Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
BOOK OF AMOS
OTTO SCHMOLLER, PH. D.,
TRANSLATED AND ENLARGED
TALBOT W. CHAMBERS, D. D.,
ONE OF THE PASTORS OF THE COLLEGIATE REFORMED DUTCH CHURCH, NEW YORK.
THE PROPHET AMOS
§ 1. The Personal Relations of Amos
OF these we know more than we do in the case of Hosea and of Joel, and that, not merely from the superscription, the originality of which needs yet to be established, but also from the prophet’s own words (Amos 7:10–15). First of all occurs the name, עָמוֹם. It may be mentioned in passing that the fathers, ignorant of Hebrew, confounded this name with אָמוֹץ, that of the father of Isaiah, and supposed the two persons to be one and the same; but Jerome denied the assertion. The meaning of the name is uncertain, perhaps= Bearer, or Heavy. His home was certainly, according to Amos 7:10 ff., in the kingdom of Judah. He labored indeed in Ephraim, but this was considered strange by Amaziah, who reproved it as an insolent, undertaking and bade him escape to Judah, so that manifestly, he did not reside in Bethel nor anywhere in Israel. The superscription puts his residence in Tekoa, a town in the tribe of Judah, often mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament (2 Sam. 14:2; 2 Chron. 11:6, 20:20; Jer. 6:1; also 1 Mac. 9:33), and said by Jerome to be some miles south of Bethlehem, where its ruins are still preserved in the modern name of Tekua.
Here, according to Amos 7:14, Amos was a בוֹקֵר, which naturally, according to its derivation, means herdman. But the 15th verse states that Jehovah took him from following הצּא̇ן, and this word signifies sheep and goats in distinction from neat-cattle, so that the term herdman must be considered as used in a wide sense and including a shepherd’s office. This is confirmed by the account of Tekoa given by Jerome, who knew the holy land from personal observation, and whose statements in his preface to our prophet, are therefore not to be regarded as mere inferences from this passage. He says that the country was sandy and barren, and therefore full of shepherds who made amends for its failure to yield crops by the number of their flocks. That there were many shepherds in the place is indicated by the title, in its saying that Amos was “among the נוֹקְדִיב of Tekoa” (מִתְּקוֹעַ meaning, perhaps, those who had gone out from Tekoa to more distant pastures). The term נוֹקֵד occurs besides this place only in 2 Kings 3:4, where it is applied to the Moabitish king, Meshah, who in this capacity paid to the king of Israel a yearly tribute of 100,000 lambs, and as many rams. Accordingly it signifies a sheep-master. We may therefore regard Amos as an owner of flocks, but by no means as a wealthy sheep-owner. This is determined by what he says of himself (Amos 7:14, 16), according to which he was a shepherd, and took care of the sheep, even if they were his own. But this phrase “among the shepherds of Tekoah,” may refer merely to his residence, and so indicate his employment while he was living among these persons. He further calls himself בּוֹלֵס שִׁקְמִים, one who cultivated sycamores for his support. This tree by its sweet fruit (Pliny, N. H., 13:14, calls it prædulcis) which it bears abundantly, afforded to a shepherd living in the open country a nutriment both ample and easily provided. So that Amos had a competent support, although he was not rich. Accordingly, in Amos 7:12, etc., he rejects the summons to go to Judah and eat his bread there, on the ground that he did not prophesy for bread but had a competency of his own, implying also perhaps that as a shepherd he was satisfied with simple fare.
Here now as he abode among his flocks the call of the Lord reached him to prophesy concerning Israel. For he says expressly that he was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, (i. e., a pupil of the prophets, which excludes any thought of a school in which he had prepared himself for the work, or even that he had assumed it as a calling. In obedience to the summons he repaired to Bethel, the chief seat of the idol worship, in order to announce to the careless people the divine judgment. There the priest Amaziah sought to drive him away, as a seditions person. But he boldly resisted, and made his threatening still more severe. It is not stated whether he then went away or whether he continued his prophetic function. All that we further know of him is that his discourses were reduced to writing. Later traditions of his martyrdom have no historical value.
§ 2. The Age of the Prophet.
This in substance is well settled. For the book itself names Jeroboam (2) as the king under whom Amos prophesied in Bethel. This king ascended the throne in the fifteenth of the twenty-nine years’ reign of Amaziah, king of Judah; and reigned forty-one years. He was therefore fourteen years contemporary with Amaziah, and twenty-seven years with his successor Uzziah. The title puts Amos in the last two thirds of Jeroboam’s reign, since it represents him as prophesying in the days of Jeroboam and Uzziah, i. e., while they were contemporary; and this is confirmed by the statement in Amos 9:12 that “the remnant of Edom should be possessed,” indicating that the Edomite capital, Selah, had already been conquered, which took place under Uzziah’s father Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7). The time of the prophet’s activity cannot be more closely defined within these twenty-seven years; only it is certain that it did not extend over the whole period, but was confined to a certain occasion. The title indicates this by the note—“two years before the earthquake.” This would give us the precise date, if only we knew the time of the earthquake; but this not being the case, we gain nothing by the statement. It only confirms the view that Amos prophesied in the reign of Uzziah, for we have every reason to believe that this earthquake was the same with the one mentioned in Zechariah 14:5, which is there said to have occurred under Uzziah. (As to the object of this note, see below, Amos 1:1.)
Amos was somewhat earlier than Hosea, but still the latter was his contemporary, and carried on his work (undoubtedly using his materials, see below) of announcing judgment upon Ephraim, in a still more threatening manner and with a clearer indication that Assyria was to be the instrument of this judgment. On the other hand, Amos was younger than Joel, whose writings were known to him when he composed his own, since he expressly refers to them, adopting Joel’s words in his commencement (Amos 1:2), and leaning upon them in the promise with which he concludes (Amos 9:13).
The period of Amos’s ministry was one of great external prosperity for the kingdom of Israel. Under Jeroboam 2 it stood at the zenith of its power. Compare the picture of the rich who seek only the increase of their wealth and luxury, and feel so entirely secure. Certainly, as this picture directly shows, there was under this outward pomp and prosperity a deep moral decay which stood in close connection with the apostasy from pure religion. In Judah the case was different, but even there matters had become worse since the time of Joel. For Amos openly complains of a contempt of God’s law and an inclination to idolatry, of which we find no trace in Joel. Israel, however, had sunk deep in corruption, yet no one either perceived or was willing to learn of any danger, all were in careless security. No political signs indicated any danger from a foreign foe. The Assyrians, indeed, attracted attention, but there was no probability that they would endanger the kingdom. It was too strong for that. And as to the danger resulting from inward moral decay, that was not apprehended, because men either disbelieved in a retributive, sin-avenging righteousness, or else excluded the thought of it from their minds. At this time the simple shepherd of Tekoa was sent into the kingdom of Israel to announce to it, and especially to the house of Jeroboam, God’s judgment and their own downfall, as he says, Amos 7:15. Any one who had a living faith in God and therefore in a divine retribution, might well conclude from a glance at the defection from a true faith and worship and the prevailing moral corruption, that such a people and kingdom were on the downward road and would fare ill. But it was a long step from this to the public announcement of a certain overthrow by a foreign conqueror. Just this is found in Amos; he does not indeed name the foe, but no one can mistake who is meant. Thus he showed himself possessed of a special revelation from God, as he expressly said in Amos 7:15. Although no one thought particularly of Assyria, for which reason he does not name it, still he already saw in that kingdom the instrument of God’s vengeance and so declared.
§ 3. The Book of the Prophet.
Under the name of this prophet we have a prophetic writing in nine chapters, containing chiefly threatenings against the kingdom of Israel, to which, on account of its prevailing grievous sins, it announces a grievous infliction, even overthrow by a hostile nation. Still the book is not limited to threatenings against Israel, but at least begins with threats upon the surrounding heathen, and then, like a genuine prophetic book, concludes with the promise of a new deliverance for Israel and a splendid prosperity under the house of David.
Entering more into detail, we are to consider—1. The first and second chapters as a sort of introduction to the particular subject.
The second verse of Amos 1 repeats a menace contained in Joel 4:16, and then the nations around Israel are taken up in order, first the heathen, Damascus (1:3–5), Philistia (6–8), Tyre (9–10), Edom (11, 12), Ammon (13–15), Moab (2:1–3), and then Judah (4–5), against each of which the divine wrath is announced in short, similar sentences, even “for three transgressions and for four,” and is executed by “kindling a fire” in their capitals. Then the threatening turns to Israel, at first in the same phrase as before, but soon at greater length. There is a fuller detail of the prevailing sins, oppression of the poor, and lascivious luxury, together with a gross contempt for God’s favors toward them as his people (6–12); and a fuller announcement of punishment, namely, complete subjugation under an invading foe (13–16). It is thus evident that the previous denunciations were intended only to pave the way for this one, and that Israel was especially aimed at, for which reason the prophet dwells on their case. Still the threatening is here only introduced, and the judgment is declared merely in general terms; the form of its fulfillment can only be conjectured.
2. The special charges and threats follow in Amos 3–6. This division contains four discourses,—the first three of which begin with a “Hear this word”—in which the kingdom of Israel, especially the great men, on account of the prevailing sins, are threatened with a divine judgment in the shape of the destruction of palaces and sanctuaries, the overthrow of the kingdom, and the carrying away of the people, unless by seeking the Lord they seize the only hope of deliverance.
(a.) In Amos 3 the chief thought is manifestly that there should be no doubt about the coming of the judgment, since the prophet who bore Jehovah’s commission could not speak in vain.
(b.) Amos 4 bases the assurance of punishment on the fact that all previous visitations of God had been to no purpose; since repentance had not ensued. The judgment therefore must come.
(c.) In Amos 5 we hear the outcry at approaching calamity, intermingled with calls to seek the Lord and love the good, as the only means of escape. It concludes with a woe pronounced upon those who desire the day of the Lord, which yet for them must be a day of terror, since all idolatry is an abomination to him. Then is added in—
(d.) Chap, 6, a woe upon those who on the contrary fancy the day of the Lord to be far off and therefore persevere in their frivolity until the judgment overtakes them by means of a people whom the Lord will raise up.
After these discourses about punishment comes a new division,—
3. Amos 7–9, in which the prophet recounts certain visions in which he has seen the fate of Israel, interspersed with historical details and threats of punishment, but at last passing into the promise of a new deliverance and prosperity for Israel.
(a). Amos 7 First, the prophet has two visions of punishment by Locusts and by Fire, which, however, are averted at his intercession. So much the more does the third vision, of the Plumb-line, show the downfall of the kingdom, and especially of the house of Jeroboam to be irreversible (1–9). The result of this announcement is that the priest Amaziah complains of Amos to the king and proposes his banishment. But Amos boldly meets him, affirms the divine call under which he was acting, and utters a still sharper threat, aimed especially at the priest.
(b.) Amos 8 A fourth vision represents the ripeness of the people for judgment under the image of a basket of ripe fruit. Then the prophet commences with “Hear this” (as in Amos 3, 4, 5), a denunciation of the sins of the higher classes, who are threatened with the sore grief of a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.
(c.) In a fifth vision the prophet sees under the image of an overthrow of the temple (at Bethel) which buries all in its ruins, the utter ruin of the kingdom by a divine judgment which none can escape; since God is almighty and Israel is not a whit better than the heathen (1:7). Yet God will not destroy it entirely, but sift it by destroying all the sinners at ease, and then raise again David’s fallen tent to a new glory. Thus the book concludes with the promise of a new deliverance under the house of David, when Israel will be richly blessed, and made as great and powerful as ever before, and never again be driven out of the land.
That the book whose contents are thus outlined forms one complete whole, can scarcely be disputed. But to press the inquiry closer, it is at once evident that Amos 1 and 2 are intimately connected, and in like manner Amos 3–4 belong together. But that the latter division concurs with the former to make one whole is equally clear. A menace of judgment upon Israel could not possibly be satisfied with what is said in 2:13–16, for in that case there would be no definiteness and certainty as to what Israel was to expect. The further statements in the following discourses are a matter of necessity. Moreover, a comparison of 2:6–8 with 3:9, 10, 5:7, 11, 6:4, shows a striking similarity between the sins censured in both cases. The unity of the first six chapters is then established. As to Amos 7–9 no argument is needed to show their mutual coherence. But the question arises, whether they did not originally form an independent whole which a subsequent editor appended to the foregoing, or conversely made the foregoing a preface to it. There is much to favor its independent character. It differs from what precedes, both in matter as containing visions, and in form, as the prophet speaks in the first person. Notwithstanding, its close connection—at least in the state in which we now have it—with Amos 1–6, is unquestionable. The chief evidence of this seems to me to lie in Amos 8: 4 seq.; which bears an unmistakable relation to what is already found in Amos 3–6. The reproof is the same in both. Compare the introductory words “Hear ye;” the censure of sins in 8:4, etc., with Amos 2:6, etc, and Amos 5:11, 12; and also, the announcement of judgment, in 8:10 with Amos 5:15. So close is the correspondence that one might be tempted to think that the latter passages were a subsequent insertion, which of course would destroy the argument for the original coherence of the whole. But we can hardly assume this theory of insertion by an editor, simply because the words, 8:4, etc., are somewhat abrupt and do not seem to be exactly in their place. If an alteration were made, we should suppose they would have been taken away from their present place and joined to the foregoing passages, to which they seem more suited. Here applies the critical canon that the more difficult reading is to be preferred. But then it is to be observed that the conclusion, (9:11, etc.,) undeniably reechoes the conclusion of Joel, and still more does Amos 1:2 connect itself with Joel. This fact shows beyond mistake that our book in its present state originated from one hand, and farther, since its beginning and its end are original, integral elements proceeding from the author himself, that we must consider the book as a complete whole, as certainly so prepared by its author.
If this be so, it follows that the prophet Amos, who in Amos 7 speaks of himself in the first person, is necessarily the composer not merely of the account of these visions, but also of the whole book. If at first we understood from the superscription that the substance of these utterances proceeded from Amos, much more must we suppose that they were reduced to writing and united with the foregoing books by him; and we must consider the superscription as prefixed to this, as it undoubtedly will, and of right ought to be, considered. That he who in Amos 7. says “I”, is no other than Amos, is plain from verse 10, etc., where he is so called, but that he is here spoken of in the third person is no evidence that he is not the author. Of the portions marked with the “I,” both preceding and following, he is certainly such, but we need not for that reason consider the intervening passage 7:10–17 as inserted by another; for Hosea, in the beginning of his prophecy, in the portion (Amos 1:2) which undoubtedly is his own, also speaks of himself in the third person. Besides, the transition to the third person here is altogether simple and natural, since he was repeating what Amaziah charged against him. And having thus spoken, he continues in the same manner in the 12th and 13th verses. Moreover, since the subject relates to the personal experiences of the prophet, there is the less reason for considering it another’s interpolation in a writing the rest of which was composed by Amos. No, it is Amos alone who relates what befell him in his prophesying, and then, speaks of his origin and his mission, and afterwards utters a new menace against Amaziah. And this is not added as a mere matter of history, but the account of the occurrence with Amaziah bears so directly upon this speech to him that it is perfectly plain that the author of the one is the author of the other, i. e., that the prophet himself, and no one else, has produced the whole. In favor of Amos’s authorship is the style, in which are manifold reminiscences of a pastoral life. (See below.) In the first instance, this proves only that the separate discourses came from Amos, but not that he composed the whole. But since after what has been said the theory of its compilation by a third person is inadmissible, the argument for Amos as the author is greatly strengthened by these peculiarities of language. Besides, we could not properly speak of “Discourses of Amos” which another person has collected together, but the book in its present form is to be considered as an original composition of its author, based upon the “discourses” he had delivered orally.
This leads to the question concerning the precise origin of the book,—which is not answered by determining that it is a consistent whole and was the work of Amos. For here, more than in the other prophets, do we need to understand the relation of the book to the public, oral activity of the prophet.
A public and therefore oral announcement of prophecies against Israel is expressly ascribed to Amos. Just for this purpose he who was originally a herdsman came forth as a prophet. The question is, What were those oral prophecies, and how were they related to our book? Ewald and Baur assume that Amos 7–9:10, contain what was originally said at Bethel, and that the first part, Amos 1–6 and the Messianic conclusion, are only a written statement, devised by Amos after his return from Bethel to Judah, in order to make his utterances effective for a wider circle. This view is quite plausible: for thus is most easily explained the difference in form between the first part and the second, and also, the singular interruption of the prophecies by a historical narration, Amos 7:10, etc. One is inclined, besides, to think that the herdsman of Tekoah first received in the form of visions the divine revelation and the command, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (7:15); and that the longer discourses are an afterthought belonging to the written statement. But even if, as we shall see, there is some weight in the latter consideration, still we cannot accept the entire view as correct. The report of the three vision’s in chap, 7, of which two contained the prophet’s intercession and a consequent respite of judgment, and only the third was a pure menace, could not possibly have provoked the interference of Amaziah against the prophet. He speaks of “all his words” which the land is not able to bear; and gives a summary of them in the 11th verse. But manifestly he here states only the point to which the words of Amos in verse 9 seemed to him to tend, and which in his view-proved that he was aiming at a conspiracy. But the language of the priest presupposes, that the prophet had spoken much more than the single menace contained in the third vision. Or may we assume that, even if these visions contain all that was then said in Bethel, he had yet formed) declared there the other visions recorded in Amos 8 and 9, before Amaziah came forward against him? His coming forward Would then be accounted for. But—as Baur himself rightly emphasizes, though to prove the opposite—it is not consistent to regard as supposititious the passage which now contains the historical narrative (verse 10 ff.), because it is not conceivable that it should have been interpolated here, where at first it seems to make confusion, unless it had originally belonged just to this place. This being so, “all the words which the land was not able to bear” must be found in the preceding chapters. And there is the less objection to this, since among the discourses certainly made in Bethel, there, is one (Amos 8:4 ff.) which, as was before said, is closely related to the discourses in the first part.
As there are no external grounds for limiting the discourses at Bethel to chap, 7, so there are no internal reasons. For there is here merely a threatening of punishment, but no mention of sin as the cause of the judgment, except Amos 8:4–6, and still less any call to repentance, founded either upon God’s mercies to Israel, especially the divine call of the nation, or upon earlier warnings and visitations. Yet without this we cannot conceive of a prophetic menace of punishment. Even had the prophet begun with pure threatening, yet this must afterwards at least have been accompanied with explanations and reasons; but, as has been said, these are almost entirely wanting in Amos 7 ff. But they occur in the first part, and therefore the threatening visions in the second part certainly presuppose the existence of the former. Moreover, I think the traces of oral speech in the discourses of the first part can hardly be mistaken; e. g, in Amos 4 the mention of former visitations and their inefficacy—“yet have ye not returned unto me;” or in Amos 5, the warnings: “Seek the Lord;” or the reproach of empty formal worship, Amos 5:21, etc. The references to Joel also, e. g., Amos 5:18, may well have belonged to the oral utterances. On the other hand, we naturally do not find in our book, Amos’s oral addresses either in substance or form as they were originally delivered. It was only the essential portion which he reduced to writing, and the form manifestly belongs to the prophecy only as written. It is vain therefore to attempt now to distinguish the particular portions that were spoken. They are merged in a new composition prepared in a free independent manner. But while they furnish the principal points treated, manifestly it is to the written statement that we owe the introduction in Amos 1 and 2, so far at least as foreign nations are concerned, therefore as far as 2:5, and in like manner the concluding promise of a new deliverance in 9:11.
The threatenings in Amos 1 against other nations pave the way to the chief theme, the announcements of wrath against Israel. And then again these announcements to Israel pave the way to the promise of a new gracious visitation by which God will show that Israel is still his people.
This leads us to consider the aim and motive of the preparation of our book. Its fundamental thought, the appearance of Amos at Bethel with his testimony against Israel, does not explain why it was written. It furnished indeed the chief materials, but had the writing intended only to preserve these from being lost, it would have simply reproduced them in a somewhat free form; but it had also another aim of its own, and to reach this availed itself of the oral utterances without confining itself to them. The appearance of Amos as a prophet of wrath to Israel is sufficiently explained by the commission, “Go, prophecy to my people, Israel,” but not his appearance as the author of our book. To understand this we must fix our eyes upon the portions not belonging to his personal ministry,—the introduction and conclusion, and especially the references to Joel’s writings. Since Amos begins his book with the menace announced by Joel in 4:16, and concludes it with a promise like that of Joel in 4:18, his whole prophecy, as it were, falls between these two verses and is framed out of Joel’s menace and Joel’s promise. Joel, as we have before shown, knew only of a divine judgment upon the heathen in the Lord’s day for the deliverance and exaltation of Judah, for when he afterwards saw the latter threatened with a judgment, he also saw it averted by repentance. This writing of Joel was widely diffused. But gradually its terms came to be perverted, and its promise of salvation was made a pretext for careless security (see Joel 4: 18, where the day of the Lord is regarded as necessarily a day of salvation for Israel). Even among those who highly prized the prophets, the non-arrival of the threatened day of the Lord with its judgment upon the heathen, and consequently the non-arrival of the glorious salvation for Israel after that judgment, might awaken a mistrust of the prophetic declarations, and even indifference and unbelief (cf. Baur, pp. 61, 113). Therefore Amos now confirms Joel’s prophecy and at the same time extends it in accordance with the altered circumstances. Both Joel’s threatening and his promise remain true, but no longer so separated that the former applies only to the heathen, and the latter to Israel because of their repentance. The threatening remains true against Israel’s foes, the heathen, nay, in Amos 1, 2:5 is executed, cf. “I will not turn it away;” but certainly this is no longer the prominent feature. Judah itself has become guilty, is filled with idolatry, and is therefore threatened with a divine judgment. Especially in the kingdom of Israel, to which Joel does not allude, has sinful corruption reached so high a point that the herdsman of Tekoah is expressly commissioned to announce God’s wrath to this large division of the covenant people. So little justification had Israel for their carnal confidence in their divine vocation upon the ground of Joel’s prediction of a judgment upon their foes, so far was his threatening of the Lord’s day of judgment from passing away, that it would certainly come to pass, only in a broader range and still more incisively, since the Lord would enter into judgment with his degenerate people,—which even Joel had, according to Amos 1 and 2, considered not improbable, and even had feared for Judah, although the degeneracy there was not so great as in Israel, but now thought that it was averted by serious repentance. But as Joel’s threatening remains true, so also does his promise for Israel, especially for Judah, only it is brought about by a judgment upon Israel, so far as it had departed from God’s ways, and therefore had become the sinful kingdom of Israel,—a judgment by which “a chastisement but at the same time a purification is introduced. “The judgment is like a storm which overwhelms and desolates, but at the same time purifies, and therefore carries a blessing in its bosom by making room for the clearer light of the sun. Perhaps it is in reference to this that Amos begins with the words of Joel 4:16, where the Lord’s coming forth to judge is represented under the figure of a tempest, a violent convulsion of nature.
Here may be quoted the manner in which Schlier (Minor Prophets, p. 70) strikingly presents the contents of our book from this point of view: “This little book is wonderfully arranged. With a single word Joel rouses Amos; it is as it were the text of his whole prophecy, the substance of all his utterances; and what he declared was the thundering voice of God’s judgment upon his people. A frightful storm comes down on Israel; we see the lightnings flashing hither and thither from one people to another till at last the gloomy storm-clouds stand over Israel and discharge themselves upon their guilty heads. But finally after fearful bursts, the tempest passes away, and the pure blue heaven comes out over the people of God. This is the sum of our prophecy. We see a storm issuing from the Lord, with all his terrors, but also with all his blessing, in which it at last terminates. What Amos as a herdsman had heard and seen in the open country with his herds, he as a prophet brings before our spiritual vision with marvelous fidelity.”
We have sought to deduce the aim of the prophecy from the express references to Joel. But perhaps we have an indication of its outward motive in the note of time with which the title concludes—“two years before the earthquake.” If these words came from Amos himself (see on Amos 1:1), they inform us at once of the time of the composition, namely, after the earthquake, and also of the time of the public delivery of the prophecies, namely, two years before that event; thus showing that they were distinct from each other. But the presumption is natural that these words indicate not only the period but the motive of the composition, namely, the occurrence of the violent earthquake. That event announced a sore judgment from God. And just as the plague of the locusts induced Joel to sound his call to repentance, since he regarded it as the beginning of the day of the Lord, so this earthquake led Amos—not, indeed, to his predictions of wrath, for these had occurred before—but to record them at length. For he had in his oral utterances announced a heaving of the earth as an expression of God’s wrath; and now the earth did heave. What then was more natural than that he should see in this a confirmation of his threat, a token of its fulfillment; and regard the occasion as an appropriate one for addressing his contemporaries in writing, as he had before done orally, in a somewhat enlarged form, especially by the introduction and the conclusion, and with a reference to Joel for the reasons already mentioned? We may even find an external reason for the close connection with Joel 4:16 in this earthquake, since it would appear to Amos as an outward confirmation of Joel’s prophecy, and he could have said to his contemporaries: You hear the fulfillment of Joel’s words, how God who dwells in Zion “roars and utters his voice”—for the earthquake must have been accompanied with a tempest. God himself having thus spoken on behalf of his prophet, so much the more should a second prophet deem it his duty and his right, to confirm in the enlarged and completed form before mentioned, his predecessor’s prophecies already diffused among his contemporaries, but partly misapplied and partly discredited; and in order to this end, to record and publish his own discourses.
From what has been said, the significance of our prophet plainly appears. Of fundamental importance here is Joel’s work, by its precise and sharp apportionment of punishment and deliverance—the former to Israel’s foes, the latter to Israel as God’s chosen people. The final result is imperishable salvation and glory for God’s people, and overthrow and destruction for his foes, the world. But while this ultimate issue is held fast, it is endeavored to show to God’s people God’s seriousness, and to set clearly in the light the distinction between the true and the degenerate members of the people, especially to give a death-blow to the false and wicked boasting in the prerogatives of a divine vocation, while there was a total failure of the character belonging to that vocation, in short, to an arbitrary appropriation of the divine grace. This step in advance is taken by Amos when he turns the avenging sword of the Spirit against Israel itself, and declares that it, just so far as it resembles the Heathen in conduct, is in like manner exposed to the divine judgment. Still he holds high the banner of hope. The judgment is one of purification. As true as it is, on the one hand, that Israel will not be spared, so true is it, on the other, that Israel will not be destroyed—that Jehovah still has purposes of mercy for this nation, who are and will remain his people.
Thus we find in Amos the prophetic theme made more profound and incisive. It cuts Israel to the quick, and so strikes the note which succeeding prophets carry on, first, his younger contemporary, Hosea, who with all the weight of prophetic earnestness and with a glance taking in at once the entire condition of the people, announces God’s judgment on the kingdom as upon an unfaithful adulterous wife. And as in Amos, and still more in Hosea, the judgment does not spare Judah, so Micah and Isaiah go farther and mention Judah as especially exposed to it. But so much the more fully do they set forth the salvation which God has prepared and devised for his people. He remains faithful, his love is unchangeable; and ever clearer and more certain stands before their eyes the form of the Messiah, in whom God’s love and faithfulness find their concrete expression.
The influence of the book of Amos upon the course of prophecy is shown by the use made of him, especially by Hosea. Compare Hos. 8:14 with Am. 2:5 (1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14, 2:2); Hos. 7:12 with Amos 2:10; Hos. 12:8 with Am. 8:5; Hos. 9:3 with Am. 7:17. The later prophets, especially Jeremiah, show a considerable dependence upon, Amos: compare Jer. 49:27 with Am. 1:4; 49:3 with 1:1, 15 (46:6 with 2:14); 48:24 with 1:12, 2:2; 49:13, 20–22 with 1:12; farther, 25:30 with 1:2; 31:35 with 4:13, 5:8, 44:2 with 9:4, 8. But particularly in his prophecies upon foreign lands does Amos appear the forerunner of the later prophets.
As to the style of our prophet, Jerome indeed calls him “rude in speech but not in knowledge,” not, however, as a reproach, but in allusion to 2 Cor. 11:6, in order to show, as Baur says, that while as a herdsman he was not acquainted with the formal rules of rhetoric, the inward force of his mind made good the lack of outward dexterity. Compare Augustine (De Doct. Chr., 4:7), “For these things were not composed by human industry, but were poured forth by the divine mind both wisely and eloquently, wisdom not aiming at eloquence, but eloquence not departing from wisdom.” And Lowth (De Sac. Poesi Heb.) justly remarks upon the assertion that Amos is rude, ineloquent, and unadorned, “Far otherwise! Let any fair judge read his writings, thinking not who wrote them, but what he wrote, and he will deem our shepherd to be in nowise behind the very chiefest prophets; in the loftiness of his thoughts and the magnificence of his spirit almost equal to the highest, and in splendor of diction and elegance of composition scarcely inferior to any.” Yes, his style is such that although we emphasize the agency of the illuminating Spirit of God, still on the other hand we must allow to the prophet no small degree of natural culture, without, however, thinking of a learned education. It was rather a cultivation originated by conversance with the Law and with the holy books, and fostered by religious instruction and a religious mind, such as would befit a man of the people to whom by all means applies the saying, It is the heart that makes eloquent. We do not refer here to the sharp, piercing seriousness of Amos, for this belongs more to the substance than the form of a prophet. On the other hand, we may point to the soaring elevation of the speech, e. g., in the delineations of God, Amos 4:13, 5:8, 9:5, 6; to the peculiarly bold and vivid diction, stroke upon stroke, in describing the judgments, Amos 1 and 2, or in the complaints in Amos 4 on account of the failure to repent. But as Amos has an intuitive power of individualizing his conceptions which often imparts a poetical coloring to his speech, so his style hovers between prose and poetry, and forms a peculiar kind of prophetic utterance. See 2:6–8, 13; 3:3; 5:16, 6:8, 4; 9:2, 13. Herein the diction is little distinguished by depth of thought, but so much the more does it display a transparent clearness which in many cases is increased by the symmetry of the arrangement, as in the entire introduction, and again in the fourth chapter, and in the visions. Observe also the commencement of each of the three discourses, Amos 3, 4, and 5, with the phrase “Hear ye,” and the twofold “Woe,” in Amos 5:18 and 6:1, by which the larger divisions are denoted.
When in conclusion we emphasize the imagery of the book, this leads to a more general observation. In the view of what has been said, one might doubt the composition of this work by a mere shepherd, but on the other hand it is very noticeable how reminiscences of a shepherd-life everywhere appear. Justly has Ewald remarked (Proph, 1:117): “The simple circle of country life has entirely filled his imagination; nowhere else among the prophets do we find rustic images given with such originality and vividness and inexhaustible abundance. Not merely do the numerous comparisons and particular images, but also the minutest lines of the conceptions and the expression exhibit the peculiar experience and intuition of this prophet.” Of detailed instances Baur in his Commentary gives the fullest collection; of these we cite only a portion. Amos refers almost all things to the sphere of a countryman. Amos 4:6–9; 5:16; 3:15; 5:11 (country-seats of the great); 2:8; 4:9; 5:11, 17; 6:6, 9:14 (vineyards). His images also are taken from the experiences of country life. Amos 9:13; 1:2; 4:13; 5:8, 18, 8:9 (an eclipse of the sun is to a shepherd a natural image); 2:9, 13; 3:4, 5, 8; 5:19; 8:13; 3:12; 9:5; 6:12. As a plain shepherd, Amos particularly dislikes the dissoluteness of luxurious cities (Amos 2:6; 3:10; 4:1; 5:10; 6:4), especially when it is based upon usurious dealings in grain to oppress the poor (Amos 8:8, comp. with 6:7). Since the contemplation of the starry heavens belongs characteristically to a shepherd living in the open air, Amos prefers to represent God’s majesty and power by his mighty workings in nature. Amos 4:13; 5:8; 8:9; 9:5.
A peculiar mode of writing many words may be attributed to the fact that the author “came not from Jerusalem, the centre of the culture of the time” (Ewald), e. g., מֵעִיק for מֵצִיק (2:13), מַתאַב for מתעב (6:8), בושׁס for בוֹסס or בוֹשׁשׂ (6:11), מסרף for מסרף (6:10), ישׂהק for יצחק (7:16). [Pusey says, The like variations to these instances in Amos are also found in other words in the Bible. On the whole we may suspect the existence of a softer pronunciation in the south of Judæa, where Amos lived; but the only safe inference is, the extreme care with which the words have been handed down to us, just as the Prophet wrote and spoke them.”]
[The influence of the shepherd-life of Amos appears most in the sublimest part of his prophecy, his descriptions of the mighty workings of God. With those awful and sudden changes in nature, by which what to the idolaters was an object of worship was suddenly overcast and the day made dark with night, his shepherd-life had made him familiar. The starry heavens had often witnessed the silent intercourse of his soul with God. In the calf, the idolaters of Ephraim worshipped “nature.” Amos then delights in exhibiting to them his God, whom they too believed that they worshipped as the creator of “nature,” wielding and changing it at his will. All nature too should be obedient to its maker in the punishment of the ungodly, nor should anything hide from Him (8:8, 9:2, 3, 5). The shepherd life would also make the prophet familiar with the perils from wild beasts which we know of as facts in David’s youth. The images drawn from them were probably reminiscences of what he had seen or met with. … The religious life of Amos amid the scenes of nature, accustomed him as well as David, to express his thoughts in words taken from the great picture-book of nature, which as being also written by the hand of God, so wonderfully expresses the things of God. When his prophet’s life brought him among other scenes of cultivated nature, his soul so practiced in reading the relations of the physical to the moral world, took the language of his parables alike from what he saw or what he remembered. He was what we call “a child of nature,” endued with power and wisdom by his God. It is a mistake to attribute to him any inferiority even of outward style, in consequence of his shepherd life. Even a heathen has said, “words readily follow thought;” much more when thoughts and words are poured into the soul together by God the Holy Ghost. On the contrary, scarcely any prophet is more glowing in his style, or combines more wonderfully the natural and moral world, the omnipotence and omniscience of God (4:13). What is more poetic than the summons to the heathen enemies of Israel to people the heights about Samaria and behold its sins (3:9)? What more graphic than that picture of utter despair which dared not name the name of God (6:9, 10)? What bolder than the summons to Israel to come, if they willed, at once to sin and to atone for their sin (4:4)? What more striking in power than the sudden turn (3:2), “You only have I known; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities;” or the sudden summons (4:12), “Because I will do this unto thee (the silence as to what the this is, is more thrilling than words), prepare to meet thy God, O Israel?” Or what more pathetic than the close of the picture of the luxurious rich, when having said how they heaped luxuries one upon another, he ends with what they did not do; they are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph?”—Pusey.]
§ 5. Literature.
Besides the works referring to the Prophets in general, chiefly the Minor Prophets, El. Schadæi, Comm. in Amos Prophetam. Argent., 1588. Joa. Gerhardi, Adnot. in Proph. Amos et Jonam. etc., Jenæ, 1663 and 1676. Amos Propheta expositus, etc., cura Jo. Ch. Harenbergii. Ludg. Batav., 1763. Amos, translated and explained, by J. G. M. Dahl, Gottingen, 1795. Amos, translated and explained, by K. M. Justi, Leipzig, 1799. Amos, translated and explained, by J. Sam. Vater, Halle, 1810. The Prophet Amos explained, by Fr. G. Baur, Giessen, 1847. [Horsley, Notes, in Bib. Crit., 2:391.]
FOR PRACTICAL EXPOSITION.—Among earlier writers, The Severe Preacher of Repentance and Prophet Amos, in Sermons of P. Laurentius, Superint. in Dresden, Leipz., 1604. Among the later, J. Diedrich, The Prophets (Daniel, Hosea, Joel) Amos, briefly explained, etc., Leipzig, 18611.
1The additions made by the translator are in some instances marked with the letter C, but for the most part are simply inclosed in square brackets. Justice to Dr. Schmoller requires that this statement should be made.—C.