Amos 9:13-15

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Return from exile

Amos 9:13-15 speaks of the full and final outworking of the restoration that was begun at the beginning of the judgment of Israel (9:11-12), but the reference to Israel here is to the people of the old northern kingdom and doesn’t presuppose a restoration of the kingdom itself which was abolished in the judgment.

From that time onwards, God had reversed the division of the kingdoms (because of Solomon’s sin - I Kings 11:30-40), prophesied at the time of the giving of the initial declaration that the splitting of the kingdom would take place (I Kings 11:39) and announced as imminently to be fulfilled by Amos (9:11-12).

What we read in these final three verses is a restored people living back in the land that was to be taken from them by the Assyrians, God’s instrument of judgment.

No time framework is here indicated into which we could place the words. What we know from subsequent history, however, is that the failure of the restored Judahite kingdom to live righteously before God and to rise up to be everything that God had desired His people to be must have been an undermining of its fulfilment. In 586BC, with the exile of Judah into Babylon, the fulfilment of the promise received a terminal setback.

The commentators’ consigning of the fulfilment of these verses to the ‘distant future’ recognises that there’s no known historical framework that appears to be indicated by what we know happened after the judgment of the people and the land. But it also presupposes that prophecy must always find a fulfilment, that it’s simply pre-written history, something that I argued against on my web site dealing with prophecy.

I doubt if we could ever place a fulfilment of these words into the context of history - although it’s not the commentator’s job to do that - and, if there will ever be a realisation of the promises given here to Israel, the only conceivable time would have to be seen to be a restored Creation over which Jesus Christ is ruling, for the text demands an obedient Jewish nation resident in the land (and not simply Jews living there as christians continually maintain, please note), something that seems to be only possible after a conversion to the Gospel.

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Amos 9:13

The RSV’s translation of ‘overtake’ which most of the translators and commentators opt for appears to be incorrect and in need of correction. The word (Strongs Hebrew number 5066, M1297) is defined by TWOTOT as having the basic meaning of ‘draw near’ or ‘approach’, the author going on to comment (my italics) that it

‘...signifies coming into very near proximity to the does not usually signify actual contact

and, therefore, it should certainly not be thought of as one object ‘overtaking’ another. This meaning has the effect of evening out a very difficult passage to interpret for it’s necessary for a interpretation to be offered in the first line that reverses the order that Amos clearly used. Therefore, along this line, Amstu writes (Ammot and Amhub follow this interpretation also, as do a number of translations who retranslate with this meaning) that

‘The reaper...will still be cutting the stalks of grain when the ploughman...gets started turning the earth over for the next planting’

But this isn’t what the text says. Rather, it observes that the ploughman, he who prepares the soil, will be continuing to plough when the reaper begins harvesting the crop - a strange state of affairs if this is what YHWH meant to bring about.

It’s fairly easy to see the logic of the treader of grapes of the second clause overtaking him who’s sowing the seed for the cereal crop, not only because they were close together (for the former would take place approximately in September while the latter in November) but because they were entirely different crops. But it makes no sense for the person who sows the seed to be continuing to do so when the harvest is being reaped (where the ploughing would take place around October after the first rains had softened the ground and the reaper would gather the new seed after the final rains of Spring). In this case, all that’s being stated is that it’s taking far too long to plough and sow and it’s more of a curse than a blessing.

It’s much better, therefore, to accept the normal meaning of the Hebrew word and to translate the opening text of 9:13 as saying that, in the restoration,

‘...the ploughman will draw near to the reaper and the treader of grapes will draw near to him who sows the seed...’

In this way, the first observation would be announcing to the Israelites that growth and ripening times would be shortened. In other words, the Israelite farmer could expect a quicker return for his efforts than he was currently experiencing - instead of the months of October for ploughing and April for reaping we might, for example, expect it to be October and February or March.

The second observation would then be seen to mean very much what most commentators suggest - that is, that the abundance of the grape harvest would be so large that the time taken to tread the grapes to produce juice for fermentation into wine would extend beyond the current time until the days for the sowing of a new cereal crop were almost upon them.

Instead of both statements announcing continuous harvests (which would need a supernatural intervention to sustain the earth from being stripped of its fertility), they’re announcing the increased fertility of the land (and probably slight changes in the weather patterns of Canaan) that would speed up the growth and development of the crop and the abundance of that harvest once it had ripened.

Amstu’s statement, then, that

‘[The times stated] will virtually blend together in the almost constant harvesting of the eschatological age, restoring the original promise of such bounty...’

is incorrect and, more’s the point, it causes the reader to have to think of a Creation that’s obeying different rules to the ones that we currently experience, pushing any possibility that a fulfilment could take place into a time after the return of Jesus Christ to set up the Davidic Kingdom. Ammot also errs in this manner but logically argues (my italics) that

‘If the Messiah is the second David, He is also the second Adam reigning in a restored Eden...The curse is gone and...Eden is restored

The original prophetic word, however, didn’t speak of a time of a restored Creation, a return to something similar to what was in existence before the Fall and, as we’ve previously seen, a fulfilment of Amos 9:11-12 could have taken place under the leadership of a righteous king of the southern kingdom of Judah after the judgment ended the independence of the northern kingdom once and for all time.

Placing the text back into the context of what Amos’ hearers would have understood by the words, we should accept that shortened growing seasons and larger harvests was what was to happen in the final outworking of the restoration of the people of Israel and not that the Messianic Kingdom - which we still anticipate in this present day - was what was being spoken about.

One thing Ammot writes that is correct, though, is that

‘...the very physical fabric and potencies of nature...go into revolt and reverse when man perverts his relationship with their Creator’

and we should, perhaps, assume that Israel’s harvests were growing ever smaller and were recognised as doing so in living memory so that the promise of an increase is immediately relevant.

The final two promises that

‘...the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it’

are purely poetic ways of speaking of the abundance of the harvests (although, it could be argued that, in a more limited sense, it refers only to the grape harvest from which the wine would have been produced). The second phrase simply observes that ‘the hills shall melt/dissolve’ without any apparent reference to the reason. Therefore, translators tend to use the subject of the previous phrase to interpret the verb seeing as it’s unlikely for the ‘melting’ to be construed in a negative way.

However, in a later passage in Joel, a similar statement is made and there the Hebrew runs (Joel 3:18)

‘...the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water...’

where the abundance of wine, milk and water are being noted to have increased to overwhelming proportions. It seems incorrect, however, to interpret Amos by this verse and insist that the hills must be referring to increased dairy production, but the third of the promises that Judah’s streams would flow with water is surely the key for, without it, grapes couldn’t develop, neither vegetation grow sufficiently for the needed increased feeding of the livestock.

The bottom line in Amos, therefore, is that the climate would take a turn for the better and that it would consequently increase yields and reduce growing and ripening times.

Amhub describes the language of Amos 8:13 as

‘...purposeful exaggerations, intended by their extremity to assure the lack of want the new age will bring’

but where something is expressed beyond what would have been truthful, it becomes a lie and it’s best to understand the words employed here as purely poetic.

Return from exile
Amos 9:14-15

The land’s potential fruitfulness described in 9:13 makes the way for the people to return. Even though we might have presumed that the verse had meant that God’s people would be dwelling within the land, they say nothing about it at all. Instead, if we take the progression as a logical and necessary one, the land is prepared so that it has the potential to immediately yield great harvests before the Israelites are returned into it.

There’s an ambiguity in the first words of 9:14 and, while the RSV translates

‘I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel...’

which gives more of a generalisation of God’s work or summation of what’s to follow (and preferred by Amhub), it could equally well be rendered

‘I will return My people from captivity...’

and this appears to be the most likely (preferred by Amstu) even though, as I’ve said on a few occasions in this commentary, where two truths stand side by side it’s often wrong of us to insist on one at the expense of the other for both could equally have been meant. But it’s certainly a return from captivity that’s implied even if it isn’t outrightly stated here.

This doesn’t mean that Israel will once more be a politically independent self-governing state that’s separated from the southern kingdom of Judah. As we saw when we discussed Amos 9:11-12, God’s will was to restore the kingdom to David because the time of the judgment of the division of His people had drawn to a close.

A return to the land, therefore, is envisaged as a territorial expansion of Judah under the Davidic king and with a centralised worship centre to YHWH in Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the ruined cities would take place and, as they were reconstructed, the memory of the great judgment would surely have been uppermost in their minds, serving as a sobering reminder of what would happen again if they forsook God.

The final detail of verse 14 sees them growing produce, although mention of the staple crops of barley and wheat are surprisingly lacking. Instead, we read of wine and fruit - but these are indications that ‘survival food’ has been secured and that there’s time to produce items which aren’t essential to their continued existence, crops that indicated God’s prosperity and provision being poured out upon them.

This is why the mention of vineyards in Amos 5:11 (see also 2:8, 6:6) is best understood to have been used in connection with the rich - it was a wealthy man’s pastime for it needed investment that might not be returned for several years.

Although God’s judgment had come against the vineyards and gardens in an attempt to wake up the nation to their sin (Amos 4:9), it now became evidence of God’s favour upon them, for all Israel are included in the observation. And, as we’ve already discussed in 9:13, the harvests of grapes would be so large that it would threaten their ability to plant the following year’s crops if they were to adequately deal with it.

Amos 9:15, the concluding verse of the entire Book, ends Amos’ prophetic words with hope. YHWH pictures a future time after the judgment in which God Himself will have planted them into the land of Israel from which they were to be shortly expelled and gives them the reassurance that they shall

‘...never again be plucked up out of the land which I have given them...’

something that has not yet come to fruition, even though there are many believers today who point to the return of so many Jews into the land of their fathers as clear evidence that the time of restoration has arrived.

While it’s certainly true that YHWH makes no moral demands upon His people for their return into the land, it’s inconceivable that we should consider the continued possession of the land of Israel to be independent of a moral way of life. Their expulsion was determined by their injustice and unrighteousness and, by God’s grace, YHWH had promised a time of return when the land would increase it’s provision for them.

But could we ever imagine that God wouldn’t do the very same as He’d prophesied through Amos if they returned to their ways of oppression against their own people? Believers who point to the resettling of the land in recent time by the Jews herald it as a work of God - and so it may be. But believers then tend to go overboard and think that God will favour and is favouring the people and the land because it’s purely a physical return that was prophesied regardless of moral response.

It must be realised that Israel only ever kept the land in the OT when they lived righteously before God and the same will be true even of the present day, for the covenant being cited as justification for their right to return to the land has this as its foundation (Deuteronomy chapter 28 esp v.58-68) while Psalm 37 outlines six specific conditions for the continued possession of the land (v.3,9,11,22,29,34).

Because of the considered impossibility of the Jewish people to obey God’s Law (something that history repeatedly reminds us), Ammot consigns the fulfilment of 9:13-15 to the distant future and comments that

‘ Amos looks forward, he sees the day when the power of sin will be destroyed’

and has already imagined that the time of which the verses speak indicate a ‘restored Eden’. This wasn’t the burden of Amos’ words, however, and there’s nothing here that should be considered so supernatural that it couldn’t have happened in history.

The problem was always the moral response of the people, not the promise of God that would have been fulfilled immediately had they obeyed His will for their lives. YHWH’s will for His people remains true for those descended genealogically from Abraham but it will only ever be fully realised and continually possessed when the generation that receives the land sets themselves to obey the will of God from the heart.

This reminder of the covenant ends the Book for YHWH announces Himself as ‘your God’ after having announced Israel as being ‘My people’ (Amos 9:14). Still on the basis of the covenant, therefore, would God intervene on their behalf in history to bring them back to the land of Promise - and still the moral responsibility rested on the nation to secure their continued possession.