Study of the Prophets Class #5 Amos (Cont.)
Last week we left off at Chapter 5 verse 18. As mentioned in the last class, there is a shift of the prophet’s focus from the punishments that were about to befall the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom, to those in the Southern Kingdom. In verse 18 this shift seems to be apparent as G-d asks the people through Amos, why they desire or seek the day of HaShem as if it was going to be a joyful time. Abarbanel interprets this as if Judah was looking forward to seeing her brethren punished, much as siblings seek to “tell Mom” or “Dad” on the other. HaShem informs them that there will be no joy for either side during this time of punishment.
In verse 19, the people are told that it will seem as though one calamity occurs after another. The Sages interpret this verse as depicting the four nations that were to exercise sovereignty over Judah. First, the lion (Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia, would conquer them, with exile to follow. When the iron chains of his rule are broken, the kingdom of Medio -Persia represented by the bear, would take over. After their rule ceases, they will have access to the House of G-d (the Temple) under Greek rule with Hellenistic successors. Ultimately, the snake (Rome) who will destroy the Second Temple and send the Jews into exile yet again will bite them. HaShem reiterates the seriousness and tragedy of the day in verse 20.
In verse 21, HaShem spares no words as He tells those who offer their sacrifices and attend the pilgrimage festivals with an insincere heart that He will take no please in them. He even uses the words “hate” and “loathe.” None of the offerings, including those mentioned in verse 22 will be acceptable. G-d knows our hearts as He did theirs; He knew they were not making the sacrifices and offerings out of a repentant heart. They treated His Torah with injustice and made His commands a trivial thing that they manipulated according to the hearts of men.
In verse 24 HaShem states “Rather, let justice be revealed like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. HaShem told the people that the only way to please Him was to uncover the justice they hid for so long and allow it to flow freely. In addition, to uncover righteousness so that it would flow like a powerful stream. This may sound easy, but it would be no easier then as it is today. The corruption and injustice runs so deep that it takes brave men (and women), to take a stand for what is just and true and seek to change according to G-d’s ways. The entire system was and is in need of an overhaul towards G-d’s Torah. As we discussed last week, the sacrificial system and the laws were so corrupt, even honest men kept silent for fear of retribution.
Verse 25 presents an interesting issue for which there are several interpretations. Rashi maintains that the verse means, “Is it your sacrifices and meal-offerings that I desire from you? For forty years in the wilderness you did not offer any sacrifices unto Me, save the Pesach-offering that you brought the first year.”
Ibn, Ezra and Abarbanel interpret it to mean, “While you were encamped in Sinai you had ample livestock, wine, and grain to bring the required offerings. Once you left there and traveled in the arid desert where there was no grazing land for your beasts and no vineyards from which to procure wine, your offerings in the Tabernacle ceased. Yet I issued no complaints about this situation; I demanded of you only that you practice justice and righteousness.”
Still, the Sages disagree as to the correct interpretation of the verse. R. Eliezer holds that although the Jewish people were commanded about the laws of the olah, burnt offering, at Mount Sinai, they did not actually bring it until after they entered the Land of Israel. R. Akiva contends that they offered it at Sinai and continued to do so throughout their wilderness journey. This verse indicates that only the tribe of Levi, who did not sin with the Golden Calf, brought these sacrifices, and not the rest of the nation.
Verse 26 Amos returns to the subject of the punishment of the Northern Kingdom. As the people are exiled, they will be required to carry their idols and gods they worshipped, one of which was called Siccuth. Chiun was another of the deities the people worshipped; specifically the planet Saturn. Kochav was another false god, specifically the constellations in the Heavens that the people worshipped.
Verse 27 compounds the punishment. Not only will G-d bring down the hordes of nations on the Northern Kingdom, but they were to be delivered into the hands of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, who would carry them off to far-off lands beyond their borders, beyond Syria, and to the distant lands of Halah and Habor. Habor is a mountainous pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Ac 7:43 it is “beyond Babylon,” which includes beyond Damascus. In Amos’ time, Damascus was the object of Israel’s fear because of the Syrian wars. Babylon was not yet named as the place of their captivity. Stephen supplies this name. Their place of exile was in fact, as he states, “beyond Babylon,” in Halah and Habor by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2Ki 17:6; compare here Am 1:5; 4:3; 6:14). The road to Assyria lay through “Damascus.” It is therefore specified, that not merely shall they be carried captives to Damascus, as they had been by Syrian kings (2Ki 10:32, 33; 13:7), but, beyond that, to a region whence a return was not so possible as from Damascus. They were led captive by Satan into idolatry; therefore, God caused them to go captive among idolaters.
Alternatively, Abarbanel interprets the verse as being addressed to the Southern Kingdom in the following context: “When the time comes for your punishment, you will not be sent to the neighboring lands of Damascus and Syria, with whom you are presently at war, but rather to a distant land far beyond Damascus.”
Now HaShem reverts back to addressing those who think they are so wealthy and above the “common people” that they will not suffer the same fate as the others in both kingdoms. Specifically, the wealthy lived in Zion, the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and those living in Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel and the last of the cities to be conquered by the Assyrians. These affluent people continued to wallow in their luxury with their heads in the sand while the less affluent were being punished. Furthermore, they gave no thought to the reality that they were going to meet the same fate. Although the Israelites were lauded as the most praiseworthy of all nations, they had now descended into a situation whereby they assimilated into the lifestyle and ways of the people around them, just as we are in the process of doing today.
Verse 2: HaShem confronts the people through Amos, asking why they turned away from His ways as if they had been mistreated. He tells them to look at the great cities of Calneh, Hamath, and Gath and compare them to the size and wealth of the cities G-d has given them. If they did not think them greater in size or wealth, what claim did they have against HaShem for their rebelliousness and disobedience? Calneh is either in Babylonia (Rashi) or a major city in the land of Shinar (Radak, from Genesis 10:10). Great Hamath is another name for Antioch (Rashi), which was the capital of ancient Syria and is now part of Southern Turkey. Gath was the most prominent city of the five major cities in Philistia (Rashi; Radak).
Verse 3: This verse is another perfect example of what we see in our society today. The people maintained that the word of the prophets including Amos was meant to describe the evil that was about to befall them as happening in the distant future. Convincing themselves that there was no present danger, they were comfortable maintaining their current lifestyle with no plans to change. They continued to practice lawlessness and injustice throughout their lands.
Verse 4: They lie with the bed linens hanging over the side of the beds as a symbol of indulgence. The Sages interpret this verse to mean they contaminate the beds with the semen of others when they indulge in sexual relations with each other’s wives (Shabbos 62B).
Verse 5: The people were so corrupt, yet they considered themselves on the same level as David, not considering for a moment that David’s music was in response to his love and joy in G-d. By contrast, their music was only to satisfy the desire for entertainment.
Verse 6: They drank wine in large quantities from large bowls like animals, rather than from wine glasses that provide a portion of wine. Rashi interprets the verse to mean that the vessels from which they drank were large enough for more than one person; that two people drank from the same bowl at a time (Shabbos 62b). “and are not pained by the destruction of Joseph.” Rashi interprets this to mean the people of the Northern Kingdom paid no mind to the prophecies of their impending punishment and the destruction of the nation. According to Abarbanel, this verse is directed to the people of Judah, who were indifferent to the plight of their brethren in the Northern Kingdom.
Verse 7: We must look at this verse from two different perspectives and consider each as with some of the previous verses. “ Therefore, they will now be exiled at the head of the exiles.” Because they required the first quality of all their indulgences, it is fitting that they should be the first to be exiled. Therefore, the Ten Tribes of Israel will be sent into exile prior to the banishment of the kingdom of Judah. We may corroborate this perspective when we look at the order in which G-d addresses his punishment on the two kingdoms in the book of Jeremiah 3:8 “ I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.” In the Complete Jewish Bible, it reads this way “ I saw that even though backsliding Isra’el had committed adultery, so that I had sent her away and given her a divorce document, unfaithful Y’hudah her sister was not moved to fear – instead she too went and prostituted herself.” In these verses we see the Northern Kingdom addressed before the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Verse 8: Amos conveys HaShem’s sworn determination to annihilate the two kingdoms, offering a graphic description of what is to come. He makes it clear that the two nations will not share a similar fate, reflecting the fact that G-d divorced Israel, not Judah. The wife of G-d (Judah) remains intact. Divorced Israel (the Northern Kingdom/10 Tribes) will become the bride of Yahshua in the future as described in the book of Revelation. Accordingly, G-d has not violated his own law that a man cannot re-marry a woman after he previously divorced her (Deut. 24:4). The kingdom of Judah will recover and then return to its land long before the redemption of the ten Tribes.
Verse 9: The devastation will be pervasive and all-encompassing. Accordingly, if 10 or any other number of people escape the sword and seek refuge together in one house, they will be destroyed, for the enemy will burn down the house once the city has been captured (Rashi). Alternatively, a plague will enter the house and kill everyone within its walls (Radak, Abarbanel; Malbim). This verse should serve as a warming to those who do not follow G-d’s Torah and think they will be able to hide out in the mountains or underground with a stockpile of supplies. G-d knows where every person is at any time. He can destroy the very mountains and underground caves where many people plan to hide.
Verse 10: Because no one form the immediate family will survive the destruction, an uncle, or any other relative who may be close in proximity and concerned will extract the bones of the victim before they are consumed by the flames, and bury them. The relative will call out to whoever came in with him/her and ask if anyone else is alive, to which the second person will answer “no” for all in the house will be dead. The relative will direct the one who is with him/her to remove all the corpses from the house. And he will make a comment that the punishment befell them because they refused to mention the Name of HaShem when they were alive (Targum; Rashi; Mahari Kara).
Verse 11: “For behold, HaShem commands…” HaShem will issue the command, and the enemy will smite the greater kingdom with such an awesome blow that it will be shattered into “fragments”. The “large house” refers to the Northern Kingdom.” The small house refers to the Southern Kingdom that will also suffer a blow, but the result will be larger “chips.” An alternative view is that this refers to the great houses of the rulers who will bear the responsibility for the misdeeds of the multitudes who follow them. The smaller houses refer to those of the common man, as they are only responsible for their individual actions.
Verse 12: HaShem shows the people how ridiculous it is for them to believe they can override the natural order of a healthy civilization with their perverted lifestyle and government. He asks them if a horse can gallop on a cliff, or if a man can plow on a rock cliff. With that being said, how can they expect that they can alter the natural order, turning justice and righteousness into poison weed and wormwood and still expect to escape retribution? Justice and righteousness are the pillars of civilization and their corruption is as deadly as poison weed. The natural fruits of righteousness are peace and good, but they have replaced it with behaviors that breed only wormwood (bitterness) (Malbim; Abarbanel).
Verse 13: The people revel in their perceived greatness and wealth that gives them a sense of peace, but their rejoicing over these things are for nothing and will not last (Rashi:Radak). “You who say, ‘Behold, with our strength we have taken power for ourselves.” When Jeroboam ben Joash defeated Israel’s enemies and restored her boundaries (II Kings 14:25, 28), the people attributed it to their own military might. They boasted of their mighty horns that overpowered the enemy just as a wild ox gores with its horns, rather than acknowledging the true Source of their power; G-d’s mercy on his people (Radak; Malbim; Metzudos; Abarbanel).
Verse 14: HaShem tells the people in retribution for their numerous transgressions, He will raise up a nation with mighty forces that will come against the Northern Kingdom. It will be the Assyrians who were known for their brutal tactics. Furthermore, because the people insisted on taking credit for their victories rather than giving HaShem due praise, His presence was going to be removed from them and they would become oppressed in the very land that Jeroboam conquered and subsequently expel them entirely (Radak). This alludes to the idea that HaShem will remove His Presence (the Ruach HaKodesh) from America before he exacts punishment on her for the same types of transgressions. Perhaps this provides a hint about the upcoming Rapture with the exception of those who are to be sealed to serve as His witnesses to the Southern Kingdom (Judah) one last time for seven years. A thought-provoking possibility. Rashi explains that Hamath is in the northwestern corner of Eretz Israel, whereas the Wadi Arabah is the brook of Egypt, in the southwestern corner. Thus, Amos declares that the Assyrian forces will conquer the entire kingdom of Israel.
Next week we will pick up at verse 7.
R. Tamah Davis.