Amos 1-8 Commentary

Amos 1-2 includes judgments on these entities:

  1. Damascus
  2. Gaza
  3. Tyre
  4. Edom
  5. Ammonites
  6. Moab
  7. Judah: “Covenant Transgressions” – Rejected law, followed false gods as did their fathers
  8. Israel: “Covenant Transgressions” – treated the poor badly; sexual immorality; corruption of contracts; multiplied altars, money exchanging hands near many altars; drink wine with fines levied “in the temple of their God”

It seems that God dealt with Judah and Israel differently after they separated, and he wasn’t eager to put them back together or cause Israel to return to Jerusalem, the priesthood, the teaching authority of the Levites, or the Temple. This is strange, and is worthy of reflection.

Notably, the verses in Amos are mostly even on Judah and Israel except in a few places. The pronouncements in 2:9-16 seem to call both Israel and Judah back to their origins rather than point at the split between Israel and Judah as significant; they judge Israel corporately, not Israel the northern kingdom. The timing of the book is during Uzziah and during the Grandson of Jehu’s reign, and it appears that around the time of the book, Judah and Israel got into a series of conflicts.

Given Amos’ location (Israel), it is likely his prophetic word is by default aimed at the Northern Kingdom. His chief aim are the abuses and evils of Samaria as in 3:9-10. The judgment includes a reference that Samaria will essentially die, although a chunk will be saved as from a lion’s mouth:

[Amo 3:12-15 ESV] 12 Thus says the LORD: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed. 13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord GOD, the God of hosts, 14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end,” declares the LORD.

Amos 4 is an interesting series of judgments on Israel, and the first section of those are judgments levied on “the cows of Bashan” which, hilariously could be Amos calling the rich women in the region of Bashan fat. These women are judged because they goad their husbands to do evil to provide for their comforts.

The more likely meaning is that Amos has reduced the “Bulls of Bashan” (Psalm 22) to “heifers” or “kine” of Bashan, or female cows, thus referring to the men of Bashan as effeminate. He could be referring to both, which would be a savvy polemic.

Amos 5 begins with a more general narrative referring to “Israel” (remember, the ambiguity of “Israel” in prophetic literature has to be contextualized to Judah, Israel, or both) appears to be entirely directed at the northern kingdom of Israel, given its multiple references to Joseph and Bethel (a place Jeroboam set up a golden calf, so certainly a notable place for Samaria/Northern Kingdom):

[Amo 5:3, 5-6, 15 ESV] 3 For thus says the Lord GOD: “The city that went out a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which went out a hundred shall have ten left to the house of Israel.” … 5 but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing.” 6 Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, … 15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

It is interesting that Amos doesn’t call Israel to return to the Temple and to the kingdom of Judah during his prophetic utterances to Israel. He calls them to justice and to moral concerns:

[Amo 5:11-12 ESV] 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.

This might seem immediately contrary to my normal hobby horse, which is that Israel’s core sins were the sins of Jeroboam – separating themselves from the temple, the priesthood, and the king from the lineage of David. So a reasonable question is “why didn’t Amos tell them to cease rebellion from those things?”

I think after a certain point, the division was permanent and God was sending prophets in part to preserve what could be preserved. He criticized their apostate practices:

[Amo 5:21, 23-24 ESV] 21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. … 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

This set of verses is commonly remembered as an invocation to reject empty religion for a social gospel, and is frequently used as such. But the next set of verses is harder to understand for the average reader:

[Amo 5:25-27 ESV] 25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god–your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.

God is predicting that they will not return to the methods of worship that existed when they wandered in the wilderness, and will instead worship other gods, and they will therefore be taken into exile.

Amos 6 starts off with a bang, and a clarion call to both Judah and Israel:

[Amo 6:1 ESV] 1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes!

Aside: Zion generally refers to Jerusalem or a particular area of Jerusalem related to David:

[2Sa 5:7 ESV] 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.
[Psa 2:6 ESV] 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

I have covered the movements of the Ark of the Covenant in my book, but in brief, the Ark was initially in the Tabernacle of Moses and was in the Tabernacle until David moved it to Mount Zion. Solomon built the temple and then moved the Ark from Mount Zion into the Temple, on Mount Moriah:

[2Ch 5:2 ESV] 2 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.

These facts are important if you ever want to really get the context of the biblical statements. Don’t allow things to remain vague or abstract – they are usually quite concrete and specific if you are willing to dig.

Anyhow, Zion. Amos begins chapter 6 by attacking both Judah and Samaria. Amos references David, but he also returns to something he mentioned in chapter 3, Ivory:

[Amo 6:4-7 ESV] 4 “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, 5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, 6 who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

Amos prophesies against those elites who enjoy the luxuries of wealth, wine, and song, yet are not concerned about the ruin coming down the road. His ivory reference is interesting, given the house of Ivory Ahab had built, which Amos already referenced:

[1Ki 22:39 ESV] 39 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, and the ivory house that he built and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?
[Amo 3:15 ESV] 15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end,” declares the LORD.

Granted, there are plenty of references to Solomon and ivory as well. It is fair enough to generally interpret ivory references as simply symbols of wealth. But the fact that Ahab had made ivory a prominent feature of the houses of Samaria, it is at least a visceral reference to the symbols of Israel’s greatest corruption, namely Ahab and Jezebel.

Amos 7 includes some interesting interaction between Amos and God; God apparently shows him disastrous visions of potential futures, and Amos pleads that they be not so, and God tells him they will not be so. God instead does this:

[Amo 7:7-9 ESV] 7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Plumb lines are like modern vertical levels, which are intended to make sure a building is straight or test the depth of a well. It is a weight attached to a string, and God is saying that Amos is delivering a plumb line to show Israel a standard, and slips in an interesting play on words: “I will never again pass by them,” in which the root “yasaf” is used, which is the same root for the name Joseph, exchanged at times for the name Ephraim for the lead tribe of the northern kingdom.

He also mentions that “the high places” of Isaac shall be desolate, so I need to define the high places at this time. High places were areas where worship and sacrifices took place outside of the altar and temple at Jerusalem. God tolerated them through the time of Samuel, but he indicates in the law that once the “place God will set his name” was chosen, no more sacrifices were to occur in the high places and sacrifices there were illicit.

Likewise, Catholic churches with valid priests (not priests of high places, which many Protestant pastors can safely be called) are the only place where the mass can be validly consecrated. I have written elsewhere of the high places:

God vested authority in David’s throne, such that David was able to boldly (and in ignorance, initially, causing Uzza’s death) move the Ark of God from the Tabernacle in Gibeah to the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite and finally to Zion, once David recalled from the law that those priests who bore the Ark did so on their shoulders, and that the Ark does not travel on ox cart as it had when the Philistines returned it to Israel. There is no clear biblical instruction that told David to move the Ark; there were only the writings of Moses that God would choose a place for his name, and once God is set there, sacrifices must only occur at that place and not at the “high places.” More practically of Perez-Uzza, or “the breach of Uzza” that distressed David greatly, the presence of God is not made available to humanity by the efforts of a beast of burden, a powerful machine, or a political entity, much less a priest selected from anyone within the tribes of Israel; it is on the shoulders of those God has consecrated for him – the priests from among the Levites.

Speaking of illegitimate priests, Amaziah the priest of the high place at Bethel comes against Amos:

[Amo 7:10-17 ESV] 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the LORD: “‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

So this is part of Amos’ “call” narrative as a prophet. Most of the prophets have some moment at which they were called and given a specific message. As always, we have to determine if Amos means Israel corporately or Israel specifically, meaning the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In this context, it seems pretty clear that Amos is saying his primary target is against the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Amos 8 begins with a vision given to Amos of a basket of summer fruit. If you have good scripture knowledge, you should immediately think of the two men in prison with Joseph in Egypt; one had a vision of three baskets, the other had a vision of three branches of a vine. The one with the vision of three baskets was killed in three days. Usually, this type of prophetic symbology is maintained consistently across the scriptures.

Sure enough, God explains:

[Amo 8:2-3 ESV] 2 And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. 3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” declares the Lord GOD. “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!”

Again, the morality of the nation is singled out rather than necessarily focusing only on its worship practices:

[Amo 8:4-6 ESV] 4 Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, 6 that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

There are a series of judgments pronounced that are commonly directly interpreted as eschatological, but they should also be seen as more specifically referring to Israel’s judgment at the hands of Assyria. But there’s a much more interesting judgment at the end of the chapter:

[Amo 8:11-14 ESV] 11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land– not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. 13 “In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. 14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.”

This part is definitely a reference to Israel’s idolatry and false worship, since Samaria was Israel’s headquarters and Dan was the location of one of the two golden calves (the other being Bethel, whose priest, Amaziah, had told Amos to go away). Israel is judged at times for very American-sounding materialism, decadence, and a lack of concern for the poor, but here they are more definitively judged for their apostasy from true worship – that tattered, small remnant of people in Judah who still held to proper worship according to the law.

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