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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Amos 8

 

 

Verses 1-3

THE BASKET OF SUMMER FRUIT, Amos 8:1-3.

Under the figure of a basket filled with ripe fruit Jehovah shows the prophet that Israel is ripe for judgment. The picture is chosen (1) because of the similarity in sound between the words translated “summer fruit” — Hebrews kayis — and “end” — Hebrews kes; (2) because of the similarity in the ideas of the two words. The opening formula is the same as in Amos 7:1; Amos 7:4.

Basket — The word occurs again only in Jeremiah 5:27 “cage”; it is a general term for any receptacle.

Summer fruit — Ripe fruit, ready to be gathered in. On the question see remarks on Amos 7:8. The prophet having replied, Jehovah explains the vision.

The end is come — It is close at hand; the time of mercy is past (Amos 7:8).

Amos 8:3 gives a brief and forceful description of the end. Slaughter and mourning will be everywhere. Harper, without sufficient reason, places Amos 8:3 after Amos 8:9.

Songs — Expressions of joy and happiness (Amos 8:10; Amos 5:23; Amos 6:5).

Temple — If this is the correct rendering the reference must be to the rejoicing accompanying the religious feasts (Amos 5:23). The word may also mean “palace” (so margin R.V.), and the context favors this rendering. If so, comparison should be made with Amos 6:4-5. The above is the common translation of the Hebrew. However, the original presents two peculiarities: (1) A literal translation is, “And the songs of the palace shall howl,” or, wail — songs being the subject; but this is a strange construction. The sense is improved but little if songs is made the object, “They shall howl songs of the palace.” (2) The feminine plural ending with the word song is unusual; ordinarily it has the masculine ending. To remove these peculiarities a slight emendation has been suggested, “The female singers of the palace shall howl” (Amos 5:16), that is, for the dead.

In that day — The day of the end.

Amos 8:3 b is rendered more accurately in R.V., “The dead bodies shall be many; in every place shall they cast them forth with silence.” The original is even more forceful: “Many the corpses! In every place they are cast forth! Hush!” The tenses in 3b are prophetic perfects; the prophet represents the calamity of the future as already present.

Dead bodies — The avenger will do his worst; death and despair will be everywhere (Amos 6:9-10).

They shall cast them forth — Literally, he shall cast them forth — that is, Jehovah. He strikes the blow through the human agent, and dead bodies are scattered everywhere. The construction may be intended, however, to be understood as impersonal, “one shall cast forth” — they shall cast forth — they shall be cast forth (G.-K., 144d) From streets and houses the dead bodies are gathered, but there is no time for honorable burial; they are thrown anywhere.

With silence — Literally, hush. An interjection, as in Amos 6:10, “Hold thy peace.”


Verses 4-7

4-7. The greedy merchants of Israel.

Hear this — See on Amos 3:1.

Swallow up the needy — Literally, pant after (Amos 2:7). Here also Jerome renders ‘crush.” The verb is explained in the next clause.

Even to make the poor of the land to fail — Literally, and better, and are for making the poor of the land to cease; that is, they seek to make an end of them as free men and property holders. To accomplish this end various means might be employed, in this case commercial dishonesty. The construction is somewhat unusual; according to G.-K., 114p, the thought of the whole verse may be expressed as follows: “O ye that pant to make an end of the needy and of the poor of the land.”

Amos 8:5 shows that the prophet thinks primarily of the greedy merchants (but compare Amos 2:7; Isaiah 5:8-10; Micah 2:2).

New moon… sabbath — See on Hosea 2:11.

When will… be gone — It appears from the present passage that on sacred days ordinary pursuits of life were discontinued; this the greedy merchants considered a foolish interruption of their profits.

Set forth — Literally, open up, that is, for sale. In various ways they took advantage of their customers; they gave scant measure, charged exorbitant prices, “doctored” the scales, and adulterated the goods.

Ephah — The measure in which they measured the grain for the buyer (see on Hosea 3:2); this they made small, perhaps by putting a false bottom in it.

Shekel — Before money was coined a weight was used for the weighing of gold and silver. Its value has been variously estimated; the most commonly received estimate gives the value of a shekel of gold as approximately equivalent to $10.80; of silver, 60 cents (see on Hosea 3:2). This weight they made heavier, so as to get more than the legitimate price. In 1890 Dr. Chaplin found, on the site of the ancient Samaria, a weight which is thought, from an inscription on it, to represent a quarter of a shekel. Its weight is greater than that of a legitimate quarter of a shekel; and W.R. Smith has suggested that it is one of the heavy shekels condemned by Amos.

Falsifying the balances by deceit — R.V., “dealing falsely with balances of deceit”; literally, perverting the balances of deceit. They tampered with the scales in order to deceive the buyer, and thus to take advantage of him.

Amos 8:6 expresses the motive which caused the merchants to wish for the resumption of business; they sought to get under their control the poor and the needy.

Buy — As slaves, when the poor found themselves unable to meet their financial obligations (Leviticus 25:39).

For silver — The money which the poor owed them.

A pair of shoes — See on Amos 2:6.

Refuse — Literally, that which falls, that is, through the sieve — the chaff. It is worthless, but they mix it with good grain and sell it.

Amos 8:6 is rejected by several modern commentators as being unnecessary and out of harmony with the context. Marti says, “The connection of 6a with Amos 8:4-5 is unintelligible; the rich corn merchants are not interested in buying the poor and needy, but rather in selling their grain and securing for it the highest price.” However, the one does not exclude the other, and the objection cannot be considered conclusive. While 6b does not follow quite naturally upon 6a, it also fits in the prophet’s thought.


Verses 4-14

AN EXPLANATORY DISCOURSE, Amos 8:4-14.

In the oral delivery this discourse may not have followed immediately upon the presentation of the fourth vision, but logically there is a close connection between Amos 8:1-14. In the vision Israel is pictured as ripe for judgment; in 4-6 the prophet expands this thought: they are ripe because they are utterly corrupt; their measure of iniquity is full and running over. As an illustration he singles out the conduct of the greedy and dishonest merchants. In punishment terrible judgments will fall (7). In 8-14 these are described under various figures.


Verse 7

7. The heartless greed and dishonesty has aroused the indignation of Jehovah and makes judgment inevitable.

Hath sworn — See on Amos 4:2.

Excellency of Jacob — Jehovah (Amos 6:8). The word translated “excellency” is used nowhere else in this sense, but a warrant for the translation is found in 1 Samuel 15:29, where Jehovah is called “strength (literally, splendor) of Israel.” The common meaning of the word is “pride” (Amos 6:8, R.V. margin; Hosea 5:5; Hosea 7:10). If so here, the oath would be by the pride and arrogance of Israel. Jehovah sees this pride deeply ingrained in the very nature of the people; he knows it to be permanent and incurable, and for this reason he selects it in scorn as an object by which to swear.

Any of their works — Of dishonesty and injustice. All will be remembered and punished (Hosea 7:2).


Verses 8-10

8-10. Figurative description of the impending judgment and of the resulting lamentation. The description of the judgment is introduced by a rhetorical question, the answer to which is in the affirmative. Surely their conduct deserves the severest and most terrible retribution.

Shall not the land tremble — In an earthquake. In Amos 4:11, Amos called attention to the terrors of a former earthquake; do they not deserve another similar visitation?

For this — Or, on account of this — the wickedness and corruption described.

Mourn — In terror, and over the destruction wrought. 8b may be translated as continuing the rhetorical question, “shall it not rise up wholly like the River, and shall it not be troubled and sink again, like the River of Egypt?” Or, following the English translations, it may be understood as the reply to 8a. That which they deserve shall indeed come to pass.

It — The land.

As a flood — Better, R.V., “like the River.” The last word, when in the singular, is used almost exclusively of the Nile.

Cast out — R.V., “shall be troubled,” by being driven hither and thither in restless convulsions (Isaiah 57:20). The verb is omitted in LXX. and in the parallel passage (Amos 9:5), and may not be original. Drowned —Better, R.V., “sink again.”

As by the flood of Egypt — Better, R.V., “like the River of Egypt” — the Nile, when its waters subside after the inundation. The rise and fall of the Nile are perhaps not the most appropriate figures for an earthquake, since the latter causes sudden convulsions, while the rise and fall of the Nile are gradual.

Amos 8:9 adds a new feature to the terror of this day of Jehovah (see on Joel 2:10; Joel 2:30-31).

Cause the sun to go down at noon — The imagery is probably borrowed from an eclipse of the sun. Amos may have seen the eclipse of 763 B.C., which was observed as a total eclipse in Nineveh on June 15, and which must have been visible in Palestine as a “fairly large partial eclipse.”

Go down — Literally, go in. The sun appeared to go into the earth when it set.

Darken the earth — By hiding the sun.

Clear day — Literally, day of light — broad daylight.


Verse 10

10. Whether interpreted literally or figuratively Amos 8:8-9 speak of a terrible visitation of Jehovah, the result of which will be universal wailing and lamentation.

Feasts — See on Hosea 2:11. Under normal conditions these were occasions of rejoicing (Amos 5:21-23; Isaiah 30:29); in that day they will be seasons of mourning (Amos 5:16-17; Amos 8:3).

Songs — Joyful songs (see on Amos 8:3).

Lamentation — For the dead. The same word as in Amos 5:1 (see there).

Sackcloth — A symbol of mourning (see on Joel 1:8).

Baldness — Artificial baldness was another sign of mourning (see on Micah 1:16).

Of an only son — The bitterest grief imaginable (Zechariah 12:10; Jeremiah 6:26).

The end — Of the mourning.

As a bitter day — Time heals most wounds and makes most sorrows less intense; not so in this case — the end will be as bitter as the beginning or even worse.


Verses 11-14

11-14. Some effects of the judgment. In the agony and despair of the judgment people will hunger and thirst for the word of Jehovah, but they will not find it.

The days come — Better, are about to come (see on Amos 2:13; compare Amos 4:2); “the days” is identical with “that day” (Amos 8:9).

Famine… thirst — Calamities with which they were familiar (Amos 4:6-8); but this experience will be unique.

Hearing the words of Jehovah — The ancient versions and some Hebrew manuscripts read the singular “word,” and this is to be preferred (Amos 8:12); it is the common expression for a communication from Jehovah (2 Kings 3:12; Jeremiah 27:18, etc.). The word which they seek is either the word of instruction — this they desire to know, and they are willing to heed it, in order that they may escape further distress — or the word of consolation, which they need and for which they long in their distress.

The intensity of the people’s yearning is depicted in Amos 8:12. Far and wide they seek it, but in vain.

Wander — Literally, totter, or, reel (Amos 4:8). Though exhausted, they continue, with uncertain steps, their search, hoping that their efforts may yet be rewarded.

From sea to sea — Since the prophet is concerned with the Hebrew people exclusively (Amos 8:14), this is best interpreted as meaning “from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean,” the southern and western limits of Israel (Joel 2:20; Zechariah 14:8; compare 2 Kings 14:25).

From the north even to the east — Literally, to the rising (of the sun). This completes the circle. The Dead Sea is called also the eastern sea (Zechariah 14:8). Though the four expressions are not exactly synonymous with “from north to south, from east to west,” that is their meaning. In every direction do the people seek for relief, but in vain.

Amos 8:13 is thought by many to be a later interpolation, chiefly because it seems to speak of physical thirst, while its immediate context, Amos 8:11-12, speaks of spiritual famine and thirst. Others, thinking that the prophet has in mind throughout material famine and physical thirst, omit Amos 8:11-12 or parts of these verses. Harper omits only “for thirst” in Amos 8:13, and thus brings Amos 8:13 in harmony with Amos 8:11-12. It may be asked, however, whether it is necessary to establish complete harmony between Amos 8:11-12 and Amos 8:13. May not Amos 8:13 introduce a new thought? If an emendation is thought necessary, that of Harper seems the most satisfactory; “for thirst” could easily have come in at a later time.

Fair virgins and young men — The beauty and strength of the nation. Even youth, which ordinarily can endure severe strains, will be unable to stand up under this calamity. But if the strongest succumb what will become of the weak?

Thirst — To be understood literally. It is mentioned rather than hunger because of the more intense suffering accompanying Amos 2:14.

They that swear — Must be the “fair virgins and young men” (Amos 8:13; see on Hosea 4:15).

Sin of Samaria — The allusion is undoubtedly to the calf at Beth-el (see on Hosea 8:5), which was the embodiment of Israel’s guilt (Hosea 10:8). Samaria, the capital, stands for Israel, the people or the land. The fact that Amos nowhere else uses Samaria as equivalent to Israel is not sufficient reason for changing it into Beth-el; nor is it necessary to change the word translated “sin.” Most modern commentators, however, read “god of Beth-el.” The Israelites made their oaths by the calf of Beth-el rather than by Jehovah; and since men swear by that which they hold dearest, these oaths were evidence that the Israelites had transferred their affections to the calf.

Thy god… liveth — R.V., “As thy god… liveth.” The common formula used in swearing an oath.

Dan — Where Jeroboam set up the other calf (1 Kings 12:29). The city was located near the northern boundary of Israel, at the foot of Mount Hermon, near the head of the main source of the Jordan River. It is now called Tel-el-Kadi. Its deity also was the calf.

The manner of Beer-sheba liveth — Better, R.V., “As the way of Beer-sheba liveth.” “To swear by a way” has always impressed Bible students as a peculiar expression; hence way has been interpreted in the sense of worship, or, manner. But this does not relieve the difficulty.

As a result many emendations have been proposed. It is doubtful, however, if any one of these is more satisfactory than the present text, which is not altogether unintelligible. The sanctuary at Beer-sheba was undoubtedly expected by the common people to abide forever; therefore the road leading to the sanctuary might be thought to remain always; consequently it would not be so very strange that the pilgrims passing over it should swear by it. Even to-day Arabs swear “by the sacred way to Mecca”; and Mitchell quotes Ruckert’s Hariri, 1:189, “By the pilgrimage and the height of Mina, where the pious host stone Satan.” Beer-sheba — See on Amos 5:5. All those who have thus forsaken Jehovah will be utterly destroyed (Amos 5:2).

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Amos 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/amos-8.html. 1874-1909.

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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