Am 6:1 Woe to those who dwell in ease at Zion, and to the ones who think themselves secure on the mountain of Samaria, leaders of the first of th nations to whom the people of Israel come!
Am 6:2 Go over to Calneh and see, pass on from there to Hamath the great, and from there go down to Gath of the Philistines! Are you superior to these kingdoms? Are your borders greater than their borders?
Am 6:3 You would put far from you the evil day, yet you bring on quickly the reign of violence. (My Translation)
This is the beginning of the third woe oracle (see Am 5:1, 7) and is directed to the leaders of the people. Here the oracle is directed not only to the leaders of Israel but to the leaders of Judah as well. At this time Judah was in vassalage to the Israel which is described somewhat sarcastically as the first of nations, and it appears that the primary focus of the oracle is Israel. The fact is that both Judah and Israel were small, neither being much bigger than the nations and peoples they had subjugated. Their presumed military might seems silly in the face of rising Assyrian power but the leaders were unconcerned, trusting in their armies. In their carelessness and unconcern for the growing threat of Assyria they have, put far from themselves the evil day, yet their slovenly luxury will be their downfall for it brings on quickly the reign of violence.
Am 6:4 Woe to you who recline on beds of ivory and stretch out in comfort upon couches to dine upon lambs from the flock and calves from the stall
Am 6:5 as you compose songs to the tune of a harp and, like David, improvise the accompaniment;
Am 6:6 all the while drinking wine from bowls and anointing yourselves with fine oil, not at all sickened by the demise of Joseph!
Am 6:7 For this reason, you will be the first to go into exile, your unseemly celebrations shall come to an end. (My Translation)
The prophet now shows us how the people have put far from themselves the evil day (vs 3). It would appear that they were engaging in escapism through luxury, giving no thought, paying no heed to the moral decay in their own lives and in their nation. Food, finery, and freedom from manual labor would be their undoing. The reference to beds of ivory reminds us of what was said about the destruction of the houses of ivory in Am 3:15. The reference to couches is a reminder of what was said in Am 3:12: “Thus says the Lord: As a shepherd grabs from the lion’s mouth two legs, or a portion of an ear, so shall the sons of Israel be saved with a corner of a couch, or a portion of a bed” (my translation).
The attitude of these people reminds one of our Lord’s description of the people in Noah’s day as the flood approached (see Matt 24: 37-39).
Am 6:8 The Lord God has sworn by his own self, ‘I the Lord, the God of hosts say, the arrogance of Jacob I loathe, his strongholds I detest, and his city I shall deliver up with all that it contains.
Am 6:9 If ten men remain in a single house, then surely these shall die too.
Am 6:10 A handful will remain to dispose of the dead that are in the houses, and if one these should say to a survivor in a house “is anyone in there with you?” he shall respond “not one;” and he shall say “Quiet! The name of the Lord we must not speak.” (My translation)
Once again the prophet returns to the theme of the military invasion and defeat of Israel (see Am 2:13-16; and Am 3:11-15). Israel, under Jeroboam the second had grown strong militarily and had expanded its borders, but without God it would be no match for the might of the Assyrian empire, the nu-named but obvious threat the prophet has in mind. Once again we see that the devastation will be immense.
A relative fulfilling his familial obligations is portrayed as calling into a house for possible survivors and finds that only one is alive. The command not to speak the Lord’s name is probably connected to the fact that contact with the dead constituted ritual impurity.
Am 6:11 Because the Lord commands it, the great house shall be struck into fragments, and the small house into rubble
Am 6:12 Do horses run across the rocky heights? Does a man furrow the sea with his oxen? Yet you have turned justice into something toxic. You have made the fruit of righteousness sour.
Verse 8 attributed the judgement described in verses 9 and 10 to the arrogance of Jacob. Verses 11 reiterates that such judgement is commanded by the Lord, and verse 12 attributes the judgement to the perversion of righteousness, surely a sign of the arrogance of Jacob. Just as it is unthinkable that horses would run across rocky heights, or that a man would furrow the sea with oxen, so too is the perversion of justice unthinkable, but the people have done it.
Am 6:13 Yet you glorify yourselves over Lodebar, saying, ‘did we not, by virtue of our own strength, take to ourselves Karnaim?’
Am 6:14 Look out! I will raise against you a people, O house of Israel, says the the Lord, the God of hosts, and they will oppress you from the opening of Hamath to the brook of Arabah. (My translation)
Lodebar and karnaim were two Ammonite cities. The name of the first means “nothing,” and that of the second means “two horns,” a symbol of strength. In other words, the people are glorifying themselves with the taking of “nothing.” They are celebrating their strength by the taking of “two horns.” Horns were not only a symbol of strength, they were also found on altars. If one whose life was in danger could seize these horns he would be safe (see 1 Kings 2:28). The people trust that their own strength, by which they took Karnaim (two horns) will be their protection and salvation, but such is not the case. the opening of Hamath and the brook of Arabah defined the borders of the kingdom. The entire nation will be afflicted.