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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Amos 2

 

 


Verse 1

The prophecies against eight nations reach their climax in this chapter where the judgments are pronounced against Moab (Amos 2:1-3), against Judah (Amos 2:4,5), and against Israel (Amos 1:6-16), in which the principal thrust of Amos' great prophecy reaches its primary object.

It will appear in this chapter that Amos' words were directed against the gross social sins of that era, but also against the sins of apostasy from the true religion of God; and, throughout, the particular sin of fighting God by fighting God's people is repeatedly condemned. By no stretch of the imagination is it true that this prophecy is the "harbinger of the social gospel!" The pronouncements against sins against the poor, the perversion of justice, etc., as found here, are all based upon prior teachings of the Bible, universally known and understood by God's people long before the times of Amos. Frequent references to the Pentateuch are found in this chapter.

Morgan classified the judgments here as being against (1) injustice; (2) avarice; (3) oppression; (4) immorality; (5) profanity; (6) blasphemy; and (7) sacrilege.[1] These violations are specifically related to the portion of the Mosaic law which is applicable in each case. Amos' prophecy should be accepted as sufficient proof of the prior existence of written records of God's law; and the fact that the manifest reference to the Pentateuch, as repeatedly made, along with the evident assumption that the things referred to were well known and universally understood by God's people, encourages the conclusion that, "The written sources in question go back to a much earlier period."[2]

One may only grieve at the gross immorality and irreligion of the northern kingdom:

"The depth to which the people had fallen is characterized in their seeming indifference to their position as a delivered and cared-for nation. Repentance and obedience were imperative, the only escape from imminent judgment."[3]

CONCERNING THE REDACTOR

In this chapter, Amos reached the principal object of his prophecy, the rebuke of Israel and the prophecy of her destruction. This series of judgments (Amos 1:3-2:16) is not a "collection" of separate "oracles," assembled and pieced together by some "editor" or "redactor" from some undetermined period subsequent to the times of Amos; but they constitute a very coherent, logically arranged, and skillfully presented prophecy, the principal import of which was directed against the northern kingdom. In the previous chapter, Amos cried out against the wickedness of Damascus, Philistia, and Tyre (Israel's pagan neighbors), then against Edom and Ammon (two of Israel's pagan relatives). In this chapter, Amos continued the prophecy against Israel's pagan kinsmen, Moab, and then very properly, and of necessity, included the prophetic denunciation of his own nation, Judah, including a specific revelation that Jerusalem too would be destroyed for their sins. If Amos had left out this denunciative prophecy of Jerusalem, it would have compromised his whole message. The people would have said, "Ah, we see that this so-called prophet is blind to the spectacular sins of his nation at the very moment he is crying out against everyone else!" In the light of this truth which is clearly visible to anyone, how utterly unfounded, unprovable, illogical and arbitrary are the postulations of the malignant critics who would credit Amos 2:4,5 to some nameless "redactor." Further attention to this will be given in the notes on those verses; but let it be said here that the "redactor" of critical fancy is an imaginary person created subjectively by Biblical enemies, having no genuine reality whatever. This ephemeral, shadowy "character" is impossible of any objective identification. He belongs to all races, all centuries, all religions, and all conditions of society. Every conceivable motive is freely ascribed to him, but no one has ever named him! We unhesitatingly declare him to be a fraud and a deceit perpetrated in the interest of destructive criticism. He is the "Piltdown Man" of Old Testament exegesis! If the student is unfamiliar with this universally-known hoax, called the "Piltdown Man", let him consult an encyclopedia.

Amos 2:1

"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Moab, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime.

The New English Bible translation of this place, while being no translation whatever, nevertheless gives the true sense of this passage thus: (See the note at the end of Amos 2.)

For crime after crime of Moab

I will grant them no reprieve, because they burnt the

bones of the king of Edom to ash.

"To pursue the dead, even to the point of violating the corpse, is a mark of peculiar hatred and particularly offensive to the common conscience of mankind.[4] Unrestrained hatred will not stop with death. Wycliffe's bones were dug up and burned 44 years after he died."[5]

History reveals nothing whatever regarding this particular crime of Moab, although a Jewish tradition quoted by Jerome says:

"That after this war, the Moabites, in revenge for the assistance which the king of Edom had given to Israel, dug up and dishonored his bones."[6]


Verse 2

"But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Keiloth; and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

This pronouncement prophesied the overthrow of Moab by military conquest, a forecast actually fulfilled by the Assyrian monarchs Shalmanezer and Sargon. "From then on, a succession of world conquerors subdued, and in the process, annihilated Moab as a nation"[7] Moab is identified with the high plateau, some 3,000 feet high, that lies south of Arnon, north of Edom, and between the Dead Sea on the west and the desert on the east.

"The palaces of Keiloth ..." Fosbroke identified this place thus:

"Keiloth is perhaps to be identified with Ar, elsewhere named as a chief city of Moab (Isaiah 15:1). On the Moabite stone, it is named as the site of a sanctuary of the Moabite god, Chemosh."[8]

Fosbroke declared that, "This oracle against Moab is beyond doubt an authentic utterance of Amos,"[9] which, of course, is the truth; but we deny the right of Biblical critics to decide which portions of God's Word are authentic and which are not. Such an admission by the Old Testament critics of the undeniable truth of this oracle, however, actually frustrates their assertions that the so-called "oracle" against Judah is not an authentic part of Amos. As pointed out in the introduction, Amos, by thus concluding the prophetic denunciations against surrounding nations, including both the pagan neighbors and the pagan relatives of Israel, it would have been absolutely impossible for Amos, in any logical sense, to have proceeded to announce the destruction of Israel, without, at the same time, denouncing the apostasy of his own country, Judah. The critics, however, intent on affirming just such a proposition, like to make it out that Amos considered Judah and Israel as a single family! "Therefore, he would not have uttered a special oracle against Judah!"[10] What is an argument like that? It is a denial based upon what someone in the 20th century imagines that Amos thought! There is no evidence whatever that Amos believed Israel and Judah to be a single family; and, in fact there was not any more basis for such a thought than for believing that Israel and Edom were a single family, for both had a common ancestor. We receive the following prophecy against Judah, therefore, as indeed a genuine and dependable portion of the true Word of God.


Verse 3

"And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith Jehovah.

"The judge ..." This does not mean that Moab was without a king at the time of this prophecy. "It implies the chief magistrate, like the Carthaginian "sufes", which is the same word."[11] The prophecies of doom for the surrounding nations, "Were fulfilled by the Chaldeans, who conquered all these kingdoms, and carried the people themselves into captivity."[12]


Verse 4

"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Judah, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have rejected the law of Jehovah, and have not kept his statutes, and their lies have cause them to err, after which their fathers did walk. But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.

This is that famous "oracle" against the southern kingdom. (See additional comments on this in the Introduction and under Amos 2.)

The frantic efforts of critics to get this out of the Bible is based altogether upon a prior bias to the effect that Amos was not all concerned about violations of the Pentateuch (the law of Jehovah), but that he was a prophet like the modern liberals interested only in social reform! In fact some have hailed him as the "father of the social gospel!" To be sure, this pronouncement against Judah categorically refutes such prejudices.

"For three transgressions, yea, for four ..." This first great strophe is couched in exactly the same language as all the others, being part of a single address, delivered upon a definite occasion, and later written down by the prophet himself. Furthermore, as we have observed, it was the absolutely necessary prelude to pointing the prophetic barrage against Israel herself.

"Because they have rejected the law of Jehovah ..." Amos could not have formulated a more perfect reference to the Pentateuch, the prior corpus of the divine Law of God, known and received by all the Israelites for generations prior to Amos' times. As Dummelow said, "These offenses are against a law set forth by positive commandments."[13] The word, "Law, here refers to the Torah, the general name for the whole body of precepts and commandments."[14] Thus, Judah is not judged for the wild excesses of the heathen, but for their rejection of the Lord's word. "Judah is not immune to God's judgment because they are God's elect; indeed their judgments are greater because they are his, and being his, they chose to rebel against him."[15] Jamieson was correct in his discernment that this prophecy against Judah was included here, "Lest it should be said that Amos was strenuous in denouncing sins abroad, but connived at those of his own nation."[16] He also positively identified "the law of Jehovah," in this place as, "The Mosaic Code in general."[17] It is difficult to be patient with the type of false definition of "law of Jehovah," as used here, which occurs in so many commentaries of the various liberal persuasions, such as: "Here it must mean religious and moral teaching given in Jehovah's name by priest and prophet."[18] Such a definition, of course, presupposes that there actually was no "law of Jehovah" in any definite sense at that time.

"Have not kept his statutes ..." This is a definite and technical reference to the various ordinances and prohibitions of the law of Moses, as given by God on Mount Sinai.

"And their lies have caused them to err ..." This refers to: "The unreal and imaginary deities, the Baalim, and Ashteroth, who have no existence save in the mind of the worshipper, and are therefore sure to disappoint his hopes."[19]

"After which their fathers did walk ..."

"Their sin is deeply ingrained in them by inheritance from their fathers, a truth which the Old Testament uses, never to excuse the sinner, but always to indicate that he is in the place of mounting guilt."[20]

Judah continued to go after the old idol gods of the Canaanites, despite all that God had done for them; and they were never cured of this shameful idolatry until after the Babylonian captivity, following which, they never again tolerated among them any semblance of idol-worship.

"But I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem ..." The military judgments here prophesied with reference to Judah and Jerusalem were fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar, and finally a second time in the destruction by Vespasian and Titus in A.D. 70.

It is a pleasure to mention here one of the truly great scholars, Hammershaimb, who has well defended "the genuineness of this passage."[21]

Barnes made a practical application of this passage to the church and the Christians of all ages. God's judgment against sin is certain to be executed:

"It will not the less come, because it is not regarded. Rather, the very condition of all God's judgments is, to be disregarded and to come, and then most to come, when they are most disregarded."[22]


Verse 6

"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes.

"The righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes ..." This expression simply means that, "For mere trifles, they had given debtors over to their creditors as slaves."[23] It appears that efforts to make some big land deal out of the second half of this denunciation are incorrect. Rather than being, as Mays thought, "an idiom for the legal transfer of land,"[24] it is far more probably a statement that the judges in Israel "could be influenced for paltry bribes."[25] "The verb used here is used of selling people into slavery."[26]


Verse 7

"They that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father go unto the same maiden, to profane my holy name.

"Dust of the earth on the head of the poor ..." "Dust on the head" in ancient Israel was a sign of mourning; and the desire of the oppressors in this passage would appear to be their wish to exploit to the uttermost, and hence, bring them to mourning, the poor of the land. This whole clause appears to be merely a figurative expression, "for treading under foot the rights of the poor."[27]

"A man and his father unto the same maiden ..." Motyer accurately described the sin here as an open defiance of the law of God against adultery (Exodus 20:14), and fornication in the name of religion in particular (Deuteronomy 23:17). The widely supported efforts to eliminate from Amos' writings all except his "social concerns', has led to all kinds of bizarre interpretations of this place, some going so far as to make an "oppressed domestic servant" out of this girl which Amos mentioned, and then denominating the whole passage as "another expression of the oppression of the poor!"[28] This interpretation of the passage is endlessly parroted, as in, "All the items (here) can be placed under the general rubric of the oppression of the poor."[29] No. Adultery and the frequenting of the sacred prostitutes in such temples as those of Astarte do not come under the classification of oppressing the poor! There can hardly be any doubt that "same maiden" in this place is a reference to idol worship, a conclusion required by the clause immediately following which connects the action with profaning God's name. Jamieson wrote:

The "damsel" meant is one of the prostitutes attached to the idol of Astarte's temple: the prostitution being part of her filthy worship.[30] The Canaanite religion thought that the performance of the human actions of procreation could be used to remind the god to fertilize the earth. It is this practice which Amos sees and denounces in Israel. The holy Yahweh is being worshipped as a Canaanite Baal.[31]

Some have attempted to deny the obvious connection with idol-worship which surfaces in this verse, basing the denial solely upon Amos' use of an unusual word for "maiden," instead of the word ordinarily used to describe the temple prostitutes; but Keil explained the reason for this thus:

"The meaning is, to one and the same girl, but [~'achath] is omitted, to preclude all possible misunderstanding, as though going to different prostitutes was allowed. This sin was tantamount to incest, which, according to the law, was to be punished with death (Leviticus 18:7,15 and Leviticus 20:11)."[32]

"To profane my holy name ..." "The crux of the matter seems to lie in this expression ... the next lines refer to every altar, and the house of their God, which would indicate that some type of worship is related to these sins."[33]


Verse 8

"And they lay themselves down beside every altar upon clothes taken in pledge; and in the house of their God, they drink the wine of such as have been fined.

"Clothes taken in pledge ..." Jamieson has this:

"Clothes refers to the outer garment, which Exodus 25:22-27 ordered to be restored to the poor man before sunset, as being his only covering. It aggravated their crime that they lay on these clothes in an idol temple."[34]

Keil strongly disagreed with the position of Jamieson that these perversions took place in idol temples, affirming that they were being committed in the house of the true God.[35] However, we are compelled to believe that Jamieson is right. God's true house, in the mind of the Jews, was at Jerusalem; and although it was true enough that the apostate Israelites pretended to be worshipping their God, they were nevertheless not doing so, but worshipping idols instead. It is our conviction, then, that it would be better not to capitalize the word God in this verse.

"They drink the wine of such as have been fined ..." Drinking liquor, however procured, and lying down on clothes taken in pledge (in order to commit fornication) in connection with worship are sufficient clues to determine who was being worshipped by such actions; and we do not think it was the God of heaven. It was, of course, an aggravation of guilt that the pledged garments were illegally retained; and there would also seem to be something reprehensible in their possession of the wine mentioned here. This, of course, is speculative; but Fosbroke supposed that this may have reference to, "wine pawned and forfeited to creditors who lost no time in foreclosing."[36] However, since Amos certainly did not mention anything illegal about their possessing wine, it appears that it is the desecration of worship that is primarily condemned. Certainly, we cannot find any way to agree with the opinion that, "Amos had only one standard by which a society is judged ... by the way it treats the poor."[37] Such a view is sternly rebuked by this very passage where, adultery, incest, fornication, and getting drunk in the worship are the sins primarily in focus, although oppression of the poor is also cited, but not as the one and only mistake of that society.


Verse 9

"Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.

In this through Amos 2:12, Amos turned his attention to the great redemptive acts of God's love for Israel wherein he had delivered them from bondage, dispossessed the nations of Canaan, and done many other marvelous works upon their behalf. The remarkable nation of the Amorites was one of the dispossessed peoples, being noted particularly for their remarkable physical prowess and their great size (Numbers 13:32). He had been wiped out of existence by the divine decree, due to their idolatries and gross sins. This singular mention of the Amorites does not mean that they alone were displaced to make way for Israel; but here "The Amorite, the most powerful of all the Canaanite nations is put for them all."[38]


Verse 10

"Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.

"Why does Amos list the conquest of Canaan before the exodus from Egypt?"[39] Some commentators seem quite troubled by that question since chronologically the exodus came first; but it appears to be a climactic arrangement of God's wonders, reserving the greatest act of his mercy to the last. "From the many allusions in this section, we see how familiar Amos and his hearers were with the history and the law of the Pentateuch."[40]


Verse 11

"And I raised up of your sons prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites, is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith Jehovah.

The next verse will recount the shameful manner in which Israel had responded to the wealth of spiritual leaders which God had raised up from among them to teach them and to lead them in the right way. Some of the prophets God had raised up out of Israel were: Ahijah of Shiloh, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea and Jonah! The Nazarites were a class of spiritual leaders who used neither wine nor strong drink and never allowed the use of a razor. There were two classes of these: (1) the Nazarite of days, whose vows were for a stated season only, and (2) the Nazarite for life, of whom there are three mentioned in the Bible: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.


Verse 12

"But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.

This indicates that God's Word and the spiritual leaders who taught it and advocated it were alike hated by the Israelites. They despised the Nazarites and tempted them to drink, in violation of their sacred vows. The prophets also were silenced, if not by one device, then by another; and even the Saviour referred to the dishonorable and even fatal treatment of God's prophets that was heaped upon them by Israel and by Judah (Matthew 23:29-36). Much of the Old Testament is a history of the brutal and inhumane treatment of the prophets by God's chosen people. It will be noted that this section pertains almost exclusively to those matters which are strictly religious.


Verse 13

"Behold, I will press you in your place, as a cart presseth that is full of sheaves.

The overthrow of Israel is given in different words from that of the other nations, but the meaning is the same, military defeat and destruction. This verse is as if he had said:

Behold, I will run over you with a loaded wagon!

Scholars tell us that the translation of the Hebrew here is uncertain; and the sense of the English version is that the load of Israel's sin and guilt is a burden that presses God down; but the figure of being run over by a wagon (or wain) "is very natural in the mouth of the shepherd Amos."[41] "Whatever meaning is given to the verb, it is clear that the ultimate action of God would be catastrophic upon the nation.[42] The divine judgment against Israel in these four verses (Amos 2:13-16) will be such that, "Neither natural ability (Amos 2:14), military equipment (Amos 2:15), nor outstanding courage (Amos 2:16) will avail."[43]


Verse 14

"And flight shall perish from the swift; and the strong shall not strengthen his force; neither shall the mighty deliver himself; neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself; neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself; and he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith Jehovah."

(See under Amos 2:13 above for further comment on these verses.) The complete and irreversible overthrow of Israel is solemnly prophesied in this climactic denunciation.

"Naked ..." This word, "upon which the description ends, sums up effectively the pitiful helplessness of a man stripped of all the resources on which he had counted to maintain himself when he faces the final catastrophe."[44]

"In that day ..." The day of the Lord refers to that day when, "God's judgment would fail upon Israel."[45] Although the immediate application of these words is thus accurately indicated, there is a more extended and ultimate sense in which they refer to the Great and Final Day of Judgment, when the entire human race shall confront the judgment of God upon human rebellion and wickedness.

All of the predictions here made against Israel, as is also the case in all the other judgments cited in these two chapters, were most accurately and circumstantially fulfilled. We conclude this chapter with the following discerning paragraph from McKeating:

(The predictions of Amos) were fulfilled to the letter, and within the prophet's own lifetime or shortly afterward. They were fulfilled while there were still plenty of people around who could remember what they said. Their words were therefore treated with respect and eventually written down.[46]

CORRECTION

We regret accepting in an unguarded moment the critical nonsense that the repeated expressions in Amos regarding: "for three transgressions ... yea, for four," to the effect that these are merely a stereotyped formula. This cannot be true; and we are delighted to correct the error in this Revised Edition.

We have the words repeated eight times that, "Thus saith Jehovah," making God Himself the author of these words, not Amos. Furthermore, there is no known recurrence of this formula anywhere else in the literature of all nations. It is therefore not a stereotype. We believe that there is an eternal message in this eight-fold warning. The three and four pattern holds good for the whole world of Adam's race. Adam's race has already been judicially hardened THREE TIMES; and the FOURTH AND FINAL TIME (perhaps even now beginning) will usher in the SECOND ADVENT AND FINAL JUDGMENT OF ADAM'S REBELLIOUS RACE!

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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 2:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/amos-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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