Amos 7:1-17

Probably in a vision or a dream, the Lord YHWH revealed to Amos specific punitive judgments. The prophet saw the forming of a locust swarm (literally, a “locust” [a collective singular]) at the time the late-season crops began sprouting. This was after the “mowings of the king,” which may refer to the initial reaping of fodder for flocks and herds that was turned over to the monarch as his exclusive share. (Compare 1 Samuel 8:15.) Another possibility is that the reference is to the first reaping of the fields belonging to the king. With only the initial reaping having been completed, the locust swarm would consume the major part of the crop. This meant that a whole year would pass before another harvest might be expected. (7:1)

According to the Septuagint, Amos saw “offspring of locusts coming in the morning.” Such offspring would have been far more numerous than the previous locust swarm. This suggests that the locusts would start devouring vegetation early in the morning and would continue to do so for the rest of the day. The next phrase in the Septuagint refers to one “locust” (broúchos, probably meaning a locust in its wingless stage) as being “Gog the king.” This obscure rendering does not convey a comprehensible significance. (7:1)

Deeply troubled upon seeing the locust swarm completely consume the vegetation of the land, Amos pleaded, “O Lord YHWH, forgive, I pray. [‘Lord, Lord, be gracious.’ (LXX])] How [mi] can Jacob stand [qum], for he [is] small?” Jacob, the forefather of the Israelites, represents all the people of the kingdom of Israel. The people would not be able to “stand” or survive if the locusts devoured all the crops on which they depended for their sustenance. They were “small,” weak, or helpless when faced with a devastating locust plague. (7:2)

The Hebrew interrogative mi usually denotes “who,” and the basic meaning of the verb qum is “arise” or “stand up.” This accounts for the rendering of the Septuagint, “Who will raise up Jacob?” The implied answer would be that there would be no one able to raise up Jacob, undoing the harm that the people of Israel had incurred. (7:2)

YHWH “repented” about bringing this devastating locust plague upon the Israelites. According to the Septuagint, the prophet is the one petitioning him to “repent.” In this context, YHWH’s repenting refers to his choosing not to have this particular judgment expressed against the Israelites. He assured Amos that this plague would not occur. (7:3)

YHWH showed Amos that he was calling for a judicial case or a judgment by fire. The prophet then saw the fire devouring a “great deep” and consuming the land (“the portion” [LXX]). This “fire” may refer to extreme drought, with the dry conditions also giving rise to grass and forest fires. The expression “great deep” designates a large body of water, which the prophet saw being devoured or completely dried up. In this context, “land” refers to what grew on the land. With all vegetation, including the leaves on the trees, having been scorched, the land would have looked as though it had been consumed by fire. (7:4)

Amos petitioned the Lord YHWH to desist from bringing the calamity (“Lord, Lord, do refrain” [LXX]) and again repeated as his reason, “How can Jacob stand, for he [is] small?” (7:5; see verse 2 for comments regarding this wording.)

As in the case of the locust plague, YHWH “repented” concerning this “fire” and assured Amos, “This also will not be.” YHWH’s “repentance” does not denote regret but applies to his choosing to refrain from letting the threatened calamity come upon the Israelites in expression of his punitive judgment. In the Septuagint, Amos is the one appealing to YHWH to repent or to change his purpose respecting the judgment of fire. (7:6)

YHWH next showed Amos developments about a wall. According to the Masoretic Text, “the Lord stood on a wall … plumb line [’anák], and in his hand [was] a plumb line [’anák].” In the Septuagint (fourth-century Codex Vaticanus), there is no reference to the “Lord” as standing. It reads, “Look! A man was standing on an adamantine wall, and in his hand [was] adamant.” The Hebrew word ’anák is not found in any other book of the Bible, and there is uncertainty about its meaning. Based on cognate languages, the meaning is “lead.” In the context, this would refer to a lead weight attached to a cord or to a “plumb line.” The meaning “plumb line” agrees with the Vulgate rendering trulla cementarii in the second occurrence of ’anák. (7:7)

To indicate the relationship of the “plumb line” to the wall, words need to be supplied to convey an understandable meaning. Among the renderings translators have chosen are: “a wall built with the aid of a plumb-line” (REB), “a wall checked with a plumb line” (Tanakh), “a wall that had been built true to plumb” (NIV), and “a wall built with a plumb line” (NRSV). The Vulgate refers to the Lord’s standing “on a plastered wall” (super murum litum). Similarly, the Septuagint translator rendered ’anák as an adjective modifying “wall” and appears to have regarded the Hebrew word as designating a very hard material (“adamant”). (7:7)

Asked what he saw, Amos replied, ’anák (a “plumb line”; adamant [LXX]). According to the Masoretic Text, the “Lord said, Look! I am setting a plumb line [adamant (LXX)] in the midst of my people Israel. I will not again add [time] to pass them by.” These words directed to Amos suggest that the “wall” represented the people of Israel who did not measure up as upright when checked as by a “plumb line” that was set in their midst. Therefore, YHWH would not again “add” (yasáph) more time of toleration, passing them by for, or sparing them from, punitive judgment. (7:8; see the Notes section.)

The “high places of Isaac” would be made desolate. As the forefather of the Israelites, “Isaac” here denotes the people of the kingdom of Israel, and their high places are the sites where they engaged in idolatry. The name “Isaac” means “laughter,” and this is the reason for the Septuagint rendering “altars of laughter.” Whatever sacrifices may have been offered on the altars located at the various high places would not have brought any benefits to the Israelites. Therefore, it could be said that these altars were objects of “laughter” or derision. (7:9)

The sanctuaries where the Israelites carried out their idolatrous rites would be desolated. According to a literal rendering of the Septuagint, the reference is to the “rituals of Israel,” which may be understood to mean the places where the cultic rites were performed. (7:9)

Amos made known that YHWH would “rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” At that time, Jeroboam the son of Jehoash ruled over the kingdom of Israel. YHWH’s word through Amos revealed that the royal house would come to a violent end. Jeroboam’s son Zechariah, who succeeded him as king, died at the hands of Shallum, fulfilling the prophecy. (7:9; 2 Kings 15:8-12)

The prophesying of Amos greatly disturbed Amaziah, the priest at Bethel. This priest, probably the chief one at the center of idolatrous calf worship, informed Jeroboam the king of Israel that Amos had conspired against him in the “midst of the house of Israel” and that the “land” (the people of the land) cannot bear “all his words.” In this manner, Amaziah represented Amos as proclaiming a message that could not be tolerated and that Jeroboam should put a stop to it, as even he as king was the object of denouncement. The implication may have been that Amos was inciting a plot on the king’s life. With the proclamation of Amos being directed against the entire kingdom of Israel, Amaziah appears to have perceived it as ruinous to the morale of the people. (7:10)

He referred to Amos as saying that Jeroboam would die by the sword and that Israel would be taken away from the land into exile. As this was the manner in which Amaziah represented the message of Amos, one cannot be sure whether the prophet actually stated that Jeroboam would “die by the sword.” The “sword” did come against the house of Jeroboam, for his son and successor was assassinated, and the dynasty that began with King Jehu then ended. Decades later the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel and exiled the surviving inhabitants. (7:11; 2 Kings 15:10-12; 17:22, 23)

Besides informing Jeroboam about the prophet, Amaziah confronted Amos. He said to him, “Seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah and eat bread [‘spend your life’ (LXX)] there, and there prophesy.” These words suggest that, for his own safety, Amos was to depart from Bethel as quickly as possible, returning to Judah to live and never coming back to the territory of the kingdom of Israel. (7:12)

Amaziah appears to have viewed Amos as an outsider who had no right to prophesy at Bethel, telling him that he should never again do so (literally, “not add [yasáph] again to prophesy”) there. The priest then gave his reason, identifying Bethel as a “sanctuary of a king” and a “house of a kingdom.” Jeroboam, the first king of the kingdom of Israel, established Bethel as a center for calf worship, and this may be the reason that it is designated as a “sanctuary of a king.” As the location of a major sanctuary to which the Israelites in the southern half of the kingdom went for worship, Bethel was also a “house” or temple of the kingdom of Israel. Thus Amaziah represented Bethel as a place where the prophesying of Amos had to end, for the prophet’s words constituted an attack against the kingdom of Israel because of the relationship the city had to the king and to his realm. (7:13; see the Notes section.)

The words of Amaziah did not intimidate Amos, but he answered with the words, “I [was] not a prophet and not the son of a prophet, but I [was] a herdsman and a nipper of sycamore figs.” Contrary to what Amaziah must have thought when he demanded that Amos leave and prophesy in the land of Judah, Amos had never served as a prophet there and had no direct link with other prophets. His father had not been a prophet nor had Amos ever been part of an association known as the “sons of the prophets.” In the land of Judah, he had worked as a herder of livestock (a “goatherd” [LXX]) and did seasonal labor as a “nipper [scratcher (LXX)] of sycamore figs.” (7:14)

Theophrastus, the ancient Greek philosopher and naturalist who succeeded Aristotle, wrote that sycamore figs cannot ripen until they are scraped. According to him, the Egyptians used iron claws for this purpose. In more recent times, it has become known that wounding or piercing the fruit releases ethylene, resulting in the ripening of the fruit. So it may be that, on a seasonal basis, Amos pierced the fruit of sycamore trees (Ficus sycomorus). (7:14)

Amos made it clear that he was no professional prophet, saying, “YHWH took me from following the flock, and YHWH said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” He had not headed to the kingdom of Israel on his own volition but had acted in harmony with the commission that YHWH had entrusted to him. (7:15)

On account of the demand Amaziah had directed to him, Amos had a message from YHWH for him. “Therefore, hear the word of YHWH, you the one saying, Do not prophesy against Israel and do not proclaim against the house of Isaac.” According to the Septuagint, the concluding phrase is, “and by no means should you incite a crowd against the house of Jacob.” In this context, the expression “house of Isaac” (or “house of Jacob” [LXX]) applies to the people of the kingdom of Israel regarding whose exile Amos had prophesied. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to mean that the proclamation of Amos stirred up trouble among the people. (7:16; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Because Amaziah had told Amos to leave Bethel, YHWH’s word revealed that he would experience a severe judgment. In the city, the wife of Amaziah would become a harlot. As the context suggests, this would be because of being raped by foreign invaders. Amaziah’s sons and daughters would perish by the sword. His land would be parceled out with a measuring line, and he would die on “unclean” ground (in a foreign land and not in Israel, the “clean” or holy land). As far as the Israelites were concerned, they would be taken into exile. Just how the prophetic word was fulfilled upon Amaziah and his family is not revealed in the biblical record, but the survivors of the Assyrian campaigns against the kingdom of Israel were deported. (7:17; see the Notes section.)


In one Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc), the form of the verb for “set” (verse 8) may be rendered “have set.” Another Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIg) reads like the Masoretic Text.

A literal rendering for the concluding phrase of verse 8 is, “I will not add [yasáph] again to pass them by.” Both in this verse and in verse 13, the Hebrew text contains a form of the verb yasáph, and the corresponding rendering in the Septuagint is a form of prostíthemi, which verb also can mean “add.”

For verse 16, the expression “by no means” is a rendering of two Greek words for “not,” which serve to convey an emphatic sense.

In verse 17, the preserved portion of the opening words of a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIg) are, “Lord YHWH.” The Masoretic Text, however, does not include the word for “Lord.”