Amos 1:11 NKJV

11 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword, And cast off all pity; His anger tore perpetually, And he kept his wrath forever.

After having duped his brother of the inheritance(Genesis 27:1-47) Jacob fled to his uncle Laban.

There is no record of Esau ever pursuing him with a sword.After a couple of years Jacob returned and was met by the same brother.

There is no record of any reprisals again here

To which event does this text refer?

  • there is no biblical record but see my answer for a second c. bce record that gives the place as Hebron. Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 2:43

5 Answers 5


The Bible often uses the name of a progenitor as the name for the entire race. This is a perfect example. Other cases include "Moab", "Ammon", and many more. Even the name "Israel" is only another name for the man Jacob as well as the nation that came from Jacob.

The Bible records a number of times when Edom (Esau) clashed in war with Israel (Jacob). See Numbers 20:14-21 (compare Deut 2:2-8); 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron 28:16, 17.

Thus, it is clear that Amos 1:11 is discussing two nations at war rather than the individual, original brothers.

  • You are right that Amos is discussing the nations rather than the individuals. But it is still not clear what event exactly. Numbers 20:14-21 happened hunderds of years before Amos; 2 Kings 8:20-22 says that Edom broke out of the reign of Judah - not that Edom chased Judah with a sword; and 2 Chron 28:17 happened at the days of Ahaz, who lived two generations after Uziya who lived at the time of Amos. Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 3:06
  • Moreover: Amos 1:1 says that Amos spoke "two years before the earthquake", which happened at the last year of Uziya, king of Judah (see Isaiah 6). During that time, both kingdoms - Judah and Israel - were very strong, and Edom was probably occupied by Judah (it was struck by Amatzya: see 2 Kings 14:7). So it is again unclear, when exactly did Edom chase Israel with a sword? Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 9:51

I'm going to suggest that this is about the period of local turmoil immediately after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

During this time, surrounding nations were taking advantage of the defenceless state of the remaining inhabitants of Judah (as Jeremiah ch40 shows, not everybody went into exile). This ruthless exploitation is documented in the complaints of several prophets. Obadiah is one long complaint about what the Edomites were doing, including "cutting off the fugitives" (v14). See also Ezekiel; "acted revengefully against the house of Judah" (ch25 v12) and "You gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword in the time of their calamity"(ch35 v5). In the middle of this turmoil, the city of Tyre "sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, removing them far from their own border" (Joel ch3 v6), thus helping to inauguarate the Dispersion of the Jews. That would explain the indignant attack on Tyre in Ezekiel from ch26.

I suggest that the section in Amos ch1 which runs from v6 to v12 is about this period of anarchy, when the helpless survving Jews were being robbed and enslaved. The people of Gaza "carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom" (v6). Tyre did the same thing (v9). As for Edom, he "pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity" (v11). In fact this was the period when Edom was energetically shifting the southern boundary of Judah northwards, to the line where we find it in Roman times.

Unfortunately this theory, however much sense it makes to a student of history, involves identifying that section as a later addition to the book of Amos, which belongs to a much earlier time, so it won't be everybody's cup of tea.

  • In Amos 1:5, it is said that Aram will be exiled to Kir. This was done by Tiglat Pileser, king of Assyria, who lived long before the Babylonians. Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 21:52
  • Yes, indeed. That's why my suggested "later" section does not begin until v6, though it continues the pattern. Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 22:14
  • Interestingly, the traditional Jewish commentaries also relate these prophecies to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, even though they agree that all these prophecies were done by Amos. Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 12:14


I do not dispute that Amos could have been speaking of Edom collectively. However, a Second-temple period source, namely Jubilees 37:15, describes Esau and his Edomite army (4,000 men) quite specifically as pursuing Jacob to Hebron.

The men of Hebron sent to him (Jacob) saying, "Behold thy brother hath come against thee, to fight thee, with four thousand girt with the sword, and they carry shields and weapons." For they loved Jacob more than Esau, so they told him; for Jacob was a more liberal and merciful man...

The Book of Jubilees was apparently compiled from older legends by "the Pharisaic school of the time of John Hyrcanus, in whose reign it was written, between 135 and 105 B.C." It is not certain if this story dates back through the oral tradition to the time of Amos, but Hebron is definitely worthy of consideration. This account also deals both with Esau and his soldiers. Thus both Edom collectively and Esau individually pursued the patriarch Jacob with the sword at Hebron, according to the Book of Jubilees.

  • OK, but this happened over 1000 years before Amos. And since then, the descendants of Esau have been punished severely, e.g. by King David occupying Edom. So why would Amos mention this historic event as an unforgiveable crime of Edom? Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 8:53
  • 1
    I'm just reporting what the Book of Jubilees says not my personal opinion. As I mentioned, we can't know if this legend is goes back to Amos' time and I'm not saying it really happened this way. But there's a strain of ancient Jewish thought that portrays Esau as evil to the core. See the section His Vicious Character in the Jewish Encyclopedia article. As you surely know, rabbinical opinions are far from unanimous. Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 13:25

The prophet, Amos, was contemporary with the prophets Hosea and Isaiah during the 8th century BCE, which was more than 1,100 years after Jacob/Israel and Esau. Genesis 27:39,40 (ESV) states in part

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: ... 40 “By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.”

This was a prophecy pertaining to both Esau and the people group he later founded, the Edomites. We know this was prophetic because historically, the Edomites constantly attacked Israel. As a result, Saul and David fought wars against the Edomites, and King David conquered them only for them to “break the yoke” of Israel after the reign of Solomon.

In Genesis 27:41-43 (ESV), we read:

41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran.

While Esau and Jacob were eventually reconciled, Jacob obviously distrusted Esau, probably for good reason.

The Edomites were later called Idumaeans (from the Greek name for the region, Idoumaia). One Idumaean converted to Judaism and, with the support of Octavian, Mark Antony, and the Roman army, became “King Herod the Great,” who had the male babies and toddlers in Bethlehem slaughtered in his attempt to kill the promised Messiah and prophesied King of Israel.

  • So you say that Amos refers to Herod? But Herod lived hundreds of years after Amos. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 12:51
  • Yes, indeed! This is why I wrote "This [Jacob's blessing on Esau] was a prophecy pertaining to both Esau and the people group he later founded, the Edomites." The prophets if Israel commonly wrote about future events, both short term and long term, to establish their credibility (and not get stoned for being a false prophet). Consider Daniel's prophecies concerning Messiah and the destruction of the second Temple as another example.
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 15:40
  • Of course, the prophets wrote about future events. But here the prophet is accusing Edom for a crime they have not done yet, which is quite unusual. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 20:13
  • So, how else would one interpret "I will kill my brother Jacob" as spoken by Esau? Isaac told Esau that he would live "by the sword." Rebekah warned Jacob to flee, so it seems she certainly took Esau's threat seriously. I believe references to "the sword" in the Tanakh can refer to warfare in general. Thus, there's an implication that Esau planned to kill Jacob with "the sword" (or with whatever he killed and butchered the game he prepared for Isaac) and that Jacob fled. There's no historical doubt that Esau's descendants pursued Jacob's descendants with "the sword" as Amos wrote.
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 2:42
  • Or perhaps I misunderstood. Are you pointing out that merely pursuing someone with "the sword" itself is not a crime because Esau did not actually kill Jacob?
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 3:07

Where it says that Esau chased his brother with a sword it is exactly that, not Edom, etc. Many of you need to read the book of Jasher. This story is in detail in the book of Jasher in Chapter 29 verse 31. I will cut an paste it here for your own reading. For those that have not studied the book of Jasher, the Bible itself refers to it in the books of 2 Samuel 1:18 and Joshua 10:13.

Jasher 29:31-40

31 And when Jacob went away to go to Haran Esau called unto his son Eliphaz, and secretly spoke unto him, saying, Now hasten, take thy sword in thy hand and pursue Jacob and pass before him in the road, and lurk for him, and slay him with thy sword in one of the mountains, and take all belonging to him and come back. 32 And Eliphaz the son of Esau was an active man and expert with the bow as his father had taught him, and he was a noted hunter in the field and a valiant man. 33 And Eliphaz did as his father had commanded him, and Eliphaz was at that time thirteen years old, and Eliphaz rose up and went and took ten of his mother's brothers with him and pursued Jacob. 34 And he closely followed Jacob, and he lurked for him in the border of the land of Canaan opposite to the city of Shechem. 35 And Jacob saw Eliphaz and his men pursuing him, and Jacob stood still in the place in which he was going, in order to know what this was, for he did not know the thing; and Eliphaz drew his sword and he went on advancing, he and his men, toward Jacob; and Jacob said unto them, What is to do with you that you have come hither, and what meaneth it that you pursue with your swords. 36 And Eliphaz came near to Jacob and he answered and said unto him, Thus did my father command me, and now therefore I will not deviate from the orders which my father gave me; and when Jacob saw that Esau had spoken to Eliphaz to employ force, Jacob then approached and supplicated Eliphaz and his men, saying to him, 37 Behold all that I have and which my father and mother gave unto me, that take unto thee and go from me, and do not slay me, and may this thing be accounted unto thee a righteousness. 38 And the Lord caused Jacob to find favor in the sight of Eliphaz the son of Esau, and his men, and they hearkened to the voice of Jacob, and they did not put him to death, and Eliphaz and his men took all belonging to Jacob together with the silver and gold that he had brought with him from Beersheba; they left him nothing. 39 And Eliphaz and his men went away from him and they returned to Esau to Beersheba, and they told him all that had occurred to them with Jacob, and they gave him all that they had taken from Jacob. 40 And Esau was indignant at Eliphaz his son, and at his men that were with him, because they had not put Jacob to death.

Now the only thing I will say further is in Amos it says he didn't Cast of Pity buy Esau's son did have pity but robbed Jacob of everything however Esau himself was indignant.

Keep reading in Jasher 31:64-68

64 And Esau heard all the words of Laban's messengers, and his anger was greatly kindled against Jacob, and he remembered his hatred, and his anger burned within him. 65 And Esau hastened and took his children and servants and the souls of his household, being sixty men, and he went and assembled all the children of Seir the Horite and their people, being three hundred and forty men, and took all this number of four hundred men with drawn swords, and he went unto Jacob to smite him. 66 And Esau divided this number into several parts, and he took the sixty men of his children and servants and the souls of his household as one head, and gave them in care of Eliphaz his eldest son. 67 And the remaining heads he gave to the care of the six sons of Seir the Horite, and he placed every man over his generations and children. 68 And the whole of this camp went as it was, and Esau went amongst them toward Jacob, and he conducted them with speed.

You will see that Esau pursued Jacob with 400 men with the sword.

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