by Francis Foulkes ©


'The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the Lord, the God of hosts): "I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it." And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. And when a man's kinsman, he who burns him, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, "Is there still anyone with you?" he shall say, "No"; and he shall say, "Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord." For behold, the Lord commands, and the great house shall be smitten into fragments, and the little house into bits. Do horses run upon rocks? Does one plough the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood you who rejoice in Lo-debar, who say, "Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?" "For behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel," says the Lord, the God of hosts; "and they shall oppress you from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of the Arabah" (6:8-14)

In 5:21 we saw that God's word to Israel was that He hated their worship, their sacrifices and the music of their festivals, because while they professed to worship Him their hearts were far from Him. Now in these verses we see two other things in the life of Israel that God hated, and we read what would happen to them if they held on to those things. Again Amos wanted to bring the word of God with all the power and emphasis he could. It was God's oath and promise, 'The Lord God has sworn by himself' - He could swear by no one greater (see Genesis 22:16, Exodus 32:13 and especially Hebrews 6:13-18). It is the word of 'the Lord, the God of hosts', and men are in the greatest possible danger when they turn aside from His word.

a. Israel's pride

The people of Israel - called Jacob in verse 8, perhaps to remind them that they, like their great ancestor, were weak and sinful - boasted in what they thought was their wealth and their power. God's word was 'I abhor the pride of Jacob'. This may mean that He hated the fact that they were proud and thought that they were so important and strong and could manage without Him. Or it may mean that He hated and despised the things in which they trusted. He went on to say how He hated the `strongholds' of Israel. We have found this word used many times in Amos, and have seen (in Note on 1:4) that it may have referred to the houses of the rich strengthened like fortresses (some translations take it as `palaces'). In any case God hated the way that they boasted in their own riches and in their own strength. He declared what would be His judgment, 'I will deliver up the city and all that is in it'. Their great Samaria must fall and its people would be handed over to the enemy. Their fine buildings would be broken to pieces, 'For behold, the Lord commands, and the great house shall be smitten into fragments, and the little house into bits' (verse 11).

Verses 9 and 10 (which may continue straight on from verse 8, or may have been a separate prophecy) speak of plague and disease that probably ravaged Samaria at the time when the city was surrounded by the enemy. There would be such loss of life at that time, Amos said, that, `if ten men remain in one house, they shall die'. A relative would come to deal with the bodies of the dead, and would call out, and find just one person surviving. 'Is there still any one with you?' And the answer would come, "No". And the fear would be so great, the sense of God's judgment taking place in all that had happened, that he would say, 'Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord!' Those who might have found strength in God and deliverance from such trouble and disaster, had boasted in themselves rather than in the Lord, and now they were afraid to think of Him or even mention His name.

b. Israel's corruption of justice

Verse 12 comes back again to what Amos often said. God required justice in the courts and righteousness in the lives of His people. He hated all the bribery and corruption of justice that there was in those days; He hated all the dishonesty in people's dealings one with another. The poor turned to the courts for justice and did not find it. It was like having to take poison, or like the poisoning and slow death of the life of the nation (compare Hosea 10:4). People expected to find fair dealing from their fellows, and they did not find it. It made all personal relationships like 'wormwood', a bitter thing. Did they think that they could go on like this and nothing happen? That would be as much against the nature of things in God's purpose as to have horses running on sharp rocks, or trying to plough the sea with oxen. They boasted in what they had been able to do, victories against their Syrian neighbours to the north of them; they rejoiced in being able to take the city of Lo-debar, and they said, `Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?' God's answer was that a nation much greater and stronger than they were would come against them, and from furthest north to furthest south in the country, `from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of the Arabah', this mighty foe would oppress them. Within fifty years of the time that Amos spoke, the Assyrians came against Israel and did oppress them throughout the country from north to south. Isaiah (10: 5, 15) said that the Assyrians were just like God's 'rod', His 'axe' and His 'saw', used as the instruments of His judgment. If Israel had trusted in God rather than in themselves, if they had turned to the Lord rather than away from Him, they might have known victory over the Assyrians and deliverance from them, as Judah did in the days of King Hezekiah and of the prophet Isaiah. But the northern kingdom of Israel would not take warning. They continued to love the things that God hated; and they had to face the consequences.


God, help us to love the things that You love, and to hate the things that You hate. Keep us especially from all pride, and give us grace to depend on Your strength and salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

For further thought and study. 1. Consider the following passages as showing further the attitude of God to the pride of man: Luke 18:9-14, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and 1 Peter 5:1-6.

2. In the light of verse 12 and the way it shows the foolishness of man trying to go against God's laws, consider any ways in which we today may try to act as if these laws were not true. See also Galatians 6:7-8.

Notes. 1. Verse 10 speaks of 'a man's kinsman, he who burns him' coming to the house to deal with the bodies of the dead. Normally in Israel, and in the countries round about, they buried the dead, and it was thought a terrible thing for bodies to be burnt (see Note on 2: 1). It only happened in the case of the worst criminals, and perhaps in a time of plague like this. On the other hand the reference may be not to the burning of the body, but the burning of spices as part of the funeral arrangements (see 2 Chronicles 16:14 and 21:19).

2. In verse 12 our translation 'Does one plough the sea with oxen?' depends on a slight change being made in the original Hebrew. This may be right, or the older translations, 'will one plough there' (that is, on the rocks) 'with oxen?' may be right.

3. Lo-debar and Karnaim (verse 13) were actual places in Syria which it seems that the Israelites had conquered. Probably they had taken other places too, but these two were chosen because of the meaning of the names. Lo-debar means 'a thing of nought', and so Amos is saying that the people were rejoicing in what was of no importance in God's sight. Karnaim means 'horns', and often in the Old Testament the horn (of an animal) was a symbol of strength; so Amos is saying that the people were making a great boast in their own strength.

4. Hamath (verse 14) lay to the north of Damascus, and the .entrance to Hamath' was the pass that led up to Hamath. This was intended to be the northern boundary of Israel (see Numbers 34:8 and Joshua 13:5), just as 'the Brook of the Arabah' was intended to be the southern boundary (see Numbers 34:5 and Joshua 15:4 which speak of the same place as 'the Brook of Egypt'). It is hard to be sure exactly the place meant by either of these terms. The name 'Arabah' was used for the valley of the Jordan, especially in the southern part, and the continuation of the valley south of the Dead Sea.