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Amos 2:1-16 | Werner Bible Commentary

Amos 2:1-16

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The opening words, as in verses 3, 6, 9, 11 and 13 of chapter 1, are, “Thus says YHWH,” identifying him as the source of the message. Also the wording of two phrases is the same as found in these verses (“for three transgressions and for four” and “I will not turn it back”). (2:1)

“Three transgressions” (“impious deeds,” LXX ) of Moab may signify a full measure of wrongs or atrocities, and the number “four” appears to function as an intensifier, indicating that Moab had built up a record of excessive guilt. The Hebrew suffix attached to the verb shuv (here translated “turn back”) may be rendered either “him” or “it,” but the suffix has no identifiable antecedent. Perhaps the application is to YHWH’s declaration of judgment (“thus says YHWH”), which he would not hold back from being executed. Another possibility is to take the words “not turn it back” to mean that YHWH would not turn back the instrument he would use to carry out his punitive judgment against Moab. (2:1)

Nothing in the biblical account reveals when or why the Moabites “burned the bones of the king of Edom [Idumea (LXX)] to lime,” which substance was commonly used for plaster. Possibly the act involved the desecration of the royal tomb. It could indicate that the Moabites, besides carrying out a ruthless military campaign against the Edomites, felt impelled not even to leave the bones of the Moabite king undisturbed, removing them from the tomb and burning them to lime. (Compare Jeremiah 8:1, 2.) If this was the case, the transgression of Moab would have reflected an extremely hateful and contemptuous disposition that violated the innate sense of right and wrong that exists in the human family. (2:1)

The Edomites had made themselves guilty of many atrocities and did not have a relationship to YHWH as did the Israelites. This did not mean, however, that he was unaware of acts of inhumanity toward them and that he would leave the guilty ones unpunished. The prophetic words reveal that YHWH continued to be the judge of all humans, including those who do not recognize him as their God. Accordingly, Moab would not escape punishment for burning the “bones of the king of Edom to lime.” (2:1)

YHWH decreed that he would “send a fire upon Moab,” and it would “comsume the citadels of Kerioth.” Enemy invasions would bring this destructive fire into Moab, destroying the strongly fortified structures of Kerioth, a major city for which no certain identification with a specific site is possible. When Moabite cities are mentioned in the biblical account, Ar and Kerioth are not included together. This may provide a basis for identifying Kerioth with Ar, a city situated south of the Arnon. (For pictures of and comments about Moab and the Arnon, see Moab.) According to the annals of Assyrian monarchs, Moab experienced foreign domination. Tiglath-pileser III received tribute from Salamanu of Moab. A prism of Sennacherib, which mentions his attack on the kingdom of Judah during the reign of Hezekiah, also says that Sennacherib received “sumptuous gifts” from various kings, including “Kammusunadbi from Moab.” Assyrian kings Esar-haddon and Ashurbanipal indicate that Musuri, king of Moab, was subject to them, and later Ashurbanipal referred to Kamashaltu, king of Moab, as “a servant belonging to me.” (2:2; see the Notes section.)

The divine decree was that Moab would “die amid uproar, amid shouting, amid the sound of a shofar.” (a ram’s-horn trumpet). The uproar or tumult would result from the fighting between enemy invaders and the defenders of Moab. At that time the shouts of warriors and of the frightened populous would resound in the land. During the conflict and the sieges, trumpets would signal calls for battle or would sound alarms. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, X, ix, 7), Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar, in “the fifth year” after he had destroyed Jerusalem, “made an expedition against Coele-Syria.” Subsequently to his gaining control over the region, he fought against the Ammonites and the Moabites. The prophetic word concerning Moab was eventually fulfilled, for the Moabites have ceased to exist as a people. (2:2)

The end for Moab also meant that no “judge” (probably designating the king who acted in judicial capacity) and no “princes” (rulers or members of the royal household or the royal court) would remain. YHWH is represented as decreeing, “I will cut off the judge from [Moab’s] midst and all her princes with him I will slay.” The judgment was certain, as emphasized by the declaration, “says YHWH.” (2:3)

In YHWH’s declaration against Judah (the“sons of Judah,” LXX) or the people of the kingdom of Judah, the same phrases appear (“for three transgressions [‘impious deeds’ (LXX)] and for four” and “I will not turn it back”) as in verses 3, 6, 9, 11 and 13 of chapter 1 and verse 1 of chapter 2. (See 2:1 for comments.) From the standpoint of externals, YHWH was the God of the people of Judah, for his temple existed in Jerusalem and the daily sacrificial services continued to be carried out by the Aaronic priests with the assistance of the non-priestly Levites. In the case of the people of other nations, the representative transgressions or impious acts that were singled out involved deeds of inhumanity (flagrant violations of the innate sense of right and wrong), but the representative transgression of the complete record of Judah’s abundant guilt was rejection of YHWH’s law. The people of Judah did not merely have their own conscience to guide them. They also had the “law” or the teaching of YHWH. (2:4)

On account of what was available to them by which to govern their lives, the people of Judah were guilty of more than just mistreatment of members of the human family. They failed to observe YHWH’s commands and were disloyal to him. Instead of following his direction and being exclusively devoted to him, they walked after “lies,” “vanities,” or “empty things that they made” (LXX). These lies were nonexistent deities. As indicated by the Septuagint rendering, they fashioned representations or images of these “vanities” or “empty things.” Like their forefathers, they engaged in idolatrous practices, and their attachment to their “lies,” nonexistent gods and goddesses that provided neither aid nor guidance, caused them to stray from the right course, from faithful conformity to YHWH’s law. (2:4)

The punishment to come upon Judah would be just like that which would befall the other peoples against whom YHWH had expressed his judgment. (See the Notes section.) He would “send fire upon Judah,” and it would “consume the citadels [‘foundations’ (LXX)] of Jerusalem.” During the reign of Hezekiah the king of Judah, the Assyrian forces under the command of Sennacherib devastated much of the realm, but divine intervention saved Jerusalem from being conquered. (2 Kings 18:13-16; 19:32-36) In his annals, Sennacherib boasted, “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered them.” From the fortified cities and the smaller towns, he claimed to have driven out “200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting.” Although referring to having made Hezekiah a “prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage,” Sennacherib made no boast about actually having conquered Jerusalem. Decades later, the fire of warfare came against the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar devastated the land, conquered Jerusalem, destroying the “citadels” (the palace complex and all the other fortified structures) and the temple. At that time fires raged throughout the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. (2:5; see 2 Kings 25:9.)

Again the words “thus says YHWH” are followed by the two phrases that appeared in the previous declarations of his punitive judgment (“for three transgressions and for four” and “I will not turn it back”). The “transgressions of Israel” are those of the people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam, the first king of the realm, instituted idolatrous calf worship, and this was never abandoned in the kingdom. (1 Kings 12:26-33) The fact that idolatrous worship was a way of life among the masses in the ten-tribe kingdom probably accounts for there being no specific reference to disregard for YHWH’s law when the representative guilt is mentioned. With few exceptions, there must have been little, if any, knowledge among the people about his law. Nevertheless, by their course of action in failing to honor YHWH through upright conduct, the Israelites made themselves guilty of profaning his name as a people whose forefathers had been brought into a covenant relationship with him. (2:6; see verse 1 for comments about the phrases found in verses 3, 6, 9, 11 and 13 of chapter 1 and verses 1 and 4 of chapter 2.)

The people are condemned for oppressing the poor and engaging in abominable acts of prostitution. Particularly the wealthy in their midst must have thought nothing about selling an upright Israelite for some silver pieces, and a poor or needy person for a pair of “sandals.” Upright persons may, through no fault of their own, have been unable to repay a debt, and the wealthy creditors sold them into slavery just so that they would get the amount of silver they wanted. Their selling a poor person for a pair of sandals could mean that they considered the needy individual as having no greater value than the purchase price for a pair of sandals. Another possible meaning is that a poor person could not even pay for a pair of sandals and was sold for a paltry amount of debt. (2:6)

The Septuagint rendering could mean that the sandals are “the things treading upon the dust of the earth” or the ground. According to the Hebrew text, the oppressors “pant [sha’aph] for the dust of the earth on the head of the poor.” This could indicate that the oppressors panted for, or eagerly desired, the opportunity to exploit the needy to the point where they, in expression of their grief and distress, would put dust on their heads. (Compare 2 Samuel 13:19.) In this context, the form of the Hebrew word has been linked to shuph, meaning “bruise” or “trample,” and numerous translators have adopted this significance in their renderings. “They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground.” (NIV) “They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth.” (NAB) “They grind the heads of the helpless into the dust.” (REB) “They have crushed the heads of the weak into the dust.” (NJB) These renderings suggest that the oppressors, in their ruthlessness, had brought the needy down to the lowest condition possible. (2:7)

Turning aside the way of the needy could mean that, although the poor were in the right, the oppressors used their power and influence to deprive them of justice. A number of translations make this sense explicit. They “thrust the rights of the oppressed to one side.” (NJB) They “deny justice to the oppressed.” (NIV) “They refuse to be fair to those who are suffering.” (NCV) In the Septuagint, the phrase about “the things treading” is followed by the words, “and they struck on the heads of the poor, and they turned aside the way of the lowly.” This indicates that the oppressors dealt violently with the poor, using their fists to strike their heads, and they trampled on their rights. (2:7)

Ceremonial prostitution figured prominently in the rites associated with the worship of gods and goddesses. So it appears that both a son and his father had relations with the same prostitute at a cultic site and thus profaned God’s holy name. YHWH had chosen the Israelites as his people and so his name had been called upon them. The debased practice of incestuous prostitution was a gross violation of the holiness or purity that should have been expected from persons upon whom God’s name had been called. (2:7)

Oppressors, when making a loan to the needy, would seize their garments as a pledge to assure repayment of the borrowed amount. Then, when engaging in idolatrous worship, they would recline alongside the altars on these garments. Proceeds from fines that they had unjustly obtained from the poor, they would use to buy wine that they would drink at the “house” or temple of their gods. As expressed in the Septuagint, the drink was “wine of extortions” or wine obtained through extortion. (2:8)

Regarding the garments and the people, the Septuagint says, “Binding their garments with cords, they made curtains next to the altar.” This suggests that the Israelites used their garments to make hangings or curtains to conceal their idolatrous acts from observation. (2:8)

Centuries earlier, when their wandering in the wilderness was coming to a close and they were about to enter Amorite territory east of the Jordan River, the Israelites asked the Amorites for permission to pass through their land, but they refused and chose to fight against them. The Amorites were defeated, and their land became Israelite territory. According to the biblical account, YHWH is the one who gave the victory to the Israelites. (Numbers 21:21-35) This was also the case when the Amorites on the west side of the Jordan determined to war against them. (Joshua 11:1-20) Accordingly, in the book of Amos, YHWH is represented as declaring that he had annihilated the “Amorite” (the Amorites collectively) before the Israelites (literally, “before their face”). (2:9)

The Amorites appear to have been significantly taller than the Israelites. (Compare Numbers 13:32; Deuteronomy 3:11.) This is the apparent basis for referring to the “Amorite” as having a height like that of cedars. The Amorite is portrayed as being strong like “big trees” (’allón) or, according to the Septuagint, an “oak” (drys). Militarily, the Amorites were mightier than the Israelites. (Compare Numbers 13:31; Deuteronomy 4:37, 38; 9:1.) Yet, the Amorites were completely annihilated. (2:9; see the Notes section.)

YHWH is represented as saying, “I destroyed his fruit above and his roots down below.” No “fruit” or offspring was left remaining. With “roots” destroyed, the Amorites could not rise up again as a people. They ceased to exist on account of their depravity. Their corrupt way of life, which violated the innate sense of right and wrong, had reached an extremely low level, ruling out any possibility of a change for the better in their conduct. (Compare Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 9:4, 5.) The fate of the Amorites implied that the Israelites, if persisting in the same debased course, would also be rooted out of the land. (2:9)

YHWH then is represented as reminding the Israelites that he had brought them up out of the land of Egypt and led them “in the wilderness forty years” so that they might come “to possess the land of the Amorite.” This brief reference to their past history should have impressed upon them what YHWH had done for their forefathers and that their living in the land the Amorites had formerly controlled was not owing to their own might as a people. Without YHWH’s aid, their forefathers would not have been able to leave Egypt, to survive in the wilderness, and to take possession of Amorite territory. (2:10)

From among the “sons” or descendants of the Israelite forefathers, YHWH raised up prophets, and from among young Israelite men he raised up Nazirites (“young men for consecration,” LXX). This was common knowledge among Israelites, as evident from the rhetorical question that follows. “Is it not so, O people of Israel? says YHWH.” (2:11)

Both men and women could take a Nazirite vow, which required that they abstain from drinking wine and partaking of any other product of the grapevine. They were also not to cut their hair and not to touch any dead body. (Numbers 6:2-7) In certain cases, individuals were divinely appointed as Nazirites for life, which set them aside for carrying out a special commission. Here, in the book of Amos, the reference is to the Nazarites whom YHWH specifically raised up for his purpose. Like Israelites who voluntarily vowed to live temporarily as Nazarites, those whom YHWH raised up would have abstained from drinking wine. (2:11; compare Luke 1:15.)

Faithless Israelites had no regard for the Nazarites (“consecrated ones,” LXX) nor for the prophets. They made the Nazarites drink wine, which would have been contrary to what was required of them in discharging their sacred service. The Israelites generally did not want to hear the word of YHWH that his prophets proclaimed, which word exposed their transgressions and called upon them to repent and to abandon their wayward course. They commanded the prophets not to prophesy, or to stop proclaiming the messages that YHWH had commissioned them to make known. (2:12)

On account of their wayward conduct, the Israelites would have YHWH’s punitive judgment expressed against them. There is uncertainty about how the portrayal of this coming judgment is to be understood. In the Hebrew text, the verb expressing what YHWH would do is the participial form of ‘uq, which lexicographers have regarded as possibly meaning “press down” or “totter.” With reference to the “cart” or the “wagon,” another form of the word ‘uq appears in the text. The uncertainty about the meaning of ‘uq accounts for the various interpretive renderings. “Now, then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” (NIV) “I will slow your movements as a wagon is slowed when it is full of cut grain.” (Tanakh) “I will make you groan as a wagon groans when it is loaded down with grain.” (NLT) “I will make you get stuck, as a wagon loaded with grain gets stuck.” (NCV) “I will let the ground underneath you sway like a wagon that is full of sheafs sways.” (Ich lasse den Boden unter euch schwanken, wie ein Wagen schwankt, der voll ist von Garben. [German, Einheitsübersetzung]) “Therefore I will burden you with a load under which you will sway back and forth like a harvest wagon that is too full.” (Darum werde ich euch eine Last aufbürden, unter der ihr hin- und herschwankt wie ein zu voller Erntewagen! [German, Hoffnung für alle]) (2:13)

In the Septuagint, the corresponding verb for ‘uq is kylío, meaning “roll.” God is represented as saying, “Therefore, behold, I roll underneath you in the manner the wagon filled with straw is rolled.” Perhaps the thought is that the rolling motion refers to the severe punishment that the Israelites would come to experience, a punishment that would be comparable to the pressure on the ground from the weight of a full wagon as it rolled along. (2:13; see the Notes section.)

At the time YHWH’s decreed punitive judgment is carried out, there would be no avenue of escape for the wayward Israelites. The swift one would be cut off from the possibility of fleeing to safety. As for the strong man, he would not retain his strength, and the mighty man would not be able to save his “soul” or life. The Septuagint rendering is very emphatic about the strong one’s loss of strength and the mighty man’s inability to save his “soul,” using two words for “not” that may be rendered “by no means” (“the strong one will by no means hold on to his strength, and the warrior will by no means save his soul”). (2:14)

Faced with the enemy invaders that would function as YHWH’s instrument to punish his disobedient people, the defending warriors would be helpless. The one “handling the bow” would not be able to stand his ground, failing to mount a successful counterattack. Even a fast runner (“one swift on his feet”) would be unable to save himself. The horseman (“one riding the horse”) would not succeed in saving his “soul” or life. (2:15)

Among the mighty, the one “strong of heart,” or in possession of exceptional courage, would “flee away naked in that day, says YHWH.” The most courageous one among the warriors would not fight. To make a speedy escape, he would strip off or discard everything that could slow him down. In this context, his being “naked” probably means being without his armor and weapons. (2:16)

The Septuagint reading in Rahlfs’ printed text is obscure. “And he will find his heart in mighty deeds; the naked one will pursue in that day, says the Lord.” According to another reading of the text, “And he will by no means [two Greek words meaning ‘not’] find his heart in mighty deeds.” This would indicate that the warrior would be unable to “find,” or to muster up, courage to perform mighty deeds. A partially preserved Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc) supports the Septuagint rendering “find.” It reads, “And the one finding his heart.” As to the “naked one,” the Septuagint could be understood to mean that the warrior would “pursue” a course of flight without his armor and weapons. (2:16)

In the foretold day of YHWH’s judgment, the Israelites would prove to be helpless, unable to defend themselves against the onslaught of enemy forces. This did happen during the Assyrian military campaigns against the kingdom of Israel, which terminated in the destruction of the capital Samaria. A partially preserved text from the annals of Tiglath-pileser III says regarding “Omri-land” (meaning Israel [based on Israel’s having had a dynasty that began with Omri]), “its inhabitants and their possessions I led to Assyria.” (Compare 2 Kings 15:29.) At that time, Hoshea, the last monarch of the kingdom of Israel, became Tigalth-pileser’s vassal. When Hoshea withheld the annual tribute and allied himself with Egypt during the reign of Shalmaneser V, the successor of Tiglath-pileser III, this brought the Assyrian forces back into the territory of the kingdom of Israel. After a three-year siege, Samaria fell. (2 Kings 17:3-6) In his annals, Assyrian monarch Sargon II, the successor of Shalmaneser V, claimed that he “conquered and sacked the towns Shinuhtu and Samaria, and all Omri-land”. This version of the fall of Samaria suggests that Sargon II completed the punitive campaign against the kingdom of Israel that Shalmaneser V had begun. (2:16; compare 2 Kings 18:9-12.)


Much of the wording of verse 2 is the same as that of verses 4, 7, 10, 12 and 14 of chapter 1.

In the Septuagint, “Kerioth” (verse 2) is not rendered as the name of a city, but the text reads, “and it will consume the foundations of her cities.” This is because the Hebrew designation “Kerioth” can mean “cities.”

Most of the wording of verse 5 is the same as that of verses 4, 7, 10, 12 and 14 of chapter 1 and verse 2 of chapter 2.

In verse 9, the plural from of the Hebrew word ’allón appears to designate big or massive trees generally and would include oaks.

In verse 13, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIc) precedes the opening words (“behold, I”) with the conjunction “and.” This conjunction does not appear in the Masoretic Text, and the expression in the Septuagint may be rendered “therefore.”