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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Amos 4

The Heartless Luxury and Self-Indulgence of the Noble Ladies, 1-3. These verses are best taken as the continuation of Amos 3:9 ff. The women of Samaria, who by their debaucheries have encouraged the oppression of the poor, must share the punishment.

Verse 1

1. Hear this word As in Amos 3:1; Amos 5:1.

Ye kine Jerome, who was followed by some later writers, understood this to apply to the effeminate nobility, “the rulers of Israel and all the leading men of the ten tribes who spent their time in pleasure and robbery”; others limit it to the nobles condemned in Amos 3:9 ff. However, it is better to understand the words as addressed to the wanton women of Samaria, whose thoughtlessness and luxury had transformed their gentle natures into those of brutes (compare Isaiah 3:16 ff; Isaiah 32:9 ff.).

Bashan The very fertile district east of the Jordan and north of the Yarmuk, which was rich in pasture land (Micah 7:14; compare Psalms 22:12).

Mountain of Samaria See on Amos 3:9.

Which oppress… crush Indirectly, by insisting upon the gratification of their appetites, though the means with which to do this had to be secured unjustly. The two verbs are combined in Deuteronomy 28:33; 1 Samuel 12:3-4, etc.

Masters R.V., “lords”; or, husbands, which is another meaning of the word.

Let us drink Or, feast, the feasts including drinking and carousing of every sort.

Verse 2

2. This shameful conduct has aroused the anger of Jehovah.

Hath sworn An anthropomorphism. As a man affirms a statement by an oath and thus makes certain its fulfillment, so Jehovah is represented as having affirmed the sentence of doom by an oath (Amos 6:8; Amos 8:7; compare Genesis 15:9-18).

By his holiness Mitchell renders, “by his sacred, awe-inspiring personality.” Jehovah has pledged his holiness that he will fulfill his threat. The expression is practically equivalent to “by himself” (Amos 6:8). A.B. Davidson says, “The two phrases have virtually the same sense.” “Holy as applied to Jehovah is an expression that in some way describes him as God, either generally or on any particular side of his nature, the manifestation or thought of which impresses men with the sense of his Godhead.” For a discussion of holiness see on Hosea 11:9.

That, lo, the days shall come Better, Lo, the days are about to come (see on Amos 2:13). The conjunction translated “that” serves here to introduce the direct address (G.-K., 157b). He will [“they shall”] Literally, one shall take you you shall be taken (G.-K., 144d). The prophet expects the punishment to take the form of an exile (Amos 5:27; Amos 6:7; Amos 7:17).

With hooks Both words so translated mean primarily thorns; probably the latter served as fishhooks to primitive man. The figure apparently changes in Amos 4:2 to that of catching fish. As fish are taken by fishermen with hooks, so the women are to be carried away by the foreign invader (Habakkuk 1:14). The picture may be based upon the Assyrian custom alluded to also in Isaiah 37:29; Ezekiel 29:4 (compare Rawlinson, Seven Great Monarchies, i, plate 35). Some, to retain the figure of Amos 4:1, understand it to allude to the putting of hooks into the nostrils of unruly cattle, “but so many should the cattle of Samaria be, that for the last of them fishhooks must be used.” Marti understands both words to designate hooks in general, and he thinks that the prophet has in mind the removal of the carcasses of the fat cattle with hooks put in the nose and the hinder part. Whatever the basis of the picture, the figure is one of absolute helplessness.

Posterity R.V., “residue.” Posterity cannot be correct, since the prophet looks for the judgment in the immediate future (Amos 7:17); the thought is “every last one of you”; not one shall escape.

In Amos 4:3 the figurative language is abandoned.

Ye shall go out As captives.

At the breaches Made by the besiegers.

Every cow at that which is before her Better, R.V., “every one straight before her,” which some interpret to mean that there will be no need of looking for a gate, since the breaches are so numerous (Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:20); others, without turning to the right or to the left; hurriedly they will be driven away “as a herd of cows go one after another through a gap in a fence.”

Ye shall cast them The context fails to indicate who is addressed. This difficulty was felt by the Revisers, who translate, without warrant in the Hebrew, “ye shall cast yourselves,” and state in the margin, “The text (including the next two words) is obscure.” The difficulty vanishes if one vowel point is altered; then it may be translated “ye shall be cast,” that is, by your captors.

Into the palace R.V., “into Harmon.” A.V. is incorrect. The word is the name of the city or district to which the women are to be exiled. Concerning the identification of the locality there exists disagreement both among the ancient versions and among modern commentators. A few of the latter consider the case hopeless; many attempt emendations, but none are quite satisfactory. In all probability the text is corrupt. If it is the name of a city or district it must lie “beyond Damascus” (Amos 5:27). The district suggested by three of the ancient versions (Peshitto, Targum, Symmachus), and by Jerome in a note, namely, Armenia, would meet this condition, and this translation might be defended on linguistic grounds without serious difficulties.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. A mistaken zeal.

Beth-el See on Amos 3:14.

Gilgal The first camping ground of the Israelites west of the Jordan. Its very name (circle, that is, of stones cromlech) testifies to its sacred character. It is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament; and even after the ark had been removed to a more permanent location it continued to be a favorite sanctuary (1 Samuel 10:8; Hosea 4:15, etc.). It is commonly identified with the modern Jiljul, four and one half miles from the Jordan, one and one half miles east-southeast of Jericho. Others identify the sanctuary mentioned by Amos and Hosea with Julejil, two and one half miles southeast of Nablus, near Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (Deuteronomy 11:30), while some suggest a still different location (2 Kings 4:38), the modern Jil-jiliyeh, about seven miles north of Beth-el, in a southwesterly direction from Shiloh.

Come The tone of voice would indicate whether Amos was in earnest or not; that he was not is proved by the next verb.

Transgress Their religious observances were of no value; they were an abomination, a transgression in the sight of Jehovah. Why? Not because the prophet or Jehovah was opposed to sacrifice and forms of worship as such (see on Hosea 6:6), but because their coming and their sacrificing was of a character to arouse the divine wrath. This was due to the absence of the proper spirit in their worship, the inconsistency and corruption of their lives, the introduction of foreign heathenish practices into their worship (Amos 2:7-8), and the consequent disregard of Jehovah as the supreme God of Israel and his reduction to the level of the Baalim of Canaan.

At Gilgal The construction reproduced in R.V. is preferable: “(Come) to Gilgal and multiply transgressions.” For the reasons just suggested, the more zealous they were in their heartless worship, the farther they traveled to the sanctuaries, and the more numerous the places visited, the greater the indignation of Jehovah.

Sacrifices A general term for sacrifices and offerings, though the word used here is employed frequently in the restricted sense of animal sacrifice.

Tithes The tenth part of the income consecrated to the deity. The system of tithing was known among many nations of antiquity. The Hebrew laws on the subject are not very explicit, and it seems, that the details in the administration of the system were not always the same (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:12).

Every morning,… after three years R.V., following more closely the Hebrew reads for the last, “every three days.” The reference is to the bringing of the annual sacrifice ( 1Sa 1:3 ; 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 1:21), and to the triennial payment of tithes (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12). The prophet exhorts the people ironically to increase their zeal; to bring sacrifice every morning, instead of once a year, and to pay tithes every three days, instead of every three years. Wellhausen suggests a different translation, which is permitted by the Hebrew, “in the morning… on the third day.” He assumes that it was customary to offer sacrifice on the morning after arrival, and to pay the tithes on the third day; and he interprets the ironical exhortation as calling for the punctilious observance of the prescribed routine. This interpretation does not imply the exaggeration involved in the other, but its accuracy is doubtful because it is based upon an apparently unwarranted assumption.

Offer Margin, “offer by burning.” See on Hosea 2:13, where the same word is translated “burn incense.”

Sacrifice of thanksgiving Offered in recognition of unmerited and unexpected blessings (Leviticus 7:12-13; Leviticus 7:15; Jeremiah 17:26, etc.).

With leaven R.V., “of that which is leavened”; Targum, “from violence”; some translate “without leaven.” The translation of the R.V. is to be preferred. According to Leviticus 2:11; Exodus 23:18, the use of leaven as a part of sacrifice was forbidden; on the other hand, Leviticus 7:13, would seem to permit its use, and the language of Amos implies that its use was regarded as an indication of special virtue, a conception that may be traced to the extreme zeal of the people, which would cause them to consider hard, unleavened bread too common for their God. Assuming this viewpoint of the people, the prophet exhorts them to do even more than the law requires.

Proclaim and publish Not in the sense of exhorting others to bring them, but of letting everyone know their piety and good works; they are urged to sound the trumpet before them (Matthew 6:2).

Free [“freewill”] offerings The offerings brought out of a spontaneous impulse as an expression of irresistible love (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:17).

This liketh you Better, R.V., “this pleaseth you,” with the emphasis on you; Jehovah has no delight in their performances.

Verses 4-13


With Amos 4:4, begins a new discourse, addressed to the people at large. The occasion was probably a religious gathering, when the people, by their zeal for the external requirements, accompanied by an utter disregard of the divine ethical demands, had revealed their utter misapprehension of the will of Jehovah. In an ironical vein Amos exhorts them to continue their heartless ceremonial worship, “for this pleaseth you,” implying at the same time that Jehovah takes no delight in it (Amos 4:4-5). Again and again he sought to make them understand his dissatisfaction with their conduct, and to bring them to their senses, but in vain (Amos 4:6-11). Hence he can do nothing but send a final blow, for which they must now prepare themselves (Amos 4:12-13).

Verse 6

6. Famine.

And I also The contrast is brought out more clearly by rendering, “But I on my part” (Amos 2:9).

Have given See on Amos 3:6.

Cleanness of teeth That is, famine, identical in meaning with “want of bread.”

All your cities,… all your places Throughout the whole land. Several famines are recorded in the Old Testament. The two most recent preceding the time of Amos are those mentioned in 1 Kings 17:12; 2 Kings 4:38. These, severe enough to be remembered for a long while as special divine judgments, or other famines, unrecorded in the Old Testament, may be alluded to by Amos. The judgment was sent for a purpose, to bring the people to their senses and to lead them back to Jehovah in obedience and love; but the purpose was not accomplished.

Returned See on Hosea 14:1. The fivefold repetition of the phrase, “yet have ye not returned unto me, saith Jehovah,” emphasizes both the love of Jehovah, who wearied not in his efforts to win back Israel, and the stubbornness of the people who would not yield to his pleas.

Verses 6-11

6-11. Seven unheeded chastisements. Through various acts of providence Jehovah attempted to win back the rebellious people, but without success.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. Drought.

The rain Hebrews geshem (see on Joel 2:23), here rain in general.

When there were yet three months to the harvest Since the harvest is in April and May, the drought must have set in during January or February. A drought at that time would be disastrous, and might completely destroy the prospects of harvest. A similar phenomenon occurred in Palestine in the winter of 1894-95. “After raining several times quite heavily in December, especially on the coast, the weather has been since before Christmas pleasant and mild, and if no more rain falls there will be great suffering, for up till now (February 16) no one has filled his cisterns.”

Caused it to rain The tenses in Amos 4:7-8 are frequentatives. Jehovah did the things mentioned again and again. To the ancients the phenomenon of a partial drought would be an even stronger proof of the presence of the supernatural than a universal withholding of rain. Partial rainfall such as is described here has been experienced in Palestine in more modern times. “There has been a smart shower here (Tiberias), while at Samakh the ground was baked hard, and the grain drooping sadly. The same was true on a former occasion when I came up the Jordan valley. The ground in the Ghor was like a parched desert. There had not been sufficient rain to bring up the grain,… while here at Tiberias the whole country was a paradise of herbs and flowers.” And again, “It was literally so about Samakh and ‘Abadiyeh, while their nearest neighbors were rejoicing in abundant showers” (Thomson, ii, p. 66).

Piece Field (Ruth 2:3; Ruth 4:3).

Two or three cities That had suffered from the drought. For the ascending enumeration see on Amos 1:3.

Wandered Literally, tottered, or, staggered. The people were so weak from thirst that they could not walk with a firm step.

One city One favored with rain. With reference to this passage Thomson says (on the same page): “A fact often repeated in this country. No longer ago than last autumn it had its exemplification complete in Belad Besharah, the ancient inheritance of Naphtali.” Since there are few springs throughout Palestine, people are dependent largely upon rain water stored in cisterns; when the rainfall is irregular the water supply soon becomes exhausted.

They were not satisfied The water was not sufficient to supply the needs of all. This judgment also was in vain.

9a. Blasting and mildew. 9b. Locusts.

You Your fields and crops.

Blasting and mildew The two words are frequently joined (Deuteronomy 28:22; 1 Kings 8:37; Haggai 2:17). The former, from a verb to burn, describes the disastrous effects of the scorching east wind or Sirocco (see on Hosea 12:1); the latter, literally, greenness, is “a blight in which the ears turn untimely a pale yellow, and have no grain.”

One word in the Hebrew makes the rest of Amos 4:9 awkward. With a very slight change, favored by most modern commentators, it may be translated, “I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; and your fig trees and your olive trees hath the palmerworm devoured.”

I laid waste By some blow not specified by the prophet.

Fig trees See on Joel 1:7.

Olive trees See on Hosea 14:6; Joel 1:10.

Palmer-worm See on Joel 1:4, where reference is made to the frequency with which locusts visit Palestine.

Verse 10

10. Pestilence and war.

Pestilence “What we should term an epidemic accompanied by great mortality.”

After the manner of Egypt Of the many interpretations suggested the two most probable are, (1) with the severity with which the plagues fell upon Egypt at the time of the Exodus (compare Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:60); and (2) with the severity with which pestilence is accustomed to visit Egypt. The latter interpretation sees no specific historical allusion in the phrase. Violent plagues were not infrequent in the Nile lands; it is said that “a violent plague used to occur formerly about once in ten or twelve years.” The Hebrew is literally in the way of Egypt, which has been interpreted also as equivalent to from Egypt, or, from the direction of Egypt, indicating not a comparison but the direction from which the pestilence came. It is a matter of history that the northeast corner of the Nile Delta, which is “in the way of Egypt,” has always been a nursery of epidemics (compare G.A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 157ff.).

Slain with the sword In battle. War is thought to come from Jehovah (Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7, etc.).

Young men The strength and flower of the nation. 2 Kings 9 ff. records how bloody the wars, and how great the losses during the century preceding the time of Amos.

Have taken away your horses Literally, with the captivity of your horses, that is, with your captured horses, the words connecting with the verb “have slain” (2 Kings 13:7). Since horses were scarce in Palestine, their destruction would be an additional calamity.

Stink R.V., “stench.”

Camps After the defeat (Isaiah 34:3). The slaughter was so great that the bodies of the dead soldiers and the carcasses of the beasts could not be buried; in a short time they filled the air with a sickening stench. LXX., “I caused your camp to go up in fire in my anger.” Again the effect was disappointing.

Verse 11

11. Earthquake. Some consider Amos 4:11 a summary of all preceding judgments, not a description of a new calamity; others, a figure of devastating wars (2 Kings 13:4; 2 Kings 13:7); but it is more natural to interpret it as a description of an earthquake causing serious havoc in Israel. Palestine has suffered frequently from earthquakes, especially in the border districts. During the past ten years four earthquakes are said to have visited the country. The most disastrous of which more or less complete accounts have been preserved were those of 31 B.C., in which, according to Josephus, some thirty thousand persons perished, and of January 1, 1837. A vivid account of the horrors of the latter is given in Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, 2:529-531, note 41. The only earthquake mentioned in the Old Testament is that mentioned in the days of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; compare Zechariah 14:5), unless we class in the same category the destruction of the cities of the Plain (compare G.A. Smith, Historical Geography, p. 508f.). The allusion cannot be to the one mentioned in Amos 1:1, unless we suppose that Amos retouched his prophecies when he collected them subsequent to the earthquake (see p. 195). He may have in mind any similar catastrophe.

Some of you R.V., “cities among you”; literally, among you. Not the whole country suffered; nevertheless, all should heed the warning.

God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah The point of comparison is the completeness of the ruin. As an illustration of this the destruction of these cities (Genesis 19:0) is mentioned several times in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 29:23; Jeremiah 49:18; Isaiah 1:7, etc.).

Ye Those that escaped.

A fire brand plucked out of the burning A picture of narrow escape. They were almost consumed, only the divine mercy saved them (Isaiah 1:9; compare Zechariah 3:2). But even in the face of ruin and with this overwhelming evidence of the divine love the people hardened their hearts. The divine love and mercy (Amos 2:9 ff.), as well as the divine judgments (Amos 4:6 ff.) failed to accomplish the divine purpose. Nothing more can be done. Destruction is inevitable.

On the philosophy underlying Amos 4:6-11, see in part comment on Amos 3:6. To it may be added that in the ancient world it was customary to ascribe all calamities to the wrath of the deity, manifesting itself either arbitrarily or on account of sins committed by the devotees. The Hebrew prophets believed that Jehovah’s wrath was aroused by sin, that his righteousness demanded the punishment of sin, and that the punishment would take the form of some calamity to be experienced in this present life. They believed also that these calamities had a corrective purpose. These two beliefs underlie the prophetic explanation of calamities. Since secondary causes and the working of natural laws were entirely disregarded, it never occurred to the prophets that any calamity could come without Jehovah’s direct interference, and without a punitive or corrective purpose. With a clearer conception of the character of God we may hesitate to believe that every time a famine or drought or earthquake occurs, God is especially angry with those who have to suffer, and yet there can be no doubt that “the instinct is sound which in all ages has led religious people to feel that such things are inflicted for moral purposes.”

Verses 12-13

12, 13. The sentence. The corrupt nation must bear a heavier blow.

Therefore Because previous judgments have failed.

Thus How? One would expect a description of the threatened judgment, for the words point to something not yet mentioned, but no description is given. This very indefiniteness suggests the worst.

This Points to the same thing as thus.

Because Because this terrible and indescribable judgment is about to fall.

Prepare to meet thy God Who is coming in judgment. The words cannot be interpreted as an exhortation to repentance, except in the sense in which “every prediction of disaster was in itself an exhortation to repentance.” They are addressed to the whole nation; but Amos, when delivering this discourse, evidently no longer expected national repentance (but compare Amos 5:4 ff.). They are rather an appeal to prepare for the worst. However, this does not exclude the possibility of repentance on the part of isolated individuals (Amos 5:15). 13. The fulfillment of the threat is assured by the character and power of Him who inspired it.

For The transition is abrupt; there is an ellipsis in thought. The connection may be expressed thus: “Prepare to meet thy God. Do not mock or disregard this announcement, for he who formeth the mountains… , the almighty Jehovah, is the author of it.” Amos 4:13, therefore, serves a purpose similar to that of Amos 2:3-8, to win a reverent hearing for the prophet’s message. The verbs are participial forms throughout, and may be translated, without the relative construction, “He formeth… he createth.…”

Formeth the mountains The verb is one used of the occupation of the potter. Jehovah finds it as easy to fashion mountains as it is for the potter to fashion a vessel (Genesis 2:7-8; Genesis 2:19; Compare Psalms 104:8).

Createth While the verb does not imply the making of “something out of nothing,” it is used in the sense of producing something fundamentally new by powers transcending the ordinary powers of man.

Wind Not “spirit”; may include all the “unseen but mighty forces of nature.”

What is his thought Not the thought of Jehovah, but the thought of man. It requires greater powers to discover the secret thoughts of man than to make known one’s own thoughts to another. Jehovah possesses the greater power; that he can do the other is assumed throughout the Old Testament. The ancient versions present different readings, each one going its own way.

Maketh the morning darkness Or, maketh darkness into morning. The last word is literally dawn. He does this by his sudden appearance in a storm cloud (Psalms 18:9), or by the natural change of day into night, or night into day. Some interpret it, with less probability, of the transformation of spiritual darkness into light.

Treadeth upon the high places of the earth Jehovah is described frequently as riding upon the clouds; in doing so he treads upon the high places, the mountains of the earth (Psalms 18:10; Micah 1:3; compare Judges 5:4-5).

Jehovah, The God of hosts The mention of this title would in itself call attention to the majesty and power of Jehovah (see on Hosea 12:5; compare Amos 3:15). On the authenticity of Amos 4:13, and the similar passages Amos 5:8-9; Amos 9:5-6, see Introduction, pp. 217ff.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Amos 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.