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The trumpet had sounded its warning, and the lion had roared while springing upon its prey. Israel was doomed, said Amos, not only because they had persisted in sin, but because they had rejected the warning from God through Amos to repent.
So God then calls two witnesses from neighboring nations in Amos 3:9, 10,
9 Proclaim on the citadels in Ashdod and on the citadels in the land of Egypt and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria and see the great tumults within her and the oppressions in her midst. 10 But they do not know how to do what is right,” declares the Lord, “these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels.”
Ashdod was one of the Philistine cities of Gaza that God had condemned already in Amos 1:8. Yet God called the people to come to the mountains of Samaria to witness the destruction of Israel and its capital, Samaria.
Perhaps this is similar to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:21-24, where Jesus pointed out that the judgment upon Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum was to be worse than the judgment upon Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom. Why? Because if the miracles of Jesus had been seen in those cities, they would have repented.
Perhaps the same could be said about Ashdod and, to some extent, to Egypt. Egypt saw miracles in the time of Moses, and many of the Egyptians repented. We know this because many of them left their homeland with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38), and Moses found reason to tell Israel that there was to be one law and equality for both Israelites and others (Exodus 12:49).
As for Ashdod, there had been no witness of truth sent to that city, at least none recorded in Scripture. Hence, by the law of ignorance (Lev. 4:2), their liability for sin was far less than for Israel which had rejected the light of many prophets.
Jesus expounded upon this law in Luke 12:47, 48,
47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required, and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
Paul too appealed this law in 1 Tim. 1:12-14,
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief. 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
Those who sin knowingly are more liable than those who sin ignorantly. Likewise, those who continue in sin after God sends a warning through some witness have still greater liability.
God tells Ashdod and Egypt to witness the rebellion of Israel in their capital city (Samaria). In effect, God tells them to see how Israel does not know how to do what is right (Amos 3:10). Instead of casting off their sin, they hoard it in their citadels and protect it like valuable treasure. But their “treasure” is the right to sin which is about to destroy them, says Amos 3:11,
11 Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “An enemy, even one surrounding the land, will pull down your strength from you and your citadels will be looted.”
The enemy was Assyria, whom God had raised up to judge Israel for violating their promise at Mount Sinai.
God continues in Amos 3:12,
12 Thus says the Lord, “Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion’s mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear, so will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away—with the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!”
In those days, when a lion took a sheep and dragged it away to eat, the shepherd might later retrieve “a couple of legs or a piece of an ear.” Not much was left of the sheep after the lion had eaten his fill. So also would it be with the house of Israel after being eaten by the lion of Assyria.
Yet even in the horror of this imagery, we see hope for a remnant. Pieces of the Israelite nation would be left for the Good Shepherd to retrieve later. Even though the sheep-nation was dead and consumed by Assyria, portions of the nation (individuals) would live to fulfill the original destiny and calling of the nation.
As we will see later in our study, Amos 9:8 says,
8 “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord.
The manner in which this is fulfilled is more fully shown in other prophetic writings which are beyond the scope of our present study. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the so-called “lost tribes of Israel” were not totally destroyed by the Assyrians.
Even though God said, “I will destroy it [Israel as a nation] from the face of the earth,” individuals would be recovered by the Good Shepherd and used to build something new, something greater and universal, a new nation under the headship of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, His Kingdom will include all the nations of the earth.
Amos 3:12 says that the Israelites will be snatched away, like a lion snatching away his prey, “with the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch.” What do beds and couches have to do with this?
The KJV reads quite differently: “so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.” What does Damascus have to do with this? Are these Israelites being dragged out of bed, put on a couch, and taken to Damascus in the lap of luxury?
The word translated Damascus is demeshek. Its meaning is uncertain, but damask is a certain silk fabric that was made in Damascus. Hence, while the KJV translates the word “Damascus,” making it a place name, the NASB renders it “the cover” (upholstery), or a couch covering.
The Hebrew couplet seems to favor the NASB in this case: (1) the corner of a bed, and (2) the cover of a couch. The passage is not talking about cities, but about furniture.
So what the does the verse actually mean? The first part of the verse gives the metaphor of a shepherd picking up the remains of a sheep that has been eaten by a lion. Amos says that “so will the sons of Israel… be snatched away—with the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch.” In other words, they will be dragged away to Assyria, the lion’s den, carrying only a few things of their possessions.
On another level, Israel itself was to survive only as a remnant for the Good Shepherd to retrieve. Israel was to be killed (nationally) and eaten by the lion of Assyria.
Amos 3:13, 14 says,
13 “Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord God, the God of hosts. 14 “For on the day that I punish Israel’s transgressions, I will also punish the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off, and they will fall to the ground.”
Not only Israel as a nation, but also “the altars of Bethel” were to be judged. God intended to use Assyria to bring judgment upon their entire religious system. In past times, Bethel had been a sacred place, where Jacob poured oil upon the stone after his famous dream (Gen. 28:18, 19). But original purity is no guarantee of perpetual purity. Neither is the goodness of a religious founder any guarantee that his organization will continue to be good.
Moses founded the nation of Israel and its form of worship. But by the time of Christ, even Moses would have repudiated the worship in the temple. So Jesus said in John 5:45-47,
45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?
Likewise, Bethel, the “house of God,” was no longer anything like what Jacob had consecrated. The priests had corrupted the place and its altar, and so God pronounced judgment upon the place.
Even “the horns of the altar will be cut off,” Amos says. The altar in Bethel apparently was similar to the one in Jerusalem, having four horns on the corners, as prescribed in Exodus 27:1, 2,
1 And you shall make the altar of acacia wood… 2 And you shall make its horns on its four corners…
The horns were used to tie the sacrificial animal to the altar while it was yet alive, as we read in Psalm 118:27, “Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” This shows that the horns were curved inward so that the rope would not slip.
Horns represented strength and the power to defend and enforce the will of a horned animal, such as a bull. The strength of the altar was its power to atone for sin. Yet the corrupt altar at Bethel had long since lost its spiritual power, for it had been enabling Israel to sin even more. It had become a farce, giving absolution to those who remained unrepentant in their rebellion against God.
When priests claim to have the power of absolution, but are in a state of rebellion against God, the day will come when their supposed power (“horn”) will be broken.
Amos 3:15 concludes, saying,
15 “I will also smite the winter house together with the summer house; the houses of ivory will also perish and the great houses will come to an end,” declares the Lord.
Solomon had built a throne out of ivory and had overlaid it with gold (2 Chron. 9:17). King Ahab of Israel later built his house out of ivory (1 Kings 22:39). Amos uses the term “houses of ivory,” so it seems that other wealthy men—or perhaps other kings of Israel—followed Ahab’s example.
Amos 4:1 says,
1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands [adon, “rulers,”], “Bring now, that we may drink!”
The NASB translators thought that Amos was referring to women who had taken authority over their husbands. It is implied that the wives in Samaria tell their husbands to bring them some wine to drink. But there is no support for this, apart from the obscure verse above. Adon means a ruler, master, or lord, but the usual word for “husband” is ish, as in Gen. 3:6, and occasionally baal, as in Exodus 21:3. As far as I can tell, Amos 4:1 is the only place where the NASB renders adon as “husbands.”
The Septuagint translators of the Old Testament used the Greek word kurios, “lord, or master” as the equivalent of the Hebrew word adon, and the English translation reads, “masters.”
The metaphor, then, is of cows telling their masters to bring them water to drink, so that they do not have to walk all the way to the river. It has nothing to do with wives telling their husbands to fetch them a drink of wine, water, or any other drink.
The metaphor, of course, is as ridiculous as the clay telling the potter how to do his job (Isaiah 45:9), or a newly-begotten son asking his father, “What are you begetting?” (Isaiah 45:10), or a newborn asking his mother, “To what are you giving birth” (Isaiah 45:10).
Paul himself says in Romans 9:20,
20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?
We should interpret Amos 4:1 in the same light. Cows have no right to tell the herdsmen to fetch them water when the river is just down the hill. But Israel (both men and women) had acted like cows of Bashan taking charge of the pasture and enslaving the poor herdsmen. They had defied God by oppressing the poor and crushing the needy,
The divine verdict, says Amos 4:2, 3, is this:
2 The Lord God has sworn by His holiness, “Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with meat hooks [tsinna, “thorn, barb, hook”], and the last of you with fish hooks. 3 You will go out through the breaches in the walls, each one straight before her, and you will be cast to Harmon,” declares the Lord.
What do you do with rebellious cows? They are the first to be led away with hooks in their jaws. Again, the NASB translation of tsinna is questionable. “Meat hooks” paint a picture of those cows being the first to be butchered and hung up by meat hooks to be cut into steaks and roasts.
Amos, however, was more likely talking about the old practice of putting a hook into the jaw of a cow, so that it might be more easily led according to the will of the owner. For example, see Ezekiel 29:4, where God says, “I will put hooks in thy jaws.”
Amos was telling rebellious Israel that God would soon take them away like cattle with hooks in their jaws. They were to be led into captivity by the Assyrians, going out of the city “through the breaches in the walls” in a straight line. Such scenes were common after successful sieges.
At the end of verse 3, Amos says, “and you will be cast to Harmon.” Harmon seems to be a place name, but the place is unknown at the present time. The name means “fortress, palace,” but some also think that it is a reference to Armenia, whose territory then was part of the Assyrian empire. Some of the captive Israelites were settled there.
Amos 4:4, 5 says,
4 “Enter Bethel and transgress. In Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days [yom]. 5 Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, make them known. For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,” declares the Lord God.
Amos was showing disdain for the sacrifices being made at Bethel and Gilgal. Sacrifices were of no value as long as the people remained rebellious and disobedient to God. It is quite strange how so many people can be so sincerely religious, while at the same time having no respect for the laws and commands of God.
So Amos speaks ironically, telling Israel to come to church (Bethel, the “house of God”) and transgress the law of God, which is sin (1 John 3:4). “Keep doing what you are doing!” he says. Don’t stop bringing your sacrifices and tithes, and the priests will allow you to sin to your heart’s content.
The “tithes every three days” probably referring to the three-year tithe in Deut. 14:28,
28 At the end of every third year [shaneh], you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town.
Moses used the word shaneh, which means “year.” But Amos used the word yom, which normally means “day,” but is also translated “year” fourteen times in the KJV. So we read in Psalm 90:4, “For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday.” Peter refers to this verse, saying in 2 Peter 3:8,
8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Peter understood that yom could mean either a day or a year—or even a thousand years. The word had a broad range of meaning. Hence, it seems more likely that when Amos used the term, he was referring to the third-year tithe, since a three-day tithe was unknown.
Amos 4:5 tells Israel (ironically) to offer a leavened offering as well, something that was forbidden in the law. Lev. 2:11 says,
11 No grain offering, which you bring to the Lord, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the Lord.
Leaven literally means “corruption,” a reference to fermentation. It was seen as a type of sin or corrupt teaching. So Jesus told his disciples to watch out for such leaven. Matt. 16:6 says,
6 And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
The disciples at first did not understand what Jesus meant, so Jesus explained it to them. Matt. 16:11, 12 says,
11 “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Pharisees and Sadducees taught the people to obey their interpretations of the law, which are known as the “traditions of men.” In Matt. 15:7-9 Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13, saying,
7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 8 “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 9 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts [or “traditions,” KJV] of men.”
These are soulish interpretations of the word of God that had been accepted by men for a long time, but which were wrong nonetheless. By contrast, Jesus and all the prophets taught the law by spiritual revelation. The Holy Spirit must reveal the word to us in order to walk in truth. The contrasts between the two are seen most clearly in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”