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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Amos 4

Verses 1-3

Oracle Of Warning To The Wealthy Women Of Samaria (Amos 4:1-3 ).

We can tend to forget that the women of Israel/Judah were regularly equally guilty with the men, but the prophets never forgot it, for they saw it before their very eyes (compare Isaiah’s vivid word picture in Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1; Isaiah 32:9-12). It was often the wives of the wealthy who pressed their demands on their husbands, causing them to oppress the poor, thereby becoming oppressors of the poor themselves. Here they are described as ‘cows of Bashan’, in other words as sleek, fattened and over-nourished. There may also be in this a hint of how they clamoured around Baal who was often portrayed in the form of a bull, as cows in heat gather round a bull.

Amos 4:1

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their lords, ‘Bring, and let us drink.’ ”

Bashan was noted for its well fed cows and its rich pasturage thus providing an apt picture of the wealthy women of Samaria, accentuated by the fact that, like sleek fat cows they gathered round the Bull (Baal) in the same way as did their husbands (Amos 4:4). But here the main indictment is what resulted from that. Ignoring the Law of YHWH they oppressed the poor, and crushed the needy in order to enjoy their luxuries, and indulged themselves in much wine. In other words they were equally to blame for the violence and injustice meted out by their husbands, while they themselves lived lives of indolence and insobriety.

The mixture of masculine and feminine in the verses may, however, suggest that all the wealthy, both men and women, were in mind, the idea of them as ‘cows’ being connected to their attitude towards Baal (the Bull). On the other hand ‘who say to their lords’ might be seen as favouring a feminine reference, unless we see that phrase as deliberately contrasting with ‘the Lord YHWH’, with ‘lords’ signifying either the corrupt leaders of Samaria or Baal and other gods. The contrast applies in any case, indicating that whoever is in mind are looking to the wrong ‘lord’.

Amos 4:2

“The Lord YHWH has sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days will come on you, that they will take you away with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks.”

But all this was shortly to end, for the One Who is Sovereign over all, the LORD YHWH (in contrast with their ‘lords’ - Amos 4:1), had made an oath ‘by his holiness’ (He swore by His own holiness because He was appalled at their unholiness) that the days were coming on them when they would be taken away with hooks, and then what remained of them with fish-hooks. The vivid picture is partly metaphorical (they would be caught as men catch fish), but it is also partly intended literally, for the Assyrians did regularly put hooks through the noses of their captives as they transported them to other lands (evidenced on inscriptions in the case, for example, of the Pharaoh Tirhakah).

If we see it as signifying ‘meat hooks’ (for carcasses) and ‘fish hooks’ (for fishing), we may see it as indicating that some would be carried off as dead carcasses, while others would be taken alive on the rod. But the use of hooks by the Assyrians suggests that the unpleasant road to exile is very much in mind.

“The Lord YHWH has sworn by his holiness.” Compare Psalms 89:35. It was a guarantee in His ‘set apartness’ (His uniqueness and righteousness), of His faithful fulfilling of His covenant, even the unwelcome parts.

Amos 4:3

“And you will go out at the breaches, every one straight before her, and you will cast (yourselves) into Harmon, says YHWH.”

And while the walls of Samaria might appear to them to be strong and unbreachable, those walls would be beached and they themselves would be carried off as captives through the breaches in the walls. There would be no need for the use of gates. They would be led off straight ahead. For the broken down walls of Samaria would by then be full of unofficial exits.

“And you will cause (yourselves) to be cast (hiphil - or ‘be caused to be cast’ - hophal) into Harmon, says YHWH.” We are not certain what ha harmonah, which appears only here, refers to, but it may well have been a well known place near Samaria for the casting of rubbish like the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. It is unwise to emend a text simply because our present modern knowledge is not sufficient to provide an explanation. Suggestions made have included ‘Mount Hermon’, which would require har hermon (although ha hermon would be possible, although found nowhere else, but the problem is still the lack of the end ‘h’), or connection with Ugaritic hrnm which might then signify Hermel, near Kadesh on the Orontes River. It is probably best to see it as denoting some place which would cause the ladies to wrinkle up their noses.

Verses 1-13

Two Indictments Of The People Which Will Result In A Series Of Chastisements (Amos 4:1-13 ).

A new oracle now begins with the words ‘hear this word ---’ (compare Amos 3:1; Amos 5:1) and consists of indictments, first on the wealthy women of Israel (Amos 4:1-3), and then on all of Israel who are not true to YHWH (Amos 4:4-5). It then follows these up with a series of chastisements which are either a reflection of their past, or are something which will come on them, each of which closes with the phrase ‘yet you have not returned to Me, says YHWH’ (Amos 4:6-11). Finally it closes with a warning of what YHWH will now bring upon them, as he declares to them ‘prepare to meet your God O Israel’ (Amos 4:12-13), which in the context means, ‘Get ready for what is coming on you from YHWH as you face His judgment’.

Verses 4-5

Oracle of Warning To All The Children Of Israel (Amos 4:4-5 ).

Amos constantly attacks Israel on two major subjects, false worship and social injustice. In Amos 4:1-3 he has attacked social injustice. Now in Amos 4:4-5 he again attacks false worship and idolatry. He points out that the superficial and syncretistic worship at the main sanctuaries in Israel is not pleasing to YHWH, and that their very acts of worship were acts of transgression. For while outwardly YHWH was worshipped there it was more as the equivalent of a nature god, whilst His worship was confused with Baalism. Furthermore the sacrifices were offered by non-Levitical priests, a continuing symbol of Israel’s total disregard for the Law of YHWH in the teaching of their sanctuaries. Their worship was self-pleasing, rather than God pleasing. How much of this is true in different ways in the worship of many churches today.

Amos 4:4-5

“Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes every three days; and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of what is leavened, and proclaim freewill-offerings and publish them, for this pleases you, O you children of Israel, says the Lord YHWH.”

There is good reason for thinking that Amos proclaimed these words to the festal crowds who had come to Bethel (or Gilgal) for a regular feast, or alternatively to the crowds streaming out of Samaria to attend such feasts. The opening words in Amos 4:4 are probably a parody of the words of invitation issued by the priests at Bethel and Gilgal (note his emphasis on ‘come --- and transgress’). Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-29; 1 Kings 12:32-33) and Gilgal (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 12:11) were two of the major sanctuaries in Israel, and the altar at Bethel and the other syncretistic high places had been roundly and continually denounced by YHWH (see 1 Kings 13:2-5; 1 Kings 13:32, and all references to ‘the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat’). Thus by coming to those altars at Bethel and Gilgal the people of Israel were bringing no satisfaction to YHWH. Rather it meant that they were multiplying their transgressions by worshipping the wrong thing, in the wrong way and with the wrong attitude. Even though they brought their sacrifices every morning and their tithes ‘every three days’ (i.e. on the third and sixth day), all were unacceptable because they were not offered in accordance with the covenant. They were self-pleasing. Furthermore their disregard for the law of Moses in offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving of what was leavened (see Exodus 23:18; Leviticus 2:11; Leviticus 6:17; Leviticus 7:11-14), and in openly advertising their freewill offerings so as to gain for themselves religious admiration (compare Matthew 6:5), were both examples of self-pleasing, and thus examples of what was unacceptable to ‘the Lord YHWH’.

‘For this pleases you.’ Right from its new beginning in the time of Jeroboam I worship at Bethel had been men-pleasing. YHWH’s requirements were ignored and the king and people did what satisfied them. Priests were appointed from amongst themselves and they thoroughly enjoyed their feasts and incorporated into them whatever practise they fancied if it would make the feast more enjoyable. The lessons that YHWH had sought to teach through the feasts were lost sight of. What mattered was that the feasts be popular, pleasing, and enjoyable.

It should be noted that there were in Israel altars at which acceptable offerings could be made to YHWH as Elijah himself had made clear (1 Kings 18:30; 1 Kings 19:10). Scripture nowhere teaches that there was only one place where sacrifices could be offered (Deuteronomy 12:0 is grossly misinterpreted to suit a theory). What it teaches was that there was one Central Sanctuary at which the tribes should gather three times a year, and other altars set up where YHWH had revealed His Name (Exodus 20:24; Joshua 8:30-31) served by levitical priests, where legitimate sacrifices could be offered. Thus Mount Carmel was clearly one of the places at which YHWH had revealed His Name (1 Kings 18:30). But these altars were constantly subject to rejection by the syncretistic Yahwism in Israel because they were in opposition to the altars at Bethel, Dan, Gilgal, etc. which had been set up on man made principles, and claimed to be ‘central sanctuaries’ of a kind..

Verses 6-11

YHWH Five Times Expresses His Concern That In Spite of His Judgments Israel Have Not Returned To Him (Amos 4:6-11 ).

Having made clear His indictment of the women and men of Israel, both because of social injustice and because of false religious practises, YHWH now five times expresses His concern that this is evidence that Israel have not heeded His judgments in the past and returned to Him. In spite of all they have continued on in their own way. Thus they are ignoring the warnings of Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:23; Leviticus 26:27 that if they did not respond to His judgments with repentance worse judgments would come upon them which would eventually result in exile. Notice His stress throughout on His continual attempts in the past to bring them to repentance, to persuade them to ‘turn to Him’. Up to now that had been the purpose of His judgments, but they had not succeeded in their purpose. That is why He has now come to the verge of bringing the final judgment on them mentioned by Leviticus, although still offering a glimmer of hope (Amos 5:4; Amos 5:14-15). The verbs are mainly imperfects or perfects with waw consecutive and we could therefore in our minds add ‘continually’ to each one.

It is open to question whether Amos saw these judgments as past judgments (Israel had certainly experienced such judgments in the past) or as judgments coming in the near future (Hebrew tenses, unlike those in Greek and English, were not specific as to time). In fact he possibly had both in mind.

Five judgments are mentioned and five is the number of covenant. Thus the five judgments are to be seen as related to their responsibility under the covenant. Indeed all five are judgments which are clearly in view, among many others, in Leviticus 26:14-38; Deuteronomy 28-29. The five judgments are:

1) Famine (Leviticus 26:26; compare 2 Samuel 21:1; 1 Kings 18:2; 2 Kings 4:32; 2 Kings 8:1).

2) Drought (Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 28:23; compare 1 Kings 8:35; 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 17:7; 1 Kings 18:2).

3) Plant disease and insect infestation (Deuteronomy 28:22; Deuteronomy 28:42; 1 Kings 8:37).

4) Pestilence (Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:21; compare 2 Samuel 24:15) and the slaying of men with the sword (Leviticus 26:25; Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:22).

5) The Overthrowing Of Their Cities (Leviticus 26:31; Deuteronomy 29:23; and often experienced in Kings).

We can compare these ‘plagues’ coming on Israel with the ten plagues of Egypt which failed to soften Pharaoh’s heart, even though they did soften the hearts of many of his subjects. Here the plagues had failed to soften Israel’s hearts. Israel could thus be equated with Pharaoh for hardness of heart.

Amos 4:6

“And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places; yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”

The idea of ‘wanting bread’ reflects Leviticus 26:26. The idea of ‘cleanness of teeth’ occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, but is a vivid picture, and the idea behind it undoubtedly does. Both express the idea of lack of food resulting from famine and drought (compare 2 Samuel 21:1; 1Ki 18:2 ; 2 Kings 4:32; 2 Kings 8:1). Famine was in fact a fairly common occurrence in Canaan in its mild form, but it was when it occurred year after year that it caused real hardship. However, all these famines, both light and severe, failed to cause Israel to turn to YHWH. They should have recognised that the lack of rain was the chastisement of YHWH, and have ‘returned to Him’, but instead they had probably blamed Baal (the Canaanite god of rain and storm) and sought to him. For the idea of ‘returning to YHWH’ see Deuteronomy 1:45; Deuteronomy 30:2; Deuteronomy 30:8; 1 Samuel 7:3.

‘Says YHWH.’ Neum YHWH, ‘oracle of YHWH’, indicating the giving by YHWH of a powerful prophetic word.

Amos 4:7-8

“And I also have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest, and I caused it to rain on one city, and caused it not to rain on another city, one piece was rained on, and the piece on which it did not rain withered. So two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water, and were not satisfied. Yet have you not returned unto me, says YHWH.”

The thought of YHWH withholding rain is made clear in Deuteronomy 11:17; 1Ki 8:35 ; 1 Kings 17:1. But see also the more indirect references in Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:23. The implication is that the falling of rain is dependent on YHWH (compare Matthew 5:45). It was a direct and deliberate ‘making redundant’ of Baal who was supposed to be the god of storm and rain. Rain withheld before the barley and wheat harvests (when there were yet three months to harvest) could have a dreadful effect on the harvest. Random and spasmodic rain was nearly as bad, certainly for those who did not receive it, for their crops and fruit would eventually wither. Lack of rain could also hit the city water supplies, especially in the mountain cities where the reliance was often on cistern water collected when it rained. The city fortunate enough to have had rain would be approached by those which had not. They would, however, often be in no position to give them as much water as they wanted. And yet even this shortage of rain and water did not cause them to return to YHWH. Oracle of YHWH.

Amos 4:9

“I have smitten you with blasting and mildew. The multitude of your gardens and your vineyards and your fig-trees and your olive-trees has the palmer-worm devoured. Yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”

For ‘blasting and mildew’ compare Deuteronomy 28:22; 1 Kings 8:37. For the palmer-worm compare Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25. Which ‘worm’ was in the end being identified we cannot be certain as species of insects were not strictly differentiated (even though Amos was an expert on sycamore-mulberry trees), but the point was that the ravages of insects among their fruitful tress was also to be seen as the work of YHWH. Note the implication that in the final analysis YHWH controls all the ravages of nature. Their vineyards were their main source of joy and pleasure, their fig trees their source of sustenance, while their olive trees provided their main export potential. But all had at times been affected, making life continually dull and hard (contrast Deuteronomy 8:8 which presents the opposite picture which would have been their lot in the land that YHWH had given them if only they had been obedient). So God’s judgments were in the earth (see Isaiah 26:9), but none of these things had caused them to return to YHWH. When God’s judgments fail to turn men to God, then their hearts are hard indeed.

Amos 4:10

“I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt, your young men have I slain with the sword, and I have carried away your horses, and I have made the stench of your camp to come up even into your nostrils. Yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”

Up to this point the judgments had only smitten men indirectly, but like the plagues in Egypt they had now begun to strike harder. Pestilence (Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:21; compare 2 Samuel 24:15) regularly resulting from poor food, disease ridden water, and bad sanitation, directly affected the bodies of men, while death by the sword (Leviticus 26:25; Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:22) inflicted on the finest of their young men who were the very bastion of the kingdom, was irreversible. Added to this was the removal of their war horses and the stench of death and disease in their war camp, especially as men suffered and died from their injuries, and the picture is one of total defeat, all resulting from the fact that YHWH, the God of Hosts and Battle, had no longer been with them. Thus they had no longer been successful in war. And yet they had still failed to return to YHWH.

Amos 4:11

“I have overthrown cities among you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning. Yet have you not returned to me, says YHWH.”

The final consequence of the defeat of their armies and the death of their finest young men had been that their cities had been overthrown in a similar way to Sodom and Gomorrah (compare Deuteronomy 29:23 and see Genesis 19:0). And yet it had not been the end, for in His goodness YHWH had delivered them like a piece of flammable wood snatched from the flames (which would have had no chance had it not been so). Up to this point He had always intervened on their behalf. And yet still they had not returned to Him. There could therefore only be one final result. They would have to meet God’s final judgment on them.

Verses 12-13

Having Failed To Respond To All God’s Pleadings By Judgment There Could Only Be One Inevitable End. Like Pharaoh Before Them They Would Have To Find Out The Severity Of His Judgment When All Else Had Failed (Amos 4:12-13 ).

It is made apparent that God had done all that He could to win them back to Himself, for that had been the aim of all His past judgments. But now they were coming to the end of the road. Chastening had failed, now they must face the final climax, His final judgment which would include all the above in overflowing measure. God would not be mocked. In the end, if they did not repent, men would reap what they had sown. Thus Israel must now be prepared to meet their God, the One Who turns light into darkness (a grim prospect), Who tramples on the most exalted, and Who rules over all, Whose Name is YHWH, the God of Hosts (of heaven and earth).

Amos 4:12

“Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”

As they had failed to respond to a judgment here and a judgment there, now all His judgments would be piled upon them, and by this they would be brought to meet face to face with God in all His holiness and wrath (His antipathy against sin). Compare Exodus 19:17, which resulted in their pleading for ‘no more’ (Exodus 20:19). Thus in view of their continuing disobedience they must prepare to meet their God as He is, face to face with no restrictions. All the judgments of Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28-29 would come upon them, and more. This would include therefore destruction and exile.

Amos 4:13

“For, lo, he who forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought; who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the high places of the earth YHWH, the God of hosts, is his name.”

Furthermore let them consider Who it is Who will do this thing. There may well in these words be a reflection of their festal worship formulae, or of some hymn, of which he is reminding them (see excursus on Amos 9:6). The One of Whom he speaks is the One Who forms the mountains and creates the wind, Who is in control of the most powerful forces of nature, the One Who can turn morning into darkness so that there is no light (without which there is no life), and who strides like a Colossus over the highest places of the world, trampling on both ‘gods’ and men. And His Name is YHWH, the God of the hosts of heaven and earth. Similar ideas occur again in Amos 5:8-9.

The prophetic warning gives the appearance of finality as if there was no hope. And so it would be if they did not repent. But God had not sent Amos simply as a harbinger of Doom, His hope was always that men would repent. And as, Amos will now make clear, if they did so they would find life. (But let us remember that the majority did not repent, and that all that Amos had warned of came upon them. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God unless we do so with repentant hearts).

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Amos 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/amos-4.html. 2013.