Some Notes on Amos 2:6-10, 13-16
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 26, 2016
The following is excerpted from an old Protestant reference work, The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Text in red are my additions.
The sin of Israel, and its punishment
Amos 2:6–16. At last Amos comes to Israel (up to this point he has been uttering invective against her neighbors). The Israelites might listen with equanimity, or even with satisfaction, whilst their neighbours’ faults were being exposed: but they now find that precisely the same standard is to be applied to themselves. The stereotyped form is not preserved after the first verse; both the indictment and the punishment being developed at much greater length than in the case of any of the previous nations. The indictment (Amo 2:6-8) consists of four counts: 1. maladministration of justice; 2. oppression of the poor; 3. immorality; 4. inordinate self-indulgence, practised in the name of religion—all, in view of the signal favours conferred by Jehovah upon Israel in the past, aggravated by ingratitude (Amo 2:9-12). The judgement, viz. defeat and flight before the foe, follows in Amo 2:13-16.
sold the righteous for sliver] The venal Israelitish judges, for a bribe, pronounced the innocent guilty, i.e. ‘sold’ them for a consideration to any one whose advantage it might be to have them condemned: in a civil case, by giving judgement in favour of the party really in the wrong, in a criminal case, by condemning the innocent in place of the guilty. Righteous is used here not in an ethical, but in a forensic sense, of one ‘righteous’ in respect of the particular charge brought against him, exactly as Deut 25:1. Corrupt justice, that most common of Oriental failings, is the sin which Amos censures first; the sin which legislators in vain strove to guard against (Ex 23:6-8; Lev 19:15; Deut 16:18-20), and which prophet after prophet in vain attacked (Isa 1:23; Isa 3:14 f., Isa 5:23, Isa 10:1 f.; Mic 3:9-11; Mic 7:3; Jer 5:28; Jer 22:3; Eze 22:29; Mal 3:5): the great men, the nobles, in whose hands the administration of justice rests, abuse their office for their own ends, are heedless of the rights of the helpless classes (the “needy,” the “poor,” and the “meek”), and sell justice to the highest bidder.
and the poor] R.V. the needy (exactly as Jer 5:28; Jer22:16 al., in the A. V.); a different word from that rendered poor in Am 2:7.
for the sake of a pair of sandals] named as an article of trifling value. The reference in this clause is not, it seems, to the unjust judge, but to the hard-hearted creditor who, if his debtor could not pay the value of some trifling article, was forthwith sold by him into slavery (2 Kings 4:1; Mt 18:25). In the use of the word sell, there is a slight ‘zeugma’: for it is used figuratively in the first clause, and literally in the second.
That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor] The expression is a singular one; but, if the text be sound, the meaning is probably (Hitzig, Pusey, Duhm), “who are so avaricious that they are eager even to secure the dust strewn upon their heads by the poor, in token of their distress,”—whether after an unjust condemnation, or any other misfortune. Dust on the head was a sign of grief or misfortune: see e.g. 2 Sam 1:2; 2 Sam 15:32; Lam 2:10. Others (Keil, Gunning) think the meaning is merely, Who are eager to see dust on the head of the poor, i.e. to see them reduced to a state of misery. The former explanation involves a thought which, it must he owned, is somewhat far-fetched; but it is more exact exegetically than the second. Jerome, pronouncing the verb differently (shâphîm, for shô’ăphîm), and not expressing the prep. on, renders; “Who crush (Gen 3:15; Ps 94:5, Targ.) the heads of the poor upon the dust of the earth,”—a forcible metaphor (cf. Isaiah’s ‘grind the faces of the poor,’ Am 3:15), and Micah’s ‘strip the flesh off their bones,’ Am 3:2-3) for oppression. This yields a good sense, and may be the original text. Wellh. also reads crush, omitting ‘upon the dust of the earth’ (cf. Am 8:4, “Who pant after [or crush] die needy”); but if these words are not genuine, it is difficult to understand how they found their way into the text.—The word rendered poor (dal) is lit. thin (of kine, Gen 41:19, of Amnon, 2Sa_13:4); fig. reduced in circumstances, poor, Ex 23:3, and frequently.
turn aside the way of the meek] place hindrances in their way, thwart their purposes, oblige them to turn aside from the path that they would naturally follow, to land them in difficulties. Cf. Job 24:4, “and turn aside the needy from the way” (mentioned among other acts of high-handed oppression). By the meek are meant the humble-minded servants of Jehovah, who by character, and often also by circumstances, were unable to protect themselves against the oppressions or persecutions of a worldly-minded aristocracy, and who, especially in the Psalms, are often alluded to as both deserving and receiving Jehovah’s care. In Isa 32:7 they are the victims of the unscrupulous intriguer; in Isa 29:19 they are described as able by the overthrow of injustice (Isa 29:20-21) to rejoice thankfully in their God; in Isa 11:4 the Messianic king judges their cause with righteousness. They are named, as here, in parallelism with the ‘poor’ (dal) in Isa 11:4, and with the ‘needy’ (ebhyôn) in Isa 29:19; Isa 32:7; Ps 9:19; Job 24:4; see also Isa 61:1; Ps 22:26; Ps 34:2; Ps 37:11; Ps 76:9.
will go in] go (R.V.) i.e. resort: the verb is not the one (bâ) used in Gen 16:4, &c. ‘Will go’ means ‘are in the habit of going’: will having the same force as in Prov 19:6; Prov 19:24; Prov 20:6 &c.); but it is better omitted in translation.
unto the same maid] to a girl: the art. is generic, and, as such, is properly represented in English by the indef. article: the enormity lies not in its being an exaggeration of ordinary immorality (1 Cor 5:1), but in the frequency and publicity with which it was practised: father and son are thus found resorting to the same spots. The allusion is in all probability not to common immorality, but to immorality practised in the precincts of a temple, especially in the service of Ashtoreth, as a means by which the worshippers placed themselves under the patronage and protection of the goddess; a singular and revolting practice, found in many Semitic religions, and frequently alluded to in the Old Testament. The persons attached to a temple who prostituted themselves with the worshippers were called Kĕdçshôth, i.e. sacred or dedicated (to the deity in question): see Gen 38:21-22 and (in N. Israel) Hos 4:14; and comp. the masc. Kědçshîm, 1 Kings 14:24; 1 Kings 15:12; 1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 (under Manasseh, even in the Temple at Jerusalem). Deut 23:17 forbids Israelites (of either sex) to be made such temple-prostitutes. Comp. in Babylon Hdt. 1. 199, Bar 6:43, Strabo xvi. 1, 20, in Byblus, Lucian, De dea Syria, § 4, in Cyprus (in the service of the Cyprian Aphrodite, who corresponded to Ashtoreth), Hdt. I. 199 end, Clem. Alex. Protrep. pp. 12, 13; see also the present writer’s note on Deut 23:17 f.
to profane my holy name] in order to profane &c.: it ought to have been so clear to them that such practices were contrary to Jehovah’s will that Amos represents them as acting in deliberate and intentional contravention of it. To profane Jehovah’s name is an expression used more especially in the “Law of Holiness” (Leviticus 17-26), and by Ezekiel. Jehovah is Israel’s Owner; and as such, His name is ‘called over it’ (see on Amos 9:12): hence the name is said to be ‘profaned,’ when something is done bringing it into discredit, or, in virtue of His connexion with Israel, derogatory to Him: for instance, by the worship of Molech (Lev 18:21; Lev 20:3), perjury (Lev 19:12), the humiliation of Israel in exile (Isa 48:11; Ezek 20:9; Ezek 20:14; Ezek 36:20-23).
The self-indulgence, practised by the worldly-minded Israelites in the name of religion, and at the expense of the poor.
upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar] R.V. beside every altar upon clothes taken in pledge. To be understood in connexion with the last clause: the carnally-minded Israelites visit their sanctuaries for the purposes indicated in Amos 2:7; they lay themselves down there, with their partners in sin (Hos 4:14), beside the altars; and to aggravate their offence they repose, not on their own garments, but on garments which they have taken in pledge from men poorer than themselves, and which, in contravention of the Law, Ex 22:26 f., they have neglected to return before nightfall. The large square outer garment, or cloak, called the salmah, thrown round the person by day, was used as a covering at night; and hence the provision that, if a poor man (whose sole covering it probably would be) were obliged to pawn it, it should be restored to him for the night.
every altar] Not only at Beth-el (Amos 3:14), Gilgal, and Dan (Amos 3:4 f., Amos 8:14), but also, no doubt, at local sanctuaries in many other parts of the land: comp. Hos 8:11; Hos 10:1-2; Hos 10:8; Hos 12:11.
drink the wine of the condemned] R.V. drink the wine of such as have been fined: the fines which they have received—if not, as the context suggests, unjustly extorted—from persons brought before them for some offence, are spent by them in the purchase of wine, to be consumed at a sacrificial feast in their temples. The peace-or thank-offering was followed by a sacred meal, in which the worshippers partook of such parts of the sacrificial victim as were not presented upon the altar or did not become the perquisite of the priest; and at such meals wine would naturally be drunk: cf. (in the same connexion) “to eat and drink,” Ex 24:11; Ex 32:6; Num 25:2; Jdg 9:27 (“in the house of their god”); also 1 Sam 1:24; 1 Sam 10:3. For fined cf. Ex 21:22, Deut 22:19 (A. V., R.V. amerce), Prov 17:26 (see R.V. marg.).
god] or gods, the Hebrew being ambiguous (as is sometimes the case with this word). It is not certain whether the practices referred to were carried on in sanctuaries nominally dedicated to Jehovah, but desecrated by the admixture of heathen rites (as the temple at Jerusalem was in Manasseh’s day), or in sanctuaries avowedly consecrated to Baal (2 Kings 10:21 ff; 2 Kings 11:18) or other Canaanitish deities.
Yet destroyed I] The pron. is emphatic: ‘Yet I (whom you thus requite) destroyed the Amorites, that mighty and seemingly invincible nation, from before you, and settled you in their land.’ Destroyed before (lit. from before) you: the same expression in Josh 24:8—a passage belonging to the Hexateuchal narrator, commonly designated by the letter E: “And I brought you into the land of the Amorite, who dwelt beyond Jordan, and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and ye possessed their land, and I destroyed them from before you”; cf. also Deut 2:21-22. Amorite is the term used (1) in the passage just quoted, and frequently, of the peoples ruled by Sihon and Og, east of Jordan, conquered by the Israelites; (2) as a general designation of the pre-Israelitish population of the territory W. of Jordan, especially in the Hexateuchal writer ‘E,’ and in Deuteronomy (as Gen 48:22; Deut 1:7; Deut 1:19-20; Josh 24:15; Josh 24:18, and occasionally besides (as Jdg 1:34-35; Jdg 6:10; 2 Sam 21:2): see, more fully, the writer’s Commentary on Deuteronomy, pp. 11–12. It is used here, evidently, in the second sense.
like the height of the cedars &c.] A hyperbolical description of the stature and strength of the Amorites: cf. Num 13:32; Deut 1:28 (“a people greater and taller than we; cities great and fenced up to heaven”). The cedar was, among the Hebrews, the type of loftiness and grandeur (Isa 2:13; Ezek 17:23; Ezek 31:3).
his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath] i.e. completely, or, as we might say, root and branch: not only was the fruit which existed destroyed, but the stock from which fresh fruit might have been put forth afterwards was destroyed likewise. For the figure comp. Hos 9:16, Ezek 17:9; and especially Job 18:16, Isa 37:31, and the Inscription on the tomb of Eshmunazar, king of Sidon (Corp. Inscr. Sem. I. i. p. 19), Isa 50:11-11 (an imprecation uttered against any one who violates the tomb): “may he have no root beneath, or fruit above, or any beauty among the living under the sun.”
Also I brought you up, &c.] as before, “And I (emph.)” &c. The providential guidance in the wilderness is instanced as a further motive to obedience, the appeal to it being made the more forcible and direct, by the change from the 1st to the 2nd person. Comp. the same motive, Deut 6:12, Hos 13:4 (R.V. marg.), and elsewhere.
forty years] Deut 2:7; Deut 8:2; Deut 29:5 (in nearly the same phrase) &c.
Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed &c.] The intransitive sense of the Hifil conjugation העיק (properly, to shew pressure, or constraint), though just possible, cannot be said to be probable; and Behold (with the ptcp.) strongly supports the view that the verse introduces the description of the punishment. Better, therefore, with R.V., and many ancient and modern expositors (Targ., Ibn Ezra, Kimchi; Ges., Ew., Keil, &c.): “Behold, I will press (you) in your place, as a cart presseth that is full of sheaves” [in Hebrew beneath a person is said idiomatically for in his place, where he stands: see e.g. Jdg 7:21; Isa 25:10; Job 40:12]: Jehovah will press them where they stand, like a cart laden with sheaves, so that they will be held fast and unable to escape. The verb is, however, an Aramaic rather than a Hebrew one; nor does it occur elsewhere in the O.T. (only two derivatives in Ps 55:4; Ps 66:11): it is properly the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebr. הציק to constrain, distress (Jdg 14:17; Jer 19:9; Isa 29:2; Isa 51:13); and is used for it in the Targum of the three passages last quoted. It is doubtful, therefore, whether the text is correct. A plausible emendation is that of Wellh. (adopted with slight modification from Hitzig), מֵפִיק for מֵעִיק, and תָּפוּק for תָּעִיק: “Behold, I will make it totter beneath you, as a cart tottereth that is full of sheaves”; the ground will totter or give way under their feet,—the symbol of an approaching ruin.
(verses 14-16 detail) A disaster, in which neither the swiftest nor the best equipped warrior will be able to escape, brings the kingdom of Israel to its end.
Therefore] simply And (as R.V.).
the flight shall perish from the swift] rather place of flight, refuge; for perish from we should say fail (R.V. marg.). The idiom used occurs elsewhere, viz. Jer 25:35; Job 11:20 (see R.V. marg.); Ps 142:4 (A.V. “refuge failed me”).
the strong shall not strengthen his force] i.e. not collect his powers; he will be unmanned in presence of the foe.
the mighty] or the warrior. The word means specifically one mighty in war: see Isa 3:2; Jer 46:6; Jer 46:12; Isa 42:13; Nah 2:4 (noticing in each case the context): in the plural it is the term used to denote David’s select band of warriors, 2 Sam 16:6; 2 Sam 23:8, &c.
stand] i.e. keep his place, or halt in the flight: so Nah 2:8; Jer 46:21.
swift of foot] For this virtue of a warrior cf. 2 Sam 1:23; 2 Sam 2:18 (the same expression as here), 1 Chron 12:8.
deliver himself] As the text stands, himself must be understood from the next clause: but it is better, with a change of vowel-points, to read yimmâlçṭ, which will itself mean ‘deliver himself.’
courageous] lit. strong (cognate with strengthen, Amo_2:14) of his heart: cf. Ps 27:14; Ps 31:24 (“Be firm; and let thy (your) heart shew strength,” i.e. let it take courage). Mighty, as Amos 2:14.
naked] having thrown off everything, whether weapon, or armour, or article of dress, which might encumber him in his flight.