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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Amos 1

I. The Approaching Judgment - Amos 1:1-15 and 2

Starting from the saying of Joel (Joel 3:16), “Jehovah will roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem,” Amos announces the wrath of the Lord, which will discharge itself upon Damascus (Amos 1:3-5), Philistia (Amos 1:6-8), Tyre (Amos 1:9-10), Edom (Amos 1:11-12), Ammon (Amos 1:13-15), Moab (Amos 2:1-3), Judah (Amos 2:4-5), and Israel (Amos 2:6-16). The announcement of this judgment maintains a certain uniformity throughout; every one of these nations being threatened with the destruction of the kingdom, or with ruin and exile, “for three or four transgressions;” and the threat, as Rckert has well expressed it, “rolling like a storm, in strophe after strophe, over all the surrounding kingdoms,” touching Judah as it passes along, and eventually resting over Israel. The six heathen nations mentioned, three of which are related to the covenant nation, represent all the Gentile nations, which rise up in hostility to the people or kingdom of God. For the sins on account of which they are to be punished, are not certain general breaches of morality, but crimes which they have committed against the people of God; and in the case of Judah, contempt of the commandments of the Lord, and idolatry. The whole section, not merely Amos 1:2-2:5, but also Amos 2:6-16, has an introductory character. Whilst, on the one hand, the extension of the prediction of judgment to the Gentile nations indicates the necessity and universality of the judgment, which is sent to promote the interests of the kingdom of God, and preaches the truth that every one will be judged according to his attitude towards the living God; on the other hand, the place assigned to the Gentile nations, viz., before the covenant nation, not only sharpened the conscience, but taught this lesson, that if even the nations which had only sinned indirectly against the living God were visited with severe punishment, those to whom God had so gloriously revealed Himself (Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1) would be punished still more surely for their apostasy (Amos 3:2). It is with this design that Judah is also mentioned along with Israel, and in fact before it. “The intention was to impress this truth most strongly upon the people of the ten tribes, that not even the possession of such glorious prerogatives as the temple and the throne of David could avert the merited punishment. If this be the energy of the justice of God, what have we to look for?” (Hengstenberg).

Verses 1-2

Amos 1:1 contains the heading, which has already been discussed in the Introduction; and אשׁר חזה ( “which he saw”) refers to דּברי עמוס ( the words of Amos). Amos 1:2 forms the Introduction, which is attached to the heading by ויּאמר , and announces a revelation of the wrath of God upon Israel, or a theocratic judgment. Amos 1:2. “Jehovah roars out of Zion, and He utters His voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the head of Carmel withers.” The voice of Jehovah is the thunder, the earthly substratum in which the Lord manifests His coming to judgment (see at Joel 3:16). By the adoption of the first half of the verse word for word from Joel, Amos connects his prophecy with that of his predecessor, not so much with the intention of confirming the latter, as for the purpose of alarming the sinners who were at east in their security, and overthrowing the delusive notion that the judgment of God would only fall upon the heathen world. This delusion he meets with the declaration, that at the threatening of the wrath of God the pastures of the shepherds, i.e., the pasture-ground of the land of Israel (cf. Joel 1:19), and the head of the forest-crowned Carmel, will fade and wither. Carmel is the oft-recurring promontory at the mouth of the Kishon on the Mediterranean (see the comm. on Joshua 19:26 and 1 Kings 18:19), and not the place called Carmel on the mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:55), to which the term ראשׁ (head) is inapplicable (vid., Amos 9:3 and Micah 7:14). Shepherds' pastures and Carmel individualized the land of Israel in a manner that was very natural to Amos the shepherd. With this introduction, Amos announces the theme of his prophecies. And if, instead of proceeding at once to describe still further the judgment that threatens the kingdom of Israel, he first of all enumerates the surrounding nations, including Judah, as objects of the manifestation of the wrath of God, this enumeration cannot have any other object than the one described in our survey of the contents of the book. The enumeration opens with the kingdoms of Aram, Philistia, and Tyre (Phoenicia), which were not related to Israel by any ties of kinship whatever.

Verses 3-5

Aram-Damascus. - Amos 1:3. “Thus saith Jehovah, For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they have threshed Gilead with iron rollers, Amos 1:4. I send fire into the house of Hazael, and it will eat the palaces of Ben-hadad, Amos 1:5. And break in pieces the bolt of Damascus, and root out the inhabitant from the valley of Aven, and the sceptre-holder out of Beth-eden: and the people of Aram will wander into captivity to Kir, saith Jehovah.” In the formula, which is repeated in the case of every people, “for three transgressions, and for four,” the numbers merely serve to denote the multiplicity of the sins, the exact number of which has no bearing upon the matter. “The number four is added to the number three, to characterize the latter as simply set down at pleasure; in other words, it is as much as to say that the number is not exactly three or four, but probably a still larger number” (Hitzig). The expression, therefore, denotes not a small but a large number of crimes, or “ungodliness in its worst form” (Luther; see at Hosea 6:2)

(Note: J. Marck has correctly explained it thus: “When this perfect number ( three) is followed by four, by way of gradation, God not only declares that the measure of iniquity is full, but that it is filled to overflowing and beyond all measure.”).

That these numbers are to be understood in this way, and not to be taken in a literal sense, is unquestionably evident from the fact, that nit he more precise account of the sins which follows, as a rule, only one especially grievous crime is mentioned by way of example. לא אשׁיבנּוּ (I will not reverse it) is inserted before the more minute description of the crimes, to show that the threat is irrevocable. השׁיב signifies to turn, i.e., to make a thing go back, to withdraw it, as in Numbers 23:20; Isaiah 43:13. The suffix attached to אשׁיבנּוּ refers neither to qōlō (his voice), nor “to the idea of דּבר which is implied in כּה אמר (thus saith), or the substance of the threatening thunder-voice” (Baur); for hēshı̄bh dâbhâr signifies to give an answer, and never to make a word ineffectual. The reference is to the punishment threatened afterwards, where the masculine stands in the place of the neuter. Consequently the close of the verse contains the epexegesis of the first clause, and Amos 1:4 and Amos 1:5 follow with the explanation of לא אשׁיבנו (I will not turn it). The threshing of the Gileadites with iron threshing-machines is mentioned as the principal transgression of the Syrian kingdom, which is here named after the capital Damascus (see at 2 Samuel 8:6). This took place at the conquest of the Israelitish land to the east of the Jordan by Hazael during the reign of Jehu (2 Kings 10:32-33, cf. 2 Kings 13:7), when the conquerors acted so cruelly towards the Gileadites, that they even crushed the prisoners to pieces with iron threshing-machines, according to a barbarous war-custom that is met with elsewhere (see at 2 Samuel 12:31). Chârūts (= chârı̄ts , 2 Samuel 12:31), lit., sharpened, is a poetical term applied to the threshing-roller, or threshing-cart ( mōrag chârūts , Isaiah 41:15). According to Jerome, it was “a kind of cart with toothed iron wheels underneath, which was driven about to crush the straw in the threshing-floors after the grain had been beaten out.” The threat is individualized historically thus: in the case of the capital, the burning of the palaces is predicted; and in that of two other places, the destruction of the people and their rulers; so that both of them apply to both, or rather to the whole kingdom. The palaces of Hazael and Benhadad are to be sought for in Damascus, the capital of the kingdom (Jeremiah 49:27). Hazael was the murderer of Benhadad I, to whom the prophet Elisha foretold that he would reign over Syria, and predicted the cruelties that he would practise towards Israel (2 Kings 8:7.). Benhadad is generally regarded as his son; but the plural “palaces” leads us rather to think of both the first and second Benhadad, and this is favoured by the circumstance that it was only during his father's reign that Benhadad II oppressed Israel, whereas after his death, and when he himself ascended the throne, the conquered provinces were wrested from him by Joash king of Israel (2 Kings 13:22-25). The breaking of the bar (the bolt of the gate) denotes the conquest of the capital; and the cutting off of the inhabitants of Biq‛ath - Aven indicates the slaughter connected with the capture of the towns, and not their deportation; for hikhrı̄th means to exterminate, so that gâlâh (captivity) in the last clause applies to the remainder of the population that had not been slain in war. In the parallel clause תּומך שׁבם , the sceptre-holder, i.e., the ruler (either the king or his deputy), corresponds to yōshēbh (the inhabitant); and the thought expressed is, that both prince and people, both high and low, shall perish.

The two places, Valley-Aven and Beth-Eden, cannot be discovered with any certainty; but at any rate they were capitals, and possibly they may have been the seat of royal palaces as well as Damascus, which was the first capital of the kingdom. בּקעת און , valley of nothingness, or of idols, is supposed by Ewald and Hitzig to be a name given to Heliopolis or Baalbek, after the analogy of Beth-aven = Bethel (see at Hosea 5:8). They base their opinion upon the Alex. rendering ἐκ πεδίου Ὦν , taken in connection with the Alex. interpretation of the Egyptian On (Genesis 41:45) as Heliopolis. But as the lxx have interpreted אן by Heliopolis in the book of Genesis, whereas here they have merely reproduced the Hebrew letters און by Ὦν , as they have in other places as well (e.g., Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5, Hosea 10:8), where Heliopolis cannot for a moment be thought of, the πέδιον Ὦν of the lxx furnishes no evidence in favour of Heliopolis, still less does it warrant an alteration of the Hebrew pointing (into און ). Even the Chaldee and Syriac have taken בּקעת און as a proper name, and Ephraem Syrus speaks of it as “a place in the neighbourhood of Damascus, distinguished for idol-chapels.” The supposition that it is a city is also favoured by the analogy of the other threatenings, in which, for the most part, cities only are mentioned. Others understand by it the valley near Damascus, or the present Bekaa between Lebanon and Antilibanus, in which Heliopolis was always the most distinguished city, and Robinson has pronounced in favour of this ( Bibl. Res. p. 677). Bēth - ‛Eden , i.e., house of delight, is not to be sought for in the present village of Eden, on the eastern slope of Lebanon, near to the cedar forest of Bshirrai, as the Arabic name of this village 'hdn has nothing in common with the Hebrew עדן (see at 2 Kings 19:12); but it is the Παράδεισος of the Greeks, which Ptolemy places ten degrees south and five degrees east of Laodicea, and which Robinson imagines that he has found in Old Jusieh, not far from Ribleh, a place belonging to the times before the Saracens, with very extensive ruins (see Bibl. Researches, pp. 542-6, and 556). The rest of the population of Aram would be carried away to Kir, i.e., to the country on the banks of the river Kur, from which, according to Amos 9:7, the Syrians originally emigrated. This prediction was fulfilled when the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser conquered Damascus in the time of Ahaz, and broke up the kingdom of Syria (2 Kings 16:9). The closing words, 'âmar Y e hōvâh (saith the Lord), serve to add strength to the threat, and therefore recur in Amos 1:8, Amos 1:15, and Amos 2:3.

Verses 6-8

Philistia. - Amos 1:6. “Thus saith Jehovah, For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they carried away captives in full number to deliver them up to Edom, Amos 1:7. I send fire into the wall of Gaza, and it will eat their palaces; Amos 1:8. And I exterminate the inhabitant from Ashdod, and the sceptre-holder from Askelon, and turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines will perish, saith the Lord Jehovah.” Instead of the Philistines generally, the prophet mentions Gaza in Amos 1:6. This is still a considerable town, bearing the old name Guzzeh (see the comm. on Joshua 13:3), and was the one of the five capitals of the Philistines which had taken the most active part as a great commercial town in handing over the Israelitish prisoners to the Edomites. For it is evident that Gaza is simply regarded as a representative of Philistia, from the fact that in the announcement of the punishment, the other capitals of Philistia are also mentioned. Gâlūth sh e lēmâh is correctly explained by Jerome thus: “a captivity so perfect and complete, that not a single captive remained who was not delivered to the Idumaeans.” The reference is to captive Israelites, who were carried off by the Philistines, and disposed of by them to the Edomites, the arch-enemies of Israel. Amos no doubt had in his mind the invasion of Judah by the Philistines and tribes of Arabia Petraea in the time of Joram, which is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 21:16, and to which Joel had already alluded in Joel 3:3., where the Phoenicians and Philistines are threatened with divine retribution for having plundered the land, and sold the captive Judaeans to the Javanites (Ionians). But it by no means follows from this, that the “sons of Javan” mentioned in Joel 3:6 are not Greeks, but the inhabitants of the Arabian Javan noticed in Ezekiel 27:19. The fact was simply this: the Philistines sold one portion of the many prisoners, taken at that time, to the Edomites, and the rest to the Phoenicians, who disposed of them again to the Greeks. Joel simply mentions the latter circumstance, because, in accordance with the object of his prophecy, his design was to show the wide dispersion of the Jews, and their future gathering out of all the lands of their banishment. Amos, on the other hand, simply condemns the delivering of the captives to Edom, the arch-foe of Israel, to indicate the greatness of the sin involved in this treatment of the covenant nation, or the hatred which the Philistines had displayed thereby. As a punishment for this, the cities of Philistia would be burned by their enemies, the inhabitants would be exterminated, and the remnant perish. Here again, as in Amos 1:4, Amos 1:5, the threat is rhetorically individualized, so that in the case of one city the burning of the city itself is predicted, and in that of another the destruction of its inhabitants. (On Ashdod, Askelon, and Ekron, see the comm. on Joshua 13:3.) השׁיב יד , to return the hand, i.e., to turn or stretch it out again (see comm. on 2 Samuel 8:3). The use of this expression may be explained on the ground, that the destruction of the inhabitants of Ashdod and Askelon has already been thought of as a stretching out of the hand. The fifth of the Philistian capitals, Gath, is not mentioned, though not for the reason assigned by Kimchi, viz., that it belonged to the kings of Judah, or had been conquered by Uzziah, for Uzziah had not only conquered Gath and Jabneh, but had taken Ashdod as well, and thrown down the walls (2 Chronicles 26:6), and yet Amos mentions Ashdod; nor because Gath had been taken by the Syrians (2 Kings 12:18), for this Syrian conquest was not a lasting one, and in the prophet's time (cf. Amos 6:2), and even later (cf. Micah 1:10), it still maintained its independence, and was a very distinguished city; but for the simple reason that the individualizing description given by the prophet did not require the complete enumeration of all the capitals, and the idea of been named, but all that was still in existence, and had escaped destruction” (Amos 9:12 and Jeremiah 6:9), it nevertheless includes not merely the four states just named, but every part of Philistia that had hitherto escaped destruction, so that Gath must be included.

Verses 9-10

Tyre or Phoenicia. - Amos 1:9. “Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they have delivered up prisoners in full number to Edom, and have not remembered the brotherly covenant, Amos 1:10. I send fire into the wall of Tyrus, and it will devour their palaces.” In the case of Phoenicia, the capital only ( Tzōr , i.e., Tyrus; see at Joshua 19:29) is mentioned. The crime with which it is charged is similar to the one for which the Philistines were blamed, with this exception, that instead of על־הגלותם להסגּיר (Amos 1:6) we have simply על־הסגּירם . If, therefore, Tyre is only charged with delivering up the captives to Edom, and not with having carried them away, it must have bought the prisoners from an enemy of Israel, and then disposed of them to Edom. From what enemy they were purchased, it is impossible to determine with certainty. Probably from the Syrians, in the wars of Hazael and Benhadad with Israel; for there is nothing at variance with this in the fact that, when they purchased Israelitish captives in the time of Joram, they sold them to Javan. For a commercial nation, carrying on so extensive a trade as the Phoenicians did, would have purchased prisoners in more than one war, and would also have disposed of them as slaves to more nations than one. Tyre had contracted all the more guilt through this trade in Israelitish salves, from the fact that it had thereby been ummindful of the brotherly covenant, i.e., of the friendly relation existing between Israel and itself-for example, the friendly alliance into which David and Solomon had entered with the king of Tyre (2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 5:15.) - and also from the fact that no king of Israel or Judah had ever made war upon Phoenicia.

Verses 11-12

Edom. - Amos 1:11. “Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because it pursues its brother with the sword, and stifles its compassion, and its anger tears in pieces for ever, and it keeps its wrath for ever, Amos 1:12. I send fire into Teman, and it will devour the palaces of Bozrah.” Edom and the two following nations were related to Israel by lineal descent. In the case of Edom, Amos does not condemn any particular sins, but simply its implacable, mortal hatred towards its brother nation Israel, which broke out into acts of cruelty at every possible opportunity. ושׁחת רחמיו , he annihilates, i.e., suppresses, stifles his sympathy or his compassionate love; this is still dependent upon על רדפו , the preposition על continuing in force as a conjunction before the infinitive (i.e., as equivalent to על אשׁר ), and the infinitive passing into the finite verb (cf. Amos 2:4). In the next clause אפּו is the subject: its wrath tears in pieces, i.e., rages destructively (compare Job 16:9, where târaph is applied to the wrath of God). In the last clause, on the other hand, Edom is again the subject; but it is now regarded as a kingdom, and construed as a feminine, and consequently עברתו is the object, and placed at the head as an absolute noun. שׁמרה , with the tone upon the penult. ( milel ) on account of netsach , which follows with the tone upon the first syllable, stands for שׁמרהּ (it preserves it), the mappik being omitted in the toneless syllable (compare Ewald, §249, b). If עברתו were the subject, the verb would have to be pointed שׁמרה . Again, the rendering proposed by Ewald, “his fury lies in wait for ever,” is precluded by the fact that שׁמר , when applied to wrath in Jeremiah 3:5, signifies to keep, or preserve, and also by the fact that lying in wait is generally inapplicable to an emotion. Teman , according to Jerome ( ad h. l.), is Idumaeorum regio quae vergit ad australem partem , so that here, just as in Amos 2:2 and Amos 2:5, the land is mentioned first, and then the capital.

(Note: It is true that, according to Eusebius, Jerome does also mention in the Onom. a villa ( κώμη ) named Teman, which was five Roman miles from Petra, and in which there was a Roman garrison; and also that there is a Teman in Eastern Hauran (see Wetzstein in Delitzsch's Comm. on Job, i. 73); but in the Old Testament Teman is never to be understood as referring to a city.)

Bozrah, an important city, supposed to be the capital of Idumaea (see comm. on Genesis 36:33). It was to the south of the Dead Sea, and has been preserved in el-Buseireh, a village with ruins in Jebâl (see Robinson, Pal. ii. p. 570), and must not be confounded with Bossra in Hauran (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 364).

Verses 13-15

Ammon. - Amos 1:13. “Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of the sons of Ammon, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they have ripped up the pregnant women of Gilead, to widen their border, Amos 1:14. I kindle fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it will devour its palaces, with the war-cry on the day of slaughter, in the storm on the day of the tempest. Amos 1:15. And their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes all at once, saith Jehovah.” The occasion on which the Ammonites were guilty of such cruelty towards the Israelites as is here condemned, is not recorded in the historical books of the Old Testament; possibly during the wars of Hazael with Israel, when they availed themselves of the opportunity to widen their territory by conquering back the land which had been wrested from them by Sihon king of the Amorites, and was then taken possession of by the Israelites, when he was overcome by them, - a thing which they had attempted once before in the time of Jephthah the judge (Judges 11:12.). We may see from Jeremiah 49:1. that they had taken possession of the territory of the tribe of Gad, which lay nearest to them, though probably not till after the carrying away of the tribes beyond Jordan by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29). The ripping up of the women with child (see at 2 Kings 8:12) is singled out as the climax of the cruelties which the Ammonites inflicted upon the Israelites during the war. As a punishment for this, their capital was to be burned, and the king, with the princes, to wander into exile, and consequently their kingdom was to be destroyed. Rabbâh , i.e., the great one, is the abbreviated name of the capital; Rabbah of the children of Ammon, which has been preserved in the ruins of Aurân (see at Deuteronomy 3:11). The threat is sharpened by the clause בּתרוּעה וגו , at the war-cry on the field of battle, i.e., an actual fact, when the enemy shall take the city by storm. בּסער וגו is a figurative expression applied to the storming of a city carried by assault, like בּסוּפה in Numbers 21:14. The reading מלכּם , “their (the Ammonites') king,” is confirmed by the lxx and the Chaldee, and required by ושׂריו (cf. Amos 2:3), whereas Μαλχόμ , Melchom , which is found in Aq., Symm., Jerome, and the Syriac, rests upon a false interpretation.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Amos 1". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.