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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Amos 1

 

 

Verse 1

This chapter actually combines with Amos 2 to form the first division of the prophecy of Amos, in which the prophet thunders the warning of the impending judgment of God upon no less than eight nations, beginning with Israel's surrounding pagan neighbors, then resting for a moment upon Judah, and by way of climax describing the utter ruin and devastation of Israel itself, the northern kingdom. The awful judgments, "rolling like a storm, in strophe after strophe, over all the surrounding kingdoms,"[1] touched upon three pagan nations that were not related to Israel, and upon three which were related, did not neglect Judah, considered by Amos as one with the northern kingdom, and then rested the fullness of its fury upon the nation of Israel itself.

The following nations were blasted with these eloquent and fierce denunciations: Damascus (Amos 1:3-5); Philistia (Amos 1:6-8); Tyre (Amos 1:9,10); Edom (Amos 1:11-12); Ammon (Amos 1:13-15); Moab (Amos 2:1-3); Judah (Amos 2:4,5); and Israel (Amos 2:6-16). The skill and power of Amos as a speaker and orator appear in this arrangement of his material:

"The interest and sympathy of the hearers are secured by the fixing of the attention upon the enormities of guilt in their neighbors, and curiosity is kept awake by the uncertainty as to where the next stroke of the prophetic whip will fall."[2]

In this comprehensive pronouncement of God against sin in all these nations, there looms the tremendous fact that God is a God of all nations, and not merely of Israel, and that he will judge and punish sin wherever it exists. Moreover, the sins denounced are not merely those of violence, cruelty, oppression, injustice and social wrongs. Violators of solemn covenants, innovators, and corrupters of the true worship are likewise guilty and will suffer the judgment of God.

Amos 1:1

"The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

"The words of Amos ..." Both Ecclesiastes and Jeremiah have similar beginnings; and therefore it is not necessary to attribute these words to "some later editor." Amos was his own editor; and as Coleman observed, "The nature of the text indicates an early recording of the prophet's message."[3] The name of Amos is not to be confused with Amoz the father of Isaiah (2 Kings 19:2,20). Many of the Biblical books begin with, "Thus saith the Lord," the very expression which Amos used frequently in this prophecy; and this first clause of Amos 1:1 must not be made the basis of receiving Amos' words here as in any degree other than the very message of God Himself, a fact which is categorically affirmed a moment later in the words "which he saw." That this is true "is affirmed by the succeeding clause, `which he saw.'"[4] Schultz and many others have also discerned this: "The divine origin of the words of the prophet is emphasized by ... `which he saw.'"[5] In the words of the prophecy of Amos:

"We are in the presence of the miracle of inspiration (Ezekiel 2:8-3:4), that man, without losing individuality or sacrificing personality, should yet speak words which originated not with himself but with his God."[6]

"Among the herdsmen of Tekoa ..." See introduction for discussion of Amos' occupation and economic status. We reject the notion that he was a wealthy owner of flocks and orchards for he later described himself as "a dresser of sycamore trees" (Amos 7:14), in language which, according to Keil indicates that he lived upon this fruit, an article of diet widely associated with the very poorest people. See under 7:14.

"Tekoa ..." was a village some six miles south of Bethlehem and about twelve miles southeast of Jerusalem on a 3,000 foot plateau which affords a beautiful view of the whole Dead Sea area, and which immediately drops off eastward and south from Tekoah toward that great desolation.

"Uzziah ... Jeroboam ..." See the introduction for a discussion of the dates of these monarchs. The words "son of Joash" given in the identification of Jeroboam distinguish him as Jeroboam II.

"Two years before the earthquake ..." By Amos' mention of this earthquake's occurrence two years after his prophecy shows that he was not executed in Israel, as some suppose, but that he lived to return to Tekoah, and to see the divine confirmation of the truth of his prophecy in the devastation of the great earthquake. Deane was correct, it appears, in his opinion that Amos here alluded to it, "as a token of the judgment which he foretold, such catastrophes being regarded as signs ... of God and his vengence upon sinners."[7]

Some scholars believe that this earthquake was the one mentioned by Josephus who gave the account of a very great earthquake in the reign of Uzziah, an earthquake so great that it was remembered generations afterward when Zechariah referred to it (Zechariah 14:5). That earthquake, according to Josephus, made a breach in the temple, ruined the gardens and palace of the king, and occurred simultaneously with the smiting of Uzziah with leprosy.[8] It cannot be dated exactly.

Verse 2
"And he said, Jehovah will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.

"And Jehovah shall roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem ..." These exact words are in Joel 3:16; and if they should be considered as the theme of the Book of Amos, then it may be said that Amos took his text from Joel. Shultz did not hesitate to write, "This verse is the text of the book.[9] It must also be accounted as fact that, "Amos here connects his prophecy with that of his predecessor,"[10] and, hence, with all the Scriptures as part of the authentic revelation from the heavenly Father.

This expression is usually cited as proof that Amos was an outdoors man, well acquainted with the roar of the lion attempting to feed upon his flock. This viewpoint seems to be compromised by the existence of the same passage in Joel; and the more pertinent observation would appear to be that Amos knew the Scriptures. Still, we cannot deny that the figure, even if he got it out of Joel, would have appealed to one who had heard a lion roar. Adam Clarke has this: "The roaring of the lion in the forest is one of the most terrific sounds in nature; when near, it strikes terror into the heart, both of man and of beast."[11]

"Zion ... Jerusalem ..." Amos' message to the northern kingdom thus begins with a stern reminder, "that God was to be worshipped only at Jerusalem."[12] The apostate worship had been installed at Bethel and Samaria. "Zion" is the poetic name for "Jerusalem," and in its extended meaning has an application to the church of Jesus our Lord.

In Joel 3:16, Jehovah is represented as roaring on behalf of Israel, but in the stern denunciations of Amos, he is represented as roaring against Israel. It was calculated to strike terror into the hearts of the wicked and lead them to repentance.

"Pastures of the shepherds shall mourn ..." All of God's prophets depict him as the God of nature and as one who continually bends the forces of nature in harmony with his larger purpose with reference to humanity. This appears quite early in the Bible, where it is related that God "cursed the ground for Adam's sake" (Genesis 3:17), a curse which has never been repealed and is still in effect. God providentially bends nature itself to provoke man to repentance, and thus the purpose of the primeval curse must be seen as beneficient.

"And the top of Carmel shall wither ..." Carmel was noted for remaining productive even in times of drought, the name itself meaning "the orchard, or fertile land."[13] Even the great drouth in the days of Elijah did not wither Carmel; and, thus the meaning of the whole passage here is that utter desolation shall overcome the land, even places like Carmel. Mount Carmel was the scene of Elijah's contest with the prophets of Baal and consists of a bold mountain forming the terminus of the Samaritan range and dropping off abruptly into the sea. Whatever the ancient excellence of the place, it has long ago disappeared. "It is steep and lofty where it overhangs the Mediterranean above Haifa."[14]

Verse 3
"For three transgressions ... yea, for four ..." This is a stylized expression, or idiom, having the meaning of, "for many, or for more than enough."[15] As used here, it denotes, "not a small, but a large number of crimes, or ungodliness in its worst form."[16] Of course, "Some critics have taken the terms literally, and have tried to identify that particular number of transgressions in each case; but this is trifling."[17]

"Damascus ..." This city stands here as a representative of all of Syria, a point to be remembered. It was an outstanding city of the nation of Syria, one of Israel's principal adversaries, "throughout the incessant border wars which ran from the ninth century to the beginning of the eighth."[18]

"They have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron ..." This happened in the Syrian war against Israel's land east of the Jordan during the reign of Jehu (2 Kings 10:32,33; 13:7). "They even crushed the prisoners to pieces with iron threshing machines, according to a barbarous war custom that is met with elsewhere (2 Samuel 12:31)."[19]

The grievousness of this sin is seen, not only in the fact of its violation of one of God's most sacred laws, the sanctity of human life, but also that they "had done despite to the covenant people of God: `To attack God's people is to attack God.'"[20]

Verse 4
"But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael and it shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad.

Hazael was the founder of the dynasty that included two or three kings named Ben-Hadad; so this is the equivalent of saying that the royal family would be destroyed. "Ben-Hadad was the title of the dynasty."[21]

These, and the other judgments to follow are truly terrible; and there are always people who cannot understand why God should deal out such awful judgments; but Morgan has a word of explanation, thus:

"No new philosophy will excuse nations that trifle with divine requirements; the walls of doom close slowly, surely, around all those who forget God. These movements of terror are necessary to, and will issue in, the victory of God... Out of ruin and wreckage, God will bring again his divine order."[22]

Verse 5
"And I will break the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the valley of Aven, and him that holdeth the scepter from the house of Eden; and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith Jehovah.

"I will break the bar of Damascus ..." Ancient cities used a bar to lock their gates; and the breaking of the bar was the same as leaving a city defenseless. Keil summarized the meaning of this verse thus:

"The breaking of the bar (the bolt of the gate) denotes the conquest of the capital; cutting off the inhabitants of Aven indicates their slaughter ([~hikhrith] means to exterminate) and not their deportation; so that captivity in the last clause refers to the remnant of the population not slain in war."[23]

"Captivity unto Kir ..." The Kir has been identified with a river (now the Kar), tributary of the Araxes which flows into the Caspian sea on the southwest.[24] The Syrians were thought to have originally emigrated from that same area.

"Saith Jehovah ..." This is the prophet's solemn affirmation that he is delivering the words of Jehovah and not his own words. This attestation occurs throughout Amos in several variations:

Thus saith Jehovah

Saith Jehovah

Jehovah hath spoken

The Lord Jehovah hath spoken

The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by his holiness

Saith the Lord Jehovah

Thus saith the Lord Jehovah

The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by himself saith Jehovah the God of hosts

Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me

And Jehovah saith unto me

Then said the Lord

No less than fifty times within the brief compass of this little book, its author solemnly declared his message to be the true word of Almighty God, the very last word in the prophecy being, "saith Jehovah thy God."

Verse 6
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Gaza, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole people, to deliver them up to Edom.

Note that the whole of a nation was represented by one of its principal cities, Syria by Damascus, (Amos 1:3), and here, Philistia by Gaza. "It is evident that Gaza is simply regarded as a representative of Philistia,"[25] as proved by the fact that in the announcement of the punishment, some of the other great cities of Philistia are also included, all of them, in fact, standing for the entire nation.

"Carried away the whole people ... to deliver them to Edom ..." The capture and sale of people as slaves was bad enough, but the deliverance of such captives to their worst enemies was an added touch of cruelty.

Amos has in mind such carrying away of captives as occurred in the events recorded in 2 Chronicles 21:16.

"These Philistines captured whole cities and areas of Hebrew people and sold them to Edomites and Phoenicians. The Phoenicians probably sold them, in turn, to the Greeks, as indicated by Joel 3:6."[26]

Verse 7
"But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.

Although specific punishments are connected here with certain cities, in all probability, "The calamity of each is common to all."[27]

Verse 8
"And I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod; and him that holdeth the scepter from Ashkelon; and I will turn my hand against Ekron; and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord Jehovah.

The cities mentioned in this verse were some of the principal cities of Philistia, Gath being the only one omitted of the five provincial capitals; and O.T. critics, of course, have attempted to make some big thing out of that omission, affirming that, "Gath, destroyed by Sargon of Syria in 711 B.C. (and omitted here) may suggest a date for the oracle subsequent to the time of Amos."[28] Such "suggestions," however, are by no means inherent in this passage. It was not Amos' purpose to list all the cities of Philistia; and it is clear enough that the fate of each city mentioned is actually the fate of all of them. Again, we refer to Amos 1:3, where Damascus alone stands for all of Syria. The notion that this mention of four of the great capitals of Philistia should not include cities not mentioned is ridiculous. The same kind of reasoning imposed upon the prophecy of the fall of Syria would mean that the whole nation had already perished with the sole exception of its capital city!

"And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish ..." Here too, some scholars allege that all of Philistia had already perished, with the exception of a small remnant. This too is a gross error. "The expression `the remnant of the Philistines' indicates that a portion of them had already been destroyed."[29] Such comment only exposes the unwillingness of unbelieving scholars to accept any such thing as predictive prophecy; and that is a theological position which we are absolutely unwilling to share. The arguments in support of it, such as those grounded in these verses, are weak, unreasonable, and trifling. The awful prophecies of the destruction of Syria and Philistia, uttered in the solemn name of God himself, as repeatedly affirmed by Amos, appeared to the people who received them, not as belated predictions of events which had already occurred, but as events impossible of ever happening at all!

FULFILLMENT OF THESE PROPHECIES

Regarding Damascus. Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria fulfilled this prophecy when Ahaz applied to him for help. The Assyrian monarch destroyed the royal family, captured Damascus and carried its people captive into Kir.[30] This fulfillment occurred fifty years after the prophecy of Amos and is recorded in 2 Kings 16:9.[31]

Regarding Philistia. Sennacherib fulfilled Amos' prophecy regarding Philistia; and his exploits against the very cities mentioned in these verses is recorded in cuneiform inscriptions of how he humbled the kings of Ashkelon, Ekron, etc.[32] And, significantly, Sennacherib did not ascend the throne until 702 B.C.[33] The destruction of Philistia thus occurred in the seventh century B.C., whereas, Amos prophesied their doom in the eighth century B.C.

In fact, it was the dramatic, startling, and complete fulfillment of these tremendous prophecies that led to the retention of this book among the sacred writings of the Jews, who placed it in their canon of scripture, despite the terrible warnings and predictions it contained with reference to the Jews themselves.

"The remnant of the Philistines," as used by Amos here cannot possibly mean that "all of his prophecy (!) had already occurred, and that all of these grim warnings pertained only to a small remnant yet in the land. No! "Remnant," as used here, means, "the rest of Philistia not already specifically mentioned in the prophecy."

Verse 9
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Tyre, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole country to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant.

The great sin of Tyre mentioned here is their delivery of Hebrew slaves to their bitterest enemies, the Edomites, and that this was done despite the long record of friendship between Israel and Tyre, dating back to the days of Solomon, and the brotherly covenant of mutual respect and honor which existed between the two peoples. "No king of Israel or Judah had ever made war on Phoenicia."[34] The indifference and cruelty of Phoenicia, the great slave traders of the day, in their dealings with the covenant people of God, ultimately issued in God's destructive judgment against them. The friendliness between Tyre and Israel is mentioned in the O.T. (2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 5:1; 9:11,14, etc.); and, although there is no mention of any formal treaty existing between them, the relationship, "doubtless had occasionally been cemented by formal treaty."[35] At any rate, there was a "covenant," as indicated by this verse. The Tyrians had considered themselves bound by no consideration of human rights and free to violate any honor for the sake of their profitable slave trade.

Verse 10
"But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.

Note the similarity with Amos 1:7, both predictions being somewhat stylized prophecies of the destruction of the places indicated. This prophecy was fulfilled, as were all the others.

FULFILLMENT REGARDING TYRE

Within the space of little more than half a century, Tyre was made a vassal city of Assyria, was besieged and captured by "Nebuchadnezzar after a thirteen years siege (585-573 B.C.),[36] and was ultimately wiped off the face of the earth by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. "The ancient city of Tyreon the mainland has never been rebuilt."[37] Following the destruction of Tyre by Alexander the Great, "Thirty thousand of its people were sold into slavery";[38] and thus, the old slave traders finally received "the just recompense of their deeds."

Verse 11
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Edom, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.

Having dealt with three pagan neighbors of Israel, Amos here moved to address his prophecy of punishment to three pagan relatives of Israel, namely, Edom, Moab, and Ammon. The Edomites were descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob, and were thus blood relatives of the chosen people, being "the seed of Abraham" in a fleshly sense, no less than Israel itself. The great sin of this people was their "perpetual" hatred of Israel, going back to the time when Jacob had cheated their ancestor out of the birthright. Their hatred, anger, and wrath have continued throughout history; and the prophet's charge that "they kept their wrath forever" has literally come to pass. Note that God disapproved of this vindictive hatred. True, they had grounds for anger at Jacob and his posterity; but God had ratified the covenant in the seed of Jacob, passing Esau for moral and religious reasons, and not because of Jacob's shameful act in cheating his brother. This judgment of God the Edomites never accepted. Perhaps Schultz is right in seeing this verse, not as recounting specific sins of Edom, but as a reference to, "the traditional attitude of Edom toward Israel."[39]

Verse 12
"But I will send a fire upon Tenan, and it shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.

"Tenan, according to Jerome, was the capital of Idumaea, and Bozrah was also an important city, likewise supposed by some to have been the capital (Genesis 36:33)."[40] Bozrah was south of the Dead Sea. As in all these denunciations, the land, or nation, then the capital and/or principal city or cities were mentioned as representatives of the entire country, or nation, denounced.

Verse 13
"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they may enlarge their border.

The stark effectiveness of the prophet's language here is attested by the fact that "rip off" has passed into a proverb for wicked and wholesale exploitation, an expression that appears to be derivative from Amos' words here. "The occasion when the Ammonites were guilty of such cruelty toward the Israelites as is here condemned is not recorded in the historical books of the O.T.[41]

The Ammonites were descended from the incestuous union of Lot with one of his daughters; and it would appear that the character of the people thus originated partook in every way of the shameful and unlawful deeds of their ancestors. "What a marvel that Ammon and Moab retained the stamp of their origin, in a sensual and passionate nature? Their choice of idols grew out of this original character and aggravated it."[42] The chief god of this savage people was Milcom (or Malcam), worshipped as the principle of destruction, and appeased, "with sacrifices of living children, given to the fire to devour (1 Kings 11:7)."[43] They, like the Edomites and the Moabites, despite their being physically related to Israel, exploited every opportunity within their reach for encroaching upon Israel or aiding aggressions against them. "Their nation lay just east of Moab, and northward to the Jabbok river, and southward to the hills of Edom."[44] This area was altogether insufficient to their ambitions, and they were constantly attempting to "enlarge their border" by inroads against Israel.

Verse 14
"But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour the palaces thereof, with shouting in the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind; and their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes together, saith Jehovah.

Note that the announcement of God's judgment is uttered in each instance by formal, stylized pronouncements which are quite effective. "The shouting mentioned here is that of the assailants."[45] The figure of a tempest, or storm, is used to convey the fury and suddenness of their destruction.

"Their king ..." Some have noted that in some versions, a proper name is used here, signifying "Malcam, or Milcom, the god of the Ammonites."[46] If so, the dramatic meaning is that the worshippers of the god of destruction, along with their god, shall be destroyed.

Who can deny that it happened exactly as Amos had foretold? The cuneiform inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser, the great Assyrian king, relate how Ahaz of Judah, "Sanipu king of Ammon" both appear in a list of kings who paid tribute to him.[47] Also, some forty years later, "Buduilu of Ammon (along with others) paid Sennacherib tribute and kissed his feet."[48] Both of these destructions of Ammon occurred at substantial time periods subsequent to Amos' prophecy. "Their last stand seems to have been against Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabees 5:6)."[49]

"The wall of Rabbah ..." Dean has a very interesting account of the strength of the remarkable wall of Rabbah:

"The massive walls, some of which remain in ruins, rise from the precipitous sides of the cliff ... I bent over them and looked sheer down about three hundred feet into one wady, and four hundred feet into the other. I did not wonder at its having occurred to King David that the leader of a charge against these ramparts would have met with certain death, consequently assigning the position to Uriah!"[50]

This indicates how unbelievable the prophecy of Amos must have seemed to his first hearers. Nevertheless, the word of the Lord came to pass exactly as the great prophet had declared.

Regarding the repeated formula, "For three transgressions of ... yea, for four," see the note at end of Amos 2.

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Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Amos 1:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=am&chapter=001". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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