Amos 5

Death is Imminent

1Listen to this funeral song I am ready to sing about you,
Heb “Listen to this word which I am about to take up against you, a funeral song.”
Heb “house.”
of Israel:
2 “The virgin
Or “young lady.” The term “Israel” is an appositional genitive.
Israel has fallen down and will not get up again.
She is abandoned on her own land
with no one to help her get up.”
Or “with no one to lift her up.”

3 The sovereign Lord says this:
“The city that marches out with a thousand soldiers
The word “soldiers” is supplied in the translation for clarification.
will have only a hundred left;
the town
Heb “The one.” The word “town” has been used in the translation in keeping with the relative sizes of the armed contingents sent out by each. It is also possible that this line is speaking of the same city of the previous line. In other words, the contingent sent by that one city would have suffered a ninety-nine percent casualty loss.
that marches out with a hundred soldiers
The word “soldiers” is supplied in the translation for clarification.
will have only ten left for the family of Israel.”
Heb “for/to the house of Israel.” The translation assumes that this is a graphic picture of what is left over for the defense of the nation (NEB, NJB, NASB, NKJV). Others suggest that this phrase completes the introductory formula (“The sovereign Lord says this…”; see v. 4a; NJPS). Another option is that the preposition has a vocative force, “O house of Israel” (F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos [AB], 476). Some simply delete the phrase as dittography from the following line (NIV).

4 The Lord says this to the family
Heb “house.”
of Israel:
“Seek me
The following verses explain what it meant to seek the Lord. Israel was to abandon the mere formalism and distorted view of God and reality that characterized religious activity at the worship sites, as well as the social injustice that permeated Israelite society. Instead the people were to repent and promote justice in the land. This call to seek the Lord echoes the challenge in 4:13 to prepare to meet him as he truly is.
so you can live!
5 Do not seek Bethel!
Ironically, Israel was to seek after the Lord, but not at Bethel (the name Bethel means “the house of God” in Hebrew).
For location see Map4-G4; Map5-C1; Map6-E3; Map7-D1; Map8-G3.

Do not visit Gilgal!
Do not journey down
Heb “cross over.”
To worship at Beer Sheba, northern worshipers had to journey down (i.e., cross the border) between Israel and Judah. Apparently, the popular religion of Israel for some included pilgrimage to holy sites in the South.
to Beer Sheba!
For the people of Gilgal
Heb “For Gilgal.” By metonymy the place name “Gilgal” is used instead of referring directly to the inhabitants. The words “the people of” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
will certainly be carried into exile;
In the Hebrew text the statement is emphasized by sound play. The name “Gilgal” sounds like the verb גָּלָה (galah, “to go into exile”), which occurs here in the infinitival + finite verb construction (גָּלֹה יִגְלֶה, galoh yigleh). The repetition of the “ג” (g) and “ל” (l) sounds draws attention to the announcement and suggests that Gilgal’s destiny is inherent in its very name.
That the people of Gilgal would be taken into exile is ironic, for Gilgal was Israel’s first campsite when the people entered the land under Joshua and the city became a symbol of Israel’s possession of the promised land.

and Bethel will become a place where disaster abounds.”
Heb “disaster,” or “nothing”; NIV “Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Again there is irony. The name Bethel means “house of God” in Hebrew. How surprising and tragic that Bethel, the “house of God” where Jacob received the inheritance given to Abraham, would be overrun by disaster.

6 Seek the Lord so you can live!
Otherwise he will break out
Heb “rush.” The verb depicts swift movement.
like fire against Joseph’s
Here Joseph (= Ephraim and Manasseh), as the most prominent of the Israelite tribes, represents the entire northern kingdom.
Heb “house.”

the fire
Heb “it”; the referent (the fire mentioned in the previous line) has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
will consume
and no one will be able to quench it and save Bethel.
Heb “to/for Bethel.” The translation assumes that the preposition indicates advantage, “on behalf of.” Another option is to take the preposition as vocative, “O Bethel.”

7 The Israelites
Heb “Those who”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity. In light of vv. 11–13, it is also possible that the words are directed at a more limited group within the nation – those with social and economic power.
turn justice into bitterness;
There is an interesting wordplay here with the verb הָפַךְ (hafakh, “overturn, turn”). Israel “turns” justice into wormwood (cf. 6:12), while the Lord “turns” darkness into morning (v. 8; cf. 4:11; 8:10). Israel’s turning is for evil, whereas the Lord’s is to demonstrate his absolute power and sovereignty.

they throw what is fair and right
Heb “they throw righteousness.”
to the ground.
In v. 7 the prophet begins to describe the guilty Israelites, but then interrupts his word picture with a parenthetical, but powerful, description of the judge they must face (vv. 8–9). He resumes his description of the sinners in v. 10.

8 (But there is one who made the constellations Pleiades and Orion;
he can turn the darkness into morning
and daylight
Heb “darkens the day into night.”
into night.
He summons the water of the seas
and pours it out on the earth’s surface.
The Lord is his name!
9 He flashes
The precise meaning of the Hebrew verb בָּלַג (balag, translated here “flashes”) is uncertain.
destruction down upon the strong
so that destruction overwhelms
Heb “comes upon.” Many prefer to repoint the verb as Hiphil and translate, “he brings destruction upon the fortified places.”
the fortified places.)
10 The Israelites
Heb “they”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
hate anyone who arbitrates at the city gate;
In ancient Israelite culture, legal disputes were resolved in the city gate, where the town elders met.

they despise anyone who speaks honestly.
11 Therefore, because you make the poor pay taxes on their crops
Traditionally, “because you trample on the poor” (cf. KJV, ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT). The traditional view derives the verb from בּוּס (bus, “to trample”; cf. Isa. 14:25), but more likely it is cognate to an Akkadian verb meaning “to exact an agricultural tax” (see H. R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena [SBLDS], 49; S. M. Paul, Amos [Hermeneia], 172–73).

and exact a grain tax from them,
you will not live in the houses you built with chiseled stone,
nor will you drink the wine from the fine
Or “lovely”; KJV, NASB, NRSV “pleasant”; NAB “choice”; NIV “lush.”
vineyards you planted.
Heb “Houses of chiseled stone you built, but you will not live in them. Fine vineyards you planted, but you will not drink their wine.”

12 Certainly
Or “for.”
I am aware of
Or “I know” (so most English versions).
your many rebellious acts
Or “transgressions,” “sins.” See the note on the word “crimes” in 1:3 and on the phrase “covenant violations” in 2:4.

and your numerous sins.
Heb “Those who.”
torment the innocent, you take bribes,
and you deny justice to
Heb “turn aside.” They “turn aside” the needy by denying them the justice they deserve at the city gate (where legal decisions were made, and therefore where justice should be done).
the needy at the city gate.
Legal disputes were resolved in the city gate, where the town elders met.

13 For this reason whoever is smart
Or “the wise”; or “the prudent.” Another option is to translate “the successful, prosperous” and understand this as a reference to the rich oppressors. See G. V. Smith, Amos, 169–70. In this case the following verb will also have a different nuance, that is, the wealthy remain silent before the abuses they perpetuate. See the note on the verb translated “keeps quiet” later in this verse.
keeps quiet
Or “moans, laments,” from a homonymic verbal root. If the rich oppressors are in view, then the verb (whether translated “will be silenced” or “will lament”) describes the result of God’s judgment upon them. See G. V. Smith, Amos, 170.
in such a time,
for it is an evil
If this is a judgment announcement against the rich, then the Hebrew phrase עֵת רָעָה (’et raah) must be translated, “[a] disastrous time.” See G. V. Smith, Amos, 170.
14 Seek good and not evil so you can live!
Then the Lord, the God who commands armies, just might be with you,
as you claim he is.
15 Hate what is wrong, love what is right!
Heb “set up, establish.” In the ancient Near East it was the responsibility especially of the king to establish justice. Here the prophet extends that demand to local leaders and to the nation as a whole (cf. 5:24).
justice at the city gate!
Legal disputes were resolved in the city gate (see the note in v. 12). This repetition of this phrase serves to highlight a deliberate contrast to the injustices cited in vv. 11–13.

Maybe the Lord, the God who commands armies, will have mercy on
Or “will show favor to.”
those who are left from
Or “the remnant of” (KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV); CEV “what’s left of your people.”
Joseph (= Ephraim and Manasseh), as the most prominent of the Israelite tribes, represents the entire northern kingdom.

16 Because of Israel’s sins
Heb “Therefore.” This logical connector relates back to the accusation of vv. 10–13, not to the parenthetical call to repentance in vv. 14–15. To indicate this clearly, the phrase “Because of Israel’s sins” is used in the translation.
this is what the Lord, the God who commands armies, the sovereign One,
Or “the Lord.” The Hebrew term translated “sovereign One” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay).
“In all the squares there will be wailing,
in all the streets they will mourn the dead.
Heb “they will say, ‘Ah! Ah!’” The Hebrew term הוֹ (ho, “ah, woe”) is an alternate form of הוֹי (hoy), a word used to mourn the dead and express outwardly one’s sorrow. See 1 Kgs 13:30; Jer 22:18; 34:5. This wordplay follows quickly, as v. 18 begins with הוֹי (“woe”).

They will tell the field workers
Or “farmers” (NIV, NCV, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT).
to lament
and the professional mourners
Heb “those who know lamentation.”
Professional mourners are referred to elsewhere in the OT (2 Chr 35:25; Jer 9:17) and ancient Near Eastern literature. See S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia), 180.
to wail.
17 In all the vineyards there will be wailing,
for I will pass through
The expression pass through your midst alludes to Exod 12:12, where the Lord announced he would “pass through” Egypt and bring death to the Egyptian firstborn.
your midst,” says the Lord.

The Lord Demands Justice

18 Woe
The term הוֹי (hoy, “woe”) was used when mourning the dead (see the note on the word “dead” in 5:16). The prophet here either engages in role playing and mourns the death of the nation in advance or sarcastically taunts those who hold to this misplaced belief.
to those who wish for the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the Lord’s day of judgment to come?
It will bring darkness, not light.
19 Disaster will be inescapable,
The words “Disaster will be inescapable” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

as if a man ran from a lion only to meet a bear,
then escaped
Heb “went” (so KJV, NRSV).
into a house,
leaned his hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a poisonous snake.
20 Don’t you realize the Lord’s day of judgment will bring
Heb “Will not the day of the Lord be.”
darkness, not light –
gloomy blackness, not bright light?
21 “I absolutely despise
Heb “I hate”; “I despise.”
your festivals!
I get no pleasure
Heb “I will not smell.” These verses are full of vivid descriptions of the Lord’s total rejection of Israelite worship. In the first half of this verse two verbs are used together for emphasis. Here the verb alludes to the sense of smell, a fitting observation since offerings would have been burned on the altar ideally to provide a sweet aroma to God (see, e.g., Lev 1:9, 13, 17; Num 29:36). Other senses that are mentioned include sight and hearing in vv. 22–23.
from your religious assemblies!
22 Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings,
Heb “burnt offerings and your grain offerings.”
I will not be satisfied;
I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves.
Heb “Peace offering[s], your fattened calves, I will not look at.”

23 Take away from me your
In this verse the second person suffixes are singular and not plural like they are in vv. 21–22 and vv. 25–27. Some have suggested that perhaps a specific individual or group within the nation is in view.
noisy songs;
I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments.
The Hebrew word probably refers to “harps” (NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “lutes” (NEB).

24 Justice must flow like torrents of water,
righteous actions
Traditionally, “righteousness.”
like a stream that never dries up.
25 You did not bring me
Heb “Did you bring me…?” This rhetorical question expects a negative answer. The point seems to be this: Since sacrifices did not characterize God’s relationship with Israel during the nation’s formative years, the people should not consider them to be so fundamental. The Lord places a higher priority on justice than he does on empty ritual.
Like Jer 7:22–23, this passage seems to contradict the Pentateuchal accounts that indicate Israel did offer sacrifices during the wilderness period. It is likely that both Amos and Jeremiah overstate the case to emphasize the relative insignificance of sacrifices in comparison to weightier matters of the covenant. See R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 428.
sacrifices and grain offerings during the forty years you spent in the wilderness, family
Heb “house.”
of Israel.
26 You will pick up your images
This word appears in an awkward position in the Hebrew, following “Kiyyun.” It is placed here for better sense.
of Sikkuth,
The Hebrew term סִכּוּת (sikkut) apparently refers to Sakkuth, a Mesopotamian star god identified with Ninurta in an Ugaritic god list. The name is vocalized in the Hebrew text after the pattern of שִׁקוּץ (shiqquts, “detestable thing”). See S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia), 195–96. Some English versions, following the LXX, translate as “tent” or “shrine” (NEB, NIV), pointing the term as סֻכַּת (sukkat; cf. 9:11).
your king,
LXX, Vulgate, and Acts 7:43 read “Moloch” (cf. KJV). The Hebrew consonants are the same for both “king” and “Moloch” (מֹלֶךְ; molekh).

and Kiyyun,
The Hebrew term כִּיּוּן (kiyyun) apparently refers to the Mesopotamian god Kayamanu, or Saturn. The name, like “Sikkuth” in the previous line, is vocalized in the Hebrew text after the pattern of שִׁקוּץ (shiqquts, “detestable thing”). See S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia), 195–96. Some versions translate as “pedestal” (NEB, NIV), relating the term to the root כּוּן (kun).
your star god, which you made for yourselves,
27 and I will drive you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord.
He is called the God who commands armies!
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