Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
III. Sights or Visions
The last part of the writings of Amos contains five visions, which confirm the contents of the prophetic addresses in the preceding part. The first four visions, however (ch. 7 and Amo 8:1-14), are distinguished from the fifth and last (Amo 9:1-15) by the fact, that whereas the former all commence with the same formula, "Thus hath the Lord showed me," the latter commences with the words, "I saw the Lord," etc. They also differ in their contents, inasmuch as the former symbolize the judgments which have already fallen in part upon Israel, and in part have still to fall; whilst the latter, on the contrary, proclaims the overthrow of the old theocracy, and after this the restoration of the fallen kingdom of God, and its ultimate glory. And again, of these four, the first and second (Amo 7:1-6) are distinguished from the third and fourth (Amo 7:7-9, and Amo 8:1-3) by the fact, that whereas the former contain a promise in reply to the prophet's intercession, that Jacob shall be spared, in the latter any further sparing is expressly refused; so that they are thus formed into two pairs, which differ from one another both in their contents and purpose. This difference is of importance, in relation both to the meaning and also to the historical bearing of the visions. It points to the conclusion, that the first two visions indicate universal judgments, whilst the third and fourth simply threaten the overthrow of the kingdom of Israel in the immediate future, the commencement of which is represented in the fifth and last vision, and which is then still further depicted in its results in connection with the realization of the divine plan of salvation.
Visions of the Locusts, the Fire, and the Plumb-Line. The Prophet's Experience at Bethel - Amos 7
The first two visions. - Amo 7:1-3. The Locusts. - Amo 7:1. "Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me; and, behold, He formed locusts in the beginning of the springing up of the second crop; and, behold, it was a second crop after the king's mowing. Amo 7:2. And it came to pass, when they had finished eating the vegetable of the land, I said, Lord Jehovah, forgive, I pray: how can Jacob stand? for he is small. Amo 7:3. Jehovah repented of this: It shall not take place, saith Jehovah." The formula, "Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me," is common to this and the three following visions (Amo 7:4, Amo 7:7, and Amo 8:1), with this trifling difference, that in the third (Amo 7:7) the subject (the Lord Jehovah) is omitted, and 'Adōnâi (the Lord) is inserted instead, after vehinnēh (and behold). הראני denotes seeing with the eyes of the mind - a visionary seeing. These visions are not merely pictures of a judgment which was ever threatening, and drawing nearer and nearer (Baur); still less are they merely poetical fictions, or forms of drapery selected arbitrarily, for the purpose of clothing the prophet's thoughts; but they are inward intuitions, produced by the Spirit of God, which set forth the punitive judgments of God. Kōh (ita, thus) points to what follows, and vehinnēh (and behold) introduces the thing seen. Amos sees the Lord form locusts. Baur proposes to alter יוצר (forming) into יצר (forms), but without any reason, and without observing that in all three visions of this chapter hinnēh is followed by a participle (קרא in Amo 7:4, and נצּב in Amo 7:7), and that the 'Adōnâi which stands before נצּב in Amo 7:7 shows very clearly that this noun is simply omitted in Amo 7:1, because 'AdōnâI Yehōvâh has immediately preceded it. גּבי (a poetical form for גּבה, analogous to שׂדי for שׂדה, and contracted into גּוב in Nah 3:17) signifies locusts, the only question being, whether this meaning is derived from גּוּב = Arab. jâb, to cut, or from גּבה = Arab. jb‛a, to creep forth (out of the earth). The fixing of the time has an important bearing upon the meaning of the vision: viz., "at the beginning of the springing up of the second crop (of grass);" especially when taken in connection with the explanation, "after the mowings of the king." These definitions cannot be merely intended as outward chronological data. For, in the first place, nothing is known of the existence of any right or prerogative on the part of the kings of Israel, to have the early crop in the meadow land throughout the country mown for the support of their horses and mules (Kg1 18:5), so that their subjects could only get the second crop for their own cattle. Moreover, if the second crop, "after the king's mowings," were to be interpreted literally in this manner, it would decidedly weaken the significance of the vision. For if the locusts did not appear till after the king had got in the hay for the supply of his own mews, and so only devoured the second crop of grass as it grew, this plague would fall upon the people alone, and not at all upon the king. But such an exemption of the king from the judgment is evidently at variance with the meaning of this and the following visions. Consequently the definition of the time must be interpreted spiritually, in accordance with the idea of the vision. The king, who has had the early grass mown, is Jehovah; and the mowing of the grass denotes the judgments which Jehovah has already executed upon Israel. The growing of the second crop is a figurative representation of the prosperity which flourished again after those judgments; in actual fact, therefore, it denotes the time when the dawn had risen again for Israel (Amo 4:13). Then the locusts came and devoured all the vegetables of the earth. עשׂב הארץ is not the second crop; for עשׂב does not mean grass, but vegetables, the plants of the field (see at Gen 1:11). Amo 7:2 and Amo 7:3 require that this meaning should be retained. When the locusts had already eaten the vegetables of the earth, the prophet interceded, and the Lord interposed with deliverance. This intercession would have been too late after the consumption of the second crop. On the other hand, when the vegetables had been consumed, there was still reason to fear that the consumption of the second crop of grass would follow; and this is averted at the prophet's intercession. והיה for ויהי, as in Sa1 17:48; Jer 37:11, etc. סלח־נא, pray forgive, sc. the guilt of the people (cf. Num 14:19). מי יקוּם, how (מי qualis) can Jacob (the nation of Israel) stand (not arise), since it is small? קטן, small, i.e., so poor in sources and means of help, that it cannot endure this stroke; not "so crushed already, that a very light calamity would destroy it" (Rosenmller). for נחם על, see Exo 32:14. זאת (this) refers to the destruction of the people indicated in מי יקוּם; and זאת is also to be supplied as the subject to לא תהיה.
The Devouring Fire. - Amo 7:4. "Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and, behold, the Lord Jehovah called to punish with fire; and it devoured the great flood, and devoured the portion. Amo 7:5. And I said, Lord Jehovah, leave off, I pray: how can Jacob stand? for it is small. Amo 7:6. Jehovah repented of this; this also shall not take place, said the Lord Jehovah." That the all-devouring fire represents a much severer judgment than that depicted under the figure of the locusts, is generally acknowledged, and needs no proof. But the more precise meaning of this judgment is open to dispute, and depends upon the explanation of the fourth verse. The object to קרא is לריב בּאשׁ, and ריב is to be taken as an infinitive, as in Isa 3:13 : He called to strive (i.e., to judge or punish) with fire. There is no necessity to supply ministros suos here. The expression is a concise one, for "He called to the fire to punish with fire" (for the expression and the fact, compare Isa 66:16). This fire devoured the great flood. Tehōm rabbâh is used in Gen 7:11 and Isa 51:10, etc., to denote the unfathomable ocean; and in Gen 1:2 tehōm is the term applied to the immense flood which surrounded and covered the globe at the beginning of the creation. ואכלה, as distinguished from ותּאכל, signifies an action in progress, or still incomplete (Hitzig). The meaning therefore is, "it also devoured (began to devour) 'eth-hachēleq;" i.e., not the field, for a field does not form at all a fitting antithesis to the ocean; and still less "the land," for chēleq never bears this meaning; but the inheritance or portion, namely, that of Jehovah (Deu 32:9), i.e., Israel. Consequently tehōm rabbâh cannot, of course, signify the ocean as such. For the idea of the fire falling upon the ocean, and consuming it, and then beginning to consume the land of Israel, by which the ocean was bounded (Hitzig), would be too monstrous; nor is it justified by the simple remark, that "it was as if the last great conflagration (Pe2 3:10) had begun" (Schmieder). As the fire is to earthly fire, but the fire of the wrath of God, and therefore a figurative representation of the judgment of destruction; and as hachēleq (the portion) is not the land of Israel, but according to Deuteronomy (l.c.) Israel, or the people of Jehovah; so tehōm rabbâh is not the ocean, but the heathen world, the great sea of nations, in their rebellion against the kingdom of God. The world of nature in a state of agitation is a frequent symbol in the Scriptures for the agitated heathen world (e.g., Psa 46:3; Psa 93:3-4). On the latter passage, Delitzsch has the following apt remark: "The stormy sea is a figurative representation of the whole heathen world, in its estrangement from God, and enmity against Him, or the human race outside the true church of God; and the rivers are figurative representations of the kingdoms of the world, e.g., the Nile of the Egyptian (Jer 46:7-8), the Euphrates of the Assyrian (Isa 8:7-8), or more precisely still, the arrow-swift Tigris of the Assyrian, and the winding Euphrates of the Babylonian (Isa 27:1)." This symbolism lies at the foundation of the vision seen by the prophet. The world of nations, in its rebellion against Jehovah, the Lord and King of the world, appears as a great flood, like the chaos at the beginning of the creation, or the flood which poured out its waves upon the globe in the time of Noah. Upon this flood of nations does fire from the Lord fall down and consume them; and after consuming them, it begins to devour the inheritance of Jehovah, the nation of Israel also. The prophet then prays to the Lord to spare it, because Jacob would inevitably perish in this conflagration; and the Lord gives the promise that "this shall not take place," so that Israel is plucked like a firebrand out of the fire (Amo 4:11).
If we inquire now into the historical bearing of these two visions, so much is priori clear, - namely, that both of them not only indicate judgments already past, but also refer to the future, since no fire had hitherto burned upon the surface of the globe, which had consumed the world of nations and threatened to annihilate Israel. If therefore there is an element of truth in the explanation given by Grotius to the first vision, "After the fields had been shorn by Benhadad (Kg2 13:3), and after the damage which was then sustained, the condition of Israel began to flourish once more during the reign of Jeroboam the son of Joash, as we see from Kg2 14:15," according to which the locusts would refer to the invasion on the part of the Assyrians in the time of Pul; this application is much too limited, neither exhausting the contents of the first vision, nor suiting in the smallest degree the figure of the fire. The "mowing of the king" (Amo 7:1) denotes rather all the judgments which the Lord had hitherto poured out upon Israel, embracing everything that the prophet mentions in Amo 4:6-10. The locusts are a figurative representation of the judgments that still await the covenant nation, and will destroy it even to a small remnant, which will be saved through the prayers of the righteous. The vision of the fire has a similar scope, embracing all the past and all the future; but this also indicates the judgments that fall upon the heathen world, and will only receive its ultimate fulfilment in the destruction of everything that is ungodly upon the face of the earth, when the Lord comes in fire to strive with all flesh (Isa 66:15-16), and to burn up the earth and all that is therein, on the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (Pe2 3:7, Pe2 3:10-13). The removal of the two judgments, however, by Jehovah in consequence of the intercession of the prophet, shows that these judgments are not intended to effect the utter annihilation of the nation of God, but simply its refinement and the rooting out of the sinners from the midst of it, and that, in consequence of the sparing mercy of God, a holy remnant of the nation of God will be left. The next two visions refer simply to the judgment which awaits the kingdom of the ten tribes in the immediate future.
The Third Vision. - Amo 7:7. "Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made with a plumb-line, and a plumb-line in His hand. Amo 7:8. And Jehovah said to me, What seest thou, Amos? And I said, A plumb-line. And the Lord said, Behold, I put a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel: I shall pass by it no more. Amo 7:9. And the sacrificial heights of Isaac are laid waste, and the holy things of Israel destroyed; and I rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword." The word אנך, which only occurs here, denotes, according to the dialects and the Rabbins, tin or lead, here a plumb-line. Chōmath 'ănâkh is a wall built with a plumb-line, i.e., a perpendicular wall, a wall built with mechanical correctness and solidity. Upon this wall Amos sees the Lord standing. The wall built with a plumb-line is a figurative representation of the kingdom of God in Israel, as a firm and well-constructed building. He holds in His hand a plumb-line. The question addressed to the prophet, "What does he see?" is asked for the simple purpose of following up his answer with an explanation of the symbol, as in Jer 1:11, Jer 1:13, since the plumb-line was used for different purposes, - namely, not only for building, but partly also for pulling buildings down (compare Kg2 21:13; Isa 34:11). Jehovah will lay it beqerebh ‛ammı̄, to the midst of His people, and not merely to an outward portion of it, in order to destroy this building. He will no longer spare as He has done hitherto. עבר ל, to pass by any one without taking any notice of him, without looking upon his guilt or punishing him; hence, to spare, - the opposite of עבר בּקרב in Amo 5:17. The destruction will fall upon the idolatrous sanctuaries of the land, the bâmōth (see at Kg1 3:2), i.e., the altars of the high places, and the temples at Bethel, at Daniel (see at Kg1 12:29), and at Gilgal (see Amo 4:4). Isaac (ישׂחק, a softened form for יצחק, used here and at v. 16, as in Jer 33:26) is mentioned here instead of Jacob, and the name is used as a synonym for Israel of the ten tribes. Even the house of Jeroboam, the reigning royal family, is to perish with the sword (קם על as in Isa 31:2). Jeroboam is mentioned as the existing representative of the monarchy, and the words are not to be restricted to the overthrow of his dynasty, but announce the destruction of the Israelitish monarchy, which actually was annihilated when this dynasty was overthrown. The destruction of the sacred places and the overthrow of the monarchy involve the dissolution of the kingdom. Thus does Amos himself interpret his own words in Amo 7:11 and Amo 7:17.
Opposition to the Prophet at Bethel. - The daring announcement of the overthrow of the royal family excites the wrath of the high priest at Bethel, so that he relates the affair to the king, to induce him to proceed against the troublesome prophet (Amo 7:10 and Amo 7:11), and then calls upon Amos himself to leave Bethel (Amo 7:12 and Amo 7:13). That this attempt to drive Amos out of Bethel was occasioned by his prophecy in Amo 7:7-11, is evident from what Amaziah says to the king concerning the words of Amos. "The priest of Bethel" (Kōhēn Bēth-ēl) is the high priest at the sanctuary of the golden calf at Bethel. He accused the prophet to the king of having made a conspiracy (qâshar; cf. Kg1 15:27, etc.) against the king, and that "in the midst of the house of Israel," i.e., in the centre of the kingdom of Israel - namely at Bethel, the religious centre of the kingdom - through all his sayings, which the land could not bear. To establish this charge, he states (in Amo 7:11) that Amos has foretold the death of Jeroboam by the sword, and the carrying away of the people out of the land. Amos had really said this. The fact that in Amo 7:9 Jeroboam is named, and not the house of Jeroboam, makes no difference; for the head of the house if naturally included in the house itself. And the carrying away of the people out of the land was not only implied in the announcement of the devastation of the sanctuaries of the kingdom (Amo 7:9), which presupposes the conquest of the land by foes; but Amos had actually predicted it in so many words (Amo 5:27). And Amaziah naturally gave the substance of all the prophet's addresses, instead of simply confining himself to the last. There is no reason, therefore, to think of intentional slander.
The king appears to have commenced no proceedings against the prophet in consequence of this denunciation, probably because he did not regard the affair as one of so much danger. Amaziah therefore endeavours to persuade the prophet to leave the country. "Seer, go, and flee into the land of Judah." בּרח־לך, i.e., withdraw thyself by flight from the punishment which threatens thee. "There eat thy bread, and there mayst thou prophesy:" i.e., in Judah thou mayst earn thy bread by prophesying without any interruption. It is evident from the answer given by Amos in Amo 7:14, that this is the meaning of the words: "But in Bethel thou shalt no longer prophesy, for it is a king's sanctuary (i.e., a sanctuary founded by the king; Kg1 12:28), and bēth mamlâkhâh," house of the kingdom, i.e., a royal capital (cf. Sa1 27:5), - namely, as being the principal seat of the worship which the king has established for his kingdom. There no one could be allowed to prophesy against the king.
Amos first of all repudiates the insinuation that he practises prophesying as a calling or profession, by which he gets his living. "I am no prophet," sc. by profession, "and no prophet's son," i.e., not a pupil or member of the prophets' schools, one who has been trained to prophesy (on these schools, see the comm. on Sa1 19:24); but (according to my proper calling) a bōqēr, lit., a herdsman of oxen (from bâqâr); then in a broader sense, a herdsman who tends the sheep (צאן), a shepherd; and a bōlēs shiqmı̄m, i.e., one who plucks sycamores or mulberry-figs, and lives upon them. The ἁπ. λεγ. bōlēs is a denom. from the Arabic name for the mulberry-fig, and signifies to gather mulberry-figs and live upon them; like συκάζειν and ἀποσυκάζειν, i.e., according to Hesych. τὰ σῦκα τρώγειν, to eat figs. The rendering of the lxx κνίζων, Vulg. vellicans, points to the fact that it was a common custom to nip or scratch the mulberry-figs, in order to make them ripen (see Theophr. Hist. plant. iv. 2; Plin. Hist. nat. 13, 14; and Bochart, Hieroz. i. 384, or p. 406 ed. Ros.); but this cannot be shown to be the true meaning of bōlēs. And even if the idea of nipping were implied in the word bōlēs, it would by no means follow that the possession of a mulberry plantation was what was intended, as many commentators have inferred; for "the words contain an allusion to the 'eating of bread' referred to in Amo 7:12, and the fruit is mentioned here as the ordinary food of the shepherds, who lived at the pasture grounds, and to whom bread may have been a rarity" (Hitzig). From this calling, which afforded him a livelihood, the Lord had called him away to prophesy to His people Israel; so that whoever forbade him to do so, set himself in opposition to the Lord God.
In return for this rebellion against Jehovah, Amos foretels to the priest the punishment which will fall upon him when the judgment shall come upon Israel, meeting his words, "Thou sayst, Thou shalt not prophesy," with the keen retort, "Thus saith Jehovah." הטּיף, to drip, applied to prophesying here and at Mic 2:6, Mic 2:11, and Eze 21:2, Eze 21:7, is taken from Deu 32:2, "My teaching shall drip as the rain," etc. Isaac (yishâq) for Israel, as in Amo 7:9. The punishment is thus described in Amo 7:17 : "Thy wife will be a harlot in the city," i.e., at the taking of the city she will become a harlot through violation. His children would also be slain by the foe, and his landed possession assigned to others, namely, to the fresh settlers in the land. He himself, viz., the priest, would die in an unclean land, that is to say, in the land of the Gentiles, - in other words, would be carried away captive, and that with the whole nation, the carrying away of which is repeated by Amos in the words which the priest had reported to the king (Amo 7:11), as a sign that what he has prophesied will assuredly stand.