Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible Coffman's Commentaries
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Amos 7". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bcc/ amos-7.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Amos 7". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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Here begins the final major section of Amos, consisting principally of five visions, three of which are found in this chapter: (1) that of the locusts (Amos 7:1-3); (2) that of the fire (Amos 7:4-6); and (3) that of the plumb-line (Amos 7:7-9). The balance of the chapter (Amos 7:10-14) has an exceedingly interesting and instructive narrative of the confrontation between God's Prophet (Amos) and Jeroboam's Priest. The appearance of this historical narrative in the midst of these visions has been seized upon by Biblical critics anxious to use it in some way as a basis for their attacks upon the validity of the prophecy However, this last section of the chapter (Amos 7:10-14) belongs exactly where it is. The pagan priest Amaziah quoted from the third vision in his report of Amos' words to the king (Amos 7:9-11), and also referred to Amos as a "seer," literally, one who sees visions (Amos 7:12), a word which McFadden discerningly translated "visionary." Thus, it is impossible to deny that the first three of these visions actually provoked and led up to the dramatic confrontation between Amos and Amaziah. When this is discerned, the reason for the narrative's appearance here (where and when it occurred) is evident.
The form of the narrative is designated by some as a terse prose, contrasting with what they call the poetry of the rest of the chapter; and the RSV has followed this false allegation of incompatibility between the narrative and the rest of the chapter, printing the narrative in prose form and the rest as poetry. However, the truth is that the narrative is just as poetic as anything else in Amos. W. R. Harper discussed this extensively, giving six reasons why this narrative is poetry, noting especially, "the logical division into two parts (Amos 7:10-13, and Amos 7:14-17), and the use of regular trimeter in the first, and regular tetrameter in the second." His conclusion was that:
In the light of this, which can hardly be denied, it is deplorable that the RSV accommodated the critics by printing this chapter as a poem into which a prose narrative had been inserted. As a matter of obvious truth, the chapter is a unit, being composed by one of Amos' extended public sermons at the shrine of Bethel, a sermon long enough for Amaziah to send a message to the king, and then attempt upon his own authority to expel the prophet. And what was the result of this interruption? Amos finished his sermon, including a special prophecy for Amaziah! The wild speculations to the effect that Amos was arrested and executed, or that, "He left under protest, for Judah," or that, "Amos appeared no more as a prophet in the Northern Kingdom," are unsupported by any evidence. The known sequel to this confrontation between God's Prophet and the King's Priest is that Amos went right on and gave the other two of the five visions that composed his sermon.
"Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and, behold, he formed locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and lo it was the latter growth after the king's mowings."
The thing to remember about the first two of the visions of threatened disasters against Israel is that they did not occur, but were averted through the prophet's intercession. The evident reason why Amos included these first two sections in his sermon was that of showing to all the people that he in no manner desired the evil things to come to pass which it was his duty to prophecy, but that he actually stood before God as an advocate of the people and as a prayerful intercessor for their good. This angle of Amos' prophecy was left out of Amaziah's report to the king.
"In the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth ... after the king's mowings ..." It is not clear, exactly what custom is referred to in the second phrase here; and the scholars have no agreement about what is meant; but the meaning is clear enough: the threatened locust plague occurred at exactly the right time to have done the maximum damage.
It is agreed by all that the language here is figurative, and that the locust plague stands for some terrible threatened disaster in the past which God had averted. It is certain that the visions do not stand for something that actually happened, but for that which appeared to be impending and did not occur. Nor do they refer to the ultimate judgment which would actually befall Israel, a fate strongly predicted by other words and other visions. As Harper said, "These visions are not premonitions of coming disaster." In a sense, these first two visions are the prophet's revelation that the abyss had yawned underneath Israel repeatedly during the course of the chosen people's ceaseless rebellions against God, and that again, and again God's mercy had spared the impending punishment, or rather deferred it; for it would yet occur anyway unless Israel repented. It may not be wise therefore to limit the application of the vision to some single instance of such a relenting; and yet it is doubtless true that there were historical instances of such a a thing known to all. Deane thought that, "The vision is thought to refer to the first invasion of the Assyrians, when Pul was bribed by Menahem to withdraw." Certainly, such a view does no violence to the text. It was a very efficient and fruitful device to represent all such deliverances which had rescued Israel from threatened disasters in the past under the figure of a locust plague, which in Palestine, is a recurring phenomenon.
"And it came to pass when they made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord Jehovah, forgive, I beseech thee: how shall Jacob stand? for he is small. Jehovah repented concerning this: It shall not be, saith Jehovah."
Foremost in this is the prayer of the prophet with the resulting deliverance of the people. It would appear to be obvious that the reason for the inclusion of these visions by Amos, visions which he had actually had, in his proclamations against Bethel, is that of disarming any suspicion that the people might have entertained to the effect that Amos hoped for, or desired, any calamity to befall them. On the other hand, he was the source of prayers which had actually averted disasters from them many times in the past.
"Jehovah repented ..." Such expressions in the scriptures do not imply any instability, fickleness, or indecision on the part of God, his repentance always meaning that some justifying change had occurred in the threatened people themselves.
"When they made an end of eating the grass of the land ..." This indicates that the disasters which had been averted through prayer were not totally avoided, but that they were interrupted and averted before fatal damage was inflicted. This would fit the interpretation of such things by Deane who cited one of them thus:
"Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and, behold, the Lord Jehovah called to contend by fire; and it devoured the great deep, and would have eaten up the land. Then said I, O Lord Jehovah, cease, I beseech thee: how shall Jacob stand? for he is small. Jehovah repented concerning this: This shall not be, saith the Lord Jehovah."
No matter how this vision is understood, the meaning of it is exactly that of the preceding vision, namely, great disasters threatening Israel, and yet being averted through the intercession of the prophet. Since it was a vision, it could have been a fire so great that it burned up the sea (the "great deep"), and even the earth itself was threatened, carrying with it suggestions of the great and final Judgment Day itself. "This is not for Amos a naturalistic vision. This is the supernatural fire of the Lord's judgment." There is certainly nothing wrong with this interpretation. Some scholars, however perhaps overlooking the fact that this is a vision, have interpreted it naturalistically, making it, "A drought so intense that the great subterranean depths which supply the springs and streams with water dried up." It really makes no difference at all which view is taken; the message is the same either way. It would appear that the vision's being that of a supernatural event is preferable. Keil understood the fire as, "not an earthly fire, but the fire of the wrath of God"; and Barnes thought that the destruction of the sea by fire (in the vision) was a symbol of, "The fire of the Day of Judgment." Schultz and others insist that it is "the summer heat." Refer to the interpretation of the first vision, above, for the meaning here; for it is identical with this. Regarding some particular historical situation that may, along with others, be symbolized by this, Dean has:
The spiritual overtones of the passage describing these two visions are definite and impressive; and the introduction of what appeared to be a threat of the final judgment itself is a strong suggestion that all of the great punitive judgments of God upon rebellious humanity are typical of the ultimate and final judgment that will be executed at the Last Day. Mankind should never forget that the entire race of Adam's posterity are still living under the primeval sentence of death imposed in Genesis 2:17, a sentence which was never vacated or repealed, but only deferred, and is yet destined to be executed in its fullness upon humanity. There are surely overtones of that in the passage before us.
"Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand."
The proper understanding of this vision must include the recognition that the plumb-line was a symbol both of building and of destruction, the plumb-line symbolizing the testing required for the construction of a sound building, and for revealing those defects that required the destruction of a building. The figure elaborated in this vision, "represents the Lord himself as coming to examine the conduct of Israel, and finally deciding upon its entire ruin." In this vision, "Amos makes no prayer, and Yahweh, on his part, confirms the meaning with an interpretative oracle." It is significant that the same plumb-line used to build Israel was that which was used in their destruction. "By that law, that right, those Providential leadings, and that grace which we have received, by the same we are judged."
"And Jehovah said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb-line. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more."
The direct conversation which Amos here mentions as occurring between himself and the Lord was probably for the purpose of emphasizing the truth that Amaziah later ignored in his message to the king, namely, that the words of denunciation uttered by the prophet were not his words at all, but the words of the true God of Israel.
"A plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel ..." This was an ominous promise:
"I will not again pass by them any more ..." Again, the clear reference to the ancient Passover is evident; only, this time, he will not do a similar thing. As Smith said:
Through the passage of time, the word "passover" had come to have somewhat the same meaning as forgiveness. As Motyet noted, "The phrase "pass by", used again at Amos 8:2, appears in Micah 7:18 in the meaning `to forgive.'"
Before leaving this passage, it should be noted that some allegations commonly made regarding this passage should be rejected. "In spite of his plans to punish Israel, for Yahweh they will always remain his beloved and chosen people." As regards the secular, fleshly descendants of Abraham, nothing could be further wrong that such a view, except in its unique application to the true Israel of God, the church of Jesus Christ. That the rebellious and grossly wicked children of Abraham in the fleshly sense whose notorious rebellions against God and all righteousness are the burden of the entire Old Testament, and who climaxed their unrighteousness by the murder of the Son of God Himself - that that people are, in some sense, still "the chosen people of God" is a monstrous error.
"And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."
"The high places of Isaac ..." "Isaac" is here a title of Israel, as the parallel in the next line shows. It is not the religious conduct of the patriarch Isaac that is under indictment here, but that of the Northern Kingdom. The amazing notion current among many scholars to the effect that there was nothing wrong with those shrines which the rebellious people had built upon the very sites of the old pagan shrines that Once were there before Israel came into the land could not possibly be correct. Some of the patriarchs indeed had been associated with some of those places, through events that marked their lives; and, no doubt, the paganized priesthood of Jeroboam's Israel had, from such premises, alleged the legitimacy of their shrines; it was, nevertheless, a deception. Harper's opinion that, "Down to the days of Josiah, the nation worshipped Yahweh regularly and legitimately upon the so-called high places," cannot be allowed, the sole reason for the shrine of Bethel, for example, having been Jeroboam's repudiation of God's true religion and the institution of another, as a political device to establish his throne. "Even the priesthood which Jeroboam I appointed was absolutely illegitimate (1 Kings 12:31f)." This latter fact was one of the gross sins of Israel that would be exposed by God's plumb-line, of which Thorogood gives this excellent definition:
One false idea which is almost invariably associated with these vigorous condemnations is expressed as follows, "Amos also taught that the most elaborate worship, if insincere, is but an insult to God." This is true enough, except for the implication that, if the worship of the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom at the pagan shrines of Dan, Bethel and other high places had been "sincere" it would have been acceptable to God; and this is not the case at all. As Christ himself declared, "In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). This applies pointedly to the very thing that characterized the worship in the Northern Kingdom; it was founded on practically nothing that God commanded, but was built altogether upon traditional, pagan and opportunistic practices.
"The sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste ..." This refers to the, "idol-temples at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:29), at Gilgal (Amos 4:4), and perhaps in other places." It was not merely the social indifference and oppression of the poor, and not merely a matter of their insincerity, but their whole rotten system of gross paganism, garnished and embellished with a few trappings from God's true religion, that was marked for destruction here. Furthermore, not merely the overthrow of false religion would occur, but also the overthrow of the evil dynasty that had initiated it, and the whole people of that evil generation which had received and reveled in the false religion.
"And I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword ..." As Keil pointed out, this is a reference to the dynasty of Jeroboam I, "but not to be restricted to the overthrow of his dynasty, but an announcement of the destruction of the Israelitish monarchy." Three things should be noted, no special king is mentioned here, but a dynasty, such being the meaning of "the house of Jeroboam"; secondly, this is something which God promised to do, not Amos; and in the third place, the name, or identity of any ruler to be killed by the sword was definitely not mentioned.
"Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear his words. For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land."
"Amaziah ..." Nothing has been seen any more astounding than the argument from this pagan priests' name that he was a true priest of God! "His name (Yahweh is strong) is compounded with Yahweh and would indicate that the sanctuaries of Israel maintained the worship of Yahweh." The same kind of argument would prove that the great New Testament preacher Apollos was a worshipper of Apollo. One can hardly understand the tenderness of so many commentators with regard to that utterly pagan and depraved worship of the Israelites.
These two verses (Amos 7:10-11) are the first of a three-fold division of this last section of the chapter, and relates to Amaziah's report to the king. The other two are: Amaziah's taking matters into his own hands (Amos 7:12-13), and Amos' answer to Amaziah (Amos 7:14-17). The whole passage is one of remarkable strength and effectiveness. Smith's quotation from George Adam Smith is appropriate:
"Jeroboam shall die by the sword ..." Incredibly, some have defended this slander upon the basis that, "it is basically correct." Indeed no! On the contrary, it is a base and unprincipled lie. As the Catholic Bible puts it:
Amaziah's report was false for these reasons:
1. It falsely reported who was to be killed.
2. It falsely attributed the prediction to Amos, instead of the Lord.
3. It is false in that it omitted any mention of the sins of Israel which were the reason for this prophecy.
4. It is false in that it made no mention of any call to repentance, or to the hope extended if they did repent.
If this report is "basically correct," it would be interesting to see one that was "basically in error!"
Note particularly the point in Amos' preaching at which this rude interruption by the pagan priest occurred. Neither of the first two visions occasioned any objection from Amaziah, for they were accounts of deliverances which God had extended to Israel; but this third vision, which was a bold and thundering prophecy of the immediate and impending doom of the whole nation, to be effected by the overthrow of the monarchy, the destruction of the sanctuaries, and the captivity of the whole nation, aroused the "high priest" of Bethel to action, which issued in his sending a hasty message to the king, and then, apparently not waiting for any authority, nevertheless took what action he could against Amos without any authority. It would appear that Amaziah had been listening to all that Amos said.
Some have found it amazing that Jeroboam II is not represented here as taking any action whatever against Amos; and we believe that this is evidence enough that he took none, a conclusion that might seem incredible. However, this man, Jeroboam II, had evidently known personally the prophet Jonah, upon whose prophecies he had relied when he came to the throne, and in accordance with which he had won the great military triumphs which had led so disastrously to the sin and overconfidence of Israel. Jeroboam's respect for the prophetic office must, therefore, have been very considerable. In this light, Jamieson's conclusion is reasonable, "The king, however, did not give ear to Amaziah, probably from religious awe of the prophet of Jehovah." Barnes was also of this opinion, pointing out that Jeroboam would also have had knowledge "of the true prophecies of Elisha with reference to the successes of his father, Jeroboam I." The action of Amaziah in himself, taking the authority to forbid Amos to speak and ordering him to leave the country, does not nullify this; because it is exactly the kind of conduct one might have anticipated in a time-serving self-seeking pagan priest like Amaziah. The next sub-section of this episode presents Amaziah's action against Amos.
"Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go flee thou away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophecy there: but prophecy not again any more at Bethel; for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a royal house."
"O seer, go flee thou away ..." It is puzzling why so many find nothing contemptuous or patronizing in such a statement as this, for there would appear to be plenty of both. It is true, of course, that some have made "seer" in every way a synonym of prophet; but there were "seers" by the hundreds in antiquity who were of the devil. The word also carries the thought captured by McFadden's paraphrase of it as, "Thou visionary," which, in the light of the visions Amaziah had just been hearing from Amos, would seem to be accurate. Dummelow was doubtless correct in his equating the words of Amaziah here with, "the proverbial saying, `eat your pudding slave, and hold your tongue.'"
"Eat bread, and prophecy there ..." the implications of this are a gross reflection upon Amaziah himself, as many have pointed out. He did not recognize any such thing as a truly prophetic office; to him all prophets were concerned merely with what they could get out of it, this being a perfect reflection of his own character. The argument he makes, to the extent that there is any, is that Judah would pay more for prophecies against Israel than could be received for such prophecies being delivered in Israel itself! The expression "eat bread" means "make your living," "peddle your wares," or "do your thing" in Judah, and not at Bethel.
"It is the king's sanctuary ..." "It was founded by the king (1 Kings 12:28), and not by God; so, in truth, it had only an earthly sanction," although it may be doubted that Amaziah noticed the self-convicting admission of these words. There is a world of difference in God's sanctuary and the king's sanctuary. Barnes said that in three places only in the Old Testament is the alleged sanctuary of God called the sanctuary of Israel, here, and in Lamentations 1:10, and Leviticus 26:31. Christ likewise designated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:38), "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."
The balance of this chapter is comprised of Amos' undaunted response to Amaziah's peevish and blasphemous efforts to thwart the prophet's holy mission, namely, that of turning Israel to repentance before it would be everlastingly too late. It appears that Amos was in no way intimidated or silenced by Amaziah's interruption.
"Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees."
This was leveled squarely at Amaziah's unjust charge, by implication, that Amos was a cheap "seer" picking up a little money where he might for prophesying against Israel, there being also some implications in Amos' reply, namely, that the regular line of prophets, especially those identified as "the sons of the prophets," those attending the prophetic schools and following the traditions that many of them followed, were indeed the same type of "seer" with whom Amaziah sneeringly sought to identify Amos.
"I was no prophet ..." The past tense is vital to this verse, for in no sense whatever was it Amos' purpose here to deny his divine commission and calling as a true prophet of the Almighty God. We may only deplore the fact that both the RSV and the New English Bible, by rendering the verb here in the present, "I am no prophet, etc.," put in Amos' mouth a denial of the very thing he so emphatically affirmed in Amos 7:15 (next). To be sure, the passage could be rendered in either fashion. "The doubt about the tense arises because in Hebrew the verb is not expressed, but left to be understood." Smith included this further explanation:
Our own choice of the ASV for these studies is due to the fact of there being in it strong evidence of a much greater respect for considerations of this kind than is evident in other versions.
Rowley's paraphrase of these verses was given thus by Hammershaimb:
"Dresser of sycamore trees ..." "The phrase [~boles] [~shiqmim] may mean either one who plucks mulberry-figs for his own sustenance, or one who cultivates them for others." Dean thought it was the latter in the case of Amos, and Keil believed it was the other. We do not know. In any event, it was a humble calling.
"And Jehovah took me from following the flock, and Jehovah said unto me, Go prophesy unto my people Israel."
The acceptance of such a commission meant that Amos was no longer his own master, and that not even the words he was to deliver were to be his own, but the true Word of God. Thus it has ever been with the true prophet or apostle. (See Numbers 22:38; Jeremiah 20:9; and Acts 4:19-20.) Therefore, "Whoever sought to oppose the message of Amos opposed the Most High God." Thus, Amaziah, in his opposition to Amos, had rebelled against God's Word; and therefore, God, through Amos, spoke a prophecy of doom against Amaziah. We may not, therefore, interpret Amos' rejoinder here as the mere "venting of his spite" against the priest of Bethel.
"Now therefore hear thou the word of Jehovah: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac."
"Drop not thy word ..." Dummelow seems to have captured the thought behind this second clause thus: "Don't let it drip, drip, drip, in imbecile and wearisome fashion (Micah 2:6,11; and Ezekiel 21-2,7)." Harper, and others, rejected this view: "The word does not carry with it any contemptuous idea"; but the idea, especially in English, is certainly there; furthermore, it fits the context perfectly.
Before leaving this verse, the rendition of this in the Catholic Bible seems pertinent and is included. It has, "Thou shalt not drop thy word upon the house of the idol (instead of "the house of Isaac.")." Their authority for this rendition is not cited, and it certainly could be wrong; but, regardless of that, it properly identifies that "house" at Bethel!
"Therefore thus saith Jehovah: Thy wife will be a harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou thyself shalt die in a land that is unclean, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land."
This terrible prophecy against Amaziah was doubtless fulfilled exactly, as were all the other prophecies, the evident truth and divine origin of them being the primary reason that the prophecy of Amos has survived some 27 centuries of human history. It is a perpetual memorial to the grand truth that what God prophesies through his prophets will surely come to pass.
"Thy wife will be a harlot ..." Such a result as this would have been an inevitable consequence of the great military disaster that loomed upon the horizon of the doomed people:
It is not necessary to assume that Amaziah's wife willingly became a harlot of the city, although some have assumed that she did. What seems more likely is that, violated by the soldiers of Assyria, and left behind with the residue of the people after the deportation, she could have had no other means of sustenance.
"Thy sons and thy daughters ..." That these were not mentioned as among those to be "carried away," is likely because they were too young to have any value as slaves, or as objects of gratification; and they were therefore brutally slain by the heartless invaders.
"Thy land shall be divided by line ..." that is, parceled out as "booty" among those, including some of the soldiery, with whom the Assyrians repopulated the land.
"Thou thyself shall die in a land that is unclean ..." This referred to any land where God was not worshipped, and where paganism was established, here, meaning the land of the Assyrians; and here is powerful evidence that the "repentance" of Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah produced no lasting changes in the character of the fierce, sadistic, and bloodthirsty Assyrians.
Behold in this terrible fate of Amaziah the utter worthlessness of a false religion. The trouble in Israel was not merely their "insincerity" in their worship, and not even their "oppression of the poor," which is made out by most modern commentators to be the sum and substance of all that was wrong; but it was their total departure from the Word of God in (1) setting up shrines without divine authority; (2) commissioning priests who according to the Law of Moses were not legitimate; (3) installing idols, such as the golden calves of Jeroboam; (4) polluting their worship through the burning of "leavened bread" to produce an aromatic smell; (5) omitting all sin-offerings, as if they were not sinners; (6) introducing the unauthorized instruments of music "like David"; (7) committing fornication after the ancient pagan rites observed by the followers of Baal, and doing it in the very shrines and lying down by every altar (!) in Israel "upon the clothing" extorted from the poor; (8) drinking wine out of sacred vessels dedicated to God's service, etc. The very suggestion that a tender regard for the poor and a deep sincerity on the part of the people could have sanctified and legitimatized such a bastard religion as that is an affront to all that is written in the Holy Scriptures. The religion by which men hope to receive and retain the favor of Almighty God must be something far more than a sensitive humanism with reference to the common needs and sufferings of mankind, and something far more than a "sincere" following of and participation in some traditional system of worship. Just as ancient Israel had a plumb-line, by which they could have measured, corrected, and constructed a proper and obedient faith, our own generation has the same privilege, that plumb-line, of course, being the teaching of the Word of God. Despite this, many, it would appear, are still making the same fatal mistake as that of the ancient Israelites.
As Smith said:
The word of the Lord endureth forever; and it is our humble prayer that the Lord's followers may never forsake that holy word.