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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Amos 7

Verses 1-3

The First Vision - The Locust Swarm (Amos 7:1-3 ).

In this vision ‘the Lord YHWH’ showed Amos the forming of a huge swarm of locusts which devoured the vegetation of the whole land. Amos, a farmer himself, is horrified at the sight and asks that Jacob (Israel) might be spared because they are so puny that they will be unable to recover from it. At this YHWH ‘repents’ and promises that it will not happen. Israel meanwhile were blissfully unaware of what Amos’s intercession had saved them from.

Note the careful use of ‘the Lord YHWH’ in order to bring out YHWH’s sovereign activity in judgment, and ‘YHWH’ as the covenant God and the One Who shows mercy.

Amos 7:1

‘Thus the Lord YHWH showed me, and, behold, he formed locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth, and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings.’

The Lord YHWH showed Amos the first vision. It commenced with the formation of a huge swarm of locusts, larger than any ever known before, which took place after the king had received the benefit of the first ‘mowing’ (gathering in of the initial growth). It would appear from this that the custom was for the initial growth to be reserved for the king as a kind of taxation (although it is not testified to anywhere else). Thus what would be destroyed would only indirectly affect the palace initially, but it would totally devastate the land and the people and ensure no food for the people as a whole, with no prospect of food in the future. The result would be death on a large scale, and the cessation of Israel as a nation. Amos would have seen swarms of locusts before, and the devastating effect on the trees and crops as they descended and stripped them bare, but we are quite clearly intended to see that this swarm of locusts was of supernatural magnitude like nothing ever known before.

The delay until after the initial growth was not because YHWH was showing sympathy to the king, but because it was the main crops which fed the people that were being depicted as subject to destruction. A double appearance of locusts would have been unnatural. However, there may be in this an indirect reference which would remind the people of how Joseph had stored up grain in the barns of Pharaoh so that when the huge famine came its effects fell on the ordinary people who were made destitute by it while the king gloated. Possibly here Amos is preparing for his declaration against the house of Jeroboam.

Amos 7:2

‘And it came about that, when they made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, “O Lord YHWH, forgive, I beseech you, how will Jacob stand, for he is small?” ’

As Amos then watched in horror, the locusts ate up all the vegetation in the land, stripping the trees and the fields bare until nothing was left in the whole of Israel. Recognising that Israel could never recover from devastation and inevitable death on such a large scale Amos pleaded with the Lord YHWH for forgiveness for Israel/Jacob on the grounds of Israel’s puniness. This plea reflects Amos’s awareness that he could no longer plead the covenant, or the promises to their forefathers. He knew that the covenant was no longer valid for Israel because they had rejected it, and that such judgment was in fact the fulfilment of what the covenant had promised when such a rejection occurred. Thus he pleads with the Lord YHWH by emphasising the puniness of Israel. It was recognised that great kings revealed their greatness by their attitude towards the weakest in the land. And that was the basis of Amos’s plea. Note that there is a direct contrast in the narrative between Israel’s boast in its strength in Amos 6:13, and the declaration of its puniness here. Israel thought that it was strong an powerful, but Amos and YHWH knew that it was weak and puny.

‘Jacob’ (y ‘qb) may have been used here instead of ‘Israel’ so as to resonate with the verb (yqwm), although the thought may have in mind Jacob’s ‘smallness’ before he became ‘Israel’. As we have already seen the term is used throughout the prophecy in a chiastic pattern, thus:

a ‘The house of Jacob’ who are to be testified against (Amos 3:13).

b ‘The excellency (pride, manifested wealth) of Jacob’ which is hated by YHWH (Amos 6:8).

c ‘How shall Jacob stand?’ because he is so puny (Amos 7:2).

c ‘How shall Jacob stand?’ because he is so puny (Amos 7:5).

b ‘The excellency (pride, manifested wealth) of Jacob’ whose works will never be forgotten (Amos 8:7).

a ‘The house of Jacob’ who will nevertheless not be fully destroyed (Amos 9:8).

Thus the name brings out both all that is worst in Israel, and their puniness, and yet promises in the end that YHWH will show mercy, just as He had with Jacob.

Amos 7:3

‘YHWH repented concerning this. “It shall not be, says YHWH”.’

The consequence was that YHWH repented of what He had intended to do to His people and promised that it would not happen, thereby demonstrating His love and compassion towards them. It was not forgiveness, as the second set of visions will make clear. But it was a stay of execution and a deliverance from immediate and total destruction.

As always this is seen from man’s viewpoint. Something initially prophesied would in fact now not happen. This apparently demonstrated a ‘change of mind’. God, however, Who knew the end from the beginning, had intended just such a situation from the beginning. (Compare how He sent Jonah to Nineveh to announce judgment, knowing that they would repent and escape the judgment, even though from Jonah’s viewpoint it would look as though He had ‘changed His mind’). But the emphasis on His ‘repentance’ was intended to remind His people of His good intentions towards them if only they would put their hearts right towards Him. It was an example for the people to follow. While the Muslim would resign himself and say, ‘it is the will of God’ and expect no change in the situation, the Bible believer does believe that appealing to God can alter situations because of His personal interest in them.

Verses 1-17

The Four Visions (Amos 7:1 to Amos 8:14 ).

In a similar way to the seven judgments in Amos 1:2 to Amos 2:5, followed by the expanded judgment on Israel, which all initially followed a similar pattern, so here Amos now recounts three visions threatening judgment on Israel, followed by a fourth which again expands into a judgment on Israel, and all four initially follow a similar pattern. All commence with ‘thus YHWH (He) showed me, and behold --’ (Amos 7:1; Amos 7:4, Amos 7:0: Amos 8:1), but they then divide into two distinct patterns as in the first two Amos appeals to YHWH to show mercy, and YHWH grants it and promises that He will not carry out the judgment, whereas in the remaining two YHWH asks Amos what he sees, and when Amos replies, declares what action He is going to take. These remaining two then expand into a wider application resulting from the action.

The patterns may be seen as follows:

Visions 1 & 2. The Locust Swarm and the Devouring Fire.

a YHWH shows Amos the essence of the judgment.

b Amos sees the judgment carried out in vision.

c The judgment comes to its completion.

b Amos intercedes on the grounds of how puny Israel is.

a YHWH repents and promises that it will not be.

Visions 3 & 4 The Plumbline and The Basket Of Summer Fruit.

a YHWH shows Amos the essence of the judgment.

b YHWH asks Amos what he sees.

c Amos replies by describing what he sees.

b YHWH declares what He is going to do and that He will not pass by Israel any more.

a YHWH declares doom on their sanctuaries accompanied by death.

· In both cases this is then followed by an application related to what has been said.

Thus in the first two visions we have an indication of YHWH’s compassion and unwillingness totally to destroy His people, and in the second two we have an indication of the inevitability of YHWH’s determined judgments and the effects that they will have on the sanctuaries and the people.

Verses 4-6

The Second Vision - The Consuming Fire (Amos 7:4-6 ).

We must remember that this was a vision not something that actually happened. It commenced with a fire from YHWH which ‘devoured the great deep’. As we have seen fire was regularly a picture of YHWH’s judgments in the initial judgments (Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7; Amos 1:10; Amos 1:12; Amos 1:14; Amos 2:2; Amos 2:5, compare also Amos 5:6), but so awesome was it that it here that it dried up the ‘the great deep (tehom)’. To the Canaanites the sea itself contained divinity as they worshipped Yam (sea). Thus as had happened with the Egyptian gods in the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), the gods of Canaan, in which Israel took such delight, were being annihilated. There may, however, be a case for seeing the great deep here as indicating the nations which had sought to swamp Israel, which as we know from chapters 1-2 were to suffer the fire of YHWH (compare how Egypt could be seen in terms of the Nile, and Mesopotamia in terms of the Tigris and the Euphrates (Isaiah 27:1; Ezekiel 29:3 and compare Psalms 46:3; Psalms 93:3-4). It is not, however, until the New Testament that such an idea becomes explicit (Revelation 13:1). Having accomplished its work in the great deep the consuming fire was about to move from sea to land and devour up the whole of the land. It was evident that so all-consuming was the fire that nothing could stand before it. All would be swallowed up. It was fire of a kind that was totally outside Amos’s experience, even though he would probably have experienced relatively large scale local fires before in the dry hot climate around Tekoa. But he had never before seen one that dried up the sea, not even the Dead Sea.

Amos therefore called on YHWH to ‘stop’ before the land had been fully devoured, again on the grounds of Israel’s puniness. He did not cry for forgiveness because YHWH’s previous reaction had demonstrated that forgiveness was not possible, only mercy. And again God had compassion on His people and spared them.

Amos 7:4

‘Thus the Lord YHWH showed me, and, behold, the Lord YHWH called to contend by fire, and it devoured the great deep, and would have eaten up the inheritance.’

What YHWH now showed Amos was the Lord YHWH contending by fire (or we could repoint, using the same consonants, as ‘a rain of fire’) and initially devouring ‘the great deep’. In Isaiah 51:10 ‘the great deep’ is the equivalent of ‘the depths of the sea’, and thus here the awesome vision in mind is that of the sea being dried up with the intensity of the consuming fire. We need not go into detail because this was all in a vision and visions are not necessarily intended to be taken literally. Alternatively we might see the great deep as representing surrounding peoples on whom YHWH had already threatened fire (Amos 1:4; Amos 1:7; Amos 1:10; Amos 1:12; Amos 1:14; Amos 2:2; Amos 2:5; Amos 5:6; compare also Psalms 46:3; Psalms 93:3-4) with Israel and Judah in the midst of them now about to experience the same.

Then the fire advanced on the inheritance (cheleq) of Israel and would have eaten it up. We have only to imagine the intensity of a fire that dries up the sea, especially as, to the Israelites, the sea was an enemy to be feared. This was not an example of a normal fire caused by the dryness of the vegetation and the heat of the sun. It was a supernatural visitation. And the idea was of the whole land being consumed with everything in it. The drying up of the great deep (tehom) would indicate among other things the defeat of the Canaanite god Yam (at Ugarit ‘prince sea (yam)’). The raining of fire would indicate that Baal (the Canaanite of storm and lightning) had been superseded.

We may compare with this picture of a consuming fire the words of Deuteronomy 32:22 which were the result of His people having moved Him to jealousy by their behaviour, ‘for a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the depths of Sheol, and devours the earth with her increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains’. Note that the ‘foundations of the mountains’ were regularly seen as in the depths of the sea (Psalms 46:2; Jonah 2:6). Here therefore Moses’ words are seen as being literally fulfilled. It is the ‘fiery heat’ of Deuteronomy 28:22, but multiplied and extended. There may well here be an indication that YHWH was (theoretically) considering bringing about the final conflagration.

Amos 7:5

‘Then said I, “O Lord YHWH, cease, I beseech you. How will Jacob stand, for he is small?” ’

This time a horrified Amos called on ‘the Lord YHWH’ and begged Him to ‘cease’. He could not bear what he was seeing. And although he had now recognised as a result of YHWH’s previous reply that forgiveness was not available, he once more drew attention to the puniness of ‘Jacob’. How could such a great Lord totally destroy what was so puny?

Amos 7:6

‘YHWH repented concerning this. “This also shall not be, says the Lord YHWH.” ’

Again YHWH ‘repented’ and declared that what he had shown Amos would not in fact now happen as a result of his intercession. Perhaps also in the light of Genesis 18:23-33 it was intended to indicate that there were sufficient righteous people in Israel and Judah for YHWH to spare the world from total destruction. However that may be the visions underline the fact that YHWH was not now about to destroy His people completely. That did not, however, mean that they would escape punishment.

Verses 7-17

The Third Vision. The Vision Of The Plumb-line And The Resulting Response (Amos 7:7-17 ).

In this third vision YHWH carried some kind of measuring device as He stood beside a wall, presumably with the purpose of measuring it. He wanted to demonstrate to Amos that He was not acting without reason in what He was doing. Then He explained that this was also what He intended to do with Israel. He intended to measure them and not pass by them any more. It is a theme of Scripture that when YHWH measures something in one way or another divine action results (compare Isaiah 28:17; Jeremiah 31:39; Zechariah 2:1). The result in this case would be that the high places of Isaac would be desolate and the sanctuaries of Israel would be laid waste, and He would rise against the house of Jeroboam (who were responsible for not having righted the false religion set up by Jeroboam I) with the sword.

It was bad enough threatening the sanctuaries, but the reference to judgment on the king’s house could hardly have failed to produce a response, and sure enough Amaziah, the priest of the high place in Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam about what Amos had prophesied concerning him. It says much for the status of genuine prophets in Israel and Judah that Amos was not immediately arrested. But even in their deteriorated state Israel recognised that they had to handle YHWH’ prophets carefully. Their history was full of examples of what happened to those who did not (consider Moses, Elijah, Elisha, the man of God who went to Jeroboam I; and so on). So Amaziah simply told him to go back to Judah, where he had come from, to which Amos replied that that was not possible because it was YHWH Who had sent him to prophesy against Israel. And he then declared what punishment would come, both on Amaziah personally, and on Israel.

Amos 7:7

‘Thus he showed me, and, behold, the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand.’

There is a slight change in the opening phrase in that ‘the Lord YHWH’ is not mentioned. But as we already know Who ‘He’ is, and to have mentioned His name and title here would have been to conflict with the immediate mention of ‘the Lord’, it is not surprising. We know that ‘He’ is ‘the Lord’ Who will now measure Israel. Note that Amos has seen locusts, and then consuming fire, both symbols of YHWH’s judgment. But now he sees ‘the Lord’ Himself. YHWH’s direct intervention is now being made clear.

And ‘the Lord’ (adonai) stood beside a wall with ‘a measuring tool’ (literally ‘a tin’) in his hand. If it was not a plumb-line it was something similar to it. The word ’nk means ‘lead’ or ‘tin’ (compare Akkadian ‘anaku’) and clearly here indicated a builder’s measuring instrument of some kind. It is not, however, the usual word for plumb-line, although ’nk may have been used deliberately because it sounds very similar to words for ‘moaning, groaning’ (’nch, ’nq). It may on the other hand simply have been a recognised technical term for a kind of measuring instrument or tool. The point is that YHWH was about to ‘measure’ His people like a builder would measure a wall, probably in order to see if it was straight (thus the translation plumb-line).

Amos 7:8

‘And YHWH said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb-line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel. I will not again pass by them any more.” ’

YHWH then asked Amos what he saw (YHWH, the covenant name, is used on its own because He was talking to Amos). He wanted to ensure that Amos had observed what He was doing. And when Amos replied ‘a measuring instrument’, ‘the Lord’ (adonai - now acting over against the people) replied, ‘ See, I will set a measuring instrument in the midst of My people Israel.’ Amos could be assured that YHWH would not judge them without measuring them. Not for Him the unfair process which passed for justice in Israel. But once He had measured them He would not pass them by any more. He would ensure strict justice.

It will be noted that Amos was now silenced. He had realised that he could plead for Israel no more. Justice, tempered with mercy, must be allowed to run its course.

Amos 7:9

“And the high places of Isaac will be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

And the result was that ‘the high places of Isaac’ (the high places in Beersheba where Isaac had lived much of his adult life, compare Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14; Genesis 27:23-25) would be desolate because they would receive no more worshippers, and the sanctuaries within Israel would be laid waste, and the ones responsible for the continuation of the false cult (the king and his house) would be put to the sword as a result of the direct intervention of YHWH. This judgment appears to very much have in mind Leviticus 26:31 where YHWH had warned, ‘and I will lay your cities waste, and will make your sanctuaries desolate’, and Leviticus 26:25 where the sword will ‘execute vengeance for the covenant’. The word of YHWH is thus seen as being fulfilled.

Alternatively ‘Isaac’ may simply be an alternative word for ‘Jacob’ and apply to all Israel’s sanctuaries (see Amos 7:16 where ‘the house of Isaac’ is paralleled with ‘Israel’).

So we see that central to YHWH’s judgment on Israel was that they had put other things before Him and had so diluted His worship and their view of Him, that they ignored His requirements concerning their behaviour towards others.

Amos 7:10

‘Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words.” ’

On hearing what Amos had said against the king, Amaziah immediately sent a messenger to the king to inform him of what Amos was saying, and made it sound as treasonable as possible. He claimed that Amos was ‘conspiring against’ the king, and was proclaiming treasonable words in order to stir up any disgruntled people of Israel against the king, so much so that the land could not stand his words, they overflowed too voluminously and were too horrible. (It was, of course, incumbent on any who heard about threats to the king’s person to report the fact, but he should have reported what was actually said. There is a warning to us all here not to believe anything that we are told until we have checked the facts. More trouble has been caused by the distortion of what people have said than by almost anything else in history. Such regular distortion is one of the proofs of the utter sinfulness of the world).

Amos 7:11

“For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land’.”

He claimed, slightly inaccurately, that Amos had said that Jeroboam would die by the sword (Amos had only said ‘the house of Jeroboam’), and that the people of Israel would be led away into exile as captives (which was true - Amos 6:7).

Amos 7:12

‘Also Amaziah said to Amos, “O you seer, go, flee you away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there, but do not prophesy again any more at Beth-el, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a royal house.” ’

Amaziah then himself turned on Amos. It would be seen as his responsibility to preserve the public peace at Bethel and he would want it on record that he had tried to get rid of Amos without incurring the wrath of YHWH. Although accepting that he was ‘a seer’ (he may have meant it slightly insultingly indicating that he was but a small time prophet, or it may simply have indicated a prophet from Judah as opposed to Israel), he bade Amos to return to Judah, and make his living prophesying there. He clearly considered that Amos saw his position as a means of making a living. Let him then make his living in Judah, where people might be more willing to listen to him, rather than in Bethel at the sanctuary of the king of Israel. Note his emphasis on the high status of Bethel. It was the king’s sanctuary, and under the auspices of royalty. And Amaziah was proud of it. In his view therefore Amos, as a minor Judean prophet, was getting above himself and out of his depth.

Amos 7:14

‘Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor was I a prophet’s son, but I was a cattle breeder, and a dresser of sycomore-mulberry trees,”

Amos recognised the imputation and assured Amaziah firmly that he was not that kind of prophet, nor was he a novitiate (a son of a prophet), rather he had been a small-time cattle-breeder and dresser of sycomore-mulberry trees. he had thus had every opportunity of earning a living. Sycomore-mulberry trees did not tend to grow in the highlands (and thus around Tekoa) but in the Shephelah (the lower hills) in western Judah, nearer the Philistine border. Thus it suggests that he regularly moved from one place to the other. Such trees produced a mulberry fig which dressers would nick with a sharp instrument some time prior to its being picked in order that it might ripen into a sweeter and softer fruit. Without this process it was less pleasant when it ripened. That may well have been part of Amos’s task, which would suggest that he was not a wealthy cattle-breeder but had to subsidise his income by this kind of work. On the other hand it may indicate that he was a specialist consultant.

Amos 7:15

“And YHWH took me from following the flock, and YHWH said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’.”

And he emphasised that it was YHWH Who had called him from following the flock, and had told him to, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel’. Thus he was not to be seen as a professional prophet, but as a man constrained and called by YHWH. He had therefore had no choice where he served. He had simply done as YHWH had told him just as David had done before him (compare 2 Samuel 7:8).

Note how YHWH’s, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel’ stands over against Amaziah’s ‘Go --- into the land of Judah --- and prophesy there.’ (It necessarily raised the question, which Amos answered, as to whether he should obey God rather than man. God does not always call the person that we think most appropriate.

Amos 7:16-17

“Now therefore hear you the word of YHWH, “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not go on preaching (literally ‘do not drop’) against the house of Isaac’. Therefore thus says YHWH. Your wife will be a harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, and your land will be divided by line, and you yourself will die in a land which is unclean, and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land.”

Amaziah was now to discover why it was dangerous to mess around with a prophet of YHWH, for Amos responded with a message from YHWH. He first gave the charge against Amaziah, in that he had told Amos not to prophesy in Israel, and not ‘drop’ against the house of Isaac, (this clearly equates ‘Israel’ with ‘Isaac’ as a name for Israel), in spite of the fact that he had been commanded to do so by YHWH. The idea of ‘dropping’ is taken from Deuteronomy 32:2 where it says, ‘My teaching will drop as the rain’. Incipient in this was the later teaching concerning the work of the Spirit seen in terms of rain (Isaiah 44:1-5) and the power of the word of YHWH seen in the same terms (Isaiah 55:10-13).

Then he announced YHWH’s sentence, every word of which spelled invasion and exile. Amaziah’s wife would be a prostitute in the city, presumably because she had lost her male providers through the invasion and thus had to resort to prostitution in order to survive, no doubt after having been raped by the invaders. As a consequence she would become unfit to continue as a priest’s wife, bearing his children. Their children would die by the sword so that neither the family name nor the priesthood could be perpetuated in the family. Their land would be divided up systematically by use of a measuring line. And Amaziah himself would be carried away into an unclean land, i.e. a foreign land, something totally abhorrent to a priest of the sanctuary, and something which would render him unfit to serve because he would be unable to observe fully the rules regarding cleanness and uncleanness. It is clear from this that some Levitical rules were still in place at Bethel.

It is possibly significant that the same punishments, being sent into harlotry, execution of children and dividing of the land are found in Assyrian vassal treaties. It might indicate either that they were common to many treaties, or that there is in mind here the fact that Israel would at some time be subjugated to Assyria and would then rebel. Compare Deuteronomy 28:30, although harlotry of a wife and execution of children does not appear as a consequence of rebellion in either Deuteronomy 28:0 or Leviticus 26:0.

“And Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land.” His final words then boldly cited Amaziah’s charge to the king, ‘and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land’ (Amos 7:11). In that at least Amaziah had correctly cited him and thus he boldly confirmed it in Amaziah’s own words. As both Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28:0 had made clear, failure to observe the covenant would involve being ‘scattered among the nations’. And within forty years, in two main stages, the cream of Israelite society would be so scattered (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:6). Their day of YHWH had come.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Amos 7". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/amos-7.html. 2013.