notes on 1:3-5

See the general remarks on this series of oracles.

People and places

Damascus was the major Syrian city, as in others of this series of oracles one city stands for the nation.

Gilead is the hilly region south of Bashan and north of Moab in the Transjordan. Since the king's highway passed through this rocky, mountainous and forested region Israel's neighbors desired it. Both the Syrians (north) and the Ammonites (south) tried to take control (Jud 10:8; 1 Kings 22:3).

Hazael was an officer of Ben-hadad, but assassinated him to take the throne of Damascus (2 Kings 8:15). Assyrian records call him ‘son of nobody’ since he was an upstart, they note defeats by Shalmaneser III in 841 and 837.

Despite this he took Gilead (2 Kings 10:32). However his son, called Ben-hadad (like his predecessor), lost the conquered Israelite territory (2 Kings 13:25).

These Syrian kings lived about a century before Amos. This makes it probable that the prophet is not naming these two, but kings of the same names who are contemporary (Ben-hadad - son of the god Hadad - was a regular name for kings of Damascus)Wolff p.154-156.

The Valley of Aven and Beth-eden probably mean something like "Sin Valley" and "House of Pleasure". We cannot, therefore, identify the sites Amos means, but can capture the flavor of his sarcasm.

Kir was the place where Tiglath-Pileser, somewhat later, chose to exile his captives from Damascus (2 Kings 16:9). In 9:7 Amos speaks of Kir as their place of origin too. Amos does not suggest similar "poetic justice" for Israel's coming exile always seeing Assyria as agent and place of exile, however his near contemporary Hosea suggests a "return to Egypt" (Hos 8:13; 9:3 etc.).

Language and Imagery

Threshing as the action of separating grain and stalks easily suggests judgment (Isaiah 21:9; 41:15; cf. 28:27; Micah 4:12). A usual method was using an animal, either on its own (the hoofs performing the separation), or dragging a sledge, often with specially sharpened underside. Job 41:26 likens Leviathan's belly to such a sledge:

Two Assyrian texts provide close parallels to this language. Tiglath-Pileser I claimed "the land Bit-Amukkani I threshed as with a threshing implement..." and goes on to speak of exile (Barton, p19) while Esarhaddon speaks of "plowing" but stresses the use of an "iron" implement (ANET, p.539).

Fire is a frequent punishment in Amos, and particularly in these oracles: 1:4, 7, 10, 12, 14; 2:2, 5; 4:11; 7:4. Probably, at least here, the context is not "fire from heaven" as the cotext suggests military defeat. A close parallel to this verse is the claim of Shalmaneser III to have "thrown fire into the palaces" of the ruler of another Syrian state, Hamath (ANET, 278).

The ruler, paralleling the one who grasps the scepter, both expressions seem to refer to the king of the people referred to, though the word I have rendered "ruler" might simply mean "the one who lives/is seated in" (cf. e.g. Tsumura). Notice that the punishment falls on the ruler, the citadel, the defensive walls and gate particularly, this fits with the notion of war and conquest as does the other punishment mentioned, exile.



This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.