Pride and Destruction
Don’t mention the name of YHWH
Houses small and great
As no ‘therefore’ appears at the head of this section, it seems best not to insist that it’s a continuation of what’s immediately preceded it. Any reference to the southern kingdom of Judah, therefore, is purely coincidental (Amos 6:1) and we’re left to understand the words to be solely directed at Israel.
Even so, the theme of judgment in Amos 6:7 that stood as a fitting conclusion to the previous message continues until the end of the chapter and we read different descriptions of one and the same act of God in coming against His own people through a conquering army, exiling them away from both their possessions and land.
For a discussion on God taking an oath (‘swearing’ - a word that’s used in the wrong manner in today’s society) see my notes here under the header ‘The punishment of the cows’ and for a definition of what ‘God of hosts’ means see my notes here under the header ‘Doxology’ part 6 - in this context, the idea of YHWH being sovereign over the hosts is surely meant to include the ranks of the armies at whose head He marches in invasion.
The opening phrase that includes both these concepts shows us that God can speak in the third person for we would have expected Him to say
‘By myself, I have sworn, says YHWH, the God of hosts…’
and not as the RSV correctly renders it
‘The Lord YHWH has sworn by Himself, says YHWH, the God of hosts…’
It seems almost pointless for Amos to be declaring that God has sworn by Himself only for him to add the clarifying words that it’s God Himself who’s said such a thing - why not just declare God as speaking the oath in the first person?
It would be nice to sit Amos down and question him but we don’t have that luxury, and it hardly seems likely that the prophet, having written the opening phrase, felt that he had to add clarification to give his statement some credibility. After all, we’ve already seen how the prophet was able to speak on his own authority (Amos 5:6-15) and it be the burden of YHWH so much so that He adds His own confirming message of judgment (Amos 5:16-17).
Pride and Destruction
The concept of Jacob’s ‘pride’ has often been centred on when commentators deal with the opening of these two verses (at the expense of details about the ‘strongholds’ and the delivering up of the ‘city’), something that they find exemplified in the descriptions laid out previously in Amos 6:4-7. Amhub calls the trait
‘...an apt term to summarise the complacency and false security which made for profligate living...’
that should, rather, have been replaced by
‘...humility...and trust in [YHWH]...’
Amstu sees the parallel mention of the nation’s strongholds to be part and parcel of what it means to be proud, running them together to speak of the nation’s ‘military self-confidence’ that would be overrun when the enemy army was to come against them.
This precise charge of ‘pride’ attributed to the nation is very easily seen amongst the people of Israel and, as TWOTOT defines the root word (M299) from which the one used here comes (Strongs Hebrew number 1347, M299e)
‘The precise charge is arrogance, cynical insensitivity to the needs of others and presumption. It is both a disposition and a type of conduct...pride is not intrinsically wrong. It describes a part of God’s character [they use the following Scriptures to support their point for the entire word group - Ex 15:7, Is 2:10,19,21, 24:14, Micah 5:3, Job 37:4, 40:10, Deut 33:26, Ps 68:35, 93:1, Is 12:5, 26:10]...Sin enters the picture when there is a shift of ultimate confidence from God as object and source to oneself as object and source’
The self-centredness of Amos 6:4-7 serves the reader well, therefore, for they point towards lives that are so caught up in their own importance that it’s impossible for them to find any time for God and His will that requires them to address the plight of the poor of their fellow Israelite, and to right the wrongs of God’s society.
Two more quotes will suffice to present this interpretation before we move on to a better understanding of the verse. Zondervan defines the person who’s proud as one who
‘...loses any balance that might grow out of a recognition of his true position as over against God or over against the ability and worth of others’
and, quoting Thayer, defines pride as
‘...an insolent and empty assurance which trusts in its own power and resources and shamefully despises and violates divine laws and human laws’
All these things can be witnessed amongst the leadership and leaders, the rich and influential, who lived in the city of Samaria (Amos 6:1), not just in the first seven verses of this chapter but throughout the book as the prophet has continued faithfully to portray the nation as God sees it and to call it to give an account of itself before God, urging them to turn back to a way of life that mirrors the One they claimed to serve.
So, while these observations are true, we have to ask ourselves whether this is the right understanding of the phrase ‘the pride of Jacob’ - after all, God moves from declaring abhorrence against a human trait to hatred against what appears to be the inanimate ‘strongholds’ and a commitment to deliver up the ‘city and all that is in it’.
It initially appears strange - although not impossible - that the verse develops this way. But what points towards a different interpretation of taking ‘pride’ as standing alone and applying to the nation of Israel is that the phrase ‘the pride of Jacob’ is used elsewhere (in total, the phrase is used 3 times in the OT with the same two Hebrew words) and, in its use in Ps 47:4, its only possible meaning is as a label which refers to the land. The psalmist wrote
‘[YHWH] chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves’
(where any idea that ‘pride’ refers to the collective noun for lions is incorrect). God is spoken of here as having chosen the land for His people and that, in turn, it had become their ‘pride’, something in which they rejoiced and delighted. Pscraig expands the application and notes that the words translated ‘heritage’ and ‘pride of Jacob’
‘...are poetically parallel and refer not only to the Promised Land but also to the surrounding lands of the nations that were conquered during and after the reign of David’
Whatever the exact range of meaning, however, it’s certain that the inherited land is in view. The only possible problem with taking the meaning here and transposing it into Amos is the difference in time between the composition of the two works.
The superscription to the psalm notes the authors as the ‘sons of Korah’, pushing the composition back to be likely in either the reign of David or Solomon (1003-930BC - the dates represent a range from the beginning of David’s reign in Jerusalem to the end of Solomon’s reign).
Two of Korah’s ‘sons’ led the musical praise in the tent and the Temple (I Chr 6:31-38 - Heman, I Chr 39-43 - Asaph, his brother) but the Scriptures also mention their sons who served under them (I Chr 6:33). It’s these who are usually credited with the composition of the psalms but an alternative would be to see at least some of them to have been put together by the ‘gatekeepers’ of the Temple (I Chr 9:17-19) something that is inferred by the line in Ps 84:10 that proclaims their desire to
‘...rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness’
Even so, the composition of a psalm between 150-200 years before the phrase’s use in Amos would lend weight to the assertion that ‘pride of Jacob’ must have a more literal meaning (we have no way of ‘proving’ that such a label was in frequent use with such a large gap). It’s also worth noting that the phrase ‘pride of [nation or people]’ also occurs elsewhere (Is 16:6, Jer 13:9, 48:29, Ezek 32:12, Hosea 5:5, 7:10, Zech 9:6, 10:11, 11:3) and it may be best to take a more literal interpretation (although there’s a vagueness in a number of these which make both interpretations possible).
However, what makes it necessary to understand the use in Amos 6:8 as holding the meaning of Ps 47:4 is the only other use of the phrase in Amos 8:7 where God swears ‘by the pride of Jacob’. If we were to allow the meaning of ‘sinful self-interest’ or ‘arrogance’ here, we’d be forced into an interpretation where God swears by something inherently sinful which, although not impossible, becomes unlikely - it’s much more probable that God swears an oath by the land that was His and upon which the Israelites were only ‘tenants’.
Whereas God had affirmed His love of the land in Ps 47:4 (although most people see the ‘love’ being directed at Jacob), in Amos 6:8 He turns to affirm His hatred. In almost two centuries of habitation, God’s attitude had swung round to be the exact opposite, the cause of which is the sin of those who dwelt there.
Although the Israelites seem to have thought that their existence on the land was secure and that God would fight against anyone who came to dispossess them, they failed to realise that there were specific conditions that had to be met, such as the six specifically laid out by David in psalm 37 (verses 3,9,11,22,29,34 - we forget that the possession of our inheritance in Christ is also subject to conditions), amongst them being righteous living and doing ‘good’ (Amos 5:4,6,14).
Therefore, God turns against His people and, by rejecting His love of their land, rejects the people who dwell there, withdrawing His presence away and onto their enemies who will march to fulfil His purpose. And, taking the phrase ‘the pride of Jacob’ to be a label for the land of Israel makes more sense to Amos 6:8-9 for we see a progression of thought from wide to narrow. So, the verses should run
‘I abhor the land of Israel and hate its strongholds; and I will deliver up the city [of Samaria] and all that is in it. And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die’
where the progression runs
The land (that includes the following three) - the land’s strongholds (that includes the following two) - the city of Samaria (that includes the following) - the people of the city
In this way God’s anger against the land is seen from a widely vague viewpoint, becoming ever more specific and intensifying the focus of attention. If we include Amos 6:10 in the flow, we see that an incident from individual lives concludes the thought (though I’ve dealt with this verse in the following section because of the problems that it causes commentators). Even if you didn’t live in Samaria, you probably lived or took refuge in one of the strongholds and, if you couldn’t associate with searching for the dead in the city, you certainly were a part of the land.
Don’t mention the name of YHWH
Some passages are just bewildering - this is one of them.
There’s no doubt that the people to whom this was first delivered must have understood the implication and message with a fair amount of ease but to us, who stand so many hundreds of years after the event, we seem to be thwarted at every turn to get to grips with even a simple interpretation.
It’s also fairly baffling how some of the commentators I’ve read seem to be certain that their interpretation is the correct one - even though they disagree with each other. What that tells us, then, is that we should be careful not to build a major doctrine on such a verse and to offer an interpretation tentatively unless we have solid grounds for claiming otherwise.
Ammot’s understanding, it appears to me, is the most self-contradicting because he summarises the verse as indicating that the Israelites
‘…know that God has disassociated Himself from their need with such a deep alienation that it is no longer permissible even to use His name as a swear word provoked by extreme disaster’
explaining that his interpretation of ‘Hush…’ is ‘frankly imaginative’ as a ban on cursing God. But, if the alienation from God is meant to be every bit as tangible as every day life, wouldn’t it be more in keeping with God’s rejection of His people to encourage taking God’s name upon the lips in a derogatory manner?
He also appears to interpret the preceding verse as part of the explanation to verse 10 (although it’s difficult to comprehend the fullness of his understanding of the passage), talking about the ten men as being so emaciated from the terror of the siege that they’re huddled together in a single dwelling.
On the other hand, Amhub finds it necessary to emend the word for ‘burning’ (that is, cremation) to be a parallel description of the relationship between the dead and the person or people who’ve entered the building to carry the bones out for burial. He also assumes that the conversation that’s taking place is between two of the search party and not, as the RSV leads one to believe (or, there again, perhaps it’s just my misreading), between a survivor and a searcher.
The question as to whether he’s alone is then a call to see whether he’s found any survivors ‘in the innermost parts of the house’ and, after his negative response, the warning to be silent is given
‘…lest further disaster be sparked by that mention. The inference to be drawn from this story is that the death site is charged with the awesome presence of God, as though it were a shrine’
The idea of one of the Jews commanding the other to be silent (‘Hush…’) is taken as a parallel to those places where men are women are commanded to be silent before the presence of God (Hab 2:20, Zeph 1:7).
Using God’s name, therefore, would be to court death if used vainly and the searchers have the impression that they must simply be about their filial responsibility. Amhub and Ammot can be seen to fundamentally disagree, then, because the former sees God’s presence as tangibly sensed while the latter sees their alienation from Him being the uppermost impression.
Amstu also interprets the word indicating ‘cremation’ as needing emendation, the exact translation causing the verse to begin
‘And when someone’s relatives on his father’s and mother’s sides…’
which doesn’t strictly warrant the interpretation that the subsequent conversation is being held between the two-man (or more) search party. This appears to be the way that Amhub, previously, has taken it, but in his translation, the emendation simply mentions the relative as belonging to one side of the family or the other. It’s only Amstu who gives the meaning that there appears to be more than one who will come to seek out the bodies of their dead.
However, Amstu sees the conversation as being a dialogue between a kinsman and a survivor who’s heard moving about in the interior. He speaks of the exact meaning of the first part of the verse as being
‘…not very important to the message’
Of course, if there was a message in the details, we lose out on what it is by such a statement but he finds the final speech significant and writes that
‘The few harried, terrified survivors will not be able to stand any further miseries and so will want to avoid “mention”…of Yahweh. Since the speaker already uses Yahweh’s name, the issue cannot be prohibition of mere oral formulation, but must concern calling on Yahweh…in prayers or lamentation or the like…Survivors will want Him to stay away, not come back’
To Amstu, then, the survivors neither feel God’s presence nor sense His absence - they just don’t want to risk calling on His name and He return with more outpourings of judgment upon both themselves and the land.
JFB takes a fourth position - and a different one as would be expected. They see the man responding ‘no’ to be a survivor and the one telling him to be quiet as the one come to bury the dead, but that his call to silence on account of the name to be a rebuke to prevent the survivor from giving praise to YHWH because
‘...thou also must die; as all the ten are to die to the last man...’
a reference back to the prophetic word of Amos 6:9. This hardly seems credible, however, unless the one who comes into the house is also thought to be the one who’s come to murder him to fulfil the word! Although the command not to use the name of God could be understood as a command not to rejoice in the deliverance because of the widespread destruction that’s evident all around, it seems implausible to imagine that his imminent fatality would be pronounced (and, besides, it seems best to allow Amos 6:9 to stand alone and not to be the foundation upon which Amos 6:10 is being spoken).
JFB seems to assume that the nation would die as one man but that we also read that the people were prophesied to be taken into exile (Amos 6:7) shows that the absolutes we read here are designed to demonstrate the severity of the judgment where death or exile appear to be the main two options (though the existence of a kinsman come to bury the dead shows that there would, indeed, be survivors).
And the Message Bible paraphrases it into another different interpretation (even though I’ve had to surmise their meaning below), this time running verse 9 into 10 as one observation. They translate
‘Ten men are in a house, all dead. A relative comes and gets the bodies to prepare them for a decent burial. He discovers a survivor huddled in a closet and asks “Are there any more?”. The answer: “Not a soul. But hush! YHWH must not be mentioned in this desecrated place”’
Apart from ignoring the more obvious liberties with the text (such as the relative coming for all ten bodies - presumably with a cart to wheel them all away - and finding one survivor in a ‘closet’), the translation has the survivor command the kinsman not to mention YHWH whereas all the other four we’ve read have the words on the other person’s lips.
Mentioning God’s name, therefore, has to do with bringing what’s pure into a place of desecration.
Well, it’s as good an attempt as anyone else’s.
And then, somehow, we’ve got to try and pick our own way through the Scripture and determine the right interpretation! As I’ve said at the beginning of other ‘difficult’ passages, to base any major doctrine on something such as this would be extremely dangerous - but I’m sure it’s not stopped some.
We saw in the previous section that this verse sits as the conclusion to the narrowing of God’s judgment against His people - from the generalisation of hatred directed towards the land through to here which pictures individuals suffering through the consequences of the pouring out of God’s anger.
Primarily, then, the reason for the verse is to conclude the progression of judgment and the scene portrayed must be one that has this as its central meaning, a picture of the decimation that would befall, presumably, the capital city of Samaria although a wider application to any individual habitation in the land is possible.
The abhorrence of the conquest is what’s initially being portrayed and there appears to be no hidden agenda or depth of meaning that isn’t plainly on the surface. It’s only the final speech that tells us the name of YHWH mustn’t be mentioned that makes the verse puzzling to the present day reader but, if we see it as being the completion of the judgment in which God has transformed His people, it helps us to see that the pouring out of anger doesn’t just bring destruction.
The people of the land have finally discovered the fear of YHWH that had been lacking before judgment fell - they’re frightened to mention His name and have come to that place where their reverence for who He is has been sparked. This seems to be the easiest way to interpret the phrase and it sparks a message of hope - albeit a very macabre one - that through the imposition of death, life might be reborn in a people for their salvation.
A principle, it has to be said, that’s been an intrinsic part of revivals through the ages, for it isn’t until a people acknowledge their ‘spiritual’ death and impotency that God comes in the newness of life to transform them in a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. While God’s people think everything’s ‘okay’, there’s no need to be changed - only when the Holy Spirit convicts of sin can there ever be the acknowledgement of the need for a transformation.
Houses small and great
In my comments on Amos 6:1 (under the header ‘Don’t trust successful leaders’) I noted that Ammot cited Amos 6:11 to support his position that, when judgment or blessing comes upon leadership, it inevitably comes upon those under them.
Although this is a decent enough point, we should note that the verse is being spiritualised rather than taken as it stands and in the context in which it sits and, therefore, I will be proposing a different - and much more logical interpretation, I feel - understanding of this verse and how it relates to the verses that have preceded it.
Having said that, the outworking of the verse will be seen to deal with a person’s social standing within Israelite society and, therefore, it mirrors very closely the ‘standing’ of believers within the present day power structures of the Church.
The RSV consigns this verse to a section by itself as it has done with Amos 6:8 and the two verse ‘passage’ Amos 6:9-10. But all these four verses seem best to be taken as one specific unit, even though they’ve different things to say to the reader at different points.
With the conclusion of Amos 6:10, we’ve come to the end of the progression from ‘wide to narrow’, from judgments announced or implied against the land to the detail of its outworking against one particular family representative of the whole. This progression has developed to mention
The land (that includes the following four) - Amos 6:8a
The land’s strongholds (that includes the following three) - Amos 6:8b
The city of Samaria (that includes the following two) - Amos 6:8c
The people of the city (that includes the following) - Amos 6:9
An individual family - Amos 6:10
The verse which follows, although not part of this progression, confirms the range of the outworking of the destruction, of the progressively decreasing judgment (in the latter passage this is from the greatest extent to the most specific).
Here, all will be destroyed from the greatest and mightiest standing habitable structure to the least and feeblest - for there’ll be no escape and no exceptions.
Although Amos 6:8-10 hasn’t mentioned class and social standing, 6:11 takes the question and answers that both great and small will find God’s hand against them.
It’s God Himself who issues the command against the whole land, like a general committed to laying low both soldier and civilian. There’ll be no escape for anyone or anything, for all will be ‘touched’ by the hand of God in the form of a fist.
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