Amos 5
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This section of the prophecy falls naturally into three parts, Amos 5:1-27, Amos 6:1-14, each drawing out, in different terms, the moral grounds of Israel’s impending ruin, and ending with a similar outlook of invasion, or exile.

-1Amos 5:1-17. Israel continuing to shew no signs of amendment, there remains nothing but inevitable ruin; and the prophet accordingly begins to sing his elegy over the impending fall of the kingdom, which in spirit he beholds already as consummated (Amos 5:1-3). Israel deserves this fate, for it has done the very opposite of what God demands: God demanded obedience, judgement, and mercy; Israel has persistently practised the reverse, and has acted so as to call down upon itself a just retribution (Amos 5:4-11). Its state is desperate (Amos 5:12 f.); certainly, even now it is not too late to amend, and the prophet again in treats it earnestly to do so (Amos 5:14 f.); but he sees only too well that his words will not be listened to; and again therefore he draws in outline a dark picture of the calamities impending upon the nation.

Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel.
1. a dirge] Heb. ḳînâh, which signifies, not a spontaneous effusion of natural emotion, but a composition, longer or shorter as the case might be, constructed with some art in a definite poetical form, and chanted usually by women, whose profession it was to attend mourning ceremonies for the purpose (cf. Jeremiah 9:17; and see below on Amos 5:16). To take up (i.e. on the lips) is said regularly of a ‘ḳînâh’: e.g. Jeremiah 7:29; Ezekiel 19:1; Ezekiel 26:17; Ezekiel 27:2, &c. The ḳînâh, which the prophet has here in view follows in Amos 5:2.

The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up.
2. The virgin of Israel is fallen, " she shall no more rise;

She is cast down upon her land, " there is none to raise her up.

This is the ‘ḳînâh,’ written in a peculiar rhythm, which has been shewn (by Prof. K. Budde, now of Strassburg) to be that regularly used for Hebrew elegy. As a rule, in Hebrew poetry, the second of two parallel members balances the first, being approximately similar in length and structure, and presenting a thought either synonymous with it, or antithetic to it; but in the Hebrew elegy, the second member is shorter than the first, and instead of balancing and re-enforcing it, echoes it imperfectly, producing a plaintive, melancholy cadence. This rhythmical form prevails throughout most of the Book of ‘Lamentations,’ for instance, Amos 1:1 :—

How doth the city sit solitary, " she that was full of people!

She is become as a widow, " she that was great among the nations;

The princess among the provinces, " she is become tributary.

It is also observable elsewhere, where a ‘ḳînâh’ is announced, as Jeremiah 9:10 b–11:—

From the fowl of heaven even unto cattle, " they are fled, they are gone:

And I will make Jerusalem to be heaps, " an habitation of jackals;

And the cities of Judah will I make a desolation, " without inhabitant.

In the verses here quoted, each line, it will be observed, consists of two unequal parts, the second halting after the first, and being (in the Hebrew) appreciably shorter. For other examples of the “ḳînâh,” or dirge, see 2 Samuel 1:17 ff; 2 Samuel 3:33-34, Ezekiel 19:1-14; Ezekiel 26:17-18; Ezekiel 32:2-16[156]. (In A.V., R.V., the subst. and corresponding verbs are rendered lamentation, lament; but these are suited better to express nĕhî, nâhâh: see on Amos 5:16.)

[156] See further the writer’s Introduction, p. 429 f.

the virgin of Israel] The nation is personified, being pictured as a maiden, no longer erect and blithefully going her way, but wounded and prostrate on the ground, unable to rise by her own efforts (having none to assist her (cf. Isaiah 1:17 f. of Jerusalem). This is the earliest extant example of the personification of a nation, or community, as a woman,—a maiden or a mother, as the case may be: but it becomes common afterwards in Hebrew poetry, the figure being adopted especially with effect when it is desired to represent some keen or strong emotion, and being employed sometimes with great dramatic force. See, for example, with virgin, Jeremiah 18:13; Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 31:21; with virgin daughter, Isaiah 37:22 (“the virgin daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head after thee”), Isaiah 47:1, Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 46:11; with daughter (alone) Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 10:30; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 22:4; Isaiah 47:5, Jeremiah 6:26; Jeremiah 9:1, Micah 4:10; Micah 4:13, Zephaniah 3:14, Zechariah 9:9 (“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem”); and with the feminine indicated (in the Hebrew) by the termination, Isaiah 12:6 (see R.V. marg.), Isaiah 49:17 f., Isaiah 51:17-20, Jeremiah 10:17 (see R.V. marg.), Jeremiah 22:23 (see ib.).

is fallen] The tense is the prophetic past, describing the future as the prophet in imagination sees it, already accomplished. Cf. Amos 8:14.

is forsaken] Rather, is cast down (R.V.), or lieth forsaken (R.V. marg.), i.e. is abandoned, left to die where she had fallen: cf. Ezekiel 29:5 (R.V. “leave thee (thrown) into the wilderness”), Ezekiel 32:4 (“And I will leave thee forsaken upon the land, I will throw thee forth upon the face of the field”). Such an announcement as this, made in the height of the prosperity secured by Jeroboam II, would naturally be a startling one to those who heard it.

For thus saith the Lord GOD; The city that went out by a thousand shall leave an hundred, and that which went forth by an hundred shall leave ten, to the house of Israel.
3. The justification of the mournful anticipation of Amos 5:2 : Jehovah has declared that the military strength of the nation will be reduced, by defeat or other causes, to one tenth of what it now is.

For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:
4–10. Proof that Israel merits the fate which has just been pronounced against it: it has sought Jehovah by a ritual which He does not value, and it has spurned the virtues which He really prizes.

Seek ye me, and ye shall live] The Heb. is more forcible and concise: ‘Seek ye me, and live’: cf. Genesis 42:18 ‘This do, and live.’ To seek God was a standing expression for consulting Him by a prophet, or an oracle, even on purely secular matters (cf. Genesis 25:22; Exodus 18:15; 1 Samuel 9:9; 2 Kings 3:11; 2 Kings 8:8; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 22:18; Jeremiah 37:7; Ezekiel 14:3; Ezekiel 20:1; Ezekiel 20:3); but it is also used of seeking or caring for (Jeremiah 30:14) Him more generally, by paying regard to His revealed will, and studying to please Him by the practice of a righteous and holy life, Hosea 10:12; Isaiah 9:13; Jeremiah 10:21; Zephaniah 1:6; Isaiah 55:6; Isaiah 58:2; Isaiah 65:10; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 24:6; Psalm 34:10; Psalm 78:34, &c. The latter is the sense, which the expression has here. Seek ye me, says the prophet, in Jehovah’s name, by the means that I approve, and you will live, i.e. escape the threatened destruction.

But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.
5. But seek me not, as I am sought by the worshippers at Beth-el and your other sanctuaries: their end will be only destruction.

seek not Beth-el] Here ‘seek’ is used in the first of the two senses indicated on Amos 5:4 : comp. (in connexion with a place) Deuteronomy 12:5. On ‘Beth-el’ and ‘Gilgal,’ see on Amos 3:14 and Amos 4:4.

and cross not over to Beer-sheba] i.e. pass not over the frontiers to it. Beer-sheba was situated in the extreme south of Judah (comp. the expression “from Dan even to Beersheba”), some 50 miles S.S.W. of Jerusalem, and 30 miles S.W. of Hebron; hence it lay far beyond the territory of Israel, and a visit to it must have been the occasion of a special pilgrimage. Beer-sheba was an ancient sanctuary, hallowed by associations of the patriarchs (Genesis 21:31-33; Genesis 22:19; Genesis 26:23-25; Genesis 26:31-33; Genesis 28:10; Genesis 46:1): it is mentioned as an important place in 1 Samuel 8:2; and in Amos’ time it was a popular resort for pilgrims from N. Israel. No doubt Beer-sheba, situated as it was on the edge of the desert, owed its importance to its wells, two of which, yielding a copious supply of pure and clear water, still remain.

for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity] into exile (on Amos 1:5). In the Hebrew there is a play on the name Gilgal (gâlôh yigleh): it suggested to the ear (though not, of course, etymologically) the word gâlâh, to ‘go into exile,’ and the prophet declares, so to say, that its fate will fulfil the omen of its name, its end will be exile. There is another play of the same kind in Hosea 12:11 Gilead and Gilgal will become gallim, ruined heaps, on the furrows of the field: see also, with other place-names, Isaiah 10:30; Isaiah 15:9; Jeremiah 6:1; Micah 1:10-11; Micah 1:13-14; Zephaniah 2:4.

and Beth-el shall come to nought] shall come to trouble. Here also there is a play on the name, though one of a different kind. “Beth-el,” ‘House of God,’ as a seat of unspiritual worship, was called in mockery (see Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5; cf. Hosea 10:8) “Beth-aven,” ‘House of trouble (or idols’); and Amos, playing on the double application of the word, says that it shall become a trouble,—no source of strength or support to its frequenters, but a cause of trouble; it will be ruined itself, and will bring them to ruin likewise. The play may have been suggested by the fact that there was actually, a little E. of Bethel, a place called Beth-aven (Joshua 7:2; Joshua 18:12; 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Samuel 14:23). (The rend. ‘come to nought’ is too strong, though ‘come to vanity’ would be permissible (see Isaiah 41:29, Zechariah 10:2): âven seems to have included the ideas of what is wearisome, troubling, disappointing, valueless; and hence it may denote, according to the context, trouble, worthless conduct (iniquity), a worthless state (vanity, ruin), and also worthless things, i.e. idols, 1 Samuel 15:23, Isaiah 66:3; cf. the passages of Hosea just quoted; also Amos 1:5 with the note.)

Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.
6. Seek Jehovah, &c.] The exhortation of Amos 5:4 is repeated, and enforced with a fresh motive—lest a fire, namely, kindled by Jehovah, advance irresistibly, and spread irretrievable destruction in Israel.

break out] lit. come mightily, advance forcibly. It is the word used of the spirit of God coming mightily upon Samson (Jdg 14:6; Jdg 14:19; Jdg 15:14), Saul (1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 11:6), and David (1 Samuel 16:13). The comparison of Jehovah to a fire, as Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 10:17; cf. Deuteronomy 32:22; Jeremiah 4:4 (“lest my fury go forth as fire, and burn, and there be none to quench it”; so Jeremiah 21:12).

house of Joseph] i.e. the Northern kingdom generally, Joseph being the ancestor of its most powerful tribe, Ephraim (which accordingly is used often by Hosea in the same sense). Song of Solomon 5:15; Song of Solomon 6:6; Obadiah 1:18; Zechariah 10:6; Psalm 78:67; cf. Ezekiel 37:16; Ezekiel 37:19.

for Beth-el] named specially as the principal religious centre of Israel.

Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,
7. Jehovah demands righteousness: the prophet, with passion and indignation, declares abruptly how far Israel is from righteousness, and then proceeds to announce again the doom which it may in consequence confidently expect. As before (Amos 2:6-8, Amos 4:1), Israel’s crying sin is neglect of civil justice, and oppression of the poor: it is the aristocracy who arouse the moral indignation of Amos, as afterwards, in Judah, they aroused that of Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah.

turn judgment to wormwood] Instead of being something wholesome and grateful, it is bitter and cruel to those who have to receive it. For wormwood (always as a figure for something bitter), cf. Amos 6:12; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Lamentations 3:15; Lamentations 3:19; Proverbs 5:4; Revelation 8:11. The plant in question (Heb. la‘ǎnâh; Aq. [Prov. and Jer.] ἀψίνθιον, whence Vulg. [everywhere] apsinthium: LXX. paraphrases,—in Amos 6:12 by πικρία) is a species of the genus Artemisium, of which several varieties are found in Palestine (Tristram, N.H.[157]. p. 493; Fauna and Flora of Palestine, p. 331).

[157] .H.B … H. B. Tristram, Natural History of the Bible (1868).

and lay righteousness down on the earth] instead of maintaining it erect, in its place (cf. Amos 5:15), they (Pusey) ‘dethrone’ it, and lay it (Isaiah 28:2) ignominiously on the ground: we should rather say, ‘trample it under foot’ (Hitz.). ‘Righteousness,’ as the context shews, means here civil justice (as 2 Samuel 8:15, Jeremiah 22:3, and frequently). The virtue is almost personified (cf. Isaiah 59:14).

Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:
8–9. Two verses, intended (like Amos 4:13) to remind the disobedient Israelites of the power and majesty of Him, whose will they defy, and whose judgements they provoke, the Creator and Ruler of the world. The verses are introduced abruptly, and interrupt somewhat violently the connexion between Amos 5:7 and Amos 5:10 : if the text be sound, we must suppose the participle with which they open to be in apposition with ‘Jehovah,’ implicit in the prophet’s thought (cf. Isaiah 40:22). According to some (see p. 117) the two verses did not form part of the original text of Amos: according to Ewald they should precede Amos 5:7, which, especially if it be assumed to have once begun with הוי Ah! (as Amos 5:18, Amos 6:1), would then open very suitably a new paragraph. (The Hebrew of Amos 5:7; Amos 5:10 will admit equally of the renderings ‘(Ye) who turn …, who hate …, and abhor,’ and “[Ah!] they that turn …, that hate …,” &c.).

the seven stars] an old English name of the Pleiades: see e.g. Shakespeare, 1 Henry IV. i. 2, 6 “We that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars” (W. A. Wright, Bible Word-Book, 1884, p. 533). In Job 9:9; Job 38:31 the same Hebrew word is rendered the Pleiades.

Orion] also named Job 9:9; Job 38:31, and in the plural (= constellations), Isaiah 13:10. The Heb. is kěsîl, which also signifies ‘fool.’ It is not improbable that the name preserves an allusion to some ancient mythological idea, according to which the brilliant and conspicuous constellation was originally some fool-hardy, heaven-daring rebel, who was chained to the sky for his impiety. In Job 9:9; Job 38:31 f. the Pleiades and Orion (with the Bear) are referred to, as here, as evidence of the creative might of God. They attracted notice at an early period among the Greeks also, partly perhaps, on account of their brilliancy, and partly because their risings and settings with the Sun marked the seasons. Comp. Hom. Il. xviii. 486–9:—Πληϊάδας θʼ Ὑάδας τε τό τε σθένος Ὠρίωνος, Ἄρκτον θʼ ἢν καὶ ἄμαξαν ἐπίκλησιν καλέουσιν, Ἥ τʼ αὐτοῦ στρέφεται καί τʼ Ὠρίωνα δοκεύει, Οἴη δʼ ἄμμορός ἐστι λοετρῶν Ὠκεανοῖο (see also xxii. 26–31; Od. v. 272–275).

turneth blackest darkness into morning] i.e. causes morning to follow night.

shadow of death] (i.e. of the abode of death, Sheol; cf. Job 10:21-22; Job 38:17) is the traditional rendering (found already in LXX.), but it is rejected by most modern scholars (e.g. Kirkpatrick on Psalm 23:4) on the ground (chiefly) that ‘shadow’ is not in the O.T. a figure for gloom, though it has the weighty support of Nöldeke (Z.A.T.W[158] 1897, p. 183 ff.), who points out that the rival explanation darkness (from the Arabic) is also not free from objection. Whatever, however, be the etymology of the term, there is no dispute that deepest, thickest darkness is what it denotes.

[158] .A.T.W.Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft.

maketh the day dark with night] darkeneth the day into night, brings the day to an end in night. The two clauses describe Jehovah as author of the regular alternation of day and night.

that calleth for the waters of the sea, &c.] repeated Amos 9:6. Cf. Job 12:15 b. The reference is either to the extraordinary inundation of low-lying districts, caused, for instance, by high winds (perhaps with an allusion to the Deluge of Noah), or to violent and long-continued rains if (“poureth them out”), which another poet also seems to speak of as drawn up originally from the sea (Job 36:27-28; Job 36:30, R.V. marg.).

calleth] a fine figure; the waters hear His voice, and immediately obey it: cf. Isaiah 48:13; Job 38:34.

Jehovah is his name] So Amos 9:6; Jeremiah 33:2. Cf. the similar close to the enumeration of Jehovah’s powers in Amos 4:13.

That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.
9. That strengthened the spoiled against the strong &c.] that causeth devastation to flash forth (R.V. marg.) upon the strong, so that devastation cometh (R.V.) upon the fortress. From illustrations of Jehovah’s power as displayed in the physical government of the world, the prophet passes to examples supplied by the moral government of the world: He brings sudden destruction upon the mighty, so that even their strongest fortresses cannot save them. The word rendered strengtheneth occurs also Job 9:27; Job 10:20, Psalm 39:13, and a cognate subst. in Jeremiah 8:18. The meaning was forgotten by the Jews; and hence the mediaeval commentators, as David Kimchi, conjectured a sense to strengthen or become strong, more or less consonant with the context in the various passages where the word occurred, which was followed by the Auth. Version of 1611 (in Job and Jer. comfort myself, or take comfort [Lat. ‘comfortare’]; in Psalms 39 recover strength; and here strengtheneth). When, however, subsequently, Arabic was again studied, and compared (especially by Alb. Schultens) with the cognate Semitic languages, the true meaning of the word was speedily discovered: balija, the corresponding word in Arabic, is to have a clear, uncontracted brow, then figuratively, to have a bright, cheerful countenance, or more generally, to be joyous; applied to the dawn, or the sun, to be bright, shine brightly (see Schultens, Origines Hebracae, 1761, p. 19. f.; Lane, Arab. Lex. p. 245). One or other of these meanings suits all the passages in which the word occurs in Hebrew: accordingly in R.V. Job 9:27 is rendered be of good cheer, with marg. “Heb. brighten up”; Job 10:20, Psalm 39:13 the old renderings are retained, but the same margin is repeated: here the text (“bringeth sudden destruction”) is also a paraphrase, but the more literal rendering is given on the margin, “causeth destruction to flash forth.”—The repetition of the same word in the two clauses is inelegant: the LXX. for the second שד (‘devastation’) read probably שבר, destruction; cf. Isaiah 59:7; Isaiah 60:18.

They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.
10. The prophet reverts to the subject of Amos 5:7, which was interrupted by Amos 5:8-9.

They hate him that reproveth in the gate, &c.] They are heedless (Amos 5:7) of the claims of justice: they will not listen either to the exposure of wrong-doing or to the defence of innocence, in the public place of judgement. The same phrase, ‘the reprover in the gate,’ in a similar connexion, recurs Isaiah 29:21 : it denotes the person, whether judge or advocate, who indicts, impeaches, seeks to convict, the wrong-doer; cf. Job 13:10; Job 22:4, and the corresponding subst. ‘reproof,’ or ‘indictment’ (R.V. ‘reasoning’), Job 13:6 The ‘gate’—more exactly the ‘gate-way,’ with a depth corresponding to the thickness of the wall, in which it was constructed, and no doubt with seats along each side—is the Oriental forum: and it is often alluded to as the place in which the ‘elders’ sat, and justice was administered (e.g. Amos 5:12; Amos 5:15; Deuteronomy 21:19; Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2; Ruth 4:11; Job 31:21; Psalm 127:5).

him that speaketh uprightly] sincerely or blamelessly (Jdg 9:16; Psalm 15:2); any one who comes forward to speak honestly in defence of the innocent, is the object of their undisguised ‘abhorrence.’ Abhor forms a climax upon hate: cf. Psalm 5:5 b, 6b.

Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.
11. The penalty for such unjust oppression of the poor is the oppressors’ own disappointment and spoliation: the houses and vineyards on which they lavished their money, and from which they expected much enjoyment, will be violently taken from them.

Therefore, because ye trample upon the poor, and take from him exactions of wheat] The allusion is not specially to bribes exacted of the poor as the price of justice, but to the presents which the poor fellahin had to offer to the grasping aristocrats, out of the hard-won produce of their toil.

ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them, &c.] For the form of the threat, comp. Deuteronomy 28:30; Deuteronomy 28:38-39; Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13; and contrast the promise of Amos 9:14. Houses of ‘hewn stone’ are houses of exceptional solidity and beauty, such as might be built by the wealthy (cf. Isaiah 9:10).

For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.
12. For I know how manifold are your transgressions, and how mighty are your sins] Jehovah’s knowledge of what they imagine He is ignorant of (Psalm 73:11; Job 22:13), is the ground of the sentence expressed in Amos 5:11.

they afflict the just] Amos 2:6, Amos 3:9 f., &c.

they take a bribe] a ransom or price of a life, the proper meaning of the word (kôpher—not shôḥad); see e.g. Exodus 21:30, and especially Numbers 35:31, where the Israelites are strictly forbidden to “take a ransom (kôpher)” for the life of a murderer. But here the venal judges are represented as accepting such a ‘kôpher’; thus the rich murderer was acquitted, while the innocent, if unable to pay the price which the judge demanded, could get no redress for his wrongs.

turn aside the needy in the gate] The ‘gate,’ as Amos 5:10 : “turn aside” (sc. from their right, Isaiah 10:2), as Isaiah 29:21; Malachi 3:5.

12–13. Israel’s desperate moral condition, a justification of the sentence just pronounced upon it.

Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
13. In a time such as that, the prudent man will keep silence; a complaint, or accusation, or attempt to redress the wrongs which he sees about him, will be perilous to him, if he be in a good position, and will only add to his sufferings, if he be poor.

shall keep] will keep, viz. if he is guided by his prudence.

in that time] not, at a future time, but at a time such as that which has been just described.

an evil time] a time when a man may well be anxious for his personal safety (cf. Psalm 49:5).

Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
14–15. Amos reiterates more earnestly the exhortation of Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6 : if Israel will but amend its ways, perchance even yet there may be a remnant to which Jehovah will be gracious.

Seek] The same word as Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6, but followed by an abstract object, in the sense of be studious, anxious about (cf. Isaiah 1:17, ‘seek judgment.’

and so … as ye say] and Jehovah will then be with you to defend you in reality, exactly as you say (cf. Micah 3:11) that He actually is now. For the thought, cf. Amos 5:18 : the Israelites, so long as their material prosperity continued, imagined that Jehovah was with them, as their patron and defender; Amos replies that the real condition of His being with them is the moral goodness of their lives. Jehovah’s power to defend is hinted at significantly by the title ‘God of hosts’ (on Amos 3:13). So points on to, and strengthens, the following as, exactly as in Exodus 10:10.

Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
15. The exhortation of Amos 5:14 is repeated in yet stronger terms: Hate the evil, and love the good. Cf. Isaiah 1:16 f.

establish judgment in the gate] Rather, set up firmly, set it standing, opposed to lay it on the ground, Amos 5:7. Judgement, like righteousness in Amos 5:7, is pictured as a concrete object, and almost personified: cf. Isaiah 59:14.

the remnant of Joseph] The prophet can hardly be thinking of the remnant to which ‘Joseph’ (Amos 5:6) had already been reduced by its many calamities (Amos 4:6-11); for he represents Israel in general as still wealthy and prosperous (cf. Amos 6:13). No doubt he has mentally in view the ‘remnant,’ to which he sees that before long it will have been actually reduced (cf. Amos 3:12), and which he pictures implicitly as including those who respond now to his present invitation to repent; a remnant, such as this, may peradventure merit Jehovah’s mercy (comp. Amos 9:8 f.). The passage contains in germ the doctrine of the preservation, through judgement, of a faithful remnant, which became shortly afterwards a distinctive feature in the teaching of Isaiah.

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 husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing.
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.

And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD.
17. The wailing will embrace even the vineyards, which, as the season of vintage came round, were annually the scenes of mirth and hilarity (Isaiah 16:10).

for I will pass through the midst of thee] viz. as a destroyer (cf. Exodus 12:12), guiding, as it were, the foe by whose agency Amos conceives the disaster to be accomplished.

-2Amos 5:18-27. A rebuke, addressed to those who desired the “Day of Jehovah,” and trusted to the splendour and regularity of their religious services, to secure for them Jehovah’s favour. They have mistaken the principles upon which Jehovah acts: His ‘day,’ when it arrives, will be a day on which, so far from sparing them for their zealous discharge of ritual observances, He will consign them to exile for their disregard of moral obligations.

Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.
18. Woe unto you that] Ah! they that.… The interjection Hôy (the same as that used in 1 Kings 13:30 &c. quoted on Amos 5:16) implies commiseration rather than denunciation. It is used frequently, as here, to introduce an announcement of judgement: Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:20-22; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 29:15 &c. (WoeIsaiah 3:9; Isaiah 3:11; Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 24:16 &c., is a different word, and is followed by the prep. to).

the day of Jehovah] i.e. the day in which Jehovah manifests Himself in triumph over His foes. The expression is based probably upon the Hebrew use of day as equivalent to day of battle or victory (Ezekiel 13:5; cf. Isaiah 9:4, the ‘day’ of Midian, i.e. the day of victory over Midian). From the present passage it appears to have been a current popular idea that Jehovah would one day manifest Himself, and confer some crowning victory upon His people: Amos points out that whether that will be so or not, depends upon Israel’s moral condition; the ‘day of Jehovah,’ such as the people imagine, would not be necessarily a day of victory to Israel over foreign powers, but a day in which Jehovah’s righteousness would be vindicated against sin, whether among foreign nations or His own people: so long therefore as Israel neglects to amend its ways, and continues to treat ritual as a substitute for morality, it will find Jehovah’s day to be the reverse of what it anticipates, a day not of triumph but of disaster. The ‘day of Jehovah,’ as thus understood by Amos, becomes a figure which is afterwards often employed by the prophets in their pictures of impending judgement. The conception places out of sight the human agents, by whom actually the judgement, as a rule, is effected, and regards the decisive movements of history as the exclusive manifestation of Jehovah’s purpose and power. The prophets, in adopting the figure, develope it under varying imagery, suggested partly by the occasion, partly by their own imagination. Thus Isaiah (Isaiah 2:12-21) represents it as directed against the various objects of pride and strength which Judah had accumulated in the days of Uzziah; Joel (Amos 2:1 ff.) derives his imagery from a recent visitation of locusts (as described in ch. 1): for other examples, see Zephaniah 1:7; Zephaniah 1:14-16; Isaiah 13:6-10; Isaiah 24:8; Joel 3:14-16. Comp. further W. R. Smith, Prophets, pp. 397 f.; Schultz, O.T. Theol. ii. 354 ff.; Davidson on Zephaniah 1:7.

to what end is it for you?] what good will it do you? See Genesis 27:46, where substantially the same Hebrew expression is thus paraphrased in A.V., R.V.

darkness, and not light] figures, respectively, of disaster, and of prosperity or relief, as often in the Hebrew poets: see e.g. Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 8:22; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 58:8; Isaiah 59:9; Jeremiah 13:16.

18–20. Those who desire the “Day of Jehovah,” as though it could be anything but an interposition in their favour, will find to their surprise that it is a day fraught with peril and disaster.

As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.
19. Examples of a condition beset by perils, in which men escape from one danger, only to fall into another, perhaps worse.

a bear] Bears are now found only in the far north of Palestine, about Mount Hermon, but they were once common in all parts of the country, and were dangerous both to human beings (2 Kings 2:24; Lamentations 3:10) and to sheep (1 Samuel 17:34): the bear is coupled with the lion, also, in Lamentations 3:10.

and entered into the house &c.] taking refuge from the bear, and encountered there an unsuspected danger, being bitten by a serpent which had concealed itself in a crevice of the wall.

Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
20. An emphatic repetition of the thought of Amos 5:18, after the illustration of Amos 5:19.

I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
21. I hate, I reject your feast days] your pilgrimages, ḥaggim denoting not feasts or festivals in general, but in particular the three great annual feasts (viz. of Unleavened Cakes, Weeks, and Booths), which were accompanied by a pilgrimage to a sanctuary, and at which, according to the old law, every male was required to appear yearly before Jehovah (Exodus 23:14; Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16 f.). Ḥag (the sing.) is the same word as the Arab. ḥaj, the name by which the great Meccan pilgrimage is known. Reject, as Jeremiah 2:37; Jeremiah 6:30 al.; cf. on Amos 2:4.

I will not smell in] fig. for take no delight in (R.V.): cf. Leviticus 26:31 and Isaiah 11:3.

solemn assemblies] ‘ăẓârâh (or ‘ăẓéreth) means a gathering or assembly (Jeremiah 9:2), especially one held for a religious purpose, πανήγυρις, as 2 Kings 10:20 (in honour of Ba‘al): it is used here in a general sense, as Isaiah 1:13 (where the thought also is parallel), Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15; but it is also used specially (a) of the gathering of pilgrims on the 7th day of the Feast of Unleavened Cakes (Deuteronomy 16:8); (b) of the gathering on the 8th or supernumerary day of the Feast of Booths (Leviticus 25:30; Numbers 29:35; Nehemiah 8:18; 2 Chronicles 7:9); (c) by the later Jews, of the Feast of Weeks, Jos. Ant. iii. 10, 6 (Ἀσάρθα), and in the Mishna, &c.

21–26. Do you think to win Jehovah’s favour by your religious services? On the contrary, He will have none of them: what He demands is not sacrifice, or even praise, but justice; in the wilderness your ancestors offered no sacrifices, without forfeiting Jehovah’s regard; your mistake is a fatal one, and its end will be exile.

Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
22. The commonest and most popular kinds of sacrifice are particularized as rejected by Jehovah. The burnt- and peace-offerings are often mentioned in the historical books, and were frequently sacrificed together (Exodus 20:24; Exodus 32:6; Jdg 20:26; Jdg 21:4; 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 13:9; 2 Samuel 6:17; 2 Samuel 24:25; 1 Kings 3:15; cf. Isaiah 1:11, where ‘the fat of fed beasts’ is an allusion to the peace-offering). The peace-offering, being the sacrifice most commonly offered, is also often called ‘sacrifice’ (lit. slaughtering) simply: Exodus 18:12; Deuteronomy 12:6; 1 Samuel 6:15 al.).

meat offerings] meal-offerings, or cereal offerings. The word ‘meat’ has altered its meaning since the time when the A.V. was made, and is now restricted to flesh: so that the rendering ‘meat offering’ for offerings consisting exclusively of either parched corn or various preparations of flour (see Leviticus 2) has become altogether misleading. The Heb. word minḥah means properly a present or gift, especially one offered to a king or noble, to do him homage or secure his favour (Genesis 32:13; Genesis 43:11; 1 Samuel 10:27), and euphemistically for tribute, 2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Samuel 8:6 &c.: hence it is used sometimes in a general sense of gifts offered in sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:3-5; Numbers 16:15; 1 Samuel 2:17; 1 Samuel 2:29; 1 Samuel 26:19); in the priestly sections of the Pent., on the other hand, it is used exclusively in the narrower and technical sense of a ‘meal-offering.’ It seems therefore that the custom must have gradually grown up of designating animal sacrifices by their special names (burnt-offering, peace-offering &c.), while minḥah was more and more restricted to vegetable offerings alone. This double application of the term sometimes makes it uncertain whether ‘offering’ in general, or ‘meal-offering’ in particular, is denoted by it. Where, however, as here, it stands beside the names of two other species of sacrifice, it has the presumption of being used to denote a special kind likewise (cf. Joshua 22:23; Jdg 13:23; 1 Kings 8:64).

fat beasts] or fatlings, 2 Samuel 6:13, 1 Kings 1:9; 1 Kings 1:19; 1 Kings 1:25, and (in the same connexion) Isaiah 1:11 (where, on account of the word fat, with which it is joined, it is in the English version rendered fed beasts). In the ‘peace-offering’ the fat parts were those which were specially set apart to be “burnt” (הקטיר), i.e. consumed in sweet smoke (cf. on Amos 4:5), upon the altar (Leviticus 3:3-5; Leviticus 3:9-11; Leviticus 3:14-16).

Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
23. The songs and music accompanying the worship (cf. Amos 8:10; Isaiah 30:29 a) are rejected by Jehovah likewise. Of what nature these were in pre-exilic times, we do not precisely know: the descriptions in the Chronicles reflect the usage of a much later age, when the Temple music was more highly organized. The distinctly liturgical Psalms are also all probably post-exilic.

from me] lit. from upon me: the praises of sinful Israel are represented as a burden to Jehovah, from which He would gladly be freed. Cf. Isaiah 1:14 (of various sacred seasons), “They are a cumbrance upon me.”

viols] most probably harps, but possibly lutes. See the Additional Note, p. 234.

Additional Note on Chap. Amos 5:23 (nçbhel)

The Hebrew word nçbhel is rendered viol in A.V., R.V., of Amos 5:23; Amos 6:5, Isaiah 14:11, and in A.V. of Isaiah 5:12 (R.V. lute), elsewhere in both versions psaltery (2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Kings 10:12, &c.); in the P.B.V. of the Psalms, lute (Psalm 33:2; Psalm 57:9 (= Psalm 108:3), Psalm 81:2, Psalm 92:4, Psalm 144:9, Psalm 150:3)[225], once (Psalm 71:20) vaguely music. Although there is no excuse for the same Heb. word being thus rendered differently in one and the same version, it is true that the exact instrument meant is uncertain. The LXX. usually represent nçbhel by νάβλα, or (Psalms generally, Isaiah 5:12, Nehemiah 12:27) ψαλτήριον, here and Amos 6:5 by the general term ὄργανα. The νάβλα was known to the Greeks as a Sidonian instrument (Athen. iv. p. 175); and we learn from Ovid (Ars Am. 3. 327) that it was played duplici palma. It is often in the O.T. coupled with the kinnôr; according to Josephus (Ant. 8. 3. 8) the difference between the κινύρα (= kinnôr) and the νάβλα was that the former had ten strings and was played with the plectrum, the latter had twelve notes, and was played with the hand. These are substantially all the data which we possess for determining what instrument the nçbhel was. Kinnôr in A.V., R.V., is always represented by harp: and if this rendering be correct, nçbhel might well be the lyre. There is, however, force in the remark[226] that the kinnôr is mentioned much more frequently than the nçbhel, and seems to have been in more common use; the nçbhel was used at the feasts of the wealthy (Amos 6:5; Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 14:11), or in religious ceremonies; it was therefore probably a more elaborate and expensive instrument. This consideration would point to kinnôr being the lyre, and nçbhel the harp. The large and heavy stationary harp of modern times must not, however, be thought of: the nçbhel could be played while the performer was walking (1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Samuel 6:5); and the ancients had small portable harps, of triangular shape (called accordingly by the Greeks τρίγωνα), which could be so used[227]. The word nçbhel, however, also means in Hebrew a wine-skin (1 Samuel 1:24), and an earthen jar (Isaiah 30:14); hence if the name of the musical instrument be etymologically the same word, it would seem rather to have denoted one possessing a bulging body or resonance-box: so that, after all, it is possible that some kind of lute or guitar may be the instrument mentioned[228].

[225] All these names of instruments occur frequently in old English writers, though they are now practically obsolete. The viol (Norm. viele, Prov. viula, Span, vihuela, viola, Dan. fiddel, A.-S. fidele,—from Low Lat. vitula, vidula), was a bowed instrument, in use from the 15th to the 18th centuries, an early form of the modern violin. The lute (Fr. luth, Ital. liuto, Port. alaude, from the Arab. ’al‘ûd, with the a of the article elided, ‘the wood,’ applied, κατʼ ἐξοχήν, to a particular instrument of wood, Lane, Arab. Lex., p. 2190), resembled a guitar, having a long neck with a bulging body, or resonance-box. It was played with a plectrum: among the Arabs it has been for long a popular instrument: see representations in Lane, Mod. Egyptians, chap. 18 (ed. 5, 2:67, 68), or Stainer, Music of the Bible, Figs. 18, 21. The psaltery may be described generally as a small lyre (see further D.B.1, and Grove’s Dict. of Music, s.v. Psaltery)

[226] Riehm, Handwörterbuch des Bibl. Alt. p. 1030 (ed. 2, p. 1044); Nowack, Hebr. Arch. i. 274.

[227] See representations of such portable harps in Stainer, Music of the Bible, Figs. 1–8: also (from Assyria) Engel, Music of the most Ancient Nations, pp. 29–31, and frontispiece; DB2 s.v. Harp: Rawlinson, Anc. Monarchies, Bk. ii. ch. vii. (ed. 4) p. 529 f., 542 (a procession of musicians—the same as Engel’s frontispiece): and from Egypt, Engel, p. 181 ff. (trigons, p. 195); Wilkinson-Birch, i. 465,469–470, 474 (trigons: larger harps resting on the ground, pp. 436–442, 462, 464).

[228] For representations of ancient guitars, see Rawlinson, l.c. p. 534; Wilkinson-Birch, pp. 481–483; Stainer, p. 28; Engel, pp. 204–208.

For various forms of lyre see Stainer, Figs. 9–17: Engel, pp. 38–40, 196–8; Rawlinson, l.c. pp. 531–533, 540; Wilkinson-Birch, pp. 476–478, and Plate XII., No. 16, opposite p. 480 (an interesting picture, from a tomb at Beni-hassan, representing the arrival of some Semites in Egypt): and on Jewish coins, Madden, Coins of the Jews, pp. 205, 235, 236, 241, 243 (with 3, 5, or 6 strings); Nowack, p. 274; Stainer, p. 62.

An ancient Assyrian portable harp (from Engel’s Music of the most Ancient Nations, 1870, p. 29).

The nçbhel is mentioned as an instrument used for secular music in Amos 6:5, Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 14:11, perhaps also 1 Kings 10:12; and in connexion with religious ceremonies, 1 Samuel 10:5 (as maintaining, with other instruments, the excitement of a troop of ‘prophets’), 2 Samuel 6:5, Amos 5:23; and often in the later parts of the O.T., as in the Psalms quoted above, and in the Chronicles, viz. 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 15:20; 1 Chronicles 15:28; 1 Chronicles 16:5; 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:6, 2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 9:11; 2 Chronicles 20:28; 2 Chronicles 29:25, Nehemiah 12:27, generally in conjunction with the kinnôr.

But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
24. Justice, between man and man, is what Jehovah demands: no ceremonial, however punctiliously observed, is a substitute in Jehovah’s eyes for moral duties. The argument is exactly that of Isaiah 1, where Jehovah rejects similarly the entire body of ritual observances, celebrated at the Temple of Jerusalem, on account of the moral shortcomings of the worshippers; and where the exhortation is similarly to observe the elementary duties of civic morality—“Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes: seek judgement, set right the oppressor, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:10-17).

run down] roll on; R.V. roll down: let justice, which has hitherto been too often thwarted and obstructed in its course, roll on, as waters, in one perpetual flow; and righteousness as an overflowing stream. Stream is in the Heb. naḥal, a word for which there is no proper English equivalent, but which corresponds really to the Arabic wâdy, so often found in descriptions of travel in Palestine. The naḥal, or wâdy, is a torrent running down through a narrow valley, which in the rainy season forms usually a copious stream, while in summer it may be reduced to a mere brook or thread of water, or may even be entirely dry. Righteousness, Jehovah claims, should roll on like a perennial (or ever-flowing) wâdy, like a wâdy which is never so dried up, but flows continuously. The word rendered ever-flowing (êthân) is the term applied specially to characterize such a perennial wâdy. It is one of the words (like hibhlîg, Amos 5:9), of which the true meaning was lost by the Jews, and was recovered only when Arabic began to be compared systematically with Hebrew, some two centuries ago. The renderings strong, mighty, strength, are in reality guesses made from the context by the mediæval Jewish commentators, whom the translators of the Authorised Version often followed as their guide. Examples of the word: Exodus 14:27 (see R.V. marg.), Psalm 74:15; and in a metaphorical sense, Jeremiah 5:15 (of a nation whose numbers are never diminished), Jeremiah 49:19 and Numbers 24:21 (of an abiding, never-failing habitation).

Others understand judgement and righteousness here of God’s punitive justice (cf. Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 5:16; Isaiah 28:17; and for the figure, Isaiah 10:22 “a consumption, overflowing with righteousness”); but the former interpretation, which is the usual one, is more agreeable with the context.

Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?
25. Did ye bring unto me sacrifices &c.] The question evidently requires a negative answer; and the emphatic words in the sentence are not, as has been sometimes supposed, unto me (which hold in the Hebrew quite a subordinate position), but sacrifices and offerings (which follow immediately after the interrogative particle). The prophet shews that sacrifice is no indispensable element of religious service, from the fact that during the 40 years in the wilderness—which, nevertheless, was a period when, above all others, Jehovah manifested His love and favour towards Israel (Amos 2:9-10)—it was not offered.

bring] of a sacrifice, as Exodus 32:6; Leviticus 8:14; 1 Samuel 13:9.

sacrifices and offerings] Rather, and meal-offerings: see on Amos 5:22. The same combination, Isaiah 19:21; Psalm 40:6.

But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.
26–27. But ye shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwân your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves; and I will cause you to go into exile beyond Damascus, saith Jehovah] You and your idols (cf. Jeremiah 43:7 b, Jeremiah 49:3 b; Isaiah 46:1-2) will go into exile together: this will be the end of your self-chosen course[159]. But though the general sense of the verse is clear, some of the details are obscure. Sakkuth (probably read as sukkath) was taken by the ancients as an appellative, LXX. σκηνή, Vulg. tabernaculum, hence A.V. tabernacle, i.e., here, the shrine of an image: but more probably R.V. Siccuth—or better, disregarding the Massoretic punctuation[160], Sakkuth—is correct, Sakkuth being a name of Adar, the Assyrian god of war and the chase (also of the sun, light, fire, &c.), and said to mean “chief of decision,” i.e. “chief arbiter” (viz. in warfare): see Schrader, K.A.T[161][162] p. 443, Tiele, Bab.-Ass. Gesch. p. 528 f.; Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 7, 151–154. Chiun (R.V.) should in all probability be pointed Kêwân or Kaiwân; it will then be identical with the Assyrian name of the planet Saturn, Ka-ai-va-nu (whence also Kêwân and Kaiwân, the Syriac, Persian, and Arabic names of the same planet[163]): so the Pesh., Ibn Ezra, Schrader, and many other moderns. The middle part of the verse does not, however, seem to be altogether in order; images (in the plural), for instance, being strange as applied to Kaiwân alone; and perhaps we should either (with Schrader) transpose two groups of words, and read “Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwân your star-god, the images which ye made” &c., or (with Wellhausen) omit צלמיכם, “your images,” and כוכב, “the star of” (or “star”), as glosses on אלהיכם, “your god” and כיון, “Kaiwân,” respectively. The reference must be to star-worship introduced into Israel from Assyria: cf., somewhat later, in Judah, Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3, 2 Kings 23:12 &c.[164] The context appears to shew, as W. R. Smith remarks (Proph. p. 140), that the cult alluded to was not a rival service to that of Jehovah, but was attached in some subordinate way to the offices of His sanctuary.

[159] The rendering of A.V., R.V., have borne, is possible grammatically, but not probable: the reason which decisively excludes it is that a reference to idolatries practised in the wilderness is entirely alien to the line of the prophet’s thought. (In the Heb., there is no therefore in Amos 5:27.)

[160] Which may be intended to suggest the word shiḳḳutz, “detestable thing,” often applied to idols (Deuteronomy 29:17, etc.).

[161] .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.

[162] … 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.

[163] See Payne Smith, Thes. Syr., who cites (p. 1660) Ephr. Syrus ii. 458 B; Ges. Thes. p. 669 f.; Fleischer in Levy, Chald. Wörterb. i. 428; Ges. Jesaia, ii. 343 f.

[164] The explanation of this verse adopted above is that of Ewald and most modern authorities; but it is right to add that there are some scholars whom it fails to satisfy. These scholars agree indeed that the verse cannot refer to idolatry in the past, but object, for instance (Wellh.), that the idols of a vanquished nation would be carried off as trophies by the victors (Isaiah 46:1), rather than taken into exile by the vanquished themselves, and point out that the fault with which elsewhere Amos reproaches the people is an exaggerated ceremonialism in the worship of Jehovah, not devotion to other gods. There is no doubt force in these objections; but it may be doubted whether our knowledge of the times is such as to render them conclusive; nor has any preferable explanation been yet proposed. Cf. Wellh., p. 83; G. A. Smith, p. 172 f.; N. Schmidt, Journ. of Bibl. Lit., 1894, p. 1–15; Cheyne, Expositor, Jan. 1897, p. 42–44 (who, like Wellh., rejects the verse as a gloss).

LXX. has τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ Μολὸχ καὶ τὸ ἄστρον τοῦ θεοῦ Ῥαιφάν, τοὺς τύπους αὐτῶν οὓς ἐποιήσατε ἑαυτοῖς, whence the quotation in Acts 7:43 τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ Μολὸχ, καὶ τὸ ἄστρον τοῦ θεοῦ Ῥεμφάν, τοὺς τύπους οὓς ἐποιήσατε προσκυνεῖν αὐτοῖς. Ῥαιφάν is evidently a corruption of Kaiwân, which in Acts 7:43 has become further corrupted into Ῥεμφάν.

beyond Damascus] Syria, in Amos’s time, was to Israel a more familiar power than Assyria or Babylon; Damascus was its capital; and exile into the unknown regions beyond Damascus is accordingly announced as the climax of Israel’s punishment. After the Babylonian exile Babylon became both the type of Israel’s oppressor and Israel’s typical place of exile; and this, no doubt, is the reason why St Stephen, in Acts 7:43, unintentionally substitutes Babylon for Damascus.

The passage Amos 5:21-25 is one of the first statements in the O.T. of the great prophetic truth, that sacrifice or indeed any other outward religious observance, is not, as such, either valued or demanded by God; it is valued, and demanded, by Him only as the expression of a right state of heart: if offered to Him by men who are indifferent to this, and who think to make amends for their moral shortcomings by the zeal with which they maintain the formal offices of religion, He indignantly repudiates it. The Israelites, like men in many other ages, were sufficiently ready to conform to the external forms and offices of religion, while heedless of its spiritual precepts, and especially of the claim which it makes to regulate their conduct and their lives; and the prophets again and again take occasion to point out to them their mistake, and to recall to them the true nature of spiritual religion. See Hosea 6:6[165]; Isaiah 1:10-17; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 6:19-20; Jeremiah 7:1-15; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Isaiah 66:2-4 (in Amos 5:3 “as” = “no better than”): also 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 50:13-15; Psalm 51:16-17; Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 21:27; Sir 34:18 to Sir 35:11.

[165] Comp. on this text the writer’s Sermons on the Old Test. (1892), pp. 217–232.

(3) 6. A second rebuke, addressed to the self-satisfied political leaders of the nation, who “put far the evil day,” and, immersed in a life of luxurious self-indulgence, are heedless of the ruin which is only too surely hastening upon their people (Amos 5:1-6). But, as before, exile is the end which the prophet sees to be not far distant: Israel’s sins have caused Jehovah to turn His face from them. Invasion and destruction are coming upon them; their boasted strength will be powerless to save them from the consequences of their violation of the laws of truth and right (Amos 5:7-14).

Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts.
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