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The Two Woes (Amos 5:18 to Amos 6:7 ).
It may be that we are to see the ‘alas, alas’ (ho ho) of Amos 5:16 as leading into these two ‘woes’ (hoy, hoy, a longer form of ho) in Amos 5:18 and Amos 6:1. But certainly Amos now introduces two woes/alases. The first ‘woe/alas’ is in respect of their false hopes about the day of YHWH, which they are wrongly expecting will bring them great benefits, and the second is in respect of the fact that they are at ease when they should rather be desperately concerned. Both thus deal with misunderstanding and complacency on the part of Israel.
The Second Woe On Those Who Complacently Relaxed, Depending On YHWH’s Protection, While They Also Totally Ignored His Requirements (Amos 6:1-14 ).
While Amos’s mission was to Israel he never overlooked the situation of Judah, and especially in decadent Jerusalem. He had already made clear in Amos 2:4-5 that YHWH had not overlooked Judah, but had already determined their punishment. And he had spoken in Amos 3:1 of the ‘whole family’ who had come out of Egypt. For to the prophets the separation of Israel from Judah was not a part of God’s ideal agenda, and they continued to see them as one. So now he introduces Judah alongside Israel in his reference to their capital cities, Zion and Samaria. Indeed we should recognise that many Israelites had taken up residence in Judah, especially in and around Jerusalem where the central sanctuary was, so that Israel’s fortunes were very much involved with Judah’s.
In this passage a ‘woe’ is declared on both Zion and Samaria, an thus on Judah and Israel, because of their complacency and their pride (with Aram decimated and subject to Israel, Egypt quiescent, Assyria not at present on the horizon (they were being kept busy elsewhere with Urartu), and Hamath, Calneh and Gath no longer as powerful as them, they saw themselves as ‘the chief of the nations’). But what they needed to recognise was that their security was a myth, and their pride folly, because their unscrupulous and idle ways would shortly bring YHWH’s judgment on them.
“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
And to those who are secure in the mountain of Samaria,
The men of note of the chief of the nations,
To whom the house of Israel come!”
This second ‘woe’ is directed at the leadership of Judah and Israel in both Zion and Samaria. Both were under God’s intense scrutiny as they lolled about, confident that they were safe and secure and that nothing could touch them. They arrogantly saw themselves as the noble leaders (the men of note) of ‘the chief of the nations’ (Israel and Judah). And it was to such that the house of Israel had to come for guidance and leadership!
There was something especially poignant about being ‘complacently at ease’ in Zion, which is no doubt why Amos introduces the idea here. There had been such hopes when the Name of YHWH had been established in Zion by the introduction of the Ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:0), and possibly even more so when the Temple of YHWH had been erected there and made into the central sanctuary, but as royal favour had grown in importance, and Zion had become the place to go in order to gain influence in the right quarters, the impact of the covenant had tended to diminish, and the true heart of the instruction of Moses had become lost as such men vied for position and wealth. Thus Zion, the visible centre of the truth of YHWH (Isaiah 2:3), had diminished into being simply another centre of secular influence and wealth, so that instead of its inhabitants thrilling to the truths of the Scriptures, and taking YHWH’s instruction out to the people (Isaiah 2:3), they indolently lay on their couches drinking and anointing themselves, satisfied with their own importance as rulers, along with Samaria, of ‘the chief of the nations’.
Not having our historical perspective, and unaware of the full truth about the world in which they lived, it was quite possible for these men actually genuinely to see their nations of Israel and Judah as ‘the chief of the nations’. Egypt was quiescent and now kept itself to itself. Assyria was far off, little known and troubling no one (except Urartu). Aram had been previously neutralised by the Assyrians, and were now subject to Israel. Calneh, Hamath and Gath could not bear comparison with them, and were also probably subject to them as well. The remainder of the surrounding nations like Moab, Ammon, Edom, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza were no threat. Israel and Judah were thus top dogs within their spheres of activity, expanding their borders in all directions, and extremely proud and self assured at the fact. We can see why, as a result of this, they had even been able to think in terms of a ‘day of YHWH’ when He would enable them to rule over a world about whose size they had a very limited conception (Amos 5:18).
“Pass you to Calneh, and see, and from there go you to Hamath the great. Then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are they better than these kingdoms? or is their border greater than your border?”
A comparison is made here between Israel/Judah on the one hand and three former great city states within the area of their activities on the other. And the question is being asked as to whether these states could bear any comparison with a resurgent Israel/Judah (‘these kingdoms’) in either quality or size, expecting the answer ‘no’, thus demonstrating that Israel/Judah were ‘the chief of the nations’.
(Some, however, see ‘these kingdoms as referring to Calneh, Hamath and Gath and therefore as indicating that any presumption to be the chief of the nations was folly).
Calneh was farthest north, associated with Arpad, and probably the Kullani of Assyrian tribute lists, being some few kilometres/miles north-north-east of Hamath (compare Isaiah 10:9). Hamath, on the east bank of the Orontes and on the main trade route from the north, was to the north of Damascus. Gath was, of course, in Philistia. All three had in the past been great city states but were by this time somewhat diminished, with Hamath and Gath at least subject to Israel and Judah (see e.g. 2 Kings 14:28; 2 Chronicles 26:6, compare 2 Chronicles 11:8). We know that Gath had been devastated by Hazael of Aram (2 Kings 12:17), and had always had an especially close association with Israel/Judah (in the beginning through Achish, see 1 Kings 2:40), and it may well be that Calneh and Hamath, who stood in the way that led from Assyria to Egypt and Palestine, had both been considerably weakened by the same Assyrian activity as had so devastated Damascus, so that their glory was no more. This obvious diminution in power may have been why they were held up as examples. It may also be, as previously suggested, that it was because all three were in some way at present under the control of Israel/Judah (e.g. 2 Kings 14:28).
There are four ways in which to see these words:
1) We may see them simply as a comparison made in order to vindicate the claim that Israel and Judah were the chief of the nations, (reading ‘these kingdoms’ as indicating Israel and Judah), and spoken by Amos as a simple matter of fact.
2) We may see them as a comparison made in order to vindicate Israel and Judah’s claim to be the chief of the nations on the same basis, but taken as spoken by the leaders of Israel/Judah as a boast.
3) We may see them as Amos moving on to warn of coming judgment on Samaria/Zion by pointing to these three nations as having already suffered diminution, and asking Israel/Judah if they really thought that they were any better than these.
4) We may see them as asking whether Israel/Judah were any better than these other city states (reading ‘these kingdoms’ as referring to the city states).
“You who put far away the evil day,
And cause the seat of violence to come near,
Who lie on beds of ivory,
And stretch themselves on their couches,
And eat the lambs out of the flock,
And the calves out of the midst of the stall,
Who sing idle songs to the sound of the viol,
Who invent for themselves instruments of music, like David,
Who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.”
Amos now paints a picture of an indolent, arrogant Israel. He sees them as ignoring the evil day that is threatening because of YHWH’s displeasure at their ways, and instead as engaging in all kinds of violence in order to obtain their ends, and as indolent and greedy, revelling in luxury, and as totally unconcerned for the state of Israel, and for the way that the poor were continually being afflicted.
“You who put far away the evil day.” They dismissed the possibility of Israel suffering under YHWH’s anger, and experiencing the ‘evil day’ mentioned in Amos 5:18, as a result of their ignoring of their covenant obligations (the anger and its consequences as described in Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28-29), thereby failing to recognise that the day of YHWH was coming with all its darkness and hopelessness (Amos 5:18-20). After all, they said, do we not offer up our offerings regularly and generously, and engage in religious feasts, and make love to the gods through the cult prostitutes, and fill the air with incense? Surely the gods, (even YHWH), must be happy with this. What more could YHWH want? And they pointed out in vindication that wherever they looked all that they could see was prosperity and advancement. Where was this ‘evil day’? They failed to recognise that it was in fact just around the corner.
(How equally foolish are we when we spend our time in gaining for ourselves wealth and a name, and in seeking out pleasure and enjoyment, and looking at the things that are seen, and fail to consider the things that are unseen and the need to be about establishing the Kingly Rule of God over men when the judgments of God and the coming of Jesus Christ are just around the corner).
Others, however, see the reference to the ‘putting far away of the evil day’ as indicating the use of divination for the discernment of what day and periods were ‘unlucky’ and avoiding the evil days by staying in luxury at home, thus ‘justifiably’ avoiding their responsibilities while enjoying their leisure.
‘And cause the seat of violence to come near.’ In contrast to their ‘putting far away’ of the evil day (when YHWH sits in judgment), is their ‘bringing near’ of the seat of violence, that is, their own judgment seat by means of which they twist and distort justice. (Had they not put away thoughts of retribution they would never have dared to do what they did). This has in mind the fact that the judiciary sat to make their decisions, ready to use violence and oppression as their instruments, so as to ensure that the rich and powerful got their way, by open violence if necessary, and even more by covert ‘pressure’.
‘Who lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves on their couches.’ Beds inlaid with ivory were the height of expensive luxury and the picture is of the nobility lying indolently on them, basking in their luxury (while many starved), and having come easily from their seat of violence to their couch of luxury.
‘And eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall.’ To eat lambs and calves was another sign of luxury. In an agricultural nation to eat the livestock, except when it had been offered in thanksgiving to YHWH or to back up a vow, was frowned on, for they were seen as the very basis of the nation’s wealth and provided milk and wool. It was only the wealthy city dwellers who could behave in such a way.
‘Who sing idle songs to the sound of the viol, who invent for themselves instruments of music, like David.’ The picture is men idling away their time in pleasure by singing with no purpose other than enjoyment when they should have been actively putting right the wrongs in the country. They sang idly while the poor of Israel suffered. This is not a criticism of David who made his instruments while watching the sheep. The ‘like David’ is seen as being a comment from their own lips. These people do it idly while doing nothing for the people, totally careless about their responsibilities, but likening themselves to David although without having his conscience and concern.
‘Who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief oils (the firstfruit of the oils).’ They lie there constantly drinking wine from large bowls and pouring expensive oils over themselves (which took away their odours and also killed their lice), indolently and luxuriously unaware of the misery around them for which they were supposed to take responsibility.
‘But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.’ And in all their luxury and rich living they had no regard for the sufferings of the common people. They experienced no grief at the misery around them, for whilst Israel had grown prosperous that wealth had gone to the comparatively few, and the poor were even more exploited and hungry.
“Therefore will they now go captive with the first who go captive,
And the revelry of those who stretched themselves will pass away.”
Because of their behaviour and attitudes they will be in the van of those who will be taken into exile, and for them there will be no more revelry, for it will have passed away. So much for their sense of ease and security. And in Samaria, which is chiefly in mind here, it would happen within short forty years.
“The Lord YHWH has sworn by himself,” says YHWH, the God of hosts, “I abhor the excellency of Jacob (or ‘Jacob’s pride’), and hate his palaces, therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is in it.”
The Lord YHWH Himself now added His condemnation to that of Amos. Indeed He took the situation so seriously that He swore an oath by Himself, the most sacred of oaths (compare Amos 4:2; Amos 8:7 for YHWH’s further oaths). And His oath was that because He hated all the outward show of excellence of Jacob (Israel), and their pride and arrogance, including all their ostentatious palaces, therefore He would deliver up the city to destruction, and all that was in it. And such would be the devastation and slaughter that everything about the slaughter would be unusual. There would be no male survivors, honourable burial would be forbidden, and there would be no official mourning for the dead. For it would be YHWH Himself Who would have done it.
“And it will come about, if there remain ten men in one house, that they will die.”
What He would do is now spelled out. Such would be the devastation and slaughter that if during it a large household be reduced to just a few (ten) men, those few men would also die. This time there would be no survivors to carry on the name.
“And when a man’s uncle will take him up, even he who burns him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and will say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, ‘Is there yet any with you?’ and he will say, ‘No’, then will he say, ‘Hush, for we may not make mention of the name of YHWH’.”
And when a relative come to burn the bodies so that they may take the bones away for burial (compare 1 Samuel 31:12-13), he would call to one who was within the house (possibly in hiding) and ask if anyone was with him, and the answer would be ‘no’. No men would be left. Possibly the idea of the burning here indicates that the situation would be very similar to that of Saul after his death. The bodies would have to be stolen away for burial because burial was being forbidden by those who wanted to make a show of the bodies. Alternatively the thought may be that plague would have stricken the house, finishing off what the invaders had started and resulting in the need to burn the bodies.
Furthermore, with such death and devastation around them there would normally be mourning for the dead, a calling in distress on the Name of YHWH, but here they were forbidden to do so because they had to recognise that it was YHWH Himself Who had brought this devastation on them. There was no one left to appeal to. The ‘hush’ signifies that they are to wait in silence in the face of YHWH’s activity, recognising its inevitability (compare Habakkuk 2:20; Zechariah 2:17; Revelation 8:1). They may weep, but so sacred was the situation as YHWH carried out His judgment that YHWH’s Name must not be brought into the situation. No attempt must be made to prevent from carrying out His set purpose. Or it may signify that such was YHWH’s hatred of Samaria’s sins that to call on YHWH’s Name would simply be to bring on them more of the same as they reminded Him of how evil they had been. Both may, of course, be in mind.
“For, behold, YHWH commands, and the great house will be smitten with breaches, and the little house with clefts.”
And here is why YHWH’s Name must not be called on for assistance. It is YHWH Himself Who is in charge of operations and commanding that the large houses be broken down, and their walls breached, and the small houses (which were too small for their walls to produce what could be called ‘breaches’) should be broken down and their walls cracked open. The picture is one of total destruction of all buildings.
“Will horses run on the rock? Will one plough there (or ‘the sea’) with oxen? that you have turned justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood,”
And all this would occur because Israel had done what was totally incongruous. No horse would run over the rocky ground, for it would soon lame itself. No oxen would be called on to plough the sea (or the rocky ground) because it would be ludicrous. But Israel had done the equivalent in that they had turned justice (what should have been so sweet) into the poison of gall, and the fruit of righteousness (delightful to the taste) into bitter wormwood. In other words they had turned the meaning of justice and righteousness upside down, totally distorting the ideas beyond comprehension so that what they indicated was no longer acceptable, but abhorrent.
‘Will one plough the sea with oxen?’ This translation is obtained (through a changing of the pointing only), by dividing babbqariym into babbaqar yam, using the same consonants from the original Hebrew text.
“You who rejoice in a thing of nought, who say, ‘Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?’ ”
Furthermore the absurdity continued. They boasted about their own strength when before YHWH it was nothing. They claimed to have ‘grown themselves horns’ (become powerful) as a result of their own strength and ability. When all the time they would simply be like a man wearing home-made horns battling in single combat against a great wild ox (Assyria).
Alternately we may translate as ‘you who rejoice about Lo-debar, who say, have we not taken for ourselves Karnaim by our own strength?’. Lo-debar (see 2 Samuel 9:4-5; 2 Samuel 17:27; Joshua 13:26) was in northern Gilead (in Transjordan), and Karnaim even farther north in Aramaean territory. Both had been in the hands of Aramaean forces and had been delivered by the Israelites. The thought is then that they were boasting in their petty conquests, (note that their confidence was very much in themselves and not in YHWH), not having the faintest realisation of the armed might that would soon come against them which without YHWH they would be helpless to resist.
“For, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says YHWH, the God of hosts, and they will afflict you from Libo-Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.”
And they would soon discover the truth about themselves. For YHWH, God of all the hosts in heaven and earth, was about to raise up a nation against them so powerful that they would afflict them from Libo-Hamath (a now identified city) on their northern borders, to the brook of the Arabah, at the southern end of the Dead Sea, in the south (compare 2 Kings 14:25). Local invasions usually resulted in only losing part of their territory, but this invader would be so powerful that they would take over the whole land from one end to the other.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Amos 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent