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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Amos 3

Introduction

DISCOURSES OF WARNING AND EXHORTATION, Amos 3:1 to Amos 6:14. Chapters 3-6 form the main part of the Book of Amos. It consists of several discourses, in which the indictment and sentence of Amos 2:6-16, are expanded and justified. Most commentators divide the chapters into three discourses, new starts being made with Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1; Amos 5:1. The advantage of this division is that each section begins with the solemn summons, “Hear ye.” Nevertheless, it seems more accurate to distinguish four, or even five, discourses, beginning with Amos 3:1; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:1; Amos 5:18; Amos 6:1.

ADDRESS INTENDED PRIMARILY FOR THE RULING CLASSES Amos 3:1 to Amos 4:3.

Two fundamental religious misapprehensions of the common people were (1) that Jehovah was interested solely in the affairs of Israel, (2) that he was arbitrary in his dealings with men, especially in his dealings with Israel as compared with his treatment of other nations. Amos sets himself to rectify these misconceptions. He makes the attempt in chapters i and ii by showing that Jehovah’s rule extends over all nations. In Amos 3:1-2, he repeats the attempt in a more startling manner. That Jehovah had known Israel in a special sense, Amos does not question, but he does deny that the special care of Jehovah for the nation in the past is a guarantee of the continuation of the divine favor or of the nation’s safety irrespective of their present life and conduct. The prophet points out briefly that the popular belief is unwarranted, that the inferences drawn from the divine choice are false, that this choice brought to Israel certain privileges, and that these privileges involved special obligations. Since they failed to meet these obligations the fact of their divine choice only increased their guilt, and now makes inevitable their punishment by a righteous God.

This new and startling announcement would arouse derision and opposition. To ward off these the prophet proceeds to point out that, strange as the declaration may seem, it is of Jehovah (Amos 3:3-8). In 9ff. he calls upon the surrounding nations to testify against Israel. The privileges of Israel were superior to those of other nations, nevertheless their crimes are so heinous that they startle even heathen nations (Amos 3:9-10). This condition of affairs makes judgment inevitable (Amos 3:11-15). A special judgment will fall upon the luxury-loving and self-indulgent ladies of the capital, who are in part responsible for the prevailing corruption (Amos 4:1-3).

Verses 1-2

1, 2. Failure to recognize responsibilities brings judgment. If Amos 2:6-16, is called the thesis of the Book of Amos, Amos 3:1-2, may properly be called the thesis of Amos 3-6, for the four chapters are entirely given up to an expansion of the truth that the failure of Israel to recognize its obligations makes inevitable its doom.

Hear this word A solemn summons to pay strictest attention to the words of the prophet, for he is about to utter a divinely given message.

The whole family Both Israel and Judah, though Amos deals chiefly with Israel. Family nation (compare Amos 3:2; Micah 2:3). Brought up See on Amos 2:10.

Have I known And know still (G.-K., 106g). On the significance of know see on Hosea 8:4; here the word is used in a favorable sense, including choice and continuous care (Hosea 13:5; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 3:1). In a qualified sense Jehovah knew all the nations of the earth (Amos 9:7; compare Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:5). To this assertion of Amos the people would readily assent, but the inference drawn by the prophet would bring a surprise; they would have continued, “therefore he will always be on our side.” How different the prophet’s inference!

Therefore Because I have chosen and blessed you (compare Amos 2:9 ff.).

Punish “To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. The greater the measure of grace, the greater also is the punishment, if it is neglected or despised” (compare Jeremiah 7:3-15).

All No excuses will be countenanced, no mercy shown.

Verses 3-8

3-8. The prophet’s authority. Amos anticipated the startling effect of his message. Many would consider him a madman, and pay no attention to his words, unless he could convince them that they were indeed a message from Jehovah. This he attempts to do in Amos 3:3-8. By a series of illustrations he points out that every effect presupposes a cause (3-6); on this principle his prophesying presupposes that he is sent by Jehovah, who desires to make known beforehand his purpose (7, 8). The illustrations are taken from everyday life, and their very simplicity would make them impressive. It is gratuitous to call the philosophy underlying some of the illustrations unsound, or to bring forward exceptions which would invalidate the prophet’s argument. Neither the prophet nor his hearers were acquainted with the Christian philosophy of the twentieth century; they held the philosophic conceptions implied in the illustrations, and they were concerned with general rules rather than with exceptions; therefore to them the arguments would be convincing.

In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, this interpretation of Amos 3:3-8, which is accepted by most commentators, seems the most natural; the interpretation revived and defended at length by Harper, which considers 3-8 an announcement of the dissolution of the covenant relation between Jehovah and Israel and of the impending doom, is less probable.

Can [“shall”] two walk together, except they be [“have”] agreed? A symbolical or allegorical interpretation, “unless they are of the same mind or opinion,” is out of place. Hence it is useless to speculate whether the “two” are Jehovah and the prophet, or Jehovah and Israel, or Jehovah and Assyria, etc. Amos uses a simple illustration, which is to be understood literally. They be agreed is literally, they have pointed out to each other, that is, they have come to an agreement. The force of the question is, “Do any two men walk together unless they have previously agreed to meet and travel together?” Everyone familiar with conditions in Palestine would see the point. The roads are not always safe. Therefore a man does not travel alone if he can avoid it; but rather than join himself to a stranger or chance acquaintance, who might prove to be a robber, he remains by himself. Consequently, if two men are seen traveling together, the inevitable conclusion is that they have met by previous agreement. G.A. Smith says, “For there (in the wilds of Palestine) men meet and take the same road as seldom as ships at sea.”

Lion… young lion See on Hosea 5:14.

Roar The Hebrew has several words to describe the lion’s roar. The word used here denotes the roar of the lion as he springs upon the prey (Amos 1:2; Isaiah 5:29 a; Psalms 104:21).

Forest Or, jungle. The roar is an unfailing indication that the lion has found a prey.

Cry out Literally, give forth his voice; not, as before, the roar with which the lion springs upon his prey, but the “growl of satisfaction” uttered as he devours the prey. When this sound is heard the hearer knows that the prey has been taken.

In a snare upon the earth LXX, omits “in a snare,” and may be correct. If a bird falls pon the ground it proves that a gin or snare has been set for him. If “in a snare” is retained, “gin” would better be rendered “bait”; the whole clause, “and there is no bait to it,” which is a more literal rendering of the Hebrew. The word does at times designate the instrument with which birds are caught, but in general it means anything that allures to destruction (Exodus 23:33; Deuteronomy 7:16).

Shall one take up a snare from the earth Better, R.V., “shall a snare spring up from the ground.” By snare is meant a kind of clap net; its workings as described here would point to a trap similar to those used by the ancient Egyptians, which consisted of network spread over two flaps moving on a common axis, to which was attached a spring. The bait was placed upon this spring; when the bait was touched the two sides flew up from the ground and the net enveloped the bird. The springing up of the sides was evidence that something had touched the spring and was now entrapped.

Trumpet Or, horn (see on Hosea 5:8). The sounding of the horn was the danger signal; everyone knew when he heard it that danger was near, and was terrified.

Evil Not moral evil, but calamity or misfortune, such as famine or pestilence.

Jehovah hath not done it? The modern Christian may hesitate to say that Jehovah is directly responsible for every calamity and disaster. The ancient Hebrew knew no such hesitation, for he disregarded entirely what we are accustomed to call secondary causes, and ascribed every event, good or bad, the cause of which he could not perceive with his senses, to the direct activity of Jehovah (Amos 4:4 ff.; Isa 6:9-10 ; 2 Samuel 24:1 ff.).

To a pious Hebrew of ordinary intellect the illustrations adduced would be conclusive. The prophet now proceeds to apply the illustrations to the point in hand (8). He prepares the way by a statement of what he considers the general method of divine procedure (7). Jehovah, before undertaking anything, reveals his purpose to the prophet.

The Lord Jehovah See on Amos 1:8.

His secret His purpose.

His servants The prophets are so called because their duty was to carry out the divine commission (1 Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 9:7). Some may be inclined to consider this statement an exaggeration, yet the fact remains that every great crisis in Israel was accompanied by the appearance of one prophet or more (see on Amos 2:11). Now follows the application. The message of the prophet may seem strange; it is indeed startling, but there is a reason for it.

The lion hath roared A figure of Jehovah approaching for judgment (Hosea 13:7); he is ready to spring upon his prey; already his terrible roar may be heard (Amos 1:2); it is time to tremble. Hath spoken To reveal his secret (compare Amos 3:7); the prophet is bound to proclaim it.

Verses 9-10

9, 10. Summons of the surrounding nations. Amos 3:9 connects with Amos 3:2. The prophet, having presented his credentials, continues his message of denunciation and judgment. The iniquities for which judgment is to be executed (Amos 3:2) are so heinous that they startle even the heathen nations. These the prophet summons to testify against Israel. “Even the inhabitants of the great cities of Philistia and Egypt,” says Wellhausen, “who were by no means timid and could endure a great deal, would be amazed on seeing the mad confusion and injustice in Samaria.”

Publish The speaker is Jehovah, or the prophet in his name. No one in particular is addressed; the imperative is equivalent to “Let it be published,” by anyone in a position to do so.

In the palaces Literally, upon or over the palaces. Either from the high palaces, so that everyone may hear, or let the proclamation be spread over the palaces of the nobles. Since the condemnation fell chiefly upon the nobles of Samaria (Amos 3:11-15) it would seem fitting that the sentence should be announced in the presence of their equals.

Ashdod LXX., “Assyria.” Hosea frequently mentions Assyria and Egypt together, Amos never. Ashdod represents Philistia. Why he mentions Philistia and Egypt rather than other neighboring nations is not clear; perhaps because they, as long-time enemies of Israel, would rejoice most over the downfall of the latter.

Mountains of Samaria LXX., “mountain,” that is, the mountain upon which Samaria was built (Amos 4:1; Amos 6:1), and this is considered by many to be the original, but the present Hebrew text gives good sense. Samaria was situated upon a hill, which was surrounded on all sides by higher hills. From these outer elevations the witnesses were to behold the outrages in Samaria.

Samaria Founded as the capital of the northern kingdom by Omri (1 Kings 16:24), it remained the capital until the end of the kingdom in 722-721. It continued to exist even after that catastrophe, and Herod the Great, who practically rebuilt the city, called it Sebaste. Its site is identified with the modern es-Sebustieh, a village and ruin on a hill about six miles northwest of Shechem, in the center of Palestine.

Great tumults Confusions and disorders resulting from the violence of the ruling classes.

Oppressed Better, R.V., “oppressions” (Job 35:9); great is to be supplied (compare Amos 2:6-7). 9b may be rendered more forcibly, “And, behold! confusions manifold in the midst of her! oppressions to her very core!”

They know not to do right Literally, straight. Their sinful conduct has continued so long that their consciences have become seared and all sense of right has been lost; wrongdoing has become their second nature.

Violence and robbery That which is secured through violence and robbery.

In their palaces From now on it becomes clear whom Amos addresses, the nobles who are robbing their weaker fellow citizens.

Verses 11-15

11-15. The sentence. Jehovah will speedily send an enemy to avenge the wrongdoing; he will lay waste the corrupt city; even the altars of Beth-el will be overthrown. The sentence is introduced by the solemn “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah.”

Therefore Because of the utter corruption.

An adversary A word rendered more often “trouble” or “distress,” but “adversary” is most suitable here.

There shall be even round about the land This is undoubtedly the sense of the passage, but the Hebrew is awkward. A very slight change, supported by Peshitto, gives “shall surround the land.” With the land completely surrounded, every avenue of escape will be cut off.

He shall bring down thy strength May be rendered also, “thy strength shall be brought down” (G.-K., 144d.)

Strength Defenses, that is, the walls and the citadel; they will be torn down.

Thy palaces In which the plunder is stored.

Shall be spoiled The retribution is according to the lex talionis.

Following Amos 3:11 Harper reads Amos 3:15, then Amos 3:12-14, but there is no necessity for the transposition.

12. The people will be swept away, only a small fraction will escape.

Taketh R.V., “rescueth.” The Davids who could kill the wild beasts and save the lambs unharmed (1 Samuel 17:34-35) were the exception; ordinarily the lion devoured the prey.

Two legs Literally, shin bones.

Piece of an ear That is, small fragments which were overlooked by accident. As a shepherd Amos would be familiar with such happenings.

Children of Israel Perhaps not the whole nation, but the nobles of Samaria who are described in the following words.

Corner of a bed Better, R.V., “couch,” or divan. The divan in an Oriental home runs around three sides, the seat of honor being in the corner opposite the door, “where upon the usual cushions is set a smaller one, against which he may rest his head and take a nap” (Van Lennep, Bible Lands, 460, 461). The prophet evidently has in mind the extravagant, luxury-loving nobles of Samaria.

In Damascus in a couch R.V., “on the silken cushions of a bed.” Some Hebrew manuscripts and LXX. read “Damascus” (so A.V.), but the common Hebrew text has a word with a slightly different vocalization, the meaning of which is uncertain. Damascus is out of the question, since Amos is not concerned in this connection with inhabitants of a foreign Country. Most commentators read damask similarly R.V, “silken cushions” the fine material which derives its name from Damascus. However, it is very doubtful that in Amos’s day Damascus had already given its name to this material. Nevertheless, we expect a word of some such meaning, or possibly one parallel with corner.

In Amos 3:13-15 the judgment is announced once more, in the form of a proclamation.

Hear As in Amos 3:9, no one in particular is addressed.

This mode of expression is chosen for rhetorical purposes, to introduce in a more vivid and forceful manner the announcement of judgment.

Testify Announce solemnly (Genesis 43:3; Deuteronomy 4:26).

The house of Jacob Israel; here in the narrower sense, the northern kingdom.

The Lord Jehovah, the God of hosts The accumulation of divine titles indicates the solemnity of the announcement. On the first two see on Amos 1:8; on the whole title, which is used again in Amos 4:13; Amos 5:16; Amos 5:27; Amos 6:14, see on Hosea 12:5.

Amos 3:14-15 emphasize the completeness of the destruction. Not even the sanctuaries will escape.

Beth-el The chief sanctuary of the northern kingdom. Dan also enjoyed royal patronage (1 Kings 12:29), but the former was supreme. It was situated about ten miles north of Jerusalem, on the road to Nablus. Its name house of God testifies to its sanctity, and very early in Hebrew history it appears as a sacred place (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 35:7; 1 Samuel 10:3). It was at Beth-el that Amos delivered his message (Amos 7:13). The ruins of the old town, now called Beitin, lie on the summit of a hill sloping to the southeast, and cover three or four acres. It appears from this verse (compare Amos 2:8) that numerous altars were at Beth-el; whether they were all, nominally at least, consecrated to Jehovah, or whether some were sacred to other deities, is not certain probably the former.

Horns of the altar Important fixtures of the altar (Leviticus 4:7; Leviticus 4:18; Leviticus 4:30), which offered a place of refuge and safety (1 Kings 1:50-51; 1 Kings 2:28). When they are gone the last ray of hope must vanish. The horns of the altar are mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, but their origin is not yet satisfactorily explained. They were found also on altars outside of Israel. On a monument found in Teima, southeast of Edom, an altar is represented with horns curved like those of an ox, rising from the corner. With the sanctuaries the magnificent palaces of king and nobles will be destroyed.

Winter house… summer house To be understood as collectives; the summer residences and winter residences of king and nobles. For the latter compare Jeremiah 36:22; for the former Judges 3:20. Ordinarily the summer and winter houses do not appear to have been separate buildings, they were rather different parts of the same house. The upper rooms, if there are two stories, or the outside rooms, if there is but one story, are still the rooms occupied preferably in summer, while the lower story or inside rooms are preferred for winter (Thomson, The Land and the Book, 1: 478). In exceptional cases people have separate dwellings for summer and winter respectively (Van Lennep, Bible Lands, 115). The language here would seem to indicate separate dwellings. An Aramaic inscription found in Zinjirli, near Aleppo, furnishes an interesting parallel to these expressions. In it Bar-rekub, king of Sham’al, a vassal of Tiglath-pileser III, and therefore a younger contemporary of Amos, relates that he beautified his father’s house in honor of his ancestors; then he continues, “and it is for them a summer house and a winter house.”

Houses of ivory Houses whose walls are paneled or inlaid with ivory (1 Kings 22:39; compare Amos 6:4). Since ivory was very costly, only the wealthy could afford this luxury.

Great houses Or, magnificent (Amos 5:11; Amos 6:11); R.V. margin, “many houses.” The word is so rendered in Isaiah 5:9; if so here, it points to the wide extent of the threatened ruin.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Amos 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/amos-3.html. 1874-1909.