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In Amos 4:11

I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me," declares the LORD.

It seems that Amos is describing here a natural disaster that befell the inhabitants of the northern kingdom of the magnitude of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is not likely that he is describing a battle that brought destruction to the land since we know that the reign of Jeroboam II was very peaceful indeed. Also from the fact that he is comparing it to Sodom and Gomorrah suggests that it is some kind of natural disaster he is describing.

So which natural disaster is he describing? Is he referring to the earthquake that struck the land during the reign of Jeroboam II (See beginning of Amos), or perhaps a volcanic eruption?

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  • TJ says its note referring to a physical event at all: רָחֵיק מֵימְרִי יַתְכוֹן כְּמָא דְרָחֵיק יְיָ יַת סְדוֹם וְיַת עֲמוֹרָה וַהֲוֵיתוּן כְּאוּד מְשֵׁיזֵיב מִיְקִידָא וְלָא תַבְתּוּן לְפוּלְחָנִי אֲמַר יְיָ.
    – user22655
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 16:43
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    There is an interesting paper about solar eclipse / earthquake with references in Amos 3:14-15, Amos 4:10-13, Isaiah 2:19-21. The author of this is using an archaeological evidence of an earthquake that has been uncovered while ago by Yigal Yadin at Hazor. Please have a look at this: tanachrav.blogspot.ro/2017/08/… Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 12:19
  • @ConstantinJinga this is interesting indeed, however he doesn't seem to be aware of verse 11 in his study. It seems likely that Amos is referring here to the earthquake that shook Israel and overthrew it like Sodom. But i'm willing to hear other theories.
    – bach
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 13:41
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    @Bach Your is misquotation of the verse, actually. It says "I overthrew some among you some as God [third person] overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah." It's a reference to the unique fashion in which Genesis says the "angel of the Lord" that is "the Lord" on earth called down fire "from the Lord" out of heaven. (It isn't the only place this backward reference occurs, either.) This is relevant to the question in that it pertains to the character of the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah being referenced directly. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 22:11

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Amos 4:6-11 is a typical kind of prophetic progressive revelation.

6 “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

7 “I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up.

8 People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

9 “Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, destroying them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

10 “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

11 “I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

The northern kingdom was under scrutiny by the Lord, and it was about time to the final judgement. Before that time, the Lord provided opportunity to the Israelites to repent, or at least saved some, if they noticed the signs that the Lord given. Here were the signs;

  • verse 6 - beginning from a mild natural disaster was the harvest did not bring enough food for each family.
  • verse 7-8 - more severe natural disaster came next with drought in almost everywhere. But the Lord kept a few places with rain and food harvested so that the people could still survive with struggling.
  • verse 9 - The Lord initially sent plant disease, and finally struck them with Locusts to destroy their plantation.
  • verse 10 - The final natural disaster was the plague. Up to here, the natural disaster were done and the Israelite still not repented. The Lord then sent enemies came to kill their young men, and took their livestock.
  • verse 11 - The final judgement, the Lord brought the Assyrian to Samaria and Samaria would be totally destroyed as He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

So verse 11 was not about a natural disaster. The northern kingdom was going to meet a fierce enemy, so that if anyone could survive, they were like a burning stick snatched from the fire.

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First of all, pardon me my wobbly English.

Often, a Bible passage can be cleared also through the analysis of the context around it, as in this case.

The following is a very synthetic outline of the entire chapter 4.

Vss. 1-3 A God’s condemnation against the ‘Bashan’s Cows’, probably the high-ranking women of Samaria’s court, that sometimes bossed their husband, so they (the ‘Cows’) can continue to live off poor and needy persons’ backs.

Vss. 4-5 Lord Yahweh says them - in a nutshell – that they (the Samaritan’s sinners) may continue to sin, since this is what they love to do (5b).

Vss. 6-11 In this section, God illustrates the several manners of discipline that He administered them, for the purpose of to sensitize them of their transgressive behaviours. But - as the ‘chorus’ (repeated 5 times in this section) says – “yet you did not return to me (Yahweh)”. Note how Yahweh controlled also the physical environment of the Northern Kingdom of Israel country to discipline his people, in fulfillment of His promise made previously in Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (along with other passages).

Vss. 12-13 Since this was the course Israelites loved to perform, Yahweh pronounced his final sentence: “Therefore, thus I do to thee, O Israel, at last, Because this I do to thee, Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. For, lo, the former of mountains, and creator of wind, And the declarer to man what is His thought, He is making dawn obscurity, And is treading on high places of earth, Jehovah, God of Hosts, is His name!” (Young’s Literal Translation).

At this point we may focus on the verse 11, that speaks about the ‘overthrow’ Bach asked for. Was it a natural disaster, as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption?

In first instance, we have to examine the Hebrew term at issue. ‘Overthrow’ is a translation of the Hebrew term הפך (epk), utilized also in Gen 19:29 (regarding the Sodom and Gomorrah’s story).

Did God send – as the ancient condemned cities – fire and sulphur on the Northern Israelites, as He made over the Jordan plain? It is very improbable. If occurred so, we today would have (in the Bible, or in other ancient chronicles) at least a shard of mention of this far-reaching happening.

Moreover, hardly a (for an example) volcanic eruption clearly sent by God (not a common one) leaves the Israelites without any effect. Hardly the Israelites continued in their sin practices if they had suffered a volcanic eruption that they would recognized clearly directed them by God (even if only for fear, in medium-term, at least).

Returning to the meaning of הפך (epk) we may safely assert that this term revolves itself around the concept of “to turn or change the condition, form, state, situation, or course of a thing” (Parkhurst’s Lexicon). However, we may say that הפך (epk) include – more precisely - the nuance of a complete overturning, a reversal of something.

See, please, how this term is used in a couple of Bible passages.

Ezekiel 16:34 (the translation sample is drawn by Young; bold is mine): “And the contrary (הפך) is in thee from women in thy whoredoms, That after thee none doth go a-whoring; And in thy giving a gift, And a gift hath not been given to thee; And thou art become contrary (הפך). ” (other Bible translated the term also as ‘opposite’)

Isaiah 29:16 (the translation sample is drawn by ESV; bold is mine): “You turn things upside down (הפך)! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

So, using this term - הפך (epk) – Lord Yahweh said that He radically changed their live-it-up mood (graphically illustrated by the prophet with the mentions of ‘many gardens and vineyards’, fig trees, olive trees [vs. 9], horse herds [vs. 10], and so on) they love, just as He reversed the luxuriant environment of the ‘Jordan Plain’ of ancient (“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the Plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before Jehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt, as thou goest unto Zoar.” - Gen 13:10, ASV [bold is mine]) in sheer heaps of ashes!

As you may see from the Bible text we are discussing, the הפך (epk) God directed them (Samaritans) did result in the following reversal situations: “lack of bread in all your places” (vs. 6), the God’s withholding of the necessary rain (vss. 7-8), plant/vegetation diseases (vs. 9), pestilence and military defeats (vs. 10).

Was all this God-directed discipline enough to urge the Israelites to change their behaviour? The answer was the same, “yet you did not return to me (Yahweh)”.

Very interestingly - in a sharp contrast - when God saw the Northern Kingdom’s Israelites had no intention to drastically change (הפך, as used in this sense in 1 Sam 10:9 [compare with Exo 14:5]) their perverse mind-set, or, in other words, to convert themselves, He decided to drastically change (הפך) their lush environment, as well as their flamboyant lifestyle, they loved to live!

Lesson for us (believers): It is more useful for us to promptly hear God (also if his commands go against our fleshly inclinations), being sensitive to the urgings by Him, instead to be hardly disciplined by Him. We have to avoid the negative example of those Israelites, if we do not want undergo the same lot of those apostate of old.

I hope these remarks will be useful for your research.

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