Amos 5:1-27

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The “house” (or the people) of Israel is called upon to hear or to listen to “this word,” the specific message being taken up over the people as a “lamentation” or “dirge.” According to the Septuagint, this message is the “word of the Lord,” indicating that YHWH himself is the one taking it up. The “word” is a lamentation or dirge, for the message relates to the future abandoned condition of Israel that is represented as if then already existing. This sad development was certain to occur unless (as expressed in verse 4) the people repented. (5:1)

The “virgin of Israel” is portrayed as having suffered a fall from which she cannot rise or recover. In her own land, she has been forsaken, and no one is there to raise her up. (5:2)

At Mount Sinai, the Israelites had been brought into a covenant relationship with YHWH, comparable to that of a wife to her husband. On the basis of this covenant, the people came under his husbandly care and protection. As a “virgin,” Israel is here depicted as not in this relationship and so without the protective care and concern of a husband. Unable to get up on her own upon having fallen, she is also without a husband to assist her to stand up. (5:2)

The word of the Lord YHWH (“Lord, Lord” [LXX]) indicated that the Israelites would be subjected to enemy invasions of their land. They would be unsuccessful in their efforts to halt enemy aggression. Of a 1,000 men leaving a city to engage the enemy, only 100 would survive. From the place 100 would go forth, only ten would be left as survivors to the “house” or the people of Israel. (5:3)

Even though the calamity to befall Israel is expressed in terms of certainty, the opportunity for the people to repent had not been cut off. Through his prophet, YHWH said to the house of Israel, “Seek me and live.” This seeking meant taking the essential action to become reconciled to God as his repentant people who were determined to conduct themselves in harmony with his commands. As a forgiven people who had abandoned their wayward course, they would “live” or be spared the judgment that would result in the devastation of their land and the loss of life for the majority. (5:4)

The Israelites were admonished not to seek Bethel (Baithel [LXX]), the center of idolatrous calf worship that Jeroboam (the first monarch of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) established to prevent his subjects from going to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. (1 Kings 12:26-33) For individuals to seek Bethel would have meant for them to go there for the purpose of securing divine aid and blessing by engaging in acts of worship, including the offering up of sacrifices. Although the golden calf at Bethel was an idol, Jeroboam represented it to his subjects as the God who had led the Israelites out of Egypt. (1 Kings 12:28) He thereby instituted a corrupt form of worshiping YHWH. Possibly, if influenced by Canaanite views about their deities, the Israelites regarded the calf as being the animal upon which YHWH stood representatively. (5:5)

Not far from Bethel lay Gilgal (Galgala [LXX]), a place that also had become a site for idolatrous worship. The apparent reason the Israelites were not to enter this town was to stop engaging in the veneration of idols there. (5:5)

In the Septuagint, the Hebrew name “Beer-sheba” is rendered according to its meaning, “well of the oath.” This city in the southern part of the kingdom of Judah appears to have become a site where the Israelites participated in worship that YHWH disapproved. It does seem unusual, however, that the Israelites from the kingdom of Israel would undertake a journey to this distant location. Perhaps the reference to Beer-sheba serves to indicate that the people of the kingdom of Judah, like the Israelites in the northern kingdom, engaged in idolatrous practices. If this is the case, they are the ones who were instructed not to cross over to Beer-sheba. (5:5)

YHWH would express his judgment against Gilgal, allowing it to fall before enemy invaders. Gilgal, meaning the surviving inhabitants of the city, would go into exile. Military conquest would reduce Bethel to “nothingness.” According to the Septuagint rendering, Bethel (Baithel) “will be as not existing.” (5:5)

To escape the threatened calamity, the Israelites needed to seek YHWH (as already stated previously in verse 4), wanting to be reconciled to him as a repentant people. As persons forgiven of their sins, they would live and not perish. If they refused to abandon their corrupt practices, YHWH would break out like a destructive fire in the “house of Joseph.” Many of the people of the kingdom of Israel were descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, and Ephraim was the dominant tribe in the realm. Accordingly, the designation “house of Joseph” represented all the people of the kingdom of Israel. The “fire” that YHWH would unleash against them would come through military conquest, leading to a devastation of the land and death for many. In this way, the “house of Joseph” would be devoured as by fire. (5:6)

As a center of idol worship, Bethel may here be singled out as the object of fire that no one would be able to extinguish. In the Septuagint, the name “Bethel,” meaning “house of God,” is translated as “house of Israel,” making it a parallel expression for “house of Joseph.” It is possible that the Hebrew text may be understood similarly. As YHWH’s people, the Israelites had become the “house” or household of God, the One to whom they had been unfaithful. Therefore, if they persisted in their waywardness, they would be devoured by a fire that no one could quench. (5:6)

The Israelites should have upheld a high standard of “judgment” or justice and conducted their affairs with exemplary uprightness. Instead, they had turned “judgment” to wormwood, a plant with a very bitter taste. Especially the lowly ones among them could not expect to have a just judgment rendered in a legal case. They remained at the mercy of cruel oppressors who commonly resorted to bribery. In their dealings, the Israelites generally cast “righteousness” to the ground, refusing to do what is right as if trampling upon uprightness like the ground underneath their feet. (5:7)

The extant Septuagint text conveys a very different meaning. YHWH (the “Lord”) is represented as carrying out (“doing”) “judgment in the height,” his exalted place of dwelling, and establishing “righteousness in the earth.” This rendering indicates that he would not indefinitely tolerate the lawlessness of the Israelites but would execute his judgment against them, thereby establishing what is right. (5:7)

The activity that is attributed to YHWH apparently serves to stress that whatever he decrees will be accomplished, including the execution of his judgments. He is identified as the maker of two constellations, designated as kimáh and kesíl in Hebrew. The Hebrew word kimáh is commonly thought to refer to the Pleiades constellation. In the Vulgate, kesíl is rendered “Orion.” In this context, “Orion” has also generally been accepted as the significance of kesíl. In the Septuagint, no mention is made of constellations, but the opening phrase identifies God as “making everything and transforming.” (5:8)

YHWH turns “dark shadow [‘shadow of death’ (LXX)] into morning and darkens day into night.” Depending on his purpose, he can either transform the deepest darkness into morning light, or change the light of day into the darkness of the night. (5:8)

He is the one “calling” or “summoning” the “waters of the sea,” and then pours them out in the form of rain on the “face” or surface of the “earth” or ground. As evident from the identification that follows (“YHWH [is] his name”), he is not a mere “higher power,” but the living and true God who has personally revealed himself by name. The extant Septuagint text refers to him as the “Lord God, the Almighty.” (5:8)

In possession of matchless power, YHWH is the one “making destruction flash forth against the strong one, and destruction comes upon the fortress.” The “strong one” could be a valiant warrior or warriors (when regarded as a collective singular). It is also possible that “strong one” means “strong thing” and is a parallel expression for “fortress.” A number of translations make this sense explicit in their renderings. “He destroys the protected city; he ruins the strong, walled city.” (NCV) “He destroys places of safety. He tears down cities that have high walls around them.” (NIRV) With destruction flashing forth against the strongly fortified place, destruction would come “upon the fortress.” (5:9)

If the “strong one” is understood to mean a warrior or warriors, the destruction of the defending force would also spell the destruction of the fortress. A number of translations interpretively translate the text to refer to warriors. “With blinding speed and power he destroys the strong, crushing all their defenses.” (NLT) “God destroys mighty soldiers and strong fortresses.” (CEV) (5:9)

The Septuagint rendering represents God as “apportioning ruin upon strength and bringing misery upon the fortress.” This indicates that he allows human strength to fail, letting misery come upon those who are unable to defend the fortress. (5:9)

Among the corrupt Israelites, there existed an attitude of contempt for justice. Any elder functioning as a judge in the open area adjacent to the city gate became the object of their hatred when he reproved wrongdoers. They abhorred anyone who spoke truth or whatever was sound. According to the Septuagint, they abhorred a “holy word” or undefiled speech. (5:10)

Wealthy Israelites oppressed the needy ones in their midst. Either because the poor had borrowed money from them or labored as tenant farmers, they were treated harshly. The action the oppressors took against the poor is expressed with the infinitive form of bashás. This Hebrew verb has been defined as “trample,” but this significance is not certain. Based on Akkadian, bashás has been understood to mean “impose taxes.” Regarding the oppressors, the Septuagint reads, “you were pummeling [form of katakondylízo] the poor.” The Greek verb katakondylízo denotes to strike with the fist, indicating that the poor were subjected to physical abuse. (5:11)

From the meager share the poor had from the grain harvest, the oppressors exacted tribute. The Septuagint refers to these oppressive Israelites as accepting or taking “choice gifts,” suggesting that from the little the needy had the wealthy insisted on being given the very best. (5:11)

The oppressors may have felt secure in their position, but YHWH’s judgment was certain to be executed against them because of their mistreatment of the needy. Although they had built houses of stone for themselves, they would not be able to continue dwelling in them. They had planted desirable vineyards, but they would not continue to drink the wine produced from the harvested grapes. (5:11)

YHWH “knew” or was fully aware of their many transgressions (“impious deeds” [LXX]) and the enormity of their sins. They had made themselves guilty of “being hostile toward the righteous one” or, according to the Septuagint, “trampling upon the righteous one.” The oppressors conducted themselves as outright enemies of upright persons and showed no regard for their rights. Those responsible for administering justice accepted a “ransom” or a bribe so as to render unjust verdicts. If the needy had just claims or serious grievances, they would be turned aside “in the gate.” At the gate, the open area adjacent to the city gates where the elders handled legal cases, the poor would be turned away without having been granted an impartial hearing. (5:12)

On account of the oppression and injustices, the prudent Israelite would choose silence to avoid becoming entangled in disputes with the oppressors. It was a time when evil prevailed, for the harsh oppressors used their power and influence to attain their corrupt objectives. With no possibility of being treated fairly, the prudent person would do whatever was necessary not to get involved in a legal case. (5:13; compare Luke 12:58.)

Despite the sins of the Israelites, the prophet’s appeal to them was to seek “good and not bad.” This would make it possible for them to “live” and not to perish for persisting in their lawless course. Even though their conduct dishonored YHWH, they imagined that he was with them as his people. YHWH, the God of hosts, however, would only be with the Israelites, as they had said or claimed he was, if they repented and began doing what was good or right. Whereas the Hebrew text refers to YHWH as the “God of hosts,” or the God with hosts of angels in his service, the Septuagint contains the designation the “Lord God, the Almighty.” (5:14)

The Masoretic Text expresses the admonition, “Hate evil and love good.” A partially preserved text of verse 15 in a Dead Sea Scroll (4QXIIg) appears to represent the Israelites who were seeking to do what is right as saying, “We hated evil.” The Septuagint reads similarly, “We have hated the evil things and loved the good things.” To have YHWH’s approval, individuals must abhor what is bad or corrupt and have love for what is good, giving evidence of such love by living uprightly and responding compassionately to those in need. (5:15)

In the “gate,” or in the open area adjacent to the city gates where elders considered legal cases, justice needed to be established. For the elders who acted as judges, this required refusing to accept bribes and granting an impartial hearing to those who presented their case. (5:15)

If the people endeavored to do what is right and the elders rendered just decisions, the possibility existed that the threatened calamity would not overtake them. “YHWH, the God of hosts” (“the Lord God, the Almighty” [LXX]), as the prophet continued, “may show [‘us’ (4QXIIg)] favor” (“may have mercy” [LXX]). The ones who might be the recipients of the favor or mercy are identified as “the remnant of Joseph.” As the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, “Joseph” represents the entire remnant of the Israelites living in the territory of the kingdom of Israel, for it was there that the dominant tribe Ephraim and the tribe of Manasseh had their allotted inheritance. (5:15)

“Therefore,” if the Israelites did not repent, “YHWH, the God of hosts” (the “Lord God, the Almighty” [LXX]) declared that they would give way to lamentation. According to the Hebrew text, the prophet additionally referred to YHWH, the God with hosts of angels in his service, as “my Lord,” the one whom he devotedly served. The Septuagint, however, does not include “my Lord.” (5:16)

In all the squares or the open areas near the city gates, wailing would be heard. When expressing their distress while in the streets, people would be saying, “Woe! Woe!” Even the men laboring in the field were to be called to share in expressing grief. The lamentation would become more intense with the summoning of professional mourners for the purpose of adding their loud wailing. (5:16)

There would also be wailing in all the vineyards, with the laborers there joining in the lamentation. The Septuagint does not mention any wailing in the vineyards but refers to lamentation “in all the ways” or the roads. As to the reason for the wailing, YHWH is represented as declaring, “I will pass through the midst of you,” indicating that he would be coming to execute his punitive judgment. (5:17)

Amos had proclaimed the coming of YHWH’s day, and the response of the people appears to have been, Let it come. Imagining themselves to be God’s people, the Israelites did not believe they had anything to fear from the arrival of this day. They may even have thought that YHWH’s day would be a time when he would intervene for them, delivering them from their enemies. The prophet, however, pronounced woe upon those who “desired the day of YHWH,” and then raised the question, “What is this [day] to you?” According to the Septuagint, the question may be rendered, “What [is] this to you — the day of the Lord?” The day of YHWH would be a day of “darkness and not light.” It would bring darknes in the form of great distress. There would be no “light,” no glimmer of hope, or no possibility of a change for the better. (5:18)

Amos illustrated that the “day of YHWH” would not be a time marked by deliverance from calamity. He likened the developments of that day to the situation of a man who ran away from a lion only to encounter a bear, or to a man who entered “the house” (“his house” [LXX]) as a safe place, leaned against a wall, and then got bitten by a serpent that had been concealed in a crack. (5:19)

Reemphasizing that YHWH’s day would exclusively be a time of darkness in the form of calamity or distress, Amos continued, “Is not the day of YHWH darkness and not light, and gloom and no brightness in it?” Absolutely nothing would brighten the gloom that would set in upon the arrival of YHWH’s day of punitive judgment. (5:20)

Even though, in the kingdom of Israel, the supposed worship of YHWH was linked to golden calves, the people seemed to have believed that their faithful observance of festivals would save them from calamity. YHWH’s word through Amos revealed that this would not be the case. YHWH is represented as telling the Israelites, “I have hated, I have rejected your festivals, and I will not smell at your assemblies.” The reference to his not “smelling” at the assemblies may mean that he would not perceive with any pleasure the aroma of the burnt sacrifices offered up at their sacred conventions. (5:21; compare Genesis 8:20, 21.)

YHWH was displeased with the people on account of their idolatrous practices and wayward conduct. Therefore, if they offered him holocausts and presented gift offerings as an expression of thanksgiving, he would not accept them. He would not look with favor upon the communion sacrifices of fatlings. The Septuagint does not mention communion sacrifices, but represents God as saying, “I will not look upon the display of your deliverance.” The words “display of your deliverance” could refer to the presentation of an offering made in expression of thanks for having been saved from calamity. (5:22)

Songs and instrumental music must have been a prominent feature of the sacred festivals. None of this music pleased YHWH. He is represented as directing the Israelites to remove the sound of their songs from him and telling them that he would not listen to the resounding of their stringed instruments. (5:23)

To have YHWH’s approval and to escape the distress that was bound to befall them, the people of the kingdom of Israel needed to change their ways and to stop thinking that their festival observances and sacrifices would secure his favor. Especially among the leading members of the nation, judgment or justice should have been practiced to the fullest extent so that it could be likened to flowing abundantly like the water of a river. Righteousness, or upright living, should have come to be evident in the realm as if it were flowing like a perennial torrent. The Septuagint rendering expresses this as a future reality. “Judgment will roll down like water, and righteousness like an impassable torrent.” (5:24)

Regarding the past history of the Israelites, YHWH, through his prophet Amos, raised the question as to whether the “house” or the people of Israel had offered sacrifices and gifts” (gift or thanksgiving offerings) to him during their wandering in the wilderness for “forty years”? The implied answer to the rhetorical question was, No. In their inward disposition, the Israelites, after being liberated from Egyptian enslavement, continued to be idolaters. This became evident when they engaged in calf worship soon after they began wandering in the wilderness. (5:25; Exodus 19:1; 32:1-4)

In the centuries that followed, the Israelites in the kingdom of Israel continued to practice idolatry. According to the Hebrew text, they would “take up Sakkuth” their “king” and “Kaiwan,” their “images,” the “star of [their] god,” which they had made for themselves. In relation to the next verse, this may be understood to mean that, upon being taken into exile, the Israelites would carry the made-made images of their deities Sakkuth and Kaiwan with them. (5:26)

The Septuagint rendering represents the idolatry as a past development. “You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Raiphan, the representations [literally, ‘types’] of them that you made for yourselves.” The Hebrew words for “Sakkuth, your king” are here rendered “tent of Moloch.” This difference can readily be explained. The Hebrew word for “tent” or “booth” is sukkáh, and the Septuagint translator appears to have understood this to be the significance of the Hebrew word in the text that served as the basis for his rendering. In Hebrew, the consonants of the name “Moloch” are those for the word “king,” but one cannot be certain to which deity this designation was applied. When the rendering is “tent of Moloch,” this may be understood to refer to a portable tent or shrine in which an image of “Moloch” had been placed. As a proper name, “Sakkuth” would designate a deity that was regarded as a king. (5:26)

The name “Kaiwan” appears to be the designation for the Akkadian kaimanu (or kaiwanu), the planet Saturn that was venerated as a deity. The Egyptian (Coptic) designation for the planet Saturn as a deity is Repa, also called Seb. Possibly the Greek designation Raiphan is a transliterated form of Repa (Saturn). The words “star of your god” may then be understood to apply to the planet Saturn, venerated as an astral god. (5:26)

On account of their unfaithfulness to him, YHWH decreed that he would take the Israelites into exile “beyond Damascus.” This is solemnly concluded with the words, “says YHWH, God of hosts [the ‘Lord God, the Almighty’ (LXX)] — [that is] his name.” He is the living God who had revealed himself to the Israelites by name and as having hosts of angels in his service. Accordingly, his word was certain to be carried out. In the fulfillment, the Israelite survivors of the Assyrian campaigns were taken into exile beyond the city of Damascus in Syria. Their deportation is attributed to YHWH, for he permitted it to take place in expression of his judgment against the wayward Israelites. (5:27)