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1. Earthquake, Eclipse and Famine.

Amos viii. 4-14.

Hear this, ye who trample the needy, and would put an end to345345   The phrase is uncertain. the lowly of the land, saying, When will the New-Moon be over, that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath, that we may open corn (by making small the measure, but large the weight, and falsifying the fraudulent balances; buying the wretched for silver, and the183 needy for a pair of shoes!), and that we may sell as grain the refuse of the corn! The parenthesis puzzles, but is not impossible: in the speed of his scorn, Amos might well interrupt the speech of the merchants by these details of their fraud,346346   Wellhausen thinks that the prophet could not have put the parenthesis in the mouth of the traders, and therefore regards it as an intrusion or gloss. But this is hypercriticism. The last clause, however, may be a mere clerical repetition of ii. 6. flinging these in their teeth as they spoke. The existence at this date of the New-Moon and Sabbath as days of rest from business is interesting; but even more interesting is the peril to which they lie open. As in the case of the Nazirites and the prophets, we see how the religious institutions and opportunities of the people are threatened by worldliness and greed. And, as in every other relevant passage of the Old Testament, we have the interests of the Sabbath bound up in the same cause with the interests of the poor. The Fourth Commandment enforces the day of rest on behalf of the servants and bondsmen. When a later prophet substitutes for religious fasts the ideals of social service, he weds with the latter the security of the Sabbath from all business.347347   Isa. lviii. See the exposition of the passage in the writer's Isaiah xl.-lxvi. (Expositor's Bible Series), pp. 417 ff.: "Our prophet, while exalting the practical service of man at the expense of certain religious forms, equally exalts the observance of the Sabbath; ... he places the keeping of the Sabbath on a level with the practice of love." So here Amos emphasises that the Sabbath is threatened by the same worldliness and love of money which tramples on the helpless. The interests of the Sabbath are the interests of the poor: the enemies of the Sabbath are the enemies of the poor. And all this illustrates our Saviour's saying, that the Sabbath was made for man.


But, as in the rest of the book, judgment again follows hard on sin. Sworn hath Jehovah by the pride of Jacob, Never shall I forget their deeds. It is as before. The chief spring of the prophet's inspiration is his burning sense of the personal indignation of God against crimes so abominable. God is the God of the poor, and His anger rises, as we see the anger of Christ arise, heavy against their tyrants and oppressors. Such sins are intolerable to Him. But the feeling of their intolerableness is shared by the land itself, the very fabric of nature; the earthquake is the proof of it. For all this shall not the land tremble and her every inhabitant mourn? and she shall rise like the Nile in mass, and heave and sink like the Nile of Egypt.348348   She shall rise, etc.—The clause is almost the same as in ix. 5b, and the text differs from the LXX., which omits and heave. Is it an insertion?

To the earthquake is added the eclipse: one had happened in 803, and another in 763, the memory of which probably inspired the form of this passage. And it shall be in that day—'tis the oracle of the Lord Jehovah—that I shall bring down the sun at noon, and cast darkness on the earth in broad day.349349   Literally in the day of light. And I will turn your festivals into mourning, and all your songs to a dirge. And I will bring up upon all loins sackcloth and on every head baldness, and I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it as a bitter day.

But the terrors of earthquake and eclipse are not sufficient for doom, and famine is drawn upon.

Lo, days are coming—'tis the oracle of the Lord Jehovah—that I will send famine on the land, not a famine of bread nor a drouth of water, but of hearing the words of Jehovah. And they shall wander from sea185 to sea, and from the dark North to the Sunrise shall they run to and fro, to seek the word of Jehovah, and they shall not find it; ... who swear by Samaria's Guilt—the golden calf in the house of the kingdom at Bethel350350   That is, Samaria is used in the wider sense of the kingdom, not the capital, and there is no need for Wellhausen's substitution of Bethel for it.and say, As liveth thy God, O Dan! and, As liveth the way to Beersheba! and they shall fall and not rise any more. I have omitted ver. 13: in that day shall the fair maids faint and the youths for thirst; and I append my reasons in a note. Some part of the received text must go, for while vv. 11 and 12 speak of a spiritual drought, the drought of 13 is physical. And ver. 14 follows 12 better than it follows 13. The oaths mentioned by Bethel, Dan, Beersheba, are not specially those of young men and maidens, but of the whole nation, that run from one end of the land to the other, Dan to Beersheba, seeking for some word of Jehovah.351351   This in answer to Gunning (De Godspraken van Amos, 1885), Wellh. in loco, and König (Einleitung, p. 304, d), who reckon vv. 11 and 12 to be the insertion: the latter on the additional ground that the formula of ver. 13, in that day, points back to ver. 9; but not to the Lo, days are coming of ver. 11. But thus to miss out vv. 11 and 12 leaves us with greater difficulties than before. For without them how are we to explain the thirst of ver. 13. It is left unintroduced; there is no hint of a drought in 9 and 10. It seems to me then that, since we must omit some verse, it ought to be ver. 13; and this the rather that if omitted it is not missed. It is just the kind of general statement that would be added by an unthinking scribe; and it does not readily connect with ver. 14, while ver. 12 does do so. For why should youths and maids be specially singled out as swearing by Samaria, Dan and Beersheba? These were the oaths of the whole people, to whom vv. 11 and 12 refer. I see a very clear case, therefore, for omitting ver. 13. One of the oaths, As liveth the way to Beersheba,352352   LXX. here gives a mere repetition of the preceding oath. is so curious that186 some have doubted if the text be correct. But strange as it may appear to us to speak of the life of the lifeless, this often happens among the Semites. To-day Arabs "swear wa hyât, 'by the life of,' even of things inanimate; 'By the life of this fire, or of this coffee.'"353353   Doughty: Arabia Deserta I. 269. And as Amos here tells us that the Israelite pilgrims swore by the way to Beersheba, so do the Moslems affirm their oaths by the sacred way to Mecca.

Thus Amos returns to the chief target of his shafts—the senseless, corrupt worship of the national sanctuaries. And this time—perhaps in remembrance of how they had silenced the word of God when he brought it home to them at Bethel—he tells Israel that, with all their running to and fro across the land, to shrine after shrine in search of the word, they shall suffer from a famine and drouth of it. Perhaps this is the most effective contrast in which Amos has yet placed the stupid ritualism of his people. With so many things to swear by; with so many holy places that once were the homes of Vision, Abraham's Beersheba, Jacob's Bethel, Joshua's Gilgal—nay, a whole land over which God's voice had broken in past ages, lavish as the rain; with, too, all their assiduity of sacrifice and prayer, they should nevertheless starve and pant for that living word of the Lord, which they had silenced in His prophet.

Thus, men may be devoted to religion, may be loyal to their sacred traditions and institutions, may haunt the holy associations of the past and be very assiduous with their ritual—and yet, because of their worldliness, pride and disobedience, never feel that moral inspiration, that clear call to duty, that comfort187 in pain, that hope in adversity, that good conscience at all times, which spring up in the heart like living water. Where these be not experienced, orthodoxy, zeal, lavish ritual, are all in vain.

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