This verse is chiastic, a very literal translation that preserves the word order reads:
The ones who turn to wormwood justice and righteousness to the ground they abandon.
In this way the standard phrase "justice and righteousness" appears in the center and spread over both lines. The other place in Amos where this expression is used, as such, is 5:24 where the words again appear together but on separate lines.
6:12 contains almost the same expression as this verse, but in less poetic form (again in very literal rendering):
The ones who turn to poison justice and the fruit of righteousness to wormwood.
The first word of this verse (the participle of the verb hapak) forms two links with verse 8.
The same verb is used in v.8, in a hymnic fragment (like others found at key points in Amos), whose formal features include beginning lines with participles. Thus the first word "turning" provides a strong link to the verse that follows. In making the link, however it also distinguishes, in this verse the participle carries the article hahopkim (which is more common in prose) - while in v.8 (as is usual in poetry) there is no article ('oseh not ha'oseh).
"Justice & righteousness" are a common pair. In the history books they occur especially in texts set in the time of the kings. As a pair they are commonest in the Prophets and Proverbs. Amos with three occurrences of the pair (5:7; 5:24; 6:12), has the highest frequency in the Bible, followed by Isaiah (though the pair are absent from Is 40-55).
"Justice" refers particularly to the role of rulers in deciding between rival interests and defending the wronged, while "righteousness" more widely implies a rightly ordered society and social relationships.
"Wormwood" is either
"Abandoning" is highly charged. The most usual meaning of the verb is "give rest" so something like "allowing righteousness to take a break in the land" captures the flavor!
Reversals play an important part in Amos' thinking. On the one hand, Israel is accused of reversing the expected proper behavior: turning justice to wormwood, and although claiming a special relationship to the holy God allowing righteousness to take a break. On the other hand, because the punishment fits the crime, they will receive the opposite of what they expect from God.
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.