notes on 5:4-6


There is here (4b-6a) a chiastic exhortation or warning.

It is clearly related to 5:14-15. The words "seek" and "live" occur in Amos, just in these two places, yet are prominent in both pieces. These are also the only warnings or exhortations in the book. Elsewhere Amos' oracles are all straight judgment (or in the final verses straight salvation), here alone is the announcement conditional.

It may seem that the rest of v.6 could be treated separately from the neatly chiastic piece, however in view of the correspondence between the introduction in v.4 with its reference to the "house of Israel" and v.6 talking of the "house of Joseph" it needs to be treated with verse 4.

Language and Imagery

"Seek" and "live" are paired also in vv.14-15, "live" is a common term - though not used elsewhere in Amos - while "seek" is often a technical term for religious activity.

"Gilgal will surely be exiled" is expressed in Hebrew by a repetition of the root גלה glh similar to the name הַגִּלְגָּל ל haggilgal. This achieves strong alliteration.

On the use of "Beth-aven" (house of trouble/idolatry) in place of Bethel

Compare Hosea 4:15

with this verse:
  don't seek Bethel
Do not enter into Gilgal, don't enter into Gilgal
  nor cross to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal is surely going into exile,
or go up to Beth-aven, Bethel will become aven.
and do not swear, "As the Lord lives."  

It is likely, either, that both Prophets were familiar with a common tradition critical of Beth-el / Beth-aven, or that one was familiar with the other's words.

It is interesting that Beersheba (to the south of Judah) was a pilgrimage site in this list addressed to (northern) Israelites. Perhaps it was the very strong association of this area to the patriarchs that gave it such appeal.

The threatened punishment of fire is frequent in Amos (9 times). Seven of the nine are in the oracles against the nations (1:3-2:16) it was only Israel that was not threatened with "fire". Thus the threat here and the vision in 7:4 redress this "omission" (cf. Is 1:31 for a similarly worded judgment).

This verse marks a stage in the decline of the northern element of Adonai's chosen people. The proud "House of Joseph" will pass through the "remains of Joseph" in the parallel passage 5:15, to end up as the "ruin of Joseph" in 6:6.

Commentators often want to emend "Bethel" in v.6 to "Israel" claiming better parallelism with "house of Joseph". This is to be resisted:

  1. the LXX to which appeal is made, it is not supported by the other versions
  2. this distich ends a piece so there is no problem if the second line is shorter:
lest he hurry like fire.
House of Joseph.
And it consumes, with no one to put it out
for Bethel.



This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.