of cloth, which was wrapt all around, and served the poor for a counterpane as well. If a poor man was obliged to pawn his upper garment, it was to be returned to him before night came on (Exo_22:25), and a garment so pawned was not to be slept upon (Deu_24:12-13). But godless usurers kept such pledges, and used them as cloths upon which they stretched their limbs at feasts (yattū, hiphil, to stretch out, sc. the body or its limbs); and this they did by every altar, at sacrificial meals, without standing in awe of God. It is very evident that Amos is speaking of sacrificial feasting, from the reference in the second clause of the verse to the drinking of wine in the house of God. עֲמוּשִׁים, punished in money, i.e., fined. Wine of the punished is wine purchased by the produce of the fines. Here again the emphasis rests upon the fact, that such drinking carousals were held in the house of God. ‘Elōhēhem, not their gods (idols), but their God; for Amos had in his mind the sacred places at Bethel and Dan, in which the Israelites worshipped Jehovah as their God under the symbol of an ox (calf).
The expression col-mizbēăch (every altar) is not at variance with this; for even if col pointed to a plurality of altars, these altars were still bāmōth, dedicated to Jehovah. If the prophet had also meant to condemn actual idolatry, i.e., the worship of heathen deities, he would have expressed this more clearly; to say nothing of the fact, that in the time of Jeroboam II there was no heathenish idolatry in the kingdom of the ten tribes, or, at any rate, it was not publicly maintained.
The prophet condemns the cruel luxury which, contrary to the Law, made the poor debtor’s necessities minister to the rich man’s pleasures. They lay themselves down upon; Vulgate, accubuerunt. Ewald translates, “they cast lots upon;” but the Authorized Version is supported by the highest authorities, and gives the most appropriate meaning. The Septuagint, with which the Syriac partly agrees, refers the clause to the immoralities practised in heathen worship, which the perpetrators desired to screen from observation, Τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν δεσμεύοντες σχοινίοις παραπετάσματα ἐποίουν ἐχόμενα τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, “Binding their clothes with cords, they made them curtains near the altar.” This is far from the intention of the prophet’s words. Upon clothes laid to pledge; or, taken in pledge. The “clothes” (begadim) are the large outer garments which formed poor men’s dress by day and cover by night, and which, if pledged, were ordered to be returned by nightfall (Exo_22:26, etc.; Deu_24:12, etc.). These the hardhearted usurers kept as their own, and reclined luxuriously upon them at their feasts and carousals in their temples.
By every altar. At the sacrificial feasts in the temples at Dan and Bethel. They drink the wine of the condemned; Septuagint, οἶνον ἐκ συκοφαντιῶν. Wine obtained by fines extorted from the oppressed. So it is better to translate, “of such as have been fined.” In the house of their god. The true God, whom they worshipped there under the symbol of the calf.
They lay themselves down – They condensed sin. By a sort of economy in the toil of sinning, they blended many sins in one; idolatry, sensuality, cruelty, and, in all, the express breach of God’s commandments. The “clothes” here are doubtless the same as the “raiment” in the law, the large enfolding cloak, which by day was wrapped over the long loose shirt , the poor man’s only dress besides, and by night was his only bedding Exo_22:26-27. God had expressly commanded, “If the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge” Deu_24:12-13; in any case “thou shalt deliver him the pledge again, when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee; and it shall be righteousness to thee before the Lord thy God.” Here the “garments laid to pledge” are treated as the entire property of the creditors.
They “stretch” their listless length along upon them in their idol-feasts “by every altar.” Ezekiel speaks of a “stately bed,” upon which they “sat, and a table prepared before it” Eze_23:41. Isaiah; “Upon a lofty and high mountain, hast thou set up thy bed; even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice; thou hast enlarged thy bed; thou hast loved their bed; thou providedst room” Isa_57:7-8. In luxury and state then, and withal in a shameless publicity, they “lay on the garments” of the despoiled “by every altar.” The multiplication of altars Hos_8:11; Hos_10:1; Hos_12:11 was, in itself, sin. By each of these multiplied places of sin they committed fresh sins of luxury and hard-heartedness, (perhaps, from the character of the worship of nature, yet grosser sins,) “and drink the wine of the condemned,” or (as the English margin more exactly) “the amerced,” those whom, unjustly, persons in any petty judicial authority had “amerced,” expending in revelry and debanchery in the idol’s temple what they had unjustly extorted from the oppressed.
There is no mask too transparent to serve to hide from himself one who does not wish to see himself. Nothing serves so well as religion for that self-deceit, and the less there is of it, or the more one-sided it is, the better it serves. For the narrower it is, the less risk of impinging on the awful reality of God’s truth; and half a truth as to God is mostly, a lie which its half-truth makes plausible. So this dreadful assemblage of cruelty, avarice, malice, mockery of justice, unnatural debauchery, hard-heartedness, was doubtless smoothed over to the conscience of the ten tribes by that most hideous ingredient of all, that “the house of their god” was the place of their ill-purchased revelry. People do not serve their idols for nothing; this costly service at Bethel was not for nought. They did all these things; but they did something for “the Deity” or “Nature” or “Ashtoreth;” and so “the Deity” was to be at peace with them. Amos, with wonderful irony, marks the ghastly mixture of sin and worship, “they drank the wine of the amerced” – where? “in the house of their God,” condemning in five words their luxury, oppression, perversion of justice, cruelty, profaneness, unreal service and real apostasy. What hard-heartedness to the willfully-forgotten poor is compensated by a little Church-going!
He adds, in the last place, Shall a trumpet sound and the people tremble not? Here he reprehends, as I have said, the torpidity of the people, to whom all threatening were a sport: “When a trumpet sounds,” he says, “all tremble; for it is a signal of danger. All then either fly for aid or stand amazed, when the trumpet sounds. God himself cries, his voice deserves much more attention than the trumpet which fills men’s minds with dread; and yet it is a sound uttered to the deaf. What then does this prove, but that madness possesses the minds of men? Are they not destitute of all judgment and of every power of reason?” We hence see that the Prophet in these words intended to show, that the Israelites were in a manner fascinated by the devil, for they had no thought of evils; and though they knew that God sounded the trumpet and denounced ruin, they yet remained heedless, and were no more moved than if all things were in a quiet state. What remains I cannot now finish.
The prophet must needs speak: shall not his denunciation arouse alarm among the people, as the trumpet suddenly heard in a city excites the terror of the inhabitants (comp. Eze_33:2-5)? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? The “evil” is affliction, calamity, malum poenae. As states have no future, all temporal calamities in their case may rightly be regarded as the punishment of sin. Thus the ruin impending, on Israel was sent by the Lord, whose agent was the enemy now approaching. All phenomena are ascribed in the Bible to Divine operation, no second causes being allowed to interfere with this appropriation (see Job_1:1-22.; 1Sa_18:10; 1Ki_22:19, etc.; Isa_45:7). The verb “do” is often used absolutely, the context defining the result (see note on Hag_2:4).
Is there evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it? – Evil is of two sorts, evil of sin, and evil of punishment. There is no other; for evil of nature, or evil of fortune, are evils, by God’s Providence, punishing the evil of sin. Augustine, c. Adim. 26: “Evil, which is sin, the Lord hath not done; evil, which is punishment for sin, the Lord bringeth.” The Providence of God governing and controlling all things, man doth ill which he wills, so as to suffer ill which he wills not. Only, evil which is by God’s Providence the punishment of sin is in this life remedial and through final impenitence alone becomes purely judicial.
Rib.: “Refer not, the prophet would say, the ills which ye suffer and will suffer, to any other causes, as people are accustomed to do. God, in His displeasure, sends them upon you. And that ye may know this the more certainly, whatever He shall send He will first reveal to the prophets and by them ye shall be forewarned. See then that ye despise not my words, or the words of the other prophets. People ascribe their sufferings to fortune, accident, any cause, rather than the displeasure of God. The intemperate will think anything the cause of their illness rather than their intemperance. People love the things of the world and cannot and will not be persuaded that so many evils are brought on them by the things which they love. So then God explains through the prophets the punishment which He purposes to bring on people.”
But he had before spoken of the sound of the trumpet; for every excuse was thereby taken away from the Israelites, as God had not only recalled them to the right way by his scourges but also preceded these by his word: and he shows how justly he was displeased with them; hence the Prophet adds another sentence, For the Lord Jehovah will do nothing without revealing his secret to his servants, the Prophets. The Prophet declares in this verse, that God dealt not with the Israelites as with heathen nations; for God punished other people without warning them by his word; he summoned to judgment neither the Idumeans, nor the Ammonites, nor the Egyptians, but executed his vengeance, though he never addressed them. Different was his dealing with the Israelites; for God not only brought on them such punishment as they deserved, but he preceded it by His word, and showed beforehand what evil was nigh them, that they might anticipate it; he indeed gave them time to repent, and was ready to pardon them, had they been capable of being restored. Now then the Prophet aggravates the guilt of the people, because they had not only been chastised by the Lord, but they might, if they chose, have turned aside their punishment; instead of doing so they hardened themselves in their wickedness.
God then will do nothing without revealing his secret to his servants, the Prophets. This ought to be confined to that people, and it ought also to be confined to the punishments of which the Prophet speaks. It is certain that God executes many judgments which are hid both from men and angels; and Amos did not intend to impose a necessity on God, as if he was not free to do any thing without previously revealing it; such was not the Prophet’s design; but his object was simply to condemn the Israelites for their irreclaimable perverseness and obstinacy, that, having been warned, they did not seriously think of repenting, but despised all God’s threatening, and even scorned them. God then will do nothing, that is, “God will not treat you in an ordinary way, as he does with other nations, whom he chastises without speaking to them. They, for the most part, understand not what is done; but God in a paternal manner kindly reminds you of your sins, shows why he resolves to chastise you and forewarns you, that you may have time to seek and ask forgiveness.”
God therefore reveals his secret to his Prophets; that is, “He does not suddenly or unexpectedly punish you, as he might do, and as ye see that he does with respect to others; but he proclaims what he will do, and sends his messengers, as though they were heralds sent to denounce war on you; and at the same time they open a way for reconciliation, provided ye are not wholly past recovery, and perverse in your wickedness. Ye are then doubly inexcusable, if God can do nothing by his word and by the punishment which he afterwards subjoins to his word.” We now comprehend the object of the Prophet. Then foolish is the question, at least unreasonable, “Does God here bind himself by a certain law, that he will do nothing, but what he previously reveals to his Prophets?” For Amos means not this, but only affirms that it was the common method which the Lord adopted in chastising that people. It is certain, that the Prophets did not know many things; for God distributed his Spirit to them by measure: all things then were not revealed to the Prophets. But Amos here only intimates that God did not deal with his chosen people as he did with heathen nations; for these often found God unexpectedly displeased with them, and had no time to reflect, that they might repent. Much more kindly and mercifully has God acted, says Amos, with that people; for God was unwilling suddenly to overwhelm or to surprise them, but has warned them by his Prophets. We see how widely this doctrine opens; but it is enough to understand the Prophet’s design, and to know the purpose to which his discourse ought to be applied.
God then will do nothing without revealing first his secret to the Prophets. He calls it a secret, because men are perplexed when God executes vengeance on them, and stand amazed: but when they are in time warned, then what God designs becomes evident to them, and they know the cause and the source of punishment. Thus then the secret is revealed which was hid from miserable men: and the guilt of the people is doubled, when, after these threatening, they do not repent.
Surely the Lord God will do – For the Lord God “doeth”
Nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets – So our Lord saith, “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe” (Joh_14:29; compare Joh_13:19). While it is yet a “secret” counsel within Himself, He admitteth to it His servants the prophets. The same word signifies “secret” and “secret counsel with a friend.” So , “God revealed to Noah that tie would bring the deluge, and to Abraham and Lot, that He would destroy the cities of the plain, and to Joseph the 7 years’ famine in Egypt, and to Moses its plagues, and to Moses and Joshua all the chastisements of His people, and to Jonah the destruction of Nineveh, that they who heard of the coming punishment, might eithcr avoid it by repentance, or, if they should despise it, might be more justly punished. And so now the Lord is about to reveal through Amos, His servant and prophet, what He willeth to do to the 10 tribes, that forsaking their idols and turning to Him, they might be freed from the impending peril; which is of the great mercy of God. He foretelleth evil to come, that He may not be compelled to inflict it. For He who forewarneth, willeth not to punish sinners.”
Lap.: “So He inflicted not on Egypt any plagues by the hand of Moses, but He first forewarned Pharaoh and the Egyptians by him; nor the sufferings by the Ammonites, Midianites and Philistines, related in the Book of Judges, but He foremonished Israel by Joshua Jos_23:12-16; Jos_24:19-20; nor did He inflict on the Jews that destruction by Titus and the Romans, but He foremonished them by Christ Luk_19:42-44 and the Apostles. So neither will He bring that last destruction on the world, without having first sent the prophets and Angels, who, sounding with the seven trumpets, shall proclaim it throughout the world” Rev_8:2.
It now follows, The lion roars who would not fear? The Lord Jehovah speaks, who would not prophesy? In this verse the Prophet reproved the Israelites for their usual contentions with the Prophets when their sins were sharply reprehended. Thus indeed are men wont to do; they consider not that Prophets are sent from above, and that there is a charge committed to them. Hence, when Prophets are severe in their words, the world clamors and wrangles: “What do these men intend? Why do they urge us so much? Why do they not allow us to rest quietly? for they provoke against us the wrath of God.” Whenever then men are roused, they immediately menace God’s Prophets with strife and contention, and regard not threatening as coming from God himself. This vice the Prophet now condemns: The lion roars, he says, who would not fear? God speaks, who would not prophesy? “Ye think that I am your adversary; but ye can gain nothing by quarreling with me: were I silent, the voice of God would of itself be formidable enough. The evil then proceeds not from my mouth, but from God’s command; for I am constrained, willing or unwilling, to obey God: he has chosen me to be a Prophet, and has showed what he intends that I should proclaim. What can I do, he says? I am not at liberty to invent revelations; but I faithfully bring forth to you what has been delivered to me by the Lord. How great then is your madness, that ye contend with me, and consider not that your strife and contention is with God himself?” We now see what the Prophet meant, and also understand, why he adduced the four similitudes, of which we have already spoken. I now proceed with the remaining context.
As the lion’s roar forces every one to fear, so the Divine call of the prophet forces him to speak (Jer_20:9; Eze_2:8; 1Co_9:16, etc.). St. Gregory, moralizing, takes the lion in a spiritual sense: “After the power of his Creator has been made known to him, the strength of his adversary ought not to be concealed from him, in order that he might submit himself the more humbly to his defender, the more accurately he had learned the wickedness of his enemy, and might more ardently seek his Creator, the more terrible he found the enemy to be whom he had to avoid. For it is certain that he who less understands the danger he has escaped, loves his deliverer has; and that he who considers the strength of his adversary to be feeble, regards the solace of his defender as worthless” (‘Moral.,’ 32:14). Of course, this exposition does not regard the context.
The Lion hath roared: who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken: who can but prophesy? – that is, there is cause for you to fear, when the Lord “roareth from Zion;” but if ye fear not, God’s prophets dare not but fear. So Paul saith, “necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation” of the Gospel “is committed unto me” 1Co_9:16-17; and Peter and John, “whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye!
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” Act_4:19-20; Moses was not excused, though slow of speech; nor Isaiah, though of polluted lips; nor Jeremiah, because he was a child; but God said, “Say not, I am child, for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee, thou shalt speak” Jer_1:7. And Ezekiel was bidden, “be not rebellious, like that rebellious house” Eze_2:8. And when Jeremiah would keep silence, he saith, “His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing and I could not stay” Jer_20:9.
Hear ye; Septuagint, Ἱερεῖς ἀκούσατε, “Hear, O ye priests.” The address is to the heathen, already summoned (Amo_3:9) to witness the sins of Israel, and now called to witness her punishment, In the house; better, against the house of Jacob, the tribes of Israel (Amo_3:1). God of hosts. God of the powers of heaven and earth, and therefore able to execute his threats. Septuagint, ὁ Παντοκράτωρ, “the Almighty.”
Hear ye and testify ye in – (Rather unto or against ) the house of Israel; first “hear” yourselves, then “testify,” that is, solemnly “protest,” in the Name of God; and “bear witness unto” and “against” them, so that the solemn words may sink into them. It is of little avail to “testfy,” unless we first “hear;” nor can man “bear witness” to what he doth not know; nor will words make an “impression,” that is, leave a trace of themselves, be stamped in or on people’s souls, unless the soul which utters them have first hearkened unto them.
Saith the Lord God of hosts – “So thundereth, as it were, the authority of the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of the shepherd. Foretelling and protesting the destruction of the altar of Bethel, he sets his God against the god whom Israel had chosen as theirs and worshiped there, “the Lord God of hosts,” against “the similitude of a calf that eateth hay” Psa_106:20. Not I, a shepherd, but so speaketh my God against your god.”
Amos, I have no doubt, added this passage, to show that the superstitions, in which he knew the Israelites falsely trusted, would be so far from being of any help to them, that they would, on the contrary, lead them to ruin, because the people were by them provoking God’s wrath the more against themselves. When the Israelites heard that God was offended with them, they looked on their sacrifices and other superstitions, as their shield and cover: for thus do hypocrites mock God. But we know that the sacrifices offered at Bethel were mere profanations; for the whole worship was spurious. God had indeed chosen to himself a place where he designed sacrifices to be offered. The Israelites built a temple without any command, nay, against the manifest prohibition of God. Since then they had thus violated and corrupted the whole worship of God, strange was their madness to dare to obtrude on God their superstitions, as though they could thus pacify his displeasure! The Prophet then rebukes now this stupidity and says, In the day when God shall visit the sins of Israel, he will inflict punishment on the altars of Bethel By the sins, which the Prophet mentions, he means plunder, unjust exactions, robbery, and similar crimes; for there prevailed then, as we have seen, among the people, an unbridled cruelty, avarice, and perfidiousness.
Hence he says now, When God shall visit the sins of Israel; that is, when he shall punish avarice, pride, and cruelty; when he shall execute vengeance on pillages and robberies, he shall then visit also the altars of Bethel. The Israelites thought that God would be propitious to them while they sacrificed though they were wholly abandoned in their lives: they indeed thought that every uncleanness was purified by their expiations; and they thought that God was satisfied while they performed an external worship. Hence, when they offered sacrifices, they imagined that they thus made a compact with God, and presented such a compensation, that he dared not to punish their sins. Their own fancy greatly deceives them,” says Amos. For, as we know, this was, at the same time, their principal sin, — that they rashly dared to change the worship of God, that they dared to build a temple without his command; in short, that they had violated the whole law. God then will begin with superstitions in executing judgment for the sins of the people. We now then understand the Prophet’s design in saying, that God would visit the altars of Bethel when inflicting punishment on the sins of Israel.
But as it was difficult to produce conviction on this subject, the Prophet here invites attention,Hear ye, and testify, he says, in the house of Jacob. Having bidden them to hear, he introduces God as the speaker: for the Israelites, as we know they were wont to do, might have pretended that Amos had, without authority, threatened such a punishment. “Nothing is mine,” he says. We then see the design of this address, when he says, Hear: he shows God to be the author of this prophecy, and that nothing was his own but the ministration. Hear ye, then, and testify in the house of Jacob By the wordtestify, he seals his prophecy that it might have more weight, that they might not think that it was a mere mockery, but might know that God was dealing seriously with them, Then testify ye in the house of Jacob. And for the same purpose are the titles which he ascribes to God, The Lord Jehovah, he says, the God of hosts He might have used only one word, “Thus saith Jehovah,” as the prophets mostly do; but he ascribes dominion to him, and he also brings before them his power, — for what end? To strike the Israelites with terror, that vain flatteries might no longer, as heretofore, take possession of them; but that they might understand, that so far were they from doing anything towards pacifying God’s wrath by their superstitions, that they thereby the more provoked him.
That in the day, etc. This verse is rightly joined to the preceding, as it particularizes the threats which the heathen are summoned to testify. Visit upon; equivalent to “punish” (Zep_1:8). Altars of Bethal. We read of one altar being set up by Jeroboam I (1Ki_12:29, 1Ki_12:33), but doubtless others had been added in the course of time. The denunciation of 1Ki_13:2, 1Ki_13:3 is here repeated. The horns of the altar. These were certain projections at the four angles of the altar, perhaps in the form of an ox’s horn, on which the blood of the sin offering was smeared, and which therefore were considered the holiest part of the altar (see Exo_27:2; Exo_29:12; Le Exo_16:18). The instruments of idolatry or impure worship should share the destruction of the idolaters.
In the day that I shall visit the transgression of Israel upon, him, I will also visit (upon) the altars of Bethel – Israel then hoped that its false worship of “nature” would avail it. God says, contrariwise, that when He should punish, all their false worship, so far from helping them, should itself be the manifest object of His displeasure. Again God attests, at once, His long-suffering and His final retribution. Still had He foreborne to punish, “being slow to anger and of great goodness;” but when that day, fixed by the divine Wisdom, should come, wherein He should vindicate His own holiness, by enduring the sin no longer, then He would “visit their transgressions,” that is, all of them, old and new, forgotten by man or remembered, “upon them.” Scripture speaks of “visiting offences upon” because, in God’s Providence, the sin returns upon a man’s own head. It is not only the cause of his being punished, but it becomes part of his punishment.
The memory of a man’s sins will be part of his eternal suffering. Even in this life, “remorse,” as distinct from repentance, is the “gnawing” of a man’s own conscience for the folly of his sin. Then also God would visit upon the false worship. It is thought that God visits less speedily even grave sins against Himself, (so that man does not appeal falsely to Him and make Him, in a way, a partner of his offence,) than sins against His own creature, man. It may be that, All-Merciful as He is, He bears the rather with sins, involving corruption of the truth as to Himself, so long as they are done in ignorance, on account of the ignorant worship Act_17:23, Act_17:30; Act_14:16 of Himself, or the fragments of truth which they contain, until the evil in them have its full sway in moral guilt
Rom. 1. Montanus: “Wonderful is the patience of God in enduring all those crimes and injuries which pertain directly to Himself; wonderful His waiting for repentance. But the deeds of guilt which violate human society, faith, and justice, hasten judgment and punishment, and, as it were, with a most effectual cry call upon the Divine Mind to punish, as it is written, “The voices of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground, And now cursed art thou, …” Gen_4:10-11.
If then upon that very grave guilt against God Himself there be accumulated these other sins, this so increases the load, that God casts it out. However long then Israel with impunity, given itself to that vain, alien worship, this evinced the patience, not the approval, of God. Now, when they are to be punished for the fourth transgresston, they will be punished for the first, second and third, and so, most grievously; when brought to punishment for their other sins, they should suffer for their other guilt of impiety and superstition.”
And the horns of the altar – This was the one great “altar” 1Ki_12:32-33; 1Ki_13:1-5 for burnt-offerings, set up by Jeroboam, in imitation of that of God at Jerusalem, whose doom was pronounccd in the act of its would-be consecration. He had copied faithfully outward form. At each corner, where the two sides met in one, rose the “horn,” or pillar, a cubit high , there to sacrifice victims, Psa_118:27, there to place the blood of atonement Exo_29:12. So far from atoning, they themselves were “the” unatoned “sin” of “Jeroboam whereby 2Ki_17:21 he drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin. These were to be cut off; hewn down, with violence. A century and a half had passed, since the man of God had pronounced its sentence. They still stood. The day was not yet come; Josiah was still unborn; yet Amos, as peremptorily, renews the sentence. In rejecting these, whereon the atonement was made, God pronounced them out of covenant with Himself. Heresy makes itself as like as it can to the truth, but is thereby the more deceiving, not the less deadly. Amos mentions the altars of Bethel, as well as the altar. Jeroboam made but one altar, keeping as close as he could to the divine ritual. But false worship and heresy ever hold their course, developing themselves. They never stand still where they began, but spread, like a cancer 2Ti_2:17. It is a test of heresy, like leprosy, that it spreads abroad Lev. 13, preying on what at first seemed sound. The oneness of the altar had relation to the Unity of God. In Samaria, they worshiped, they know not what Joh_4:22, not God, but some portion of His manifold operations. The many altars, forbidden as they were, were more in harmony with the religion of Jeroboam, even because they were against God’s law. Heresy develops, becoming more consistent, by having less of truth.
Amos shows again that in vain the great people trusted in their wealth and fortified places; for these could not hinder God from drawing them forth to punishment. As then abundance blinds men, and as they imagine themselves to be as it were inaccessible, especially when dwelling in great palaces, the Prophet here declares, that these houses would be no impediment to prevent God’s vengeance to break through; I will then destroy the winter-house together with the summer-house. Amos no doubt intended by this paraphrase to designate the palaces. The poor deem it enough to have a cottage both for winter and summer; for they change not the parts of their buildings, so as to inhabit the hotter in winter, and to refresh themselves in the colder during summer: no such advantage is possessed by the poor, for they are content with the same dwelling through life. But as the rich sought warmth in winter, and had their summer compartments, the Prophet says, that their large and magnificent buildings would be no protection to the rich, for God’s vengeance would penetrate through them; I will destroy then the winter with the summer house
And then he says, Fail shall the houses of ivory. We now see more clearly that the Prophet speaks here against the rich and the wealthy, who inhabited splendid and magnificent palaces. Perish then shall the houses of ivory and fail shall the great houses; some say, many houses, but improperly; for the Prophet continues the same idea; and as he had before mentioned houses of ivory so he now calls them great houses; for they were not only built for use and convenience, like common and plebeian houses, but also for show and display; for the rich, we know, are ever lavish and profuse, not only in their table and dress, but also in their palaces. This is the meaning. Now follows —
Keil & Delitzsch
This feature in the threat is brought out into peculiar prominence by a fresh introduction. Amo_3:13. “Hear ye, and testify it to the house of Jacob, is the utterance of the Lord, Jehovah, the God of hosts: Amo_3:14. That in the day when I visit the transgressions of the house of Israel upon it, I shall visit it upon the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar will be cut off, and fall to the ground. Amo_3:15. And I smite the winter-house over the summer-house, and the houses of ivory perish, and many houses vanish, is the saying of Jehovah.” The words “Hear ye” cannot be addressed to the Israelites, fore they could not bear witness against the house of Israel, but must either refer to the prophets, as in Amo_3:9 (“publish ye”), or to the heathen, in which case they correspond to “assemble yourselves and behold” in Amo_3:9. The latter assumption is the only correct one, for the context does not assign a sufficient motive for an address to the prophets. On the other hand, as the heathen have been summoned to convince themselves by actual observation of the sins that prevail in Samaria, it is perfectly in keeping that they should now hear what is the punishment that God is about to inflict upon Israel in consequence, and that they should bear witness against Israel from what they have heard. הֵעִיד ב, to bear witness towards or against (not “in,” as Baur supposes).
The house of Jacob is the whole of Israel, of the twelve tribes, as in Amo_3:1; for Judah was also to learn a lesson from the destruction of Samaria. As the appeal to the heathen to bear witness against Israel indicates the greatness of the sins of the Israelites, so, on the other hand, does the accumulation of the names of God in Amo_3:13 serve to strengthen the declaration made by the Lord, who possesses as God of hosts the power to execute His threats. כִּי introduces the substance of what is to be heard. The punishment of the sins of Israel is to extend even to the altars of Bethel, the seat of the idolatrous image-worship, the hearth and home of the religious and moral corruption of the ten tribes.
The smiting off of the horns of the altar is the destruction of the altars themselves, the significance of which culminated in the horns (see at Exo_27:2). The singular hammizbēăch (the altar) preceded by a plural is the singular of species (cf. Ges. §108, 1), and does not refer to any particular one – say, for example, to the principal altar.
The destruction of the palaces and houses (Amo_3:15) takes place in the capital. In the reference to the winter-house and summer-house, we have to think primarily of the royal palace (cf. Jer_36:22); at the same time, wealthy noblemen may also have had them. עַל, lit., over, so that the ruins of one house fall upon the top of another; then “together with,” as in Gen_32:12. בָּתֵּי שֵׁן, ivory houses, houses the rooms of which are decorated by inlaid ivory. Ahab had a palace of this kind (1Ki_22:39, compare Psa_45:9). בָּתִּים רַבִּים, not the large houses, but many houses; for the description is rounded off with these words. Along with the palaces, many houses will also fall to the ground. The fulfilment took place when Samaria was taken by Shalmanezer (2Ki_17:5-6).
And I will smite the winter house with the summer house – Upon idolatry, there follow luxury and pride. “So wealthy were they,” says Jerome, “as to possess two sorts of houses, “the winter house” being turned to the south, the “summer house” to the north, so that, according to the variety of the seasons, they might temper to them the heat and cold.” Yet of these luxuries, (so much more natural in the East where summer-heat is so intense, and there is so little provision against cold) the only instance expressly recorded, besides this place, is “the winter house” of Jehoiakim. In Greece and Rome , the end was attained, as with us, by north and south rooms in the same house. These, which Amos rebukes, were like our town and country houses, separate residences, since they were to be destroyed, one on the other. “Ivory houses” were houses, paneled, or inlaid, with ivory. Such a palace Ahab built 1Ki_22:39. Even Solomon “in all his glory” had but an ivory throne 1Ki_10:18. Else “ivory palaces” Psa_45:8 are only mentioned, as part of the symbolic glory of the King of glory, the Christ. He adds, “and the great (or many) houses shall have an end, saith the Lord.” So prosperous were they in outward show, when Amos foretold their destruction. The desolation should be wide as well as mighty. All besides should pass away, and the Lord alone abide in that Day. : “What then shall we, if we would be right-minded, learn hence? How utterly nothing will all earthly brightness avail, all wealth, glory, or ought besides of luxury, if the love of God is lacking, and righteousness be not prized by us! For “treasures of wickedness profit nothing; but righteousness delivereth from death” Pro_10:2.