Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Here commences the third portion of the prophecy. It is of a different class from that which has preceded, and may have formed the main heads of public discourses, the parabolic ministry of the prophet in the earlier stages of his career. These fiats of destruction, contained in the visions and dreams of coming doom, had been arrested by the intercession of the prophet himself. But the time was approaching when prayer would be of no avail, and the desolation of the kingdom would be complete.
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king's mowings.(1) Each of the visions is introduced with closely resembling words. For “grasshopper,” read locusts. The phrase “king’s mowings” suggests that the king claimed tyrannically the first-fruits of the hay harvest, which was ordinarily followed by the early “rain upon the mown grass.” (Comp. 1Kings 18:5.)
And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.(2) The grass of the land.—The same word is used in the original in Genesis 1:11, signifying herbs and vegetables. Amos saw the first wave of disaster in the destruction of the food of the people, and he interceded for respite and forgiveness. The cry takes the form, Who is Jacob that he should stand? (E.V., “by whom,” is incorrect) for he is small.
The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.(3) The Lord repented.—The judgment is withheld. On the anthropomorphism of Jehovah repenting, comp. Genesis 6:5 and other passages.
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and, behold, the Lord GOD called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and did eat up a part.(4) Fire.—The poetical description of a yet more terrible calamity. God announces His intention of judging, i.e., punishing by fire (the word in E.V., “contend,” is to be understood in this sense). For “a portion” read the portion. The image is that of a prairie fire, that should eat up the later grass spared by the locusts. The consuming of the “great deep” is a strong hyperbole, and can scarcely refer to the “heathen world,” as Keil maintains. The meaning rather appears to be that not only the solitary remnant of pasture, but the deepest springs of moisture, will be scorched up in the blaze. The same word for “deep” (tehôm) is used in Genesis 1:2, Gen_7:11, Gen_8:2. (Comp. the Assyrian tihamtu.)
Then said I, O Lord GOD, cease, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.(5, 6) Instead of “forgive,” the prophet now only ventures to say “cease,” a cry for arrest of judgment. Yet the same plea for pity is urged as before. Jeroboam II. and his house are spared for awhile. But another awful vision comes to the prophet.
Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand.(7) Wall made by a plumbline—i.e., a perpendicular wall, the stability of the kingdom being represented by the closely-fitting well-jointed stones of a lofty wall. Right in the heart of this strong-built city, the Lord Himself marks the extent of the desolation, the plumb-line being used in dismantling buildings, as well as erecting them (2Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11).
And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:(8) Pass by them.—In the sense of sparing. There will come a time when prayer will be of no avail. All intercessions, however passionate or eager, will be too late. The door of mercy is shut.
And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.(9) High places of Isaac.—The name Isaac is here spelt somewhat differently in the Hebrew from the form we have in Genesis. The LXX. misunderstand the word, and render “altars of laughter,” in accordance with the etymological sense of the proper name. The residents in the neighbourhood of Beersheba may have boasted of the favour or honour belonging to them, as occupying the home of Isaac and the birthplace of Jacob.
Will rise against.—This dreadful doom fell on the house of Jeroboam, and was the prelude of the final destruction of the nations by Shalmaneser IV., in 721 (2Kings 15:10).
Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.(10) There follows a brief historical interlude of much interest. It shows that the effect of the preaching of the Judæan prophet had been felt in the sanctuary at Bethel and the palaces at Samaria. The chief priest of the Temple, with the characteristic exaggeration of fear and anger, accuses Amos of treason against the house of Jeroboam.
For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.(11) Die by the sword.—So far as the words of the prophecy are concerned, it was not accurate to say that Amos had threatened Jeroboam with the sword.
Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:(12, 13) Jeroboam treated the charge made by Amaziah with indifference, or perhaps with awe: at least, with silence. And so the priest of Bethel takes upon himself to dismiss the prophet from the kingdom. The word for “seer” is here chozeh, one who has visions, a word not used in a contemptuous sense here or in the Old Testament generally. The expression “there eat bread and prophecy” is a hendiadys for “there live on your profession as a prophet,” not here. To this Amos replies that that was not his profession (Amos 7:14). Bethel is spoken of as the “holy place,” or sanctuary, and also as the “royal residence” (E.V., “king’s court”). Men blinded by prejudice, and bewildered by the light of our Lord’s holy presence, besought him to depart from them. The awful peril of imploring God’s messenger to withdraw is frequently referred to in Scripture. (Comp. Luke 10:10-12.)
Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:(14) I was . . .—An interesting biographical touch. Prophecy, like other occupations, tended to form a hereditary guild, but Amos was not by birth a prophet. The word for “gatherer” is rendered in the LXX. and Vulg. “nipper,” or “pincher.” There was a custom mentioned in Theophrastus, Hist. Plant., iv. 2, Pliny, Hist. Nat., xiii. 14, of pinching or scratching the mulberry-fig in order to make it ripen. But it is very doubtful whether this is the meaning of the Hebrew word here, which is nowhere else employed.
And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.(15) Followed the flock.—There is no hint of any lack of education or refinement (see Introduction) through the exclusion of any special aid derived from the training of earlier prophets. In this case God’s inward call had been more than sufficient.
Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac.(16) Drop not.—A word used in the Song of Moses for “distil,” expressing persuasive and flowing discourse (Deuteronomy 32:2; Ezekiel 21:2; Ezekiel 21:7; Micah 2:6; Micah 2:11).
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.(17) Harlot.—This doom on Amaziah’s wife is to be regarded as the hideous consequence of war. She shall be ravished. By the polluted land we are to understand Assyria, or the land of exile; for food eaten in any other land than Canaan, the land of Jehovah, was regarded as unclean (see W. R. Smith, O.T. in Jewish Church, pp. 235-8). We hear no more of Amaziah, nor do we know how or where he met his doom.