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Bible Commentaries
Amos 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

A. Introduction 1:1

What follows are the words (i.e., collected messages, cf. Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1; Ecclesiastes 1:1; Jeremiah 1:1) of Amos (lit. burden-bearer), who was one of the sheepherders who lived in the Judean town of Tekoa, 10 miles south of Jerusalem. This town stood on a comparatively high elevation from which its residents could see the Mount of Olives to the north as well as the surrounding countryside in every direction. Amos’ words expressed what he saw in visions that came to him from the Lord. These visions concerned Israel, the Northern Kingdom at the time when he wrote, namely, during the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II (the son of Joash), king of Israel. Here "Israel" must mean the Northern Kingdom rather than the combined people of Israel and Judah, as it often means in the prophets, because of the many references to people and places in the Northern Kingdom that follow. Specifically, Amos wrote two years before "the earthquake," perhaps about 762 B.C. [Note: See my comments above under "writer" and "date" in the Introduction section of these notes.]

"In this [ancient Near Eastern] culture an earthquake would not have been viewed as a mere natural occurrence, but as an omen of judgment. Amos had warned that the Lord would shake the earth (see Amos 8:8; Amos 9:1; Amos 9:5, as well as Amos 4:12-13). When the earthquake occurred just two years after he delivered his message, it signaled that the Lord was ready to make the words of Amos a reality." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 378.]

This introductory verse has been called "the most complete superscription to be found in all of prophetic literature." [Note: Shalom M. Paul, Amos, p. 33.]

"The opening words make it clear that what follows is a covenant lawsuit commanded by Israel’s suzerain, the Lord himself." [Note: Niehaus, p. 336.]

Verses 1-2


The first two verses of the book constitute a prologue. They contain an explanation of what follows, an identification of the writer, the time of his writing, and his theme.

Verse 2

B. Theme 1:2

This verse summarizes the message that Amos received from the Lord. Amos reported that Yahweh roared from Zion, as a lion roars before it devours its prey or as thunder precedes a severe storm (cf. Amos 3:4; Amos 3:8; Jeremiah 25:30; Hosea 5:14; Hosea 11:10; Hosea 13:7). Yahweh was about to judge. "Yahweh" is the first word in the Hebrew sentence-usually a verb comes first-and so is emphatic by position. The Lord spoke from Zion (Jerusalem, also emphatic by position) because that is where He manifested Himself in a localized sense to the Israelites of Amos’ day. In Israel, the primary worship centers were Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12-13). All the land would mourn, from the shepherds’ pastures in the lowland to the summit of Mt. Carmel (a merism), because the Lord would dry up the land. This was one of the promises of judgment if God’s people proved unfaithful to His covenant with them, the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:20-24; cf. Leviticus 26:22; Deuteronomy 32:24). "Yahweh" was God’s covenant name, and it connotes holiness and power (cf. Exodus 3:5; Exodus 19:10-25). However, since oracles announcing judgment on neighbor nations, as well as on Israel, follow, the extent of God’s judgment would go beyond Israel’s territory and Israel’s covenant (cf. Isaiah 24:4-6; Isaiah 26:20-21). The mention of Mt. Carmel, nevertheless, fixes the primary site in Israel. Most of this book records messages of judgment against Israel. The theme of the book is practical righteousness (cf. James).

Verse 3

The expression "for three transgressions [Heb. pesha’im, rebellions, i.e., against the universal Sovereign; cf. Genesis 9:5-17] and for four" is one of Amos’ trademark phrases (cf. Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:11; Amos 1:13; Amos 2:1; Amos 2:4; Amos 2:6). It means for numerous transgressions (cf. Job 5:19; Job 33:29; Psalms 62:11-12; Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 30:15-16; Proverbs 30:18-19; Proverbs 30:21-23; Proverbs 30:29-31; Ecclesiastes 11:2; Micah 5:5-6). "Three transgressions" represents fullness and the fourth overflow. Amos cited just the last transgression, the one that "broke the camel’s back" and made judgment inevitable, or possibly the representative one, for Israel’s enemies. [Note: J. Mays, Amos: A Commentary, pp. 23-24.] The phrase may also be a poetic way of describing seven transgressions, symbolizing completeness. [Note: Meir Weiss, "The Pattern of Numerical Sequence in Amos 1-2, A Re-examination," Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (1967):418.] Limberg observed that the number seven plays a significant role in the structure of the whole book and in the makeup of certain of the sayings. [Note: J. Limburg, "Sevenfold Structures in the Book of Amos," Journal of Biblical Literature 106 (1987):217.] This may have been a way Amos certified that the whole book and each section in it was the word of the Lord. [Note: Ibid., pp 222-23.] In the oracle against Israel, Amos cited seven sins (one in Amos 2:6, two in Amos 2:7, two in Amos 2:8, and two in Amos 2:12). Israel’s panic would also be sevenfold (Amos 2:14-16).

"Based on structural parallels with proverbial statements that use the ’three, even four’ numerical pattern (see Proverbs 30:15-16; Proverbs 30:18-19; Proverbs 30:21-23; Proverbs 30:29-31), one expects to find a list of four specific sins in each oracle. But this never happens in the first seven oracles. After specifying one or two sins, the prophet breaks off the list, announces judgment, and then moves on to the next nation as if the real target of God’s anger lies somewhere else. This stylistic device does not become a bad omen for Israel until the list of Judah’s sins is left truncated, suggesting that another nation, which proves to be Israel, will follow." [Note: Chisholm, p. 379.]

Damascus was the capital city of Aram (Syria), and it stands for the whole nation by metonymy. Similarly the capitals Jerusalem and Samaria often represent their respective nations, Judah and Israel, by metonymy, in biblical literature. Yahweh promised that He would not turn back the punishment due Aram because the Arameans had proved to be a scourge to the people of Israel. Threshing Gilead, a transjordanian part of Israel, with sharp iron implements pictures the plowing up of that part of the nation militarily (cf. Isaiah 41:15; Micah 4:13; Habakkuk 3:12). [Note: See D. A. Hubbard, Joel and Amos, p. 131.] Israelite citizens and territory had suffered greatly during constant battles with the Arameans, especially in Transjordan (cf. 2 Kings 8:7-12; 2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 13:3-7). The Aramean rulers Hazael and his son Ben-hadad III had repeatedly invaded and conquered Israel between 842 and 802 B.C.

Verses 3-5

1. An oracle against Aram 1:3-5

Verses 3-14


The Book of Amos consists of words (oracles, Amos 1:3 to Amos 6:14) and visions (chs. 7-9), though these sections also contain short sub-sections of other types of material.

Verses 3-16

A. Oracles against nations 1:3-2:16

An oracle is a message of judgment. Amos proceeded to deliver eight of these, seven against Israel’s neighbors, including Judah (Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:5), and one against Israel (Amos 2:6 to Amos 6:14). The order is significant. The nations mentioned first were foreign, but those mentioned next were the blood relatives of the Israelites, and Judah was its closest kin. Upon hearing this list the Israelites would have felt "a noose of judgment about to tighten round their [the Israelites’ own] throats." [Note: J. A. Motyer, The Day of the Lion: The Message of Amos, p. 50.] This is the "rhetoric of entrapment." [Note: R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 144. Cf. Isaiah 28.]

"The prophet began with the distant city of Damascus and, like a hawk circling its prey, moved in ever-tightening circles, from one country to another, till at last he pounced on Israel. One can imagine Amos’s hearers approving the denunciation of these heathen nations. They could even applaud God’s denunciation of Judah because of the deep-seated hostility between the two kingdoms that went as far back as the dissolution of the united kingdom after Solomon. But Amos played no favorites; he swooped down on the unsuspecting Israelites as well in the severest language and condemned them for their crimes." [Note: McComiskey, pp. 281-82.]

Each oracle follows the same basic pattern. First, Amos declared the judgment to come. Second, he defended the judgment by explaining the reason for it. Third, he described the coming judgment. Smith described this pattern, which occurs with some variations in the oracles to follow, as a "messenger speech." [Note: Smith, p. 44. See also F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos, pp. 341-69.] It contains five elements: introductory formula, certainty of judgment, charge of guilt, announcement of punishment, and concluding formula.

"All the things condemned by Amos were recognized as evil in themselves, not merely in Israel, but by all the nations of the western Fertile Crescent." [Note: Ellison, p. 72.]

Other major collections of oracles against foreign neighbors appear in Isaiah (chs. 13-17, 19, 21, 23, 34), Jeremiah (chs. 46-51), and Ezekiel (chs. 25-32). One might consider all of Obadiah and Nahum as oracles against foreign nations as well. In fact, all the prophetical books except Daniel and Hosea contain some condemnation of Israel’s neighbor nations. [Note: See the chart of oracles against foreign nations in D. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, pp. 405-6.]

Verse 4

The Lord promised to send a consuming fire (judgment) on the house (dynasty) and citadels (fortified towns) of the Arameans. Hazael and Ben-Hadad, dynastic names, probably represent all the Aramean kings. [Note: H. W. Wolff, Joel and Amos, p. 156.] Another view is that the Hazael in view was the king of Damascus who ruled for most of the second half of the ninth century, and Ben-Hadad was his son and successor (2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:22-25). [Note: Chisholm, p. 382.] The idea of sending fire on the walls of the main cities of the land recurs throughout these oracles (cf. Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7; Amos 1:10; Amos 1:12; Amos 1:14; Amos 2:2; Amos 2:5). It is a vivid metaphor for consuming destruction.

Verse 5

Yahweh would also break the bar that secured the gate of Damascus making it impossible to defend (cf. 1 Kings 4:13). He would cut off the people who lived in the Valley of Aven (lit. evil, perhaps Baalbek or the Biq’ah Valley in Lebanon) and Aram’s ruler who lived in Beth Eden (perhaps Bit-Adini, an Aramean state on the Euphrates River 200 miles to the north-northeast of Damascus). [Note: Paul, pp. 52-54; Andersen and Freedman, pp. 255-56.] These names mean "valley of wickedness" and "house of pleasure," but since the other names mentioned in the oracles are real locations, these probably were as well. The Arameans would go into exile to Kir in Mesopotamia, from which they had originated (Amos 9:7, precise location unknown). Thus God would send them back where they came from after obliterating all they had achieved.

"Benjamin Franklin said it well at the Constitutional Convention, ’I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men.’" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 344. His quotation comes from Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia, p. 126.]

The fulfillment of this prophecy came when Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria captured Damascus and took the Arameans captive in 732 B.C. (2 Kings 16:7-9).

Verse 6

Gaza was the chief city of Philistia, as Damascus was of Aram. The particular sin for which God would judge the Philistines was their capture and deportation of whole communities (or people at peace, Heb. shelema), possibly Israelites and or Judahites, to Edom as slaves (cf. Joel 3:4-8). During the reign of Israel’s King Jehoram (852-841 B.C.) Philistines and Arabs had carried off the royal household (2 Chronicles 21:16-17), plundered the temple (Joel 3:5), and sold the people into slavery (Joel 3:3; Joel 3:6).

"The concern of Amos seems to have been the freedom and dignity of persons regardless of their national origin. Sale of such captives for use as slave laborers was to treat precious humans made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) as mere commodities. The driving force behind these atrocities was nothing higher than the profit of the mighty.

"Broken treaties have marred the pages of history from ancient to modern times. God has a low tolerance level for those who break treaties, who take away human freedom and dignity, and whose motive is material profit. Such people should brace themselves for the destructive judgment of God." [Note: Smith, pp. 51-52.]

Verses 6-8

2. An oracle against Philistia 1:6-8

Verses 7-8

Fire (destruction) would overtake the cities of the Philistines and affect everyone from the ordinary citizens to the rulers. Ancient Near Eastern armies commonly used fire to burn and weaken a city wall. [Note: Niehaus, p. 345.] Amos mentioned four of the five major cities of Philistia, all except Gath, probably because it had already fallen to enemies (cf. Amos 6:2; 2 Kings 12:17; 2 Chronicles 26:6). Another writer argued that Gath had become more of a Canaanite city by this time than a Philistine city, and that is the reason Amos did not mention it. [Note: H. Kassis, "Gath and the Structure of ’Philistine’ Society," Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965):259-71.] Still another possibility is that Amos simply chose to refer to some but not all of the Philistine cities. Sovereign Yahweh promised to cut off even the remnant of Philistines that remained in Amos’ day. This title for God occurs 19 times in Amos but only five times in the other Minor Prophets. It stresses both His lordship and His covenant relationship with people. Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) captured Ekron and killed its officials because of their disloyalty. [Note: Daniel D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, pp. 31-32.]

This prophecy was initially fulfilled when the Judean kings Uzziah and Hezekiah invaded Philistia (2 Chronicles 26:6-7; 2 Kings 18:8) and when a succession of Assyrian conquerors captured these towns. [Note: See James B. Pritchard, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, pp. 282-88; and King, pp. 52-54.] It was completely fulfilled during the Maccabean period (169-134 B.C.) when the Philistines passed out of existence.

Verses 9-10

3. An oracle against Phoenicia 1:9-10

Tyre was apparently the leading city of Phoenicia at this time. The sin of the Phoenicians was the same as that of the Philistines. They had sold whole communities of people to the Edomites as slaves. [Note: See Paul, p. 59.] They also broke a covenant of brothers.

"If Israel was the injured partner, the reference is probably to the pact between Solomon and Hiram (1 Kings 5) or perhaps to the later relations established through the marriage of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 16:29-31)." [Note: Sunukjian, p. 1429.]

Ironically many Tyrians became captives and were sold as slaves when Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre in 332 B.C. (cf. Ezekiel 26-28). Phoenicia declined as a major power in the ancient Near East after that destruction and never revived.

Verses 11-12

4. An oracle against Edom 1:11-12

Amos next moved from addressing chief cities to addressing countries, specifically countries with closer ethnic ties to the Israelites. Perhaps their closer relationship to Israel is why he mentioned countries rather than cities in the introductions to the later oracles.

Edom’s overflowing sin that brought divine wrath down on its people was the way the Edomites had treated the Israelites. The Edomites had been very hostile to their "brother," Israel (cf. Genesis 25:29-30; Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:4; Deuteronomy 23:7; Obadiah 1:12). This hostility existed throughout the history of these two nations. This animosity even led the Edomites to attack the Israelites with the sword (cf. Obadiah 1:10). Consequently God would send destruction on Edom’s chief southern region and a prominent northern city, even on the whole land (a merism). Teman was both a village and a southern region in Edom, but here the region is probably in view. [Note: Niehaus, p. 352.] Bozrah was a northern city.

The Assyrians subjugated Edom in the eighth century B.C., and the Nabateans, an Arabian tribe, took it over in the fourth century B.C.

Verses 13-15

5. An oracle against Ammon 1:13-15

The Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew (cf. Genesis 19:30-38). Ammon was in trouble with Yahweh because its soldiers brutally attacked and slew the Israelites, even the pregnant women and their unborn children, who lived in Gilead to the west of Ammon. This brutal slaughter terrorized and decimated the attacked populace. The Ammonites did this to enlarge their territory to the west for materialistic advantage, not for self-preservation. Consequently Yahweh promised to destroy Rabbah, the capital, and Ammon’s walled cities in battle. The Ammonites’ king and royal officials would go into exile.

This happened when Tiglath-Pileser III invaded Ammon in 734 B.C., but Ammon’s final demise came when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Rabbah and took many of Ammon’s citizens captive to Babylon around 586 B.C. The last reference to them is the Ammonites’ defeat by Judas Maccabeus in the second century B.C. (1 Maccabees 5:6-7).

"In the Old Testament, as in the ancient Near East, theophanic imagery was used to indicate the active presence of a god in battles against those who refused his rule." [Note: Ibid., p. 355.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Amos 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/amos-1.html. 2012.
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