Amos 8
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit.
Amos 8:1 to Amos 9:11. The visions resumed.

Amos 8:1-14. The fourth vision (Amos 8:1-3). The basket of summer fruit.

1. Thus did the Lord Jehovah cause me to see] The same formula as before, Amos 7:1; Amos 7:4.

a basket of summer fruit] Partly the thought of Israel’s ripeness for judgement, but chiefly the Heb. word ḳêtz, “end,” brings up before the prophet’s mental eye in his vision, agreeably with the principles explained on Amos 7:1, the basket of ḳaitz, “summer fruit[189].” Similarly, in Jeremiah’s inaugural vision (Jeremiah 1:11-12), the thought of Jehovah’s watching (shôḳçd) over His word to perform it, produces by association of sounds the image of the almond-tree (shâḳçd), the symbolism of which is afterwards explained, as that of the “summer fruit” is explained here.

[189] The two words, though similar in sound, are not however connected etymologically: in the corresponding Arabic words, the last letter is not the same.

And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the LORD unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.
2. The question is asked for the same purpose as in Amos 7:8.

The end] Amos answers, “A basket of ḳaitz”: Jehovah replies, “Ḳêtz—an ‘end’—is come upon my people Israel.” The last vision had declared that the approaching judgement was certain; this, that it was final, and also close at hand.

I will not again pardon it any more] The same words as Amos 7:8.

And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord GOD: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence.
3. The nature of the ‘end’ more fully described: the songs of the temple will be turned into loud cries of woe; so many will be the slain that they will be flung out unburied and unlamented.

temple] The word might equally be rendered palace; and hence some have thought the allusion to be to the sounds of revelry (Amos 6:5), which were heard in the “palaces” (Hosea 8:14) of Israel. But more probably the reference is to the songs (Amos 5:23) of the worshippers assembled (Amos 9:1) in the sanctuary of Beth-el.

shall be howlings] lit. shall howl,—a mark of uncontrolled grief, as Isaiah 15:2-3; Isaiah 16:7; Micah 1:8 &c. Used of “songs,” however, the expression is a strange one; Hoffmann and Wellh. would read shârôth “singing-women” for shîrôth “songs.”

many the corpses! in all places have they cast them forth: hush!] By the use of the perfect tenses the prophet represents the future vividly as already accomplished (the “prophetic perfect,” frequent in the prophets, e.g. Isaiah 9:2-3). He sees the corpses flung forth heedlessly and indiscriminately upon the ground. There is no time, or place, for honourable burial. The survivors do their work in despairing silence, stopping any one who would say a word, as before (Amos 6:10), with Hush!

Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,
4. Hear this] Amos 3:1, Amos 4:1, Amos 5:1.

that pant after the needy] i.e. who are eager to destroy them: the word has the same figurative sense in Psalm 56:1-2; Psalm 57:3; cf. also above Amos 2:7 (Jerome renders, as there, perhaps rightly, that crush).

and are for making[190] the poor of the land to cease] viz. by their eagerness to take every advantage, and to secure everything for themselves,—as they might do, for instance, by exacting the labour of the poor without proper pay (Jeremiah 22:13; Micah 3:10), or by building large palaces, or amassing large estates (Isaiah 5:8; Micah 2:2), and so depriving their less fortunate neighbours of the means of livelihood, or compelling them to seek a home elsewhere, or even to sell themselves into slavery. In the present instance, however, their inconsiderate treatment of the poor took the form of commercial dishonesty, Amos 8:6-7.

[190] For the Heb. idiom employed, see the writer’s Heb. Tenses, § 206; Davidson, Heb. Syntax, § 96 R. 4; or Ges.-Kautzsch (ed. 25 or 26), § 114. 2 R. 5.

4–6. Amos indignantly turns to the rapacious merchants of Israel, rebuking them for their avarice, their dishonesty, and their meanness.

4–14. A fresh denunciation of Israel’s sin, followed by a fresh picture of the impending calamities.

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

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

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

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

That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
6. The final issue of the rapacious conduct described in Amos 8:5 is that the poor are more and more impoverished, and, falling into debt, have in the end to sell themselves—or their children—as slaves (Leviticus 25:39) to their rich oppressors, who were only too ready to buy the poor for the silver which they owed them, and the needy for the sake of a pair of sandals, i.e. for a trifle (cf. Amos 2:6), the price of which they were unable to pay.

and sell the refuse of wheat] The final proof of their avarice: they sold what would ordinarily be thrown away, viz. the refuse—lit. the fallings—of the wheat, i.e. “what fell through the sieve, either the bran or the thin, unfilled, grains, which had no meal in them. This they mixed up largely with the meal, making a gain of that which they had once sifted out as worthless; or else, in a time of dearth, they sold to men what was the food of animals, and made a profit on it” (Pusey).

The LORD hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.
7. Such heartless dishonesty arouses Jehovah’s indignation; and He swears by the pride of Jacob, that He will never forget any of their works, but bring them, namely, into account. The pride of Jacob may be Jehovah Himself (cf. 1 Samuel 15:29 “the splendour of Israel,” of Jehovah; and for the oath by Himself, Amos 6:8); or, as the expression is not elsewhere used of Jehovah, but denotes Israel’s vain-glorious self-confidence (Amos 6:8; cf. Hosea 5:5; Hosea 7:10), it may have that sense here: Jehovah swears—ironically—by that which, however deeply He disapproves of it, He knows to be unalterable. The oath, as Amos 4:2, Amos 6:8,—each time provoked by the spectacle of some crying moral wrong.

Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.
8–9. A hyperbolical description of the terrible nature of the coming judgement. On account of such enormities, the land will tremble, and rise up in mighty convulsions against the offenders; and darkness at noon-day will envelope the heavens.

Shall not on this account &c.] Cf. (esp. in the Heb.) Jeremiah 5:9; Jeremiah 5:29; Jeremiah 9:9 (Hebrews 8).

mourn] viz. in terror, as they feel the earth beginning to shake.

and it shall rise up, all of it, as the Nile, and it shall be tossed about (Isaiah 57:20), and sink (again), as the Nile of Egypt] As the Nile, at the time of its annual inundation, rises, overflows, and sinks again, so will the land of Israel, in all its length and breadth, heave, and be convulsed, as by an earthquake, as it labours to rid itself of its guilty inhabitants (Isaiah 24:19-20). The acquaintance shewn by Amos with a natural phenomenon peculiar to Egypt is interesting; comp. the knowledge of Egypt shewn by Isaiah (Isaiah 19:2; Isaiah 19:5-9), and Nahum (Amos 3:8). There was no doubt more intercourse between Canaan and Egypt, during the period of the kings, than is commonly supposed. The verse (except the first clause) is repeated with unsubstantial alterations in Amos 9:5.

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day:
9. Celestial wonders, which Amos pictures as accompanying the day of retribution (comp. Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10, Joel 4:15). It is possible that the imagery is borrowed from an eclipse of the sun; and one which occurred June 15, b.c. 763, has been thought of as having suggested it. According to von Oppolzer’s chart[192], the centre of totality of this eclipse passed through Asia Minor at about 38–39˚ N.; and it may therefore be reasonably inferred that it was visible in the latitude of Jerusalem (31˚ 46′ N.) as a fairly large partial eclipse. (To go down is lit. to go in, as regularly in Heb., when said of the sun.)

[192] In his elaborate “Canon der Finsternisse” (particulars of 8000 solar eclipses from b.c. 1207 to a.d 2161, with 160 charts, exhibiting their tracks), in vol. 52 (1887) of the Denkschriften of the Vienna Academy. The eclipse is mentioned in the Assyrian annals (G. Smith, Eponym Canon, pp. 46, 47); and its course has also been calculated independently (ib. p. 83).

And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.
10. The lamentation to be produced by such an alarming spectacle.

And I will turn your pilgrimages into mourning] The sacred pilgrimages (Amos 5:21) were occasions of rejoicing: cf. Isaiah 30:29; Hosea 2:11 “And I will cause all her mirth to cease, her pilgrimages, her new moons, her sabbaths, and all her sacred seasons.” Comp. also Lamentations 5:15 “our dance is turned into mourning.”

into lamentation] into a dirge (Amos 5:1). Not unrestrained wailings, but a regularly constructed dirge (see on Amos 5:1), is what Amos pictures as taking the place of joyous songs.

bring up upon] Heb. cause to come up upon, the correlative of come up upon, said idiomatically of a garment (Leviticus 19:19; Ezekiel 44:17).

sackcloth] i.e. rough, coarse hair-cloth, which was bound about the loins in times of mourning (2 Samuel 3:31; Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 48:37 &c.).

baldness] Artificial baldness, produced by shaving off the hair on the forehead (Deuteronomy 14:1), was another sign of mourning, often alluded to by the prophets, as resorted to, both by the Israelites, and among other nations: see Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 15:2 (in Moab), Isaiah 22:12 (where Jehovah “calls” to it in Jerusalem); Micah 1:16; Jeremiah 47:5; Jeremiah 48:37 (also in Moab); Ezekiel 7:18 (“and on all your heads baldness”), Ezekiel 27:31 (of Tyrian mariners). It is prohibited in Deuteronomy 14:1, on account (as it seems) of its heathen associations.

and I will make it] viz. the lamentation of Israel in that day.

of an only son] Cf. Jeremiah 6:26; Zechariah 12:10 end.

and the end thereof as a bitter day] Most griefs at length wear themselves out: the end of this grief should be not an alleviation, but an aggravation of the distress; it should introduce, viz., a further stage in the threatened doom.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
11. Behold, days are coming] Amos 4:2.

words] Read probably (with many MSS., LXX. Vulg. Pesh.; cf. Amos 8:12) the sing, “word,” the regular term for a particular communication from Jehovah.

11–12. Then, in the general distress, there will be an eagerness to hear that word of Jehovah, which is now scorned and rejected: men will seek everywhere throughout the land to find a prophet who will declare it to them, but in vain. The reference may be partly to Jehovah’s moral commandments, which, when it is too late, the people will be ready to obey; but chiefly, no doubt, it is to the counsel and advice which, in a national crisis, Jehovah was wont to send His people through the prophets.

And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.
12. wander] go tottering (comp. on Amos 4:8), with allusion to the uncertain gait of persons partly (Amos 8:13) exhausted, and partly bewildered, not knowing where to find what they are in search of (cf. Lamentations 4:15).

from sea to sea] i.e. from the Dead Sea, the S. limit of the kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 14:25), to the Mediterranean, its western boundary.

and from the north even to the sun-rising] returning thus to the point from which they started, and so completing the circuit of the land.

to seek the word of Jehovah] The expression may be illustrated from 1 Kings 22:5 (Jehoshaphat) “Inquire, I pray thee, first of the word of Jehovah,” Amos 8:7 “Is there not here besides a prophet of Jehovah that we might inquire of him?” (similarly 2 Kings 3:11); from the phrase “the word of Jehovah is with” such and such a prophet, 2 Kings 3:12, Jeremiah 27:18; and from the question put by Zedekiah in his anxiety to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:17) “Is there a word from Jehovah?”

and shall not find it] Cf. 1 Samuel 28:6 (of Saul); Ezekiel 7:26.

In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.
13. In the day of agony and distress then coming upon Israel, the young men and fair maidens, the strength and pride of the population, will faint for thirsty, exhausted by the privations of a siege, or the sufferings involved in the sack of a city by the foe (cf. especially Lamentations 2:11-12; Lamentations 2:19; Isaiah 51:20).

They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.
14. They that swear …; even they shall fall] better, Who swear (connecting with Amos 8:13) …; and they shall fall &c.

swear by the Guilt of Samaria] Men swear by that which they revere: the Israelite was commanded to swear by Jehovah (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20); and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:2; Jeremiah 12:16) promises a blessing upon those who swear by Him faithfully. Idolatrous Israelites swore by “not-gods” (Jeremiah 5:7), or by Baal (Jeremiah 12:16), or Milcom (Zephaniah 1:5), &c. The ‘Guilt of Samaria’ is probably the calf at Beth-el, which Hosea alludes to ironically as unworthy of the Israelites’ regard (Hosea 8:5-6, Hosea 10:5): the golden calf which Aaron made is called “your sin” (Deuteronomy 9:21). Others suppose that the reference is to the Ashérah which was made by Ahab in Samaria, and which still stood there, at least in the days of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:6)[193]. The Ashérah (cf. Exodus 34:13, R.V. marg.) was a post or pole, regarded seemingly as the representative of the sacred tree, planted in the ground beside an altar, and venerated as a sacred symbol (see further W. R. Smith, Relig. of the Semites, p. 171 ff. (ed. 2, p. 187 ff.); D.B[194][195], s.v.; or the writer’s Commentary on Deuteronomy 16:21).

[193] So W. R. Smith, Proph., p. 140. Stade and Oort even suppose that guilt (אשמת) is an error for Ashérah (אשרת).

[194] .B.Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. 1, or (from A to J) ed. 2.

[195] … Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. 1, or (from A to J) ed. 2.

and say, (As) thy God, O Dan, liveth] The formula of an oath: cf. the common (As) Jehovah liveth (1 Samuel 14:39 &c.). Here the reference is to the calf set up by Jeroboam I. (1 Kings 12:29) at Dan, in the far North of Israel (now Tel el-Ḳaḍi), near the foot of Hermon, and not far from the principal source of the Jordan.

and, (As) the way of Beer-sheba liveth] For Beer-sheba, see on Amos 5:5. The expression is an unusual one; and it has been doubted whether the text is correct. But probably the reference is to the road taken by the pilgrims to Beer-sheba, which must have been a clearly-marked, much frequented route[196] and which, being regarded by the worshippers as unalterable and permanent, might not unnaturally form the object appealed to in an oath. “Strange as it may appear to us to speak of the life of the lifeless, this often happens among the Semites. To-day Arabs “swear wa hyât, ‘by the life of,’ even of things inanimate; ‘By the life of this fire, or of this coffee’ ” (Doughty, Arabia Deserta, i. 269). And as Amos here tells us that the Israelite pilgrims swore by the way to Beer-sheba, so do the Moslems affirm their oaths by the sacred way to Mecca[197]” (G. A. Smith, p. 186). Others understand ‘way’ in the sense of usage, cult. Although therefore it remains possible that the title of a deity, “thy …,” lies concealed under what is now read as ‘way,’ there seems to be no imperative necessity for questioning the correctness of the text.

[196] Comp. the Derb el Haj, or the route from Damascus to Mecca, a broad, clearly-marked track in the wilderness (Tristram, Moab, p. 170; P.E.F. Qu. St., 1895, p. 229).

[197] Baur, p. 424, who quotes Rückert’s translation of Ḥariri, i. 189 f., “By the pilgrimage, and the height of Mina, where the pious host stone Satan.”

shall fall, &c.] Cf. Amos 5:2.

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