Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Amos 3-6 form a connected series, standing, however, as a natural sequence upon the previous section (Amos 1:2). In the denunciations with which the oracles of Amos open, the last strophe refers to Israel. The same subject is the burden of the following discourses, Amos 3-6, and with searching minuteness the whole of Israel’s sin and doom are laid bare by the prophet; the blindness to the warnings of prophecy, the pride and luxury of the powerful, and the misery of the oppressed, as well as the prevailing idolatrous corruption. In Amos 4:5, the utterance of the prophet assumes the form of a measured strain (as in Amos 1), with an intercalary refrain, which may have been the model for Isaiah’s yet more artistic effort (Amos 9:7—10:4, Amos 5:25-27). A solemn dirge over Israel and Judah (Amos 5, 6) closes the first part of these prophetic addresses.
Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,(1) Children of Israel rather than “house of Israel” is a phrase not so usual in Amos. Hence in many MSS. the latter phrase is substituted. There is, however, significance in the former, as Amos addresses himself to both kingdoms in the phrase “the whole family.” Yet the kingdom of the Ten Tribes seems to be chiefly in the mind of the prophet.
You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.(2) Known.—The knowledge of God is love. There was special knowledge and intimacy between God and Israel. Upon such knowledge followed advantages and privileges innumerable.
Therefore I will . . .—This may mean, in proportion to your privileges will be your doom—but more probably that this intimacy of knowledge is the ground of gracious chastisement. For nation or man to be allowed to go on in sin without rebuke is the greatest curse that can befall it or him.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?(3) Two.—Who are the two here represented? Some commentators say, two prophets; Rosenmüller, “God and the prophet.” But Grotius, Lowth, Henderson, and Pusey refer it, with more reason, to God and Israel, the expression denoting, not merely God’s knowledge of a man, but man’s response to God. His practical obedience, his communion of heart and will, are described as “walking with” or “before God.” (Genesis 5:22; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 17:1; Psalm 56:13; Psalm 116:9.) Will, then, God walk with man, guiding, shielding, strengthening him, if man is not in harmony with Him? This is the first of a series of parabolic apothegms, all of which require a negative answer. (Leviticus 26:23-24.) Each states an event, closely and indissolubly related to another in the bond of cause and effect. All these symbolic utterances point on to the climax in Amos 3:7-8.
Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?(4) Lion.—The questions suggest that the prey is being seized. This is intimated by the lion’s roar, the loud roar of the lion in the forest, the growl of the famished young lions in the den. Aben-Ezra thus interprets; but G. Baur thinks that Caphir distinguishes a “hunting lion” from the beast that growls in his lair. (Comp. Amos 1:2.) Amos, by his graphic representation of the terrifying threat, signifies that nations, and kingdoms, and this family of Israel, are, at the present moment, trembling in the grasp of the great Avenger.
Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is for him? shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?(5) Can a bird.—Better, Does the snare rise up from the ground, and take nothing at all?” E.V. “take up” is due to ambiguity of the Hebrew. The idea is that Israel “like a silly dove” is falling into snares. The snare, even now, may be seen springing from the earth. The armies and politics of the nation that will enclose Israel are already in motion.
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?(6, 7) Surely the Lord . . .—In this, and the preceding verse, the future tense should be replaced by a present. Render doeth nothing, and in Amos 3:6 is a trumpet sounded . . . are not afraid . . . is there evil; for the prophet intends to express a continually-recurring fact. The word translated “evil” is commonly, but not universally, used for moral evil. (See Genesis 19:19; Genesis 44:34; Exodus 32:14.) “Evil which is sin the Lord hath not done, evil which is punishment for evil the Lord bringeth.” (Augustine.) Compare, as illustrations of the truth of Amos 3:7, the revelation of the Divine purpose to Noah with reference to the Deluge, to Abraham with respect to Sodom, to Joseph about the famine in Egypt, and to Moses concerning Pharaoh. The prophets of the Lord have given full warning of the judgment of God upon all sin.
The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?(8) Roared.—Comp. the imagery of Amos 1:2, and that of Amos 3:4. The voice of the Lord is so audible, so clearly portending the coming judgment, that universal terror inevitably follows. (Comp. “If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out.”
Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof.(9) In the palaces.—Rather, on the palaces, i.e., on their roofs in such conspicuous places that the population, high and low, would hear the summons.
Mountains of Samaria.—In the high ground around the city, from which can be observed all that is passing in the metropolis. Foreign people, even Philistines and Egyptians, are gathered to witness the evils of the doomed realm. The marginal rendering “oppressions” should be adopted. This is shown by the parallelism.
For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.(10) Know not to do right.—Not merely have lost the perception of what is and what is not right, but are indifferent to such distinctions. They know not and care not; the awful state of utter moral impotence, wherein not only the intellectual consciousness, but the impulses to action, are languid or even paralysed—a dead conscience! Nothing is more condemnatory than this brief sentence. The light within them is darkness.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.(11) An adversary.—This rendering is to be preferred to “affliction” (Chald., Syr.). It is the subject of the following verb “bring down,” Assyria being referred to, though not in express terms. The reading of LXX., “O Tyre, thy land round about thee is desolate,” is incoherent, and confounds Tzăr with tzôr.
Thy strength points mainly to the stronghold of Samaria, which the enemy was to bring down or reduce to ruins, but it may likewise include the chief warriors who were to be led away captive.
Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.(12) Taketh out . . . taken out.—Should be (as in margin) delivereth . . . be delivered. The agricultural image, used by Amos, is very impressive. The shanks and pieces of the ear, worthless portions, saved from the lion’s jaws, represent the remnants of Samaria’s population that shall escape.
In Damascus in a couch.—Some would render “in Damascus on that of (i.e., corner of) a couch,” Damascus corresponding to Samaria in the parallel clause. But this construction is very questionable, and it would be much simpler and safer to adopt the reading of most Hebrew texts, and render on a couch’s damask (so Gesenius and Ewald), referring to the silken (?) or white woollen fabric for which Damascus, even in that early age, was famous. The relations between Syria and Israel at this moment were intimate. The meaning is that even the noblest and wealthiest will be regarded, if saved, as worthless salvage.
Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord GOD, the God of hosts,(13) Hear ye.—Addressed to the foreign nations Egypt and Philistia referred to in Amos 3:9.
And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the LORD.(15) Houses.—It is uncertain whether by “winter and summer houses” are meant two classes of royal abodes, or different chambers of the same house (Judges 3:20; Jeremiah 36:22, are compatible with either). “Ivory houses” mean mansions adorned with ivory. For “great houses” should be read many houses.