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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Amos 6

Verses 1-7

Condemnation of the nobles, Amos 6:1-7.

1. Woe See on Amos 5:18.

That are at ease Margin, “secure.” In a bad sense, those who are recklessly at ease, who are insensible to the dangers lurking on every side (Isaiah 32:9).

Zion Jerusalem (Amos 1:2), the center of the southern kingdom. There is no reason for regarding this a later interpolation. While the commission of Amos was primarily to the north, it would be strange if, as a citizen of Judah, he would never make mention in his discourses of the home land; especially since conditions in Judah called for the same denunciation as those in the north. Nor is there any reason for giving to the clause a meaning different from that suggested by the English translation.

Trust R.V., “are secure.” Not, who put their trust in the mountain of Samaria rather than in God, but identical in meaning with “are at ease” (Isaiah 32:9; Isaiah 32:11).

Which are named chief of the nations R.V., “the notable men of the chief of the nations.” The Hebrew is ambiguous. A.V. connects chief with the subject of the preceding relative clauses. Those who live at ease and are secure are the chief, or leaders, of the nations, that is, of Israel and Judah. The Revisers understood the words differently. The first word in Hebrew, apparently entirely misunderstood by A.V., they took in apposition to the preceding relative clauses, at the same time connecting chief with nations. The first word means literally the marked ones, those who stand out prominently on account of wealth and position; therefore, notable, or, distinguished. These persons are further described as belonging to the chief of the nations, Israel, which, as the chosen people of Jehovah, occupied a unique place among the nations of the world (Exodus 19:5). Some, with less probability, consider the expression ironical: Israel is the chief only according to the erroneous estimate of the people. In order to indicate even more clearly the responsibilities of the leaders and the guilt arising from their failure to meet them, the prophet adds, to whom the house of Israel came For judgment and guidance. The house of Israel includes the inhabitants of both kingdoms.

The natural continuation of Amos 6:1 Isaiah 3 ff.; Amos 6:2 seems to interrupt the thought. For this and the additional reason that the verse is thought to contain historical allusions unsuitable in the time of Amos many commentators consider Amos 6:2 a later interpolation. The second reason is not conclusive, for the historical situation presupposed in Amos 6:2 is by no means certain (see below). Hence, other commentators see no sufficient reason for denying it to Amos, but they admit that it may not be in its original place. Still others, though conceding that the abruptness in transition is very marked, accept it as coming from Amos and retain it in its present position. In view of this divergence of opinion, it may be best, for the present, to retain the verse where it now stands and to interpret it as an utterance of Amos. But when this is done the interpretation still remains doubtful. In fact, two interpretations are possible: one connecting Amos 6:2 more closely with Amos 6:1, the other joining Amos 6:2-3 ff. If the former is accepted, the verse is an illustration of the superiority of Israel, justifying the designation “chief of the nations”; the localities named are examples of marked prosperity, which is, however, far inferior to that of Israel. By implication attention is directed to Israel’s greater ingratitude. The latter thought receives additional emphasis in Amos 6:3-6, leading up to the announcement of judgment in Amos 6:7. The other interpretation sees in the cities mentioned examples of fallen greatness and makes the verse a warning to Israel. These cities, once prominent, are now in ruin; therefore, let Israel take heed, for it may suffer a similar fate. To the first interpretation the objection may be made that the cities named, especially Calneh and Gath, were not among the most prominent cities of the eighth century B.C. Would not the prophet have selected more celebrated localities, had he desired to bring before the people examples of marked prosperity? Against the second it may be said that it is exceedingly doubtful that the three places were in ruin at the time of Amos. Gath, it is true, is not named in Amos 1:7-8, but the silence is not conclusive evidence of the city’s disappearance from the scene. On the whole, the first interpretation is preferable. If we knew more of the history of the places mentioned we might understand why Amos selected these rather than some that, judging from our present knowledge, appear to have been more prominent in his day.

Calneh Not the Calneh of Genesis 10:10, but the Calno of Isaiah 10:9. Where the place is to be sought is not quite certain.

Various identifications have been proposed; the most probable is that which connects Calneh with the Assyrian Kullani, mentioned in the Eponym Canon as having been conquered by Tiglath-pileser III in 738. Since in that year the latter was fighting in northern Syria, Kullani must have been located there; and it has sometimes been identified with the modern village Kullanhou, about six miles from Arpad, a little north of Aleppo. This identification is supported by Isaiah 10:9, where Calno and Arpad are named together.

Hamath In ancient times a city and city state of great prominence (2 Samuel 8:9; 2Ki 23:33 ; 2 Kings 25:21; Isaiah 10:9). It is mentioned frequently in the Assyrian inscriptions; its armies fought in the battle of Karkar in 854; Tiglath-pileser III annexed a large part of its territory to Assyria; in 720 Sargon reconquered the city and flayed its king alive. The present name of the city is Hama; it is located on the Orontes, about one hundred and fifty miles north of Dan. Its population at the present time is estimated variously from thirty thousand to sixty thousand.

From the far north they are to sweep down to the far south.

Gath One of the five principal cities of Philistia (see on Amos 1:6-8). Its location is not altogether beyond doubt, though many scholars are inclined to identify it with the modern Tel-es-Safi, about eleven miles southeast of Ekron (Amos 1:8). The Tel-el-Amarna tablets bear witness to its great antiquity. In an inscription of Sargon, a city Gimtu Asdudim (Gath of Ashdod?) is mentioned, but it is not certain that this is the Gath of the Old Testament.

They The cities enumerated.

These kingdoms Israel and Judah.

Their border The extent of their territory. Having named the cities, the prophet requests his hearers to compare their own resources with those of the three cities and to decide which is the more favored. The decision he expects to be in favor of Israel. But if Israel is the more favored, how base its ingratitude!

Amos 6:3 continues the condemnation of the reckless skepticism and luxury of the nobles.

Put far away Not in reality, but in their own minds; they refuse to believe that it is near.

Evil day As described in Amos 5:18-20.

Cause the seat (literally, sitting) of violence to come near “They prepare in their very midst a place where, instead of justice, violence may sit enthroned.” Emendations are not necessary.

Amos 6:4 describes the luxury and self-indulgence.

Beds Better, divans, or, couches.

Of ivory With frames made of ivory, or whose frames were inlaid with pieces of ivory. These “ivory couches” are often mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions. Sennacherib claims to have received some as a part of the tribute paid by Hezekiah of Judah (Taylor Cylinder, III, 50. 36).

Stretch themselves While eating. The ancient custom seems to have been to sit while eating ( Jdg 19:6 ; 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:24; 2 Kings 4:10). Reclining is first mentioned in this passage; it may have been a foreign custom introduced by the self-indulgent nobles. The innovation would appear to the simple shepherd prophet an abomination. At a later period reclining at the table became the common custom (Matthew 10:9). Another indication of wanton luxury is the eating of only the tenderest and most delicate meats.

Lambs Not the common Hebrew word for lamb, but one implying choice quality (Deuteronomy 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:9).

Calves out of the midst of the stall Kept there to be artificially fattened (Jeremiah 46:21; Malachi 4:2; compare Luke 15:23). The feasts were accompanied by excesses of every sort (5, 6).

Chant R.V., “sing idle songs.” Various translations and interpretations of the verb have been suggested. That the reference is to music accompanying the feasts (Amos 5:23; Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 24:9) cannot be doubted, but since the verb occurs only in this place in the Old Testament its exact meaning is uncertain. However, R.V. is probably correct.

Viol See on Amos 5:23. Of uncertain meaning and subject to much discussion is also the last clause of the verse, in which LXX. differs considerably from the Hebrew.

Invent Or, devise, the most natural meaning of the verb here.

Instruments of music, like David Since no other canonical book speaks of David as the inventor of musical instruments, margin R.V. reads “like David’s,” that is, like those owned by David (1 Samuel 16:18). Cheyne changes the text so as to remove all reference to David and reads Amos 6:5, “who play on timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of song.” Marti reads, “who consider themselves equal to David in understanding songs.” There is no external evidence warranting these emendations. If the present text is original, whether we accept the usual or marginal translation, the passage is important in a discussion of the dates of the psalms and of the relation of David to the Psalter, as showing that even at this early date David enjoyed the reputation of possessing extraordinary musical skill, even though the allusion here is not to sacred hymns. For the reason mentioned above some commentators, thinking a reference to musical instruments out of place, translate the Hebrew “melodies of song” or “airs of song.” This translation, however, is contrary to the common usage of the word.

Drink wine in bowls The noun is used commonly to designate the basin in which the sacrificial blood was received; but the emphasis is not on this fact; rather on the large size of the drinking vessels. Cups of ordinary size were too small, they substituted large bowls. Chief ointments [“oils”] The finest and most expensive (see on Joel 1:10).

The thoughts of the nobles were entirely self-centered; their chief ambition was to satisfy their own lusts and fancies; others, even those whose guardians and protectors they should be, must look out for themselves.

Grieved Literally, made sick. The present condition and prospects for the future were such as to make a sensitive person sick in heart and mind, but the selfish nobles had no concern.

Affliction Literally, breach, or, wound. Including the present corruption, which was a sore in the body politic, and the coming calamity, which would inflict incurable wounds (Isaiah 1:5-6).

Joseph See on Amos 5:6.

Amos 6:7 announces the inevitable judgment.

Therefore now The force of the latter is logical, not temporal; the two should be read together, as in Hebrew, “Therefore now,” that is, because of the utter incompetence of the nobles.

Go captive See on Amos 4:3; Amos 5:27; Amos 7:17.

With the first Now they regard themselves superior to all; they will retain the lead when the calamity falls.

Banquet Better, R.V., “revelry”; literally, loud noise.

Stretched themselves The same word as in Amos 6:4 (see there).

Shall be removed Lamentation (Amos 5:16) will take its place. The three Hebrew words of which Amos 6:7 b consists are very similar in sound; this paronomasia would make the utterance even more impressive.

Verses 1-14

WOE UPON THE LUXURIOUS, THE SELF-CONFIDENT, AND THE PROUD, 1-14.

In Amos 6:1, the prophet turns once more to the leaders of the people, who, reveling in wealth and luxury, were perfectly content with the present state of things, and were completely indifferent to the ruin threatening the people (Amos 6:1-6). Exile will be their punishment (Amos 6:7). The whole city and nation will be given over to destruction, because the inhabitants have perverted the truth and righteousness and have put their trust in their own resources (Amos 6:8-14).

Verses 8-11

8, 9. Lord Jehovah See on Amos 1:8.

Hath sworn See on Amos 4:2.

By himself Literally, by his soul. The most solemn oath, since there is no greater than Jehovah (see also on Amos 4:2; compare Jeremiah 51:14).

Jehovah the God of hosts See on Hosea 12:5. The oath embodies a threat and the justification of the same. The threat is the result of God’s abhorrence for Israel, which is due to their arrogant attitude toward him. Once their father, protector, and friend (Amos 3:2), now their enemy. How great must have been the provocation! (Amos 9:4; Hosea 5:12; Hosea 5:14; Hosea 13:7-8.)

Excellency Better, R.V. margin, “pride,” that is, the arrogant attitude which led them to rebel against Jehovah (Hosea 5:5) and to trust in wealth and human defenses.

Palaces See on Amos 3:10-11 (compare Isaiah 3:14).

Deliver up To the enemy, for plunder (Amos 3:11) and destruction (Amos 6:11; Amos 2:14-16; Amos 3:11 ff.). Again the prophet thinks of a foreign invasion.

The city Samaria (Amos 6:1), the capital; it will suffer most heavily from the invasion.

All that is therein Men, cattle, and possessions of every kind. The originality of Amos 6:9-10 is questioned by some modern commentators. “This verse (9) and the following introduce a new element into the description of the future punishment, and at the same time a new form and a new style. After these verses the old idea, style, and form recur. The new element is the plague, the new form is the individual experience, the new style, conversational prose, the poetic form being abandoned” (Harper). Marti retains the verses, Oettli rearranges them, reading them in the order 7, 11, 8, 9, 10, which in some respects is an improvement over the present arrangement. As the verses stand now they illustrate the extent of the judgment and the resulting terror.

It shall come to pass When the city is delivered up to the invader. While there is agreement concerning the general import of Amos 6:9, there is difference of opinion respecting details. Some interpret: Even large families, having as many as ten members, will be completely blotted out. Others see in house a reference to the large households of the nobles. If of these, numbering perhaps hundreds of people, ten should escape the terrors of the siege, they will be slain in the slaughter following the capture. Or, if ten should escape the slaughter, they will surely perish in the pestilence following the slaughter.

Amos 6:10 carries further the thoughts of Amos 6:9, calling special attention to the effect of the judgment upon the survivors. R.V. translates more accurately, “And when a man’s uncle shall take him up, even he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that is in the innermost parts of the house, Is there yet any with thee?

and he shall say, No; then shall he say, Hold thy peace; for we may not make mention of the name of Jehovah.”

Uncle Perhaps better, R.V. margin, “kinsman.” All the members of the immediate family having perished, a more distant relative comes to care for the body.

He that burneth him Literally, his burner. A.V. considers this a separate person, accompanying the kinsman. R.V., more correctly, identifies the two. It would seem most natural to see here a reference to cremation; but that method of disposing of the dead does not seem to have been prevalent among the Israelites. Criminals were, indeed, burned (Leviticus 20:14; Joshua 7:15); so were Saul and his sons (1 Samuel 31:12), but these were exceptional cases. If cremation is in the mind of the prophet, it must be because he expected conditions to become such as to make burial impossible, either because the dead would be too numerous, or because the enemies would prevent it. An alternative rendering is, “who burneth for him,” that is, incense; which would make the expression a reference to the burning of incense in honor of the dead (Jeremiah 34:5; 2 Chronicles 16:14).

Bring out the bones The corpse, to care for it.

The sides Better R.V., “the innermost parts.” Set apart for the women (compare Psalms 128:3); in this part the lone survivor has taken refuge. As the kinsman pursues his solemn task he discovers the terrified individual.

Is there yet any with thee Dead or alive. The answer is, No. Hold thy tongue [“peace”] Literally, hush. The speaker is the survivor who, in his anxiety and despair, attempts to silence the kinsman.

Then shall he say Literally, and he shall say. The subject is again the survivor. The verb is repeated to separate “two parts of the answer which have no immediate connection with each other.”

We may not Or, we must not. The reason for the prohibition is not quite clear. Perhaps the speaker had a superstitious fear that the mention of the divine name would result in additional judgment. The sense is little altered if the words “Hold thy peace…” are placed in the mouth of the kinsman, who, by the prohibition would seek to prevent the terrified survivor from adding to his No a formula of confirmation containing the divine name. To consider the words an explanatory statement by Amos is less natural.

Amos 6:11 is the continuation of the sentence in Amos 6:8.

For, behold, Jehovah commandeth The invader (14). The words are added to make the transition between 10 and 11 less abrupt, but there is no reason for denying them to Amos.

Great house Used collectively; the palaces of the nobles (Amos 3:15).

Little house The less pretentious dwellings.

With breaches Or, into fragments.

With clefts Or, into splinters. Palaces and huts will suffer the same fate.

The connection of Amos 6:12-14 with the preceding does not appear on the surface; nevertheless there exists a logical connection. The threat seems to be without effect, and the people, boasting in their own strength, show no concern. Have they not been successful against the mighty Damascus? Let the invader come; they will soon drive him from their borders. Such boast, the prophet says, is absurd (12a), because they have forfeited the support of Jehovah through disobedience to his will (12b); besides, they overestimate their past successes and present resources (13). The invader will surely come and overrun the whole country (14).

Verses 8-14

The extent of the judgment, 8-14.

The divine indignation finds expression in an oath that Jehovah will destroy the entire city (Amos 6:8). The threat is followed by an episode illustrating the completeness of the destruction and the resulting consternation (Amos 6:9-10).

The sentence is expanded in Amos 6:11, and in the next two verses the prophet tries to impress upon the people the absurdity of their boastful attitude toward Jehovah and of their immoral deeds (Amos 6:12-13). Jehovah will raise up an enemy that will scourge the whole land (Amos 6:14).

Verse 12

12. Shall horses run upon the rock? Or, cliff. The answer is an emphatic No. The attempt would result in the horses’ undoing.

Will one plow there with oxen? Again the answer is, No. The plow would be broken and the oxen hurt. Every one of Amos’s hearers would see the absurdity of doing these things. So, the prophet means to say, it is equally absurd for you to expect the divine help while you arouse Jehovah’s anger by perverting justice and righteousness, or to trust in your own resources, whose true value you overestimate greatly; your past successes do not warrant the present optimism. The second question is literally, “Will one plow with oxen?” The answer to this is in the affirmative. The context, however, as already suggested, demands a negative answer. To remove the difficulty the English translators added “there,” that is, upon the rock, which meets the demands of the context, and upon this addition the above interpretation is based. Most recent commentators, following the suggestion of Michaelis, divide the last word in Hebrew into two and make a slight change in the vowel points, which results in the reading, “Will one plow the sea with oxen?” This meets the demands of the context, and gives excellent sense.

For Better, R.V., “that.” Judgment [“justice”]… righteousness See on Amos 5:7.

Turned… into gall In defiance of all prophetic exhortations. Gall is the same word as in Hosea 10:4, where the translation is “hemlock” (see there).

Fruit Result or effect. Hemlock [“wormwood”] See on Amos 5:7. The effects of a faithful administration of justice are always wholesome and desirable; by an unfaithful administration the Israelites have made the effects undesirable and detrimental. For this reason they can expect no help from Jehovah.

Verse 13

13. Will their own resources be sufficient? Certainly not.

Rejoice In a spirit of boasting.

A thing of naught Literally, no-thing. Something that has no real existence. Here not equivalent to idol (Deuteronomy 32:21), but their own wealth and resources, which are only temporary, and will fail when most needed.

Horns Symbols of power (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 48:25). Take horns acquire power.

By our own strength Without assistance from God or man. The marvelous successes of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25 ff.; see Introduction, p. 197) might cause the unthinking to boast in the national strength; Amos declares it will speedily vanish; he places, indeed, a low estimate upon the strength of Israel. He justifies his pessimism in Amos 6:14 by once more calling attention to the determination of Jehovah to overthrow Israel by an enemy against whom resistance will be vain. This interpretation of Amos 6:13 is quite satisfactory, but a few recent commentators, following Graetz, take the two words translated “a thing of naught” and “horns” as proper nouns, names of two cities east of the Jordan, in whose conquest the Israelites boasted. The first Hebrews lo-dabhar is identified with Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9:4-5; 2 Samuel 17:27), the second Hebrews karnayim with Karnaim ( 1Ma 5:26 ), called Ashteroth Karnaim in Genesis 14:5. It is thought that the two places were among the recent conquests of Jeroboam, and that these were selected rather than more important localities on account of the suggestiveness of their names.

Verse 14

14. But Better, R.V., “For.”

Behold, I will See on Amos 2:13.

Raise up As an agent to execute judgment (Habakkuk 1:6).

A nation See at the close of comment on Amos 2:16.

Jehovah the God of hosts The solemn address, the introduction of Jehovah as speaker, the divine title, all combine to add weight to the threat.

Afflict Literally, crush. Used frequently of foreign oppression (Exodus 3:9; Judges 4:3).

Entering in of Hemath R.V., “the entrance of Hamath.” On Hamath see Amos 6:2. The entrance of Hamath is a very indefinite geographical term, but it is generally identified with the mouth of the pass between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, which was considered the starting point of the road to Hamath. This was the northern limit of the territory promised to Israel (Numbers 34:8), and to this point Jeroboam II extended his borders (2 Kings 14:25 f.).

River of the wilderness Better, R.V., “brook of the Arabah.” The Arabah (see Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Arabah”) is, in a wider sense, the entire depression through which flows the Jordan and in which are located the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and which extends to the Gulf of Akabah, the eastern arm of the Red Sea. In a narrower sense the term applies only to the part of the declension between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akabah. Opinions differ concerning the identification of the brook of the Arabah. Evidently it marks the southern limit of Israel (not Judah), and is practically equivalent to sea of the Arabah in 2 Kings 14:25. The latter is undoubtedly identical with the Dead Sea (Deuteronomy 3:17), but by no stretch of the imagination can the Dead Sea be called a brook. The brook must be one flowing into the Dead Sea, but where? It has been identified with the Arnon, flowing into the Dead Sea about halfway down its eastern shore. Most commonly it has been identified with the wady el Ahsa, flowing into the Arabah from the southeast about three miles south of the Dead Sea, then turning northward and emptying into the latter. To this identification G.A. Smith objects, not without reason, on the ground that the wady was outside the territory of Israel; it marked the boundary line between Moab and Edom, not between Israel and another country. It could mark the southern border of Israel only if Jeroboam had conquered Moab, but evidence of such conquest is lacking. It seems more natural to look for the brook of the Arabah near the northern boundary of Moab. The Arnon meets this condition (Numbers 21:13). Some commentators believe the brook to be one of the streams flowing into the Dead Sea in its northeastern part, while they understand 2 Kings 14:25, to mean that Jeroboam extended the territory “as far as the Dead Sea.” In any case, Amos means to say that the entire territory, from its northern to its southern limits, will be wasted by an invader.

With this announcement of utter ruin closes the main part of the Book of Amos. The prophet endeavored to lead the people to repentance, but apparently all his efforts have failed. The leaders show no sign of contrition, and the people continue rebellious.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Amos 6". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/amos-6.html. 1874-1909.