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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Amos 4

 

 

Verses 1-13

Amos 4

2. Punishment must come, since despite all Chastisements the People will not amend.

1Hear[FN1] this word, ye kine of Bashan,

Who are upon the mountain of Samaria,

Who oppress the poor,

Who crush the needy,

Who say to their lords,

Bring hither that we may drink.

2The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by his holiness,

Behold days are coming upon you,

When men will drag[FN2]you away with hooks

And the remnant[FN3] of you with fish-hooks.

3And through breaches[FN4] in the wall ye shall go out, every one before her[FN5]

And be cast forth[FN6] to Harmon[FN7] saith Jehovah.

4Go to Bethel and sin,—

To Gilgal,[FN8] and sin still more !

Bring every morning your sacrifices,

Every three days your tithes.

5 Offer[FN9] a praise-offering of what is leavened,

Call out for voluntary offerings, proclaim them !

For this liketh you,[FN10] O sons of Israel,

Saith the Lord, Jehovah.

6 And I, even I,[FN11] have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,

And want of bread in all your places;

And ye have not returned unto me, saith Jehovah.

7 And I, even I, have withheld the rain from you,

When there were yet three months to the harvest,

And have caused it to rain upon one city,

And cause it not to rain[FN12] upon another.

One field is rained upon,

And the field upon which it does not rain, withers.

8 And two, three cities stagger to one city

To drink water, and are not satisfied;

And ye have not returned unto me, saith Jehovah.

9 I have smitten you with blight and with mildew;

And the multitude[FN13] of your gardens and your vineyards,

And of your fig trees and olive trees, the locust devoured;

And ye have not returned to me, saith Jehovah.

10 I have sent pestilence among you in the manner of Egypt,[FN14]

I have slain your young men with the sword,

Together with the booty[FN15] of your horses,

And caused the stench[FN16] of your camps to ascend even into your noses,

And ye have not returned unto me, saith Jehovah[FN17].

11 I have overthrown among you,

As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,

And ye were like a brand plucked out of the burning;

And still ye have not returned unto me.

12Therefore thus will I do to thee, O Israel.

Because I will do this to thee,

Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

13For, behold, He that formeth the mountains and createth the wind.

And declareth to man what is his thought,

Who maketh dawn darkness,

And goeth over the high places of the earth,

Jehovah, God of hosts, is his name.

EXGETICAL AND CRITICAL.

1. Amos 4:1-3. Hear this, etc. Plundering and destruction had been threatened; here carrying away is added. They who are threatened are the same as in chap3. The comparison to kine of Bashan. i.e., strong, well-fed well agrees with the description of their extortions and their luxurious life in that chapter. They are compared to cows rather than bulls, manifestly because the latter figure would be too dignified for such persons as are intended. Perhaps their effeminacy is also hinted. But it is certainly wrong to understand the expression as meaning specifically the women of Samaria. For nothing characteristic of women is said of the great in general. Nor is the phrase who say to their lords, any objection to this view; for cows have their “lords,” and the term here means the king and the princes under whom the other great men are ranked. So the Targum, Jerome, Calvin, Maurer, and others.

Amos 4:2. The threat is introduced by an oath Jehovah swears by his holiness, for this perfection must desire the punishment of such an unholy life, Your remnant, what has not been dragged away with hooks. To understand this as meaning “posterity,” would require us to consider two generations as included in the punishment threatened, which is a thought foreign to the context.

The breaches in the walls, are those made at the capture of the city. [There will be no need to resort to the gates, for egress will be possible in every direction—C.] As to the much disputed Harmon, all the ancients and most of the moderns take it as a proper name,—Armenia, Rimmon, Hermon, etc. Kimchi, followed by Gesenius, Winer, Henderson, resolves the word by a change of its first letter into the term meaning palace or citadel, and renders “will be cast down as to the palace,” i. e., from it. Dr. Van Dyck in the New Arabic Bible, also takes it as appellative, and renders “to the citadel.”

2. Amos 4:4-5. Go to Bethel, etc. You will not arrest this judgment by your idolatrous worship, eagerly as you may pursue that worship. Such eagerness is only an enlargement of your sins. This thought is expressed in a manner bitterly ironical by a summons to greater zeal. Gilgal was, like Bethel, a seat of idol worship (cf. on Hosea 4:15). The whole passage is hyperbolical. “Even if you offered slain offerings every morning and tithe every three days, it would only increase your guilt.”

To the same effect in Amos 4:5 they are told, instead of being content with unleavened cakes, to offer also upon the altar even the leavened loaves which were not required by law to be consumed ( Leviticus 7:13-14). And so with the free-will offerings. Instead of leaving these to spontaneous impulses, they in their exaggerated zeal called out for them, published them. The words, for this liketh you, make a mock of this zeal. But the mock is subsequently turned into earnest. For men surely should not persist in such love and zeal for idolworship, after God had so often punished them for it.

3. Amos 4:6-11. All punishment hitherto had been in vain. This is shown in five instances, each concluding with the sorrowful refrain, and yet ye have not returned unto me, which strikingly display the love of Jehovah, who visits and punishes his people only to prevent the necessity of severer punishment.

(a.) Amos 4:6. And I also, etc. To what they did, the prophet sets in opposition what Jehovah did. Cleanness of teeth, because they had nothing to eat.

(b.) Amos 4:7-8. Withheld the rain when, etc. The latter rain is meant. As this fell in February and March, while the harvest occurred in May and June, the interval was reckoned in round numbers at three months. [“This is utterly ruinous to the hopes of the farmer. A little earlier or a little later would not be so fatal, but drouth three months before harvest is entirely destructive.” The Land and the Book, 2:66.] The withholding of rain is stated as partial, in order to show more distinctly that it was a divine ordering.

(c.) Amos 4:9. The third chastisement was a bad harvest, arising from a blight upon the cereal grains and the destruction of fruits by locusts.

(d.) Amos 4:10. The fourth chastisement was pestilence and war. For the grievous sufferings of Israel in the latter, see 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:7.

(e.) Amos 4:11. I overthrew, etc. This manifestly does not indicate a new chastisement in addition to the foregoing, but sums them all up in a single utterance. “The comparison of the doom of Ephraim to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, is a general indication of the greatness of their punishment (cf. Isaiah 1:9). The way in which the destruction of the cities of the plain is spoken of, plainly refers to Genesis 19:29, where occurs the word ‘overthrow,’ which became the standing phrase to describe this fearful fate Deuteronomy 29:22; Isaiah 1:7; Isaiah 13:19; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 50:40).” (Baur.) As a brand. The emphasis does not lie on the actual escape, but on i he fact that it was so narrow. The phrase vividly depicts the severity of their chastisements itherto; so much the more inexcusable are they or not having returned to the Lord.

4. Amos 4:12-13. Therefore thus will I, etc. Thus, but how is not said. “Thus,” is therefore to be regarded as a general threat, which is so much the more severe, because it is not stated what shall come, so that there is everything to fear. The punishment is indeed generally indicated in this chapter, as also in chapter3. But the chief point of the chapter is to recall the past hard-heartedness of Israel, not to describe their punishment, since there are only brief references to the judgment already mentioned, the full description of which is resumed in chap5. As yet it is only a threat: hence the summons, Prepare, etc, i. e., not to meet your doom, but to avert it by true repentance (cf. Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6). “To give the greater emphasis to this command, Amos 4:13 depicts God as the Almighty and Omniscient who creates prosperity and adversity.” (Keil.) “His thought” does not mean man’s thought, but God’s own, which He makes known by the prophets, i. e., his purpose to punish. [It seems more natural, as it is more in accordance with the uniform usage of the word שִֹׁיח to refer it to man. As Pusey says, “To Prayer of Manasseh, a sinner, far more impressive than all majesty of creative power is the thought that God knows his inmost soul. He declareth unto man his meditation, before he puts it into words.”] Treads upon the high places = rules over all, even the highest of earth. Finally the whole is confirmed by the lofty title of God as God of Hosts.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL.

1. “This discourse ( Amos 4:1-3) strikes at those who are in authority and practice violence at court and elsewhere. In them, unrighteousness in act concurs with great looseness in speech. The more violently men deal in matters of office and government, the more viciously do they proceed among their fellows, trying to stifle all humane feeling for others need and all complaints at the wrong that is done. But the more frivolous their talk, the more earnest is God in his counsel and oath against them; and as they have done much for the sake of advancing and enriching their posterity, so the judgment of God strikes them with their posterity.” (Rieger.)

2. “Since the prophet here attacks so severely the heads of the state, we are to consider that if a modern preacher were to do the same, it would be regarded as an insult and a calumny. But if a preacher out of a proper zeal should at times handle somewhat harshly acknowledged public offenders who can be reached in no other way, this is by no means to be deemed an unbecoming insult, for the same reproach would apply to the prophets, to our Lord Himself, and to his Apostles, all of whom often uttered severe language. When in any such case the rebuke aims only at the benefit of the persons concerned, it is not an impropriety or an outrage, but a work of love demanded by the preacher’s office, which is to censure the impenitent. This must he done not only upon the lowly but upon the lofty, and indeed the more upon the latter because thev do so much more harm when they act amiss.” (Wart. Bi.) It is a natural inference that such a thing should be done not in passion nor personal provocation, but really from a holy zeal against sin. But clear as the matter is so far, the more difficult is it in practice. One can only say, Let each man approve himself to God as to his inward feeling. The fear of man should not close the mouth to an open testimony against the high. But it docs not follow that an open mouth is always a token of zeal for God’s honor. Least of all is such a thing found in a mere copying of others, even though they be prophets. Nor should the difference between prophets and the preachers of our day be obliterated. With the courage to bear testimony must be united the courage to suffer on account of such testimony (cf. at chap3. Doct. and Eth2).

3. They who shamelessly transgress the simplest moral duties, develop along with this course a powerful religious zeal and cannot do enough in worship. An apparent contradiction, yet one confirmed a hundred times by experience; moral corruption and religious bigotry amalgamated! Yet is it altogether natural; the religious form covers over the moral nakedness and quiets the conscience; but this is certainly a horrible delusion. That it was a false worship in which the Israelites were so zealous, enhances their guilt, for it was an apostasy from Jehovah. But even a religiosity which is formally correct, may be used as a cover for wickedness, and be blended with moral corruption. Thus it is well to remember that religious zeal in itself is no proof that all is well.

4. God tries all means before proceeding to extremities. If benefits are not recognized, He sends chastisements. These in the first instance aim not at destruction, but at opening the eyes through the perception of the divine wrath so that men may repent and seek God. They are therefore as much tokens of grace as proofs of wrath. But if this aim is not reached, the forbearance of God ceases, and a decisive judgment steps forth. But this last is something extorted from God, it is against his real disposition; only with reluctance does He resolve upon it. He waits long in the hope that there will be a change and so the last step be unnecessary. Most clearly does the sorrowful love of God shine out from the vivid delineation of the prophet. National calamities, according to our chapter, are to be viewed as chastisements from God. This view does not conflict with the existence of natural causes, but recognizes God as the being in whose service these act. It sees in the course of the world, not the blind mechanism of a clock, but the work of a personal intelligent will, and considers the laws of that course as the thoughts of this will, which rules and governs the whole, the domain of the physical as well as that of the moral and spiritual, and naturally does not leave these to run on merely side by side, but puts them in constant and intimate relation and alternation with each other, so that physical life finds its highest aim in the loftier domain of moral and spiritual life. National calamities are only a lower degree of the revelation of God’s wrath. Heavy as they may be, they endanger only the material conditions of a nation’s life, and that in a superficial way from which there may be a recovery, but they do not imperil its essential being, which consists in its political “independence and freedom.” That a nation is determined to maintain and guard this, that it considers the loss of it the last punishment from God’s hand, comes forth very clearly as the prophet’s view: A nation therefore should defend this against the attack of a foreign foe. But it is equally clear that where the inner conditions, piety and righteousness, no longer exist, there all pains to preserve independence are vain. God gives the power and victory to the foes. What enemies do, that God himself does through them (cf. Amos 2:13; Amos 3:15). Here also there is no denial of the nearer causality, that of the human will. But while man is doing only his own will, he at the same time does the will of God, acts as his instrument, and serves his aims, which are the highest, the only absolute ones.

5. With a short but lofty delineation of God’s transcendent greatness and almighty power, the prophet concludes the chapter, showing that Jehovah is one who speaks with emphasis and can execute his threatenings. It is as beautiful poetically as it is profound theologically. It exhibits an elevation and depth in the conception of God, which permits a very definite conviction as to the strength and clearness of the divine manifestation made to Israel. As thus controlling all things, God is called the God of Hosts. Observe how fond Amos is of this phrase in the vehement outpouring of indignation in the chaps3–6, cf. Amos 3:13, Amos 4:13, Amos 5:16; Amos 5:27, Amos 6:8; Amos 6:14. Here Jehovah appears as One who towers above all creaturely existences, who rules the highest spheres of might, against whom therefore nothing can avail, around whom everything stands ready to execute his will. He is not the national God of Israel alone, but the God of the world. Hence He is not merely a natural force which builds and again destroys, but a personal God who acts according to his own “thought,” which He makes known to men. And as such a personal, self-conscious, self-active being, He stands in constant relations with his personal creatures.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

[ Amos 4:1. Who oppress the poor. He upbraids them not for fierceness, but for a more delicate and wanton unfeelingness, the fruit of luxury, fullness of head, a life of sense, which destroy all tenderness, dull the mind, deaden the spiritual sense. They did not directly oppress, perhaps did not know that it was done; they sought only that their own thirst for luxury and self-indulgence should be gratified, and knew not, as those at ease often know not now, that their luxuries are continually watered by the tears of the poor, tears shed almost unknown except by the Maker of both. But He counts willful ignorance no excuse. (Pusey.)

Amos 4:2. Behold, days are coming. God’s day and eternity are ever coming. They are holding on their steady course. Men put out of their minds what will come. Therefore God so often in his notices of woe brings to mind that those days are ever coming; they are not a thing which shall be only; in God’s purpose they already are, and with one uniform, steady noiseless tread are coming upon the sinner. (Ibid.)

Amos 4:4. Go to Bethel and sin, etc. Words uttered in bitter irony and indignation, as Ezekiel says ( Ezekiel 20:39), “Go ye, serve every one his idols,” and our Lord, “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers” ( Matthew 23:32). It is a characteristic of idolatry and schism, to profess extraordinary zeal for God’s worship and go beyond the letter and spirit of his law by arbitrary will-worship and self-idolizing fanaticism. (Wordsworth.)

Amos 4:5. Call out for voluntary offerings, etc. The profuseness of idolaters in the service of their false gods may shame our strait-handedness in the service of the true and living God. (M. Henry.)]

Amos 4:6 ff. Have given you cleanness of teeth, etc. Before, we had a thoughtful appeal to God’s mercies; now his chastisements are enumerated. These are the two chief evidences of God’s approach to a people, a community, a family, or even an individual, in love or in sorrow, and what fruits one or the other has borne (Rieger). [And ye have not returned unto me. By repeating this sorrowful ejaculation four times ( Amos 4:6; Amos 4:9-11), God emphatically declares the loving design of his chastisement of Israel. (Wordsworth.)

Amos 4:7-8. The preaching of the Gospel is as rain; God sometimes blesses one place with it more than another; some countries, some cities are like Gideon’s fleece, wet with this dew while the ground around is dry; all withers where this rain is wanting. But it were well if people were but as wise for their souls as they are for their bodies, and, when they have not this rain near them, would go and seek it where it is to be had. If they seek aright, they shall not seek in vain. (M. Henry.)]

Amos 4:9. Of what avail are judgments? Men now are as little influenced by them as Israel of old. They do not believe they are punishments, much less that they are sent for the causes assigned. They deem them accidental, or else invent other causes, and even ascribe droughts, floods, hail, caterpillars, etc, to witchcraft and sorcery, in the face of the Scripture which expressly attributes such plagues to God. (Wurt. Bible.) [Ordinarily, God makes his sun to arise upon the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, but He does not enslave himself to his own laws. There are variations, and in his Word He reveals to us the meaning of his daily variations in the workings of nature. (Pusey.)

Amos 4:10. After the manner of Egypt. Israel, having sinned like Egypt, was to be punished like Egypt. One of the threatenings in Deuteronomy in case of disobedience was ( Deuteronomy 28:27), The Lord shall smite thee with the botch of Egypt. (Ibid.)

Amos 4:11. I have overthrown, etc. The earthquake is reserved to the last as the most special visitation, It is at all times the more terrible, because unseen, unannounced, instantaneous, complete. The ground under a man’s feet seems no longer secure, his shelter is his destruction; men’s houses become their graves. War, pestilence, and famine seldom break in at once. The earthquake at once buries it may be, thousands, each stiffened (if it were so), in that his last deed of evil; each household with its own form of misery; each in its separate vault,—dead, dying, crushed, imprisoned. (Ibid.)

Amos 4:12. Thus will I do unto thee. God having said this is silent as to what He will do; that so Israel hanging in suspense as having before him each sort of punishment—which are the more terrible because he imagines them one by one,—may indeed repent, that God inflict not what He threatens. (Jerome.)]

Amos 4:13. He that formeth the mountains, etc. This noble description of God on one hand arouses the conscience to appreciate his threatenings and renounce all vain confidence, and on the other encourages the heart to come again into communion with such a God by sincere conversion. (Rieger.) [If He be such a God as He is here described to be, it is folly to contend with Him, and our duty and interest to make our peace with Him; it is good having Him our friend, and bad having Him our enemy. (M. Henry.)]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Amos 4:1.—שִׁמעוּ for שְׁמַענָה, because the verb stands first. Cf. Isaiah 32:11.

FN#2 - Amos 4:2.—נִשָּׂא is Piel, as in 1 Kings 9:11. Green’s Grammar, § 164, 2. כִי pleonastic, like the Greek ὅτι, in direct address.

FN#3 - Amos 4:2.—אחרִית׳ is not posterity (Fürst, Henderson), but remnant, “all even to the very last.” Cf. Hengstenberg, Christol., i367.]

FN#4 - Amos 4:3.—פְרָצִים is accusative of place.

FN#5 - Amos 4:3.—נֶגְדָּהּ, i.e., without turning to the right or the left.” Cf. Joshua 6:5-20.

FN#6 - Amos 4:3.—ה,הִשְׁלַכתֶנָה—is simply the fall form of the pronoun, added here to obtain a similarity of sound with the preceding verb. The Hiphil form is found in all the MSS. save one, and is defended by Hitzig, Ewald, etc, but as it is very harsh, it is better, with the LXX, Syr, Sym, Vulgate, and Arabic, to take it as Hophal (Jerome, Fürst, Keil, etc.).

FN#7 - Amos 4:3.—ההרמ׳. This hapax legom. is not yet satisfactorily explained, although almost every possible interpretation has been given. The final letter appears to be ה local, and in that case the word indicates the place into which the fugitives are cast. But where that place is none can say; we have only conjectures, for which see Keil and Henderson in loc.

FN#8 - Amos 4:4.—“Gilgal” is in the accusative after “go” understood from the preceding clause. “Every three days,” is the literal rendering adopted by Ibn Esra, Rosenmüller, Maurer, Keil, etc. Kimchi gives it as E. V, and is followed by Henderson. The LXX, Vulgate, and Luther agree with Ibn Esra.

FN#9 - Amos 4:5.—קַטֵר, infin. absol. used for the imper.

FN#10 - Amos 4:5.—“For this liketh you.” This fine archaism seems preferable to the marginal equivalent of the E. V, “So ye love.”]

FN#11 - Amos 4:6.—The first personal pronoun, when separately expressed in Hebrew, is always emphatic; hence the repetition in the version, “I, even I.”]

FN#12 - Amos 4:7.—אַמְטִיר. The imperfects from here on are used as the historical present to give life to the description.

FN#13 - Amos 4:9.—הַרִבוֹת, infin. const. used as a substantive = multitude.

FN#14 - Amos 4:10.—“In the manner of Egypt,” because pestilence is epidemic in Egypt ( Isaiah 10:24-26).

FN#15 - Amos 4:10.—עִמ שְׁבִי is usually explained: “together with the carrying away of your horses,” so that even your horses were carried away. But Keil renders it concrete = the booty, so that even the horses that were captured, perished.

FN#16 - Amos 4:10—וּבְאַפְּכֶם—even into your nostrils, “like as a memorial of their sins” (Hitzig).

FN#17 - Amos 4:13.—עשִֹׁה׳, may be, who turns the dawn into darkness, or, by asyndeton, who makes dawn, darkness. i.e., both. [The latter is preferred by Calvin, is expressed in the LXX, and is said by Henderson to be the reading of more than twenty of Kenmcott’s MSS.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Amos 4:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/amos-4.html. 1857-84.

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