A. Seek the LORD in a time of impending judgment.
1. (1-3) Coming exile and captivity.
Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel:
The virgin of Israel has fallen;
She will rise no more.
She lies forsaken on her land;
There is no one to raise her up.
For thus says the Lord GOD:
“The city that goes out by a thousand
Shall have a hundred left,
And that which goes out by a hundred
Shall have ten left to the house of Israel.”
a. The virgin of Israel has fallen: Amos saw Israel as a tragic young woman who was fallen and forsaken, with no one coming to her aid. In her rebellion against God, Israel was as helpless as a young woman among violent men.
i. Virgin “depicts the vulnerability of Israel and the special sadness that accompanies her death, as though she should have had a whole life to live and fruitfulness before her.” (Hubbard)
b. The city that goes out by a thousand shall have a hundred left: Amos predicted that things would become so bad for Israel that when the enemy came, a city that would have before sent out a thousand soldiers would only send out a hundred.
i. “Only a handful of ragged, war-weary men will be left of Israel’s proud army.” (McComiskey)
2. (4-9) An invitation to seek the LORD.
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
“Seek Me and live;
But do not seek Bethel,
Nor enter Gilgal,
Nor pass over to Beersheba;
For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity,
And Bethel shall come to nothing.
Seek the LORD and live,
Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
And devour it,
With no one to quench it in Bethel;
You who turn justice to wormwood,
And lay righteousness to rest in the earth!”
He made the Pleiades and Orion;
He turns the shadow of death into morning
And makes the day dark as night;
He calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the face of the earth;
The LORD is His name.
He rains ruin upon the strong,
So that fury comes upon the fortress.
a. Seek Me and live: When Israel was ripe for judgment, the key to survival was to simply seek the LORD. However, they could not seek the LORD unless they first would not seek places of disobedience and self-will (exemplified by Bethel and Gilgal and other rival centers of worship).
i. Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were once places associated with great privilege and spiritual heritage. Now they were places of vain, empty worship.
· Bethel was the place where God met Jacob (Genesis 28:11-19, Genesis 35:1-7).
· Gilgal was the place where Israel’s spiritual reproach was rolled away in the days of Joshua (Joshua 5:1-12).
· Beersheba was connected to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 21:22-33, 26:23-33, 46:1-5).
ii. There is a play on words in the phrase for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing. It doesn’t come across in the English translation, but in Hebrew it is a clever pun.
b. You who turn justice to wormwood, and lay righteousness to rest: Amos again confronted the corrupt legal system of Israel. Justice had been thoroughly spoiled, and righteousness was as good as dead.
c. He made the Pleiades and Orion: Amos explained why God was worthy to be sought, and why He could deliver Israel from their coming doom. He could do it because He is the God mighty enough and wise enough to make and uphold the starry constellations in the sky, and to manage the creation.
i. This means that God is strong enough to save, but also plenty strong enough to bring judgment (He rains ruin upon the strong, so that fury comes upon the fortress). If the strong and the fortress can’t stand before God’s power, no one can.
3. (10-15) The cause, the curse, and the cure.
They hate the one who rebukes in the gate,
And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.
Therefore, because you tread down the poor
And take grain taxes from him,
Though you have built houses of hewn stone,
Yet you shall not dwell in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards,
But you shall not drink wine from them.
For I know your manifold transgressions
And your mighty sins:
Afflicting the just and taking bribes;
Diverting the poor from justice at the gate.
Therefore the prudent keep silent at that time,
For it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
That you may live;
So the LORD God of hosts will be with you,
As you have spoken.
Hate evil, love good;
Establish justice in the gate.
It may be that the LORD God of hosts
Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
a. They hate the one who rebukes in the gate: Amos told us the cause of coming judgment – the terrible way that the people of Israel treated one another, especially how the strong took advantage of the weak. The weak had no voice in the gate and were robbed by oppressive taxes. The rich took advantage with bribes so they could drive the poor from justice.
i. The gate was the law court in ancient cities. Israel’s courts were so corrupt that they silenced the poor and righteous. The effect of this culture of injustice was that the prudent keep silent at that time, for it is an evil time – godly and righteous people did not speak out either fearing retribution or knowing it would do no good.
ii. “Judicial decisions for each community were taken at the gate of the city, where the heads of families and other elders assembled to hear witnesses, arbitrate disputes, decide controversies and generally dispense justice. The space on the inner side of the gate together with rooms or alcoves in the gate area itself were used as courtrooms.” (Hubbard)
b. Though you have built houses of hewn stone, yet you shall not dwell in them: Amos told us God’s curse for Israel’s wickedness. Though the wicked in Israel gained fancy houses and vineyards from their oppression of the poor and railroading of justice, the gains were only temporary. God would evict them from their dishonestly gained houses and vineyards.
c. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you: Amos proclaimed God’s cure for Israel’s sin. They must begin to simply seek good and not evil. They must transform their corrupt courts and establish justice in the gate.
B. Wailing and woe upon Israel.
1. (16-20) Wailing and woe in the day of the LORD.
Therefore the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, says this:
“There shall be wailing in all streets,
And they shall say in all the highways,
They shall call the farmer to mourning,
And skillful lamenters to wailing.
In all vineyards there shall be wailing,
For I will pass through you,”
Says the LORD.
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
For what good is the day of the LORD to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion,
And a bear met him!
Or as though he went into the house,
Leaned his hand on the wall,
And a serpent bit him!
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light?
Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?
a. They shall call the farmer to mourning, and skillful lamenters to wailing: This referred to the Jewish practice of hiring professional mourners to wail at a funeral. Amos described judgment so widespread that there would be a shortage of skillful lamenters, so they would have to hire the farmer to mourning.
i. Because the prophet Amos was a farmer, he often related the judgments of God to how they affected the farmers of Israel.
b. For what good is the day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light: In their religious ritualism, the people of Israel still claimed they longed for the day of the LORD. Amos rightly warned them that they didn’t know what they were asking for because the day of the LORD would bring them judgment, not mercy. They would end up worse off than before; it will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him!
i. “The illustrative parable makes it clear that darkness and light do not speak here of wickedness and righteousness but of disaster and safety.” (Hubbard)
2. (21-27) Israel’s religious ceremonies will not save them from the wailing and woe to come.
“I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
But let justice run down like water,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.
Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings
In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?
You also carried Sikkuth your king
And Chiun, your idols, the star of your gods,
Which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,”
Says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.
a. I hate, I despise your feast days: This would have amazed – and offended – those in Israel who heard Amos say this. They told themselves that they were really honoring God and pleasing Him by their observance of the feasts and sacred assemblies. But God was offended by their religious ceremonialism, which was disconnected from their hearts and meaningless in light of the injustice that they practiced.
i. Amos expressed the same idea Jesus did in Matthew 5:23-24: Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. God thought all that Israel did – their feast days, their sacred assemblies, their burnt offerings, their grain offerings, their peace offerings, and their songs – all this was nothing as long as there was no justice or righteousness in their dealings with others.
b. Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream: It is easy to separate our religious ceremonies from the way we treat others, and to think that God should be happy if we give Him “His due” without regard to justice and righteousness towards others. God won’t have it. He says, “Keep your annoying religious ceremonies, and let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
i. “A momentary flow of justice and righteousness will not do; these virtues are to keep on in the social order like a stream that does not dry up with summer heat.” (McComiskey)
c. You also carried Sikkuth your king and Chiun, your idols, the star of your gods, which you made for yourselves: Apparently, these were pagan deities Israel brought with them from Egypt into the Promised Land. God reminded Israel that though they sacrificed to Him in the wilderness, they also hung on to their idolatry. It didn’t please Him then and it doesn’t please Him now.
i. The NIV translates Sikkuth and Chiun as shrine and pedestal. It’s simply a difficult passage to translate. The Septuagint has Moloch for Sikkuth and Rephan (an Egyptian deity related to the planet Saturn) for Chiun.
d. Therefore I will send you into captivity: Israel’s extreme sin merited an extreme correction, nothing less than exile and captivity.
© 2022 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org