Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!
Am 6:1-14. Denunciation of Both the Sister Nations (Especially Their Nobles) For Wanton Security—Zion, as Well as Samaria: Threat of the Exile: Ruin of Their Palaces and Slaughter of the People: Their Perverse Injustice.
1. named chief of the nations—that is, you nobles, so eminent in influence, that your names are celebrated among the chief nations [Ludovicus De Dieu]. Hebrew, "Men designated by name among the first-fruits of the nations," that is, men of note in Israel, the people chosen by God as first of the nations (Ex 19:5; compare Nu 24:20) [Piscator].
to whom … Israel came—that is, the princes to whom the Israelites used to repair for the decision of controversies, recognizing their authority [Maurer]. I prefer to refer "which" to the antecedent "Zion" and "Samaria"; these were esteemed "chief" strongholds among the heathen nations "to whom … Israel came" when it entered Canaan; Am 6:2 accords with this.
Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?
2. Calneh—on the east bank of the Tigris. Once powerful, but recently subjugated by Assyria (Isa 10:9; about 794 B.C.).
Hameth—subjugated by Jeroboam II (2Ki 14:25). Also by Assyria subsequently (2Ki 18:34). Compare Am 6:14.
Gath—subjugated by Uzziah (2Ch 26:6).
be they better—no. Their so recent subjugation renders it needless for Me to tell you they are not. And yet they once were; still they could not defend themselves against the enemy. How vain, then, your secure confidence in the strength of Mounts Zion and Samaria! He takes cities respectively east, north, south, and west of Israel (compare Na 3:8).
Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;
3. Ye persuade yourselves that "the evil day" foretold by the prophets is "far off," though they declare it near (Eze 12:22, 27). Ye in your imagination put it far off, and therefore bring near violent oppression, suffering it to sit enthroned, as it were, among you (Ps 94:20). The notion of judgment being far off has always been an incentive to the sinner's recklessness of living (Ec 8:12, 13; Mt 24:48). Yet that very recklessness brings near the evil day which he puts far off. "Ye bring on fever by your intemperance, and yet would put it far off" [Calvin].
That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall;
4. (See Am 2:8).
beds of ivory—that is, adorned, or inlaid, with ivory (Am 3:15).
stretch themselves—in luxurious self-indulgence.
lambs out of the flock—picked out as the choicest, for their owners' selfish gratification.
That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;
5. chant—literally, "mark distinct sounds and tones."
viol—the lyre, or lute.
invent … instruments … like David—They fancy they equal David in musical skill (1Ch 23:5; Ne 12:36). They defend their luxurious passion for music by his example: forgetting that he pursued this study when at peace and free from danger, and that for the praise of God; but they pursue for their own self-gratification, and that when God is angry and ruin is imminent.
That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
6. drink … in bowls—in the large vessels or basins in which wine was mixed; not satisfied with the smaller cups from which it was ordinarily drunk, after having been poured from the large mixer.
chief ointments—that is, the most costly: not for health or cleanliness, but wanton luxury.
not grieved for the affliction of Joseph—literally, "the breach," that is, the national wound or calamity (Ps 60:2; Eze 34:4) of the house of Joseph (Am 5:6); resembling in this the heartlessness of their forefathers, the sons of Jacob, towards Joseph, "eating bread" while their brother lay in the pit, and then selling him to Ishmaelites.
Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.
7. Therefore … shall they go captive with the first—As they were first among the people in rank (Am 6:1), and anointed themselves "with the chief ointments" (Am 6:6), so shall they be among the foremost in going into captivity.
banquet—literally, the "merry-making shout of revellers"; from an Arabic root, "to cry out." In the Hebrew, marzeach; here, there is an allusion to mizraqu, "bowls" (Am 6:6).
them that stretched themselves—on luxurious couches (Am 6:4).
The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.
8. the excellency of Jacob—(Ps 47:4). The sanctuary which was the great glory of the covenant-people [Vatablus], (Eze 24:21). The priesthood, and kingdom, and dignity, conferred on them by God. These, saith God, are of no account in My eyes towards averting punishment [Calvin].
hate his palaces—as being the storehouses of "robbery" (Am 3:10, 15). How sad a change from God's love of Zion's gates (Ps 87:2) and palaces (Ps 48:3, 13), owing to the people's sin!
the city—collectively: both Zion and Samaria (Am 6:1).
all that is therein—literally, "its fulness"; the multitude of men and of riches in it (compare Ps 24:1).
And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die.
9. If as many as ten (Le 26:26; Zec 8:23) remain in a house (a rare case, and only in the scattered villages, as there will be scarcely a house in which the enemy will leave any), they shall all, to a man, die of the plague, a frequent concomitant of war in the East (Jer 24:10; 44:13; Eze 6:11).
And a man's uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that is by the sides of the house, Is there yet any with thee? and he shall say, No. Then shall he say, Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the LORD.
10. a man's uncle—The nearest relatives had the duty of burying the dead (Ge 25:9; 35:29; Jud 16:31). No nearer relative was left of this man than an uncle.
and he that burneth him—the uncle, who is also at the same time the one that burneth him (one of the "ten," Am 6:9). Burial was the usual Hebrew mode of disposing of their dead. But in cases of necessity, as when the men of Jabesh-gilead took the bodies of Saul and his three sons from the walls of Beth-shan and burned them to save them from being insulted by the Philistines, burning was practised. So in this case, to prevent contagion.
the bones—that is, the dead body (Ge 50:25). Perhaps here there is an allusion in the phrase to the emaciated condition of the body, which was little else but skin and bones.
say unto him that is by the sides of the house—that is, to the only one left of the ten in the interior of the house [Maurer] (compare Note, see on Isa 14:13).
Hold thy tongue … we may not … mention … the Lord—After receiving the reply, that none is left besides the one addressed, when the man outside fancies the man still surviving inside to be on the point, as was customary, of expressing devout gratitude to God who spared him, the man outside interrupts him, "Hold thy tongue! for there is not now cause for mentioning with praise (Jos 23:7) the name of Jehovah"; for thou also must die; as all the ten are to die to the last man (Am 6:9; compare Am 8:3). Formerly ye boasted in the name of Jehovah, as if ye were His peculiar people; now ye shall be silent and shudder at His name, as hostile to you, and as one from whom ye wish to be hidden (Re 6:16), [Calvin].
For, behold, the LORD commandeth, and he will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts.
11. commandeth, and he will smite—His word of command, when once given, cannot but be fulfilled (Isa 55:11). His mere word is enough to smite with destruction.
great house … little house—He will spare none, great or small (Am 3:15). Jerome interprets "the great house" as Israel, and "the small house" as Judah: the former being reduced to branches or ruins, literally, "small drops"; the latter, though injured with "clefts" or rents, which threaten its fall, yet still permitted to stand.
Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock:
12. In turning "judgment (justice) into gall (poison), and … righteousness into hemlock" (or wormwood, bitter and noxious), ye act as perversely as if one were to make "horses run upon the rock" or to "plough with oxen there" [Maurer]. As horses and oxen are useless on a rock, so ye are incapable of fulfilling justice [Grotius]. Ye impede the course of God's benefits, because ye are as it were a hard rock on which His favor cannot run. "Those that will not be tilled as fields, shall be abandoned as rocks" [Calvin].
Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?
13. rejoice in a thing of naught—that is, in your vain and fleeting riches.
Have we not taken to us horns—that is, acquired power, so as to conquer our neighbors (2Ki 14:25). Horns are the Hebrew symbol of power, being the instrument of strength in many animals (Ps 75:10).
But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the LORD the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness.
14. from the entering in of Hamath—the point of entrance for an invading army (as Assyria) into Israel from the north; specified here, as Hamath had been just before subjugated by Jeroboam II (Am 6:2). Do not glory in your recently acquired city, for it shall be the starting-point for the foe to afflict you. How sad the contrast to the feast of Solomon attended by a congregation from this same Hamath, the most northern boundary of Israel, to the Nile, the river of Egypt, the most southern boundary!
unto the river of the wilderness—that is, to Kedron, which empties itself into the north bay of the Dead Sea below Jericho (2Ch 28:15), the southern boundary of the ten tribes (2Ki 14:25, "from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain") [Maurer]. To the river Nile, which skirts the Arabian wilderness and separates Egypt from Canaan [Grotius]. If this verse includes Judah, as well as Israel (compare Am 6:1, "Zion" and "Samaria"), Grotius' view is correct; and it agrees with 1Ki 8:65.