V. 1 contains the heading, which has already been discussed in the Introduction; and אֲשֶׁר חָזָה ("which he saw") refers to דִּבְרֵי עָמוֹס (the words of Amos). V. 2 forms the Introduction, which is attached to the heading by וַיֹּאמַר, and announces a revelation of the wrath of God upon Israel, or a theocratic judgment. V. 2. "Jehovah roars out of Zion, and He utters His voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the head of Carmel withers." The voice of Jehovah is the thunder, the earthly substratum in which the Lord manifests His coming to judgment (see at Joel 3:16). By the adoption of the first half of the verse word for word from Joel, Amos connects his prophecy with that of his predecessor, not so much with the intention of confirming the latter, as for the purpose of alarming the sinners who were at east in their security, and overthrowing the delusive notion that the judgment of God would only fall upon the heathen world. This delusion he meets with the declaration, that at the threatening of the wrath of God the pastures of the shepherds, i.e., the pasture-ground of the land of Israel (cf. Joel 1:19), and the head of the forest-crowned Carmel, will fade and wither. Carmel is the oft-recurring promontory at the mouth of the Kishon on the Mediterranean (see the comm. on Joshua 19:26 and 1 Kings 18:19), and not the place called Carmel on the mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:55), to which the term רֹאשׁ (head) is inapplicable (vid., Amos 9:3 and Micah 7:14). Shepherds' pastures and Carmel individualized the land of Israel in a manner that was very natural to Amos the shepherd. With this introduction, Amos announces the theme of his prophecies. And if, instead of proceeding at once to describe still further the judgment that threatens the kingdom of Israel, he first of all enumerates the surrounding nations, including Judah, as objects of the manifestation of the wrath of God, this enumeration cannot have any other object than the one described in our survey of the contents of the book. The enumeration opens with the kingdoms of Aram, Philistia, and Tyre (Phoenicia), which were not related to Israel by any ties of kinship whatever.
Aram-Damascus.—V. 3. "Thus saith Jehovah, For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they have threshed Gilead with iron rollers, V. 4. I send fire into the house of Hazael, and it will eat the palaces of Ben-hadad, V. 5. And break in pieces the bolt of Damascus, and root out the inhabitant from the valley of Aven, and the sceptre-holder out of Beth-eden: and the people of Aram will wander into captivity to Kir, saith Jehovah." In the formula, which is repeated in the case of every people, "for three transgressions, and for four," the numbers merely serve to denote the multiplicity of the sins, the exact number of which has no bearing upon the matter. "The number four is added to the number three, to characterize the latter as simply set down at pleasure; in other words, it is as much as to say that the number is not exactly three or four, but probably a still larger number" (Hitzig). The expression, therefore, denotes not a small but a large number of crimes, or "ungodliness in its worst form" (Luther; see at Hosea 6:2) That these numbers are to be understood in this way, and not to be taken in a literal sense, is unquestionably evident from the fact, that nit he more precise account of the sins which follows, as a rule, only one especially grievous crime is mentioned by way of example. לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ (I will not reverse it) is inserted before the more minute description of the crimes, to show that the threat is irrevocable. הֵשִׁיב signifies to turn, i.e., to make a thing go back, to withdraw it, as in Numbers 23:20; Isaiah 43:13. The suffix attached to אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ refers neither to qōlō (his voice), nor "to the idea of דָּבָר which is implied in כֹּה אָמַר (thus saith), or the substance of the threatening thunder-voice" (Baur); for hēshībh dâbhâr signifies to give an answer, and never to make a word ineffectual. The reference is to the punishment threatened afterwards, where the masculine stands in the place of the neuter. Consequently the close of the verse contains the epexegesis of the first clause, and vv. 4 and 5 follow with the explanation of לא אשׁיבנו (I will not turn it). The threshing of the Gileadites with iron threshing-machines is mentioned as the principal transgression of the Syrian kingdom, which is here named after the capital Damascus (see at 2 Samuel 8:6). This took place at the conquest of the Israelitish land to the east of the Jordan by Hazael during the reign of Jehu (2 Kings 10:32-33, cf. ch. 13:7), when the conquerors acted so cruelly towards the Gileadites, that they even crushed the prisoners to pieces with iron threshing-machines, according to a barbarous war-custom that is met with elsewhere (see at 2 Samuel 12:31). Chârūts (= chârīts, 2 Samuel 12:31), lit., sharpened, is a poetical term applied to the threshing-roller, or threshing-cart (mōrag chârūts, Isaiah 41:15). According to Jerome, it was "a kind of cart with toothed iron wheels underneath, which was driven about to crush the straw in the threshing-floors after the grain had been beaten out." The threat is individualized historically thus: in the case of the capital, the burning of the palaces is predicted; and in that of two other places, the destruction of the people and their rulers; so that both of them apply to both, or rather to the whole kingdom. The palaces of Hazael and Benhadad are to be sought for in Damascus, the capital of the kingdom (Jeremiah 49:27). Hazael was the murderer of Benhadad I, to whom the prophet Elisha foretold that he would reign over Syria, and predicted the cruelties that he would practise towards Israel (2 Kings 8:7ff.). Benhadad is generally regarded as his son; but the plural "palaces" leads us rather to think of both the first and second Benhadad, and this is favoured by the circumstance that it was only during his father's reign that Benhadad II oppressed Israel, whereas after his death, and when he himself ascended the throne, the conquered provinces were wrested from him by Joash king of Israel (2 Kings 13:22-25). The breaking of the bar (the bolt of the gate) denotes the conquest of the capital; and the cutting off of the inhabitants of Biq‘ath-Aven indicates the slaughter connected with the capture of the towns, and not their deportation; for hikhrīth means to exterminate, so that gâlâh (captivity) in the last clause applies to the remainder of the population that had not been slain in war. In the parallel clause תּוֹמֵךְ שֵׁבֶם, the sceptre-holder, i.e., the ruler (either the king or his deputy), corresponds to yōshēbh (the inhabitant); and the thought expressed is, that both prince and people, both high and low, shall perish.
The two places, Valley-Aven and Beth-Eden, cannot be discovered with any certainty; but at any rate they were capitals, and possibly they may have been the seat of royal palaces as well as Damascus, which was the first capital of the kingdom. בִּקְעַת אָוןֶ, valley of nothingness, or of idols, is supposed by Ewald and Hitzig to be a name given to Heliopolis or Baalbek, after the analogy of Beth-aven = Bethel (see at Hosea 5:8). They base their opinion upon the Alex. rendering ἐκ πεδίου Ὦν, taken in connection with the Alex. interpretation of the Egyptian On (Genesis 41:45) as Heliopolis. But as the lxx have interpreted אֹן by Heliopolis in the book of Genesis, whereas here they have merely reproduced the Hebrew letters און by Ὦν, as they have in other places as well (e.g., Hosea 4:15; 5:8; 10:5, 8), where Heliopolis cannot for a moment be thought of, the πέδιον Ὦν of the lxx furnishes no evidence in favour of Heliopolis, still less does it warrant an alteration of the Hebrew pointing (into אוןֹ). Even the Chaldee and Syriac have taken בִּקְעַת אָוןֶ as a proper name, and Ephraem Syrus speaks of it as "a place in the neighbourhood of Damascus, distinguished for idol-chapels." The supposition that it is a city is also favoured by the analogy of the other threatenings, in which, for the most part, cities only are mentioned. Others understand by it the valley near Damascus, or the present Bekaa between Lebanon and Antilibanus, in which Heliopolis was always the most distinguished city, and Robinson has pronounced in favour of this (Bibl. Res. p. 677). Bēth-‘Eden, i.e., house of delight, is not to be sought for in the present village of Eden, on the eastern slope of Lebanon, near to the cedar forest of Bshirrai, as the Arabic name of this village ’hdn has nothing in common with the Hebrew עדן (see at 2 Kings 19:12); but it is the Παράδεισος of the Greeks, which Ptolemy places ten degrees south and five degrees east of Laodicea, and which Robinson imagines that he has found in Old Jusieh, not far from Ribleh, a place belonging to the times before the Saracens, with very extensive ruins (see Bibl. Researches, pp. 542-6, and 556). The rest of the population of Aram would be carried away to Kir, i.e., to the country on the banks of the river Kur, from which, according to Amos 9:7, the Syrians originally emigrated. This prediction was fulfilled when the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser conquered Damascus in the time of Ahaz, and broke up the kingdom of Syria (2 Kings 16:9). The closing words, ’âmar Yehōvâh (saith the Lord), serve to add strength to the threat, and therefore recur in vv. 8, 15, and Amos 2:3.
Philistia.—V. 6. "Thus saith Jehovah, For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I shall not reverse it, because they carried away captives in full number to deliver them up to Edom, V. 7. I send fire into the wall of Gaza, and it will eat their palaces; V. 8. And I exterminate the inhabitant from Ashdod, and the sceptre-holder from Askelon, and turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines will perish, saith the Lord Jehovah." Instead of the Philistines generally, the prophet mentions Gaza in v. 6. This is still a considerable town, bearing the old name Guzzeh (see the comm. on Joshua 13:3), and was the one of the five capitals of the Philistines which had taken the most active part as a great commercial town in handing over the Israelitish prisoners to the Edomites. For it is evident that Gaza is simply regarded as a representative of Philistia, from the fact that in the announcement of the punishment, the other capitals of Philistia are also mentioned. Gâlūth shelēmâh is correctly explained by Jerome thus: "a captivity so perfect and complete, that not a single captive remained who was not delivered to the Idumaeans." The reference is to captive Israelites, who were carried off by the Philistines, and disposed of by them to the Edomites, the arch-enemies of Israel. Amos no doubt had in his mind the invasion of Judah by the Philistines and tribes of Arabia Petraea in the time of Joram, which is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 21:16, and to which Joel had already alluded in Joel 3:3ff., where the Phoenicians and Philistines are threatened with divine retribution for having plundered the land, and sold the captive Judaeans to the Javanites (Ionians). But it by no means follows from this, that the "sons of Javan" mentioned in Joel 3:6 are not Greeks, but the inhabitants of the Arabian Javan noticed in Ezekiel 27:19. The fact was simply this: the Philistines sold one portion of the many prisoners, taken at that time, to the Edomites, and the rest to the Phoenicians, who disposed of them again to the Greeks. Joel simply mentions the latter circumstance, because, in accordance with the object of his prophecy, his design was to show the wide dispersion of the Jews, and their future gathering out of all the lands of their banishment. Amos, on the other hand, simply condemns the delivering of the captives to Edom, the arch-foe of Israel, to indicate the greatness of the sin involved in this treatment of the covenant nation, or the hatred which the Philistines had displayed thereby. As a punishment for this, the cities of Philistia would be burned by their enemies, the inhabitants would be exterminated, and the remnant perish. Here again, as in vv. 4, 5, the threat is rhetorically individualized, so that in the case of one city the burning of the city itself is predicted, and in that of another the destruction of its inhabitants. (On Ashdod, Askelon, and Ekron, see the comm. on Joshua 13:3.) הֵשִׁיב יָד, to return the hand, i.e., to turn or stretch it out again (see comm. on 2 Samuel 8:3). The use of this expression may be explained on the ground, that the destruction of the inhabitants of Ashdod and Askelon has already been thought of as a stretching out of the hand. The fifth of the Philistian capitals, Gath, is not mentioned, though not for the reason assigned by Kimchi, viz., that it belonged to the kings of Judah, or had been conquered by Uzziah, for Uzziah had not only conquered Gath and Jabneh, but had taken Ashdod as well, and thrown down the walls (2 Chronicles 26:6), and yet Amos mentions Ashdod; nor because Gath had been taken by the Syrians (2 Kings 12:18), for this Syrian conquest was not a lasting one, and in the prophet's time (cf. Amos 6:2), and even later (cf. Micah 1:10), it still maintained its independence, and was a very distinguished city; but for the simple reason that the individualizing description given by the prophet did not require the complete enumeration of all the capitals, and the idea of been named, but all that was still in existence, and had escaped destruction" (Amos 9:12 and Jeremiah 6:9), it nevertheless includes not merely the four states just named, but every part of Philistia that had hitherto escaped destruction, so that Gath must be included.
—Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament