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Bible Commentaries
Amos 8

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verses 1-2

Thus hath the Lord God showed me - The sentence of Amaziah pronounced, Amos resumes just where he left off, before Amaziah broke in upon him. His vehement interruption is like a stone cast into the deep waters. They close over it, and it leaves no trace. Amos had authenticated the third vision; “Thus hath the Lord God shewed me.” He resumes in the self-same calm words. The last vision declared that the end was certain; this, that it was at hand.

A basket of summer fruit - The fruit was the latest harvest in Palestine. When it was gathered, the circle of husbandry was come to its close. The sight gives an idea of completeness. The symbol, and the word expressing it, coincide. The fruit-gathering קיץ qayits, like our “crop,” was called from “cutting.” So was the word, “end,” “cutting off,” in (קץ qêts). At harvest-time there is no more to be done for that crop. Good or bad, it has reached its end, and is cut down. So the harvest of Israel was come. The whole course of God’s providences, mercies, chastenings, visitations, instructions, warnings, in spirations, were completed. “What could have been done more to My vineyard, God asks Isaiah 5:4, that I have not done in it?” “To the works of sin, as of holiness, there is a beginning, progress, completion;” a “sowing of wild oats,” as people speak, and a ripening in wickedness; a maturity of people’s plans, as they deem; a maturity for destruction, in the sight of God. There was no more to be done. heavenly influences can but injure the ripened sinner, as dew, rain, sun, but injure the ripened fruit Israel was ripe, but for destruction.

Verse 3

The songs of the temple shall be howlings - Literally, “shall howl.” It shall be, as when mirthful music is suddenly broken in upon, and, through the sudden agony of the singer, ends in a shriek or yell of misery. When sounds of joy are turned into wailing, all must be complete sorrow. They are not hushed only, but are turned into their opposite. Since Amos is speaking to, and of, Israel, “the temple” is, doubtless, here the great idol-temple at Bethel, and “the songs” were the choral music, with which they counterfeited the temple-music, as arranged by David, praising (they could not make up their minds which,) Nature or “the God of nature,” but, in truth, worshiping the creature. The temple was often strongly built and on a height, and, whether from a vague hope of help from God, (as in the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans,) or from some human trust, that the temple might be respected, or from confidence in its strength, or from all together, was the last refuge of the all-but-captive people. Their last retreat was often the scene of the last reeling strife, the battle-cry of the assailants, the shrieks of the defenseless, the groans of the wounded, the agonized cry of unyielding despair. Some such scene the prophet probably had before his mind’s eye, for he adds;

There shall be “many dead bodies,” literally, “Many the corpse in every place.” He sees it, not as future, but before him. The whole city, now so thronged with life, “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,” lies before him as one scene of death; every place thronged with corpses; none exempt; at home, abroad, or, which he had just spoken of, the temple; no time, no place for honorable burial. “They,” literally, “he casts forth, hush!” Each casts forth those dear to him, as “dung on the face of the earth” (Jeremiah 8:2, etc.). Grief is too strong for words. Living and dead are hushed as the grave. “Large cities are large solitudes,” for want of mutual love; in God’s retribution, all their din and hum becomes anew a solitude.

Verse 4

Here ye this, ye that swallow - Or, better in the same sense, “that pant for the needy;” as Job says, “the hireling panteth for the evening” Job 7:2. They “panted for the poor,” as the wild beast for its prey; and “that to make the poor” or (better, as the Hebrew text,) “the meek” , those not poor only, but who, through poverty and affliction, are “poor in spirit” also, “to fail.” The land being divided among all the inhabitants, they, in order “to lay field to field” Isaiah 5:8, had to rid themselves of the poor. They did rid themselves of them by oppression of all sorts.

Verse 5

When will the new moon be gone? - They kept their festivals, though weary and impatient for their close. They kept sabbath and festival with their bodies, not with their minds. The Psalmist said, “When shall I come to appear before the presencc of God?” Psalms 42:2. These said, perhaps in their hearts only which God reads to them, “when will this service be over, that we may be our own masters again?” They loathed the rest of the sabbath, because they had, thereon, to rest from their frauds. He instances “the new moons” and “sabbaths,” because these, recurring weekly or monthly, were a regular hindrance to their covetousness.

The “ephah” was a measure containing 72 Roman pints or nearly 1 1/10 of an English bushel; the shekel was a fixed weight, by which, up to the time of the captivity 2 Samuel 18:12; 1 Kings 20:39; Jeremiah 32:9, money was still weighed; and that, for the price of bread also Isaiah 55:2. They increased the price both ways, dishonestly and in hypocrisy, paring down the quantity which they sold, and obtaining more silver by fictitious weights; and weighing in uneven balances. All such dealings had been expressly forbidden by God; and that, as the condition of their remaining in the land which God had given them. “Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thy house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have, that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” Deuteronomy 25:13-15.

Sin in wrong measures, once begun is unbroken. All sin perpetuates itself. It is done again, because it has been done before. But sins of a man’s daily occupation are continued of necessity, beyond the simple force of habit and the ever-increasing dropsy of covetousness. To interrupt sin is to risk detection. But then how countless the sins, which their poor slaves must needs commit hourly, whenever the occasion comes! And yet, although among us human law recognizes the divine law and annexes punishment to its breach, covetousness sets both at nought. When human law was enforced in a city after a time of negligence, scarcely a weight was found to be honest. Prayer went up to God on “the sabbath,” and fraud on the poor went up to God in every transaction on the other six days. We admire the denunciations of Amos, and condemn the makebelieve service of God. Amos denounces us, and we condemn ourselves. Righteous dealing in weights and measures was one of the conditions of the existence of God’s former people. What must then be our national condition before God, when, from this one sin, so many thousand, thousand sins go up daily to plead against us to God?

Verse 6

That we may buy - Or, indignantly, “To buy the poor!” literally, “the afflicted,” those in “low” estate. First, by dishonesty and oppression they gained their lands and goods. Then the poor were obliged to sell themselves. The slight price, for which a man was sold, showed the more contempt for “the image of God.” Before, he said, “the needy” were “sold for a pair of sandals” Amos 2:6; here, that they were bought for them. It seems then the more likely that such was a real price for man.

And sell the refuse - Literally, the “falling of wheat,” that is, what fell through the sieve, either the bran, or the thin, unfilled, grains which had no meal in them. This they mixed up largely with the meal, making a gain of that which they had once sifted out as worthless; or else, in a time of dearth, they sold to people what was the food of animals, and made a profit on it. Infancy and inexperience of cupidity, which adulterated its bread only with bran, or sold to the poor only what, although unnourishing, was wholesome! But then, with the multiplied hard-dealing, what manifoldness of the woe!

Verse 7

By the excellency of Jacob - that is, by Himself who was its Glory, as Samuel calls Him “the Strength” 1 Samuel 15:29 or the Glory of Israel. Amos had before said, “God sware by His Holiness” and “by Himself” or “His soul.” Now, in like way, He pledges that Glory wherewith He was become the Glory of His people. He reminds them, who was the sole Source of their glory; not their calves, but Himself, their Creator; and that He would not forget their deeds. “I will not forget any,” literally, “all;” as David and Paul say, “all flesh,” all living men, “shall not be justified,” that is, none, no one, neither the whole nor any of its parts. Amos brings before the mind all their actions, and then says of all and each, the Lord will not forget them. God must cease to be God, if He did not do what He sware to do, punish the oppressors and defrauders of the poor.

Verse 8

Shall not the land tremble for this? - o: “For the greater impressiveness, he ascribes to the insensate earth sense, indignation, horror, trembling. For all creation feels the will of its Creator.” “It shall rise up wholly as a flood,” literally, “like the river.” It is the Egyptian name for “river, which Israel brought with it out of Egypt, and is used either for the Nile, or for one of the artificial “trenches,” derived from it. “And it shall be cast out and drowned,” literally, “shall toss to and fro” as the sea, “and sink as the river of Egypt.” The prophet represents the land as heaving like the troubled sea. As the Nile rose, and its currents met and drove one against the other, covered and drowned the whole land like one vast sea, and then sank again, so the earth should rise, lift up itself, and heave and quake, shaking off the burden of man’s oppressions, and sink again. It may be, he would describe the heaving, the rising and falling, of an earthquake. Perhaps, he means that as a man forgat all the moral laws of nature, so inanimate nature should be freed from its wonted laws, and shake out its inhabitants or overwhelm them by an earthquake, as in one grave.

Verse 9

I will cause the sun to go down - Darkness is heaviest and blackest in contrast with the brightest light; sorrow is saddest, when it comes upon fearless joy. God commonly, in His mercy, sends heralds of coming sorrow; very few burst suddenly on man. Now, in the meridian brightness of the day of Israel, the blackness of night should fall at once upon him. Not only was light to be displaced by darkness, but “then,” when it was most opposite to the course of nature. Not by gradual decay, but by a sudden unlooked-for crash, was Israel to perish. Pekah was a military chief; he had reigned more than seventeen years over Israel in peace, when, together with Rezin king of Damascus, he attempted to extirpate the line of David, and to set a Syrian, one “on of Tabea” Isaiah 7:6, on his throne. Ahaz was weak, with no human power to resist; his “heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are moved with the wind” Isaiah 7:2. Tiglath-pileser came upon Pekah and carried off the tribes beyond Jordan 2 Kings 15:29. Pekah’s sun set, and all was night with no dawn. Shortly after, Pekah himself was murdered by Hoshea 2 Kings 15:30, as he had himself murdered Pekahiah. After an anarchy of nine years, Hoshea established himself on the throne; the nine remaining years were spent in the last convulsive efforts of an expiring monarchy, subdual to Shalmaneser, rebellious alliance with So, king of Egypt, a three years’ siege, and the lamp went out 2 Kings 17:1-9.

And I will darken the earth at noon-day - To the mourner “all nature seems to mourn.” “Not the ground only,” says Chrysostom in the troubles at Antioch , “but the very substance of the air, and the orb of the solar rays itself seems to me now in a manner to mourn and to shew a duller light. Not that the elements change their nature, but that our eyes, confused by a cloud of sorrow, cannot receive the light from it’s rays purely, nor are they alike impressible. This is what the prophet of old said mourning, ‘Their sun shall set to them at noon, and the day shall be darkened.’ Not that the sun was hidden, or the day disappeared, but that tile mourners could see no light even in mid-day, for the darkness of their grief.” No eclipse of the sun, in which the sun might seem to be shrouded in darkness at mid-day, has been calculated which should have suggested this image to the prophet’s mind.

It had been thought, however, that there might be reference to an eclipse of the sun which took place a few years after this prophecy, namely, Feb. 9. 784, b.c. the year of the death of Jeroboam II. This eclipse did reach its height at Jerusalem a little before mid-day, at 11:24 a.m..

An accurate calculation, however, shows that, although total in southern latitudes, the line of totality was, at the longitude of Jerusalem or Samaria, about 11 degrees south Latitude, and so above 43 degrees south of Samaria, and that it did not reach the same latitude as Samaria until near the close of the eclipse, about 64 degrees west of Samaria in the easternmost part of Thibet . : “The central eclipse commenced in the southern Atlantic Ocean, passed nearly exactly over Helena , reached the continent of Africa in Lower Guinea, traversed the interior of Africa, and left it near Zanzibar, went through the Indian Ocean and entered India in the Gulf of Gambay, passed between Agra and Allahabad into Tibet and reached its end on the frontiers of China.” The eclipse then would hardly have been noticeable at Samaria, certainly very far indeed from being an eclipse of such magnitude, as could in any degree correspond with the expression, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon.”

Ussher suggests, if true, a different coincidence. “There was an eclipse of the sun of about 10 digits in the Julian year 3923 (791 b.c.,) June 24, in the Feast of Pentecost; another, of about 12 digits, 20 years afterward, 3943, 771 b.c., Nov. 8, on the Day of the Feast of Tabernacles; and a third of more than 11 digits, on the following year 3944, May 5, on the Feast of the Passover. Consider whether that prophecy of Amos does not relate to it, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day, and I will turn your feasts into mourning.”

Which, as the Christian fathers have adapted in an allegorical sense to the darkness at the time of our Lord’s Passion in the Feast of the Passover, so it may have been fulfilled, in the letter, in these three great eclipses, which darkened the day of the three festivals in which all the males were bound to appear before the Lord. So that as, among the Greeks, Thales, first, by astronomical science, predicted eclipses of the sun , so, among the Hebrews, Amos first seems to have foretold them by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” The eclipses, pointed out by Ussher, must have been the one total, the others very considerable . Beforehand, one should not have expected that an eclipsc of the sun, being itself a regular natural phaenomenon, and having no connection with the moral government of God, should have been the subject of the prophet’s prediction.

Still it had a religious impressiveness then, above what it has now, on account of that wide-prevailing idolatry of the sun. It exhibited the object of their false worship, shorn of its light and passive. If Ussher is right as to the magnitude of those eclipses in the latitude of Jerusalem, and as to the correspondence of the days of the solar year, June 24, Nov. 8, May 5, in those years, with the days of the lunar year upon which the respective feasts fell, it would be a remarkable correspondence. Still the years are somewhat arbitrarily chosen, the second only 771 b.c., (on which the house of Jehu came to an end through the murder of the weak and sottish Zechariah,) corresponding with any marked event in the kingdom of Israel. On the other hand, it is the more likely that the words, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon,” are an image of a sudden reverse, in that Micah also uses the words as an image, “the sun shall go down upon the prophets and the day shall be dark upon” (or, “over”) “them” Micah 2:6.

Verse 10

I will turn your feasts into mourning - He recurs to the sentence which he had pronounced Amos 8:3, before he described the avarice and oppression which brought it down. Hosea too had foretold, “I will cause all her mirth to cease, her feast-days, etc” Hosea 2:11. So Jeremiah describes, “the joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning” Lamentations 5:15. The Book of Tobit bears witness how these sayings of Amos lived in the hearts of the captive Israelites. The word of God seems oftentimes to fail, yet it finds those who are His. “I remembered,” he said, “that prophecy of Amos, your feasts shall be turned into mourning” (Tobit 2:6).

The correspondence of these words with the miracle at our Blessed Lord’s Passion, in that “the earth was darkened in the clear day, at noon-day,” was noticed by the earliest fathers , and that the more, since it took place at the Feast of the Passover, and, in punishment for that sin, their “feasts were turned into mourning,” in the desolation of their country and the cessation of their worship.

I will bring up sackcloth - (that is, the rough coarse haircloth, which, being fastened with the girdle tight over the loins (see above Joel 1:8, Joel 1:13, pp. 107, 109), was wearing to the frame) “and baldness upon every head.” The mourning of the Jews was no half-mourning, no painless change of one color of becoming dress for another. For the time, they were dead to the world or to enjoyment. As the clothing was coarse, uncomely, distressing, so they laid aside every ornament, the ornament of their hair also (as English widows used, on the same principle, to cover it). They shore it off; each sex, what was the pride of their sex; the men, their beards; the women, their long hair. The strong words, “baldness, is balded Jeremiah 16:6, shear Micah 1:16; Jeremiah 7:29, hew off, enlarge thy baldness” , are used to show the completeness of this expression of sorrow. None exempted themselves in the universal sorrow; “on every head” came up “baldness.”

And I will make it - (probably, the whole state and condition of things, everything, as we use our “it”) as the mourning of an only son As, when God delivered Israel from Egypt, “there was not,” among the Egyptians: “a house where there was not one dead Exodus 12:30, and one universal cry arose from end to end of the land, so now too in apostate Israel. The whole mourning should be the one most grievous mourning of parents, over the one child in whom they themselves seemed anew to live.

And the end thereof as a bitter day - Most griefs have a rest or pause, or wear themselves out. “The end” of this should be like the beginning, nay, one concentrated grief, a whole day of bitter grief summed up in its close. It was to be no passing trouble, but one which should end in bitterness, an unending sorrow and destruction; image of the undying death in hell.

Verse 11

Not a famine for bread - He does not deny that there should be bodily famine too; but this, grievous as it is, would be less grievous than the famine of which he speaks, “the famine of the word of the Lord.” In distress we all go to God. Rib.: “They who now cast out and despise the prophets, when they shall see themselves besieged by the enemy, shall be tormented with a great hunger of hearing the word of the Lord from the mouths of the prophets, and shall find no one to lighten their distresses. This was most sad to the people of God; ‘we see not our tokens; there is not one prophet more; there is not one with us who understandeth, how long!’ Psalms 74:9.” Even the profane, when they see no help, will have recourse to God. Saul, in his extremity, “inquired of the Lord and He answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” 1 Samuel 28:6. Jeroboam sent his wife to inquire of the prophet Ahijah about his son’s health 1 Kings 14:2-3. They sought for temporal relief only, and therefore found it not.

Verse 12

They shall wander - Literally, “reel.” The word is used of the reeling of drunkards, of the swaying to and fro of trees in the wind, of the quivering of the lips of one agitated, and then of the unsteady seeking of persons bewildered, looking for what they know not where to find. “From sea to sea,” from the sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, that is, from east to west, “and from the north even to the sunrising,” round again to the east, from where their search had begun, where light should be, and was not. It may be, that Amos refers to the description of the land by Moses, adapting it to the then separate condition of Ephraim, “your south border shall be from the extremity of the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) eastward - and the goings out of it shall be at the sea, and for the western border ye shall have the great sea for a border. And this shall be your north border - and the border shall descend and shall reach to the side of the sea of Chinnereth eastward” Numbers 34:3-12. Amos does not mention “the south,” because “there” alone, where they might have found, where the true worship of God was, they did not seek. Had they sought God in Judah, instead of seeking to aggrandize themselves by its subdual, Tiglath-pileser would probably never have come against them. One expedition only in the seventeen years of his reign was directed westward , and that was at the petition of Ahaz.

The principle of God’s dealings, that, in certain conditions of a sinful people, He will withdraw His word, is instanced in Israel, not limited to it. God says to Ezekiel, “I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, and thou shalt be dumb; and shalt not be to them a reprover, for it is a rebellious house” Ezekiel 3:26; and Ezekiel says, “Destruction shall come upon destruction, and rumor shall be upon rumor, and they shall seek a vision from the prophet, and the law shall perish from the priest and counsel from the ancients” Ezekiel 7:26. : “God turns away from them, and checks the grace of prophecy. For since they neglected His law, He on His side, stays the prophetic gift. “And the word was precious in those days, there was no open vision,” that is, God did not speak to them through the prophets; He breathed not upon them the Spirit through which they spake. He did not appear to them, but is silent and hidden. There was silence, enmity between God and man.”

Verse 13

In this hopelessness as to all relief, those too shall fail and sink under their sufferings, in whom life is freshest and strongest and hope most buoyant. Hope mitigates any sufferings. When hope is gone, the powers of life, which it sustains, give way. “They shall faint for thirst,” literally, “shall be mantled over, covered” , as, in fact, one fainting seems to feel as if a veil came over his brow and eyes. “Thirst,” as it is an intenser suffering than bodily hunger, includes sufferings of body and mind. If even over those, whose life was firmest, a veil came, and they fainted for thirst, what of the rest?

Verse 14

Who swear - Literally, “the swearing,” they who habitually swear. He assigns, at the end, the ground of all this misery, the forsaking of God. God had commanded that all appeals by oath should be made to Himself, who alone governs the world, to whom alone His creatures owe obedience, who alone revenges. “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God and serve Him and swear by His Name” Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20. On the other hand Joshua warned them, “Neither make mention of the name of their gods nor cause to swear by them nor serve them” Joshua 23:7. But these “sware by the sin of Samaria,” probably “the calf at Bethel,” which was near Samaria and the center of their idolatry, from where Hosea calls it “thy calf.” “Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off. The calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces” Hosea 8:5-6. He calls it “the guilt of Samaria,” as the source of all their guilt, as it is said of the princes of Judah using this same word, “they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served idols, and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass” 2 Chronicles 24:18. “And say, thy god, O Dan! liveth,” that is, as surely as thy god liveth! by the life of thy god! as they who worshiped God said, “as the Lord liveth!” It was a direct substitution of the creature for the Creator, an ascribing to it the attribute of God; “as the Father hath life in Himself” John 5:26. It was an appeal to it, as the Avenger of false-swearing, as though it were the moral Governor of the world.

The manner of Beersheba liveth! - Literally, “the way.” This may be, either the religion and worship of the idol there, as Paul says, “I persecuted this way unto the death” (Acts 22:4, add Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23), from where Muhammed learned to speak of his imposture, as “the way of God.” Or it might mean the actual “way to Beersheba,” and may signify all the idolatrous places of worship in the way there. They seem to have made the way there one long avenue of idols, culminating in it. For Josiah, in his great destruction of idolatry, “gathered all the priests from the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places, where the priests sacrificed from Gebah to Beersheba” 2 Kings 23:8; only, this may perhaps simply describe the whole territory of Judah from north to south. Anyhow, Beersheba stands for the god worshiped there, as, “whoso sware by the Temple, sware,” our Lord tells us, “by it and by Him that dwelleth therein” Matthew 23:21.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Amos 8". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/amos-8.html. 1870.
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