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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Amos 9

 

 

Verses 1-6

2. NEMESIS

Amos 9:1-6

There follows a Vision in Bethel, the opening of which, "I saw the Lord," immediately recalls the great inauguration of Isaiah. He also "saw the Lord"; but how different the Attitude, how other the Word! To the statesman-prophet the Lord is enthroned, surrounded by the court of heaven; and though the temple rocks to the intolerable thunder of their praise, they bring to the contrite man beneath the consciousness of a lifelong mission. But to Amos the Lord is standing and alone-to this lonely prophet God is always alone-and His message may be summed up in its initial word, "Smite." There-Government: hierarchies of service, embassies, clemencies, healings, and though at first devastation, thereafter the indestructible hope of a future. Here-Judgment: that Figure of Fate which terror’s fascinated eye ever sees alone; one final blow and irreparable ruin. And so, as with Isaiah we saw how constructive, prophecy may be, with Amos we behold only the preparatory havoc, the leveling and clearing of the ground of the future.

"I have seen the Lord standing over the Altar, and He said, Smite the capital"-of the pillar" that the" very "thresholds quake, and break them on the head of all of them!" It is a shock that makes the temple reel from roof-tree to basement. The vision seems subsequent to the prophet’s visit to Bethel; and it gathers his whole attack on the national worship into one decisive and irreparable blow. "The last of them will I slay with the sword: there shall not flee away of them one fugitive: there shall not escape of them a" single "survivor!" Neither hell nor heaven, mountain-top nor sea-bottom, shall harbor one of them. "If they break through to Sheol, thence shall My hand take them; and if they climb to heaven, thence shall I bring them down. If they hide in Carmel’s top, thence will I find them out and fetch them; and if they conceal themselves from before Mine eyes in the bottom of the sea, thence shall I charge the Serpent and he shall bite them; and if they go into captivity before their foes"-to Israel as terrible a distance from God’s face as Sheol itself! "thence will I charge the sword and it shall slay them; and I will set Mine eye upon them for evil and not for good."

It is a ruder draft of the Hundred and Thirty-Ninth Psalm; but the Divine Pursuer is Nemesis, and not Conscience.

"And the Lord, Jehovah of the Hosts; Who toucheth the earth and it melteth, and all its inhabitants mourn, and it rises like the Nile, all of it" together, "and sinks like the Nile of Egypt; Who buildeth His stories in the heavens, and His vault on the earth He foundeth; Who calleth to the waters of the sea and poureth them forth on the face of the earth-Jehovah" of Hosts "is His Name."


Verses 7-15

3. THE VOICES OF ANOTHER DAWN

Amos 9:7-15

And now we are come to the part where, as it seems, voices of another day mingle with that of Amos, and silence his judgments in the chorus of their unbroken hope. At first, however, it is himself without doubt who speaks. He takes up the now familiar truth, that when it comes to judgment for sin, Israel is no dearer to Jehovah than any other people of His equal Providence.

"Are ye not unto Me, O children of Israel-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah-just like the children of Kushites?" mere black folk and far away! "Did I not bring up Israel from Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir?" Mark again the universal Providence which Amos proclaims: it is the due concomitant of his universal morality. Once for all the religion of Israel breaks from the characteristic Semitic belief that gave a god to every people, and limited both his power and his interests to that people’s territory and fortunes. And if we remember how everything spiritual in the religion of Israel, everything in its significance for mankind, was rendered possible only because at this date it broke from and abjured the particularism in which it had been born, we shall feel some of the Titanic force of the prophet, in whom that break was achieved with an absoluteness which leaves nothing to be desired. But let us also emphasize that it was by no mere method of the intellect or observation of history that Amos was led to assert the unity of the Divine Providence. The inspiration in this was a moral one: Jehovah was ruler and guide of all the families of mankind, because He was exalted in righteousness; and the field in which that righteousness was proved and made manifest was the life and the fate of Israel. Therefore to this Amos now turns. "Lo, the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the ground." In other words, Jehovah’s sovereignty over the world was not proved by Israel’s conquest of the latter, but by His unflinching application of the principles of righteousness, at whatever cost, to Israel herself.

Up to this point, then, the voice of Amos is unmistakable, uttering the doctrine, so original to him, that in the judgment of God Israel shall not be specially favored, and the sentence, we have heard so often from him, of her removal from her land. Remember, Amos has not yet said a word in mitigation of the sentence: up to this point of his book it has been presented as inexorable and final. But now to a statement of it as absolute as any that has gone before, there is suddenly added a qualification: "nevertheless I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah." And then there is added a new picture of exile changed from doom to discipline, a process of sifting by which only the evil in Israel, "all the sinners of My people," shall perish, but not a grain of the good. "For, lo, I am giving command, and I will toss the house of Israel among all the nations, like" something "that is tossed in a sieve, but not a pebble shall fall to earth. By the sword shall die all the sinners of My people, they who say, The calamity shall not reach nor anticipate us."

Now as to these qualifications of the hitherto unmitigated judgments of the book, it is to be noted that there is nothing in their language to lead us to take them from Amos himself. On the contrary, the last clause describes what he has always called a characteristic sin of his day. Our only difficulties are that hitherto Amos has never qualified his sentences of doom, and that the change now appears so suddenly that the two halves of the verse in which it does so absolutely contradict each other. Read them again, Amos 9:8 : "Lo, the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are on the sinful nation, and I will destroy it from off the face of the ground-nevertheless destroying I shall not destroy the ‘house of Jacob: ‘tis the oracle of Jehovah." Can we believe the same prophet to have uttered at the same time these two statements? And is it possible to believe that prophet to be the hitherto unwavering, un-qualifying Amos? Noting these things, let us pass to the rest of the chapter. We break from all shadows; the verses are verses of pure hope. The judgment on Israel is not averted; but having taken place her ruin is regarded as not irreparable.

"In that day"-the day Amos has threatened of overthrow and ruin-"I will raise again the fallen but of David and will close up its breaches, and his ruins I will raise, and I will build it up as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations upon whom My Name has been called"-that is, as once their Possessor-"‘tis the oracle of Jehovah, He who is about to do this."

"The "fallen but of David" undoubtedly means the fall of the kingdom of Judah. It is not language Amos uses, or, as it seems to me, could have used, of the fall of the Northern Kingdom only. Again, it is undoubted that Amos contemplated the fall of, Judah: this is implicit in such a phrase as the whole family that brought up from Egypt." [Amos 3:1] He saw then "the day" and "the ruins" of which Amos 9:11 speaks. The only question is, can we attribute to him the prediction of a restoration of these ruins? And this is a question which must be answered in face of the facts that the rest of his book is unrelieved by a single gleam of hope, and that his threat of the nation’s destruction is absolute and final. Now it is significant that in face of those facts Cornill (though ‘he has changed his opinion) once believed it was "surely possible for Amos to include restoration in his prospect of ruin," as (he might have added) other prophets undoubtedly do. I confess I cannot so readily get over the rest of the book and its gloom; and am the less inclined to be sure about these verses being Amos’ own that it seems to have been not unusual for later generations, for whom the daystar was beginning to rise, to add their own inspired hopes to the unrelieved threats of their predecessors of the midnight. The mention of Edom does not help us much: in the days of Amos after the partial conquest by Uzziah the promise of "the rest of Edom" was singularly appropriate. On the other hand, what interest had so purely ethical a prophet in the mere addition of territory? To this point we shall ‘have to return for our final decision. We have still the closing oracle-a very pleasant piece of music, as if the birds had come out after the thunderstorm, and the wet hills were glistening in the sunshine.

"Lo, days are coming-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah when the ploughman shall catch up the reaper, and the grape-treader him that streweth the seed." The seasons shall jostle each other, harvest following hard upon seed-time, vintage upon spring. It is that "happy contention of seasons" which Josephus describes as the perpetual blessing of Galilee. "And the mountains shall drip with new wine and all the hills shall flow down. And I-will bring back the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall build" the "waste cities and dwell" in them, "and plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof, and make gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them on their own ground; and they shall not be uprooted any more from their own ground which I have given to them, saith Jehovah thy God." Again we meet the difficulty: does the voice that speaks here speak with captivity already realized? or is it the voice of one who projects himself forward to a day, which, by the oath of the Lord Himself, is certain to come?

We have now surveyed the whole of this much-doubted, much-defended passage. I have stated fully the arguments on both sides. On the one hand, we have the fact that nothing in the language of the verses, and nothing in their historical allusions, precludes their being by Amos; we have also to admit that, having threatened a day of ruin, it was possible for Amos to realize by his mind’s eye its arrival, and standing at that point to see the sunshine flooding the ruins and to prophesy a restoration. In all this there is nothing impossible in itself or inconsistent with the rest of the book. On the other hand, we have the impressive and incommensurable facts: first, that this change to hope comes suddenly, without preparation and without statement of reasons, at the very end of a book whose characteristics are not only a final and absolute sentence of ruin upon the people, and an outlook of unrelieved darkness, but scornful discouragement of every popular vision of a prosperous future; and, second, that the prophetic books contain numerous signs that later generations wove their own brighter hopes into the abrupt and hopeless conclusions of prophecies of judgment.

To this balance of evidence is there anything to add? I think there is; and that it decides the question. All these prospects of the future restoration of Israel are absolutely without a moral feature. They speak of return from captivity, of political restoration, of supremacy over the Gentiles, and of a revived Nature, hanging with fruit, dripping with must. Such hopes are natural and legitimate to a people who were long separated from their devastated and neglected land, and whose punishment and penitence were accomplished. But they are not natural to a prophet like Amos. Imagine him predicting a future like this! Imagine him describing the consummation of his people’s history, without mentioning one of those moral triumphs to rally his people to which his whole passion and energy had been devoted. To me it is impossible to hear the voice that cried, "Let justice roll on like waters and righteousness like a perennial stream," in a peroration which is content to tell of mountains dripping with must and of a people satisfied with vineyards and gardens. These are legitimate hopes; but they are the hopes of a generation of other conditions and of other deserts than the generation of Amos.

If then the gloom of this great book is turned into light, such a change is not due to Amos.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Amos 9:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/amos-9.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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