Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel.
Am 5:1-27. Elegy over the Prostrate Kingdom: Renewed Exhortations to Repentance: God Declares that the Coming Day of Judgment Shall Be Terrible to the Scorners Who Despise It: Ceremonial Services Are Not Acceptable to Him Where True Piety Exists Not: Israel Shall Therefore Be Removed Far Eastward.
1. lamentation—an elegy for the destruction coming on you. Compare Eze 32:2, "take up," namely, as a mournful burden (Eze 19:1; 27:2).
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. virgin of Israel—the Israelite state heretofore unsubdued by foreigners. Compare Isa 23:12; Jer 18:13; 31:4, 21; La 2:13; may be interpreted, Thou who wast once the "virgin daughter of Zion." Rather, "virgin" as applied to a state implies its beauty, and the delights on which it prides itself, its luxuries, power, and wealth [Calvin].
no more rise—in the existing order of things: in the Messianic dispensation it is to rise again, according to many prophecies. Compare 2Ki 6:23; 24:7, for the restricted sense of "no more."
forsaken upon her land—or, "prostrated upon," &c. (compare Eze 29:5; 32:4) [Maurer].
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. went out by a thousand—that is, "the city from which there used to go out a thousand" equipped for war. "City" is put for "the inhabitants of the city," as in Am 4:8.
shall leave … hundred—shall have only a hundred left, the rest being destroyed by sword and pestilence (De 28:62).
For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:
4. Seek ye me, and ye shall live—literally, "Seek … Me, and live." The second imperative expresses the certainty of "life" (escape from judgment) resulting from obedience to the precept in the first imperative. If they perish, it is their own fault; God would forgive, if they would repent (Isa 55:3, 6).
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 not Beth-el—that is, the calves at Beth-el.
Gilgal—(See on Am 4:4).
Beer-sheba—in Judah on the southern frontier towards Edom. Once "the well of the oath" by Jehovah, ratifying Abraham's covenant with Abimelech, and the scene of his calling on "the Lord, the everlasting God" (Ge 21:31, 33), now a stronghold of idolatry (Am 8:14).
Gilgal shall surely go into captivity—a play on similar sounds in the Hebrew, Gilgal, galoh, yigleh: "Gilgal (the place of rolling) shall rolling be rolled away."
Beth-el shall come to naught—Beth-el (that is, the "house of God"), called because of its vain idols Beth-aven (that is, "the house of vanity," or "naught," Ho 4:15; 10:5, 8), shall indeed "come to naught."
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. break out like fire—bursting through everything in His way. God is "a consuming fire" (De 4:24; Isa 10:17; La 2:3).
the house of Joseph—the kingdom of Israel, of which the tribe of Ephraim, Joseph's son, was the chief tribe (compare Eze 37:16).
none to quench it in Beth-el—that is, none in Beth-el to quench it; none of the Beth-el idols on which Israel so depended, able to remove the divine judgments.
Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,
7. turn judgment to wormwood—that is, pervert it to most bitter wrong. As justice is sweet, so injustice is bitter to the injured. "Wormwood" is from a Hebrew root, to "execrate," on account of its noxious and bitter qualities.
leave on righteousness in … earth—Maurer translates, "cast righteousness to the ground," as in Isa 28:2; Da 8:12.
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. the seven stars—literally, the heap or cluster of seven larger stars and others smaller (Job 9:9; 38:31). The former whole passage seems to have been in Amos' mind. He names the stars well known to shepherds (to which class Amos belonged), Orion as the precursor of the tempests which are here threatened, and the Pleiades as ushering in spring.
shadow of death—Hebraism for the densest darkness.
calleth for the waters of the sea—both to send deluges in judgment, and the ordinary rain in mercy (1Ki 18:44).
That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.
9. strengtheneth the spoiled—literally, "spoil" or "devastation": hence the "person spoiled." Winer, Maurer, and the best modern critics translate, "maketh devastation (or destruction) suddenly to arise," literally, "maketh it to gleam forth like the dawn." Ancient versions support English Version. The Hebrew is elsewhere used, to make, to shine, to make glad: and as English Version here (Ps 39:13), "recover strength."
the spoiled shall come—"devastation," or "destruction shall come upon" [Maurer]. English Version expresses that, strong as Israel fancies herself after the successes of Jeroboam II (2Ki 14:25), even the weakest can be made by God to prevail against the strong.
They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.
10. him that rebuketh in the gate—the judge who condemns their iniquity in the place of judgment (Isa 29:21).
abhor him that speaketh uprightly—the prophet telling them the unwelcome truth: answering in the parallelism to the judge, "that rebuketh in the gate" (compare 1Ki 22:8; Pr 9:8; 12:1; Jer 36:23).
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—burdensome taxes levied in kind from the wheat of the needy, to pamper the lusts of the great [Henderson]. Or wheat advanced in time of scarcity, and exacted again at a burdensome interest [Rabbi Salomon].
built houses … but not dwell in them … vineyards, … but not drink wine of them—according to the original prophecy of Moses (De 28:30, 38, 39). The converse shall be true in restored Israel (Am 9:14; Isa 65:21, 22).
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. they afflict … they take—rather, "(ye) who afflict … take."
bribe—literally, a price with which one who has an unjust cause ransoms himself from your sentence (1Sa 12:3, Margin; Pr 6:35).
turn aside the poor in the gate—refuse them their right in the place of justice (Am 2:7; Isa 29:21).
Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
13. the prudent—the spiritually wise.
shall keep silence—not mere silence of tongue, but the prudent shall keep himself quiet from taking part in any public or private affairs which he can avoid: as it is "an evil time," and one in which all law is set at naught. Eph 5:16 refers to this. Instead of impatiently agitating against irremediable evils, the godly wise will not cast pearls before swine, who would trample these, and rend the offerers (Mt 7:6), but will patiently wait for God's time of deliverance in silent submission (Ps 39:9).
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. and so—on condition of your "seeking good."
shall be with you, as ye have spoken—as ye have boasted; namely, that God is with you, and that you are His people (Mic 3:11).
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. Hate … evil … love … good—(Isa 1:16, 17; Ro 12:9).
judgment in the gate—justice in the place where causes are tried.
it may be that the Lord … will be gracious—so, "peradventure" (Ex 32:30). Not that men are to come to God with an uncertainty whether or no He will be gracious: the expression merely implies the difficulty in the way, because of the want of true repentance on man's part, so as to stimulate the zealous earnestness of believers in seeking God (compare Ge 16:2; Joe 2:14; Ac 8:22).
the remnant of Joseph—(see Am 5:6). Israel (represented by "Ephraim," the leading tribe, and descendant of Joseph) was, as compared to what it once was, now but a remnant, Hazael of Syria having smitten all the coasts from Jordan eastward, Gilead and Bashan, Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh (2Ki 10:32, 33) [Henderson]. Rather, "the remnant of Israel that shall have been left after the wicked have been destroyed" [Maurer].
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—resumed from Am 5:13. God foresees they will not obey the exhortation (Am 5:14, 15), but will persevere in the unrighteousness stigmatized (Am 5:7, 10, 12).
the God of hosts, the Lord—an accumulation of titles, of which His lordship over all things is the climax, to mark that from His judgment there is no appeal.
streets … highways—the broad open spaces and the narrow streets common in the East.
call the husbandman to mourning—The citizens shall call the inexperienced husbandmen to act the part usually performed by professional mourners, as there will not be enough of the latter for the universal mourning which prevails.
such as are skilful of lamentation—professional mourners hired to lead off the lamentations for the deceased; alluded to in Ec 12:5; generally women (Jer 9:17-19).
And in all vineyards shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD.
17. in all vineyards … wailing—where usually songs of joy were heard.
pass through thee—taking vengeance (Ex 12:12, 23; Na 1:12). "Pass over" and "pass by," on the contrary, are used of God's forgiving (Ex 12:23; Mic 7:18; compare Am 7:8).
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 who do not scruple to say in irony, "We desire that the day of the Lord would come," that is, "Woe to you who treat it as if it were a mere dream of the prophets" (Isa 5:19; Jer 17:15; Eze 12:22).
to what end is it for you!—Amos taking their ironical words in earnest: for God often takes the blasphemer at his own word, in righteous retribution making the scoffer's jest a terrible reality against himself. Ye have but little reason to desire the day of the Lord; for it will be to you calamity, and not joy.
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. As if a man did flee … a lion, and a bear met him—Trying to escape one calamity, he falls into another. This perhaps implies that in Am 5:18 their ironical desire for the day of the Lord was as if it would be an escape from existing calamities. The coming of the day of the Lord would be good news to us, if true: for we have served God (that is, the golden calves). So do hypocrites flatter themselves as to death and judgment, as if these would be a relief from existing ills of life. The lion may from generosity spare the prostrate, but the bear spares none (compare Job 20:24; Isa 24:18).
leaned … on the wall—on the side wall of the house, to support himself from falling. Snakes often hid themselves in fissures in a wall. Those not reformed by God's judgments will be pursued by them: if they escape one, another is ready to seize them.
Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
21. I hate, I despise—The two verbs joined without a conjunction express God's strong abhorrence.
your feast days—yours; not Mine; I do not acknowledge them: unlike those in Judah, yours are of human, not divine institution.
I will not smell—that is, I will take no delight in the sacrifices offered (Ge 8:21; Le 26:31).
in your solemn assemblies—literally, "days of restraint." Isa 1:10-15 is parallel. Isaiah is fuller; Amos, more condensed. Amos condemns Israel not only on the ground of their thinking to satisfy God by sacrifices without obedience (the charge brought by Isaiah against the Jews), but also because even their external ritual was a mere corruption, and unsanctioned by God.
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. meat offerings—flour, &c. Unbloody offerings.
peace offerings—offerings for obtaining from God peace and prosperity. Hebrew, "thank offerings."
Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
23. Take … away from me—literally, "Take away, from upon Me"; the idea being that of a burden pressing upon the bearer. So Isa 1:14, "They are a trouble unto Me (literally, 'a burden upon Me'): I am weary to bear them."
the noise of thy songs—The hymns and instrumental music on sacred occasions are to Me nothing but a disagreeable noise.
I will not hear—Isaiah substitutes "prayers" (Isa 1:15) for the "songs" and "melody" here; but, like Amos, closes with "I will not hear."
But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.
run down—literally, "roll," that is, flow abundantly (Isa 48:18). Without the desire to fulfil righteousness in the offerer, the sacrifice is hateful to God (1Sa 15:22; Ps 66:18; Ho 6:6; Mic 6:8).
Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?
25, 26. Have ye offered? &c.—Yes: ye have. "But (all the time with strange inconsistency) ye have borne (aloft in solemn pomp) the tabernacle (that is, the portable shrine, or model tabernacle: small enough not to be detected by Moses; compare Ac 19:24) of your Molech" (that idol is "your" god; I am not, though ye go through the form of presenting offerings to Me). The question, "Have ye," is not a denial (for they did offer in the wilderness to Jehovah sacrifices of the cattle which they took with them in their nomad life there, Ex 24:4; Nu 7:1-89; 9:1, &c.), but a strong affirmation (compare 1Sa 2:27, 28; Jer 31:20; Eze 20:4). The sin of Israel in Amos' time is the very sin of their forefathers, mocking God with worship, while at the same time worshipping idols (compare Eze 20:39). It was clandestine in Moses' time, else he would have put it down; he was aware generally of their unfaithfulness, though not knowing the particulars (De 31:21, 27).
Molech … Chiun—"Molech" means "king" answering to Mars [Bengel]; the Sun [Jablonski]; Saturn, the same as "Chiun" [Maurer]. The Septuagint translates "Chiun" into Remphan, as Stephen quotes it (Ac 7:42, 43). The same god often had different names. Molech is the Ammonite name; Chiun, the Arabic and Persian name, written also Chevan. In an Arabic lexicon Chiun means "austere"; so astrologers represented Saturn as a planet baleful in his influence. Hence the Ph�nicians offered human sacrifices to him, children especially; so idolatrous Israel also. Rimmon was the Syrian name (2Ki 5:18); pronounced as Remvan, or "Remphan," just as Chiun was also Chevan. Molech had the form of a king; Chevan, or Chiun, of a star [Grotius]. Remphan was the Egyptian name for Saturn: hence the Septuagint translator of Amos gave the Egyptian name for the Hebrew, being an Egyptian. [Hodius II, De Bibliorum Textibus Originalibus. 4.115]. The same as the Nile, of which the Egyptians made the star Saturn the representative [Harenberg]. Bengel considers Remphan or Rephan akin to Teraphim and Remphis, the name of a king of Egypt. The Hebrews became infected with Sabeanism, the oldest form of idolatry, the worship of the Saba or starry hosts, in their stay in the Arabian desert, where Job notices its prevalence (Job 31:26); in opposition, in Am 5:27, Jehovah declares Himself "the God of hosts."
the star of your god—R. Isaac Caro says all the astrologers represented Saturn as the star of Israel. Probably there was a figure of a star on the head of the image of the idol, to represent the planet Saturn; hence "images" correspond to "star" in the parallel clause. A star in hieroglyphics represents God (Nu 24:17). "Images" are either a Hebraism for "image," or refer to the many images made to represent Chiun.
But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.
Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts.
27. beyond Damascus—In Ac 7:43 it is "beyond Babylon," which includes beyond Damascus. In Amos' time, Damascus was the object of Israel's fear because of the Syrian wars. Babylon was not yet named as the place of their captivity. Stephen supplies this name. Their place of exile was in fact, as he states, "beyond Babylon," in Halah and Habor by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2Ki 17:6; compare here Am 1:5; 4:3; 6:14). The road to Assyria lay through "Damascus." It is therefore specified, that not merely shall they be carried captives to Damascus, as they had been by Syrian kings (2Ki 10:32, 33; 13:7), but, beyond that, to a region whence a return was not so possible as from Damascus. They were led captive by Satan into idolatry, therefore God caused them to go captive among idolaters. Compare 2Ki 15:29; 16:9; Isa 8:4, whence it appears Tiglath-pileser attacked Israel and Damascus at the same time at Ahaz' request (Am 3:11).