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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Amos 3

Verse 1

Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,

Hear this word ... O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt - "against" (literally, upon) not merely the ten tribes, but "the whole family brought up from Egypt:" all the descendants of Jacob, including Judah and Benjamin. Compare Jeremiah 8:3, "this evil family;" and Micah 2:3, on "family" for the nation. However, as the prophecy following refers to the ten tribes, they must be chiefly, if not solely, meant; they were the majority of the nation; and so Amos concedes, what they so often boasted, that they were the elect people of God (Calvin); but this only heightens their sin.

Verse 2

You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

You only have I known - i:e., acknowledged as my people, and treated with special favour (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20). Compare the use of "know," Psalms 1:6; Psalms 144:3; John 10:14; 2 Timothy 2:19.

Therefore I will punish. The greater the privileges, the heavier the punishment for the abuse of them: for to the other offences there is added, in this case, ingratitude. When God's people do not glorify Him, He glorifies Himself by punishing them.

Verse 3

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Here follow several questions of a parable-like kind, to awaken conviction in the people.

Can two walk together, except they be agreed? - Can God's prophets be so unanimous in prophesying against you, if God's Spirit were not joined with them, or if their prophecies were false? The Israelites were "at ease," not believing that God was with the prophets in their denunciations of coming ruin to the nations (Amos 6:1; Amos 6:3, "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion;" cf. Ahab's disbelief of Micaiah's denunciation of evil, 1 Kings 22:18; 1 Kings 22:24; 1 Kings 22:27; and Johanan's disbelief of Jeremiah's warning of evil, if the Jewish remnant should go down to Egypt, Jeremiah 43:2). This view accords with Amos 3:7-8, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets ... the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" So "I will be with thy mouth" (Exodus 4:12; Jeremiah 1:8; Matthew 10:20, "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you). If the prophets and God were not agreed, the former could not predict the future as they do. In Amos 2:12 he had said, the Israelites forbade the prophets prophesying; therefore (in Amos 3:3; Amos 3:8) here he asserts the agreement between the prophets and God, who spake by them against Israel (Rosenmuller).

Rather, the connection of the sense is, I once "walked among" and with you (Leviticus 26:12) as a Father and Husband (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14, "I am married unto you"); but now your way and mine are utterly diverse, there can therefore be no fellowship between us such as there was when "you only I knew of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2): I will walk with you only to "punish you:" as a "lion" walks with his "prey" (Amos 3:4), as a bird-catcher with a bird (Tarnovius). The prophets, and all servants of God, can have no fellowship with the ungodly (Psalms 119:63; 2 Corinthians 6:16-17; Ephesians 5:11; James 4:4, "Know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.")

Verse 4

Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?

Will a lion roar in the forest when he hath no prey? The same idea as in Matthew 24:28. Where a corrupt nation is, there God's instruments of punishment are sure also to be. The lion roars loudly only when he has prey in sight.

Will a young lion cry out of his den if he (the "lion," not the "young lion").

Have taken nothing? The young lion just weaned lies silent until the old lion brings the prey near; then the scent rouses him. So the prophet would not speak against Israel if God did not reveal to him Israel's sins as requiring punishment. The effect must follow the cause. God's command to denounce judgment upon the guilty is the cause: Amos' prophesying is the effect.

Verse 5

Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is for him? shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?

Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth where no gin is set for him? When a bird, trying to fly upwards, is made to fall upon the earth by an earth-snare, it is a plain proof that the snare is there; so Israel, now that thou art falling, infer thence that it is in the snare of the divine judgment that thou art entangled (Ludovicus de Dieu). Rather, as Israel was then in prosperity under Jeroboam II, the idea is, Israel was seemingly then rising, as the bird does in its upward flight; but the word of God, as spoken by His prophets, is the "snare" or net which, though unseen, is now gathering about Israel, and will bring him down suddenly.

Shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all? The bird-catcher does not remove his snare off the ground until he has caught some prey; so God will not withdraw the Assyrians, etc., the instruments of punishment, until they have had the success against you which God gives them. The foe corresponds to the "snare" suddenly springing from the ground and enclosing the bird, on the latter touching it: the Hebrew is literally, "shall the snare spring from the earth?" Israel entangled in judgments answers to the bird "taken."

Verse 6

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? When the sound of alarm is trumpeted by the watchman in the city, the people are sure to run to and fro in alarm, (Hebrew, literally.) Yet Israel is not alarmed though God threatens judgments.

Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? This is the explanation of the preceding similes: God is the Author of all the calamities which are about to happen you, and which are foretold by His prophets. The evil of sin is from ourselves; the evil of trouble is from God, whoever be the instruments.

Verse 7

Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret - namely, His purpose, hidden from all, until it is revealed to His prophets (cf. Genesis 18:17, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do"). The Hebrew for "secret" expresses the additional idea of familiar conversation, as with an intimate friend [ cowdow (H5475)]. So God revealed to Abraham, "the friend of God," His secret purpose as to Sodom and Gomorrah. In a wider sense, God's will is revealed to all who love God, which it is not to the world (Psalms 25:14; John 15:15; John 17:25-26).

Unto his servants the prophets - who, being servants, cannot but obey their Lord in setting forth His purpose-namely, that of judgment against Israel (Jeremiah 20:9; Ezekiel 9:11). Therefore the fault which the ungodly find with them is groundless (1 Kings 18:17). It aggravates Israel's sin that God is not about to inflict judgment without having fully warned the people, if haply they might repent.

Verse 8

The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?

The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy? As when "the lion roars" (cf. Amos 1:2; and Amos 5:4 above), none can help but "fear," so, when Yahweh communicates His awful message, the prophet cannot but prophesy. Find no fault with me for prophesying-I must obey God. In a wider sense this is true of all believers (Acts 4:20; Acts 5:29).

Verse 9

Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof.

Publish in the palaces at Ashdod - as being places of greatest resort (cf. Matthew 10:27); and also as it is the sin of princes that he arraigns, he calls on princes, the occupants of the "palaces," to be the witnesses. Translate as the Hebrew, 'Publish upon the palaces of Ashdod, and upon the palaces of Egypt' - i:e., upon the flat roofs of their highest buildings, whence all can hear.

Ashdod - put for all Philistia. Convene the Philistine and the Egyptian magnates, from whom I have on various occasions rescued Israel. The opposite formula to "Tell it not in Gath" (2 Samuel 1:20) - namely, lest the pagan should glory over Israel. Even these idolaters, in looking on your enormities, will condemn you, how much more will the holy God!

And say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria - on the hills surrounding and commanding the view of Samaria, the metropolis of the ten tribes, which was on a lower hill ("the mountain of Samaria," Amos 4:1; 1 Kings 16:24, "He (Omri) bought the hill Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, owner of the hill, Samaria.") The mountains are to be the tribunal on which your enemies, the Philistines and Egyptians, are to sit aloft to have a view of your crimes, so as to "testify" to the justice of your punishment (Amos 3:13).

Behold the great tumults in the midst thereof - caused by the violence of the princes of Israel in "oppressions" of the poor (Job 35:9; Ecclesiastes 4:1).

Verse 10

For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.

For they know not to do right - their moral corruption blinds their power of discernment, so that they cannot do right (Jeremiah 4:22, "My people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge"). Not simple intellectual ignorance: the defect lay in the heart and will.

Who store up violence and robbery in their palaces - i:e., treasures obtained by "violence and robbery" (Proverbs 10:2).

Verse 11

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.

An adversary there shall be even round about the land. Translate, 'An adversary! (the abruptness produces a startling effect) and that, too, from every side of the land.' So in the fulfillment, 2 Kings 17:5, "The king of Assyria (Shalmaneser) came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years."

And he shall bring down thy strength from thee - i:e., bring thee down from thy strength (the strength on which thou didst boast thyself: all thy resources). (Proverbs 10:15.)

Thy palaces shall be spoiled - a just retribution in kind (Amos 3:10). The palaces, in which spoils of violence and robbery were stored up, "shall be spoiled."

Verse 12

Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.

As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs - a pastoral image, appropriately used by Amos, a shepherd himself. "Taketh," i:e., rescueth. The "two legs" are properly the shank below the knee, the dry and worthless part, being only skin and bone.

Or a piece of an ear - brought by the shepherd to the owner of the sheep, so as not to have to pay for the loss (Genesis 31:39, where Jacob says to Laban, "That which was torn of beast I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night;" Exodus 22:13).

So shall the children of Israel be taken out - rather, 'shall be rescued.' So if aught of Israel escapes, it shall be a miracle of God's goodness. It shall be but a scanty remnant. There is a kind of goat in the East, the ears of which are a foot long and proportionally broad. Perhaps the reference is to this. Compare on the image, David's delivering the lamb "out of the mouth of the lion" (1 Samuel 17:34-35); and Paul says of his escape at Rome, "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (2 Timothy 4:17).

So shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed - i:e., that live luxuriously in Samaria (cf. Amos 6:1; Amos 6:4, "That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock"). In allusion to this last clause, it is threatened that, in righteous retribution, they themselves shall be as the lambs devoured by the lion, so that but "two legs or a piece of an ear" shall be rescued. "A bed" means here the Oriental divan, a raised part of the room, covered with cushions.

And in Damascus in a couch. Jeroboam II had lately "recovered Damascus" to Israel, and "restored the coast of Israel, from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain" (2 Kings 14:25; 2 Kings 14:28). So the Israelites are represented as not merely in "the corner of a bed," as in Samaria, but "in a (whole) couch," at Damascus, living in luxurious ease. The "corner" that they occupy of "the bed" or divan is, however, according to Pusey, the inner corner, where the two sides meet; that place which is still the place of dignity. Of these, now so luxurious, soon but a remnant shall be left by the foe. The destruction of Damascus and that of Samaria shall be conjoined; as here, their luxurious lives, and, subsequently, Israel under Pekah and Syria under Rezin, their inroads on Judah, were combined (Isaiah 7:1-8; Isaiah 8:4; Isaiah 8:9; Isaiah 17:3). The parallelism of "Samaria" to "Damascus" and the Septuagint favour the English version rather than Gesenius: 'on a damask couch.' The Hebrew pointing [ Dªmesheq (H1833)], though generally expressing damask, may express the city "Damascus;" and many manuscripts point it so [dªmeseq]. Pusey denies that the word can mean damask at all; because Ezekiel 27:18 speaks of wine and white wool (the raw material) as the exports of Damascus: so that the city was not then as yet the manufacturer of damask, for which it is famed in modern times.

Moreover, damask is not so called in Arabic. Compare for Israel's overthrow, under King Hoshea, by the Assyrian Shalmaneser, and the final deportation by Esar-haddon (Ezra 4:2; 2 Kings 17:5-6; 2 Kings 18:9-12).

Verse 13

Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord GOD, the God of hosts,

Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob - i:e., unto the house of Jacob - i:e., against the house of Jacob. God calls on the same persons as in Amos 3:9 - namely, the pagan Philistines and the Egyptians-to witness with their own eyes Samaria's corruptions above described, so as that none may be able to deny the justice of Samaria's punishment (Maurer).

The God of hosts - having therefore all the powers of heaven and earth at command, and so being One calculated to strike terror into the hearts of the guilty, whom He threatens.

Verse 14

That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel: and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.

That - rather, Since or For. This verse is not as the English version translates, the thing which the witnesses cited are to "testify" (Amos 3:13), but the reason why God calls on the pagan to witness Samaria's guilt-namely, in order to justify the punishment which He here declares He will inflict.

I will also visit the altars of Beth-el - the golden calves, which were the source of all "the transgression of Israel" (cf. 1 Kings 12:32; 1 Kings 13:2, where the man of God denounces the altar of Bethel as doomed to be defiled by Josiah's, offering upon it "the priests of the high places." Accordingly, Josiah "brake down both that altar and the high place, and burned and stamped the high place small to powder;" 2 Kings 23:15-16); yet Israel thought that by them their transgressions were atoned for, and God's favour secured.

And the horns of the altar - which used to be sprinkled with the blood of victims. They were horn-like projecting points at the corners of ancient altars. The singular, "altar," refers to the great altar erected by Jeroboam to the calves. The "altars," plural, refer to the lesser ones made in imitation of the great one (2 Chronicles 34:5: cf. with 1 Kings 13:2; Hosea 8:11). It is the tendency of heresy to spread "like a cancer" (2 Timothy 2:17). Beginning with as little deviation as possible from the truth, in order the more readily to deceive, from the one altar, which professed to honour the unity of God, they in course of time passed on to make many altars, and to diverge more and more from the divine truth (2 Kings 10:1).

Verse 15

And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the LORD.

And I will smite the winter ... with the summer house - (Judges 3:20; Jeremiah 36:22). Winter houses of the great were in sheltered positions facing the south, to get all possible sunshine; summer houses in forests and on hills, facing the east and north.

And the houses of ivory - having their walls, doors, and cielings inlaid with ivory. So Ahab's house (1 Kings 22:39; Psalms 45:8).

Remarks:

(1) Thrice the prophet addressed the same solemn summons, Hear ye this word (Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:1). The mystery of the Trinity of the God in whose name he spake seems to be involved in this three-fold call. When the great God speaks, man's part is to hear with fixed attention, reverence, and love.

(2) Here the message is one of judgment "against the whole family" which formerly God had chosen out of "all the families of the earth," that in it, and especially in the promised seed which was to be of it, all families of the earth should be blessed (Amos 3:2; Genesis 12:3). God had drawn them in especial nearness to Himself, knowing them and acknowledging them as His special people above all peoples. Therefore would He "punish them for all their iniquities." The greater is the light against which one sins, the greater will be the penalty. For the angels, who sinned against the highest degree of light, there is no redemption provided. Of Jerusalem, the city which enjoyed the greatest degree of religious privileges in the Old Testament dispensation, it is written, "Under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:12). So, as our Christian light and privileges are greater than Israel's light and privileges, our responsibilities also are proportionably greater than theirs; and if we reject so great salvation as that which is now offered to us in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, how awful shall be our increased weight of condemnation! If we will not glorify Him by our salvation, He will glorify His own justice in our punishment.

(3) The prophet desires, in the person of God, to rouse the people to serious self-examination, by pregnant, enigmatic questions, calculated to excite their curiosity to discover his meaning. When God asks "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" the thought suggests itself to each, Am I at agreement with God? If not, I am not walking with God now, nor can I hope to be forever with God hereafter. God cannot be agreed with the self justifying sinner. The first step, therefore, toward walking in agreement with God is that the sinner should realize his own guilt and danger, and then that he should avail himself of the atonement, so as to be reconciled to God.

(4) Israel thought that God was not with the prophets in their denunciation of the coming ruin upon the nation. But their denunciations were just what might have been expected under the circumstances. For just as the lion's roaring (Amos 3:4) proves that the prey is near, since it is not without an object he roars, so God's terrible threats by His prophets are just what might have been looked for, seeing that the nation, the object of those threats, was utterly guilty, and called for the judicial vengeance of God. God would not threaten if He did not mean to punish: God will not always speak in a still small voice.

(5) Again, as the bird, in trying to ascend, is brought down by the snare (Amos 3:5), so surely, saith the prophet, will the guilty people be brought down from their seeming rise to prosperity under Jeroboam II by the word of God, of which the prophets are but the mouthpiece. Let us hence learn to take alarm and "fear" (Amos 3:8) in time, when God gives the "trumpet" note of coming "evil" (Amos 3:6). The evil of sin comes from ourselves, the evil of punishment from God. But God, before He judicially does aught of evil to a people or a church, mercifully forewarns them of it through "His servants the prophets," who are admitted to the knowledge of some of His "secret" counsels (Amos 3:7). The written prophecies of Scripture are our perpetual note of warning, that so the great day of the Lord may not take us unawares and unprepared.

(6) The man of God "cannot but speak the things which he hath seen and heard" (Amos 3:8; Acts 4:20). Amos therefore tells Israel that even the idolatrous Philistines, who were already doomed to destruction along with their "palaces" (Amos 1:7) would, if they were summoned from those palaces to the commanding heights that surrounded the hill of Samaria (Amos 3:9), condemn Israel for the enormities perpetrated in its capital. Often sinners can be awakened to a sense of shame before their fellow-men, though they have no sense of it toward God: nay, even they will, to avoid temporary shame before man, rush into everlasting shame. It is well, then, when men can be shamed out of their wrong conduct, so as to escape everlasting shame.

(7) The pagan Philistines and Egyptians, sitting on the surrounding mountains as the tribunal, in viewing Israel's enormities, would "testify" (Amos 3:13) and vindicate God's justice in Israel's terrible punishment. Men often will condemn in others what they do themselves. Israel thought that by her "violence and robbery" she was storing up riches (Amos 3:10) in her palaces; but what she was really storing was not the perishing riches, but the abiding sin, violence and robbery, and its awful and inseparable fruit, a treasure of "wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5). She had become blinded by the habit of sin, so as "not to know to do right." Men gradually lose the power of discriminating good from evil-spiritual light from darkness. Let us see that we do not, by the worship of Mammon, and pleasure, and self, which are so awfully prevalent among professing Christians, lose the knowledge of the right way, and be given up as reprobates to congenial darkness! Let us be "wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil" (Romans 16:19).

(8) A remnant only of Israel was to be reserved from the jaws of destruction (Amos 3:12), even the "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). The "palaces," which were once her storehouses of "robbery," have been long since, in just retribution, robbed by the "spoiler" (Amos 3:11). Their luxurious beds of down have for long been exchanged for a state wherein they as a people find no ease, neither has the sole of their foot rest (Deuteronomy 28:65). The scattered people of Israel are now everywhere a standing witness of the truth of God's threats, and a vindication of His justice in punishing transgressors, without respect of persons. The blood-sprinkled "horns" of their "altar," so far from atoning for sin, as they hoped, have themselves been regarded by God as the especial sin which brought destruction alike on the altar and the worshippers. All the appliances of Israel's luxury and pride, which are so close akin to idolatry, have long ago "perished" (Amos 3:15), "smitten" by God. The religion of nature can never be a substitute for the religion of revelation. They who reject the latter for the former will find out their fatal mistake too late. God makes men's transgressions come "upon" them (Amos 3:14) as a terrible part of their eternal punishment.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Amos 3". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/amos-3.html. 1871-8.