Amos 6:1-14

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2013-07-25 09:46.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

The wealthy leading inhabitants of Zion or Jerusalem seemingly are described as being at ease, enjoying a comfortable life. Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel, was located on an elevated site, and the residents appear to have felt secure on account of the location of their strongly fortified city. The pronouncement of woe revealed that the seemingly secure position of both capital cities would end. (6:1)

The rendering of the Septuagint portrays Zion as the object of contempt, suggesting that the Israelites in the northern kingdom of Israel may have prided themselves as citizens of the stronger kingdom and as, therefore, having a more notable capital. (6:1)

Based on the extant Hebrew text, the prominent ones or leaders of Zion and Samaria may then be identified as the “distinguished men” [naqáv] of the chief of the nations.” The form of the Hebrew word naqáv, here rendered “distinguished men,” is a plural passive participle in the masculine gender and basically means “having been pierced.” In this context, this participle appears to describe notable or distinguished men as if they had been distinctively “pierced” or “marked.” (6:1)

In the time of Amos, these notable men were corrupt, but they would have regarded themselves as members of the “chief of the nations” because of being YHWH’s chosen people. According to Deuteronomy 28:13 (NJB), however, that status depended on obedience to God’s commands. “Yahweh will put you at the head, not at the tail; you will always be on top and never underneath, if you listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God.” (6:1; regarding the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)

The prominent men of Zion and Samaria would have functioned as judges and counselors. Therefore, they would have been the ones to whom the “house of Israel,” or the people of Israel, went to present their legal cases and to obtain sound advice. (6:1)

It appears that the prominent ones from Zion and Samaria are directed to pass over to Calneh, to go from there to “great” Hamath, and then to go down to the Philistine city of Gath. It is not known just where the city of Calneh was located, and what could have been “seen” at the site. Jeroboam II, who reigned in the kingdom of Israel during the time of Amos, brought Hamath under Israelite dominion. (2 Kings 14:28) The Judean king Uzziah (Azariah), likewise a contemporary of Amos, conquered Gath. (2 Chronicles 26:3, 6) This suggests that Calneh, like Hamath and Gath, had suffered defeat. The biblical record, however, makes no mention of any military campaign against the city, which also means that there is no information regarding a victor. If having been subjected to conquest is what Calneh, Hamath, and Gath shared in common, then those going to Calneh would “see” that the city had been successfully besieged just like Hamath and Gath. (6:2; for comments about the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)

In view of what had happened to the kingdoms with which Calneh, Hamath, and Gath were associated, this raised the question as to whether Zion or Jerusalem and Samaria were better than these kingdoms or whether these kingdoms had greater territory than that under the control of Zion and Samaria. The implied answer appears to be that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were no better and did not exercise dominion over more territory. Therefore, just as the other kingdoms had been conquered, so also would be the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. (6:2)

Although the people of the kingdom of Judah may be included in the pronouncement of coming judgment, the message appears to be primarily for the people of the kingdom of Israel. They are addressed as persons “putting away the evil day,” never considering that, in expression of YHWH’s punitive judgment, they would face a day of reckoning and experience conquest and exile. Their bringing near a “seat of violence” could refer to their acting in a manner that would result in having enemy armies gaining control over them and exercising it in a violent, harsh, or ruthless way. Another possibility is to regard the “seat of violence” as being the cruel manner in which the leading members of Israel tyrannized over others, especially the poor. Both meanings are reflected in the interpretive renderings of translations. “You are hastening the reign of violence.” (NJB) “You are only bringing closer the Assyrian rule of terror.” (NIRV) “You bring near the day when you can do evil to others.” (NCV) “You are cruel.” (CEV) (6:3; for the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)

Woe or calamity is pronounced upon the wealthy Israelite leaders. They are described as lying on beds of ivory, meaning that the supporting frames for the bedding was adorned with ivory inlays. At meals, they stretched out on divans, eating the meat of lambs and fattened calves. Generally, the Israelites partook of meat only on special occasions. Reflective of their luxurious lifestyle, the wealthy did so on a regular basis. Their extravagance is evident from their feasting on the meat of young animals (“lambs from the flock” [“kids from the flocks” (LXX)]) and “calves from the midst of a stall” where they had been fattened [“young calves from the midst of the herds, (yes), sucklings”]). (6:4)

It appears that singing or chanting and instrumental music accompanied the extravagant feasting. There is uncertainty, however, about the meaning of the participial form of the verb parát that is linked to the “mouth” (probably meaning the “sound” which is perceived as if coming from a mouth). The Septuagint appears to refer to the wealthy members of the house of Israel as “clapping to the sound of musical instruments.” Renderings of modern translations reflect the various conjectures of lexicographers. “They hum snatches of song to the tune of the lute.” (Tanakh) “You strum away on your harps.” (NIV) “You sing foolish songs to the music of harps.” (CEV) “They bawl to the sound of the lyre.” (NJB) (6:5)

The comparison to David has been interpreted to apply to inventing musical instruments or to composing songs. “Like David, they invent musical instruments.” (NJB) “Like David, you compose songs on musical instruments.” (NCV) As the words of Amos seem to relate to a customary practice, it is more likely that the reference is to improvisation on musical instruments and not to the invention of new instruments. (6:5)

The rendering of the Septuagint includes no reference to David and, in the concluding phrase of the verse, shares nothing in common with the extant Hebrew text. It reads, “as they accounted [them] as being established and not as fleeting.” Perhaps, because they regarded their luxurious lifestyle as something permanent, they believed that they would be able to continue indefinitely with their idle amusements. (6:5)

The Israelites who were accustomed to a lavish lifestyle appear not to have restrained themselves in their drinking of wine, using “bowls” instead of the usual smaller cups. According to the Septuagint, they drank “filtered wine.” Ostentatiously, they anointed themselves with the finest perfumed oils. As self-indulgent people, they were not “sickened” or distressed over the “shattering” or ruin of Joseph. In this case, Joseph denotes the people of the kingdom of Israel, with the descendants of Joseph’s son Ephraim being the dominant tribe in the realm and those of his son Manasseh forming another tribe. The shattering of Joseph may refer to the injustices, oppression, and moral corruption that came to prevail in the kingdom of Israel and to past calamities such as droughts, insect plagues, and military defeats. This ruin proved to be of no concern to the wealthy and did not trouble them. (6:6)

Therefore, in expression of YHWH’s judgment, these self-indulgent Israelites would go into exile, being the first or at the head of those being deported from the land. According to the Septuagint, they would be “captives from the authority of powerful ones.” Possibly this means that, as captives, they would be deprived of their prominent position of authority as powerful ones in the kingdom of Israel. (6:7)

The reference to the “revelry of those stretching themselves” probably refers to the riotous feasting of the self-indulgent Israelites who stretched out on comfortable couches while eating and drinking. In view of their approaching exile, this revelry would end. The Septuagint rendering appears to reflect a different underlying Hebrew text. “And the neighing of horses will be taken away from Ephraim.” With horses being a significant part of a military force, the removal of their neighing would signify that the military strength of Ephraim, representative of the kingdom of Israel as its dominant tribe, would be crushed. (6:7)

There would be no escape from punitive judgment for the wayward Israelites, for the Lord YHWH had “sworn by his soul” (“by himself” [LXX]) that this would be the case. “YHWH, the God of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service) had solemnly declared his abhorrence for the “pride of Jacob” and his hatred for “his citadels” or strongholds (“lands” [LXX]). In this context, the name Jacob (the forefather of the Israelites) designates the people of the kingdom of Israel. Instead of relying on YHWH for their security and well-being, the Israelites put their trust in fortifications and their warriors. This was the pride of self-reliance that YHWH abhorred, and he hated the “citadels,” strongholds, or fortified places that were the objects of the people’s misplaced confidence. Therefore, YHWH is represented as stating, “I will deliver up [the] city and its fullness.” As indicated in the Septuagint rendering, the “fullness” refers to “all those inhabiting” the city. The definite article does not precede the word for “city,” suggesting that “city” is a collective singular designating all the Israelite cities. This would mean that YHWH would deliver up all these cities, allowing invading armies to conquer them. (6:8)

Among the Israelites, the loss of lives would be very great. If “ten men” remained in one house, all of them would die. The Septuagint rendering appears to represent the ten men as survivors of the military conflict. Nevertheless, they would still die. Possibly the portrayal is that of ten men who would take refuge in one house but then would die from starvation or pestilence. The Septuagint indicates that a remnant of Israelites would remain. (6:9)

A surviving relative (dohd) would assume responsibility for the dead bodies. The Hebrew noun dohd basically means “beloved one” and also is the designation for “uncle.” In this context, the reference is probably to a close relative who would be bringing the “bones” or the remains out of the house and would burn them. The Septuagint, however, makes no reference to “burning,” and another view is to interpret the “burning” to mean the burning of incense for the dead person. According to the Septuagint rendering, surviving family members would “take them and forcibly bring their bones out of the house.” (6:10)

When finding a survivor in the innermost part of the house, the relative would ask, “[Is there] still [someone else] with you?” After the survivor answers, “No,” either the relative or the survivor then says, “Hush! For [it is] not [the time] to mention the name of YHWH.” These concluding words may be indicative of a superstitious fear that mentioning the name of YHWH would cause YHWH’s attention to be directed to the one who had been overlooked for the intended punitive judgment and, therefore, could jeopardize his life. (6:10)

There is a measure of obscurity in the Hebrew text, and this accounts for various interpretive renderings about the interchange that takes place with someone in the house. “As you carry out a corpse to prepare it for burial, your relative in the house will ask, ‘Are there others?’ You will answer, ‘No!’ Then your relative will reply, ‘Be quiet! Don’t dare mention the name of the LORD.’” (CEV) “Relatives might come to burn the dead bodies. If they do, they’ll have to carry them out of the house first. They might ask someone still hiding there, ‘Is anyone here with you?’ If the answer is no, the relatives will say, ‘Be quiet! We must not pray in the Lord’s name.’” (NIRV) “And when a relative who is responsible to dispose of the dead goes into the house to carry out the bodies, he will ask the last survivor, ‘Is anyone else with you?’ When the person begins to swear, ‘No, by...,’ he will interrupt and say, ‘Stop! Don’t even mention the name of the Lord.’” (NLT) “When the relatives come to get the bodies to take them outside, one of them will call to the other and ask, ‘Are there any other dead bodies with you?’ That person will answer, ‘No.’ Then the one who asked will say, ‘Hush! We must not say the name of the LORD.’” (NCV) (6:10)

YHWH is represented as commanding the devastation of Israelite habitations. In the fulfillment, this occurred when he permitted invading military forces to conquer the cities in the kingdom of Israel. The reference to the “great house” and the “small house” may be understood collectively as applying to all the impressive homes of the wealthy and the much smaller modest houses of the other inhabitants. Upon being struck, the “great house” built of stone would be reduced to “fragments,” ruins, or rubble. The “small house” would be one constructed of mud brick, and this dwelling would be reduced to “bits.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the great house would be struck with “bruises” and the small house with “cracks.” (6:11)

The implied answer to the rhetorical question about whether horses would run (“pursue” [LXX]) on a cliff or “rocks” (LXX) is, “No.” They are not so surefooted as to be able to gallop over very rocky terrain. The implied answer to the second rhetorical question is that no one would “plow with cattle [on a cliff].” A different question appears in the Septuagint. “Will they [stallions] be silent among mares?” Yet the Israelites had done the very things that were contrary to nature or sound judgment. They had turned justice into “poison” or, according to the Septuagint, “wrath.” Those responsible for administering justice rendered corrupt decisions that were as injurious as poison to the innocent. As expressed the the Septuagint, the innocent ones ended up being the ones against whom wrath was directed. Wayward Israelites turned the “fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (“bitterness” [LXX]), a plant with a very bitter taste. Whereas righteousness or uprightness has a wholesome effect on society, a perversion of what is right brings bitterness into the lives of those affected. It is comparable to their being forced to partake of wormwood. (6:12; see the Notes section about the question regarding plowing.)

Although guilty of grave corruption, the Israelites, especially the leaders who should have been exemplary in upholding justice, boasted about their achievements. Translators have rendered the Hebrew text in two different ways, either as applying to conquered cities or to attainments that are represented as amounting to nothing. “You who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, ‘Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?’” (NIV) “Jubilant over a nothing, you boast, ‘Have we not won power by our own strength?’” (REB) The reason for the difference in translation is that Lo Debar may be rendered “not a thing” and Karnaim “horns” or “power” (because “horns” represent might). (6:13)

If the reference is to two cities, these may have been regained as Israelite territory during the military campaign of King Jeroboam II, a contemporary of the prophet Amos. (2 Kings 14:28) The Israelites would then have rejoiced over their success and boasted about having attained the victory in their own strength. Their arrogant self-reliance would have ignored the reality that YHWH had permitted them to be triumphant. (6:13)

The reading of the Septuagint supports a rendering that does not use place names. “[You], the ones rejoicing over not a thing, the ones saying, ‘Did we not have horns in our [own] strength?’” Whereas the Israelites boasted in their achievement, it amounted to nothing. The “horns” or “power” that they imagined to be the source of their own strength would prove to be futile. It would be of no avail when faced with the execution of YHWH’s judgment against them. (6:13)

Through his prophet, YHWH declared that he would raise up against the “house of Israel” or the people of Israel a “nation” that would oppress them “from the entrance of Hamath to the wadi of the Arabah.” This was certain to take place, for YHWH is identified as the “God of hosts” or the God with hosts of angels in his service for the accomplishment of his purpose. In comparison with what the Israelites thought they had attained in their own strength, the reversal they would experience would be much greater. An enemy nation would gain control over the entire region from the northern boundary (the “entrance of Hamath,” probably meaning the boundary between the kingdom of Israel and the southern part of Hamath territory) to the southernmost point of Israelite territory. The reference to the wadi of the Arabah may be understood to indicate that foreign domination would extend as far south as the Gulf of ‘Aqaba. This would mean that the kingdom of Judah would also be oppressed. Historically, Assyria subjected both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to oppression and conquest. (6:14; see the Notes section concerning the Septuagint rendering.)


In verse 1, the Septuagint refers to the “first ones of the nations” but represents those trusting in the mountain of Samaria as having “harvested” them. This harvesting could apply to the despoiling of defeated nations upon completion of successful military campaigns. According to Rahlfs’ printed text, the phrase that concludes the sentence is, “and they themselves have come.” This phrase does not convey an understandable meaning, for it does not mention a place to which “they themselves” came. The designation “house of Israel” is then linked to the words that follow in verse 2.

In the Septuagint, the words of verse 2 are directed to the “house of Israel” or the people of Israel (verse 1). “All” of the house of Israel are told to cross over and see, but no mention is made of Calneh. From the location to which they crossed over, they were to pass on to “Hemath Rabba” and to go down to “Geth [Gath] of allophyles [those of another tribe].” The “allophyles” are designated as the “noblest” or greatest “from all these kingdoms,” with their borders enclosing more territory than that of the house of Israel.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 3 differs considerably from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. Those of the house of Israel are represented as “coming to the evil day,” and they are referred to as “approaching and laying hold of false Sabbaths.” These words could be understood to mean that the people were about to experience a day or time of judgment. Perhaps God is the one whom they imagined they were approaching with their observance of “false Sabbaths.” This may indicate that the way in which the people conducted themselves during the Sabbaths did not honor YHWH.

In verse 12, the second question of the Masoretic Text may be literally translated, “Does one plow with cattle?” The answer to this question would be, “Yes.” A negative response requires the addition of an object (“on a cliff”). Based on a conjectural emendation, a number of translations refer to the plowing as being done on the sea. “Can the sea be ploughed with oxen?” (NJB, REB) “Does one plow the sea with oxen?” (NRSV)

The Septuagint rendering of verse 14 represents the oppression of the “house of Israel” as preventing the people from entering “into Hemath [Hamath] and as far as the torrent of the west.”