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Amos iii.-iv. 3.

We now enter the Second Section of the Book of Amos: chaps. iii.-vi. It is a collection of various oracles of denunciation, grouped partly by the recurrence of the formula Hear this word, which stands at the head of our present chapters iii., iv. and v., which are therefore probably due to it; partly by two cries of Woe at v. 18 and vi. 1; and also by the fact that each of the groups thus started leads up to an emphatic, though not at first detailed, prediction of the nation's doom (iii. 13-15; iv. 3; iv. 12; v. 16, 17; v. 26, 27; vi. 14). Within these divisions lie a number of short indictments, sentences of judgment and the like, which have no further logical connection than is supplied by their general sameness of subject, and a perceptible increase of articulateness from beginning to end of the Section. The sins of Israel are more detailed, and the judgment of war, coming from the North, advances gradually till we discern the unmistakable ranks of Assyria. But there are various parentheses and interruptions, which cause the student of the text no little difficulty. Some of these, however, may be only apparent: it will always be a question whether their want of immediate connection with what142 precedes them is not due to the loss of several words from the text rather than to their own intrusion into it. Of others it is true that they are obviously out of place as they lie; their removal brings together verses which evidently belong to each other. Even such parentheses, however, may be from Amos himself. It is only where a verse, besides interrupting the argument, seems to reflect a historical situation later than the prophet's day, that we can be sure it is not his own. And in all this textual criticism we must keep in mind, that the obscurity of the present text of a verse, so far from being an adequate proof of its subsequent insertion, may be the very token of its antiquity, scribes or translators of later date having been unable to understand it. To reject a verse, only because we do not see the connection, would surely be as arbitrary, as the opposite habit of those who, missing a connection, invent one, and then exhibit their artificial joint as evidence of the integrity of the whole passage. In fact we must avoid all headstrong surgery, for to a great extent we work in the dark.

The general subject of the Section may be indicated by the title: Religion and Civilisation. A vigorous community, wealthy, cultured and honestly religious, are, at a time of settled peace and growing power, threatened, in the name of the God of justice, with their complete political overthrow. Their civilisation is counted for nothing; their religion, on which they base their confidence, is denounced as false and unavailing. These two subjects are not, and could not have been, separated by the prophet in any one of his oracles. But in the first, the briefest and most summary of these, chaps. iii.-iv. 3, it is mainly with the doom of the civil structure of Israel's life that143 Amos deals; and it will be more convenient for us to take them first, with all due reference to the echoes of them in later parts of the Section. From iv. 4-vi. it is the Religion and its false peace which he assaults; and we shall take that in the next chapter. First, then, Civilisation and Judgment (iii.-iv. 3); Second, The False Peace of Ritual (iv. 4-vi.).

These few brief oracles open upon the same note as that in which the previous Section closed—that the crimes of Israel are greater than those of the heathen; and that the people's peculiar relation to God means, not their security, but their greater judgment. It is then affirmed that Israel's wealth and social life are so sapped by luxury and injustice that the nation must perish. And, as in every luxurious community the women deserve especial blame, the last of the group of oracles is reserved for them (iv. 1-3).

Hear this word, which Jehovah hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt—Judah as well as North Israel, so that we see the vanity of a criticism which would cast out of the Book of Amos as unauthentic every reference to Judah. Only you have I known of all the families of the ground—not world, but ground, purposely chosen to stamp the meanness and mortality of them all—therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities.

This famous text has been called by various writers "the keynote," "the licence" and "the charter" of prophecy. But the names are too petty for what is not less than the fulmination of an element. It is a peal of thunder we hear. It is, in a moment, the144 explosion and discharge of the full storm of prophecy. As when from a burst cloud the streams immediately below rise suddenly and all their banks are overflowed, so the prophecies that follow surge and rise clear of the old limits of Israel's faith by the unconfined, unmeasured flood of heaven's justice that breaks forth by this single verse. Now, once for all, are submerged the lines of custom and tradition within which the course of religion has hitherto flowed; and, as it were, the surface of the world is altered. It is a crisis which has happened more than once again in history: when helpless man has felt the absolute relentlessness of the moral issues of life; their renunciation of the past, however much they have helped to form it; their sacrifice of every development however costly, and of every hope however pure; their deafness to prayer, their indifference to penitence; when no faith saves a Church, no courage a people, no culture or prestige even the most exalted order of men; but at the bare hands of a judgment, uncouth of voice and often unconscious of a Divine mission, the results of a great civilisation are for its sins swept remorselessly away.

Before the storm bursts, we learn by its lightnings some truths from the old life that is to be destroyed. You only have I known of all the families of the ground: therefore will I visit your iniquities upon you. Religion is no insurance against judgment, no mere atonement and escape from consequences. Escape! Religion is only opportunity—the greatest moral opportunity which men have, and which if they violate nothing remains for them but a certain fearful looking forward unto judgment. You only have I known; and because you did not take the moral advantage of My intercourse,145 because you felt it only as privilege and pride, pardon for the past and security for the future, therefore doom the more inexorable awaits you.

Then as if the people had interrupted him with the question, What sign do you give us that this judgment is near?—Amos goes aside into that noble digression (vv. 3-8) on the harmony between the prophet's word and the imminent events of the time, which we have already studied.268268   See above, pp. 82 ff. and pp. 89 ff. From this apologia, verse 9 returns to the note of verses 1 and 2 and develops it. Not only is Israel's responsibility greater than that of other people's. Her crimes themselves are more heinous. Make proclamation over the palaces in Ashdod—if we are not to read Assyria here,269269   With the LXX. באשור for באשדוד. then the name of Ashdod has perhaps been selected from all other heathen names because of its similarity to the Hebrew word for that violence270270   שד (ver. 10). with which Amos is charging the people—and over the palaces of the land of Egypt, and say, Gather upon the Mount271271   Singular as in LXX., and not plural as in the M.T. and English versions. of Samaria and see! Confusions manifold in the midst of her; violence to her very core! Yea, they know not how to do uprightness, saith Jehovah, who store up wrong and violence in their palaces.

"To their crimes," said the satirist of the Romans, "they owe their gardens, palaces, stables and fine old plate."272272   Juvenal, Satires, I. And William Langland declared of the rich English of his day:—

"For toke thei on trewly · they tymbred not so heigh,

Ne boughte non burgages · be ye full certayne."273273   Vision of Piers Plowman. Burgages=tenements.


Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Siege and Blockade of the Land!274274   Or The Enemy, and that right round the Land! And they shall bring down from off thee thy fortresses, and plundered shall be thy palaces. Yet this shall be no ordinary tide of Eastern war, to ebb like the Syrian as it flowed, and leave the nation to rally on their land again. For Assyria devours the peoples. Thus saith Jehovah: As the shepherd saveth from the mouth of the lion a pair of shin-bones or a bit of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be saved—they who sit in Samaria in the corner of the diwan and ... on a couch.275275   In Damascus on a couch: on a Damascus couch: on a Damascus-cloth couch: or Damascus-fashion on a couch—alternatives all equally probable and equally beyond proof. The text is very difficult, nor do the versions give help. (1) The consonants of the word before a couch spell in Damascus, and so the LXX. take it. This would be in exact parallel to the in Samaria of the previous half of the clause. But although Jeroboam II. is said to have recovered Damascus (2 Kings xiv. 28), this is not necessarily the town itself, of whose occupation by Israel we have no evidence, while Amos always assumes it to be Aramean, and here he is addressing Israelites. Still retaining the name of the city, we can take it with couch as parallel, not to in Samaria, but to on the side of a diwan; in that case the meaning may have been a Damascus couch (though as the two words stand it is impossible to parse them, and Gen. xv. 2 cannot be quoted in support of this, for it is too uncertain itself, being possibly a gloss, though it is curious that as the two passages run the name Damascus should be in the same strange grammatical conjunction in each), or possibly Damascus-fashion on a couch, which (if the first half of the clause, as some maintain, refers to some delicate or affected posture then come into fashion) is the most probable rendering. (2) The Massoretes have pointed, not bedammeseq = in Damascus, but bedemesheq, a form not found elsewhere, which some (Ges., Hitz., Ew., Rev. Eng. Ver., etc.) take to mean some Damascene stuff (as perhaps our Damask and the Arabic dimshaq originally meant, though this is not certain), e.g. silk or velvet or cushions. (3) Others rearrange the text. E.g. Hoffmann (Z. A. T. W., III. 102) takes the whole clause away from ver. 12 and attaches it to ver. 13, reading O those who sit in Samaria on the edge of the diwan, and in Damascus on a couch, hearken and testify against the house of Jacob. But, as Wellhausen points out, those addressed in ver. 13 are the same as those addressed in ver. 9. Wellhausen prefers to believe that after the words children of Israel, which end a sentence, something has fallen out. The LXX. translator, who makes several blunders in the course of this chapter, instead of translating ערשׂ couch, the last word of the verse, merely transliterates it into ἱερεῖς!! The description, as will be seen from the note below, is obscure. Some think it is intended to satirise a novel and affected fashion of sitting adopted by the rich. Much more probably it means that carnal security in the luxuries of civilisation which147 Amos threatens more than once in similar phrases.276276   Cf. vi. 4: that lie on ivory diwans and sprawl on their couches. The corner of the diwan is in Eastern houses the seat of honour.277277   Van Lennep, Bible Lands and Customs, p. 460. To this desert shepherd, with only the hard ground to rest on, the couches and ivory-mounted diwans of the rich must have seemed the very symbols of extravagance. But the pampered bodies that loll their lazy lengths upon them shall be left like the crumbs of a lion's meal—two shin-bones and the bit of an ear! Their whole civilisation shall perish with them. Hearken and testify against the house of Israel—oracle of the Lord Jehovah, God of Hosts278278   See p. 205, n. 393.—those addressed are still the heathen summoned in ver. 9. For on the day when I visit the crimes of Israel upon him, I shall then make visitation upon the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar, which men grasp in their last despair, shall be smitten and fall to the earth. And I will strike the winter-house upon the summer-house, and the ivory houses shall perish, yea, swept away shall be houses many—oracle of Jehovah.

But the luxury of no civilisation can be measured148 without its women, and to the women of Samaria Amos now turns with the most scornful of all his words. Hear this word—this for you—kine of Bashan that are in the mount of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say to their lords, Bring, and let us drink. Sworn hath the Lord Jehovah by His holiness, lo, days are coming when there shall be a taking away of you with hooks, and of the last of you with fish-hooks. They put hooks279279   The words for hook in Hebrew—the two used above, צִנּוֹת and סִירות; and a third, חוֹחַ—all mean originally thorns, doubtless the first hooks of primitive man; but by this time they would signify metal hooks—a change analogous to the English word pen. in the nostrils of unruly cattle, and the figure is often applied to human captives;280280   Cf. Isa. xxxvii. 29; 2 Chron. xxxiii. 11. On the use fish-hooks, Job xl. 26 (Heb.), xli. 2 (Eng.); Ezek. xxix. 4. but so many should these cattle of Samaria be that for the last of them fish-hooks must be used. Yea, by the breaches in the wall of the stormed city shall ye go out, every one headlong, and ye shall be cast ...281281   The verb, which in the text is active, must be taken in the passive. The word not translated above is הַהַרְמוֹנָה unto the Harmôn, which name does not occur elsewhere. LXX. read εἰς τὸ ὄρος τὸ Ῥομμάν, which Ewald renders ye shall cast the Rimmon to the mountain (cf. Isa. ii. 20), and he takes Rimmon to be the Syrian goddess of love. Steiner (quoted by Wellhausen) renders ye shall be cast out to Hadad Rimmon, that is, violated as קדשֹות Hitzig separates ההר from מונה, which he takes as contracted from מענה, and renders ye shall fling yourselves out on the mountains as a refuge. But none of these is satisfactory. oracle of Jehovah. It is a cowherd's rough picture of women: a troop of kine—heavy, heedless animals, trampling in their anxiety for food upon every frail and lowly object in the way. But there is a prophet's insight into character. Not of Jezebels, or Messalinas, or Lady-Macbeths is it spoken, but of the ordinary149 matrons of Samaria. Thoughtlessness and luxury are able to make brutes out of women of gentle nurture, with homes and a religion.282282   I have already treated this passage in connection with Isaiah's prophecies on women in the volume on Isaiah i.-xxxix. (Expositor's Bible), Chap. XVI.

Such are these three or four short oracles of Amos. They are probably among his earliest—the first peremptory challenges of prophecy to that great stronghold which before forty years she is to see thrown down in obedience to her word. As yet, however, there seems to be nothing to justify the menaces of Amos. Fair and stable rises the structure of Israel's life. A nation, who know themselves elect, who in politics are prosperous and in religion proof to every doubt, build high their palaces, see the skies above them unclouded, and bask in their pride, heaven's favourites without a fear. This man, solitary and sudden from his desert, springs upon them in the name of God and their poor. Straighter word never came from Deity: Jehovah hath spoken, who can but prophesy? The insight of it, the justice of it, are alike convincing. Yet at first it appears as if it were sped on the personal and very human passion of its herald. For Amos not only uses the desert's cruelties—the lion's to the sheep—to figure God's impending judgment upon His people, but he enforces the latter with all a desert-bred man's horror of cities and civilisation. It is their costly furniture, their lavish and complex building, on which he sees the storm break. We seem to hear again that frequent phrase of the previous section: the fire shall devour the palaces thereof. The palaces, he says, are150 simply storehouses of oppression; the palaces will be plundered. Here, as throughout his book,283283   Cf. chap. vi. 4. couches and diwans draw forth the scorn of a man accustomed to the simple furniture of the tent. But observe his especial hatred of houses. Four times in one verse he smites them: winter-house on summer-house and the ivory houses shall perish—yea, houses manifold, saith the Lord. So in another oracle of the same section: Houses of ashlar ye have built, and ye shall not inhabit them; vineyards of delight have ye planted, and ye shall not drink of their wine.284284   v. 11. And in another: I loathe the pride of Jacob, and his palaces I hate; and I will give up a city and all that is in it.... For, lo, the Lord is about to command, and He will smite the great house into ruins and the small house into splinters.285285   vi. 8, 11. No wonder that such a prophet found war with its breached walls insufficient, and welcomed, as the full ally of his word, the earthquake itself.286286   Cf. what was said on building above, p. 33.

Yet all this is no mere desert "razzia" in the name of the Lord, a nomad's hatred of cities and the culture of settled men. It is not a temper; it is a vision of history. In the only argument which these early oracles contain, Amos claims to have events on the side of his word. Shall the lion roar and not be catching something? Neither does the prophet speak till he knows that God is ready to act. History accepted this claim. Amos spoke about 755. In 734 Tiglath-Pileser swept Gilead and Galilee; in 724 Shalmaneser overran the rest of Northern Israel: siege and blockade of the whole land! For three years the Mount of Samaria was invested, and then taken; the houses overthrown, the rich and the delicate led away captive. It happened151 as Amos foretold; for it was not the shepherd's rage within him that spoke. He had seen the Lord standing, and He said, Smite.

But this assault of a desert nomad upon the structure of a nation's life raises many echoes in history and some questions in our own minds to-day. Again and again have civilisations far more powerful than Israel's been threatened by the desert in the name of God, and in good faith it has been proclaimed by the prophets of Christianity and other religions that God's kingdom cannot come on earth till the wealth, the culture, the civil order, which men have taken centuries to build, have been swept away by some great political convulsion. To-day Christianity herself suffers the same assaults, and is told by many, the high life and honest intention of whom cannot be doubted, that till the civilisation which she has so much helped to create is destroyed, there is no hope for the purity or the progress of the race. And Christianity, too, has doubts within herself. What is the world which our Master refused in the Mount of Temptation, and so often and so sternly told us that it must perish?—how much of our wealth, of our culture, of our politics, of the whole fabric of our society? No thoughtful and religious man, when confronted with civilisation, not in its ideal, but in one of those forms which give it its very name, the life of a large city, can fail to ask, How much of this deserves the judgment of God? How much must be overthrown, before His will is done on earth? All these questions rise in the ears and the heart of a generation, which more than any other has been brought face to face with the ruins of empires and civilisations, which have endured longer, and in their day seemed more stable, than her own.


In face of the confused thinking and fanatic speech which have risen on all such topics, it seems to me that the Hebrew prophets supply us with four cardinal rules.

First, of course, they insist that it is the moral question upon which the fate of a civilisation is decided. By what means has this system grown? Is justice observed in essence as well as form? Is there freedom, or is the prophet silenced? Does luxury or self-denial prevail? Do the rich make life hard for the poor? Is childhood sheltered and is innocence respected? By these, claim the prophets, a nation stands or falls; and history has proved the claim on wider worlds than they dreamt of.

But by themselves moral reasons are never enough to justify a prediction of speedy doom upon any system or society. None of the prophets began to foretell the fall of Israel till they read, with keener eyes than their contemporaries, the signs of it in current history. And this, I take it, was the point which made a notable difference between them, and one who like them scourged the social wrongs of his civilisation, yet never spoke a word of its fall. Juvenal nowhere calls down judgments, except upon individuals. In his time there were no signs of the decline of the empire, even though, as he marks, there was a flight from the capital of the virtue which was to keep the empire alive. But the prophets had political proof of the nearness of God's judgment, and they spoke in the power of its coincidence with the moral corruption of their people.

Again, if conscience and history (both of them, to the prophets, being witnesses of God) thus combine to announce the early doom of a civilisation, neither the religion that may have helped to build it, nor any153 remanent virtue in it, nor its ancient value to God, can avail to save. We are tempted to judge that the long and costly development of ages is cruelly thrown away by the convulsion and collapse of an empire; it feels impious to think that the patience, the providence, the millennial discipline of the Almighty are to be in a moment abandoned to some rude and savage force. But we are wrong. You only have I known of all the families of the ground, yet I must visit upon you your iniquities. Nothing is too costly for justice. And God finds some other way of conserving the real results of the past.

Again, it is a corollary of all this, that the sentence upon civilisation must often seem to come by voices that are insane, and its execution by means that are criminal. Of course, when civilisation is arraigned as a whole, and its overthrow demanded, there may be nothing behind the attack but jealousy or greed, the fanaticism of ignorant men or the madness of disordered lives. But this is not necessarily the case. For God has often in history chosen the outsider as the herald of doom, and sent the barbarian as its instrument. By the statesmen and patriots of Israel, Amos must have been regarded as a mere savage, with a savage's hate of civilisation. But we know what he answered when Amaziah called him rebel. And it was not only for its suddenness that the apostles said the day of the Lord should come as a thief, but also because of its methods. For over and over again has doom been pronounced, and pronounced truly, by men who in the eyes of civilisation were criminals and monsters.

Now apply these four principles to the question of ourselves. It will scarcely be denied that our civilisation154 tolerates, and in part lives by, the existence of vices which, as we all admit, ruined the ancient empires. Are the political possibilities of overthrow also present? That there exist among us means of new historic convulsions is a thing hard for us to admit. But the signs cannot be hid. When we see the jealousies of the Christian peoples, and their enormous preparations for battle; the arsenals of Europe which a few sparks may blow up; the millions of soldiers one man's word may mobilise; when we imagine the opportunities which a general war would furnish to the discontented masses of the European proletariat,—we must surely acknowledge the existence of forces capable of inflicting calamities, so severe as to affect not merely this nationality or that type of culture, but the very vigour and progress of civilisation herself; and all this without our looking beyond Christendom, or taking into account the rise of the yellow races to a consciousness of their approach to equality with ourselves. If, then, in the eyes of the Divine justice Christendom merits judgment,—if life continue to be left so hard to the poor; if innocence be still an impossibility for so much of the childhood of the Christian nations; if with so many of the leaders of civilisation prurience be lifted to the level of an art, and licentiousness followed as a cult; if we continue to pour the evils of our civilisation upon the barbarian, and "the vices of our young nobles," to paraphrase Juvenal, "are aped in" Hindustan,—then let us know that the means of a judgment more awful than any which has yet scourged a delinquent civilisation are extant and actual among us. And if one should reply, that our Christianity makes all the difference, that God cannot undo the development of nineteen centuries, or cannot overthrow155 the peoples of His Son,—let us remember that God does justice at whatever cost; that as He did not spare Israel at the hands of Assyria, so He did not spare Christianity in the East when the barbarians of the desert found her careless and corrupt. You only have I known of all the families of the ground, therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities.

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