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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Amos 8

 

 

Verse 1

Amos, having effectively disposed of the interruption by Amaziah, proceeded to deliver his sermon. The first four visions actually occur in pairs, the two first being of disasters averted through prayer, and the next two announcing the summary and forthcoming end of Israel, the first of these (the third) having already been delivered. This fourth one, therefore (Amos 8:1-3) is not a recapitulation of the third, nor the introduction of any startling new element. Amos' denunciation continued as if nothing had occurred. "Notwithstanding the interference of Amaziah, the prophet finishes the recital of his visions."[1] Deane outlined the chapter thus: (1) the vision of the basket of the summer fruit (Amos 8:1-3); (2) The denunciation of the dealers (Amos 8:4-10); and (3) the warning of a famine of hearing God's Word and a wandering all over the earth by Israel (Amos 8:11-14).[2]

This fourth vision cannot be, therefore, a mere "reassertion of the thought contained in the third vision, which had been interrupted."[3] We may safely reject such allegations as, "these verses were inserted by a later editor of the book,"[4] based upon the bizarre and unfounded proposition that, "Amos had been imprisoned and executed,"[5] etc. As Smith has noted:

If Amos did not flee from Amaziah; and there is almost no reason to conclude that he did, it is conceivable that he stayed at Bethel to deliver the last two vision reports and the oracles that went with them.[6]

Not only is such a thing "conceivable," but it is clearly and logically an almost mandatory conclusion. We would amend Smith's admission that there is "almost no reason" to conclude otherwise with an affirmation that there is "no reason whatever" against this.

Amos 8:1-3

"And thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and, behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said Jehovah unto me, The end is come upon my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more. And the songs of the temple shall be wailings in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah: the dead bodies shall be many; in every place shall they cast them forth with silence."

This is the vision of the basket of summer fruit, the fourth vision in Amos' sequence.

"A basket of summer fruit ..." Despite this translation being widely received, there is, nevertheless, some question about it. Most commentators and translators are greatly impressed with what they see as a kind of pun in the similarities between the Hebrew word for "basket" and their word for "end."[7] But the Hebrew word from which this is translated actually means "a receiver"[8] and might just as well be translated "hook" for plucking, or receiving the fruit from the tree. The Catholic Bible gives it that meaning: "And behold a hook to draw down fruit."[9] In either case, the meaning is essentially the same, namely that the ripeness of the fruit signals the end of its cycle. Motyer commented that, "The harvest metaphor is well suited to the passage. The crop comes to harvest as the climax of its own inner development."[10]

"The end is come upon my people Israel ..." "The harvest is past and the summer is ended; and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8:20), was the plaintive cry of Jeremiah; and the same sad extremity is in view here.

"I will not again pass by them any more ..." As repeatedly in Amos, there is an indirect allusion to the passover experience of the children of Israel in Egypt when God "passed over" them and spared them from disaster; but this can no longer be expected. The people are ripe for judgment and destruction. (See under Amos 7:8, above.)

"The songs of the temple shall be wailings ..." Here again the translation should be corrected, as in the New English Bible,[11] to "the palace," instead of "the temple." The Jerusalem edifice is not in view here at all, as it is particularly the sins of the Northern Kingdom that are under consideration. The mistranslation is quite understandable, since the Hebrew text actually has a "Great House," which might mean either the temple, or the palace of the king. "The word came to the Hebrews from Babylonia, and literally signifies `Great House.'"[12]

"The dead bodies ... many, etc ... silence ..." This verse is rendered differently in several versions; and Fosbroke complained that, "The phrasing is abrupt, disjointed, and with no discernible grammatical construction," but, in spite of this, went on to state that even as the text stands, "it presents effectively the horrors of the aftermath of war, or possibly of pestilence."[13] We appreciate what McKeating said; "Amos seems to specialize in these fragmentary pictures, whose very lack of clarity makes them the more menacing."[14] Hammershalmb rendered the Hebrew text literally as, "The dead bodies are many! in every place one throws out, silence!"[15]

The most pertinent of all comment upon these verses is that of the Word of God itself, thus:

"But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish: ye shall not prolong your days in the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them" (Deuteronomy 30:17-20).

Prominent in that warning was the prohibition against worshipping other gods; and this was preeminently the sin which Israel had committed.


Verse 4

"Hear this, O ye that would swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail."

Well, what has this to do with worshipping other gods? It was a condition brought about by the rejection on the part of Israel of the allocation of the land on the basis of inheritance, in order to prevent the very type of landed aristocracy with a heartless disregard of the poor, which had replaced the theocratic arrangement given by the Lord when Israel entered Canaan. Their rebellion against God by their rejection of the theocracy and the elevation of a monarch, "like the nations surrounding them," was the beginning of their sorrows. What is in view in this verse is the end result and ripened fruit of that original departure from the Word of God.


Verse 5

"Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell grain? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and dealing falsely with balances of deceit?"

The heartless traders grudged even the sabbaths and feast days as interruptions in their business, which was simply that of cheating in every way possible. There had already come to its fruition in the Northern Kingdom, the diabolical sin that eventually culminated in the Jerusalem temple, designated by Jesus as "a den of thieves and robbers."

"The new moon ..." The feast of the new moon was allegedly derived from the commandment of God to offer sacrifices upon the first of each month (Numbers 28:11); but that is a far different thing from "worshipping the host of heaven" in any such thing as a feast of the new moon. That this feast (evidently of pagan origin) did creep into Jewish worship is clear enough, evidently having been introduced and established by King David (1 Chronicles 23:31), which in the light of other things that David did still leaves the practice questionable. We believe this is a clear instance in which it came to pass as declared by the martyr Stephen, "That God turned, and gave them up to serve the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42).

While the sabbath day was indeed a legitimate religious day, the same was not true of the "new moons"; and thus we have another example of the gross departure of Israel from their duty.

The Hebrews had twelve months; and thus there is no question of the first of each month falling upon the feast of the new moon as would (or might) have occurred had the Israelites been following a lunar month.

"Making the ephah small ..." Amazingly, of the dozen or so commentaries consulted on this, no two of them give the same size to the ephah! Harper noted that: "The size is not definitely known, being estimated at from 21.26 quarts to 40.62 quarts (Josephus)."[16]

"And the shekel great ..." Coinage was unknown until a later period; and weights were used for weighing the amount of silver, or other substance, used as the medium of exchange. Of course, if a dishonest tradesman used one set of weights for buying, and another set of weights for selling (neither of them being true), he would be able easily to defraud his customers. A similar deceit was used with regard to the ephah, a fact demonstrated by the truth that, until this day, nobody knows for sure what an ephah was! They were indeed a vicious class of robbers, exactly like those that Jesus ran out of the temple during his ministry.

"And dealing falsely with the balances of deceit ..." These were dishonest scales, indicating that current laws in every civilized state regarding weights and measurements, and the necessity of inspecting the scales in stores and markets continually, is anchored in the long experience of the human race with the very practices condemned here by the prophet Amos.

Before leaving this verse, the question at the beginning of it should be noted, for it was that question which Amos answered in Amos 8:9 - "When will the new moon be gone ... and the sabbath...?"


Verse 6

"That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, and sell the refuse of the wheat?"

This reference to buying the poor for silver, etc., is probably a reference to forcing the poor into slavery, through their unjust laws, due to their having defaulted upon some minor and trifling debt.

"Sell the refuse of the wheat ..." This is a third device pointed out in this passage, used for swindling and defrauding the customer. They were: (1) false measurements; (2) false scales; and (3) delivery of inferior merchandise. The refuse of the wheat was hardly fit for animals, as it was derived from the sweepings of the threshing floors; but these unscrupulous rascals were delivering it to the poor instead of the good merchandise which they were paying for. The corruption of the judicial system left them no recourse, and no respite, from such crooked dealers.


Verse 7

"Jehovah hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely, I will never forget any of their works."

Barnes understood this as the equivalent of "God's swearing by himself, since God was, in fact, the true excellency, or glory of Jacob (1 Samuel 15:29)."[17] In all likelihood, this is the true meaning of the passage; but there is another view which also has much to commend it. McKeating wrote that Amos' intention here is "ironic. One swears by what is fixed and unalterable, hence, 'by Jacob's monumental pride.'"[18] The Catholic Bible renders the place: "The Lord hath sworn against the pride of Jacob," etc.[19] Harper supported the second view, thus:

"Although Yahweh himself is Israel's glory (1 Samuel 15:29), the author of @@6:8 could hardly have described Yahweh as "the glory of Jacob": it is rather the vain-glorious boasting of Israel, by which, as an unchangeable fact, Yahweh swears scornfully.[20]

However the passage may be understood, or interpreted, the fact of God's utmost displeasure with the Northern Kingdom stands sharply in focus.


Verse 8

"Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? yea, it shall rise up wholly like the River; and it shall be troubled and sink again, like the River of Egypt."

It seems rather strange to compare the trembling of the earth with the rising and falling of the Nile River (as most interpret this), "because the rise and fall of the Nile River are quite gradual."[21] However, since the devastation caused by the Nile at flood (rising some 20 feet)[22] was tremendous, it is an apt figure of the overwhelming destruction in store for Israel. Thus, it would appear better to understand "tremble" as a metaphor for such a disaster, instead of "literally" as an earthquake, which does not seem to be indicated at all. There may be something else here. Dummelow pointed out the fact followed by most interpreters that the word for "River" used in this place is regularly employed for the Nile";[23] but Barnes noted that, "It is the Egyptian name for river which Israel brought with them out of Egypt, and is used either for the Nile, or for one of the artificial trenches derived from it,"[24] hence, by extension (through time) as the name of any river.

In this light, we interpret the verse as a reference to two rivers, not merely one, the application above pertaining to the second river, which was surely the Nile; but the other river is the one mentioned by Isaiah:

"Now, behold, therefore the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the River, strong and mighty, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall come up over all its channels, and go over all its banks, and it shall sweep onward and pass into Judah; it shall overflow and pass through (Isaiah 8:5-8)."

It will be noted that "River" in the first part of this verse is definitely not referred to as the "River of Egypt." Also, the fact that Assyria is clearly in the mind of Amos throughout this prophecy adds to the probability of their being two rivers in view. In that case, it would mean that the River (Assyria) would overflow against Israel in a manner ("as") like the well-known innundations of the Nile, "of Egypt" in that case being the identification of the river to which comparison was made, and not an identification of the first river.


Verse 9

"And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in a clear day."

This is Amos' answer to the question propounded by the dishonest traders in Amos 8:5, "When will the new moon... and the sabbath ... be gone?" Very well, the answer was: "At that time when the sun goes down at noon, and the earth is darkened in a clear day," an undeniable reference to the crucifixion of the Son of God, that being the only occasion in the history of the world when the sun set at noon, and the earth (not just a portion of it, but all of it) was darkened in a clear day! We may only marvel at the blindness of Biblical interpreters who fail to see this.

Some have tried to refer this to an eclipse, even attempting to discover which eclipse was meant; but, even as McKeating admitted, "It is pointless to decide that Amos 8:9 refers to an eclipse and then try to identify the eclipse!"[25] No eclipse ever recorded could be an example of the sun's "going down"; and, besides that, no eclipse ever involved more than the tiniest fraction of "the earth." "The language as Amos used it referred to more than just an eclipse of the sun,"[26] and it should be added, "something far different from any such natural phenomenon." It is also impossible to restrict the meaning of this passage to something that was to come to pass in the near future. As Mays pointed out:

"In general usage, the temporal phrase `in that day' would point to a time identified in the context (as in 1 Samuel 3:2). Here the context offers only the coming deeds of Yahweh as a specification of the time in question.[27]

It is clearly a supernatural event at some undetermined future time that Amos here prophesied; and, as already noted, the only event ever known that answers to it is that of the supernatural darkening of the sun for three hours, involving the entire earth, when our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. Such an ordinary event as an eclipse could not possibly be intended; and, there is the additional fact that, "Nowhere in the Old Testament is there direct mention of an eclipse."[28] Hammershaimb referred this prophecy to "the day of Judgment";[29] and Barnes spiritualized it and denied the reality of it: "Not that the sun was hidden, or the day disappeared, but that the mourners could see no light even at midday, for the darkness of their grief!"[30] All such interpretations appear to be blind to the circumstantial and specific fulfillment at the crucifixion. Perhaps part of the trouble (or, indeed, all of it) derives from the fact that men are unwilling to allow that we are dealing here with the Word of God. Dummelow said, "The eclipse of June 15,763 B.C. may have impressed his imagination powerfully."[31] This writer would not spend five minutes on the prophecy of Amos, if he saw nothing in it except the imagination of an ancient shepherd. This verse is an outstanding example of that heavenly phenomenon mentioned by Peter, to the effect that the ancient prophets uttered words which they themselves did not understand, and which they diligently studied in order to try to ascertain the meaning of what they had spoken (1 Peter 1:10-12). We believe that Amos, in this prophecy, is not likely to have had the slightest idea regarding how such a thing as he had prophesied could ever happen, and indeed might have thought such a thing to be absolutely impossible; but he was delivering the words of God! His own interpretation of them was probably to the effect that "there never would be a time when the sabbath would be gone"; but, of course, it was summarily abolished in the cross of Christ, a fact clearly stated by Paul in Colossians 2:14-17, a passage which entails some of the exact language of this very passage in Amos.

There are some things which must be discerned as literal in the Sacred Scriptures, and this prophecy is surely one of them. The ancients unanimously understood this passage as we have interpreted it: Irenaeus (i:510), Tertullian (iii:167), Cyprian (v:525) and Lactantius (vii:122) all unhesitatingly reading Amos' prophecy as a foretelling of our Lord's Passion.[32] (See more under Amos 8:10. below.)


Verse 10

"And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning for an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day."

There is not a figurative or symbolical word in this verse, strongly suggesting that the previous verse (Amos 8:9) is also to be understood literally. We may therefore reject the interpretation that explains it thus:

"To any man, the sun sets at noon, when he is suddenly snatched away by death in the very midst of life. And this also applies to a nation when it is suddenly destroyed in the midst of its earthly prosperity."[33]

Of course, this figurative application of the passage is indeed true; but we cannot receive this as the primary meaning of it. Israel was not being destroyed at the "high noon" of their prosperity, but at its sunset, when their sin had about finished its course and at a time when they were fully ripe for destruction.

"Baldness upon every head ..." This is not the prophecy of some kind of scalp disease; the reference is to the Jewish custom of shaving the head as a sign of mourning; and the universality of it indicated that there would be mourning everywhere.


Verse 11

"Behold the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Jehovah."

Many great and wonderful prophets were yet to speak the message of threatened doom and the call to repentance upon Israel's part; but Amos here definitely prophesied an end to the prophetic missions. This was most remarkably fulfilled during the inter-testamental period between the OT and the New Testament, when no prophet spoke anything at all to the wayward and rebellious people of Israel. This literally came to pass. This verse is labeled as "a comment later inserted into the text by mistake";[34] but if that is so, how do the critics account for the truth that it was fulfilled exactly over a period of three or four centuries? That fulfillment was noticed and incorporated into the Psalms:

We see not our signs:

There is no more any prophet;

Neither is there among us any that knoweth how long

- Psalms 74:9.

Only the inspiration of God could have so accurately foretold the true course of events in the future of Israel.


Verse 12

"And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of Jehovah, and shall not find it."

Although this was fulfilled by the cessation of the prophetic missions to Israel in the long centuries preceding Christ:

"The wide scope taken by the prophecy, which is not exhausted by one fulfillment, reveals here the fate of the Jews to the present time hopelessly seeking Messiah and the Word of God, never finding that which they once recklessly rejected."[35]

"Shall wander from sea to sea ..." Some have tried to read this as a reference to the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean, thus confining its application to Palestine; but in Zechariah 9:10 it is a clear reference meaning, "from one end of the earth to the other." Harper, after citing the other view, admitted that, "Perhaps, the term is a more general one, meaning the ends of the earth."[36] The ancient quotation from Jerome, cited by Butler, gives the true sense:

"They roam restlessly about the world and seek the Word of God; but they find it not, because they have killed the incarnate Word revealed in the written Word."[37]


Verse 13

"In that day shall the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst."

This indicates that the flower and glory of Israel shall not be spared from the disaster achieved by their leaders who were the architects of their long and stubborn rebellion against God. But it must not be thought that the terrible results of such a famine were restricted to Israel. No, indeed! Every people which forgets God and rejects the Christ shall suffer the same fate; and there is much in our own culture today to suggest that the same fate may be in store for our own nation:

"Thousands and thousands of young people across our land, disillusioned and starved to death on the garbage of the contemporary `intellectualism,' are `running to and fro' seeking a voice of authority, a life which consists of more than `things.'"[38]

Many of the very same mistakes that deceived and eventually destroyed ancient Israel are the "accepted assumptions" of our current society. See more on this under the next verse.


Verse 14

"They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, As thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, As the way of Beersheba liveth; they shall fall, and never rise again."

"They that swear by the sin of Samaria ..." This expression means, "The calves at Dan and Bethel, and to `swear by,' means `to worship.'"[39] McKeating, following the New English Bible, translated this, "All who take their oath by Ashimah, goddess of Samaria";[40] but this cannot possibly be correct. The New English Bible and other translations following this alleged "reading" represent a colossal "goof" as far as Biblical translation goes. In the first place, the Hebrew text, which alone we receive as inspired, clearly has, "The guilt of Samaria, which is a reference to the idolatrous worship carried on there."[41] Furthermore, the change to "Ashimah" in this verse involves "a change" in the Hebrew text[42] a change for which there is no authority. By changing it a little more, they could make it read, "Diana of the Ephesians!" But that is not all of it, the intrusion of "Ashima" into this passage makes the verse applicable to a period long after the time when Amos lived; and, of course, the perverted meaning is promptly made the basis for an assault upon the integrity of the passage and the discarding of the whole verse as the work of a later author! It is merely the old device of misinterpreting, or mistranslating, a passage, and then making that error the basis of an attack upon the Bible!

"The sin of Samaria ..." which is under indictment here was that of worshipping the golden calves, one at Dan, the other at Bethel; and they are attributed to "Samaria," because Samaria was the capital of the country in which this monstrous departure from God's Word had taken place. Deane concurred in this view, thus:

"The sin of Samaria (means) the golden calf at Bethel. The expression, `Thy god, O Dan, liveth' refers to the other calf erected at Dan, near the source of the Jordan, in the extreme north."[43]

Smith also concurred in the judgment that the best reading of the Hebrew text in this place is "the guilt of Samaria,"[44] and not "Ashimah."

"As the way of Beersheba liveth ..." This is another instance of swearing by, or worshipping a false god, a fact deduced from the terminology employed here. Smith observed that, "The word he (lives) is used in both lines, always used in Hebrew to swear by false gods and nonsacral objects, Ha was used when oaths were taken in the name of the true God."[45] In this light, it must be true that both the god of Dan, and the way of Beersheba are references to false deities.

What a remarkable thing it is, therefore, to encounter the stout denials of commentators that there was anything wrong in that worship in Israel, except their insincerity and their oppressiveness!

"Those who, in Amos' time, swore `by the life of your god, O Dan, would not think of themselves as apostates. Neither does swearing `By the sacred way to Beersheba' in itself imply apostasy!'"[46]

Although no particular false god is mentioned in connection with "the way of Beersheba," there was, in all probably such an idol there. The notion has been advanced that the Israelitish pilgrims to the place adored "the sacred way" that led to it; but, as Harper admitted, "It is possible to understand `way' of the method of worship at Bethel."[47]

Hammershaimb beautifully summarized this verse thus:

"The god that they worship and swear by is therefore not the true Yahweh, but a god which they have fashioned to their own desires."[48] Idolatry in the Northern Kingdom had come of age. The people no longer either recognized or honored the true and Almighty God, but instead, worshipped and swore by their golden idols. Added to that was the licentious and abominable worship they practiced there; and if that was not apostasy, there never was such a thing.

"They shall fall, and never rise again ..." When God's judgment was decreed against his ungrateful and apostate people, it was determined that the pagan gods they worshipped, together with the shrines that honored them, would be utterly, completely, and finally destroyed.

It should be remembered in contemplating the fulfillment of this death sentence against the Northern Kingdom that it was terminal. The ten tribes which comprised it never returned to Canaan; their course through subsequent history, as regards any of their survivors, is totally unknown, buried by the dust of more than twenty-six centuries. The southern kingdom was granted some additional respite, due to God's purpose of bringing in the Messiah through their posterity; but when that was accomplished; and, after a due season in which God further extended his mercy and offered them the gospel, and after their complete rejection of that, they were perpetually hardened "until the times of the Gentiles be come in" (Romans 11:25); their vaunted temple was reduced to rubble, their capital city ravished and destroyed, over a million of them being put to death by the sword; and their state perished from the earth for the space of almost two millenniums of time!

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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 8:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/amos-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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