Amos 5:1-3. Hear ye, &c. — It is justly observed by Grotius, that this verse would be translated more according to the Hebrew thus; Hear ye this word, even a lamentation, which I take up over you — It alludes to the lamentations made at funerals: so here the prophet bemoans the state of the kingdom of Israel as dead. The virgin of Israel — Such she was when first espoused to God, a chaste virgin to a husband: she was then peculiarly beloved and delighted in, and was under the peculiar protection and care of her heavenly Lord; but she is now fallen from her glory and felicity, and for her idolatries and other sins delivered up to the will of her enemies. She shall no more rise — That is, says Grotius, non iterum surget; she shall not rise again, namely, if she so goes on in the wicked way in which she now walks: for it was always understood in God’s threatenings against the Jewish people, that if they turned to him in true repentance they might, by that means, avert the judgments threatened. And there are repeated promises of the restoration of Israel as well as Judah; but these were all made on the condition of their repentance and reformation, which as they never performed in general, so they have not been restored in general, as the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were. She is forsaken upon her land — She is abandoned of all, and there is none to assist her to rise up again: like an infant that is fallen upon the ground and hath none to take it up; or, broken to pieces upon her own land; and so left, as a broken vessel. The city that went out by a thousand, &c. — A city which was able to send out a thousand men fit for war, shall have but a hundred of them left. And so it shall be in proportion for any less number; only one in ten of them shall escape the sword and other chances of war.
Amos 5:4-5. For — Or rather, nevertheless, seek ye me, and ye shall live — That is, ye shall be prosperous again; for life, in the Scripture language, is used to express prosperity, or happiness. This shows, that what was said in the 2d verse, of their being fallen to rise no more, is to be taken as it is there explained; namely, in case they did not repent, but continued in their wickedness. But seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, &c. — The places here named, it is probable, were all seats of idolatrous worship. The sense of the verse, therefore, is, that if they continued in their idolatries they should certainly be carried into captivity, and come to naught — For it was only by returning and seeking God’s favour by true repentance and humiliation, and ceasing from their idolatry, that they could be saved from ruin.
Amos 5:6. Seek the Lord, and ye shall live — He repeats his exhortation, and also the promise of a good issue on their complying with it. Lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph — That is, the kingdom of the ten tribes, the chief whereof was Ephraim the son of Joseph. And there be none to quench it in Beth-el — As if he had said, If once this fire break out, all your idols in Beth-el shall not be able to quench it. A proper caution this to the Israelites, not to trust in their idolatrous worship for their safety, because it would be so far from averting the divine wrath, or saving them from God’s judgments, that it would provoke that wrath still more, and hasten the execution of his judgments.
Amos 5:7-9. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood — Or into hemlock, as the word here used is translated, Amos 6:12. Ye judges and rulers that pervert the law that was designed to protect innocence, and under colour of it exercise the greatest oppression. True or just judgment is sweet or pleasing; corrupt judgment, mere bitterness. And leave off righteousness — That is, leave off to practise it, or make it to cease in your courts of judicature. Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion — Concerning these constellations see notes on Job 9:9; and Job 38:31. These and the other constellations were commonly thought to have great influence upon the seasons; and therefore their rising and setting used to be particularly taken notice of by husbandmen and shepherds; whose employments lying abroad, made them more observant of the appearances of the heavenly bodies. So this was a dispensation of providence, which it was very suitable for one of Amos’s profession to mention. “But in Arabia and the neighbouring countries, to this present day, not only the shepherds, but the men in general, the women and children, know the names of the stars. Sanctius assures us, that the shepherds in Spain know perfectly well the stars of Ursa Major, Orion, the Pleiades, &c., and that they generally measure the time of night by the course of these stars.” — Dodd. And turneth the shadow of death into the morning — The greatest adversity into as great prosperity; and maketh the day dark with night — Changes prosperity into adversity: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them upon the earth — Who commandeth the seas and the rivers to overflow the earth in great inundations; or rather, commands the vapours to ascend from the sea, turns them into rain, and then pours it from the clouds, to render the earth fruitful. That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong — Who giveth strength to him that hath been conquered and spoiled, and enables him to subdue his conquerors, and become master even of the strongest places. This was very properly mentioned here as one act of God’s great power, because it implied, that the deplorable state of the Israelitish affairs might be retrieved if they sought to him.
Amos 5:10. They hate him that rebuketh in the gate — The usual place of administering justice, and of reproving and passing judgment on iniquity. The prophet now, after having descanted upon God’s wondrous power, returns to enumerate the crimes of the Israelites; and begins with telling them, that they in general hated the judges who reproved them for their injurious conduct and acts of fraud or violence, and endeavoured to do justice to the oppressed. And besides this, they hated the prophets and private persons who rebuked ungodliness and unrighteousness, and exhorted men to the practice of piety and virtue.
Amos 5:11-13. Forasmuch, therefore, as your treading is upon the poor — It appears by this, that their acts of oppression were more than ordinarily proud and tyrannical. They were the effect of fraud executed with insolence, as the word treading, and the subsequent clause, added in explanation of it, signify. And ye take from him burdens of wheat — This expresses the most grievous inhumanity, implying that they took from the poor their very sustenance by acts of injustice and violence. Ye have built houses of hewn stone, but shall not dwell in them — God often threatens to deprive men of the enjoyment of their ill-gotten substance. For I know your manifold transgressions and mighty sins — Your daring impieties, your sins of the first magnitude, such as idolatry and oppression, reproved in the foregoing part of this chapter. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time — So great is the corruption of manners, and such the insolence of power, that the prudent man, though he be virtuous, and abhor such doings, yet will incline to be silent, perceiving that his speaking by way of reproof or exhortation to others will only bring danger on himself, and be of no real use.
Amos 5:14-15. Seek good, and not evil — Give your minds to the practice of true piety and virtue. Do that which is just and good, and endeavour to make others do the same. That ye may live — That it may be well with you, your families, and the whole kingdom. And so the Lord God of hosts — The eternal, glorious God, who is Lord of all, and can help you, having all the hosts of heaven and earth at his disposal; shall be with you — To bless and save you yet, notwithstanding all your former sins. As ye have spoken — You have boasted of his being with you, you think he is with you, and is bound to be with you, and own you: so he will indeed, but it is on condition that you repent and turn from your idols and violence. Hate the evil — Practised either by yourselves or others. And love the good —
Cleave to and practise it yourselves, and commend, encourage, defend, and reward it in others. Let your hearts be toward good things and good men. Establish judgment in the gate — Set up honest and upright judges in the gates of your cities, and see that true judgment be there administered. By this it is evident, that the prophet speaks chiefly to governors and persons in authority among them. It may be the Lord will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph — To those small remains of the ten tribes which the civil wars and the invasions of your enemies have spared. As if he had said, Your case is not so desperate but repentance may yet avert God’s judgments, and he may show himself gracious to those that are left of you.
Amos 5:16-17. Therefore the Lord saith thus — The prophet, foreseeing their obstinacy, proceeds in denouncing judgments against them: and the word therefore, which introduces his threatenings, is to be referred to the twelfth verse, and not to the verses immediately foregoing. As if he had said, It is on account of your evil deeds, and because you will not be persuaded to hate the evil and love the good, that the Lord saith thus. Wailing shall be in all streets, and in all the highways — There shall be a general lamentation of all orders and degrees of men; of the citizens, for the loss of their wealth and substance, plundered by the conquerors; of the husbandmen and vine-dressers, for the loss of the fruits of the earth, destroyed or eaten up by the enemies’ army. And such as are skilful of lamentation — Let those, whose profession it is to make lamentation at funerals, join in this public mourning, to make it more solemn. And in all vineyards shall be wailing — Where there used to be shouting and rejoicing, when the summer-fruits were gathered in. For I will pass through thee, saith the Lord — To punish all everywhere: I will act like an enemy that invades and destroys a country as he marches through it.
Amos 5:18-20. Wo unto you that desire the day of the Lord — Scoffingly, not believing any such day will come: for this seems to be spoken of some among them, who, in mockery, expressed a desire of seeing those things which the prophet predicted brought to pass. Or, it may respect those who, notwithstanding all the prophet had said, still expected God would appear in their favour, not to their destruction: see Isaiah 5:19. To what end is it for you? — To what purpose should you desire to see the day of the Lord? The day of the Lord is darkness — Adversity, black and doleful, and not light — No joy or comfort in it. It will certainly be a very dismal time to you, and indeed to all in the country, when evils shall succeed one another so fast, that he who seeks to escape one, shall fall into a greater. As if a man did flee from a lion — A creature that has something of generosity in his nature; and a bear met him — Which never spares any thing that comes in its way. Or went into the house — Namely, for fear of being devoured by beasts, or to avoid some other danger which threatened him without; and a serpent bit him — And a viper, whose sting is incurable, should creep out of the wall and bite him. Serpents sometimes concealed themselves in the holes and chinks of the walls of the eastern houses. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness — It might indeed well be described as darkness; even very dark, without any brightness in it — Since it was to be no less than the destruction of the towns and cities, the desolation of the country, the slaughtering of the people, or the carrying of them into captivity, and even the overturning of the whole kingdom.
Amos 5:21-24. I hate and despise your feast-days — This and the three following verses are the same in sense with Isaiah 1:11-16, and the other texts referred to in the margin, on which the reader is desired to consult the notes. They all show of how little signification the external rites of religion are, unless they be accompanied with living faith in, and sincere love to God, and a universal obedience to his will; or without holiness of heart and life. Take away from me the noise of thy songs — The psalms and hymns sung with vocal and instrumental music, the usual accompaniments of sacrifices among the Jews and heathen. As the worshippers at Beth-el imitated the temple worship in other particulars,
(see Amos 4:4,) so it is likely they did in this part of the public worship: see Amos 8:3. The prophet calls their songs a noise, like that of an untuneful voice, because their melody, not proceeding from a true principle of religion, was not grateful to God. There are great authority and majesty in this passage, Amos 5:21-24; and the grandeur of the image in the following words, with which it closes, must strike every reader. But let judgment run down as waters — Rather, let justice have its free course, so that the meanest persons may feel the benefit of it; and let your benignity be great and universal to your fellow-creatures.
Amos 5:25. Have ye offered — Or, did you offer, unto me sacrifices and offerings — “Verborum emphasis in MIHI sita est,” says Spencer: The emphasis of the passage lies in ME. “Did ye offer such sacrifices as were acceptable to ME such an entire and undivided service as I enjoin?” — Newcome. Certainly they did not. They offered sacrifices indeed, but in general did not offer them in a right manner, in a true spirit of piety; in the genuine fear and love of God, and with an upright intention to glorify him. On the contrary, they joined the worship of idols with the worship of God, and thereby polluted it, and rendered it insignificant in God’s sight. Thus Dr. Whitby: “This question is a strong negative, importing, that though they really did offer sacrifices, as he had commanded, yet he did not accept, or look upon them, as offered to him. The expression is like that of the Prophet Zechariah 7:5, When ye fasted, &c., did ye at all fast to me, even to me? And this is here denied, 1st, Because God will accept of no worship as done unto him, which is not done unto him alone; and when any other is worshipped with him, he looks upon himself as not worshipped at all. So, of those nations which came from Assyria into the cities of Samaria, it is said, 2 Kings 17:33, They feared the Lord, and served their own gods; and then it is added, 2 Kings 17:34, They feared not the Lord. 2d, Because God will not own any worship as performed to him, while men continue in their disobedience to his laws, and in their hearts depart from him. Thus the Jews, in Zechariah, are said not to fast to him, because they would not hearken to nor obey his words; and he is said to have been angry with them in the wilderness forty years, because they erred from him in their hearts; that is, says the Chaldee, they had their idols in their hearts.”
Amos 5:26. But ye have borne, or did bear, the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun — Your ancestors manifested their want of true devotion toward me, in that they were so prone to practise those idolatries which they learned in Egypt, or which they saw practised in the countries through which they passed: see Numbers 25:2; Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7; Ezekiel 20:16; and Ezekiel 23:3; Ezekiel 23:8. As these words are quoted by St. Stephen, (Acts 7:42-43,) to prove that God gave them up to worship the host of heaven, it is probable that by Moloch is meant the sun, which the whole East worshipped in ancient times, called also, as almost all interpreters agree, Baal, Bel, or Belus: Baal, the Lord, (as the word signifies,) and Moloch, the king of heaven, being the same. As for the other word, Chiun, rendered by the LXX. Rephan or Remphan, according to Vossius, it signifies the moon; but Aben Ezra understands it of Saturn, an interpretation which many learned men approve: see particularly Lud. de Dieu, upon Acts 7:43, and Dr. Spencer, De Leg. Hebr., lib. 3. cap. 3, where it is shown that Saturn was called Rephan, or Remphan, by the Egyptians. Your images — They had images of these supposed deities, that of Moloch representing the sun, and that of Chiun the star Saturn: see Seldon, 2:396. These images were placed in shrines, here termed סכות, a tabernacle, or tabernacles, and these they used to carry about with them, as Grotius and Dr. Hammond, on Acts 7:43, have proved.
Amos 5:27. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is, &c. — Ye shall be removed further from your own country, than when Hazael, king of Syria, carried away so many Israelites captives to Damascus, (see 2 Kings 10:32-33,) and consequently shall have less hopes of returning home. The king of Assyria carried the ten tribes captive as far as Media, 2 Kings 17:6. Therefore St. Stephen, in the passage above quoted, expressing rather the sense than the words, reads, I will carry you away beyond Babylon, Media being at a much greater distance than Babylon. Both readings imply, that the captivity of the ten tribes would be far worse than that of the two remaining, and likely to be of much longer duration.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Amos 5". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany