Amos’ fourth vision is different from his first three visions. The third vision is based on a wordplay in Hebrew. Thus, the meaning of the vision is not based on the significance of what Amos saw. Rather, the meaning of the vision is based on the wordplay of two Hebrew words that have the same sound but different meanings. This is the vision Amos saw:
“Thus the Lord GOD showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them’” (Amos 8:1-2).
In his vision Amos saw a container, probably a basket. The basket was full of fruits, probably figs, which the people of Israel had harvested at the end of the agricultural year, that is, during the months of August and September. According to the Gezer Calendar, the last month of the agricultural calendar was the “month of summer fruit” (Mauchline, p. 201).
After the Lord asked Amos what he had seen, Amos answered: “A basket of summer fruit.” The word for summer fruit is קַיִץ (qayits). This word is used to describe the harvest of fruits, mostly figs, gathered at the end of the summer. The word was also associated with the end of the agricultural year.
The Lord’s explanation of what Amos saw in his vision is based on a wordplay. The Lord told Amos: “The end has come upon my people Israel.” The Hebrew word for “end” is קֵץ ( qēts). Although the meaning of qayits and qēts is different, in Hebrew the two words have a similar sound.
The message of Amos’ vision was clear: the end was coming for the Northern Kingdom, although no date or time was given when God’s judgment against the rebellious nation would take place. In the third vision, the Lord announced that the judgment would come against the places of worship and against the royal house (Amos 7:9). In the fourth vision the Lord announced the coming judgment over the entire nation: “The end has come upon my people Israel.”
The Lord’s judgment upon his people had come because of his decision not to spare them again: “I will never again pass by them.” The consequence of the Lord’s decision was that after many warnings to the people, the time for the judgment had finally arrived.
In the Old Testament, the word קֵץ (qēts) is used to describe the apocalyptic moment when the Lord will bring judgment upon the nations (Daniel 11:27; 11:35; 12:4).
The Lord’s Judgment
The words of judgment describe the great devastation that will come upon the nation: “The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many; in every place they shall be cast out in silence” (Amos 8:3 RSV).
The songs of lament will be done by “the singing women” (Amos 8:3 TNK). These singing women were professional singers who sang funerary lamentations. They, together with male singers, lamented the death of Josiah, king of Judah: “Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments” (2 Chronicles 35:25).
Concerning these professional singers, Wolff wrote: “Whenever ‘songstresses’ שרות are mentioned in the Old Testament they are associated with the royal court” (p. 319). Thus, the wailing of these female singers will be heard not in the temple (NRSV, NIV), but in the palace (TNK, NJB).
The women’s lamentation was heard because of the dead bodies scattered throughout the cities of Israel. The vision does not indicate whether the people died by the hands of their enemies, by pestilence, or by a natural disaster.
Since it was a disgrace to leave the body of a dead person unburied, the prophet was so moved that he asked for silence: “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!” (Amos 8:3 ESV). Amos’ reaction to this calamity was that in times like this, one must be careful not to mention the name of the Lord: “Hush! We must not mention the name of the LORD” (Amos 6:10).
Amos was profoundly affected by his vision. He saw the horrific devastation of the people, scenes of mass dying and of unburied corpses. The end of the harvest was a time of joy and celebration: “The people rejoice before you as they rejoice at harvest time” (Isaiah 9:3). But for Israel, the end of the harvest marked the end of their lives. The people were like summer fruits, ripened for destruction: “The time is ripe for my people Israel.”
Israel had spent years in rebellion. Their worship of Baal and Asherah had brought moral degeneracy and spiritual decay. Israel was ready to be harvested. This is the reason the Lord had made his decision: “I will not continue to overlook their offences.”
Amos’ vision correctly translated:
Thus the Lord Yahweh showed me, and behold, a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then Yahweh said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. In that day, the singing women of the palace will wail, declares the Lord Yahweh.” “So many dead bodies, thrown everywhere. Hush!”
Mauchline, J. “The Gezer Calendar,” Documents from Old Testament Times, ed. D. Winton Thomas. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1958.
Wolff, Hans Walter. Joel and Amos : A Commentary on the Books of the Prophets Joel and Amos. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1977.
Other Studies on Amos:
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary