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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Amos 3

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. III.

The necessity of God's judgment against Israel: the publication of it, with the causes thereof.

Before Christ 787.


Verse 1

Amos 3:1. Hear this word This is a continuation of the discourse in the preceding chapter. After having denounced upon the Israelites of the ten tribes the evils there recorded, Amos here speaks to the whole race of Jacob, to the Hebrews of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Afterwards he addresses those of the ten tribes only.


Verse 2

Amos 3:2. You only have I known "You have I chosen from amongst all people, for mine inheritance and my kingdom. I have distinguished you with particular favours and privileges, and therefore expected from you greater returns of gratitude. Disappointing me of these returns, you must expect severer chastisement."


Verses 3-8

Amos 3:3-8. Can two walk, &c.— The similies in these verses have the same meaning, and they all tend to shew that calamities happen according to the appointing, permissive, or suffering will of God; and that prophets prophesy not, without the Lord's speaking to them. Instead of, Shall one take up a snare, &c. Amos 3:5. Houbigant reads, Is a snare taken from the ground, unless something be caught in it? Upon the seventh verse we may observe, that there was no great revolution in the affairs either of the kingdoms of Judah and Jerusalem, or in those of the neighbouring nations, which the prophets of God did not foretel, that the Jews might constantly be remembered of their God, either as a rewarder or a punisher. See Houbigant, and Calmet.


Verse 9

Amos 3:9. Publish, &c.— God calls upon the heathen to be witness of his judgments upon his own people, that they may take warning thereby: particularly he gives notice to the Philistines and Egyptians, the inveterate enemies of the Jews, that they may assemble themselves, and behold the ravages and oppressions which their insulting adversaries will bring upon the kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria. See Lowth, and Calmet.


Verse 11

Amos 3:11. An adversary there shall be, &c.— An adversary shall surround thy land: he shall cast thee down from thy power, and thy forts or strong places shall be spoiled. Houbigant.


Verse 12

Amos 3:12. In the corner of a bed, &c.— Sitting in the CORNER, is in the East a stately attitude, and expressive of superiority: and it has been so universal, that Lord Whitworth assures us, that among the Russians, who lately had many eastern customs among them, they were wont to place the picture of their guardian saint in a corner of their rooms. This circumstance may serve to explain the present passage, which has sadly embarrassed commentators. But the observing that the most honourable place of the eastern divans is the corner, gives this easy explanation, that "just as a shepherd is oftentimes able to save from the jaws of a devouring lion no more than some small piece of the sheep carried off by that beast; so an adversary round about the land of Israel should spoil its palaces, and scarcely any part of it should be recovered out of that adversary's hands, more than the city which sits among the cities of Israel as in the corner of a bed, in the most honourable place; that is, as undoubtedly Samaria did, being looked upon as the royal city." But to gain more perfectly the acquiescence of the reader's mind in this explication, it may be requisite to shew, that the Hebrew word מטה mittah, which is here translated bed, may be understood of a divan; which Dr. Russel describes as a part of a room raised above the floor, spread with a carpet in winter, and with fine mats in summer; along the sides, says he, are thick mattresses, about three feet wide, covered commonly with scarlet cloth; and large bolsters of brocade, fluffed hard with cotton, are set against the walls (or rails, when so situated as not to touch the walls) for the conveniency of leaning.—As they use no chairs, it is upon these that they sit, and all their rooms are so furnished. This description is perfectly conformable to that of other authors, who agree that on these they take their repasts, and sleep; and that they are very capacious. The word mittah certainly sometimes signifies a small, floored, moveable elevation, as in 2 Samuel 3:31 where we translate it bier; but there is no need to suppose that it always signifies such a small moveable thing: it may, for any thing that appears to the contrary, signify the same sort of conveniency as is called at Aleppo a divan. These are now used very universally throughout the East; and we know that the people of those countries are very tenacious of their old customs: this therefore, probably, is an ancient one. On the mittah they used to sit to eat, as well as to sleep, as we learn chap. Amos 6:4. 1 Samuel 28:23. Esther 1:6; Esther 7:8 from which last passage it appears, that the ancient eastern mittah was much larger than the beds which the old Greeks and Romans used in their repasts; since Haman went up, and prostrated himself before queen Esther, on the mittah where she was sitting; which it cannot be imagined he would have thought of doing, had the old eastern mittah been like a Greek or Roman bed. He would rather have kneeled on the floor, or prostrated himself upon it, and kissed the hem of her robe; which he could not do, seated as he was near the corner of a large eastern mittah, without going up upon it, which accordingly he did in order to beg for his life. Thus Dr. Pocock tells us, that not only the eastern consul went upon the sofa (which is the same thing with what is called a divan at Aleppo) when he visited the Caia of the Pasha at Tripoli; but those who attended him also, though they placed themselves there in the humble posture of kneeling, so as to rest on their hams. The stately bed on which Aholibah is represented as sitting, Ezekiel 23:41 seems to mean the floor of an idol temple; for on the floor of such places, it appears from chap. Amos 2:8 they used to lie down upon clothes or carpets; and the going up to them by steps made it very much resemble an eastern mittah. These observations may be sufficient to give us the meaning of the prophet in general; and perhaps this explanation of the first clause may serve to lead us into the sense of the other, which our translators have rendered, in Damascus in a couch, but the margin of our Bibles reads, on the bed's feet. We cannot suppose that the original word is to be considered as a proper name, and translated Damascus, because Israel did not, as far as we know, dwell in any numbers there; though there was a very good understanding between the two kingdoms of Samaria and Damascus in the times here referred to, as may be seen, Isaiah 7:2. I cannot, however, acquiesce in the marginal reading, the bed's feet, which, one would imagine must signify the very reverse of the preceding sentence, and mark out the lowest place.

Pagnin supposes that the words are to be translated, And in the corner of a couch; in which case it would be a sort of repetition of the foregoing thought in other terms; but there may be objections to this interpretation. It seems most natural, upon a collation of the passages where the word ערשׂ eres, occurs, not to understand it as signifying the diminutive of מטה mittah, a couch, but the furniture of an eastern divan; and so, where these two words are joined together, they are not to be considered as an oriental repetition, but as an agreeable diversification of the thought. Thus Psalms 6:6. I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim (the divan on which I am placed); I water my couch (or the divan furniture) with my tears. Mattresses, or something of that kind, must have been used, without doubt, for sleeping upon in those times; and from chap. Amos 2:8 it appears that the Israelites used carpets, or something of that sort, in their feasts, as the Easterns do now. This furniture, I presume, is to be understood by the term eres, which we render couch. Perhaps, Deuteronomy 3:11 where an eres is said to be of iron, may be thought to overthrow this opinion: but this does not appear to me; the using of furniture for a mittah, full of small pieces of iron, like a coat of mail, may surely impress the mind with as strong an idea of the martial roughness of the gigantic Og, as the having a bedstead made of iron instead of wood, ivory, or silver. If this sense of the word eres be admitted, this clause, to answer the preceding, must signify, in general, the richest furniture of a divan, appropriated to persons of the greatest distinction. Nor will there be any great difficulty in the word used, if we suppose the word Damascus to signify something made at Damascus, and that this city anciently gave its name to some of its works, as it has certainly done in later times; some of our richest silks being thence called damasks. The learned Castalio supposes the word to signify some costly works made at Damascus, and Genesis 15:2 seems sufficiently to prove it; where Abraham's steward is called this Damascus Eliezer,—"this man of Damascus; that is, Eliezer;" and if it may signify a man of Damascus, surely it may equally signify a manufacture of that city. It is certain, that the prophet Ezekiel, who lived not very long after the time of Amos, represents Damascus as a place of trade, and in particular as trafficking in wine, and what we render white wool, Ezekiel 27:18 but which may equally well be understood to mean woollen fit for the use of nobles. For the word there translated wool, appears to be used Ezekiel 44:17 for wool wrought up, or woollen cloth; and the word which is translated white, is used but once more in the Old Testament. See the note on Judges 5:10. The result of the whole is, that Amos, as it should seem, signifies, that "As a shepherd saves a small portion of a sheep or a goat out of the jaws of a lion; so, though the rest of the company shall be miserably destroyed, they shall escape who sit or dwell in Samaria, in the corner of the divan, on the damask mattress; the royal and most beautified, that is, of all the cities of Israel." This custom may serve also to illustrate Nehemiah 9:22 which may be thus rendered, Thou didst divide them to the corner; that is to say, according to the explanation above given, "Thou didst give Sihon and Og into their hands, and the various tribes of the Canaanites; and not only so, but didst give the pre-eminence to Israel, and make them chief among the nations round about them." It may not, perhaps, be improper here to add, that the word divide (in the original חלק chalak) is used 1 Chronicles 24:3 to express David's appointing the sons of Aaron to their different charges. See the Observations, p. 266.


Verse 15

Amos 3:15. I will smite the winter-house, &c.— See Jeremiah 36:22. The Russian princes used to have their winter and summer palaces, that nation having had many of the eastern usages, and even much of their dress, before the new regulations of Peter the Great. But the winter and summer-houses spoken of by the prophets may be supposed hardly to differ so much from each other as those of the Russians. Probably the account which Dr. Shaw gives of the country-seats about Algiers, though not applied by him to the illustration of these texts, may better explain this affair. "The hills and valleys round Algiers are all over beautified with gardens and country-seats, whither the inhabitants of better fashion retire, during the heats of the summer-season. They are little white houses, shaded with a variety of fruit-trees and ever-greens; which, beside the shade and retirement, afford a gay and delightful prospect toward the sea. The gardens are all of them well stocked with melons, fruit and potherbs of all kinds; and (which is chiefly regarded in these hot climates) each of them enjoys a great command of water, &c." These are the houses used for retirement from the heat; they might with the greater propriety, therefore, be called summer-houses. They are built in the open country, and are small, though belonging to people of fashion; and as such, do they not explain in the most simple manner the words of Amos? I will smite the winter-house;—the palaces of the great, in fortified towns: with the summer-house, the small houses of pleasure used in the summer, to which any enemy can have access? And the houses of ivory shall perish; those remarkable for their magnificence; and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord; those that are distinguished by their amplitude as well as richness, built as they are in their strongest places, yet shall all perish like their country-seats. See on Nahum 3:17.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prophet solemnly awakens the attention of this stupid people, and calls on them to hear and tremble at the word that the Lord had spoken against them.

1. Their ingratitude will provoke him to punish them. Of all families of the earth, they had been distinguished by his peculiar favour: though so few when they went into Egypt, yet he had multiplied them exceedingly; and brought them up thence with a high hand; and therefore their rebellion against him was the more criminal, and would bring a heavier judgment on their heads. Note; None perish under deeper guilt than those who have abused distinguishing means and mercies.

2. In their state of apostacy, no communion can subsist between him and them. Can two walk together, except they be agreed? There must be reconciliation before there could be any renewed fellowship; and as they obstinately rejected every call to repent, the enmity must subsist, and their ruin be the consequence. Note; God is ready to be reconciled to sinners; but if they reject his mercy, they may expect his wrath.

3. The judgments that God threatened were not pretended, but real; nor should they be removed from them till they were effectually humbled by them. Will a lion roar in the forest when he hath no prey? &c. No: they only roar in sight of their prey, or when they have seized it. Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth where no gin is for him? No: God hath really spread the snare of affliction for them, nor would take it up fruitless; they would assuredly be snared and taken; nor would the visitation be removed, till the end for which it was sent should be answered. Note; The terrors of the Lord are not phantoms raised to frighten the weak, the ignorant, or superstitious, but awful realities which must shortly come to pass.

4. The warnings that they received ought justly to alarm them; and in the sufferings which they were about to feel, God's hand would visibly appear. Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid of the approaching foe? or not run together, to consider how to avert the storm? Thus God, by his prophets, had spread the alarm; and it was at their peril if they disregarded them. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? All attention comes from his appointing, permissive, or suffering will; and without it not a hair of our head falls. Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets, that before he strikes they may give fair warning to the guilty, and exhort them by a speedy humiliation to avert the impending wrath. The lion hath roared; who will not fear? The Lord hath denounced his vengeance against the impenitent; and abundant cause there is that they should tremble before him. The Lord God hath spoken; who can but prophesy? Who, that hath the glory of God and the good of men's souls at heart, can refrain from speaking, when God stirs up his mind with holy zeal, and shews him the dreadful danger about which sinners appear so fearfully unconcerned. Note; (1.) In all our trials and troubles, God's hand is to be acknowledged: it should silence every murmur, when we know that he hath done it or permitted it for our good. (2.) God is very gracious; he never strikes, till, having warned in vain, the sinner proves incorrigible. (3.) Necessity is laid upon those, whose spirit God inwardly moves with affecting views of the miseries of a world that lieth in wickedness, to labour to pluck, if possible, these brands from the burning.

2nd, The neighbouring nations, the princes of Philistia and Egypt, are summoned to hear the trial of Israel, that they may bear witness to the righteousness of the Lord, and in their punishments be themselves admonished. We have,

1. The crimes of which Israel is found guilty. (1.) Behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, the outrages committed in lawless riot, and passed off with impunity. (2.) Behold the oppressed in the midst thereof: injustice, oppression, rapine, and violence fill every street, and the injured groan without redress; for they know not to do right; they had no desire to do it, or by so long a course of wickedness their very judgment was perverted, and their reason blinded: they store up violence and robbery in their palaces, thus heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. Note; Sin is of so bewitching a nature, that by long practice it gains, as it were, a sanction in the mind; and the conscience utterly defiled yields consent and approbation.

2. The sentence pronounced upon Israel is terrible. An adversary, the Assyrian king, shall be raised up, who shall demolish their fortresses, and plunder their palaces of their ill-gotten wealth. The inhabitants shall be massacred and devoured, as a helpless sheep in a lion's mouth; a wretched remnant only shall escape, like the two legs, or a piece of an ear, which the shepherd rescues from his consuming jaws; a few out of Samaria, in the corner of a bed, so poor that they have only part of a bed to lie on, or who ran thither to hide themselves;* and in Damascus in a couch, a mere handful, who fled thither when Samaria was taken; or when this city fell likewise, some few of them narrowly escaped. This sentence God's prophets and priests are called upon faithfully to deliver to the house of Jacob, and to assure them that the day will come when he will visit their transgressions with deserved vengeance; when their idolatrous altars at Beth-el should fall, and the horns of them be cut off, nor afford the least refuge to those who fled thither, their idol-confidences utterly failing them. Their houses filled with oppression shall also be laid in the dust; their winter and summer-houses, many of them curiously adorned with ivory, and the structure superb and magnificent, shall be plundered and demolished by the invading foe. Note; (1.) Great houses afford no protection against God's judgments; rather, when built by unrighteousness, maintained by oppression, or abused by pride and luxury, they provoke them more speedily and fearfully. (2.) They who make any creature their idol, will sooner or later be convinced of the folly and misery of their dependence thereon.

* See the notes for another interpretation of this passage.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Amos 3:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/amos-3.html. 1801-1803.

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