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Introduction (Amos 1:1-2 ).
‘The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen (cattle-breeders) of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.’
The heading is succint and presents us with full information containing source (Amos, a lowly cattle-breeder in Judah)), content (the words), occupation (cattle-breeder), the identity of those at whom his words were directed (‘Israel’, the northern kingdom in contrast with Judah), the period in which spoken (in the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam II), and even limits the commencement of his ministry to a particular year (two years before the earthquake). However, while his words may all have been delivered within a fairly short period we need not necessarily assume that they were all given at one time. The fact that his father’s name is not given points to him as having come from a lowly family.
While these opening words are basically unique to Amos, they can be compared with the opening words of other prophecies. The plural ‘words’ is found in Jeremiah 1:1 (compare also Proverbs 1:1). The idea of ‘seeing’ words (or a word from YHWH) can be paralleled with Isaiah 1:1; Micah 1:1. The idea of ‘seeing’ does not necessarily involve visions. It is used to indicate receiving, grasping and understanding divine revelation. Thus Amos wants us to recognise that his words were not of his own invention, but were revealed directly to him by YHWH.
The fact that his words began to be spoken two years prior to the massive earthquake that shook Israel and Judah (so large that its effect on the people was even remembered in the days of Zechariah (Zechariah 14:5) may indicate that that earthquake was to be seen as part of God’s judgments on them (many alive then would certainly have seen it that way, even if it did not have a lasting spiritual effect). Natural catastrophes, while not necessarily directly ‘caused’ by God in response to a particular situation, can certainly always be seen as reminders of God’s judgments, for creation was created in such a way that we would receive constant reminders of such judgments. They are a reminder that God is not only love (1 John 4:16), but also light (1 John 1:5). While God sends His rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), He also similarly sends His earthquakes.
‘And he said,
“YHWH will roar from Zion,
And utter his voice from Jerusalem,
And the pastures of the shepherds will mourn,
And the top of Carmel will wither.” ’
And it was one such judgment of God that Amos was declaring as about to happen. YHWH would roar from Zion and utter His voice from Jerusalem, and the result would be that even the most fruitful places would dry up. The pastures for sheep and other cattle would mourn because they had no rain (of great significance to a cattle-breeder), while the top of Mount Carmel, noted for its vegetation, would wither.
There is in these words a poignant reminder to Israel that the true Central Sanctuary was still in Jerusalem, and that it was, as it were, from there that He would ‘speak’, something backed up by the fact that Amos himself came from Judah. It was directing their minds back to the true worship of YHWH which they had so easily deserted, and reminding them of their need to turn back again to Him.
1). YHWH’s Judgment On Damascus (Amos 1:3-5 ).
YHWH’s judgment on Damascus, a city (representing Aram) which had proved through the years to be Israel’s most dangerous enemy, would be because of their continually cruel treatment of Gilead at the time when they had invaded Israel again and again, ‘threshing them with instruments of iron’. Gilead was the land east of Jordan which was especially vulnerable when the kings of Israel were weak, and was in the path of any Aramaean invasion from the north. The picture is of a huge threshing board with its iron teeth which was, as it were, being dragged over the helpless Gileadites.
“Thus says YHWH.
For three transgressions of Damascus, yes, for four,
I will not turn away their punishment,
Because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron,
But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael,
And it will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad.”
Firstly YHWH has spoken against Damascus. Damascus was the capital city of Aram (Syria), with which a number of local Aramaean tribes were associated. Its ‘empire’ had had its beginnings in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 11:23-25). It thus represents the whole of Aram. They were the amalgamated people to the north of Israel, occupying land which had been designated to Israel, and who did so much damage to Israel before Assyria appeared on the scene. Three transgressions would indicate a complete number of transgressions. Four is therefore ‘over the top’. They had multiplied their transgressions against Israel. This was especially so in the case of their treatment of Gilead through which Aram had trampled again and again when invading Israel. Gilead, east of the Jordan, was an especial temptation to Aram when Israel were weak. The Aramaeans had slain the Gileadites mercilessly ‘threshing them with threshing instruments of iron’ (we might have said ‘mowing them down’ or ‘steamrollering over them’). The threshing instruments would have had points of iron attached to them for the purpose of separating the wheat from the chaff, and the picture is one of unyielding savagery, the swords of the Aramaeans no doubt doing the work of the iron teeth. The consequence of this was that Aram itself was similarly to suffer through the fires of judgment kindled by invading armies. As they had done, so would it be done to them. Benhadad was of the house of Hazael. Hazael had been the king who most assailed Israel (see 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 13:22), and both he, and Benhadad who followed him, suffered under the invading armies of Assyria. The burning of captured cities which resisted was common policy.
‘I will not turn away their punishment.’ Or ‘I will not reverse/revoke it (i.e. My punishment on them)’. The verb ’ashibenu can have a wide variety of meaning, the basic idea being ‘I will not turn it’.
“And I will break the bar of Damascus,
And cut off the inhabitant from the valley of Aven,
And him who holds the sceptre from the house of Eden,
And the people of Aram (Syria) will go into captivity to Kir,
The bar of Damascus was the great bar that held the gates of the city closed and prevented them from being opened from outside. Once that was broken access for the enemy would be simple. The valley of Aven may have been the Beqa Valley between Lebanon and anti-Lebanon. Thus both town and country would be affected. Furthermore the one who ruled in Eden would also be affected. This may refer to Beth-eden, the Bit-Adini of Assyrian records, which was a small state on the banks of the Euphrates south of Carchemish. ‘Damascus’ is thus seen as indicating all the local Aramaean tribes. No Aramaeans would escape.
After the desolation described, the people of Aram would be transported to Kir. Kir was the area from which they originally came (Amos 9:7), thus it was the equivalent of Israel being returned to Egypt. It was a sign that YHWH had ‘foreclosed’ on them. They would have lost their freedom, independence and separate identity. This policy of transportation was one for which the Assyrians (and later the Babylonians) were notorious.
Seven Judgments Against The Neighbouring Nations, Including Judah (Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:5 ).
The announcing of YHWH’s judgments on seven nations (including Judah) can be looked at in two ways. First it was an assurance to Israel that YHWH was watching over their basic interests and had observed the behaviour of the nations round about. By this he was gaining their interest. But even more importantly, as the inclusion of Judah brings out, Amos was cleverly gaining Israel’s consent to his message as they approved of what God was doing to those nations (we can see them nodding their heads with approval as each judgment is pronounced), with the result that when he suddenly slid the knife in and showed them that they too were coming under YHWH’s judgment his words would have hit home.
Lest Israel think that they were alone in coming under YHWH’s judgment Amos first outlined the judgment coming on the surrounding nations. It was a poignant reminder to them that in spite of their behaviour YHWH had been watching over their interests, in that He had noted the ill-treatment meted out to them by their neighbours. These were depicted in a sevenfold group of prophecies, each one following a similar pattern. The judgments would come respectively on Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab and, last but not least, Judah, and it is apparent from this that it includes all the nations immediately surrounding Israel. They were also the nations who either dwelt in the original inheritance given to Israel (Philistia, Aram, Tyre and Judah), or had had their land specifically given to them by YHWH (Edom, Ammon and Moab). They all came within YHWH’s sphere of activity (compare Psalms 60:8). Apart from Moab and Judah judgment was to come on them because of their continual bestial behaviour towards Israel. In the case of Moab it was for more general barbarism towards a related tribe. In the case of Judah it was because they had strayed from the Law of YHWH.
The nations in question were probably given in the order of the severity of the treatment that they meted out towards Israel and Judah, with Aram being the most severe, followed by Philistia and then Tyre, with Moab the least severe (nothing is in fact indicated about Moab’s behaviour towards Israel). Others have seen a geographical pattern commencing in the north east (Aram), moving to the south west (Philistia, with four cities involved), going up to the north east (Tyre), and finally dealing with the three small nations in the south east (Edom, Ammon, Moab). But all had to be included for the point of the oracles was of YHWH’s concern for the whole land that had been originally promised to Abraham and allocated to Israel, combined with the land of their acknowledged relatives, Edom, Moab and Ammon, which had specifically been given to those nations by YHWH for Lot’s sake (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19). And the point was that that whole area was to be devastated because it had come short of YHWH’s most basic requirements. That is why all the nations bordering on Israel were included. YHWH’s judgments would not be restricted. They would be ‘universal’ to the whole area.
It will be noted that each description dealing with a nation commences with the refrain ‘thus says YHWH’. Nothing of what Amos warns about will come about accidentally Rather he is stressing that because YHWH has spoken, His word will actively go forth to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11) This declaration is then in each case followed by the reason why YHWH was acting. It was because of their multiplied transgressions. ‘For three transgressions, and for four, of --- I will not turn away their punishment because ---’. Three transgressions (three is the number of completeness) would be seen as fullness of transgression. To add a fourth was therefore to be excessive. It represented overflowing and continual transgression. The pattern then goes on to outline what they are being punished for (‘because --’), and in each case it is for some particularly heinous act of inhumanity of a type which would be condemned by all decent nations. This is then followed up with the threat of ‘fire’ on the transgressor, accompanied in all cases except Tyre, Edom and Judah by a further threat and a further assurance that it was what YHWH had spoken. The exception in the case of Tyre and Edom was probably in order to link Philistia, Tyre and Edom together because they were involved together in their inhuman slave-trading. Judah was excepted because it would still have a future. YHWH would not forget His covenant with David, therefore those who ‘held the sceptre’ would not finally be cut off in Judah’s case. ‘Fire’ was a regular means of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 16:13; Joshua 6:24; Joshua 8:8; Joshua 11:9), and may have included the thought that they were being ‘devoted as offerings to YHWH’ (compare Numbers 31:10; Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:3; Judges 1:8).
2). YHWH’s Judgment On Philistia (Amos 1:6-8 ).
After Aram Israel’s next most dangerous enemy had been Philistia, which included the city states of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. Their border raids, during which they would take many captives in order to sell them as slaves, were a constant problem to the Israelites. For examples of their hostility see 2 Samuel 21:15-19; 1 Kings 16:15; 2Ki 18:8 ; 2 Chronicles 21:16; 2 Chronicles 28:18. What was particularly heinous was the fact that the slave trade was a deliberate policy in itself, not just an adjunct to their general war-like activities. Whole towns were being enslaved. The failure to mention Gath indicates that Gath was at this time weak and ineffective, possibly still recovering from the depredations of Hazael (compare Amos 6:2 and 2 Kings 12:17).
“Thus says YHWH.
For three transgressions of Gaza, yes, for four,
I will not turn away their punishment,
Because they carried away captive the whole people,
To deliver them up to Edom.
But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza,
And it will devour their palaces.”
So secondly YHWH has spoken against Philistia. As with Aram the fullness of the transgression of Philistia is emphasised. They too were guilty of continually sinning against Israel in the foulest way, but in their case it was because they were making raids into Israel for the specific purpose of taking whole townships to be sold as slaves to Edom. It would appear that Edom had set up as a slave-trading nation (Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9), and were orchestrating the trade in conjunction with Philistia and Tyre. Taking slaves in this way was seen as especially abominable by YHWH (Exodus 21:16). The consequence of their part in it was that that the walls and palaces of Gaza were to be burned with fire. As with Damascus and Aram, Gaza here represents the whole of Philistia as Amos 1:8 makes clear.
“And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod,
And him who holds the sceptre from Ashkelon,
And I will turn my hand against Ekron,
And the remnant of the Philistines will perish,
Says the Lord YHWH.”
But all the cities of Philistia were seen as involved in the slave cartel. The pattern of judgment on each of them thus follows that against the Aramaeans. The inhabitants of all the cities of Philistia would be cut off, along with their rulers, and the remnant of them would perish. In other words the destruction would be total. It is then confirmed again that this was the word of ‘the Lord YHWH’. Note the slight difference in expression introducing YHWH’s sovereignty. ‘The Lord YHWH’ is only found here in the sevenfold statement, but it is later a favourite expression of Amos (Amos 1:8; Amos 3:7-8; Amos 3:11; Amos 3:13; Amos 4:2; Amos 4:5; Amos 5:3; Amos 5:15; Amos 7:1; Amos 7:4, Amos 6:0: Amos 8:1).
3). YHWH’s Judgment On Tyre ( Amos 1:9-10 ).
Israel’s third most dangerous enemy was Tyre. They had in the past had a close treaty relationship with Israel (e.g. under David, Solomon and Ahab. See 2 Samuel 5:11; 1Ki 5:1 ; 1 Kings 5:11; 1 Kings 16:31), but this had broken down (possibly after Jehu slew Jezebel of Tyre) so that Tyre, like Philistia, had commenced raids over the border in order to seize whole towns for the purpose of selling them as slaves to Edom. It is clear that Edom had established a wholesale market in slaves, which was being fed by Philistia and Tyre. And they had each one chosen to do it to God’s people.
“Thus says YHWH.
For three transgressions of Tyre, yes, for four,
I will not turn away their punishment,
Because they delivered up the whole people to Edom,
And did not remember the brotherly covenant.
But I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre,
And it will devour their palaces.”
So thirdly YHWH has spoken against Tyre. In Tyre’s case their continual seizing of slaves out of Israel was seen as especially heinous because of their former good treaty relationship. They had forgotten ‘the brotherly covenant’ and had continually transgressed, not once or twice but time and again. They too, therefore, would in the future suffer the fires of judgment as their territory was invaded and their cities conquered. Such trading in slaves would later become a hallmark of the evil of Tyre (Joel 3:6; Ezekiel 27:13).
The omission of a final description of judgment and a concluding ‘word of YHWH’ here and in the case of Edom would appear to be in order to link Philistia, Tyre and Edom as combined together in the foul trade in human beings.
4). YHWH’s Judgment On Edom (Amos 1:11-12 ).
Philistia, Tyre and Edom were clearly joined together in a carefully organised slave-trading cartel, but note the growth in relative guilt as one follows the other. Philistia were at least not related to Israel, but Tyre was Israel’s longstanding treaty partner, and Edom was Israel’s brother!
“Thus says YHWH.
For three transgressions of Edom, yes, for four,
I will not turn away his punishment,
Because he pursued his brother with the sword,
And did cast off all pity,
And his anger tore perpetually,
And he kept his wrath for ever.
But I will send a fire on Teman,
And it will devour the palaces of Bozrah.”
So fourthly YHWH has spoken against Edom. We have already learned that Edom was the receiving market for Israelite slaves (Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9), which were then probably sold on. But in their case it was especially heinous because they had a special ‘blood’ relationship with Judah/Israel in that they were their ‘brother’ tribe (Esau (Edom) and Jacob had originally been brothers). The ‘pursuing his brother with the sword’ and ‘casting off all pity’ probably has this slave trade in mind. While Philistia and Tyre were garnering slaves from the west, Edom were incessantly doing it from the south with particular vindictiveness. Alternately these phrases may refer to their continual harassment of Judah and Israel whenever they were weak and vulnerable, something which resulted from their continuing hatred and unyielding enmity (see 1Sa 14:47 ; 2 Samuel 8:12-14; 1 Kings 11:14-25; 2 Kings 8:20-21; 2 Kings 14:7-10; 2 Kings 14:22). Either way it can be contrasted with the way in which Moses treated the Edomites when the Israelites first arrived from Egypt. He had treated them as brothers even when they had refused to let Israel pass along the King’s Highway (Numbers 20:14-21; Numbers 21:4). Once again the lack of closing comments indicates that Edom is to be seen as joined with Philistia and Tyre within YHWH’s sphere of judgment over this trade.
Their judgment too was to be one of fire, which would destroy Teman and devour the palaces of Bozrah. These two cities were probably especially involved in the slave trade, Bozrah on the King’s Highway as the receiving centre and Teman, the southernmost major city of Edom, as the despatching centre. Bozrah’s vaunted wealth would especially be targeted.
5). YHWH’s Judgment On Ammon (Amos 1:13-15 ).
‘The children of Ammon’, like Aram, had continually treated Gilead mercilessly. In order to enlarge their territory they had not only invaded Gilead but had deliberately targeted unborn babies. They had ‘ripped up the women with child’.
“Thus says YHWH.
For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, yes, for four,
I will not turn away their punishment,
Because they have ripped up the women with child of Gilead,
That they may enlarge their border.
But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
And it will devour their palaces,
With shouting in the day of battle,
With a tempest in the day of the whirlwind,
And their king will go into captivity,
He and his princes together,
So fifthly YHWH has spoken against the Ammonites. ‘The children of Ammon’ (note the tribal designation in this case) were the least sophisticated of the nations around Israel/Judah and consisted mainly groups of half-wild tribesmen in the semi-wild land bordering on the desert. Their continual treatment of the women of Gilead (‘for three transgressions and for four’) was seen as especially appalling. The idea was of genocide in order that they could extend their borders. But for them it would result in the kindling of a fire and would result in devastation being brought on their capital city and on their splendid palaces. The picture is vivid and we can almost hear the shouting of the soldiers as they sack the city, and their deliberate kindling of the fire that would destroy the city. Rabbah was their only large city. The devastation would be similar to that of a fierce tempest in ‘the day of the whirlwind’. It would be horrendous. And the final consequence would be that their king and his princes would go into captivity, as YHWH had decreed. This last takes up the theme of ‘the one who holds the sceptre’ already commenced with Aram and Philistia (Amos 1:5; Amos 1:8).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Amos 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13