Amos 6:12
Shall horses run on the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock:
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(12) The questions require a negative answer, and show that the conduct of Israel is as inconsistent and senseless as the supposition involved in the interrogation: that horses should climb steep cliffs, or oxen plough in the rocky gorge. The conception of oppression, luxury, and pride being the forerunners of prosperity and peace is anomalous. The idea is, that that which should have insured the stability of the state, the embodiment of its conscience, had been turned into narcotic poison—the self-satisfaction of personal greed. Rôsh, the Hebrew for “gall,” is a poisonous kind of plant with bitter taste, and resembling, according to Jerome, stalks of grass, and propagating itself with such rapidity that it is difficult to exterminate it. (Comp. Hosea 10:4. Speaker’s Commentary suggests “poppy-head.”) In Amos 5:7 the word expressed here by “hemlock” is rendered “worm-wood,” as in Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Deuteronomy 29:18, &c., a rendering which should have been retained here. Gall and worm-wood are constantly associated in Old Testament prophecy in this metaphorical sense.

Amos 6:12. Shall horses run upon the rock? — “Is it possible that horses should run upon the steep and craggy cliffs? So impossible is it that ye Israelites should continue to prosper, while ye remain thus sinful.” — Bishop Hall. Or, “as horses and oxen are useless in such places, so are ye evidently useless to God.” — Grotius. Several other interpretations are given of this obscure verse. Mr. Scott’s is, “It was as perilous to endeavour to reform the people as it would be to ride a race on the top of a craggy rock, where both horses and horsemen would be in danger of being killed; and as vain as to plough there with oxen, when no impression could be made or increase expected.” For ye have turned judgment into gall, &c. — Ye have rendered the administration of public justice as bitter as gall, and the fruit of righteousness, or the observance of religious ceremonies, as poisonous as hemlock. 6:8-14 How dreadful, how miserable, is the case of those whose eternal ruin the Lord himself has sworn; for he can execute his purpose, and none can alter it! Those hearts are wretchedly hardened that will not be brought to mention God's name, and to worship him, when the hand of God is gone out against them, when sickness and death are in their families. Those that will not be tilled as fields, shall be abandoned as rocks. When our services of God are soured with sin, his providences will justly be made bitter to us. Men should take warning not to harden their hearts, for those who walk in pride, God will destroy.The two images both represent a toil, which people would condemn as absurd, destructive, as well as fruitless. The horse's hoofs or his limbs would be broken; the plowing-gear would be destroyed. The prophet gains the attention by the question. What then? they ask. The answer is implied by the for, which follows. Ye are they, who are so doing. As absurd is it to seek gain from injustice and oppression, to which God had annexed loss and woe, temporal and eternal. More easy to change the course of nature or the use of things of nature, than the course of God's Providence or the laws of His just retribution. They had changed the sweet laws of "justice" and equity "into" the "gall" of oppression, and the healthful "fruit of righteousness," whereof they had received the seed from God, into the life-destroying poison of sin. Better to have "plowed" the rock "with oxen" for food! For now, where they looked for prosperity, they found not barrenness, but death.

Others understand the question as the taunt of unbelievers, trusting in the strength of Samaria, that when horses should run on their rocky eminence, or the oxen plow there, then might an enemy look for gain from investing the hill of Samaria. "Shall things which are against nature be done?" "Yes," the prophet then would answer, "for ye have done against nature yourselves. Ye, have "changed justice," the solace of the oppressed, "into wormwood," the bitterness of oppression. Well may what ye think above the laws of physical nature be done, when ye have violated the laws of moral nature. Well may the less thing be done, your destruction, secure as by nature ye seem, when ye have done the greater, violating the laws of the God of nature." Amos, however, when he refers to the sayings of the unbelievers, distinguishes them from his own.

12. In turning "judgment (justice) into gall (poison), and … righteousness into hemlock" (or wormwood, bitter and noxious), ye act as perversely as if one were to make "horses run upon the rock" or to "plough with oxen there" [Maurer]. As horses and oxen are useless on a rock, so ye are incapable of fulfilling justice [Grotius]. Ye impede the course of God's benefits, because ye are as it were a hard rock on which His favor cannot run. "Those that will not be tilled as fields, shall be abandoned as rocks" [Calvin]. Shall horses run upon the rock? would it not be dangerous to horse and rider? If prophets and pious men exhort, threaten, or advise, they endanger themselves, it does no more good than if you would run your horse on the slippery precipices of rocks. Or, all is lost labour on these hardened sinners.

Will one plough there with oxen? your hearts are hard as the rocks; my prophets’ preaching, my lesser judgments warning you, all gentler means used, are but as a husbandman’s ploughing the rocks. These shall therefore be torn up by the roots, your state and kingdom shall be utterly overthrown.

For ye, you judges and governors in the ten tribes, and in Judah too,

have turned judgment, see Amos 5:7,

into gall, or poison; by those laws they took away life, and forfeited estate, which, had the laws been rightly executed, had saved both.

The fruit of righteousness, all that fruit which equity and justice would have produced by due application of the law, hath been wormwood, grief, and complaints, by your wresting and perverting the law.

Into hemlock, a deadly and pernicious weed so the course of your courts have been. Shall horses run upon the rocks? or will one plough there with oxen?.... Will any man be so weak and foolish, to propose or attempt a race for horses upon rocks, where they and their riders would be in danger of breaking their necks? or would any man act so unwise a part, as to take a yoke of oxen to plough with them upon a rock, where no impression can be made? as vain and fruitless a thing it would be to attempt to bring such persons under a conviction of their sins, and to repentance for them, and reformation from them, who are given up to a judicial hardness of heart, like that of a rock, as are the persons described in the next clause; or as such methods with horses and oxen would be contrary to all the rules of reason and prudence, so as contrary a part do such persons act whose characters are next given, and there is no probability of bringing them to better sense and practice of things;

for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock; that which would be beneficial to a nation, than which nothing is more so, as the exercise of justice, and judgment, into that which is bitter and pernicious to it, as injustice and oppression; see Amos 5:7.

Shall horses {n} run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into {o} hemlock:

(n) He compares them to barren rocks, upon which it is in vain to bestow labour: showing that God's benefits can have no place among them.

(o) Read Am 5:7.

12. Do horses run upon crags? doth one plow (there) with oxen? or (dividing one word into two) doth one plow the sea with an ox? that ye have turned judgement into poison, &c.] The two questions are meant to represent what is obviously unnatural and absurd. Do horses run over the jagged crags, or do men plough there with oxen (or with the emendation, Do men plough the sea with oxen), that ye do what is not less preposterous and unreasonable, viz. turn justice into injustice, and so transform what is wholesome into a poison? For the figure ‘turn judgement into poison,’ see Amos 5:7 (“into wormwood”). The emendation proposed (which, though conjectural, is supported by many of the best modern scholars) is recommended by the fact that it avoids the unusual plural beḳârîm and also obviates the necessity of mentally understanding “there” in the second clause of the verse.

gall] poison: Heb. rôsh, occurring also Deuteronomy 32:32-33; Hosea 10:4; Jeremiah 8:14; Lamentations 3:5; Psalm 69:21; Job 20:16; and coupled, as here, with ‘wormwood’ (cf. ch. Amos 5:7), Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Lamentations 3:19. Deuteronomy 29:18, Hosea 10:4 shew that some poisonous plant is denoted by the word (so that the rendering gall is certainly wrong), though, since it is quite uncertain what plant is meant, it is impossible to render otherwise than by a perfectly general term, such as poison. As rôsh also signifies ‘head,’ some have thought poppies, of which several species are found in Palestine, to be the plant denoted by the word.

the fruit of righteousness] i.e. the effects of righteousness (or justice), which would normally be wholesome and beneficial to society, but which, as it is perverted by the nobles of Israel into injustice, become wormwood (Amos 5:7), i.e. something bitter and deleterious to all.Verses 12-14. - The prophet shows the folly of these evil doers who think in their own strength to defy judgment and to resist the enemy whom God is sending against them. Verse 12. - Shall horses run upon the rock? Can horses gallop safely over places covered with rocks and stones? Will one plough there with oxen? Do men plough the rock with their oxen? The answer, of course, is "No." Yet your conduct is equally foolish, your labour is equally lost. Some, dividing the words differently, translate, "Does one plough the sea with oxen?" which reminds one of the Latin proverb, "Litus arare bubus." Thus Ovid, 'Ep. Heroid,' 5:115 -

"Quid facis OEnone? Quid arenae semina mandas?
Non protecturis litora bubus aras."
For ye have turned; or, that ye have turned. Judgment into gall (see note on Amos 5:7). Hemlock. Some plant with an acrid juice. Ye turn the administration of justice, which is "the fruit of righteousness," into the bitterest injustice and wrong. It were "more easy," says Pusey, "to change the course of nature or the use of things of nature, than the course of God's providence or the laws of his just retribution." "A day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and cloudy night: like morning dawn spread over the mountains, a people great and strong: there has not been the like from all eternity, nor will there be after it even to the years of generation and generation. Joel 2:3. Before it burneth fire, and behind it flameth flame: the land before it as the garden of Eden, and behind it like a desolate wilderness; and even that which escaped did not remain to it." With four words, expressing the idea of darkness and obscurity, the day of Jehovah is described as a day of the manifestation of judgment. The words חשׁך ענן וערפל are applied in Deuteronomy 4:11 to the cloudy darkness in which Mount Sinai was enveloped, when Jehovah came down upon it in the fire; and in Exodus 10:22, the darkness which fell upon Egypt as the ninth plague is called אפלה. כּשׁחר וגו does not belong to what precedes, nor does it mean blackness or twilight (as Ewald and some Rabbins suppose), but "the morning dawn." The subject to pârus (spread) is neither yōm (day), which precedes it, nor ‛am (people), which follows; for neither of these yields a suitable thought at all. The subject is left indefinite: "like morning dawn is it spread over the mountains." The prophet's meaning is evident enough from what follows. He clearly refers to the bright glimmer or splendour which is seen in the sky as a swarm of locusts approaches, from the reflection of the sun's rays from their wings.

(Note: The following is the account given by the Portuguese monk Francis Alvarez, in his Journey through Abyssinia (Oedmann, Vermischte Sammlungen, vi. p. 75): "The day before the arrival of the locusts we could infer that they were coming, from a yellow reflection in the sky, proceeding from their yellow wings. As soon as this light appeared, no one had the slightest doubt that an enormous swarm of locusts was approaching." He also says, that during his stay in the town of Barua he himself saw this phenomenon, and that so vividly, that even the earth had a yellow colour from the reflection. The next day a swarm of locusts came.)

With עם רב ועצוּם (a people great and strong) we must consider the verb בּא (cometh) in Exodus 10:1 as still retaining its force. Yōm (day) and ‛âm (people) have the same predicate, because the army of locusts carries away the day, and makes it into a day of cloudy darkness. The darkening of the earth is mentioned in connection with the Egyptian plague of locusts in Exodus 10:15, and is confirmed by many witnesses (see the comm. on Ex. l.c.). The fire and the flame which go both before and behind the great and strong people, viz., the locusts, cannot be understood as referring to the brilliant light kindled as it were by the morning dawn, which proceeds from the fiery armies of the vengeance of God, i.e., the locusts (Umbreit), nor merely to the burning heat of the drought by which everything is consumed (Joel 1:19); but this burning heat is heightened here into devouring flames of fire, which accompany the appearing of God as He comes to judgment at the head of His army, after the analogy of the fiery phenomena connected with the previous manifestations of God, both in Egypt, where a terrible hail fell upon the land before the plague of locusts, accompanied by thunder and balls of fire (Exodus 9:23-24), and also at Sinai, upon which the Lord came down amidst thunder and lightning, and spoke to the people out of the fire (Exodus 19:16-18; Deuteronomy 4:11-12). The land, which had previously resembled the garden of paradise (Genesis 2:8), was changed in consequence into a desolate wilderness. פּליטה does not mean escape or deliverance, either here or in Obadiah 1:17, but simply that which has run away or escaped. Here it signifies that part of the land which has escaped the devastation; for it is quite contrary to the usage of the language to refer לו, as most commentators do, to the swarm of locusts, from which there is no escape, no deliverance (cf. 2 Samuel 15:14; Judges 21:17; Ezra 9:13, in all of which ל refers to the subject, to which the thing that escaped was assigned). Consequently לו can only refer to הארץ. The perfect היתה stands related to אחריו, according to which the swarm of locusts had already completed the devastation.

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