Amos 5:16
Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD, said thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the farmer to mourning, and such as are skillful of lamentation to wailing.
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(16) Therefore.—Probably a pause occurs here, for once more the words of the prophet assume a more mournful tone. “Therefore” points back to the transgressions condemned in Amos 5:11-13. On the Divine name “Lord of hosts,” see note on Hosea 12:5, and Oehler, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, §§ 194-8. It is a grand phrase to denote the antithesis. between “the Portion of Jacob,” and all heathen deities.

The “streets” are the open wide squares near the gates, and the “highways” are more properly the narrow alleys of the crowded cities of the Easu. The word for wailing (mispēd) denotes properly the beating of the breast, the Oriental symptom of grief. The calling of the husbandman from his agricultural pursuits to lamentation is an indication that the disaster was universal. Those “skilled in wailing” were generally, and are still, women who tear their hair and dress, throw dust over the head, and utter the monotonous wail and piercing cry of distress. The last clause should properly be inverted, And wailing to such as are skilful of lamentation. (Ecclesiastes 12:5; Jeremiah 9:17-19.

Pass through thee.—Properly through the midst of thee. Whenever Jehovah is said to pass through a land or a city, heavy punishment is intended. (Comp. Exodus 12:12.) The reference to the “vineyards” adds to the terror of the picture.

Amos 5:16-17. Therefore the Lord saith thus — The prophet, foreseeing their obstinacy, proceeds in denouncing judgments against them: and the word therefore, which introduces his threatenings, is to be referred to the twelfth verse, and not to the verses immediately foregoing. As if he had said, It is on account of your evil deeds, and because you will not be persuaded to hate the evil and love the good, that the Lord saith thus. Wailing shall be in all streets, and in all the highways — There shall be a general lamentation of all orders and degrees of men; of the citizens, for the loss of their wealth and substance, plundered by the conquerors; of the husbandmen and vine-dressers, for the loss of the fruits of the earth, destroyed or eaten up by the enemies’ army. And such as are skilful of lamentation — Let those, whose profession it is to make lamentation at funerals, join in this public mourning, to make it more solemn. And in all vineyards shall be wailing — Where there used to be shouting and rejoicing, when the summer-fruits were gathered in. For I will pass through thee, saith the Lord — To punish all everywhere: I will act like an enemy that invades and destroys a country as he marches through it.5:7-17 The same almighty power can, for repenting sinners, easily turn affliction and sorrow into prosperity and joy, and as easily turn the prosperity of daring sinners into utter darkness. Evil times will not bear plain dealing; that is, evil men will not. And these men were evil men indeed, when wise and good men thought it in vain even to speak to them. Those who will seek and love that which is good, may help to save the land from ruin. It behoves us to plead God's spiritual promises, to beseech him to create in us a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within us. The Lord is ever ready to be gracious to the souls that seek him; and then piety and every duty will be attended to. But as for sinful Israel, God's judgments had often passed by them, now they shall pass through them.Therefore the Lord, the God of Hosts, the Lord - For the third time in these three last verses Amos again reminds them, by whose authority he speaks, His who had revealed Himself as "I am," the self-existent God, God by nature and of nature, the Creator and Ruler and Lord of all, visible or invisible, against their false gods, or fictitious substitutes for the true God. Here, over and above those titles, "He is," that is, He alone is, the "God of Hosts, God of all things, in heaven and earth," the heavenly bodies from whose influences the idolaters hoped for good, and the unseen evil beings Isaiah 24:21, who seduced them, he adds the title, which people most shrink from, "Lord." He who so threatened, was the Same who had absolute power over His creatures, to dispose of them, as He willed. It costs people nothing to own God, as a Creator, the Cause of causes, the Orderer of all things by certain fixed laws. It satisfies certain intellects, so to own Him. What man, a sinner, shrinks from, is that the God is Lord, the absolute disposer and Master of his sinful self.

Wailing in all streets - Literally, "broad places," that is, market-places. "There," where judgments were held, where were the markets, where consequently had been all the manifold oppressions through injustice in judgments and in dealings, and the wailings of the oppressed; "wailing" should come on them.

They shall say in all-the highways - that is, "streets, alas! alas!" our, "woe, woe." It is the word so often used by our Lord; "woe unto you." This is no imagery. Truth has a more awful, sterner, reality than any imagery. The terribleness of the prophecy lies in its truth. When war pressed without on the walls of Samaria, and within was famine and pestilence, woe, woe, woe, must have echoed in every street, for in every street was death and fear of worse. Yet imagine every sound of joy or din or hum of people, or mirth of children, hushed in the streets, and woe, woe, going up from every street of a metropolis, in one unmitigated, unchanging, ever-repeated monotony of grief. Such were the present fruits of sin. Yet what a mere shadow of the inward grief is its outward utterance!

And they shall call the farmer to mourning - To cultivate the fields would then only be to provide food for the enemy. His occupation would be gone. One universal sorrow would give one universal employment. To this, they would call those unskilled, with their deep strong voices; they would, by a public act, "proclaim wailing to those skillful in lamentation." It was, as it were, a dirge over the funeral of their country. As, at funerals, they employed minstrels, both men and women , who, by mournful anthems and the touching plaintiveness of the human voice, should stir up deeper depths of sorrow, so here, over the whole of Israel. And as at the funeral of one respected or beloved, they used exclamations of woe, "ah my brother!" and "ah sister, ah lord, ah his glory," so Jeremiah bids them, "call and make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears: for a voice of wailing is heard out of Zion. How are we spoiled!" Jeremiah 9:17-19. : "In joy, men long to impart their joys to others, and exhort them to joy with them. Our Lord sanctions this, in speaking of the Good Shepherd, who called His friends and neighbors together, "rejoice with Me, for I have found the sheep which I had lost."

Nor is it anything new, that, when we have received any great benefit from God, we call even the inanimate creation to thank and praise God. So did David ofttimes and the three children. So too in sorrow. When anything adverse has befallen us, we invite even senseless things to grieve with us, as though our own tears sufficed not for so great a sorrow." The same feeling makes the rich now clothe those of their household in mourning, which made those of old hire mourners, that all might be in harmony with their grief.

16. Therefore—resumed from Am 5:13. God foresees they will not obey the exhortation (Am 5:14, 15), but will persevere in the unrighteousness stigmatized (Am 5:7, 10, 12).

the Lord—Jehovah.

the God of hosts, the Lord—an accumulation of titles, of which His lordship over all things is the climax, to mark that from His judgment there is no appeal.

streets … highways—the broad open spaces and the narrow streets common in the East.

call the husbandman to mourning—The citizens shall call the inexperienced husbandmen to act the part usually performed by professional mourners, as there will not be enough of the latter for the universal mourning which prevails.

such as are skilful of lamentation—professional mourners hired to lead off the lamentations for the deceased; alluded to in Ec 12:5; generally women (Jer 9:17-19).

The prophet foreseeing their obstinacy in their sins, and their refusing to obey his counsel from the Lord, doth proceed to denounce judgment against them.

The Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus: that there might be no doubt made of the truth of the prophet’s words, he doth in most solemn manner attest it to be from the Lord; and that he might awake them to repentance and humiliation, he proclaims the majesty and power of God who calls them to it.

Wailing; lamentations uttered in words and gestures, Ecclesiastes 12:5 Jeremiah 4:8 Zechariah 12:10, shall every where be seen and heard in the broad streets of your cities, as when the Assyrians prevailed and cut off the forces of Israel, besieged and took their strong holds. Shall be in all streets of great towns or cities.

They shall say in all the highways, abroad in the country, and on the road, all shall cry out, as undone, dispirited, and hopeless men,

Alas! alas! They shall call the husbandman to mourning: this sort of men are little used to such ceremonies of mourning, but now such shall their state be, that they shall be called upon; Leave your toil, betake yourselves to public mourning.

And such as are skilful of lamentation; and to make all sound doleful, call in those whose art lieth in acting the part of mourners, and can move hardest hearts to lament and bewail. See these Jeremiah 9:17,18 Mt 9:23. Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus,.... The connection of these words is not with those that immediately precede, but with the whole context; seeing neither promises nor threats, exhortations, good advice, and intimations of grace and mercy, had no effect, at least upon the generality of the people, therefore the Lord declared as follows:

wailing shall be in all streets; in all the streets of the towns and cities of Israel, because of the slain and wounded in them:

and they shall say in all the highways, alas! alas! in the several roads throughout the country, as travellers pass on, and persons flee from the enemy; they shall lament the state of the kingdom, and cry Woe, woe, unto it; in what a miserable condition and circumstances it is in:

and they shall call the husbandmen to mourning: who used to be better employed in tilling their land, ploughing, sowing, reaping, and gathering in the fruits of the earth; but now should have no work to do, all being destroyed, either by the hand of God, by blasting, and mildew, and vermin, or by the trampling and forage of the enemy; and so there would be just occasion for mourning:

and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing; that have got the art of mourning, and were expert in making moans, and using plaintive tones, and who assisted at funerals, and other doleful occasions; and who are made use of to this day in some countries, particularly in Ireland; and were the old Romans, by whom they were called "siticines", "praefici", and "praeficae" and these mourning men and women were also employed among the Jews at such times; see Matthew 9:23; in Jeremiah 9:17, the mourning women are called "cunning women"; and so Lucian (h) calls: them , "sophists at lamentations", artists: at them, well skilled therein, such as those are here directed to be called for. Mr. Lively, our countryman, puts both clauses together, and renders them thus, "the husbandmen shall call to mourning and wailing such as are skilful of lamentation"; to assist them therein, because of the loss of the fruits of the earth; and such a version is confirmed by Jarchi, though he paraphrases it to a different sense;

"companies of husbandmen shall meet those that plough in the fields with the voice of mourners that cry in the streets.''

(h) Dialog. .

Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the {i} husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing.

(i) So that people of all types will have reason to lament because of the great plagues.

16. Therefore] because of Israel’s obduracy in wrong-doing.

wailing] loud cries of grief: comp. Micah 1:8, “I will make a mispçd like the jackals”—in allusion to their doleful cries. The Orientals, especially women, on occasions of grief, are very demonstrative, and the ‘wailing’ is a public ceremony (Ecclesiastes 12:5, ‘And the wailers go about in the streets’). Thomson, op. cit. i. 245 f., describes the funeral of a Moslem sheikh: in a corner of the cemetery was gathered a large company of women in three concentric circles; the outer circle consisted of sober, aged matrons, seated on the ground, who took but little active part in the solemnities; those constituting the inner circles were young women and girls, who “flung their arms and handkerchiefs about in wild frenzy, screamed and wailed like maniacs”; from time to time they would go in parties to the tomb of the departed sheikh, and there “dance and shriek around the grave in the wildest and most frantic manner.”

streets … highways] broad places … streets—the ‘broad place’ (we might say ‘square’) being the open space in an Eastern city, especially near the gate (Nehemiah 8:1). The same two words often stand in parallelism: e.g. Isaiah 15:3 (also in a picture of national mourning).

shall say … Alas! alas!] The Heb. (hô, hô—elsewhere hôy, hôy) is onomatopoetic; and Ah! Ah! would correspond more closely. It must have been a common cry of lamentation. Comp. 1 Kings 13:30, “And they wailed over him, (saying,) Hôy, my brother!” Jeremiah 22:18, “They shall not wail for him, Hôy, my brother! or Hôy, sister! They shall not wail for him, Hôy, master! or Hôy, his glory!” Jeremiah 34:5, “And Hôy, master! will they wail for thee.” In the modern Syriac dialect of Urmia, ú hú, ú hú, is the cry of a lament.

and they shall call the husbandman to mourning] The husbandman will be summoned from his occupation in the fields to take part in the general lamentation.

and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing] The Heb. is “And wailing to those skilled in lamentation,” the construction being changed for variety, and the word ‘call’ being understood from the preceding clause, in the sense of proclaim (which it also has in Hebrew, as Jeremiah 34:8). By those ‘skilled in (lit. understanding) lamentation’ are meant professional mourners, such as were called in to assist at a funeral. They were usually women (Jeremiah 9:17 f. “call to the women who chant dirges that they may come, and send for the cunning (lit. wise) women that they may come; and let them hasten and take up a lamentation (same word as here) for us” &c.; cf. Amos 5:20, “And teach, O women, your daughters a lamentation, and every one her neighbour a dirge”), but might also, as here (where the gender is masc.), be men (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5; 2 Chronicles 35:25). How the nĕhî (‘lamentation’) differed from the ḳînâh (‘dirge’) of Amos 5:1 is not certain: the passages in which it occurs make it probable that it was a slightly more general term of similar import: Jeremiah 9:10, “I will take up a weeping and lamentation for the mountains, and a dirge for the pastures of the wilderness”; Amos 5:18; Amos 5:20 just quoted; 19, “a voice of lamentation is heard out of Zion, (saying,) ‘How are we spoiled’ &c.”; Micah 2:4; Ezekiel 27:32, “And they shall take up a dirge over thee in their lamentation, and chant a dirge over thee, (saying,) ‘Who is like Tyre?’ &c.” (comp. the verb, Micah 2:4; Ezekiel 32:18). See further the Additional Note, p. 232.

Additional Note on Chap. Amos 5:16 (Mourning ceremonies)

Mourning ceremonies belong to a class of institutions which change little from generation to generation; and Wetzstein, for many years Prussian Consul at Damascus, has given an account of them as observed in modern Syria, which throws light upon various allusions in the O.T.[222] The corpse, having immediately after death been washed, dressed, and bestrewed with spices, is laid out upon the ‘threshing-board’ mentioned above (p. 227), on which, as it were, it lies in state, the head being supported on the end which is curved upwards: on the following morning a tent of black goats’ skin is erected, sometimes, if the deceased was wealthy, on the flat open house-top, but usually, at least in Syria, on the village threshing-floor: thither the corpse is brought on the threshing-board; soon after, a procession of the female relatives of the deceased, unveiled, with bare heads and feet, and wearing long black goats’-hair mourning tunics, advance from his house and form a circle round the tent. The professional mourners now begin to play their part. In the cities these consist of a chorus of women (laṭṭâmât, ‘those who smite themselves on the face’), of whom one after another successively takes the lead; in the country a single singer, called the ḳawwâla, or “speaker,” sometimes supported by one or two others, is deemed sufficient: in either case the singer must be able either to recite from memory, or to extemporise for the occasion, funeral dirges of sufficient length. Standing, if in Damascus, in the open court of the house, if in villages, round the tent just spoken of, in which the corpse lay, these women chant their ma‘îd, or dirge (which must have a definite poetical form, with metre and rhyme), recounting the virtues of the deceased—his goodness, his nobleness, his hospitality, &c.,—or the circumstances of his death,—perhaps in defence of the cattle of his tribe against a raid of Bedawin,—and bewailing the pain of separation: at the end of each dirge, or, if it be a long one, at the end of each stanza of it, the female relatives of the deceased, who form another chorus, called reddâdât, the ‘answerers,’ or neddâbât, or nawwâḥât, the ‘mourners,’ reply with the refrain, uttered with a prolonged note, into which much feeling is thrown, wêlî, “Woe is me!” The dirges for those who have fallen bravely consist of 30 or 40 stanzas, and are often, says Wetzstein, of great beauty. The dirges continue for two or three hours: at the end of this time invited guests from the neighbouring villages come in order, men and women forming two processions, to pay their last respects to the deceased and to offer their condolences to his relations. The interment then takes place. The ceremony of singing the dirges is repeated on the next day, and if the family be a wealthy one is continued during a whole week[223].

[222] In Bastian’s Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1873, pp. 295–301: some particulars are quoted by Budde in the Zeitsch. für die alttest. Wiss., 1882, p. 26 f. Mariti, an Italian priest, witnessed a similar ceremonial near Jaffa in 1767; extracts from his description are given by Budde in the Zeitsch. des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins, 1883, p. 184 ff., and compared in detail with the particulars stated by Wetzstein.

[223] The ‘threshing-board’ is regarded by the Syrian peasant with a superstitious reverence. It is used not only at funerals, but also at marriages: covered with a decorated cloth, it is arranged to form a throne, on which a newly-wedded couple, during the seven days (the “King’s week”) following their marriage, play king and queen, and songs are sung before them by the villagers and others (see the writer’s Introduction, ed. 5, p. 537, ed. 6, under the Song of Songs). A threshing-board, it is said, is never stolen: the would-be thief, when he sees it, is reminded of the day when he will be laid upon it himself, and dreads to touch it.

A clear distinction, it will be here noticed, is drawn between the ‘dirge,’ which is an ode sung solely by the professional mourners, and the wailing refrain, which is joined in by all the others, whenever a pause is made by the singers. The ma‘îd corresponds to the ḳînâh, or artistically constructed ‘dirge,’ of the O.T. (comp. on Amos 5:1), the professional mourning women correspond to the ‘wise’ women (i.e. those instructed in their art), who ‘chant dirges,’ to whom Jeremiah alludes (Jeremiah 9:17)[224]: the refrain of woe reminds us of the hôy, hôy (or hô, hô), quoted in the note on Amos 5:16.

[224] In later times such dirges were accompanied by the flute: see Matthew 9:23; Joseph. B. J. iii:9, § 5.

16–17. But Amos sees that his exhortation will not be listened to, and again therefore he draws a dark picture of the future to which the nation is hastening: so great will be the slaughter wrought by the foe (cf. Amos 5:27; Amos 2:14-16, Amos 4:2-3, &c.), that universal lamentation will prevail throughout the land.Verses 16, 17. - The retribution for their incorrigible iniquity is here announced. For "they that would not be reformed by that correction, wherein he dallied with them, shall feel a judgment worthy of God" (Wisd. 12:26). Verse 16. - Therefore. The prophet returns to what was said in ver. 13 about the uselessness of reproof; yore. 14 and 15 being a kind of parenthetical exhortation which his love for his nation forced from him. "Jehovah, the God of hosts, the Lord," Adonai, saith what follows, these solemn titles being used to add solemnity, certainty, and weight to the announcement. Wailing; misped, "the death wail." Streets; broad places; πλατείαις (Septuagint); plateis (Vulgate). Highways; the narrower streets; ὁδοῖς (Septuagint); in cunctis quae foris sunt (Vulgate). Everywhere in town and country shall the wail be heard. Alas! alas! ho! ho! This is the death wail (comp. Jeremiah 22:18), which should sound abroad when Samaria was besieged and taken. They shall call the husbandman to mourning. The husbandman shall be called from his labour in the fields to mourn for a calamity in his house. Pusey thinks the mourning is for his occupation gone, his tillage now only furnishing food for the enemy; but the context involves the notion of death. And such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing; literally, proclaim wailing to such, etc. These are the hired mourners, both male and female, who sang mournful songs at deaths (comp. 2 Chronicles 35:25; Jeremiah 9:17; Matthew 9:23). "I will heal their apostasy, will love them freely: for my wrath has turned away from it. Hosea 14:5. I will be like dew for Israel: it shall blossom like the lily, and strike its roots like Lebanon. Hosea 14:6. Its shoots shall go forth, and its splendour shall become like the olive-tree, and its smell like Lebanon. Hosea 14:7. They that dwell in its shadow shall give life to corn again; and shall blossom like the vine: whose glory is like the wine of Lebanon. Hosea 14:8. Ephraim: What have I further with the idols? I hear, and look upon him: I, like a bursting cypress, in me is thy fruit found." The Lord promises first of all to heal their apostasy, i.e., all the injuries which have been inflicted by their apostasy from Him, and to love them with perfect spontaneity (nedâbhâh an adverbial accusative, promta animi voluntate), since His anger, which was kindled on account of its idolatry, had now turned away from it (mimmennū, i.e., from Israel). The reading mimmennı̄ (from me), which the Babylonian Codices have after the Masora, appears to have originated in a misunderstanding of Jeremiah 2:35. This love of the Lord will manifest itself in abundant blessing. Jehovah will be to Israel a refreshing, enlivening dew (cf. Isaiah 26:19), through which it will blossom splendidly, strike deep roots, and spread its shoots far and wide. "Like the lily:" the fragrant white lily, which is very common in Palestine, and grows without cultivation, and "which is unsurpassed in its fecundity, often producing fifty bulbs from a single root" (Pliny h. n. xxi. 5). "Strike roots like Lebanon," i.e., not merely the deeply rooted forest of Lebanon, but the mountain itself, as one of the "foundations of the earth" (Micah 6:2). The deeper the roots, the more the branches spread and cover themselves with splendid green foliage, like the evergreen and fruitful olive-tree (Jeremiah 11:16; Psalm 52:10). The smell is like Lebanon, which is rendered fragrant by its cedars and spices (Sol 4:11). The meaning of the several features in the picture has been well explained by Rosenmller thus: "The rooting indicates stability: the spreading of the branches, propagation and the multitude of inhabitants; the splendour of the olive, beauty and glory, and that constant and lasting; the fragrance, hilarity and loveliness." In Hosea 14:7 a somewhat different turn is given to the figure. The comparison of the growth and flourishing of Israel to the lily and to a tree, that strikes deep roots and spreads its green branches far and wide, passes imperceptibly into the idea that Israel is itself the tree beneath whose shade the members of the nation flourish with freshness and vigour. ישׁוּבוּ is to be connected adverbially with יהיּוּ. Those who sit beneath the shade of Israel, the tree that is bursting into leaf, will revive corn, i.e., cause it to return to life, or produce it for nourishment, satiety, and strengthening. Yea, they themselves will sprout like the vine, whose remembrance is, i.e., which has a renown, like the wine of Lebanon, which has been celebrated from time immemorial (cf. Plin. h. n. xiv. 7; Oedmann, Verbm. Sammlung aus der Naturkunde, ii. p. 193; and Rosenmller, Bibl. Althk. iv. 1, p. 217). The divine promise closes in Hosea 14:9 with an appeal to Israel to renounce idols altogether, and hold fast by the Lord alone as the source of its life. Ephraim is a vocative, and is followed immediately by what the Lord has to say to Ephraim, so that we may supply memento in thought. מה־לּי עוד לע, what have I yet to do with idols? (for this phrase, compare Jeremiah 2:18); that is to say, not "I have now to contend with thee on account of the idols (Schmieder), nor "do not place them by my side any more" (Ros.); but, "I will have nothing more to do with idols," which also implies that Ephraim is to have nothing more to do with them. To this there is appended a notice of what God has done and will do for Israel, to which greater prominence is given by the emphatic אני: I, I hearken (‛ânı̄thı̄ a prophetic perfect), and look upon him. שׁוּר, to look about for a person, to be anxious about him, or care for him, as in Job 24:15. The suffix refers to Ephraim. In the last clause, God compares Himself to a cypress becoming green, not only to denote the shelter which He will afford to the people, but as the true tree of life, on which the nation finds its fruits - a fruit which nourishes and invigorates the spiritual life of the nation. The salvation which this promise sets before the people when they shall return to the Lord, is indeed depicted, according to the circumstances and peculiar views prevailing under the Old Testament, as earthly growth and prosperity; but its real nature is such, that it will receive a spiritual fulfilment in those Israelites alone who are brought to belief in Jesus Christ.
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