Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The prophet now turns his rebuke, not only to the Northern kingdom, but to the House of Judah, though the burden of the subsequent charges are specially applicable to the former.
Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!(1) Trust.—The word for “trust” is a participle, and we should translate as the parallelism indicates: the confident (or complacent) dwellers in the mountain of Samaria; i.e., the upper luxurious classes, “the chief of the first of nations,” meaning the rulers, to whom Israel, the supreme and highly-favoured nation, comes up for judgment and for guidance in all civil affairs. These are now summoned to listen to the rebuke of the Divine Judge.
Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?(2) The meaning is obscure. Kalneh, the Kalno of Isaiah 10:9, the Assyrian Kulunu (comp. Genesis 10:10), is here probably mentioned first because it is most easterly. It is identified by Kiepert with Holwân, but its position is uncertain, though generally regarded as lying in the neighbourhood of the Greek Ctesiphon, on the Tigris. Hamath is the ancient Hittite city in the valley of the Orontes, and it had felt the strong hand of Jeroboam II. (2Kings 14:28). We have no reason for believing that at this period the Assyrian power had destroyed the importance of these places, though the prophet may have regarded that issue as imminent. Hamath the Great (or Rabba; comp. Joshua 11:8), according to the inscriptions, sustained defeats from Salmanassar II. about 850 B.C. It was finally overthrown by Sargon in 720 B.C., who in his own boastful language “swept over its land like a flood.” Gath, the home of Goliath, had probably lost its original importance. Uzziah destroyed it. Were Calno, Hamath, Gath, more important than Zion or Samaria? Then, says the prophet, do not expect in your opulence and self-satisfaction immunity from a worse doom.
Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;(3) Far away.—They choose to think that the day of reckoning is far off, and cling yet closer to their habits of defrauding the poor at the seat of judgment. (Comp. Ezekiel 12:21-28.)
That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall;(4) Of ivory—i.e., inlaid with that material.
That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;(5) Chant.—The original Hebrew only occurs in this passage, and is best rendered prattle, or jabber. The comparison with David is ironical He made these instruments to please the Lord, these princes to please themselves.
That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.(6) Bowls.—The extent of their potations is indicated by the fact that they drink, not from wine-cups, but from large bowls (in which the wine was probably mixed). The same word is used in Exodus 38:3 to describe the sacrificial basons.
And anoint themselves . . .—Render, anoint themselves with the choicest of oils, and are not sick at heart for the ruin of Joseph. Self-indulgence is indifferent to the call of duty or danger.
Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.(7) Therefore (as a punishment for this self-indulgence) they shall go into captivity at the head of the captives, and the shout of the loungers (rioting in their banquets) shall cease. All their loud merriment will come to a sorry end.
The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.(8) By himself.—Literally, by His soul. Jehovah swears by His life or soul because He could swear by no greater—the eternal “I Am.” (Comp. the formula of Divine asseveration: “As I live, saith the Lord,” which derives illustration from the custom of swearing by the life of a monarch; Genesis 42:15-16.) With the eternal unchangeable being of the Supreme Monarch stands contrasted “the excellency of Jacob,” the false futile glory which Jehovah abhors. In Amos 8:7 the phrase is used for God Himself; not, however, in either passage God’s absolute perfection or objective glory, but the thoughts, sometimes wise, sometimes base, which men have entertained about Him. From the context we infer that the splendid shrine of Samaria, with its unacceptable offerings and calf-worship, is here meant. The reference to the coming destruction of buildings great and small (Amos 6:11) lends colour to this interpretation. (Comp. Amos 6:13.)
And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die.(9, 10) Ten . . . uncle.—In some large house it might be that ten are left remaining, but even these are devoured by the pestilence which hovers in the track of war. Nine have fallen victims. Fathers and brothers are all gone, and the uncle comes in as the funereal burner, to carry out the corpse to the pyre, and finds in the innermost parts of the house the tenth victim of the fell disease yet alive. A hurried word or two passes between them: “Is there yet another with thee?” and the answer comes, “Not one.” Then shall he say “Hush!” The lonely sufferer begins to curse the Lord for His judgments, or it may be he begins to call upon the Name of the Lord when it is too late, when, as a finishing touch of darkest gloom and despair, he is interrupted by a warning not to stir up Jehovah’s wrath in this day of His visitation by even mentioning His name. This and one other passage (1Samuel 31:12) imply that under special circumstances the Hebrews burned their dead. In this case pestilence made cremation a necessity. The references in 2Chronicles 16:14; 2Chronicles 21:19; Jeremiah 34:5, are to honorific burning of spices in memory of the dead.
For, behold, the LORD commandeth, and he will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts.(11) Breaches.—For this read ruins. (See end of Note on Amos 6:8.) The overthrow of all classes of the population is here referred to.
Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock:(12) The questions require a negative answer, and show that the conduct of Israel is as inconsistent and senseless as the supposition involved in the interrogation: that horses should climb steep cliffs, or oxen plough in the rocky gorge. The conception of oppression, luxury, and pride being the forerunners of prosperity and peace is anomalous. The idea is, that that which should have insured the stability of the state, the embodiment of its conscience, had been turned into narcotic poison—the self-satisfaction of personal greed. Rôsh, the Hebrew for “gall,” is a poisonous kind of plant with bitter taste, and resembling, according to Jerome, stalks of grass, and propagating itself with such rapidity that it is difficult to exterminate it. (Comp. Hosea 10:4. Speaker’s Commentary suggests “poppy-head.”) In Amos 5:7 the word expressed here by “hemlock” is rendered “worm-wood,” as in Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Deuteronomy 29:18, &c., a rendering which should have been retained here. Gall and worm-wood are constantly associated in Old Testament prophecy in this metaphorical sense.
Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?(13) A thing of nought refers to the calf-worship, the idol that Israel is glorying and trusting in, the idolatrous travesty of the Eternal that they call “the excellency of Jacob.” (Comp. Amos 6:8, and Amos 8:7.)
Taken to us horns—i.e., instruments of resistance and aggression, the horn being symbolic of strength (Jeremiah 48:25; Psalm 75:10; Psalm 89:17; Psalm 92:10; 1Samuel 2:10). The sacred historian takes quite a different view of the success of Jeroboam II. (2Kings 14:26-27). These boasters reckoned the success of arms as due to their own ingenuity or “power.” (Comp. the language put into the mouth of Pharaoh by Ezekiel 29:3 : “My river is my own: I made it for myself.”)
But, behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the LORD the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness.(14) From . . . unto.—The entire limits of the kingdom of Israel after the victories of Jeroboam II. were, according to 2Kings 14:25, identical with the region which is here threatened with invasion, i.e., extending from the mouth of the Orontes valley (comp. Numbers 34:8; Joshua 13:5) to the Wady el Ahsa, the southern boundary of Moab. (Comp. Isaiah 15:7, where the Hebrew name appears under a slightly different form, implying “torrent of the poplars.”)