Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Fourth Vision: Israel ripe for Destruction. Days of Mourning threatened against the Ungodly. Afterwards a Famine of the Word.
1 Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me,
And behold, a basket with ripe fruit.1
2 And he said, What seest thou, Amos?
And I said, A basket with ripe fruit.
Then said Jehovah to me,
“The end2 is come to my people, Israel;
I will not pass by them any more.
3 And the songs of the palace3 shall howl
In that day, saith the Lord Jehovah;
Corpses in multitude; everywhere has he4 cast them forth; Hush!”5
4 Hear this, ye who pant6 for the poor,
And to destroy the meek7 of the earth,
5 Saying, when will the new moon be over,
That we may sell grain,
And the Sabbath, that we may open wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel great,
And falsifying the scales of deceit;
6 Buying the poor for silver,
And the needy for a pair of shoes,
And the refuse of the wheat will we sell.
7 Jehovah hath sworn by the pride of Jacob,
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the earth tremble for this,
And every dweller therein mourn?
And it shall rise up, all of it, like the Nile,8
And shall heave and sink9 like the Nile of Egypt.
9 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah,
That I will cause the sun to go down at noon,
And make it dark to the earth in clear day;
10 And will turn your festivals into mourning,
And all your songs into lamentation;
And will bring sackcloth upon all loins,
And baldness upon every head;
And will make it10 like the mourning for an only son,
And the end of it like11 a bitter day.
11 Behold, days are coming, saith the Lord Jehovah,
When I will send a hunger into the land,
Not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water,
But to hear the words of Jehovah.
12 And they shall stagger from sea to sea,
And rove about from the north12 even to the east,
To seek the Word of Jehovah, and shall not find it.
13 In that day the fair virgins shall faint,
And the young13 men, for thirst.
14 They who swear by the sin of Samaria,
And say, By the life of thy God, O Dan!
And, By the life of the way of Beersheba!
They shall fall and rise no more.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
1. Amos 8:1–3. Fourth Vision.The basket with ripe fruit. No more forbearance. Amos 8:1. This basket is an image of a people ripe for judgment. The play upon words between the original for ‘ripe fruit” and that for “end,” indicates more, clearly the necessary result of the ripeness, namely, the downfall of the people.
Amos 8:3. Songs become howlings—wherefore? The answer follows: because of the multitude of the dead. The exclamation Hush! is an admonition to bow beneath the tremendous severity of the divine judgment.
Amos 8:4–14. What has been briefly expressed in Amos 8:1–3 is here expanded into a longer discourse, the sinful conduct of the great which makes them ripe for judgment, and the heavy penalty which they must suffer.
(a.) Amos 8:4–6. Hear this, ye who, etc. A description of their wanton course. They pant after the poor and destroy the meek by grasping all property for themselves. Cf. Job 22:8; Is. 5:8. This is further defined in the two following verses, in which the prophet makes the men describe their own feelings and conduct.
Amos 8:5. They cannot even wait for the end of the festival in order to resume their traffic. The new moon was a holiday, like the Sabbath, on which trade and business ceased. To open wheat=to open the granaries; cf. Gen. 41:56. What Joseph did for the benefit of the poor, these did for their own advantage, making usurious gains from others’ poverty. With this they united fraud; by diminishing the measure and increasing the shekel=by demanding one of greater weight than the right standard; and by falsifying the scales=using scales arranged so as to cheat.
Amos 8:6. Thus the poor man was made so poor that he was compelled to sell himself either for a piece of silver which be owed, or for a pair of shoes which he had gotten and was unable to pay for. Thus he could not meet the smallest expenditure. To complete the case, only the refuse grain was sold to them, for which yet they had to pay the same as for good grain.
(b.) Amos 8:7–14. Punishment of such wickedness. (1.) Amos 8:7–10. Hath sworn by the pride of Jacob, i.e., by himself who was the pride and glory of Israel. “By leaving such sins unpunished He would deny his glory in Israel.” (Keil.)
Amos 8:8. Therefore or for this, namely, for these deeds. These are Jehovah’s words, and carry out the thought of “not forgetting the deeds,” by a delineation of the impending judgment. The question, Shall not, etc., is intended to forestall the idea that such things could be left unpunished. It is incorrect to refer the “for this,” to the punishment as if it were intended to emphasize that. The form of the speech, i.e., the question, does not suit this view; and besides, in that case the punishment itself would be really indicated only in Amos 8:7, so that this unusual prominence of its impressiveness would be without a motive. The same words recur in Amos 9:5, but there as a description of God’s omnipotence, manifesting itself, however, in judgments. The earth heaves, because the Lord touches it (Amos 9:5). The trembling of the earth as a heaving and sinking is explained by comparison with the rise and fall of the Nile.
Amos 8:9. In that day, i.e., the day of the judgment, in which what has just been mentioned is to take place. In close connection with the trembling of the earth is its becoming dark: the one is not conceivable without the other. At bottom Amos 8:8 describes a return of the earth to its original condition of chaos—the sun go down at midday; not a mere eclipse, but a catastrophe which subverts the order of nature. [An eclipse is not the “going down” of the sun. The minute calculations of Hitzig and Michaelis, repeated and extended by Pusey, are therefore quite aside from the purpose.—C.]
Amos 8:10 describes more minutely the general mourning already touched upon in Amos 8:8. Cf. 5:3; Amos 5:16; Hosea 2:13. Baldness upon every head. The shaving of a bald place was a sign of mourning. Cf. Is. 3:24.
(2.) Amos 8:11–14. A new and peculiar trait in the delineation of the judgment, the bitter day. The Word of God, which men now despise, they will then long for, but in vain. Too late! This threat bears obliquely upon the insatiable avarice of those who live in luxury through their oppression of the poor. At the same time they are the persons who now will not listen to the Word of God.
Amos 8:12. They stagger, because plagued by hunger and thirst. From sea to sea, indefinitely, the sea being conceived of as the end of the earth (Ps. 72:8). From the north to the east = from north to south, and from east to west, i.e., to every quarter of the globe.
Amos 8:13. So great is the torment of this unsatisfied hunger and thirst that the strongest succumb to it; these are individualized as the young men and the maidens; if they fail, much more the weak.
Amos 8:14. The sin of Samaria = that by which Samaria sins, the golden calf at Bethel. This is the most probable explanation, because of the corresponding expression in the next clause, the god of Dan = the golden calf there. By the life of the way; by the life of, is a customary formula of swearing, here improperly used in reference to a thing. The way of Beersheba = the way by which men go to Beersheba, to the worship there. The swearing by these objects shows that the young men and maidens are worshippers of these idols and make pilgrimages to Beersheba.
DOCTRINAL AND MORAL
1. According to our chapter the ripeness of the people for judgment is due to the violence and injustice practiced by the rich and noble upon the poor. These are peculiarly flagitious sins which call down the judgments of God. As such a statement reveals to us a degree of moral corruption which is frightful, so we learn from the severity with which the sins are rebuked and condemned, not only the spirit of justice but also the compassion which belongs to the religion of the Old Testament. It desires that every one, even the poorest, should have his rights, and even comes forward to protect the poor as such against the violence of the rich. They have a counsellor in God, who, as He protects them by the law, continues to do so by the penalties imposed upon the transgressors of the law. He does indeed bear long with those transgressors who oppress the poor, so that it may appear as if He had forgotten them; but as He owes, so to speak, the duty of sympathy with the poor and their necessities, so does He also that of forbearance with their oppressors, because He desires not the death of the sinner but rather that he would turn and live.
2. The frightful severity of God’s judgments, so far from being opposed to the compassion which cares for the poor and feeble, is rather in full harmony with it. The modern polemical spirit against the Old Testament descriptions of this severity, betrays its origin too plainly; it knows nothing in truth of sin, and therefore nothing of the divine judgment upon sin. It fails to see that the love which it claims for its God, really becomes the greatest harshness, since it denies the possibility of the punishment of sinners and therefore any efficacious opposition to the unrighteousness wrought by them. Only a God who is truly terror malorum can truly be amor bonorum. Moreover we do as a matter of fact continually meet with occurrences, in detail and in gross, which undeniably are judgments upon the sins of men, and that in these there is an execution of a law of moral government, can just as little be denied. So much the more foolish then is the opposition to the so-called ferocious God of the Jews, to the retaliatory spirit of the Old Testament. Now because men do not believe that there is and must be in God, along with, or rather for the sake of, the love which He is, strictness in judgment, He is obliged to show to a race which has lost its faith in the God of the Scriptures, by actual facts, as violent as those of the year 1870, that the storms of divine wrath are not merely outgrowths of a crude, undisciplined view of life, and tokens of a low state of culture, but a reality, planted in the midst of a century claiming to itself the highest culture. When the measure is full, these storms break forth, and a hundred times over put to flight “culture,” “love,” and all similar watchwords of the modern spirit. Then there often comes suddenly a “shaking” of the earth, or gloom falls upon an entire nation so that it becomes dark in bright daylight, or the festivals are turned into mourning and songs into lamentations, or all loins are clothed in sackcloth,—just when men in their blind security held such things to be impossible. Yes, times of war furnish only too striking illustrations of those words of Scripture which a race, strong in the conviction of its own leadership, coolly dismisses as a coarse and antiquated rhetoric, while it passes to the order of the day. Such fearful periods compel even an unbelieving race to forebode that the final judgment may prove a reality compared with which all preceding judgments are trifles. But faith sees in these latter a divine finger-mark pointing to the former, for which reason men of God, like the prophets, continually unite with their descriptions of intermediate judgments a reference to the last great judgment; and this the more when they describe judgments which are at least relatively decisive, inasmuch as they make an end of an entire kingdom.
3. When divine judgments come and give flaming proof of God’s existence to a race which has forsaken and forgotten Him, the once despised and hated word of the Lord is appreciated again. Men “hunger and thirst” for it, but often at first not in the right way. They desire as speedily as possible to hear of promises and consolations, and to these every ear is open. But it is in vain. We now need expect no new revelation from God. We have “his Word” in the Scripture. But when this is a long time despised, it follows at last that there is no one to preach it, and without a living preacher, it is finally lost. Or if it is preached, it has no power to console, and men fail to find what they seek. Thus there ensues a longing which is not satisfied. The result is otherwise only when men bow themselves in penitence under the divine threatenings as deserved, and under the divine Spirit inwardly blame themselves for their previous apostasy. But who knows whether man will find room for repentance? Before he reaches that point, while he is in the midst of his vain longing for comfort, he may be snatched away.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
[Amos 8:1. Thus the Lord—shewed me. The sentence of Amaziah being pronounced, Amos resumes just where he had left off before. Amaziah’s vehement interruption is like a stone cast into deep waters. They close over it, and it leaves no trace. The last vision declared that the end was certain; this, that it was at hand. (Pusey.)
Amos 8:2. A basket with ripe fruit. At harvest time there is no more to be done for the crop. Good or bad, it has reached its end and is cut down. So the harvest of Israel was come … Heavenly influences can but injure the ripened sinner, as dew, rain, sun, but injure the ripened fruit. Israel was ripe, but for destruction. (Ibid.) Rev. 16:18, Gather the clusters of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe. (Ibid.)
Amos 8:3. The songs shall howl. When sounds of joy are turned into wailing, there must be complete sorrow. They are not merely hushed but turned into their opposite. Just the reverse is promised to the godly: Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh (Luke 6:21). (Ibid.)
Amos 8:5. When will the new moon be over? The Psalmist said, When shall I come and appear before God? These said, When will this service be over that we may be our own masters again?
Sin in wrong measures once begun is unbroken. All sin perpetuates itself; it is done again because it has been done before. But sins of a man’s daily occupation are continued of necessity, beyond the simple force of habit and the ever increasing dropsy of covetousness. To interrupt them is to risk detection. How countless then their number! When human law was enforced in a city after a time of negligence, scarcely a weight was found to be honest. Prayer went up to God on the Sabbath, and fraud on the poor went up to God in every transaction on the other six days. (Pusey.)
Amos 8:7. Jehovah hath sworn, etc. God must cease to be God, if He did not do what He sware to do—punish the oppressors of the poor, (lb.) Wo, and a thousand woes, to that man that is cut off by an oath of God from all benefit by pardoning mercy. (M. Henry.)—C.] The evil deeds of the wicked are inscribed in a perpetual memorial before God; but the sins of believers are cast by Him into the depths of the sea so that they never again come into mind. Micah 7:19. (Pf. B. W.)
[Amos 8:8. Shall not the earth tremble for this? Those who will not tremble and mourn as they ought for national sins shall be made to tremble and mourn for national judgments. (M. Henry.)
Amos 8:9. The sun goes down at noon. Sorrow is saddest when it comes upon fearless joy. God commonly in his mercy sends heralds of coming sorrow; very few burst suddenly upon man. Now in the meridian brightness of the day of Israel, the blackness of night should fall upon him. (Pusey.)
Amos 8:10. Turn your feasts into mourning. As to the upright there ariseth light in the darkness which gives them the oil of joy for mourning, so on the wicked there falls darkness in the midst of light which turns their joy into heaviness. The end of it as a bitter day. There is no hope that when things are at the worst, they will mend. No, the state of impenitent sinners grows worse and worse; and the last of all will be the worst of all. (M. Henry.)
Amos 8:11. Not a hunger for bread. In death and dreariness, in exile from the land of their fathers, crushed by oppressors, hearing only of gods more cruel than those who make them, how will they hunger and thirst for any tidings of one who cares for the weary and heavy-laden, one who would have man-servant and maid, the cattle and the stranger within the gates to rest as well as the prince; of one who had fixed the year of jubilee that the debtor might be released and the captive go free, O, what a longing in a land of bondage to hear of such a Being; to believe that all that had been told of Him in former days was not a dream, to have a right to tell their children that it was true for them! (Maurice.)
Amos 8:12. From sea to sea, etc. Even the profane, when they see no help, will have recourse to God. Saul in his extremity inquired of the Lord, and He answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. (Pusey.) Such is the present condition of the Jews. They roam in restless vagrancy about the world and seek the word of God; but they find it not, because they have killed the incarnate Word revealed in the written word. (Jerome.)—C.]
Amos 8:1.—קַיִץ, harvest, summer, here=summer-fruit, or gathered fruit, i.e., fully ripe, as 2 Sam. 16:1; Micah 7:1.
Amos 8:2.—The paronomasia in קַיִץ and קֵץ is marked and forcible. Cf. Ezek. 7:6]
Amos 8:3.—הֵיְכָל here manifestly is palace, not temple.
Amos 8:3.—הִשְׁלִיךְ has Jehovah for its subject (Keil). Others take it impersonally (Henderson), but Wordsworth supplies “every one” as the subject.
Amos 8:3.—הָס is by some, as E. V., rendered as an adverb=quietly; but always elsewhere it is an interjection, and should be so considered here.
Amos 8:4.—שׁאְַפִים,=pant after [like a dog or wild beast yelping and panting after its prey. Wordsworth]. This sense is clearly required by the second member, where שֹׁאֲפִים is to be supplied before לְהַשׁבִּית.
Amos 8:4.—עְ זֵּי. There seems no reason for departing from the textual reading here.
Amos 8:8.—כָּאֹר is a defective form for כַיאֹר (cf. Amos 9:5), a reading which is found in many of the MSS.
Amos 8:8.—נִשְׁקְהָ is a softened form for נִשְׁקְעָה, which is given in the Keri, and also in many MSS. Cf. שָׁקְעָה, Amos 9:5.
Amos 8:10.—The suffix in שַׂמְתִּיהָ refers to the following אֶבֶל [but Keil makes it refer to all that has previously been mentioned as done upon that day. So Pusey. Henderson refers it to אֶרֶץ, understood.
Amos 8:10.—The כְ in כְיוֹם, is Caph. veritatis.
Amos 8:12.—וְנָעוּ This word is used of the reeling of drunkards, of the swaying to and fro of trees in the wind, of the quivering of lips, and then of the unsteady seeking of persons bewildered, looking for what they know not where to find. Pusey.]
Amos 8:14.—דֶּרֶךְ. Meier’s correction of this into דֹּדְךָ,=thy beloved, is conjectural and needless.
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit.