Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.IX.
(1) The last vision is transferred to the shrine at Bethel, the seat of the calf-worship. The prophet sees Jehovah Himself standing in pomp by the altar of burnt offering, and by His side the angel of His presence, to whom now, as on many other occasions, the mission of destruction has been entrusted. To him the words of Jehovah are addressed (so Aben Ezra, Kimchi). It is doubtful what is meant by the Hebrew Caphtôr (mistranslated “lintel of the door”). It may mean the wreathed capital of the columns, as in Zephaniah 2:14. So Hitzig and Keil. The word sippîm (mistranslated “posts”) properly signifies “thresholds,” but is here understood by the first-mentioned commentator to mean the cornice supported by the columns. This is confirmed by the LXX. on Isaiah 6:4 (see Delitzsch ad loc). But as there is no mention of the temple building, but only of the altar of burnt offering, it is much safer to adhere to the ordinary and well-established significations of these terms. We should accordingly follow Ewald in taking Caphtôr as referring to the ornamented horns of the altar. Similarly, in Exodus 25:31; Exodus 37:17, it signifies the richly decorated extremities of the golden candelabra. The scene is wonderfully vivid. Round the colossal altar of burnt offering a crowd of eager devotees is gathered. Jehovah gives the word of command to His angel, and with a blow that shakes the very threshold the ornamented altar horns are shivered to fragments, which are hurled down upon the panic-stricken multitude below.
And cut . . .—Rather, and dash them in pieces upon the head of all of them.
Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:(2) Dig.—For this expression break should be substituted. “Hell,” or rather, Hades (Sheôl), the dark abode of the gathered dead, is contrasted with “heaven,” the abode of light. Escape from the universal Lord is impossible.
And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them:(3) Serpent.—On this expression, i.e., the “waterserpent,” comp. Isaiah 27:1.
And the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.(5, 6) Accumulate in grand imagery the majesty, power, and irresistible resources of the Lord, who has at length become their enemy. The very world itself melts, as Sinai did, at His touch.
The word “is” should be omitted in the rendering. The predicate “Jehovah (the Lord) is His name” (Amos 9:6) stands at the end of a series of attributive clauses.
Like a flood . . .—The sentence should run thus: The whole of it rises like the Nile, and subsides (or sinks) like the Egyptian Nile. The future tenses should be replaced by presents. (Comp. Amos 8:8.)
Stories—i.e., upper rooms (comp. Psalm 104:3). The word for “troop” is rightly rendered “arch,” or “vault,” from a root signifying to bind or compact together, the sky being regarded as a “firmament,” or solid extension, which rested on the earth as a foundation.
Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?(7) Ethiopians.—Israel had presumed on the special favour of Jehovah. The prophet asks them whether, after all, they are better or safer than the Ethiopians, whom they despised. He who led Israel from Egypt also brought the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir. Caphtor is mentioned in the table of races, Genesis 10:14 (where the clause referring to the Philistines should probably be placed at the end of the verse). The LXX. followed by the Targums and Peshito interpret Caphtor as Cappadocia, probably from resemblance in form. R. S. Poole, art. “Caphtor,” in the Dictionary of the Bible, compares the Egyptian Kebtu or Koptos, and places the Caphtorim in Upper Egypt, while Ebers holds that they had their settlements in the Nile delta. But the identification of Caphtor with Crete is most probable. So Rosenmüller, Ewald, Dillmann, &c. On Kir, probably E. of the Euphrates, see Note on Amos 1:5.
Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD.(8) Sinful nation.—The kingdom of the ten tribes which had so utterly revolted from the true centre and spiritual ideas of the worship of Jehovah.
For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.(9, 10) Sift.—Literally, shake to and fro. That which is not chaff shall be preserved and dispersed as seed. The race shall live, though the kingdom be destroyed. This peculiar judgment is threatened in Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64. (Comp. Hosea 9:17.) The prediction is very remarkable, as pointing to the indestructible vitality of the race, and its wide diffusion among all nations.
Prevent us.—Better, assail us.
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:(11, 12) These verses present some difficulties, as the quotation of the passage in Acts 15:15-17 is a free reproduction by St. James of the rendering of the LXX. The apostle uses it to show that there was a prophetic promise that after the dispersion of Israel the power and throne of David should be so re-established that it might be a rallying-place of the rest of the nations, “that the residue of men should seek after the Lord” (LXX. “me”). The clause which is quoted shows that the LXX. made their translation from a different Hebrew text from ours, and probably an inferior one. The word for “men” (ādām) was read in place of Edom in the Masoretic text. The rendering “seek” can also be accounted for by a slight modification of the Hebrew characters. The remarks of Dr. Stanley Leathes (Old Testament Prophecy, p. 70) upon this passage are worthy of attention:—“The Greek text, which the apostle did not make, but found, lent itself even more forcibly than the Hebrew to the peculiar circumstances of the time . . . That he was not speaking critically we are willing to admit, but are we sure that he was bound to do so? At all events, our criticism will best display itself in judging his words according to his standard, and not according to one which, it is plain, he did not follow.”
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.(13) Shall overtake the reaper.—So rapidly will the harvest follow the ploughing. These closing verses foreshadow the glories of the restored kingdom of David (comp. Hosea 3:5), wherein we see the germ of the great Messianic prophecies of Isaiah.