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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Amos 3

 

 


Verse 1

The nature of Amos 3-6 has been disputed; but it appears that Keil's analysis is correct:

"The contents of these chapters show that they do not contain three separate addresses delivered to the people by Amos at different times, but that they group together the leading thoughts of appeals delivered by word of mouth, so as to form one long admonition to repentance."[1]

Amos had just concluded the great prophecy looking to the utter destruction of eight nations; and, as regarded the six pagan nations included, the Israelites were indeed delighted to have it so; but much to their consternation and disappointment, the prophet had included them, both Judah and Israel, in the doom foretold; therefore, Amos dealt with the reasons why the favored and chosen people, "the whole family" which God brought up out of Egypt, would also be destroyed, and why that destruction was fully deserved. The children of Israel had long disregarded the words of comfort, instruction, and discipline which God, through many prophets, had spoken to them; "And now they shall be made to hear the word of reproof and threatening that the Lord has spoken against them; for he will act as he has spoken."[2] Beginning with Amos 3, this word of denunciation and warning continues through Amos 6.

The divisions of this chapter usually noted are:

An introductory justification of his message (Amos 3:1-8).

Samaria as an oppressor (Amos 3:9-10).

The Doom of Samaria foretold (Amos 3:11-12).

The Doom of Bethel foretold (Amos 3:13-15).

Thus, it is evident that the particular subject of this chapter is the northern kingdom, especially the capital of Samaria, and also the center of the nation's religious life at Bethel.

INTRODUCTORY AUTHENTICATION

Amos 3:1

"Hear this word which Jehovah hath spoken against you. O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt.

"Against the whole family ..." The indictment is against the entire covenant people, both Judah and Israel. Judah had already been warned of impending doom (Amos 2:4); and, as the principal thrust of the whole prophecy is against Israel, the prophet turned immediately to the business in hand.

"Which I brought up out of Egypt ..." The thing which Amos was called to do lay totally beyond the thought-pattern of God's "chosen people," who had assumed that their unusual privileges endowed upon them a status of exemption from any unusual requirements. It was inconceivable to them that their God would punish them for wickedness, no matter how great it was; God was thought to be their tower of strength always, no matter what they did. It was surely a difficult task which Amos discharged in "getting through" to the people with that attitude. It was this difficulty which led him to authentication of his message in Amos 3:3-8. This is also probably the reason why, in these chapters, "The prophet shows in greater detail the depth to which Israel had fallen and the inevitability of God's righteous judgment upon them as a result."[3]


Verse 2

"You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities.

"You only have I known ..." "The word `known' in this context is a covenant word, used to describe a relationship instead of cognition."[4] It means, "Jehovah chose Israel alone to be his people."[5] To infer from this that God had no information of other nations, or that, in any sense, he was unaware of them, "would be a limitation upon God's nature,"[6] and also a notion utterly confounded by the stern judgments against other nations appearing in this very prophecy. In short, the doctrine of the election of Israel is the thing in view; but Amos revealed an altogether shocking corollary of it, responsibility and conformity to the will of God, a corollary that Israel had overlooked. Instead of reading their election as:

Now that we are God's, he will help and bless us no matter what we do.

Amos gave them the true version of it:

Now that we are God's, he will surely punish us for all of our iniquities.

It is amazing how this ancient delusion of Israel persists even today in millions of people who think they are "saved by faith alone." God's election, God's grace, God's covenant with his people has from the beginning, continually, and always rested upon the contingency that the recipients of his mercy would continue to love God, and to the best of their ability, obey him.

Christians today should also read the true version of their salvation by the grace of God:

We are God's, and therefore we are under the uttermost obligation to love him and obey him.


Verse 3

"Shall two walk together except they have agreed? Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing? Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is set for him? shall a snare spring from the ground, and have taken nothing at all? Shall the trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid? Shall evil befall a city, and Jehovah hath not done it?

These verses are the prelude to Amos 3:7,8, below; and they consist of a series of questions, each of which demands a negative answer from the hearers, an answer that is not awaited, for it is considered obvious.

"Shall two walk together ..." Israel's having forsaken God's way means that they are no longer "agreed" with God. "Can they continue together? The law of cause and effect operates to separate them."[7] As Butler noted, "This verse is often quoted in treatises on `Unity,' but Amos 3:3 has nothing to do with the subject of `Unity.'"[8] There is a sin and consequence relationship in all of the statements here. They all mean the same thing: "No calamities or judgments can fall upon any people, but by the express will of God, on account of their iniquities."[9] All of these sayings likewise have a cause and effect connection. "They illustrate the truth that all effects have causes, and that from the cause you can infer the effect."[10]

GOD IN HISTORY

One of the big things in this whole passage is Amos' view of history, not as the accidental and opportunistic deployment of peoples upon the earth, but as a "controlled" entity, subject, absolutely to the will of God. Nations rise and fall by God's will only, wicked nations being used for a season to punish the righteous, but themselves being quickly liquidated when their sins have gone beyond that hidden boundary that separates God's mercy from his wrath.

No matter how men resent and oppose this view of history, it is nevertheless the truth. Nebuchadnezzar was compelled to eat grass with the beasts of the earth for seven years in order that he might know that, "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25). Paul affirmed that, "God made of one every nation of men ... and determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation, that they should seek God" (Acts 17:26,27). The reason that one nation is blessed is that they might seek God and lead others to know him; and the reason that another nation is oppressed is that they may be punished for their iniquities and know repentance.

So-called "modern man" rejects a premise such as this, as effectively stated by McKeating:

"They (the Israelites) did not think of themselves as wicked. Most modern men would deny the logic of the conclusion. It would be reassuring if history could be shown to exhibit a consistent moral purpose, but such a pattern is difficult to demonstrate convincingly."[11]

Aside from the viewpoint of basic humanism regarding the oppression of the poor, most "modern men" find nothing at all wrong with the conduct of the Israelites. Such vices as drunkenness, adultery, fornication, idol-worship, neglect of religious duty, etc., are merely "doing what comes naturally." Despite the unawareness of the terrible sinfulness of sin which characterizes our own generation to a degree rivaling, we fear, that of ancient Israel itself, God still rules in the kingdom of men; offenses against God will be severely punished; and nations that forget God shall be turned to destruction, regardless of whether or not "modern man" believes it. Ancient Israel did not believe, nor did any other of the eight nations confronted by the judgments of Amos' prophecy; but where are any of those nations now?

"Will a lion ... will a young lion ..." These two similies have the same meaning. Just as the roar of the lion, or the growl of the young lion, means that the prey is before them, the roaring of the prophet against Israel means that, "God not only has before him the nation that is ripe for judgment, but that he has it in his power."[12]

"Can a bird fall into a snare ... etc." The two previous similes were from the standpoint of the predator; in these two (Amos 3:5) the standpoint is that of the prey. "The snare" which God has set for sinners is "the consequence" inevitably connected with evil doing. The very consequences of evil indicate that the Infinite Intelligence wills it so. He indeed has "set the snare." The springing up of the trap is always the consequence of the trigger having been set off by the trespasser. None of the judgments, therefore, which have already been declared by Amos against Israel, and which he is here attempting to explain to the unbelieving people, are in any sense capricious or undeserved. Israel has tripped the trigger of the wrath of God; and the trap would not have sprung had this not been so. Keil quoted a passage from Jeremiah to explain what is said here: "Can destruction possibly overtake you, unless your sin draw you into it? (Jeremiah 2:35)."[13]

"Gin ..." as used in Amos 3:5, "is an old English contraction of `engine.' referring to the mechanism that releases the trap."[14]

"Shall the trumpet be blown in a city and the people not be afraid ..." Here is "the application of the two sets of illustrations,"[15] namely, that the prey hear the voice of the predator and are afraid. Israel has heard the roar of the lion in the prophetic warnings of Amos, and they should be afraid. Motyer pointed out here that:

"The only view of history that the Bible espouses is that the Lord is the Great Agent. Behind every event stands a cause; behind all history stands the Lord (Isaiah 45:5-7). Maybe thus they will prepare themselves for his future acts of judgment."[16]

Keil likewise discerned this as the import of this passage:

"As the trumpet when blown frightens the people out of their self-security, so will the voice of the prophet... The calamity which is bursting upon them comes from Jehovah, and is sent by him for punishment."[17]


Verse 7

"Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, except he reveal his secret unto his servants the prophets. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord Jehovah hath spoken; who can but prophecy?

The logic of this verse requires its placement exactly where it is. The foolish arguments of some to the effect that "this is a later insertion,"[18] are effectually denied and refuted by the sheer necessity of this thought in relation to what has preceded it. The whole passage gives the prophetic view of history as a drama in which sin is punished and righteousness rewarded; omitting Amos 3:7,8 would have been subject to the objection in Amos' hearers that such calamities as those foretold would have been "unfair without adequate warning." Very well, Amos here affirmed the validity of such a forensic objection, but set it aside by the fact that his great prophecy was itself the adequate warning, indicating also that thus it had ever been with God's dealings with the human race. Howard commented on the unity and skillful arrangement of this passage thus:

"The whole saying (Amos 3:1-8) is a very skillful linkage of cause and effect, developed as a series of questions leading up to the final statement (Amos 3:8), that in the same way as natural events are linked in such a causal chain, so too there is a causal relationship behind his own words to Israel."[19]


Verse 9

"Publish ye in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold what great tumults are therein, and what oppressions in the midst thereof.

SAMARIA AS AN OPPRESSOR (Amos 3:9-10)

"In the palaces of Ashdod ..." The desire of some scholars to translate this "Assyria" instead of Ashdod should be rejected. There is no other mention of Assyria in this prophecy (although it is evident enough that Assyria was clearly the enemy Amos had in mind); but the proposition here seems geared to the ancient fear of Israel that their wickedness and calamities should be known to their traditional enemies. Following the death of Saul, the lament took this form:

Tell it not in Gath,

Publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon;

Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice

- 2 Samuel 1:20

There is definitely an echo of this in the verse before us. "Ashdod" also carries a more pointed meaning for Israel than would "Assyria" in this verse. "It is a more stinging implication that the Philistines (Ashdod) and the Egyptians, the two hated ancestral enemies were morally superior to Israel."[20] "It was to the eternal disgrace of Israel that there were doings in her cities which the very heathen would condemn."[21]

"Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria ..." The imagery is that of a court of world-judgment summoned to take places of advantage overlooking Samaria and to view the terrible wickedness that was perpetuated there. "The mountains are Ebal and Gerizim, from which one could look down upon Samaria."[22]


Verse 10

"For they know not to do right, saith Jehovah, who store up robbery and violence in their palaces.

"Know not to do right ..." Butler paraphrased this, "Israel does not even know how to do right."[23] This charge is perhaps the worst of all:

"It speaks of a state of depravity in which the conscience ceases to function properly and the sinner is unable to distinguish between right and wrong ... When people do not do right, the time comes when they cannot do right."[24]

"Store up robbery and violence ..." The most of the commentators interpret this to mean that the gains of those who lived in palaces were stored in their strongholds; but it could very well mean that the people trusting in their wealth were merely storing up plunder for the forthcoming invader. Smith agreed that, "Society was only storing up or postponing the day of violence ... a foreign invasion or internal disruption."[25] However interpreted, it simply means that the day of judgment upon their wickedness is promptly coming.


Verse 11

"Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: an adversary there shall be, even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be plundered.

DOOM OF SAMARIA FORETOLD (Amos 3:11-12)

It will be noted that there are multiple references to: "saith Jehovah, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, etc." in this section, and, in fact, throughout Amos; but the conclusion of critical scholars that, "The multiplicity of introductory formulae shows that here we have a collection of three or four fragmentary sayings,"[26] should be rejected as unfounded and unproved. The repetition of such expressions is merely characteristic of Amos' style, a fact that cannot be denied. Look at the repeated questions that are propounded in Amos 3:3-6. Repetition was also a characteristic of the teachings of Jesus our Lord.

"There shall be ..." It will be noted that these words are italicized in the ASV and in the KJV, but they should nevertheless be retained. "The KJV here makes sense of the awkward Hebrew text by introducing there shall be."[27]

"The three measures of the line (Amos 3:11) sketch in terse staccato sentences the stages of a military campaign: invasion, siege, and looting. The foe is not identified; but it is generally assumed that the Assyrians are in mind."[28]


Verse 12

"Thus saith Jehovah: As the shepherd rescueth out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be rescued that sit in Samaria in the corner of a couch, and on the silken cushions of a bed.

This and the preceding verse relate the doom of Samaria; and this verse is addressed to the possible hope that they would be rescued. Rescued? Yes, but it will be like the gory remains when a shepherd picked up a part of the carcass which had been devoured by a lion, nothing worth rescuing! To the query of the present that might be expected today as to why the shepherd would pick up such worthless pieces of a carcass, it was due to the law of God (Exodus 22:13). "A shepherd was accountable to the sheep-owner for any animal lost, unless he could prove it was lost owing to circumstances beyond his control."[29] Note that this indirect reference to the Pentateuch together with the implied assumption that all of Israel knew it shows beyond question that the Pentateuch was not merely in existence, but that it had been known for a long, long time prior to the days of Amos. Thus, the rescue which is mentioned in this verse is a "rescue" of that which is worthless. Of Israel, "Nothing will be saved that is worth saving."[30] It implies that, the Divine Shepherd (Psalms 23), on whose protection they presumed, now only wanted the evidence of their death."[31]

The translation of this verse, which is very difficult due to uncertainties in the text, is given thus in the New English Bible:

"As a shepherd rescues out of the jaws of a lion two shin bones or the tip of an ear,

"So shall the Israelites who live in Samaria be rescued like the corner of a couch or a chip from the leg of a bed."

This translation has the merit of rounding out the simile more perfectly. Furthermore, this rendition is known to have been fulfilled literally when excavations at Samaria uncovered broken pieces of furniture and remnants of the ivory house of Ahab. "These fragments must be what was left when the city was sacked by the Assyrians in 722 B.C."[32] Despite the attractiveness of the New English Bible rendition, however, Fosbroke defended the "silken cushions" of the ASVas being "satisfactory as any."[33] In that rendition, the meaning is the same, but not as dramatically stated, the focus shifting to the luxurious lives of the Samaritans.


Verse 13

"Hear ye, and testify against the house of Jacob, saith the Lord Jehovah, the God of hosts.

DOOM OF BETHEL FORETOLD (Amos 3:13-15)

This is a reference to the ten northern tribes, as indicated in the next verses by the mention of the altars of Bethel.

"The Lord Jehovah, the God of hosts ..." "This full title appears nowhere else in the book,"[34] indeed nowhere else in the entire Bible. "It emphasizes in a special way the omnipotence of God for the purpose of magnifying the effect of the predicted judgment."[35] "In Hebrew the name is [~'Adonay] [~Yahweh] [~'Elohiym] [~Tsba'owth]."[36] It is from the last member of this quadruple designation that our word "Sabaoth" is derived. The Lord of Sabaoth means "the Lord of Hosts" and is found some 300 times in the Old Testament. The imagery of "Lord of Sabaoth, Lord of Hosts" is that of the ruler over an organized host, such as a great army, or all of the angels of heaven.


Verse 14

"For in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him, I will also visit the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.

The singling out of the polluted shrine at Bethel is significant, as this was the seat of the religion of Israel. It will be recalled that when Jeroboam led the ten tribes in their secession from "the house of David," he was alarmed that the people returning to Jerusalem to worship God might eventually defect from his authority; he perpetuated a most contemptible and daring perversion of the worship of God:

"Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he said unto them (the people), `It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: Behold thy gods, O Israel which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan'" (1 Kings 12:28,29).

"It has commonly been assumed that the golden calves were direct representations of Yahweh as bull-god,"[37] and some commentators claim that the true God was thus worshipped in Israel; but the very making of those golden calves was a flagrant violation of the law of God as known for centuries prior to Jeroboam. Aaron, it will be remembered, had done such a thing in the wilderness of wanderings while Moses was absent to receive the tables of the law, an event quite early in Israel's history; and that sinful episode had resulted in unqualified disaster for the Israelites. This action, therefore, on the part of Jeroboam was actually a repudiation of the worship of God, no matter how he had dressed it up and attempted to make it look like a "new form" of genuine worship. "The bull affiliations of Baal were too closely connected with the more degrading aspects of pagan cults to be safe, and there is every indication that the Northern Kingdom fell a prey to idolatrous pollution as a result."[38] The stinging words of this prophecy also indicate that the people were lying down upon pledged garments "beside every altar" (Amos 2:8), a plain reference to the fornication that was openly practiced in "the house of god!" Israel had forsaken the true God and had gone back to the gross idolatry of the old Canaanites, even adoring their filthy old "bull god." It is no wonder that God promised to "visit" those altars in Bethel, with the purpose of their total destruction. "The punishment of these altars suggests that false religion is the root of social decadence."[39] In fact, false religion was the root of all Israel's sorrow.

Together with Amos 3:15, below, we have in this denunciation of Bethel God's emphatic "cease and desist" in regard to all that Israel held dear. The word "house" as repeatedly used in the passage shows the completeness of this stop order which was hurled against them from heaven. Note the following from Mays:

"House of Jacob, house of God (Beth-El), winter house, summer house, ivory house, and great house. What Israel had built stands as the manifestation of the nation's rebellions. The devastation of these houses is the actualization of Yahweh's "No" to Israel's cult and culture."[40]

The claim of the Israelites, of course, was that they were indeed worshipping the true God, a farce which they encouraged by observing many of the rituals and commandments of the law of Moses. Burnt offerings, thank offerings, and meal offerings were presented there (Amos 5:22); but as Dummelow wrote:

"All this was vitiated by two faults: (1) The god whom the worshippers adored was not the Holy One, who alone is worthy, but a mere nature god, and (2) the worship was not of a kind to make men better; but it was closely associated with immorality and with luxurious eating and drinking."[41]


Verse 15

"And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith Jehovah.

The heartless affluence, luxury and self-satisfied unconcern of the ruling classes in Israel were the sins of the people who owned and lived in the houses described in this passage; and their rich and easy lives had been made possible through all kinds of corruption and deceit as outlined in Amos' prophecy. They would sell a man into slavery for a pair of shoes. God announced that he was putting an end to that kind of culture, an end which came within the lifetime of those who heard Amos' words. We cannot highly regard the words of McKeating who criticized Amos as a nomad who was merely hostile to the refinements of city life, saying that his "was the uncomprehending indignation of what he sees as the vices of city life."[42] This is totally wrong. It was not Amos' indignation that is poured out in Amos, but the indignation of the infinite God. Mays more clearly understood the words of this remarkable prophecy thus:

"The judgment which Amos announces is no ascetic primitivism, growing out of simple hostility against a commercial culture and its influence. The houses were built beam by beam, and stone by stone, from a store of crimes."[43]

"Houses of ivory ..." The import of this is not likely to be that houses were built entirely out of this substance, but rather that they were extensively decorated with it. The Bible mentions the "ivory house which Ahab built" (1 Kings 22:39).

"Winter houses and summer houses ..." Plural houses were provided for some who could afford them with elevations that were designed to provide comfort in diverse seasons.

That ancient culture, founded upon the heartless oppression of the poor, is not the only such society that God has destroyed, as a trip through the palaces of Europe will quickly demonstrate. Maria Theresa's bedroom was decorated with over three million dollars worth of gold and precious stones. Wherever such selfishness is enshrined and honored, the wrath of God abides there forever.

"The horns of the altar shall be cut off ..." The horns of the altar were supposed to be its most sacred part; and, in pagan societies, a criminal could claim refuge by taking hold of the horns of the altar; but this was not allowed in Israel. Joab attempted to do this but was executed in spite of his doing so (1 Kings 2:28ff). The meaning is simply that the whole religious apparatus at Bethel shall perish, along with the rest of Israel.

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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 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/amos-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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