The winter house and summer house. Many wealthy Samarians had two homes. One would be in the warmer, southern regions while the other was built in the cooler north (Amos 3:15). This extravagance made it all the more obvious that Amos was justified in his criticism of the wealthy people who ignored the needs of the poor.
The blighting of crops (Amos 4:9) was a serious problem for farmers because there was no known way at the time to stop it. Dry winds would blow up from the Sahara at hurricane-like speeds. These dusty winds sucked all moisture out of plant life, leaving the plants themselves brown and wilted.
Constellations like the Pleiades and Orion (Amos 5:8) were important to pagan cultures, which worshiped them as gods. Images of them could be found on seals and scrolls throughout the ancient Near East. Prophets like Amos believed that these constellations were not gods, but rather were evidence of the scope and majesty of God’s creation.
Only the very wealthy could afford to eat the tender meat of calves from the midst of the stall (Amos 6:4). These animals were set aside from other livestock and fed a strict diet of the more costly grains like barley in order to fatten them up. This fattening process ensured that the animals would bring a higher price when sold at the market.
The annual flooding of the Nile (Amos 8:8) took place from the months of June to September. Monsoon rains from the mountains to the south would overflow the banks of the Nile, bringing with it the fertile silt from the river. Crops could then be sown in October and harvested in February. This cycle went on for thousands of years until 1970, when Egypt completed construction on the Aswan High Dam, which captures the floodwaters for hydroelectric power.
The Cushites (Amos 9:7) lived in the Sudan region, south of Egypt. As far as the Israelites were concerned, the land of Cush was located at the end of the world. Amos mentions the Cushites here to say that even those who live in faraway places are under the Lord’s providential care.
A call to arms.
Alliances and treaties in the ancient world were important in times of war, just as they are today around the globe. Allies supported each other by combining forces against the enemy. Messengers could be sent to allies requesting soldiers, supplies, and even intelligence on enemy troop movements and strength. In vv. 1–14, Obadiah warns Edom that it will be destroyed by its former allies.
Tarshish was probably a city on the western shores of the Mediterranean Sea, which would have represented the very western edge of the known world in Jonah’s time. Jonah foolishly thought this far-off land would take him “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).
Nineveh was located along the Tigris River, across from what is now the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Its location at the intersection of important trade routes made it strong and wealthy.
The population of Nineveh after the time of Sennacherib’s reign (704–681 b.c.) was close to 300,000, over twice as many people as in Jonah’s time. This huge population increase was due primarily to Sennacherib making Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian Empire. He created new streets and open spaces for trade and built his famous “palace without rival.” These attractions would have drawn thousands of people to live in Nineveh.
Moresheth, where Micah lived, was a small village 22 miles (35 km) southwest of Jerusalem. It was one of the many military outposts set up to secure the kingdom’s borders.
Micah’s list of disasters (Micah 1:10–15) is based on a series of word plays. For example, the city name Beth-le-aphrah means “House of Dust,” and its inhabitants will mourn “in the dust” (Micah 1:10). Lachish sounds like “steeds,” and they will flee on their steeds (Micah 1:13).
The business of prophecy. The life of a prophet was not an easy one, and few could carry out its rigorous demands. False prophets, however, could do very well for themselves because they charged money for their prophecies. Not surprisingly, these “paid prophecies” usually favored the person paying for them (Micah 3:5).
The land of Nimrod (Micah 5:6) included Assyria and other parts of Mesopotamia. Nimrod was the son of Cush and was a “mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:8–14). Many cities of the region claim him as their founder.
God has always been the same.
The last verses of Micah describe God the Father as forgiving, compassionate, faithful, and loving (Micah 7:18–20). Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, is the living embodiment of these characteristics.
Jonah and Nahum.
During the 700s b.c., the prophet Jonah warned the people of Nineveh that God was going to destroy their city. The people repented and were spared from judgment. Over the next century, however, they returned to their sinful ways. Shortly after the warning from Nahum, Nineveh was destroyed.
The palace mentioned in Nahum 2:6 was Sennacherib’s famous “palace without rival.” Built shortly after his reign began, it had more than 80 rooms, many open courts, and even fully irrigated hanging gardens. It is estimated that more than 25 athletic fields could have fit inside the palace. Yet even this great palace would “melt away” when Nineveh was destroyed.
As safe as Thebes?
The people of Nineveh thought no one could destroy their city. Yet they themselves had destroyed the Egyptian city of Thebes, which was also considered indestructible. Nahum reminded the Ninevites of this (Nahum 3:8–11) and warned them that it was now their turn to see their great city destroyed.
The Babylonian horsemen (Habakkuk 1:8) were greatly feared by the people they fought against. Taking advantage of their great speed, they would scatter the enemy’s foot soldiers and then hunt them down one by one. But even Babylon’s horses couldn’t save Babylon from the Lord’s hand of judgment (3:16).
Woe oracles. Habakkuk Verses 6–20 of ch. 2 consist of five “woe oracles” against Babylon. Each of these begins with the word “woe” and condemns the Babylonians for violence and idolatry.