Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah
With much freedom, boldness, and intrepidity, and yet with modesty and humility; not at all moved by his frowns or his flattery: I [was] no prophet, neither [was] I a prophet's son:
he was not a prophet originally, or from his youth, as Kimchi; he was not born and bred one; neither his father was a prophet, by whom he could get any instructions in the mystery of prophesying; nor was he a disciple of any of the prophets, or brought up in any of their schools as some were; he was no prophet till the Lord called him immediately, at once, from his secular employment to this office; and therefore did not take it up to get a livelihood by Jarchi and Aben Ezra interpret it, that he was not one of the false prophets that prophesied for hire, and took a reward: but I [was] an herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit;
that is, originally: this was the employment he was brought up in from his youth, and was in it when he was called to be a prophet; he looked after cattle, both great and small; and at a certain time of the year used, to gather sycamore fruit, which was a kind of figs; and by, its name had the resemblance both of figs and mulberries. Some take it to be what were called Egyptian figs; these he gathered, either for the use of his masters, or for food for himself, or for the cattle, or both: or he was an "opener" of them, as the Septuagint; he cut, them, and made incisions in them; for, as Pliny F12, Dioscorides F13, and Theophrastus F14 observe, this fruit must be cut or scratched, either with the nail, or with iron, or it will not ripen; but, four days after being scratched or cut, will become ripe. Mr. Norden F15, a late traveller in Egypt, has given us a very particular account of this tree and its fruit.
``This sycamore (he says) is of the height of a beech, and bears its fruit in a manner quite different from other trees; it has them on the trunk itself, which shoots out little sprigs in form of grape stalks; at the end of which grow the fruit close to one another, almost like bunches of grapes. The tree is always green, and bears fruit several times in the year, without observing any certain seasons: for I have seen (says he) some sycamores that have given fruit two months after others. The fruit has the figure and smell of real figs, but is inferior to them in the taste, having a disgusting sweetness. Its colour is a yellow, inclining to an ochre, shadowed by a flesh colour. In the inside it resembles the common figs, excepting that it has a blackish colouring with yellow spots. This sort of tree is pretty common in Egypt; the people for the greater part live upon its fruit, and think themselves well regaled when they have a piece of bread, a couple of sycamore figs, and a pitcher filled with water from the Nile.''This account in several things agrees with what Pliny F16 and Solinus
F17 relate of this tree and its fruit; very likely there might be many of these trees in Judea; there seem to have been great numbers of them in Solomon's time, ( 1 Kings 10:27 ) ; and perhaps it was one of these that Zacchaeus climbed, in order to see Christ, ( Luke 19:4 ) ; for this sort of trees delight in vales and plains, such as were the plains of Jericho; and in the Talmud F18 we read of sycamore trees in Jericho; and of the men of Jericho allowing the branches of them to be cut down for sacred uses. These also grew in lower Galilee, but not in upper Galilee; and that they were frequent in the land of Israel appears from the rules the Misnic doctors F19 give about the planting, and cutting them down; and in the opening of these trees, and making incisions in them, and in gathering the fruit of them, Amos might be concerned. Kimchi and Ben Melech say the word signifies to "mix", and that his business was to mix these together with other fruit. Aben Ezra observes, that in the Arabic language it signifies to dry; and then his work was, after he had gathered them, to lay them a drying. Some render the word a "searcher" F20 of them; as if his employment was to look out for them, and seek them where they were to be got: however, be this as it will, the prophet suggests that he had been used to a low life, and to mean fare, with which he was contented, and did not take up this business of prophesying for bread, and could return to his former employment without any regret, to get a maintenance, if so was the will of God. The Targum gives it a different sense,
``for I am a master of cattle, and have sycamores in the fields;''and so Jarchi, Kimchi, and Ben Melech, represent him as suggesting that he was rich, and had no need of bread to be given him, or to prophesy for that.
F12 Nat. Hist. l. 13. c. 7.
F13 L. 1. c. 143.
F14 Hist. l. 4. c. 2.
F15 Travels in Egypt and Nubis, vol. 1. p. 79, 80.
F16 Nat. Hist. l. 13. c. 7.
F17 Polyhistor. c. 45.
F18 T. Bab Pesachim, fol. 56. 1. & 57. 1. & Menachot, fol. 71. 1.
F19 Misn. Shevath, c. 9. sect. 2. & Bava Bathra, c. 2. sect. 7.
F20 (olzb) "disquirens", Montanus, Vatablus; "perquirens", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Burkius. So R. Sol. Urbin Ohel Moed, fol. 31. 2.