"Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?"
Venture into a well filled shop or store and you may pick out and buy any article you care, provided you can pay there for. Everything in the shop you may ignore, except what you desire to acquire.
But in the sacred Scriptures you may not pick out any single verse or text you may find useful, or of which you approve, without examining the surrounding context first.
Here we find a verse which is often isolated, and invested with a meaning which the context denies to it. Those who are infested with the hideous caricature of God which would ascribe to Him every human vice, find in this verse a proof that all the evils for which cities are specially notorious are the direct work of God.
First of all, let us see what other versions say.
What is the general sense of the passage? Is it not that when some calamity falls upon Israel, there must be a definite cause? When the alarm is blown, there must be a reason. When the lion roars in the rocky mountain forest, he is after prey. When Jehovah roars, the people will fear and tremble.
You only of all the families of the earth, brought up from the land of Egypt, have I got to know. Therefore I must visit you for all your iniquities, seeing that you will not walk with Me in harmony.
But Adonay Jehovah will do nothing without first revealing His secret to His servants the Prophets. Therefore Amos warns the disobedient nation. If evil befalls any of the cities, then let them know it has come from Jehovah. It is His voice.
As we have pointed out before, pestilence in Hebrew is deber, which is merely a variety of the word meaning to speak (dabar). God spoke to His ancient people by means of pestilence and calamities.
Amos is not referring to evil done by the dwellers in a city, but to evil inflicted on them by Jehovah. They ought therefore to discover why He has thus made a visitation upon them.
The R.S.V. rendering, "unless the LORD has done it," is very apposite. This well represents the Hebrew "if" (or, "if there should be") combined with the negative "not," just as in Greek the same combination (ei mE, "if not") stands for "unless" or "except."
It may be that some confusion might be caused by the last few words in verse 8, "who can but prophesy?" We would therefore translate, "A lion roars, who will not fear? Adonay Jehovah speaks (dibber), who will not hide?" Instead of "prophesy" (inba), "hide" (ichba) has been suggested, as better suiting the general sense and parallelism. If the Samaritan character for the letter cheth became frayed away, it would look very like the letter nun.
The above facts have been pointed out time after time, but there will always exist some who find it impossible to read through a context with a logical and fair mind.
A.T. Last updated 11.4.2006