Amos 4:1-13 — Of Cosmological Sarcasm

This piece continues the theme of God’s ultimately futile attempts to distance the nation from sin. However, these attempts are not as those we saw previously in 2:9-12 — the orchestration of religiously encouraging circumstances and developmental experiences — but instead a series of national punishments which had been sent in order to forcibly revert the nation back to God. The retrospective reflection on these failed attempts occupy v6-11, the bulk of the piece. The introductory v1-5 serves to delineate the persisting current state of sin, and the concluding v12-13 imply a disastrous future on an even greater scale. This outline is parallel to the structure of the previously examined 2:6-16, a section with which our current speech bears a significant relationship. Through delineating the key discrepancies between these largely parallel pieces, the singular significances and specific natures of both pieces will be shown.

Sarcasm from the Most High

Amos 4:1-5:

א שִׁמְעוּ הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, פָּרוֹת הַבָּשָׁן אֲשֶׁר בְּהַר שֹׁמְרוֹן, הָעֹשְׁקוֹת דַּלִּים, הָרֹצְצוֹת אֶבְיוֹנִים; הָאֹמְרֹת לַאֲדֹנֵיהֶם, הָבִיאָה וְנִשְׁתֶּה. ב נִשְׁבַּע אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה בְּקָדְשׁוֹ, כִּי הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים עֲלֵיכֶם; וְנִשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם בְּצִנּוֹת, וְאַחֲרִיתְכֶן בְּסִירוֹת דּוּגָה. ג וּפְרָצִים תֵּצֶאנָה, אִשָּׁה נֶגְדָּהּ; וְהִשְׁלַכְתֶּנָה הַהַרְמוֹנָה, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. ד בֹּאוּ בֵית-אֵל וּפִשְׁעוּ, הַגִּלְגָּל הַרְבּוּ לִפְשֹׁעַ; וְהָבִיאוּ לַבֹּקֶר זִבְחֵיכֶם, לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים מַעְשְׂרֹתֵיכֶם. ה וְקַטֵּר מֵחָמֵץ תּוֹדָה, וְקִרְאוּ נְדָבוֹת הַשְׁמִיעוּ: כִּי כֵן אֲהַבְתֶּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה.

1 Hear this word, ye cows of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say unto their lords: 'Bring, that we may feast.' 2 The Lord GOD hath sworn by His holiness: Lo, surely the days shall come upon you, that ye shall be taken away with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks. 3 And ye shall go out at the breaches, every one straight before her; and ye shall be cast into the harem , saith the LORD. 4 Come to Beth-el, and transgress, to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices in the morning, and your tithes after three days; 5 And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill-offerings and publish them; for so ye love to do, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

The sins outlined here correspond neatly to the sins of 2:6-8. The oppressive actions in v1 mirror those found in v2:6b-7a, and the illegal forms of worship in v4-5 reflect those found in v2:8. Here, an idea we have been insisting on is explicitly corroborated as the latter crime asserted is not the worship of other Gods, but the improper and hypocritical worship of the true one. The enthusiastically implemented and legitimate categories of ritual found in v4-5 come on the heels of the societal discordance found in v1-3, pointing to their empty and hypocritical nature. When one acts with God as one would with a pagan deity who values being sacrificially fed above all else, Sefer Vayikra itself becomes idolatry. This idea is illustrated in the juxtaposition of this manner of ritual to the people who decadently feast in v1; the implication being that in v4-5 the celebrants are essentially inviting God to the party, a thematic synthesis we have seen before. The third of the original 2:6-8 sins, sexual immorality, is found here more implicitly then the other two, in the employment of “נִשְׁבַּע אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה בְּקָדְשׁוֹ“, hearkening back to v2:7b wherein sexual immorality is said to “חַלֵּל, אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי”. As we established there, this particular linguistic employment when concerning sexual immorality is straight from the Sefer Vayikra handbook, and the same idea is being extended here, especially in light of the reveling women in v1 who call to men to add to the feast. This licentiousness is repaid in v3 when the women are sent to a harem, seemingly after being captured in the midst of destructive invasion (although the Hebrew is admittedly ambiguous).

The delivery of v4-5 is one of extreme sardonicism wherein God sarcastically entreats the Northern nation to increase their sin, as they have a real knack for it. This tone reflects the overall tone of the speech, one of God almost giving up entirely on the possibility of national rehabilitation, brought out to a greater degree in the following section.


Amos 4:6-11:

ו וְגַם-אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָכֶם נִקְיוֹן שִׁנַּיִם, בְּכָל-עָרֵיכֶם, וְחֹסֶר לֶחֶם, בְּכֹל מְקוֹמֹתֵיכֶם; וְלֹא-שַׁבְתֶּם עָדַי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. ז וְגַם אָנֹכִי מָנַעְתִּי מִכֶּם אֶת-הַגֶּשֶׁם, בְּעוֹד שְׁלֹשָׁה חֳדָשִׁים לַקָּצִיר, וְהִמְטַרְתִּי עַל-עִיר אֶחָת, וְעַל-עִיר אַחַת לֹא אַמְטִיר; חֶלְקָה אַחַת תִּמָּטֵר, וְחֶלְקָה אֲשֶׁר-לֹא-תַמְטִיר עָלֶיהָ תִּיבָשׁ. ח וְנָעוּ שְׁתַּיִם שָׁלֹשׁ עָרִים אֶל-עִיר אַחַת, לִשְׁתּוֹת מַיִם--וְלֹא יִשְׂבָּעוּ; וְלֹא-שַׁבְתֶּם עָדַי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. ט הִכֵּיתִי אֶתְכֶם, בַּשִּׁדָּפוֹן וּבַיֵּרָקוֹן--הַרְבּוֹת גַּנּוֹתֵיכֶם וְכַרְמֵיכֶם וּתְאֵנֵיכֶם וְזֵיתֵיכֶם, יֹאכַל הַגָּזָם; וְלֹא-שַׁבְתֶּם עָדַי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. {ס} י שִׁלַּחְתִּי בָכֶם דֶּבֶר, בְּדֶרֶךְ מִצְרַיִם--הָרַגְתִּי בַחֶרֶב בַּחוּרֵיכֶם, עִם שְׁבִי סוּסֵיכֶם; וָאַעֲלֶה בְּאֹשׁ מַחֲנֵיכֶם, וּבְאַפְּכֶם, וְלֹא-שַׁבְתֶּם עָדַי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה. יא הָפַכְתִּי בָכֶם, כְּמַהְפֵּכַת אֱלֹהִים אֶת-סְדֹם וְאֶת-עֲמֹרָה, וַתִּהְיוּ, כְּאוּד מֻצָּל מִשְּׂרֵפָה; וְלֹא-שַׁבְתֶּם עָדַי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה.

6 And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. 7 And I also have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest; and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city; one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. 8 So two or three cities wandered unto one city to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. 9 I have smitten you with blasting and mildew; the multitude of your gardens and your vineyards and your fig-trees and your olive-trees hath the palmer-worm devoured; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. {S} 10 I have sent among you the pestilence in the way of Egypt; your young men have I slain with the sword, and have carried away your horses; and I have made the stench of your camp to come up even into your nostrils; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD. 11 I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the LORD

This section asserts two ideas also found in the parallel second section of 2:6-16, one being that God does attempt to distance the nation from sin, and the second being that these attempts have ultimately proven futile, with the section enumerating these various divine efforts. However, the nature of these attempts in our piece stand in contrast to those found in 2:9-12. In the earlier piece, God orchestrates encouraging religious circumstances such as the removal of negative neighboring influences, the developmental exodus experience, and the empowering of spiritual leaders. In contrast, in our current section, God’s attempts are all post-facto disastrous punishments designed to forcibly revert the nation back to God. This speech then reasonably comes chronologically after Chapter 2, and the spiritual situation has only worsened. Whereas divine punishment was a hovering threat in 2:13-16, here that punishment has already been realized and is being reflected upon. The entire tone of our current piece, reflected particularly in the sardonic sarcasm employed in v4-5, is one of defeatism, as God seems to almost entirely give up on the nation’s possible rehabilitation. This tone is absent from 2:6-16, as the situation had yet to reach this point of hopelessness.

Indicatively, the punishments listed here as having already occurred all correspond to threats made in the past two speeches, implying the chronology of the speeches.

Past Threat (Chapters 1-3) Realized punishment (Chapter 4)
Loss of nation’s wealth 2:13, 3:11b, 3:15 v6-9 (Famine, drought, and agricultural disease/locust)
War/Invasion 2:14-16, 3:11a v10
Left a remnant 3:11 v11
Destruction of ritual centers 3:14 Though arguably included in the general destruction of v10-11, v12 corresponds to this as well, wherein they will meet their true God.

All five of these executed punishments are specifically designed to negate the sins noted throughout the chapter, demonstrating the purpose of these events is not just judicial consequence but optimally to be religiously rehabilitative¹. Let us take them in the order of their presentation.

The first disaster listed depicts a famine. The specification of לֶחֶם as a casualty of this famine serves to negate the חָמֵץ brought as an illegal Karban Todah in v5. The next disaster recounts a severe drought, wherein rain is withheld for שְׁלֹשָׁה חֳדָשִׁים לַקָּצִיר. As the harvest would be a lean one due to the lack of rain, the nation would theoretically be unable to commit “לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים מַעְשְׂרֹתֵיכֶם” in v4, which is further connected by the mutual presence of “שְׁלֹשָׁה”. Furthermore, in v8 the drought is specifically said to force the nation to travel to the few cities which possess water, inhibiting their ability to “בֹּאוּ בֵית-אֵל” in v4. The note of a general lack of full satiation in v8 serves to rebuff the culture of hedonistic revelry in v1. The next disaster, the withering of finer agriculture such as vineyards, gardens, figs, and olives, negates the festivities of v1 which draw wine from the vineyards, fruit and oils from the fig trees and olive groves, and use the gardens as a party space². In the next disaster, all the young men are killed in battle, negating the women in v1 calling לַאֲדֹנֵיהֶם to increase the celebration, which we demonstrated above connoted sexual immorality. This is impossible now, as the men they were calling to have all fallen in war. The final disaster in v11 of a general overturning of society serves to even the social scales which are so oppressively misbalanced in v1a.

There exists a rough flow between the five disasters. The first two, famine and drought, are arguably describing the same extended event, the latter causing the former, with the emphasis on שְׁלֹשָׁה חֳדָשִׁים לַקָּצִיר in v7 underscoring this. This agricultural devastation connects not practically but thematically to the next disaster, wherein disease and locusts destroy other forms of agriculture in v9. The agricultural disease in v9a connects to the human disease of the next disaster in v10a. This Exodus-esque plague contributes to the destruction of the Northern army in battle in v10, leading to the destruction of virtually the entire nation in the final disaster in v11.

Perhaps the emphasis placed within the drought on traveling towards concentrated resources is indicative of a certain vision of the unfolding situation. When the rain only falls on a single city forcing three other cities to travel there to find water, it creates a situation wherein sustaining the needy, here the influx of neighboring northerners, becomes a necessity and a societal norm. Being either a citizen of the rainy city or a displaced traveler searching for water requires one to partake in the process of supporting the destitute — either by being forced to sustain them or by becoming one — a potentially educational and spiritually rehabilitative experience for the entire society. This would implicitly act as another method through which God attempted to fix the nation and distance it from sin.

By the end of this recounting we have learned that the North has been reduced to a smoldering remnant of what it once was, as the threats of earlier chapters wreaked havoc on the nation. This sequence corresponds to the history we know from Sefer Melachim, wherein after the successful reign of Yeravam II, stages of steady decline and invasion escort the North into its eventual final Assyrian liquidation.

Meet Your Maker

Amos 4:12-13:

יב לָכֵן, כֹּה אֶעֱשֶׂה-לְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל: עֵקֶב כִּי-זֹאת אֶעֱשֶׂה-לָּךְ, הִכּוֹן לִקְרַאת-אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל. יג כִּי הִנֵּה יוֹצֵר הָרִים וּבֹרֵא רוּחַ, וּמַגִּיד לְאָדָם מַה-שֵּׂחוֹ, עֹשֵׂה שַׁחַר עֵיפָה, וְדֹרֵךְ עַל-בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ--יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי-צְבָאוֹת, שְׁמוֹ

12 Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel; because this I will do unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. 13 For, lo, He that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning into darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth; the LORD, the God of hosts, is His name.

Amos concludes the speech with a threat of further future destruction, parallel with 2:13-16, the conclusion of 2:6-16. Like there, the threat is ambiguous, but while there the focus of the future was on the deteriorating North, here the focus is on God, portrayed as a throwback Old-Testament cosmological power. The creator aspect of God is emphasized and made intimidating in its awesome implications of control and power, particularly where it concerns man, to counter the aristocratic arrogance of the nation as presented in v1. This emphatic theocentric conclusion serves as a divine response to the nation’s obliviousness of God’s hand in these listed disasters, a mindset we already saw fought by the Navi in 3:6. If the nation refuses to see God in these events then he will soon make himself even more apparent.


It is almost needless to elaborate on the clear thematic connections that exist between this chapter of Amos and the present holiday of Chanuka. The perfectly timely nature of our study of this section could only have been orchestrated by the hand of God, whom we already know from our study of this sefer moves nations like chess pieces, retains complete control of the natural forces, and augments my prophetic blog posts.

Anyone who disagrees with the above is a Greek.

Chanuka Sameach!

[1] The purpose of exile in Vayikra 26:39-41 is to reflect on the sin that led you there and return to God. From the beginning then, divine consequence has an aspect of rehabilitation.
[2] Esther 1:5 for the “gan” as a party space.

The Missing Passion Of Chanukah

The Historicity Of The Miracle Of Oil