Bible Commentaries
Amos 5

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Amos 5:0


Israel's Sinfulness and God's Punishment(Amos 3:1-14)Israel Warned and Threatened(Amos 3:1-14)
A Lament for IsraelThe Horror and Finality of Israel's Deserved Punishment(Amos 5:1-14)A Call to RepentanceLament for Israel
Amos 5:1-3Amos 5:1-2Amos 5:1-2Amos 5:1-2
Amos 5:3Amos 5:3Amos 5:3
A Call to RepentanceNo Salvation without Repentance
Amos 5:4-9Amos 5:4-5Amos 5:4-5Amos 5:4-7
Amos 5:6-7Amos 5:6-7Doxology
Amos 5:8-9Amos 5:8-9Amos 5:8-9
Amos 5:10-13Amos 5:10-13Amos 5:10-13Amos 5:10-13
Amos 5:14-15Amos 5:14-15Amos 5:14-15Amos 5:14-15
The Day of the LordImpending Punishment
Amos 5:16-17Amos 5:16-17Amos 5:16-17Amos 5:16-17
The Day of YHWH
Amos 5:18-20Amos 5:18-20Amos 5:18-20Amos 5:18-20
Against Formalism in Religion
Amos 5:21-24Amos 5:21-24Amos 5:21-24Amos 5:21-27
Amos 5:25-27Amos 5:25-27Amos 5:25-27

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:1-3 1Hear this word which I take up for you as a dirge, O house of Israel: 2She has fallen, she will not rise again The virgin Israel. She lies neglected on her land; There is none to raise her up. 3For thus says the Lord GOD, “The city which goes forth a thousand strong Will have a hundred left, And the one which goes forth a hundred strong Will have ten left to the house of Israel.”

Amos 5:1 “Hear” See note at Amos 3:1.

“dirge” This is a specialized poetic structure that is found in Amos 5:2-6 and Amos 5:16-17. This Hebrew word “dirge” (BDB 884) refers to a particular poetic beat pattern of 3-2, 3-2 (e.g., 2 Samuel 1:19-27; 2 Samuel 3:33-34). It is used quite extensively in the book of Lamentations. This form characterized funeral songs or chants (cf. Amos 5:16-17, Amos 5:18-20). These songs were an expected part of the funeral service.

“O house of Israel” The term “house” (BDB 108) is used in the sense of family or descendants (cf. Amos 1:4, Amos 1:5; Amos 7:9). The phrase “house of Israel” is used several times by Amos (cf. Amos 5:1, Amos 5:3, Amos 5:4, Amos 5:25; Amos 6:1, Amos 6:14; Amos 7:10, Amos 7:16; Amos 9:9) to refer to the Northern Ten Tribes that split off from Judah in 922 B.C. in the reign of Rehoboam. These tribes took for themselves the name of the father of the Hebrew tribes “Israel” (Jacob).

Twice in Amos the phrase “house of Jacob” is used (cf. Amos 3:13; Amos 9:8). It if often difficult to know if Amos is referring only to the northern tribes or if he is addressing all the descendants of Jacob/Israel.

Amos 5:2 “she has fallen” This (BDB 656, KB 709, Qal PERFECT) is a prophetic PERFECT that describes something that will happen in the future as if it has already occurred. The term was used of death in battle (e.g., Jeremiah 9:22; Jeremiah 46:12; Lamentations 2:21; Hosea 7:7).

“she will not rise again” There are two VERBS: (1) “no more” (BDB 414, KB 418 is a Hiphil IMPERFECT) and (2) “to rise” (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT). YHWH's judgment on Israel's eclectic religion is total, complete, once-and-for-all judgment (cf. Amos 7:9).

However, this very same VERB is used in Amos 9:11(twice) to promise a restoration of the royal house of Judah (i.e., “the fallen booth of David”). So again, the theological issue is:

1. God's message presented in contrasting black and white truths (dialectic paradoxes)

2. chapter 9 refers only to Judah, not Israel.

“the virgin Israel” This term is parallel with “house of Israel.” God took special care and provided protection for them, like an unmarried daughter or bride to be (cf. Jeremiah 18:13; Jeremiah 31:4, Jeremiah 31:21). This reflects the marriage metaphor of God as husband and His covenant people as wife (e.g., Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:19; Ephesians 5:22-33). The later rabbis saw the wilderness wandering period as the honeymoon (cf. Jeremiah 2:2-3; Hosea 2:16). But now the context is of the rape and death of Israel by the Assyrian invasion. For more information on th is idiom, see Jeremiah 46:11 online at

“She lies neglected on her land” The VERB (BDB 643, KB 695) means forsaken, abandoned to plunder. The land of promise is now the place of judgment.

There is a very interesting article in NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 522-524, on the theological aspect of “the land” as YHWH's gift to the descendants of Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:3). Many of the Mosaic statutes are based on this concept. This is the reason why cheating fellow covenant brothers out of their family/tribal inheritance was so offensive to God. God's concern for the land can be seen in “the Sabbath Year” and “Jubilee Year” regulations. These wealthy land grabbers had totally ignored or willfully rejected the theological basis of YHWH's ownership and division of the Promised Land.

“There is none to raise her up” This is the same VERB (BDB 877, KB 1086) used earlier in the verse. Here it is a Hiphil PARTICIPLE. It seems to be a sarcastic allusion to the inability of the Canaanite gods (whom Israel worshiped) to rescue her from YHWH's judgment (cf. Amos 5:6). The powerlessness, the non-existence of Canaanite deities is ridiculed!

Amos 5:3 This was one of the covenant curses (the terms “thousands” [BDB 48] and “hundreds” [BDB 547] were military units, cf. Deuteronomy 28:62). The emphasis in this verse is not on a remnant returning (cf. Isaiah 6:13), but on the extreme military devastation that will occur. National Israel will permanently cease to exist. See Special Topic: Thousand (eleph).

Verses 4-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:4-7 4 For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel, “Seek Me that you may live. 5But do not resort to Bethel, And do not come to Gilgal, Nor cross over to Beersheba; For Gilgal will certainly go into captivity And Bethel will come to trouble. 6Seek the LORD that you may live, Or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, And it will consume with none to quench it for Bethel, 7For those who turn justice into wormwood And cast righteousness down to the earth.”

Amos 5:4 “seek Me” The Hebrew VERB (BDB 205, KB 233) is a Qal IMPERATIVE (cf. Amos 5:6, Amos 5:14-15). The connotation of the Hebrew phrase “to seek” involved going to a sanctuary, however, the context of Amos 5:5 demands that we must seek God on an individual, as well as corporate, basis (cf. Deuteronomy 4:29-30; Deuteronomy 30:1-3, Deuteronomy 30:10), not just in religious ritual. Our attitudes, motives, and lifestyle faith are crucial. Basically this is a call to repentance to those who already knew (covenantal aspect) YHWH (cf. Revelation 3:20). Fellowship with YHWH demands an ethical life.

In Amos 5:4 Amos says, “Seek the Lord.” This same VERB is also found in Amos 5:14, “seek good and not evil.” These three are somewhat parallel. YHWH is said several times to be good (e.g., Psalms 86:5; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 106:1; Psalms 107:1; Psalms 118:1, Psalms 118:29). Therefore, seeking “Me” and seeking “good” may refer to YHWH (notice the second line of Amos 5:14). This same symbolism can be seen in Hosea 8:2-3.

The Hebrew term “seek” has several meanings.

1. inquire of

2. seek a deity in prayer and worship

3. investigate (to know the heart)

4. ask or demand

In this context #2 fits best (cf. Deuteronomy 4:29; Hosea 10:12; Isaiah 9:13; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 55:6; Isaiah 65:10).

NASB“that you may live” NKJV, NRSV“and live” TEV“and you will live” NJB“and you will survive”

The NKJV and NRSV are literal. The VERB (BDB 310, KB 309) is a Qal IMPERATIVE parallel to “seek.” The sense of the IMPERATIVE is seen in the NASB, TEV, and NJB. Israel's survival as a covenant nation is the issue! This use of “live” is similar to John 10:10. YHWH is merciful, if they turn back to Him, He will pardon, restore, and protect (i.e., as in Holy War).

This outburst of mercy is a plea from the heart of God who does not want to destroy His own covenant people (cf. Hosea 11:8-11).

Amos 5:5 “Bethel. . .Gilgal. . .Beersheba” These are all local centers of worship. The first two were in Israel and the third in southern Judah (cf. 2 Kings 23:8; Genesis 21:14, Genesis 21:31; Genesis 26:25, Genesis 26:33; Genesis 46:1).

“Beersheba” This was an ancient holy site connected to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Genesis 21:33; Isaac, Genesis 26:23-25; Jacob, Genesis 28:10; Genesis 46:1-7) located in southern Judah.

“For Gilgal will certainly go into captivity” Amos is a skilled poet. Here he uses a sound play between “Gilgal” and “to go into exile” (BDB 162, KB 191, a Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a Qal IMPERFECT of the same term, which is a grammatical feature to denote intensity). Hebrew poetry is characterized by thought parallelism, multiple meanings of words, and sound plays.

“And Bethel will come to trouble” This seems to be a contrast between Bethel (house of God) and what it had become (house of idolatry, cf. Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5, Hosea 10:8).

One of the meanings of “trouble” (BDB 19) can be idolatry (i.e., “nothing,”cf. Isaiah 41:29; Isaiah 66:3).

Amos 5:6 “Seek the Lord that you may live” This is parallel to Amos 5:4.

“He will break forth like a fire” This may be another allusion to Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24). Fire is a metaphor for the cleansing power of God or to put it another way, His holiness! See Special Topic: FIRE.

“O house of Joseph” It is unusual for Israel to be called the “house of Joseph” (cf. Amos 6:6). It is usually called the “house of Jacob” (or “house of Israel,” e.g., Amos 5:1). However, Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's two children, make up the largest land holdings and the most populous tribes of the northern kingdom.

Amos 5:7 “for those who turn justice into wormwood” “Justice” is a parallel to “righteousness.” These two terms often appear together in the same context in the OT (cf. 2 Samuel 8:15; 1 Kings 10:9; 1 Chronicles 18:14; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Psalms 99:4; Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 28:17; Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah 32:16; Isaiah 33:5; Isaiah 59:14; Jeremiah 4:2; Jeremiah 9:24; Jeremiah 22:3, Jeremiah 22:15; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 18:5, Ezekiel 18:19, Ezekiel 18:21, Ezekiel 18:27; Ezekiel 33:14, Ezekiel 33:16, Ezekiel 33:19; Ezekiel 45:9; Amos 5:7, Amos 5:24). This is not the “justification by faith,” imputed righteousness of the New Covenant, but the Old Covenant mandate that YHWH wanted a people to fully reveal His character (cf. Matthew 5:19-20, Matthew 5:48). However, sinful fallen mankind, even the covenant people, were unable to live out the holiness of God!

The PARTICIPLE (BDB 245, KB 253, Qal PARTICIPLE), when Israel is the subject, is used in a negative sense (cf. Amos 5:7; Amos 6:12; Jeremiah 2:21). In Amos 4:11 Amos mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah as being overthrown, using the same root but with YHWH as the subject.

Wormwood (BDB 542) refers to any plant that is bitter (cf. UBS's Fauna and Flora of the Bible, p. 198). The rich had prevented justice. The legal system was a bitter thing to the poor, not a haven (cf. Amos 5:12; Amos 6:12). This may be another allusion to idolatry in Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:14; Jeremiah 23:15). The cognate in Arabic means “curse.”

NASB“cast righteousness down to the earth” NKJV“lay righteousness to rest in the earth” NRSV“bring righteousness to the ground” TEV“cheat people out of their rights” NJB“throw uprightness to the ground”

The idea here is to cast down (BDB 245, KB 253, Qal PARTICIPLE) with a view toward trampling underfoot (cf. Isaiah 28:2-3). Judges, like the king, were to represent YHWH.

Notice that “justice” and “righteousness” are parallel (cf. Amos 5:24; Amos 6:12). There is an ethical-practical aspect to biblical faith! See Special Topic: Righteousness and Special Topic: Judge, Judgment, Justice.

Verses 8-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:8-9 8He who made the Pleiades and Orion And changes deep darkness into morning, Who also darkens day into night, Who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the surface of the earth, The LORD is His name. 9It is He who flashes forth with destruction upon the strong, So that destruction comes upon the fortress.

Amos 5:8-9 This is a poetic doxology to God as Creator and Judge. There are three of these doxologies in Amos (cf. Amos 4:4; Amos 5:8-9; Amos 9:5-6).

Amos 5:8 “the Pleiades” This is literally “heap” or “herd” (BDB 465, cf. Job 9:9, Job 38:31). This was one of the brightest of the star clusters (Hesiod calls it “the seven sisters”) in the constellation Taurus. The UBS, Translator's Handbook, pp. 105, 242, asserts that in Palestine its setting below the horizon introduces winter. This then makes the poetic lines refer to God not as creator only, but active present controller (Providence) of the natural order.

“Orion” This is literally “fool” (BDB 493) in the sense of aggressive. It is used to refer to a rebel. The ancients identified this constellation with Nimrod (the warrior, cf. Genesis 10:8-9). It was visible in the summer. God controls the seasons (i.e., the order and regularity of the natural world)! Apparently, God's creation and control of the stars (cf. Genesis 1:14-19) was a necessary theological statement in the light of astral worship (cf. Amos 5:26).

“changes deep darkness into morning” In context this speaks of God's control of the heavenly bodies (cf. Ps. 19: 24). This phrase may be parallel in concept to Amos 4:13c.

“Who calls for the waters of the sea” There are several theories as to the meaning of this phrase: (1) it refers to the boundaries of the oceans (cf. Genesis 1:9-10); (2) it refers to God, not Ba'al, as the source of rain (i.e., a blessing to support growth); or (3) it is possibly an allusion to the flood (a judgment motif, cf. Genesis 6:0). God controls the waters of creation as He does the stars. Water is the only thing in Genesis 1:0 that is not said to have been spoken into existence by God (cf. Genesis 1:2).

“The LORD is His name” The name in Hebrew was very significant in describing the character of an individual. God's name “YHWH” is from Exodus 3:14, from the Hebrew VERB “to be.” See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

Amos 5:9

NASB“He who flashes forth” NKJV“He rains” NRSV“flash out” TEV, NJB“brings”

The Hebrew term's (BDB 114, KB 132, Hiphil PARTICIPLE) meaning is in doubt. Its use in Job and the Psalms implies a cheerfulness or joy (meaning of the Arabic root). However, that meaning does not fit Amos at all unless Amos is speaking sarcastically of YHWH smiling at the destruction of idolatrous Israel and her military fortifications. The NASB takes its translation from the possible meaning of the Hiphil, “let something flare up” (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 660).

“the strong” This may refer to the economically and politically powerful (cf. Amos 5:10-13; Amos 2:14). The opposite of “the poor,” the very ones who take advantage of them! However, because of the parallel to “fortresses,” it may refer to the Israeli military.

Verses 10-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:10-13 10They hate him who reproves in the gate, And they abhor him who speaks with integrity. 11Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor And exact a tribute of grain from them, Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, Yet you will not live in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. 12For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous and accept bribes And turn aside the poor in the gate. 13Therefore at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.

Amos 5:10 “They hate him who reproves in the gate” Those (honest judges, true witnesses) who tried to stand up and defend the poor and helpless (exactly who this refers to is uncertain, some kind of legal advocate) were vehemently attacked by the status quo leadership (cf. Isaiah 59:14-15). This is another allusion to Deuteronomy's cursing and blessing section (cf. Deuteronomy 27:25).

The gate was the place of justice in the ancient Near East (cf. Deuteronomy 25:1-3; Ruth 4:1-12). This is where the elders of the communities sat (cf. Deuteronomy 19:12; Deuteronomy 21:3, Deuteronomy 21:8, Deuteronomy 21:19; Deuteronomy 21:3, Deuteronomy 21:8; Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7-8). These elders are addressed by Amos.

“abhor” This (BDB 1073, KB 1765, Piel IMPERFECT) is a strong VERB, often used to denote God's rejection of idolatry. It is parallel to “hate” in this context.

NASB“integrity” NKJV“uprightly” NRSV, NJB“the truth” TEV“the whole truth”

The term's (BDB 1071) basic meaning is to be exact or straight. This metaphor for moral/ethical uprightness was derived from the word for a palm tree. Notice its usage.

1. Noah, Genesis 6:9

2. Abraham, Genesis 17:1

3. peace offerings, Leviticus 22:21

4. godly Israelites, Deuteronomy 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:13; Proverbs 2:7; Proverbs 10:9

5. God, Deuteronomy 32:4 2 Samuel 22:31, 2 Samuel 22:33; Psalms 18:0; 30,32

6. Job, Job 1:1, Job 1:8; Job 2:3

7. God's word, Psalms 19:7

Amos 5:11a-b The first two poetic lines of this verse document some of the abuses of the poor:

1. heavy rent (i.e., taken from Akkadian root) or trample on (i.e., taken from Hebrew root “to trample” [BDB 143, KB 165, Poel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT], cf. NKJV, NRSV, NJB).

2. a tax on food

3. bribery at the gate (cf. Amos 5:12)

The term poor (see note at Amos 2:7) may refer to “peasant farmers” (see note at NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 951).

Amos 5:11c-e This is another curse for violation of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:39). The rich had built luxurious homes (“well-hewn stone”) by exploiting the poor (cf. Amos 5:11-12). But God would not let them live with their ill gotten gain (cf. Micah 6:15). This is an allusion to the Assyrian exile.

Amos 5:12 This verse, like Amos 5:10-11, lists the sins of the wealthy class against the poor (possibly small farmers) and underprivileged. These are the very ones the ethical God cares about because of their helplessness and vulnerability (cf. Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 24:17-22; Deuteronomy 26:12-13; Deuteronomy 27:19). This is another Deuteronomic emphasis. The prophets always looked back to the Mosaic Covenant.

The term translated “bribe” (BDB 497, cf. Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; Deuteronomy 27:25; 1 Samuel 12:3; Proverbs 6:35) is the same term used to describe God's “covering,” “atoning” for sin. This important theological term is used here in a derived sense of covering someone's hand or eyes. It is a shocking use of a wonderful theological term.

Amos 5:13 This is a very difficult verse because it seems to go against all that the prophet himself advocates and practices. This again may be a play on the semantic field of the PARTICIPLE, “he who is prudent” (BDB 968, KB 1328, Hiphil PARTICIPLE). The Hiphil can mean

1. look at (to make one wise, cf. Genesis 3:6)

2. give attention to (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:29)

3. have comprehension (e.g., Daniel 1:4; Daniel 9:25)

4. give insight, teach (e.g., Daniel 9:22; Daniel 11:33, Daniel 11:35)

5. act prudently (e.g., Amos 5:13)

6. prosper (e.g., Isaiah 52:13; Jeremiah 10:21)

7. cause to prosper (e.g., Deuteronomy 29:9)

A good example of how this term can mean #5 or #6/#7 see Jeremiah 23:5. If so used here, this may be another allusion to Deuteronomy (i.e., Deuteronomy 29:9). They were meant to prosper in God's blessing (cf. Deut. 27-29), but they were prospering because they were breaking Moses' Covenant in their treatment of the powerless of their society.

It is also possible (UBS, Handbook, pp. 106-109) to see the key to the structure related to the two people addressed in Amos 5:10.

1. “they hate. . .they abhor,” this group is addressed in Amos 5:11-12

2. “who reproves. . .who speaks with integrity,” these were addressed in Amos 5:13

Verses 14-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:14-15 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! 15Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Amos 5:14 “Seek good and not evil” Note the prophet's sharp contrasts (cf. Amos 5:15). There is a choice to be made which has eternal consequences. “Seek” (BDB 205, KB 233, Qal IMPERATIVE) is another IMPERATIVE. Notice this IMPERATIVE's relationship with those in Amos 5:4, Amos 5:6 that emphasize ethical lifestyles. It must be remembered that biblical faith has two foci: personal relationship and deeds of love (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10 and 1 John 3:23). Amos admonishes Israel to “seek good.” Isaiah uses the same VERB to admonish God's people to seek justice (cf. Isaiah 1:17). What do we care about, strive for, seek after? The answer tells us who we are and who/what we serve!

“the LORD God of hosts be with you” This is the greatest promise that God can make (cf. Psalms 23:0). The title “LORD God of Hosts” has two related meanings in the OT: (1) YHWH as commander of the angelic army and (2) YHWH as controller of the astral bodies that represent angelic powers (Babylonian idolatry). See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

“Just as you have said” Amos may have been referring to

1. a common teaching of the priests/Levites

2. an often used liturgy/psalm

3. the recurrent claim that Israel was the covenant-chosen people (e.g., Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2)

Amos 5:15 “Hate evil, love good,

And establish justice in the gate” These are three Hebrew IMPERATIVES:

1. “hate” (BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal IMPERATIVE)

2. “love” (BDB 12, KB 17, Qal IMPERATIVE)

3. “establish” (BDB 426, KB 427, Hiphil IMPERATIVE)

These reflect the covenant of Moses. Notice that for Amos there is no distinction between the secular and the sacred, between the heart and the hand (cf. Micah 6:8). God's people must reflect God's character!

The term “establish” has the connotation of specific, purposeful action (e.g., Hosea 2:3). God's faithful must determine in their hearts and minds that justice, fairness, and integrity will prevail in their sphere of influence.

“Perhaps the LORD. . .May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” The prophet is asserting a limited hope (i.e., “perhaps” BDB 19) for those few Israelites who would repent and live out their faith (i.e., “seek Me,” Amos 5:4; “seek the LORD,” Amos 5:6).

Verses 16-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:16-17 16Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, “There is wailing in all the plazas, And in all the streets they say, 'Alas! Alas!' They also call the farmer to mourning And professional mourners to lamentation. 17And in all the vineyards there is wailing, Because I will pass through the midst of you,” says the LORD.

Amos 5:16 “Therefore” This relates to Amos 5:10-13. It does not relate to the repeated admonition to repent, begun in Amos 5:4-6 (key word, “seek”).

“There is wailing in all the plazas. . .‘Alas! Alas'“ The prophet began the funeral dirge in Amos 5:1; now judgment has come and everybody is wailing. “Plazas” would be parallel to “gates” or “markets.” Even the term “streets” (BDB 299) can mean plaza or market (e.g., 1 Kings 20:34).

“farmer” I believe “farmer” is the referent to “the poor.” It was not the poor as in modern, western cultures, but the small farmer on ancestral land (given by YHWH) who were being exploited. The Mosaic stipulations of the Sabbath Year and the Jubilee Year were being ignored and land was permanently taken.

“professional mourners” Near Eastern people are very expressive in their mourning rites. There were trained people available to help in this cultural grieving process (cf. 2 Chronicles 35:25; Jeremiah 9:17). See James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 283-284.

Amos 5:17 “I will pass through the midst of you” This same phrase is used in Exodus 12:12 for the Death Angel passing through Egypt in judgment on the night of Passover. God's coming could be for blessing or judgment (cf. Amos 5:18). Israel viewed it as a certain blessing, but Amos revealed that it would be for judgment. What an ironic, tragic reversal (cf. Amos 5:18-20)! All humans made in God's image sense their need for Him (cf. Amos 5:14b). He wants to be with us, but our actions necessitate judgment, not fellowship!

Verses 18-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:18-20 18Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; 19As when a man flees from a lion And a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall And a snake bites him. 20Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it?”

Amos 5:18 “Alas” This is literally “woe” (BDB 222). This is an interjection of grief and mourning over the dead (cf. Amos 5:16; Jeremiah 22:18; Jeremiah 34:5).

“you who are longing for the day of the LORD” This VERB (BDB 16, KB 20, Hiphil PARTICIPLE) means “desire for yourselves.” These people thought God's coming (i.e., “the day of the LORD”) would bring blessings and deliverance because they were covenant people (cf. Amos 3:2). But because of this very reason, judgment would come. Because of the blindness of their hearts, God was coming to them as Judge (cf. Amos 3:14; Amos 5:18; Amos 8:3, Amos 8:9, Amos 8:11, Amos 8:13), not Savior (cf. Amos 9:11, Amos 9:13). Their religion resulted in a curse (cf. Deut. 27-29).

Amos is the first of the writing prophets and this is the first use of the phrase “the Day of the LORD” (see note at Amos 2:16). It may have been a metaphor from the days of “Holy War” (i.e., Joshua and Judges). YHWH was the ever-present provider and protector of His covenant people, but in days of conflict His physical manifestation in miraculous ways delivered His people from danger. However, Israel had so violated the covenant that its privilege had turned to judgment and rejection (cf. Joel 2:0).

“It will be darkness and not light” This continues the contrast on these terms (cf. Amos 4:13c; Amos 5:8c, Amos 5:20).

Amos 5:19 There is absolutely no place to flee from God's judgment.

Amos 5:20 What irony! What tragedy!

“with no brightness in it” The “brightness” (BDB 618) may be an allusion to the glory of God.

Verses 21-24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:21-24 21”I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. 23Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amos 5:21-24 Do these verses show that God rejects the sacrificial system given in Leviticus 1-7? There are many strong passages in the Prophets that show God's displeasure at His people's practice of the sacrificial system (cf. Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:8). The sacrificial system was YHWH's way of dealing with human sin so as to develop and continue a personal, loving, trusting relationship with His highest creation. However, Israel not only turned it into mere ritual and form, but even merged it with pagan practices. YHWH wants fellowship! YHWH wants a people who reflect His character! YHWH wants to reach all humans through the witness of a chosen group (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5-6).

Amos 5:21 “I hate, I reject your festivals,

Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies” These are strong terms! They were very religious, but their attitudes and hearts were far from God. Their religiosity was an abomination to God (cf. Isaiah 29:13)! The first two VERBS, “I hate” (BDB 971, KB 1338) and “I reject” (BDB 549, KB 540) are Qal PERFECTS, which denote a settled, complete attitude.

The term “festivals” (BDB 290) is often used to denote the three major annual feasts (cf. Exodus 23:15-16; Leviticus 23:0). These were required feasts for all males.

The term “delight” (BDB 926, KB 1280, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is literally “smell,” which refers to the Mosaic phrase “soothing aroma,” denoting YHWH's acceptance of a sacrifice (e.g., Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, Exodus 29:25; Leviticus 26:31; 1 Samuel 26:19).

Amos 5:22 Religiosity without relationship is an abomination (cf. Isaiah 1:10-20; Jeremiah 7:0). YHWH does not reject the sacrificial system, but its inappropriate use (ritual without repentant faith; form without appropriate attitude)!

“I will not even look” “Look” (BDB 613, KB 661, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is used in the sense of accept or acknowledge.

“fatlings” This (BDB 597) refers to specially cared for young animals which were raised to be sacrificed.

Amos 5:23 “take away from Me the noise of your songs” This (BDB 693, KB 747) is a Hiphil IMPERATIVE MASCULINE SINGULAR. Even sacred, glorious music without the proper motive is a farce, hypocrisy, and an abomination to God. God desires motive, not only form!

This verse does show that the northern tribes adopted the worship forms (i.e., music developed by the prophetic guilds, cf. 1 Samuel 10:5) of the temple in Jerusalem (developed by David, cf. 2 Samuel 6:5, 2 Samuel 6:15). The leaders (Jeroboam I) wanted these northern altars (i.e., Dan and Bethel) to duplicate the worship techniques so that the common people would not sense a difference.

It is surprising that the VERBS are SINGULAR. It is just possible that in Amos 5:23 Amos is addressing the high priest at Bethel.

NASB, NRSV, TEV, NIV“harps” NKJV, NET“stringed instruments” NJB“lyres” REV, JPSOA“lutes”

As the number of English translations demonstrates, moderns do not know to what type of stringed instrument this refers. To note the number of other instruments it is often associated with see 2 Samuel 6:5 and Psalms 92:3. It is possible that Assyrian wall pictures have depicted this instrument as strings with a sounding box, something like our bass fiddle. See James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible pp. 221-222.

Amos 5:24 This is one of the most famous verses in Amos. God desires His people to focus on who He is, not on certain worship days, but on every day. True faith is what we are, not what we do; but who we are will be clearly seen in what we do, how we do it, and why we do it (cf. Matthew 7:0).

“Justice” and “righteousness” are parallel, as in Amos 5:7. In this context they refer to human obedience to the Mosaic Covenant lived out in a proper relationship between God and worshiperworshiped and worshiper.

The VERB “roll down” (BDB 146, KB 193) is a Niphal JUSSIVE, which denotes an IMPERATIVE sense.

“an ever-flowing stream” This (BDB 450) refers to a spring that never runs dry (i.e., is not seasonal). It is a powerful metaphor of a life of active faith (cf. Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 45:9; Micah 6:8).

Verses 25-27

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Amos 5:25-27 25”Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. 27Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.”

Amos 5:25 This is a very difficult verse to interpret. It can be a question (continues from Amos 5:25) or an affirmation (linking it to Amos 5:27, cf. TEV). There have been two lines of interpretation: (1) Amos is asserting that the children of Israel did not sacrifice in the wilderness (cf. Jeremiah 7:21-22 and NJB) or (2) although they did sacrifice in a limited (JB) way, the object of their sacrifice was not YHWH, but Assyrian gods who were leading them (sarcasm) into exile.

Amos 5:26 There is much discussion on the time element of this verse. Does it refer to the forty years of wilderness wandering of Amos 5:25 or does it refer to the future wanderings of the Assyrian exile? It seems that because the idols mentioned are Assyrian star gods this verse is referring to current time or the future exile, while Amos 5:25 refers to the wilderness wanderings after the Exodus from Egypt.

Another possibility is that Israel had made the sacrificial system ultimate when in fact they could not perform it after they left Egypt for many years (no tabernacle). During those years personal trust in God's care, presence, and provision was the focus of their faith, not sacrifice. This does not depreciate the sacrificial system. It was surely the will of God, but God Himself was the goal, not the ritual, liturgy, and cultus! Motive and attitude were crucial!

Just a note about Stephen's quote of Amos 5:25-27 in Acts 7:42-43. Most Jews of the first century A.D. used the Septuagint translation of the OT. In some places it follows a different text from the Masoretic Text. This is a problem! However, even in the Dead Sea Scrolls both traditions are present. None of the verses affect the truth or trustworthiness of doctrine or practice. We must realize that Christianity does not stand or fall on difference between the Hebrew OT and its ancient versions or NT manuscript variation. See a discussion of this in Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp 381-382.

“Sikkuth your king” The LXX has “booth of,” however, this term is found in Assyrian documents to refer to a war god named Adar-Melek-Saturn (Ninurta in Ugaritic). Notice a deity is called “king,” which shows the cultural background for YHWH as king.

NASB“Kiyyun” NKJV“Chiun” NRSV, TEV, NJB“Kaiwan” NIV, REB“the pedestal”

This also refers to an Assyrian star god, who is also identified with the planet Saturn (BDB 475). The NASB reflects the Hebrew spelling which is a combination of the consonants of the name of the star god, but the vowels from the Hebrew word “abominations” (BDB 1055). This was a common way for Hebrew scribes to ridicule the names of gods, kings, and nations (e.g., Sikkuth). The spelling “Kaiwan” is from Akkadian or Arabic.

The translation of the term as “pedestal” supposes that the term comes from the root, “to be firm” (kwn).

Amos 5:27 “I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus” This refers to the Assyrian exile, which occurred in 722 B.C. after a three year siege of Samaria (cf. possibly Amos 4:3; and Hosea 9:3; Hosea 10:6; Hosea 11:5). This again is an allusion to the cursings and blessings section of Deut. 27-29.

“says the Lord, whose name is God of hosts” One of the names for Israel's God is “YHWH of hosts” or “YHWH Sabaoth” (cf. 1 Samuel 1:3). In this text Elohim is substituted for YHWH. Here the title is connected to God as the controller of a heavenly army (i.e., the stars). YHWH, not astral deities (i.e., Assyrian star gods), was Israel's hope!

The worship of the lights of the sky is condemned in many texts (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 17:2-5; 2 Kings 23:4-5, 2 Kings 23:11; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). The OT asserts several times that God created and controls the heavenly lights (cf. Genesis 1:14-19; Psalms 19:1-6; Nehemiah 9:6). It is in connection with these texts that “LORD of hosts” is a condemnation of idolatry (the worship of gods/angels/spirits of the heavenly lights, cf. LXX of Deuteronomy 32:8).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Amos 5". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.