Where the world comes to study the Bible

Amos 3

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Authority of the Prophet's Message Israel's Sinfulness and God's Punishment
(3:1-6:14)
God's Judgment on Israel
(2:6-3:2)
Israel Warned and Threatened
(3:1-6:14)
  The Privileges of Election Create a Greater Responsibility   Election and Punishment
3:1-8 3:1-2   3:1-2
    The Prophet's Task The Prophetic Call Cannot be Resisted
  3:3-8 3:3-8 3:3-6
      3:7-8
Punishment of Israel's Sins
(3:9-4:5)
  The Doom of Samaria Samaria Will Perish for Her Corruption
3:9-10 3:9-11 0.13125 3:9-11
    3:10-11  
3:11-15      
  3:12-15 3:12-4:3 3:12
      Against Bethel and Domestic Luxury
      3:13-15

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentarywhich means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Israel must have strongly agreed with Amos' words of condemnation in chapters 1-2, but was unprepared for his extended condemnation of their own society, 2:6-6:14, or possibly 2:6-9:6.

 

B. The literary background to this chapter is the Covenant Renewal Ceremony of Deut. 27-29. This can be clearly seen in the structure of 4:6-11, where five of the curses come upon Israel each time the phrase, "Yet you have not returned to me," is used 4:6, 8, 9, 10 and 11.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:1-8
 1Hear this word which the Lord has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt:
 2"You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth;
 Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."
 3Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?
 4Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?
 Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured something?
 5Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?
 Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all?
 6If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble?
 If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?
 7Surely the Lord God does nothing
 Unless He reveals His secret counsel
 To His servants the prophets.
 8A lion has roared! Who will not fear?
 The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?

3:1-15 Notice the structure of chapter four.

1. Amos addresses the nation of Israel, v. 1

2. YHWH addresses the nation, v. 2 

3. Amos asks rhetorical questions and makes a conclusion, vv. 3-8

4. YHWH speaks, vv. 9-10, 11-15

The UBS, A Translator's Handbook on the Book of Amos, sees 3:1-2 as a summary statement concluding chapters 1-2 (p. 55). However, no modern English translation follows this structure.

3:1 "Hear" This is the Hebrew VERB Shema (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE), which means "to hear so as to do" (e.g., Deut. 5:1; 6:4; 9:1). Knowledge of God always involves obedience (cf. vv. 1,13; 4:1; 5:1; 8:4). There are covenant benefits and requirements!

▣ "which the Lord has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family" Amos has set up this condemnation of Israel by first condemning the surrounding nations, even Judah!

NASB"sons of Israel"
NKJV"O children of Israel"
NRSV"O people of Israel"
TEV"the entire nation"
NJB"Israelites"

There is a purposeful ambiguity in this phrase. In one sense it refers to all the tribes of Israel, but in another, to the Northern Ten Tribes who split away under Jeroboam I in 922 b.c. Verse 2 obviously includes all descendants of Jacob.

"against the entire family" One reason modern western people misunderstand the OT is its focus on corporality, while most westerners focus on individual rights. The ancient people lived or died together. They lived for the good of the aggregate.

It is hard for moderns to fathom this sense of corporality. It involves corporate sin and guilt, but not corporate righteousness. Righteousness was an individual matter of faith, repentance, obedience, and worship. God's judgment of His people impacted both the sinful and innocent.

If this concept is brought over into today, it would require an understanding that humans are responsible for their personal relationship to God, as well as sharing the corporate guilt of their societies! Sin is both commission and omission. It also implies there are national, temporal judgments, which are designed (cf. Deut. 27-29) to cause sinners to turn or return to God.

▣ "which he brought up from the land of Egypt" The VERB (BDB 748, KB 828) is a Hiphil PERFECT. The Exodus experience is the first national event for the Jewish people (cf. 2:10; 9:7). God was faithful, but this was matched by the continual unfaithfulness of the descendants of the Patriarchs (both Israel and Judah, i.e., "the entire family," cf. Neh. 9; Acts 7).

3:2 "You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth" This is an emphasis on God's unique election of the descendants of Abraham for a special service (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 18:18; Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6-8; 14:2; Hosea 2:20), which involves the evangelization of all peoples. If all humans are made in God's image (Gen. 1:26-27) and if Gen. 3:15 is a promise of their redemption, then Abraham's call was a call to bring all humans to God (cf. Gen. 12:3).

The term "chosen" is literally "known" (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT) and has the connotation of personal relationship (e.g., Gen. 4:1; 29:5; Exod. 1:8; Deut. 11:28; I Kgs. 8:39; Ps. 139:4; Hosea 5:3). It is this intimate acquaintance with God and His Word (e.g., Deut. 34:10) that makes their sins so repugnant. YHWH chose them to be a channel of knowledge, blessing, and salvation to all the sons and daughters of Adam. But instead, Israel took advantage of her special call, relationship, and knowledge. She was to influence the nations, but the nations influenced her!

▣ "Therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities" This word for iniquities (BDB 730) is used only here in the book of Amos, but it is used often in Hosea (cf. 4:8; 5:5; 7:1; 8:13; 9:7,9; 10:10; 12:8; 13:12; 14:1,2) and twice in Micah (cf. 7:18,19). It means iniquity, guilt, or punishment of iniquity. In chapters one and two a different word (i.e., "transgressions" BDB 833) for sin was used, which focused on mankind's fallen nature. In chapter three it is the consequences of evil (i.e., punishment of iniquity) that are being emphasized. Grace is free, but it brings great responsibility. The Jews were chosen, not to be pampered and privileged, but to be servants and priests to reach the whole world (e.g., Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:4-6; John 3:16; I John 2:2; 4:14). The covenant consequences of Deut. 27-29 are becoming a reality. Election and the consequences of our choices are both valid theological poles! To be biblical we must affirm both, not choose one!

The VERB (BDB 823, KB 955, Qal IMPERFECT) can mean "punish" (e.g., Hosea 1:4; 2:15; 8:13; 9:9) or "visit." Possibly the Israelites expected YHWH to "visit" them with covenant blessing, but instead He came to punish them for their flagrant covenantal violations (cf. 5:18-20). Covenant violations bring violent covenant curses (cf. Deut. 27-29).

It must be remembered that possibly the best metaphors to help humans understand God come from the home. God's parental love is such that He will not allow sin to totally destroy His relationship with estranged children. Discipline (i.e., judgment) is also an act of love and mercy! The goal is never short term comfort or prosperity, but long term fellowship and intimacy!

3:3-8 These verses show that nothing just happens; there is a plan, a purpose with a resulting consequence. The context relates this either to God's covenant relationship with Israel or God's speaking through the prophets. This series of questions shows a cause and effect relationship, so too, God's covenant with Israel (cf. Deut. 27-29).

3:3 "appointment" This Hebrew word (BDB 416, KB 419, Niphal PERFECT) primarily means a "prearranged appointment" (e.g., Josh. 11:5; Neh. 6:10; Job 2:11). One wonders if in this context the two men represent (1) God and the prophets (cf. v. 7); (2) God and Israel (cf. v. 2, if so the term takes on adversarial connotation, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 484); or (3) a common proverb from daily life.

3:5 For an interesting discussion of animal traps see James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 228.

3:6 "a trumpet is blown in the city" In our day it would be something like a warning signal (cf. Ezek. 33:2-5).

▣ "will not the people tremble" This VERB (BDB 353, KB 350, Qal IMPERFECT) means tremble in fear. It is used in several contexts.

1. the very presence of YHWH (e.g., Exod. 19:16,18)

2. YHWH coming in judgment (e.g., Isa. 10:29; 19:16; 32:11; 41:5)

3. the effect of bad news on people (e.g., Gen. 27:33; 42:28; I Kgs. 1:49)

In Amos #3 fits the context best, but #1 and #2 are surely in mind!

▣ "If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it" An example of these covenantal consequences (cf. Deut. 27-29) can be seen in 4:6-11. The OT asserts the full sovereignty of God over all events (i.e., one causality in the universe, e.g., II Chr. 20:6; Eccl. 7:14; Isa. 14:24-27; 43:13; 45:7; 54:16; Jer. 18:11; Lam. 3:33-38). For a good discussion of God and evil see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 305-306.

3:7-8 These are extremely important verses which emphasize God's forewarnings to His people through His prophets. The people are responsible because they knew God's word and will (cf. 4:13), yet they rejected it (cf. 2:12; Hosea 11:1-4).

This concept of predictive prophecy is the most convincing way to show modern people the uniqueness and inspiration of the Bible. No other world religion book has predictive prophecy! There are different kinds of prophecy, such as multi-fulfillment, typological, apocalyptic, but here I am talking about direct, specific, historical prediction, like Micah 5:2. Predictive prophecy was God's gift to His people to assure them of His control of all things (international, national, and individual). For modern people seeking evidence in a search for who to believe, it is a powerful witness!

Prophecy shows that God began the time-space continuum and He will bring it to an appropriate close. For the OT believer "the beginning" and "the end" are inseparably linked (linear time vs. cyclical time).

3:8a This is the climactic truth of the entire series of questions. It refers to the very beginning of the prophecy (cf. 1:2)! God is actively involved in human affairs. He has chosen Israel for a purpose (universal knowledge and redemption), but they have violated His purposes, therefore, judgment is His act of mercy for the purpose of restoring them to covenantal purity and purpose (cf. 9:7-15).

One theological question of Amos is who will be judged?

1. all Israel (cf. 9:8)

2. sinners in Israel (cf. 9:10)

3. both Israel and Judah (cf. 3:1)

The house of David will be restored (cf. 9:11), which implies that covenant purpose continues!

3:8b This is a personal insight from Amos. This famous phrase describes what all humans feel when they have been called by God to speak for Him. Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined" (cf. 6:5). Jeremiah called it a fire in his bones (cf. 20:9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:9-10
 9Proclaim 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. 10But they do not know how to do what is right," declares the Lord, "these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels."

3:9 There is a series of IMPERATIVES in this verse.

1. proclaim (BDB 1033, KB 1570), Hiphil IMPERATIVE

2. say (BDB 55, KB 65), Qal IMPERATIVE

3. assemble (BDB 62, KB 74), Niphal IMPERATIVE

4. see (BDB 906, KB 1157), Qal IMPERATIVE 

Pagan nations (Philistia, Egypt) are called on to witness and judge Israel's (i.e., Samaria, its capital) sins! They are obvious to God and mankind.

▣ "Ashdod" "Ashdod" is the word found in the Masoretic Text, the Aramaic Targums and the Latin Vulgate (cf. NASB, NRSV, REB, NIV). It was one of the five city-states of the Philistines. It reflects the whole nation of Philistia. The Septuagint, RSV, and NJB have "Assyria" because they think it serves a better historical parallel to Egypt (e.g., Hos. 7:11), which is also mentioned in v. 9.

Ashdod and Egypt are mentioned as two witnesses called by God to witness Samaria's sin and then to confirm His testimony against His own people (cf. Deut. 19:15). We see this clearly in v. 13, which is a covenant lawsuit.

▣ "the mountains of Samaria" The singular phrase is used in 4:6 and 6:1. This is the location of the capital of the Northern Ten Tribes since the reign of Omri. It is possible that this refers metaphorically to the political life of the nation, while Bethel, 3:14, refers to the spiritual life.

It is also possible that the Philistines and Egyptians are being invited to gather on the mountains of Israel and watch Israel's punishment for her sins. She has plundered and hoarded, now she will be plundered in the same manner (cf. 2:6-8; 3:10b).

▣ "great tumults" This term (BDB 223) is used in Deut. 7:23 for the confusion that YHWH will cause His people's enemies (e.g., Exod. 23:27). However, in the cursing and blessing section (Deut. 27-29) this term is one of the curses YHWH will send on His disobedient people (cf. 28:20).

3:10 "But they do not know how to do what is right" The term "right" is literally "straight." This is a metaphorical play on the Hebrew word for a "measuring reed." This was a Mesopotamian construction tool which was used to measure walls or fences. It became a metaphor for God's character. Therefore, all the words for sin are a deviation from the standard. See SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS at 2:6. The tragedy of this text is that the Covenant People do not know (i.e., intimate knowledge, cf. Gen. 4:1; i.e., no personal relationship) God's Covenant responsibilities (cf. Hos. 4:6)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:3:11-15
 11Therefore, 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."
 12Thus 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!
 13Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,"
 Declares the Lord God, the God of hosts.
 14For 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.
 15I 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.

3:11 "thus says the Lord God" This is the typical phrase denoting revelation (e.g., 3:11,12) used so often in chapters 1 and 2. Also notice the paragraph ends with "Declares the Lord" (cf. 3:13,15), which is also the pattern of 2:11,16.

The phrase "the Lord God" reflects the two Hebrew names for deity: (1) Adon and (2) YHWH.

See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:2.

▣ "An enemy" This refers to the nation of Assyria (which is never named in Amos, but several times in Hosea [7:11; 8:9; 9:3; 10:6; 11:11]), who took the Northern Ten Tribes captive in 722 b.c. (cf. 6:7,14). Samaria, the capital of Israel, was taken after a lengthy siege (cf. v. 11d).

▣ "Will pull down your strength" This Hebrew term (BDB 74) can refer to (1) physical strength or (2) a physical fortress (i.e., strongholds).

NASB"your citadels will be looted"
NKJV"your palaces shall be plundered"
NRSV"your strongholds shall be plundered"
TEV"plunder their mansions"
NJB"your palaces will be looted"

For more information on "citadels" see note at 1:4.

The VERB "will be looted" (BDB 102, KB 117, Niphal PERFECT) refers to the spoils of a defeated foe that are distributed among the victorious soldiers. These spoils would include people, livestock, clothing, valuables, etc., all the possessions of the conquered people.

Notice that in v. 10 it is the Israelites who "hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels." Now the spoils of their ill gotten gain will be taken from them! They reap what they sow. This is a biblical principle (cf. Job 34:11; Ps. 28:4; 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6; 14:12; I Cor. 3:8; II Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7; II Tim. 4:14; I Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; 22:12).

3:12 This verse may stand alone. The NRSV puts it in prose when all other verses around it are poetry. The REB and NJB make it a separate strophe.

This ironical verse relates to the almost total destruction of the Northern Ten Tribes (Israel). Only a small wounded group will be left of the entire nation (cf. 5:15; 9:8). On the other hand, this may be an allusion to Exod. 22:1-13. If this is so, then this is not a metaphor of a returning remnant, but a metaphor of ultimate, complete destruction. The allusion to a shepherd implies option #1.

It is just speculation on my part, but it is interesting that the word for "legs" (BDB 502) is also used of worshipers bowing down before a deity. There may be a double entendre referring to Israel's worship of idols (the golden calves) in YWHW's name.

This double meaning also extends to "snatches. . .snatched" (BDB 664, KB 717, the first a Niphal PERFECT and the second a Hiphil IMPERFECT). This term is often used in the sense of deliverance (e.g., Micah 4:10). Therefore, this salvation connotation is sarcastically used of Israel's judgment. It is these plays on words and parallelism that makes Amos such powerful poetry!

▣ "the cover of a couch" This is a very difficult Hebrew phrase to translate. There are several theories.

1. The Masoretic Text has "in Damascus," which is followed by the LXX, Peshitta, and subsequently the KJV and NIV translations. The Hebrew consonants for "in Damascus" can also be revocalized as "piece of leg."

2. It may refer to a special cloth imported from Damascus, translated "silk and cushions of the bed" (cf. the ASV and NASB translations).

3. "Part of the bed" (cf. the RSV, NRSV and the closely related NEB's translation of a "chip from the leg of the bed," which follows the Medieval Jewish commentators, Rashi and Kimchi).

It is obvious that this refers to a very elegant piece of furniture (illustrating the opulence of Samaria, cf. TEV and NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 495, #5), of which only a broken, useless remnant remains.

The comparison seems to be that as a small piece of the sheep is rescued from the lion as a legal sign to the sheep owner, so too, a small remnant of Israel will survive. God's judgment is a legal sign of the validity of His word (i.e., Deut. 27-29)! God's word about salvation is trustworthy, so too, His word about covenant disobedience and its drastic consequences.

3:13 "Hear and testify against the house of Jacob" These VERBS (BDB 1033 and 729) are both IMPERATIVES. This phrase is parallel to 3:9. This is typical lawsuit terminology. The two pagan nations of Philistia (Ashdod) and Egypt (v. 9) are going to observe the judging of God's people as the two required legal witnesses (cf. Deut. 17:6; 19:15).

Again the question of who does "the house of Jacob" refer? Does it mean (1) the Northern Ten Tribes only or (2) does it refer to all the descendants of Jacob (Israel and Judah)?

As in v. 12, Amos uses a word that has several connotations. "Testify" (BDB 729, KB 795, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) can mean (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 335-336):

1. "warn"; "give assurance" (cf. Gen. 43:3; Exod. 21:29; I Kgs. 2:42; Neh. 13:15,21)

2. "command," "prohibit," connected to YHWH's covenant (e.g., Exod. 19:23; Deut. 32:46)

3. here it refers to two witnesses against Israel (cf. I Kgs. 21:10,13; II Chr. 24:19). YHWH, through Amos, accuses Israel of covenant violations (both social and religious).

Again, it is the unexpected use of the term that makes Amos' poetry so powerful!

▣ "the Lord God, the God of hosts" This is the only place in the OT that these three major terms for God are found together.

1. "the Lord" - the term, Adon

2. "God" - YHWH, the covenant name for God

3. "the God" - the name Elohim, the general name for God

4. "of hosts" - the captain of the armies of heaven or the leader of the heavenly court (cf. 3:13; 5:14-16; 6:8, 14).

See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:2.

3:14 "on that day" This refers to the Day of Judgment. See full note at 2:16.

▣ "the altars of Bethel" Bethel is the southern site of the worship of the golden calves which were set up by Jeroboam I (cf. I Kgs. 12:26-33). It was located about 10 miles north of Jerusalem and was an ancient holy site for the Hebrew nation, related to Jacob (cf. Gen. 28:10-22).

SPECIAL TOPIC: SACRIFICIAL SYSTEMS OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST

▣ "The horns of the altar will be cut off" This refers to the protrusions of the comers of the sacrificial altar. These horns may have represented (1) animal horns as a symbol of power (e.g., Jer. 48:25; Dan. 8:7; Zech. 1:18-20) or (2) a way to symbolize that the sacrifice was lifted to God. A portion of the blood of sacrificial animals was smeared on these horns (cf. Exod. 29:12; Lev. 8:15). This cultic procedure showed that sin cost a life. The blood symbolized life (cf. Lev. 17:11,14). Therefore, the horns were the holiest part of the altar of sacrifice. This phrase, then, can mean (1) that their sacrifices have no potency or (2) since these horns functioned as places of safety (alluded to in Exod. 21:14; and specific in I Kgs. 1:50; 2:28), there is now no place of safety!

3:15 "the winter house. . .the summer house. . .houses of ivory. . .the great houses" These phrases are referring to (1) multiple dwellings of the self-indulgent rich (one example, Ahab's two palaces, cf. I Kgs. 21:1,18; NJB "many mansions") or (2) two store houses, the bottom floor used in winter and the upper floor used in summer (TEV, "every great house"). Many of these ivory carvings (i.e., inlays, cf. I Kgs. 10:18; 22:39) were of Assyrian or Egyptian deities. Israel had lost herself in (1) materialism and (2) idolatry!

▣ "and the great houses will come to an end" The Septuagint has "and many other houses also." The Hebrew term (BDB 912 I) can mean (1) "great" or (2) "many." This phrase seems to be a summary statement and not another type of house.

▣ "Declares the Lord" See note at v. 11. Throughout this section of Amos the divine authority of the message has been sustained by this or similar phrases (cf. 3:1,5,6,8,910,11,12,13,15; 2:1,3,4,6,16; 4:3,5,6,8,10,11; 5:17).