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The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen - “Amos begins by setting forth his own nothingness, and withal the great grace of his Teacher and Instructor, the Holy Spirit, referring all to His glory.” He, like David, Peter, Paul, Matthew, was one of “the weak things of the world, whom God chose to confound the mighty.” He was himself a herdsman only “among herdsmen;” but the words which he spake were not his own. They were words which he saw, not with eyes of flesh, but “with that vision wherewith words can be seen, the seer’s vision in the mind.” They were “words concerning,” or rather “upon Israel,” heavy words coming upon the heavy transgressions of Israel. The Hebrew word “saw” is not of mere sight, but of a vision given by God. Amos only says that they were “his” words, in order immediately to add, that they came to him from God, that he himself was but the human organ through which God spake.
Two years before the earthquake - This earthquake must plainly have been one of the greatest, since it was vividly in people’s memories in the time of Zechariah, and Amos speaks of it as “the earthquake.” The earthquakes of the east, like that of Lisbon, destroy whole cities. In one, a little before the birth of our Lord , “some ten thousand were buried under the ruined houses.” This terrific earthquake (for as such Zechariah describes it) was one of the preludes of that displeasure of God, which Amos foretold. A warning of two years, and time for repentance, were given, “before the earthquake” should come, the token and beginning of a further shaking of both kingdoms, unless they should repent. In effect, it was the first flash of the lightning which consumed them.
The Lord will roar - Amos joins on his prophecy to the end of Joel’s, in order at once in its very opening to attest the oneness of their mission, and to prepare people’s minds to see, that his own prophecy was an expansion of those words, declaring the nearer and coming judgments of God. Those nearer judgments, however, of which he spake, were but the preludes of the judgments of the Great Day which Joel foretold, and of that last terrible voice of Christ, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” of whom Jacob prophesies; “He couched, He lay down as a lion, and as a young lion; who shall raise Him up?” Genesis 49:9. God is said to “utter His” awful “voice from Zion and Jerusalem,” because there He had set His Name, there He was present in His Church. It was, as it were, His own place, which He had hallowed by tokens of His presence, although “the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him.” In the outset of his prophecy, Amos warned Israel, that there, not among themselves in their separated state, God dwelt. Jeremiah, in using these same words toward Judah, speaks not of Jerusalem, but of heaven; “The Lord shall roar from on high, and utter His voice from His holy habitation” Jeremiah 25:30. The prophecy is to the ten tribes or to the pagan: God speaks out of the Church. He uttereth His Voice out of Jerusalem, as He saith, “Out of Zion shall go forth, the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” Isaiah 2:3, “where was the Temple and the worship of God, to shew that God was not in the cities of Israel, that is, in Dan and Bethel, where were the golden calves, nor in the royal cities of Samaria and Jezreel, but in the true religion which was then in Zion and Jerusalem.”
And the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn - Perhaps, with a feeling for the home which he had loved and left, the prophet’s first thought amid the desolation which he predicts, was toward his own shepherd-haunts. The well-known Mount Carmel was far in the opposite direction in the tribe of Asher. Its name is derived from its richness and fertility, perhaps “a land of vine and olive yards.” In Jerome’s time, it was “thickly studded with olives, shrubs and vineyards.” “Its very summit of glad pasturcs.”
It is one of the most striking natural features of Palestine. It ends a line of hills, 18 miles long, by a long bold headland reaching out far into the Mediterranean, and forming the south side of the Bay of Acco or Acre. Rising 1,200 feet above the sea , it stands out “like some guardian of its native strand;” yet withal, it was rich with every variety of beauty, flower, fruit, and tree. It is almost always called “the Carmel,” “the rich garden-ground.” From its neighborhood to the sea, heavy dews nightly supply it with an ever-renewed freshness, so that in mid-summer it is green and flowery . Travelers describe it, as “quite green, its top covered with firs and oaks, lower down with olives and laurels, and everywhere excellently watered.” “There is not a flower,” says Van de Velde , “that I have seen in Galilee or on the plains along the coasts, that I do not find here again on Carmel. It is still the same fragrant lovely mountain as of old.” : “Its varied world of flowers attracts such a number of the rarer vari-colored insects that a collector might for a whole year be richly employed.” “It is a natural garden and repository of herbs.”
Its pastures were rich, so as to equal those of Bashan. “It gives rise to a number of crystal streams, the largest of which gushes from the spring of Elijah” Jeremiah 50:19; Nahum 1:4. It had abundant supplies in itself. If it too became a desert, what else would be spared? “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Luke 23:31. All, high and low, shall be stricken in one common desolation; all the whole land, fromm “the pastures of the shepherds” in the south to Mount Carmel in the North. And this, as soon as God had spoken. “He spake, and it was made.” So now, contrariwise, He uttercth His Voice, and Carmel hath languished. Its glory hath passed away, as in the twinkling of an eye. God hath spoken the word, and it is gone.
What depended on God’s gifts, abides; what depended on man, is gone. There remains a wild beauty still; but it is the beauty of natural luxuriance. “All,” says one who explored its depths , “lies waste; all is a wilderness. The utmost fertility is here lost for man, useless to man. The vineyards of Carmel, where are they now? Behold the long rows of stones on the ground, the remains of the walls; they will tell you that here, where now with difficulty you force your way through the thick entangled copse, lay, in days of old, those incomparable vineyards to which Carmel owes its name.”
The order of God’s threatenings seems to have been addressed to gain the hearing of the people. The punishment is first denounced upon their enemies, and that, for their sins, directly or indirectly, against themselves, and God in them. Then, as to those enemies themselves, the order is not of place or time, but of their relation to God’s people. It begins with their most oppressive enemy, Syria; then Philistia, the old and ceaseless, although less powerful, enemy; then Tyre, not an oppressor, as these, yet violating a relation which they had not, the bonds of a former friendship and covenant; malicious also and hardhearted through covetousness. Then follow Edom, Ammon, Moab, who burst the bonds of blood also. Lastly and nearest of all, it falls on Judah, who had the true worship of the true God among them, but despised it. Every infliction on those like ourselves finds an echo in our own consciences. Israel heard and readily believed God’s judgments upon others. It was not tempted to set itself against believing them. How then could it refuse to believe of itself, what it believed of others like itself? “Change but the name, the tale is told of thee ,” was a pagan saying which has almost passed into a proverb. The course of the prophecy convicted “them,” as the things written in Holy Scripture “for our ensamples” convict Christians. “If they” who “sinned without law, perished without law” Romans 2:12, how much more should they who “have sinned in the law, be judged by the law.” God’s judgments rolled round like a thunder-cloud, passing from land to land, giving warning of their approach, at last to gather and center on Israel itself, except it repent. In the visitations of others, it was to read its own; and that, the more, the nearer God was to them. “Israel” is placed the last, because on it the destruction was to fall to the uttermost, and rest there.
For three transgressions and for four - These words express, not four transgressions added to the three, but an additional transgression beyond the former, the last sin, whereby the measure of sin, which before was full, overflows, and God’s wrath comes. So in other places, where the like form of words occurs, the added number is one beyond, and mostly relates to something greater than all the rest. So, “He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee” Job 5:19. The word, “yea,” denotes, that the seventh is some heavier trouble, beyond all the rest, which would seem likely to break endurance. Again, “give a portion to seven, and also to eight” Ecclesiastes 11:2. Seven is used as a symbol of a whole, since “on the seventh day God rested from all which He had made,” and therefore the number seven entered so largely into the whole Jewish ritual. All time was measured by seven.
The rule then is; “give without bounds; when that whole is fulfilled, still give.” Again in that series of sayings in the book of Proverbs Proverbs 30:0, the fourth is, in each, something greater than the three preceding. “There are three” things that “are never satisfied;” yea, “four” things “say not,” it is “enough” Proverbs 30:15-16. The other things cannot be satisfied; the fourth, fire, grows fiercer by being fed. Again, “There be three” things “which go well; yea, four are comely in going” Proverbs 30:29-31. The moral majesty of a king is obviously greater than the rest. So “the handmaid which displaceth her mistress” Proverbs 30:21-23 is more intolerable and overbearing than the others. The art and concealment of man in approaching a maiden is of a subtler kind than things in nature which leave no trace of themselves, the eagle in the air, the serpent on the rock, the ship in its pathway through the waves Proverbs 30:18-19. Again, “Sowing discord among brethren” Proverbs 6:16-19, has a special hatefulness, as not only being sin, but causing widewasting sin, and destroying in others the chief grace, love. Soul-murder is worse than physical murder, and requires more devilish art.
These things - Job says, “worketh God twice and thrice with man, to bring back his soul from the pit” Job 33:29. The last grace of God, whether sealing up the former graces of those who use them, or vouchsafed to those who have wasted them, is the crowning act of His love or forbearance.
In pagan poetry also, as a trace of a mystery which they had forgotten, three is a sacred whole; from where “thrice and fourfold blessed” stands among them for something exceeding even a full and perfect blessing, a super-abundance of blessings.
The fourth transgression of these pagan nations is alone mentioned. For the prophet had no mission to “them;” he only declares to Israel the ground of the visitation which was to come upon them. The three transgressions stand for a whole sum of sin, which had not yet brought down extreme punishment; the fourth was the crowning sin, after which God would no longer spare. But although the fourth drew down His judgment, God, at the last, punishes not the last sin only, but all which went before. In that the prophet says, not, “for the fourth,” but “for three transgressions and for four,” he expresses at once, that God did not punish until the last sin, by which “the iniquity” of the sinful nation became “full” Genesis 15:16, and that, “then,” He punished for all, for the whole mass of sin described by the three, and for the fourth also. God is longsuffering and ready to forgive; but when the sinner finally becomes a “vessel of wrath” Romans 9:22, He punishes all the earlier sins, which, for the time, He passed by.
Sin adds to sin, out of which it grows; it does not overshadow the former sins, it does not obliterate them, but increases the mass of guilt, which God punishes. When the Jews killed the Son, there, “came on” them “all the righteous bloodshed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias” Matthew 23:35-36; Luke 11:50-51. All the blood of all the prophets and servants of God under the Old Testament came upon that generation. So each individual sinner, who dies impenitent, will be punished for all which, in his whole life, he did or became, contrary to the law of God. Deeper sins bring deeper damnation at the last. So Paul speaks of those who “treasure up to” themselves “wrath against the Day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” Romans 2:5. As good people, by the grace of God, do, through each act done by aid of that grace, gain an addition to their everlasting reward, so the wicked, by each added sin, add to their damnation.
Of Damascus - Damascus was one of the oldest cities in the world, and one of the links of its contact. It lay in the midst of its plain, a high table-land of rich cultivation, whose breadth, from Anti-libanus eastward, was about half a degree. On the west and north its plain lay sheltered under the range of Anti-libanus; on the east, it was protected by the great desert which intervened between its oasis-territory and the Euphrates. Immediately, it was bounded by the three lakes which receive the surplus of the waters which enrich it. The Barada (the “cold”) having joined the Fijeh, (the traditional Pharpar” , a name which well designates its tumultuous course ), runs on the north of, and through the city, and then chiefly into the central of the three lakes, the Bahret-el-kibliyeh, (the “south” lake;) thence, it is supposed, but in part also directly, into the Bahret-esh-Shurkiyeh (the “east” lake ). The ‘Awaj (the “crooked”) (perhaps the old Amana, “the never-failing,” in contrast with the streams which are exhausted in irrigation) runs near the old south boundary of Damascus , separating it probably from the northern possessions of Israel beyond Jordan, Bashan (in its widest sense), and Jetur or Ituraea. The area has been calculated at 236 square geographical miles .
This space rather became the center of its dominions, than measured their extent. But it supported a population far beyond what that space would maintain in Europe. Taught by the face of creation around them, where the course of every tiny rivulet, as it burst from the rocks, was marked by a rich luxuriance , the Damascenes of old availed themselves of the continual supply from the snows of Hermon or the heights of Anti-libanus, with a systematic diligence , of which, in our northern clime, as we have no need, so we have no idea. “Without the Barada,” says Porter , “the city could not exist, and the plain would be a parched desert; but now aqueducts intersect every quarter, and fountains sparkle in almost every dwelling, while innumerable canals extend their ramifications over the vast plain, clothing it with verdure and beauty. Five of these canals are led off from the river at different elevations, before it enters the plain. They are carried along the precipitous banks of the ravine, being in some places tunnelled in the solid rock. The two on the northern side water Salahiyeh at the foot of the hills about a mile from the city, and then irrigate the higher portions of the plain to the distance of nearly twenty miles. Of the three on the south side, one is led to the populous village Daraya, five miles distant; the other two supply the city, its suburbs, and gardens.”
The like use was made of every fountain in every larger or lesser plain. Of old it was said , “the Chrysorrhoas (the Barada) “is nearly expended in artificial channels.” : “Damascus is fertile through drinking up the Chrysorrhoas by irrigation.” Fourteen names of its canals are still given ; and while it has been common to select 7 or 8 chief canals, the whole have been counted up even to 70 . No art or labor was thought too great. The waters of the Fijeh were carried by a great aqueduct tunnelled through the side of the perpendicular cliff . Yet this was as nothing. Its whole plain was intersected with canals, and tunneled below. : “The waters of the river were spread over the surface of the soil in the fields and gardens; underneath, other canals were tunnelled to collect the superfluous water which percolates the soil, or from little fountains and springs below. The stream thus collected is led off to a lower level, where it comes to the surface. : “The whole plain is filled with these singular aqueducts, some of them running for 2 or 3 miles underground. Where the water of one is diffusing life and verdure over the surface, another branch is collecting a new supply.” “In former days these extended over the whole plain to the lakes, thus irrigating the fields and gardens in every part of it.”
Damascus then was, of old, famed for its beauty. Its white buildings, embedded in the deep green of its engirdling orchards, were like diamonds encircled by emeralds. They reach nearly to Anti-libanus westward , “and extend on both sides of the Barada some miles eastward. They cover an area at last 25 (or 30) miles in circuit, and make the environs an earthly Paradise.” Whence the Arabs said , “If there is a garden of Eden on earth, it is Damascus; and if in heaven, Damascus is like it on earth.” But this its beauty was also its strength. “The river,” says William of Tyre , “having abundant water, supplies orchards on both banks, thick-set with fruit-trees, and flows eastward by the city wall. On the west and north the city was far and wide fenced by orchards, like thick dense woods, which stretched four or live miles toward Libanus. These orchards are a most exceeding defense; for from the density of the trees and the narrowness of the ways, it seemed difficult and almost impossible to approach the city on that side.” Even to this day it is said , “The true defense of Damascus consists in its gardens, which, forming a forest of fruit-trees and a labyrinth of hedges, walls and ditches, for more than 7 leagues in circumference, would present no small impediment to a Mussulman enemy.”
The advantage of its site doubtless occastoned its early choice. It lay on the best route from the interior of Asia to the Mediterranean, to Tyre, and even to Egypt. Chedorlaomer and the four kings with him, doubtless, came that way, since the first whom they smote were at Ashteroth Karnaim Genesis 14:5-6 in Jaulan or Gaulonitis, and thence they swept on southward, along the west side of Jordan, smiting, as they went, first the “Zuzim,” (probably the same as the Zamzummim Deuteronomy 2:2 O) in Ammonitis; then “the Emim in the plain of Kiriathaim” in Moab Deuteronomy 9:11, then “the Horites in Mount Seir unto Elparan” (probably Elath on the Gulf called from it.) They returned that way, since Abraham overtook them at Hobah near Damascus Genesis 14:15. Damascus was already the chief city, through its relation to which alone Hobah was known. It was on the route by which Abraham himself came at God’s command from Haran (Charrae of the Greeks) whether over Tiphsaeh (“the passage,” Thapsacus) or anymore northern passage over the Euphrates. The fact that his chief and confidential servant whom he entrusted to seek a wife for Isaac, and who was, at one time, his heir, was a Damascene Genesis 15:2-3, implies some intimate connection of Abraham with Damascus. At the time of our era, the name of Abraham was still held in honor in the country of Damascus ; a village was named from him “Abraham’s dwelling;” and a native historian Nicolas said, that he reigned in Damascus on his way from the country beyond Babylon to Canaan. The name of his servant “Eliezer” “my God is help,” implies that at this time too the servant was a worshiper of the One God. The name Damascus probably betokened the strenuous , energetic character of its founder.
Like the other names connected with Aram in the Old Testament , it is, in conformity with the common descent from Aram, Aramaic. It was no part of the territory assigned to Israel, nor was it molested by them. Judging, probably, of David’s defensive conquests by its own policy, it joined the other Syrians who attacked David, was subdued, garrisoned, and became tributary 2 Samuel 8:5-6. It was at that time probably a subordinate power, whether on the ground of the personal eminence of Hadadezer king of Zobah, or any other. Certainly Hadadezer stands cut conspicuously; the Damascenes are mentioned only subordinately.
Consistently with this, the first mention of the kingdom of Damascus in Scripture is the dynasty of Rezon son of Eliada’s, a fugitive servant of Hadadezer, who formed a marauding band, then settled and reigned in Damascus 1 Kings 11:23-24. Before this, Scripture speaks of the people only of Damascus, not of their kings. Its native historian admits that the Damascenes were, in the time of David, and continued to be, the aggressors, while he veils over their repeated defeats, and represents their kings, as having reigned successively from father to son, for ten generations, a thing unknown probably in any monarchy. : “A native, Adad, having gained great power, became king of Damascus and the rest of Syria, except Phoenicia. He, having carried war against David, king of Judaea, and disputed with him in many battles, and that finally at the Euaphrates where he was defeated, had the character of a most eminent king for prowess and valor. After his death, his descendants reigned for ten generations, each receiving from his father the name (Hadad) together with the kingdom, like the Ptolemies of Egypt. The third, having gained the greatest power of all, seeking to repair the defeat of his grandfather, warring against the Jews, wasted what is now callcd Samaritis.” They could not brook a defeat, which they had brought upon themselves.
Rezon renewed, throughout the later part of Solomon’s reign, the aggression of Hadad. On the schism of the ten tribes, the hostility of Damascus was concentrated against Israel who lay next to them. Abijam was in league with the father of Benhadad 1 Kings 15:19. Benhadad at once broke his league with Baasha at the request of Asa in his later mistrustful days 1 Chronicles 16:2-7, and turned against Baasha (1 Chronicles 16:2-7 and 1 Kings 15:20). From Omri also Benhadad I took cities and extorted “streets,” probably a Damascus quarter, in Samaria itself 1 Kings 20:34. Benhadad II had “thirty-two” vassal “kings” 1 Kings 20:1, 1 Kings 20:24, (dependent kings like those of Canaan, each of his own city and little territory,) and led them against Samaria, intending to plunder it 1 Kings 20:6-7, and, on occasion of the plundering, probably to make it his own or to destroy it. By God’s help they were twice defeated; the second time, when they directly challenged the power of God 1 Kings 20:22-25, 1 Kings 20:28, so signally that, had not Ahab been flattered by the appeal to his mercy 1 Kings 20:31-32, Syria would no more have been in a condition to oppress Israel. Benhadad promised to restore the cities which his father had taken from Israel, and to make an Israel-quarter in Damascus 1 Kings 20:34.
If this promise was fulfilled, Ramoth-Gilead must have been lost to Syria at an earlier period, since, three years afterward, Ahab perished in an attempt, by aid of Jehoshaphat, against the counsels of God, to recover it 1 Kings 22:0. Ramoth-Gilead being thus in the hands of Syria, all north of it, half of Dan and Manasseh beyond Jordan, must also have been conquered by Syria. Except the one great siege of Samaria, which brought it to extremities and which God dissipated by a panic which He infused into the Syrian army 2 Kings 7:6. Benhadad and Hazael encouraged only marauding expeditions against Israel during the 14 years of Ahaziah and Jehoram. Benhadad was, according to Assyrian inscriptions defeated thrice, Hazael twice, by Shalmanubar king of Assyria . Benhadad appears to have acted on the offensive, in alliance with the kings of the Hittites, the Hamathites and Phoenicians ; Hazael was attacked alone, driven to take refuge in Anti-libanus, and probably became tributary .
Assyrian chronicles relate only Assyrian victories. The brief notice, that through Naaman “the Lord gave deliverance to Syria” 2 Kings 5:1, probably refers to some signal check which Assyria received through him. For there was no other enemy, from whom Syria had to be “delivered.” Subsequently to that retreat from Samaria, he even lost Ramoth 2 Kings 9:14-15 to Jehoram after a battle before it 2 Kings 8:29, in which Jehoram was wounded. It is a probable conjecture that Jehu, by his political submission to Assyria, drew on himself the calamities which Elisha foretold. Hazael probably became the instrument of God in chastening Israel, while he was avenging Jehu’s submission to a power whom he dreaded and from whom he had suffered. Israel, having lost the help of Judah, became the easier prey. Hazael not only took from Israel all east of Jordan 2 Kings 10:32-33, but made the whole open country unsafe for the Israelites to dwell in.
Not until God “gave Israel a saviour,” could they “dwell in their tents as beforetime” 2 Kings 13:5. Hazael extended his conquests to Gath 2 Kings 12:17, intending probably to open a connecting line with Egypt. “With a small company of men” he defeated a large army of Judah 2 Chronicles 24:23-24. Joash, king of Judah, bought him off, when advancing against Jerusalem, with everything of gold, consecrated or civil, in the temple or in his own treasures 2 Kings 12:18. Jehoash recovered from Benhadad III the cities this side Jordan 2 Kings 13:25; Jeroboam II, all their lost territories and even Damascus and Hamath 2 Kings 14:28. Yet after this, it was to recover its power under Rezin, to become formidable to Judah, and, through its aggressions on Judah, to bring destruction on itself. At this time, Damascus was probably, like ourselves, a rich, commercial, as well as warlike, but not as yet a manufacturing (see the note at Amos 3:12) nation. Its wealth, as a great emporium of transit-commerce, (as it is now) furnished it with sinews for war. The “white wool” Ezekiel 27:18, in which it traded with Tyre, implies the possession of a large outlying tract in the desert, where the sheep yield the whitest wool. It had then doubtless, beside the population of its plain, large nomadic hordes dependent upon it.
I will not turn away the punishment thereof - Literally, “I will not turn it back.” What was this, which God would not turn back? Amos does not express it. Silence is often more emphatic than words. Not naming it, he leaves it the rather to be conceived of by the mind, as something which had been of old coming upon them to overwhelm them, which God had long stayed back, but which, since He would now stay it no longer, would burst in, with the more terrific and overwhelming might, because it had been restrained before. Sin and punishment are by a great law of God bound together. God’s mercy holds back the punishment long, allowing only some slight tokens of His displeasure to show themselves, that the sinful soul or people may not be unwarned. When He no longer withholds it, the law of His moral government holds its course. “Seldom,” said pagan experience , “hath punishment with lingering foot parted with the miscreant, advancing before.”
Because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron - The instrument, Jerome relates here, was “a sort of wain, rolling on iron wheels beneath, set with teeth; so that it both threshed out the grain and bruised the straw and cut it in pieces, as food for the cattle, for lack of hay.” A similar instrument, called by nearly the same name, is still in use in Syria and Egypt. Elisha had foretold to Hazael his cruelty to Israel; “Their strong holds thou wilt set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child” 2 Kings 8:12. Hazael, like others gradually steeped in sin, thought it impossible, but did it. In the days of Jehu, “Hazael smote them in all the coasts of Israel from Jordan eastward; all the land of Gilead, the Gadites and the Reubenites and the Manassites, from Arorer which is by the River Arnon, even Gilead and Bashan” 2 Kings 10:32-33; in those of Jehoahaz, Jehu’s son, “he oppressed them, neither did he leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing” 2 Kings 13:7. The death here spoken of, although more ghastly, was probably not more severe than many others; not nearly so severe as some which have been used by Christian Judicatures. It is mentioned in the Proverbs, as a capital punishment Proverbs 20:26; and is alluded to as such by Isaiah Isaiah 28:28. David had had, for some cause unexplained by Holy Scripture, to inflict it on the Ammonites 2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3. Probably not the punishment in itself alone, but the attempt so to extirpate the people of God brought down this judgment on Damascus.
Theodoret supposes the horrible aggravation, that it was thus that the women with child were destroyed with their children, “casting the aforesaid women, as into a sort of threshing-floor, they savagely threshed them out like ears of grain with saw-armed wheels.”
Gilead is here doubtless to be taken in its widest sense, including all the possessions of Israel, east of Jordan, as, in the account of Hazael’s conquests, “all the land of Gilead” 2 Kings 10:32-33 is explained to mean, all which was ever given to the two tribes and a half, and to include Gilead proper, as distinct from Basan. In like way Joshua relates, that “the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the ha! f tribe of Manasseh returned to go into the country of Gilead, to the land of their possessions” Joshua 22:9. Throughout that whole beautiful tract, including 2 12 degrees of latitude, Hazael had carried on his war of extermination into every peaceful village and home, sparing neither the living nor the unborn.
And I will send a fire on the house of Hazael - The fire is probably at once material fire, whereby cities are burned in war, since he adds, “it shall devour the palaces of Benhadad,” and also stands as a symbol of all other severity in war as in the ancient proverb, “a fire is gone out from Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon; it hath consumed Ar of Moab, the lords of the high places of Arnon” Numbers 21:28; and again of the displeasure of Almighty God, as when He says, “a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and it shall burn unto the lowest hell” Deuteronomy 32:22. For the fire destroys not the natural buildings only, but “the house of Hazael,” that is, his whole family. In these prophecies, a sevenfold vengeance by fire is denounced against the seven people, an image of the eternal fire into which all iniquity shall be cast.
The palaces of Benhadad - Hazael, having murdered Benhadad his master and ascended his throne, called Iris son after his murdered master, probably in order to connect his own house with the ancient dynasty. Benhadad, that is, son or worshiper of the idol “Hadad,” or “the sun,” had been the name of two of the kings of the old dynasty. Benhadad III was at this time reigning. The prophet foretells the entire destruction of the dynasty founded in blood. The prophecy may have had a fulfillment in the destruction of the house of Hazael, with whose family Rezin, the king of Syria in the time of Ahaz, stands in no known relation. Defeats, such as those of Benhadad III by Jeroboam II who took Damascus itself, are often the close of an usurping dynasty. Having no claim to regard except success, failure vitiates its only title. The name Hazael, “whom God looked upon,” implies a sort of owning of the One God, like Tab-el, “God is good,” El-iada’, “whom God knoweth,” even amid the idolatry in the names, Tab-Rimmon, “good is Rimmon;” Hadad-ezer, “Hadad is help;” and Hadad, or Benhadad. Bad men abuse every creature, or ordinance, or appointment of God. It may be then that, as Sennacherib boasted, “am I now come up without the Lord against this land” to destroy it? the Lord said unto me, Go up against this land and destroy it” Isaiah 36:10; so Hazael made use of the prophecy of Elisha, to give himself out as the scourge of God, and thought of himself as one “on whom God looked.”
Knowledge of futurity is an awful gift. As “Omniscience alone can wield Omnipotence,” so superhuman knowledge needs superhuman gifts of wisdom and holiness. Hazael seemingly hardened himself in sin by aid of the knowledge which should have been his warning. Probably he came to Elisha, with the intent to murder his master already formed, in case he should not die a natural death; and Elisha read him to himself. But he very probably justified himself to himself in what he had already purposed to do, on the ground that Elisha had foretold to him that he should be king over 2 Kings 8:13, and, in his massacres of God’s people, gave himself out as being, what he was, the instrument of God. “Scourges of God” have known themselves to be what they were, although they themselves were not the less sinful, in sinfully accomplishing the Will of God (see the note at Hosea 1:4). We have heard of a Christian Emperor, who has often spoken of his “mission,” although his “mission” has already cost the shedding of much Christian blood.
I will also break the bar of Damascus - In the East, every city was fortified; the gates of the stronger cities were cased in iron, that they might not be set on fire by the enemy; they were fastened within with bars of brass 1 Kings 4:13 or iron (Psalms 107:16; Isaiah 45:2; compare Isaiah 48:14; Jeremiah 51:3 O). They were flanked with towers, and built over, so that what was naturally the weakest point and the readiest access to an enemy became the strongest defense. In Hauran the huge doors and gates of a single stone 9 and 10 feet high , and 1 12 foot thick , are still extant, and “the place for the ponderous bars,” proportioned to such gates, “may yet be seen.” The walls were loosened with the battering-ram, or scaled by mounds: the strong gate was seldom attacked; but, when a breach was made, was thrown open from within. The “breaking of the bar” laid open the city to the enemy, to go in and come out at his will. The whole strength of the kingdom of Damascus lay in the capital. It was itself the seat of the empire and was the empire itself. God says then, that He Himself would shiver all their means of resistance, whatever could hinder the inroad of the enemy.
And cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven - Literally, “from the vale of vanity,” the “Bik’ah” being a broad vale between hills . Here it is doubtless the rich and beautiful valley, still called el-bukaa by the Arabs, La Boquea by William of Tyre , lying between Lebanon and Anti-libanus, the old Coele-Syria in its narrowest sense. It is, on high ground, the continuation of that long deep valley which, along the Jordan, the Dead sea, and the Arabah, reaches to the Red Sea. lts extreme length, from its southern close at Kal’at-esh-shakif to Hums (Emesa) has been counted at 7 days journey ; it narrows toward its southern extremity, expands at its northern, yet it cannot any how be said to lose its character of a valley until 10 miles north of Riblah .
Midway, on its ,” was Baalbek, or Heliopolis, where the Egyptian worship is said to have been brought of old times from their “city of the sun .” Baalbek, as the ruins still attest, was full of the worship of the sun. But the whole of that beautiful range, “a magnificent vista” , it has been said, “carpeted with verdure and beauty” , “a gem lying deep in its valley of mountains,” was a citadel of idolatry. The name Baal-Hermon connects Mount Hermon itself, the snow-capped height which so towers over its southeast extremity, with the worship of Baal or the sun, and that, from the time of the Judges Judges 3:3. The name Baal-gad connects “the valley of Lebanon,” that is, most probably the south end of the great valley, with the same worship, anterior to Joshua Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7; Joshua 13:5.
The name Baalbek is probably an abbreviation of the old name, Baal-bik’ah , “Baal of the valley,” in contrast with the neighboring Baalhermon. : “The whole of Hermon was girded with temples.” : “Some eight or ten of them cluster round it,” and, which is more remarkable, one is built” to catch the first beams of the sun rising over Hermon;” and temples on its opposite sides face toward it, as a sort of center .
In Jerome’s time, the pagan still reverenced a celebrated temple on its summit . On the crest of its central peak, 3,000 feet above the glen below, in winter inaccessible, beholding far asunder the rising and the setting sun on the eastern desert and in the western sea, are still seen the foundations of a circular wall or ring of large stones, a rude temple, within which another of Grecian art was subsequently built . “On three other peaks of the Anti-libanus range are ruins of great antiquity” . : “The Bukaa and its borders are full of the like buildings.”
“Lebanon, Anti-lebanon and the valleys between are thronged with ancient temples” . Some indeed were Grecian, but others Syro-Phoenician. The Grecian temples were probably the revival of Syro-Phoenician. The “massive substructions of Baalbek are conjectured to have been those of an earlier temple.” The new name “Heliopolis” only substituted the name of the object of worship (the sun) for its title Lord. The pagan emperors would not have lavished so much and such wondrous cost and gorgeous art on a temple in Coele-Syria, had not its pagan celebrity recommended it to their superstition or their policy. On the west side of Lebanon at Afca, (Apheca) was the temple of Venus at the source of the River Adonis , a center of the most hateful Syrian idolatry , “a school of misdoing for all profligates.”
At Heliopolis too, men “shamelessly gave their wives and daughters to shame.” The outburst of paganism there in the reign of Julian the Apostate shows how deeply rooted was its idolatry. Probably then, Amos pronounces the sentence of the people of that whole beautiful vale, as “valley of vanity” or “iniquity” , being wholly given to that worst idolatry which degraded Syria. Here, as the seat of idolatry, the chief judgments of God were to fall. Its inhabitants were to be cut off, that is, utterly destroyed; on the rest, captivity is the only sentence pronounced. The Assyrian monarchs not unfrequently put to death those who despised their religion , and so may herein have executed blindly the sentence of God.
From the house of Eden - A Proper, but significant, name, “Beth-Eden,” that is, “house of pleasure.” The name, like the Eden of Assyria 2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12; Ezekiel 27:23, is, in distinction from man’s first home, pronounced “EH-den,” not “EE-den” . Two places near, and one in, the Bik’ah have, from similarity of name, been thought to be this “house of delight.”
1. Most beautiful now for situation and climate, is what is probably mispronounced Ehden; a Maronite Village “of 4 or 500 families, on the side of a rich highly-cultivated valley” near Beshirrai on the road from Tripolis to the Cedars. Its climate is described as a ten months spring ; “the hills are terraced up to their summits;” and every place full of the richest, most beautiful, vegetation; “grain is poured out into the lap of man, and wine into his cup without measure.” “The slopes of the valleys, one mass of verdure, are yet more productive than the hills; the springs of Lebanon gushing down, fresh, cool and melodious in every direction .” The wealthier families of Tripoli still resort there for summer, “the climate being tempered by the proximity of the snow-mountains, the most luxuriant vegetation favored by the soft airs from the sea . “It is still counted” the Paradise of Lebanon.”
2. Beit-el-Janne, literally, “house of Paradise,” is an Arabic translation of Beth-Eden. It “lies under the root of Libanus, (Hermon) gushing forth clear water, whence,” says WilIiam of Tyre , “it is called ‘house of pleasure.’” It lies in a narrow valley, where it widens a little, about 34 of an hour from the plain of Damascus , and about 27 miles from that city on the way from Banias. : “Numerous rock-tombs, above and around, bear testimony to the antiquity of the site.” It gives its name to the Jennani (Paradise River), one of two streams which form the second great river near Damascus, the Awadj.
3. The third, the Paradisus of the Greeks, one of the three towns of Laodicene , agrees only accidentally with the Scripture name, since their Paradisus signifies not an earthly Paradise, but a “hunting-park.” For this the site is well suited; but in that country so abounding in water, and of soil so rich that the earth seems ready, on even slight pains of man, to don itself in luxuriant beauty, what probably is the site of the old Paradisus, is hopelessly barren Beth-Eden may have been the residence of one of the subordinate kings under the king of Damascus, who was to be involved in the ruin of his suzerain; or it may have been a summer-residence of the king of Damascus himself, where, in the midst of his trust in his false gods, and in a Paradise, as it were, of delight, God would cut him off altogether. Neither wealth nor any of a man’s idols protect against God. As Adam, for sin, was expelled from Paradise, so the rulers of Damascus from the place of their pleasure and their sin.
And the people of Syria shall go into captivity - Syria or Aram perhaps already included, under the rule of Damascus, all the little kingdoms on this side of the Euphrates, into which it had been formerly sub-divided. At least, it is spoken of as a whole, without any of the additions which occur in the earlier history, Aram-beth-rehob, Aramzobah, Aram-Maachah. Before its captivity Damascus is spoken of as “the head of Syria” Isaiah 7:8.
Into Kir - Kir has been identified:
(1) with the part of Iberia near the River Kur which unites with the Araxes, not far from the Caspian, to the north of Armenia;
(2) a city called by the Greeks Kourena or Kourna on the River Mardus in southern Media;
(3) a city, Karine , the modern Kerend .
The first is the most likely, as the most known; the Kur is part probably of the present name Kurgistan, our “Georgia.” Armenia at least which lay on the south of the River Kur, is frequently mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions, as a country where the kings of Assyria warred and conquered . The two parricide sons of Sennacherib are as likely to have fled Isaiah 37:38 to a distant portion of their father’s empire, as beyond it. Their flight there may have been the ground of Esarhaddon’s war against it . It has at all times afforded a shelter to those expelled from others’ lands . The domestic, though late, traditions of the Armenians count as their first inhabitants some who had fled out of Mesopotamia to escape the yoke of Bel, king of Babylon . Whatever be the value of particular traditions, its mountain-valleys form a natural refuge to fugitives.
On occasion of some such oppression, as that from which Asshur fled before Nimrod , Aram may have been the first of those who took shelter in the mountains of Armenia and Georgia, and thence spread themselves, where we afterward find them, in the lowlands of Mesopotamia. The name Aram, however, is in no way connected with Armenia, which is itself no indigenous name of that country, but was probably formed by the Greeks, from a name which they heard . The name Aram, “lofty,” obviously describes some quality of the son of Shem, as of others who bore the name . Contrariwise, Canaan, (whether or no anticipating his future degraded character as partaking in the sin of Ham) may signify “crouching.” But neither has Aram any meaning of “highland,” nor Canaan of “lowland,” as has of late been imagined. .
From Kir the forefathers of the Syrians had, of their own will, been brought by the good all-disposing Providence of God; to Kir should the Syrians, against their will, be carried back. Aram of Damascus had been led to a land which, for its fertility and beauty, has been and is still praised as a sort of Paradise. Now, softened as they were by luxury, they were to be transported back to the austere though healthy climate, from where they had come. They had abused the might given to them by God, in the endeavor to uproot Israel; now they were themselves to be utterly uprooted. The captivity which Amos foretells is complete; a captivity by which (as the word means) the land should be bared of its inhabitants. Such a captivity he foretells of no other, except the ten tribes. He foretells it absolutely of these two nations alone , of the king and princes of Ammon Amos 1:15, not of Tyre, or the cities of Philistia, or Edom, or Ammon, or Moab. The punishment did not reach Syria in those days, but in those of Rezin who also oppressed Judah. The sin not being cut off; the punishment too was handed down.
Tiglath-pileser carried them away, about 50 years after this, and killed Rezin 2 Kings 16:9. In regard to these two nations, Amos foretells the captivity absolutely. Yet at this time, there was no human likelihood, no ground, except of a divine knowledge, to predict it of these two nations especially. They went into captivity too long after this for human foresight to predict it; yet long enough before the captivity of Judah for the fulfillment to have impressed Judah if they would. The transportation of whole populations, which subsequently became part of the standing policy of the Persian and of the later Assyrian Empires, was not, as far as we know, any part of Eastern policy at the time of the prophet. Sesostris, the Egyptian conqueror, some centuries before Amos, is related to have brought together “many men,” “a crowd,” from the nations whom he had subdued, and to have employed them on his buildings and canals.
Even this account has received no support from the Egyptian monuments, and the deeds ascribed by the Greeks to Sesostris have been supposed to be a blending of those of two monarchs of the xix. Dynasty, Sethos I and Raamses II, interwoven with those of Ousartesen III (Dynasty xii.) and Tothmosis III (Dyn. xviii). But the carrying away of tiny number of prisoners from fields of battle is something altogether different from the political removal of a nation. It had in it nothing systematic or designed. It was but the employment of those whom war had thrown into their hands, as slaves. The Egyptian monarchs availed themselves of this resource, to spare the labor of their native subjects in their great works of utility or of vanity. But the prisoners so employed were but a slave population, analogous to those who, in other nations, labored in the mines or in agriculture.
They employed in the like way the Israelites, whom they had received peacefully. Their earlier works were carried on by native labor . After Tothmosis III, in whose reign is the first representation of prisoners employed in forced labor , they could, during their greatness, spare their subjects. They imported labor, not by slave trade, but through war. Nubia was incorporated with Egypt , and Nubian prisoners were, of course, employed, not in their own country but in the north of Egypt; Asiatic prisoners in Nubia . But they were prisoners made in a campaign, not a population; a foreign element in Egyptian soil, not an interchange of subject-populations. Doubtless, “the mixed multitude” Exodus 12:38, which “went up with” Israel from Egypt, were in part these Asiatic captives, who had been subjected to the same hard bondage.
The object and extent of those forced transportations by the later Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were altogether different. Here the intention was to remove the people from their original seat, or at most to leave those only who, from their fewness or poverty, would be in no condition to rebel. The cuneiform inscriptions have brought before us, to a great extent, the records of the Assyrian conquests, as given by their kings. But whereas the later inscriptions of Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, mention repeatedly the deportation of populations, the earlier annals of Asshurdanipal or Asshurakhbal relate the carrying off of soldiers only as prisoners, and women as captives . They mention also receiving slaves as tributes, the number of oxen and sheep, the goods and possessions and the gods of the people which they carry off .
Else the king relates, how he crucified or impaled or put to death men at arms or the people generally, but in no one of his expeditions does he mention any deportation. Often as modern writers assume, that the transportation of nations was part of the hereditary policy of the Monarchs of Asia, no instances before this period have been found. It appears to have been a later policy, first adopted by Tiglath-pileser toward Damascus and east and north Palestine, but foretold by the prophet long before it was adopted. It was the result probably of experience, that they could not keep these nations in dependence upon themselves while they left them in their old abodes. As far as our knowledge reaches, the prophet foretold the removal of these people, at a time when no instance of any such removal had occurred.
Gaza - Was the southernmost city of the Philistines, as it was indeed of Canaan Genesis 10:19 of old, the last inhabited place at the beginning of the desert, on the way from Phoenicia to Egypt . Its situation was wonderfully chosen, so that, often as a Gaza has been destroyed, a new city has, if even after long intervals, risen up again in the same immediate neighborhood . The fragments of the earlier city became materials for the later. It was first Canaanite Genesis 10:19; then Philistine; then, at least after Alexander, Edomite ; after Alexander Janneus, Greek ; conquered by Abubekr the first Khalif, it became Arabian; it was desolated in their civil wars, until the Crusaders rebuilt its fort ; then again, Muslim. In the earliest times, before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gaza was the south angle of the border of the Canaanites, from where it turned to the south of the Dead Sea. Even then it was known by its name of strength, ‘Azzah “the strong,” like our “Fort.”
For a time, it stood as an island-fort, while the gigantic race of the Avvim wandered, wilder probably than the modern Bedaween, up to its very gates. For since it is said, “the Avvim dwelt in open villages as far as Gaza” Deuteronomy 2:23; plainly they did not dwell in Gaza itself, a fortified town. The description assigns the bound of their habitations, up to the furthest town on the southeast, Gaza. They prowled around it, infested it doubtless, but did not conquer it, and were themselves expelled by the Caphtorim. The fortress of the prince of Gaza is mentioned in the great expedition of Tothmosis III , as the conquest of Ashkelon was counted worthy of mention in the monuments of Raamses II . It was strengthened doubtless by giving refuge to the Anakim, who, after Joshua had expelled them “from Hebron” and neighboring cities, “and the mountains of Judah and Israel, remained in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod” Joshua 11:21-23.
Its situation, as the first station for land-commerce to and from Egypt, whether toward Tyre and Sidon, or Damascus and the upper Euphrates, or toward Petra, probably aggrandized it early. Even when the tide of commerce has been diverted into other channels, its situation has been a source of great profit. A fertile spot, touching upon a track through a desert, it became a mart for caravans, even those which passed, on the pilgrim-route to Mekka, uniting traffic with their religion. Where the five cities are named together as unconquered, Gaza is mentioned first, then Ashdod Joshua 13:3. Samson, after he had betrayed his strength, was “brought down to Gaza” Judges 16:21, probably as being their strongest fortress, although the furthest from “the valley of Sorek ,” where he was ensnared.
There too was the vast temple of Dagon, which became the burying-place of so many of his worshipers. In Solomon’s reign it was subject to Israel 1 Kings 4:21. After the Philistine inroad in the time of Ahaz 2 Chronicles 28:18, and their capture of towns of Judah in the south and the low country, Shephelah, Hezekiah drove them back as far as Gaza 2 Kings 18:8, without apparently taking it. Its prince was defeated by Sargon , whose victory over Philistia Isaiah foretold Isaiah 14:29. Sennacherib gave to its king, together with those of Ascalon and Ekron , “fortified and other towns which” he “had spoiled,” avowedly to weaken Judah; “so as to make his (Hezekiah’s) country small;” probably also as a reward for hostility to Judah. Greek authors spcak of it, as “a very large city of Syria” , “a great city” . Like other cities of old, it was, for fear of pirates, built at some distance from the sea (Arrian says “2 12 miles”), but had a port called, like that of Asealea , Maiuma , which itself too in Christian times became a place of importance .
Because they carried away the whole captivity - Literally, “a complete captivity;” complete, but for evil; a captivity in which none were spared, none left behind; old or young, woman or child; but a whole population (whatever its extent) was swept away. Such an inroad of the Philistines is related in the time of Jehoram 2 Chronicles 21:16.
To deliver them up to Edom - Literally, “to shut them up to Edom,” in the power of Edom, their bitter enemy, so that they should not be able to escape, nor be restored. The hands, even if not the land, of Edom were already dyed in the blood of Jacob “their brother” Joel 3:19. “Any whither but there,” probably would cry the crowd of helpless captives. It was like driving the shrinking flock of sheep to the butcher’s shambles, reeking with the gore of their companions. Yet therefore were they driven there to the slaughter. Open markets there were for Jewish slaves in abundance. “Sell us, only not to slaughter.” “Spare the greyheaded;” “spare my child,” would go up in the ears of those, who, though enemies, understood their speech. But no! Such was the compact of Tyre and Philistia and Edom against the people of God. Not one was to be spared; it was to be “a complete captivity;” and that, to Edom. The bond was fulfilled. “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he too shall cry and shall not be heard” Proverbs 21:13. Joel mentions the like sin of the Philistines and Phoenicians, and foretold its punishment Joel 3:4-6. That in the reign of Jehoram is the last which Scripture mentions, but was not therefore, of necessity or probably, the last. Holy Scripture probably relates only the more notable of those border-raids. Unrepented sin is commonly renewed. Those strong Philistine fortresses must have given frequent, abundant opportunity for such inroads; as now too it is said in Arabia, “the harvest is to the stronger;” and while small protected patches of soil in Lebanon, Hauran, etc. are cultivated, the open fertile country often lies uncultivated , since it would be cultivated only for the marauder. Amos renews the sentence of Joel, forewarning them that, though it seemed to tarry, it would come.
But - Literally, “and.” Thus had Gaza done, and thus would God do; “I will send a fire upon Gaza.” The sentence on Gaza stands out, probably in that it was first in power and in sin. It was the merchant-city of the five; the caravans parted from it or passed through it; and so this sale of the Jewish captives was ultimately effected through them. First in sin, first in punishment. Gaza was strong by nature and by art. “The access to it also,” Arrian notices , “lay through deep sand.” We do not hear of its being taken, except in the first times of Israel under the special protection of God Judges 1:1-2, Judges 1:18, or by great conquerors. All Philistia, probably, submitted to David; we hear of no special conquest of its towns 2 Samuel 8:1. Its siege cost Alexander 2 months , with all the aid of the engines with which he had taken Tyre, and the experience which he had there gained. The Egyptian accounts state, that when besieged by Tothmosis III it capitulated . Thenceforth, it had submitted neither to Egypt nor Assyria. Yet Amos declared absolutely, that Gaza should be destroyed by fire, and it was so. Sennacherib first, then, after Jeremiah had foretold anew the destruction of Gaza, Ashkelon, and the Philistines, Pharaoh Necho “smote Gaza” Jeremiah 47:1. Yet who, with human foresight only, would undertake to pronounce the destruction of a city so strong?
And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod - Ashdod, as well as Ekron, have their names from their strength; Ashdod, “the mighty,” like Valentia; Ekron, “the firm-rooted.” The title of Ashdod implied that it was powerful to inflict as to resist. It may have meant, “the waster.” It too was eminent in its idolatry. The ark, when taken, was first placed in its Dagon-temple 1 Samuel 5:1-7; and, perhaps, in consequence, its lord is placed first of the five, in recounting the trespass-offerings which they sent to the Lord 1 Samuel 6:17. Ashdod (Azotus in the New Testament now a village, Esdud or Shdood ), lay 34 or 36 miles from Gaza , on the great route from Egypt northward, on that which now too is most used even to Jerusalem. Ashkelon lay to the left of the road, near the sea, rather more than halfway.
Ekron (Akir, now a village of 50 mud-houses ), lay a little to the right of the road northward from Gaza to Lydda (in the same latitude as Jamnia, Jabneel) on the road from Ramleh to Belt Jibrin (Eleutheropolis). Ekron, the furthest from the sea, lay only 15 miles from it. They were then a succession of fortresses, strong from their situation, which could molest any army, which should come along their coast. Transversely, in regard to Judah, they enclosed a space parallel to most of Judah and Benjamin. Ekron, which by God’s gift was the northern line of Judah Joshua 15:11, is about the same latitude as Ramah in Benjamin; Gaza, the same as Carmel (Kurmul). From Gaza lay a straight road to Jerusalem; but Ashkelon too, Ashdod, and Ekron lay near the heads of valleys, which ran up to the hill-country near Jerusalem .
This system of rich valleys, in which, either by artificial irrigation or natural absorption, the streams which ran from the mountains of Judah westward fertilized the grainfields of Philistia, aforded equally a ready approach to Philistine marauders into the very heart of Judah. The Crusaders had to crown with castles the heights in a distant circle around Ashkelon , in order to restrain the incursions of the Muslims. (In such occasions doubtless, the same man-stealing was often practiced on lesser scales, which here, on a larger scale, draws down the sentence of God. Gath, much further inland, probably formed a center to which these maritime towns converged, and united their system of inroads on Judah.
These five cities of Philistia had each its own petty king (Seren, our “axle”). But all formed one whole; all debated and acted together on any great occasion; as in the plot against Samson Judges 16:5, Judges 16:8, Judges 16:18, the sacrifice to Dagon in triumph over him, where they perished Judges 16:23, Judges 16:27, Judges 16:30; the inflictions on account of the ark 1 Samuel 5:8, 1 Samuel 5:11; 1 Samuel 6:4, 1 Samuel 6:12, 1Sa 6:16, 1 Samuel 6:18; the great attack on Israel 1 Samuel 7:7, which God defeated the Mizpeh; the battle when Saul fell, and the dismissal of David 1Sa 31:2, 1 Samuel 31:6-7; 1 Chronicles 12:19. The cities divided their idolatry also, in a manner, between them, Ashdod being the chief seat of the worship of Dagon , Ashkelon, of the corresponding worship of Derceto , the fish-goddess, the symbol of the passive principle in re-production. Ekron was the seat of the worship of Baalzebub and his oracle, from where he is called “the god of Ekron” 2Ki 1:2-3, 2 Kings 1:16.
Gaza, even after it had become an abode of Greek idolatry and had seven temples of Greek gods, still retained its worship of its god Marna (“our Lord”) as the chief . It too was probably “nature” and to its worship they were devoted. All these cities were as one; all formed one state; all were one in their sin; all were to be one in their punishment. So then for greater vividness, one part of the common infliction is related of each, while in fact, according to the custom of prophetic diction, what is said of each is said of all. King and people were to be cut off from all; all were to be consumed with fire in war; on all God would, as it were, “turn” (literally, “bring back”) His Hand, visiting them anew, and bringing again the same punishment upon them. In truth these destructions came upon them, again and again, through Sargon, Hezekiah, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, the Maccabees.
Ashdod - Uzziah about this time “brake down its walls and built cities about” 2 Chronicles 26:6 it, to protect his people from its inroads. It recovered, and was subsequently besieged and taken by Tartan, the Assyrian General under Sargon Isaiah 20:1 (about 716 b.c.). Somewhat later, it sustained the longest siege in man’s knowlege, for 29 years, from Psammetichus king of Egypt (about 635 b.c.). Whence, probably Jeremiah, while he speaks of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, mentions “the remnant of Ashdod” Jeremiah 25:20 only. Yet, after the captivity, it seems to have been the first Philistine city, so that the Philistines were called Ashdodites Nehemiah 4:7, and their dialect Ashdodite Nehemiah 13:24. They were still hostile to the Jews Nehemiah 4:7. The war, in which Judas Maccabaeus spoiled Ashdod and other Philistine cities (1 Macc. 5:68), was a defensive war against a war of extermination. “The nations round about” (1 Macc. 5:1, 2), it is said at the beginning of the account of that year’s campaign, “thought to destroy the generation of Jacob that was among them, and thereupon they began to slay and destroy the people.” Jonathan, the brother of Judas, “set fire to Azotus and the cities round about it (1 Macc. 10:82, 84), after a battle under its walls, to which his enemies had challenged him. The temple of Dagon in it was a sort of citadel (1 Macc. 10:83).
Ashkelon is mentioned as a place of strength, taken by the great conqueror, Raamses II. Its resolute defense and capture are represented, with its name as a city of Canaanites, on a monument of Karnac . Its name most naturally signifies “hanging.” This suits very well with the site of its present ruins, which “hang” on the side of the theater or arc of hills, whose base is the sea. This, however, probably was not its ancient site (see the note at Zephaniah 2:4). Its name occurs in the wars of the Maccabees, but rather as submitting readily (1 Macc. 10:86; 11:60). Perhaps the inhabitants had been changed in the intervening period. Antipater, the Edomite father of Herod, courted, we are told , “the Arabs and the Ascalonites and the Gazites.” “Toward the Jews their neighbors, the inhabitants of the Holy land,” Philo says to the Roman emperor, “the Ascalonites have an irreconcilable aversion, which will come to no terms.” This abiding hatred burst out at the beginning of the war with the Romans, in which Jerusalem perished. The Ascalonites massacred 2500 Jews dwelling among them . The Jews “fired Ascalon and utterly destroyed Gaza” .
Ekron was apparently not important enough in itself to have any separate history. We hear of it only as given by Alexander Bales “with the borders thereof in possession” (1 Macc. 10:89) to Jonathan the Maccabee. The valley of Surar gave the Ekronites a readier entrance into the center of Judaea, than Ascalon or Ashdod had. In Jerome’s time, it had sunk to “a very large village.”
The residue of the Philistines shall perish - This has been thought to mean “the rest” (as in Jeremiah 39:3; Nehemiah 7:72) that is, Gath, (not mentioned by name anymore as having ceased to be of any account (see the note at Amos 6:3)) and the towns, dependent on those chief cities . The common (and, with a proper name, universal ) meaning of the idiom is, “the remnant,” those who remain over after a first destruction. The words then, like those just before, “I will bring again my hand against Ekron,” foretell a renewal of those first judgments. The political strength which should survive one desolation should be destroyed in those which should succeed it. In tacit contrast with the promises of mercy to the remnant of Judah (see above the note at Joel 2:32), Amos foretells that judgment after judgment should fall upon Philistia, until the Philistines ceased to be anymore a people; as they did.
The last crowning sin, for which judgment is pronounced on Tyre, is the same as that of Philistia, and probably was enacted in concert with it. In Tyre, there was this aggravation, that it was a violation of a previous treaty and friendship. It was not a covenant only, nor previous friendliness only; but a specific covenant, founded on friendship which they forgat and brake. If they retained the memory of Hiram’s contact with David and Solomon, it was a sin against light too. After David had expelled the Jebusites from Jerusalem, “Hiram King of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees and carpenters and masons; and they built David a house” 2 Samuel 5:11. The Philistines contrariwise invaded him 2 Samuel 5:17. This recognition of him by Hiram was to David a proof, “that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for His people, Israel’s sake” 2 Samuel 5:12.
Hiram seems, then, to have recognized something super-human in the exaltation of David. “Hiram was ever a lover of David” 1 Kings 5:1. This friendship he continued to Solomon, and recognized his God as “the” God. Scripture embodies the letter of Hiram; “Because the Lord hath loved his people, He hath made thee king over them. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, that made heaven and earth, who hath given to David a wise son - that he might build are house for the Lord” . He must have known then the value which the pious Israelites attached to the going up to that temple. A later treaty, offered by Demetrius Nicator to Jonathan, makes detailed provision that the Jews should have “the feasts and sabbaths and new moons and the solemn days and the three days before the feast and the three days after the feast, as days of immunity and freedom.”
The three days before the feast were given, that they might go up to the feast. Other treaties guarantee to the Jews religious privileges . A treaty between Solomon and Hiram, which should not secure any religious privileges needed by Jews in Hiram’s dominion, is inconceivable. But Jews were living among the Zidonians (see the note at Joel 3:6). The treaty also, made between Hiram and Solomon, was subsequent to the arrangement by which Hiram was to supply cedars to Solomon, and Solomon to furnish the grain of which Hiram stood in need 1 Kings 5:7-11. “The Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as He promised him” 1 Kings 5:12; and, as a fruit of that wisdom, “there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they two made a covenant.” The terms of that covenant are not there mentioned; but a covenant involves conditions. it was not a mere peace; but a distinct covenant, sanctioned by religious rites and by sacrifice.
“This brotherly covenant Tyre remembered not,” when they delivered up to Edom “a complete captivity,” all the Jews who came into their hands. It seems then, that that covenant had an special provision against selling them away from their own land. This same provision other people made for love of their country or their homes; the Jews, for love of their religion. This covenant Tyre remembered not, but brake. They knew doubtless why Edom sought to possess the Israelites; but the covetousness of Tyre fed the cruelty of Edom, and God punished the broken appeal to Himself.
I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre - Tyre had long ere this become tributary to Assyria. Asshur-ban-ipal (about 930 b.c.,) records his “taking tribute from the kings of all the chief Phoenician cities as Tyre, Sidon, Biblus and Aradus” . His son Shalmanubar records his taking tribute from them in his 21st year about 880, b.c.), as did Ivalush III , and after this time Tiglath-pileser II , the same who took Damascus and carried off its people, as also the east and north of Israel. The Phoenicians had aided Benhadad, in his unsuccessful war or rebellion against Shalmanubar , but their city had received no hurt. There was nothing, in the time of Amos, to indicate any change of policy in the Assyrian conquerors.
They had been content hitherto with tribute from their distant dependencies; they had spared them, even when in arms against them. Yet Amos says absolutely in the name of God, “I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,” and the fire did fall, first from Shalamaneser or Sargon his successor, and then from Nebuchadnezzar. The Tyrians (as is men’s custom) inserted in their annals their successes, or the successful resistance which they made for a time. They relate that , “Elulaeus, king of Tyre, reduced the Kittiaeans (Cypriotes) who had revolted. The king of Assyria invaded all Phoenicia, and returned, having made peace with all. Sidon and Ace and old Tyre, and many other cities revolted from the Tyrians, and surrendered to the king of Assyria. Tyre then not obeying, the king returned against them, the Phoenicians manning 60 ships for him.” These, he says, were dispersed, 500 prisoners taken; the honor of Tyre intensified. “The king of Assyria, removing, set guards at the river and aqueducts, to hinder the Tyrians from drawing water. This they endured for 5 years, drinking from the wells sunk.”
The Tyrian annalist does not relate the sequel. He does not venture to say that the Assyrian King gave up the siege, but, having made the most of their resistance, breaks off the account. The Assyrian inscriptions say, that Sargon took Tyre , and received tribute from Cyprus, where a monument has been found, bearing the name of Sargon . It is not probable that a monarch who took Samaria and Ashdod, received tribute from Egypt, the “Chief of Saba,” and “Queen of the Arabs,” overran Hamath, Tubal, Cilicia, Armenia, reduced Media, should have returned baffled, because Tyre stood out a blockade for 5 years. Since Sargon wrested from Tyre its newly-recovered Cyprus, its insular situation would not have protected itself. Nebuchadnezzar took it after a 13 years’ siege (Ezekiel 26:7-12, see the notes at Isaiah 23:0).
Edom - God had impressed on Israel its relation of brotherhood to Edom. Moses expressed it to Edom himself , and, after the suspicious refusal of Edom to allow Israel to march on the highway through his territory, he speaks as kindly of him, as before; “And when we passed by from our brethren, the children of Esau” Deuteronomy 2:8. It was the unkindness of worldly politics, and was forgiven. The religious love of the Egyptian and the Edomite was, on distinct grounds, made part of the law. “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land” Deuteronomy 23:7. The grandchild of an Egyptian or of an Edomite was religiously to become as an Israelite Deuteronomy 23:8. Not a foot of Edomite territory was Israel to appropriate, however provoked. It was God’s gift to Edom, as much as Canaan to Israel. “They shall be afraid of you, and ye shall take exceeding heed to yourselves. Quarrel not with them, for I will give you, of their land, no, not so much as the treading of the sole of the foot, for I have given Mount Seir unto Esau for a possession” Deuteronomy 2:4-5.
From this time until that of Saul, there is no mention of Edom; only that the Maonites and the Amalekites, who oppressed Israel Judges 6:3; Judges 10:12, were kindred tribes with Edom. The increasing strength of Israel in the early days of Saul seems to have occasioned a conspiracy against him, such as Asaph afterward complains of; “They have said, come and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent, they are confederate against Thee; the tabernacles of Edom and the Ishmaelites; of Moab and the Hagarenes; Gebal and Ammon and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them; they have been an arm to the children of Lot” Psalms 83:4-8. Such a combination began probably in the time of Saul. “He fought against all his enemies on every side; against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against the king of Edom, and against the Philistines” 1 Samuel 14:47.
They were “his enemies,” and that, round about, encircling Israel, as hunters did their prey. “Edom,” on the south and southeast; “Moab” and “Ammon” on the east; the Syrians of “Zobah” on the north; the Philistines on the west enclosed him as in a net, and he repulsed them one by one. “Whichever why he turned, he worsted” them. It follows “he delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them” 1 Samuel 14:48. The aggression was from Edom, and that in combination with old oppressors of Israel, not from Saul . The wars of Saul and of David were defensive wars. Israel was recovering from a state of depression, not oppressing. “The valley of salt” 2 Samuel 8:13, where David defeated the Edomites, was also doubtless within the borders of Judah, since “the city of salt” was Joshua 15:62; and the valley of salt was probably near the remarkable “mountain of salt,” 5 56 miles long, near the end of the Dead Sea , which, as being Canaanite, belonged to Israel. It was also far north of Kadesh, which was “the utmost boundary” of Edom Numbers 20:16.
From that Psalm too of mingled thanksgiving and prayer which David composed after the victory, “in the valley of salt” (Psalms 60:1-12 title), it appears that, even after that victory, David’s army had not yet entered Edom. “Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?” Psalms 60:9. That same Psalm speaks of grievous suffering before, “in” which God had “cast” them “off” and “scattered” them; “made the earth tremble and cleft it;” so that “it reeled” Psalms 60:1-3, Psalms 60:10. Joab too had “returned” from the war in the north against the Syrians of Mesopotamia, to meet the Edomites. Whether in alliance with the Syrians, or taking advantage of the absence of the main army there, the Edomites had inflicted some heavy blow on Israel; a battle in which Abishai killed 18,000 men 1 Chronicles 18:12 had been indecisive. The Edomites were relpalsed by the rapid counter-march of Joab. The victory, according to the Psalm, was still incomplete 1 Chronicles 18:1, 1Ch 18:5, 1 Chronicles 18:9-12. David put “garrisons in Edom” 2 Samuel 8:14, to restrain them from further outbreaks. Joab avenged the wrong of the Edomites, conformably to his character 1 Kings 11:16; but the fact that “the captain of the host” had “to go up to bury the slain” (1 Kings 11:15. It should be rendered, not, after he had slain, but, and he killed, etc.), shows the extent of the deadly blow, which he so fearfully avenged.
The store set by the king of Egypt on Hadad, the Edomite prince who fled to him 1 Kings 11:14-20, shows how gladly Egypt employed Edom as an enemy to Israel. It has been said that he rebelled and failed . Else it remained under a dependent king appointed by Judah, for 1 12 century (1 Kings 22:47; 2 Kings 3:9 ff). One attempt against Judah is recorded 2 Chronicles 20:10, when those of Mount Seir combined with Moab and Ammon against Jehoshaphat after his defeat at Ramoth-gilead. They had penetrated beyond Engedi 2 Chronicles 20:2, 2 Chronicles 20:16, 2 Chronicles 20:20, on the road which Arab marauders take now , toward the wilderness of Tekoa, when God set them against one another, and they fell by each other’s hands 2 Chronicles 20:22-24. But Jehoshaphat’s prayer at this time evinces that Israel’s had been a defensive warfare. Otherwise, he could not have appealed to God, “the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir, whom Thou wouldest not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them, and destroyed them not, behold, they reward us, to come to cast us out of Thy possession, which Thou hast given us to inherit” 2 Chronicles 20:10-11.
Judah held Edom by aid of garrisons, as a wild beast is held in a cage, that they might not injure them, but had taken no land from them, nor expelled them. Edom sought to cast Israel out of God’s land. Revolts cannot be without bloodshed; and so it is perhaps the more probable, that the words of Joel, “for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land” Joel 3:19, relate to a massacre of the Jews, when Esau revolted from Jehoram 2 Kings 8:20-22. We have seen, in the Indian Massacres, how every living being of the ruling power may, on such occasions, be sought out for destruction. Edom gained its independence, and Jehoram, who sought to recover his authority, escaped with his life by cutting through the Edomite army by night 2 Kings 8:21. Yet in Amaziha’s time they were still on the offensive, since the battle wherein he defeated them, was again “in the valley of salt” 2 Kings 14:7; 2Ch 25:11, 2 Chronicles 25:14.
Azariah, in whose reign Amos prophesied, regained Elath from them, the port for the Indian trade 2 Chronicles 26:2. Of the origin of that war, we know nothing; only the brief words as to the Edomite invasion against Ahaz, “and yet again had the Edomites come, and smitten in Judah, and carried captive a captivity” 2 Chronicles 28:17, attest previous and, it may be, habitual invasions. For no one such invasion had been named. It may probably mean, “they did yet again, what they had been in the habit of doing.” But in matter of history, the prophets, in declaring the grounds of God’s judgments, supply much which it was not the object of the historical books to relate. “They” are histories of God’s dealings with His people, His chastisements of them or of His sinful instruments in chastising them. Rarely, except when His supremacy was directly challenged, do they record the ground of the chastisements of pagan nations. Hence, to those who look on the surface only, the wars of the neighboring nations against Israel look but like the alternations of peace and war, victory and defeat, in modern times. The prophets draw up the veil, and show us the secret grounds of man’s misdeeds and God’s judgments.
Because he did pursue his brother - The characteristic sin of Edom, and its punishment are one main subject of the prophecy of Obadiah, inveterate malice contrary to the law of kindred. Eleven hundred years had passed since the birth of their forefathers, Jacob and Esan. But, with God, eleven hundred years had not worn out kindred. He who willed to knit together all creation, human beings and angels, in one in Christ Ephesians 1:10, and, as a means of union, “made of one blood all nations of people for to dwell on all the face of the earth” Acts 17:26, used all sorts of ways to impress this idea of brotherhood. “We” forget relationship mostly in the third generation, often sooner; and we think it strange when a nation long retains the memories of those relationships . God, in His law, stamped on His people’s minds those wider meanings. To slay a man was to slay a “brother” Genesis 9:5.
Even the outcast Canaan was a brother Genesis 9:25 to Shem and Ham. Lot speaks to the men of Sodom amidst their iniquities, “my brethren” Genesis 19:7; Jacob so salutes those unknown to him Genesis 29:4. The descendants of Ishmael and Isaac were to be brethren; so were those of Esau and Jacob Genesis 16:12; Genesis 25:18. The brotherhood of blood was not to wear out, and there was to be a brotherhood of love also Genesis 27:29, Genesis 27:37. Every Israelite was a brother ; each tribe was a brother to every other Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:2; Judges 20:23, Judges 20:28; the force of the appeal was remembered, even when passion ran high 2 Samuel 2:26. It enters habitually into the divine legislation. “Thou shall open thy hand wide unto thy brother Deuteronomy 15:11; if thy brother, a” Hebrew, sell himself to thee Deuteronomy 15:12; thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray and hide thyself from them Deuteronomy 22:1-4; if thy brother be waxen poor, then shalt thou relieve him, though a stranger and a sojourner, that he may live with thee” (Leviticus 25:35-39; add Leviticus 19:17; Deuteronomy 24:7, Deuteronomy 24:10, Deuteronomy 24:14).
In that same law, Edom’s relationship as a brother was acknowledged. It was an abiding law that Israel was not to take land, nor to refuse to admit him into the congregation of the Lord. Edom too remembered the relation, but to hate him. The nations around Israel seem to have been little at war with one another, bound together by common hatred against God’s people. Of their wars indeed we should not hear, for they had no religious interest. They would be but the natural results of the passions of unregenerate nature. Feuds there doubtless were and forays, but no attempts at permanent conquest or subdual. Their towns remain in their own possession . Tyre does not invade Philistia; nor Philistia, Tyre or Edom. But all combine against Israel. The words, “did pursue his brother with the sword,” express more than is mentioned in the historical books.
To “pursue” is more than to fight. They followed after, in order to destroy a remnant, “and cast off all pity:” literally, and more strongly, “corrupted his compassions, tendernesses.” Edom did violence to his natural feelings, as Ezekiel, using the same word, says of Tyre, “corrupting Ezekiel 28:17 his wisdom,” that is, perverting it from the end for which God gave it, and so destroying it. Edom “steeled himself,” as we say, against his better feelings,” his better nature,” “deadened” them. But so they do not live again. Man is not master of the life and death of his feelings, anymore than of his natural existence. He can destroy; he cannot re-create. And he does, so far, “corrupt,” decay, do to death, his own feelings, whenever, in any signal instance, he acts against them. Edom was not simply unfeeling. He destroyed all “his tender yearnings” over suffering, such as God has put into every human heart, until it destroys them. Ordinary anger is satisfied and slaked by its indulgence; malice is fomented and fed and invigorated by it. Edom ever, as occasion gratified his anger; “his anger did tear continually;” yet, though raging as some wild ravening animal, without control, “he kept his wrath for ever,” not within bounds, but to let it loose anew. He retained it when he ought to have parted with it, and let it loose when he ought to have restrained it.
“What is best, when spoiled, becomes the worst,” is proverbial truth. : “As no love wellnigh is more faithful than that of brothers, so no hatred, when it hath once begun, is more unjust, no odium fiercer. Equality stirs up and inflames the mind; the shame of giving way and the love of preeminence is the more inflamed, in that the memory of infancy and whatever else would seem to gender good will, when once they are turned aside from the right path, produce hatred and contempt.” They were proverbial sayings of paganism, “fierce are the wars of brethren” , and “they who have loved exceedingly, they too hate exceedingly.” : “The Antiochi, the Seleuci, the Gryphi, the Cyziceni, when they learned not to be all but brothers, but craved the purple and diadems, overwhelmed themselves and Asia too with many calamities.”
But - (And I, in My turn and as a consequence of these sins) will send a fire upon Teman “Teman,” say Eusebius and Jerome , “was a country of the princes of Edom, which had its name from Teman son of Eliphaz, son of Esau Genesis 36:11, Genesis 36:15. But even to this day there is a village, called Teman, about 5 (Eusebius says 15) miles from Petra, where there is also a Roman garrison, from which place was Eliphaz, king of the Themanites.” It is, however, probably the district which is meant, of which Bozra was then the capital. For Amos when speaking of cities, uses some word to express this, as “the palaces of Benhadad, the wall of Gaza, of Tyrus, of Rabbah;” here he simply uses the name Teman, as he does those of Moab and Judah. Amos does not mention Petra, or Selah, for Amaziah had taken it, and called it Joktheel, “which God subdued,” which name it for some time retained 2 Kings 14:7.
Bozrah - (Literally, which cuts off approach) is mentioned, as early as Genesis Genesis 36:33, as the seat of one of the elective kings who, in times before Moses, reigned over Edom. It lay then doubtless in Idumea itself, and is quite distinct from the Bozrah of Hauran or Auranitis, from which Jerome also distinguishes it. : “There is another Bosor also, a city of Esau, in the mountains of Idumea, of which Isaiah speaks.” There is yet a small village of the like name (Busaira “the little Bozrah”) which “appears,” it is said , “to have been in ancient times a considerable city, if we may judge from the ruins which surround the village.” It has now “some 50 houses, and stands on an elevation, on the summit of which a small castle has been built.” The name however, “little Bozrah,” indicates the existence of a “great Bozrah,” with which its name is contrasted, and is not likely to have been the place itself . Probably the name was a common one, “the strong place” of its neighborhood . The Bozrah of Edom is either that little vilage, or is wholly blotted out.
Ammon - These who receive their existence under circumstances, in any way like those of the first forefathers of Moab and Ammon, are known to be under physical as well as intellectual and moral disadvantages. Apart from the worst horrors, on the one side reason was stupefied, on the other it was active in sin. He who imprinted His laws on nature, has annexed the penalty to the infraction of those laws. It is known also how, even under the Gospel, the main character of a nation remains unchanged. The basis of natural character, upon which grace has to act, remains, under certain limits, the same. Still more in the unchanging east. Slave-dealers know of certain hereditary good or evil qualities in non-Christian nations in whom they traffic. What marvel then that Ammon and Moab retained the stamp of their origin, in a sensual or passionate nature? Their choice of their idols grew out of this original character and aggravated it.
They chose them gods like themselves, and worsened themselves by copying these idols of their sinful nature. The chief god of the fierce Ammon was Milehem or Molech, the principle of destruction, who was appeased with sacrifices of living children, given to the fire to devour. Moab, beside its idol Chemosh, had the degrading worship of Baal Peor Numbers 25:1-3, reproductiveness the counterpart of destruction. And, so. in fierce or degrading rites, they worshiped the power which belongs to God, to create, or to destroy. Moab was the seducer of Israel at Shittim Numbers 25:1-3. Ammon, it has been noticed, showed at different times a special wanton ferocity . Such was the proposal of Nahash to the men of Jabesh-Gilead, when offering to surrender, “that I may thrust out all your right eyes and lay it for a reproach unto all Israel” 1 Samuel 11:1-3.
Such was the insult to David’s messengers of peace, and the hiring of the Syrians in an aggressive war against David 2 Samuel 10:1-6. Such, again, was this war of extermination against the Gileadites. On Israel’s side, the relation to Moab and Ammon had been altogether friendly. God recalled to Israel the memory of their common descent, and forbade them to war against either. He speaks of them by the name of kindness, “the children of Lot,” the companion and friend of Abraham. “I will not give thee of their land for a possession, because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession” Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19. Akin by descent, their history had been alike. Each had driven out a giant tribe; Moab, the Emim; Ammon, the Zamzummim Deuteronomy 2:10-11, Deuteronomy 2:20-21. They had thus possessed themselves of the tract from the Arnon, not quite half way down the Dead Sea on its east side, to the Jabbok, about half-way between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee . Both had been expelled by the Amorites, and had been driven, Moab, behind the Arnon, Ammon, behind the “strong border” Numbers 21:24 of the upper part of the Jabbok, what is now the Nahr Amman, “the river of Ammon,” eastward.
The whole of what became the inheritance of the 2 12 tribes, was in the hands of the Amorites, and threatened very nearly their remaining possessions; since, at “Aroer that is before Rabbah” Joshua 13:25, the Amorites were already over against the capital of Ammon; at the Arnon they were but 2 12 hours from Ar-Moab, the remaining capital of Moab. Israel then, in destroying the Amorites, had been at once avenging and rescuing Moab and Ammon; and it is so far a token of friendliness at this time, that, after the victory at Edrei, the great “iron bedstead” of Og was placed in “Rabbah of the children of Ammon” Deuteronomy 3:11. Envy, jealousy, and fear, united them to “hire Balaam to curse Israel” Deuteronomy 23:4, although the king of Moab was the chief actor in this Num. 22–24, as he was in the seduction of Israel to idoltary Numbers 25:1-3. Probably Moab was then, and continued to be, the more influential or the more powerful, since in their first invasion of Israel, the Ammonites came as the allies of Eglon king of Moab. “He gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek Judges 3:13. And” they “served Eglon.” Yet Ammon’s subsequent oppression must have been yet more grievous, since God reminds Israel of His delivering them from the Ammonites Judges 10:11, not from Moab. There we find Ammon under a king, and in league with the Philistines Judges 10:7, “crashing and crushing for 18 years all the children of Israel in Gilead.” The Ammonites carried a wide invasion across the Jordan against Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim Judges 10:9, until they were subdued by Jephthah. Moab is not named; but the king of Ammon claims as my land Judges 11:13, the whole which Moab and Ammon had lost to the Amorites and they to Israel, “from Arnon unto Jabbok and unto Jordan” Judges 11:13.
The range also of Jephthah’s victories included probably all that same country from the Arnon to the neighborhood of Rabbah of Ammon . The Ammonites, subdued then, were again on the offensive in the fierce siege of Jabesh-Gilead and against Saul (see above the note at Amos 1:11). Yet it seems that they had already taken from Israel what they had lost to the Amorites, for Jabesh-Gilead was beyond the Jabbok ; and “Mizpeh of Moab,” where David went to seek the king of Moab 1 Samuel 22:3, was probably no other than the Ramoth-Mizpeh Joshua 13:26 of Gad, the Mizpeh Judges 11:29 from where Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites. With Hanan, king of Ammon, David sought to remain at peace, on account of some kindness, interested as it probably was, which his father Nahash had shown him, when persecuted by Saul 2 Samuel 10:2.
It was only after repeated attempts to bring an overwhelming force of the Syriains against David, that Rabbah was besieged and taken, and that awful punishment inflicted. The severity of the punishment inflicted on Moab and Ammon, in that two-thirds of the fighting men of Moab were put to death 2 Samuel 8:2, and fighting men of “the cities of Ammon” 2 Samuel 12:31 were destroyed by a ghastly death, so different from David’s treatment of the Philistines or the various Syrians, implies some extreme hostility on their part, from which there was no safety except in their destruction. Moab and Ammon were still united against Jehoshaphat 2 Chronicles 20:0, and with Nebuchadnezzar against Jehoiakim 2 Kings 24:2, whom they had before sought to stir up against the king of Babylon Jeremiah 27:3. Both profited for a time by the distresses of Israel, “magnifying” themselves “against her border” Zephaniah 2:8, and taking possession of her cities after the 2 12 tribes has been carried away by Tiglath-pileser. Both united in insulting Judah, and (as it appears from Ezekiel Ezekiel 25:2-8), out of jealousy against its religious distinction.
When some of the scattered Jews were reunited under Gedaliah, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, it was a king of Ammon, Baalis, who instigated Johanan to murder him Jeremiah 40:11-14; Jeremiah 41:10. When Jerusalem was to be rebuilt after the return from the captivity, Ammonites and Moabites Nehemiah 2:10, Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:1-3, “Sanballat the Horonite” (that is, out of Horonaim, which Moab had taken to itself Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 48:3, Jeremiah 48:5, Jeremiah 48:34.) “and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite,” were chief in the opposition to it. They helped on the persecution by Antiochus (1 Macc. 5:6). Their anti-religious character, which showed itself in the hatred of Israel and the hire of Balaam, was the ground of the exclusion of both from admission “into the congregation of the Lord forever” Deuteronomy 23:3. The seduction of Solomon by his Ammonite and Moabite wives illustrates the infectiousness of their idolatry. While he made private chapels “for all his strange wives, to burn incense and sacrifice to their gods” 1 Kings 11:8, the most stately idolatry was that of Chemosh and Molech, the abomination of Moab and Ammon . For Ashtoreth alone, besides these, did Solomon build high places in sight of the temple of God, on a lower part of the Mount of Olives 2 Kings 23:13.
They have ripped up the women with child in Gilead - Since Elisha prophesied that Hazael would be guilty of this same atrocity, and since Gilead was the scene of his chief atrocities , probably Syria and Ammon were, as of old, united against Israel in a war of extermination. It was a conspiracy to displace God’s people from the land which He had given them, and themselves to replace them. The plan was effective; it was, Amos says, executed. They expelled and “inherited Gad” Jeremiah 49:1. Gilead was desolated for the sins for which Hosea rebuked it; “blood had blood.” It had been “tracked with blood” (see the note at Hosea 6:8); now life was sought out for destruction, even in the mother’s womb. But, in the end, Israel, whose extermination Ammon devised and in part effected, survived. Ammon perished and left no memorial.
That they might enlarge their border - It was a horror, then, exercised, not incidentally here and there, or upon a few, or in sudden stress of passion, but upon system and in cold blood. We have seen lately, in the massacres near Lebanon, where male children were murdered on system, how methodically such savageness goes to work. A massacre, here and there, would not have “enlarged their border.” They must haw carried on these horrors then, throughout all the lands which they wished to possess, making place for themselves by annihilating Israel, that there might be none to rise up and thrust them from their conquests, and claim their old inheritance. Such was the fruit of habitually indulged covetousness. Yet who beforehand would have thought it possible?
I will kindle afire in the wall of Rabbah - Rabbah, literally, “the great,” called by Moses “Rabbah of the children of Ammon” Deuteronomy 3:11, and by later Greeks, “Rabathammana” , was a strong city with a yet stronger citadel. Ruins still exist, some of which probably date back to these times. The lower city “lay in a valley bordered on both sides by barren hills of flint,” at 12 an hour from its entrance. It lay on a stream, still called by its name Moyet or Nahr Amman, “waters” or “river of Ammon,” which ultimately falls into the Zurka (the Jabbok) . “On the top of the highest of the northern hills,” where at the divergence of two valleys it abuts upon the ruins of the town, “stands the castle of Ammon, a very extensive rectangular building,” following the shape of the hill and wholly occupying its crest. “Its walls are thick, and denote a remote antiquity; large blocks of stone are piled up without cement, and still hold together as well as if they had been recently placed; the greater part of the wall is entire. Within the castle are several deep cisterns.”
There are remains of foundations of a wall of the lower city at its eastern extremity . This lower city, as lying on a river in a waterless district, was called the “city of waters” 2 Samuel 12:27, which Joab had taken when he sent to David to come and besiege the Upper City. In later times, that Upper City was resolutely defended against Antiochus the Great, and taken, not by force but by thirst . On a conspicuous place on this castle-hill, stood a large temple, some of its broken columns 3 12 feet in diameter , probably the Grecian successor of the temple of its idol Milchom. Rabbah, the capital of Ammon, cannot have escaped, when Nebuchadnezzar , “in the 5th year of his reign, led an army against Coele-Syria, and, having possessed himself of it, warred against the Ammonites and Moabites, and having made all these nations subject to him, invaded Egypt, to subdue it.”
Afterward, it was tossed to and fro in the desolating wars between Syria and Egypt. Ptolemy II called it from his own surname Philadelphia , and so probably had had to restore it. It brought upon itself the attack of Antiochus III and its own capture, by its old habit of marauding against the Arabs in alliance with him. At the time of our Lord, it, with “Samaria, Galilee and Jericho,” is said by a pagan to be “inhabited by a mingled race of Egyptians, Arabians and Phoenicians.” It had probably already been given over to “the children of the East,” the Arabs, as Ezekiel had foretold Ezekiel 25:4. In early Christian times Milchom was still worshiped there under its Greek name of Hercules . Trajan recovered it to the Roman empire , and in the 4th century it, with Bostra , was still accounted a “vast town most secured by strong walls,” as a frontier fortress “to repel the incursions of neighboring nations.” It was counted to belong to Arabia . An Arabic writer says that it perished before the times of Muhammed, and covered a large tract with its ruins . It became a station of pilgrims to Mecca, and then, until now, as Ezekiel foretold , a stable for camels and a couching place.
I will kindle a fire in the wall - It may be that the prophet means to speak of some conflagration from within, in that he says not, as elsewhere, “I will send afire upon,” but, “I will kindle a fire in” Amos 1:4, Amos 1:7, Amos 1:10, Amos 1:12; Amos 2:2, Amos 2:5. But “the shouting” is the battle-cry (Job 39:25; Jeremiah 20:16; Zephaniah 1:16, etc.) of the victorious enemy, the cheer of exultation, anticipating its capture. That onslaught was to be resistless, sweeping, like a whirlwind, all before it. The fortress and walls of Rabbah were to yield before the onset of the enemy, as the tents of their caravans were whirled flat on the ground before the eddying of the whirlwinds from the desert, burying all beneath them.
And their king - The king was commonly, in those nations, the center of their energy. When “he and his princes” were “gone into captivity,” there was no one to make head against the conqueror, and renew revolts. Hence, as a first step in the subdual, the reigning head and those who shared his counsels were removed. Ammon then, savage as it was in act, was no ill-organized horde. On the contrary, barren and waste as all that country now is, it must once have been highly cultivated by a settled and laborious people. The abundance of its ruins attests the industry and habits of the population. “The whole of the country,” says Burckhardt , “must have been extremely well cultivated, to have afforded subsistence to the inhabitants of so many towns.” “The low hills are, for the most part, crowned with ruins.” Of the “thirty ruined or deserted places, which including Amman,” have been even lately “counted east of Assalt” (the village which probably represents Ramoth-Gilead, “about 16 miles west of Philadelphia that is, Amman) several are in Ammonitis. Little as the country has been explored, ruins of large and important towns have been found south-southeast. and south of Amman .
Two hours southeast of Amman, Buckingham relates , “an elevation opened a new view before us, in the same direction. On a little lower level, was a still more extensive track of cultivated plain than that even which we had already passed - Throughout its whole extent were seen ruined towns in every direction, both before, behind, and on each side of us; generally seated on small eminences; all at a short distance from each other; and all, as far as we had yet seen, bearing evident marks of former opulency and consideration. There was not a tree in sight as far as the eye could reach; but my guide, who had been over every part of it, assured me that the whole of the plain was covered with the finest soil, and capable of being made the most productive grain-land in the world - For a space of more than thirty miles there did not appear to me a single interruption of hill, rock or wood, to impede immediate tillage.
The great plain of Esdraelon, so justly celebrated for its extent and fertility, is inferior in both to this plain of Belkah. Like Esdraelon, it appears to have been once the seat of an active and numerous population; but in the former the monuments of the dead only remain, while here the habitations of the living are equally mingled with the tombs of the departed, all thickly strewn over every part of the soil from which they drew their sustenance.” Nor does the crown, of a “talent of gold weight, with precious stones” 2 Samuel 12:30, belong to an uncivilized people. Such hordes too depend on the will and guidance of their single Skeikh or head. This was a hereditary kingdom 2 Samuel 10:1. The kings of Ammon had their constitutional advisers. These were they who gave the evil and destructive counsel to insult the ambassadors of David. Evil kings have evermore evil counselors. It is ever the curse of such kings to have their own evil, reflected, anticipated, fomented, enacted by bad advisers around them. “Hand in hand the wicked shall not be unpunished” Proverbs 11:21. They link together, but to drag one another into a common destruction. Together they had counseled against God; “king and princes together,” they should go into captivity.
There is also doubtless, in the word Malcham, a subordinate allusion to the god whom they worshiped under the title Molech or Malchom. Certainly Jeremiah “seems” so to have understood it. For, having said of Moab, “Chemosh shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together” Jeremiah 48:7, he says as to Ammon, in the self-same formula and almost in the words of Amos ; “Malcham shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together.” Zephaniah Zephaniah 1:5 also speaks of the idol under the same name Malcham, “their king.” Yet since Ammon had kings before this time, and just before their subdual by Nebuchadnezzar, and king Baalis Jeremiah 40:14 was a murderer, it is hardly likely that Jeremiah too should not have included him in the sentence of his people, of whose sins he was a mainspring. Probably, then, Amos and Jeremiah foretell, in a comprehensive way, the powerlessness of all their stays, human and idolatrous. All in which they trusted should not only fail them, but should be carried captive from them.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Amos 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14