Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,
Am 3:1-15. God's Extraordinary Love, Being Repaid by Israel with Ingratitude, of Necessity Calls for Judgments, Which the Prophets Announce, Not at Random, but by God's Commission, Which They Cannot but Fulfil. The Oppression Prevalent in Israel Will Bring Down Ruin on All Save a Small Remnant.
1. children of Israel—not merely the ten tribes, but "the whole family brought up from Egypt"; all the descendants of Jacob, including Judah and Benjamin. Compare Jer 8:3, and Mic 2:3, on "family" for the nation. However, as the prophecy following refers to the ten tribes, they must be chiefly, if not solely, meant: they were the majority of the nation; and so Amos concedes what they so often boasted, that they were the elect people of God [Calvin], but implies that this only heightens their sins.
You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
2. You only have I known—that is, acknowledged as My people, and treated with peculiar favor (Ex 19:5; De 4:20). Compare the use of "know," Ps 1:6; 144:3; Joh 10:14; 2Ti 2:19.
therefore I will punish—the greater the privileges, the heavier the punishment for the abuse of them; for to the other offenses there is added, in this case, ingratitude. When God's people do not glorify Him, He glorifies Himself by punishing them.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
3-6. Here follow several questions of a parable-like kind, to awaken conviction in the people.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?—Can God's prophets be so unanimous in prophesying against you, if God's Spirit were not joined with them, or if their prophecies were false? The Israelites were "at ease," not believing that God was with the prophets in their denunciations of coming ruin to the nation (Am 6:1, 3; compare 1Ki 22:18, 24, 27; Jer 43:2). This accords with Am 3:7, 8. So "I will be with thy mouth" (Ex 4:12; Jer 1:8; Mt 10:20). If the prophets and God were not agreed, the former could not predict the future as they do. In Am 2:12 He had said, the Israelites forbade the prophets prophesying; therefore, in Am 3:3, 8, He asserts the agreement between the prophets and God who spake by them against Israel [Rosenmuller]. Rather, "I once walked with you" (Le 26:12) as a Father and Husband (Isa 54:5; Jer 3:14); but now your way and Mine are utterly diverse; there can therefore be no fellowship between us such as there was (Am 3:2); I will walk with you only to "punish you"; as a "lion" walks with his "prey" (Am 3:4), as a bird-catcher with a bird [Tarnovius]. The prophets, and all servants of God, can have no fellowship with the ungodly (Ps 119:63; 2Co 6:16, 17; Eph 5:11; Jas 4:4).
Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?
4. The same idea as in Mt 24:28. Where a corrupt nation is, there God's instruments of punishment are sure also to be. The lion roars loudly only when he has prey in sight.
Will a young lion cry out … if he—the "lion," not the "young lion."
have taken nothing?—The young lion just weaned lies silent, until the old lion brings the prey near; then the scent rouses him. So, the prophet would not speak against Israel, if God did not reveal to him Israel's sins as requiring punishment.
Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no gin is for him? shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?
5. When a bird trying to fly upwards is made to fall upon the earth snare, it is a plain proof that the snare is there; so, Israel, now that thou art falling, infer thence, that it is in the snare of the divine judgment that thou art entangled [Ludovicus De Dieu].
shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing—The bird-catcher does not remove his snare off the ground till he has caught some prey; so God will not withdraw the Assyrians, &c., the instruments of punishment, until they have had the success against you which God gives them. The foe corresponds to the "snare," suddenly springing from the ground and enclosing the bird on the latter touching it; the Hebrew is literally, "Shall the snare spring from the earth?" Israel entangled in judgments answers to the bird "taken."
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
6. When the sound of alarm is trumpeted by the watchman in the city, the people are sure to run to and fro in alarm (Hebrew, literally). Yet Israel is not alarmed, though God threatens judgments.
shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?—This is the explanation of the preceding similes: God is the Author of all the calamities which come upon you, and which are foretold by His prophets. The evil of sin is from ourselves; the evil of trouble is from God, whoever be the instruments.
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
7. his secret—namely, His purpose hidden from all, until it is revealed to His prophets (compare Ge 18:17). In a wider sense, God's will is revealed to all who love God, which it is not to the world (Ps 25:14; Joh 15:15; 17:25, 26).
unto his servants—who being servants cannot but obey their Lord in setting forth His purpose (namely, that of judgment against Israel) (Jer 20:9; Eze 9:11). Therefore the fault which the ungodly find with them is groundless (1Ki 18:17). It aggravates Israel's sin, that God is not about to inflict judgment, without having fully warned the people, if haply they might repent.
The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?
8. As when "the lion roars" (compare Am 1:2; Am 3:4), none can help but "fear," so when Jehovah communicates His awful message, the prophet cannot but prophesy. Find not fault with me for prophesying; I must obey God. In a wider sense true of all believers (Ac 4:20; 5:29).
Publish in the palaces at Ashdod, and in the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say, Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great tumults in the midst thereof, and the oppressed in the midst thereof.
9. Publish in … palaces—as being places of greatest resort (compare Mt 10:27); and also as it is the sin of princes that he arraigns, he calls on princes (the occupants of the "palaces") to be the witnesses.
Ashdod—put for all Philistia. Convene the Philistine and the Egyptian magnates, from whom I have on various occasions rescued Israel. (The opposite formula to "Tell it not in Gath," namely, lest the heathen should glory over Israel). Even these idolaters, in looking on your enormities, will condemn you; how much more will the holy God?
upon the mountains of Samaria—on the hills surrounding and commanding the view of Samaria, the metropolis of the ten tribes, which was on a lower hill (Am 4:1; 1Ki 16:24). The mountains are to be the tribunal on which the Philistines and Egyptians are to sit aloft to have a view of your crimes, so as to testify to the justice of your punishment (Am 3:13).
tumults—caused by the violence of the princes of Israel in "oppressions" of the poor (Job 35:9; Ec 4:1).
For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.
10. know not to do—Their moral corruption blinds their power of discernment so that they cannot do right (Jer 4:22). Not simple intellectual ignorance; the defect lay in the heart and will.
store up violence and robbery—that is, treasures obtained by "violence and robbery" (Pr 10:2).
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.
11. Translate, "An adversary (the abruptness produces a startling effect)! and that too, from every side of the land." So in the fulfilment, 2Ki 17:5: "The king of Assyria (Shalmaneser) came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years."
bring down thy strength from thee—that is, bring thee down from thy strength (the strength on which thou didst boast thyself): all thy resources (Pr 10:15).
palaces shall be spoiled—a just retribution in kind (Am 3:10). The palaces in which spoils of robbery were stored up, "shall be spoiled."
Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.
12. shepherd—a pastoral image, appropriately used by Amos, a shepherd himself.
piece of … ear—brought by the shepherd to the owner of the sheep, so as not to have to pay for the loss (Ge 31:39; Ex 22:13). So if aught of Israel escapes, it shall be a miracle of God's goodness. It shall be but a scanty remnant. There is a kind of goat in the East the ears of which are a foot long, and proportionally broad. Perhaps the reference is to this. Compare on the image 1Sa 17:34, 35; 2Ti 4:17.
that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed—that is, that live luxuriously in Samaria (compare Am 6:1, 4). "A bed" means here the Oriental divan, a raised part of the room covered with cushions.
in Damascus in a couch—Jeroboam II had lately restored Damascus to Israel (2Ki 14:25, 28). So the Israelites are represented as not merely in "the corner of a bed," as in Samaria, but "in a (whole) couch," at Damascus, living in luxurious ease. Of these, now so luxurious, soon but a remnant shall be left by the foe. The destruction of Damascus and that of Samaria shall be conjoined; as here their luxurious lives, and subsequently under Pekah and Rezin their inroads on Judah, were combined (Isa 7:1-8; 8:4, 9; 17:3). The parallelism of "Samaria" to "Damascus," and the Septuagint favor English Version rather than Gesenius: "on a damask couch." The Hebrew pointing, though generally expressing damask, may express the city "Damascus"; and many manuscripts point it so. Compare for Israel's overthrow, 2Ki 17:5, 6; 18:9-12.
Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob, saith the Lord GOD, the God of hosts,
13. testify in the house, &c.—that is, against the house of Jacob. God calls on the same persons as in Am 3:9, namely, the heathen Philistines and the Egyptians to witness with their own eyes Samaria's corruptions above described, so that none may be able to deny the justice of Samaria's punishment [Maurer].
God of hosts—having all the powers of heaven and earth at His command, and therefore One calculated to strike terror into the hearts of the guilty whom He threatens.
That in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him I will also visit the altars of Bethel: and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground.
14. That—rather, "since," or "for." This verse is not, as English Version translates, the thing which the witnesses cited are to "testify" (Am 3:13), but the reason why God calls on the heathen to witness Samaria's guilt; namely, in order to justify the punishment which He declares He will inflict.
I will also visit … Beth-el—the golden calves which were the source of all "the transgressions of Israel" (1Ki 12:32; 13:2; 2Ki 23:15, 16), though Israel thought that by them their transgressions were atoned for and God's favor secured.
horns of the altar—which used to be sprinkled with the blood of victims. They were horn-like projecting points at the corners of ancient altars. The singular, "altar," refers to the great altar erected by Jeroboam to the calves. The "altars," plural, refer to the lesser ones made in imitation of the great one (2Ch 34:5, compare with 1Ki 13:2; Ho 8:11; 10:1).
And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the LORD.
15. winter … summer house—(Jud 3:20; Jer 36:22). Winter houses of the great were in sheltered positions facing the south to get all possible sunshine, summer houses in forests and on hills, facing the east and north.
houses of ivory—having their walls, doors, and ceilings inlaid with ivory. So Ahab's house (1Ki 22:39; Ps 45:8).