Amos 1:3
Thus said the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:
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(3) Three transgressions . . .—This form of transgression, which occurs eight times in the prologue, is not an arithmetical, but a strongly idiomatic phrase, signifying “multiplied or repeated delinquencies (Henderson).

Turn away . . .—Rather, will not turn it back—i.e., the sore judgment I have purposed. (Comp. 2Kings 10:32-33.)

Amos 1:3. For three transgressions, &c. — The prophet first denounces judgments against foreign countries, and afterward comes to Judah and Israel. He begins with Syria, the head or capital city of which was Damascus. By the expression, for three transgressions and for four, used here, and repeatedly afterward, he means, many or multiplied transgressions, a certain number being put, according to a very common way of speaking, for an uncertain. So we read, Job 5:19, He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven no evil shall touch thee: see the like phrase, Proverbs 6:16; Ecclesiastes 11:2; Micah 5:5. Once and twice are used, Psalm 62:11; twice and thrice, Job 33:29, (Hebrews) So that the meaning here is, that on account of the frequent transgressions of Damascus, God was now resolved no longer to spare it. Because they have thrashed Gilead, &c. — This alludes to the thrashing- drag, or thrashing-wain, used in the eastern countries, and described in the note on Isaiah 28:27, which see. These instruments, being drawn by horses, or oxen, over the corn-sheaves spread on the floor, were proper and significant emblems of the tyrannical power of Syria, which cruelly oppressed and crushed the weak Gileadites, and other Israelites. It is probable that the cruelties exercised on them by Hazael and Ben-hadad, kings of Syria, are chiefly intended. The fact is recorded 2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 13:3-7, where it is said that Hazael made them like the dust by thrashing.1:18-21 There shall be abundant Divine influences, and the gospel will spread speedily into the remotest corners of the earth. These events are predicted under significant emblems; there is a day coming, when every thing amiss shall be amended. The fountain of this plenty is in the house of God, whence the streams take rise. Christ is this Fountain; his sufferings, merit, and grace, cleanse, refresh, and make fruitful. Gospel grace, flowing from Christ, shall reach to the Gentile world, to the most remote regions, and make them abound in fruits of righteousness; and from the house of the Lord above, from his heavenly temple, flows all the good we daily taste, and hope to enjoy eternally.The order of God's threatenings seems to have been addressed to gain the hearing of the people. The punishment is first denounced upon their enemies, and that, for their sins, directly or indirectly, against themselves, and God in them. Then, as to those enemies themselves, the order is not of place or time, but of their relation to God's people. It begins with their most oppressive enemy, Syria; then Philistia, the old and ceaseless, although less powerful, enemy; then Tyre, not an oppressor, as these, yet violating a relation which they had not, the bonds of a former friendship and covenant; malicious also and hardhearted through covetousness. Then follow Edom, Ammon, Moab, who burst the bonds of blood also. Lastly and nearest of all, it falls on Judah, who had the true worship of the true God among them, but despised it. Every infliction on those like ourselves finds an echo in our own consciences. Israel heard and readily believed God's judgments upon others. It was not tempted to set itself against believing them. How then could it refuse to believe of itself, what it believed of others like itself? "Change but the name, the tale is told of thee ," was a pagan saying which has almost passed into a proverb. The course of the prophecy convicted "them," as the things written in Holy Scripture "for our ensamples" convict Christians. "If they" who "sinned without law, perished without law" Romans 2:12, how much more should they who "have sinned in the law, be judged by the law." God's judgments rolled round like a thunder-cloud, passing from land to land, giving warning of their approach, at last to gather and center on Israel itself, except it repent. In the visitations of others, it was to read its own; and that, the more, the nearer God was to them. "Israel" is placed the last, because on it the destruction was to fall to the uttermost, and rest there.

For three transgressions and for four - These words express, not four transgressions added to the three, but an additional transgression beyond the former, the last sin, whereby the measure of sin, which before was full, overflows, and God's wrath comes. So in other places, where the like form of words occurs, the added number is one beyond, and mostly relates to something greater than all the rest. So, "He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee" Job 5:19. The word, "yea," denotes, that the seventh is some heavier trouble, beyond all the rest, which would seem likely to break endurance. Again, "give a portion to seven, and also to eight" Ecclesiastes 11:2. Seven is used as a symbol of a whole, since "on the seventh day God rested from all which He had made," and therefore the number seven entered so largely into the whole Jewish ritual. All time was measured by seven.

The rule then is; "give without bounds; when that whole is fulfilled, still give." Again in that series of sayings in the book of Proverbs Prov. 30, the fourth is, in each, something greater than the three preceding. "There are three" things that "are never satisfied;" yea, "four" things "say not," it is "enough" Proverbs 30:15-16. The other things cannot be satisfied; the fourth, fire, grows fiercer by being fed. Again, "There be three" things "which go well; yea, four are comely in going" Proverbs 30:29-31. The moral majesty of a king is obviously greater than the rest. So "the handmaid which displaceth her mistress" Proverbs 30:21-23 is more intolerable and overbearing than the others. The art and concealment of man in approaching a maiden is of a subtler kind than things in nature which leave no trace of themselves, the eagle in the air, the serpent on the rock, the ship in its pathway through the waves Proverbs 30:18-19. Again, "Sowing discord among brethren" Proverbs 6:16-19, has a special hatefulness, as not only being sin, but causing widewasting sin, and destroying in others the chief grace, love. Soul-murder is worse than physical murder, and requires more devilish art.

These things - Job says, "worketh God twice and thrice with man, to bring back his soul from the pit" Job 33:29. The last grace of God, whether sealing up the former graces of those who use them, or vouchsafed to those who have wasted them, is the crowning act of His love or forbearance.

In pagan poetry also, as a trace of a mystery which they had forgotten, three is a sacred whole; from where "thrice and fourfold blessed" stands among them for something exceeding even a full and perfect blessing, a super-abundance of blessings.

The fourth transgression of these pagan nations is alone mentioned. For the prophet had no mission to "them;" he only declares to Israel the ground of the visitation which was to come upon them. The three transgressions stand for a whole sum of sin, which had not yet brought down extreme punishment; the fourth was the crowning sin, after which God would no longer spare. But although the fourth drew down His judgment, God, at the last, punishes not the last sin only, but all which went before. In that the prophet says, not, "for the fourth," but "for three transgressions and for four," he expresses at once, that God did not punish until the last sin, by which "the iniquity" of the sinful nation became "full" Genesis 15:16, and that, "then," He punished for all, for the whole mass of sin described by the three, and for the fourth also. God is longsuffering and ready to forgive; but when the sinner finally becomes a "vessel of wrath" Romans 9:22, He punishes all the earlier sins, which, for the time, He passed by.

Sin adds to sin, out of which it grows; it does not overshadow the former sins, it does not obliterate them, but increases the mass of guilt, which God punishes. When the Jews killed the Son, there, "came on" them "all the righteous bloodshed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias" Matthew 23:35-36; Luke 11:50-51. All the blood of all the prophets and servants of God under the Old Testament came upon that generation. So each individual sinner, who dies impenitent, will be punished for all which, in his whole life, he did or became, contrary to the law of God. Deeper sins bring deeper damnation at the last. So Paul speaks of those who "treasure up to" themselves "wrath against the Day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" Romans 2:5. As good people, by the grace of God, do, through each act done by aid of that grace, gain an addition to their everlasting reward, so the wicked, by each added sin, add to their damnation.

Of Damascus - Damascus was one of the oldest cities in the world, and one of the links of its contact. It lay in the midst of its plain, a high table-land of rich cultivation, whose breadth, from Anti-libanus eastward, was about half a degree. On the west and north its plain lay sheltered under the range of Anti-libanus; on the east, it was protected by the great desert which intervened between its oasis-territory and the Euphrates. Immediately, it was bounded by the three lakes which receive the surplus of the waters which enrich it. The Barada (the "cold") having joined the Fijeh, (the traditional Pharpar" , a name which well designates its tumultuous course ), runs on the north of, and through the city, and then chiefly into the central of the three lakes, the Bahret-el-kibliyeh, (the "south" lake;) thence, it is supposed, but in part also directly, into the Bahret-esh-Shurkiyeh (the "east" lake ). The 'Awaj (the "crooked") (perhaps the old Amana, "the never-failing," in contrast with the streams which are exhausted in irrigation) runs near the old south boundary of Damascus , separating it probably from the northern possessions of Israel beyond Jordan, Bashan (in its widest sense), and Jetur or Ituraea. The area has been calculated at 236 square geographical miles .

This space rather became the center of its dominions, than measured their extent. But it supported a population far beyond what that space would maintain in Europe. Taught by the face of creation around them, where the course of every tiny rivulet, as it burst from the rocks, was marked by a rich luxuriance , the Damascenes of old availed themselves of the continual supply from the snows of Hermon or the heights of Anti-libanus, with a systematic diligence , of which, in our northern clime, as we have no need, so we have no idea. "Without the Barada," says Porter , "the city could not exist, and the plain would be a parched desert; but now aqueducts intersect every quarter, and fountains sparkle in almost every dwelling, while innumerable canals extend their ramifications over the vast plain, clothing it with verdure and beauty. Five of these canals are led off from the river at different elevations, before it enters the plain. They are carried along the precipitous banks of the ravine, being in some places tunnelled in the solid rock. The two on the northern side water Salahiyeh at the foot of the hills about a mile from the city, and then irrigate the higher portions of the plain to the distance of nearly twenty miles. Of the three on the south side, one is led to the populous village Daraya, five miles distant; the other two supply the city, its suburbs, and gardens."

The like use was made of every fountain in every larger or lesser plain. Of old it was said , "the Chrysorrhoas (the Barada) "is nearly expended in artificial channels." : "Damascus is fertile through drinking up the Chrysorrhoas by irrigation." Fourteen names of its canals are still given ; and while it has been common to select 7 or 8 chief canals, the whole have been counted up even to 70 . No art or labor was thought too great. The waters of the Fijeh were carried by a great aqueduct tunnelled through the side of the perpendicular cliff . Yet this was as nothing. Its whole plain was intersected with canals, and tunneled below. : "The waters of the river were spread over the surface of the soil in the fields and gardens; underneath, other canals were tunnelled to collect the superfluous water which percolates the soil, or from little fountains and springs below. The stream thus collected is led off to a lower level, where it comes to the surface. : "The whole plain is filled with these singular aqueducts, some of them running for 2 or 3 miles underground. Where the water of one is diffusing life and verdure over the surface, another branch is collecting a new supply." "In former days these extended over the whole plain to the lakes, thus irrigating the fields and gardens in every part of it."

Damascus then was, of old, famed for its beauty. Its white buildings, embedded in the deep green of its engirdling orchards, were like diamonds encircled by emeralds. They reach nearly to Anti-libanus westward , "and extend on both sides of the Barada some miles eastward. They cover an area at last 25 (or 30) miles in circuit, and make the environs an earthly Paradise." Whence the Arabs said , "If there is a garden of Eden on earth, it is Damascus; and if in heaven, Damascus is like it on earth." But this its beauty was also its strength. "The river," says William of Tyre , "having abundant water, supplies orchards on both banks, thick-set with fruit-trees, and flows eastward by the city wall. On the west and north the city was far and wide fenced by orchards, like thick dense woods, which stretched four or live miles toward Libanus. These orchards are a most exceeding defense; for from the density of the trees and the narrowness of the ways, it seemed difficult and almost impossible to approach the city on that side." Even to this day it is said , "The true defense of Damascus consists in its gardens, which, forming a forest of fruit-trees and a labyrinth of hedges, walls and ditches, for more than 7 leagues in circumference, would present no small impediment to a Mussulman enemy."

The advantage of its site doubtless occastoned its early choice. It lay on the best route from the interior of Asia to the Mediterranean, to Tyre, and even to Egypt. Chedorlaomer and the four kings with him, doubtless, came that way, since the first whom they smote were at Ashteroth Karnaim Genesis 14:5-6 in Jaulan or Gaulonitis, and thence they swept on southward, along the west side of Jordan, smiting, as they went, first the "Zuzim," (probably the same as the Zamzummim Deuteronomy 2:2 O) in Ammonitis; then "the Emim in the plain of Kiriathaim" in Moab Deuteronomy 9, 11, then "the Horites in Mount Seir unto Elparan" (probably Elath on the Gulf called from it.) They returned that way, since Abraham overtook them at Hobah near Damascus Genesis 14:15. Damascus was already the chief city, through its relation to which alone Hobah was known. It was on the route by which Abraham himself came at God's command from Haran (Charrae of the Greeks) whether over Tiphsaeh ("the passage," Thapsacus) or anymore northern passage over the Euphrates. The fact that his chief and confidential servant whom he entrusted to seek a wife for Isaac, and who was, at one time, his heir, was a Damascene Genesis 15:2-3, implies some intimate connection of Abraham with Damascus. At the time of our era, the name of Abraham was still held in honor in the country of Damascus ; a village was named from him "Abraham's dwelling;" and a native historian Nicolas said, that he reigned in Damascus on his way from the country beyond Babylon to Canaan. The name of his servant "Eliezer" "my God is help," implies that at this time too the servant was a worshiper of the One God. The name Damascus probably betokened the strenuous , energetic character of its founder.

Like the other names connected with Aram in the Old Testament , it is, in conformity with the common descent from Aram, Aramaic. It was no part of the territory assigned to Israel, nor was it molested by them. Judging, probably, of David's defensive conquests by its own policy, it joined the other Syrians who attacked David, was subdued, garrisoned, and became tributary 2 Samuel 8:5-6. It was at that time probably a subordinate power, whether on the ground of the personal eminence of Hadadezer king of Zobah, or any other. Certainly Hadadezer stands cut conspicuously; the Damascenes are mentioned only subordinately.

Consistently with this, the first mention of the kingdom of Damascus in Scripture is the dynasty of Rezon son of Eliada's, a fugitive servant of Hadadezer, who formed a marauding band, then settled and reigned in Damascus 1 Kings 11:23-24. Before this, Scripture speaks of the people only of Damascus, not of their kings. Its native historian admits that the Damascenes were, in the time of David, and continued to be, the aggressors, while he veils over their repeated defeats, and represents their kings, as having reigned successively from father to son, for ten generations, a thing unknown probably in any monarchy. : "A native, Adad, having gained great power, became king of Damascus and the rest of Syria, except Phoenicia. He, having carried war against David, king of Judaea, and disputed with him in many battles, and that finally at the Euaphrates where he was defeated, had the character of a most eminent king for prowess and valor. After his death, his descendants reigned for ten generations, each receiving from his father the name (Hadad) together with the kingdom, like the Ptolemies of Egypt. The third, having gained the greatest power of all, seeking to repair the defeat of his grandfather, warring against the Jews, wasted what is now callcd Samaritis." They could not brook a defeat, which they had brought upon themselves.


3. Here begins a series of threatenings of vengeance against six other states, followed by one against Judah, and ending with one against Israel, with whom the rest of the prophecy is occupied. The eight predictions are in symmetrical stanzas, each prefaced by "Thus saith the Lord." Beginning with the sin of others, which Israel would be ready enough to recognize, he proceeds to bring home to Israel her own guilt. Israel must not think hereafter, because she sees others visited similarly to herself, that such judgments are matters of chance; nay, they are divinely foreseen and foreordered, and are confirmations of the truth that God will not clear the guilty. If God spares not the nations that know not the truth, how much less Israel that sins wilfully (Lu 12:47, 48; Jas 4:17)!

for three transgressions … and for four—If Damascus had only sinned once or twice, I would have spared them, but since, after having been so often pardoned, they still persevere so continually, I will no longer "turn away" their punishment. The Hebrew is simply, "I will not reverse it," namely, the sentence of punishment which follows; the negative expression implies more than it expresses; that is, "I will most surely execute it"; God's fulfilment of His threats being more awful than human language can express. "Three and four" imply sin multiplied on sin (compare Ex 20:5; Pr 30:15, 18, 21; "six and seven," Job 5:19; "once and twice," Job 33:14; "twice and thrice," Margin; "oftentimes," English Version, Job 33:29; "seven and also eight," Ec 11:2). There may be also a reference to seven, the product of three and four added; seven expressing the full completion of the measure of their guilt (Le 26:18, 21, 24; compare Mt 23:32).

threshed—the very term used of the Syrian king Hazael's oppression of Israel under Jehu and Jehoahaz (2Ki 10:32, 33; 13:7). The victims were thrown before the threshing sledges, the teeth of which tore their bodies. So David to Ammon (2Sa 12:31; compare Isa 28:27).

Thus saith the Lord; Amos speaks not by conjecture, or of his own head, but as he comes in the name of the Lord, so he assures us of it by this most solemn attestation.

Three transgressions: this certain number is put for an uncertain; three, i.e. many, especially when, as here, it is joined with four; their transgressions are so multiplied, grown to such height and number.

Damascus was the chief city of the kingdom of Syria, and very ancient; Abraham’s steward was of this city. It was north-east from Canaan; conquered by David, lost by Solomon, recovered by Jeroboam the Second, though soon after lost again, and was in Ahaz’s time the royal seat of Rezin, whom Tiglath-pileser slew, 2 Kings 16:9. While it was in its power and greatness it mightily oppressed Israel. It is here by a synecdoche put for the whole kingdom of Syria.

I will not turn away the punishment thereof: some refer this to the suffering Damascus to be quiet, God threatens that she shall not have rest; others say it is a threat that God would not convert it, but leave the Syrians to their impenitent heart; but our version is full and plain, it is a threat of punishment which they should certainly fall under. God would no longer continue to be patient and gracious towards such sinners, nor divert the menaced punishment foretold by the prophet, deserved by the people, and which shall be executed by an impartial hand. Because they, the Syrians, comprised in the word Damascus, by a synecdoche, have threshed; first gathered, (as husbandmen gather sheafs into a floor,) next trod them under foot, beat them small, i.e. with utmost cruelty destroyed the persons, towns, and cities.

Gilead: of this name there was a great mountain fifty miles in length, saith my author; there was also a country of this name, and a city possessed by the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassites; now the Gilead in this text is by a very usual figure put for the inhabitants of this country and city, whom Hazael king of Syria, as was foretold by Elisha, 2 Kings 8:12, did most barbarously murder, as appears by the words of this text.

With threshing instruments of iron; rakes, or flails, or harrows, or saws, or heavy wheels of iron; whichsoever of these were the instruments intended, it is most certain it was a very barbarous and cruel manner of using them. Thus saith the Lord,.... Lest it should be thought that the words that Amos spoke were his own, and he spake them of himself, this and the following prophecies are prefaced in this manner; and he begins with the nations near to the people of Israel and Judah, who had greatly afflicted them, and for that reason would be punished; which is foretold, to let Israel see that those judgments on them did not come by chance; and lest they should promise themselves impunity from the prosperity of these sinful nations; and to awaken them to a sense of their sin and danger, who might expect the visitation of God for their transgressions; as also to take off all offence at the prophet, who began not with them, but with their enemies:

for three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; Damascus was an ancient city; it was in the times of Abraham, Genesis 15:2. It was the "metropolis" of Syria, Isaiah 7:8; and so Pliny calls it, "Damascus of Syria" (u). Of the situation of this place, and the delightfulness of it; see Gill on Jeremiah 49:25; and of its founder, and the signification of its name; see Gill on Acts 9:2; to which may be added, that though Justin (w) says it had its name from Damascus, a king of it before Abraham and Israel, whom he also makes kings of it; and Josephus (x) would have Uz the son of Aram the founder of it, to which Bochart (y) agrees; yet the Arabic writers ascribe the building of it to others; for the Arabs have a tradition, as Schultens (z) says, that there were Canaanites anciently in Syria; for they talk of Dimashc the son of Canaan, who built the famous city of Damascus, and so it should seem to be called after his name; and Abulpharagius (a) says, that Murkus or Murphus, as others call him, king of Palestine, built the city of Damascus twenty years before the birth of Abraham: from this place many things have their names, which continue with us to this day, as the "damask" rose, and the "damascene" plum, transplanted from the gardens that were about it, for which it was famous; and very probably the invention of the silk and linen called "damasks" owes its rise from hence. It is here put for the whole country of Syria, and the inhabitants of it, for whose numerous transgressions, signified by "three" and "four", the Lord would not turn away his fury from them, justly raised by their sins; or the decree which he had passed in his own mind, and now made a declaration of, he would not revoke; or not inflict the punishment they had deserved, and he had threatened. The sense is, that he would not spare them, or have mercy on them, or defer the execution of punishment any longer; he would not forgive their transgressions. So the Targum,

"I will not pardon them.''

De Dieu refers it to the earthquake before mentioned, that God would not turn away that, but cause it to come, as he had foretold, for the transgressions of these, and other nations after spoken of; but rather it refers to Damascus; and so some render it, "I will not turn", or "convert it" (b); to repentance, and so to my mercy; but leave it in its sins, and to my just judgments. Kimchi thinks that this respects four particular seasons, in which Damascus, or the Syrians, evilly treated and distressed the people of Israel; first in the times of Baasha; then in the times of Ahab; a third time in the days of Jehoahaz the son of Jehu; and the fourth in the times of Ahaz; and then they were punished for them all:

because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron; that is,

"the inhabitants of the land of Gilead,''

as the Targum; this country lay beyond Jordan, and was inhabited by the Reubenites and Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh; who were used in a very cruel manner, by Hazael king of Syria, as was foretold by Elisha, 2 Kings 7:12; not literally, as in 2 Samuel 12:31; but by him they were beat, oppressed, and crushed, as the grain of the threshingfloor; which used to be threshed out by means of a wooden instrument stuck with iron teeth, the top of which was filled with stones to press it down, and so drawn to and fro over the sheaves of corn, by which means it was beaten out, to which the allusion is here; See Gill on 1 Corinthians 9:9. This was done by Hazael king of Syria, who is said to destroy the people, and make them "like the dust by threshing", 2 Kings 10:32.

(u) Nat. Hist. l. 36. c. 8. (w) E Trogo, l. 36. c. 2.((x) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 6. sect. 4. (y) Phaleg. l. 2. c. 8. (z) Apud Universal History, vol. 2. p. 280. (a) Hist. Dynast. p. 13. (b) "non convertam eam", Montanus, Vatablus, Drusius.

Thus saith the LORD; For {e} three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have {f} threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron:

(e) He shows first that all the people round about would be destroyed for their manifold sins: which are meant by three and four, which make seven, so that the Israelites would the more deeply consider God's judgments toward them.

(f) If the Syrians will not be spared for committing this cruelty against one city, it is not possible that Israel would escape punishment, which has committed so many and such grievous sins against God and man.

3. For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four] Similarly Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:11; Amos 1:13, Amos 2:1; Amos 2:4; Amos 2:6. The numbers are of course to be understood not literally, but typically, a concrete number being chosen for the sake of assisting the imagination: three would be a sufficient number, but they are augmented by a fourth, conceived implicitly as an aggravation of the three; the measure of guilt, in other words, is not merely full, it is more than full. “The three transgressions stand for a whole sum of sin, which had not yet brought down extreme punishment; the fourth was the crowning sin, after which God would no longer spare” (Pusey). For similar examples of “ascending enumeration,” in which the second number expresses usually something (as the case may be) more complete, or sufficient, or severe, than the first, see Psalm 62:11, Job 33:14; Job 40:5 (once, twice); Job 33:29 (twice, thrice); Hosea 6:2, Sir 23:16; Sir 26:28; Sir 50:25 (two and three); Proverbs 30:15; Proverbs 30:18; Proverbs 30:21; Proverbs 30:29, Sir 26:5 (three and four); Proverbs 6:16, Job 5:19 (six and seven); Micah 5:5, Ecclesiastes 11:2 (seven and eight); Sir 25:7 (nine and ten).

transgressions] in the English word, the metaphor is that of overstepping a line or law; in the Hebrew, as the use of the corresponding verb, in 1 Kings 12:19, 2 Kings 1:1 al. clearly shews, it is that of rebellion against authority. So always in this word. ‘Transgress’ represents etymologically ‘âbhar, to go beyond, overstep, in Deuteronomy 17:2; Joshua 7:11; Numbers 22:18; Proverbs 8:29, and occasionally besides; but a subst. “transgression” (‘abhçrâh) is found first in post-Biblical Hebrew.

I will not turn away the punishment thereof] lit. I will not turn it back,—the object denoted by the pronoun being, as is sometimes the case in Hebrew poetry, understood from the context: comp. Numbers 23:20, Isaiah 43:13 (both with the same word), Isaiah 48:16. Here, the object to be supplied is the destined punishment, or doom.

because &c.] introducing a typical example of the “transgressions” of Damascus, sufficient to justify the penalty threatened.

threshed] trodden. Our modes of ‘threshing’ are so different from that alluded to here that the use of the same term conveys a very inaccurate idea of what is intended. The primitive method of threshing—still, indeed, in use in the East—was to tread out the corn by the feet of animals (Deuteronomy 25:4; Jeremiah 50:11; Micah 4:13 “Arise, and thresh (tread), O daughter of Zion; for I will make thy horn iron, and thy hoofs I will make bronze”); and the same verb was still used, even when instruments, such as those described in the next note but one, came to be employed.

Gilead] the rough and rugged, but picturesque, hill-country, extending from the deep glen of the Jarmuk on the North, to the valley of Heshbon—or perhaps even to the Arnon—on the South. Lying, as it did, on the debateable border-line between Syria and Israel (cf. Genesis 31:44-53), it was naturally the first to suffer in the Syrian incursions.

with sharp threshing-boards of iron (or of basalt)] boards some 7 ft. long by 3 ft. broad, armed underneath with jagged stones, and sometimes with knives as well, which, being weighted and drawn over the corn by oxen, chop up the ears, and separate the grain from the chaff. Iron may be meant literally; or (as in Deuteronomy 3:11) it may denote the hard black basalt which abounds in the volcanic region East of Jordan: this is even at the present day called ‘iron’ by the natives, and is also used for the teeth of threshing-boards. See further the Additional Note, p. 227. The reference is, no doubt, to cruelties perpetrated by Hazael, when he invaded Gilead during the reigns of Jehu and Jehoahaz, c. 842–802 b.c.: comp. 2 Kings 8:12 (Elisha’s prediction to Hazael of the cruelties which he would perpetrate against Israel); 2 Kings 10:32 f. (which states how, in the days of Jehu, Hazael smote “all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer that is by the Wady of Arnon, and Gilead and Bashan”); and 2 Kings 13:7 (where he is said to have left Jehoahaz only “fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria had destroyed them, and made them like dust in respect of threshing (treading).” The Syrians (if the present passage is to be understood literally) had during these wars dragged instruments of torture, such as are here alluded to, over their Israelitish prisoners. But even if the expression be meant figuratively, cruel and inhuman conduct will still be denoted by it.

Additional Note on Chap. Amos 1:3 (the threshing-board)

Two principal forms of threshing-instrument are in use at present in the East. (1) A threshing-board (or -drag), usually about 7 ft. long by 3 ft. broad, consisting of two oblong planks, in Damascus generally of walnut-wood, fastened together by two wooden cross-pieces, slightly curved upwards in front (in the direction in which the instrument would be drawn), and set underneath crosswise with sharp pieces of hard

A Modern Syrian Threshing-board (from Nowack’s Hebräische Archäologie, 1894, i. p. 233).

stone or basalt (such as is common in the volcanic region E. of Jordan): the driver stands upon it; and being drawn round the threshing-floor[205] by a yoke of oxen it not only shells out the grain, but grinds the straw itself into chaff[206]. This is in use in Syria and Palestine: in Syria it is called el-lôaḥ, “the plank,” or el-lôaḥ el-muḥajjar, “the stoned plank”; in Jerusalem it is called nauraj[207], a name nearly the same as that borne by the Hebrew implement (môrâg) in Isaiah 41:15, 2 Samuel 24:22[208]. (2) A threshing-wagon, consisting of a low-built oblong wagon-frame, moving upon three parallel rollers, each armed with three or four circular iron blades with toothed edges; a seat upon the frame is arranged for the driver, and the instrument is drawn similarly by oxen. Jerome describes an instrument like this in his Comm. on Is. 25:20, “Sunt autem carpenta ferrata, rotis per medium in serrarum modum se volventibus, quae stipula conterunt, et comminuunt in paleas”; similarly on Isaiah 28:27, and on the present passage (“genus plaustri, quod rotis subter ferreis atque dentatis volvitur”). This is not used in Palestine, and is rare in Syria (except in the north); but it is the usual instrument in Egypt, where it is called by the same name that the threshing-board bears in Palestine, nauraj[209]. Both instruments are alluded to in the O.T.: the drag (or board), under the same name ḥârûtz (properly something sharpened) which it has in Amos 1:3, in Isaiah 28:27, “For not with a sharp threshing-board is Nigella-seed [Tristram, N. H. B. p. 444] trodden out; nor is the wheel of a (threshing-) wagon turned about upon cummin,” Job 41:30 (Heb. 22), “he (the crocodile) spreadeth a ḥârûtz upon the mire” (i.e. he leaves by his sharp scales an impression upon it, as though a sharp threshing-board had been there), 2 Samuel 12:31 (ḥârîtz[210]); and under the name môrâg in 2 Samuel 24:22, Isaiah 41:15 (where ḥârûtz qualifies it as an adj.), “Behold, I make thee (Israel) as a sharp new threshing-drag (מורנ חרוץ חדש), possessing edges[211]; thou shalt thresh (tread) mountains and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff[212]”; the wagon in Isaiah 28:27 (just quoted), 28 (where read “the roller of his (threshing-) wagon” for the obscure “wheel of his cart” of the English Versions), Proverbs 20:26.

[205] This consists of a circular piece of ground, in which the earth has been firmly trodden down (הדררך, Jeremiah 51:33) by the feet; in the centre the ears and stalks of corn are piled up in a large heap (kedís,—the Heb. גדיש, Exodus 22:5 (6); Jdg 15:5; Job 5:26); at threshing-time the ears and stalks are pulled down from this heap, to form a ṭarḥa, or layer (the stratum of the Romans), round it, some 7 feet broad by 2 feet deep; over this the threshing-drag is drawn, and the mingled mass of corn chaff and straw which remains when the process is completed is thrown into a new heap to be ready for winnowing. See the illustration in Thomson, The Land and the Book, 1881 (South Pal.), p. 150 f.; Smith, D.B.2 I. 66.

[206] This was the Greek τρίβολα (2 Samuel 12:31, LXX.), the Lat. tribulum, or “rubber”; Vergil’s trahea, or “drag,” must have been a similar instrument: cf. G. 1.164 (“tribulaque traheaeque”).

[207] Among the common people mauraj (corresponding to the old Hebrew form) is also heard (P.E.F.Q.St. 1894, p. 114).

[208] The threshing-drag is still called by the same name (môräg) in the Ḳalamûn mountains about Ma‘lûlâ: but Wetzstein never heard this word in Syria, nor is noreg (or nauraj) in use there.

[209] Lane, Mod. Egyptians5, 11, 28; Arab. Lex. p. 2783. See more fully Wetzstein’s very instructive essay on “Die Syrische Dreschtafel”, in Bastian’s Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1873, p. 271 ff.; and Anderlind, “Ackerbau und Thierzucht in Syrien,” in the Ztsch. des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins, IX. (1886), pp. 41, 44.

[210] R.V. harrows. It is, however, uncertain whether the text here really imputes to David the cruelty implied by the English Versions: see R.V. marg., and the present writer’s Notes on the Hebrew Text of Samuel, ad loc.

[211] Lit. mouths (as of a sword, Psalm 149:6).

[212] LXX. represent môrâg by τροχοὶ (in Isaiah 41:15; τροχὺς ἁμάξης ἀλοῶντας καινούς), thinking of the wheels of the threshing-wagon. The Syr. גרגרא (from gârar, to drag along) denotes both instruments: see the descriptions of the Syriac lexicographers quoted by Payne Smith, Thes. Syr. col. 767: it is mentioned as an instrument of torture by Bar Hebraeus, Chron. p. 142.

Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:5. The sins of Israel’s neighbours

3–5. Damascus. The first denunciation lights upon the Syrian kingdom of Damascus, the best-organized and most formidable of Israel’s neighbours, with whom, shortly before, during the 80 years of the ‘Syrian wars’ (c. 880–800 b.c.), the dynasties of Omri and Jehu had had many a severe struggle. The specific sin with which the Syrians are taxed is the cruelty practised by them in their wars with the trans-Jordanic Israelites. Damascus is situated in the midst of a broad and fertile plain, which stretches from the foot of Hermon far off towards Palmyra: it lies picturesquely embosomed in the deep green of encircling orchards and cornfields, fertilized by the cool waters of the Barada (the Pharpar of 2 Kings 5:12), which descend in a copious volume from Hermon, and flow straight along the North of the city, till they lose themselves in an inland lake about 15 miles to the West. It owed its importance to the natural advantages of its site. Its soil was fertilized by the Barada; the surrounding orchards formed a defence difficult for an invader to penetrate: it lay on the best route from the interior of Asia to Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrians of Damascus are first mentioned as an important military power in the time of David (2 Samuel 8:5-6), who made them tributary, and planted Israelite officers in their territory.

Under Solomon, Rĕzôn, who had been a subject of Hadadezer, king of Zobah, established himself in Damascus, and used his position for the purpose of harassing Israel (1 Kings 11:23-25). Ben-hadad I., king of Damascus, was in alliance first with Baasha, king of Israel, then with Asa, king of Judah (1 Kings 15:18-20): his successes against Israel, under Omri (b.c. 887–877), are alluded to in 1 Kings 20:34. The more varied fortunes of his son Ben-hadad II., in his conflicts with Ahab (876–854), and Jehoram (853–842) are recounted in 1 Kings 20, 22; 2 Kings 5:1-2; 2 Kings 6:8 to 2 Kings 7:20Verses 3-5. - Before announcing the judgment on Israel, Amos proclaims the punishment on neighbouring heathen nations for their injurious treatment of the chosen people, thus showing God's care for his elect, and leading them to fear vengeance for their own greater sins towards him. The order observed in denouncing these nations is not geographical, but is regulated by the nature of each people's relation to Israel, and the degree in which they have sinned against her. The denunciation begins with Syria, her hitherto most oppressive enemy, and the least akin. Verse 3. - For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four. This form of expression is repeated in each of the following strophes, and some critics have taken the terms literally, and have tried to identify that particular number of transgressions in each case; but this is trifling. The phrase and others similar to it are not uncommon, and are used to signify a great number, the last mentioned being supposed to fill up the measure and make it overflow. Thus Job 5:19, "He shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee" (comp. Job 33:29; Proverbs 30:15, 18, 21; Ecclesiastes 11:2). So Hom., 'Od.,' 5:306, Τρισμάκαρες Δαναοὶ καὶ τετράκισ: and Virg., 'AEn.,' 1:94, "O terque quaterque beati;" comp. Hor., 'Carm,' 1:31, 13. Damascus had been an active enemy of Israel since the time that Rezon threw off his allegiance (1 Kings 11:23, etc.), and seized Damascus, which had been tributary to David (2 Samuel 8:5). The history of the wars carried on by Syria against the Jews may be read in the sacred books (see 1 Kings 15:19, etc.; 2 Chronicles 16:2, etc.; 1 Kings 20; 1 Kings 22; 2 Kings 7; 2 Kings 9:14, etc.; 2 Kings 10:32, etc.; 2 Kings 12:18; 13:5, 25; 2 Chronicles 24:23, etc.; 2 Kings 14:28). I will not turn away the punishment thereof. So in the following strophes. Literally, I will not reverse it. Amos does not expressly say what; but he means the sentence or judgment (comp. Numbers 23:20, "I cannot reverse it," where the same word is used). The Latin Vulgate gives, Non convertam eum, i.e. Damascum, which Knabenbauer explains, "I will not avert its destruction, will not turn it aside from its downward course." The LXX. renders, Οὐκ ἀποστραφήσομαι αὐτόν, "I will not turn away from it," i.e., as explained by Theodoret, "I will no longer disregard its sins." Because they have threshed Gilead. This is the culminating offence of the Syrians. The word rendered "threshing instrument" (charutz) signifies a kind of corn drag made of heavy planks fastened together and armed beneath with sharp stones or iron points. This machine, weighted with the driver who sat or stood upon it, was drawn by oxen over the corn (comp. Isaiah 28:27; Isaiah 41:15). A representation of it is given by Smith, 'Dict. of Bible,' 1:31, and Kitto, 'Cyclop.,' 1:86. Such an instrument, set with sharp flints in rows, was to be seen in the Indian and Colonial Exhibition of the year 1886, in the Cyprus department. Another kind of instrmuent (moreg) is thus described by Jerome: "Est autem genus plaustri, quod rotis subter ferreis atque dentatis volvitur, ut excussis frumentis stipulam in areis conterat, et in cibos jumentorum propter foeni sterilitatem paleas comminuat." Such an implement was used in the infliction of capital punishment by David (2 Samuel 12:31; comp. Proverbs 20:26). Gilead is here put for all the country east of Jordan (Joshua 22:9). The cruel treatment referred to in the text occurred in the time of Hazael during the reign of Jehu (2 Kings 10:32, etc.; comp. 13:7). The Septuagint has, "Because with iron saws they sawed asunder women with child." This is doubtless a reminiscence of Elisha's words to Hazael (2 Kings 8:12). Hosea 9:10. "I found Israel like grapes in the desert, I saw your fathers like early fruit on the fig-tree in the first shooting; but they came to Baal-peor, and consecrated themselves to shame, and became abominations like their lover." Grapes in the desert and early figs are pleasant choice fruits to whoever finds them. This figure therefore indicates the peculiar pleasure which Jehovah found in the people of Israel when He led them out of Egypt, or the great worth which they had in His eyes when He chose them for the people of His possession, and concluded a covenant with them at Sinai (Theod., Cyr.). Bammidbâr (in the desert) belongs, so far as its position is concerned, to ‛ănâbhı̄m: grapes in the dry, barren desert, where you do not expect to find such refreshing fruit; but, so far as the fact is concerned, it also refers to the place in which Israel was thus found by God, since you can only find fruit in the desert when you are there yourself. The words, moreover, evidently refer to Deuteronomy 32:10 ("I found him Israel in the wilderness," etc.), and point implicite to the helpless condition in which Israel was when God first adopted it. The suffix to berē'shı̄thâh (at her beginning) refers to תּאנה, the first-fruit, which the fig-tree bears in its first time, at the first shooting. But Israel no longer answered to the good pleasure of God. They came to Baal-peor. בּעל־פּעור without the preposition אל is not the idol of that name, but the place where it was worshipped, which was properly called Beth-peor or Peor (see at Numbers 23:28 and Numbers 25:3). ינּזרוּ is chosen instead of יצּמד (Numbers 23:3, Numbers 23:5), to show that Israel ought to have consecrated itself to Jehovah, to have been the nazir of Jehovah. Bōsheth (shame) is the name given to the idol of Baal-peor (cf. Jeremiah 3:24), the worship of which was a shame to Israel. 'Ohabh, the paramour, is also Baal-peor. Of all the different rebellions on the part of Israel against Jehovah, the prophet singles out only the idolatry with Baal-peor, because the principal sin of the ten tribes was Baal-worship in its coarser or more refined forms.
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