The first half of Amos 6 makes it clear that judgment was coming to the house of Israel, not only for their sin but also for their arrogance in thinking that they had the right to sin. For this reason, God swore an oath in Amos 6:8 to “deliver up the city and all it contains” to a foreign nation.
When God swears an oath, there is then nothing that can stop it. Intercession might still delay judgment to a later generation, but in the end, God must fulfill His oath.
Amos 6:9, 10 continues,
9 And it will be, if ten men are left in one house, they will die. 10 Then one’s uncle, or his undertaker, will lift him up to carry out his bones from the house, and he will say to the one who is in the innermost part of the house, “Is anyone else with you?” And that one will say, “No one.” Then he will answer, “Keep quiet. For the name of the Lord is not to be mentioned.”
This is somewhat difficult to understand today, since we are unfamiliar with the culture of the day. In the laws of tribulation found in Deut. 28, we read that if Israel persisted in disobedience, God would raise up a foreign nation to conquer them and bring them into exile (Deut. 28:49-52).
If the survivors in exile continued in sin, “then the Lord will bring extraordinary plagues on you… and He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt” (Deut. 28:59, 60). The suggestion is that divine judgment continues and increases as long as the sin continues.
So also, as we saw earlier, Amos 5:19 speaks of a man fleeing from a lion only to be met by a bear—or if he is able to get home safe and sound, he is bitten by a snake.
Again, in Amos 6:9, we read that “if ten men are left [survive] in one house, they will die.” Perhaps they were able to survive the war, but still they will die.
This is really a continuation of Amos 5:3, which says,
3 For thus says the Lord God, “The city which goes forth a thousand strong will have a hundred left, and the one which goes forth a hundred strong will have ten left to the house of Israel.”
In other words, Israel would start out with a thousand and then be reduced to a hundred. The hundred would then be reduced to ten. Finally, in Amos 6:9 we find that even those ten survivors would also die.
In Amos 6:10 the “undertaker” (NASB) would then be called to bury the dead. The Hebrew word is saraf, “one who burns.” The KJV renders it “he that burneth him.” This is not a reference to cremation but to one who burns incense (or spices) to honor the dead. Other references to this practice are found in Jer. 34:5; 2 Chron. 16:14; 21:19.
If the undertaker found a woman or child survivor, he would tell him or her to “Keep quiet. For the name of the Lord is not to be mentioned,” or invoked. In those days the people thought that to invoke the name of the Lord (Yahweh) might bring divine judgment. This faulty view was caused by overstressing God’s holiness. They thought that if someone pronounced His name incorrectly or in the wrong context that God would become angry and destroy them. (In fact, this was why rabbis began to read “Lord” in place of Yahweh.)
If they had understood the fatherhood of God, and if they had understood that Yahweh was a God of love, they would not have fallen into such religious misunderstanding. We know that Yahweh is certainly our Lord and King, but He is much more than that. His desire and intent is that we would have a personal relationship with Him as His children. To know Him only as a Lord, King, Creator, or even as Judge is to be God’s servants (at best) but never His sons.
Smashing the Two Houses
Amos 6:11 says,
11 For behold, the Lord is going to command that the great house be smashed to pieces and the small house to fragments.
While one might think of these two houses as individual houses within the nation, it is more likely that Amos was referring to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. These were the two houses, one “great” (or large), because it consisted of ten tribes, and the other “small,” because it consisted of just two territorial tribes. The Levites were in both houses.
This is one of the few places where Amos includes Judah in the prophecies of divine judgment. Being a missionary to Israel, his main message was about Israel, not Judah.
Israel’s Actions are Unreasonable
Amos 6:12 says,
12 Do horses run on rocks? Or does one plow them [horses] with oxen? Yet you have turned justice into poison [rosh, “head,” referring to the “head” of poppies], and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood [lahanah, “opium”].
Horses know better than to run on stony ground. Men know better than to yoke a horse with an ox. These are reasonable things. Yet the governments of Israel and Judah had turned justice into poppy plants, from which opium is produced.
Israel had despised the law of God and had turned to their own laws (traditions of men). The laws of men, when they contradict the laws of God, are unjust, and they often give men the right to sin or punish those who do righteousness. To true believers (such as Amos) such practices were illogical, unreasonable, and contrary to nature itself.
Amos sees Israel’s rebellious government and unjust judicial system as being as logical as a man high on opium. Moses calls poppies “the vine of Sodom” (Deut. 32:31-33). In other words, Sodom was a drug trafficking center, growing poppies for their opium content.
The prophet Jeremiah enlarged upon this idea and used such drug addiction as a metaphor for the condition of false prophets, whose prophecies are spiritually connected to Sodom. In Jer. 23:14, 15, he speaks of false prophets:
14 Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing… All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets, “Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood [opium] and make them drink poisonous water [poppy juice], for from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land.”
The (false) prophets of Jerusalem comforted the people in their lawlessness, insisting that God would never allow His people to be destroyed. Their opium-laced message was stated in Jer. 6:14,
14 And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.
The “peace” that the false prophets were dispensing was the euphoric feeling of opium, not the “balm of Gilead” (Jer. 8:22). The essential oil of the balsam tree had natural healing power, and the method of extracting it was a trade secret in the land of Gilead. The prophet uses balsam oil as a metaphor for the healing power of the word of the Lord, contrasting it with opium, which soothed pain and treated symptoms but cured nothing.
Both Jeremiah and Amos tell Israel that their judicial system makes as much sense as math to an opioid addict. To follow Jerusalem’s prophets was to live in Sodom. For this reason in Rev. 11:8 John said that Jerusalem was “Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” Those who reject the word of the Lord and the Mediator of the New Covenant are opioid addicts, spiritually speaking.
Rejecting Jesus as the Messiah was unreasonable and illogical, given the fact that He fulfilled all the prophecies of Scripture that had been attributed to the coming Messiah. But the chief priests knew that if He were accepted as the Messiah, they would lose their positions of power, for He would cleanse the corrupt temple and cast them out for rejecting the law in favor of the traditions of men.
Two Towns as Metaphors
Amos 6:13 says,
13 You who rejoice in Lo-debar, and say, “have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?”
Lo-debar and Karnaim were cities whose names Amos used as a springboard for his prophetic word. Lo-debar was a city in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan River. It is mentioned in 2 Sam. 17:24. Its name means “without pasture.” Amos was inferring that the Israelites were being illogical by rejoicing in a place without pasture.
The second city was Karnaim, which means “two horns.” The KJV renders this “horns.” Whether or not this was meant to speak of a town or just horns of power, the meaning is clear. Horns speak universally of power. That is why crowns and helmets have horns on them.
In Amos 6:13 (above), he puts words in the mouth of Israel to convey their thoughts and motives, asking, “have we not by our own strength taken two horns for ourselves?” He is saying that Israel was depending upon its own strength and power to defend the nation against the coming storm raised up by God Himself.
The overall message is that Israel was without pasture, because the prophets were dispensing poppies instead of the true food (word) of God; and then when threatened with divine judgment, they were gathering up military strength to defend themselves against God. Amos concludes in Amos 6:14,
14 “For behold, I am going to raise up a nation against you, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord God of hosts, “and they will afflict you from the entrance of Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.”
This type of judgment was forecasted in the law of tribulation in Deut. 28:36, saying,
36 The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you shall set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone.
Again, the law says in Deut. 28:49,
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand.
This is the divine judgment against disobedient people who set aside the laws of God. Israel’s failure still affects us today, and human nature, being at enmity with the divine nature, is still inclined to put away God’s law. The day will come, however, when men will repent and will turn to Him. They will accept the fact that God’s law is an expression of His character and will come into agreement with Him.