AMOS CHAPTER 6 in the Complete Jewish Bible altered by me
Trouble for those living at ease in Tziyon
and for those who feel complacent on the hills of Shomron,
the top men of the top nation,
to whom the rest of Isra’el show respect.
2 Travel to Kalneh and see;
from there go on to Hamat the great;
then go down to Gat of the P’lishtim.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Is your territory larger than theirs?
3 You push aside the approach of the evil day
but make love to the reign of violence.
4 You lie on beds of ivory
and lounge sprawled out on your couches,
dining on meat from lambs in the flock
and from calves fattened in stalls.
5 You improvise to the sound of the lute
And compose for musical instruments, as if you were David.
You drink wine by the bowlful
and anoint yourselves with the finest oils,
but feel no grief at the ruin of Yosef’s nation.
7 Therefore now they are the first
Of those who go into exile:
the sprawlers’ revelry is ended
8 “Adonai God swears by himself,”
says Adonai God of armies,
“I detest the pride of Ya’akov
and I hate his palaces.
I will hand over the city,
along with everything in it.”
When that day comes, if ten men remain in one house, they will die. 10 And if a dead man’s kinsman, coming to bring the corpse out of the house and burn it, finds a survivor hidden in the inmost recesses of the house and asks, “Is anyone else there with you?” — he will say,“No,” Then he will say, “Sshh, because we mustn’t mention the name of Adonai.”
11 For when Adonai gives the order,
great houses will be shattered
and small houses reduced to rubble.
12 Do horses run over rocks?
Do you plow the sea with oxen?
Yet you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into bitter wormwood.
13 You take pleasure in worthless things.
thinking success comes from your own strength.
14 “But I will raise up a nation against you, house of Isra’el,” says Adonai God of armies, “and they will oppress you from the entrance of Hamat to the Wadi of the ‘Aravah.”
I think the editor means us to see most of this as another diatribe of God with one or two interruptions. God’s scorn for the idle rich is never more evident than in this book, where the pathetic pride of rich human beings is exposed to the withering gaze of the God of armies, who invites them to look at neighbouring city states which have been conquered. Israel’s status in the eyes of God, her position as God’s beloved people, will not save her from his justice.
I have changed the translation of verse 3 more radically than that of any other verse. There are two verbs, nadah and nagash, which are usually translated “put off” and “bring near”. But the words chime as if to demand attention, and nagash can mean to “lie with, to have sex with,” so I envisage a mockery which sees both the evil day and the reign of violence as courtesans who may be turned away or used. This fits the picture of luxurious arrogance which Amos is painting. God is incensed by their excess, their sense of entitlement, which leads to beds of ivory and eating young animals whom more modest people would let grow into adults. The diletantes’ party music allows God to compare them to the great King David, credited with authorship of the psalms. As they have put themselves first amongst their people, God will put them first amongst those sent into exile. God sums up his judgement in a ringing phrase in Hebrew: v’sar mirzach sirucheem – the sprawlers’ revelry is ended. The God who has humbled himself to share the life of his human people will not accept their arrogance.
The next section is vivid but difficult to interpret. Perhaps the prophet is speaking out of a vision of the future. The surviving kinsman is doing the sad task of recovering and burning the bodies, but finds another survivor huddled in a corner of the ruined house. He asks if there is anyone else there and is told there is not. But the terrified survivor senses the presence of One whom he cannot name: Adonai, the destroyer. My interpretation here is confirmed by the following lines, “For when Adonai gives the order etc.”
The unnatural perversity of the ruling class of Israel is characterised by God/ Amos as similar to racing horses over rocks or plowing the sea with oxen. They have turned healthy justice into poison and sweet goodness into a bitter taste. The punishment of God will fall on the whole country from north to south.