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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Amos 7


With chapter 7 begins the third division of the Book of Amos. Its distinctive characteristic is the presence of five visions, by means of which the prophet seeks to enforce, if possible, the contents of the discourses in the preceding parts, laying special emphasis upon the certainty and finality of the judgment. Two visions the swarm of locusts and the devouring fire describe a calamity which had already caused much suffering, and was threatening complete destruction, when Jehovah, in his mercy, averted the final catastrophe (Amos 7:1-6). The third vision the master builder with the plumb line does not picture the calamity itself, but portrays Jehovah as decreeing the utter destruction of the house of Israel (Amos 7:7-9). The three visions are followed by an historical section (Amos 7:10-17), in which Amos narrates how the announcement of the judgment stirred the antagonism of the chief priest at Beth-el, who attempted to drive Amos back to Judah. The prophet could not be silenced; he justified his presence by an appeal to the call he received from Jehovah, and repeated his threat, adding a personal woe upon the chief priest and his family. The fourth vision the basket of summer fruit announces that the time of mercy is past; the end has come upon Israel (Amos 8:1-3). To this vision Amos adds fresh denunciations of Israel’s sins and announcements of judgment (Amos 7:4-14). The fifth vision the smitten sanctuary differs in form from the preceding four, but its purpose is the same, to make clear that Jehovah is determined to make an end of the “sinful kingdom” (Amos 9:1-6). The prophet combats again the misapprehension that their former choice by Jehovah can be regarded as a permanent safeguard (Amos 7:7-8), and once more he predicts judgment, now calling special attention to its disciplinary purpose, promising the preservation of a sound kernel (Amos 7:9-10). The book closes with promises of a bright future to this faithful remnant (Amos 7:11-15).

Verses 1-3

1-3. The swarm of locusts.

The Lord Jehovah See on Amos 1:8.

Showed unto me Literally, caused me to see presented in a vision. A just regard for the language forbids the interpretation of the form in which the truths are presented in these chapters purely as a literary device, adopted by the prophet to express in a forceful manner certain truths and convictions which impressed themselves upon him as the result of ordinary processes of thinking. The vision is mentioned as one of the divine means of communication (Numbers 12:6), and the reality of such visions cannot be denied. Modern psychological researches have made possible a clearer understanding of the nature of these visions. The prophet, meditating upon the nature and character of Jehovah, the divine claims upon Israel, and the people’s failure to recognize these claims, became so lost in contemplation that he fell into a trance, when all external objects were entirely removed from his mental horizon, he being alive only to the subject uppermost in his heart and mind. While in this sensitive mood, receptive to anything related to the subject of his contemplation, there was impressed upon him, in the form of calamities familiar to the prophet, the certainty of the nation’s doom. He in turn presented the pictures to the people.

He formed Literally, was forming. Amos saw the process. LXX. apparently reads in the place of the verb a noun, “a swarm” or “a brood” (of locusts).

Grasshoppers R.V., “locusts.” The word used here occurs again only in Nahum 3:17. Many think that it is descriptive of locusts in the larva stage, when they are first hatched, but this is not certain. For other terms see on Joel 1:4.

The latter growth The exact meaning of the Hebrew word is doubtful. It is from the same root as a word translated latter rain the rain falling in March and April (Joel 2:23); and the word used here is thought by some to refer to the spring crops, which mature quickly after the fall of the latter rain. After the fall rains the seed springs up and begins to grow, but the growth is checked by the cold of the winter months; in the early spring the rise in temperature and the latter rain put new life into vegetation. Others interpret the word as referring to the aftermath, the second growth after one crop has been gathered. This is the meaning suggested by the English translations.

After the king’s mowings Whichever translation of the preceding word is accepted, these words, if they are a correct reproduction of the original, must mean that the first crop went to the king as a sort of taxation (1 Kings 18:5; compare 1 Kings 4:7); only the second growth went to the people. While the people were preparing to gather their share the locusts appeared and threatened to devour all. To this interpretation two objections may be raised: (1) It is not certain that it was customary for the king to claim the first crops; the passages quoted in support are not conclusive. (2) The interpretation causes Amos to contradict himself. Everywhere else he makes the king and the nobles suffer most severely (compare Amos 7:9), here he would exempt the king from all judgment; he allows him to gather his share, only the people he makes to suffer. The second objection holds good against another interpretation, which makes king’s mowings a designation of the harvest season; the mowing of the royal fields would be the signal that the proper time for mowing had arrived, but out of respect for the king the common people waited until his fields had been mowed. The weakness of this interpretation is shown also by the last suggestion. Respect for the king cannot have been a sufficient reason for letting crops become overripe.

The difficulties vanish if the word translated “mowings” is given a different meaning. It comes from a root meaning originally to shear (sheep); only in a secondary sense is it used of the shearing of the fields mowing. If the primary meaning is retained here the time indicated is after the king’s sheep-shearings. The shearing of the king’s sheep may have been a signal for others to do the same, and this may have become a common designation of the shearing season. If thus interpreted the words determine more definitely the time when the plague of locusts appeared. The spring rains had fallen, vegetation looked promising; but after the sheep-shearing season, perhaps in the late spring, a swarm of locusts covered the land, threatening to destroy completely the spring crops.

When they had made an end The Hebrew underlying this translation is peculiar. Besides, it requires the assumption that a second calamity appeared before the mental vision of the prophet; for it (Amos 7:3) cannot refer to a calamity already past. A slight emendation results in “as they were making an end,” that is, as they were proceeding to ravage the country, but before they accomplished it. A similar meaning, “when they were on the point of devouring,” is given to the present Hebrew text by Mitchell, but this seems grammatically impossible.

Grass Better, herb (as in Genesis 1:11-12; Genesis 1:29, etc.); it includes all vegetation.

Seeing that complete devastation is imminent, the prophet appeals for mercy (compare Numbers 14:19).

Forgive The petition shows that Amos thought of Jehovah not exclusively as a stern, uncompassionate judge. The reason for the plea is added.

Jacob The people of Israel cannot endure such calamity; they would never recover from it.

Small Their resources are limited. LXX. and other versions read, “Who shall raise up Jacob?”

Repented An anthropomorphism like “swear” (Amos 4:2; see on Joel 2:13). Jehovah responded to the prophet’s prayer.

This Not some new, unnamed calamity, but the plague of locusts, which was still in its initial stage.

It shall not be Shall not be allowed to proceed.

Verses 4-6

4-6. The devouring fire A second vision, presenting essentially the same truth as the first.

Called to contend by fire Called the fire to contend with it. Instead of the locusts Jehovah selected the fire as the agency through which to execute judgment. For representations of Jehovah as entering into judicial controversy with his people see Hosea 4:1; Micah 6:2; Isaiah 3:13-15. The imagery was suggested probably by conflagrations or by excessive summer heat accompanied by drought (see on Joel 1:20).

The great deep The deep subterranean waters upon which the earth was thought to rest, and which was thought to supply the water for springs and rivers (Genesis 7:11; Psalms 24:2, etc.). The fire or heat was so intense that the water dried up. The language is hyperbolical.

And did eat up Better, R.V., “and would have eaten up.”

A part R.V., “the land”; literally, the portion, the portion set apart for human habitation. The expression cannot be restricted to the land of Israel; it means the land as distinguished from the great deep. The land was about to be devoured, when the prophet interceded once more.

Cease Not “forgive” (Amos 7:2). The provocation was too great; Amos felt that he did not dare ask for pardon; but perchance Jehovah might avert the final doom. And again Jehovah graciously granted the petition. The description is poetical but not allegorical. The imagery in the two visions was selected because plagues of locusts and disastrous conflagrations were familiar to the people.

Verses 7-9

7-9. The master builder with the plumb line. The third vision differs from the preceding two in that it does not bring to view the judgment itself but Jehovah decreeing the same. Amos sees him as a master builder with plumb line in hand testing a city wall a figure of Israel as to its straightness. It is found crooked, and the decree goes forth that it must be torn down.

Upon R.V., “beside.”

A wall made by a plumb line Literally, a wall of a plumb line. The fact that the wall is now condemned cannot be used as an objection to the correctness of the reading. A wall may be built straight by the aid of a plummet, yet in time it may settle and become crooked. This is what happened to this wall; and if the latter represents Israel it is an accurate picture of the facts of Hebrew history (Hosea 9:10; Hosea 11:1, etc.).

With a plumb line He seeks to determine whether it is still straight and may be allowed to stand.

This time it is Jehovah who breaks the silence. To understand the lesson it was necessary that the prophet should not lose sight of any feature of the picture. To assure himself on this point and to prepare the way for the explanation Jehovah asks the question,

What seest thou? Compare Amos 8:2; Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13. The answer being satisfactory, Jehovah proceeds with the explanation, retaining the figure of the plumb line but interpreting that of the wall.

I will Or, I am about to (Amos 2:13).

Set a plumb line The plumb line serves as a standard by which both to build and to tear down (2 Kings 13:13; Isaiah 34:11). Whatever cannot stand the test of the plummet is condemned to destruction. What was the result of the test in this instance is not definitely stated, but the fact that an announcement of judgment immediately follows indicates that Israel was found wanting.

Pass by them Without noticing and punishing their guilt (compare Amos 5:17). Jehovah gives no opportunity for intercession; and the prophet, recognizing the justice of the proceedings, has nothing more to say.

Amos 7:9 describes the character of the judgment. It will strike with special force the religious centers and the ruling dynasty.

High places See on Hosea 4:13; Micah 1:5.

Isaac A poetic synonym of Israel (next clause; compare Amos 7:16).

Sanctuaries See on Amos 4:4; Amos 5:4; Amos 8:14. They will be utterly destroyed (Amos 3:14).

House of Jeroboam The ruling dynasty (Introduction, p.195). Whether the judgment will come during the lifetime of Jeroboam or later is not stated (compare Amos 7:11). Hosea also announces the doom of the same dynasty (Amos 1:4). On the fulfillment of the threat see p. 18.

Sword Of the invader (Amos 6:14).

Verses 10-13

10-13. The opposition.

Then When Amos had uttered the startling announcements contained in Amos 7:9.

Amaziah the priest Probably the chief priest at the sanctuary of Bethel. Nothing is known of him otherwise.

Jeroboam See Introduction, p. 195.

Conspired Not, has entered into conspiracy with others, but, his words are such as will result in conspiracy against the throne. Under normal conditions denunciation of the government and the prediction of the overthrow of the national institutions may rightly be considered treason; and to an unspiritual politician the words of Amos must have seemed treasonable, but the priest, a representative of Jehovah, should have understood the attitude of the prophet. In reality the latter was the only one who did not betray the best interests of the nation. It was only because he considered it essential to the welfare of the people that he was willing that the nation should be exiled and the dynasty overthrown, if only a pious remnant could be preserved to form a nucleus of a new kingdom of God.

In the midst At the very center of the national life; that is, at Beth-el, which was the religious center.

Not able to bear The message is so revolutionary, the priest means to say, that it will surely lead to serious disturbances. To prove his case he sends to the king a summary of Amos’s message.

Jeroboam shall die by the sword Not an exact reproduction of the words of Amos (Amos 7:9). The manipulation may have been caused by a desire to arouse more readily the king’s resentment.

Shall surely be led away captive This the prophet had asserted repeatedly (Amos 5:5; Amos 5:27; Amos 6:7).

Also Amaziah said Nothing is said of Jeroboam’s attitude. Hence Amaziah’s attempt to silence Amos has been variously interpreted. Some think that Jeroboam took no notice of the priest’s message, or that the reply was not satisfactory, and that, therefore, Amaziah, who had reason to fear for his own position (Amos 7:9), endeavored, on his own authority, to drive out Amos. Others think that it was at the king’s command that Amaziah bade Amos flee, though the authorization is not mentioned. Still others interpret the priest’s words as a friendly advice to the prophet to leave the country before the wrath of the king should be felt by him. The last interpretation is shown to be impossible by Amos’s reply in 14-17. It is, perhaps, best to suppose that Amaziah addressed Amos as soon as he had dispatched the messenger to the king. Having made an appeal to Jeroboam, he thought himself in a position to rid the country, in any manner whatever, of this “troubler of Israel.”

Seer According to 1 Samuel 9:9 (where a different word, though identical in meaning, is used), this is an older designation of the men called in later days prophets; here the word is used probably with a touch of sarcasm visionary, fanatic.

Land of Judah The home of Amos (Introduction, p. 191).

Eat bread Make a living. The early seers made their living in much the same way as modern clairvoyants (1 Samuel 9:7-8); and even among later prophets there were those who prophesied “for a reward” (Micah 3:5; Micah 3:11; 1 Kings 22:13), who followed the adage, “Whose bread I eat, his song I sing.”

Such a one Amaziah took Amos to be.

Prophesy there In his own country Amos might say anything he pleased; Beth-el needed no prophet, its spiritual interests were well cared for.

The king’s chapel R.V., “sanctuary.”

The king’s court R.V., “a royal house.” From the time of Jeroboam I the sanctuary at Beth-el enjoyed the royal patronage (1 Kings 12:29; 1 Kings 12:32), and it is quite likely that the king had a palace there.

Verses 10-17

The experience of Amos at Beth-el, Amos 7:10-17.

The account of the fourth vision is separated from that of the third by an historical section, in which is recorded the experience of Amos at Beth-el. The incident related is closely connected with the vision immediately preceding. In connection with the latter Amos made startling announcements concerning the destiny of Israel and of the ruling dynasty. These aroused the resentment of the chief priest, who accused Amos of treason and sought to drive him from Beth-el. Amos refuses to go, however, and justifies himself and his message by an appeal to the divine call which impelled him to enter upon the prophetic career. Fearlessly he repeats the previous denunciations and adds a personal woe upon Amaziah and his family.

Verses 14-17

14-17. The prophet’s reply. 14, 15. Amos was a prophet not by profession, but by divine call.

I was no prophet Better, throughout Amos 7:14, with margin, “I am.” I am not a professional prophet, guided by mercenary motives.

A prophet’s son This expression is not to be understood in the sense that the father of Amos was not a prophet, but in the sense, “I am not a member of a prophetic guild.” Son is used in that sense of the companies of prophets at Beth-el, Gilgal, and other places (1 Kings 20:35; 2Ki 2:3 ; 2 Kings 2:5; 2 Kings 2:7, etc.). This interpretation is supported also by the use of the word son in the general sense of belonging to in other Semitic languages.

Herdman Literally, tender of cattle (Introduction, p. 192).

Gatherer of sycomore fruit R.V., “dresser of sycomore trees” (Introduction, p. 192).

Jehovah took me… said While he was following his ordinary occupation the divine call came to forsake all and become a prophet of Jehovah to Israel. This call he could not resist (Amos 3:8). Of these verses G.A. Smith says, “It is the protest of a new order of prophecy, the charter of a spiritual religion.” Amos was indeed “the founder and the purest type of the new order of prophecy.”

Verses 16-17

16, 17. Amos, having justified his preaching by an appeal to his divine commission, reiterates and expands his previous message.

Now therefore The defense in 14, 15 had put the case in its proper light; now the argument may proceed.

Thou sayest,… Thus saith Jehovah A striking antithesis. Whose words will prevail can easily be imagined.

Prophesy not Compare Amos 7:13.

Drop not That is, thy words (Micah 2:6; Micah 2:11); a synonym of prophesy.

Isaac As in Amos 7:9.

Therefore The attempt to silence a divinely commissioned prophet deserves severest punishment; and this Amos proceeds to announce in Amos 7:17.

An harlot Now she is a lady of the palace, but the invader will dishonor her and compel her to live a life of shame.

In the city In public (Zechariah 14:2; Isaiah 13:16); compare the colloquial “street-walker.” Such outrages were committed by the Assyrians, as we learn from the inscriptions; Ashur-nasir-pal boasts, “Their boys and maidens I dishonored” ( Records of the Past, iii, p. 51). His children will be slain, and his land divided among new settlers (compare Micah 2:4; Jeremiah 6:12; 2 Kings 17:24).

Line The measuring line. Polluted land [“land that is unclean”] See Hosea 9:3, on “Jehovah’s land” and “unclean food.” Israel shall surely go into captivity [“be led away captive”] He repeats the very words which Amaziah had made the basis of his accusation.

The closing words of the historical section take us back to the message of the third vision, and thus they prepare the way for the fourth.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Amos 7". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.