Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Commences with a veritable dirge over the calamity already threatened. The form of the dirge belongs to the second verse only (its poetic expression resembling the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan, 2 Samuel 1), but the spirit of the dirge extends through the entire chapter.
Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel.
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) Forsaken.—Or rather dashed to the earth. “Virgin” is a feminine designation of Israel poetically expressive of grace and beauty. Comp. the epithet “daughter of Zion,” nations and cities being represented by a feminine personification. She is not annihilated, but obliterated as a nation.
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) Shall leave an hundred.—i.e., shall have an hundred only as a remnant of the thousand who went forth to war. The great cities were to be decimated in the coming struggle with Assyria.
For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:(4) Seek . . . live.—Search after God is rewarded by finding Him, and this is life in the highest sense.
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) Seek.—The same word is used for the searching, or inquiring at idol shrines, which is here fervently condemned. Respecting Beersheba, see Note on Amos 8:14. On Grilgal there is a play of words in the original, which it is impossible to express accurately in translation.
Bethel shall come to nought.—Render (with Luther) Bethel (house of God) shall become Bethaven (house of vanity). The form Bethaven here is supported by the LXX., and appears to confirm the Masoretic reading of Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:5; and Amos 1:5, where other reasons incline critics to read On for Aven (see the passages).
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) Render, lest he rush down like fire on the house of Joseph (i.e., the Northern Kingdom). For “in Bethel” read “for Bethel.” Let the blending of mercy with judgment be here observed, “Seek Jehovah and live, lest this evil befall you.” The curse is still conditional.
Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,(7) Is placed after Amos 5:9 by Ewald, since Amos 5:7-8 stand in the Heb. without any connecting-link. The holy thing “judgment” is perverted into the bitter thing “wormwood,” that which is execrated.
Leave off.—Or rather, cast down righteousness to the earth, i.e., by false judgments and unjust decrees. Pusey sees here the analogue of the humiliation of the Holy One by wicked hands, when He was crowned with thorns, and fell beneath His cross.
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) Connected by E.V. with Amos 5:6 through the verb “seek ye,” so that it may thus be linked to Amos 5:7. To regard it as a solemn assertion “There is one who maketh, &c.,” is not satisfactory. We prefer to render, As for him who made the Pleiades . . . Jehovah is his name, i.e., The God of the Hebrews is the supreme universal Lord (comp. Amos 4:13). This is profoundly impressive, since the prophets were surrounded by the pompous nature-worship of the East.
The Heb. word for the Pleiades (seven stars) means properly “heap” or “cluster,” and that for Orion signifies “stout, strong one.” The appearance of the Pleiades indicated the “sweet influences” of spring, that of Orion the winter solstice. Observe that Amos the herdsman, and Job the Arabian Emir, accustomed to the naked sky of the desert, make these special references to astronomical facts. The death-shadow suggests the darkest experiences of human life. Jehovah pours His light upon the deepest gloom of our lot. He, too, can make the day dark with night, covering the noonday sky with funereal pall, as at the Crucifixion. God is also made the perennial source of the rain, that “river of God which is full of water,” and which is ever rising at His command from the great sea.
That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.(9) That strengthened.—The rendering should be who causeth desolation to gleam upon the strong (who were priding themselves on their immunity), so that desolation cometh on the stronghold.
They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.(10) Rebuker in the Gate.—The person so described might be the prophet himself. So also he that speaketh uprightly.
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) Burdens of wheat.—i.e., Ye take gifts of sifted corn, as a contribution to your own luxury, and which the poor man was not bound to offer, and only would offer to purchase your good will. Therefore your pomp and luxury shall be of no avail. Such is God’s judgment on indifference to the wants and feedings of the poor.
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) I know.—Most of the commentators imply that the “I” is Jehovah, but it is more likely to be the prophet himself. The adjectives “manifold,” “mighty,” should be rendered as predicates, That manifold are your transgressions, and mighty your sins, ye afflicters of the just and takers of a bribe, and ye who bow down the poor in the gate. The idea involved in the word rendered “bribe” is the ransom which the poor and defenceless were obliged to pay to a tyrannical judge, in order to escape a harsh sentence. The “gate” is the place where judgment is passed by the chief men.
Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.(13) Prudent . . . silence.—The dumb silence of the prudent is the awful curse which comes upon a people when they are given up to selfishness and rapacity. Thus the doom:—“Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.”
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) Break in like a beam of sunshine in the darkness. The fearful doom, already spoken of, is after all conditional. Let a moral change be wrought in them, and even now Jehovah, God of hosts, may deign to be with them. Enlist your passions on the right side. No virtue is safe till it is enthusiastic.
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.—Probably a pause occurs here, for once more the words of the prophet assume a more mournful tone. “Therefore” points back to the transgressions condemned in Amos 5:11-13. On the Divine name “Lord of hosts,” see note on Hosea 12:5, and Oehler, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, §§ 194-8. It is a grand phrase to denote the antithesis. between “the Portion of Jacob,” and all heathen deities.
The “streets” are the open wide squares near the gates, and the “highways” are more properly the narrow alleys of the crowded cities of the Easu. The word for wailing (mispēd) denotes properly the beating of the breast, the Oriental symptom of grief. The calling of the husbandman from his agricultural pursuits to lamentation is an indication that the disaster was universal. Those “skilled in wailing” were generally, and are still, women who tear their hair and dress, throw dust over the head, and utter the monotonous wail and piercing cry of distress. The last clause should properly be inverted, And wailing to such as are skilful of lamentation. (Ecclesiastes 12:5; Jeremiah 9:17-19.
Pass through thee.—Properly through the midst of thee. Whenever Jehovah is said to pass through a land or a city, heavy punishment is intended. (Comp. Exodus 12:12.) The reference to the “vineyards” adds to the terror of the picture.
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) Desire the day of the Lord.—Expecting that day to bring you deliverance and judgments upon your enemies. It shall bring the reverse! There is a dark side to the pillar of fire.
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) Your escape will be impossible. You will avoid one calamity, only to fall into a worse.
Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?(20) Darkness.—In the form of an interrogative, the condemnation contained in Amos 5:18 is emphatically reasserted. The term rendered “very dark” is that used to denote the gross Egyptian darkness that might be felt (Exodus 10:22), the awful gloom, such as fell on Jerusalem at the Crucifixion, which is always accompanied by the sense of confusion, terror, and intolerable suspense. (Comp. the graphic metaphorical language of Isaiah 5:30.)
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.(21, 22) These verses closely resemble the condemnation which Isaiah pronounces (Amos 1:10-15) upon mere ritual, however punctilious, mere profession of orthodoxy, however exacting, which was not accompanied by righteousness and mercy, and was not the expression of inward penitence and purity.
Will not smell in your . . .—A strong expression for “I take no delight in them.” That Baal worship, as well as the worship of the true God, was characterised by similar offerings and sacrificial terms is indicated by a Phœnician tablet inscribed with a code of sacrificial dues, discovered at Marseilles. The word rendered peace offering should be translated as in the margin. The word for “meat offering” is better interpreted “meal offerings,” since it consisted of vegetable products used in food, meal, oil, cakes, &c.
Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.(23) Songs.—The very sound of their tumultuous songs was a burden to Jehovah. As Christ cleansed the Temple, so would He dispel all this hypocritical and perilous confusion of ideas.
But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.(24) Mighty stream.—Or rather perennial stream.
Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?(25, 26) Much uncertainty belongs to the interpretation of these verses and their connection in thought. Some commentators would treat Amos 5:25 as a statement, and not a question, the first word being read as a definite article, and not an interrogative prefix in the Hebrew. But the construction of the following words forbids this supposition, and nearly all exegetes follow the LXX., Vulg., Targ., in taking the sentence as interrogative. Is the expected answer negative or affirmative? Heb. usage points to the former. So Ewald and Keil According to the latter, the words apply to the nation as a whole, or to the great mass of the people, individual exceptions being passed by. The following verse is then taken in an adversative sense, “To me ye have offered no sacrifices, but ye have borne,” &c. The opposition is between the Jehovah-worship, which they suspended, and the idol-worship which they carried on. This is a possible interpretation, as Driver (Heb. Tenses, § 119a, foot-note) admits. But as that writer shows (l.c.), it is more in consonance with grammatical usage to translate in Amos 5:26 by a future, as Ewald does: “So ye shall carry away the tabernacle,” &c., i.e., when driven into exile. To this thought Amos 5:27 forms a natural development: And I will carry you away captive, &c. Moreover, in the light of this interpretation the logical connection of Amos 5:21-27 becomes much simpler: “I, Jehovah, abhor the mechanical round of corrupt and hollow ceremonial cloaking wickedness of conduct. Live righteously. Did I exact punctilious discharge of ceremonial in the desert wanderings? [No.] Therefore I shall submit you once more to the discipline of exile wanderings.” On the meaning of the difficult clause, Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made for yourselves, as well as on the rendering of the LXX. and St. Stephen’s quotation of the passage, see Excursus B. Kuenen is scarcely justified in founding an argument on this passage as to the origin of the Sabbath.
EXCURSUS B (Amos 5:26).
Three obscure points render this verse one of the most difficult in the Old Testament.
1. As to tense. The interpretation to which preference has been given in the commentary on the text—the time being regarded as future—has been decided on grounds of grammatical usage only. But certainly the larger number of commentators have rendered the verb as a past tense, “But ye bore the tabernacle,” &c., the time referred to being that of the desert wanderings. This view is upheld by Hitzig, Kuenen, Keil, Henderson, and also by R. S. Poole. It is also supported by the LXX.
2. The word Sikkûth, rendered tabernacle, or tent, in the E.V. and by the LXX., is derived from a root signifying both to interweave and to cover—an etymology which confirms the above rendering. Ewald’s conjecture that it signifies “stake,” inferred from the Aramaic Sekkitho, is to be rejected. The conception of Moloch being carried in a tent may be illustrated from the Egyptian monuments of Rameses XII. Birch (Egypt, S. P. C. K., p. 149), refers to a tablet found in the south-west corner of Karnak: “The picture of the tablet represents Rameses holding a censer, and worshipping the ark of the god [Khons], which, partly covered with curtains, is placed in a boat . . . Figures of priests, a sphinx, and standards are in the boat, while twelve priests carry it on their shoulders.”
3. Both Moloch and Chiun were evidently star-deities. R. S. Poole endeavours to connect Chiun with Semitic deities worshipped in Egypt (see art. “Remphan,” Smith’s Dict. of the Bible). The name Chiun appears as Remphan in the quotation of this passage in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:43). And both Remphan and Chiun were held by Mr. Poole to be the corresponding male and female deities of Asiatic type, Renpu and Ken. But the form Remphan can be clearly shown to have arisen from textual corruption, originating, perhaps, in some false analogy. In the New Testament passage the best MSS. read Rephan, and this reading has been adopted in our Revised Version, and occurs in nearly the same form in the LXX., from which Stephen was freely quoting. In the LXX. the original order of the clauses has suffered transposition, and it is certainly safer to adhere to the Hebrew text (as in Amos 9:11-12).
Rêphan arose from the Hebrew text by the change of a single character. Instances of such interchange are not infrequent in the Old Testament. Yet the form Rephan, though corrupt, is invaluable, as indicating the true reading of the Hebrew word. The word for Chiun was read by the Masoretes as Kiyyûn (according to Ewald, “pedestal” [?]). But the LXX. indicate, and much confirmatory testimony establishes the fact, that the word is to be read Kêvan, and that Kêvan, like the Ammonitish Moloch, represented the star-deity Saturn. Thus Kaivono is the form of the word in the Peshito. This view is supported by Aben Ezra and Kimchi, who cite Kivan as the name for the star Saturn in the Persian and Arabic. This star (see quotations in Henderson’s Commentary) was held to exert malignant influence. Schrader (Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, p. 443) compares the name Ka-ai-vanu, the Assyrian name for that planet.