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Amos 1:3-5

Context

1:3 This is what the Lord says:

“Because Damascus has committed three crimes 1 

make that four! 2  – I will not revoke my

decree of judgment. 3 

They ripped through Gilead like threshing sledges with iron teeth. 4 

1:4 So I will set Hazael’s house 5  on fire;

fire 6  will consume Ben Hadad’s 7  fortresses.

1:5 I will break the bar 8  on the gate of Damascus.

I will remove 9  the ruler 10  from Wicked Valley, 11 

the one who holds the royal scepter from Beth Eden. 12 

The people of Aram will be deported to Kir.” 13 

The Lord has spoken!

1 tn Traditionally, “transgressions” or “sins.” The word refers to rebellion against authority and is used in the international political realm (see 1 Kgs 12:19; 2 Kgs 1:1; 3:5, 7; 8:22). There is debate over its significance in this context. Some relate the “rebellion” of the foreign nations to God’s mandate to Noah (Gen 9:5-7). This mandate is viewed as a treaty between God and humankind, whereby God holds humans accountable to populate the earth and respect his image as it is revealed in all people. While this option is a possible theological explanation of the message in light of the Old Testament as a whole, nothing in these oracles alludes to that Genesis passage. J. Barton suggests that the prophet is appealing to a common morality shared across the ancient Near East regarding the conduct of war since all of the oracles can be related to activities and atrocities committed in warfare (Amos’s Oracles against the Nations [SOTSMS], 39-61). The “transgression” then would be a violation of what all cultures would take as fundamental human decency. Some argue that the nations cited in Amos 1-2 had been members of the Davidic empire. Their crime would consist of violating the mutual agreements that all should have exhibited toward one another (cf. M. E. Polley, Amos and the Davidic Empire). This interpretation is connected to the notion that Amos envisions a reconstituted Davidic empire for Israel and the world (9:11-15). Ultimately, we can only speculate what lay behind Amos’ thinking. He does not specify the theological foundation of his universal moral vision, but it is clear that Amos believes that all nations are responsible before the Lord for their cruelty toward other human beings. He also assumes that even those who did not know his God would recognize their inhumane treatment of others as inherently wrong. The translation “crimes” is general enough to communicate that a standard (whether human or divine) has been breached. For a survey of the possible historical events behind each oracle, see S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia).

2 tn Heb “Because of three violations of Damascus, even because of four.”

sn The three…four style introduces each of the judgment oracles of chaps. 1-2. Based on the use of a similar formula in wisdom literature (see Prov 30:18-19, 29-31), one expects to find in each case a list of four specific violations. However, only in the eighth oracle (against Israel) does one find the expected fourfold list. Through this adaptation and alteration of the normal pattern the Lord indicates that his focus is Israel (he is too bent on judging Israel to dwell very long on her neighbors) and he emphasizes Israel’s guilt with respect to the other nations. (Israel’s list fills up before the others’ lists do.) See R. B. Chisholm, “For Three Sins…Even for Four: The Numerical Sayings in Amos,” BSac 147 (1990): 188-97.

3 tn Heb “I will not bring it [or “him”] back.” The pronominal object (1) refers to the decree of judgment that follows; the referent (the decree) has been specified in the translation for clarity. See S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia), 46-47. Another option (2) is to understand the suffix as referring to the particular nation mentioned in the oracle and to translate, “I will not take him [i.e., that particular nation] back.” In this case the Lord makes it clear that he does not intend to resume treaty relations with the nation in view. See M. L. Barré, “The Meaning of lá ásŒybnw in Amos 1:3-2:6,” JBL 105 (1986): 622.

4 tn Heb “they threshed [or “trampled down”] Gilead with sharp iron implements” (NASB similar).

sn Like threshing sledges with iron teeth. A threshing sledge was made of wooden boards embedded with sharp stones or iron teeth. As the sledge was pulled over the threshing floor the stones or iron teeth would separate the grain from the stalks. See O. Borowski, Agriculture in Iron Age Israel, 64-65. Here the threshing metaphor is used to emphasize how violently and inhumanely the Arameans (the people of Damascus) had treated the people of Gilead (located east of the Jordan River).

5 tn “Hazael’s house” (“the house of Hazael”) refers to the dynasty of Hazael.

sn Hazael took the throne of Aram in 843 b.c. and established a royal dynasty. See 2 Kgs 8:7-15 and W. Pitard, Ancient Damascus, 145-60.

6 tn Heb “it”; the referent (the fire mentioned in the previous line) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

7 sn Ben-hadad may refer to Hazael’s son and successor (2 Kgs 13:3, 24) or to an earlier king (see 1 Kgs 20), perhaps the ruler whom Hazael assassinated when he assumed power.

8 sn The bar on the city gate symbolizes the city’s defenses and security.

9 tn Heb “cut off.”

10 tn Heb “the one who sits.” Some English versions take the Hebrew term in a collective sense as “inhabitants” (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NASB, NRSV). The context and the parallel in the next clause (“the one who holds the royal scepter”), however, suggest that the royal house is in view. For this term (יוֹשֵׁב, yoshev), see N. K. Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh, 512-30.

11 tn Heb “valley of wickedness.” Though many English versions take the Hebrew phrase בִקְעַת־אָוֶן (biq-ataven) as a literal geographical place name (“Valley of Aven,” so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT), it appears to be a derogatory epithet for Damascus and the kingdom of Aram.

12 tn Many associate the name “Beth Eden” with Bit Adini, an Aramean state located near the Euphrates River, but it may be a sarcastic epithet meaning “house of pleasure.”

13 sn According to Amos 9:7, the Arameans originally came from Kir. The Lord threatens to reverse their history and send them back there.



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