Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit.(1, 2) The visions are resumed as though the priest at Bethel had trembled at the presence of Amos, and had ceased to persecute him. There is a remarkable play of words, qaits being the Hebrew for “summer fruit,” and qêts for “end.” It is harvest time, the end of the agricultural year. Israel is ripe for his final doom, that shall sweep down like a scythe. For “pass by” see on Amos 7:8.
And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord GOD: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence.(3) Temple.—The word thus rendered (hêchal) also signifies “palace,” and this is probably the meaning in this passage. The “songs” have been already spoken of in Amos 6:5. The construction of the following clauses in the original is somewhat doubtful. Some commentators would break up the sentence into abrupt ejaculations. Thus Keil:—“corpses in multitude; in every place he hath cast them forth: Hush!” For “he hath cast,” some would read (with 2 Heb. MSS.) the imperative, “cast them forth.” But it would be better, and more in consonance with the style of Amos, to connect the clauses together thus: There shall be many corpses in every place that one hath cast away in hushed silence. The words describe the reign of death and doom, with none to bury or make lamentation—a full end.
Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,(4) Ye that swallow up . . .—Better, ye that pant (or are greedy) for the very ashes on their heads.
Make . . . to fail.—Literally, make . . . to cease: i.e., destroy.
Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?(5) When . . . gone.—They desired that the festivals of the New Moon and Sabbath should be over, when they might not only return to their secular employments, but pursue their search for ill-gotten gains—a proof that these festivals were observed in the northern nation, even if they were disliked.
Set forth wheat.—The original signifies the opening of the sacks, or granaries, where the wheat was stored. The greedy mercantile class is referred to. The ephah, which was a dry measure (= three English pecks), was “made small,” so that a smaller quantity might be sold. The shekel was the weight against which the precious metal was weighed. If this were fraudulently augmented, more of the gold or silver than was due was demanded for the impoverished ephah.
Falsifying the balances . . .—More accurately, falsifying the deceitful balances, so that the very symbol of justice became the implement of committing injustice. This is frequently condemned in the Law and Prophets (Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:15; Proverbs 11:1; Micah 6:11).
That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?(6) On this perverse straining of the Law, comp. Amos 2:6. Their money-making propensity was carried to such unscrupulous lengths, that they even sold the refuse of corn, little better than mere chaff.
The LORD hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.(7) Excellency of Jacob.—In the previous use of this remarkable expression (Amos 6:8) Jehovah is said to abhor it, but here He swears by it. The “excellency” which He abhorred was the miserable substitute which they had made for His great Name. Here He gives it the value which, in itself, it ought to possess.
Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.(8) Shall not the land . . .?—The rendering should be, The whole of it rises as the Nile, surges and subsides (or sinks) as the Egyptian Nile. The solid land shall rise up in earthquake, like the Nile that ascends twenty feet in the time of its inundation, and then subsides.
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day:(9) Darken the earth.—The darkening of the sun at noon-day gives an image of confusion and terror (comp. Amos 5:20). The eclipse of the sun that is here alluded to (see Excursus C), like the earthquake in the preceding verse, is employed as a powerful image of national calamity, the extinction of the royal house, and perhaps the final overthrow of Israel. (Comp. Jeremiah 15:9; Ezekiel 32:7-10.)
EXCURSUS C (Amos 8:9).
That an eclipse is here referred to, and employed as a figure to express the overwhelming calamities which were to darken Israel, can hardly admit of doubt, when we compare the similar figurative use of the earthquake in the preceding verse. But to what eclipse does the prophet refer? Mr. J. W. Bosanquet has attempted to identify it with a very special one, mentioned in the Assyrian annals:—“In the eponymy of Bursagale, prefect of Gozan, the city of Asshur revolted, and in the month Sivan the sun was eclipsed.” This has been calculated by Hind to have occurred on June 15, 763 B.C. (So Rawlinson, Schrader, G. Smith, &c., as against Oppert’s view, which is untenable.) If this eclipse was in the mind of the prophet, it is a fact of considerable importance in chronology. On the whole, however, it is more probable that the prophet was thinking of an earlier eclipse, which took place in 784 B.C., Feb. 9. It was a total eclipse, the time of totality being about 1 p.m. at Jerusalem, thus exactly corresponding with the phraseology of this verse. So remarkable a phenomenon would naturally stamp itself for many years upon the mind of the people, and this vivid impression the prophet summons to his aid in foreshadowing the calamities of the last time.
And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.(10, 11) The imagery is very vivid. The prophet threatens a famine of the word of Jehovah, and a parching thirst for the Water of Life, now no longer attainable. Such terrible destitution often supervenes on the neglect of the Word of God, the power to discern the ever-present Word being exhausted. Then comes the withdrawal of revelation, the silence of seers. One of the awful dooms of unbelief in the next world will be this famine, this hopeless thirst and fathomless suspense.
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.(12) They shall wander from sea to sea . . .—Stagger and reel from east to west to find one seer who knows the mind of the Lord: they shall not find one. The reference to the east here has an instructive parallel in Isaiah 2:6, where the house of Jacob is enounced as being “full of the east.” Probably Delitzsch is right in interpreting the east there to mean Arabia as inclusive of the whole tract from the Sinaitic peninsula to the banks of the Euphrates. The north would mean Phœnicia and Aram. From these districts the distracted superstitious Hebrew sought vain help in idolatrous forms of divination.
In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.(13) Faint.—That fair virgins and strong brave youths should faint by reason of their raging thirst suggests that the less vigorous would suffer even more keenly. It is sad when old men stumble into the darkness of unbelief amid the shining of the noon-day sun, seeing that they can remember the brightness of their morning, but there is always hope that their child-like spirit may return to them, and that at the evening time it may be light; but if fair virgins and strong youths are covered with the inward veil, what will become of them in their westering days? and where will the elders be if they have had no youth?
They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.(14) Thy God, O Dan, liveth.—Translate, By the life of thy God, O Dan, and by the life of the way of Beersheba. On such forms of oath, see Note on Amos 6:8. The “way of Beersheba” was the ritual practised at Beersheba, another mode of designating the deity himself (probably Baal). So LXX. Similarly the “sin of Samaria” means the golden calf that was worshipped there (Hosea 8:5). The supposition of Hitzig and Duhm (followed by W. R. Smith) that it refere to the Asherah worship (2Kings 13:6) is not so probable.
 From chap. 5:5 we infer that Beersheba, lying far south on the borders of Judah (twenty-five geographical miles south of Hebron), was a famous religious centre, so that inhabitants of the northern kingdom were in the habit of “crossing the frontier” in order to pay their vows, or enquire at this high place.