Amos: 2:6-16 — The Punchline

The final ten verses of the first speech in the sefer serve as the punchline to the elaborate setup with the seven nations, as we explained there. Beyond the formulaic 3+1 opener, this section does not follow the regular structure or patterns used for the other nations, and is considerably longer and more multifaceted. The “4th” crime here is not any single action, but a multiplicity of different offenses filling v7-8. This leads into v9-12, in which God lists ways in which he has historically attempted to distance the nation from sin, all of which have proven futile. v13-16 conclude the speech with foretold disaster.

v6-8: The Crimes

ו כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ: עַל-מִכְרָם בַּכֶּסֶף צַדִּיק, וְאֶבְיוֹן בַּעֲבוּר נַעֲלָיִם. ז הַשֹּׁאֲפִים עַל-עֲפַר-אֶרֶץ בְּרֹאשׁ דַּלִּים, וְדֶרֶךְ עֲנָוִים יַטּוּ; וְאִישׁ וְאָבִיו, יֵלְכוּ אֶל-הַנַּעֲרָה, לְמַעַן חַלֵּל, אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי. ח וְעַל-בְּגָדִים חֲבֻלִים יַטּוּ, אֵצֶל כָּל-מִזְבֵּחַ; וְיֵין עֲנוּשִׁים יִשְׁתּוּ, בֵּית אֱלֹהֵיהֶם.

6 Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not reverse it: because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; 7 That trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the ground, and turn aside the way of the humble; and a man and his father go unto the same girl, to profane My holy name; 8 And they lay themselves down beside every altar upon clothes taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine bought with fines they imposed.

Yisrael is charged here with what has become the hallmark cause of Amos: the oppression of the underprivileged. v6b-7a initiate this theme, discussing the selling of the poor into slavery and trampling them into the ground¹. v7b already moves into different territory, mentioning the sabotaging of the righteous and sexual immorality. v8 shifts the focus again towards Avodah Zarah.

The underlying theme of economic oppression pervades the presentation of these crimes. This is manifested explicitly in v6-7a, while more subtly in v8. There northerners are accused of:

ח וְעַל-בְּגָדִים חֲבֻלִים יַטּוּ, אֵצֶל כָּל-מִזְבֵּחַ; וְיֵין עֲנוּשִׁים יִשְׁתּוּ, בֵּית אֱלֹהֵיהֶם

8 And they lay themselves down beside every altar upon clothes taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of imposed fines.

It is important to remember that whenever we encounter Avodah Zarah throughout this sefer, we are not discussing the abandonment of God for other deities, but the improper and misguided worship of God. “בֵּית אֱלֹהֵיהֶם” in this line probably refers to Beit El, the center of ritual worship in the north, where they worship the same God that Yehuda worships in the Beit Hamikdash.

The presentation of the line serves to accentuate the idea of northern ritual being tied to economic oppression, which is not only inherently evil, but also a hypocritical religious affront. They are accused of lying on בְּגָדִים חֲבֻלִים in their temples. חבל, meaning collateral or a pledge given for a loan, is a concept in the Torah which is exclusively tied to economic oppression of the underprivileged, either as a caution or prohibition, as in Shemot 22:

כה אִם-חָבֹל תַּחְבֹּל, שַׂלְמַת רֵעֶךָ--עַד-בֹּא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לוֹ. כו כִּי הִוא כְסוּתֹה לְבַדָּהּ, הִוא שִׂמְלָתוֹ לְעֹרוֹ; בַּמֶּה יִשְׁכָּב--וְהָיָה כִּי-יִצְעַק אֵלַי, וְשָׁמַעְתִּי כִּי-חַנּוּן אָנִי.

25 If thou at all take thy neighbor's garment to pledge, thou shalt restore it unto him by that the sun goeth down;

26 for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin; wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to to pass, when he crieth unto Me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

Or Devarim 24:

ו לֹא-יַחֲבֹל רֵחַיִם, וָרָכֶב: כִּי-נֶפֶשׁ, הוּא חֹבֵל.

6 No man shall take the mill or the upper millstone to pledge; for he taketh a man's life to pledge.

יז לֹא תַטֶּה, מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר יָתוֹם; וְלֹא תַחֲבֹל, בֶּגֶד אַלְמָנָה.

17 Thou shalt not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless; nor take the widow's garment to pledge.

The fact that northerners in their temples are drinking wine while lounging on garments taken as collateral, especially in light of v6-7a, paints a picture of religious aristocratic oppression, directly against how the Torah says to act². Along with the theme we have been developing, there is no technical wrongdoing in this line according to the verses we have quoted from Shemot and Devarim, but while those verses, among many others, emphasize the fundamental ideas of social responsibility and sensitivity towards the underprivileged, what is occurring here is obviously contrary to that mentality.

v8 continues this synthesis of oppression and ritual, charging northerners with drinking wine in their temples funded by fines and taxes, the implication being those of an unjust and self-serving nature³.

There is a second theme underlying these crimes — that of betrayal. This is explicitly covered in v7b, where the path of the righteous is sabotaged, and the desecration of God’s name, entrusted to us to glorify and uphold (which arguably is the point of everything), occurs through acts of sexual immorality. More implicitly, the economic oppression in v6-7a bespeaks of a betrayal of the poor by the wealthy, whom the Torah charges with the responsibility to assist⁴. Furthermore, v8 displays the betrayal of northern congregants by selfish (and presumably trusted) religious leaders. The presence of the homophone “יַטּוּ” in v7b and v8 serves to tie these two themes together. The betrayal theme as tied to the sabotage of the righteous in particular, as in v7b, we will see again throughout this piece.

v9-12: The Futile History

ט וְאָנֹכִי הִשְׁמַדְתִּי אֶת-הָאֱמֹרִי, מִפְּנֵיהֶם, אֲשֶׁר כְּגֹבַהּ אֲרָזִים גָּבְהוֹ, וְחָסֹן הוּא כָּאַלּוֹנִים; וָאַשְׁמִיד פִּרְיוֹ מִמַּעַל, וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מִתָּחַת. י וְאָנֹכִי הֶעֱלֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם בַּמִּדְבָּר אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, לָרֶשֶׁת אֶת-אֶרֶץ הָאֱמֹרִי. יא וָאָקִים מִבְּנֵיכֶם לִנְבִיאִים, וּמִבַּחוּרֵיכֶם לִנְזִרִים; הַאַף אֵין-זֹאת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. יב וַתַּשְׁקוּ אֶת-הַנְּזִרִים, יָיִן; וְעַל-הַנְּבִיאִים צִוִּיתֶם לֵאמֹר, לֹא תִּנָּבְאוּ.

9 Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. 10 Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorites. 11 And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the LORD. 12 But ye gave the Nazirites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying: 'Prophesy not.’

God here uses a recounting of the nation’s history to list a number of ways in which he had orchestrated circumstances which favored the nation’s avoidance of sin. Despite all these measures, the nation veered from the correct path, sometimes seemingly deliberately and spitefully. These measures included:

  1. The uprooting of the Emori, compared to a strong towering tree, so as to not be influenced by their practices.
  2. The Exodus and subsequent forty year experience in the wilderness to reach the land, both religiously and societally developmental experiences.
  3. The raising of Neviim and Nezirim. The former, like Amos, to warn of impending disaster and condemn sin, and the latter seemingly to act as upstanding role models.

Despite all these preventative measures taken by God, the nation has managed to circumvent or dismantle all of them.

Regarding the first, to prevent the inculcation of sinful Cannanite practices, in v7b the nation is accused of sexual immorality, the staple Cannanite practice from which the Torah attempts to elevate the nation.

Vayikra 18:3:

ג כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם-בָּהּ, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ; וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם, לֹא תֵלֵכוּ.

3 After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes.

This chapter in Vayikra goes on to list all the illegal sexual relationships, ending in 18:24-30 with a severe seven-verse-long warning against performing these acts because they are the practices of the Cannanites, and their practice of them is the direct cause of their expulsion from the land. Chapter 20 in Vayikra, another list of illegal sexual relationships, concludes in a similar way in 20:22-27, telling the nation not to perform these acts which are the practices of the Cannanites, because God’s nation is separate and holy⁵.

Relevantly, here in v7b the sexual crime is put in terms of “חַלֵּל” (profane) and “קָדְשִׁי” (holy), the native language of Sefer Vayikra.

The second preventative measure was the Exodus and wilderness experience, which was highly developmental and educational in terms of the establishment and maintaining of a correct Jewish society⁶. The arguably single most fundamental lesson tied to the Exodus is repeated separately in no less than three books of the Torah:

Shemot 22:20:

כ וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

20 And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Vayikra 19:34:

לד כְּאֶזְרָח מִכֶּם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם, וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ--כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

34 The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Devarim 10:19:

יט וַאֲהַבְתֶּם, אֶת-הַגֵּר: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

19 Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

The Jewish nation knows what it is like to be oppressed and underprivileged, and is told to use the memory of Egypt to hold their own society to a higher standard of social sensitivity. Therefore, the oppression of the poor in v6-7a and v8 directly undermines this fundamental socio-historical lesson imparted by God.

The third preventative measure was the raising of Neviim and Nezirim to serve as advisory and inspiring figures, respectively⁷. This measure is explicitly sabotaged by the nation in v12, wherein the Nezirim are forcibly fed wine and the Neviim are ordered not to preach⁸. The latter would be particularly poignant when spoken by Amos to his audience, as Amos the navi is still preaching despite the efforts to silence Neviim.

Both the mention of wine and the sabotage of the Nezirim clearly harken back to v8 and v7b, respectively, thus continuing the theme of the sabotage of the righteous established there, as well as connecting this idea to the oppression in v8. Interestingly, there is a qualitative discrepancy in the nature of the oppression and sabotage throughout. While those instances in v6-7a and v8 bespeak of economic gain achieved as a result of oppression, the instances of sabotaging the righteous in v7b and v12 are seemingly perpetrated without any advantage to the perpetrator. This bespeaks of a higher degree of spiteful sin, rejection of God, and an internalization and integration of evil.

v13-16: Foretold Disaster

יג הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מֵעִיק, תַּחְתֵּיכֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר תָּעִיק הָעֲגָלָה, הַמְלֵאָה לָהּ עָמִיר. יד וְאָבַד מָנוֹס מִקָּל, וְחָזָק לֹא-יְאַמֵּץ כֹּחוֹ; וְגִבּוֹר, לֹא-יְמַלֵּט נַפְשׁוֹ. טו וְתֹפֵשׂ הַקֶּשֶׁת לֹא יַעֲמֹד, וְקַל בְּרַגְלָיו לֹא יְמַלֵּט; וְרֹכֵב הַסּוּס, לֹא יְמַלֵּט נַפְשׁוֹ. טז וְאַמִּיץ לִבּוֹ, בַּגִּבּוֹרִים--עָרוֹם יָנוּס בַּיּוֹם-הַהוּא, נְאֻם-יְהוָה

13 Behold, I will make it slow under you, as a cart slows that is full of sheaves. 14 And flight shall fail the swift, and the strong shall not exert his strength, neither shall the mighty deliver himself; 15 Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself; neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself; 16 And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the LORD.

The Navi concludes with a section of foretold doom in which he describes a disastrously failed war effort as the very strengths and agilities of the northern army deserts its ranks, allowing none to escape the calamity. This continues the betrayal idea we have been developing, as the soldiers are abandoned by their own innate physical abilities. Though the presentation of the material seems haphazard, we will show how these verses actually build a precise and meticulous structure of escalation. In order to demonstrate this, the material will be essentially divided, with every clause in the first half of the section corresponding to a matching clause of escalated degree in the second half.

First Half; v13-15a Second Half; v15b-16 Explanation of Escalating Correspondence
יג,הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מֵעִיק, תַּחְתֵּיכֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר תָּעִיק הָעֲגָלָה, הַמְלֵאָה לָהּ עָמִיר.,13
Behold, I will have it slowed under you, as a cart is slowed that is full of sheaves.
; וְרֹכֵב הַסּוּס, לֹא יְמַלֵּט נַפְשׁוֹ… טו,15
…neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself
The ordinary horse-drawn cart is slowed in v13, while a war horse and its rider is slowed in v15b
יד,וְאָבַד מָנוֹס מִקָּל,14
And flight shall fail the swift
…קַל בְּרַגְלָיו לֹא יְמַלֵּט…טו,15
…and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself…
Speed forsakes the swift in v14 and they perish in v15
יד ...וְחָזָק לֹא-יְאַמֵּץ כֹּחוֹ; וְגִבּוֹר, לֹא-יְמַלֵּט נַפְשׁוֹ.,14
…and the strong shall not exert his strength, neither shall the mighty deliver himself;
טז,וְאַמִּיץ לִבּוֹ, בַּגִּבּוֹרִים--עָרוֹם יָנוּס,16
And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked
The mighty lose strength and fail in v14, and flee naked and humiliated in v16
טו,וְתֹפֵשׂ הַקֶּשֶׁת לֹא יַעֲמֹד,15
Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow
טז,וְאַמִּיץ לִבּוֹ, בַּגִּבּוֹרִים--**עָרוֹם** יָנוּס,16
And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked
He who wielded the bow in v15a flees without any equipment in v16

Other Overall Themes

There is an underlying motif throughout this piece of “Up and Down”. The sinful actions of Yisrael are always “Down”, while the actions of God are both “Up” and “Down”, both in dealing with the Emori and with Yisrael.

1. v6; The selling of the poor for **shoes** Down
2. v7; Trampling the poor **into the ground** Down
3. v8; Reclining **on the ground** on pledged clothes Down
4. v9a; Emori are compared to a “high tree” Up
5. v9b; God destroys the tree’s “fruits above and its roots below” Up and Down
6. v10; God “brings the nation up” from Egypt Up
7. v11; God “raises” Nezirim and Neviim Up
8. v13; God slows the cart “under you” Down

God’s actions (4-8), in reference to both the Emori and Yisrael, begin Up and end Down. This reflects God’s initial positive actions towards each nation, the empowering of the Emori and the raising of Nezirim/Neviim for Yisrael, transitioning into negative actions because of the sins of each nation. Thus the Up/Down motif serves to illustrate God’s corresponding justice applied to both the Emori and Yisrael, extremely similar to an idea we developed when examining the previous seven nation section. Furthermore, God’s multifaceted Up/Down all-encompassing control is contrasted with Yisrael’s set of singularly Down actions (1-3), which also reflects the degrading and lowering nature of their actions.

The final issue we will contend with is the issue of audience. As 2:4-5 already deals with Yehuda separately, and this section is prefaced with “עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל”, we would expect that our section would be directed solely to a northern audience. However, in v11 the target of the speech switches to “בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל”, an inclusive term used to refer to the entire nation, both the north and south. Furthermore, the Exodus and Wilderness experiences are referenced, which are national memories of, again, the entire nation. These factors would argue for another occurrence of intent for a later Judean audience, as we concluded previously for the seven nation section.

As promised, this piece was a relatively standard one, although usually we will take an entire speech at once as opposed to breaking it up as we did here over the last two posts. In the next section we will contend with some fun prophetic logic as well as some ideas inherently concerning Nevuah and the Navi.

[1] “vXa” indicates the first half of a verse, while “vXb” indicates the second.
[2] Also see Devarim 24:10-13
[3] Perhaps ritualistic wine is implied, as in נסוך יין, adding another level of critique. The wine itself which they are indulging in themselves was intended as an object for God, which was funded through oppression.
[4] Shemot 22:24, Vayikra 19:9, 25:35-37, Devarim 15:7-8, 24:19-22
[5] Considering the mention of Egypt in Vayikra 18:3, the Exodus measure may contain an aspect of this idea as well.
[6] i.e. Devarim 8:2-5, 12-16
[7] Interestingly, the idea of Neviim/Nezirim being separated from the nation for a higher purpose in v11 corresponds with the nation itself being similarly historically separated as God’s chosen nation in v9-10. The ruination of both also corresponds, the former by being force-fed wine and silenced, and the latter by their following the ways of other nations.
[8] There is an implicit fourth preventative measure, that being the very existence of the poorer classes. Devarim 15:11 states that there will never cease to be poor people in the land, arguably so as to gain the national blessings promised in return for their support in the previous verse. Drawing a few things together, the existence of the poor should optimally prevent us from forgetting our own impoverishment in Egypt, stifle national arrogance, as well as inspire developmental sensitivity and charity, all of which are squandered when the nation itself is perpetrating oppression.

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