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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

- Amos

by Editor - Joseph Exell


AT the time when Amos prophesied both Israel and Judah stood high in prosperity and wealth. The warlike Jeroboam II. had overcome the Syrians, and recovered the original territory of his kingdom from Hamath in the extreme north to the Dead Sea (2 Kings 14:25, 2 Kings 14:28). Uzziah King of Judah had subdued the restless Edomltes and Philistines, reduced the Ammonites to subjection; and, while largely encouraging agriculture and the arts of peace, he raised a powerful army, and strongly fortified Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 26:0.). Israel, secure from outward enemies and strong in inward resources, was very far from expecting ruin and destruction. Prosperity in Both kingdoms had produced its too common fruits — pride, luxury, selfishness, oppression. In Zion and Samaria alike such sins were rife; hut in the northern kingdom they were accentuated and increased by the calf-worship which was still practised there. To Bethel, the central seat of this idolatry, Amos was sent from Jerusalem. His mission was to rebuke this iniquity, and to announce to these careless sinners the approach of Divine judgment. It was probable that, in a kingdom where impostors abounded, a seer, coming from a foreign district and claiming to be commissioned by the Lord, might command respect; though the issue proved very different. Never since the man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord in the days of the first Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:0.) had any southern prophet gone on such an errand. Now a second message was sent; and in this book the utterances of the prophet on this great occasion are gathered together and arranged in due order. Though his special mission was directed to Israel, Amos does not confine himself altogether to denunciations of this kingdom. His cry extended to Judah and to the hostile nations which surrounded the covenant people.

The book naturally divides itself into four parts — an introduction; addresses; visions; and Messianic prophecy. The introduction (Amos 1:2.) consists of denunciations of the heathen kingdoms bordering on Israel, foretelling the destruction thai shall befall them, viz. Damascus, Philistia, Tyro, Sidon, Edom, Ammon, Moab. Judah, too, is placed in the same category, because it also was alienated from God. The judgment on Israel is proclaimed here in general terms; the remainder of the book particularizes the denounced sins and confirms the awful sentence.

The second (Amos 3-6) contains three prophetic addresses, divided by the recurrence of the solemn refrain, "Hear ye." The first address convicts Israel of ingratitude for God's past mercies; shows that the Lord must needs punish the nation, and that he has commissioned the prophet to announce the judgment, Israel has sinned by injustice and violence; its palaces and holy places shall be destroyed, and its people carried into captivity. The second address depicts the sins of oppression and idolatry; tells how God had visited the people with various chastisements, but they were still incorrigible; therefore he will inflict further punishment, to see if perchance they will repent. In his third address Amos laments the fate of Israel, exhorts earnestly to amendment, and then, with a double "Woe!" he shows how hopeless is their trust in their covenant relation to Jehovah, and how baseless their fancied security from danger; for ere long their land should be invaded, their cities should be destroyed, and they themselves should be carried into captivity. This last "woe" is to affect Judah also, even "them that are at ease in Zion" (Amos 6:1).

The visions (Amos 7-9:10) are closely connected with the preceding addresses, and carry on the warnings there enunciated, giving, as it were, the stages or gradations of punishment. The first two visions, of locusts and fire, correspond to the visitations mentioned in Amos 4:6-11. These chastisements stop short of utter destruction, being alleviated at the intercession of the prophet. The third and fourth visions confirm the irrevocable character of the judgments threatened in the previous addresses. The plumb line intimates that forgiveness is now not to be expected. Here Amos introduces an historical episode, detailing Amaziah's opposition to his prophecy and God's sentence upon him. He then proceeds to the fourth vision, which, under the figure of a basket of summer fruit, exhibits Israel as ripe for judgment; and he enforces this lesson by foretelling that their feasts should be turned to mourning, and that those who now despise the Word of God shall some day suffer a famine of the Word. The last vision displays the Lord destroying the temple and its worshippers, yea, the whole sinful nation. Yet it should not be utterly annihilated. "Sifted" shall the people be among the nations, yet shall not one good grain perish.

The prophecy ends with one promise — the only one in the book — that the fallen kingdom should be raised again, should be extended by the incoming of the heathen, should be glorified and enriched with Divine graces, and that its duration should be eternal — a promise which has its fulfilment, not in any temporary restoration of Israel to its own land, but in the foundation of the Christian Church and its final conquest of the world (see the reference to this prophecy by St. James in Acts 15:16). Amos nowhere mentions the person of the Messiah, but his reference to the house of David includes and leads up to Christ.

§ 2. AUTHOR.

Amos is the third of the minor prophets. His name is usually taken to signify "Carrier," but is better interpreted "Heavy" or "Burden," in allusion to the grievous message which he had to deliver. Jewish commentators suggest that he was so called because he stammered or was slow of speech, as St. Paul says of himself that his speech was considered contemptible. In old time he was by some confounded with Amoz, the father of Isaiah; but the final letter of the two names is different, being samec in the case of the prophet, and tzadi in that of the other. The name does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament; but in St. Luke's genealogy of our Lord (Luke 3:25), we meet with an Amos, son of Naum and father of Mattathias. Amos was, as he himself tells, a native of Tekoah, a small town of Judah, situate on a hill about five miles south of Bethlehem, lying in a pastoral district. "A road," says Dr. Thomson, "leads from Hebron, through a rough and mostly deserted region, to Tekus, the ancient Tekoah ....The ruins of that city are some three miles south of the Pools of Solomon, and cover a broad swell of the mountain, which runs up to a great height towards the southwest". "Tekoa," says Mr. Porter, "is now, and has been for ages, an uninhabited waste. So complete has been the overthrow that I could not find oven a fragment of a wall sufficient to shade me from the scorching sun. The ruins are scattered over the broad summit of one of the highest hills in the Judaean range. The view is magnificent and full of interest. On the west is seen the sweep of the range from Mispah to Hebron; on the east, 'the wilderness of Judah' sinks down, white, rugged, bare, to the Dead Sea. In that wilderness David kept his sheep, and afterwards wandered a refugee from the court of Saul. On the north, a few miles off, I saw Bethlehem. To the right, in the bottom of a wild ravine, is the cave of Adullam. Further down, on the shores of the Dead Sea, are 'the cliffs of the wild goats,' from whose side springs the fountain of Engedi. And beyond the sea is the wall-like ridge of Moab, and to the south the ruddy-tinted mountains of Edom. A mournful and solitary silence broods over that wonderful panorama. In the touching words of the old Hebrew prophet, 'the earth mourneth and languisheth'". From Tekoah came the wise woman who, suborned by Joab, made use of a parable to incline David's heart to his banished son Absalom (2 Samuel 14:0.). It was also one of the places fortified by Rehoboam as a defence against invasion from the south (2 Chronicles 11:6). Thither Jonathan and Simon, the Maccabeans, fled to escape the attack of Bacchides (see 1 Macc. 9:33, etc.). At this place Amos was born. At first a herdsman and a poor cultivator of sycamore trees (Amos 7:14), he received the Divine call, and, untrained in the schools, no prophet nor prophet's son, was sent to prophesy against Israel. So, like an apostle, leaving all at his Master's word, travelling from Judah he came to Bethel, the temple and summer palace of the king, in order to raise his voice against the worship of the calf which prevailed there in profane union with the service of Jehovah. Here he was opposed by Amaziah, the idolatrous high priest, who complained of him to the king as a dangerous conspirator. He was accordingly banished from the northern kingdom, and compelled to return to Judah, where probably he composed the book in the for in which it has reached our hands. But he seems to have found opportunity to deliver his stern message in Samaria (Amos 3:9; Amos 4:1) before his final expulsion at Bethel; for Amaziah complains that he had "conspired in the midst of the house of Israel," and that "the land was not able to bear his words" (Amos 7:10).

Though of such humble extraction, Amos had an eye to the geographical peculiarities of his native land, so as to use with effect his knowledge of various localities; nor was he unacquainted with the history of his own and other countries. Tradition (ap. Pseudo-Eplph., c. 12., 'De Vit. Proph.') asserts that he was cruelly maltreated at Bethel, and returned to Tekoah only to die. His tomb there was still shown in St. Jerome's time.

§ 3. DATE.

Amos is said (Amos 1:1) to have prophesied "in the days of Uzziah King of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash King of Israel." Uzziah's reign (according to data corrected by Assyrian monuments) lasted from B.C. 792 to 740, and Jeroboam's from B.C. 790 to 749. The time specified above probably refers to the period during which the two monarchs were contemporaneous, viz. from B.C. 790 to 749, a period of forty-one years. Another computation assigns Jeroboam's reign to B.C. 816-775; but there is still some uncertainty about the exact date. Hence we cannot determine the time of our prophecy with perfect satisfaction. It could not have been the commencement of Jeroboam's reign, as Amos intimates that this king had already overcome his enemies and regained his lost territory (Amos 6:2, Amos 6:13, compared with 2 Kings 14:25); nor could it have been the end, because he makes no mention of the Assyrians who about that time were beginning to threaten Palestine. The further specification in the text, "two years before the earthquake," is not determinate, as that event is not mentioned in the historical books. One that happened in Uzziah's day, as Jewish tradition said, in consequence of or coincident with his usurpation of the priest's office (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 9:10), was well remembered some centuries afterwards (Zechariah 14:5), and is perhaps alluded to elsewhere (e.g. Joel 3:16; Isaiah 2:19); but we are unable to fix the date of the occurrence. Every detail in the prophecy confirms the authenticity of the statement in the introduction. Jeroboam is mentioned (Amos 7:10), and the circumstances of his time, as we noted above, are accurately alluded to. The taking of Gath by Uzziah is inferred (Amos 6:2 compared with 2 Chronicles 26:6).

The prophet uttered his warnings, not at intervals during all the period named, but at some definite time therein, and probably during a very short space. He must have been contemporaneous with, if not a little earlier than Hosea, and later than Joel, as he takes up this prophet's words in the commencement of his own prediction (comp. Amos 1:2 with Joel 3:16), and quotes him in Amos 9:13 (see Introduction to Joel).


Critics since Jerome have called Amos imperitus sermone, reasoning from his occasional use of homely images drawn from flock and herd and pastoral life, the matters with which his occupation was concerned (Amos 2:13; Amos 3:4, Amos 3:5, Amos 3:8, Amos 3:12; Amos 4:6-9; Amos 5:11, Amos 5:17; Amos 6:12; Amos 8:8; Amos 9:5). And certainly his style is not sublime or pitched in the highest strain of poetry, but it is notable for clearness and energy, and shows considerable literary skill both in the arrangement of rhythm and in the grouping of parallelisms. The imagery based on scenes amongst which he dwelt, far from being a defect in the work, adds a special charm; and one would be very loath to miss the vividness and naturalness which are thereby imparted to it. The changes in nature (Amos 4:13), the dangers from wild beasts, the starry sky (Amos 5:8), flood, tempest, lightning, were observed by him in his watchings and wanderings, and left their reminiscence in his language. If at times, as some critics suppose, he uses the dialect of the people instead of the more refined terms of court and school, this would be in entire keeping with his simple life and character. We are not to suppose that inspiration overrides a man's habitual mode of expression, or compels an untrained peasant to adopt the language of a learned scribe. The book, at any rate, shows that we have received it such as its author wrote it, without adventitious ornamentation or amendment. If he speaks mostly in prose, surely visions such as he narrates, denunciations such as he utters, are thus more effectively presented. The very simplicity of his language makes it impressive. We see in him a confirmation of the theory with which Wordsworth has made us familiar, that the diction of uneducated people has in itself a certain poetic power which raises it to an equality with that of higher social station. Without anything of poetry in the words, what force is there in that sudden and unexpected summons, "Because I will do this [what?] unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 4:12)! There is true pathos when, having shown how the luxurious spared nothing in ministering to their own selfishness, Amos ends with the accusing cry, "But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." The strophic arrangement of some of the periods is very remarkable. The oft-recurring formula, "for three transgressions, and for four" (Amos 1:2.), the sorrowful burden, "Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord" (ch. 4.), are patent instances of this.

This uneducated prophet's accurate acquaintance with the Law of Moses denotes much more than a familiarity with the national traditions. His knowledge of the Pentateuch appears not only in general allusions to history, ritual, ceremony, but in the actual use of verbal forms and expressions which belong to the Mosaic writings. "Blasting and mildew" are the punishment of disobedience (Amos 4:9 compared with Deuteronomy 28:22); "gall and wormwood" are the bitter fruits into which the sinners turned righteousness and judgment (Amos 6:12 with Deuteronomy 29:18); the sad refrain mentioned above (Amos 4:6, Amos 4:8, Amos 4:9, Amos 4:10, Amos 4:11) is founded on Deuteronomy 4:29, Deuteronomy 4:30. The oppressors "lie down on clothes laid to pledge" (Amos 2:8 with Exodus 22:26), "turn aside the way of the meek, and turn aside the poor in the gate". Unnatural immorality "profanes God's holy Name" (Amos 2:7 with Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:3). One hardly need multiply quotations to prove the prophet's knowledge of the history and ritual of the Mosaic books. He alludes to the Exodus, the overthrow of Sodom, the gigantic stature of the Amorites, the sacrifices of the Law, the Nazarite vow. His threats and promises are often couched in Mosaic language.

Thus Amos presupposes that his hearers were well acquainted with the Pentateuch, and had a firm belief in its history; otherwise much of the prophecy would have lost its force or have been unintelligible. Hosea and Jeremiah seem to have borrowed from or to have been acquainted with our prophet. Compare, for instance, Amos 2:5 with Hosea 8:14; Amos 7:17 with Hosea 9:3; Amos 1:4 with Jeremiah 49:27; Amos 1:15 with Jeremiah 49:3. Further parallelisms will be found noted in the Exposition.

We may conclude that in simple, unadorned eloquence, in structural regularity, in natural vigour, and in loftiness of thought, Amos reaches a well grounded eminence; and, as Lowth decides ('De Poes. Hebr. Prael.,' 20:1), the author of such writings was in no wise behind the very chiefest of the prophets.


We need not enumerate the commentators who have written upon the whole of the minor prophets, patristic, mediaeval, and modern, as the chief of them have already been mentioned in the Introduction to Hosea. Two recent Roman Catholic commentaries, however, may be specially noted, one by L'Abbe Trochon, containing the Latin Vulgate with a French translation, and a commentary considerably indebted to Keil, and the other by J. Knabenbauer, forming a part of the 'Cursus Scripturae Sacra,' edited by Jesuit Fathers. It consists of a commentary written in Latin, and containing useful answers to the rationalistic theories of the present day. Here, too, may be mentioned Archdeacon Farter's 'The Minor Prophets,' in the 'Men of the Bible' series. Among monographs on this prophet may be mentioned the following: Luther, 'Enarratio in Prophetam Amos; ' Gerhard, 'Annotationes'; Harenberg, 'Amos Expositus'; Dahl, 'Amos, neu ubers. und erlaut.'; Bishop Horsley, 'Critical Notes;' Baur, 'Der P. Amos erklart'; Bishop Ryan, 'Lectures'; and works by Uhland, Justi, Vater, Benefield, and Laurent. Of the above, the commentary of Baur, with a valuable introduction, is most generally useful. Articles by Wellhausen, in the 'Brit. Encyclop.' 13., and by Noldeke, in Schenkel's 'Bibel-Lexicon,' will repay examination.


The book is best arranged in four parts.

Part I. (Amos 1:2) Approaching judgment: a prelude.

§ 1. (Amos 1-2:3) Summons of the nations bordering on the Holy Land.
§ 2. (Amos 2:4, Amos 2:5) Summons of Judah.
§ 3. (Amos 2:6-16.) Summons and general denunciation of Israel.

Part II. (Amos 3-6) Three addresses particularizing the sins of Israel and announcing imminent punishment.

§ 1. (Amos 3:0) First address.
§ 2. (Amos 4:0) Second address.
§ 3. (Amos 5:6) Third address.

Part III. (Amos 7-9:10) Five visions, with explanations.

§ 1. (Amos 7:1-3.) First vision: locusts.
§ 2. (Amos 7:4-6.) Second vision: fire.
§ 3. (Amos 7:7-9.) Third vision: plumb line.
§ 4. (Amos 7:10-17.) Historical parenthesis.
§ 5. (Amos 8:1-14.) Fourth vision: basket of fruits.
§ 6. (Ch. 9:1-10.) Fifth vision: the Lord at the altar.

Part IV. (Amos 9:11-15.) Epilogue: establishment of the new kingdom.

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