The Relevance of Amos 6 for the Music Debates of Our Day

May 18, 2012

Amos 6:1-8 indicts God’s people for their great wickedness at that time in history:

1 Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!

2 Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?

3 Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;

4 That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall;

5 That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;

6 That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.

7 Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.

8 The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.

C. F. Keil comments on verse 5,

They lie stretched, as it were poured out . . . upon beds inlaid with ivory, to feast and fill their belly with the flesh of the best lambs and fattened calves, to the playing of harps and singing, in which they take such pleasure, that they invent new kinds of playing and singing. . . . Consequently the meaning of ver. 5 is the following: As David invented stringed instruments in honour of his God in heaven, so do these princes invent playing and singing for their god, the belly. (The Minor Prophets in KD, 10:299-300)

D. R. Sunukjian remarks on 6:4-8,

6:4-6. Rather than heed the prophet’s warning of judgment, the leaders of Samaria instead gave themselves to a decadent hedonism. They reclined on expensive beds whose wood was inlaid with ivory (cf. 3:15). At their opulent feasts, they “lounged” on their couches. The Hebrew word for lounge . . . conveys a sprawled stupor of satiation and drunkenness, with arms and legs hanging over the side. They ate gourmet food—choice lambs and fatted calves—the tastiest and tenderest meat they could get. In their drunken revelry they imagined themselves strumming like David as they attempted to improvise music at their parties. Yet they were vastly different from David! Not content to drink wine from goblets, they consumed it by the bowlful. Only the finest lotions would do for their skin.

Their sole concern was for their own luxurious lifestyle. They did not grieve over the coming ruin of Joseph, the Northern Kingdom (cf. 5:6, 15). They had no concern for their nation’s impending doom.

6:7. Therefore they, the first men of the first nation (v. 1), would be among the first to go to exile. Their festivities and drunken stupors would end. The sound of revelry would fade into bitter silence as they headed into captivity. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 1443; bold in original)

J. Randolph Jaeggli helpfully explains the great sinfulness of these people:

                They Abandon Themselves to Sensual Enjoyment (vv. 4-7).

                The Israelites who heard Amos’s words of warning were convinced that they were safe from God’s judgment, so they were indulging themselves in every kind of sensual enjoyment available. They were indolent leaders, lounging around while others apparently worked to support their grand lifestyle. They ate only the choicest meat from the best lambs and fattened calves. Verse five says that they “chant to the sound of the viol.” The verb “chant” is parat, to improvise (see Holladay, p. 297). The “viol” (nebel) was some sort of stringed instrument. Music that is undisciplined in its composition and performance appeals to the sensual person of any age. Modern jazz is a good example of improvised music that fits the mood and loose living of those who love this musical genre. The men of Amos’s time were prolific song writers like David, but they certainly lacked his devotion to the Lord. People compose music that is a reflection of their lifestyle. Lyrics either warm the believer’s heart with thoughts of God’s grace or inflame the passions of the unsaved with unseemly accounts of debauched emotions and actions. Feinberg noted that “music which is degrading is a sure sign of an incipient national decline” . . . Not content to consume wine in smaller vessels, Amos’s contemporaries were drinking from bowls (v. 6). The same word for bowl (mizraq) occurs in Exodus 27:3 to describe the basin used to catch the blood of the sacrificial animal at the altar in the tabernacle. If these drunkards were consuming their intoxicating beverages from an item used in the sacrificial system, they were guilty of sacrilege as well as intoxication. Being careful not to miss out on any enjoyment, these gourmet revelers were treating their skin to the finest ointments available. They did not miss anything that would make them feel good.

If there is anything characteristic of our modern age, it is the same quest for sensual pleasure. People today will try anything to fill the void created by the empty pursuit of material prosperity. Money, possessions, and “good times” do not satisfy modern man any more than the people who heard Amos preach. The world system persuades men that they can find happiness in fleshly gratification apart from God. The empty promise leads only to the enslavement of the human heart, as men become addicted to the fulfillment of their own passions. (Biblical Viewpoint: Focus on Amos, 25-26; bold italic heading is bold italic in the original; other text in bold is in italics in the original).

These commentators (as well as others) understand that God’s pronouncements of woe on His people at this time stemmed from their wickedness that included their playing stringed instruments in a way and for purposes that were not pleasing to Him. On this reading, Amos 6:5 speaks strongly to the music debates of our day by being Scriptural teaching that there are ways of playing a stringed instrument and of singing that are a matter of concern to God and that He condemns.

Rajesh

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