Amos 4
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
A new section of the prophecy begins here. It consists of two parts, the first (Amos 4:1-3) addressed to the women of Samaria; the second (Amos 4:4-13) to the people generally. In Amos 4:1-3 Amos denounces the heartless luxury and self-indulgence of the wealthy ladies of the capital; in Amos 4:4-13 he points ironically to the zeal with which the Israelites perform their religious rites, as though a mere external ceremonial could guarantee their safety (Amos 4:4-5); again and again Jehovah has shewn signs of His displeasure; but again and again the warning has passed unheeded (Amos 4:6-11): now at last His patience is exhausted, and Israel must prepare to meet its doom (Amos 4:12-13).

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.
1. Hear this word] Amos 4:1, Amos 5:1.

ye kine of Bashan] Bashan was the fertile region on the E. of Jordan, bounded on the S. by the Jarmuk, and a line passing through Edrei to Salecah, on the W. by Geshur and Maacah, on the N. extending towards Hermon (cf. Joshua 12:1; Joshua 12:5), and on the E. as far as the Jebel Hauran, some 40 miles E.S.E. of the Sea of Galilee. The soil of Bashan consists in many parts of a rich disintegrated lava, and is extremely fertile. The name (which here, as usually in Heb., has the article) means probably a stoneless and fertile plain (see Wetzstein in Delitzsch’s Job, ed. 2, pp. 557 f.). Its pasture-grounds are alluded to in Micah 7:14, and its oak-forests (Isaiah 2:13; Zechariah 11:2) in Golan on the W., and on the slopes of the Jebel Hauran on the E., are still often mentioned by travellers: its strong and well-nourished herds (Deuteronomy 32:14; Ezekiel 39:18) are in Psalm 22:12 symbols of the Psalmist’s wild and fierce assailants. The wealthy ladies of Samaria are here called kine of Bashan, because they live a life of purely animal existence, proudly and contentedly going their own way, resenting interference, and intent solely upon their own food and enjoyment.

which oppress the poor, which crush the needy] The same two words in parallelism, 1 Samuel 12:3-4, Deuteronomy 28:33 : cf. the corresponding substantives, Jeremiah 22:17. The word rendered oppress has often the force of defraud, Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14 (note the context), 1 Samuel 12:3-4 (where it is so rendered); cf. oppression, Jeremiah 22:17. The wages, or other dues, unjustly withheld from the poor, enabled the ladies of Samaria the more readily to indulge their own luxurious and expensive tastes.

masters] R.V. lords, i.e. husbands (Genesis 18:12; Psalm 45:11 &c.). They press their husbands to supply them with the means for enjoying a joint carouse.

1–3. The women of Samaria.

The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.
2. Jehovah’s indignation is aroused; and He swears (cf. Amos 6:8, Amos 8:7), that retribution will overtake them for such selfishness and cruelty.

hath sworn by his holiness] God’s holiness is made the pledge of the validity of the oath: so Psalm 89:35; cf. Jeremiah 44:26.

behold, days are coming &c.] The expression implies a sudden and unexpected reversal of what at present prevails: it occurs besides, Amos 8:11, Amos 9:13; 1 Samuel 2:31; 2 Kings 20:17 (= Isaiah 39:6), and fifteen times in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 9:24; Jeremiah 16:14; Jeremiah 19:6; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 23:7; Jeremiah 30:3, &c.).

he will take you away with hooks &c.] rather, ye shall be taken &c. The image is one partly of ignominy, partly of helplessness. The women of Samaria are no longer like fat cattle, proudly disdainful of all who may approach them: they are dragged violently by the foe out of the ease and luxury of their palaces, like fishes out of their native element, the water.

your posterity] your residue (R.V.),—any of you who happen to escape the ‘hooks’ of the preceding clause. It is a total destruction which the prophet contemplates.

And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.
3. shall go out at the breaches] Amos pictures Samaria as captured, and the self-indulgent ladies forced to leave the city, as captives, through the breaches made in the walls by the foe.

every cow at that which is before her] every one straight before her, forced to go on in the train of captives, unable to turn aside or go back to save anything which she has left behind her,—perhaps (if the fig. of Amos 4:1 be still in the prophet’s mind) “as a herd of cows go one after another through a gap in a fence.” For the Hebrew idiom employed, see Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:20.

and ye shall cast them into the palace] The words are very obscure; and indeed, in all probability, corrupt. The slightest change would be to read, with the alteration of a vowel-point in the verb (supported by Sept. Pesh. Vulg.), And ye shall be cast into Harmon: Harmon would then be the name of the place of exile, or disgrace, into which they were to be ‘cast’ or ‘flung’: the word is used mostly of a corpse, as Jeremiah 22:19, but not always so (see Jeremiah 22:28, ‘cast into’). No place, however, named Harmon is known; nor is the word an appellative in Hebrew. Some of the ancients saw in ‘Harmonah’ an allusion to Armenia: thus the Targ. renders, ‘And they shall carry you into exile beyond the mountains of Harmini’; Pesh. ‘And they shall be cast to the mountain of Armenia’; Symm. ‘into Armenia’; cf. Jerome (in his note), “Et projiciemini in locis Armeniae, quae vocantur Armona.’ In this case we should read, for ההרמנה, הר מני: in Jeremiah 51:27 Minni (Targ. Harmini, as here; Pesh. Armenia) is the name of a people on the S.E. of Ararat, the Mannai of the Assyrian Inscriptions (Schrader, K.A.T[150][151], pp. 423 f.); this would yield a sense in harmony with Jeremiah 51:27 (“beyond Damascus”). It is however doubtful whether it is the original reading; very possibly the corruption lies deeper, and the original reading is irrecoverable.

[150] .A.T. … Eb. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das A. T., ed. 2, 1883 (translated under the title The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the O. T. 1885, 1888). The references are to the pagination of the German, which is given on the margin of the English translation.

[151] … Eb. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das A. T., ed. 2, 1883 (translated under the title The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the O. T. 1885, 1888). The references are to the pagination of the German, which is given on the margin of the English translation.

Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:
4. Come to Beth-el, and transgress &c.] The words are meant of course ironically. Amos bids the people come to Beth-el, the principal and most splendid centre of their worship, and transgress, to Gilgal, another representative centre, and multiply transgression: their religious services, partly on account of the moral unfitness of the worshippers (Amos 2:6-9), partly on account of the unspiritual character of their worship, have no value in Jehovah’s eyes, they are but transgression,—or, more exactly (see on Amos 1:3), rebellion.

Gilgal] alluded to also in ch. Amos 5:5, Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11, as a seat of the idolatrous worship of Jehovah. It was the first camping-spot of the Israelites on the west of Jordan (Joshua 4:19-20), and it is alluded to frequently as an important place (1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 11:14-15; 1 Samuel 15:12; 1 Samuel 15:21, 2 Samuel 19:15). That it lay in the Jordan valley, between the Jordan and Jericho, is evident from Joshua 4:19; Joshua 5:10; but the actual site of Gilgal was only recovered by Zschokke in 1865, at Tell Jiljûl, 4½ miles from the Jordan, and 1½ mile from Erîḥa (Jericho)[152]. In Joshua 5:9 the name is connected with gâlal, to roll away; but it means really a wheel (Isaiah 28:28), or circle,—in particular, a circle of stones, or, as we might say, a cromlech, such as Joshua 4:20 shews must have stood there in historical times. (In the Heb., the word has always the article, implying that the appellative sense, “the Circle,” was still felt).

[152] This is the ordinary view; but G. A. Smith (The Book of the Twelve, p. 79: cf. p. 37) and Buhl (Geogr. des alten Pal., 1896, p. 202 f.) think that the Gilgal of Am. and Hos. is the modern Julêjîl, on the E. of the plain in front of Ebal and Gerizim (cf. Deuteronomy 11:30).

every morningevery three days] Generally understood as an ironical exaggeration: bring your sacrifices every morning, instead of, as the practice was, once a year (1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 1:21); and your tithes every three days, instead of, as it may be inferred from Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12 was an ancient custom, every three years. Still the exaggeration thus implied would be somewhat extreme; and Wellhausen (who is followed by Nowack, Heb. Arch. ii. 258) adopts another rendering (which the Hebrew equally permits), viz. “in the morning … on the third day,” supposing it to have been the custom of the pilgrims to bring their sacrifices on the morning after their arrival at Beth-el, and to pay their tithes on the third day. The routine of sacrifice is punctiliously observed: but the moral and spiritual temper of which it should be the expression is absent.

The custom of paying tithes was not peculiar to the Hebrews, but prevailed widely in antiquity: the Greeks, for instance, often rendered a tithe to the gods, on spoil taken in war, on the annual crops, on profits made by commerce, &c. By religious minds it was regarded as an expression of gratitude to the Deity, for the good things sent by Him to man; but it was often exacted as a fixed impost, payable, for instance, by the inhabitants of a particular district, for the maintenance of a priesthood or sanctuary. In the oldest Hebrew legislation, the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 21-23), no mention is made of tithes; but in the Deuteronomic legislation (7th cent. b.c.) the payment of tithes upon vegetable produce appears as an established custom, which the legislator partly presupposes, and partly regulates (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12). In Deut., in accordance with one of the fundamental aims of the book, payment at the central sanctuary (i.e. Jerusalem) is strongly insisted on: this passage shews that, at least in the Northern kingdom, it was customary to pay tithes at Beth-el. Probably, as Beth-el was an ancient sanctuary, this was a long-established practice there, the origin of which it seems to be the intention of Genesis 28:22 to attribute to the vow of the patriarch, Jacob. See further, on Hebrew tithe, and especially on the discrepancies between the Deuteronomic and the priestly legislation on the subject, the writer’s Commentary on Deuteronomy, pp. 168–173.

4–13. Here the people at large are addressed by the prophet, perhaps at some festal religious gathering.

And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
5. offer] make into sweet smoke (the Homeric κνίση, Il. I. 319), a term used technically of the consumption of sacrifices upon the altar (Leviticus 1:9, &c.). The idea is that of a repast: comp. Genesis 8:19. The root ḳatara in Arabic signifies to exhale an odour in roasting.

a sacrifice of thanksgiving] The tôdâh, or thanksgiving-offering, of Jeremiah 17:26; Jeremiah 33:11; Leviticus 7:12-13; Leviticus 7:15; Leviticus 22:29; 2 Chronicles 29:31; 2 Chronicles 33:16; Psalm 56:12, c. title, Psalm 107:22, Psalm 116:17.

with leaven] of that which is leavened (R.V.). “Leaven,”—a term including, as Leviticus 2:11 shews, not only yeast, but also dibs or grape-honey,—was forbidden as an ingredient in sacrifices (Exodus 23:18; Leviticus 2:11; Leviticus 6:17) on account of its liability to putrefy. In Leviticus 7:14 cakes of leavened bread are, it is true, to be offered with the thanksgiving offering: they are not, however, to be consumed upon the altar, but to be eaten by the offerer, with the flesh of the offering, at a sacrificial feast: the leaven was thus not a part of the sacrifice itself. The custom of not offering leaven prevailed, it may be inferred, at Beth-el: the Israelites of Amos’s day, however, with mistaken zeal, thought to make their thanksgiving-offerings more acceptable by using yeast or grape-honey in their preparation. It is not improbable that luscious sacrifices of this kind were a feature in the Canaanite worship of Baal, and were for this reason viewed with particular disfavour by the prophet (cf. Hosea 3:1; W. R. Smith, O.T.J.C.1, p. 434; Rel. Sem.2 p. 220 f.).

proclaim free-will offerings and publish them] i.e. announce them ostentatiously (cf. Matthew 6:2; Matthew 23:5), and invite all the world to the sacrificial feast accompanying them. The free-will offerings are such as were prompted by the spontaneous devotion of the worshipper: they are mentioned in Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:17 as a common form of sacrifice.

this liketh you] lit. so ye love (Jeremiah 5:31): this is what pleases you; act accordingly: it is not Jehovah’s choice, and will not deliver you from the impending doom. To like in Old English = to please: so Deuteronomy 23:16, Esther 8:8.

And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
6. Famine.

And I also] i.e. And I on my part[153]—in return for your zeal in the observance of a merely external formalism.

[153] For this use of also comp. Genesis 20:6; Jdg 2:3; Jdg 2:21; 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 52:5. &c.; and see the Heb. Lexicon published by the Clarendon Press, s.v. נם, 4.

cleanness of teeth] An expressive description of a famine. Famines are often mentioned as a dreaded occurrence, or contingency, in Palestine: Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:13; 1 Kings 8:37; 1 Kings 18:2; 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 8:1; Ruth 1:1.

in all your cities] The famine had been felt in every part of the land.

returned unto me] The idea of ‘returning to God’ is very common in the Old Testament. Man has alienated himself from God: and the aim of God’s visitations, whether of mercy or judgement, as well as of the exhortations and admonitions of His prophets, is to effect his return to Him who is the source of his true good. See e.g. Hosea 6:1; Hosea 14:1-2; Isaiah 10:21; Isaiah 31:6; Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 30:2; Isaiah 55:7. In the N.T. ἐπιστρέφειν, Acts 3:19; Acts 9:35; Acts 11:21; Acts 14:15; Acts 15:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; and elsewhere. These and similar passages, in a later stage of theological thought, gave rise to the idea of “conversion.”

6–11. The five unheeded chastisements which have passed over Israel. The description of each ends with the pathetic refrain, indicating its failure to produce the desired effect, “Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith Jehovah” (cf. the refrain of Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 9:21; Isaiah 10:4).

“In the ancient world it was a settled belief that natural calamities like those here alluded to were the effects of the deity’s wrath. When Israel suffers from them the prophets take for granted that they are for the people’s punishment … And although some, perhaps rightly, have scoffed at the exaggerated form of the belief, that God is angry with the sons of men every time drought or floods happen, yet the instinct is sound which in all ages has led religious people to feel that such things are inflicted for moral purposes. In the economy of the universe there may be ends of a purely physical kind served by such disasters apart altogether from their meaning to man. But man at least learns from them that nature does not exist solely for feeding, clothing, and keeping him wealthy … Amos had the more need to explain those disasters as the work of God and His righteousness, because his contemporaries, while willing to grant Jehovah leadership in war, were tempted to attribute to the Canaanite gods of the land all power over the seasons [Hosea 2:5; Hosea 2:8]” (G. A. Smith, p. 162 f.; cf. Geogr. pp. 73–76).

And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
7–8. Drought.

And I also have withholden the winter-rain from you, when there were &c.]. The Heb. is not mâṭâr, but géshem, i.e. a burst of rain: the heavy rains of winter, which continue as a rule from the end of October to the end of February and are then followed by the ‘latter rain,’ or showers of March and April, which refresh and advance the ripening ears (see on Joel 2:23), had ceased prematurely; the crops were consequently deficient in fulness and strength, and the harvest (which comes in May) was seriously damaged. Something of the same sort happened in the winter of 1895; there had been hardly any rain since the Christmas of 1894, and in a report, dated Feb. 16, it was stated that unless rain fell shortly there would be great deficiency of water, as no houses had their cisterns full (G. A. Smith, p. 161). Géshem, though a general term for an abundant rain (as 1 Kings 17:14; 1 Kings 18:41; 1 Kings 18:44-45), is used specially of the heavy rains of winter in Song of Solomon 2:11; comp. Leviticus 26:4, Ezekiel 34:26, Joel 2:23 (see note).

I caused it to rain &c.] would cause it to rain … would be rained upon … would wither. The tenses, both here and to the end of the verse, are frequentative, indicating what had happened repeatedly.

piece] i.e. plot of land, or portion belonging to a particular proprietor (Ruth 2:3; Ruth 4:3; 2 Samuel 14:30). The same partial character of the rain-fall is still sometimes observable in Palestine.

So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
8. wandered &c.] would totter … but would not be satisfied: the frequentative tenses are continued. Eastern cities are dependent largely for their water upon underground cisterns in which the rain is collected and stored; but the quantity thus supplied in the more fortunate city would not suffice for the wants of so many more than its normal inhabitants. The word rendered wander means properly to move with an unsteady, uncertain gait, to totter; it is thus used of one drunken (Isaiah 24:20; Isaiah 29:9, Psalm 107:27 [R.V. stagger]), or blind (Lamentations 4:14), or, as Psalm 59:15 and here, of one exhausted for want of food (cf. of beggars, Psalm 109:10). Cf. ch. Amos 8:12. For droughts in Palestine, cf. Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 28:22; 1 Kings 8:35; 1 Kings 17:1 ff.; Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 14:2-6; Haggai 1:10 f.

I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
9. Blasting and mildew. The same two words in combination, Deuteronomy 28:22, 1 Kings 8:37, Haggai 2:17. Blasting (cf. Genesis 41:6; Genesis 41:23; Genesis 41:27, “blasted by the east wind”) denotes the disastrous effects produced by the scorching (Hosea 13:15; Jonah 4:8) and destructive (Job 27:21) ‘east wind,’ blowing up hotly from the desert. The ‘east wind’ of the O.T. is something very different from the ‘east wind,’ as known to us: it corresponds to the modern simoom or sirocco (Arab. sherḳîyeh, or ‘east’ wind,—applied, however, also to winds from the S.E. and S.),—hot winds which in Palestine come up suddenly with great violence, driving clouds of sand before them, and so “withering and burning the growing corn that no animal will touch a blade of it” (Van Lennep, Bible Lands, p. 238). Robinson gives a description of one which he experienced in the extreme S. of Judah (B.R[154], I. 195): “The wind had been all the morning north-east, but at 11 o’clock it suddenly changed to the south, and came upon us with violence and intense heat, until it blew a perfect tempest. The atmosphere was filled with fine particles of sand, forming a bluish haze; the sun was scarcely visible, his disk exhibiting only a dun and sickly hue; and the glow of the wind came upon our faces as from a burning oven.” See also ib. p. 207, II. 123; G. A. Smith, Geogr., pp. 67–69; and Wetzstein’s note in Delitzsch’s Commentary on Job 27:21. By mildew is meant “a blight, in which the ears turn untimely a pale yellow, and have no grain.” The Heb. word signifies (pale and unhealthy) greenness.

[154] .R. … Edw. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine (ed. 2, 1856).

when your gardens … increased &c.] R.V. the multitude of your gardens … hath the palmerworm devoured. Neither rendering is grammatically possible: the Hebrew is corrupt. Read, with Wellh., החרבתי for הרבות, and an excellent sense is at once obtained: “I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; and your fig-trees and your vines would [freq.] the shearer devour.” The shearer (gâzâm) is a name for a locust, so called from its destructiveness: see p. 85. A visitation of locusts was no uncommon occurrence in Palestine: for a vivid picture of their ravages, see Joel 1:4-12.

I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
10. Pestilence and the sword. By the pestilence (déber) is meant what we should term an epidemic accompanied by great mortality, such as under the insalubrious sanitary conditions of Eastern life, are of frequent occurrence: it is often mentioned in the Old Testament, and frequently threatened as a judgement, especially as the concomitant of a siege; e.g. Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:21; 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Samuel 24:15; Psalm 91:3; Psalm 91:6 (“the pestilence that walketh in darkness”); and often in Jeremiah (“the sword, the famine, and the pestilence”), as Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 21:7; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 29:17-18 &c., cf. Jeremiah 28:8; so in Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 6:11-12; Ezekiel 7:15 (“the sword without, the pestilence and the famine within”), Ezekiel 14:21 (one of Jehovah’s ‘four sore judgements’).

in the manner of Egypt] i.e. in the manner in which it is wont to visit Egypt (Isaiah 10:26 b), with the same severity and malignity. The climate of Egypt was proverbially insalubrious (Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:60, cf. Deuteronomy 28:27, “the boil of Egypt,” probably some malignant pestilential boil); and “throughout antiquity the north-east corner of the Delta was regarded with reason as the home of the Plague,” whence often, it is probable, it was brought into Israel by Philistine traders (see G. A. Smith, Geogr., pp. 157–160). Even in modern times, according to Sir G. Wilkinson (quoted by Dr Pusey), “a violent plague used formerly to occur about once in ten or twelve years. It was always less frequent at Cairo than at Alexandria.”

your young men have I slain &c.] alluding, doubtless, to the many defeats which, until Jeroboam’s accession brought a change of fortune, Israel had sustained during the Syrian wars: comp. 2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 13:22; 2 Kings 14:26.

and have taken away your horses] together with the captivity of your horses (= your captive horses); i.e. your captured horses were slaughtered, as well as your young men (cf. 2 Kings 13:7). Wellh. interprets as is done by A.V., though allowing that the construction is more Arabic than Hebrew.

I have made the stink of your camps to come up &c.] cf. Isaiah 34:3. The corpses of the slain soldiers were so numerous that they lay unburied on the ground, defiling the air with pestilential vapours.

I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
11. The earthquake. This, the most terrible visitation, is reserved for the last. The earthquake is not only the most unfamiliar and the most mysterious of all the judgements enumerated; it is also the most sudden and startling, as well as the most formidable: it is as instantaneous in its operation as it is irresistible: the destruction which it works can never be guarded against, and seldom escaped.

as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah] See Genesis 19:24-25; Genesis 19:28. The same stereotyped expression recurs Deuteronomy 29:23, Isaiah 13:19, Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40, to describe a disaster ending in a state of ruin and barren desolation. The word mahpçkhâh, ‘overturning,’ ‘overthrowing,’ is always used with reference to the Cities of the Plain, either directly, as here and in the passages quoted, or allusively (Isaiah 1:7): cf. hăphçkhâh, Genesis 19:29. The verb rendered ‘overthrow’ (hâphakh) is cognate: see Genesis 19:21; Genesis 19:25; Genesis 19:29; and cf. Jeremiah 20:16, Lamentations 4:6. The ‘overthrow’ of the Cities of the Plain was due, there is good reason to believe (see Tristram, Land of Israel, pp. 348 ff.; Dawson, Egypt and Syria, pp. 124 ff.), to an eruption of bitumen (which is abundant in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea); but this may well have been accompanied by an earthquake; and in any case the comparison here relates to the destructive effects of the calamity rather than to the particular agency by which it was brought about.

and ye—i.e. those of you who escaped—were as a firebrand pluckt out of the burning] i.e. as something scorched, charred, and almost consumed: so near were you to complete destruction. For the figure, comp. Zechariah 3:2; for the thought, Isaiah 1:9.

The only earthquake in Palestine, mentioned in the O.T. (1 Kings 19:11 hardly coming into account), is the one in the reign of Uzziah, two years after Amos prophesied (Amos 1:1), which, to judge from the terms in which it is referred to long afterwards in Zechariah 14:5, must have been one of exceptional severity. Dr Pusey, in his Commentary, has collected, with great learning, from Ritter’s Erdkunde (chiefly vol. xvii.) and other sources, notices of the principal earthquakes affecting Palestine on record. On the whole, the borders of Palestine, rather than central Palestine, appear to have been the regions mostly affected. “The line chiefly visited by earthquakes was along the coast of the Mediterranean, or parallel to it, chiefly from Tyre to Antioch and Aleppo. Here were the great historical earthquakes, which were the scourges of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Botrys, Tripolis, Laodicea on the sea; which scattered Litho-prosopon, prostrated Baalbek and Hamath, and so often afflicted Antioch and Aleppo, while Damascus was mostly spared. Eastward it may have reached to Safed, Tiberias, and the Hauran,”—all, especially the Hauran, volcanic regions. Josephus (Ant. xv. 5, 2) mentions an earthquake occurring b.c. 31 in Judaea, in which some 30,000 persons perished under the ruined houses. Ar-Moab was destroyed by an earthquake in the childhood of St Jerome. The terrible earthquake of Jan. 1, 1837, affected not only Palestine, as far south as Hebron, but also many places on the north, from Beirut on the west to Damascus on the east. Robinson (B.R[155] ii. 529–531, cf. 422 f.) cites a graphic account of the havoc wrought by it at Safed, a little N.W. of the Sea of Tiberias. “Up to this moment I had refused to credit the accounts; but one frightful glance convinced me that it was not in the power of language to overstate such a ruin … Safed was, but is not.” The town was built around and upon a very steep hill; and hence when the shock came, the houses above were dashed down upon those below, causing an almost unprecedented destruction of life. “As far as the eye can reach, nothing was to be seen but one vast chaos of stones and earth, timber and boards, tables, chairs, &c. On all faces despair and dismay were painted; in numerous families, single members alone survived, in many cases mortally wounded. Eighteen days afterwards the earth continued to tremble and shake; and when a shock came more violent than the others, the people rushed out from the ruins in dismay, many began to pray with loud and lamentable cries, and females beat their bare breasts with all their strength, and tore their garments in despair.”

[155] .R. … Edw. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine (ed. 2, 1856).

Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
12. The sentence. All warnings have passed unheeded: no amendment is visible in the people; Jehovah must therefore proceed now to still more extreme measures. What these measures are, however, is not explicitly stated,—in order, doubtless, that Israel, roused to alarm by the prospect of unnamed but not therefore unimaginable evils, may be moved the more effectually to penitence.

Therefore thus will I do unto thee] By thus the prophet points his hearers forwards to the threatened, but unnamed, judgments still impending.

prepare to meet thy God] as He approaches, viz. in judgement. The implication is, prepare thyself to meet Him, so that thou mayest be acquitted; a last chance of amendment is offered to the heedless nation,—or at least to those members of it whom the five-fold chastisement has spared; if they will but avail themselves of it, the Judge may be moved to mercy, and the sentence be mitigated.

For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.
13. A verse describing the majesty and omnipotence of the Judge, and suggesting consequently a motive why His will should be obeyed, and His anger averted. He is the Maker both of the solid mountains, and of the invisible yet sometimes formidable and destructive wind: He knows the secrets of man’s heart, and can, if He pleases, declare them to him; He can darken with the storm the brightness of heaven, and march in the thunder-cloud over the high places of the earth: Yahweh of Hosts is His name!

formeth the mountains] or fashioneth, the word used (yâẓar) denoting properly the work of the potter. It is often used figuratively of the Divine operation; e.g. Genesis 2:7-8; Genesis 2:19 (animals and man); Isaiah 45:18 (the earth); Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 44:2; Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 44:24 (the people of Israel); Isaiah 43:7, Jeremiah 1:5 (an individual man); Jeremiah 10:16 (the universe): and even of framing or planning in the Divine purpose, Isaiah 22:21; Isaiah 37:26; Isaiah 46:11; Jeremiah 18:11; Jeremiah 33:2.

createth] bârâ means properly to cut (see Joshua 17:15; Joshua 17:18), and hence to fashion by cutting, to shape; but, in the conjugation here used, it is employed exclusively of God, to denote, viz., the production, in virtue of powers possessed by God alone, of something fundamentally new. The verb does not in itself express the idea of creatio ex nihilo (though it was probably in usage often felt to denote this); but it implies the possession of a sovereign transforming, or productive, energy, altogether transcending what is at the disposal of man. It is used chiefly of the formation of the material cosmos (or of parts of it), as Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 40:28; Isaiah 45:12; Isaiah 45:18, and here; but it may also be applied to a nation, as Israel (Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:15), or to an individual man (Isaiah 54:16), and figuratively to new conditions or circumstances, &c. beyond the power of man to bring about (Exodus 34:10; Numbers 16:30; Jeremiah 31:22; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 48:7; Isaiah 65:17). The idea expressed by the word was more frequently dwelt upon in the later stages of Israel’s religion; it is accordingly particularly frequent (in various applications) in Deutero-Isaiah. See further Schultz, O. T. Theol. ii. 180 ff. It is parallel, as here, to yâẓar, to form, in Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 45:18.

and declareth unto man what is his thought] his musing, meditation. The word occurs only here: but one hardly different is found 1 Samuel 1:16 (“complaint,” lit. musing), 1 Kings 18:27, Psalm 104:34 al. The agency employed may be the prophet, declaring to man his secret purposes (cf. Acts 5:3 f., 9), or conscience, suddenly revealing to him the true gist and nature of his designs. The pron. his might in the abstract refer to God (cf. Amos 3:7); but the word rendered musing does not seem one that would be used very naturally of the Divine purpose.

that maketh the morning darkness] viz. suddenly blackening the clear sky with the dark masses of storm-cloud. In the thunderstorm, the Hebrews conceived Jehovah to be borne along within the clouds (Psalm 18:9-13; cf. on ch. Amos 1:2): the picture of Jehovah darkening the heavens with the gathering storm thus leads on naturally to the clause which follows.

and treadeth—or marchethupon the high places of the earth] viz. in the thunder-cloud, as it sweeps along the hills. For the expression, comp. (of Israel) Deuteronomy 32:13; Isaiah 58:14; (of Jehovah) Micah 1:3 : also Job 9:8 (“who marcheth upon the high places of the sea”).

Jehovah of hosts, is his name] The title is expressive of majesty and omnipotence: see on Amos 3:13. It stands in the same emphatic formula as here, Amos 5:27 (‘God of hosts’); Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 51:15; Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 10:16 (= Jeremiah 51:19), Jeremiah 31:35, Jeremiah 32:18, Jeremiah 46:18, Jeremiah 48:15, Jeremiah 50:34, Jeremiah 51:57.

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