Notes on Amos 8:1-14

February 22, 2007 at 9:39 pm (Uncategorized)

Verses 1-3 of chapter 8 recount Amos’ vision of the fruit basket
while the remainder of the chapter (vss 4-14) contain an oracle against
greed. This oracle ends with a statement that those who swear by the
false altar (which the prophet has already condemned in 3:14-15; 7:9)
will fall. This leads into the final vision which opens chapter 9, for there we see the Lord standing by the altar about to be destroyed.

8:1-3

1) Here is what the Lord showed to me: a basket of ripe summer fruit.

2) “What is it you are seeing, Amos,” he asked. “I see a basket of ripe summer fruit,” was my response. Then said the Lord to me:

“The end is upon my people Israel; no more will I turn back my punishment.

3) The songs of the temple shall be turned into wailings on
that day, says the Lord God. “Many shall be the bodies of the dead,
strewn about everywhere. Silence!”
(My translation)

In the vision the prophet is shown a basket containing kelub qayis: literally, “summer fruit.” The Hebrew is a reference to the fruit (kelub) that is harvested as the rainy season at the end of summer (qayis) begins. The meaning of the vision becomes apparent when a word play in the Hebrew text is seen. Amos sees qayis fruit and the Lord responds that the qes (the
end) has come for Israel. Though the two words are from different roots
they do sound alike and, furthermore, something that is ripe has reached the end
of a process. This is why many modern translations read something like
this: “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no
longer.” (NIV) Many scholars speculate that Amos went to the northern
sanctuary at the time of the Sukkoth (Tabernacles) festival which celebrated the end of the summer harvest.

The Lords command for silence at the end of verse
three is, in context, highly ironic. The call to silence was often done
in a theophanic context; that is to say, in contexts where God
manifests his presence in the Jerusalem temple at the time of sacrifice
(see Hab 2:20; Zech 2:17). Having had a funeral dirge sung over her
because of her false worship at false temples (see 5:1-6 and my notes)
the Lord now declares that their songs of worship will become wails of
mourning due to the dead strewn about the land. Such a number of bodies
would make the land ritually unclean, an unfit place to worship God.
God will reveal his presence in Israel not by manifesting his presence
on a false altar in a false temple, but rather, by destroying them.

8:4-6

4) Hear this, you who walk all over the needy and bring to destruction the poor of the land!

5) You say, “when will the new moon be past, so that we may
sell our crops? When will the sabbath be done, so that we may market
the wheat and make the ephah small while making great the shekel; and
so that we might weigh with false scales.

6) So that we might by the lowly for silver, and the poor for the price of a pair of sandals. And so that we may sell even the
refuse of the wheat. (My translation)

The oracle opens with a typical prophetic “call to attention” formula: Hear this.
The oracle is directed against those who abuse those of lowly means and
recalls the prophet’s original indictment of Israel (see 2:6-16). It
also recalls the sarcastic remarks God made concerning their
hypocritical worship in 4:4-5. Here the two elements of greed and
hypocritical worship are combined. Whether or not the subjects of the
oracle were actually thinking the thoughts attributed to them is
irrelevant. By their practices they were showing contempt for God and
right worship regardless of what their intentions were.

The new moon marked the first day of the month on
the Hebrew calendar and a special temple sacrifice was to be done for
it (Numbers 28:11-15). The text suggests that the people of the
Northern Kingdom did no work or commerce on this day though the law of
Moses nowhere legislated such a thing. All forms of work and commerce
were forbidden on the sabbath except, apparently, in the
case of dire necessity. The subjects of the oracle are shown adhering
to the devotions only grudgingly, anxiously waiting for the special
days to be over so that they can begin their cheating business as
usual. The purpose of Sabbath and the worship of God is lost upon them.
The ephah was a very ancient standard of measurement for
dry good, particularly grain. It is equal to slightly more than twenty
and three-quarter quarts. How exactly the ephah was to be made small is unknown. Presumably the grain was mixed with the refuse of the wheat to attain the ephah measure. The shekel was a standard for weighing out silver and gold. Making great the shekel is
something of an ironic term. A shekel was a standard of weight by which
gold and silver were measured out. One made the shekel great by
diminishing its weight. A business man could then weigh out what
appeared to be the agreed upon price for a poor man’s wholesale goods.
Since the shekel was made “greater” by becoming lighter, the poor man’s
profit was less since it took less gold on the balance scale
to equal a shekel that had been tampered with. Thus from the cheating
businessman’s perspective, a lighter shekel is a greater shekel. False
scales and the cheating of people in the area of commerce was strongly
condemned in the Bible, suggesting that it was a common abuse .
Deuteronomy calls those who engage in such practice “an abomination in
the sight of the Lord” (see Dt 25:13-16). Priests and kings were
responsible for ensuring that these practices not take place.

8 :7
By the pride of Jacob has the Lord sworn: “Surely, none of their deeds will I forget.” (My translation)

The Lord is usually shown swearing an oath in reference to himself
or his holiness since there is nothing greater than him. Here,
ironically, he swears by the pride of Jacob. Men swear
oaths by things that are greater than themselves (such as God’s name);
here the implication is that Jacob (the northern kingdom) thinks itself
greater than God because by its deeds it flaunts his commands. By
swearing an oath in their name to punish them for their deeds God is
sarcastically criticizing their presumed greatness (pride).

8:8

Shall not the land tremble because of this, while all
who dwell upon it mourn as it rises up and is turbulent before sinking
back again like the river of Egypt?

Because of the
peoples deeds (vs 7) the land will be hit with an earthquake (see 1:1).
In an earthquake the land rises up and is turbulent, like a river in
flood.

8:9-10

9) And it shall come to pass on that day, says the Lord God,
that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the
earth in the clear of day.

10) And I will turn your
feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations; and I will
bring sackcloth onto all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I
will make it as the mourning for an only son, and bring them to the end
of a bitter day.
(ASV. This book is in the public domain. I’ve modified the text slightly)

The comparison of the earthquake to the river Nile in Egypt was no
mistake. God had promised Israel that if it did not obey him he would
afflict them with the plagues of Egypt (see Dt 28:60). One of those
plagues (the ninth) was darkness (Exodus 10:21-29). The tenth was the death of the firstborn and the mourning
that accompanied it (Ex 11). The wearing of sackcloth was a traditional
sign of mourning (1 Kings 20:31), as was the shaving of the head (Micah
1:16). As has already become clear, the worship of the northern kingdom
is tainted. False feasts and songs of worship, if not repented of, can only lead to mourning and lamentation. It
should also be remembered that the vision of the fruit basket with
which chapter 8 began was explained as signifying that the temple songs
would be turned to mourning as the land became littered with bodies
(8:2-3).
8:11-12

11) Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord
God, when I will send a famine upon the land, not a famine of bread,
nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord.

12) And
they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east;
they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord and not find it.
(ASV. I’ve changed the translation somewhat)

Behold, days are coming is a formulaic prophetic
expression announcing a coming event. The event announced here is
calamitous, an absence of the word of God, here meaning prophecy. This
absence is compared to famine and drought, two major punishments God
had promised the people they could avoid by heeding his word (see Dt
28). The drought and famine which the people were apparently already
experiencing as a warning (Amos 1:1; 4:6-7) did not lead to the heeding
of the prophetic call to repentance (Amos 2:11-12). God’s patience is
nearing its end and too late the people will realize their folly. The
Chroniclers judgement concerning Judah in 587 BC could just as easily
been directed against Israel in Amos’ day (see 2 Chron 36:15-16).

8:13-14

13) In that day shall the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst.
14) They
that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, ‘As thy god, O Dan, liveth;’
and, ‘As the way of Beer-Sheba liveth;’ they shall fall, and never rise
up again.

This passage builds upon the theme of drought and famine and upon the theme of mourning and death as well.

In verse 7 the lord swore an oath not to forget the deeds of pride
done by the northern kingdom, here the oracle ends with the demise of
those in the northern kingdom who swear falsely by the sin of Samaria, a reference to the false shrine and bull shaped altar at Bethel on Mount Samaria. As thy god, O Dan, liveth is an oath formula. Dan
was the tribe which dwelt in the extreme north of Israel and a
settlement of the same name was located on the northern frontier. At
this settlement their was a false shrine (see 1 Kings 12:29). Beer-Sheba is in the southern kingdom of Judah. What the oath formula related to it intends is unknown. The phrase “from Dan to Beer-Sheba
was a proverbial statement designating the entire promised land.
Perhaps the reference to Beer-Sheba here is meant to reflect the
apparent attitude of the northern kingdom that sacrifice to God can be
offered anywhere, rather than in Jerusalem alone

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1 Comment

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