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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Amos 5

 

 

Verse 1

This message begins as the previous two did, with a call to hear the Lord"s word. However here Amos announced that what follows is a dirge (Heb. qinah) against the house of Israel. A dirge was a lament that was sung at the funeral of a friend, relative, or prominent person (e.g, 2 Samuel 1:17-27; 2 Samuel 3:33-34; 2 Chronicles 35:25). The prophets used the dirge genre to prophesy the death of a city, people, or nation (cf. Jeremiah 7:29; Jeremiah 9:10-11; Jeremiah 9:17-22; Lam.; Ezekiel 19; Ezekiel 26:17-18; Ezekiel 27:2-32; Ezekiel 28:12-19; Ezekiel 32:2). Amos announced Israel"s death, the fall of the Northern Kingdom, at the height of its prosperity under Jeroboam II.

"To his listeners, hearing this lament would be as jarring as reading one"s own obituary in the newspaper." [Note: Sunukjian, p1438.]


Verses 1-3

A description of certain judgment5:1-3


Verses 1-17

3. The third message on injustice5:1-17

The structure of this message is chiastic, which focuses attention and emphasis on the middle part.

A A description of certain judgment Amos 5:1-3

B A call for individual repentance Amos 5:4-6

C An accusation of legal injustice Amos 5:7

D A portrayal of sovereign Yahweh Amos 5:8-9

C" An accusation of legal injustice Amos 5:10-13

B" A call for individual repentance Amos 5:14-15

A" A description of certain judgment Amos 5:16-17

Another structural feature stresses the solidarity between Yahweh and His prophet, namely, the alternation between of the words of Amos ( Amos 5:1-2; Amos 5:6-9; Amos 5:14-15) and the words of God ( Amos 5:3-5; Amos 5:10-13; Amos 5:16-17).


Verse 2

Amos announced that the virgin Israel, in the prime of her beauty and vigor, had fallen fatally. "Fallen" in funeral songs usually means "fallen in battle" (cf. 2 Samuel 1:19; 2 Samuel 1:25; 2 Samuel 1:27; 2 Samuel 3:34; Lamentations 2:21). She would never rise to her former position again. No one came to her aid, even Yahweh (cf. Judges 6:13; 2 Kings 21:14; Isaiah 2:6). She lay forsaken in her land.


Verse 3

Israelite cities that had sent1 ,000 soldiers against Israel"s enemy saw only100 survive, and smaller towns that sent out only100 soldiers saw only10 come home alive. No nation could survive such devastating defeat in war.


Verse 4-5

Yahweh invited the Israelites to seek Him so they might live. Even though national judgment and death were inevitable, individuals could still live. Announcements of impending judgment almost always allow for the possibility of individual repentance (cf. Jeremiah 18:1-10). The Israelites should not seek the Lord at the popular Israelite shrines at Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba in southern Judah, however. All these worship centers stood at cites that were important in Israel"s earlier history, but God had commanded His people to worship Him at Jerusalem. There is a play on words regarding Bethel. "Bethel" means "house of God," but it would become "Beth Aven," meaning "house of nothing." "Aven" (nothing) often referred to the powerless spirits of wickedness (cf. Isaiah 41:22-24; Isaiah 41:28-29).

"During my years of ministry, I"ve been privileged to speak at many well-known conference grounds in the United States, Canada, and overseas. I"ve met people at some of these conferences who actually thought that their physical presence by that lake, in that tent or tabernacle, or on that mountain would change their hearts. They were depending on the "atmosphere" of the conference and their memories of them, but they usually went home disappointed. Why? Because they didn"t seek God." [Note: Wiersbe, p357.]


Verses 4-6

A call for individual repentance5:4-6

This pericope is also chiastic (Bethel, Gilgal, Beersheba, Gilgal, Bethel).


Verse 6

Amos , as well as the Lord ( Amos 5:4), invited the Israelites to seek the Lord by doing good and refraining from evil so they might live (cf. Amos 5:14-15). The alternative would be God"s judgment breaking forth and unquenchably consuming the whole house of Joseph (i.e, the Northern Kingdom, whose main tribe was Ephraim, a son of Joseph).

"Fear of judgment may not be the highest motive for obeying God, but the Lord will accept it." [Note: Ibid.]


Verse 7

An accusation of legal injustice5:7

The reason for Yahweh"s consuming judgment of Israel was that the Israelites were turning sweet justice into something bitter and were throwing righteousness to the ground with disrespect. These figures picture their total contempt for what was right (cf. Proverbs 1:3; Proverbs 2:9; Proverbs 8:20; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 28:17). Right conduct was the proper action, and justice was the result, but the Israelites had despised both in their courts. Instead of the judicial system functioning like medicine, healing wrongs and soothing the oppressed, the Israelites had turned it into poison.


Verse 8-9

A portrayal of sovereign Yahweh5:8-9

Since Yahweh made the Pleiades and Orion, constellations of stars, He could bring His will to pass on earth too. The rising of the Pleiades before daybreak heralded the arrival of spring, and the rising of Orion after sunset signaled the onset of winter. [Note: Sunukjian, p1439.] Since Yahweh brings light out of darkness in the morning and darkens the day at night, He could change the fate of Israel from prosperity to adversity. Since He calls the waters of the sea to form clouds and then empties them on the land, He can pour out judgment on the land as well. Yahweh is the name of this God, the covenant God of Israel. Israel"s pagan neighbors attributed all these activities to their idols, and many of the Israelites worshipped them, but Yahweh was the only God who could do these things. The one who would flash forth like lightning from heaven, striking the strong oppressors with destruction and bringing an end to their fortresses on earth, was Yahweh.


Verse 10

Amos cited other reasons for the coming judgment. The Israelites hated judges who reproved evildoers in the city gate, where the court convened, and witnesses who spoke the truth. When influential people in a society despise the truth, there is little hope that it will remain stable and secure.


Verses 10-13

Another accusation of legal injustice5:10-13

This pericope is also chiastic. Intimidation and abusive treatment flank an announcement of covenant violation.


Verse 11

They imposed high rents and taxes of grain on the poor to keep them tenants on the land (cf. Exodus 23:2; Exodus 23:6).

"The small farmer no longer owns his own land; he is a tenant of an urban class to whom he must pay a rental for the use of the land, a rental that was often a lion"s share of the grain which the land had produced." [Note: Mays, p94.]

The oppressors used this illegally obtained income to build themselves luxurious homes. The Lord promised that He would make it impossible for these evil people to live in their fancy houses and enjoy the fruits of their vineyards.


Verse 12

Yahweh knew the many transgressions of His covenant and the great sins that these perverters of justice committed. They had distressed the righteous by their unrighteous conduct, accepted bribes from the wealthy, and made it impossible for the poor to get fair treatment in the courts. God was looking for justice (in their relationships to one another) and for righteousness (in their relationship to Him). This dual emphasis on justice and righteousness runs throughout the Book of Amos.


Verse 13

Life had become so corrupt that keeping quiet about these abuses of power had become the only prudent thing to do. If a person spoke out against them, he could count on feeling the wrath of the powerful.


Verse 14

Again the prophet urged the Israelites to seek good rather than evil so they could live (cf. Amos 5:4-6). Then the sovereign, almighty Yahweh would truly be with them, as they professed He was even as they practiced their injustice (cf. Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 20:4; Deuteronomy 31:8; Judges 6:12; Isaiah 8:10; Zephaniah 3:15; Zephaniah 3:17). He would become their defender rather then their prosecutor.


Verse 14-15

Another call for individual repentance5:14-15


Verse 15

They should hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate (a metonym for the courts). Perhaps then sovereign, almighty Yahweh would be gracious to the faithful remnant in the Northern Kingdom and deliver them.


Verse 16-17

Another description of certain judgment5:16-17

This message concludes by returning to a further description of conditions when Yahweh would judge Israel (cf. Amos 5:1-3). The sovereign Yahweh of armies, Israel"s master, announced wailing in all the open plazas of the Israelite towns and in their streets. There would be many funerals. Everyone would bewail the conditions of divine judgment, not just the professional mourners but even the poor farmers who would have to bury their oppressors. The vineyards, often places of joy and merriment, would be full of mourning, as would the streets. Yahweh promised to pass through the midst of His people, not to bless them but to blast them with punishment. Earlier God had passed through Egypt with similar devastating results (cf. Exodus 11:4-7; Exodus 12:12-13).


Verse 18

The prophet began his message by crying, "Alas" ( Hebrews , hoy, woe, oh). This word announced coming doom, another funeral lament (cf. Amos 5:1). Many Israelites in Amos" day were looking forward to a coming day of the Lord. Former prophets had spoken of a day in which Yahweh would conquer His enemies and the enemies of His people and establish His sovereign rule over the world (e.g, Deuteronomy 33:2-3; Joel 3:18-21, and perhaps Isaiah 24:21-23; Isaiah 34:1-3; Isaiah 34:8). The Israelites knew that this was going to be a time of great divine blessing, but Amos informed them that it would also be a time of divine chastisement. It would be a time of darkness rather than light (cf. Jeremiah 46:10; Joel 3:1-17; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 14:1-3). God would judge His people before He blessed them.


Verses 18-20

A description of inevitable judgment5:18-20


Verses 18-27

4. The fourth message on unacceptable worship5:18-27

This lament also has a chiastic structure. It centers on a call for individual repentance.

A A description of inevitable judgment Amos 5:18-20

B An accusation of religious hypocrisy Amos 5:21-22

C A call for individual repentance Amos 5:23-24

B" An accusation of religious hypocrisy Amos 5:25-26

A" A description of inevitable judgment Amos 5:27


Verse 19

The coming day of the Lord would mean inescapable tragedy for Israel. The Israelites may have thought they had escaped one enemy, but they would have to face another. They might think they were secure and safe in their homeland, but deadly judgment would overtake them in that confortable environment. There would be no safe haven from God"s coming judgment, even though they frequented the temple.


Verse 20

Rhetorically Amos stated that the coming day of the Lord would be a day characterized by darkness and gloom (despair) rather than by bright light (joy; cf. Joel 2:1-2; Joel 2:10-11; Zephaniah 1:14-15).

A brighter day of the Lord was also coming (cf. Amos 9:11-15; Jeremiah 30:8-11; Hosea 2:16-23; Micah 4:6-7; Zephaniah 3:11-20), but first a dark one would appear. The Israelites wanted to hasten the good day of the Lord, but they wanted to forget about the bad one. This prophecy found fulfillment when the Assyrians overran Israel and took most of the people into exile in722 B.C. The later Tribulation period for Israel, which will precede her millennial day of blessing, will be similar to what Amos predicted here, but I think it was not what God was foretelling here.


Verse 21

The Israelites enjoyed participating in the religious festivals and assemblies in which they professed to worship Yahweh. God had commanded the Israelites to observe several feasts and one fast each year, and these are probably the festivals in view. The feasts were Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost (also called Harvest or Weeks), Trumpets, and Tabernacles (also called Booths or Ingathering). The fast was the Day of Atonement. The first four feasts took place in the spring, and the last two and the Day of Atonement were fall festivals. It is not certain, however, how faithfully the apostate residents of the Northern Kingdom observed these special days. Yahweh hated the Israelites" worship assemblies, however, because the people were not worshipping Him from their hearts (cf. Amos 5:15; Isaiah 1:13-14). They were only going through the motions of worship. The repetition of "I hate," "I reject," and "Nor do I delight," stresses how much He detested this type of worship. Notice also, "I will not accept," "I will not look," and "I will not listen," in Amos 5:22-23.

"The presence of the poor and oppressed ... witnessed to their failure to please God. The neglected widow and the poor child in dirty rags were theological statements condemning the attitudes of the oppressors. Amos viewed the sacrifices as objects of God"s hatred because they furthered the spiritual ignorance of the people by giving them a false sense of security." [Note: Niehaus, p431.]


Verse 21-22

An accusation of religious hypocrisy5:21-22


Verse 22

Burnt and grain (meal) offerings were voluntary and expressed the worshipper"s personal dedication to Yahweh and the dedication of his or her works to the Lord ( Leviticus 1-2). Peace offerings were also voluntary and expressed appreciation for the fellowship that God had made possible for His redeemed people with Himself and with one another ( Leviticus 3). All three of these offerings were sweet-smelling to the Lord and were primarily offerings of worship rather than offerings to secure atonement for sins committed. These three offerings also represent all the worship offerings in another sense. The burnt offering was totally consumed on the altar. The grain offering was partly burned up and partly eaten by the offerer. And the offerer, the priest, and God shared the peace offering. God said He would not accept (lit. smell) or take any notice of any of these offerings, which represent all the others (cf. Amos 4:4-5). In Amos 5:21-22 of the Hebrew text the plural pronouns "you" and "your" appear indicating that God was addressing the whole nation.


Verse 23

In Amos 5:23-24 the singular pronoun "your" appears indicating that the call is for individuals to repent. God told His people to take away the songs that they sang when they worshipped Him because they were only so much noise in His ears. He would not even listen to the musical accompaniment. He would shut His ears as well as His nostrils ( Amos 5:21, vivid anthropomorphisms).

"Today people will pay high prices for tickets to "Christian concerts," yet they won"t attend a free Bible study class or Bible conference in their own church. Christian music is big business today, but we wonder how much of it really glorifies the Lord. What we think is music may be nothing but noise to the Lord." [Note: Wiersbe, p354.]


Verse 23-24

A call for individual repentance5:23-24


Verse 24

Instead of feasts and fasts, instead of offerings and sacrifices, instead of singing and playing musical instruments, the Lord said He wanted justice and righteousness (cf. Amos 5:7). Instead of a constant stream of blood flowing from sacrifices, and an endless torrent of verbal and ritual praise from His people, He wanted these ethical qualities to flow without ceasing from them. The Israelites were inundating Him with rivers of religiosity, but He wanted rivers of righteousness.

"Only when the personal concern of the law is incorporated into their social structure and "rightness" characterizes their dealings with others will their worship be acceptable. A token practice of justice and righteousness will not do." [Note: McComiskey, p316.]

This is the key verse in the book since it expresses so clearly what God wanted from His people. It is a clear statement of the importance of moral and ethical righteousness over mere ritual worship.

"With Hosea 6:6 and Micah 6:8 this text stands as one of the great themes in prophetic literature with regard to the nature of sacrifices and true religion. God is not pleased by acts of pomp and grandeur but by wholehearted devotion and complete loyalty." [Note: Smith, p115.]


Verse 25

The Lord now returned to explain further what He did not want ( Amos 5:21-23). With another rhetorical question (cf. Amos 5:20) the Lord asked if His people really worshipped Him with their animal sacrifices and grain offerings when they were in the wilderness for40 years. Animal sacrifices and grain offerings represent the totality of Israel"s Levitical offerings. As He clarified in the next verse, they had not. Their hypocritical worship was not something new; it had marked them from the beginning of their nation (e.g, the golden calf incident, Exodus 32).

"Today, there are those who are more in love with the church than with Christ, people who are more preoccupied with choir robes and candle holders [and with worship styles and worship teams?] than with an encounter with the living God. Can we imagine that the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever will wink at this misdirected love?" [Note: Niehaus, p433.]


Verse 25-26

Another accusation of religious hypocrisy5:25-26


Verse 26

During the wilderness wanderings the Israelites had also carried shrines of their king. This may refer to unauthorized shrines honoring Yahweh or, more probably, shrines honoring other deities (cf. Acts 7:42-43). "Sikkuth, your king," probably refers to Sakkut, the Assyrian war god also known as Adar. "Kiyyun, your images," probably refers to the Assyrian astral deity also known as Kaiwan or Saturn. Amos evidently ridiculed these gods by substituting the vowels of the Hebrew word for "abomination," (shiqqus) in their names. [Note: Andersen and Freedman, p533.] "The star of your gods [or god]" probably refers to the planet Saturn that represented Kiyyun. Stephen"s quotation of this verse in Acts 7:42-43 was from the Septuagint, which interpreted these names as references to pagan idols. The worshippers may have carried pedestals for their images of various idols including astral deities. Many scholars believe the Israelites conceived of the golden calf as a representation of that on which Yahweh rode, a visible support for their invisible God. Another view is that the golden calf represented Yahweh Himself. The bull in Egyptian iconography was a symbol of strength and power. Jeroboam I had erected bulls at Dan and Bethel in Israel and had revived this idolatrous form of worship. Amos pointed out that Israel had always mixed idolatry with the worship of Yahweh, so Israel"s worship of Him had been hypocritical throughout her history. Certainly at times the Israelites worshipped God exclusively and wholeheartedly, but throughout their history there had been these instances of syncretistic hypocrisy. Do we still carry our idols around with us?

Another description of inevitable judgment5:27

Because of this hypocritical worship, Yahweh, the God of armies, promised that the Israelites would go into exile beyond Damascus. They did go into exile in Assyria, to the northeast of Damascus, after722 B.C. (cf. Amos 4:3).

"The horror of "exile" was more than the ruin of defeat and the shame of capture. For Israel, it meant being removed from the land of promise, the land of God"s presence. Exile, in effect, was excommunication." [Note: Sunukjian, p1442.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Amos 5:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/amos-5.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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