Israel is called to seek the Lord. (1-6) Earnest exhortations to repentance. (7-17) Threatenings respecting idolatries. (18-27)
Verses 1-6 The convincing, awakening word must be heard and heeded, as well as words of comfort and peace; for whether we hear or forbear, the word of God shall take effect. The Lord still proclaims mercy to men, but they often expect deliverance from such self-invented forms as make their condemnation sure. While they refuse to come to Christ and to seek mercy in and by him, that they may live, the fire of Divine wrath breaks forth upon them. Men may make an idol of the world, but will find it cannot protect.
Verses 7-17 The same almighty power can, for repenting sinners, easily turn affliction and sorrow into prosperity and joy, and as easily turn the prosperity of daring sinners into utter darkness. Evil times will not bear plain dealing; that is, evil men will not. And these men were evil men indeed, when wise and good men thought it in vain even to speak to them. Those who will seek and love that which is good, may help to save the land from ruin. It behoves us to plead God's spiritual promises, to beseech him to create in us a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within us. The Lord is ever ready to be gracious to the souls that seek him; and then piety and every duty will be attended to. But as for sinful Israel, God's judgments had often passed by them, now they shall pass through them.
Verses 18-27 Woe unto those that desire the day of the Lord's judgments, that wish for times of war and confusion; as some who long for changes, hoping to rise upon the ruins of their country! but this should be so great a desolation, that nobody could gain by it. The day of the Lord will be a dark, dismal, gloomy day to all impenitent sinners. When God makes a day dark, all the world cannot make it light. Those who are not reformed by the judgments of God, will be pursued by them; if they escape one, another stands ready to seize them. A pretence of piety is double iniquity, and so it will be found. The people of Israel copied the crimes of their forefathers. The law of worshipping the Lord our God, is, Him only we must serve. Professors thrive so little, because they have little or no communion with God in their duties. They were led captive by Satan into idolatry, therefore God caused them to go into captivity among idolaters.
Amos 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 Ezekiel 32:2 , "take up," namely, as a mournful burden ( Ezekiel 19:1 , 27:2 ).
2. virgin of Israel--the Israelite state heretofore unsubdued by foreigners. Compare Isaiah 23:12 , Jeremiah 18:13 , Jeremiah 31:4 Jeremiah 31:21 , Lamentations 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 2 Kings 6:23 , 24:7 , for the restricted sense of "no more."
forsaken upon her land--or, "prostrated upon," &c. (compare Ezekiel 29:5 , 32:4 ) [MAURER].
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 Amos 4:8 .
shall leave . . . hundred--shall have only a hundred left, the rest being destroyed by sword and pestilence ( Deuteronomy 28:62 ).
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 ( Isaiah 55:3 Isaiah 55:6 ).
5. seek not Beth-el--that is, the calves at Beth-el.
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" ( Genesis 21:31 Genesis 21:33 ), now a stronghold of idolatry ( Amos 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," Hosea 4:15 , Hosea 10:5 Hosea 10:8 ), shall indeed "come to naught."
6. break out like fire--bursting through everything in His way. God is "a consuming fire" ( Deuteronomy 4:24 , Isaiah 10:17 , Lamentations 2:3 ).
the house of Joseph--the kingdom of Israel, of which the tribe of Ephraim, Joseph's son, was the chief tribe (compare Ezekiel 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.
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 Isaiah 28:2 , Daniel 8:12 .
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 ( 1 Kings 18:44 ).
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 ( Psalms 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 ( 2 Kings 14:25 ), even the weakest can be made by God to prevail against the strong.
10. him that rebuketh in the gate--the judge who condemns their iniquity in the place of judgment ( Isaiah 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 1 Kings 22:8 , Proverbs 9:8 , 12:1 , Jeremiah 36:23 ).
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 ( Deuteronomy 28:30 Deuteronomy 28:38 Deuteronomy 28:39 ). The converse shall be true in restored Israel ( Amos 9:14 , Isaiah 65:21 Isaiah 65:22 ).
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 ( 1 Samuel 12:3 , Margin; Proverbs 6:35 ).
turn aside the poor in the gate--refuse them their right in the place of justice ( Amos 2:7 , Isaiah 29:21 ).
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. Ephesians 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 ( Matthew 7:6 ), but will patiently wait for God's time of deliverance in silent submission ( Psalms 39:9 ).
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 ( Micah 3:11 ).
15. Hate . . . evil . . . love . . . good--( Isaiah 1:16 Isaiah 1:17 , Romans 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" ( Exodus 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 Genesis 16:2 , Joel 2:14 , Acts 8:22 ).
the remnant of Joseph--(see Amos 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 ( 2 Kings 10:32 2 Kings 10:33 ) [HENDERSON]. Rather, "the remnant of Israel that shall have been left after the wicked have been destroyed" [MAURER].
16. Therefore--resumed from Amos 5:13 . God foresees they will not obey the exhortation ( Amos 5:14 Amos 5:15 ), but will persevere in the unrighteousness stigmatized ( Amos 5:7 Amos 5:10 Amos 5:12 ).
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 Ecclesiastes 12:5 ; generally women ( Jeremiah 9:17-19 ).
17. in all vineyards . . . wailing--where usually songs of joy were heard.
pass through thee--taking vengeance ( Exodus 12:12 Exodus 12:23 , Nahum 1:12 ). "Pass over" and "pass by," on the contrary, are used of God's forgiving ( Exodus 12:23 , Micah 7:18 ; compare Amos 7:8 ).
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" ( Isaiah 5:19 , Jeremiah 17:15 , Ezekiel 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.
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 Amos 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 , Isaiah 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.
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 ( Genesis 8:21 , Leviticus 26:31 ).
in your solemn assemblies--literally, "days of restraint." Isaiah 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.
22. meat offerings--flour, &c. Unbloody offerings.
peace offerings--offerings for obtaining from God peace and prosperity. Hebrew, "thank offerings."
23. Take . . . away from me--literally, "Take away, from upon Me"; the idea being that of a burden pressing upon the bearer. So Isaiah 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" ( Isaiah 1:15 ) for the "songs" and "melody" here; but, like Amos, closes with "I will not hear."
run down--literally, "roll," that is, flow abundantly ( Isaiah 48:18 ). Without the desire to fulfil righteousness in the offerer, the sacrifice is hateful to God ( 1 Samuel 15:22 , Psalms 66:18 , Hosea 6:6 , Micah 6:8 ).
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 Acts 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, Exodus 24:4 , Numbers 7:1-89 , 9:1 , &c.), but a strong affirmation (compare 1 Samuel 2:27 1 Samuel 2:28 , Jeremiah 31:20 , Ezekiel 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 Ezekiel 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 ( Deuteronomy 31:21 Deuteronomy 31:27 ).
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 ( Acts 7:42 Acts 7:43 ). 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 Phoenicians offered human sacrifices to him, children especially; so idolatrous Israel also. Rimmon was the Syrian name ( 2 Kings 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 Amos 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 ( Numbers 24:17 ). "Images" are either a Hebraism for "image," or refer to the many images made to represent Chiun.
27. beyond Damascus--In Acts 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 ( 2 Kings 17:6 ; compare here Amos 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 ( 2 Kings 10:32 2 Kings 10:33 , 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 2 Kings 15:29 , 16:9 , Isaiah 8:4 , whence it appears Tiglath-pileser attacked Israel and Damascus at the same time at Ahaz' request ( Amos 3:1 ).