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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Amos 4

Verse 1

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan - fat and wanton kine, such as the rich pasture of Bashan (east of Jordan, between Hermon and Gilead) was famed for (Deuteronomy 32:14-15; Psalms 22:12, "Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round;" Ezekiel 39:18, "Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty ... all of them fatlings of Bashan"). Batanea in more recent times formed part of Bashan, and is still famed for its pastures and oak forests. Figure for those luxurious nobles mentioned Amos 3:9-10; Amos 3:12; Amos 3:15. The feminine, kine or cows, not bulls, expresses their effeminacy. This accounts for masculine forms in the Hebrew being intermixed with feminine; the latter being figurative, the former the real persons meant.

Which oppress the poor, which crush the needy. The Hebrew participles imply which are continually oppressing, which are crashing the needy.

Which say to their masters - i:e., to their king, with whom the princes indulged in potations, and whom here they importune for more wine (Hosea 7:5, "In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine").

Bring, and let us drink. "Bring" is singular in the Hebrew, implying that one "master" alone is meant.

Verse 2

The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.

The Lord - the same Hebrew [ 'Adonaay (H136)] as "masters" (Amos 4:1). Israel's nobles say to their master or lord, Bring us drink: but "the Lord" of him and them "hath sworn," etc.

By his holiness - which binds Him to punish the guilty as well as to keep His covenant of grace to His people (Psalms 89:35, "Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David"). His holiness was that which they had profaned, and which He therefore was bound to vindicate by punishing them. That he will take you away - i:e., God, by the instrumentality of the enemy.

With hooks - literally, 'thorns' (cf. 2 Chronicles 33:11). As fish are taken out of the water by hooks, so the Israelites are to be taken suddenly and violently out of their cities by the enemy (Ezekiel 29:4; cf. Job 41:1-2; Jeremiah 16:16; Habakkuk 1:15). The image is the more appropriate as anciently captives were led by their conquerors by a "hook" made to pass through the nose (2 Kings 19:28), as is to be seen in the Assyrian remains.

Verse 3

And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.

And ye shall go out at the breaches - namely, of the city walls broken through by the enemy.

Every cow at that which is before her - as a herd of cows go one after the other through a gap in a fence. Figure for, 'the once luxurious nobles (cf. Amos 4:1, kine of Bashan) shall go out each one right before her; not through the gates, but each at the breach before him, not turning to the right or left, apart from one another. The image happily represents the confusion with which one should hurry after another, reckless and desperate. Calves had been their object of worship; so like calves they had become in their sensual animal life, and like calves or cows they should flee in disorder through the breaches.

And ye shall cast them into the palace - "them," i:e., 'your posterity,' from Amos 4:2. Yourselves shall escape through the breaches, after having cast your little children into the palace, so as not to see their destruction, and to escape the more quickly. Rather, 'ye shall cast yourselves into the palace,' so as to escape from it out of the city (Calvin). Thus, 'ye shall cast yourselves' answers to the headlong awkward plunging motion of the cow, as represented by the desperate movements of the ruined nobles flinging themselves forward from, palace to palace. The Hebrew for "the palace" [haharmownaah] may rather be translated as a proper name, 'The mountains of Monah' - i:e., of Armenia (Pusey): so in Amos 5:27 God saith, "I will cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus." The palace, the scene of the princes' drunken riots, and the storehouse of violence and robbery (Amos 3:10; Amos 3:15; Amos 4:1), is to be the scene of their ignominious flight. Compare, in the similar case of Jerusalem's capture, the king's escape by way of the palace, through a breach in the wall, Ezekiel 12:5; Ezekiel 12:12. Gesenius translates, 'ye shall be cast (as captives) into the (enemy's) stronghold;' in this view, the enemy's stronghold is called "palace," in retributive contrast to the "palaces" of Israel's nobles, the storehouses of their robberies (Amos 3:10).

Verse 4

Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years: Come to Beth-el, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression. God gives them up to their self-willed idolatry, that they may see how unable their idols are to save them from their coming calamities. So Ezekiel 20:39.

Beth-el - (Amos 3:14), the place of the calf-worship and its altar.

Gilgal - (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11).

And bring your sacrifices every morning - as commanded in the law (Numbers 28:3-4). They imitated the letter, while violating by calf-worship the spirit of the Jerusalem temple-worship.

And your tithes after three years - every third year-literally, after three (years of) days (i:e., the fullest complement of days, or a year); "after three full years." Compare Leviticus 25:29; and "the days" for the years (Joel 1:2). So a month of days is used for a full month, wanting no day to complete it (margin, Genesis 29:14; Numbers 11:20-21, "a whole month," Hebrew, 'a month of days'). The Israelites here also kept to the letter of the law in bringing in the tithes of their increase every third year, "at the end of three years" (Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12).

Verse 5

And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

And offer - literally, burn incense.

Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven - i:e., 'offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with burnt incense and with leavened bread.' The frankincense was laid on the meat offering (i:e., not flesh offering, as "meat" is now used; but fine flour, etc.), and taken by the priest from it to burn on the altar (Leviticus 2:1-2; Leviticus 2:8; Leviticus 2:11). Though unleavened cakes were to accompany the peace offering sacrifice of animals, leavened bread was also commanded to be offered "with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offerings," and was to be the perquisite of the priest (Leviticus 7:12-13), but not as a "meat offering" (Leviticus 2:11).

This liketh you - i:e., this is what ye like.

Verses 6-11

And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I also have given you. Yahweh details His several chastisements inflicted with a view to reclaiming them; but adds to each the same sad result, "yet have ye not returned unto me." Literally, 'ye have not returned quite unto me' [ `aaday (H5704)]. Their repentance was but a half repentance, which is no true and full returning unto (Isaiah 9:13, "The people turneth not unto Him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of hosts;" Jeremiah 5:3, "O Lord ... thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; time hast consumed them: but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return;" Hosea 7:10, "The pride of Israel testifieth to his face; and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for all this"): the monotonous repetition of the same burden marking their pitiable obstinacy. Amos refers to Deuteronomy 4:29, "If from thence (from thy state of affliction) thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him, if thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul."

Cleanness of teeth - explained by the parallel, "want of bread." The famine alluded to is that mentioned 2 Kings 8:1 (Grotius). Where there is no food to masticate, the teeth are free from uncleanness, but it is the cleanness of want. Compare Proverbs 14:4, "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean." So spiritually, where all is outwardly smooth and clean, it is often because there is no solid religion. Better fightings and fears with real piety, than peace and respectable decorum without spiritual life.

Verse 7. And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest - the time when rain was most needed, and when usually "the latter rain" fell-namely, in spring -- the latter half of February and the whole of March and April (Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23). The drought meant is that mentioned 1 Kings 17:1. (Grotius).

And I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another - any rain that fell was only partial.

Verse 8. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water - i:e., the inhabitants of three cities wandered about (literally, trembled) in search of water, and found only a scanty and unsatisfying supply in one city (Psalms 109:10, "Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg;" cf. Jeremiah 14:1-6). Grotius explains this verse and Amos 4:7, 'The rain fell on neighbouring countries but not on Israel, which marked the drought to be not accidental, but the special judgment of God.' It also seems to have fallen within Israel itself in a partial way, descending on the cities and portions of the penitent, and not falling on the portions of the impenitent. 'The Israelites were obliged to leave their cities and homes to seek water at a distance.' (Calvin.)

Verse 9. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew - the blighting influence of the east wind on the grain (Genesis 41:6, 'seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind"). The two words "blasting and mildew" occur only in Deuteronomy, and in Solomon's prayer founded upon it (Deuteronomy 28:22; 1 Kings 8:37). Amos plainly refers in this and many other passages to the Pentateuch, as familiar to the ten tribes. "Mildew," i:e., blight whereby the ears turn into an untimely yellow without grain.

When your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased - in vain ye multiplied your gardens, etc., because I destroyed their produce. Bochart supports margin, 'the multitude of your gardens.' Eastern gardens are at once orchard, herb, and flower-garden (Job 8:16; Song of Solomon 4:13-14; Song of Solomon 6:11).

The palmer-worm - a species of locust is here meant, hurtful to fruits of trees, not to herbage or corn. The same east wind which brought the drought, blasting, and mildew, brought also the locusts into Judea (Bochart); as in the plague of locusts brought by the east wind upon Egypt. (Exodus 10:13). Verse 10. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt - such as I formerly sent on the Egyptians (Exodus 9:3, etc.; Exodus 8:1-32, etc.; Exodus 12:29; Deuteronomy 28:27; Deuteronomy 28:60). Egypt is said to be the birthplace of the plague. Compare the same phrase, Isaiah 10:24.

And have taken away your horses - literally, 'Your young men have I slain with the sword,' accompanied with the captivity your horses; I have given up your young men to be slain, and their horses to be taken by the foe (cf. 2 Kings 13:7, "Neither did he (the Lord) leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria (Hazael) had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing"). The possession of the plain of Jezreel tempted Israel to break the law which forbad their multiplying cavalry and horses.

And I have made the stink of your camps - i:e., the stink of the corpses of your slain men (cf. Isaiah 34:3; Joel 2:20).

To come up unto your nostrils. The Hebrew is more emphatic, 'to come up, and that unto your nostrils.'

Verse 11. I have overthrown some of you - some parts of your territory.

As God overthrew Sodom - plainly referring to Deuteronomy 29:23, "The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah

... which the Lord overthrew in his anger," (Isaiah 13:19; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 1:7.") "God" is often repeated in Hebrew instead of I. The earthquake here apparently alluded to is not that in the reign of Uzziah, which occurred "two years" later (Amos 1:1). Traces of earthquakes and volcanic agency abound in Palestine: to some of the effects of these in previous times the allusion here is. Compare the prophecy, Deuteronomy 28:15-68, with Amos 4:6-11 here. Still they were ordinarily more in its outskirts than in itself. Therefore the visitation the more marks the hand of God.

As a firebrand plucked out of ... burning - (cf. Isaiah 7:4). Zechariah derives the expression from Amos (Zechariah 3:2). The phrase is proverbial for a narrow escape from utter extinction. Though Israel revived as a nation under Jereboam II, it was but for a time, and that after an almost utter destruction previously (2 Kings 14:26).

Verse 12

Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

Therefore - as all chastizements have failed to make thee "return unto me."

Thus will I do unto thee - as I have threatened (Amos 4:2-3).

And because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God. God is about to inflict the last and worst judgment on thee, the extinction of thy nationality: consider then what preparation thou canst make for encountering Him as thy foe (Jeremiah 46:14; Luke 14:31-32). Since it would be madness to think of meeting in battle the King of kings (Isaiah 27:4; Ezekiel 22:14; Hebrews 10:31), see what can be done toward mitigating the severity of the coming judgment by penitence (Isaiah 27:5; 1 Corinthians 11:31). This latter exhortation is followed up in Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6; Amos 5:8; Amos 5:14-15.

Verse 13

For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.

For, lo, he that formeth the mountains. The God whom Israel is to "prepare to meet" (Amos 4:12) is here described in sublime terms.

And createth the wind - not as margin, 'spirit.' The God with whom thou hast to do is the Omnipotent Maker of things seen, such as the stupendous "mountains," and of things too subtile to be seen, though of powerful agency, as the "wind."

And declareth unto man what is his thought - (Psalms 139:2). Ye think that your secret thoughts escape my cognizance; but I am the searcher of hearts.

That maketh the morning darkness - (Amos 5:8; Amos 8:9). Both, literally, turning the sunshine into darkness, and, figuratively, turning the prosperity of the ungodly into sudden adversity (Psalms 73:12; Psalms 73:18-19: cf. Jeremiah 13:16).

And treadeth upon the high places of the earth. God treadeth down the proud of the earth. He subjects to Him all things, however high they be (Micah 1:3). Compare Deuteronomy 32:13, wherein He is said to have "made His people ride on the high places of the earth" (Deuteronomy 33:29). Thus the same phrase is used of God's people, elevated by God above every other human height, even as God Himself "treadeth upon the high places of the earth."

Remarks:

(1) God avenges the cause of the poor and needy on their oppressors (Amos 4:1). The demand for luxuries and gratification to the appetite is a fruitful source of misery to the poor. So-called cheap articles of fashion are often dearly bought at the cost of oppression to the ill-paid manufacturers.

(2) The Israelite oppressors of the poor were doomed to be oppressed themselves by the enemy. Suddenly and violently should they be snatched away from their drunken revelries, as the fish is unexpectedly taken with the fish-hook (Amos 4:2). God often repays men in kind. As Israel's nobles had lived in wantonness, so should they, as eunuchs in the Assyrian palaces and harems, minister to the wantonness of their foreign masters (Amos 4:3).

(3) It is the sure forerunner of the transgressor's doom, when he is abandoned to his sin (Amos 4:4). Israel had framed for herself an elaborate system of will-worship. So well did they look upon their standing before God, that there is no mention of a sin offering among their sacrifices. They "proclaimed and published" their own "free offerings," like the hypocrites, whom the Lord Jesus censures (Amos 4:5). For men form a very exaggerated notion of their own liberality; while all the time they withhold that without which all other gifts are vain-the heart. All their doings were accompanied "with the leaven" (Amos 4:5) of pride, self-will, and real disobedience to God, amidst all their parade of obedience. It was what they 'liked' they did, not what God liked. The gratification of their own likings, therefore, was all that they really gained by their religious observances, not the averting of God's displeasure at their sin. It is a most awful, and, at the same time, just sentence which shall at last be passed on all transgressor's, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still" (Revelation 22:11). Then shall the transgressor "multiply transgression" eternally, and his sin itself shall be to him one most terrible punishment.

(4) As Israel worshipped nature under the form of the calves, so God showed them, by withdrawing the gifts of nature, that which they forgat (Hosea 2:8; Hosea 2:12), namely, that He is Author and Sovereign Controller of nature (Amos 4:6). When the gifts of God are made the instruments of dishonour to God, the Almighty Giver, in justice, takes them away. Unclean in all other respects, they should at least have, in spite of themselves, "cleanness of teeth."

(5) Yet such was their obstinacy, that all the plainly-marked (Amos 4:8) chastizements of God failed to bring them to "return" heartily and wholly to God (Amos 4:7). God will not have a partial reformation. As God offers a full forgiveness, so must man seek from Him a full repentance. So long as one darling sin is clung to, it is in vain to repent of all the rest.

(6) The "firebrand plucked out of the burning" (Amos 4:11) is easily re-ignited, if brought near the flame again; so the partially rescued sinner's only safety is in turning wholly away from sin, and returning wholly to the Lord.

(7) Israel would not do th is. Therefore Yahweh's summons to her is, "Prepare to meet thy God." They who will not meet God now as a Father, reconciled to us in Jesus Christ, must hereafter meet Him as a Judge, who will call us to strictest account for every transgression of thought, word, and deed. He is the God that shall "declare unto man His thought," and "make the morning darkness" to transgressors; "treading upon the high places of the earth" as "the God of hosts," having at His disposal all the powers, visible and invisible, He shall tread under foot the proud, and exalt the humble worshippers of God (Amos 4:13). How we should fear this great God! How diligently we ought to prepare to meet Him in His own appointed way, through faith in Christ Jesus, working by love!

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Amos 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/amos-4.html. 1871-8.