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Amos 3:1-15 | Werner Bible Commentary

Amos 3:1-15

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The “sons of Israel” (“house of Israel,” LXX) are called upon to “hear,” or to listen to, the specific word or message (“this word”) that YHWH has spoken against them. As a people, they are also identified as “all the family [‘tribe’ (LXX)] that I [YHWH] brought up out of the land of Mizraim [Egypt].” Their liberation from enslavement in Egypt demonstrated their unique relationship to YHWH as their God, a relationship that all the peoples of other nations did not have. (3:1)

The word of YHWH made it clear that the unique relationship of the Israelites to him meant that they were accountable to him for their actions. Of all the families (“tribes,” LXX) of the earth, he only “knew” them, for he had made himself known to them and acknowledged them as being in a special relationship with him as his people who had received his law to guide them. Therefore, their failure to conduct themselves as his people meant that he would “visit” them with punishment for all their “iniquities”; or, according to the rendering of the Septuagint, he would “avenge” upon them all their “sins.” (3:2)

Then follows the first in a series of rhetorical questions. “Do two walk together unless they have [so] agreed?” According to the Septuagint rendering, the basis for their walking together is expressed as their having come to know one another. The question apparently does not relate to a chance encounter but to an arrangement to travel together for a specific purpose. This would only take place if the two parties had made prior arrangements or if they were acquainted with one another. The question and the implied answer could have shown to the Israelites that they should expect YHWH to deal with them according to their relationship with him. If, however, the rhetorical question is regarded as relating to a true prophet (verse 7), the thought would be that the prophet could not make known the message he proclaimed unless YHWH had first revealed it to him. Accordingly, the prophet’s existing relationship with YHWH made it possible for him to speak his word or message. A failure to heed the word of the prophet constituted a rejection of YHWH’s word and would lead to suffering the consequences for this failure. (3:3)

Cause and effect is again illustrated in the next rhetorical question. “Does a lion roar in a forest, and [there is] no prey for it? Does a young lion give forth its voice from its den unless it has caught [something]?” When lions are close enough to their prey to make a kill, they roar, confusing and frightening the animals. In their den, young lions may remain quiet unless they have prey to devour. (3:4)

The rhetorical questions continue. “Does a bird fall into a snare on the earth and [there is] not a trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground and it has not seized anything?” The Israelites were acquainted with snares and traps and knew that no bird or other creature would be caught in a snare or trap unless it triggered the device. (3:5)

The Septuagint rendering of the first question attributes the falling of a bird to the ground to the act of a fowler. (“Will a bird fall on the earth without a fowler?”) Although this reading differs somewhat from that of the Hebrew text, the cause-and-effect relationship is preserved. (3:5)

“Is a shofar [a ram’s-horn trumpet] blown in a city and people are not terrified? Does evil befall a city, and YHWH has not done it?” When watchmen sounded an alarm with a horn or a trumpet, the people recognized this as signaling imminent danger, commonly from an army that was on its way to lay siege to the city. Therefore, the blowing of the horn aroused fear in those who heard the sound. “Evil” or “calamity” is attributed to YHWH, as he is the one who permitted it to befall the city in expression of his judgment. (3:6)

The relationship of cause and effect also applies in connection with YHWH’s judgments. He does not take action without first disclosing his “counsel,” “instruction” (LXX), or his purpose to “his servants the prophets.” The prophets, as his devoted servants, then proclaim the message he revealed to them, granting the opportunity for individuals to repent and to be spared from experiencing the threatened calamity. If those who hear the proclamation refuse to repent and abandon their corrupt way of life, they will have the punitive judgment expressed against them. (3:7)

“A lion has roared; [and (LXX)] who will not fear? The Lord YHWH has spoken; [and (LXX)] who will not prophesy?” A lion’s roar may be heard from a distance of about 5 miles (c. 8 kilometers) away. For the Israelites, this roar gave rise to fear, for lions posed a threat to their domestic animals and at times to themselves or to their children. Whenever YHWH spoke or revealed his message to a prophet, the prophet could respond in no other way than to prophesy or to proclaim the message. The divine impulse made it impossible for prophets to restrain themselves from speaking. (3:8; compare Jeremiah 20:9.)

A proclamation is to be directed to the “citadels” (’armóhn) or strongholds in Ashdod and in the land of Egypt. This would be an announcement to the people in the well-fortified places there. It seems somewhat unusual that the Philistine city of Ashdod would be linked in this manner to Egypt. According to the Septuagint, the reference is to the “regions [plural form of chóra)] among the Assyrians,” which fits the historical circumstances better. It was not many years after Amos began serving as a prophet that the Assyrians invaded the kingdom of Israel, and the last king of Israel, Hoshea, allied himself with Egypt in an effort to free himself from Assyrian control. (2 Kings 15:29, 30; 17:3, 4; see the Notes section regarding the Hebrew word ’armóhn and the corresponding Greek rendering of this noun as chóra.) (3:9)

Those being addressed are told to assemble “on the mountains [‘mountain’ (LXX)] of Samaria to “see the great [or ‘many’] tumults in her and the acts of oppression in her midst.” “Tumults” may refer to social unrest resulting from the evils or the injustices that were committed in Samaria. The rendering in the Septuagint is thaumastá pollá (“many wonderful things” or “many astonishing things”) and could apply to the people’s corrupt practices that were so shocking as to cause astonishment among observers. Especially the poor would have suffered from oppression, fraud, or exploitation. (3:9; for pictures of and comments about the site of Samaria, see Samaria.)

For one to see or witness injustices or oppression, one would have to be among the people. Therefore, the assembling on the “mountains” or “mountain” of Samaria is apparently to be understood figuratively. Those who are called upon to observe are represented as being summoned to assemble as if on elevated locations in order to see what was happening beneath them. The apparent purpose of the assembling appears to be that those gathered would perceive the evidence that punitive action against Samaria was warranted. (3:9)

Prominent ones of Samaria and the rest of the kingdom of Israel had made themselves guilty of great evils. Therefore, YHWH is represented as saying that they did not know how to do what is right. Justice and honesty were foreign to them. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to mean that people of Samaria, particularly those guilty of building up a record of injustice and misery, did not know or had no idea about the punitive judgment that would befall them (“she [Samaria] did not know the things that will be before her, says the Lord, the ones treasuring up injustice and misery in their regions.”) Injustice and oppression would have brought misery to the disadvantaged ones in their midst, and the cruel oppressors would not escape punishment. (3:10)

In their “citadels” or strongholds (according to the Hebrew text), the oppressors “stored up violence and robbery.” This suggests that they accumulated wealth through violent, oppressive, and unjust means, often attaining their base objectives through bribery. (3:10; see the Notes section regarding “citadels” and the Septuagint rendering.)

YHWH decreed that an “adversary” (tsar) would surround the land and bring down the might of Samaria (“your might”) and plunder the “citadels” or strongholds (“your citadels”). The “adversary” proved to be Assyria. (3:11)

Instead of a word for “adversary,” as is the apparent meaning of tsar in this context, the Septuagint has “Tyre” as its rendering. This is because, in the Hebrew consonantal text, the spelling of Tyre, the Phoenician city, is the same as that of the Hebrew word here translated “adversary.” (3:11)

During the reign of Israel’s king Hoshea, the Assyrians invaded, thus “surrounding the land” with warriors. During the three-year siege of Samaria, the might or strength of the city was brought down or shattered. After the city fell, the Assyrians would have plundered all the treasures they found in the citadels, strongholds, or the well-fortified edifices and structures. (3:11; see the Notes section regarding “citadels” and the Septuagint rendering.)

Shepherds could be held accountable for the loss of animals from the flocks under their care. (Compare Genesis 31:39.) To establish that the loss of a sheep or a goat was not due to his negligence, a shepherd might snatch away “two legs” (kera‘áyim, a dual form Hebrew noun) or a “piece [‘lobe’ or ‘tip’ (LXX)] of an ear” from the “mouth of the lion.” This evidence would then serve to establish that he did not have to make compensation for the animal. (Compare Exodus 22:13.) The Hebrew designation kera‘áyim may here designate the lower part of the leg or the fibula. Other renderings are “pair of shin-bones” (REB) and “two leg bones” (CEV, NIV). (3:12)

There is uncertainty about the meaning of the words that follow the description of a shepherd’s action. Literally translated, the phrases could read, “so the sons of Israel will be snatched away, the ones dwelling in Samaria in the corner of a couch and in a Damascus-divan.” This could indicate that few of the inhabitants of Samaria would survive the conquest. They would be like mere fragments from a sheep or a goat that a shepherd might snatch away from the mouth of a lion. The application may be particularly to wealthy residents who customarily reclined on part of a large luxurious couch or on a divan. A similar meaning is found in a number of translations. “So will the Israelites who live in Samaria be rescued, who repose on the finest beds and on divans from Damascus.” (REB) “So only a few will survive of Samaria’s people, who now recline on luxurious couches.” (GNT, Second Edition) “In the same way only a few Israelites in Samaria will be saved — people who now sit on their beds and on their couches.” (NCV) (3:12)

Another possibility is to understand the Hebrew preposition preceding the words “corner of a couch” and “Damascus-divan” to mean “with.” That would mean that the “sons of Israel, the ones dwelling in Samaria,” would be “snatched away with the corner of a couch and with a Damascus-divan.” Accordingly, wealthy residents of Samaria who might survive the conquest of the city and be taken into exile would be able to carry with them items that would be virtually worthless pieces from among their former abundant possessions. This is similarly expressed in a number of modern translations. “So the Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued with [only] the corner of a bed or the cushion of a couch.” (HCSB) “So will the people of Israel living in Samaria be saved, with the corner of a bed and a part of a cover.” (NLB) (3:12)

One cannot be sure to what the combination of the two Hebrew words for “Damascus” and “divan” applies. Translators who have retained “Damascus” as a proper noun make the verse apply to the city itself. “So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds, and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.” (NLT) “They sit in Samaria on the edge of their beds. They lie down in Damascus on their couches.” (NIRV) In their renderings, other translators have interpreted the words “Damascus” and “divan” to mean a “piece of a cot” (NAB) or “a part of a cover” (NLB). This is based on a conjecture that “Damascus” possibly designated luxurious material and so the combination of “Damascus” and “divan” could refer to just a fragment of the material from a cot or a divan. (3:12; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

With the imperatives “hear” and “testify,” the judgment facing the people of the kingdom of Israel is introduced in a solemn manner. “Hear and testify against the house of Jacob, says the Lord YHWH, the God of hosts.” The verbs for “hear” and “testify” are plural, suggesting that all who “hear,” listen, or pay attention to the message should testify regarding it or make it known as the word of the “Lord YHWH, the God of hosts,” or the God with hosts of angels in his service for carrying out his purpose. If the word for “priests” (in the Septuagint) is linked to this verse as a vocative, the priests are the ones called upon to hear and to bear witness. This, however, is not likely to have been the significance of the original Hebrew text, especially since Amaziah the priest of Bethel opposed the prophetic activity of Amos and insisted that he should return to the land of Judah and prophesy there. (3:13; 7:10-13; see the Notes section.)

In verse 9, foreign peoples were directed to assemble and to observe the upheaval and acts of oppression taking place in Samaria. So it could be that they are the ones being addressed with the imperatives “hear” and “testify.” From the actual standpoint, however, foreigners would not be able to do so, for they would not hear the word of YHWH through his prophet and be in a position to testify concerning it. They could only be represented as doing so in a figurative way, as if they had been assembled to see developments in Samaria and to hear the word of YHWH concerning the city and the kingdom of Israel. (3:13)

Another possibility is to regard the ones addressed to include prophets in addition to Amos, but nothing recorded in the book of Amos suggests that any other prophets of YHWH were then active in the kingdom of Israel, making known the word of YHWH against the “house of Jacob” or the people descended from Jacob whose name was changed to Israel after he had wrestled with an angel. (Genesis 32:24-28) The expressions of Amaziah the priest of Bethel to King Jeroboam II, complaining about the message of Amos, and then also the words he directed to Amos, imply that there were no other prophets of YHWH prophesying in the realm. (3:13; 7:10-13)

As in the days of the prophet Elijah, a small remnant of Israelites who were loyal to YHWH must have existed in the kingdom of Israel. (Compare 1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18.) It may be that they are the ones invited to hear the word of YHWH that Amos made known and to testify regarding it. (3:13)

On the “day” or at the time YHWH determined to “make his visit” to execute judgment (“take vengeance,” LXX) for the transgressions (“impious deeds,” LXX) Israel had committed against him, he would also “visit” or attend to the “altars of Bethel.” The “horns of the altar,” the projections from each of the four corners of the altar, would then be cut off and fall to the ground. (For pictures of ancient altars with “horns,” see altar.) The cutting off of the “horns” of the altar indicated that the altar would either be desecrated or destroyed. If it was a common practice for people to take hold of the horns of an altar when seeking protection, the removal of the horns of the altar may also imply that the wayward people of Israel would be deprived of all avenues of escape from the execution of YHWH’s judgment. (3:14; compare 1 Kings 2:28-31.)

Wealthy Israelites appear to have had both a “winter house,” specially built in an area where the temperature was warmer in winter than elsewhere, and a “summer house” in a region that had cooler average temperatures than did other locations during the hot summer months. “Houses of ivory” would have been homes having interiors beautified with ivory inlays. YHWH is represented as determining to “smite” both the winter house and the summer house. “Houses of ivory” would perish, and “great” or “many houses” would come to an end. If, in this context, the meaning of the Hebrew adjective rav is “great,” the houses would be impressive, ornate dwellings. (3:15; for examples of ancient ivories found in Israel, see examples 1, 2 and 3.)

The Septuagint does not mention a “winter house” but refers to a house surrounded by a colonnade. God is represented as saying that he would “pour together” or “mix together” and strike the house having a colonnade upon the summer house. This rendering indicates that both houses would be destroyed and suggests that the houses were in close proximity so that one could fall upon the other and the ruins from both be mixed together. “Houses of ivory” would be demolished, and many other houses would be “added.” This could be understood to mean that, in time, the destroyed ornate homes would be replaced with numerous less-impressive dwellings. (3:15)


In verses 9, 10 and 11 of chapter three and verse 8 of chapter 6, the Septuagint renders the plural of the Hebrew noun ’armóhn (“citadels” or “strongholds”) as the plural of chóra,” a noun that can refer to a land, region, district, or place. Earlier, in verses 4, 7, 10, 12 and 14 of chapter 1 and verses 2 and 5 of chapter 2, the Septuagint rendering for the plural of ’armóhn has been a noun that means “foundations” (the plural of themélion).

The Septuagint rendering provides no clue as to how the obscure parts of verse 12 may be understood. A literal translation could read, “so will the sons of Israel be pulled out, the ones dwelling in Samaria before a tribe and among [en, often meaning ‘in’] Damascus priests.” In Rahlfs’ printed text, the sentence ends with the Greek word for “priests.” This is not necessarily the case. The sentence could end with “in Damascus,” and the “priests” would then be the ones to whom the imperatives in the next verse are directed. In Hebrew, the consonants for the words “tribe” and “couch” or “bed” are the same, and this explains why the Septuagint reads “tribe,” not “couch.” The rendering “priests” can, however, not be explained on the basis of the extant Hebrew text. One possibility is that the Hebrew noun ‘éres (“couch”) was transliterated as the similarly pronounced hiereis (“priests”). In verse 4 of chapter 6, where the plural form of the same Hebrew word (‘éres) appears, the Septuagint rendering is the plural of klíne, which noun applies to something on which one lies or reclines, a divan, couch, or bed. This indicates that the Septuagint translator did know the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘éres.

In verse 13, the Septuagint, instead of “God of hosts,” reads “the Almighty.”