Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
II. Prophecies Concerning Israel - Amos 3-6
Although the expression "Hear this word," which is repeated at the commencement of Amo 3:1-15, Amo 4:1-13 and 5, suggests the idea of three addresses, the contents of these chapters show that they do not contain three separate addresses delivered to the people by Amos at different times, but that they group together the leading thoughts of appeals delivered by word of mouth, so as to form one long admonition to repentance. Commencing with the proofs of his right to predict judgment to the nation on account of its sins (Amo 3:1-8), the prophet exposes the wickedness of Israel in general (ch. 3:9-4:3), and then shows the worthlessness of the nation's trust in idolatry (Amo 4:4-13), and lastly announces the destruction of the kingdom as the inevitable consequence of the prevailing injustice and ungodliness (ch. 5 and Amo 6:1-14).
Announcement of the Judgment - Hos 3:1-5
Because the Lord has chosen Israel to be His people, He must visit all its sins (Amo 3:2), and has commissioned the prophet to announce this punishment (Amo 3:3-8). As Israel has heaped up oppression, violence, and wickedness, an enemy will come upon the land and plunder Samaria, and cause its inhabitants to perish, and demolish the altars of Bethel, and destroy the capital (Amo 3:9-15).
Amo 3:1 and Amo 3:2 contain the introduction and the leading thought of the whole of the prophetic proclamation. Amo 3:1. "Hear this word which Jehovah speaketh concerning you, O sons of Israel, concerning the whole family which I have brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying: Amo 3:2. You only have I acknowledge of all the families of the earth; therefore will I visit all your iniquities upon you." The word of the Lord is addressed to all the family of Israel, which God had brought up out of Egypt, that is to say, to all the twelve tribes of the covenant nation, although in what follows it is the ten tribes of Israel alone who are primarily threatened with the destruction of the kingdom, to indicate at the very outset that Judah might anticipate a similar fate if it did not turn to its God with sincerity. The threat is introduced by the thought that its divine election would not secure the sinful nation against punishment, but that, on the contrary, the relation of grace into which the Lord had entered with Israel demanded the punishment of all evil deeds. This cuts off the root of all false confidence in divine election. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. The greater the measure of grace, the greater also is the punishment if it is neglected or despised." This is the fundamental law of the kingdom of God. ידע does not mean to know, to become acquainted with, or to take knowledge of a person (Hitzig), but acknowledge. Acknowledgment on the part of God is not merely taking notice, but is energetic, embracing man in his inmost being, embracing and penetrating with divine love; so that ידע not only includes the idea of love and care, as in Hos 13:5, but expresses generally the gracious fellowship of the Lord with Israel, as in Gen 18:19, and is practically equivalent to electing, including both the motive and the result of election. And because Jehovah had acknowledged, i.e., had singled out and chosen Israel as the nation best fitted to be the vehicle of His salvation, He must of necessity punish all its misdeeds, in order to purify it from the dross of sin, and make it a holy vessel of His saving grace.
But this truth met with contradiction in the nation itself. The proud self-secure sinners would not hear such prophesying as this (compare Amo 2:4; Amo 7:10.). Amos therefore endeavours, before making any further announcement of the judgment of God, to establish his right and duty to prophesy, by a chain-like series of similes drawn from life. V. 3. "Do two walk together without having agreed? Amo 3:4. Does the lion roar in the forest, and he has no prey? does the young lion utter his cry out of his den, without having taken anything? Amo 3:5. Does the bird fall into the trap on the ground, when there is no snare for him? does the trap rise up from the earth without making a capture? Amo 3:6. Or is the trumpet blown in the city, and the people are not alarmed? or does misfortune happen in the city, and Jehovah has not done it? Amo 3:7. For the Lord Jehovah does nothing at all, without having revealed His secret to His servants the prophets. Amo 3:8. The lion has roared; who does not fear? the Lord Jehovah hath spoken; who must not prophesy?" The contents of these verses are not to be reduced to the general thought, that a prophet could no more speak without a divine impulse than any other effect could take place without a cause. There was certainly no need for a long series of examples, such as we have in Amo 3:3-6, to substantiate or illustrate the thought, which a reflecting hearer would hardly have disputed, that there was a connection between cause and effect. The examples are evidently selected with the view of showing that the utterances of the prophet originate with God. This is obvious enough in Amo 3:7, Amo 3:8. The first clause, "Do two men walk together, without having agreed as to their meeting?" (nō‛Ad, to betake one's self to a place, to meet together at an appointed place or an appointed time; compare Job 2:11; Jos 11:5; Neh 6:2; not merely to agree together), contains something more than the trivial truth, that two persons do not take a walk together without a previous arrangement. The two who walk together are Jehovah and the prophet (Cyril); not Jehovah and the nation, to which the judgment is predicted (Cocceius, Marck, and others). Amos went as prophet to Samaria or Bethel, because the Lord had sent him thither to preach judgment to the sinful kingdom. But God would not threaten judgment if He had not a nation ripe for judgment before Him. The lion which roars when it has the prey before it is Jehovah (cf. Amo 1:2; Hos 11:10, etc.). טרף אין לו is not to be interpreted according to the second clause, as signifying "without having got possession of its prey" (Hitzig), for the lion is accustomed to roar when it has the prey before it and there is no possibility of its escape, and before it actually seizes it (cf. Isa 5:29).
(Note: The most terrible feature in the roaring of a lion is that with this clarigatio, or, if you prefer it, with this classicum, it declares war. And after the roar there immediately follows both slaughter and laceration. For, as a rule, it only roars with that sharp roar when it has the prey in sight, upon which it immediately springs (Bochart, Hieroz. ii. 25ff., ed. Ros.).)
On the contrary, the perfect lâkjad in the second clause is to be interpreted according to the first clause, not as relating to the roar of satisfaction with which the lion devours the prey in its den (Baur), but as a perfect used to describe a thing which was as certain as if it had already occurred. A lion has made a capture not merely when it has actually seized the prey and torn it in pieces, but when the prey has approached so near that it cannot possibly escape. Kephı̄r is the young lion which already goes in pursuit of prey, and is to be distinguished from the young of the lion, gūr (catulus leonis), which cannot yet go in search of prey (cf. Eze 19:2-3). The two similes have the same meaning. The second strengthens the first by the assertion that God not only has before Him the nation that is ripe for judgment, but that He has it in His power.
The similes in Amo 3:5 do not affirm the same as those in Amo 3:4, but contain the new thought, that Israel has deserved the destruction which threatens it. Pach, a snare, and mōqēsh, a trap, are frequently used synonymously; but here they are distinguished, pach denoting a bird-net, and mōqēsh a springe, a snare which holds the bird fast. The earlier translators have taken mōqēsh in the sense of yōqēsh, and understand it as referring to the bird-catcher; and Baur proposes to alter the text accordingly. But there is no necessity for this; and it is evidently unsuitable, since it is not requisite for a bird-catcher to be at hand, in order that the bird should be taken in a snare. The suffix lâh refers to tsippōr, and the thought is this: in order to catch a bird in the net, a springe (gin) must be laid for it. So far as the fact itself is concerned, mōqēsh is "evidently that which is necessarily followed by falling into the net; and in this instance it is sinfulness" (Hitzig); so that the meaning of the figure would be this: "Can destruction possibly overtake you, unless your sin draws you into it?" (cf. Jer 2:35). In the second clause pach is the subject, and ועלה is used for the ascent or springing up of the net. Hitzig has given the meaning of the words correctly: "As the net does not spring up without catching the bird, that has sent it up by flying upon it, can ye imagine that when the destruction passes by, ye will not be seized by it, but will escape without injury?" (cf. Isa 28:15). Jehovah, however, causes the evil to be foretold. As the trumpet, when blown in the city, frightens the people out of their self-security, so will the voice of the prophet, who proclaims the coming evil, excite a salutary alarm in the nation (cf. Eze 33:1-5). For the calamity which is bursting upon the city comes from Jehovah, is sent by Him as a punishment. This thought is explained in Amo 3:7, Amo 3:8, and with this explanation the whole series of figurative sentences is made perfectly clear. The approaching evil, which comes from the Lord, is predicted by the prophet, because Jehovah does not carry out His purpose without having (כּי אם, for when, except when he has, as in Gen 32:27) first of all revealed it to the prophets, that they may warn the people to repent and to reform. Sōd receives a more precise definition from the first clause of the verse, or a limitation to the purposes which God is about to fulfil upon His people. And since (this is the connection of Amo 3:8) the judgment with which the Lord is drawing near fills every one with fear, and Jehovah has spoken, i.e., has made known His counsel to the prophets, they cannot but prophesy.
Amos has thus vindicated his own calling, and the right of all the prophets, to announce to the people the judgments of God; and now (Amo 3:9-15) he is able to proclaim without reserve what the Lord has resolved to do upon sinful Israel. Amo 3:9. "Make it heard over the palaces in Ashdod, and over the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumult in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the heart thereof. Amo 3:10. And they know not to do the right, is the saying of Jehovah, who heap up violence and devastation in their palaces." The speaker is Jehovah (Amo 3:10), and the prophets are addressed. Jehovah summons them to send out the cry over the palaces in Ashdod and Egypt (על as in Hos 8:1), and to call the inhabitants of these palaces to hear, (1) that they may see the acts of violence, and the abominations in the palaces of Samaria; and (2) that they may be able to bear witness against Israel (Amo 3:13). This turn in the prophecy brings out to view the overflowing excess of the sins and abominations of Israel. The call of the prophets, however, is not to be uttered upon the palaces, so as to be heard far and wide (Baur and others), but over the palaces, to cause the inhabitants of them to draw near. It is they alone, and not the whole population of Ashdod and Egypt, who are to be called nigh; because only the inhabitants of the palace could pronounce a correct sentence as to the mode of life commonly adopted in the palaces of Samaria. Ashdod, one of the Philistian capitals, is mentioned by way of example, as a chief city of the uncircumcised, who were regarded by Israel as godless heathen; and Egypt is mentioned along with it, as the nation whose unrighteousness and ungodliness had once been experienced by Israel to satiety. If therefore such heathen as these are called to behold the unrighteous and dissolute conduct to be seen in the palaces, it must have been great indeed. The mountains of Samaria are not the mountains of the kingdom of Samaria, or the mountains upon which the city of Samaria was situated - for Samaria was not built upon a plurality of mountains, but upon one only (Amo 4:1; Amo 6:1) - but the mountains round about Samaria, from which you could look into the city, built upon one isolated hill. The city, built upon the hill of Semer, was situated in a mountain caldron or basin, about two yours in diameter, which was surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains (see at Kg1 16:24).
(Note: "As the mountains round the hill of Semer are loftier than this hill itself, the enemy might easily discover the internal state of besieged Samaria." V. de Velde, R. i. p. 282.)
Mehūmâh, noise, tumult, denotes a state of confusion, in which everything is topsy-turvy, and all justice and order are overthrown by open violence (Maurer, Baur). ‛Ashūqı̄m, either the oppressed, or, taken as an abstract, the oppression of the poor (cf. Amo 2:6). In Amo 3:10 the description is continued in the finite verb: they do not know how to do right; that is to say, injustice has become their nature; and they who heap up sins and violence in their palaces like treasures.
Thus do they bring about the ruin of the kingdom. Amo 3:11. "Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, An enemy, and that round about the land; and he will hurl down thy glory from thee, and thy palaces are plundered. Amo 3:12. Thus saith Jehovah, As the shepherd delivers out of the mouth of the lion two shin-bones or an ear-lappet, so will the sons of Israel deliver themselves; they who sit on the corner of the couch and on the damask of the bed." The threat is introduced in the form of an aposiopesis. צר, enemy, וּסביב הארץ, and indeed round about the land ( ו explic. as in Amo 4:10, etc.; and סביב in the construct state construed as a preposition), i.e., will come, attack the land on all sides, and take possession of it. Others regard צר as an abstract: oppression (from the Chaldee); but in this case we should have to supply Jehovah as the subject to והוריד; and although this is probable, it is by no means natural, as Jehovah is speaking. There is no foundation, on the other hand, for the remark, that if tsar signified the enemy, we should either find the plural צרים, or הצּר with the article (Baumgarten). The very indefiniteness of tsar suits the sententious brevity of the clause. This enemy will hurl down the splendour of Samaria, "which ornaments the top of the mountain like a crown, Isa 28:1-3" (Hitzig: עז, might, with the subordinate idea of glory), and plunder the palaces in which violence, i.e., property unrighteously acquired, is heaped up (Amo 3:10). The words are addressed to the city of Samaria, to which the feminine suffixes refer. On the fall of Samaria, and the plundering thereof, the luxurious grandees, who rest upon costly pillows, will only be able to save their life to the very smallest extent, and that with great difficulty. In the simile used in Amo 3:12 there is a slight want of proportion in the two halves, the object of the deliverance being thrown into the background in the second clause by the passive construction, and only indicated in the verb, to deliver themselves, i.e., to save their life. "A pair of shin-bones and a piece (בּדל ἁταξ λεγ.), i.e., a lappet, of the earth," are most insignificant remnants. The grandees of Samaria, of whom only a few were to escape with their life, are depicted by Amos as those who sit on costly divans, without the least anxiety. פּאת מטּה, the corner of the divan, the most convenient for repose. According to Amo 6:4, these divans were ornamented with ivory, and according to the verse before us, they were ornamented with costly stuffs. דּמשׂק comes from דמּשׂק, Damascus, and signifies damask, an artistically woven material (see Ges. Thes. p. 346). This brings the visitation of God to an end. Even the altars and palaces are to be laid in ruins, and consequently Samaria will be destroyed.
This feature in the threat is brought out into peculiar prominence by a fresh introduction. Amo 3:13. "Hear ye, and testify it to the house of Jacob, is the utterance of the Lord, Jehovah, the God of hosts: Amo 3:14. That in the day when I visit the transgressions of the house of Israel upon it, I shall visit it upon the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar will be cut off, and fall to the ground. Amo 3:15. And I smite the winter-house over the summer-house, and the houses of ivory perish, and many houses vanish, is the saying of Jehovah." The words "Hear ye" cannot be addressed to the Israelites, fore they could not bear witness against the house of Israel, but must either refer to the prophets, as in Amo 3:9 ("publish ye"), or to the heathen, in which case they correspond to "assemble yourselves and behold" in Amo 3:9. The latter assumption is the only correct one, for the context does not assign a sufficient motive for an address to the prophets. On the other hand, as the heathen have been summoned to convince themselves by actual observation of the sins that prevail in Samaria, it is perfectly in keeping that they should now hear what is the punishment that God is about to inflict upon Israel in consequence, and that they should bear witness against Israel from what they have heard. העיד ב, to bear witness towards or against (not "in," as Baur supposes). The house of Jacob is the whole of Israel, of the twelve tribes, as in Amo 3:1; for Judah was also to learn a lesson from the destruction of Samaria. As the appeal to the heathen to bear witness against Israel indicates the greatness of the sins of the Israelites, so, on the other hand, does the accumulation of the names of God in Amo 3:13 serve to strengthen the declaration made by the Lord, who possesses as God of hosts the power to execute His threats. כּי introduces the substance of what is to be heard. The punishment of the sins of Israel is to extend even to the altars of Bethel, the seat of the idolatrous image-worship, the hearth and home of the religious and moral corruption of the ten tribes. The smiting off of the horns of the altar is the destruction of the altars themselves, the significance of which culminated in the horns (see at Exo 27:2). The singular hammizbēăch (the altar) preceded by a plural is the singular of species (cf. Ges. 108, 1), and does not refer to any particular one - say, for example, to the principal altar. The destruction of the palaces and houses (Amo 3:15) takes place in the capital. In the reference to the winter-house and summer-house, we have to think primarily of the royal palace (cf. Jer 36:22); at the same time, wealthy noblemen may also have had them. על, lit., over, so that the ruins of one house fall upon the top of another; then "together with," as in Gen 32:12. בּתּי שׁן, ivory houses, houses the rooms of which are decorated by inlaid ivory. Ahab had a palace of this kind (Kg1 22:39, compare Psa 45:9). בּתּים רבּים, not the large houses, but many houses; for the description is rounded off with these words. Along with the palaces, many houses will also fall to the ground. The fulfilment took place when Samaria was taken by Shalmanezer (Kg2 17:5-6).