Amos 4
Pulpit Commentary
Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.
Verses 1-13. - § 2. Second address. The prophet reproves the voluptuous women of Samaria, and fortells their captivity (vers. 1-3); with bitter irony he describes the people's devotion to idolatry (vers. 4, 5): he shows how incorrigible they have proved themselves under God's chastisements (vers. 6-11); therefore they must expect further punishment, if so be that they will learn to fear the Lord (vers. 12, 13). Verse 1. - The very women are leaders in dissoluteness and oppression. Ye kine of Bashan. Fat and well liking, such as the rich pastures of Bashan produce. Some have supposed that by this term are meant the luxurious nobles of Samaria, who are called "cows" as being effeminate and licentious. This is possible; but such grandees would be called rather "bulls of Bashan," and the "masters" mentioned just below signify more naturally these women's husbands than the kings. Pussy notes that the genders in the sentence are interchanged. "Hear ye," "your Lord," "upon you," "they shall take you," being masculine; "that oppress," "that crush," "that say," "your posterity," "ye shall go out," "each before her," "ye shall cast," feminine. Evidently the prophet addresses his reproaches to the luxurious of both sexes, though he begins with the women. The land of Bashan extended from Hermon to the Jabbok, including Gaulonitis, Auronitis, Batauea, and Trachonitis. It was always famous for its pasturage, cattle, and oaks. The Vulgate takes the term as metaphorical, and has, vaccae pingues. So Symmachus, βόες εὔτροφοι, which translation Jerome adopts. Mountain of Samaria. The hill of Shomer, on which Samaria was built (see note on ch. 3:9). Oppress the poor. This they did in ministering, or getting their husbands to minister, to their luxury and debauchery. Apparently they urged their husbands to violence and fraud in order to obtain means to satisfy their extravagance. A bad woman is thoroughly unscrupulous (see the case of Ahab and Naboth, 1 Kings 21:7, etc.). Their masters; their lords; i.e. husbands (comp. Genesis 18:12; 1 Peter 3:6). Bring, and let us drink. They invite their husbands to supply the means of debauchery and to join in their revels.
The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.
Verse 2. - By his holiness. God swears by his holiness, which cannot tolerate iniquity, and which they had profaned (Amos 2:7; comp. Amos 6:8). That he will take you away. "That one, or they, shall take you away;" the enemy, the instrument of God's vengeance, is meant. With hooks; tsinnoth; Septuagint, ἐν ὅπλοις: Vulgate, in contis. The translation, "with hooks," is correct, the idea being that the people shall be utterly helpless and taken for destruction, like fish caught with hooks (Jeremiah 16:16; Habakkuk 1:15). Your posterity; acharith (Amos 9:1); better, your residue, those who have not been destroyed previously. The Septuagint and the Vulgate give quite a different notion to the passage. The former (according to the Vatican manuscript) has, Καὶ τοὺς μεθ ὑμῶν εἰς λέβητας ὑποκαιομένους ἐμβαλοῦσιν ἔμπυροι λοιμοί, "And fiery destroyers shall cast those with you into boiling caldrons;" the latter, Et levabunt vos in contis, et reliquias vestras in ollis ferventibus. (For the explanation of these versions, which arise from mistakes in the meanings of ambiguous words, see Schegg and Kuabenbauer.)
And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.
Verse 3. - At the breaches made in the city walls, as cattle hurry through gaps in a fence. Thus they should go forth when Samaria was taken. Every cow at that which is before her; better, each straight before her, just where the opening offered itself (comp. Joshua 6:5, 20). The LXX. inserts γυμναί, "naked." And ye shall cast them into the palace; Septuagint, Καὶ ἀποῥῤιφήσεσθε εἰς τὸ ὄρος τὸ Ῥομμάν, ( ῾ρεμμάν, Alex.), "And ye shall be cast forth into the mountain Romman; Vulgate, et projiciemini in Armon. The Syriac and Arabic Versions, and Aquila, render, "unto Mount Armon;" the Chaldee paraphrast, "far beyond the mountains of Armenia." The Hebrew expression haharmonah occurs nowhere else. Our version takes it in the sense of armon, "a palace," intending probably a palace or citadel of the enemy, which certainly ought to have been expressed. Kimchi renders, "Ye shall cast yourselves into the palace of the king." The passage is probably corrupt. If the verb is taken as passive, the unusual word must be considered to denote the place of banishment. Thus, "Ye shall be cast forth into Harmon." Whether Harmon means Armenia, as many ancient commentators thought, or not, cannot be determined. Various opinions may be seen in Keil, Schegg, Trochon, and others; but the simplest explanation is that of Orelli and Ewald, viz. that each fugitive shall fling away her idol Rimmona (the wife of the god Rimmon, 2 Kings 5:18), in order to be more free for flight (comp. Isaiah 2:20).
Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:
Verse 4. - The prophet now turns to Israel, and ironically bids them exhibit their zeal for idolatry, and thus increase their guilt. Bethel; as the chief seat of idol worship (Amos 3:14). At Gilgal; rather, to Gilgal, "come ye" being repeated in thought. Gilgal was a strong position in the plain of Jordan, three miles east of Jericho, taking its name probably from the stone circles erected for purposes of worship in very early times. Joshua (Joshua 5:9) gave a new meaning to the old name. There is a large pool of water in this neighbourhood called Jil-julieh, about four miles from the Jordan, which is doubtless a corruption of the ancient name Gilgal. It seems to have been regarded as a holy place in Samuel's days or even before (see Judges 3:19; 1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:14, etc.; 1 Samuel 13:8, etc.); and later was appropriated to false worship, though we have no information as to the date of this declension. Gilgal and Bethel are associated together in idolatrous worship (Amos 5:5 and in Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11). Bring your sacrifices every morning. They were careful to maintain the outward semblance of the regular Levitical worship, even beyond the letter of the Law in some respects, though their service was all the time idolatry. As this and the following clause are still ironical, Amos is speaking, not of the daily-prescribed sacrifice (olah, Numbers 28:3), but of the offerings (zebach) of individual Israelites which were not required to be presented every day. Your tithes after three years; literally, on the three of days; lishlosheth yamim; Vulgate, tribus diebus; Septuagint, εἰς τριημερίαν, "every third day." Revised Version, "every three days." So Gesenius, Ewald, Keil, Schegg, Hitzig, Baur. The prophet bids them bring their tithes, not as the Law ordered, every year (Leviticus 27:30), or, as in the case of the second tithe, every three years (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12), but, by an ironical exaggeration, "every three days." Dr. Pusey defends the English Version on the ground of the idiomatic use of "days" for one circle of days, i.e. a year (Leviticus 25:29; Judges 17:10; 1 Samuel 27:7). But this loses the irony which is so marked in the whole passage. Keil, "If ye would offer slain sacrifices every morning, and tithe every three days, ye would only thereby increase your apostasy from the living God."
And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
Verse 5. - Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven; more definitely, offer by burning a thank offering of that which is leavened. This is an alteration of the prescribed ritual in two particulars. The Law forbade leaven in any meat offering consumed by fire (Leviticus 2:11; Leviticus 7:12); and if it allowed cakes of leavened bread to be offered on one occasion, these were not to be placed on the altar and burned, but one was to be assigned to the officiating priest, and the rest eaten at the sacrificial meal (Leviticus 7:13, 14). The ironical charge to the Israelites is that in their unlicensed zeal they should not only burn on the altar that which was leavened, but, with the idea of being more bountiful, they should also offer by fire that which was to be set apart for other uses. The Septuagint Version can only be explained by considering the translators to have had a different reading, καὶ ἀνέγνωσαν ἔγω νόμον, "and they read the Law without." Proclaim... publish. Make public proclamation that free will offerings are to be made, or else, like the Pharisees (Matthew 6:2), announce with ostentation that you are about to offer. The essence of such offerings was that they should be voluntary, not of command or compulsion (Leviticus 22:18, etc.; Deuteronomy 12:6). Septuagint, καὶ ἐπεκαλέσαντο ὁμολογίας, "and called for public professions" (as Deuteronomy 12:6, 17, 18). This liketh you; this ye love; Septuagint, "Proclaim ye that the children of Israel loved these things." Their whole heart was set on this will worship.
And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
Verse 6. - In this and the five following verses God sets forth instances of the judgments which he had sent at various times to correct Israel; viz. famine, drought, blight, pestilence, earthquake; but all had been in vain. Five times recurs the sad refrain, "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord." God's unwearied love had not conquered their rebellion. Cleanness of teeth; Septuagint, γομφιασμὸν ὀδόντων, "dulness of teeth;" Vulgate, stuporem dentium. It is not "toothache" that is meant, but famine, as is seen by the parallel term, want of bread; as Corn. a Lapide says, "Cum enim in fame et penuria dentes non habent quod mordeant et mandant, innocentes sunt et mundi." This is the first chastisement mentioned. It was threatened in the Law as a consequence of backsliding (see Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28:48, 57). The famines to which Amos alludes are not recorded. Plainly they were not fortuitous, but were providential inflictions, in accordance with previous warnings Yet have ye not returned unto me. Pusey notes that the words imply, not that they returned not at all, but that they did after a fashion return, but not so as to reach God, their repentance being a half-repentance and their worship a half-worship, and therefore unacceptable.
And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
Verse 7. - The second punishment is drought, as predicted (Leviticus 26:19, etc.; Deuteronomy 28:23). When there were yet three months to the harvest, and when rain was most necessary to swell the grain. The season meant is in February and March, when what was called "the latter rain" fell. In the south of Palestine the harvest commenced at the end of April, but in the northern parts it was some weeks later, so that it might be said in round numbers that it took place three months after the latter rain. I caused it to rain upon one city. That they might not attribute this drought to the blind laws of nature, God caused it to be of a partial character, giving rain to one city while he withheld it from another. One piece. The portion of ground belonging to an individual is so called (Deuteronomy 33:21; Ruth 2:3; Ruth 4:3).
So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
Verse 8. - This want of rain produced great dearth of water to drink, and persons had to go long distances to procure supplies. Wandered; literally trembled, staggered, as spent and exhausted by thirst. The word is used in Psalm 59:15; Psalm 109:10. The supply thus used was soon exhausted, and brought no permanent relief.
I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
Verse 9. - The third chastisement is occasioned by blight (Deuteronomy 28:22) and palmerworm (Deuteronomy 28:39, 42). Blasting; the scorching east wind spoken of by Isaiah (Isaiah 27:8) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:10). Vulgate, in vento urente; Septuagint, ἐν πυρώσει, "with parching;" Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, ἀνεμοφθρία. Mildew; a blight, under the influence of which the ears of corn turned yellow and became unfruitful. "Blasting and mildew" are mentioned together in Moses' curse (Deuteronomy 28:22) and in Solomon's dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:37; comp. Haggai 2:17). The LXX. has, ἐν ἰκτέρῳ, "with jaundice." When your gardens... increased. It is better to take this sentence as the English margin, "The multitude of your gardens... hath the palmerworm devoured." So the Vulgate, Multitudinem hortorum tuorum... comedit eruca. Gardens included orchards, herbaries, and pleasure grounds. The palmerworm; gazam; Septuagint, κάμπη: Vulgate, eruca. The word occurs in Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25, and is taken by many commentators to mean some kind of locust; but it is more probable that the Greek and Latin translators are right in regarding it as "a caterpillar" (see Smith, 'Dict. of the Bible,' 2:696, etc.; 'Bible Educator,' 4:293). Amos seems to be referring to the visitation in Joel's time, if we take gazam ("biter") to be a kind of locust.
I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
Verse 10. - The fourth visitation is pestilence and the sword (Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:60). After the manner of Egypt. In the manner in which Egypt is stricken (comp. Isaiah 10:24, 26; Ezekiel 20:30). There is here no reference to the plague of Exodus 9:3, etc., or Exodus 12:29. The allusion is to the plague which was reckoned to be epidemic in Egypt, and to other loathsome diseases for which that country was notorious (see Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:27, 60) Sir G. Wilkinson notes that the plague used to occur about every ten years ('Handbook,' p. 7). Your young men have I slain with the sword. Pestilence and wax are allied scourges in Leviticus 26:25. A reference may here be made to the wars with the Syrians, wherein the Israelites suffered heavy losses (2 Kings 6:25; 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 13:3, 7, 22). And have taken away your horses; rather, together with your captive horses, still under the regimen of "I have slain." The destruction of men and horses is mentioned in 2 Kings 13:7. The stink of your camps. These unburied caresses caused pestilence in the district. Septuagint, Καὶ ἀνήγαγον ἐν πυρὶ τὰς παρεμβολὰς ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ ὑμῶν, or, according to the Alexandrian manuscript, παρεμβολὰς ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ μου, "In my wrath against you I set fire to your camps."
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
Verse 11. - The fifth visitation is the earthquake (Deuteronomy 29:23). I have overthrown. This is the word used to describe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:25; Jeremiah 20:16), and it seems better to refer the occurrence mentioned to some such convulsions of nature which caused widespread destruction, than, as Keil and others, "to the utter confusion of the state by which Israel was brought to the verge of ruin." We do not know anything about the particular earthquake to which the prophet alludes. (For an exhaustive catalogue of the earthquakes in this country, see Pusey's notes on this verse.) As God overthrew. The substitution of the name of God for the personal pronoun, when the Lord himself is speaking, is not uncommon in Hebrew. Here it rather takes the form of a quotation from Genesis. Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning (Zechariah 3:2, where see note) - a phrase which implies, not only a narrow escape, but an escape accompanied with loss. The "brand" not wholly consumed is yet blackened and diminished by the burning (comp. 2 Kings 13:5).
Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
Verse 12. - Therefore. Because all previous judgments have been in vain, therefore will I send upon them something more terrible still. Thus. God says not how; he leaves the nature of the coming chastisement in mysterious uncertainty, that the very suspense may work fear and repentance. Because I will do this (pointing back to the mysterious "thus" above) unto thee; because I am ready to bring on thee still heavier punishment. Prepare to meet thy God; Septuagint, Ἐτοιμάζου τοῦ ἐπικαλεῖσθαι τὸν Θεόν σου, "Prepare to call upon thy God." Make ready to meet thy God in judgment, turning to him with changed heart, if perchance he may forgive thee and withdraw his heavy hand. Another explanation, derived from Symmachus and adopted by a Lapide, Schegg, and others, "Praeparare ut adverseris Deo tuo" - an ironical encouragement to them to withstand God - deprives the following verse of its suitability to the context. For the prophet would hardly invite them to this contest by expatiating upon God's almightiness.
For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.
Verse 13. - The prophet enforces his threats by declaring God's power and omniscience. He that formeth the mountain; ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ στερεῶν βροντήν, "I am he that strengtheneth thunder" (Septuagint, reading differently). The mountains are mentioned as the most solid and everlasting of his works; the wind, as the subtlest and most immaterial of created things. Declareth unto man what is his thought; i.e. man's thought; reveals man to himself shows that he knows man's thought before man puts it into words. This he does sometimes by the stings of conscience, sometimes by inspiring his prophets to declare men's secret motives and the real state of their heart (see Jeremiah 17:9, l0; and comp. 1 John 3:20). Vulgate, Annuntians homini eloquium suum, where eloquium is equivalent to cognitatio. The LXX., with some change of letters, has, ἀπαγγέλλων εἰς ἀνθρώπους τὸν Ξριστὸν αὐτοῦ, "proclaiming unto men his Christ" - a reading which supports the misinterpretation of "his thought" as meaning God's thought, Christ being regarded as the Λόγος of God. Many of the Fathers have seen here a prophesy of the Messiah. See Tirinus and Corn. a Lapide on this verse. That maketh the morning darkness. Keil, after Calvin, takes these words as asyndeton for "the morning dawn and darkness." So the Septuagint, ποιῶν ὅρθρον καὶ ὁμίχλην, "making morning and gloom." This would be simply a further instance of God's creative power. The Vulgate gives, faciens matutinam nebulam; and it seems probable (comp. Amos 5:8; Amos 8:9) that the clause means that the Lord turns the dawn into darkness. This may refer to the action of clouds or an eclipse; or it may be said metaphorically of prosperity and adversity. Treadeth upon the high places of the earth. An anthropomorphic representation of the might and majesty of God, who governs all things, and has the loftiest in perfect subjection (comp. Deuteronomy 32:13; Deuteronomy 33:29; Job 9:8; Micah 1:3). The Lord, Jehovah, the eternal, self-existent, covenant God, is he who in these things manifests himself, and therefore his threats are not to be despised (Amos 5:8). In the prophet's view the laws and powers of nature have their scope in executing God's commands.

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