In this chapter there is no bright spot, no ray of hope. Everything is dark colored by sin and judgment. There is also no call to seek the LORD, as in the previous chapter. Nevertheless, this black painting is ultimately still given by God to make the people realize the hopelessness of their situation and to wake them up to repentance.
It resembles the preaching that comes from the first verses of the Bible. At first there is darkness, everything seems hopeless. Then God speaks the words: “Let there be light!” (Gen 1:2-3). God is not yet doing that here, but at the end of this book.
1 False Ease
1 Woe to those who are at ease in Zion
And to those who [feel] secure in the mountain of Samaria,
The distinguished men of the foremost of nations,
To whom the house of Israel comes.
Fearless, Amos denounces the false trust of the leaders of Israel. The core of his message is focused on the distinguished, the rich upper classes, the leading figures of the city and the kingdom. They bear a special responsibility. To them comes the house of Israel, the people, to handle legal disputes. From them the people expect help and advice.
But it has strong legs that can carry the wealth. It is difficult to be prominent, without being proud of it. They think they can measure the blessing of God by their wealth and high position. Instead of humble, it makes them proud and self-assured. Their ease is that of the rich fool about whom the Lord Jesus speaks in one of His parables (Lk 12:13-21).
Amos also speaks of Zion. It is as if he wants to prevent Samaria from rejecting his preaching by saying: ‘Look at yourself, where you come from; just as if everything is so good there.’ Amos reacts to this by what he says here. He also has an eye for that. In deviating from God there is no distinction between the leaders of the two realms. In this way we too can look for reasons to not accept the preaching of the Word that comes to us.
Israel is here called “the foremost of nations”. Israel is the most important nation among all nations. Compare Amalek who is called “the first of the nations” because he is the first heathen nation to be hostile to Israel (Num 24:20). Israel owes this place not to itself, but to God’s election (Deu 7:7-8a; Amos 3:2; Jer 2:3; Eze 19:5; 2Sam 7:23). But how unworthy they behaved, so that instead of the head they became the tail.
“Those who are at ease in Zion” indicates the state in which so many confessors among God’s people today find themselves. There is absolutely no working of conscience, no exercise of faith, no asking for the will of God. They have no ear for the special message. They are completely lacking in interest in a walk in truth. Those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria derive this feeling from their own efforts. They will have invested heavily in resources that have given them this feeling.
If it is up to them, the enemy will not get a foothold with them. By the way, who is talking about judgment? The sun is shining, there is not a cloud in the sky. They have heard of judgment, but they will not see the end of that so they do not care (verse 3). There are plenty of doomsayers. You should not get involved in that. But they will find that all measures and natural advantages do not protect against the judgment of God.
2 The Lesson of Observation
2 Go over to Calneh and look,
And go from there to Hamath the great,
Then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are they better than these kingdoms,
Or is their territory greater than yours?
Amos invites them to take a tour through neighboring empires. Calneh is believed to be in the east, Hamath in the north and Gath in the south. Amos refers his peers to these places, which are somehow known to Israel. They are not superpowers like Egypt and the emerging Assyria, but cities comparable to those of Israel (cf. Isa 10:9).
Are “these kingdoms”, that is Judah and Israel, better than they are? Certainly, Israel compares favorably with those cities both in prosperity and size, they are “better” in the sense of “more prosperous” (cf. Nah 3:8). But what they will notice on their tour along those cities is that the former glory of those cities has disappeared. The corruption that – according to some interpreters – has characterized these places is the cause of this. What then awaits “these kingdoms”, which are so much more guilty than the mentioned cities?
For us, too, it is good to look around us and take to heart the lessons of what has happened to others. We can see that people who walk to the honor of God are blessed by Him and that people who deviate from Him reap the acid fruits of that. Sometimes this is not immediately clear, but this is the final result.
3 The Judgment Is Still Far Away
3 Do you put off the day of calamity,
And would you bring near the seat of violence?
The “day of calamity” is the day of disaster and destruction. They do not want to think about that. They tell themselves that that day is far from coming (cf. Eze 12:22; Mt 24:48). It is the thought of ‘after us the deluge’. This attitude is in contrast to Amos 5, where people in audacity say they long for the day of the LORD (Amos 5:18). The cause of this is the wrong vision and because one is blind to the evil one is doing. Here Amos speaks of people who prefer not to think of judgment at all in order to continue sinning.
In neither case does one escape the judgment of God, Who does not allow Himself to be mocked. This judgment comes in verse 7. He who shakes off doom, draws the violence to himself. Then, after all, God’s rights do not apply, but the right of the strongest, the smartest, reigns. In this way they establish a seat for the violence and give it a permanent place of residence in their midst. Violence is their king to whom they submit.
4 Recline, Sprawl and Swallow
4 Those who recline on beds of ivory
And sprawl on their couches,
And eat lambs from the flock
And calves from the midst of the stall,
The voice of Amos scourges over the elite of society. He describes a lifestyle related to the life attitude of the previous verse. You see it in front of you: indolent and self-satisfied by their prosperity they lie there on their showy beds. It is not a rest after work has been done. Lazily they hang around. Pure boredom radiates from them. Today we do talk about ‘hanging youngsters’ and by that we mean young people who have nothing to do and are hanging out at ‘hanging places’.
And woe to you when you come near such a group. They are always looking for a victim to enjoy themselves senselessly. They do not lack money. They all have smartphones. It allows them to keep each other up to date when there is something going on again. They are in the power of prosperity. Their mentality is based on it. This is the mentality of everyone who is in the power of prosperity, as is the mentality of the top layer of Samaria.
They are also in a kind of religious hurray mood. The judgments are for the heathens, the blessings for us. Therefore they make greedy and voracious use of it. Only the best is good enough. The tender lamb meat and the meat of the fattest calves glide down their throats. You hardly have to chew it, you suck it up. Also eating it must not take any effort. They live exclusively for the sake of bodily pleasure. Their god is the stomach, they bow down to what satisfies their needs.
5 Expressions of Joy
5 Who improvise to the sound of the harp,
[And] like David have composed songs for themselves,
The music, which is used to liven up their meals, is reminiscent of David, but is used to brag. There is no thought in their minds that the music of David was for the glory of God. They use the instruments in the way they were conceived by Jubal (Gen 4:21) and whose spirit they possess. In this way they have returned to the principles that guide the world and that is to make life pleasant without God.
The name of David is connected with it in order to work according to their own insights under a cover of religiosity. David invented them to honor God with it; they invented them to entertain themselves. Nor are they the instruments of David. The old instruments cannot satisfy their longing for ever newer and ever more. If you are tired of the old, you want something new.
That is how it is today. Songs in which the glory of the Father and the Son is sung and in which the work of the Lord Jesus is represented, songs that are a joy to the heart of God, are considered old-fashioned. They are judged as melancholic and originating from a time in which that was possible, but which is now over. They do not meet the requirements of the time in which we live and in which it is all about the feeling I have with something. There have to be songs that appeal more to our feelings, that reflect more what I experience. And so the accent is shifted from what God longs for to what we desire.
6 Wine, Oil and Ruin
6 Who drink wine from sacrificial bowls
While they anoint themselves with the finest of oils,
Yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.
The tableware they use is meant to be used for drink offerings in the sanctuary. That sanctuary may be their own, but they say they serve the God of Israel there. The delicacies of the previous verse are washed away with large quantities of wine flowing down their throats. You can rightly say of them that they are “heroes in drinking wine” (Isa 5:22). They also use the holy anointing oil, which may only be used for the service of the LORD (Exo 30:22-33), to make themselves beautiful. The most excellent oil belongs to God (Exo 23:19a; Deu 18:4), but His rights are not taken into account at all.
It is a depiction of the way Christianity celebrates, for example around and during Christmas. One indulges in luxury and excess and dances to the atmospheric Christmas music of the band playing at Christmas dinner. At the same time, the Christmas Child, He Who became poor to make poor sinners rich, has been replaced by Santa Claus with ever larger gifts. It resembles what Belsazar has done (Dan 5:1-4).
But who still grieves “over the ruin of Joseph”? We can think of the pit into which Joseph was thrown, while his brothers are settling down to eat (Gen 37:24). They do not care about “the distress of his soul” and which they see (Gen 42:21).
While Israel sighs under the consequences of sin, its inhabitants surrender to carelessness, pleasure, and laziness. They use all the gifts God has given them for themselves. The pursuit of their own pleasure pushes the state of emergency of God’s people into the background. Israel is in distress, where the greatest distress is that the people do not see their distress. It laughs and dances towards its ruin.
The fact that the unity of the people has already perished does not bother them. They are also blind to the breaches, the fragmentation, that have arisen in the people because of their selfish behavior and as a result of which they will soon collapse. Only “a cord of three [strands] is not quickly torn apart” (Ecc 4:12). People living among themselves who are dependent on each other alone will not be able to develop a lasting bond. Only when God is involved as the third and binding ‘factor’ in the bond, will it be preserved from breaking.
Even today, many remain indifferent to the fact that the whole church has been crumbled into countless pieces. Even terms such as ‘the varicoloredness of God’, which would be seen in the division, are used to justify it. Pursuing our own convenience makes us insensitive to the decay in the church and the divisions that exist.
7 It Is Over With the Fun
7 Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles,
And the sprawlers’ banqueting will pass away.
The behavior described in the previous verses will receive an appropriate punishment. Those who thought they were the first will be the first to go into Assyrian exile. Their whole party behavior and party laughter will quickly die. The feast is over. Misery takes its place. The cheering and the tumult will make way for wailing and crying. Instead of suppressing others, they will now be suppressed themselves. Instead of lazily hanging around, they will have to use their powers to fulfill the desires of their enemies. That will be good for their fat, well-fed bellies and slothfulness.
If we follow the path of our desires, it will bring us, spiritually speaking, into the service of the enemy.
8 The Lord GOD Swears
8 The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up [the] city and all it contains.”
What God says is always true. What He promises, He will always make true. His Word is fixed. If He even commits Himself with an oath as a solemn affirmation of what He has said, the matter is beyond dispute. If a person swears an oath to another person, he swears “by one greater [than themselves], and with them an oath [given] as confirmation is an end of every dispute” (Heb 6:16). Since God “could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (Heb 6:13). The case is fixed. The convincing evidence of Israel’s incorrigibility has been provided.
God here expresses His heart about Israel’s behavior and pronounces His detestation about it. Arrogance or pride is the root of sin. It is the first sin in the universe, the sin of which the devil was guilty and by which he has been under the judgment of God ever since (1Tim 3:6; Isa 14:12-14). How awful it is when that sin is found among His people.
In their pride, they have abused God’s land and God’s blessings to ensure themselves a pleasant existence, without a trace of thankfulness to Him. In their palaces, their lush houses, the rich feast at the expense of the poor. The LORD can no longer connect with them and delivers Samaria up to judgment.
9 No One Escapes
9 And it will be, if ten men are left in one house, they will die.
All the luxuriance of their homes will not protect them. Nor will they be able to support each other. It could be the original residents here, or men who have fled from different sides to the house in question. Any trust, both in their environment and in their fellow human beings, will turn out to be vain. Death will take hold of them. There is no escape from God’s judgment. It is a total judgment.
We can think of a prolonged siege of the city, which, even before the fall of the city, can cause a disease like the plague, which does its deadly work in the city.
10 The Houses Cleared
10 Then one’s uncle, or his undertaker, will lift him up to carry out [his] bones from the house, and he will say to the one who is in the innermost part of the house, “Is anyone else with you?” And that one will say, “No one.” Then he will answer, “Keep quiet. For the name of the LORD is not to be mentioned.”
We see a picture of total desolation and despair. There are so many dead (cf. Amos 8:3), that burial is a work of no avail, let alone a decent burial. Then the corpses must be burned. They cannot be left in the house. A house is to live in, it is not a grave. A family member takes care of that, or the corpse burner.
When a sound comes out of the house of someone who turns out to be still alive, it is a lonely person, someone who has been hiding to escape death. He must keep silent, afraid that if one talks further the name of the LORD will be mentioned. Behind this fear seems to be the pagan fear that mentioning the name of the LORD would draw the attention of God to him, to have him killed by the enemy after all. As if God would not have perfect knowledge of what is going on and someone could escape His attention.
A call to God in indescribable distress does not occur to them. That would also be useless, for the judgment is fixed. In addition, God has become to them what they have made of him: an idol that inspires fear.
11 The Houses Destroyed
11 For behold, the LORD is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments.
The corpses may have been removed from the houses, the houses will not serve for new residence. Not only the residents, but also the houses will be given up to the judgment. This verse 11 seems to be in line with verse 8. The verdict is general and affects rich and poor. The rich live in large stone houses, the poor in small wooden hovels. Here, too, there is no difference in judgment.
It is also possible that “the great house” refers to Israel and “the small house” to Judah.
12 Stupid Expectations
12 Do horses run on rocks?
Or does one plow them with oxen?
Yet you have turned justice into poison
And the fruit of righteousness into wormwood,
It is useless and unnatural to let horses run on a rock with all its protrusions. The horse will stumble every time and will not reach the end. It is just as useless and unnatural to plough a rock with oxen. The solid rock is not suitable for ploughing. Just as foolish it is to think that by a fool relying on their power they can avert the punishment while twisting all the law.
In these verses the foolishness is shown to expect anything other than destruction of their ways. It is the folly of assuming you can build a state on injustice. They have made the law a poisoning thing. It is the greatest foolishness to expect anything other than the bitterness of wormwood as “the fruit of righteousness”.
13 Hollow Joy
13 You who rejoice in Lodebar,
And say, “Have we not by our [own] strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?”
They find their joy in the conquest of cities that are of no meaning. “Lodebar” means ‘a thing of nothing’. They boast of having done it in their own strength. “Karnaim” means ‘horns’ or ‘power’. Both places are located in Gilead, the usual area of conflict between Syria and Israel. These places may have been conquered in such a battle.
And this is what they boast of. In swaggering language they mention their victories, which they attribute to their own courage, strength and soldiers. For whom should they fear? But these places disappear with the emerging Assyrian empire that casts its shadow ahead.
14 The LORD Himself Sends an Enemy
14 “For behold, I am going to raise up a nation against you,
O house of Israel,” declares the LORD God of hosts,
“And they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath
To the brook of the Arabah.”
Here we hear the announcement of the removal of Israel, the ten tribes, by the king of Assyria. Behind this enemy the LORD Himself is to be seen. He is sending the Assyrians, who will oppress Israel in all its length, from north to south. Proud as they are of their vast territory, that whole area of Hamath in the north up to the brook of the Arabah i.e. to the brook valley of the Plains in the south will be the area of their oppression. The brook of the Arabah is the current ‘el ahsy’ (Asha), the southern border river, which separates Moab from Edom (2Kgs 14:25).