The Prophecies of Amos: On the Heels of Hoi
In the previous shiurim, we studied the hoi rebuke of the self-satisfied of Shomron (Amos 6:1-7). Now, we turn our attention to the punishment that awaits them as a consequence of their hedonistic and narcissistic lifestyle. This punishment, presented as a Divine oath, comprises the next four verses.
In this shiur, we will study the text of the first two of these verses, and next week we will address the last two. In our analysis of each phrase, we will address some unusual rhetorical, linguistic, and syntactic features that may help us discover a deeper texture of the prophetic message.
The Oath in Tanakh – Invoking God’s Name
Nishba Hashem Elokim be-nafsho
The Lord God hath sworn by Himself
In Tanakh, an oath usually involves invoking God’s Name, as if associating the veracity of the claim with the truth of God’s existence. There is likely a secondary (if not primary) reason for including God’s Name in an oath – to declare to the skeptical or non-believing parties (perhaps litigants) that the one taking the oath is prepared to accept God’s punishment if his words are less than true.
This invocation takes one of several formulations. A common form used in the prophetic histories is ko ya’aseh Hashem ve-kho yosif (or some variation thereof), appearing 9 times in Shmuel and Melakhim and once in the concurrently composed Ruth.
A popular formula is chai Hashem, properly rendered as “as Hashem lives,” which again associates the truth of the statement made by the one taking the oath with the truth of God’s being (eternally) alive. This short oath-formula appears 41 times in Tanakh.
The appearance of chai Hashem is manifested in two distinct but related manners. Sometimes it appears as an actual oath taken by someone who wants to have his word trusted. The preponderance of these occurrences appears in David’s camp (16) and with Eliyahu and his acolyte, Elisha (11). The only prophet to use this formula (with one exception; see below) is Yirmiyahu, who uses it 8 times, and a ninth in referencing people making false oaths:
Ve-im “Chai Hashem” yomeiru, lakhen la-sheker yishave’u.
And if they declare, “As Hashem lives,” surely they swear falsely.
Of the other 8 mentions in Yirmiyahu, all but one are references to other people taking oaths, the only exception being when Tzidkiyahu swears to Yirmiyahu that he will spare him (38:16).
The one mention in the prophetic canon outside of Yirmiyahu is in Hoshe’a 4:15, in an oracle reminiscent of Amos’s rebuke in 5:5:
…ve-al tavo’u ha-Gilgal ve-al ta’alu Beit Aven ve-al tishav’u “Chai Hashem.”
…and no longer come to Gilgal, nor make a pilgrimage to Beit Aven, and do not swear “as Hashem lives.”
Perhaps the most overt indicator of the use of God’s Name in an oath is found in Vayikra 19:12:
Ve-al tishav’u be-shemi la-shaker, ve-chilalta et shem Elokekha.
And do not swear falsely by My Name, as you will profane the name of your God.
All of the above refers to people taking oaths, using God’s Name to boost their credibility. But God also takes oaths, beginning with His commitment to Avraham, which is “upgraded” from promise (Bereishit 12:1-3) to covenant (ibid. chapters 15 and17) to oath (ibid. 22:16-18). This oath is repeated to Yitzchak (ibid. 26:3), and although it isn’t explicitly restated to Yaakov in Bereishit, he is included as a beneficiary of that oath throughout the rest of the Torah. That oath, which originally comprised a commitment to make Avraham’s nation great and that they would be a source of blessing for all of the families of the earth, narrowed in focus from Shemot on and referenced only the giving of the Land (see, inter alia, Devarim 34:4). The original oath, which was never repeated per se but only referenced afterwards, was introduced with the formula bi nishba’ti. Most translations render this “By Myself have I sworn.”
An even more “personal” form appears in Bamidbar 14:21, in the aftermath of the sin of the people in their reaction to the report of the scouts. After acceding to Moshe’s plea to spare the people, God adds:
Ve-ulam chai ani, ve-yimalei kevod Hashem et kol ha-aretz.
But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Hashem.
Rashi, R. Joseph Kara, R. Joseph Bekhor Shor, Radak, and Seforno (among others) all read this formula as an oath. This same formula appears 4 verses later and, with a slight variation, towards the end of Moshe’s song (Devarim 32:40). Subsequently it appears once in Yeshayahu, twice in Yirmiyahu, once in Tzefanya, and sixteen times in Yechezkel.
In sum, we find not only various formulations for an oath when a person invokes God’s Name; we also find God Himself swearing that He will keep a promise and using His own Name as affirmation of that pledge.
There are, however, only two places where God swears “be-nafsho” – here and in Yirmiyahu 51:14. Although a number of the medieval commentators (ibn Ezra, R. Eliezer of Beuagency, and Radak) read Nishba Hashem Elokim be-nafsho as essentially synonymous with bi nishba’ti of Bereishit 22:16, the obvious question looms: Then why not just use bi nishba’ti here as well? To that end, Rashi interprets here: “With awareness and intent” – implying that this oath is (more?) well-planned and intended than others. The theological problems that this approach raises are clear, but perhaps this does catch the rhetorical intent of the variation. This oath is fully aimed at its audience and has taken into account all of their sins, large and small, and all of the failings of their lifestyle, as detailed above.
The next clause in our opening verse strengthens this approach – that the sense of intent is intensified by the extended uses of God’s Name.
Ne’um Hashem Elokei Tzevaot
Saith the Lord, the God of hosts
The use of ne’um here should not surprise us. Amos uses it 21 times in his 9 short chapters; compare that with Yeshaya’s total of 12 (in the first 39 chapters), 4 in Hoshea and 1 in Mikha, among Amos’s contemporaries. It should also not surprise us by now to see that Yirmiyahu, as he is wont to use features of Amos’s rhetoric quite liberally, uses ne’um 176 times, and his later contemporary Yechezkel also uses it quite a bit to introduce or conclude prophecies (85 times). Even Zekharia (12 times) and Chaggai (5 times) use it much more than their forebears. It seems that Yirmiyahu picked up this feature of Amos’s oratory and from there it become popular among the latter-day prophets.
The word means “utterance” and is used to underscore that it really is that person (or, in almost every case, God) that is speaking.
Defining God as “Elokei Tzvaot” is, again, not unusual in Amos; he uses Tzevaot 9 times. This Divine Name has clear military implications and sends a sense of an “aggressive” (belligerent?) God, one Who is prepared to do battle against His enemies – even though they may be His own people. The association of Tzevaot with “hosts” and the celestial bodies is not far off of this mark, since Tanakh views the stars as being aligned in battle, as if to say that they are God’s “front line” of attack (see, e.g., Shoftim 5:20). This also accords with earlier mentions in Amos, where his “cosmic hymns” (4:13 and 5:8) made mention of constellations as part of God’s great power.
This swelling sense of adversarial power, conscripting the heavenly bodies to war against Bnei Yisrael, is underscored by the next word, an unusually harsh sense of rejection:
Meta’ev anokhi et ge’on Yaakov
I abhor the pride of Jacob
The verb ta’ev is understood in two different ways by the Rishonim. Most, beginning with Rashi, read it as a variation of ta’ev with an ayin (instead of the aleph in our case). Similarly, BDB includes it as a secondary meaning, as a variation of ta’ev (with ayin). Both Biblical lexicons (see note 3) acknowledge this to be the only instance of ta’ev (with aleph) with this meaning.
However, beginning with ibn Ezra, followed by R. Eliezer of Beaugency as well as Radak, a variant interpretive stream takes hold. Ibn Ezra reads meta’ev as taking on its usual meaning with aleph – to long for. He reads the root generally as meaning “to be finished,” in the sense that a real longing completely consumes the person longing. In that same sense, God is “finished” with these people. R. Eliezer and Radak read it as one of the numerous verbs in Hebrew that take on a meaning and its opposite – such as ikar (root, but the verb means to uproot) or sharesh (same as ikar) – such that ta’ev means “to long” and this appearance of ta’ev means “to give up on,” as a sense of no longer longing. In this case, the use of the word may be read sardonically.
The phrase ge’on Yaakov appears four times in Tanakh – twice in Amos (here and ahead in 8:7), once in Nachum, and once in Tehillim. In Tehillim, the referent seems to be the Land of Israel:
Yivchar lanu et nachalateinu et ge’on Yaakov asher ahev
He chooses our inheritance for us, the pride of Yaakov which He loves.
On the other hand, the reference in Nachum would seem to mean something about sovereignty over the Land, which the prophet promises that God will restore.
In the later reference in Amos (which we will return to when we get to our study of chapter 8), ge’on Yaakov appears to be an appellation for God (paralleling our verse, where God swears by His own Name). Ibn Ezra quotes the Karaite Yefet b. Eli (seemingly approvingly in this case) that the phrase refers to the aron (citing Yechezkel 24:21, dependent on Tehillim 78:61). Radak allows for both possible translations, modifying the latter to the Mikdash.
Let us test the four proposed meanings in our context. What is it that God has sworn to reject/abhor?
Can it mean the Land of Israel? Hardly, as that would fly in the face of the rest of Amos’s (and all other prophets’) rhetoric. Just the opposite; it is the sanctity of the Land that has been defiled by the sinful and unethical behavior of the nation being rebuked.
It can hardly mean the Mikdash (or aron). Neither of these are present in Shomron. Just the opposite is the case. Part of the previous rebuke, the premise for this Divine oath, cuts to the lack of the sancta in Shomron. Certainly, the other meaning in the later Amos-reference – God’s Name – is impossible. God is not abhorring/rejecting His own Name.
All of that leaves us with two possible translation strategies here. Either the meaning used later by Nachum is at play here or it is an enigmatic phrase with some other meaning, unattested elsewhere.
One methodological note: It is always preferable to keep consistent meanings within words and phrases in Tanakh, at least within one literary period and genre. As such, we would prefer to read this as carrying the same meaning as Nachum (who is not too distant in time from Amos, as his entire prophecy is aimed at Nineveh), rather than propose a new meaning.
It seems that Nachum’s meaning works perfectly well here. God is rejecting the sovereignty of Shomron and is prepared to send these hedonistic aristocrats into exile (as above, verse 7). The parallel clause, immediately below, supports this interpretation.
And I hate his palaces
The use of the verb sanei here reinforces the broad interpretation of ta’ev above, as it is the palaces of the “Yaakov” that He hates. This also gives strong support to our interpretation of ge’on Yaakov, above.
Ve-hisgarti ir u-melo’ah
And I will deliver up the city with all that is therein.
The verb hasger (the causative form of sagor, to close up or close in) is generally understood to mean “hand over,” as in handing refugees over to their masters. For instance, in the opening chapter of Amos, in his oracle against the Pelishtim:
…al haglotam galut shelema le-hasgir le-Edom
… Because they carried away captive a whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom.
The first instance of this verb is in Vayikra, where it appears numerous times (primarily in ch. 13) in the context of the laws of the metzora, who is quarantined (musgar). It appears twice more in Bamidbar, in the narrative concerning Miriam’s tzara’at.
Perhaps the instance that speaks most directly to the broader use of the word is in Devarim (23:16):
Lo tasgir eved el adonav asher yinatzel eilekha me-im adonav
You shall not deliver to his master a servant who is escaped from his master to you.
In all of the recurring instances of the verb (in the causative), the referent is a person or people. David asks God whether the people of Ke’ila will yasgiruni (hand me over) to Shaul (Shmuel I 23:11), and the Egyptian slave makes David’s men promise that they will not tasgireini (hand me over to my Amaleki master) as a condition of his helping them find the Amalekite raiders who raided David’s camp (ibid. 30:15).
In our verse, however, the sense is that the object of the “handing over” is the material goods of the city, not its people. First of all, its people will have already been exiled (per verse 7); second, the mention of ir u-melo’ah (the city and all that is therein) points to wealth and goods. The closest use of hasger to this is in Eikha (2:7):
…hisgir be-yad oyev chomot armenoteha
… He hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces.
This passage almost seems built on ours, as it is preceded by a rejection by God of His altar (=ge’on Yaakov?).
The mention of “the city” may mean that this punishment will only impact on the citizens of Shomron and its environs, or it may refer to every city (including, e.g. Jezreel) where Amos’s audience lives.
Ve-hayah im yivatru asarah anashim be-vayit echad
And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house,
that they shall die.
This verse is intrinsically tied in to the one that follows.
The “ten men” in one house could be survivors of the attack of the previous verse. Even if so many (10 being a critical mass of a group; see e.g. Bereishit 18:32) remain together, they will still have no hope; all of them will die. Whereas most of the Rishonim see these ten as having survived the sword of the enemy but then being killed by a plague, Rashi reads that these ten escaped both sword and plague and then will be burned up in the house, as the following verse may suggest (see our next shiur).
Some of the commentators point to the threat invoked above (5:3), in which ten percent of those who “go out” will survive (see Rashbam, ad loc.).
As we will also see in the next two verses, the “house” plays a central role in this oath – more on that in the next shiur as well.
For Further Study:
Gaon: T. Katzir (Katz), Mi-Ge’on Ha-Yarden Le-Geonat Ha-Kitah, The Academy of the Hebrew Language (website) - http://tinyurl.com/y4948kzm
Abba Bendavid, Lashon Mikra U-Leshon Chakhamim (Tel-Aviv, 1967), p. 147.
 New English Translation (NET) has “I solemnly swear by My own Name,” not a literal translation but perhaps catching the intent more clearly.
 See, however, Ramban ad loc., who vociferously disagrees.
 Brown, Driver Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (2nd edition, 1951), p. 1080; similarly Koehler-Baumgartner, 2001, pp. 1672-1673.
 Some scholars, predictably, propose that there was an errant or deliberate textual emendation and that the original was written with ayin.
 The word ga’on in Tanakh means “pride” or “exaltation.” The word has taken a circuitous and wild etymological ride to its current meaning of “genius.” See For Further Study.
 See Ramban, Vayikra 18:25.