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Amos 1:1-15 | Werner Bible Commentary

Amos 1:1-15

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Amos referred to seeing the words or the messages that he proclaimed, indicating that either in visions or in dreams the thoughts he needed to express about Israel were divinely revealed to him. The plural form of the Hebrew word noqéd designates the occupation Amos pursued. Noqéd has been linked to the Arabic word naqqād and the Akkadian nāqidu, which nouns can designate a shepherd. The Hebrew word is also found in 2 Kings 3:4, where it is applied to Moabite king Mesha and probably identifies him as a ruler who raised or bred sheep. Amos, though, did not own large flocks of sheep and goats but worked as a shepherd. This is apparent from the fact that he also did seasonal labor on fig sycamores. (1:1; 7:14; see the Notes section regarding the rendering in the Septuagint.)

Amos was among the shepherds of Tekoa, a place that has been linked to Khirbet ’et-Tuqu‘ and is located about 10 miles (c. 16 kilometers) south of Jerusalem. He began his prophetic service when Uzziah reigned as king of Judah and Jeroboam II as king of Israel, and this proved to be two years before a catastrophic earthquake affected the people of Judah. (1:1; see the introduction to Amos for additional details.)

The words “YHWH roars from Zion” and “utters his voice from Jerusalem” are parallel expressions. Zion or Jerusalem, as the location of YHWH’s temple, was his representative place of dwelling. From there, his voice roars, probably like loud thunder. In this context, this fear-inspiring sound is indicative of punitive judgment. The effect of the judgment is portrayed as devastating the land. “Pastures of the shepherds,” or the pastures where shepherds led their flocks to graze, would “mourn.” Vegetation would dry up, and so the pastures would take on a sad appearance. The “top of Carmel,” or the vegetation that usually flourished on the Carmel range, would wither. (1:2)

The expression “for three transgressions [‘impious deeds’ (LXX)] and for four” may be understood to include the entire record of wrongs. “Three” (as when something is repeated three times for emphasis or for intensification) could denote a full measure of transgressions. The reference to “four” could then indicate that the number of transgressions was excessive. (1:3)

On account of the transgressions, YHWH decreed that he would “not turn it back.” A masculine suffix is part of the Hebrew form of the verb shuv (here rendered “turn back”). This suffix may be translated either “him” or “it,” but there is no identifiable antecedent. One possibility is to regard the reference to be to what YHWH has said, that is, to the declaration of his judgment. His judgment would without fail be executed. Another possibility is to understand the Hebrew verb with the suffix to mean that YHWH would not turn back the instrument he would use to carry out his judgment. (1:3)

Of the many transgressions of Damascus, the referenced atrocity is the threshing of Gilead with iron sledges. (For information about Damascus, see Damascus.) This ruthless act (if not understood literally) may denote extremely cruel treatment of defeated Israelites living in Gilead, the region located east of the Jordan River and north of the Jabbok (Wadi Zarqa). (For pictures of and comments about Gilead, see Lower Gilead and Upper Gilead.) According to the Septuagint, the ruthlessness was directed against pregnant women. They were subjected to being sawn with iron saws. A partially preserved section of this verse in a Dead Sea Scroll (5QAmos) also includes the words that may be rendered “pregnant women.” (1:3; see the Notes section.)

Hazael seized the kingship over Syria after assassinating King Ben-hadad and ruled from Damascus as had his predecessor. During the reign of Israelite king Jehu, Hazael captured a sizable area from the territory of the kingdom of Israel located east of the Jordan River. (2 Kings 10:32, 33) Thereafter, during the rule of Jehu’s son Jehoahaz, he greatly oppressed the Israelites. (2 Kings 13:3, 22) For its transgressions, YHWH decreed that the royal house of Hazael would cease to exist. His sending “fire on the house of Hazael” pointed to its fiery end in war. The expression “citadels of Ben-hadad” probably applies to the royal complex of Ben-hadad, the king whom Hazael had killed. During the reign of the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III, Damascus experienced the predetermined divine judgment. According to 2 Kings 16:9, Tiglath-pileser III captured Damascus, killed the Syrian king Rezin, and had surviving inhabitants of the city taken into exile. (1:4; see the Notes section.)

YHWH’s breaking the “bar of Damascus” refers to his having the city’s defenses destroyed. “Bars” secured the gates leading into cities, and broken bars would have given easy access to enemy forces. (1:5)

There is uncertainty about the site called “valley of Aven” or “Bikath-aven.” The Seputagint rendering is “place” or “field of On.” A possible identification is the Bekaa Valley situated between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges. The “cutting off” could refer to what befell those “dwelling” (yasháv) in this region when Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III conquered Damascus and the territory that Syria controlled there. In his annals regarding his military campaign, Tiglathpileser III referred to destroying towns in “16 districts of the country of Damascus” and making them resemble hills that a flood had devastated. YHWH, however, is represented as the One decreeing the “cutting off,” and the Assyrians proved to be the instrument he permitted to carry it out with aggressive warring and then by exiling the survivors from the conquered region. (1:5; see the Notes section.)

A “scepter” is the symbol of royal authority, and the one wielding it would be “cut off” from Beth-eden. If Beth-eden is correctly identified with Bît-adini, this could indicate that the king in Damascus exercised control over a region situated on the east side of the Euphrates River. The general location of Bît-adini can be established from the annals of Assyrian monarch Ashurnasirpal II. He referred to departing from the country of Bît-adini, crossing the Euphrates at flood stage, and then advancing to Carchemish, a city on the west bank of the Euphrates. These details locate Bît-adini over 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Damascus. (1:5)

The Septuagint does not contain a transliteration of the name “Beth-eden.” As to what God would do, it says, “I will cut in pieces a tribe from the men of Charran [Harran].” The Hebrew word for “scepter” (shévet) is also a common word for “tribe,” and Charran or Harran is in the same general area as Bît-adini. (1:5)

According to the word of YHWH, the people of Aram (Syria) would be taken into exile to Kir. “People of Aram” would include the inhabitants of Damascus, Bikath-aven or the valley of Aven, and Beth-eden. The location of Kir is unknown. In the Septuagint, no mention is made of Kir, but it concludes with the words, “and the summoned people of Syria will be taken captive, says the Lord.” (1:5)

The judgment against the Philistine city of Gaza is expressed with the same words as is that against Damascus, “Thus says YHWH, for three transgressions [‘impious deeds’ (LXX)] of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn it back.” (Regarding the phrases, see the comments for verse 3.) Then the representative transgression of the complete record of abundant guilt is singled out as the handing over to Edom the entire body of exiles that the warriors of Gaza had taken captive and led away from their homeland. (1:6)

In the Hebrew text, the exiles are not identified, but the Septuagint indicates that the warriors of Gaza had captured a “captivity of Solomon to shut up in Idumea [Edom].” Possibly the expression “captivity of Solomon” designates a body of Israelites from the kingdom of Judah, as the realm of Solomon was reduced to the two-tribe kingdom of Judah during the reign of his son Rehoboam. The exiles would have been delivered up to the Edomites as slaves and thus would have been “shut up” like captives in prison for the Edomites to control at will. (1:6)

Warriors from Gaza would have shared in the military campaigns the Philistines waged against the kingdom of Judah. During the reign of Jehoram the king of Judah, the people suffered from a devastating invasion. The captives taken by Philistine and Arab forces included the sons and wives of Jehoram, and he was left with only his youngest son Jehoahaz. (2 Chronicles 21:16, 17) Considering that Edomites had been subject to Judean king Jehoshaphat and that there was a time during his rule and that of his son Jehoram when the Edomites did not even have a king (1 Kings 22:47; 2 Kings 8:20-22), they must have dealt very harshly with the exiles from Judah that were handed over to them. Therefore, what the people of Gaza did in delivering exiles into the hand of the Edomites would have been a deliberate act of great cruelty. (1:6)

In retribution for what the people of Gaza had done, YHWH determined to “send a fire upon the wall of Gaza.” That fire would “consume her citadels” (strongly fortified structures) or, according to the Septuagint, “her foundations.” (1:7)

Upon being subjected to Assyrian aggression, Gaza experienced the “fire” associated with war. Tiglath-piler III, according to his annals, conquered Gaza after Hanno the king made a successful escape to Egypt. Hanno later returned to Gaza and resumed his reign as king there. Along with an Egyptian force under the command of Sib’e, Hanno went out to battle against the Assyrian king Sargon II and suffered defeat. In his annals, Sargon II said, “Hanno I captured personally and brought him in fetters to my city Ashur.” Since Gaza thereafter appears to have remained subject to Assyria, the act of Hezekiah in striking down the Philistines as far as Gaza likely was part of his revolt against Assyria. (2 Kings 18:1, 7, 8) Then, in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the Egyptian army struck down Gaza. (Jeremiah 47:1) Later Gaza became subject to Babylon, as evident from the text on an ancient Babylonian prism. Even more serious fire came upon Gaza from Alexander the Great and his forces. After Alexander’s warriors succeeded in entering the city, the men of Gaza stood together and fought. All of them were slain in the place where “each man had been stationed.” Alexander sold the surviving women and children into slavery. (Arrian [historian in the second century CE] in his Anabasis of Alexander, II, xxvii) More than two centuries later, Alexander Jannaeus the Hasmonean king of Judea, with his forces, completely overthrew Gaza. (Antiquities,XIII, xiii, 3) (1:7)

Like the Philistine city of Gaza, the Philistines inhabiting the other major cities had been hostile to the Israelites. Therefore, YHWH purposed to cut off those “dwelling” (yasháv) in Ashdod and the one wielding the scepter (shévet) from Ashkelon, and to turn his hand against Ekron. All who remained of the Philistines were to perish. (1:8; see the Notes section.)

As in verse 5, the Hebrew form of the verb yasháv is a masculine singular participle that may be understood as a collective singular referring to inhabitants, and the corresponding participle in the Septuagint is plural. In expression of his judgment, YHWH permitted the people of Ashdod to experience foreign aggression and the resulting loss of lives. In his annals, Assyrian king Sargon II (eighth century BCE) mentioned his campaign against Ashdod. “Imani from Ashdod [Asdudu], afraid of my weapons, left his wife and children and fled” to the realm of the king of Meluhha (Ethiopia). Thereafter Sargon II installed one of his own officers as governor. Another inscription of Sargon II says that Azuri the king of Ashdod rebelled. After Sargon II deposed Azuri, replacing him with his younger brother Ahimiti, the people chose another king because Ahimiti had incurred their hatred. Sargon II retaliated, marching against Ashdod and afterward conquering Ashdod, Gath (Gi-im-tu) and Asdudimmu. In the seventh century CE, Pharaoh Psamtik I (Psammetichus), according to Herodotus (Histories, II, 157), besieged Ashdod (Azotus) for 29 years. Judas Maccabaeus, in the second century BCE, waged successful warfare against Ashdod (Azotus), and about 15 years later his brother Jonathan set fire to the city. (1:8; see 1 Maccabees 5:68; 10:84.)

The “cutting off” of the one wielding the “scepter” from Ashkelon indicated that the city would lose its king, for the “scepter” represented royal authority. (For pictures of and comments about Ashkelon and Philistia, see Ashkelon.) A fragmentary inscription of the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III (eighth century BCE) mentions the revolt of Mitini from Ashkelon and that he perished in insanity upon learning about the defeat of Rezon (Rezin) of Damascus. A prism of Assyrian king Sennacherib relates how he dealt with Sidqia, the king of Ashkelon, who did not submit to him, “I deported and sent to Assyria, his family-gods, himself, his wife, his children, his brothers, all the male descendants of his family. I set Sharruludari, son of Rukibtu, their former king, over the inhabitants of Ashkelon and imposed upon him the payment of tribute.” (1:8; compare 2 Kings 16:9, 10.)

For YHWH to turn his hand against Ekron would mean that it, like the other Philistine cities, would be subjected to military conquests. The people of Ekron who would survive along with all those remaining from the other Philistine cities were to perish, and the Philistines finally did cease to exist as a people. (1:8)

Much of the wording of verse 9 is the same as that found in verses 3 and 6. (See verse 3 for the explanation of the phrases “for three transgressions and for four” and “I will not turn it back.”) Of the many transgressions, the one mentioned for Tyre, as in the case of Gaza, is the act of handing over to Edom an entire body of exiles. Whereas the crime of Gaza included taking captives during military campaigns, the role of Tyre appears to have been primarily as a participant in the slave trade. (1:9; see verse 6 for comments about Gaza.)

The reference to a “covenant of brothers” indicates that the exiles the people of Tyre handed over to the Edomites were Israelites. During the reigns of David and Solomon friendly relations existed between them and the king of Tyre. Hiram the king of Tyre supplied both cedar timber and skilled craftsmen for building projects in Jerusalem, including the construction of the temple. (2 Samuel 5:11; 1 Kings 5:1-11; 1 Chronicles 14:1; 2 Chronicles 2:3-16) Accordingly, the agreement that existed between Hiram, David, and Solomon was a “covenant of brothers.” So when Tyre became associated with the enemies of the Israelites, this was great treachery, especially when the Tyrians delivered Israelite exiles into the hands of the Edomites whom they would have known as being avowed enemies. Thus Tyre “forgot” or totally disregarded that there had once existed a “covenant of brothers” between the Tyrians and Israelites. (1:9)

The punishment that YHWH decreed for Tyre is the same one that he expressed against Gaza (verse 7). He determined to “send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,” and that fire was to “consume her citadels” or the strongly fortified structures of the city. According to the Septuagint, the fire would “consume her foundations.” Assyrian monarch Esar-haddon, in his annals, boasted about having dealt severely with the Tyrian king Ba’lu when he attempted to be free of the Assyrian yoke. Many years later Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre. In his Against Apion (I, 21), the Jewish historian Josephus wrote that this siege lasted 13 years. In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great captured the island city of Tyre. (1:10; see the Notes section regarding what Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote in the first century about the end of the siege of Tyre.)

As in verses 3, 6 and 9, there are identical phrases in verse 11 (“for three transgressions and for four” and “I will not turn it back”). Also each of these verses opens with the words, “Thus says YHWH.” (See verse 3 for comments about the same phrases.) (1:11)

YHWH is represented as pronouncing future punitive judgment on Edom (Idumea, LXX) for a complete record of excessive guilt. Typical of the many transgressions was the intense hatred that the Edomites manifested toward the Israelites. They were closely related peoples — the descendants of the fraternal twins Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom). As “brother” nations, both peoples should have been on friendly terms and not have been fighting one another. Edom (the Edomites), however, “pursued his brother [the Israelites] with the sword,” relentlessly carrying on the battle to the bitter end. According to the biblical record, the hostility started very early. When the Israelites were on their way from Egypt to enter the land of Canaan and asked for permission to pass through Edomite territory, the Edomites adamantly refused to honor the request and met them with a show of military force. (1:11; see Numbers 20:14-21.)

Whatever sense of “compassion” (rachám; rachamím [plural]) or affectionate feeling for a “brother” nation they could have displayed, the Edomites “destroyed” (shacháth). The Hebrew word shacháth commonly means “destroy” or “ruin” and could, in this context, denote “thrust away” or “completely numbed.” (1:11)

A different thought is expressed in the Septuagint. “He destroyed [lymaíno] a womb [‘mother,’ Codex Vaticanus]) on the earth,” land, or ground. This could be understood to refer to the violent treatment Edomite warriors meted out to women. The Greek word lymaíno can also denote “outrage.” So a possible meaning could be that the Edomites perpetrated an outrage against the womb of their ancestral mother or against Rebekah, the mother who gave birth to the twins Esau and Jacob. The Hebrew word for “compassion” and “womb” has the same consonants, and this accounts for the Septuagint rendering, but this does not explain the basis for the phrase “on the earth.” (1:11)

Literally translated, the action attributed to Edom is, “and his anger tore [taráph] to perpetuity.” This could signify that the wrath the Edomites directed against the Israelites had no bounds or termination point but tore away at them whenever possible like a beast of prey on its kill. (1:11)

The wording of the Septuagint is puzzling. “He seized [harpázo) his shivering fright [phríke] for a testimony.” “Tearing” (Hebrew, taráph) and “seizing” (Greek, harpázo) can both be violent acts, and so the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew word taráph would not be without any basis whatsoever. Perhaps the thought is that the Edomites “seized” or divested themselves of any sense of fright in their ruthless warring against their “brother” nation “for a testimony” or a proof of their hostility. (1:11)

With reference to the “wrath” of Edom (“his wrath”), the verse concludes, “he kept it everlastingly.” There was never a time when the Edomites relented in being hostile toward the Israelites but continued to harbor animosity toward them. The Septuagint reads, “his assault he guarded for strife [neikos].” A common view is that the last word should be nikos, meaning “victory,” and that the Septuagint rendering indicates that Edom “guarded” or maintained the assault until the end or until victory was attained. (1:11)

YHWH purposed to have his punitive judgment expressed against Edom, with the focus being on Teman (probably an important city or district) and Bozrah, a major city. “And I will send a fire upon Teman, and it will consume the citadels of Bozrah.” (For pictures of and comments about Edom and Bozrah, see Edom.) The Septuagint does not include a reference to “Bozrah,” but reads, “and it will consume the foundations of her walls.” Through the agency of conquering armies, YHWH would bring an end to Teman, and the same destructive “fire” would consume the strongly fortified structures of Bozrah. The Septuagint rendering suggests that the walls of Teman would be consumed to the very foundations. (1:12)

The judgment against the Ammonites is introduced with the words, “thus says YHWH.” These are the same words found in verses 3, 6, 9 and 11 and are followed by the identical wording of two phrases (“for three transgressions and for four” and “I will not hold it back”) contained in those verses. (For comments on the phrases, see verse 3.) Of the complete record of transgressions, one representative atrocity is mentioned. To enlarge their territory beyond their boundary, the Ammonite warriors invaded Gilead, the Israelite territory that lay north of the Jabbok, and savagely ripped up pregnant women during the course of their campaign. (1:13)

According to the biblical record, the Ammonites were related to the Israelites through Abraham’s nephew Lot, which made their ruthlessness toward them an even greater transgression than would otherwise have been the case. (Genesis 12:5; 19:36-38) YHWH is represented as decreeing punitive judgment. “And I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah, and it will consume her citadels [either the palace complex or strongly fortified parts of the city; ‘her foundations,’ LXX], with a shout in the day of war, with a tempest in the day of storm.” (1:14; see the Notes section.)

Rabbah was the principal Ammonite city, situated on a tributary of the upper Jabbok. The ancient site is linked to the modern city of Amman, Jordan. (For pictures of and comments about Amman, see Amman, and for pictures of the Jabbok, see Jabbok.) Rabbah must have experienced the fire of warfare from the Babylonian armies under King Nebuchadnezzar. In his Antiquities (X, ix, 7), the first-century Jewish historian wrote that in “the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem” Nebuchadnezzar “made an expedition against Coele-Syria; and when he had possessed himself of it, he made war against the Ammonites and Moabites.” At that time, warriors would have been shouting in Rabbah, and cries of alarm from the inhabitants would have echoed throughout the city. The tumult that then raged would have been comparable to the howling of a fierce wind. According to the Septuagint rendering, the city would be “shaken in the day of her end.” (1:14)

YHWH’s judgment included the Ammonite king and his princes (members of the royal household and officials in the royal court). They were to be taken into exile. Although there is no extant historical record of Nebuchadnezzar’s taking this action, it was his usual policy respecting conquered monarchs. In the Septuagint, the reference is to the kings of Rabbah, and “their priests and their rulers together,” going into captivity. (1:15)

Notes

In verse 1 of the Septuagint, the plural form of the Hebrew word noqéd is transliterated as nakkarim. This suggests that the translator read the Hebrew noun as being spelled with the letter resh (R) instead of the similar letter daleth (D) and did not know what the word meant. In 2 Kings 3:4 (4 Kings 3:4), the Septuagint rendering noked is a transliteration that reflects the Hebrew spelling of the singular noun noqéd. Again the transliteration suggests that the translator was not familiar with the Hebrew word.

The non-Israelite peoples against whom divine judgment is directed (verses 3 to 15) had no relationship to YHWH and had not been given his law. They did, however, have a conscience. Accordingly, when they engaged in atrocities that violated their innate sense of right and wrong, they incurred guilt that merited divine judgment.

In verse 4, the Septuagint says that the fire would “consume the foundations of the son of Hader.” The Hebrew word ben means “son,” and this accounts for the rendering “son of Hader” instead of “Ben-hadad” or “Ben-Hadar.” On account of the slight difference between the daleth (D) and the resh (R), the two letters are not infrequently confused. An inscription of Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser III appears to refer to this Ben-haded, the king whom Hazael killed, as Hadadezer and says that he perished. This inscription also indicates that Hazael was not of royal lineage, calling him “son of nobody” (meaning a “commoner”).

Most of the wording of verses 4, 7, 10, 12 and 14 is the same.

The form of the Hebrew word yasháv, rendered “dwelling” (verses 5 and 8), is a singular masculine participle, but is probably to be understood as a collective singular. In the Septuagint, the corresponding participle katoikountas is plural.

With the exception of the name of the cities in verse 8, the phrases about the “cutting off” and the one wielding the “scepter” are the same as in verse 5. In verses 5 and 8, the Septuagint renders the Hebrew word shévet as “tribe” (phylé). This is because shévet can have both meanings. In the Septuagint (verse 8), the expression “allophyles” (those of another tribe) is the common rendering for Philistines.

Regarding the fate of Tyre (verse 10), the following is from a first-century work by Quintus Curtius Rufus on the history of Alexander the Great: “The extent of the bloodshed can be judged from the fact that 6,000 fighting-men were slaughtered within the city’s fortifications. It was a sad spectacle that the king’s fury then provided for the victors: 2,000 [Tyrians], by the killing of whom the rage subsided, now hung fastened to timbers all along the extensive stretch of the beach.” (For pictures of and comments about Tyre, see Tyre.)

In verse 14 of a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIg), the definite article precedes the Hebrew word for “war” or “battle.”