Commences with a veritable dirge over the calamity already threatened. The form of the dirge belongs to the second verse only (its poetic expression resembling the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan, 2 Samuel 1), but the spirit of the dirge extends through the entire chapter.
Bethel shall come to nought.—Render (with Luther) Bethel (house of God) shall become Bethaven (house of vanity). The form Bethaven here is supported by the LXX., and appears to confirm the Masoretic reading of Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:5; and Amos 1:5, where other reasons incline critics to read On for Aven (see the passages).
Leave off.—Or rather, cast down righteousness to the earth, i.e., by false judgments and unjust decrees. Pusey sees here the analogue of the humiliation of the Holy One by wicked hands, when He was crowned with thorns, and fell beneath His cross.
The Heb. word for the Pleiades (seven stars) means properly “heap” or “cluster,” and that for Orion signifies “stout, strong one.” The appearance of the Pleiades indicated the “sweet influences” of spring, that of Orion the winter solstice. Observe that Amos the herdsman, and Job the Arabian Emir, accustomed to the naked sky of the desert, make these special references to astronomical facts. The death-shadow suggests the darkest experiences of human life. Jehovah pours His light upon the deepest gloom of our lot. He, too, can make the day dark with night, covering the noonday sky with funereal pall, as at the Crucifixion. God is also made the perennial source of the rain, that “river of God which is full of water,” and which is ever rising at His command from the great sea.
The “streets” are the open wide squares near the gates, and the “highways” are more properly the narrow alleys of the crowded cities of the Easu. The word for wailing (mispēd) denotes properly the beating of the breast, the Oriental symptom of grief. The calling of the husbandman from his agricultural pursuits to lamentation is an indication that the disaster was universal. Those “skilled in wailing” were generally, and are still, women who tear their hair and dress, throw dust over the head, and utter the monotonous wail and piercing cry of distress. The last clause should properly be inverted, And wailing to such as are skilful of lamentation. (Ecclesiastes 12:5; Jeremiah 9:17-19.
Pass through thee.—Properly through the midst of thee. Whenever Jehovah is said to pass through a land or a city, heavy punishment is intended. (Comp. Exodus 12:12.) The reference to the “vineyards” adds to the terror of the picture.
Will not smell in your . . .—A strong expression for “I take no delight in them.” That Baal worship, as well as the worship of the true God, was characterised by similar offerings and sacrificial terms is indicated by a Phœnician tablet inscribed with a code of sacrificial dues, discovered at Marseilles. The word rendered peace offering should be translated as in the margin. The word for “meat offering” is better interpreted “meal offerings,” since it consisted of vegetable products used in food, meal, oil, cakes, &c.
EXCURSUS B (Amos 5:26).
Three obscure points render this verse one of the most difficult in the Old Testament.
1. As to tense. The interpretation to which preference has been given in the commentary on the text—the time being regarded as future—has been decided on grounds of grammatical usage only. But certainly the larger number of commentators have rendered the verb as a past tense, “But ye bore the tabernacle,” &c., the time referred to being that of the desert wanderings. This view is upheld by Hitzig, Kuenen, Keil, Henderson, and also by R. S. Poole. It is also supported by the LXX.
2. The word Sikkûth, rendered tabernacle, or tent, in the E.V. and by the LXX., is derived from a root signifying both to interweave and to cover—an etymology which confirms the above rendering. Ewald’s conjecture that it signifies “stake,” inferred from the Aramaic Sekkitho, is to be rejected. The conception of Moloch being carried in a tent may be illustrated from the Egyptian monuments of Rameses XII. Birch (Egypt, S. P. C. K., p. 149), refers to a tablet found in the south-west corner of Karnak: “The picture of the tablet represents Rameses holding a censer, and worshipping the ark of the god [Khons], which, partly covered with curtains, is placed in a boat . . . Figures of priests, a sphinx, and standards are in the boat, while twelve priests carry it on their shoulders.”
3. Both Moloch and Chiun were evidently star-deities. R. S. Poole endeavours to connect Chiun with Semitic deities worshipped in Egypt (see art. “Remphan,” Smith’s Dict. of the Bible). The name Chiun appears as Remphan in the quotation of this passage in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:43). And both Remphan and Chiun were held by Mr. Poole to be the corresponding male and female deities of Asiatic type, Renpu and Ken. But the form Remphan can be clearly shown to have arisen from textual corruption, originating, perhaps, in some false analogy. In the New Testament passage the best MSS. read Rephan, and this reading has been adopted in our Revised Version, and occurs in nearly the same form in the LXX., from which Stephen was freely quoting. In the LXX. the original order of the clauses has suffered transposition, and it is certainly safer to adhere to the Hebrew text (as in Amos 9:11-12).
Rêphan arose from the Hebrew text by the change of a single character. Instances of such interchange are not infrequent in the Old Testament. Yet the form Rephan, though corrupt, is invaluable, as indicating the true reading of the Hebrew word. The word for Chiun was read by the Masoretes as Kiyyûn (according to Ewald, “pedestal” [?]). But the LXX. indicate, and much confirmatory testimony establishes the fact, that the word is to be read Kêvan, and that Kêvan, like the Ammonitish Moloch, represented the star-deity Saturn. Thus Kaivono is the form of the word in the Peshito. This view is supported by Aben Ezra and Kimchi, who cite Kivan as the name for the star Saturn in the Persian and Arabic. This star (see quotations in Henderson’s Commentary) was held to exert malignant influence. Schrader (Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, p. 443) compares the name Ka-ai-vanu, the Assyrian name for that planet.