Amos 8:5
Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
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(5) When . . . gone.—They desired that the festivals of the New Moon and Sabbath should be over, when they might not only return to their secular employments, but pursue their search for ill-gotten gains—a proof that these festivals were observed in the northern nation, even if they were disliked.

Set forth wheat.—The original signifies the opening of the sacks, or granaries, where the wheat was stored. The greedy mercantile class is referred to. The ephah, which was a dry measure (= three English pecks), was “made small,” so that a smaller quantity might be sold. The shekel was the weight against which the precious metal was weighed. If this were fraudulently augmented, more of the gold or silver than was due was demanded for the impoverished ephah.

Falsifying the balances . . .—More accurately, falsifying the deceitful balances, so that the very symbol of justice became the implement of committing injustice. This is frequently condemned in the Law and Prophets (Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:15; Proverbs 11:1; Micah 6:11).

8:4-10 The rich and powerful of the land were the most guilty of oppression, as well as the foremost in idolatry. They were weary of the restraints of the sabbaths and the new moons, and wished them over, because no common work might be done therein. This is the character of many who are called Christians. The sabbath day and sabbath work are a burden to carnal hearts. It will either be profaned or be accounted a dull day. But can we spend our time better than in communion with God? When employed in religious services, they were thinking of marketings. They were weary of holy duties, because their worldly business stood still the while. Those are strangers to God, and enemies to themselves, who love market days better than sabbath days, who would rather be selling corn than worshipping God. They have no regard to man: those who have lost the savour of piety, will not long keep the sense of common honesty. They cheat those they deal with. They take advantage of their neighbour's ignorance or necessity, in a traffic which nearly concerns the labouring poor. Could we witness the fraud and covetousness, which, in such numerous forms, render trading an abomination to the Lord, we should not wonder to see many dealers backward in the service of God. But he who thus despises the poor, reproaches his Maker; as it regards Him, rich and poor meet together. Riches that are got by the ruin of the poor, will bring ruin on those that get them. God will remember their sin against them. This speaks the case of such unjust, unmerciful men, to be miserable indeed, miserable for ever. There shall be terror and desolation every where. It shall come upon them when they little think of it. Thus uncertain are all our creature-comforts and enjoyments, even life itself; in the midst of life we are in death. What will be the wailing in the bitter day which follows sinful and sensual pleasures!When will the new moon be gone? - They kept their festivals, though weary and impatient for their close. They kept sabbath and festival with their bodies, not with their minds. The Psalmist said, "When shall I come to appear before the presencc of God?" Psalm 42:2. These said, perhaps in their hearts only which God reads to them, "when will this service be over, that we may be our own masters again?" They loathed the rest of the sabbath, because they had, thereon, to rest from their frauds. He instances "the new moons" and "sabbaths," because these, recurring weekly or monthly, were a regular hindrance to their covetousness.

The "ephah" was a measure containing 72 Roman pints or nearly 1 1/10 of an English bushel; the shekel was a fixed weight, by which, up to the time of the captivity 2 Samuel 18:12; 1 Kings 20:39; Jeremiah 32:9, money was still weighed; and that, for the price of bread also Isaiah 55:2. They increased the price both ways, dishonestly and in hypocrisy, paring down the quantity which they sold, and obtaining more silver by fictitious weights; and weighing in uneven balances. All such dealings had been expressly forbidden by God; and that, as the condition of their remaining in the land which God had given them. "Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thy house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have, that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" Deuteronomy 25:13-15.

Sin in wrong measures, once begun is unbroken. All sin perpetuates itself. It is done again, because it has been done before. But sins of a man's daily occupation are continued of necessity, beyond the simple force of habit and the ever-increasing dropsy of covetousness. To interrupt sin is to risk detection. But then how countless the sins, which their poor slaves must needs commit hourly, whenever the occasion comes! And yet, although among us human law recognizes the divine law and annexes punishment to its breach, covetousness sets both at nought. When human law was enforced in a city after a time of negligence, scarcely a weight was found to be honest. Prayer went up to God on "the sabbath," and fraud on the poor went up to God in every transaction on the other six days. We admire the denunciations of Amos, and condemn the makebelieve service of God. Amos denounces us, and we condemn ourselves. Righteous dealing in weights and measures was one of the conditions of the existence of God's former people. What must then be our national condition before God, when, from this one sin, so many thousand, thousand sins go up daily to plead against us to God?

5. So greedy are they of unjust gain that they cannot spare a single day, however sacred, from pursuing it. They are strangers to God and enemies to themselves, who love market days better than sabbath days; and they who have lost piety will not long keep honesty. The new moons (Nu 10:10) and sabbaths were to be kept without working or trading (Ne 10:31).

set forth wheat—literally, "open out" stores of wheat for sale.

ephah—containing three seahs, or above three pecks.

making … small—making it below the just weight to purchasers.

shekel great—taking from purchasers a greater weight of money than was due. Shekels used to be weighed out in payments (Ge 23:16). Thus they committed a double fraud against the law (De 25:13, 14).

When will the new moon be gone? ye that could wish there were nothing to interrupt your marketing, your irreligious impatience, and your eagerness after the world, look on solemn times of Divine worship as very burdensome; such was the first day of every month, and the weekly sabbath.

That we may sell corn: no servile work might be done on new moons, no markets kept, or corn brought forth publicly to be sold.

And the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat? they were also bound very religiously to observe the sabbath, and on that day they might not buy or sell; now they are weary of the sabbath, as of the new moon, and on the same account wish it over: here was irreligious gaping after gain.

Making the ephah small; the ephah was a measure for dry things, and contained about half a bushel and one pottle English measure. Now these covetous corn-merchants measured the corn they sold by an ephah that was too little, the poor buyer had not his due.

And the shekel great: they weighed the money which they received, and these rich men had no more pity and justice, than to make their shekel weight greater than the standard; so the poor were twice oppressed in the same way, had less than was their right, and paid more than they ought to pay; and thus they undid the poor, and ate him up.

And falsifying the balances by deceit; deceitfully pervert the balances, that the money or shekel weighed, though of full weight, yet appeared too light on the balance, and they who paid it were forced to add more silver to it. Saying, when will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn?.... The first day of every month, on which it was forbid to sell any thing, or do any worldly business, being appointed and used for religious service; see 2 Kings 4:23; and which these carnal earthly minded men were weary of, and wanted to have over, that they might be selling their grain, and getting money, which they preferred to the worship of God. Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret it of the month of harvest, when the poor found what to eat in the fields; when they gleaned there, and got a sufficiency of bread, and so had no need to buy corn; and hence these rich misers, that hoarded up the grain, are represented as wishing the harvest month over, that they might sell their grain to the poor, having had, during that month, no demand for it; and so the Targum renders it the month of grain: or the month of intercalation, as Jarchi understands it; every three years a month was intercalated, to bring their feasts right to the season of the year; and that year was a month longer than the rest, and made provision dearer; and then the sense is, when will the year of intercalation come, that we may have a better price for our grain? but the first sense seems best;

and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat; in the shops or markets, for sale: or "open wheat" (b); the granaries and treasures of it, to be seen and sold. Now the sabbath, or seventh day of the week, as no servile work was to be done on it, so no trade or commerce was to be carried on on that day; which made it a long and wearisome one to worldly men, who wished it over, that they might be about their worldly business. Kimchi and Ben Melech, by "sabbath", understand a "week", which these men put off the poor unto, when the price of grain would rise; and so from week to week refused to sell, and longed till the week came when it would be dearer. The Targum and Jarchi interpret it of the seventh year Sabbath, when there was no ploughing, nor sowing, nor reaping, and so no selling of grain, but the people lived upon what the earth brought forth of itself. But the first sense here is also best;

making the ephah small; a dry measure, that held three scabs, or about a bushel of ours, with which they measured their grain and their wheat; so that, besides the exorbitant price they required, they did not give due measure:

and the shekel great; that is, the weight, or shekel stone, with which they weighed the money the poor gave for their grain and wheat; this was made heavier than it should be, and so of course the money weighed against it was too light, and the poor were obliged to make it up with more; and thus they cheated them, both in their measure, and in their money:

and falsifying the balances by deceit? contrary to the law in Deuteronomy 25:13.

(b) "et apericmus frumentam", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus; "ut aperiamus frumenti horrea", Junius & Tremellius; "ut aperiamus frumentum", Piscator, Cocceius; "quo far aperiamus", Castalio.

Saying, When will the {d} new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making {e} the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?

(d) When the scarcity had come they were so greedy for gain, that they thought the holy day to be a hindrance to them.

(e) That is, the measure small, and the price great.

5. When will the new moon be gone?] The new moon, the first of the month, was observed as a popular holiday (2 Kings 4:23; cf. 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:24), and marked by religious services Isaiah 1:13-14; Hosea 2:11; and often in later writings: cf. Numbers 28:11-15). From the present passage, it is apparent that, like the sabbath, it was a day on which trade was suspended, and which accordingly was viewed by the grasping Israelitish merchants with impatience, on account of the interruption which it occasioned in their unjust practices.

making the ephah small &c.] The ephah by which they sold was of short measure, while the shekel, by which the money to be paid by the purchaser was weighed, was unduly heavy. Dr Chaplin found in 1890, on the site of the ancient Samaria, a weight (now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) inscribed (if של be rightly explained as an abbreviation for שלם) “a quarter of full weight.” This weight weighs 39.2 grains, which would give a shekel of 156.8 (or rather more, if something be allowed for wearing). The weight of the so-called ‘light’ shekel (the ‘heavy’ shekel was twice as much) was probably 130–135 grains: whence W. R. Smith very ingeniously conjectured (P.E.F.Qu.St[191], 1894, p. 229) that the weight in question was a heavy quarter-shekel, of the kind alluded to here by Amos.

[191] .E.F.Qu.St.Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statements.

falsifying the balances of deceit] i.e. tampering with the balances by which the money received by them was weighed, and so gaining a third unjust advantage over the purchaser. See, in condemnation of such commercial dishonesty, Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-15 (“Thou shalt not have in thy bag a weight and a weight, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thy house an ephah and an ephah, a great and a small,” &c.); Proverbs 20:10 (“A weight and a weight, an ephah and an ephah, both of them alike are Jehovah’s abomination”); Ezekiel 45:9-10. The ephah was probably equal to about eight gallons.Verse 5. - When? expresses impatience and desire, as in the hymn -

"Thy joys when shall I see?" The new moon. The first day of the month was a holiday, on which all trade was suspended. It is not mentioned in Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy; but its observance is enjoined in Numbers 28:11, and various notices of this occur in later Scriptures; e.g. 1 Samuel 20:5; 2 Kings 4:23; Hosea 2:11; Colossians 2:16. These greedy sinners kept the festivals, indeed, but they grudged the time given to them, and considered it as wasted. The sabbath. Compare the difficulties with which Nehemiah had to contend in upholding the sanctity of the sabbath (Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15-22). May set forth; literally, open; so Septuagint, καὶ ἀνοίξομεν θησαυρόν. The word expresses the opening of the granaries and storehouses. The ephah, by which corn was measured (see note on Micah 6:10). This they made small, and so gave lees than was paid for. The shekel. The weight by which money was weighed. This they made great, and thus gained too high a price for the quantity of corn. Coined money of determined value seems not to have been used before the return from Captivity, all payments of fixed amount previous to that period being made by weighing (comp. Genesis 23:16; Genesis 33:19; Genesis 43:21; Exodus 30:13; Isaiah 46:6). Falsifying the balances by deceit; better, as in the Revised Version, dealing falsely with balances of deceit. To increase their gains they falsified their scales or used fraudulent weights (see Leviticus 19:36). Thus they cheated the poor probably in three ways - by small measure, exorbitant price, and light weight. On the reception of these benefits the people will praise the Lord, who has shown it such wondrous grace, lit., has acted towards it even to the doing of wonders.
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