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by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Amos
Theodoret: “He who made, one by one, the hearts of men, and understands all their works, knowing the hardness and contrariousness of the heart of Israel, reasons with them not through one prophet only, but, employing as His ministers many prophets and wondrous men, admonishes them and foretells the things to come, evidencing through the harmony of many the truthfulness of their predictions.”
As the contradiction of false teachers gave occasion to Paul to speak of himself, so the persecution of the priest of Bethel has brought out such knowledge as we have of the life of Amos, before God called him to be a prophet. “I,” he says, “was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son” Amos 7:14. He had not received any of the training in those schools of the prophets which had been founded by Samuel, and through which, amid the general apostasy and corruption, both religious knowledge and religious life were maintained in the remnant of Israel. He was a “herdsman,” whether (as this word, בקר bâqâr, would naturally mean being used always of the “ox” or “herd” in contrast with the “flocks” of sheep or goats, and the name being derived from “plowing”) “a cowherd” or (less obviously) “a shepherd.” He was “among the herdsmen of Tekoah”; among them, and, outwardly, as they, in nothing distinguished from them.
The sheep which he tended (because he also kept sheep) may have been his own. There is nothing to prove or to disprove it. Anyhow, he was not like the king of Moab, “a sheep-master” , as the Jews, following out their principle, that “prophecy was only bestowed by God upon the rich and noble” (see the note at Joel 2:29), wish to make him. Like David, he was following the sheep , as their shepherd. But his employment as “a gatherer” (or, more probably, “a cultivator”) “of sycamore fruit” designates him instead as one living by a rural employment for hire. Probably, the word designates the artificial means by which the sycamore fruit was ripened, irritating, scraping, puncturing, wounding it .
Amos does not say that these were his food, but that one of his jobs was to perform a gardener’s function in maturing the figs. So he was something of a gardener and a shepherd among other shepherds. The sheep which he fed were also probably a matter of trade. The breed of sheep and goats, נקד naqad in keeping with his special name of shepherd נקד nôqêd, was derived, is still known by the same name in Arabia; a race, small, thin, short-legged, ugly, and stunted. It furnished a proverb, “viler than a naqad”; yet the wool of the sheep was accounted the very best. The goats were found especially in Bahrein. Among the Arabs also, the shepherd of these sheep was known by a name derived from them. They were called “naqad;” and their shepherd was called a “noqad” .
The prophet’s birthplace, Tekoah, was a town which, in the time of Josephus and of Jerome, had dwindled into a “village” , “a little village” , on a high hill, twelve miles from Jerusalem, “which,” Jerome adds, “we see daily.” “It lay” Jerome says , “six miles southward from holy Bethlehem where the Saviour of the world was born, and beyond it is no village except some rude huts and movable tents. Such is the wide waste of the desert which stretches to the Red Sea, and the bounds of the Persians, Ethiopians, and Indians. And no grain whatever being grown upon this dry and sandy soil, it is all full of shepherds, in order, by the multitude of the flocks, to make amends for the barrenness of the land.” From Tekoah Joab brought the “wise woman” 1 Samuel 14:2 to intercede for Absalom; Rehoboam built it 2 Chronicles 11:6; i. e., whereas it had been before (what it afterward again became) a village, and so was not mentioned in the Book of Joshua, he made it a fortified town toward his southeastern border.
The neighboring wilderness was called after it (2 Chronicles 20:20; 2 Chronicles 1:0 Macc. 9:33). Besides its sycamores, its oil was the best in Judah . War and desolation have extirpated both from this as well as from other parts of Palestine . Its present remains are Christian , “ruins of 4 or 5 acres.” It, as well as so many other places near the Dead Sea, is identified by the old name, slightly varied in pronunciation, Theku’a, as also by its distance from Jerusalem . In the sixth century a.d. we hear of a chapel in memory of the holy Amos at Tekoa , where the separated monks of the lesser laura of Saba communicated on the Lord’s day. The wide prospect from Tekoa embraced both the dead and the living - God’s mercies and His judgments.
To the Southeast “the view is bounded only by the level mountains of Moab, with frequent bursts of the Dead Sea, seen through openings among the rugged and desolate mountains which intervene.” On the North, the Mount of Olives is visible, at that time dear to sight, as overhanging the place, which God had “chosen to place His Name there.” Tekoah, however, although the birthplace, was not the home of the prophet. He was “among the herdsmen from Tekoah” (מתקוע mı̂teqôa‛) their employment, as shepherds, leading them away “from Tekoah.” In the wilds of the desert while he was following his sheep, God saw him and revealed Himself to him, as he had to Jacob and to Moses, and said to him, “Go prophesy unto My people Israel.” And, just as the apostles left their nets and their father, and Matthew abandoned the receipt of custom, and followed Jesus, so Amos left his sheep and his cultivation of sycamores, and appeared suddenly in his shepherd’s dress at the royal but idolatrous Amos 7:13 sanctuary, the temple of the state, to denounce the idolatry sanctioned by the state, to foretell the extinction of the Royal family, and the captivity of the people. This, like Hosea, he had to do in the reign of the mightiest of the sovereigns of Israel, in the midst of her unclouded prosperity. Bethel was only twelve miles north of Jerusalem , since Tekoah was twelve miles toward the southeast. Six or seven hours would suffice to transport the shepherd from his sheep and the wilderness to that fountain of Israel’s corruption, the high places of Bethel, and for the inspired peasant to confront the priests and the prophets of the state-idolatry.
There doubtless he said, “the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste” Amos 7:9; and there, like the former “man of God,” while standing opposite “the altar,” he renewed the prophecy against it, and prophesied that in its destruction it should involve its idolatrous worshipers Amos 9:1. Yet although he did deliver a part of his prophecy at Bethel, still, like his great predecessors Elijah and Elisha, doubtless he did not confine his ministry there. His summons to the luxurious ladies of Samaria, whose expenses were supported by the oppressions of the poor Amos 4:1, was without question delivered in Samaria itself. The call to the pagan to look down into Samaria from the heights which girt in the valley out of which it rose (see the notes at Amos 3:9), thence to behold its din and its oppressions, to listen to the sound of its revelries and the wailings of its oppressed, and so to judge between God and His people, would also be most effectively given within Samaria. The consciences of the guilty inhabitants to whom he preached would populate the heights around them, their wall of safety, as they deemed, between them and the world, with pagan witnesses of their sins, and pagan avengers.
The prophet could only know the coming destruction of the house of Jeroboam and the captivity of Israel by inspiration. The sins which he rebuked, he probably knew from being among them. As Paul’s “spirit was stirred in him” at Athens, “when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” Acts 17:16, so the spirit of Amos must have been stirred to its depths by that grievous contrast of luxury and penury side by side, which he describes in such vividness of detail. The sins which he rebukes are those of the outward prosperity especially of a capital, the extreme luxury Amos 3:12, Amos 3:15; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:11; Amos 6:4-6, revelries Amos 2:8; Amos 3:9, debauchery Amos 2:7, of the rich, who supported their own reckless expenditure by oppression of the poor Amos 2:7-8; Amos 3:9; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:11; Amos 6:3; Amos 8:4-6, extortion Amos 3:10, hard bargains with their necessities Amos 2:8, perversion of justice Amos 2:7; Amos 5:7, Amos 5:12, with bribing, Amos 2:6; Amos 5:12, false measures Amos 8:5, a griping, hard-fisted, and probably usurious sale of grain Amos 8:5-6. In grappling with sin, Amos deals more with the details and circumstances of it than Hosea. Hosea touches the center of the offence; Amos shows the hideousness of it in the details into which it branches out. As he is everywhere graphic, so here he points out the events of daily life in which the sin showed itself, as the vile price or, it may be, the article of luxury, “the pair of sandals” Amos 2:6; Amos 8:6, for which the poor was sold, or the “refuse of wheat” (he coins the term) which they sold, at high prices and with short measure to the poor Amos 8:6.
According to the title which Amos prefixes to his prophecy, his office fell within the 25 years, during which Uzziah and Jeroboam II were contemporaries (809-784 B. C). This falls in with the opinion already expressed that the bloodshed mentioned by Hosea in the list of their sins, was instead political bloodshed in their revolutions after the death of Jeroboam II, than individual murder. For Amos, while upbraiding Israel for the sins incidental to political prosperity and wealth (such as was the time of Jeroboam II) does not mention bloodshed.
It has been thought that the mention of the earthquake, two years before which Amos began his prophecy, furnishes us with a more definite date. That earthquake must have been a terrible visitation, since it was remembered after the captivity, two and a half centuries afterward. “Ye shall flee,” says Zechariah Zechariah 14:5, as of a thing which his hearers well knew by report, “as ye fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.” Josephus connects the earthquake with Uzziah’s act of pride in offering the incense, for which God struck him with leprosy. He relates it as a fact (Antiquities ix. 10): “Meanwhile a great earthquake shook the ground, and, the temple parting, a bright ray of the sun shone forth, and fell upon the king’s face, so that immediately the leprosy came over him. And before the city, at the place called Eroge, the Western half of the hill was broken off and rolled half a mile to the mountain Eastward, and there stayed, blocking up the ways and the king’s gardens.” This account of Josephus, however, is altogether unhistorical. Not to argue from the improbability, that such an event as the rending of the temple itself should not have been mentioned, Josephus has confused Zechariah’s description of an event yet future with the past earthquake under Uzziah. Nor can the date be reconciled with the history. For when Uzziah was stricken with leprosy, “Jotham, his son, was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land” 2 Chronicles 26:21. But Jotham was only 25 years old at his father’s death, “when he himself began to reign” 2 Chronicles 27:1. And, Uzziah survived Jeroboam by 26 years. So Jotham, who judged for his father after his leprosy, was not born when Jeroboam died. Uzziah then must have been stricken with leprosy some years after Jeroboam’s death; and consequently, after the earthquake also, since Amos, who prophesied in the days of Jeroboam, prophesied “two years before the earthquake.”
An ancient Hebrew interpretation of the prophecy of Isaiah, “within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken that it is no more a people” Isaiah 7:8, assumed that Isaiah was foretelling the commencement of the captivity under Tiglath-Pileser or Sargon, and since the period of Isaiah’s own prophecy to that captivity was not 65 years, supposed that Isaiah counted from a prophecy of Amos, “Israel shall surely be led captive out of his own land” Amos 7:11, Amos 7:17. They placed this prophecy of Amosin the 25th year of Uzziah. Then his remaining 27 years, Jotham’s 16 years, Ahaz’ 16 years, and the first 6 years of Hezekiah would have made up the 65 years. This calculation was not necessarily connected with the error as to the supposed connection of the earthquake and the leprosy of Uzziah. However, it is plain from the words of Isaiah, “in yet threescore and five years,” that he is dating from the time when he uttered the prophecy; and so the prophecy relates, not to the imperfect captivity which ended the “kingdom” of Israel, but to that more complete deportation under Esarhaddon Ezra 4:2; 2Ch 33:11; 2 Kings 17:24, when the ten tribes ceased to be “anymore a people” (Ahaz-14 years + Hezekiah-29 years + Manasseh-22 years =65 years total). Neither then does this fix the date of Amos.
Nor does the comparison, which Amos bids Israel make between his own borders, and those of Calneh, Hamath and Gath, determine the date of the prophecy. Since Uzziah broke down the walls of Gath 2 Chronicles 26:6, and Hamath was recovered by Jeroboam II to Israel 2 Kings 14:28, it is probable that the point of comparison lay between the present disasters of these nations, and those with which Amos threatened Israel, and which the rich men of Israel practically did not believe. For it follows, “ye that put far away the evil day” Amos 6:3. It is probable then that Calneh (the very ancient city Genesis 10:10 which subsequently became Ctesiphon,) on the other side of the Euphrates, had lately suffered from Assyria, as Gath and Hamath from Judah and Israel. But we know none of these dates. Isaiah speaks of the Assyrian as boasting that “Calno” was “as Carchemish Isaiah 10:9, Hamath as Arpad, Samaria as Damascus.” But this relates to times long subsequent, when Hamath, Damascus, and Samaria, had fallen into the hands of Assyria. Our present knowledge of Assyrian history gives us no clue to the event, which was well known to those to whom Amos spoke.
Although, however, the precise time of the prophetic office of Amos cannot thus be fixed, it must have fallen within the reign of Jeroboam, to whom Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, accused him Amos 7:10-11. For this whole prophecy implies that Israel was in a state of prosperity, ease, and security, whereas it fell to a state of anarchy immediately upon Jeroboam’s death. “The mention of the entering in of Hamath” Amos 6:14 as belonging to Israel implies that this prophecy was after Jeroboam had recovered it to Israel 2 Kings 14:25; and the ease, pride, luxury, which he upbraids, evince that the foreign oppressions 2 Kings 14:26 had ceased for some time. This agrees with the title of the prophecy, but does not limit it further. Since he prophesied while Uzziah and Jeroboam II reigned together, Amos’ prophetic office must have fallen between 809 b.c. and 784 b.c. - in the last 25 years of the reign of Jeroboam II. His office, then, began probably after that of Hosea, and closed long before its close. He is, in a manner then, both later and earlier than Hosea, later than the earliest period of Hosea’s prophetic office, and far earlier than the latest.
Within this period, there is nothing to limit the activity of Amos to a very short time. The message of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, implies that Amos’ words of woe had shaken Israel through and through. “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words” Amos 7:10. It may be that God sent him to the midst of some great festival at Bethel, as, at Jeroboam’s dedication-feast, He sent the prophet who afterward disobeyed Him, to foretell the desecration of the altar, which Jeroboam was consecrating, in God’s Name, against God. In this case, Amos might, at once, like Elijah, have been confronted with a great. concourse of the idol-worshipers. Yet the words of Amaziah seem, in their obvious meaning, to imply that Amos had had a more pervading influence than would be produced by the delivery of God’s messsage in one place. He says of “the land,” that is, of all the ten tribes generally, it “is not able to bear all his words.” The accusation also of a “conspiracy” probably implies, that some had not been only shaken, but they had been converted by the words of Amos, and were known by their adherence to him and his belief.
Amos seems also to speak of the prohibition to God’s prophets to prophesy, as something habitual, beyond the one opposition of Amaziah, which he rebuked on the spot. “I raised up of your sons for prophets; but ye commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not” Amos 2:11-12. Nor, strictly speaking, was Amos a son of Ephraim. The series of images in Amos 4:1-13 seem to be an answer to the objection as to why he prophesied among them. People, he would say, were not, in the things of nature, surprised that the effect followed the cause. God’s command was the cause; Amos’ prophesying was the effect Amos 3:3-8. “Then they put away from them the evil day” Amos 6:3, forgetting future evil in present luxury; or they professed that God was with them; “the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken” Amos 5:14; or trusting in their half-service of God and His imagined presence among them, they jeered at Amos’ prophecies of ill, and professed to desire the Day of the Lord, with which he threatened them; they said that evil would not reach them; “Woe unto you that desire the Day of the Lord! To what end is it to you?” Amos 5:18. “All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, which say, the evil shall not overtake nor prevent us” Amos 9:10. They showed also in deed that they hated those who publicly reproved them Amos 5:10; and Amos, like Hosea, declares that they are hardened, so that wisdom itself must leave them to themselves Amos 5:13. All this implies a continued contact between the prophet and the people, so that his function was not discharged in a few sermons, so to say, or inspired declarations of God’s purpose, but must have been that of a pastor among them over the course of several years. His present book (like Hosea’s book) is a summary of his prophecies.
That book (since Amos himself subsequently gathered his prophetic teaching into a whole) is one well-ordered whole. He himself (in the title) states that it had been spoken before it was written. For in that he says, these are “the words” which in prophetic vision he “saw, two years before the earthquake,” this portion of his prophecies must have preceded his writings by those two years at least. That terrible earthquake was probably the occasion of his collecting those prophecies. But that earthquake doubtless was no mere note of time. If he had intended only a date, he would probably have named (as other prophets do) the year of the king of Judah. He himself mentions earthquakes Amos 4:11, as one of the warnings of God’s displeasure. This more destructive earthquake was probably the first great token of God’s displeasure during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II, the first herald of those heavier judgments which Amos had predicted, and which broke upon Israel, wave after wave, until the last, carried him away captive. For two years, Israel had been forewarned; now “the beginning of sorrows” Matthew 24:8 had set in.
Amos, at the beginning of his book (as has been already noticed) joins on his book with the book of the prophet Joel. Joel had foretold, as instances of God’s judgments on sin, how He would recompense the wrong, which Tyre, Zidon, Philistia and Edom had done to Judah, and that He would make Egypt desolate. Amos, omitting Egypt, adds Damascus, Amman and Moab, and Judah itself. It may be, that he selects seven nations in all, as a sort of whole (since that number is so often used), or that he includes all the special enemies of the theocracy, the nations who hated Israel and Judah, because they were the people of God, and God’s people itself, as far as it too was alienated from its God. Certainly, the sins denounced are sins against the theocracy or government of God. It may be, that Amos would exhibit to them the truth, that “God is no respecter of persons;” that He, the Judge of the whole earth, punishes every sinful nation; and that he would, by this declaration of God’s judgments, prepare them for the truth, from which sinful man so shrinks; - that God punishes most, where He had most shown His light and love Amos 3:2. The thunder-cloud of God’s judgments, having passed over all the nations round about, Syria and Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and even discharged the fire from heaven on Judah and Jerusalem, settles finally upon Israel. The summary which closes this circle of judgments on Israel, is fuller in regard to their sins, since they were the chief objects of his mission. In that summary Amos gathers into one the sins with which he elsewhere upbraids them, and sets before them their ingratitude and their endeavors to extinguish the light which God gave them.
Our chapters follow a natural division, in that each (like those of Hosea) ends in woe. Amos 3:1-15, Amos 4:1-13, and Amos 5:0 are distinguished by the threefold summons - “Hear ye this word!” In each, he sets before them some of their sins, and in each he pronounces God’s sentence upon them. “Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel; Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus” (Amos 3:11; Amos 4:12; Amos 5:16, as before, Amos 2:14). On this follows a twofold woe, “Woe unto you that desire” Amos 5:18; “Woe to them that are at ease” Amos 6:1; both which sections alike end in renewed sentences of God’s judgment; the first, of the final captivity of Israel “beyond Damascus;” the second, of their nearer afflictions through the first invasion of Tiglath-pileser (see the note at Amos 6:14). In Amos 7:0 he begins a series of visions. In the first two visions, God forgives, at the intercession of the prophet Amos 7:3, Amos 7:6.
In the third vision God interprets that He would no longer forgive Amos 7:8. Upon this followed the prohibition from Amaziah to prophesy, and God’s sentence against him. In Amos 8:1-14, Amos resumes (as though nothing had intervened), the series of visions, upon which Amaziah had broken in. He resumes them exactly where he had been stopped. Amaziah interrupted when Amos declared that God would not “pass by” the house of Israel “anymore,” but would desolate the idol-sanctuaries of israel and bring a sword against the house of Jeroboam. The vision (in which Amos resumes) renews the words, “I will not again pass by them anymore” Amos 8:2, and foretells that the songs of the idol-temple should be turned into howlings. Amos heads the last chapter with a vision, that not only should the idol-altar and temple be destroyed, but that it should be the destruction of its worshipers Amos 9:1. Amos makes each of these visions a theme which he expands, both ending in woe; the first, with the utter destruction of the idolaters of Israel Amos 8:14; the second, with that of the sinful “kingdom” of Israel Amos 9:8. With this he unites the promise to the “house” of Israel, that, “sifted” as they would be “among the nations, not one grain would fall to the earth” Amos 9:9. To this he, like Hosea, adds a closing promise (the first in his whole book) that God would raise the fallen tabernacle of David, convert the pagan, and therewith restore the captivity of Israel, amid promises, which had already (in Joel) symbolized spiritual blessings Amos 9:13.
Amos, like Hosea, was a prophet for Israel. After the second chapter in which he includes Judah in the circle of God’s visitations, because he had “despised the law of the Lord” Amos 2:4-5, Amos only notices him incidentally. He there foretells that Jerusalem should (as it was) be burned with fire. Judah also must be included in the words, “against the whole family which God brought up out of the land of Egypt” Amos 3:1, and “woe” is pronounced against those who are “at ease in Zion Amos 6:1. Elsewhere, “Israel,” “the house of Israel,” “the virgin of Israel,” “the sanctuaries of Israel,” “Jacob,” “the house of Jacob,” and (in the same sense) “the high places of Isaac,” “the house of Isaac”; “the house of Joseph,” “the remnant of Joseph,” “the affliction of Joseph,” “the mountain,” or “the mountains of Samaria,” “Samaria” itself, “Bethel” Amos 3:9, Amos 3:12-14; Amos 4:1, Amos 4:4-5, Amos 4:12; Amos 5:1, Amos 5:4, Amos 5:6, Amos 5:15, Amos 5:25; Amos 6:1, Amos 6:6, Amos 6:8, Amos 6:14; Amos 7:2, Amos 7:5, Amos 7:8-9, Amos 7:16-17; Amos 8:2, Amos 8:14; Amos 9:7-8, occur interchangeably as the object of his prophecy. Amaziah’s taunt, that his words, as being directed against Israel and Bethel, would be acceptable in the kingdom of Judah, implies the same; and Amos himself declares that this was his commission, “go, prophesy unto My people Israel.” In speaking of the idolatry of Beersheba, Amos uses the word, “pass not over to Beersheba” Amos 5:5, adding the idolatries of Judah to their own. The word, “pass not over,” could only be used by one prophesying in Israel. Therefore, it must have been the more impressive to the faithful in Israel, that Amos closed his prophecy by the promise, not to them primarily, but to the house of David, and to Israel through its restoration. Amos, like Hosea, foretells the utter destruction of “the kingdom of Israel,” even while pronouncing that God would not utterly destroy “the house of Jacob” Amos 9:8-10, but would save the elect within it.
The opposition of Amaziah stands out, as one signal instance of the manifold cry, “Prophesy not,” with which people to drown the Voice of God. Jeroboam left the complaint unheeded. His great victories had been foretold to him by the prophet Jonah; and he would not interfere with the prophet of God, although he predicted, not as Amaziah distorted his words, that “Jeroboam” should “die by the sword,” but that “the house of Jeroboam” Amos 7:9 would so perish. But his book is all comprised within the reign of Jeroboam and the kingdom of Israel. He was called by God to be a prophet there; nor is there even the slightest trace of his having exercised his function in Judah, or having retired there in life.
A somewhat late tradition places Amos among the many prophets whom our Lord says His people killed. The tradition bore, “that after he (Amos) had been beaten often (the writer uses the same word which occurs in Hebrews 11:35) by Amaziah the priest of Bethel, the son of that priest, Osee, pierced his temples with a stake. He was carried half-dead to his own land, and, after some days, died of the wound, and was buried with his fathers.” But the anonymous Greek writer who relates it, (although it is in itself probable) has not, in other cases, trustworthy information, and Jerome and Cyril of Alexandria knew nothing of it. Jerome relates only that the tomb of Amos was still shown at Tekoa, his birthplace.
The influence of the shepherd-life of Amos appears most in the sublimest part of his prophecy, his descriptions of the mighty workings of Almighty God Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8; Amos 9:5-6. With those awful and sudden changes in nature, whereby what to the idolaters was an object of worship, was suddenly overcast, and “the day made dark with night,” his shepherd-life had made him familiar. The starry heavens had often witnessed the silent conversation of his soul with God. In the calf, the idolaters of Ephraim worshiped “nature.” Amos then delights in exhibiting to them His God, whom they too believed that they worshiped, as the Creator of “nature,” wielding and changing it at His Will. All nature too should be obedient to its Maker in the punishment of the ungodly Amos 8:8, nor should anything hide from Him Amos 9:2-3, Amos 9:5. The shepherd-life would also make the prophet familiar with the perils from wild beasts which we know of as facts in David’s youth. The images drawn from them were probably reminiscences of what he had seen or encountered Amos 3:4-5, Amos 3:12; Amos 5:19. But Amos, a shepherd in a barren and for the most part treeless wild, lived not as a farmer. His was not a country of grain, nor of cedars and oaks; so that images from stately trees Amos 2:9, a heavy-laden wain Amos 2:13, or the sifting of corn Amos 9:9, were not the direct results of his life amid sights of nature. The diseases of grain, locusts, drought, which, the prophet says, God had sent among them, were inflictions which would be felt in the grain-countries of Israel, rather than in the wilderness of Tekoah. The insensibility for which he upbraids Israel was, of course, their hardness of heart amid their own sufferings Amos 4:7-9; the judgments, with which he threatens them in God’s Name Amos 7:1-3, can have no bearing on his shepherd-life in his own land.
Even Jerome, while laying down a true principle, inadvertently gives as an instance of the images resulting from that shepherd-life, the opening words of his book, which are in part words of the prophet Joel. “It is natural,” he says, “that all who exercise an art, should speak in terms of their art, and that each should bring likenesses from that wherein he hath spent his life. Why say this? In order to show, that Amos the prophet too, who was a shepherd among shepherds, and that, not in cultivated places, or amid vineyards, or woods, or green meadows, but in the wide waste of the desert, where were witnessed the fierceness of lions and the destruction of cattle, used the language of his art, and called the awful and terrible Voice of the Lord, the roaring of lions, and compared the overthrow of the cities of Israel to the lonely places of shepherds or the drought of mountains.”
The truth may be, that the religious life of Amos, amid scenes of nature, accustomed him, as well as David, to express his thoughts in words taken from the great picture-book of nature, which, as being also written by the Hand of God, so wonderfully expresses the things of God. When his prophet’s life brought him among other scenes of cultivated nature, his soul, so practiced in reading the relations of the physical to the moral world, took the language of his parables alike from what he saw, or from what he remembered. He was what we should call “a child of nature,” endued with power and wisdom by his God. Still more mistaken has it been, to attribute to the prophet any inferiority even of outward style, in consequence of his shepherd-life. Even a pagan has said, “words readily follow thought;” much more, when thoughts and words are poured into the soul together by God the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, scarcely any prophet is more glowing in his style, or combines more wonderfully the natural and moral world, the Omnipotence and Omniscience of God Amos 4:13.
Visions, if related, are most effectively related in prose. Their efficacy depends, in part, on their simplicity. Their meaning might be overlaid and hidden by ornament of words. Thus, much of the Book of Amos, then, is naturally in prose. The poetry, so to speak, of the visions of Amos or of Zechariah is in the thoughts, not in the words. Amos has also chosen the form of prose for his upbraidings of the wealthy sinners of Israel. Yet, in the midst of this, what more poetic than the summons to the pagan enemies of Israel, to populate the heights around Samaria, and behold its sins Amos 3:9? What is more graphic than that picture of utter despair which did not dare to name the Name of God Amos 6:9-10? What is bolder than the summons to Israel to come, if they desired, at once to sin and to atone for their sin Amos 4:4? What is more striking in power than the sudden turn, “You only have I known. Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” Amos 3:2? Or the sudden summons “because I will do this unto thee” Amos 4:12 (the silence (what the “this” is) is more thrilling than words) “prepare to meet thy God, O Israel?” Or what is more pathetic than the close of the picture of the luxurious rich, when, having said, how they heaped luxuries one upon another, he ends with what they did not do; “they are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph” Amos 6:6?
Augustine selects Amos, as an instance of unadorned eloquence. Having given instances from Paul, he says , “These things, when they are taught by professors, are accounted great, bought at a great price, sold amid great boasting. I fear these discussions of mine may savor of the like boasting. But I have to do with men of a spurious learning, who think meanly of our writers, not because they have not, but because they make no show of the eloquence which these prize too highly.
“I see that I must say something of the eloquence of the prophets. And this I will do, chiefly out of the book of that prophet, who says that he was a shepherd or a cowherd, and was taken thence by God and sent to prophesy to His people.
“When then this peasant, or peasant-prophet, reproved the ungodly, proud, luxurious, and therefore most careless of brotherly love, he cries aloud, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, etc.” Would they who, as being learned and eloquent, despise our prophets as unlearned and ignorant of elocution, had they had aught of this sort to say, or had they to speak against such, would they, as many of them as would fain not be senseless, wish to speak otherwise? For what would any sober ear desire more than is there said? First, the inveighing itself, with what a crash is it hurled as it were, to awaken their stupefied senses!”
Therefore, having analyzed these verses, he says, “How beautiful this is, and how it affects those who, reading, understand, there is no use in saying to one who does not himself feel it. More illustrations of the rules of rhetoric may be found in this one place, which I have selected. But a good hearer will not be so much instructed by a diligent discussion of them, as he will be kindled by their glowing reading. For these things were not composed by human industry, but were poured forth in eloquent wisdom from the Divine Mind, wisdom not aiming at eloquence, but eloquence not departing from wisdom.” “For if, as some most eloquent and acute men could see and tell, those things which are learned as by an art of rhetoric, would not be observed and noted and reduced to this system, unless they were first found in the genius of orators, what wonder if they be found in those also, whom “He” sends, who creates genius? Wherefore we may well confess that our canonical writers and teachers are not wise only but eloquent, with that eloquence which beseems their character.”
Jerome, in applying to Amos words which Paul spoke of himself, “rude in speech but not in knowledge” 2 Corinthians 11:6, doubtless was thinking mostly of the latter words, for he adds, “For the same Spirit who spoke through all the prophets, spake in him.” Dr. Lowth says happily (de Poesi Hebr. Prael. xxi.), “Jerome calls Amos, rude in speech but not in knowledge, implying of him what Paul modestly professed as to himself, on whose authority many have spoken of this prophet, as though he were altogether rude, ineloquent, unadorned. Far otherwise! Let any fair judge read his writings, thinking not who wrote them, but what he wrote, he will think that our shepherd was “in no wise behind the very chiefest” prophets; in the loftiness of his thoughts and the magnificence of his spirit, nearly equal to the highest, and in the splendor of his diction and the elegance of the composition scarcely inferior to any. For the same Divine Spirit moved by His inspiration Isaiah and Daniel in the court, David and Amos by the sheepfold; always choosing fitting interpreters of God’s Will and sometimes perfecting praise out of the mouth of babes. Of some He uses the eloquence; others He makes eloquent.”
It has indeed been noticed that in regularity of structure he has an elegance unique to himself. The strophaic form, into which he has cast the heavy prophecies of the two first chapters adds much to their solemnity; the recurring “burden” of the fourth chapter, “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” Amos 4:6, Amos 4:8-11, gives it a deep pathos of its own. Indeed no other prophet has bound his prophecies into one, with so much care as to their outward form, as this inspired shepherd. Amos (to use human terms) was not so much the poet as the sacred orator. One of those energetic turns which have been already instanced, would suffice to stamp the human orator. Far more, they have shaken through and through souls steeped in sin from the prophet’s time until now. It has been said of human eloquence, “he lightened, thundered, he commingled Greece.” The shepherd has shaken not one country, but the world; not by a passing earthquake, but by the awe of God which, with electric force, streamed through his words.
Some variation of dialect, or some influence of his shepherd-life upon his pronunciation, has been imagined in Amos. But it relates to five words only. In three, his orthography differs by a single letter from that found elsewhere in Hebrew. In two cases, the variation consists in the use of a different sibilant; the third in the use of a weaker guttural. Besides these, he uses a softer sound of the name Isaac, which also occurs in Jeremiah and a Psalm; and in another word, he, in common with two Psalms, employs a root with a guttural, instead of that common in Hebrew which has a strong sibilant. In four of these cases, Amos uses the softer form; in the fifth, we only know that the two sibilants were pronounced differently once, but cannot guess what the distinction was. The two sibilants are interchanged in several Hebrew words, and on no rule, that we can discover. In another of the sibilants, the change made by Amos is just the reverse of that of the Ephrainmites who had only the pronunciation of “s” for “sh”; “sibboleth” for “shibboleth.” But the Ephraimites could not pronounce the “sh” at all; the variation in Amos is limited to a single word. The like variations to these instances in Amos are also found in other words in the Bible. On the whole, we may suspect the existence of a softer pronunciation in the South of Judaea, where Amos lived; but the only safe inference is, the extreme care with which the words have been handed down to us, just as the prophet spoke and wrote them.
It has been noticed already that Amos and Hosea together show, that all the Mosaic festivals and sacrifices, priests, prophets, a temple, were retained in Israel, only distorted to calf-worship Even the third-year’s tithes they had not ventured to get rid of Amos supplies some yet more minute traits of ritual; that they had the same rules in regard to leaven Amos 4:5; that their altar too had horns (as prescribed in the law), on which the blood of the sacrifices was to be sprinkled (Amos 3:14, see Exodus 27:2; Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:25), they had the altar-bowls Amos 6:6 from where the blood of the victim was sprinkled , such as the princes of the congregation offered in the time of Moses Numbers 7:13, and their rich men, at times at least, plundered to drink wine from.
They had also true Nazarites, raised up among them, as well as true prophets; and they felt the weight of the influence of these religious people against them, since they tried by fraud or violence to make them break their vow Amos 2:12. Amos, while upbraiding their rich men for breaking the law between man and man, presupposes that the Law of Moses was, in this respect also, acknowledged among them. For in his words, “they turn aside the way of the meek” (Amos 2:7; Amos 5:12, see Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19) “they turn aside the poor in the gate” (Amos 2:8, see Exodus 22:26-27) “they take a ransom” Amos 5:12 (from the rich for their misdeeds), he retains the unique term of the Pentateuch; as also in that, “on clothes laid to pledge (Amos 2:8, see Exodus 22:26-27) they lie down by every altar;” “who make the Ephah small” (Amos 8:5, see Deuteronomy 25:14-15). “Balances of deceit” Amos 8:5 are the contrary of what are enjoined in the law, “balances of right” Leviticus 19:36.
In upbraiding them for a special impurity, forbidden in principle by the law Deuteronomy 23:1 he uses the sanction often repeated in the law “to profane My Holy Name” Amos 2:7; Leviticus 20:3. In the punishments which he mentions, he uses terms in which God threatens those punishments. The two remarkable words, rendered “blasting and mildew” Amos 4:9; Deuteronomy 28:22, occur only in Deuteronomy, and in Solomon’s prayer founded upon it 1 Kings 8:37, and in Haggai Haggai 2:17 where he is referring to Amos. In the words, “as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” Amos 4:11; Deuteronomy 29:23, the special term and form of Deuteronomy, as well as the threat, are retained. The threat, “Ye have built houses of hewn stone, and ye shall not dwell therein; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink the wine thereof;” but blends and enlarges those in Deuteronomy Amos 5:11; Deuteronomy 28:30, Deuteronomy 28:39. The remarkable term describing their unrepentance is taken from the same (Amos 4:6, Amos 4:8-10, see Deuteronomy 4:29).
So also the image of “gall and wormwood” (Amos 6:12, from Deuteronomy 29:18), two bitter plants, into which they turned judgment and righteousness. There are other verbal reminiscences of the Pentateuch, interwoven with the words of Amos, which presuppose that it was in the memory of both the prophet and his hearers in Israel (see Amos 2:2, Amos 2:10-11; Amos 3:2; Amos 6:1; Amos 7:16; Amos 9:8, Amos 9:12). Indeed, after that long slavery of 400 years in Egypt, the traditions of the spots, hallowed by God’s intercourse with the patriarchs, probably even their relations to “Edom their brother” Amos 1:11, must have been lost. The book of Genesis did not embody popular existing traditions of this sort, but must have revived them. The idolatry of Beersheba , as well as that of Gilead, alluded to by Hosea, as also Jeroboam’s choice of Bethel itself for the calf-worship , imply on the part of the idolaters a knowledge and belief of the history, which they must have learned from the Pentateuch. Doubtless, it had been a part of Jeroboam’s policy to set up, opposite the exclusive claim for the temple at Jerusalem, rival places of traditionary holiness from the mercies of God to their forefathers, much as Muhammed availed himself of the memory of Abraham, to found his claim for an interest in Jerusalem. But these traditions too must have been received BY the people, not derived from them. They were not brought with them from Egypt. The people, enslaved, degraded, sensualized, and idolatry-loving, had no hearts to cherish the memories of the pure religion of their great forefathers, who worshiped the unimaged Self-existing God.
As Amos employed the language of the Pentateuch and cited the Book of Joel, so it seems more probable, that in the burden of his first prophecies , “I will send a fire upon ... and it shall devour the palaces of ...” he took the well-known words of Hosea Hosea 7:14, and, by their use, gave a unity to their prophecies, than that Hosea, who uses no language except that of the Pentateuch, should, in the one place where he employs this form, have limited the “burden” of Amos to the one case of Judah. Besides, in Hosea, the words, declaring the destruction of the cities and palaces of Judah, stand in immediate connection with Judah’s wrong temper in building them whereas in Amos they are insulated. Beside this, the language of the two prophets does not bear upon each other, except that both have the term “balances of deceit” (Hosea 12:8 (Hosea 12:7 in English); Amos 8:5), which was originally formed in contrast with what God had enjoined in the law, “balances of right,” and which stands first in the Proverbs of Solomon Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 20:23.
Of later prophets, Jeremiah renewed against Damascus the prophecy of Amos in his own words; only, the memory of Hazael having been obliterated perhaps in the destruction under Tiglath-Pileser, Jeremiah calls it not after Hazael, but by its own name and that of Benhadad Jeremiah 49:27. The words of Amos had once been fulfilled, and its people had been transported to Kir. Probably fugitives had again repopulated it, and Jeremiah intended to point out, that the sentence pronounced through Amos was not yet exhausted. On the similar ground probably, when upbraiding Ammon for the similar sins and for that for which Amos had denounced woe upon it, its endeavor to displace Israel Amos 1:13; Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah used the words of Amos, “their king shall qo into captivity - and his princes together” Amos 1:15; Jeremiah 49:3. In a similar manner, Haggai upbraids the Jews of his day for their impenitence under God’s chastisements, in words varied in no essential from those of Amos Amos 4:9; Haggai 2:19. The words of Amos, so repeated to the Jews upon their restoration, sounded, as it were, from the desolate heritage of Israel, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing happen unto thee.”
Other reminiscences of the words of Amos are only a part of the harmony of Scripture , the prophets in this way too indicating their unity with one another, that they use the words, the one of the other.
The might of Amos’ teaching at the time, the state-priest Amaziah impressed on Jeroboam. Contemptuous toward Amos himself, Amaziah admitted the truth to Jeroboam. “The land is not able to bear all his (Amos’) words.” Doubtless, as the Jews were mad against Stephen, “not” being “able to resist the wisdom and Spirit by which he spake” Acts 6:10, so God accompanied with power His servant’s words to His people. They had already seen God’s words fulfilled against the houses of Jeroboam I, of Baasha, of Ahab. That same doom was now renewed against “the house of Jeroboam,” and with it the prophecy of the dispersion of the ten tribes Amos 5:27; Amos 7:8-9, Amos 7:17, which Hosea contemporaneously foretold Hosea 1:6; Hosea 9:17. The two prophets of Israel confirmed one another, but also left themselves no escape. They staked the whole reputation of their prophecy on this definite issue. We know it to have been fulfilled on the house of Jeroboam; yet the house of Jeroboam was firmer than any before or after it.
We know of the unaccustomed captivity of the ten tribes. Had they not been carried captive, prophecy would have come to shame; and such in proportion is its victory. Each step was an installment, a pledge, of what followed. The death of Zechariah, Jeroboam’s son, was the first step in the fulfillment of the whole; then probably, in the invasion of Pul against Menahem 2 Kings 15:19, followed the doom of Amaziah. God is not anxious to vindicate His word. He does not, as to Shebna Isaiah 22:17-18, or Amaziah, or the false prophets Ahab, Zedekiah Jeremiah 29:20-22, or Shemaiah Jeremiah 29:32, or Pashur Jeremiah 20:6, or other false prophets Jeremiah 14:15. At times, as in the case of Hananiah Jeremiah 28:17, Scripture records the individual fulfillment of God’s judgments. Mostly, it passes by unnoticed the execution of God’s sentence. The sentence of the criminal, unless reprieved, in itself implies the execution . The fact impressed those who witnessed it; the record of the judgment suffices for us.
Then followed, under Tiglath-pileser, the fulfillment of the prophecy as to Damascus Amos 1:5, and Gilead Amos 6:14. Under Sargon was fulfilled the prophecy on the ten tribes Amos 5:27; Amos 7:8-9, Amos 7:17; Amos 9:8. That on Judah Amos 2:5 yet waited 133 years, and then was fulfilled by Nebuchadnezzar. A few years later, and he executed God’s judgments foretold by Amos on their enemies, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Tyre Amos 1:9; Amos 2:3.Amos 1:6-8 : kings of Egypt, Assyria, and the Macedonian Alexander the Great fulfilled in succession the prophecy as to Philistia. So various were the human wills, so multitudinous the events, which were to bring about the simple words of the shepherd-prophet. Amos foretells the events; he does say, why the judgments should come. Amos does not foretell when, or through whom the judgments would come. Nevertheless, he foretells the events themselves absolutely, and they came. Like Joel, he foretells the conversion of the pagan and anticipates so far the prophecies of Isaiah, that God would work this through the restoration of the house of David, when fallen. It is a strange comment upon human greatness that the royal line was not to be employed in the salvation of the world until it was fallen! The royal palace had to become the hut of Nazareth before the Redeemer of the world could be born, whose glory and kingdom were not of this world, who came, to take nothing from us but our nature, that He might sanctify it, our misery, that He might bear it for us. Yet flesh and blood could not foresee it before it came, as flesh and blood could not believe it, after He came.
the Fifth Week after Epiphany