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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Amos 5

Verse 1

There are suggestions in this chapter of the method of the apostle Paul, as when he used the diatribe so effectively in Romans. There are apparent interruptions of Amos' line of thought, such as might have occurred when members of his audience objected to his preaching, or attempted to refute his arguments. The discernment of this completely refutes the allegations of critical scholars who laboriously postulate a paste and scissors job that some later editor is alleged to have done on this chapter, the great weakness of such postulations being that they are believed by no one except the postulators! Also, the postulators exhibit no agreement regarding any of their alleged "solutions." The entire chapter is a continuation of Amos' prophecy against Israel, elaborating and expanding the condemnation and overthrow of Israel already announced in Amos 3.

Amos 5:1

"Hear ye this word which I take up for a lamentation over you, O house of Israel."

The impact of this upon Amos' hearers was essentially that of his crying, "Listen, Israel, while I preach your funeral!" The whole chapter has no other purpose than, "to impress upon the people of God the impossibility of averting the threatened destruction, and to take away from the self-secure sinners the false foundations of their trust."[1] To make his message still more powerful, Amos actually uttered it in the tone and meter of the traditional funeral service known by all the people; and Hammershaimb, along with others, supposes that the occasion was that of a popular feast at Bethel:

"We can picture him appearing during the feast at Bethel and suddenly tearing the participants away from their revelry by starting the mournful tones of the lament, so that when they listen to him they are seized with terror and perhaps also with indignation when they hear that it is the death of Israel that he is lamenting.[2]

"Amos to this point has spoken of the fall of Israel as being still in the future. Here he speaks as if it had already happened. He sings a funeral song (a dirge) for Israel."[3]

The dirge which Amos chanted for Israel was the real thing, a traditional and highly stylized lament, "cast in 3 + 2 metre."[4] It was probably spoken in a very loud and wailing voice, calculated to stun and shock everyone who heard it.

Verse 2

"The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is cast down upon her land; there is none to raise her up."

It is a mistake to make this whole chapter into a "poem," for it is no such thing. The lament was certainly cast into poetic form; but this was merely an attention-getting device used by the prophet as the background for the shocking and devastating words of God's prophecy which he was delivering to Israel.

The virgin of Israel is fallen ..." The use of the present tense here is prophetic, indicating that the projected overthrow of the kingdom was as certain as if it had already occurred. This device called "the prophetic tense" was widely used throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Likewise, in the New Testament, the final overthrow of Babylon the great is given in words very similar to these (Revelation 18:2), "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great." The fact that the figure employed here is that of a virgin "does not indicate that this is (or will be) the first time that Israel is defeated,"[5] nor that the nation is in any sense righteous. "It is a feature related to the representation of Israel as a beautiful young woman."[6] "The death of a virgin, or of a man who had no children, was regarded as peculiarly sad."[7]

This outburst of Amos against Israel came at the very apex of Israel's pride and prosperity, the better part of a century having elapsed since Jeroboam II had restored the borders of the kingdom and seized control of the lucrative trade routes to the east. Israel had never had it so good; and a message like that so dramatically delivered by Amos would have been just about as unpopular as any that could be imagined.

But the very fact that Amos' message has been preserved for us shows that some people listened and remembered. There were some who honored the prophet and his message, and who gave service to God.[8]

Verse 3

"For thus saith the Lord, Jehovah: The city that went forth a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which went forth a hundred shall have ten left, to the house of Israel."

Military defeat and the near-total destruction of Israel's reservoir of fighting men are sternly indicated by this. This portion of Amos' lament continues in the stylized 3 + 2 metre; and, "Some scholars have imagined that Amos actually put on the garb of a professional mourner and sang this song in Samaria and Bethel."[9]

Verse 4

"For thus saith Jehovah unto the house of Israel, seek ye me, and ye shall live."

Seek ye me ..." "This does not mean, `inquire about,' or `search for' something or someone lost or inaccessible. When Yahweh is the object, the meaning is, `turn to Yahweh,' and `hold to Yahweh' as a way of life."[10] Many have noted that this passage does not in any sense mean that the Lord is hiding from Israel, or even that he is not available to them. "It must be understood as meaning, to seek out and observe God's commandments."[11] W. R. Harper noted the audience-response type of thing which we mentioned in the chapter introduction; these words, "suggest at once the question, `Are we not zealouly engaged in the worship of Yahweh? Why are we then to suffer?'"[12] Very well, Amos will respond to such a question, whether or not it was actually raised by any of his hearers. The answer is simple, and simply devastating: "Their religion is false!" We deplore the apparent blindness of so many who do not see in Amos' prophecy anything except the social injustice and oppression of the poor. Of course, those aspects of Israel's sins are courageously denounced in Amos, but no more so than are condemned the vanities of their religious system. To deny that God was also gravely concerned about that is to miss the principal relevance of this prophecy for modern man. Thorogood accurately observed the intention of this section of Amos when he declared that: "The chief theme in Amos 5 and Amos 6 is the contrast between true religion and false religion."[13]

This is a good place to mention the scholarly superstition to the effect that, "The editors who put together the Book of Amos, divided his sayings into sections; but the divisions are not very clear, etc."[14] Of course, no "editors" or "redactors" had anything to do with Amos. The so-called "evidence" of any such thing is usually pointed out in this fashion:

"(This chapter has): a funeral song (Amos 5:1-3); a call to repent (Amos 5:4-7); part of a song of praise (Amos 5:8-9); a warning about injustice (Amos 5:10-13); a further call to repent (Amos 5:14-15); and a further funeral song, or vision of death (Amos 5:16-17)."[15]

With all due deference to the intelligence and understanding of those scribes who take the piece-meal nature of this chapter as the work of some "editor," they are simply mistaken, the mistake being due to an apparent total ignorance of the art of preaching. What we really have here is a typical "shotgun type" of sermon; and this writer is free to confess that he has preached a hundred just as strangely put together as Amos' words in this chapter. One need look no further than the prophet himself to account for the motley arrangement which confronts us here. Of course, such a thing would seem inconceivable to a seminarian! Amos was no seminarian, but a shepherd! To fasten this hodge-podge chapter upon some later "editor" or "redactor" must be to suppose that the one or ones doing the scissors and paste job here were phenomenally stupid. Any "editor" worthy of the name would have put the elements of the dirge together and also those of the hymn of praise. By far the most logical and reasonable explanation of the piece-meal, intermittent style which is seen in these chapters is that they are the result of an extemporaneous, give and take, free-for-all confrontation between Amos and Israel, with many interruptions to answer questions, either actually propounded by the audience, or astutely discerned by the speaker before they were propounded. Instead of criticizing the style of these chapters, the really discerning student will recognize them as the impassioned outflow of a soul in tune with God, burning with righteous indignation against the gross abuses of Israel's social order, overburdened by the tragic weight of the message of destruction he was commissioned to deliver, and yet motivated by a passionate patriotism and love of God's "chosen people," and an unspeakable grief at the tragic words he faithfully delivered. The message of such a man with such a burden of his soul and spirit could never have taken the form of neat little tidy messages such as many so-called sermons of the present day. No indeed! The impassioned words flow forth without any Particular organization, tumbling over each other like red-hot rocks out of a volcano. Behold here the truly magnificent structure of genuine prophecy!

Verse 5

"But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to naught."

The people no doubt supposed that their frequenting the shrines at such places as Bethel, Beersheba and Gilgal would enable them to know God; but in this they were totally wrong. "God can only be sought and found through his revelaton."[16] It was impossible to find God at such places.

"Those were centers of idolatry, false teaching, false worship; they would find there only ruin, destruction and captivity, for that is what God had planned for those places."[17]

The high places mentioned in this verse had never been a proper place for seeking God; and what we have here is the total repudiation of an entire system of false religion. Many commentators seem to be unaware of this. Some seem to have forgotten that the golden calf-idols installed by Jeroboam were the principal features of the so-called worship at Bethel; and that all of the shrines here mentioned were notorious for the debaucheries and immoralities that were carried on there.

Gilgal shall go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to naught ..." The scholars tell us that there is a play upon the words Gilgal and Bethel in the Hebrew text, incapable of being translated into English; but many approximations of it have been given. One of the most interesting is that of Wellhansen, as cited by Hammershaimb: "Gilgal will go to the gallows, and Bethel will become the devil's."[18]

Beersheba ..." It is a little surprising to find this place mentioned as one of the shrines frequented by the Israelites, since it was in the extreme southern part of Judah and quite a long distance from the Northern Kingdom. Barnes observed that:

"Jeroboam I pretended that it was too much for Israel to go up to Jerusalem; and yet Israel thought it not too much to go to the extremest point of Judah toward Idumaea, perhaps four times as far south of Jerusalem, as Jerusalem lay from Bethel!"[19]

Verse 6

"Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, and there be none to quench it in Bethel."

The house of Joseph ..." here means the Northern Kingdom, of which the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (the sons of Joseph) constituted the most powerful component of the kingdom. This led to the "House of Joseph" being a kind of title for the Northern Kingdom.

The great contrast in these verses is between "Seek Jehovah" and "Seek not Bethel," or any other of the false shrines. The limitation which Almighty God has placed upon those who would truly seek him should never be overlooked. People who are merely doing what pleases them religiously are just as hopeless as were those ancient Israelites condemned in this chapter. As Keil put it: "God can only be sought, however, in his revelation, or in the manner in which he wishes to be sought, or worshipped."[20] Jamieson's comment on this verse is:

Break out like fire in the house of Joseph ..." means bursting through everything in his way. God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 10:17; and Lamentations 2:3).[21]

Verse 7

"Ye who turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth."

As already indicated in this prophecy, and as will appear also in later passages, the whole system of justice had failed in Israel, even the judiciary being corrupted, leaving the poor and the humble with no protection whatever against the avarice and oppression of heartless ruling classes.

Justice to wormwood ..." Wormwood was the name of a plant having an exceedingly bitter taste; and this is a very effective figure for the perversion of justice. Any honest man seeking redress of his wrongs in the Israel of that day would have found "justice" turned into a very "bitter pill" for him. Righteousness is represented as fallen and prostrate on the ground with no one to raise it up and support it. Those were horrible times indeed; and it seems incredible that the very people responsible for such gross wickedness should have fancied themselves to be the favored children of God! How blind is the worshipper of false gods!

Verse 8

"Seek him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth (Jehovah is his name)."

We have exactly the same theme here that was visible in Amos 4:13; it is just Amos' way of emphasizing that the God who threatens such awful consequences upon Israel is fully able to bring them to pass just as he has promised.

Pleaides and Orion ..." These great constellations, the first dominating the spring and summer months, and the second the months of fall and winter, were known to the ancients; and, "They are referred to in the Old Testament (Job 9:9; 38:31) as demonstrations of God's creative power."[22]

The changing of day and night, and the sending of rain upon the earth are usually thought to be what is indicated by the balance of this verse; and certainly there is good reason for so construing it; but Keil was of the opinion that a reference to the deluge which came upon sinful men in the time of the Genesis flood is involved. This may well be, for it would have been a most appropriate reminder in the context of Amos' prophecy of a similar doom upon Israel, and for exactly the same reasons, unbridled wickedness and rebellion against God. He wrote:

"We should not understand this as a reference to the moisture that rises from the sea and then falls upon the earth as rain. The words suggest the thought of terrible inundations of the earth by the swelling sea, and the allusion to the judgment of the flood can hardly be overlooked."[23]

If this is merely a reference to the mysterious power of God in sending the rain upon the earth, it would still have a very potent and appropriate meaning for the people of that day who attributed the rain to certain of their false gods:

"They had a god of rain and storm; in some places he was called Baai, and in others Hadad. Amos here asserts that it is Yahweh who sends the rain."[24]

Verse 9

"That bringeth sudden destruction upon the strong, so that destruction cometh upon the fortress."

McKeating and other critical scholars mention this and the preceding verse as "the second of the hymn fragments, or doxologies," favoring the theory (a subjective imaginative "guess") that they were not "composed or inserted by the prophet, but put in, almost at random, by an editor."[25] (See under Amos 5:4, above, for our refutation of the "editor" theory.) No responsible, intelligent "editor" could possibly have arranged a chapter in the form of this one. Only a preacher like Amos could have produced such a "shotgun sermon" as this; and, with that view of it, it becomes a classic of power and effectiveness. On this and the preceding verses, Deane has this:

"Here is an allusion to the flood and similar catastrophes, which are proofs of God's judicial government of the universe, when, "he maketh his creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies"...God doeth all these marvelous things, and men presume to scout his law and think to be unpunished."[26]

Verse 10

"They hate him that reproveth in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly."

A picture of the rotten judicial system of Israel is in this. The "court" was a type of open forum conducted in the gate of the city, where the wall was expanded to enclose a considerable area where important city business was conducted and affording an outdoor theater large enough for a considerable gathering of people. In the ancient system of justice, men of good will were expected to appear before the city fathers in court proceedings and speak the truth on behalf of the poor or oppressed; but anyone performing such a function in that society was "hated" and "abhored." The indifference and corruption of the whole society were the result.

Smith makes a big "to do" over the fact that " Amos 5:10 is in the third person, and Amos 5:7 is in the second person!"[27] What do the critics expect? That this shepherd should have kept all of his persons in the proper focus? Some of the changes from one person to another are evidently due to Amos' reference to God's law in the Pentateuch, the person of the passage cited, naturally appearing in his address here, whether it matched the person he was using or not. One of the Proverbs (Proverbs 15:12) could have been in Amos' mind here, accounting for the third person. Such quibbles are unimportant, and are certainly no proper basis for postulations about "editors" and "redactors!" The entire concept of "the redactor" so vital to current Biblical criticism is in reality a kind of scholarly Piltdown Man, in short, a hoax widely received and honored, but a hoax nevertheless. This is a second reference we have made to this in this commentary, but it is necessitated by the incessant and reiterated appeal to this monstrosity by the commentaries which we are reading.

Verse 11

"Forasmuch therefore as ye trample upon the poor, and take exactions from him of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink the wine thereof."

In this verse again, Amos goes back to the great covenant passages of the Pentateuch where almost the identical language of this verse is used, making it likely, as we indicated above, that this pattern of his thinking was habitual. By thus appealing to the great covenant words of the Mosaic law, Amos is declaring the justice of God's forthcoming judgment against Israel:

"When Amos uses these formulations, he is saying in effect, that Yahweh will invoke the sanctions of his covenant with Israel against these perverters of Israel's social order ... The maintenance of that order, especially justice and righteousness in the courts is a requirement of God's covenant; and for those who violate his will, the salvation-history will become a judgment-history."[28]

Verse 12

"For I know how manifold are your transgressions, and how mighty your sins, ye that afflict the just, that take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate from their right."

What is evident in this verse is not merely oppression of the poor, despite that's being an invariable result of it, but the absolute corruption of Israel's judiciary. The courts of law are always the last vestiges of justice in a decadent society; and when that is gone, there is nothing else left to go. It is that awful condition that is uppermost in this prophecy. Wolfe further commented on this very thing:

"Usually, the last stand of respectability in a declining nation is found in her judiciary. With the degeneration of Israel's legal machinery, the fate of the nation seemed certain."[29]

To be sure, the results of such a corrupt system were particularly devastating to the poor and weak of the nation, who were mercilessly exploited, their exploiters apparently having no conscience whatever. The cries of the poor for justice were not heard in the gates of Israel, but they were heard in the gates of heaven; and God moved immediately and effectively to destroy that whole wretched society.

"Human personality cannot be abused for personal gain without Divine retribution. Let us pray that our own generation learns this lesson from God's book before it has to experience God's judgment."[30]

Verse 13

"Therefore, he that is prudent shall keep silence in such a time; for it is an evil time."

This verse has posed a problem for some commentators. It is admitted by all that the viewpoint expressed in this verse could not possibly be that of Amos; for he was then in the act of daring to speak out vehemently against the evil of that society, without regard to any "prudent" concern either for his own safety, or his own life. The best explanation of this verse is that it is merely a sarcastic statement of Amos of the sinful view that had led to the perversion of justice in the Northern Kingdom. The prophet is here putting in the mouths of his audience their lazy, indifferent, and selfish philosophy which was the underlying cause of the judiciary's corruption. The words stand here at this dramatic point in Amos' address like Banquo's ghost at the feast; and we may well hope that some of Amos' hearers were shamed and corrected by it. Whatever this verse is, the above explanation of it satisfies all the requirements of the text. Certainly, it is not "a bit of advice added to the book"[31] by some later editor, a view which would denominate such an editor as a very foolish and unspiritual person! We therefore reject out of hand the groundless speculation to the effect that Amos 5:13, "is a manifestly later insertion."[32] What "editor" could have been so perverse and unspiritual as to inject a "sour note" like this into Amos' beautiful prophecy? Such a conception of how these words happened to be in it is not supported by any reasonable thesis or any evidence whatever. As we have interpreted it, it makes good and wholesome sense.

Verse 14

"Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live; and so Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be with you, as ye say."

The very fact that Amos here definitely quotes from what his hearers were in the habit of saying surely supports what was just said regarding his having done so sarcastically in the preceding verse. Amos here strikes at the fundamental cause of all of Israel's transgressions and sorrows: they loved the wrong things. That, of course, is exactly the way it still is with the world. As McFadden said:

"The root of the social problem, as some one has said, is not defective social arrangement, but sin; and no fundamental improvement can be effected by a change in the environment, but only by a change in the men."[33]

Much of the present-day preoccupation of churches with such things as "better housing," "improved standards of living," etc., has resulted from the failure to behold this truth. No matter what social planners and environmentalists may say, there is no escaping the fact that all of man's problems originated in Eden; and there was nothing at all wrong with that environment. The entry of sin was the destructive factor that drowned the whole world in woe.

Regarding the probable reason for Israel's confidence that the Lord was with them, Hammershaimb explained it thus: "It arose from the people's conviction of the unfailing good fortune which they thought they had evidence of in the external successes of Jeroboam II."[34] It is also a fact that the whole nation had blindly trusted in their boasted fleshly descent from the patriarch Abraham, claiming to be "the seed of Abraham," despite their spiritual rejection of the obedient faith which marked the life of Abraham.

Verse 15

"Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate: it may be that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph."

The slender thread of hope which marks this verse is recurrent throughout the prophecy; but the uncertainty which is indicated as to whether or not mercy would be extended did not derive from any unwillingness on God's part. "The prophet regarded it as dubious whether they would really repent."[35]

Love the good ..." or "seek good," as in Amos 5:14 was not considered by Amos as one and the same thing as seeking God.

"When he said in one place, `Seek the Lord,' and in another `Seek good,' he was not making them synonymous. Amos was not preaching just an ethical religion. The seeker of Yahweh was more than `a do-gooder.' He was emphasizing the two dimensions of true religion: the vertical, Seek Yahweh, and the horizontal, Seek good."[36]

Verse 16

"Therefore, thus saith Jehovah, the God of hosts, the Lord: Wailing shall be in all the broad ways; and they shall say in all the streets, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skillful in lamentation to wailing."

They shall call the husbandman ..." This means that:

"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 will prevail."[37]

Alas! Alas! ..." "This renders the wail of the mourners rather than actual words. Wailing and mourning with loud public lamentations mark the funeral rite throughout the east."[38] One meets with this also in the New Testament, as, for example, when the paid mourners were lamenting the death of Jairus' daughter whom Jesus raised from the dead.

To paraphrase this verse, it means that the mourning over the deceased shall be so widespread and universal that there will be not enough personnel to observe properly the funeral rites.

Verse 17

"And in all vineyards shall be wailing; for I will pass through the midst of thee, saith Jehovah."

I will pass through ..." For ages, at the time Amos wrote, Israel had observed the Passover Feast which celebrated the "passing over" of Israel in the visitation of the death of the firstborn upon the land of Egypt; and the terrible contrast evident in this verse is that God, instead of "passing over" Israel in the forthcoming judgment will instead "pass through the midst" of them, indicating that there would be no mitigation of the penalty for their wickedness.

"Amos was reminding Israel that God had been passing by in judgment, as he did that night in Egypt. But now, he would not pass by them any more. He would pass through their midst and leave a trail of tears as he had in the homes of the Egyptians."[39]

This sobering thought with reference to these stern words is that there is not a line of exaggeration anywhere in them. All that is foretold here happened exactly as God had promised; and that proud, arrogant and rebellious people were led away to their doom, never more to appear as an organized entity upon the earth! What a tragedy that none of them, or at the most, very few of them, believed the impassioned warning of the shepherd prophet.

Verse 18

"Woe unto you that desire the day of Jehovah! Wherefore would ye have the day of Jehovah! It is darkness and not light."


This, and through Amos 5:20, presents a remarkable view of the Day of the Lord, that is, the Day of Judgment, first as it would be in the case of Israel when God judged and destroyed her for her sins, and secondly, as it will be at the end of time for the great majority of the rebellious race of mankind. This has been cited as the very earliest reference to the Judgment Day in scripture; but regardless of whether that is actually the case or not, the knowledge of it had existed for generations in Israel, as attested by the widespread, but untaught, desire for that day to come, mentioned in this very verse.

Some of the Bible critics are very sensitive about such a doctrine as "The Day of the Lord," going out of their way to deny that even Amos approved of any such doctrine. "Amos did not deny or refute the doctrine"[40] was the way Smith viewed it; but in the viewpoint here, it must be affirmed that Amos did far more than refrain from denying the popular theology regarding the judgment day. "Yes," these words mean, "there is to be a judgment day, but it will not be the type of judgment day you people are longing for, but a day of terror and destruction."

Regarding the source of the prevalent conviction regarding the judgment day, or "the day of the Lord," it came into being at least a very long, long way prior to the times of Israel. "This idea had a central place in the religious expectation of the people."[41]

The true origin of the theology of the day of the Lord must be looked for in the revelation of God Himself to his people; and our inability at the present time to pinpoint the time and place and name of the particular prophet who first revealed the mind of God with reference to it does not at all diminish the truth and authenticity of the doctrine itself. Amos was inspired of God, and his acknowledgment of the popular belief in the day of the Lord is proof enough of the validity of the doctrine. What Amos condemned in the words of these verses (Amos 5:18-20) was not the public confidence in the coming of the day of the Lord, but Israel's perversion of the doctrine, lowering the conception of it to that of a military victory for the Israelites. Israel's view of that day has been described thus:

"They looked for a new era in which the deity himself would be their special champion, miraculously intervening in history, subduing Israel's enemies permanently, ushering in an age of world dominion and grandeur for her people.[42] When the heathen should be judged, all the enemies of Israel defeated, and when Israel herself would be exalted to the highest pitch of prosperity and dominion, and without any regard to the moral condition."[43]

Regarding our own confidence in the doctrine of the Day of the Lord, or the Final Judgment of all men, it is anchored firmly in the teachings of the Son of God Himself who brought to mankind, through his own words, and those of his apostles, a very definite and extensive corpus of teaching related to this very thing, the words of the New Testament, therefore, providing an inexhaustible reservoir of truth regarding this fundamental doctrine of Christianity (Hebrews 6:2). All Old Testament references to the day of the Lord are illuminated by the New Testament.

Verse 19

"As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of Jehovah be darkness and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?"

The word "or" in the above could likewise be translated "and," according to McKeating, thus making all of the actions consecutive, thus:

"Running from a lion, he meets a bear. In even greater panic, he reaches the shelter of his house. A snake strikes him from a crevice in the wall."[44]

However it may be translated, the passage clearly teaches that there shall be no possibility of escape from the adverse judgment of God upon human wickedness.

It must not be thought that Israel was totally wrong about the judgment day, for they were profoundly correct about two things: (1) there would indeed be such a day, and (2) it would also be a time of deliverance, joy and utmost felicity for the true Israel. Whatever their sources of this information, they were accurate in these important elements of the doctrine; and we have no alternative except to conclude that one or more of their prophets had conveyed to them the mind of God regarding such matters. There was only one flaw in the people's thinking; they had made a mistake about who were the true Israel, that not being themselves at all with their stubborn and impenitent wickedness, but the spiritual seed of Abraham, those of Abraham's obedient faith and righteous disposition! Butler is correct in viewing Amos' words here as typical and prophetic of the final Day, the Great Assize, at which time God through Jesus Christ shall judge the whole word in righteousness.

"The truth of the matter was, the Day of the Lord would be a day of deliverance, but only for the true Israel, those who were Jews inwardly and not Jews only outwardly; for the Day of the Lord of which Amos speaks is' typical and prophetic of the climactic Day of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah."[45]

The illustration of the man fleeing from the lion and the bear and finally gaining the shelter of his home, only to be bitten to death by a serpent in the very place of his imagined security is one of the most forceful in the Bible. Howard commented that:

"The death he thought he would escape awaited him at his own house. Thus it was to be for Israel, there would be no escape; the day of Yahweh would be a day of gloom and darkness in which there would be no relieving feature for the rebellious house of Israel."[46]

Our own summary of these three verses is simply that the "day of the Lord" was to be bad news for Israel; and the great corollary of that is that it will be likewise "bad news" for the entire race of sinful and rebellious men. The entire Book of Revelation might be interpreted as an extended commentary and revelation regarding this very passage in Amos. The theme of Revelation is "the judgment" of the great Day; and all of the figures that describe the onset of that occasion (of which there are seven) are those depicting unalloyed terror, slaughter, destruction, and sorrow for the near-total family of Adam who may live at the time it occurs. Just one passage from Revelation is sufficient (of thirty that might be cited) to show how it will be for humanity at the judgment, Amos 6:12-17.

One other thing should be noted. Those in Israel who longed for the day of the Lord were apparently sincere, but sincerely mistaken. However, Barnes pointed out another class who pretend to long for the coming of the Lord. They are today professed Christians - hypocrites:

"Who in order to appear righteous before men, are wont to long for the Judgement Day, and to say, `Would that the Lord would come; would that we might be dissolved and be with Christ,' imitating the Pharisee who said, `God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are!"[47]

Verse 21

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take not delight in your solemn assemblies.

God's repudiation of their worship was based upon several things: (1) It was not really the worship of God at all, but the worship of the old pagan gods they had always adored, even in the wilderness; (2) the formal services which were patterned after the commandments laid down in the Mosaic Law had been conspicuously altered and perverted by such things as: (a) the omission of the sin-offering; and (b) the mingling of leavened bread with the burnt offerings; and (c) sacred images in the form of such things as the golden calves, adored at the shrines; (d) instruments of music such as had always marked pagan worship which they added to the worship, etc.; (3) all ethical and moral requirements of God having been forgotten and rejected in the practice of all kinds of immorality, drunkenness, and gluttonous feasting in the very worship itself; (4) the very shrines of Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba, where they worshipped, were illegal and contrary to the will of God, having been set up in their inception as supports for the throne of Jeroboam I. These are but a few of the outstanding features of an entire system of religion which was totally unacceptable to God.

I despise your feasts ..." As Hammershaimb noted: "The three great pilgrimage feasts (were): The Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles."[48] These correspond to Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. The prior existence of the Mosaic Law, as well as the radical drift away from it, on the part of Israel are in clear focus in this picture which emerges from Amos.

The words in this verse carry the thought expressed in the King James Version, that "I will not smell in your solemn assemblies," reminding Israel of that threat in the law (Leviticus 26:31). Although the outward forms of the worship in Israel carried many distinctive likenesses to the true Mosaic Law from which much of it had been originally derived and later perverted, there were also radical and presumptuous departures from it. "So secure were they that the only sacrifice which they did not offer was the sin or trespass offering."[49] "Amos stripped away all of Israel's false hopes."[50] Here it was their trust in an inadequate, incomplete, unauthorized, perverted, and innovated worship. In Amos 3, he took away their vain trust in the doctrine of election. In Amos 4, he took away their trust in tithes and offerings; and also in this chapter (Amos 5:18-20), he took away their trust in the future destruction of their enemies by God Himself.

Verse 22

"Yea, though ye offer me your burnt-offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts."

Conspicuous by their absence were the sin-offerings, the Israelites being conscious of no sin whatever and feeling no need of forgiveness. This accounts for their longing, without fear, for the "day of the Lord." As Barnes wrote, "The very fact that they desired but did not fear `The Day of the Lord' shows that they were worthy of punishment, since no man is without sin!"[51] Butler observed that the same principles taught in this verse hold good today for, "those who claim to be covenant people of God."[52] Men need to take a look at their worship. Is some conspicuous part of it missing, such as the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper? Have instruments of music been added to the singing? Are the solemn ethical, moral and personal virtues of God's kingdom no longer stressed or particularly honored? Has so-called Christian worship become a parade of what men like, what they like to do, what they like to hear? Is the Word of God, the Bible, received, honored, respected, quoted, read, believed and obeyed? Let everyone who prays not to be disappointed when "the day of the Lord" finally comes, answer such questions for himself.

Verse 23

"Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols."

There are two things God condemned in this verse: (1) the noise of the songs of their worship, and (2) the mechanical instruments used in their worship. Commentators generally have (1) either skipped the questions raised by this verse as did McKeating;[53] (2) dismissed the verse on the grounds that the only thing God had against anything at Bethel was the worshipper's violation of the rights of the poor; (3) suggested that instruments of music were a part of the regularly established Hebrew worship; or (4) affirmed that, "There is no hint that the ritual was irregular."[54] (5) Barnes thought that the thing God condemned here was the fact that, "Their melody, like much church-music was for itself and ended in itself."[55] Thorogood summed up the generally accepted opinions on this verse as, "What God really desired was that the Israelites should show justice and righteousness in their personal and national lives."[56] Of course, such an opinion regarding justice and righteousness being desired by God is correct, the Lord having thundered that message very clearly a half dozen times already in the scope of this prophecy; but it is something else which God condemns here. Regarding that specific problem of what is condemned in this passage, note this:

<SIZE=2>God Here Condemned:

Their feast days (Amos 5:21), not the great festivals which God Himself instituted, but the idolatry, drunkenness, immorality, etc. which they had added. Their solemn assemblies; the sweet smell (KJV) induced by the burning of leavened bread (condemned in Amos 4:5) had rendered even their assemblies unholy. Their burnt-offerings and meal offerings (Amos 5:22), rendered absolutely unacceptable to God by the drunkenness, immorality, the omission of any sin-offering, and the adoration of the gold image of a calf installed by Jeroboam I.

Their peace-offerings of fat beasts, pretending that peace with the Lord had been established without a sin-offering, and with no regard at all for their sins. Their noise of what were supposed to be songs! This word noise removes all thought of anything holy or spiritual. The singing had likely degenerated into that same kind of screaming cacophany one hears today.

Their instruments of music.

Now, the undeniable fact is that the Lord was condemning and crying out, through his prophet, against all of the things here mentioned; and there is no way to remove the instruments of music from that condemnation; for, unlike the case of the songs, it was not their melody which was lacking; it was not their noise which was condemned; and the only thing visible that could have been condemned here was the use of such unauthorized devices in God's worship.


This subject is still a current and pertinent one to those who really wish to serve and honor God. Many religious communions, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic reject instruments of music in God's worship, including: The Orthodox Hebrew, the Armenian Catholic, the minor sects of both Baptist and Methodist communions, and churches of Christ all over the world. The reasons for this rejection are weighty, impressive and convincing:

I. The New Testament has no record of mechanical instruments of music being used in Christian worship, the mention of harps in Revelation being absolutely figurative. The significance of this truth is enhanced by the fact of their being instruments of music all over the pagan Roman empire during the period when Christianity began.

II. This ban against mechanical instruments, and there was a ban, was continued for centuries afterward in the early Christian communion, as any.good encyclopaedia of religious knowledge will show. Their use in Christian worship came centuries too late to identify them with genuine Christianity. Our Puritan ancestors in Plymouth Colony received the gift of an organ from England, but conscientiously rejected it and left it uninstalled for two generations. It was later put in.

III. Many of the great reformers cried out against their use, including John Wesley, Alexander Campbell, and many others. Some of the great scholars of the 19th century adamantly opposed them, including the great Methodist scholar Adam Clarke. The arguments such men offered in support of their rejection were accurate, convincing, and clearly evident.

IV. All New Testament references to music in the New Testament churches carry the words, singing, sing, or songs, with no mention of mechanical instruments. In context, such passages mean "don't play." Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19, etc.

V. Even the communions which introduced them were usually far from being whole-hearted in their departure, either restricting the kinds of instruments that could be used, or, as in the case of the Catholic church, forbidding them altogether in such services as the High Mass.

VI. Mechanical instruments are not spiritual. The only musical instrument that God ever made is the human voice; and nothing that man ever invented is worthy of comparison with it.

VII. Their use in Christian-related communions has been and is widely noted for developments which follow, such as the building of relatively small choirs of paid singers and musicians, and the greater and greater de-emphasis upon the singing which God commanded. Any big city pastor knows that the most unspiritual part of his church is the choir!

VIII. Arguments which are skillfully advocated as justification for this historical departure from New Testament Christianity are false; and we shall note some of these a moment later.

IX. When instruments of music are introduced into the worship of God through Christ, such an action constitutes the entering point of a wedge leading to further and further departures from God's Word, the reason for this being that the same arguments that will justify instruments of music in Christian worship will also justify the use of holy water, the burning of sacred incense, the lighting of religious lamps and blessed candles, the sign of the cross, the rosary of the Virgin Mary, or any one or all of many other innovations which have perverted Christianity, such as changes in the action that constitutes New Testament baptism, etc.

X. Those who are committed to abiding "in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 1:1:9) will inevitably behold in any such thing as the introduction of mechanical instruments a "going onward" and a failure to respect that apostolic admonition.

XI. There are only two ways to worship God: (1) after the manner of Christ and the apostles of the New Testament, or (2) after the manner of men who are doing what pleases them, instead of what the New Testament commanded and sanctions. Of course, the latter is false worship.

XII. The introduction of mechanical instruments into the worship of God, even in the Old Testament, was unauthorized and condemned as in the very passage we are studying.

XIII. From time immemorial, even for long centuries prior to Christianity, instruments of music were notoriously and invariably associated with pagan worship, as, for example, in Daniel 3:4,5. That pagan association alone is enough to make instruments of music inappropriate in the worship of the Son of God.

XIV. Even if it could be proved, which is unlikely enough, that mechanical instruments of music were authorized by the Lord in the worship of the Hebrews (in the Old Testament), that would in no way open up approval for their use by Christians, as there were many of the legitimate actions of Jewish worship which are inappropriate and sinful in the worship of Christ.


Despite the facts cited above, many learned, skillful, and, it may be presumed, sincere men have labored diligently to prove the acceptability of mechanical instruments in the worship of Christ, usually by proving a point that has no connection with it, namely, that God authorized them under the old covenant. What if he did? That would not authorize them in the worship of Christ. But a fair sample of such arguments is the following from the great scholar C. F. Kiel:

"Singing and playing on harps formed part of the temple worship of God" (1 Chronicles 16:40; 23:5; and 25).[57]

Keil did not proceed from this with any kind of argument, except by leaving off any condemnation of the practice as observed in Christianity. The passages cited do indeed indicate that David placed instruments of music in the temple worship, which is undeniable; but what is inferred is that this was authorized by the Lord. David was guilty of many gross sins, not merely in the moral sector, as in the case of the wife of Uriah, but also in the very conception that led to the erection of the Jewish temple, a thing that God never authorized, and which was manifestly contrary to the will of God from the very moment when David dreamed up the idea. See 2 Samuel 7:1-17, where David's error in proposing a temple is clearly set forth. It is a great mistake to suppose that whatever David did was the will of God.

In addition to this, there is genuine doubt of whether or not God authorized David's introduction of instruments even into the Jewish temple. The principal passage supposed to teach this is 1 Chronicles 16:40, concerning which Adam Clarke noted that:

"The Syriac version of this place has this: `These were upright men who did not sing unto God with instruments of music, nor with drums, nor with listra, nor with straight nor crooked pipes, nor with cymbals; but they sang before the Lord Almighty with a joyous mouth, and with a pure and holy prayer, and with innocence and integrity.'"[58]

Clarke went on to mention the Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Arabic, affirming that, none of the versions implied that the instruments of music were "of God," but that they were used to worship him.[59] Their sanction was clearly upon the authority of David, and not of the Lord. (We shall note this question further in the notes on Amos 6:5, below.)

In his discussion of 1 Chronicles 16:40, Clarke propounded the following series of questions, each of which requires a negative answer:

"Did God ever ordain instruments of music to be used in his worship?

Can they be used in Christian assembles according to the spirit of Christianity?

Has Jesus Christ, or his apostles, ever commanded or sanctioned the use of them?

Were they ever used anywhere in the apostolic church?

Does the use of them at present ever increase the spirit of devotion?

Does it ever appear that bands of musicians, either in their collective or individual capacity, are more spiritual, or as spiritual, as the other parts of the Church of Christ?

Is it ever remarked or known that musicians in the house of God have attained to any depth of piety, or superior soundness of understanding, in the things of God?

Is it ever found that Christian societies which use them are more holy, or as holy, as those societies which do not use them? Is it ever found that the ministers who recommend their use are the most spiritual?

Can mere sounds, no matter how melodious, where no word or sentiment is or can be uttered, be considered as giving praise to God?

Is it possible that pipes or strings of any kind can give God praise?

Can God be pleased with sound emitted by no sentient being, and can have no meaning?"

It is our humble opinion that the instruments of music at Bethel were in exactly the same category as the golden calf, the drunken priests, the immoral worshippers, the burning of the leavened bread, and all the other things here condemned by Amos in the name of Almighty God. To conclude the observations on this verse, "Arguments for instruments of music from their use in the Jewish church is futile in the extreme when applied to Christianity."[60]

Verse 24

"But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."

There are two things commanded here: (1) let justice be done, and (2) return to the commandments and ordinances of God. It was not merely the proper regard for the poor and needy that God wanted, as in (1); but it was also a return to true worship which was required by the admonition in (2). Most of the commentators have failed to recognize what is implied by the Biblical usage of the word righteousness. It has no reference at all to a proper regard for the poor and oppressed, that having been covered in the previous clause; but it means "have the proper regard for the commandments and ordinances" of God, as indicated in Luke 1:6, and in Psalms 119:172.

Verse 25

"Did ye bring unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?"

Amazingly, this verse is made the grounds for denying that the Pentateuch had been written at the time this prophecy was given, or that the custom of offering sacrifices had been instituted in Israel at all prior to the days of Amos. Such a viewpoint is in error. It is alleged, of course, that a negative answer to the question propounded is implied; but what is meant is that that portion of the whole nation of the Jews, namely, those who ultimately made up the Northern Kingdom, had never kept those commandments. The very next verse tells what they did instead of obeying God's commandments. It should be remembered of practically the whole Jewish nation in the wilderness that they repeatedly rebelled against God and that they were ultimately denied entry into Canaan for that specific reason. Furthermore, there is not a denial of any kind here that offerings and sacrifices were offered by Israel in the forty years wanderings; for as Jamieson said, "This is not a denial, for they did offer in the wilderness sacrifices to Jehovah of the cattle which they brought out of Egypt. It is not a denial, but an affirmation."[61]

No matter how this passage is interpreted, whether by assuming that the answer is affirmative, as did Jamieson, above, or whether by insisting that a negative answer is implied, as do Mays, Harper and many others, there can certainly not be any contradiction of the Pentateuch as in the notion that, "There is no way to reconcile this view (of Amos) with the extant Pentateuchal tradition."[62] If Amos said here that the Israelites had not offered sacrifices in the wilderness, the meaning would then be that as stated by Keil, to the effect that:

"The denial that they had offered sacrifices applied to the nation as a whole, or the great mass of the people, individual exceptions being passed by ... During that forty years, not even the rite of circumcision was practiced (See Joshua 5:5-7); and the sacrificial worship prescribed by the law fell more and more into disuse, so that the generation that was sentenced to die in the wilderness for their rebellion offered no more sacrifices."[63]

Furthermore, it is doubtless true that, "Israel during this period must have restricted their sacrifices very considerably because of circumstances,"[64] which would have more than justified what is implied here by Amos' question. That prophetic question was also justified by the fact that, although the people did offer sacrifices, they did not truly offer them to Jehovah, but to those favorite gods which they secretly adored during the forty years wanderings, a truth attested by the fact that after they entered Canaan, it was still necessary for Joshua to order them to "put away the strange gods from among them" (Joshua 24:33). One gets the proper idea by emphasis upon me. "Did you bring unto me, etc.?" No! They did not, but while pretending to worship God, they were actually worshipping idols. The great Christian martyr quoted this very passage in affirming this very thing (Acts 7:42). This has the meaning of:

"You have always been idolators, corrupters of pure worship. Your service in the wilderness, when you were little exposed to external influences, was no more true and faithful than that which you offer now."[65]

Thus it was altogether true of the Northern Kingdom, as stated by Barnes, that: "The idolatry of the ten tribes was the revival of the idolatry in the wilderness. The ten tribes owned as the forefathers of their worship those first idolators."[66] All of these considerations, therefore, are more than sufficient reason for rejecting allegations to the effect that, "The point Amos was trying to make was that sacrifice is not essential to a right relationship with God."[67] The New Testament affirms, of that period, that "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins" (Hebrews 9:22); and, therefore, there can be no acceptance of such a view as that just quoted. With equal authority, we also set aside as erroneous all such affirmations as this: "Amos was disputing the divine origin of the institution of sacrifice as it existed in his day."[68] Such erroneous misconceptions are actually founded in a failure to read the sacred text. Everything that is either stated or implied in this verse is fully explained by the observation that:

"The generation of Amos' day, in mixing idolatry with sacrifices done in the name of Jehovah, was just like the contemporaries of Moses, practicing idolatry and all the while claiming to be worshippers of Jehovah."[69]

Verse 26

"Yea, ye have borne the tabernacle of your king and the shrine of your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves."

This verse is accounted to be very difficult by scholars who have difficulty with any agreement as to the way it should be translated; but, for us, the solution is easy, because this is one of only two verses in Amos quoted in the New Testament; and we are perfectly safe in taking the New Testament rendition of it:

"Did ye offer unto me slain beasts and sacrifices

Forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?

And ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch,

And the star of the god Rephan,

The figures which ye made to worship them:

and I will carry you away beyond Babylon (Acts 7:42,43)."

What is plainly indicated from Stephen's interpretation of this place is that the Israelites in the wilderness, instead of worshipping the true god, were privately passing around the images of Moloch and Rephan, which they made themselves, and perhaps even hiding these forbidden and idolatrous objects in the very tabernacle itself in such a manner as to conceal them from Moses. This is uncertain, to be sure; and scholars have even questioned the rendition in the New Testament; but the meaning expressed there was accepted by the Sanhedrin as such a sufficient indictment of themselves that they murdered Stephen for making it. Thus we are surely safe in declaring that something along this line of thought is most surely included in the meaning.

Verse 27

"Therefore, will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith Jehovah, whose name is the God of hosts."

Beyond Damascus ..." Strangely, this is altered in the New Testament quotation of it to read, "Beyond Babylon"; but the meaning is the same either way. Amos has in mind Assyria, and his hearers all know it. According to some renditions of these difficult verses, they carry this thought: "The idolaters will have to carry their idols into exile beyond Damascus, Assyria, which is thus vaguely indicated."[70] Did this captivity occur? Indeed yes ...

"The terrible consequences of rebellion against God grew steadily worse. Injustice, crime, and immorality of all degrees soon led to complete anarchy in the land. In 722-721 B.C., the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom were subjugated by the Assyrian king; and the people were deported to Assyria never to return as a nation."[71]

What ever became of them? Nothing may be affirmed with any certainty; but in all probability, the whole generation of them were reduced to slavery, worked mercilessly in fields, quarries, brick plants, and domestic service until death mercifully released them from their hopeless and tragic estate. Such was the ultimate reward of their turning against their God.


Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Amos 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.