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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Amos 6

 

 

Verse 1

This chapter continues the further elaboration of the prophetic doom pronounced upon Israel at the conclusion of Amos 2. First, he uttered the second woe over the careless and indulgent leaders of the nation, sunk in their revellings and indifference (Amos 6:1-6). For them, he pronounced their destruction and the overthrow of their nation (Amos 6:7-11), emphasizing that they had acted perversely, trusting in their own power (Amos 6:12-14). The blunt reiteration of their doom in Amos 6:14 concludes this section of the prophecy.

In the first sub-section of the chapter (Amos 6:1-6), "The link word is first."[1] They considered themselves first among the nations (Amos 6:1); they only used the finest oils (literally, first)[2] (Amos 6:6); and then in the first line of the second section is revealed the fact that they shall also be first into captivity (Amos 6:7). The whole chapter is pointed squarely at the over-confidence and conceit of the nation, as exhibited in its evil leaders.

Amos 6:1

"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel come."

God's gospel of dealing with mankind is a gospel of grace; but in Amos the emphasis is not upon grace but upon law and obedience, an emphasis which should certainly be observed in our own times; because as McFadden put it:

"It is the gospel of law, for that, too, is gospel. To understand and obey the laws by which God governs his world is the way of peace; to ignore or defy them is the way to destruction."[3]

"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion ..." This is the second great woe, the first being in Amos 5:18, where it is written. "Woe unto you that desire the day of Jehovah!" Zion here is the poetic name of Jerusalem, and some of the commentators would like to get it out of the text on the basis that, "It would seem out of keeping with his habit of concentration upon the immediate situation for him";[4] but such a view ignores one of the outstanding features of Amos, the fact that Judah is by no means left out of these prophecies of destruction, as in Amos 2:4,5; 3:1; 5:1,5, etc. To be sure Amos was sent particularly to the Northern Kingdom; but Judah is always in the back of his mind; for it is not the Northern Kingdom only, but, "The whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt" (Amos 3:1) which is under the judgment of God for their sins. Hammershaimb has brilliantly refuted the allegations of those intent upon disturbing the validity of the text here as it has come down to us. "We must nevertheless keep the Masoretic Text, which must be understood as showing the threat worked out with poetic parallelism against the two capital cities."[5]

The over-confidence of the entire nation of the Jews was founded in their regard for Zion (Jerusalem) as the place where the name of God was recorded, and considered by them invulnerable to any disaster of whatever nature, and (especially in the Northern Kingdom) upon the strength and military fortifications of the "mountain of Samaria." The confidence they had in Samaria, although destined to be frustrated, was nevertheless justified to a certain extent by the unusual strength of the place. When it finally fell, some three years were required to subdue it. The great error lay in the people's having forgotten that, "Unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Psalms 127:1).

"These people misunderstood the terms of the covenant, thinking that God would spare Jerusalem regardless of what they did; they were at ease in Zion ... (in Samaria) they were trusting in the mountain of Samaria, a natural fortress which Israel's leaders must have thought impregnable."[6]

"At ease in Zion ..." has entered all languages as an idiom for self-indulgent complacency, indifference and over-confidence.

Verse 2
"Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines: are they better than these kingdoms? or is their border greater than your border?"

This verse again follows a pattern already observed in Amos' words, that of putting words or arguments into the mouths of his hearers in order to prove his point, much as the apostle Paul used the diatribe in the Book of Romans. Some scholars have mistakenly tried to take these words as a threat from Amos based upon the premise that since other great cities of the neighboring kingdoms have fallen, Israel herself should not be over-confident; but this is not the case at all. It is a quotation from those proud leaders boasting that they were "Number 1." As Smith pointed out, it could hardly be a threat, "Since it is fairly certain that Calneh and Hamath did not fall until after Amos' ministry."[7] The mention of Gath in this place also proves that the omission of that city from the list of those enumerated in Amos 1:6-8, could not be interpreted as proof that Gath no longer existed when Amos wrote. (See the notes on those passages.)

The writers who insist upon the other interpretation, which is manifestly false, are evidently doing so in order to use the passage as an assault upon the integrity of the verse. McKeating said, "If this interpretation is correct (the false one), the verse must have been inserted after Amos' time."[8] This is an excellent example of one of the favorite devices of destructive critics, namely, that of giving a verse a false interpretation, and then using it as an argument against the validity of Biblical texts. The true interpretation of this place was accurately discerned by Motyer, thus:

"Amos is ironically repeating the propaganda handout of the rulers who kept up the morale of their people by drawing advantageous comparisons with reasonably distant and clearly inferior places."[9]

"Are they better than these kingdoms ..." This obviously requires a negative answer. "These kingdoms" are Judah and Israel. As Keil said, "Amos names three great and flourishing capitals, because he is speaking to the great men of the capitals of the two kingdoms of Israel."[10]

Before leaving this verse, it should be noted that Mays also defended the correct interpretation of this verse by noting that the other one is "embarrassed by the uncertainty whether Hamath and Calneh had been captured by the Assyrians in the mid-eighth century."[11] He also observed that the Masoretic Text (as followed in our version) makes excellent sense as a quotation. "The boast articulates a pride that is nurtured by the success of Jeroboam's reign, and a belief in their manifest destiny as the people of Yahweh."[12]

Verse 3
"Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near."

"Put far away the evil day ..." This does not mean, of course, that they actually moved the evil day. They did not really put it off. The passage means "to regard as far off."[13] They were indifferent to the eventual consequences of their wickedness and regarded their sure and certain punishment as a thing that could be relegated to the remote future, and as something for which they needed not to have any apprehension at all.

"And cause the seat of violence to come near ..." A society that tolerates violence and corruption is hastening the day when violence and corruption will be enthroned among them. As Motyer commented:

"They were hastening the day when lawlessness would reign, "the reign of terror." So it must have been in the final years of the kingdom of Israel when, after Jeroboam II, only one king passed the throne on to his son, and the rest ended their reigns by assassination."[14]

Verse 4
"That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall."

"Beds of ivory ..." The idle rich were using inlays of ivory to decorate their beds, indifferently ignoring the gross poverty around them, and living as extravagantly as possible.

"Lambs out of the flock ... calves out of the ... stall ..." This was a custom severely frowned upon by God's prophet, because it was an extravagant and unnecessary waste. The result was that the flocks and herds were diminished. The current society is guilty of a similar waste in their extravagant taste for caviar, which has practically destroyed the whole species of the sturgeon from which the fish eggs are derived. It would appear that Amos was particularly outraged by their eating of the lambs!

There is a great deal in Amos that might induce a superficial criticism to the effect that he was merely a country bumpkin who was opposed to the aristocracy, affluence and culture of city life; "But it is unjust to regard him so."[15] It is the rebellion of the people against God and his word which is the primary concern of Amos:

"His message is primarily a religious one, and only inferentially social. Hate the evil, and love the good - that is a motto as applicable to the city as to the country, and as capable of realization."[16]

Verse 5
"That sing idle songs to the sound of the viol; that invent for themselves instruments of music, like David."

"That sing idle songs to the sound of the viol ..." One is amused at a comment which finds nothing more here than the fact (?) that, "Amos does not like the contemporary fashion in music! We might translate, 'who wail to the accompaniment of the lute.'"[17] Not much is known about this singing, but Barnes is probably correct:

"The word which Amos alone uses in this place describes probably a hurried flow of unmeaning, unconsidered words, in which the rhythm of words and music was everything, the sense, nothing."[18]

"That invent to themselves instruments of music, like David..." Whatever was reprehensible in those who were condemned in this clause, it was compared to a similar reprehensible action on the part of David. Much more is known with reference to David's sinful action than is known about the sinful actions of the class Amos rebuked with these words; and a little further attention to what David did, and particularly to the action mentioned here, should give the clue to what the lords of Samaria were guilty of. Some things can be ruled out at once. It is not a sin to invent instruments of music, or anything else, so that could not be the thing in focus here. However, it was sinful for David to introduce, organize, and maintain the use of mechanical instruments in the worship of God, a fact clearly discernible in Amos 5:23. The explanation usually offered on this interesting verse is given thus by Keil:

"As David invented stringed instruments in honour of his God in heaven, so do these princes invent playing and singing for their god, the belly."[19]

This, of course, is ingenious; and many have followed it in their own interpretations, almost verbatim, as, for example, Butler:

"As David invented instruments of music to worship his God, you invent musical instruments to worship your god, your belly."[20]

Clever as this interpretation appears, however, it cannot be correct; the key element being overlooked in it is that the passage makes it quite clear that what David did was wrong. If, as this interpretation suggests, the action of the nobles was sinful, that being clear enough from the text, how was it "as" or "like" what David did? The incredible, fanciful view that their worshipping their belly was in any way comparable to David's "honouring his God" is too fantastic to be accepted. On the other hand, if the passage is viewed as the sinful action of David in introducing instruments into God's worship, and the action of the nobles (also sinful) who were likewise introducing the instruments of music into the alleged worship of "God" at Bethel, then the comparison is perfect; and that is exactly what we believe to be taught here. It is clearly and uniquely a "religious thing" that is evident, not only in this verse, but in Amos 6:6, immediately following, where the "sacrificial bowls" were being profaned by these gluttonous and drinking nobles. (See the notes on Amos 6:6, below.)

Note also that it is not the "invention" of musical instruments which is primarily in focus here, that having no element of sin in any way connected with it; but it is the sin of "inventing for or unto themselves," a clear echo of "Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image" (Exodus 20:4), the thing forbidden there not being merely the making of any kind of image, but the making "unto themselves" of graven images, the making of religious images! The similarity of the language here shows that the innovative nobles of Samaria had further corrupted their own perverted worship at Bethel by following the sinful example set by David in his introduction of the musical instruments into God's worship in Jerusalem. There is no good reason for setting aside this obvious meaning of the passage. Some astute scholars have discerned this and, accordingly, have invoked their rule of last resort, screaming "Interpolation,"[21] when there's no other way to support the popular prejudice that freely allows the use of mechanical instruments in the worship of the Author of Christianity.

The great leaders of the Reformation practically all understood the obvious teaching of this place, including Wesley and many others. There is no need to multiply the witnesses from that era as to what these verses most certainly mean; but we shall quote a few lines from Adam Clarke:

"I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the divine worship of which we read; and I am satisfied that his conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this prophet; and I further believe that the use of such instruments of music in the Christian Church is without the sanction and against the will of God."[22]

We have included this quotation because it is not widely known, the great scholar's words having long ago been edited out of his commentaries by those who did not agree with his conclusions, the same not appearing in any of the recent abridged editions.

One other word regarding this passage. The orthodox Hebrew church, who understand the Hebrew text of the Old Testament better than any Gentile commentator could ever expect to know it, have never allowed instruments of music in their worship of God, their conviction of the sinfulness of it being due in part to the teaching of these very passages in Amos; and the Jews, at least a very considerable percentage of them, have consistently maintained this conviction for some twenty-seven centuries! The view of this passage advocated here is then, by no means, a Johnny-come-lately opinion.

If David's action in introducing mechanical instruments into God's worship was honorable; and if the Samaritan leaders were using instruments dishonorably in the worship of "their belly," how could the Holy Spirit possibly have equated these actions or referred to one of them as "like" the other?

Verse 6
"That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief oils; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph."

"That drink wine in bowls ..." The sin indicated here is not merely that of "funneling." Something far different is indicated:

"One view is that their offence consists in not being satisfied with drinking wine in small quantities, but drinking it from the bowl; but the meaning is certainly that they have committed an offence by using sacrificial bowls, which it was not permissible to drink from."[23]

"The Hebrew word for "bowl" in this place actually means "the great bowl" and is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament only in connection with ritual procedures."[24]SIZE>

The sin which Amos condemned here is therefore a religious violation, and not merely excessive drinking, further pointing up the truth that this whole passage deals primarily with perversion of God's worship, the particular thing here, being desecration of holy vessels. The ancient people of God viewed this latter thing with extraordinary abhorrence. It will be recalled that for a similar offence of drinking from the sacred vessels robbed from the temple in Jerusalem, Belshazzar was punished by a summary judgment from God; and the kingdom was torn away from him in the same night (Daniel 5:1-25).

"And anoint themselves with the chief oils ..." Hammershaimb assures us that the word for chief oils (or first oils) could also "be taken with the meaning of firstfruits; their sin would then be that they have anointed themselves with the firstfruits which belong to God."[25] Thus, it is seen that the religious factor is the dominating thought throughout these verses. Understanding the transgression in this light certainly clears up the problem with the other view, which would make it appear that Almighty God was concerned about the "size" of a wine-guzzler's goblet, bottle, or bowl. It was not "drinking," as such, which was condemned here, but their drinking from "bowls," evidently the consecrated vessels which had been dedicated to God. Here also is strong presumptive evidence that it is a similar religious violation in Amos 6:5.

An additional facet of the sin mentioned in these verses with regard to their anointing themselves with the "first" oils is seen in the fact that all anointing was suspended in time of mourning (1 Samuel 14:2); and, the sad state of Israel's rebellion against God should have led to widespread mourning and prayer, instead of the drinking and anointing evident here. That Amos probably had this in mind also, is manifest in the next clause which mentions "the affliction of Joseph."

Verse 7
"Therefore shall they now go captive with the first that go captive; and the revelry of them that stretched themselves shall pass away."

Motyer's summary of the balance of this chapter is thus:

"The fact of pride (Amos 6:8), its moral indifference (Amos 6:12), and its self-centeredness (Amos 6:13) are brought before us; but now we see the divine reaction to them. Amos 6:1-7 tell us in so many words that pride goes before a fall; Amos 6:8-14 tell us why this is. The divine reactions are hatred (Amos 6:8), alienation (Amos 6:9,10), and enmity (Amos 6:11-14)."[26]

"Go captive with the first that go captive ..." Here is a glimpse of eternal justice. These gross sinners who were hailed as the "first" among the "first" of nations, and used up the "first" fruits (or oils) for their own pampering instead of giving them to God, as was their duty, shall now be "first" to go into captivity! Keil added this: "You that are first in riches will be the first to bear the yoke of captivity"[27]

However, they do Amos an injustice who suppose that he was opposed to the rich merely because of their riches. "His message is, by no manner of means, `Down with the aristocracy!'; but `Return unto God' (Amos 4:6), `Seek good and not evil!'"[28] As Amos 6:1-6 sternly reveal, the thing that was wrong with the leaders of Israel was that they had lost all regard for their status as a God-rescued, God-redeemed, and God-chosen community and had corrupted his worship, prostrated themselves before idols, desecrated his sacred vessels, introduced pagan mechanical instruments into his worship "like David," and had violated with impunity the sacred ordinances of the Pentateuchal covenant, except in those cases where the observance of them was in some manner pleasing to themselves!

Verse 8
"The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by himself, saith Jehovah, the God of hosts: I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces; therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein."

"Jehovah hath sworn by himself ..." It may not be allowed that God's oath is any more binding, or more true, than his word; but, inasmuch as the opposite is true among men, the Holy Spirit here, wishing to emphasize the dependability and certainty of God's Words, uses this anthropomorphic accommodation to the prejudices of men in order to achieve that purpose.

"I abhor the excellency of Jacob ..." This expression shows that Amos never has Judah very far out of mind; for Jacob was the ancestor of Judah, as well as of Israel. Writers who try to make out that these various references to Judah, Jacob, and the whole house of Israel which came up out of Egypt, etc. are added to the prophecy by later writers are totally wrong. Despite the principal burden of Amos' commission having been to cry out against the Northern Kingdom, unless he had kept before them continually the reminder that God was also displeased with similar sins in Judah, he would have lost his effectiveness through the appearance that he was merely crying out against the sins of his neighbor, and not against the sins of his own nation.

Verse 9
"And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die. 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 to 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."

The situation envisioned by these verses presupposes the possible survival of "ten men in one house," evidently one of the "great houses" which normally had a hundred or more inhabitants, as the remnant after a devastating military defeat; and the prophecy is that they (these few survivors) will all die of the plague. The plague is evidenced by the burning of the bodies, contrary to the usual Hebrew custom.

"A man's uncle ..." An alternate reading here is "kinsman," in any case, the person who came to burn the bodies.

"Is there any yet with thee? ..." The picture is that of the very last of the survivors who answered the inquiry negatively.

"Hold thy peace, for we may not make mention of the name of Jehovah ..." A number of somewhat fanciful interpretations have been given to this, but it seems merely to indicate that all of the people at that late stage of their sorrow had at last recognized that their punishment was of God, and that it was God's judgment that was upon them. The solicitation, therefore, not to invoke the name of God would have come from the fear that if God were aware of "any" survivor, he also would have been destroyed. That such a conception does not take account of the omniscience of God does not nullify it, for the very fault that led to Israel's destruction was their total failure to develop any adequate conception of the true nature of God.

Verse 11
"For behold, Jehovah commandeth, and the great house shall be smitten with breaches, and the little house with clefts."

"The great house ..." does not mean any particular "great house," but all of the great houses, the same being true of the "small house." The mention of "great house" first in this verse, immediately after Amos 6:9,10, strongly supports the probability that the "ten men left in one house" in those verses has reference to one of those great palatial establishments for which Samaria was famous, each having an occupancy of a hundred or so, including domestics, servants and retainers. Although the great houses shall all be carried away by the destruction, the small houses also will not escape. Why? God has commanded it! "Rich and poor alike have been guilty of turning away from Jehovah to serve their appetites."[29]

Verse 12
"Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen? that ye have turned justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood."

The meaning of this verse was thus summarized by Schultz:

"There is a spiritual and moral order in the universe that is just as impossible to ignore as the natural order. It is as senseless to pervert justice as it is to expect horses to run on the rocks, or for oxen to plow on rock."[30]

Translators have difficulty with this verse, some of them rendering it "horses to run up a cliff... or plow in the sea with oxen"; but such renditions, even if allowed, would not change the essential meaning of the passage.

"It is easier to change the course of nature, or the use of things of nature, than the course of God's providence or the laws of his just retribution."[31]

As Keil said, "These verses show the moral perversity of the unrighteous conduct of the wicked."[32]

Verse 13
"Ye that rejoice in a thing of naught, that say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength? For, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith Jehovah, the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entrance of Hamath, unto the brook of the Arabah."

"Things of naught ... horns ..." Recent scholarly studies on these words indicate that, "a thing of naught is actually a mistranslation for Lodebar, which has the same sound in Hebrew, and that horns is the same as the proper name Karnaim, which means horns in Hebrew."[33] In this light, most recent translations render Amos 6:13, as follows:

"You brag about capturing the town of Lodebar. You boast, We were strong enough to take Karnaim."

"The verse is a sarcastic allusion to the conquests of Jeroboam II in Transjordan, which are narrated in 2 Kings 14:25, two towns that he captured being mentioned here."[34] Amos here made a play upon the meaning of the names of the towns, Lodebar, for example, meaning "a thing of naught." Nevertheless, the people were very arrogant and boastful about their successes. `The reiterated emphasis on `our ... we ... ourselves' mocks the boasting assessment which the people made of Jeroboam's successes.'"[35]

"I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel ..." It should always be remembered in studying this prophecy that it was exactly and terribly fulfilled just as God had promised. Both the Sacred Scriptures and the testimony of the archeologist testify to the overwhelming destruction of Israel within some thirty years after Amos wrote this prophecy.

"The kingdom of Israel was destroyed in the year 722 by Sargon in the first month of his reign when Samaria was taken after a siege which was begun by his predecessor, Shalmanezer IV, and had lasted three years."[36]

Excavations made about 1843 revealed the old palace of Sargon II and the so-called "Display Inscription" at Khorsabad, in which Sargon II described the humiliation of Samaria in his own words:

"I besieged and captured Samaria, carrying off 27,290 of the people who dwelt therein. Fifty chariots I gathered from among them. I caused others to take their portion (of the deported inhabitants). I set my officers over them and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king."[37]

"From the entrance of Hamath, unto the brook of Arabah ..." This expression stands for the northern boundary of the kingdom and the southern boundary of Canaan,"[38] thus including the southern kingdom of Judah also, a recurring theme in Amos.

"Hamath is the pass between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, the northern limit of Israelite territory. The Arabah is the deep valley in which the Dead Sea lies."[39] The most extended borders of Jewish dominion in the days of Solomon were encompassed in these limits; and, although they had for a brief season been restored under Jeroboam II, it was but for a little time. All was swept away by the Assyrian invasion, except that Jerusalem and the southern kingdom remained about 150 years until they were carried away to Babylon.

The relevance of this prophecy for our own times should never be overlooked. As Butler said:

"The message of Amos is still quite relevant and contemporary. Our society is almost a sister to that one in its ingratitude, irresponsibility, arrogance, and sensuality. Amos was not able to call men back to God in his day; but he was willing to lay down his life if necessary to give God's call to repentance. Can prophets of today succeed where Amos did not? Time alone will tell."[40]

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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 6:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=am&chapter=006". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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