Amos 4 – Israel’s Failure to Return to God & The Samaria Ivories

Hands OutI can only guess, but I bet that if you added the loot of King Tut and the Samaria Ivories together and compared it to what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have, I bet Gates and Buffet would look poor and actually, if they aren’t with You they are poor.

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev 3:15-16).1 I know your works

You know God, it would be nice to have a huge lump of money.  Yet, even though I would like to have a lot, partly for myself but mainly to help the poor.  I’m also afraid of having too much because I don’t know if I would use it properly.

I remember what Paul said:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:10).

2 1I love spending money and having fun, and I really enjoy helping people, especially kids and animals.  What scares me about that scripture is the very end, “many sorrows.”  I wouldn’t want to be disloyal to You, and I certainly wouldn’t want to experience whatever “sorrows’ would come into play.

The term “sorrows” is vague and isn’t a scary word, accept when it pertains to You because it could mean a lot of things.

 “…I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou lives, and art dead.

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (Rev 3:1-2).

King Solomon said that is wise to fear You, and I got it.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7).

Anyway, going back to some of the things that King Tut had in his tomb, I would like to look at...

Amos 4
Israel’s Failure to Return to God

1 Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.

3 Fragment of a carved ivory head.
Fragment of a carved ivory head. Samaria, 9th-8th centuries BC. (height around 2cm).

“Kine of Basham” – upper-class women, directly addressed, are compared with the best breed of cattle in ancient Canaan, which were raised (and pampered) in the pastures of northern Transjordan.  Whether the metaphor was intended as an insult or as ironic flattery is unknown.

2 The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.

“Hooks” – according to Assyrian reliefs, prisoners of war were led away with a rope fastened to a hook that pierced the nose or lower lip.  The Hebrew word here may, in fact, refer to ropes.

3 And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.

4 Come to Beth-el, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:

4 Ivory from Samaria found in Ahab’s Ivory Palace.
Ivory from Samaria found in Ahab’s Ivory Palace. The carving depicts a human faced sphinx, probably part of furniture decoration.

“Beth-el…Gilgal” – these towns had historical importance as places where God’s help was commemorated and both were popular places of worship in Amos’s day.

5 And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.

“With leaven” – the burning of leavened bread in the sacrifices was strictly forbidden (Lev 6:17; 7:12).  Either Amos rebukes the Israelites for willful transgression of the law, or he speaks of burning in a general way for offering inappropriate gifts to the Lord.

Leavened bread could accompany a peace offering (Lev 7:13).

6 And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

4:6-11 – in the past, God had used natural disasters to discipline and warn His people, but those lessons were soon forgotten.

“I” – these were not simply natural disasters; they were direct acts of God (3:6).

5 ivory from Megiddo
Ivory from Megiddo
The winged sphinxes also appear in ivory furniture ornaments of Canaanite and early Hebrew palaces. She appears to hold a Double Feather crown of Egypt. Note her multiple lioness breasts.

7 And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.

8 So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

9 I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

10 I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

11 I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

6 In ancient Israel
In ancient Israel, the most significant collections of ivories have been recovered at Megiddo and Samaria.
At Megiddo, over 300 ivory fragments, dating from the beginning of the Iron Age (12th century B.C.), came from the palace’s treasury room.

“Sodom and Gomorrah” – exemplified total destruction, God’s judgment on those cities (Gen 19:24-25) having already become proverbial.

“Firebrand pluckt out of the burning” – saved only by God’s grace (cf. Zech 3:2).

12 Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

“Prepare to meet thy God” – devastated Israel, brought to her knees by the Assyrians, would meet the God she had covenanted with at Sinai and had now so grievously offended.

13 For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.

The Samaria Ivories

The reference to “houses adorned with ivory” in Amos 3:15 finds confirmation in the discovery of the Samaria Ivories, a collection of hundreds of pieces of artwork, including over 200 fragments uncovered in the rubbish heap of a build on the city’s acropolis.

The “ivory building” is associated with the Israelite king Ahab (c. 874-853 B.C.) who is said to have constructed a palace “inlaid with ivory” in Samaria.  An alabaster jar found with the largest of the ivories and incised with the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Osorkon II (874-850 B.C.) is contemporary with Ahab.

There are also other ivories discovered though out Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamian that date to the same general period and resemble the Samarian artifacts in craftsmanship and style.

The artistic features of these ivories appear to have originated in Phoenicia, an area strongly influenced by Egyptian motifs and artwork. 

Characters from Egyptian mythology often appear in the collection, which also includes ivory plaques incised with Hebrew script – most likely inlays for palace furniture.  These plaques could be related to the “beds inlaid with ivory” of which Amos spoke in 6:4.

…their board games.

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