Amos was the initial prophet to have a book named after him. His message to Israel wasclear, but ignored. This paper will examine Amos 8:1-11, beginning with my own translation and continuing with a look at the context of the passage in relation to the historical setting and the book of Amos as a whole, including the genres of the passage. Then the literary form will be examined briefly, followed by an outline. The main part of the paper deals with each verse, or pairs of verses, examining translation difficulties; identifying similarities within the text, the book, and the Old Testament; analyzing the message; and exploring the views of some commentators. The passage contains more than can be thoroughly examined in a paper of this length, but the main points will be covered.
1 This is what the Lord GOD1 showed me:
A basket of summer fruit.
2 He said, "What do you see, Amos?"
I answered, "A basket of summer fruit."
3 Then the LORD said to me, "The end has come for My people Israel,
1I have followed the convention used in several modem English translations of rendering Yahweh as GOD
when preceded by Hebrew ^donay and as LORD when used alone.
I will not again pass them by any more."
The songs of the palace2 will mm to wails in that day, declares the Lord GOD,
Many corpses thrown down every place. Hush!
4 Hear this, you who trample the needy
And do away with the poor in the land,
5 Saying, "When will the new moon festival be over so we can buy grain,
And the Sabbath so we can offer wheat for sale
Making the ephah small,
And the shekel great,
And cheating with dishonest scales,
6 Buying the hapless with silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals,
And selling what falls from the wheat when it is winnowed4.
7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob,
"I will never forget all their works."
8 Will not the earth tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?
The whole earth will rise like the Nile
It will be churned up and then sink down like the river of Egypt.
9 And it shall be in that day, declares the Lord GOD,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
And darken the earth in broad daylight,
10 I will turn your festivals to mourning,
And all your songs into a dirge;
And I will bring up sackcloth on all loins,
And baldness on all heads.
And I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
And the end of it like a bitter day.
2 Although this word is literally "temple," it can also mean palace (since God is King and the temple is
where He dwells). The context here makes "palace" a better choice.
3 The words for sale arc in italics to indicate they are not translated but added for clarity.
Amos' ministry took place in the Northern Kingdom of Israel about 760-750 BC, at a time of military and economic success. The long reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC) was the golden age of Israel. Territorial expansion was initially possible because Syria and Assyria were relatively weak and, once accomplished, it resulted in increased revenue from taxes. Israel was politically powerful and many of its citizens were wealthy. In the midst of this prosperity, Amos' messages condemning social injustice and religious superficiality, and predicting judgment from God because of them, flew in the face of the evidence all around. However, Amos was revealed as a true prophet when his predictions of judgment came to pass, beginning in 733 BC when the
northern and eastern parts of the kingdom were annexed by Assyria, and concluding in 721 BC with the fall of the capital, Samaria, to Sargon, the exile of the people to Assyria, and the forced immigration into Israel of people from other nations.5
Amos 2:4-16 begins with the warning of inpending judgement upon Israel’s neighbors that follows three previous judgment
4 The words when it is winnowed are in italics to indicate they are not translated but added for clarity.
with the fall of the capital, Samaria, to Sargon, the exile of the people to Assyria, and the forced
immigration into Israel of people from other nations.5
Amos 8:1-10 begins with a vision of judgment that follows three previous judgment
visions (7:1-3,4-6, and 7-9) and precedes a fifth (9:1). The vision in this passage is the parallel
of 7:7-9 and the climactic conclusion of the first four. The vision in 8:1-2 is followed by an
eschatological oracle in verse 3, which both explains the vision of verses 1-2 and goes beyond it.
It is the first of four eschatological oracles: 8:3,9-10,13-14; and 9:11-12. Verses 4-6 give social
and religious criticism similar to other passages in the book. The themes of religious
superficiality and exploitation of the poor are continued. Verses 7-8 are a judgment oracle in
which God swears in similar fashion to 4:2-3 and 6:8. A second eschatological oracle occurs in
verses 9-10. The exchange of festivals for mourning in verse 10 is reminiscent of verse 3. The
book of Amos includes three hymns, or three stanzas of the same hymn, in 4:13,5:8-9, and 9:5-
6.6 The literary unity of book receives support in the fact that one of those hymn sections, 9:5b,
is quite similar to part of the passage under study here, 8:8b:
5 See 2 Kings 17 for a description of these events.
6 Glenn A. Camagey, Sr. and Glenn A. Camagey, Jr, -Anatomy Of An Oracle," Chafer Theological
Seminary Journal 7, no. 1 (January 2001), 53.
7 All quotations outside Amos 8:1-10 are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
Copyrighted 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the
United States of America.
Thus the passage under question, 8:1-10, takes its place in the book of Amos as a continuation of
themes seen earlier and an introduction of themes to follow.
FORM & STRUCTURE
Genres and rhetorical forms.
I stand to be corrected, but what I preceived is that the over all banner of which the book of Amos falls under which everything fits is prophecy, with its oracles of judgement and a concluding oracle of redemption. However, the prevailing literary form of this book is satire, with the usual elements of objects of attack, which is a satiric vehicle (such as catalogs of woe formulas and brief vignettes of bad behavior). In addition to these big literary forms, Amos is a master of smaller forms such as Metaphor and simile, epithet("you cows of Bashan"). Other genres that find a place in the book include saying, proverb or doom song.
Oracles against the nations [ 1:1–2:5 ]. Following the inscription to the book, including a statement of theme (God as roaring lion [1:1–2]), Amos unfolds one of the most elaborately patterned passages in the Bible. Oracles of judgment against the surrounding pagan nations plus Judah are arranged in a highly artistic and repetitive design. The oracles all follow the same pattern, as follows: (1) an opening formula, "Thus says the Lord"; (2) a balanced pair of phrases, "for three transgressions of ____________, and for four"; (3) a set formula for judgment that reads "I will not revoke the punishment"; (4) a statement of charges, with only one of the four sins named; (5) a list of judgments, beginning with the formula "So I will send a fire upon ______." Locating the successive nations on a map, we see that they form a circle around Israel and Judah, in effect setting a trap for the complacent covenant people of God, as suddenly Judah and then Israel appear in the company of evil nations. The activities that are held up to satiric exposure in these oracles all involve military atrocities, including excessive cruelty in warfare, stealing people for slave trade, and desecration of the dead. Right from the outset, Amos packs a punch with mastery of the resources of poetry and metaphor.
(1) Moral responsibility: the book demonstrates that God has a standard of right and wrong and that he holds individuals and societies responsible to obey that standard. (2) Sin: the book of Amos is a small manual on how many ways a society can find to corrupt itself. (3) Divine judgment: by means of its satiric genre, the book of Amos asserts God’s intention to judge people who ignore his moral standards of compassion and concern for the marginalized. (4) Social ethics: the book’s vision of virtues and vices deals with groups and therefore implies a social (and not simply individual) view of the ethical life
Vss. 1-2 - These verses are matter-of-fact, and their translation is assisted by parallels to
7:7-9. The vision of judgment begins with words identical to those in 7:1 and 4 and similar to
those in 7:7: "This is what the Lord GOD [he] showed me." The visions are obviously meant to
be a group, despite the interruption in the text of 7:10-17. Furthermore, both the vision in 7:7-9
and the vision of 8:1 -3 use everyday objects @ a plumb line and wall in 7:7 and a basket and
summer fruit in 8:1, so that they form a pair in contrast to the first two visions. Other similarities
between the third and fourth visions include repetition of the question, "What do you see,
Amos?" (7:8 and 8:2); God's transforming explanation of the everyday objects in question so
that they have a spiritual meaning; repetition of the divine sentence of doom, "I will not again
pass them [Israel] by any more" (7:8 and 8:3); and a concluding description of the devastation
that the declared judgment will bring. Amos sees exactly what God shows him - a basket of
summer fruit - and the only question is what meaning this vision has.
Vs. 3 - God applies a special meaning to the basket of summer fruit with His explanation,
"The end has come for My people Israel." Without going into the Hebrew words in question, this
meaning is obscure in English, relying on conjectures. For instance, just as fruit is picked at the
end of a season, so it is the end for Israel. Or, just as fruit is harvested, and just as harvest can
mean judgment elsewhere in Scripture,8 so the end/harvest/judgment has come for Israel.
A look at the Hebrew clarifies the meaning considerably. The Hebrew word for summer
fruit is qayis. The Hebrew word for end is qes. God uses a play on words to communicate the
meaning of the vision- The technical name for this is paronomasia - a rhetorical device
"designed to engage the attention of an audience"9 and "characteristically utilized in the Old
Testament to arouse curiosity or to heighten the effect of a particularly solemn or important
Robert Ellis points out that some people interpret qayis and qes as interchangeably
meaning harvest (thus the basket of harvest is a sign of harvest), or they think that the ripeness of
the fruit suggests that the time for judgment was also ripe. He also points out the probability that
8 See Joel 3:12-13; Matthew 13:30; Revelation 14:14fF.
9 Barry J. Beitzel, "Exodus 3:14 and The Divine Name: A Case of Biblical Paronomasia," Trinity Journal
I, no. I (Spring 1980), 5.
10 Beitzel, "Exodus 3:14 "6.
qes and qayis were pronounced the same in the Northern Kingdom, so that the pun makes more
sense." Al Wolters modifies this last assertion, suggesting that the differences in pronunciation
between Judah and Israel are exactly the point.12 When Amos tells God he sees qayis, he says it
as a Judean (he was from Tekoa,1312 miles south of Jerusalem). But God replies in an Israelite
accent, both repeating qayis as someone from the Northern Kingdom would say it, and saying
qes as they said it. "The basketful of freshly picked figs, symbol of plenty and prosperity, when
given its name in the northern dialect sounds like its opposite: death and disaster."14 While
acknowledging the various interpretations, I think this is one biblical passage where a less-literal
translation is justified, so that the play on words can be communicated.
Beyond the word play, the word qes is used to relate to judgment in Genesis 6:13 and
Ezekiel 7, among others. So perhaps the meaning of God's pun was not entirely unexpected.
However, in case the meaning was not clear, the word play is followed by a repetition of 7:8, "I
will not again pass them by any more." Literal translation of this part of the verse into smooth
English is difficult because there are two words with similar meanings, rendered here as "again"
and "any more." The NIV and NASB say "I will spare them no longer" which is smoother but
" Robert R. Ellis, "qayis," New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis
(NIDOTTE), ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997), Electronic text hypertexted
and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.0.
12 Al Wolters, "Wordplay and dialect in Amos 8:1 -2," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31,
no. 4 (December 1988): 409.
13 See Amos 1:1.
14 Wolters, "Wordplay in Amos 8:1-2," 411.
less literal. In addition to "pass by" and "spare," other more interpretive meanings include
"overlook" (NJB) and "pardon" (REB). It is clear that the consequences of sin must be faced.
The final part of verse 3 is a contrast between current conditions and judgment conditions
and a description of the results of that judgment. Where there used to be leisure to sing, those
songs will turn into wails, howls, or lamentations. I chose "wails" as possibly clearest to
contemporary readers. The translation of "palace" is problematic, since it is literally temple. A
translation in this direction is supported by Leslie Alien when he points out that the Hebrew
form, stra, usually means religious songs.15 However, the English translations are divided on the
issue and in any case the temple and the palace formed one large complex of buildings, so
perhaps either translation is acceptable. The words "in that day" identify this as an eschatological
verse, with meaning for both an initial and subsequent fulfillments. The horror of the coming
judgment is made plain by the reference to corpses strewn about, unburied. One thinks of
pictures from any of several holocausts or genocides of the past 50 years. The last word of the
verse thus fits the scene. In the face of such devastation, a hushed silence is the best response.
The Hebrew word has, translated here by the remarkably similar English hush, is also
used in Amos 6:10. Once again the subject is dealing with dead bodies and the only
15 Leslie C. Alien, "sir," New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE),
ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997), Electronic text hypertexted and prepared
by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.0.
appropriate response is deemed, "Hush!" Not only does this double use of has show the
connection of the pericope under study with the rest of the book of Amos, but it also illustrates
the book's emotional qualities. Amos is not unaware that judgments affects the whole person.
Vs. 4 - Amos' social and religious criticism in this passage begins with "Hear this," a
phrase with which he begins other passages: 3:lfF; 3:13ff; 4:lff; and 5:lff. It is a call to attention.
His indictment of those who "trample the needy and do away with the poor in the land" is similar
to 2:6-8; 4:1; and 5:11-12. In 2:7 "they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way" while in 5:11-12 they "trample on the poor ... and push
aside the needy in the gate."
Throughout the book Amos uses four different Hebrew words for
"poor," three of them in 8:4-6. They are essentially synonymous and the connotation for each is
the dependence of the poor person on someone who can protect them and provide for them. As
W. R. Domeris explains, "Where Western thinking stresses the economic aspect of poverty, the
A[ncient] N[ear] E[ast] understood poverty in the context of shame and honor. So the possession
of land, power, economic security, and social status made a person rich, and the absence of these
facts made a person poor."16 That the exploitation of the poor by the rich involves not just money
but shame makes the crimes against which Amos prophesies the more heinous.
16 Domeris, W. R. "'ebySn," New International Dictionary- of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis
(NIDOTTE), gen. ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997), Electronic text
hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.0.
Vss. 5-6 - Here Amos uses the words and thoughts of the guilty to condemn them,17
rather like having your life secretly video taped, only to be broadcast on national TV. This is a
literary device he also uses in 2:1; 6:10,13; and 8:14. A religious element enters into the
condemnation, because not only are the merchants greedy, but worship at the new moon festivals
and Sabbaths is an outward show only, while inwardly the exploiters count the hours until they
can return to their buying and selling. As J. Alberto Soggin puts it, "'religion' ruins their
business."18 This kind of religious superficiality is also seen in 2:12 and 4:4-5. The translation
here is made difficult because the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century BC was agrarian, but
contemporary Western readers are usually unfamiliar with that milieu. Thus a literal rendering of
"offer wheatybr sale" might be "open the wheat" with the idea of grain sacks lined up in a
market and "what falls from the wheat -when it is winnowed1'1 is literally "the sweepings [or
refuse] of the wheat." In addition to the dishonesty of "fixing" the ephah, shekel, and scales,
which is told in a straightforward manner, the premeditated collection of trivial debts by forcing
the debtor into indentured servitude or slavery is also mentioned. As Stephen J. Bramer points
out, these sins are in direct contradiction of the law as found in the Torah19 so that Israel is in
17 David Allan Hubbard, Joel and Amos: an Introduction and (commentary. The Tyndale Old Testament
Commentaries, gen ed. D. J. Wiseman, (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity: Downers Grove, Illinois, 1989),
18 J. Alberto Soggin, The Prophet Amos: A Translation and Commentary, (London: SCM Press, 1987), 35.
19 For the sin false weights and measures and scales, see Leviticus 19:36 and for the sin of oppressing me
poor, especially with regard to debt, see Deuteronomy 24: 14-15 and Leviticus 25:35-43.
violation of the covenant and the judgments pronounced on her follow the curses of Leviticus 26
and Deuteronomy 28."
Vss. 7-8 - God's makes other oaths in Amos 4:2 and 6:8, but in those locations He
swears "by his holiness" and "by himself whereas here He swears "by the pride of Jacob."
There are several opinions about the exact meaning of this sentence. Before I studied the
commentators, I concluded that this was God swearing by Himself using the title "Pride of
Jacob." Thomas Edward McComiskey agrees, stating, "The "Pride of Jacob" (v.7) is best
understood as an appellation for God. ... It is the pride of [email protected], the Lord, Jacob's [email protected]
that guarantees this oath. The judgment to follow (v.8) would surely come because God does not
allow his glory to be sullied."2' However, Jorg Jeremias relates the term "pride of Jacob" to
Israel's land and God's dominion of it, suggesting that there is a profound irony in God swearing
by the very thing that is destined to be taken from Israel in judgment.22 This view is interesting,
but it relies on technicalities in the Hebrew which were not easy for me to understand. Hubbard's
view is that this is extreme sarcasm from God @ the pride of Jacob has grown so large, Yahweh
20 Stephen J. Bramer, "The Literary Genre of the Book of Amos," Bibliotheca Sacra 156, no. 621 (Jan 99),
21 Thomas Edward McComiskey, "Amos," The Expositor's Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1990), Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc.
22 Jorg Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary, translated by Douglas W. Stott, The Old Testament
Library, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988), 148-149.
himself can swear by it!23 While remaining open to alternate views, I find this last the most
reasonable, since "pride" is not usually a good thing in Scripture.
The ominous thing that God swears is that He "will never forget all their works," an idea
also found in Hosea 7:2 and 8:13. The Israelites cannot hope that judgment will be averted. The
description of the earthquake is straightforward and made interesting by a comparison to the Nile
River rising and falling as it does annually. However, while the flooding of the Nile was usually
seen as a positive thing, since it replenished the soil, here the "flooding" is definitely negative.
As mentioned earlier, there is a parallel in 9:5b. Soggin suggests that this earthquake had already
happened and that the text is accounting for the catastrophe.24 If so, it might explain the 1:1
superscription, "two years before the earthquake." However I think it more likely this is a
prediction of future judgment in response to the enumerated sins.
Vss. 9-10 - The words "in that day" signal a return to the eschatological mode first seen
in verse 3. The predicted solar eclipse is described in foreboding terms. Both Hubbard and
Soggin point out that we know from Assyrian records that a solar eclipse occurred 15 June 763,25
so that Amos likely speaks from first-land experience. The idea of a dark day is inextricably
linked to the eschatological day of the Lord, as seen in numerous verses elsewhere in the Old
Testament, and within Amos itself in 5:18 and 20. "18 Alas for you who desire the day of the
23 Hubbard, Joel and Amos, 105.
24 Soggin, Amos, 136.
25 Hubbard, Joel and Amos, 90. Soggin, Amos, p. 137.
LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light; ... 20 Is not the day of
the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?"
Following the solar eclipse there is a return to the ideas of verse 3: "festivals to
mourning" and "songs into a dirge." This is an illustration of the great prophetic reversal @ "that
day" is not good news as the Israelites believe, but bad news. Sackcloth and baldness are the
traditional signs of mourning, which word is repeated twice in verse 10 and found in a similar
form in verse 8. The passage concludes with two horrible similes: "like the mourning for an only
son" and "like a bitter day." The reader must use imagination to fill in the details, but as the
situation is so universal, this is easily accomplished and the final impression is one of grief.
Amos 8:1-10 is a clear message of judgment for Israel. Beginning with a play on words
that transformed ordinary summer fruit into a symbol for the end of "getting away with murder,"
the doom of divine retribution is clearly spelled out. Happy times will become times of grief
because of injustice against the poor and religious superficiality. An oath from Yahweh makes it
sure and certain that earthquake, eclipse, and mourning are on the way. The passage has meaning
for the people of the Northern Kingdom, for the Southern Kingdom where Amos' messages
ended up after the fall ofSamaria, and for everyone who thinks they are God's people but lives
like they are their own people.
The passage is in keeping with the overall message of the book of Amos, as shown by the
repetition of numerous themes either raised earlier in the book. or continued after Amos 8:1-10,
or both; the literary integrity of the book is upheld. Additionally, the message agrees with that of the other 8th century prophet to the Northern Kingdom, Hosea. Prophets following Amos go on
to give the same message to successive generations of the Southern Kingdom and Israel.
The passage shows that God's grace or favor is not endless in the face of a prolonged
pattern of sin, but that He will judge sin. It also demonstrates that religious superficiality -
checking your watch five minutes into the sermon, as it were - has no place in the lives of true
God-followers. Finally, Amos 8:1-10 stands as a warning to contemporary believers about our
own "day of the Lord" to align our expectations with the Bible.