Amos 4 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Amos 4
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

A continuation in highly tropical and sarcastic language of the denunciation of the kingdom and nobles of Samaria, which was commenced in the previous chapter.

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.
(1) Bashan.—This contained the rich pasture-lands east of the Jordan, between Hermon and the mountains of Gilead, where cattle flourished. The “strong bulls of Bashan” (Psalm 22:12) were descriptive of the malignant enemies of the ideal sufferer. The feminine “kine” refers to the luxurious self-indulgent women of fashion in Samaria.

Which say to their masters (i.e., their husbands), Bring, and let us drink.—Their very debauch being paid for by the robbery of the poor. Some regard the feminines as sarcastic epithets, merely expressing effeminacy on the part of men. But this is not a probable explanation.

The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.
(2) Fishhooks.—Descriptive of the suddenness and irresistible character of the seizure, whereby, as a punishment for their wanton selfishness, the nobles were to be carried away as captives from their condition of fancied security. The strangeness of the imagery has led to a variety of interpretations. Döderlein translates “ye shall be driven into thorny districts, and among thorn bushes.”

And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.
(3) Every cow . . .—Render each one (ref. to the women, Amos 4:1) straight before her. The enemy shall have broken down the city’s defences, and the women shall tamely go forth through the breaches into captivity. The next clause is very obscure. It is best to take the verb as passive, Ye shall be thrown out. The word that follows is rendered “the palace” by the E.V. with Kimchi and other authorities, under the assumption that the Heb. harmôn is another form of the word elsewhere used in Amos armôn. But this is mere guess-work, and yields no good sense. It would be better to adopt a slight emendation of our text, and treat the obscure word as a proper name (LXX., Targ., Syr., Vulg.). Many commentators (Michaelis, G. Baur, De Wette) follow the Targ. and Syr. and render “Ye shall be cast out to the mountains of Armenia (their place of banishment). For further information see Excursus.

EXCURSUS A (Amos 4:3).

The rendering of the LXX., “to the mountain Remman (or Romman),” has suggested to Ewald the interpretation, And shall cast Rimmona to the mountain, i.e., in their flight (comp. Isaiah 2:18-21), Rimmona being the idol-goddess of love, corresponding to the masculine deity Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18). In this ingenious, though somewhat far-fetched, interpretation of a difficult passage, it will be observed that Ewald takes the Hebrew verb as an active, and not a passive. In this he is supported by most MSS.

But the credit of suggesting the most plausible explanation belongs to Hitzig, who, in his commentary, proposes to read Hadad-Rimmon, and translates, Ye shall be cast away to Hadad-Rimmon. On Zechariah 12:11, there is a long note by Steiner supporting the supposition that Hadad-Rimmon was a modified designation of the sun-god, and was likewise the counterpart of the Greek Adonis, over whose wounding and death there was an annual lamentation, in which the women took part, and gave way to all kinds of excess. Hadad-Rimmon was, therefore, the name of the deity and the locality of his worship (comp. Ashtaroth Karnaim and other examples), now called Rummâne, four miles south of Ledshûn (Megiddo). To this spot the women were to be carried off for purposes of prostitution. (Comp. the threat pronounced by the prophet, Amos 7:17.)

Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:
(4) Bethel . . . Gilgal.—In bitterly ironical words the prophet summons Israel to the calf-worship of Bethel, and to similar rites of bastard Jehovah-worship at Gilgal. These spots were full of sacred associations. The sarcastic force of the passage is lost in E.V. For “three years” read every three days. The law only required a tithe every third year (Deuteronomy 26:12); but here the prophet is lashing the people with hyperbolical irony for their excessive generosity to the base priests and spurious sanctuaries.

And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
(5) The margin is more correct, and gives the key to the passage. Render, and offer by burning your thank-offering of leaven. Leaven was not allowed in any sacrifice offered by fire. Amos ironically calls upon them to break the Levitical law (Leviticus 7:13; Leviticus 23:17), as he knew they were in the habit of doing.

And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
(6) Cleanness of teeth is, by the poetic parallelism, identified with the want of bread, the former phrase being a graphic representation of one of the ghastly aspects of famine; clean, sharp, prominent teeth projecting from the thin lips. Notwithstanding their chastisement, God says, “Ye have not returned even up to me.” Jehovah is here introduced as grieving over the failure of his disciplinary treatment of Israel.

And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
(7, 8) Three months to the harvest.—The withdrawal of rain at this period (February and March) is at the present day most calamitous to the crops in Palestine.

Caused it to rain . . .—The tenses should be regarded as expressing repetition of the act, and might be, with advantage, rendered as present cause it to rain . . . is rained upon, &c. The inhabitants of the most suffering districts wander, distracted and weary, to a more favoured city, and find no sufficiency. Comp. the graphic description in Jeremiah 14:1-6. Moreover, the specialties of affliction, in particular localities. reveal the purpose of God rather than the operation of universal laws.

So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
(9) Blasting and mildew.—Burning up the corn before it is ready to ear, and producing a tawny yellow, instead of golden red, was another judgment. Nothing escapes the Divine visitation. “Your gardens, vineyards, fig-trees, and olive-trees”—which in a well-watered enclosure might escape the general drought—the locust devours in vast numbers (so the Heb. should be rendered); comp. Joel 1:4.

I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
(10) With the captivity of your horses.—This, the marginal reading, is more exact. Egypt is the birthplace of the plague or black death, and the circumstances augmenting its horror are here terribly portrayed. G. Baur thinks, that since the drought is mentioned after the famine as its true cause, so here the prophet explains the cause of the pestilence, or the way in which it would be brought about, viz., by the hosts of slaughtered warriors scattered over the camp.

I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
(11) Overthrown.—Another awful calamity, an earthquake, is referred to, and perhaps a volcanic eruption. Dr. Pusey enumerates a long series of earthquakes, which distressed Palestine, though not the central parts of the country, from the time of Julian to the twelfth century. The allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah gives a hint of the fierce licence and vice which had prevailed in some parts of the Northern kingdom, and called for chastisement.

Some of you.—More accurately among you.

Brand plucked . . .—Men would cast such a brand back into the fire. “Behold the goodness and severity of God.”

Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
(12) Thus will I do.—What is he about to do? It is left in awful uncertainty, but the doom is wrapt up in the boundless possibilities of the Divine judgment involved in the drawing very near of the Lord Himself, to execute what He has said and sworn by His Holiness in Amos 4:2-3. All that had previously been done in famine, drought, blighting pestilence, and earthquake, was not final, and had failed in its effect. The summons to meet God in some other unknown form than these is very solemn.

For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.
(13) God of hosts.—The Lord whom they have to meet is no mere national deity, but the supreme Creator.

Createth the wind.—Not “spirit” (as margin). But the two ideas “wind” and “spirit” were closely associated in Heb. (as in Greek), being designated by the same word ruach (in Greek πνεῦμα, comp. John 3:8). Hence the transition in thought to the next clause is natural. This is curiously rendered in LXX. “and declareth to man his Christ” through a misunderstanding of the original.

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