A Study of Amos 3:9-15

Introduction

The Book of Amos is named after the only person in the Bible who had this name. The name itself is derived from the Hebrew root word that means "to bear" and to "place a load upon."[1] Both of these meanings are descriptive of the prophet's activities. With respect to his background, Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa (Amos 1:1), a small town located about six miles southeast of Bethlehem. This area was famous for its coarse wool and sheep.[2]

In addition to his shepherding activities, Amos also tended sycamore-fig trees (Amos 7:14). Thus, it would seem he had diversified business interests, which provided him with various incomes.[3]

Although Amos was from the Southern Kingdom (Judah), his prophetic ministry took place at Bethel, one of the religious centers of the Northern Kingdom (Israel). He prophesied two years before the earthquake (Amos 1:1), during the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah (769-739 b.c.) and King Jeroboam II of Israel (782-753 b.c.), around the year 760 b.c.[4] At that time both Israel and Judah were very prosperous, and their respective territorial control, if combined, would almost be equal to that of Solomon (as both Syria and Assyria were relatively weak then). Unfortunately, both Israel and Judah were very idolatrous and immoral. Their societies were characterized by social injustice, whereby the rich got richer and, consequently, the poor got poorer.

Amos began his ministry around the same time as Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Amos and Hosea prophesied to Israel, and Isaiah and Micah prophesied to Judah. It would seem Amos's idea of social justice flowed from his vision and understanding of God, whereby he recognized that God is both just and righteous. This, in turn, provided him with the groundwork for his preaching.

Furthermore, although he probably did not harbor any inherent love for the Northern Kingdom, his devotion and obedience to God enabled him to put aside his personal feelings and comply with God's call. He probably recognized that the Northern Kingdom, in spite of its faults, still constituted God's covenant people, and even though they had seemingly rejected God, God had not rejected them.

Although the ministry of Amos was centered in Bethel, his visions were not limited to the Northern Kingdom; they extended to Judah, as well as to other nations surrounding Palestine. Amos prophesied against neighboring nations, against the immorality and social injustices that existed throughout the entire area, and against the common cultural beliefs that existed at that time. The passage of Amos that this article will deal with is Amos 3:9-15. I will present an English translation and verse-by-verse exegesis of this passage, as well as determine its scriptural implications and relevance for today.

English Translation of Amos 3:9-15 from Hebrew

The following is a verse-by-verse translation of Amos 3:9-15 from Hebrew to English.[5]

Verse 9: "Make known in the palaces in Ashdod, and upon the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say assemble upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the confusion in their midst, and the oppression in their midst."

Verse 10: "And they do not know to do right, an utterance of Jehovah, those who create violence and destruction in their palaces."

Verse 11: "Therefore, thus says the Lord God, an adversary (shall be) all around the land, and your strength shall be thrown down from you, and your fortified palaces shall be plundered."

Verse 12: "Thus says the Lord, just as the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or an earlobe of an ear, so the sons of Israel will be saved who sit in Samaria on beds of luxury, and on a Damascus couch."

Verse 13: "Hear and be witnessed against O house of Jacob, says the Lord Jehovah, God of Hosts."

Verse 14: "For in the day I will visit the transgressions of Israel upon him, and I will bring judgment upon the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and they shall fall to the ground."

Verse 15: "And I will strike the winter house in addition to the summer house, and the houses of ivory will perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the Lord."

English Translation of Amos 3:9-15 from the Septuagint

The following is a verse-by-verse translation of Amos 3:9-15 from the Septuagint.[6] The purpose is to compare the Septuagint translation with that of the Hebrew text to determine any differences (where they may occur).

Verse 9: "Proclaim to the places in Assyria and upon the places of Egypt and say, Assemble upon the mountains of Samaria and see all the wonder in the midst of them and their oppression among them."

Verse 10: "And they do not know what will be of their hostility, says the Lord, the ones who store unrighteousness (wickedness, injustice) and misery (distress, trouble) in the places of them."

Verse 11: "Therefore, thus says the Lord God, Tyre, all around, your land will be laid waste, and your strength will be torn from you, and your places shall be thoroughly plundered."

Verse 12: "Thus says the Lord, In the manner in which (whenever) the shepherd pulls out from the mouth of a lion two legs, or takes the outerpart of an ear, thus the sons of Israel will be pulled out that dwell opposite the people in Samaria, and among the priests of Damascus."

Verse 13: "Hear and be witnessed (against) O house of Jacob, says the Lord the God of Hosts."

Verse 14: "Because in the day when I avenge the godliness of Israel upon him, and I will take vengeance upon the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be torn down and shall fall to the ground."

Verse 15: "And I will confound and will strike the winter house upon the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall be washed away, and the other great houses shall be added (to them), says the Lord."

With the exception of minor variations (Tyre in verse 11 and the wording in verse 12), the only major difference between the Septuagint's reading of this passage and its Hebrew counterpart is with respect to verse 9; whereby the Septuagint reads "Assyria," rather than "Ashdod" (as commented on in the next section of this article). Otherwise, the basic content and meaning of both translations are the same.

Exegesis of Amos 3:9-15

The following is a verse-by-verse exegesis of Amos 3:9-15, which also includes parallel Old Testament passages, when applicable.

Verse 9: Verses 9 and 10 are in the form of a public summons. God is placing Israel on trial, and her neighbors are being called to give evidence, if they have any to offer, and to confirm the court's judgment on the offender.[7] God had originally intended Israel to be a divine example of godliness and righteousness to the surrounding nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). However, she rejected God's Word (v. 10), and this led to her idolatry and immorality. Therefore, God calls upon Israel's neighbors to gather around Samaria (the capital city of the Northern Kingdom, used in a collective sense to refer to the entire nation of Israel) to witness the wickedness of Israel, as well as her subsequent destruction. The conclusion of the summons is in verse 13.[8]

With respect to Israel's neighbors, the reference is made to both Ashdod, a Philistine city, and to Egypt. The Septuagint reads "Ashur" instead of "Ashdod." Both Ashdod and Ashur are similar in the Hebrew, so it may be the translators confused them. If, however, the reference is to Ashur, we would then have the two great powers of the then-known world (Egypt and Assyria) to witness this divine judgment; since Assyria was more prominent than the Philistines at that time.[9]

On the other hand, if Ashdod is the correct reading, then it would pertain to the Philistines (since Ashdod was a chief city-state of the Philistines). This would seem to fit better with Biblical history, since both the Egyptians and the Philistines had enslaved and oppressed Israel in the past, and God had punished both nations for doing so (cf. Psalm 129:3). Yet, in spite of the cruelty of Egypt and Philistia, Israel apparently became far more cruel than they ever were. For instance, whereas the cruelty of Israel's two former oppressors was directed toward foreigners, the inhabitants of Israel oppressed their own people. Furthermore, the use of the words "confusion" and "oppression" by Amos (v. 9) seems to imply a total reversal of the established order; the Israelites had lost their most fundamental and elementary moral concepts. Thus, Amos is implying that Israel, the former slave of both Egypt and Philistia, had far surpassed the cruelty of her former oppressors and, as such, her judgment would be far greater than theirs.[10]

Verse 10: Amos implies that men did not know how to do right (straightforward and honest, in contrast to deceptive and false). Such conditions were the result of the people's rejection of God's word (cf. Isaiah 30:10; Romans 1:21). The people's idolatry led to their spiritual and moral degradation. Furthermore, although the Northern Kingdom seemed to prosper outwardly, their prosperity was the result of social injustices; the rich became prosperous by exploiting and oppressing their own countrymen.[11]

While Amos says that men did not know how to do right, Jeremiah said in his prophetic ministry to Judah that they knew how to do right but they did not do it (Jeremiah 10:23; 17:9). By the time of Jeremiah, the prophet began to see that something in men was wrong and they could not live by the Law. In all probability, Moses and the Children of Israel did not understand this problem. It was necessary for the people to live under the Law for centuries before they could comprehend the fact that the problem of sin could not be resolved by one's strict compliance to the Law. In fact, the sin problem was so big that God himself had to die to make the "Jeremaic" or "New" Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) a reality (John 3:16-17; Romans 1:16-17; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 2:20).

Verse 11: This verse begins with the prophet making mention of the instrument of God's judgment. In the case of Israel, this instrument of judgment would be another nation. God often uses human agencies to carry out His will and purposes. The nation is not mentioned by name--not because God did not know who the nation would be--but rather, to keep Israel agonizing over the uncertainty. In spite of Israel's economic and military might, God's judgment would be so severe that Israel's seemingly impregnable fortresses would be breached, and her palaces would be plundered, leaving her in complete ruin.[12]

In Deuteronomy 18:21-22, Moses presents the reader with the criteria for determining a true prophet of God. According to this passage, everything that such a prophet speaks will come to pass. Although the prophetic messages of Amos (at a time when the Northern Kingdom was at the apex of her power and splendor) seemed unbelievable to his listening audience, they nevertheless came to pass in 722 b.c. when the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria.

Verse 12: Amos uses the analogy of a shepherd rescuing his sheep, with reference to the rescue of Israel. For Amos, the lion is a potent symbol. The lion is powerful, silently menaces, strikes terror with its roar, and suddenly and violently destroys. The legal background for this analogy is found in Exodus 22:13, whereby a shepherd was accountable to the sheep owner for any animal lost, unless he could prove it was lost due to circumstances beyond his control. Otherwise, he would be accused of stealing the animal for himself and he would have to make full restitution. Thus, it was important for the shepherd to rescue enough of the carcass to serve as a "silent witness" in verifying the cause of death. Yet, in reality, the animal had not been rescued, but rather, had been totally destroyed.[13]

Thus, by using the above analogy, Amos is painting a picture of prophetic irony with respect to the catastrophe that awaits Israel. In spite of the nation's present state of security and sensuality, the ruin and destruction of Samaria would be so complete that only a small remnant of the people would be spared, and they would be able only to salvage fragments of their former riches and luxuries.[14]

Verse 13: The Lord once again addresses the foreign nations that He had previously summoned (v. 9) to behold Israel's wickedness and destruction. The Lord calls on these nations to testify against the Northern Kingdom of Israel concerning her sins and iniquities. It is ironic that God uses heathen idol worshipers to pronounce His judgment on His covenant people. (Israel's being referred to as the "house of Jacob" is indicative of this.) Yet, Israel brought this on herself when she refused to listen to her own prophets (Amos 2:12; 7:13).[15]

Verse 14: The prophet predicts that God will bring judgment on Bethel. When Jeroboam I successfully led the ten northern tribes in rebellion against King Rehoboam (Solomon's son), he set up two religious centers: one in Bethel and one in Dan (1 Kings 12:25-33). He erected a gold calf in each of these centers (probably a likeness to Apis, the Egyptians cult god). It would seem that more altars had been erected in Bethel subsequently, so that by this time Bethel had become the principal religious center of the Northern Kingdom. Furthermore, just as an animal's horn symbolized strength, dominion, and honor (1 Samuel 2:1,10; Psalms 89:17; 92:10; Amos 6:13), the four horns on the altar of burnt offering (Exodus 27:2), on which the sacrificial blood was applied (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:25,30,34; 8:15), were symbolic of sure reliable forgiveness and salvation, whereby the sinner was defended against the accusations of both Satan and his own conscience. By grasping the horns of the altar, the offender could gain sanctuary (1 Kings 1:50ff; 2:8,28-38; cf. Exodus 21:14).

Although these altars may originally have been erected in honor of Jehovah, they soon became part of Israel's idolatry, transgressions, and rebellion against the Lord. In pronouncing God's judgment on the altars of Bethel, Amos is implying that they were devoid of their "divine sanctity" to both exist and forgive sins; hence, the inhabitants of Israel would no longer be able to flee to them as a "last resort" to save them from their impending fate.[16]

Verse 15: God directs His condemnation against Israel's luxurious houses: winter house, summer house, houses of ivory, and great houses. As such, the prophet is voicing God's judgment against what he sees as the vices of city life.[17] The terms "winter" and "summer house" may refer to either different residences, according to the season (1 Kings 22:39), or to separate apartments in the same house (Judges 3:20; Jeremiah 36:22). The ivory houses were probably so named because their walls and furniture were embellished by ivory plaques or by small ivory panels that were attached to the furniture and inlaid in the walls (cf. 1 Kings 10:18; 22:39; Psalm 45:8).[18] The great houses were probably a reference to the mansions of the very rich (Isaiah 5:8-9).[19] It is interesting to note that archaeological digs in both Samaria and Assyria have disclosed much ivory, and it could be that the ivory found in Assyria originally came from Samaria (when Assyria conquered Samaria in 722 b.c.).[20] Thus, God's judgment is directed against these "grand" houses of Samaria because of the social injustices that have been stored up in them (v. 10). Like the altars of Bethel (v. 14), these luxurious dwelling places will be destroyed.[21]

In comparing verses 14 and 15, it is interesting to note that God's judgments will fall first on Israel's religious center, then on Israel's social structures. By so doing, God is pointing out through Amos that the religion of Israel was a failure, and when one's religion is powerless, everything else is powerless. Thus, when the house of God fails, every other religious and social structure will also fail.[22]

New Testament Parallels and Their Contemporary Relevance

Verse 9: Just as Israel had her observers, the Church also has observers. These observers are both visible and invisible. The visible ones are people of the world. Even though most people reject the gospel message, they maintain a watchful eye on the conduct of Christians. In reality, this serves as a silent tribute to the power of the gospel because the world expects a holier lifestyle and higher standards from professing Christians. In one sense, this may seem unfair. After all, Christians are human beings and, although they may be saved, they are not perfect. On the other hand, the world is right in expecting greater ethical and moral standards from Christians, because Christianity does have its roots in a divine Source of life and strength (Ephesians 2:19-22). If there is no difference between the lifestyle of Christians and non-Christians, we cannot expect non-Christians to enter the kingdom of God (James 2:14-20).[23]

In addition to the visible witnesses, there are also invisible ones: the powers of darkness (Satan, his demons, cf. 1 Peter 5:8), heavenly witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), and God himself (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, it behooves Christians to remember that just as God allowed observers to gather around Samaria, God allows observers to gather around His church.[24] As Christ himself said, His followers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Let us hope and pray the Church never loses its spiritual saltiness and her light never dims (2 Peter 3:11).

Verse 10: Just as violence and oppression existed in Israel during Amos's time, violence and oppression exist in our society today. People still choose evil over good and, in spite of stricter law codes and punitive action, social injustices and immorality continue to increase. Unfortunately, the sin problem is not something that can be corrected by a legal code. Rather, it is a spiritual problem that resides within the individual's spiritual nature (John 3:19; Romans 1:18ff; 3:23). Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions, and the problem of sin is so big that it required God himself to die for this problem (John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23; 8:1-2).

Verse 11: When Amos prophesied God's judgment against the kingdom of Israel, his messages seemingly fell on deaf ears. After all, the Northern Kingdom was at the zenith of her military might and material prosperity at the time. To infer that her wealth and power would come to a swift and sudden end by the hands of a nation that apparently was nowhere on the scene, seemed both inconceivable and treasonous. Yet in 722 b.c., just as Amos had prophesied, God's judgment on the Northern Kingdom became a reality.

Just as there were scoffers who lived during Amos's time, scoffers today seemingly make light of the fact that God's judgment will overtake them as well (2 Peter 2:1; 3:3). Although it is God's perfect will that all persons come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), and the atonement of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all mankind (John 3:16; Romans 6:9-10), God's holy nature demands that sin be punished (Romans 3:23), and His judgment is as real today as it was and ever will be (Galatians 6:7-8; Hebrews 9:27; 2 Peter 2:4-9). Therefore, regardless of what people may say, there will be a judgment day for both the believer (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 5:10) and the nonbeliever (Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 20:11-15).

Verse 12: Amos points out the importance of animal remnants in providing the shepherd with the silent witnesses he needed to verify the animal's cause of death. Just as a shepherd was responsible for his flock, God, the Shepherd of Israel, is responsible for His people because of His covenant with them. Thus, maintaining the covenant and preserving Israel was a matter of God's honor. Although the Northern Kingdom ceased to exist as a nation with the Assyrian captivity, a remnant was still preserved. Furthermore, throughout history God's covenant people of Israel have suffered numerous persecutions. Yet, in spite of man's efforts to obliterate the Jews, God has preserved and protected them, and He will continue to do so, as the Bible states. Thus, the Jewish remnant throughout history has constituted the legal and compelling proof of God's faithfulness toward Israel; and, as such, they make up His "silent witnesses."[25]

Yet God's covenant promises are not limited to Israel; they extend to all mankind. In fact, the Biblical purpose for God's covenant people was for them to serve as a divine witness in drawing all persons to the One True God and to His redemptive plan for mankind. Although Israel as a nation may have failed in their mission to do this, individual remnants from them have succeeded. This is verified by the fact that throughout history there has always been a remnant of Jews who have stayed loyal to God, including those who have recognized and believed in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, a remnant of first-century Messianic Jews began the Church Age and, by so doing, fulfilled the Biblical prophecy that salvation is both to the Jew (Romans 1:16) and of the Jew (John 4:22). Thus, God's plan of redemption is not limited to the Jew, but rather, is for all mankind. (See John 1:12-13.)

Just as a remnant of Israel represented God's "silent witnesses" to the nation of Israel as a whole, true Christians throughout history have represented God's faithful remnant to a lost and dying world. The true believer (both Jew and Gentile) represents the "leg" and "earlobes" from fallen mankind and has remained true to his God in spite of the persecution, both overt and covert, that has beset him.

Furthermore, like Israel, the Church has a Great Shepherd who watches over and protects her: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (John 10:11). Regardless of the trials and adversities that have beset her, the true Church will continue to grow and triumph, even though confronted by the onslaught of hell itself (Matthew 16:18; 1 John 4:4).

Verses 14-15: Amos points out that being God's covenant people does not imply immunity from God's judgment. Israel sinned against her God, and when she refused to repent, she was punished. Although God was patient and longsuffering toward Israel, His holy nature eventually demanded that His people be punished for their sins.

The same divine principle applies to believers today, for God's holiness still demands a holy lifestyle on the part of His followers (Romans 6:19; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:10,14). It is not enough to just attend church or to put on an air of "religious piousness." God has not ordained a lukewarm Church. Rather, He has called His church to be an energizing force, active in the world for man's salvation (Romans 1:16-17). It behooves us then to realize and obtain the full potential that God has for us. Otherwise, He will fight against us, just as He fought against Israel (Isaiah 59:1-2; 63:10). And, as a person spits out lukewarm water, God will spit us out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).

Conclusion

Although the nation of Israel was God's covenant people, they were not immune from God's punishment. God's holy nature demanded that Israel be punished for her sins. The Bible tells us that to whom more is given, more is expected (Luke 12:48). Although Israel, as God's covenant people, had been given many privileges, they had also been entrusted by God with greater responsibilities spiritually. As a result of their failures, they were punished.

Just as Israel shared greater divine privileges and responsibilities, the true Church (both individually and corporately) does so as well. Furthermore, although the Christian has the assurance of eternal life, he nevertheless is subject to God's punishment for his sins, if God chooses to do so. In 1 Peter 4:17, we read that judgment begins in the household of God. Furthermore, just as God's punishment on the Israelites was designed to make them aware of their sins and return to God, God's judgment on Christians is designed to do the same (Hebrews 12:6). Although God's forgiveness has always been available to His people, it has not been unconditional; rather, it has been dependent on the personal repentance of the individual or nation in question. Those who truly repented of their sins were forgiven, and those who did not were destroyed. The same divine principle applies for Christians today. God still punishes unrepentant sinners, and it is possible for unrepentant Christians to not only undergo God's punishment in this life, but also to go so far that they actually lose their salvation. (See Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31.)

Bibliography

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Buttrick, George Arthur, ed. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962.

Douglas, J.D., and Merrill C. Tenney, eds. The New International Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987.

Exell, Joseph S. The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. 10; Daniel, Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973.

Harper, W. Rainey. The International Critical Commentary, Vol. 23, A Commentary on Amos and Hosea. Edited by Samuel Rolles, Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Chas. Augustus Briggs. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1966.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 4, Jeremiah to Malachi. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.

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Motyer, J.A. The Day of the Lion: The Message of Amos. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1974.

Orelli, C. Von. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Translated by J.S. Banks. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publisher, 1977.

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©2006 by Howard W. Stevens
 

[1] W.L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 276.

[2] Theo. Laetsch, Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), 137.

[3] Herman Veldkamp, The Farmer from Tekoa (St. Catharines, Ontario: Paideia Press, 1977), 8-9.

[4] Chas. F. Pfeiffer, ed., Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 61.

[5] R. Kittel, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, edited by K. Elliger and W. Rudolph (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1977), 1019.

[6] Septuaginta, Vol. 2 (Stuttgart: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1971), 504-5.

[7] Henry McKeating, The Cambridge Bible Commentary: The Books of Amos, Hosea, and Micah (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 29-30.

[8] Laetsch, Bible Commentary, 151.
[9] McKeating, The Cambridge Bible Commentary, 30.
[10] Veldkamp, The Farmer from Tekoa, 110-11.
[11] Laetsch, Bible Commentary, 151-52.
[12] Ibid., 152.
[13] McKeating, The Cambridge Bible Commentary, 30.
[14] Veldkamp, The Farmer from Tekoa, 116.
[15] Laetsch, Bible Commentary, 152.

[16] Ibid., 152-53.

[17] McKeating, The Cambridge Bible Commentary, 31.

[18] Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2005), 14.

[19] Laetsch, Bible Commentary, 153.
[20] Archaeological Study Bible, 14.
[21] McKeating, The Cambridge Bible Commentary, 31.

[22] J.A. Motyer, The Day of the Lion: The Message of Amos (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1974).

[23] Veldkamp, The Farmer from Tekoa, 111-12.

[24] Ibid., 112-13.

[25] Ibid., 117-18.