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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Amos 2

 

 

Verses 1-3

6). YHWH’s Judgment On Moab (Amos 2:1-3).

Unlike the remainder Moab are not condemned for any action against God’s people. Rather they are condemned for their deliberate desecration of the bones of the king of Edom. It was not honourable cremation that was being condemned, but an act of flagrant and vicious mistreatment of the dead (contrast 2 Kings 9:34 even of Jezebel). The idea was probably in order to prevent the possibility for him of decent burial (compare Isaiah 14:19-20) or even possibly to prevent his dimly surviving in a shadowy form in the underworld (see Ezekiel 32:18-32). We can compare Marcus Aurelius’ similar treatment of the Christian martyrs of Lyons, which was a foolish attempt to prevent their resurrection. It was an attempt to strike at the very root of YHWH’s final right to decide what became of men beyond the grave.

Amos 2:1-3

“Thus says YHWH.

For three transgressions of Moab, yes, for four,

I will not turn away his punishment,

Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime.

But I will send a fire on Moab,

And it will devour the palaces of Kerioth,

And Moab will die with tumult,

With shouting, and with the sound of the ram’s horn,

And I will cut off the judge from among him,

And will slay all his princes with him,

Says YHWH.”

So sixthly YHWH has spoken against Moab, Ammon’s brother tribe. The fact that they would be punished for ‘three transgressions, and for four’, indicated that more was in mind than the sole desecration of the king of Edom’s body. That was rather selected out as an indication of their basic inhumanity in their continual warfare against Edom and Israel. The line of fortresses built between Moab and Edom was a reminder of their constant enmity. The description was possibly seen as also indicating similar atrocious treatment meted out to Israelites who were on Moab’s northern border, but it would certainly appear to have in mind an outstanding crime which had become a byword around that time, something seen as depicting the callousness and hardheartedness of Moab (compare 2 Kings 3:27 for another Moabite action which shocked Israel to the core) . Even the bloodthirsty Jehu had not been prepared to do anything like that to the body of a king’s daughter (2 Kings 9:34), even one so depraved as Ahab’s wife Jezebel. For a description of further vicious treatment of Israelites by Moab see Mesha’s boasts in the Moabite Stone. It is, however, especially significant that it was YHWH’s concern over the treatment of the king of Edom that was focused on. It emphasised YHWH’s position in Amos’s eyes as ‘Judge of all the earth’ (Genesis 18:25), and His watch over all the descendants of Abraham.

The consequence for Moab would be that the palaces in their capital city of Kerioth would be ‘devoured’, and Moab would be overwhelmed by a victorious army. This would include their king who as their ‘judge’ was responsible for ‘justice’ (an emphasis stressing the greatness of his subsequent crime) and all his princes. And this would be at the word of YHWH.

Thus as we come to the end of God’s dealings with the six nations on the borders of Israel/Judah we are presented with a picture of total judgment on the whole area, something largely carried out by the Assyrians, and finally fulfilled in later history. The delay in the coming of this judgment on these nations (for these transgressions had taken place over centuries) was presumably because their iniquity was not yet seen as ‘full’ (Genesis 15:16). They were still therefore being given time to repent. From Amos’s point of view it was a description of a ‘universal’ conflagration over all the land personally allocated by YHWH. This is one reason why the oracles must all be seen as given together. They are intended to present a total picture.


Verse 4-5

7). YHWH’s Judgment On Judah (Amos 2:4-5).

But while ‘YHWH’s people’ no doubt prided themselves on being superior morally to those round about, they were now to discover to their horror that they too would be subject to YHWH’s judgment. Thus the seventh of those who came under YHWH’s judgment (not including Israel) was Judah. Their crime is totally different from those that have gone before because they were an especially privileged people. But that did not mean that they would escape judgment. They saw themselves as different in that they had the Law of YHWH, and even boasted of the fact. But the truth was that it was this privilege that condemned them. They may not outwardly have sunk as low as the other nations, but their privileged position gave them a huge responsibility which they had failed to fulfil. They would be punished because they had rejected the Law of YHWH, had not kept His statutes, and had allowed themselves to be led astray by the lies in which their fathers had walked, the lies that had excused syncretistic worship and a softening of God’s requirements.

In the same way nominal Christians need to recognise that God requires more of them than He does of non-Christians. By taking the name of Christ they are committing themselves to a higher level of morality, the standard by which they will be judged.

Amos 2:4-5

“Thus says YHWH.

For three transgressions of Judah, yes, for four,

I will not turn away their punishment,

Because they have rejected the law of YHWH,

And have not kept his statutes,

And their lies have caused them to err,

After which their fathers did walk.

But I will send a fire on Judah,

And it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem.”

So seventhly YHWH has spoken to Judah. Judah, like Israel, were the people who had been delivered out of Egypt and given the land of the Amorites (Amos 2:9-10), and who had been given the Law of YHWH. Their crime, more heinous than all the rest, was that they had rejected that Law (Instruction) and had not kept His statutes. They had had great privilege and had failed. They had spoken lies and listened to lies, and those lies, which they had inherited from their fathers, had caused them to go astray. It is a reminder to us of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that we must hear His words and DO them (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:24; Matthew 7:26). We especially have been privileged to receive His instruction. If we do not obey them we too will face judgment, for it will be a sign that, whatever our claims, we have not accepted Him as our LORD Jesus Christ.

Thus while Judah had the Law of YHWH, and even the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, they shared the condemnation of the nations round about because their gross sin was their unwillingness to observe His revealed Law and obey it, and to worship truly in His holy Temple. Great privilege brings great responsibility. In consequence they also would similarly suffer the fires of judgment, and the wealth of Jerusalem would be devoured.

It will be noted again that Judah shares the shortened form previously followed in the cases of Tyre and Edom. In the case of Tyre and Edom that had been in order to link them with Philistia in their joint slave-trading operation. Here with Judah it may well have been in order to avoid any suggestion of the cessation of the house and sceptre of David which YHWH had promised would be ‘forever’.

Making Judah the seventh in the list alongside the foreign nations was a brilliant move. It demonstrated that disobedience to the covenant was equally as appalling as the other sins described and paralleled Israel’s own position in a way in which none of the other nations could. Moreover an Israel who probably felt that Judah saw itself as superior in that it had the YHWH approved Central Sanctuary and the house of David, would be only too willing to condemn their southern neighbour without thinking too much about what it involved for themselves. As Amos’ message was basically to northern Israel there is nothing incongruous in speaking of Judah here as separate from Israel, even though, as with all the prophets, in the end Amos saw Israel and Judah as one. As we shall see he can moves smoothly from the one position to the other to suit his convenience.


Verses 6-8

Examples Of Some Of Israel’s Transgressions (Amos 2:6-8).

He commenced his condemnation by outlining different ways in which they had broken YHWH’s Law (in the same way as Judah had done). They had flagrantly gone against His word.

Amos 2:6-8

“Thus says YHWH.

For three transgressions of Israel, yes, for four,

I will not turn away their punishment,

Because they have sold the righteous for silver,

And the needy for a pair of shoes.

“Those who pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor,

And turn aside the way of the meek,

And a man and his father go in to the same maiden,

To profane my holy name,

And on clothes taken in pledge they lay themselves down,

Beside every altar,

And they drink the wine of such as have been fined,

In the house of their God.”

Amos’s indictment of Israel was comprehensive and severe. While they were relaxing, enjoying their prosperity, Amos was determined to bring home to them the true position about themselves which was that although they thought that they were being religiously pleasing to YHWH, the fact was that all the time they were arousing His anger, even while they were worshipping.

The repetition of the introductory words ‘for three transgressions and for four’ demonstrated that he wanted them to apply what had previously been said to others to their own situation as well. They too had overflowed with transgressions. While they may not have directly indulged in the slave trade, they had undoubtedly equally sold men into slavery, for they had sold ‘the righteous’ for silver, and ‘the needy’, for a pair of shoes. In other words they had harshly foreclosed on debtors, selling them into bondage in order to obtain payment of their debts, when what they should have done was shown mercy (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). Consequently they too had been inhumane, and were slave traders in their own way. Note the reference to ‘the righteous’. This referred to those who did still seek to follow the Law of YHWH and to do what was ‘right’. And these were found mainly among the poor. Thus those whom YHWH truly loved were being mistreated, and all for the sake of silver.

The selling of the needy ‘for a pair of shoes’ may indicate the smallness of the debts for which they were sold (the value of a pair of shoes), or may be indicating that they had been sold off simply so that the vendors could obtain for themselves a pair of shoes, which otherwise they would had to expend their own money on. (It is unlikely to have in mind the symbolic use of the sandal in Deuteronomy 25:9-10; Ruth 4:8 because in those cases only one sandal was involved).

The social transgressions of Israel were then expanded on. They ‘pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor’. The picture is a vivid one and deliberately exaggerated. They are so greedy after land that they cannot even bear to see the poor workman walking away with soil on his hair without straining every sinew to obtain it. In other words they are determined to grab every bit of land available, however small, by fair means or foul, usually foul. (The amendment of the text in the MT to read ‘trample’ (reading suph rather than s’ph) is not necessary and is at the expense of this very vivid picture, although the final meaning is the same). Others see it as meaning that they pant to see the dust of the earth poured onto the head of the poor as deceitful judges give verdicts against them. Furthermore, they ‘turn aside the way of the meek’, that is, by arranging for them not to receive justice in respect of their tiny bits of land (compare Proverbs 17:23). In Israel it was the meek who should have inherited the land (Psalms 37:11), but instead the land-grabbers were busy at work, and they did not mind how they got what they wanted. All this was contrary to Deuteronomy 15:1-11.

Then followed a list of further specific transgressions of the Law :

And a man and his father go in to the same maiden,

To profane my holy name.

This may refer to both father and son sharing the same cult prostitute (so prominent a feature of Baalism), or the misuse by both of a helpless servant girl, or a father insisting on his right as head of the family to have sex with his son’s wife, or a son marrying his deceased father’s beautiful young second wife. Whichever way it was, it was contrary to the Law which banned such behaviour (Leviticus 18:15; Leviticus 20:12; Deuteronomy 22:30) and also protected servant girls (Exodus 21:7-11; Deuteronomy 22:28-30). Note that this kind of sin above all was seen as so abhorrent that it profaned YHWH’s holy Name (consider the similar phrase in Leviticus 18:21 which was clearly seen by Amos as covering all the previous verses). It is a reminder of how seriously God treats sexual sins.

And on clothes taken in pledge they lay themselves down,

Beside every altar,

An outer robe taken in pledge from a poor man had to be returned to its owner for his use at night (Exodus 22:25-27; Deuteronomy 24:12), and in some cases must not be taken at all (Deuteronomy 24:17). But these people were so sinful that they flagrantly presented themselves before God at nightfall at the feasts, laying down before the altar wearing these very garments that they had taken in pledge. They thus (without meaning too, it was all done callously) flaunted their disobedience before YHWH at a time when they fondly believed that they were honouring Him.

And they drink the wine of such as have been fined,

In the house of their God.”

The purpose of fining was in order to make restitution to the victim (Exodus 21:19; Exodus 21:30; Exodus 21:34; Exodus 22:14; Deuteronomy 22:19). But here these Israelites were using the fines to finance their own drinking habit rather than in compensating the victim. And they were doing it in the very house of God. ‘TheirGod’ may be Amos’s way of indicating that the god that they worshipped was not the real YHWH at all.


Verses 6-16

YHWH’s Judgment on Israel (Amos 2:6-16).

While this judgment on Israel certainly initially follows the previous sevenfold pattern it is distinctive in that it manifestly then goes on to break it. There is no mention in it of judgment by fire, which must be seen as deliberate. Amos clearly intended that we should recognise the message of the sevenfold declarations of judgment and then apply it as a whole to Israel. Israel also were to recognise that they could not separate themselves off from YHWH’s coming judgment, nor could they claim to be excluded from it on the grounds that they were not as bad as other nations, for the example of Judah was totally relevant to them. Indeed Judah were superior to them because they still held to the Central Sanctuary and acknowledged their responsibility to observe the covenant (even if they did not actually do it). Thus Israel were caught up in the condemnation of Judah We can almost see them as previously following Amos’s dissertation step by step and nodding at each stage, only to be brought up short, firstly by what he said about Judah, and then finally by its application to themselves. Thus Amos now wanted to expand on what he had prophesied and make clear that it was also applicable to themselves.


Verses 9-12

They Had Transgressed In Spite Of All That YHWH Had Done For Them (Amos 2:9-12).

YHWH then described how great their debt was to Him. The land over which they were transgressing was the very land which He had graciously given to them, land which had belonged to the Amorites (Canaanites) whom He had destroyed before them, and it was in order to give them this land that He had brought them out of Egypt. How careful then they should have been to see that they used that land in accordance with His commandments. Furthermore they had no excuse for he had given them prophets and Nazirites to guide them in the right way. But what had they done? They had forbidden the prophets to prophesy, and had made the Nazirites break their vows (Numbers 6:3). Thus they had misused all YHWH’s gifts, and scorned His provision.

We also have been given both physical and spiritual provision by God, and the question also for us is as to whether we use it generously and sincerely, or whether we misuse our material possessions and neglect our spiritual provision.

Amos 2:9

“Yet I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks, yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.”

YHWH now describes how it was He Who had destroyed ‘the Amorite’ from before them. In this context ‘Amorite’ is parallel in use to ‘Canaanite’ and includes all the inhabitants of Canaan. Those whose height had been ‘like the height of cedars’ were the sons of the Anakim which they had come across in Hebron and the mountains of Judah (Numbers 13:32-33; Joshua 15:14). And God had given Israel victory over them (the whole of Israel including Judah is in mind here), attacking them from every angle, as a tree-specialist attacks both the seed producing flowers and the roots of trees in order to prevent them spreading. He had done a total annihilation job on them.

The Amorites were destroyed when after centuries of gross sin their iniquities had come to the full (Genesis 15:16). There is probably a suggestion here that Israel’s iniquities were now similarly coming to a full.

Amos 2:10

“Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.”

And even before that He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, and had led them for forty years in the wilderness, watching over them and protecting them, feeding them and healing them. And this had been precisely so that they could possess the land of the Amorites. Thus it had been a carefully thought out plan which had been carried through effectively over a long period.

Note the sudden switch to ‘you’ to make the words more direct and personal. He does not want them to think of it just in the third person.

Amos 2:11

“And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not even thus, O you children of Israel? says YHWH?”

And after that initial period of bringing forth and leading, in order to help them to keep faithful He had raised up from among them numerous prophets and Nazirites. Prophets were those raised by YHWH to bring to them ‘the word of YHWH’. These had included Moses, Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, and many other men of God (described, for example, in Kings and Chronicles). Nazirites were men who were especially dedicated to YHWH, and were thus by their lives witnesses to His holiness (Numbers 6:1 onwards). Examples of such were Samson and Samuel (Judges 13:5; 1 Samuel 1:11).

Amos 2:12

“But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘Do not prophesy’.”

But instead of benefiting by YHWH’s provision they had sought to get the Nazirites drunk in contravention of their vows, and had silenced the prophets, telling them not to prophesy. They had not wanted a good example, nor to hear the true word of YHWH. This applies whether the Nazirites were willing or not. Thus they had deliberately repudiated YHWH by silencing His messengers in one way or the other.


Verses 13-16

The Certainty of His Judgment On Israel. It Will Be Such That It Will Be Inescapable (Amos 2:13-16).

Israel’s judgment is now described in terms of being run over by a heavy cart, fully loaded, and it will be something from which there will be no escape. They will find themselves face to face with YHWH’s steamroller. As a result they will find themselves fading in strength, and discover that neither their armaments nor their speed of foot nor their horses will save them. Even the most courageous warrior, will flee in panic in that day.

Amos 2:13

“Behold, I will press you in your place, as a cart presses that is full of sheaves.”

In the day of His judgment they will be squashed under the wheels of YHWH’s anger, in the same way as a cart that is full of sheaves, and therefore very heavy, squashes anything that gets in its way, or tears up the ill-prepared road. Alternately the idea may be that they will get bogged down, as a cart that is full of sheaves gets bogged down on the ill-made road.

Amos 2:14

“And flight will perish from the swift, and the strong will not strengthen his force, nor will the mighty deliver himself,”

Nor will any natural advantage be of any use in that day, for the judgment will be inevitable on all. The swift runners will discover that they are too weak to run, those who are strong will be unable to call on their strength and make it work for them, and even the mighty warrior, or those mighty enough to employ powerful bodyguards, will be unable to deliver themselves, because of YHWH’s displeasure at them. Note the contrast with Isaiah 41:28-29 for those with whom YHWH is pleased.

Amos 2:15

“Nor will he stand who handles the bow, and he who is swift of foot will not deliver himself, nor will he who rides the horse deliver himself,”

The bowman will discover in that day that his bow is of little use to him when he is on the run. The swift of foot will discover that they are not speedy enough to avoid YHWH’s judgment. Those who have horses to flee on will discover that it will not avail them. They will be unable to deliver themselves. Once YHWH moves in to punish them, all their protective methods in which they have trusted will prove in vain.

Amos 2:16

“And he who is courageous among the mighty will flee away naked in that day, says YHWH.”

And even the bravest among the mighty warriors will flee in that day, flinging their armour and robes from them so that they can flee faster. But they will flee in vain (Amos 2:15). And it is a day that is certain for it is confirmed by the word of YHWH.

In fact on the death of Jeroboam II things would rapidly come to a head, and it would not be many years (another forty years or so) before Samaria would be in ruins, and the cream of the people would be transported to Assyria and Media (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 15:29). The people no doubt thought that Amos was exaggerating. But they would soon discover that his words were only too true.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Amos 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/amos-2.html. 2013.

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Monday, July 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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