Amos 6
Pulpit Commentary
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!
Verses 1-6. - With a second woe the prophet denounces the chiefs of the whole nation, who were quite satisfied with the present state of things, and, revelling in luxury, feared no coming judgment. Verse 1. - Them that are at ease in Zion; living in fancied security and self-pleasing (Isaiah 32:9, 11; Zephaniah 1:12). Judah is included in the denunciation, because she is equally guilty; the whole covenant nation is sunk in the same dangerous apathy. Septuagint, τοῖς ἐξουθενοῦσι Σιών, "them that set at naught Zion." The same rendering is found in the Syriac, and can be supported by a small change in the Hebrew. It may have been intended thus to confine the announcement to Israel alone, in conformity with the prophet's chief scope. But he has introduced mention of Judah elsewhere, as Amos 2:4; Amos 6:5; Amos 9:11, and his sense of his own people's careless ease may well lead him to include them in his warning. Trust in the mountain of Samaria. The city was deemed impregnable, and it kept the Assyrians at bay for three years before it was finally taken (2 Kings 18:9, etc.; see notes on Amos 3:9 and Amos 4:1). Another rendering, not so suitable, is, the careless ones upon the mountain of Samaria. The point, however, is the supposed impregnability of the city which occasioned a feeling of perfect security. Which are named chief of the nations; rather, to the notable men of the chief of nations; i.e. the principal men of Israel, which had the proud title of the chief of the nations because it was beloved and elected of God, and was designed to keep alive true religion, and to set an example to the rest of the world (Exodus 19:5; Numbers 1:17; Deuteronomy 4:20; 2 Samuel 7:23). Septuagint, ἀπετρόγησαν ἀρχὰς ἐθνῶν, "they plucked the chiefs of the nations," where the verb is a mistaken Tendering. To whom the house of Israel came; or, come. Resort for counsel and judgment (2 Samuel 15:4), and who ought therefore to be patterns of righteousness and equity. The rendering of the Vulgate, ingredientes pompatice domum Israel, "entering with pomp into the house of Israel" (which does not agree with the present Hebrew text), implies that these chieftains carried themselves haughtily in the congregation of Israel.
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?
Verse 2. - Pass ye. Go and compare your condition with that of other countries, from the furthest east to the north, to your own neighbours - has not God done more for you than for them? Nothing is said about the destruction of the three capitals, nor is Samaria threatened with similar ruin. Rather the cities are contemplated as still flourishing and prosperous (though by this time they had suffered at their enemies' hands), and Israel is bidden to remember that she is more favoured than they. Calneh, one of the five great Babylonian cities, is probably the Kul-unu of the inscriptions, a town in Southern Babylonia, whose site is unknown. In Genesis 10:10 and Isaiah 10:9 the LXX. call it Chalanne or Chalane; in the present passage they mistake the Hebrew, and render, διάβητε πάντες, "pass ye all by" (see Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 442). St. Jerome identifies it with Ctesiphon, on the east bank of the Tigris. Others (see Rawlinson, 'Herodotus,' 1, p. 490, 2nd edit.) find in it Nopher or Nipur, the modern Niffer, some sixty miles southeast of Babylon. As one of the oldest cities in the world, ranking with Babel, Erech, and Aecad, it was well known to the Israelites. Hamath the great; Septuagint, Ἐματραββά. This was the principal city of Upper Syria, and a place of great importance. In after years it was called Epiphania, after Antiochus Epiphanes (Genesis 10:18; Numbers 34:8; Isaiah 10:9). It fell in Sargon's reign, B.C. 720; afterwards it lost its independence, and was incorporated in the Assyrian empire. Oath of the Philistines. One of their five chief cities, and at one time the principal (1 Chronicles 18:1). The site is placed by Porter at Tell-es-Safi, an isolated hill; standing above the bread valley of Elah, and "presenting on the north and west a white precipice of many hundred feet." Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' p. 215, etc.) considers Gath to be the same city as Betogabra, Eleutheropolis, and the modern Beth Jibrin, which is some few miles south of Tell Safi. He thinks the site of Tell Sift is not adapted for the seat of a large city, and he saw few indications of ancient ruins there; whereas Beit Jibrin has in and around it the most wonderful remains of antiquity to be found in all Philistia. It had probably declined in importance at this time (see note on ch. 1:6), but its old reputation was still remembered. It was taken by Uzziah, but seems not to have remained long in his possession (2 Chronicles 26:6). In the year B.C. 711 Sargon reduced Ashdod and Garb, which he calls Gimtu Asdudim, i.e. Gath of the Ashdodites. Be they better? Have they received more earthly prosperity at God's hands than you? Is their territory greater than yours? No. How ungrateful, then, are you for all my favours (comp. Jeremiah 2:5-11)! Schrader and Bickell regard the verse as an interpolation, grammatically, metrically, and chronologically inadmissible; but their arguments are not strong, and Ames makes no mention of the fate of these cities.
Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;
Verse 3. - Ye that put far away the evil day. They assigned a distant date to the time of punishment and calamity; they would not look it in the face or contemplate it as approaching and ready to come upon them. Septuagint, οἱ ἐρχόμενοι εἰς ἡμέραν κάκην, "Ye who are coming unto the evil day." The Alexandrian manuscript has οἱ εὐχόμενοι, "ye who pray for" (Amos 5:18), with which the Syriac seems to agree. The Vulgate (as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion), taking the verb passively, renders, qui separati estis in diem malum. But it is beat to translate it as above, in the sense of "repelling," "putting away with aversion," as in Isaiah 66:5. And cause the seat of violence to come near. They erected the throne (shebheth, "the sitting," or "enthroning") of violence in their midst, made themselves the subjects and slaves of wickedness and oppression. The LXX., mistaking shebheth for shabbath translates, Οἱ ἐγγίζοντες καὶ ἐφαπτόμενοι σαββάτων ψευδῶν. "Ye who are drawing near and clinging to false sabbaths."
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;
Verse 4. - That lie upon beds of ivory; couches inlaid with ivory (see note on Amos 3:15) at meals. The prophet substantiates his denunciation by describing their selfish luxury and debauchery. Stretch themselves literally, are poured out; Septuagint, κατασπαταλῶντες, "wantoning." Out of the midst of the stall. Calves put up to be fattened. They do this presumably net on festivals, when it would have been proper and excusable, but every day.
That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;
Verse 5. - That chant. The word parat (ἅπαξ λεγόμενον) means rather "to prattle," "to sing idle songs," as the Revised Version translates it. The reading of the Septuagint varies between ἐπικρατοῦντες. "excelling," and ἐπικροτοῦντες, the latter of which words might mean "applauding." Viol (see note on Amos 5:23). Invent to themselves instruments of music, like David. As David devised stringed instruments and modes of singing to do honour to God and for the service of his sanctuary (see 1 Chronicles 15:16, etc.; 1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 29:26, 27; and the supernumerary psalm at the end of the Psalter in the Septuagint), so these debauchees invented new singing and playing to grace their luxurious feasts. The Septuagint rendering, which Jerome calls "sensus pulcherrimus," is not to be explained by the present Hebrew text, however true to fact it may be considered, Ὡς ἑστηκότα ἐλογίσαντο καὶ οὐχ ὡς φεύγοντα. "Regarded them as abiding and not as fleeting things."
That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
Verse 6. - Wine in bowls (misraqim); sacrificial bowls; used in libations of wine and in the sprinkling of blood (comp. Exodus 38:3; Numbers 7:13, etc.; 1 Chronicles 28:17; 2 Chronicles 4:8, 22; Zechariah 9:15; Zechariah 14:20). These vessels the luxurious and sacrilegious princes employed in their feasts, proving thus their impiety and their excess (comp. Daniel 5:2). Septuagint, οἱ πίνοντες τὸν διυλισμένον οϊνον, "who drink strained wine." The chief ointments. Such as were used in Divine service (Exodus 30:23, etc.), and nowhere else. If they had felt as they ought to feel in this time of rebuke and sorrow, they would, like mourners, have refrained from anointing themselves (Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 14:2); but, on the contrary, they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. The coming ruin of the ten tribes affects them not; in their selfish voluptuousness they have no sympathy with calamity and suffering, and shut their eyes to coming evil. "The affliction of Joseph" is probably a proverbial expression derived from the narratives in Genesis 37:25, etc., and Genesis 40:14, 23 (comp. Genesis 42:21).
Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.
Verses 7-11. - Here follows the announce. merit of punishment for the crimes mentioned above: the people shall go into captivity; they shall be rejected of God, and given over to utter ruin. Verse 7. - With the first. They shall have a pre-eminence indeed, being the first to go into captivity. St Jerome, "Vos qui primi estis divitiis, primi captivitatis sustinebitis jugum, secundum illud quod in Ezechiele scriptum est: 'a sanctuario meo incipite'" (Ezekiel 9:6). With the first; literally, at the head, with reference doubtless to ver. 1. The banquet (mirzakh); the screech of revellers. The word is used of the scream of mourners in Jeremiah 16:5; here of the cries and shouts of feasters at a banquet. Them that stretched themselves on couches, as ver. 4. The Septuagint, reading differently, has. "They shall depart into captivity from the dominion of princes, and the neighing of horses shall be taken away from Ephraim." From this passage of Amos St. Augustine takes occasion to show that the most untrained of the prophets possessed eloquence and literary skill ('De Doctr. Christ.,' 4:7).
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.
Verse 8. - Hath sworn by himself (nephesh); in anima sua (Vulgate), "by his soul;" a concession to human language (comp. Amos 4:2; Jeremiah 51:14; Hebrews 6:13, 17, 18). God thus shows that the threat proceeds from him, and is immutable. The excellency; the pride (ὕβριν, Septuagint; superbiam, Vulgate); that of which Jacob is proud (Hosea 5:5), as, for instance, his palaces, built by exaction, maintained in voluptuous luxury. Will deliver up to the enemy for destruction (Deuteronomy 32:30; Obadiah 1:14).
And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die.
Verse 9. - If there remain ten men in one house. If these escape death in war, they shall die of famine and pestilence in the three years' siege of Samaria (2 Kings 17:5). If the prophet is still referring to the rich chieftains, ten would be only a poor remnant of the inhabitants of their palaces. The LXX. adds, very unnecesarily, Καὶ ὑπολειφθήσονται οἱ κατάλοιποι, "And those remaining shall be left behind."
And a man's uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that is by the sides of the house, Is there yet any with thee? and he shall say, No. Then shall he say, Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the LORD.
Verse 10. - The prophet gives an instance of the terror and misery in that common calamity. He depicts a scene where the nearest surviving kinsman comes into the house to perform the funeral rites for a dead man. And a man's uncle; better, and when a man's kinsman; the apodosis being at the end of the verse, "Then shall he say." Dod is sometimes rendered "beloved," but usually "father's brother," but it may mean any near relation upon whom, in default of father and brethren, would devolve the duty of burying the corpse. Septuagint, el οἰκεῖοι αὐτῶν: propinquus suus (Vulgate). And he that burneth him; literally, and his burner. This is the same person as the kinsman. the butler; but tot some reason, either from the number of deaths, or from the pestilence, or from the distance of the burying place, which would be out of the city and inaccessible in the blockade, he cannot lay the body in the brave, and is forced to take and burn it. Though the Jews generally buried dead bodies, cremation was sometimes used, both in honour or emergency (1 Samuel 31:12) and in punishment (Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9). The bones; i.e. the corpse, as in Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32; and 2 Kings 13:21; Keil. The kinsman takes it up to bring it out of the house to burn it. Him that is by the sides of the house; him that is in the innermost parts of the house; qui in penetralibus domus est (Vulgate). This is the last living person, who had hidden himself in the most remote chambers; or it may be a messenger whom the kinsman had sent to search the house. He asks him - Is there yet any with thee? Is there any one left alive to succour, or dead to bury? And he shall say, No; Vulgate, et respondebit, Finis est. Then he (the kinsman) shall say, Hold thy tongue (Has!); Hush! He stays the man in the inner chamber from speaking; and why? For we may not make mention of the name of the Lord; Vulgate, et non recorderis nominis Domini. Some, as Pussy, Schegg, and Gandell, see here the voice of despair. It is too late to call upon God now; it is the time of vengeance. We rejected him in life; we may not cry to him in death. St. Jerome refers the prohibition to the hardness of heart and unbelief of the people, who even in all this misery will not confess the name of the Lord. Keil says, "It indicates a fear lest, by the invocation of the name of God, his eye should be drawn towards this last remaining one, and he also should fall a victim to the judgment of death." Others again think that the notion in the mind of the impious speaker is that Jehovah is the Author of all their calamities, and that he is impatient at the very mention of his name. The simplest explanation is the first, or a modification of it The person addressed is about to pray or to call on God in his distress. "Be silent," says the speaker; "we can no longer appeal to Jehovah as the covenant God; by naming him we call to his remembrance how we have broken the covenant, violated our relation to him; therefore provoke him not further by making mention of his name."
For, behold, the LORD commandeth, and he will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts.
Verse 11. - The prophet confirms the judgment denounced in ver. 8. The Lord commandeth, and he will smite. The expression, thus taken, implies that God executes his commands through the ministers of his judgment; but it may well be rendered, "and men shall smite" (comp. Amos 9:9). Breaches... clefts. The great palace requires a breach to bring it to the ground; the little but is ruined by a small rent or cleft. All houses, great and small, shall be smitten. Possibly Israel and Judah are signified respectively by "the great house" and "the little house" (comp. Amos 9:11); and their treatment by the Assyrians may be thus symbolized.
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:
Verses 12-14. - The prophet shows the folly of these evil doers who think in their own strength to defy judgment and to resist the enemy whom God is sending against them. Verse 12. - Shall horses run upon the rock? Can horses gallop safely over places covered with rocks and stones? Will one plough there with oxen? Do men plough the rock with their oxen? The answer, of course, is "No." Yet your conduct is equally foolish, your labour is equally lost. Some, dividing the words differently, translate, "Does one plough the sea with oxen?" which reminds one of the Latin proverb, "Litus arare bubus." Thus Ovid, 'Ep. Heroid,' 5:115 -

"Quid facis OEnone? Quid arenae semina mandas?
Non protecturis litora bubus aras."
For ye have turned; or, that ye have turned. Judgment into gall (see note on Amos 5:7). Hemlock. Some plant with an acrid juice. Ye turn the administration of justice, which is "the fruit of righteousness," into the bitterest injustice and wrong. It were "more easy," says Pusey, "to change the course of nature or the use of things of nature, than the course of God's providence or the laws of his just retribution."
Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?
Verse 13. - In a thing of nought; a nothing - a thing which does not really exist, viz. your prosperity and power. Horns; symbols of strength (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11); the idea being derived from the wild bull, the strongest animal of their fauna. Their boast was a consequence of the successful wars with the Syrians (2 Kings 14:25-28). The prophet proceeds to demolish their proud vaunt.
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.
Verse 14. - I will raise up (comp. 1 Kings 11:14, 23; Habakkuk 1:6, where see note). A nation. The Assyrians. From the entering in of Hamath. A district in the upper part of Coele-Syria, hod. El-Bukaa, the northern boundary of the kingdom of Israel (Numbers 34:8; see on ver. 2). The river of the wilderness; rather, the torrent of the Arabah, which is the curious depression in which the Jordan flows, and which continues. though now on a higher level, south of the Dead Sea, towards the Gulf of Akaba. The torrent is probably the Wady es Safieh, just south of the Dead Sea. The limits named define the territory which Jeroboam recovered (2 Kings 14:25). The LXX. gives, τοῦ χειμάῥῤου τῶν δυσμῶν, "the torrent of the west."

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