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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Amos 5

 

 

Verses 1-3

Opening Lamentation. Amos Pronounces A Funeral Dirge Over Israel (Amos 5:1-3).

Amos now looks ahead into the future and proclaims a funeral dirge over Israel because her hope has gone (unless she repents). He looks ahead and sees her as having received her deathblow.

Amos 5:1

‘Hear you this word which I take up for a lamentation over you, O house of Israel.’

‘Hear you this word’ is indicative of a break in the narrative (compare Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1). He is taking up a new theme. For having warned of what is coming Amos now sees it as having already come, and mourns for Israel in her passing (he has no joy in what will happen to them).

Amos 5:2

“The virgin of Israel is fallen,

She shall no more rise,

She is cast down upon her land,

There is none to raise her up.”

The fall of a virgin was seen as a disaster in Israel. Here Israel is seen as lying in misery on the ground having lost her virginity as a result of war and of her own misbehaviour and thus having lost all hope because any who could have sustained her have gone. She will not rise for she is in despair and has nothing to rise for. She has cast herself inconsolably down on the ground recognising her ruin, and will be left there to suffer in her misery because there is no one who will raise her up. The only One Who could do so is the One Whom she has spurned. Compare the vivid description of Jerusalem in Isaiah 51:17-23 and of Babylon in Isaiah 47:1-15.

There is something especially poignant about her having been ‘cast down on her land’. That land was Israel’s inheritance from YHWH, but instead it has become their graveyard.

Amos 5:3

“For thus says the Lord YHWH,

The city which went forth a regiment (a thousand),

Will have a company (a hundred) left,

And that which went forth a company (hundred),

Will have a platoon (a ten) left, to the house of Israel.”

And the reason for the virgin’s distress will be because of what has happened to her. This is pictured in terms of Israel’s inability to defend herself. The city who watched their proud regiments march forth with ram’s horns blaring, will have watched them return decimated, having been reduced to a mere company, while the smaller cities who sent a company will only have seen part of a platoon returning. That is all that would be left to the house of Israel. And it found its fulfilment, firstly in the rape of Israel which resulted in only Samaria being left (2 Kings 15:29), and then in the rape of Samaria, when the cream of the nation were transported (2 Kings 17:6) leaving only a straggled remnant, truly a despoiled virgin. Compare Deuteronomy 28:68.


Verses 1-17

A Lamentation Over Israel (Amos 5:1-17).

While speaking powerfully Amos had no joy in what was to happen to Israel, and having pronounced judgment on them, he now laments what must necessarily be their end if they do not repent. It demonstrates that underneath his iron words he had a tender heart. That there was opportunity to repent comes out in the continual repetition of the call to ‘seek YHWH’ and to ‘seek goodness’, and ‘live’, which is a theme of the passage (Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6; Amos 5:14). But Amos has little hope of it happening, which is why he pronounces this dual funeral dirge, although combining it with a call to repentance, over them. The passage is in the form of a chiasmus, further emphasising its unity.

a Opening lamentation (1-3).

b A first call to repentance (4-6).

c A first indictment on Israel (Amos 5:7).

d A call to consider YHWH’s glory and power (Amos 5:8-9).

c A further indictment on Israel (Amos 5:10-13).

b A further call to repentance (Amos 5:14-15).

a A further lamentation ( Amos 5:16-17).


Verses 4-6

The Call To Repentance And Rejection Of The False Sanctuaries (Amos 5:4-6).

YHWH therefore calls Israel to repentance before it is too late. If only they will repent and truly seek Him they will live, and avoid His fire of judgment which could otherwise break out on them. But this will not be by turning to their present sanctuaries, which can offer them no hope. Rather they need to seek to YHWH. Note the deliberate paring off of the false sanctuaries one by one. The description commences with three (Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba), sinks to two (Bethel and Gilgal) and ends as one (Bethel). One by one the sanctuaries have been removed from consideration. Beersheba would, of course, initially be safe from the depredations of Assyria, being in the Negeb south of Judah. But it would not benefit them at such a distance and was the first to be removed from the picture. It would not join the others in being destroyed. Meanwhile the full force of the invasion would come on Bethel and Gilgal, and both would be nullified until only Bethel was left, and that simply in order to be burned up.

Amos 5:4-6

“For thus says YHWH to the house of Israel,

‘Seek you me, and you will live,’

But do not seek Beth-el,

Nor enter into Gilgal,

And do not pass to Beer-sheba,

For Gilgal will surely go into exile,

And Beth-el will come to nought.”

Seek YHWH, and you will live,

Lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,

And it devour, and there be none to quench it in Beth-el.”

The call to repentance is for the whole house of Israel, and is a personal call from YHWH, and the repetition of ‘seek YHWH and live’ brings out the urgency of the demand. They must turn from their false worship and their syncretistic sanctuaries to Him. It is interesting that Israelites still frequented a sanctuary in Beersheba in the Negeb. This possibly arose because of the connection of the tribe of Simeon (who had previously settled there) with Israel. The history of Simeon, which we know little about, was probably very complicated as the tribe had originally been in danger of being absorbed by Judah and yet was later seen as, at least partially, having retained its identity, and as part of the ‘ten tribes’. It suggests that a migration took place of some of the tribe to the north, while retaining a connection with Beersheba, a sanctuary which would also be a reminder of their patriarchal connections (with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel).

So their old sanctuaries were forbidden to them. But they were not called on to seek to Jerusalem. They were called on truly to seek YHWH. No doubt there were still ‘sons of the prophets’ around who could help them (in contrast with the cult prophets), as there had been in the days of Elisha some years before. There they could discover how to engage in true worship. Indeed it would clearly be useless to seek to the old syncretistic sanctuaries, for they would be taken over by the Assyrians and brought to nothing. Their only hope therefore was to seek the living God, ‘lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph’. The house of Joseph strictly represented Ephraim and Manasseh, but like ‘Ephraim’ could be used of all Israel as they made up the majority of it. And the fire would be unquenchable.

There is a play on words with regard to Gilgal. ‘Gilgal will surely go into exile’ is glgl glh yglh. And Beth-el will become awen (‘trouble’). Thus Beth-el would become Beth-awen (Bethaven - the house of trouble), as in Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5.


Verse 7

The First Indictment On Israel (Amos 5:7)

Amos followed up his appeal to Israel to repent with a reminder of why they needed to repent. It was because they were those who turned justice into something bitter and abhorrent, and flung righteousness to the earth as though it were so much rubbish

Amos 5:7

“You who turn justice to wormwood,

And cast down righteousness to the earth,

The idea is that the kind of justice that they produced was as bitter as the bitter plant wormwood (see Proverbs 5:4). It was not true justice, but a justice based on bribes and favours that necessarily caused extensive bitterness. And the result was that righteousness was cast down and trampled on. It was no longer highly regarded but despised and seen as a nuisance. Compare the trampling on the poor in Amos 5:11 which was part of the actual working out of this. (How quickly we too can cast righteousness to the ground when it does not fit in with what we want to do).


Verse 8-9

A Call To Consider YHWH’s Glory And Power (Amos 5:8-9).

Amos’s view was that it was time that they considered with Whom they were dealing. He has already made it clear in Amos 4:13, and the description here follows a similar pattern while dealing with different aspects of creation.

Amos 5:8-9

“(Seek him) who makes the Pleiades and Orion,

And turns the shadow of death into the morning,

And makes the day dark with night,

Who calls for the waters of the sea,

And pours them out on the face of the earth,

YHWH is his name.

Who brings sudden destruction on the strong,

So that destruction comes on the fortress.”

The initial verb is read in on the basis of the emphasis in the passage (Amos 5:4; Amos 5:6; Amos 5:14). And his purpose is to remind them that they are dealing with the God Who made the heavens, not as gods but as stars (Genesis 1:16). Both the prominent star clusters (Pleiades and Orion, or similar constellations, there are differing opinions, as to which star clusters are in mind both here and in Job 9:9; Job 38:31 as the old versions reveal) were created by Him, for He is the Creator of all. It is He Who brings morning once the night has finished its time, and Who closes the day by once again introducing night. Thus He has command of night and day, but with the added thought that He can turn the day into darkness at will. Furthermore He controls the waters of the sea, summoning them and pouring them out on the earth, both as rain, and in catastrophes similar to the Flood (see Psalms 29). To Israelites the controlling of the sea was one sure and certain evidence of YHWH’s power, for they feared the sea (e.g. Psalms 65:7; Psalms 78:16; Psalms 89:9; Psalms 93:4; Job 38:10-11). So this is revealed as none other than YHWH, Who alone controls all the most important aspects of creation. And in the same way He can bring sudden destruction on the strong, so that even the strong fortress is destroyed. Thus His power is ultimate.


Verses 10-13

The Second Indictment On Israel Amos 5:10-13).

This second indictment is fuller than the first (Amos 5:7), and is written in chiastic form. Thus:

a It opens with reference to those who reprove or speak uprightly being ‘abhorred’ (Amos 5:10).

b It then refers to the unjust treatment of the poor (Amos 5:11 a).

c Central is the warning of what the consequences will be for them (Amos 5:11 b).

b Further reference is then made to the unjust treatment of the poor (Amos 5:12)

a And it closes with the idea that therefore the wise keep silent in such a time (Amos 5:13).

Amos 5:10

“They hate him who reproves in the gate,

And they abhor him who speaks uprightly.”

One sign that evil has become prevalent is the attitude of people towards justice. Here we learn that in Israel those who rightly reproved men’s crimes at the place of justice (the gate area was where the town court would be held, compare Ruth 4:1-11; Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7) were hated, while those who spoke uprightly as witnesses were abhorred. The wealthy did not want justice, they wanted favours. This despising of righteousness is the regular experience of the godly. Men will speak well of righteousness when it does not affect them, but they do not like to be reminded of their sins, nor do they like their false dealings to be exposed..

Amos 5:11

“Forasmuch therefore as you trample on the poor,

And take exactions from him of wheat,

And another main sign of the evil in society was that the poor were trampled on (caused to be bowed down), and not given justice (see Exodus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:19), and more was exacted from them than was reasonable. The lessee paid his rent in produce, and the point here was that he tended to be overcharged by greedy land-owners (who may well have seized his land in the first place). A society can always be judged by how it treats its poor, and price-fixing, and seeking to make larger profits than are justified are examples of it.

Amos 5:11

You have built houses of hewn stone,

But you will not dwell in them,

You have planted pleasant vineyards,

But you will not drink their wine.”

The consequence of the evil in society was that they would not finally benefit by all the effort that they had put in. Their possessions too would be trampled on. While they had been able to build themselves houses of hewn stone, expensive and probably obtained by harsh labour, their occupation of them would be temporary. And while they had planted lush vineyards with a view to good times ahead, the wine would go to others. This would be YHWH’s judgment on their sins. All that they had built up would be lost, and they would be left with nothing.

Amos 5:12

“For I know how many and varied are your transgressions,

And how mighty are your sins,

You who afflict the just, who take a bribe,

And who turn aside the needy in the gate (from their right).”

The sinfulness of their society was then reiterated. Their transgressions against YHWH’s Law were many and varied, and their sins were large. For their justices, the very men who should have been ensuring the fairness of society, afflicted the righteous and took bribes, and when the needy came for justice they did not receive their rights.

Amos 5:13

‘Therefore he who is prudent will keep silence in such a time, for it is an evil time.’

The consequence of living in such a society was that prudent men did not speak out, because the time was evil. They knew that things had come to such a state that their words could only bring trouble on themselves and would do no good. That was why Amos had had to come to speak out for them. It was something only a prophet called by YHWH could risk. But there is also something ominous about the words, for they suggest that such efforts would be pointless because the society in question was beyond hope and beyond redemption.


Verse 14-15

The Second Call To Repentance (Amos 5:14-15).

So the call went out to those who would hear to seek good and not evil so that they might enjoy fullness of life, and in order that YHWH might truly be ‘with them’ (as they claimed that He would be at their feasts).

Amos 5:14

‘Seek good, and not evil, that you may live, and so YHWH, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you say.’

Previously the people have been urged to seek YHWH. Now they are called on to seek good. That is not because seeking good is the same as seeking YHWH, but because those who seek YHWH must also seek good. YHWH and goodness go together. Having true life depends on seeking good and not evil, and the consequence was that those who did so would have YHWH the God of hosts with them, just as men claimed when they gathered to worship. It is apparent that the cry ‘God is with us’ was one that was prominent in their worship (compare Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:10 where Immanuel means ‘God is with us’).

However, whilst the call was undoubtedly to all, it was especially directed to the prudent who kept silent (Amos 5:13). They needed encouragement in the hard times, and he wanted to assure them that they would not lose out by seeking good and not evil, for thereby they at least would enjoy fullness of life, even in the coming darkness

Amos 5:15

‘Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate, it may be that YHWH, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.’

So again it is emphasised that they were to hate what was evil and love what was good, and especially they were to be concerned with the establishing of true justice. A fair society is a good society. It is difficult to see how Israel as a whole could be called ‘a remnant’ in the peaceful and prosperous times of Jeroboam II when the kingdom had expanded, and the idea is therefore probably that the righteous remnant who did respond (or had already responded) could hope for YHWH’s favour in the dark times ahead.


Verse 16-17

A Closing Lamentation (Amos 5:16-17).

Having previously opened with a lamentation, Amos closes with a lamentation by YHWH, for he is well aware that on the whole his words would not be heeded. (As always happens the few would respond and find fullness of life, and the majority would harden their hearts). In His lamentation YHWH envisages a whole country in mourning, both town and country, both expert mourner, and novice, both in the streets and in the vineyards, and it would be because He Himself would have passed through their country in severe and awful judgment (described briefly in 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:5; 2 Kings 18:9-10 read in the light of Leviticus 26:24-33; Deuteronomy 28:47-58).

Amos 5:16-17

‘Therefore thus says YHWH, the God of hosts, the Lord,’

“Wailing will be in all the broad ways,

And they will say in all the streets, Alas! Alas!,

And they will call the husbandman to mourning,

And such as are skilful in lamentation to wailing.

And in all vineyards will be wailing,

For I will pass through the midst of you,

Says YHWH.”

As the people listened to the preaching and prophesying of Amos, and looked around at the prosperity and security which their nation was enjoying, we can understand why they found it very easy to dismiss his words as those of ‘a fanatic’. They did not then realise that within forty years of the commencement of Amos’s ministry, and thus within the lifetime of many of his hearers, Samaria would lay in ruins, their whole land would be devastated and in mourning, and the cream of the people would be in exile. All that they looked around at would be gone. But YHWH realised it, and He warned them of the lamentations that were coming.

The picture is one of unrelieved gloom. The streets of the cities filled with mourning, and the people of the cities, and the men working in the fields and in the vineyards and olive groves in the countryside, uniting with the professional mourners in bewailing both their own fate and the dead who lay around them. The whole land will be filled with lamentation. For the vineyards, which were usually places of joy and rejoicing, to be wailing was an indication of how bad things would be (see the similar picture in Isaiah 16:10). And all because YHWH will have ‘passed through the midst of them’ (compare Exodus 12:12). And this was not just some vision of a future possibility, it was the unbreakable, unfailing ‘word of YHWH’.


Verse 18

The Two Woes (Amos 5:18 to Amos 6:7).

It may be that we are to see the ‘alas, alas’ (ho ho) of Amos 5:16 as leading into these two ‘woes’ (hoy, hoy, a longer form of ho) in Amos 5:18 and Amos 6:1. But certainly Amos now introduces two woes/alases. The first ‘woe/alas’ is in respect of their false hopes about the day of YHWH, which they are wrongly expecting will bring them great benefits, and the second is in respect of the fact that they are at ease when they should rather be desperately concerned. Both thus deal with misunderstanding and complacency on the part of Israel.


Verses 18-20

The Day Of YHWH That Is Coming Come On Israel Will Be A Day Of Darkness, Not Light (Amos 5:18-20).

Amos 5:18

‘Woe to you who desire the day of YHWH! Why would you have the day of YHWH? It is darkness, and not light.’

Amos stressed that they should not be ‘looking with longing’ (the verb is strong) for YHWH to act in a special way, because they needed to recognise that when He did so it would not introduce light but darkness. Initially this ‘day of YHWH’, as indicated here, was speaking of the day when YHWH would make His people face up to their sin by destruction and judgment, and it would descend on first the land, and then the city, of Samaria as an act of judgment. Israel should therefore not be hungering for YHWH to act, (as seemingly they did at their feasts), for when He did so it would be against them. And it would be a day of darkness, of misery and catastrophe and suffering, and not a day of light.

It is significant that they had this deep ‘longing’, not at a time when things were going badly, but at a time when all seemed to be going well, and Israel and Judah had extended their borders and were defensively strong. It was thus not a longing for deliverance resulting from despair, but a yearning desire for even better things to come, a patriotic looking forward to ruling the nations. (Like many of us, when it came to their Scriptures they were selective of ‘the good bits’ and ignored the remainder).

There would in the future be many days of YHWH. Later the phrase ‘the day of YHWH’ would refer to the devastation to be brought on the world by a gathering of nations (probably under Assyria), and especially by their Medan contingents, which would result in the destruction of proud Babylon, an initial recognition of the fact that one day it would cease for ever (Isaiah 13). It would also refer to the coming of a huge plague of locusts (or armies) on Israel/Judah (Joel 1), when YHWH was seeking to bring them to repentance. And it would refer to the final destruction of Edom (Isaiah 34:8). All these were events of history. Thus there would be a number of ‘days of YHWH’. But each ‘day of YHWH’ had in mind in the end the final dreadful day when YHWH would call all nations to account, and that is why sometimes we are not sure which day He is referring to, the near or the far. For all were deserving of judgment and would one day have to face up one way or another to a day of YHWH, with the result that in the New Testament the ‘day of the Lord’ pointed forward to the time of the second coming of Christ when the old world would be judged and destroyed, resulting in the introducing of a new heaven and a new earth (e.g. 2 Peter 3:10-13).

Amos 5:19

‘As if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.’

This is then illustrated in picturesque fashion. When a man flees from a lion he ‘desires’ to run into a party of hunters so that he may be saved, but in fact in this instance he is given a dreadful shock when he simply runs into the arms of a bear. Lions and bears were quite common in the Israelite countryside so that this could easily occur. Or it will be like the time when a man goes into the refuge of his house, thinking that there at least he will be totally secure, only to find to his horror that when he confidently leans on the wall feeling a sense of security, he is bitten by a deadly snake. Thus in each case what comes to him is the opposite of what he expects. Thus will it be for them in the day of YHWH.

Note the emphasis on that fact that no one will be safe whether out of doors or indoors. Wherever they are tragedy will strike them.

Amos 5:20

‘Will not the day of YHWH be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?’

That is why for them the day of YHWH will result in darkness and not light. Indeed it will be very dark and there will be no brightness in it, because for them there will be no hope beyond it. (And so it would be at the destruction of Samaria). Night time was when terror was abroad (Psalms 91:5) and it symbolised the end of life, for to be driven into darkness was to die (Job 10:22; Job 18:18). A day of darkness was a day which God did not observe from above, for it was a day of hopelessness (Job 3:4). It was God-forsaken. In contrast the light spelled hope (Isaiah 9:2), and to enjoy God’s light was to enjoy His blessing and presence and salvation (Isaiah 60:1).


Verses 18-27

The First Woe, Concerning The Day of YHWH (Amos 5:18-27).

A ‘woe’ was the opposite of a ‘blessed be you of YHWH’. It was the announcing of troubles and disaster that would come on His people directly from YHWH (compare Isaiah 5:8-30; Isaiah 10:1-4; and see Numbers 21:29; 1 Samuel 4:7-8) in fulfilment of His warnings (Leviticus 26:14-46; Deuteronomy 28-29).

It is apparent from the context that Israel were living in expectation of ‘the day of YHWH’ (compare Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:9), and that they saw it as something to look forward to, a day which would bring ‘light’ (2 Samuel 23:4; Psalms 37:6; Psalms 112:4; Psalms 118:22-27) and worldwide domination (see Psalms 2; Psalms 22:22-31; Psalms 89:19-37; Isaiah 9:4-7). It was not in fact unusual for great kings to see themselves as destined by their national gods to rule the world. The kings of Assyria, for example, gave the credit for their victories to Assur whom they saw as having told them to go forth and subdue their world. It was as the representative of Assur that Sennacherib would proclaim his victory over all gods (except, as it turned out, YHWH). See 2 Kings 18:33-35. But in most cases this idea followed as a result of initial military success and of having a powerful army. It was different with Israel in that they considered this to be true long before they enjoyed military might, not because of their military might, but because of the superiority of their position as YHWH’s chosen people, something evidenced by the call of Abraham, who had been told that all the nations of the world would be blessed (or would bless themselves) through his seed (indicating to the ancient world that he would rule over them), and that kings would come out of him (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:6; Genesis 18:18); by the deliverance from Egypt which had confirmed their special position (Amos 2:10; Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 32:8-9); and by the granting to them of the land of the Amorites (Amos 2:10; Exodus 23:23; Numbers 21:31; Deuteronomy 1:20; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 24:18; etc). It was then confirmed to them by the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) as expanded on in Psalms 2; etc. Thus they were looking for a Day of Blessing from YHWH. Amos was warning them that they must rather expect a Day of Woe. This was not, of course denying that one day YHWH would bring a Day of Blessing on His people, as Amos 9:11-15 makes clear. It was rather emphasising that that Day could only come on those whose hearts were prepared. It could not come on a people living in open sinfulness.


Verses 21-27

The Day Of Darkness Is Coming Because Of The Falsity of Their Worship In That While They Worship They Ignore Justice And Righteousness (Amos 5:21-27).

Amos now emphatically brings out where their error lay. They came to YHWH with feasting and joyful assemblies, offering their different offerings and singing and making melody with their instruments, thinking that thereby they were pleasing YHWH (and the other gods), while all the time He looked on what they were doing and the noise that they were making with loathing and contempt. And this was because they were failing to truly honour Him by allowing justice and righteousness to prevail among them like a continually flowing stream that never dried up. This should they have done, and not left the other undone. He then goes on to question whether they had ever really truly worshipped Him, even in the wilderness, for even there, as now, they had on the one hand borne the Tabernacle of their King, while on the other they had borne the shrine of their images, the star of their god which they had made for themselves. Both then and now the house of Israel had engaged in the same double act, and had been equally unacceptable. Compare for the similar idea Isaiah 1:11-18.

Amos 5:21

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in (literally ‘do not like to smell’) your festal assemblies.”

YHWH firstly wanted to make it clear to them that they were mistaken if they thought that He obtained any pleasure from their worship. The odour of it was not pleasant to Him. Rather He wanted them to know that He hated and despised it because it was all superficial and there was nothing underneath. What they engaged in were their feasts and not His. And similarly He wanted them to know that He took no delight intheir(not His) festal gatherings in which they themselves participated with such joy. For central to the true worship of YHWH was the offering of a righteous and obedient life. There was no point in gathering to declare loyalty to YHWH if they did not keep His covenant.

Amos 5:22

“Yes, though you offer me your burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts.”

Furthermore He wanted them to know that even though they offered Himtheir(not His) dedicatory offerings, andtheir(not His) meal-offerings which celebrated the provisions of creation, He would not accept them, nor would He pay any regard totheirpeace-offerings, (supposedly offered in thanksgiving and in order to enjoy fellowship with YHWH) however fat they were. The worship that they delighted in was a waste of time because it was simply not acceptable. It was not the kind of worship that YHWH had provided for in the covenant, for it lacked an essential ingredient, the offering of a righteous life. To YHWH worship and righteousness went together as part of the same covenant. Both were essential ingredients. (And if the same conditions of unrighteous living prevail for us, the same is true of our worship today. We cannot come ‘in the Name of Jesus’ if what we are doing in our lives is contrary to His will, for to truly come ‘in the Name of Jesus,’ is to come as those who are aligned with Him. If we are not doing His will then we will do better to keep our mouths shut).

Amos 5:23

“Take you away from me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your viols.”

Let them also stop singing and making music (singular tense indicating the whole nation), for in so far as He heard them at all they were just making an unpleasant noise to Him if they were not truly walking in His ways. Indeed the louder their efforts the less He liked it. He simply closed His ear to it.

The viol was probably an instrument consisting of ten strings stretched over a sound box. In Egypt such instruments could be three metres (ten feet) or more high. (Compare our double bass).

Amos 5:24

“But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream.”

What they should rather do was to ensure that justice flowed smoothly through their society, and that their righteousness was not ‘on and off’, but continually flowed out of them like a perpetual river which was constantly fed with water, and flowed freely, never ceasing to flow even in the hottest dry summer. (In Israel far too many rivers dried up in the summer when there was no rain to feed them). Then they would be able to worship Him and be acceptable.

Alternately we could translate ‘let judgment roll down as waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream’ indicating that God’s righteous judgment is coming on them because of their sins (compare Isaiah 10:22).

Amos 5:25

“Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?”

Looking on Israel past and present as one He asked whether they really thought that they, as Israel, had brought to Him genuine sacrifices and offerings during their forty years in the wilderness. The answer that they should have given, and which would have been given by an intelligent observer, was ‘no’. And this was obvious from the fact that because of their unbelief they had had to spend forty years in the wilderness at all. The point is not that they had not engaged in offering sacrifices at all, but they had not been genuinely to Him as the One Who demanded righteousness. They had, of course, actually offered sacrifices in the wilderness, but the emphasis is on the fact that that worship had had as little to do with genuine worship of YHWH as their worship at this present time. Amos was not denying that sacrifices were offered, only saying that they were not genuinely offered to YHWH. (As now they were THEIR sacrifices, not HIS).

For the truth was that they were all the same, and had been from the beginning. His present hearers were no better than their fathers. Their fathers too had mechanically brought sacrifices and offerings to Him in the wilderness for forty years. But they had notreallybrought themto Him, for their supposed worship had not been backed up by their lives and their behaviour in a true response to he covenant. They too had overlooked the need for justice and righteousness and obedience, which was why they had had to spend forty years in the wilderness in the first place until all had perished there, instead of only being in the wilderness for just a few months between Sinai and Kadesh, and it was why they had not been allowed to even approach the promised land.

‘Oh house of Israel.’ They and their fathers were all one together, for they revealed their oneness by behaving in the same way.

Amos 5:26

“Yes, you have borne the booth (sukkat) of your king and the pedestal (ciyyun) of your images, the star of your god (i.e. your star-god), which you made to yourselves.”

This statement is applied to both the time in the wilderness and the present, for they were really all the same within their hearts. It is saying that it had been true that outwardly they had paid lip service to Yahwism in the wilderness, just as they did today, while at the same time worshipping other gods. Thus the truth was that YHWH had not really been their King then, any more than He was now, for had He been they would not have also had shrines to their ‘king’, and pedestals for their images, even for ‘the star-god that they had made for themselves’. Their worship had thus been syncretistic then and it still was. The reference to the star-god may have had in mind current worship rather than wilderness worship, but we must bear in mind that we actually know little about their false worship in the wilderness (indeed we actually know almost nothing about the final thirty eight years in the wilderness which are on the whole passed over without comment until the actual commencement of the new approach to Canaan), apart from that of the molten calf, but that, and their association with Egypt, and the presence of Egyptians and other foreigners among them (Exodus 12:38), makes a star-god a good possibility even then. Egypt, for example, had many star-gods.

(Note. This could be translated, ‘ Yes, you have borne Sakkuth your king (or equally as ‘the shrine of Molech’), and Kaiwan your star-god, which you made to yourselves’. Sakkuth and Kaiwan are both mentioned in Assyrian text lists as gods, and names of the planet Saturn. Thus both are mentioned as star-gods. But this very fact that both were connected with Saturn does not fit in with the description of Sakkuth as on the one hand their king, and Kaiwan on the other as their star-god, unless of course the two names applied to an identical god who is mentioned in parallel. But even more importantly there is no suggestion elsewhere of the worship of Assyrian deities in Israel at this time of freedom from Assyrian oppression and no reason why Assyrian gods should have been worshipped. It is far more probable that Egyptian gods, or local gods, were in mind.

In Acts 7:43 this is cited on the basis of LXX as, ‘you took up the booth of Moloch, and the star of the god Rephan’. This would support the idea of local gods. The inference is then drawn in Acts that Israel during the time in the wilderness worshipped ‘the host of heaven’ (Canaanite sky-gods), which there is no reason to deny. But we must not take the citation of LXX as evidence that it was citing the original Hebrew text, any more than our citation of a modern translation as ‘the word o God’ is a guarantee that it has actually correctly translated the Hebrew text in all cases. End of note).

Amos 5:27

“Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, says YHWH, whose name is the God of hosts.”

And it was because of their idolatry, and their lack of true righteousness and obedience to the covenant, that YHWH had determined to send them into captivity and exile ‘beyond Damascus’. This very description fits well into a time when ideas of Assyria were still vague. Many had been taken into captivity to Damascus and its surrounding area, but this would be something far worse. They would be taken far off to a distant land. News had no doubt reached Israel and Judah, even by this time, of what Assyria did to recalcitrant nations, and such a fate was precisely what Leviticus 26:33; Leviticus 26:38 and Deuteronomy 28:64 had foreseen.

‘Says YHWH, whose name is the God of hosts.’ All this would happen because YHWH, Whose Name is the God of hosts, had spoken. Amos’s continual mention of YHWH as ‘the God of hosts’ probably includes both the thought that He was the God of the heavenly hosts (including the stars), and also the God of all hosts on earth. In other words all activity in and upon the world of any kind was under His control.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Amos 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/amos-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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