Amos 2:6-16 – Injustice Everywhere

6 The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Israel for three crimes, even four, because they sell a righteous person for silver and a needy person for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground and block the path of the needy.

A man and his father have sexual relations with the same girl, profaning My holy name. 8 They stretch out beside every altar on garments taken as collateral, and in the house of their God, they drink wine obtained through fines.

9 Yet I destroyed the Amorite as Israel advanced; his height was like the cedars, and he was as sturdy as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. 10 And I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you 40 years in the wilderness in order to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is this not the case, Israelites? This is the Lord’s declaration. 12 But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets, “Do not prophesy.”

13 Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon full of sheaves crushes grain. 14 Escape will fail the swift, the strong one will not prevail by his strength, and the brave will not save his life. 15 The archer will not stand his ground, the one who is swift of foot will not save himself, and the one riding a horse will not save his life. 16 Even the most courageous of the warriors will flee naked on that day — this is the Lord’s declaration.

Injustice in the Courts – Amos 2:6-7a

It is clear from the context that the Israelites are oppressing the poor, but some further discussion of the phrase “selling the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals” is warranted and is discussed in a few moments.

First let’s briefly review the second translational difficulty in the book of Amos (the first being Edom’s transgression). The second stanza is typically translated “trampling the heads of the poor on the dust of the ground.” 

The word translated trample here and in Amos 8 is nowhere else translated trample. This is not the lexical definition for the word.  The word means to sniff or gasp.  However, the word is a homophone—that is a word that sounds like another, but has a different meaning(like flu and Flew, one is a virus and the other is something a bird did). The word is a homophone for a word that means strike.  But even this word doesn’t meant trample.  Translators are getting the idea of “trample” from the next phrase, the dust of the earth. 

However, even if the word means trample, the object of this verb in the sentence is the dust of the earth, not the heads of the poor. This would translate something like “They trample the dust of the earth at the heads of the poor or after the heads of the poor.”  Following Dr. Duane Garrett while interpreting this passage, it is best to take a step back and see if we can make sense of the sentence with the normal meaning of the verb: to sniff, gasp, or pant.  Dr. Garrett ends with this construction:  They are people who sniff the dust of the earth after the heads of the poor.

If this is the case, the sentence becomes a hunting metaphor.  The Israelites, like hunting dogs, are seen as chasing after the poor in order to collect their heads as trophies.

hunting has been a part of human life since the beginning, and so has using dogs.  Ashurbanipal of Assyria has murals of himself hunting lions as a trophy.  There are also several other murals of Canaan dogs hunting lions, Ibex and even horses.  So the metaphor fits the time and also makes sense to us.  Taking a head as a trophy is also not without evidence as David took Goliath’s head as a trophy in 1 Samuel 17.

Back to the phrase “Selling the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.”  This time we can cheat a little and look ahead and see exactly what Amos has in mind.

Amos 8:4-6 Hear this, you who trample on the needy and do away with the poor of the land, asking, ‘When will the New Moon be over so we may sell grain and the Sabbath, so we may market wheat?  We can reduce the measure while increasing the price and cheat with dishonest scales.  We can buy the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and even sell the chaff!’

Israel had created a dishonest system in order to extort the righteous and the poor that results in being sold into slavery.  The term righteous in Chapter 2 indicates a legal context. Likely the Israelites put a person into servitude where this was undeserving in God’s eyes.  Thus, he is righteous—or legally in the right, while still being sold into slavery.

Through dishonest scales and weighing down bags of grain with dirt, dust, and chaff, the poor would become unable to afford the means to live and start having to sell themselves into servitude either over a dispute or something as cheap as a pair of sandals and wheat.

Injustice at Worship Amos 2:7b-8

7b A man and his father have sexual relations with the same girl, profaning My holy name. 8 They stretch out beside every altar on garments taken as collateral, and in the house of their God, they drink wine obtained through fines.

Given the context of this stanza, it is clear that some form of religious worship is in view. This makes the sin feel even more grievous and gives us insight into Israelite worship during this period.  Amos has already charged the Israelite justice system with injustice, and now he turns his eye to a system of worship that abused the poor and young women as well.

The young girl is prostituted as religious worship.  Temple prostitutes are attested in several other ancient religions, and the young girls are likely not there because they chose this profession on career day at Bethel high school. 

Even as young girls are exploited, the act itself is done on the garments of the poor which were taken in pledge.  Under the Torah poor people could give their cloak as a pledge that they would repay their debts. But the Torah limits this humanely by demanding the cloaks taken in pledge must be returned at night when the temperatures cool. This is another way the poor were treated with contempt for it is clear these garments were taken in pledge because false scales put them in debt.

The verb form used describing the man and his father going into a young women hints that this was not a one-time event. This practice took place near all the altars where Yahweh was supposed to be worshiped.

Not only was the type of worship gross, but not a single transgression, not a single action really involves their own items.  It was someone else’s young girl prostituted, someone else’s coat strung out, someone else’s wine giving way to debauchery.  They worship and sin and make sure it is at no cost to themselves. This may be a warning: if your religion does not cost you anything, then might you be worshiping yourself?

The phrase “house of the God” could be “house of their gods” meaning specifically pagan gods, or Elohim could be taken as “house of God” referring to the true God.  Since verse 7 hints at Yahweh’s name being profaned, I take it that they’re worshipping at places which were supposed to be dedicated to Yahweh, but were incorporating other religion’s practices.  The technical term for this is called Syncretism and the book of Amos will show us that Israel had plenty of it to go around.  Perhaps Amos is being purposefully vague with the phrase “house of God” meaning that it was to be Yahweh’s place, but they’re really worshiping something else.

 Injustice in the face of God’s grace Amos 2:9-13

9 Yet I destroyed the Amorite as Israel advanced; his height was like the cedars, and he was as sturdy as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. 10 And I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you 40 years in the wilderness in order to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 I raised up some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is this not the case, Israelites? This is the Lord’s declaration. 12 But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets, “Do not prophesy.”

The historical perspective of these actions really elevate the grotesqueness of these sins against God and his image bearers.  God brought Israel and Judah into the land of Amorites to conquer their land after just having been brought out of a land that they were slaves in.  The Israelites stood at Mt. Sinai and swore they would abide by every law in God’s word—which has plenty to say about taking care of the poor and defenseless.  How far God’s firstborn son had fallen.

Israel’s army will be destroyed Amos 2:14-15

13 Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon full of sheaves crushes grain. 14 Escape will fail the swift, the strong one will not prevail by his strength, and the brave will not save his life. 15 The archer will not stand his ground, the one who is swift of foot will not save himself, and the one riding a horse will not save his life. 16 Even the most courageous of the warriors will flee naked on that day — this is the Lord’s declaration.

God’s response to Israel’s rebellion begins with an oracle concerning the destruction of Israel’s army.  Other groups within Israel will be targeted in future oracles, but vs.  14-15 specifically target Israel’s men of war. 

Before continuing, there is the third extremely difficult translation problem in this passage.  Verse 13 can be either “Look, I am about to crush you in your place” or “Behold, I am crushed under you.  Duane Garrett prefers the latter. The phrase “under you” can and does mean “your place” as in the “place that is under you.”  So the phrase could be translated as God crushing the Israelites in their place, or God is being crushed under their sins.  Isaiah 1 uses language similar to this to show how Israel’s worship had become a burden to God.  Regardless, God will not bear this burden forever.  He will punish them for 3 transgressions, even four.

After beating the Arameans in three straight battles and also showing little brother Judah up in the spat against Amaziah, the thought of Israel falling in battle would be unfathomable.  Yet, it would happen within 40 years. 

There appears to be four distinct groups of soldiers who will suffer a shaming defeat.  The swift—perhaps skirmishers–, the strong/mighty or Gibborim who would be the shock troops, the archers, and the cavalrymen.  Note that verse 16 even emphasizes that the most courageous of Israel’s shock troops would flee naked.  How many battles have they seen where their life and limb were put at risk? These are not the type of men who run, even when the odds are against them. 

Yet, the curse of Yahweh is coming against Israel. The defeat and brutality will be so certain and so extreme that even their strongest will flee, naked and exposed; just as we truly are before God.

Yet I would be remiss to end here. Though we are are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4), it doesn’t have to remain this way. Just as Adam was clothed in the garden by God so, too, now do we have God offering to clothe us by his son.

Jesus earned this right to clothe his brothers having been stripped and shamed for our sake (Matt. 27:31, Heb. 2). Jesus, bearing the punishment due our sin, has won for us salvation, grace, and mercy for all who repent and believe. He has purchased clothing that covers our shame and exposure.

2 Corinthians 5 
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *