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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Amos 3

 

 

Verses 1-15

CIVILIZATION AND JUDGMENT

Amos 3:1-15 - Amos 4:3

WE now enter the Second Section of the Book of Amos: chapters 3-6. It is a collection of various oracles of denunciation, grouped partly by the recurrence of the formula "Hear this word," which stands at the head of our present chapters 3, 4, and 5, which are therefore probably due to it; partly by two cries of "Woe" at Amos 5:18 and Amos 6:1; and also by the fact that each of the groups thus started leads up to an emphatic, though not at first detailed, prediction of the nation’s doom. [Amos 3:13-15;, Amos 4:3;, Amos 4:12;, Amos 5:16-17; Amos 5:26-27; Amos 6:14] Within these divisions lie a number of short indictments, sentences of judgment, and the like, which have no further logical connection than is supplied by their general sameness of subject, and a perceptible increase of articulateness from beginning to end of the Section. The sins of Israel are more detailed, and the judgment of war, coming from the North, advances gradually till we discern the unmistakable ranks of Assyria. But there are various parentheses and interruptions, which cause the student of the text no little difficulty. Some of these, however, may be only apparent: it will always be a question whether their want of immediate connection with what precedes them is not due to the loss of several words from the text rather than to their own intrusion into it. Of others it is true that they are obviously out of place as they lie; their removal brings together verses which evidently belong to each other. Even such parentheses, however, may be from Amos himself. It is only where a verse, besides interrupting the argument, seems to reflect a historical situation later than the prophet’s day, that we can be sure it is not his own. And in all this textual criticism we must keep in mind that the obscurity of the present text of a verse, so far from being an adequate proof of its subsequent insertion, may be the very token of its antiquity, scribes or translators of later date having been unable to understand it. To reject a verse, only because we do not see the connection, would surely be as arbitrary as the opposite habit of those who, missing a connection, invent one, and then exhibit their artificial joint as evidence of the integrity of the whole passage. In fact we must avoid all headstrong surgery, for to a great extent we work in the dark.

The general subject of the Section may be indicated by the title: Religion and Civilization. A vigorous community, wealthy, cultured, and honestly religious, are, at a time of settled peace and growing power, threatened, in the name of the God of justice, with their complete political overthrow. Their civilization is counted for nothing; their religion, on which they base their confidence, is denounced as false and unavailing. These two subjects are not, and could not have been, separated by the prophet in any one of his oracles. But in the first, the briefest, and most summary of these, chapters 3-4:3, it is mainly with the doom of the civil structure of Israel’s life that Amos deals; ‘and it will be more convenient for us to take them first, with all due reference to the echoes of them in later parts of the Section. From Amos 4:4-6. it is the Religion and its false peace which he assaults; and we shall take that in the next chapter. First, then, Civilization and Judgment (Amos 3:1-15; Amos 4:1-3); second, The False Peace of Ritual (Amos 4:4-6).

These few brief oracles open upon the same note as that in which the previous Section closed-that the crimes of Israel are greater than those of the heathen; and that the people’s peculiar relation to God means, not their security, but their greater judgment. It is then affirmed that Israel’s wealth and social life are so sapped by luxury and injustice that the nation must perish. And, as in every luxurious community the women deserve especial blame, the last of the group of oracles is reserved for them. [Amos 4:1-3]

"Hear this word, which Jehovah hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt"

- Judah as well as North Israel, so that we see the vanity of a criticism which would cast out of the Book of Amos as unauthentic every reference to Judah. "Only you have I known of all the families of the ground"-not world, but "ground," purposely chosen to stamp the meanness and mortality of them all-"therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities."

This famous text has been called by various writers "the keynote," "the license," and "the charter" of prophecy. But the names are too petty for what is not less than the fulmination of an element. It is a peal of thunder we hear. It is, in a moment, the explosion and discharge of the full storm of prophecy. As when from a burst cloud the streams immediately below rise suddenly and all their banks are overflowed, so the prophecies that follow surge and rise clear of the old limits of Israel’s faith by the unconfined, unmeasured flood of heaven’s justice that breaks forth by this single verse. Now, once for all, are submerged the lines of custom and tradition within which the course of religion has hitherto flowed; and, as it were, the surface of the world is altered. It is a crisis which has happened more than once again in history: when helpless man has felt the absolute relentlessness of the moral issues of life; their renunciation of the past, however much they have helped to form it; their sacrifice of every development however costly, and of every hope however pure; their deafness to prayer, their indifference to penitence; when no faith saves a Church, no courage a people, no culture or prestige even the most exalted order of men; but at the bare hands of a judgment, uncouth of voice and often unconscious of a Divine mission, the results of a great civilization are for its sins swept remorselessly away.

Before the storm bursts, we learn by its lightnings some truths from the old life that is to be destroyed. "You only have I known of all the families of the ground: therefore will I visit your iniquities upon you." Religion is no insurance against judgment, no mere atonement and escape from consequences. Escape! Religion is only opportunity-the greatest moral opportunity which men have, and which if they violate nothing remains for them but a certain fearful looking forward unto judgment. You only have I known; and because you did not take the moral advantage of My intercourse, because you felt it only as privilege and pride, pardon for the past and security for the future, therefore doom the more inexorable awaits you.

Then as if the people had interrupted him with the question, What sign do you give us that this judgment is near?-Amos goes aside into that noble digression (Amos 3:3-8) on the harmony between the prophet’s word and the imminent events of the time, which we have already studied. From this apologia, Amos 3:9 returns to the note of Amos 3:1-2 and develops it. Not only is Israel’s responsibility greater than that of other people’s. Her crimes themselves are more heinous. "Make proclamation over the palaces in Ashdod"-if we are not to read Assyria here, then the name of Ashdod has perhaps been selected from all other heathen names because of its similarity to the Hebrew word for that "violence" with which Amos is charging the people-"and over the palaces of the land of Egypt, and say, Gather upon the Mount of Samaria and see! Confusions manifold in the midst of her; violence to her very core! Yea, they know not how to do uprightness, saith Jehovah, who store up wrong and violence in their palaces."

"To their crimes," said the satirist of the Romans, "they owe their gardens, palaces, stables, and fine old plate." And William Langland declared of the rich English of his day:-"For toke thei on trewly they tymbred not so height Ne boughte non burgages be ye full certayne."

"Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Siege and Blockade of the Land. And they shall bring down from off thee thy fortresses, and plundered shall be thy palaces." Yet this shall be no ordinary, tide of Eastern war, to ebb like the Syrian as it flowed, and leave the nation to rally on their land again. For Assyria devours the peoples. "Thus saith Jehovah: As the shepherd saveth from the mouth of the lion a pair of shinbones or a bit of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be saved-they who sit in Samaria in the corner of the diwan and on a couch." The description, as will be seen from the note below, is obscure. Some think it is intended to satirize a novel and affected fashion of sitting adopted by the rich. Much more probably it means that carnal security in the luxuries of civilization which Amos threatens more than once in similar phrases. The corner of the diwan is in Eastern houses the seat of honor. To this desert shepherd, with only the hard ground to rest on, the couches and ivory-mounted diwans of the rich must have seemed the very symbols of extravagance. But the pampered bodies that loll their lazy lengths upon them shall be left like the crumbs of a lion’s meal-"two shin-bones and the bit of an ear!" Their whole civilization shall perish with them. "Hearken and testify against the house of Israel-oracle of the Lord Jehovah, God of Hosts"-those addressed are still the heathen summoned in Amos 3:14-15. "For on the day when I visit the crimes of Israel upon him, I shall then make visitation upon the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar," which men grasp in their last despair, "shall be smitten and fall to the earth. And I will strike the winter-house upon the summer-house, and the ivory houses Shall perish, yea, swept away shall be houses many-oracle of Jehovah."

But the luxury of no civilization can be measured without its women, and to the women of Samaria Amos now turns with the most scornful of all his words. "Hear this word"-this for you-"kine of Bashan that are in the mount of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say to their lords, Bring, and let us drink. Sworn hath the Lord Jehovah by His holiness, lo, days are coming when there shall be a taking away of you with hooks, and of the last of you with fish-hooks." They put hooks in the nostrils of unruly cattle, and the figure is often applied to human captives; but so many should these cattle of Samaria be that for the "last of them fish-hooks" must be used. "Yea, by the breaches" in the wall of the stormed city "shall ye go out, every one headlong, and ye shall be cast oracle of Jehovah." It is a cowherd’s rough picture of women: a troop of kine-heavy, heedless animals, trampling in their anxiety for food upon every frail and lowly object in the way. But there is a prophet’s insight into character. Not of Jezebels, or Messalinas, or Lady Macbeths is it spoken, but of the ordinary matrons of Samaria. Thoughtlessness and luxury are able to make brutes out of women of gentle nurture, with homes and a religion.

Such are these three or four short oracles of Amos. They are probably among his earliest-the first peremptory challenges of prophecy to, that great stronghold which before forty years she is to see thrown down in obedience to her word. As yet, however, there seems to be nothing to justify the menaces of Amos. Fair and stable rises the structure of Israel’s life. A nation, who know themselves elect; who in politics are prosperous and in religion proof to every doubt, build high their palaces, see the skies above them unclouded, and bask in their pride, heaven’s favorites without an ear. This man, solitary and sudden from his desert, springs upon them in the name of God and their poor. Straighter word never came from Deity: "Jehovah hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" The insight of it, the justice of it, are alike convincing. Yet at first it appears as if it were sped on the personal and very human passion of its herald. For Amos not only uses the desert’s cruelties-the lion’s to the sheep-to figure God’s impending judgment upon His people, but he enforces the latter with all a desert-bred man’s horror of cities and civilization. It is their costly furniture, their lavish and complex building, on which he sees the storm break. We seem to hear again that frequent phrase of the previous section: "the fire shall devour the palaces thereof." The palaces, he says, are simply storehouses of oppression; the palaces will be plundered. Here, as throughout his book, couches and diwans draw forth the scorn of a man accustomed to the simple furniture of the tent. But observe his especial hatred of houses. Four times in one verse he smites them: "winter-house on summer-house and the ivory houses shall perish-yea, houses manifold, saith the Lord." So in another oracle of the same section: "Houses of ashlar ye have built, and ye shall not inhabit them; vineyards of delight have ye planted, and ye shall not drink of their wine." [Amos 5:11] And in another: "I loathe the pride of Jacob, and his palaces I hate; and I will give up a city and all that is in it For, lo, the Lord is about to command, and He will smite the great house into ruins and the small house into splinters." [Amos 6:8; Amos 6:11] No wonder that such a prophet found war with its breached walls insufficient, and welcomed, as the full ally of his word, the earthquake itself.

Yet all this is no mere desert razzia in the name of the Lord, a nomad’s hatred of cities and the culture of settled men. It is not a temper; it is a vision of history. In the only argument which these early oracles contain, Amos claims to have events on the side of his word. "Shall the lion roar and not be catching" something? Neither does the prophet speak till he knows that God is ready to act. History accepted this claim. Amos spoke about 755. In 734 Tiglath-Pileser swept Gilead and Galilee; in 724 Shalmaneser overran the rest of Northern Israel: "siege and blockade of the whole land!" For three years the Mount of Samaria was invested, and then taken; the houses overthrown, the rich and the delicate led away captive. It happened as Amos foretold; for it was not the shepherd’s rage within him that spoke. He had "seen the Lord standing, and He said, Smite."

But this assault of a desert nomad upon the structure of a nation’s life raises many echoes in history and some questions in our own minds today. Again and again have civilizations far more powerful than Israel’s been threatened by the desert in the name of God, and in good faith it has been proclaimed by the prophets of Christianity and other religions that God’s kingdom cannot come on earth till the wealth, the culture, the civil order, which men have taken centuries to build, have been swept away by some great political convulsion. Today Christianity herself suffers the same assaults, and is told by many, the high life and honest intention of whom cannot be doubted, that till the civilization which she has so much helped to create is destroyed, there is no hope for the purity or the progress of the race. And Christianity, too, has doubts within herself. What is the world which our Master refused in the Mount of Temptation, and so often and so sternly told us that it must perish?-how much of our wealth, of our culture, of our politics, of the whole fabric of our society? No thoughtful and religious man, when confronted with civilization, not in its ideal, but in one of those forms which give it its very name, the life of a large city, can fail to ask, How much of this deserves the judgment of God? How much must be overthrown, before His will is done on earth? All these questions rise in the ears and the heart of a generation, which more than any other has been brought face to face with the ruins of empires and civilizations, which have endured longer, and in their day seemed more stable, than her own.

In face of the confused thinking and fanatic speech which have risen on all such topics, it seems to me that the Hebrew prophets supply us with four cardinal rules.

First, of course, they insist that it is the moral question upon which the fate of a civilization is, decided. By what means has the system grown? Is justice observed in essence as well as form? Is there freedom, or is the prophet silenced? Does luxury or self-denial prevail? Do the rich make life hard for the poor? Is childhood sheltered and is innocence respected? By these, claim the prophets, a nation stands or falls; and history has proved the claim on wider worlds than they dreamt of.

But by themselves moral reasons are never enough to justify a prediction of speedy doom upon any system or society. None of the prophets began to foretell the fall of Israel till they read, with keener eyes than their contemporaries, the signs of it in current history. And this, I take it, was the point which made a notable difference between them, and one who like them scourged the social wrongs of his civilization, yet never spoke a word of its fall. Juvenal nowhere calls down judgments, except upon individuals. In his time there were no signs of the decline of the empire, even though, as he marks, there was a flight from the capital of the virtue which was to keep the empire alive. But the prophets had political proof of the nearness of God’s judgment, and they spoke in the power of its coincidence with the moral corruption of their people.

Again, if conscience and history (both of them, to the prophets, being witnesses of God) thus combine to announce the early doom of a civilization, neither the religion that may-have helped to build it, nor any remnant virtue in it, nor its ancient value to God, can avail to save. We are tempted to judge that the long and costly development of ages is cruelly thrown away by the convulsion and collapse of an empire; it feels impious to think that the patience, the providence, the millennial discipline of the Almighty are to be in a moment abandoned to some rude and savage force. But we are wrong. "You only have I known of all the families of the ground," yet I must "visit upon you your iniquities." Nothing is too costly for justice. And God finds some other way of conserving the real results of the past.

Again, it is a corollary of all this, that the sentence upon civilization must often seem to come by voices that are insane, and its execution by means that are criminal. Of course, when civilization is arraigned as a whole, and its overthrow demanded, there may be nothing behind the attack but jealousy or greed, the fanaticism of ignorant men or the madness of disordered lives. But this is not necessarily the case. For God has often in history chosen the outsider as the herald of doom, and sent the barbarian as its instrument. By the statesmen and patriots of Israel, Amos must have been regarded as a mere savage, with a savage’s hate of civilization. But we know what he answered when Amaziah called him rebel. And it was not only for its suddenness that the apostles said the "day of the Lord should come as a thief," but also because of its methods. For over and over again has doom been pronounced, and pronounced truly, by men who in the eyes of civilization were criminals and monsters.

Now apply these four principles to the question of ourselves. It will scarcely be denied that our civilization tolerates, and in part lives by, the existence of vices which, as we all admit, ruined the ancient empires. Are the political possibilities of overthrow also present? That there exist among us means of new historic convulsions is a thing hard for us to admit. But the signs cannot be hid. When we see the jealousies of the Christian peoples, and their enormous preparations for battle; the arsenals of Europe which a few sparks, may blow up; the millions of soldiers one man’s word may mobilize; when we imagine the opportunities which a general war would furnish to the discontented masses of the European proletariat-we must surely acknowledge the existence of forces capable of inflicting calamities, so severe as to affect not merely this nationality or that type of culture, but the very vigor and progress of civilization herself; and all this without our looking beyond Christendom, or taking into account the rise of the yellow races to a consciousness of their approach to equality with ourselves. If, then, in the eyes of the Divine justice Christendom merits judgment, -if life continue to be left so hard to the poor; if innocence be still an impossibility for so much of the childhood of the Christian nations; if with so many of the leaders of civilization prurience be lifted to the level of an art, and licentiousness followed as a cult; if we continue to pour the evils of our civilization upon the barbarian, and "the vices of our young nobles," to paraphrase Juvenal, "are aped in" Hindustan, -then let us know that the means of a judgment more awful than any which has yet scourged a delinquent civilization are extant and actual among us. And if one should reply, that our Christianity makes all the difference, that God cannot undo the development of nineteen centuries, or cannot overthrow the peoples of His Son, -let us remember that God does justice at whatever cost; that as He did not spare Israel at the hands of Assyria, so He did not spare Christianity in the East when the barbarians of the desert found her careless and corrupt. "You only have I known of all the families of the ground, therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities."

THE PROBLEM THAT AMOS LEFT

AMOS was a preacher of righteousness almost wholly in its judicial and punitive offices. Exposing the moral conditions of society in his day, emphasizing on the one hand its obduracy and on the other the intolerableness of it, he asserted that nothing could avert the inevitable doom-neither Israel’s devotion to Jehovah nor Jehovah’s interest in Israel. "You alone have I known of all the families of the ground: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities." The visitation was to take place in war and in the captivity of the people. This is practically the whole message of the prophet Amos.

That he added to it the promise of restoration which now closes his book, we have seen to be extremely improbable. Yet even if that promise is his own, Amos does not tell us how the restoration is to be brought about. With Wonderful insight and patience he has traced the captivity of Israel to moral causes. But he does not show what moral change in the exiles is to justify their restoration, or by what means such a moral change is to be effected. We are left to infer the conditions and the means of redemption from the principles which Amos enforced while there yet seemed time to pray for the doomed people: "Seek the Lord and ye shall live." (Amos 5:4) According to this, the moral renewal of Israel must precede their restoration; but the prophet seems to make no great effort to effect the renewal. In short Amos illustrates the easily-forgotten truth that a preacher to the conscience is not necessarily a preacher of repentance.

Of the great antitheses between which religion moves, Law and Love, Amos had therefore been the prophet of Law. But we must not imagine that the association of Love with the Deity was strange to him. This could not be to any Israelite who remembered the past of his people-the romance of their origins and early struggles for freedom. Israel had always felt the grace of their God; and unless we be wrong about the date of the great poem in the end of Deuteronomy, they had lately celebrated that grace in lines of exquisite beauty and tenderness:-

"He found him in a desert land, In a waste and a howling wilderness. He compassed him about, cared for him, Kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirreth up his nest, Fluttereth over his young, Spreadeth his wings, taketh them, Beareth them up on his pinions-So Jehovah alone led him."

The patience of the Lord with their waywardness and their stubbornness had been the ethical influence on Israel’s life at a time when they had probably neither code of law nor system of doctrine. "Thy gentleness," as an early Psalmist says for his people, "Thy gentleness hath made me great." [Psalms 18:1-50] Amos is not unaware of this ancient grace of Jehovah. But he speaks of it in a fashion which shows that he feels it to be exhausted and without hope for his generation "I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorites. And I raised up of your sons for prophets and of your young men for Nazarites." [Amos 2:10] But this can now only fill the cup of the nation’s sin. "You alone have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities." [Amos 3:2] Jehovah’s ancient Love but strengthens now the justice and the impetus of His Law.

We perceive, then, the problem which Amos left to prophecy. It was not to discover Love in the Deity whom he had so absolutely identified with Law. The Love of God needed no discovery among a people with the Deliverance, the Exodus, the Wilderness, and the Gift of the Land in their memories. But the problem was to prove in God so great and new a mercy as was capable of matching that Law, which the abuse of His millennial gentleness now only the more fully justified. There was needed a prophet to arise with as keen a conscience of Law as Amos himself, and yet affirm that Love was greater still; to admit that Israel were doomed, and yet promise their redemption by processes as reasonable and as ethical as those by which the doom had been rendered inevitable. The prophet of Conscience had to be followed by the prophet of Repentance.

Such a one was found in Hosea, the son of Be’eri, a citizen and probably a priest of Northern Israel, whose very name, Salvation, the synonym of Joshua and of Jesus, breathed the larger hope, which it was his glory to bear to his people. Before we see how for this task Hosea was equipped with the love and sympathy which Amos lacked, let us do two things. Let us appreciate the magnitude of the task itself, set to him first of prophets; and let us remind ourselves that, greatly as he achieved it, the task was not one which could be achieved even by him once for all, but that it presents itself to religion again and again in the course of her development.

For the first of these duties, it is enough to recall how much all subsequent prophecy derives from Hosea. We shall not exaggerate if we say that there is no truth uttered by later prophets about the Divine Grace, which we do not find in germ in him. Isaiah of Jerusalem was a greater statesman and a more powerful writer, but he had not Hosea’s tenderness and insight into motive and character. Hosea’s marvelous sympathy both with the people and with God is sufficient to foreshadow every grief, every hope, every gospel, which make the Books of Jeremiah and the great Prophet of the Exile exhaustless in their spiritual value for mankind. These others explored the kingdom of God: it was Hosea who took it by storm. [Matthew 11:12] He is the first prophet of Grace, Israel’s earliest Evangelist; yet with as keen a sense of law, and of the inevitableness of ethical discipline, as Amos himself.

But the task which Hosea accomplished was not one that could be accomplished once for all. The interest of his book is not merely historical. For so often as a generation is shocked out of its old religious ideals, as Amos shocked Israel, by a realism and a discovery of law, which have no respect for ideals, however ancient and however dear to the human heart, but work their own pitiless way to doom inevitable; so often must the Book of Hosea have a practical value for living men. At such a crisis we stand today. The older Evangelical assurance, the older Evangelical ideals have to some extent been rendered impossible by the realism to which the sciences, both physical and historical, have most healthily recalled us, and by their wonderful revelation of Law working through nature and society without respect to our creeds and pious hopes. The question presses: Is it still possible to believe in repentance and conversion, still possible to preach the power of God to save, whether the individual or society, from the forces of heredity and of habit? We can at least learn how Hosea mastered the very similar problem which Amos left to him, and how, with a moral realism no less stern than his predecessor and a moral standard every whit as high, he proclaimed Love to be the ultimate element in religion; not only because it moves man to a repentance and God to a redemption more sovereign than any law; but because if neglected or abused, whether as love of man or love of God, it enforces a doom still more inexorable than that required by violated truth or by outraged justice. Love our Savior, Love our almighty and unfailing Father, but, just because of this, Love our most awful Judge-we turn to the life and the message in which this eternal theme was first unfolded.


Verses 3-8

COMMON SENSE AND THE REIGN OF LAW

Amos 3:3-8;, Amos 4:6-13;, Amos 5:8-9; Amos 6:12;, Amos 8:8;, Amos 9:5; Amos 8:4-6

FOOLS, when they face facts, which is seldom, face them one by one, and, as a consequence, either in ignorant contempt or in panic. With this inordinate folly Amos charged the religion of his day. The superstitious people, careful of every point of ritual and very greedy of omens, would not ponder real facts nor set cause-to effect. Amos recalled them to common life. "Does a bird fall upon a snare, except there be a loop on her? Does the trap itself rise from the ground, except it be catching something"-something alive in it that struggles, and so lifts the trap? "Shall the alarum be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?" Daily life is impossible without putting two and two together. But this is just what Israel will not do with the sacred events of their time. To religion they will not add common-sense.

For Amos himself, all things which happen are in sequence and in sympathy. He has seen this in the simple life of the desert; he is sure of it throughout the tangle and hubbub of history. One thing explains another; one makes another inevitable. When he has illustrated the truth in common life, Amos claims it for especially four of the great facts of the time. The sins of society, of which society is careless; the physical calamities, which they survive and forget; the approach of Assyria, which they ignore; the word of the prophet, which they silence, -all these belong to each other. Drought, Pestilence, Earthquake, Invasion conspire-and the Prophet holds their secret.

Now it is true that for the most part Amos describes this sequence of events as the personal action of Jehovah. "Shall evil befall, and Jehovah not have done it? I have smitten you. I will raise up against you a Nation Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!" [Amos 3:6;, Amos 4:9;, Amos 6:14;, Amos 4:12] Yet even where the personal impulse of the Deity is thus emphasized, we feel equal stress laid upon the order and the inevitable certainty of the process Amos nowhere uses Isaiah’s great phrase: "a God of Mishpat," a "God of Order" or "Law." But he means almost the same thing: God works by methods which irresistibly fulfill themselves. Nay more. Sometimes this sequence sweeps upon the prophet’s mind with such force as to overwhelm all his sense of the Personal within it. The Will and the Word of the God who causes the thing are crushed out by the "Must Be" of the thing itself. Take even the descriptions of those historical crises, which the prophet most explicitly proclaims as the visitations of the Almighty. In some of the verses all thought of God Himself is lost in the roar and foam with which that tide of necessity bursts up through Chem. The fountains of the great deep break loose, and while the universe trembles to the shock, it seems that even the voice of the Deity is overwhelmed. In one passage, immediately after describing Israel’s ruin as due to Jehovah’s word, Amos asks how could it "have happened otherwise":-

"Shall horses run up a cliff, or oxen plough the sea? that ye turn justice into poison, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood." [Amos 6:12] A moral order exists, which it is as impossible to break without disaster as it would be to break the natural order by driving horses upon a precipice. There is an inherent necessity in the sinners’ doom. Again, he says of Israel’s sin: "Shall not the Land tremble for this? Yea, it shall rise up together like the Nile, and heave and sink like the Nile of Egypt." [Amos 8:8] The crimes of Israel are so intolerable, that in its own might the natural frame of things revolts against them. In these great crises, therefore, as in the simple instances adduced from everyday life, Amos had a sense of what we call law, distinct from, and for moments even overwhelming, that sense of the personal purpose of God, admission to the secrets of which had marked his call to be a prophet.

These instincts we must not exaggerate into a system. There is no philosophy in Amos, nor need we wish there were. Far more instructive is what we do find-a virgin sense of the sympathy of all things, the thrill rather than the theory of a universe. And this faith, which is not a philosophy, is especially instructive on these two points: that it springs from the moral sense; and that it embraces, not history only, but nature.

It springs from the moral sense. Other races have arrived at a conception of the universe along other lines: some by the observation of physical laws valid to the recesses of space; some by logic and the unity of Reason. But Israel found the universe through the conscience. It is a historical fact that the Unity of God, the Unity of History, and the Unity of the World, did, in this order, break upon Israel, through conviction and experience of the universal sovereignty of righteousness. We see the beginnings of the process in Amos. To him the sequences which work themselves out through history and across nature are moral. Righteousness is the hinge on which the world hangs; loosen it, and history and nature feel the shock. History punishes the sinful nation. But nature, too, groans beneath the guilt of man; and in the Drought, the Pestilence, and the Earthquake provides his scourges. It is a belief which has stamped itself upon the language of mankind. What else is "plague" than "blow" or "Scourge?"

This brings us to the second point-our prophet’s treatment of Nature.

Apart from the disputed passages (which we shall take afterwards by themselves) we have in the Book of Amos few glimpses of nature, and these always under a moral light. There is not in any chapter a landscape visible in its own beauty. Like all desert-dwellers, who when they would praise the works of God lift their eyes to the heavens, Amos gives us but the outlines of the earth-a mountain range, [Amos 1:2;, Amos 3:9;, Amos 9:3] or the crest of a forest, [Amos 2:9] or the bare back of the land, bent from sea to sea. [Amos 8:12] Nearly all, his figures are drawn from the desert-the torrent, the wild beasts, the wormwood (Amos 5:24; Amos 5:19-20; etc.; Amos 7:12). If he visits the meadows of the shepherds, it is with the terror of the people’s doom; [Amos 1:2] if the vineyards or orchards, it is with the mildew and the locust; {Amos 4:9 ff.} if the towns, it is with drought, eclipse, and earthquake. {Amos 4:6-11;, Amos 6:11;, Amos 8:8 ff.} To him, unlike his fellows, unlike especially Hosea, the whole land is one theatre of judgment; but it is a theatre trembling to its foundations with the drama enacted upon it. Nay, land and nature are themselves actors in the drama. Physical forces are inspired with moral purpose, and become the ministers of righteousness. This is the converse of Elijah’s vision. To the older prophet the message came that God was not in the fire nor in the earthquake nor in the tempest, but only in the still small voice. But to Amos the fire, the earthquake, and the tempest are all in alliance with the Voice, and execute the doom which it utters. The difference will be appreciated by us, if we remember the respective problems set to prophecy in those two periods. To Elijah, prophet of the elements, wild worker by fire and water, by life and death, the spiritual had to be asserted and enforced by itself. Ecstatic as he was, Elijah had to learn that the Word is more Divine than all physical violence and terror. But Amos understood that for his age the question was very different. Not only was the God of Israel dissociated from the powers of nature, which were assigned by the popular mind to the various Ba’alim of the land, so that there was a divorce between His government of the people and the influences that fed the people’s life; but morality itself was conceived as provincial. It was narrowed to the national interests; it was summed up in mere rules of police, and these were looked upon as not so important as the observances of the ritual. Therefore Amos was driven to show that nature and morality are one. Morality is not a set of conventions. "Morality is the order of things." Righteousness is on the scale of the universe. All things tremble to the shock of sin; all things work together for good to them that fear God.

With this sense of law, of moral necessity, in Amos we must not fail to connect that absence of all appeal to miracle, which is also conspicuous in his book.

We come now to the three disputed passages:-

Amos 4:13 :-"For, lo! He Who formed the hills, and createth the wind, and declareth to man what His mind is; Who maketh the dawn into darkness, and marcheth on the heights of the land-Jehovah, God of Hosts, is His Name."

Amos 5:8-9 :-"Maker of the Pleiades and Orion, turning to morning the murk, and day into night He darkeneth; Who calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them forth on the face of the earth-Jehovah His Name; Who flasheth ruin on the strong, and destruction cometh down on the fortress."

Amos 9:5-6 :-"And the Lord Jehovah of the Hosts, Who toucheth the earth and it rocketh, and all mourn that dwell on it, and it riseth like the Nile together, and sinketh like the Nile of Egypt; Who hath builded in the heavens His ascents, and founded His vault upon the earth; Who calleth to the waters of the sea, and poureth them on the face of the earth-Jehovah His Name."

These sublime passages it is natural to take as the triple climax of the doctrine we have traced through the Book of Amos. Are they not the natural leap of the soul to the stars? The same shepherd’s eye which has marked sequence and effect unfailing on the desert soil, does it not now sweep the clear heavens above the desert, and find there also all things ordered and arrayed? The same mind which traced the Divine processes down history, which foresaw the hosts of Assyria marshaled for Israel’s punishment, which felt the overthrow of justice shock the nation to their ruin, and read the disasters of the husbandman’s year as the vindication of a law higher than the physical-does it not now naturally rise beyond such instances of the Divine order, round which the dust of history rolls, to the lofty, undimmed outlines of the Universe as a Whole, and, in consummation of its message, declare that "all is Law," and Law intelligible to man? But in the way of so attractive a conclusion the literary criticism of the book has interposed. It is maintained that, while none of these sublime verses are indispensable to the argument of Amos, some of them actually interrupt it, so that when they are removed it becomes consistent; that such ejaculations in praise of Jehovah’s creative power are not elsewhere met with in Hebrew prophecy before the time of the Exile; that they sound very like echoes of the Book of Job; and that in the Septuagint version of Hosea we actually find a similar doxology, wedged into the middle of an authentic verse of the prophet. [Hosea 13:4] To these arguments against the genuineness of the three famous passages, other critics, not less able and not less free, like Robertson Smith and Kuenen, have replied that such ejaculations at critical points of the prophet’s discourse "are not surprising under the general conditions of prophetic oratory"; and that, while one of the doxologies does appear to break the argument [Amos 5:8-9] of the context, they are all of them thoroughly in the spirit and the style of Amos. To this point the discussion has been carried; it seems to need a closer examination. We may at once dismiss the argument which has been drawn from that obvious intrusion into the Greek of Hosea 13:4. Not only is this verse not so suited to the doctrine of Hosea as the doxologies are to the doctrine of Amos; but while they are definite and sublime, it is formal and flat-"Who made firm the heavens and founded the earth, Whose hands founded all the host of heaven, and He did not display them that thou shouldest walk after them." The passages in Amos are vision; this is a piece of catechism crumbling into homily. Again-an argument in favor of the authenticity, of these passages may be drawn from the character of their subjects. We have seen the part which the desert played in shaping the temper and the style of Amos. But the works of the Creator, to which these passages lift their praise, are just those most fondly dwelt upon by all the poetry, of the desert. The Arabian nomad, when he magnifies the power of God, finds his subjects not on the bare earth about him, but in the brilliant heavens and the heavenly processes.

Again, the critic who affirms that the passages in Amos "in every case sensibly disturb the connection," exaggerates. In the case of the first of Amos 4:13, the disturbance is not at all "sensible": though it must be admitted that the oracle closes impressively enough without it. The last of them, Amos 9:5-6 -which repeats a clause already found in the book {Cf. Amos 8:8} -is as much in sympathy with its context as most of the oracles in the somewhat scattered discourse of that last section of the book. The real difficulty is the second doxology, Amos 5:8-9, which does break the connection, and in a sudden and violent way. Remove it, and the argument is consistent. We cannot read chapter 5 without feeling that, whether Amos wrote these verses or not, they did not originally stand where they stand at present. Now, taken with this dispensableness of two of the passages and this obvious intrusion of one of them, the following additional fact becomes ominous. "Jehovah is His Name" (which occurs in two of the passages), or "Jehovah of Hosts is His Name" (Which occurs at least in one), is a construction which does not happen elsewhere in the book, except in a verse where it is awkward and where we have already seen reason to doubt its genuineness. But still more, the phrase does not occur in any other prophet, till we come down to the oracles which compose Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12. Here it happens thrice-twice in passages dating from the Exile, [Isaiah 47:4 and Isaiah 54:5] and once in a passage suspected by some to be of still later date. In the Book of Jeremiah the phrase is found eight times; but either in passages already on other grounds judged by many critics to be later than Jeremiah, or where by itself it is probably an intrusion into the text. Now is it a mere coincidence that a phrase, which, outside the Book of Amos, occurs only in writing of the time of the Exile and in passages considered for other reasons to be post-exilic insertions-is it a mere coincidence that within the Book of Amos it should again be found only in suspected verses? There appears to be in this more than a coincidence; and the present writer cannot but feel a very strong case against the traditional belief that these doxologies are original and integral portions of the Book of Amos. At the same time a case which has failed to convince critics like Robertson Smith and Kuenen cannot be considered conclusive, and we are so ignorant of many of the conditions of prophetic oratory at this period that dogmatism is impossible. For instance, the use by Amos of the Divine titles is a matter over which uncertainty still lingers; and any further argument on the subject must include a fuller discussion than space here allows of the remarkable distribution of those titles throughout the various sections of the book.

But if it be not given to us to prove this kind of authenticity-a question whose data are so obscure, yet whose answer frequently is of so little significance-let us gladly welcome that greater Authenticity whose undeniable proofs these verses so splendidly exhibit. No one questions their right to the place which some great spirit gave them in this book-their suitableness to its grand and ordered theme, their pure vision and their eternal truth. That common-sense, and that conscience, which, moving among the events of earth and all the tangled processes of history, find everywhere reason and righteousness at work, in these verses claim the Universe for the same powers, and see in stars and clouds and the procession of day and night the One Eternal God Who "declareth to man what His mind is."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Amos 3:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/amos-3.html.

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