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Who are they in Amos 9:2?

Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down: (KJV)

It looks like "they" refers to the posts in the previous verse:

I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered. (KJV)

However, I have no idea what those posts mean.

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The following is the traditional Jewish understanding of Amos 9:1-2 as per the Da'at Mikra of Yehuda Keil et al.

1.p1 "I saw the Lord present at the altar" - Amos says, in a prophetic vision I saw the Lord's presence besides the altar... of the temple at Bet El, whose adherents mistakenly believed in a doctrine that the Lord was in some way physically present to accept their sacrifices. The language is ironic.

1.p2 "And he [the Lord] said to me strike the lintel such that the door posts will quake [same word as used for earthquake]" - A possible allusion to the story of Samson. This is apparently a prophecy of an earthquake.

1.p3 "And [you, Amos] break them [the door posts] on the heads of all [those assembled], and anyone [of the assembled] who survives, I [the Lord] will kill by the sword." - This is apparently a prophecy of war following the earthquake.

1.p4 "Not a single [would-be] escapee [of those assembled at the temple] will [in the end] escape, not a single [would-be] refugee [from those assembled at the Bet El temple] will in the end get out" - The verse is alliterate by using the same root for noun and verb forms of escapee/escape and refugee/to seek refuge.

2.p1 "If they [those who were assembled at the temple and now seek to escape from the earthquake and war] dig deep [seek refuge in caves, as was commonly done during wars], from there [the caves] my hand [the Lord's hand] will take them."

2.p2 "If they will try to climb up to the sky [apparently a general reference to high places such as Mt Carmel mentioned in the next verse that were high, heavily forested and had deep caves], from there I will bring them down." See similar language in Obadiah 1:3-4.

The temple mentioned in verse 1 is the Bet El temple, as this is a prophecy of doom specifically on the northern kingdom of Israel and the house of Yeravam (e.g. Amos 7:9,13). The verse hints that the main force of the destruction is directed specifically at the adherents to the Bet El sanctuary and its doctrines.

The Hebrew of these verses in the masoretic text is poetic and telegraphic, but not particularly difficult to understand. There is only one word, the word used for "break" in verse 1.p3 that is unique and unusual.

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Here is my translation of Amos 9:1 enter image description here

The answer to your question is found in Amos 8:2, which I would translate as: enter image description here

Conclusion

The answer to your question Who are “they” in Amos 9:2?: the "they" in Amos 9:2 is the same as the "them" of Amos 9:1, which is a reference to the people of Israel that the Lord speaks of through the prophet in Amos 8:2.

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  • {עבור} is the passive verbal-noun of {עבר} which means crossing, across, passing-over. {עברית} means {Hebrew} = those who passed-over, crossed-over. To say it is a direct reference to {עבר} passing-over of Exodus, is like saying {I passed my exams} is the same "pass" as {my car passes his car}. {עבור} is also found in 2Sam17. In Numbers 22:26 the same {יוסיף עבור} is used, where the agent of Hashem {increasingly advanced/crossed towards Balaam}. Where Numbers 22:26 is 3rdP singular {יוסיף עבור}, Amos is 1stP singular {אוסיף עבור}. Nov 20 '16 at 4:54
  • You haven't read my answer properly, @CynthiaAvishegnath. I didn't say "pass over", I said "pass through", which is precisely how the KJV have rendered the first part of Exodus 12:23: "For the LORD will pass through (עבר) to smite the Egyptians. Amos is informing Israel that God will no longer be doing this for them.
    – enegue
    Nov 20 '16 at 8:10
  • It does not matter whether pass-thro or pass-over or passing. That's just English. I am speaking about Hebrew meaning. Sorry if I did not express it comprehensively in English. {עבור} of Amos 8, is not the {עבר} of Exodus 12. BTW did you notice Amos 8:6 {בעבור}? Nov 20 '16 at 9:53
  • @CynthiaAvishegnath עָבַר in Exodus 12:23 and עֲב֥וֹר of Amos 8:2 are both Strong's H5674, but בַּעֲב֣וּר of Amos 8:6 is listed as a different word, Strong's H5668. Though the words are connected etymologically, their usage in biblical Hebrew is not.
    – enegue
    Nov 20 '16 at 10:57
  • I have no idea about Strong's. Since it is a Christian effort, I am not able to trust it. And obviously this case you demonstrate its lack of trustworthiness. Strongs can willy-nilly do whatever he wants to do and declare however he wants to declare. Nov 20 '16 at 13:34

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