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This chapter denounces judgments against the nations bordering on Palestine, enemies to the Jews, viz., the Syrians, Amos 1:1-5; Philistines, Amos 1:6-8; Tyrians, Amos 1:9, Amos 1:10; Edomites, Amos 1:11, Amos 1:12; and Ammonites, Amos 1:13-15. The same judgments were predicted by other prophets, and fulfilled, partly by the kings of Assyria, and partly by those of Babylon; though, like many other prophecies, they had their accomplishment by degrees, and at different periods. The prophecy against the Syrians, whose capital was Damascus, was fulfilled by Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria; see 2 Kings 16:9. The prophecy against Gaza of the Philistines was accomplished by Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18:8; by Pharaoh, Jeremiah 47:1; and by Alexander the Great; see Quintius Curtius, lib. 4. c. 6. The prophecy against Ashdod was fulfilled by Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:6; and that against Ashkelon by Pharaoh, Jeremiah 47:5. All Syria was also subdued by Pharaoh-necho; and again by Nebuchadnezzar, who also took Tyre, as did afterwards Alexander. Nebuchadnezzar also subdued the Edomites, Jeremiah 25:9, Jeremiah 25:21; Jeremiah 27:3, Jeremiah 27:6. Judas Maccabeus routed the remains of them, 1 Maccabees 5:3; and Hyrcanus brought them under entire subjection. The Ammonites were likewise conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. The earthquake, which the prophet takes for his era, is perhaps referred to in Zechariah 14:5, and also in Isaiah 5:25. Josephus ascribes it to Uzziah‘s invasion of the priestly office; see 2 Chronicles 26:16.
The words of Amos - This person and the father of Isaiah, though named alike in our translation, were as different in their names as in their persons. The father of Isaiah, אמוץ (Amots); the prophet before us, עמוס (Amos). The first, (aleph), (mem), (vau), (tsaddi); the second, (ain), (mem), (vau), (samech). For some account of this prophet see the introduction.
Among the herdmen - He seems to have been among the very lowest orders of life, a herdsman, one who tended the flocks of others in the open fields, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. Of whatever species this was, whether a kind of fig, it is evident that it was wild fruit; and he probably collected it for his own subsistence, or to dispose of either for the service of his employer, or to increase his scanty wages.
Before the earthquake - Probably the same as that referred to Zechariah 14:5, if הרעש (haraash) do not mean some popular tumult.
The Lord will roar from Zion - It is a pity that our translators had not followed the hemistich form of the Hebrew: -
Jehovah from Zion shall roar,
And from Jerusalem shall give forth his voice;
And the pleasant dwellings of the shepherds shall mourn,
And the top of mount Carmel shall wither.
Carmel was a very fruitful mountain in the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:56; Isaiah 35:2.
This introduction was natural in the mouth of a herdsman who was familiar with the roaring of lions, the bellowing of bulls, and the lowing of kine. The roaring of the lion in the forest is one of the most terrific sounds in nature; when near, it strikes terror into the heart of both man and beast.
For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four - These expressions of three and four, so often repeated in this chapter, mean repetition, abundance, and any thing that goes towards excess. Very, very exceedingly; and so it was used among the ancient Greek and Latin poets. See the passionate exclamation of Ulysses, in the storm, Odyss., lib. v., ver. 306: -
Τρις μακαρες Δαναοι και τετρακις, οἱ τοτ ‘ ολοντο
Τροιῃ εν ευρειῃ, χαριν Ατρειδῃσι φεροντες.
“Thrice happy Greeks! and four times who were slain
In Atreus‘ cause, upon the Trojan plain.”
Which words Virgil translates, and puts in the mouth of his hero in similar circumstances, Aen. 1:93.
Extemplo Aeneae solvuntur frigore membra:
Ingemit; et, duplicis tendens ad sidera palmas,
Talia voce refert: O terque quaterque beatif
Queis ante ora patrum Trojae sub moenibus altis
“Struck with unusual fright, the Trojan chief
With lifted hands and eyes invokes relief.
And thrice, and four times happy those, he cried,
That under Ilion‘s walls before their parents died.”
On the words, O terque quaterque, Servius makes this remark, “Hoc est saepias; finitus numerous pro infinito.” “O thrice and four times, that is, very often, a finite number for an infinite.” Other poets use the same form of expression. So Seneca in Hippolyt., Acts 2:694.
O ter quaterque prospero fato dati,
Quos hausit, et peremit, et leto dedit
“O thrice and four times happy were the men
Whom hate devoured, and fraud, hard pressing on,
Gave as a prey to death.”
And so the ancient oracle quoted by Pausanias Achaic., lib. vii., c. 6: Τρις μακαρες κεινοι και τετρακις ανδρες εσνται ; “Those men shall be thrice and four times happy.”
These quotations are sufficient to show that this form of speech is neither unfrequent nor inelegant, being employed by the most correct writers of antiquity.
Damascus was the capital of Syria.
Ben-hadad - He was son and successor of Hazael. See the cruelties which they exercised upon the Israelites, 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 13:7, etc., and see especially 2 Kings 8:12, where these cruelties are predicted. The fire threatened here is the war so successfully carried on against the Syrians by Jeroboam II., in which he took Damascus and Hamath, and reconquered all the ancient possessions of Israel. See 2 Kings 14:25, 2 Kings 14:26, 2 Kings 14:28.
The bar of Damascus - The gates, whose long traverse bars, running from wall to wall, were their strength. I will throw it open; and the gates were forced, and the city taken, as above.
The plain of Aven - the house of Eden - These are names, says Bochart, of the valley of Damascus. The plain of Aven, or Birkath-Aven, Calmet says, is a city of Syria, at present called Baal-Bek, and by the Greeks Heliopolis; and is situated at the end of that long valley which extends from south to north, between Libanus and Anti-Libanus.
The people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir - Kir is supposed to be the country of Cyrene in Albania, on the river Cyrus, which empties itself into the Caspian Sea. The fulfilment of this prophecy may be seen in 2 Kings 16:1-9.
They carried away captive - Gaza is well known to have been one of the five lordships of the Philistines; it lay on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, near to Egypt. Erkon, Ashdod, and Askelon, were other signories of the same people, which are here equally threatened with Gaza. The captivity mentioned here may refer to inroads and incursions made by the Philistines in times of peace. See 2 Chronicles 21:16. The margin reads, an entire captivity. They took all away; none of them afterwards returned.
Tyrus - See an ample description of this place, and of its desolation and final ruin, in the notes on Ezekiel 26-28 (note).
The brotherly covenant - This possibly refers to the very friendly league made between Solomon and Hiram, king of Tyre, 1 Kings 5:12; but some contend that the brotherly covenant refers to the consanguinity between the Jews and Edomites. The Tyrians, in exercising cruelties upon these, did it, in effect, on the Jews, with whom they were connected by the most intimate ties of kindred; the two people having descended from the two brothers, Jacob and Esau. See Calmet.
I will send a fire on the wall of Tyrus - The destructive fire or siege by Nebuchadnezzar, which lasted thirteen years, and ended in the destruction of this ancient city; see on Ezekiel 26:7-14 (note), as above. It was finally ruined by Alexander, and is now only a place for a few poor fishermen to spread their nets upon.
For three transgressions of Edom - That the Edomites (notwithstanding what Calmet observes above of the brotherly covenant) were always implacable enemies of the Jews, is well known; but most probably that which the prophet has in view was the part they took in distressing the Jews when Jerusalem was besieged, and finally taken, by the Chaldeans. See Obadiah 1:11-14; Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 35:5; Psalm 137:7.
Teman - Bozrah - Principal cities of Idumea.
The children of Ammon - The country of the Ammonites lay to the east of Jordan, in the neighborhood of Gilead. Rabbah was its capital.
Because they have ripped up - This refers to some barbarous transaction well known in the time of this prophet, but of which we have no distinct mention in the sacred historians.
With shouting in the day of battle - They shall be totally subdued. This was done by Nebuchadnezzar. See Jeremiah 27:3, Jeremiah 27:6.
Their king shall go into captivity - Probably מלכם (malcham) should be Milcom, who was a chief god of the Ammonites; and the following words, he and his princes, may refer to the body of his priesthood. See 1 Kings 11:33 (note). All these countries were subdued by Nebuchadnezzar.