by Francis Foulkes ©


'Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel come! Pass over to Calneh, and see; and thence go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are they better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory, O you who put far away the evil day, and bring near the seat of violence? Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music; who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away' (6:1-7)

Here is another part of Amos where we see two pictures side by side: the people of Israel (and specially their leaders) as they saw themselves, and those same people as God saw them.

a. The great ones

Samaria was the capital of Israel, and was built in the hills, 'the mountain of Samaria' as it is called here. Those who have dug into the ruins of the old city tell us what a fine and rich and beautiful city it was. We can understand that its leaders felt themselves to be great ones. They could feel safe and secure in Samaria. They could think of themselves as 'the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel come'; and what could be said of Samaria could often be applied to the southern kingdom of Judah and the leaders in Jerusalem who were at ease in Zion' (Zion was the hill in Jerusalem on which the temple stood, and was so important that people often called the city itself by the name Zion). They thought of themselves as great when they compared themselves with others. Verse 2 may be what the leaders in Samaria were saying (see Notes below): 'Pass over to Calneh, and see; and thence go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines'. Calneh and Hamath were important Syrian cities to the north, and Gath one of the five great Philistine cities to the south. These were great cities, but perhaps they had been more glorious in the past, that the leaders in Samaria could say, 'Are they better than these kingdoms? Or is their territory greater than your territory?' No, not at all; Israel was greater and better, and its important people could 'feel secure in the mountain of Samaria'. That was how they saw themselves, but not how God saw them. In His sight they were just putting 'far away the evil day'. They were saying that nothing evil, no trouble or calamity could ever touch them. People have often said that, but pride leads to disaster (see Ezekiel 12:26-28, Luke 17:26-30, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 and 2 Peter 3:3-7). These men of Samaria made a great mistake; by the way that they lived they were bringing God's judgment upon them more certainly and more quickly.

b. The happy ones

These leaders in Samaria not only saw themselves as the great ones; they saw themselves as the happy people. They had all that their hearts could desire. They had comfortable beds that were rich and beautiful, and even inlaid with costly ivory - while most of the people had only a mat to lie on to sleep. While others worked hard to try to earn enough for a living for themselves and their families, they did not need to work. They could spend their days stretched on their couches. While most of the people could afford little or no meat, and in any case had to keep their sheep for their wool and their cows for their milk, they had an abundance of young lambs and calves specially fattened for their feasting (compare Luke 15:23). They had plenty of music, and thought themselves as great as David in the songs that they sang and the musical instruments they had. Wine they had by the great bowlful. To keep themselves comfortable in the heat and the dry, they had the finest oils with which to anoint themselves. It was a wonderful life, and they felt that nothing could ever disturb their happiness. But God saw it in a different way. God 'generously gives us everything' that we have `for us to enjoy' (1 Timothy 6:17 Today's English Version); but we are not just to use His good gifts to live selfishly for ourselves. God was displeased with these leaders of Israel, not because they found happiness in life but because in all their pleasures they were 'not grieved over the ruin of Joseph'. They did not care if the poor among their own people - their brothers as much as Joseph when in prison in Egypt was the brother to the sons of Jacob - were ruined and sold into slavery. They did not care about the moral and the spiritual ruin of their people, and that their whole national life was corrupt and sick. They cared only for themselves and for their own happiness; they gave no thought to serving God or serving their fellow-men. So the word of God about these people who saw themselves as 'the notable men of the first of the nations' was just this, 'Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile' , and their 'revelry', their feasts with wine and rich meats and music, would 'pass away'. For always when a man or woman, or a nation, lives only for selfish enjoyment with no thought for others, and no thought for God, then there must come a time when God breaks in and calls them to account.


How much do I care when people around me suffer great poverty or are treated unjustly? How much do I care when in my country people do not accept God's standards, and do not listen to His word?

For further thought and study. 1. Is it wrong to be rich? What are the dangers of riches? Consider along with these verses the ways in which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the judgment of those who lived on earth a life of selfish enjoyment without thought for others. See especially Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 12:13-21 and 16:19-31.

2. Study Hebrews 11 as showing that true faith means an attitude opposite to that shown in these verses, a willingness for God's sake to give up a life of ease and enjoyment, and a readiness to suffer for Him and for His people.

Notes. 1. There are a number of different ways in which verse 2 has been understood. Some have understood that these cities, Calneh and Hamath and Gath, had fallen and Israel was called to see this, and to realise that there was no reason why Samaria would not fall also. But then it would be necessary to take it, as the New English Bible (and some other translations similarly), 'Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than theirs?' But this brings a change into what was written, and also it is not certain that the three cities had fallen in the days of Amos. Another way of taking it is to understand that the prophet was saying to the people of Samaria that their land was better and greater than these others, and so their failure was more serious in God's sight. But it may be right, rather, as we have done above, to understand the words of the verse as the boast of the leaders in Samaria that their land was better and bigger than these others.

2. When verse 3 speaks of their putting 'far away the evil day', the reference then to their bringing 'near the seat of violence' may mean that they were bringing on themselves the violent judgment of God. On the other hand it may be that it means that by their failure to uphold justice they were causing violence to increase in the land. So Phillips translates, 'You put off the day of reckoning, yet bring ever nearer the days of misrule'. The Jerusalem Bible has, 'you hasten the reign of violence'.