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Verse 5

I will also break the bar of Damascus - In the East, every city was fortified; the gates of the stronger cities were cased in iron, that they might not be set on fire by the enemy; they were fastened within with bars of brass 1 Kings 4:13 or iron (Psalms 107:16; Isaiah 45:2; compare Isaiah 48:14; Jeremiah 51:3 O). They were flanked with towers, and built over, so that what was naturally the weakest point and the readiest access to an enemy became the strongest defense. In Hauran the huge doors and gates of a single stone 9 and 10 feet high , and 1 12 foot thick , are still extant, and “the place for the ponderous bars,” proportioned to such gates, “may yet be seen.” The walls were loosened with the battering-ram, or scaled by mounds: the strong gate was seldom attacked; but, when a breach was made, was thrown open from within. The “breaking of the bar” laid open the city to the enemy, to go in and come out at his will. The whole strength of the kingdom of Damascus lay in the capital. It was itself the seat of the empire and was the empire itself. God says then, that He Himself would shiver all their means of resistance, whatever could hinder the inroad of the enemy.

And cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven - Literally, “from the vale of vanity,” the “Bik’ah” being a broad vale between hills . Here it is doubtless the rich and beautiful valley, still called el-bukaa by the Arabs, La Boquea by William of Tyre , lying between Lebanon and Anti-libanus, the old Coele-Syria in its narrowest sense. It is, on high ground, the continuation of that long deep valley which, along the Jordan, the Dead sea, and the Arabah, reaches to the Red Sea. lts extreme length, from its southern close at Kal’at-esh-shakif to Hums (Emesa) has been counted at 7 days journey ; it narrows toward its southern extremity, expands at its northern, yet it cannot any how be said to lose its character of a valley until 10 miles north of Riblah .

Midway, on its ,” was Baalbek, or Heliopolis, where the Egyptian worship is said to have been brought of old times from their “city of the sun .” Baalbek, as the ruins still attest, was full of the worship of the sun. But the whole of that beautiful range, “a magnificent vista” , it has been said, “carpeted with verdure and beauty” , “a gem lying deep in its valley of mountains,” was a citadel of idolatry. The name Baal-Hermon connects Mount Hermon itself, the snow-capped height which so towers over its southeast extremity, with the worship of Baal or the sun, and that, from the time of the Judges Judges 3:3. The name Baal-gad connects “the valley of Lebanon,” that is, most probably the south end of the great valley, with the same worship, anterior to Joshua Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7; Joshua 13:5.

The name Baalbek is probably an abbreviation of the old name, Baal-bik’ah , “Baal of the valley,” in contrast with the neighboring Baalhermon. : “The whole of Hermon was girded with temples.” : “Some eight or ten of them cluster round it,” and, which is more remarkable, one is built” to catch the first beams of the sun rising over Hermon;” and temples on its opposite sides face toward it, as a sort of center .

In Jerome’s time, the pagan still reverenced a celebrated temple on its summit . On the crest of its central peak, 3,000 feet above the glen below, in winter inaccessible, beholding far asunder the rising and the setting sun on the eastern desert and in the western sea, are still seen the foundations of a circular wall or ring of large stones, a rude temple, within which another of Grecian art was subsequently built . “On three other peaks of the Anti-libanus range are ruins of great antiquity” . : “The Bukaa and its borders are full of the like buildings.”

“Lebanon, Anti-lebanon and the valleys between are thronged with ancient temples” . Some indeed were Grecian, but others Syro-Phoenician. The Grecian temples were probably the revival of Syro-Phoenician. The “massive substructions of Baalbek are conjectured to have been those of an earlier temple.” The new name “Heliopolis” only substituted the name of the object of worship (the sun) for its title Lord. The pagan emperors would not have lavished so much and such wondrous cost and gorgeous art on a temple in Coele-Syria, had not its pagan celebrity recommended it to their superstition or their policy. On the west side of Lebanon at Afca, (Apheca) was the temple of Venus at the source of the River Adonis , a center of the most hateful Syrian idolatry , “a school of misdoing for all profligates.”

At Heliopolis too, men “shamelessly gave their wives and daughters to shame.” The outburst of paganism there in the reign of Julian the Apostate shows how deeply rooted was its idolatry. Probably then, Amos pronounces the sentence of the people of that whole beautiful vale, as “valley of vanity” or “iniquity” , being wholly given to that worst idolatry which degraded Syria. Here, as the seat of idolatry, the chief judgments of God were to fall. Its inhabitants were to be cut off, that is, utterly destroyed; on the rest, captivity is the only sentence pronounced. The Assyrian monarchs not unfrequently put to death those who despised their religion , and so may herein have executed blindly the sentence of God.

From the house of Eden - A Proper, but significant, name, “Beth-Eden,” that is, “house of pleasure.” The name, like the Eden of Assyria 2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12; Ezekiel 27:23, is, in distinction from man’s first home, pronounced “EH-den,” not “EE-den” . Two places near, and one in, the Bik’ah have, from similarity of name, been thought to be this “house of delight.”

1. Most beautiful now for situation and climate, is what is probably mispronounced Ehden; a Maronite Village “of 4 or 500 families, on the side of a rich highly-cultivated valley” near Beshirrai on the road from Tripolis to the Cedars. Its climate is described as a ten months spring ; “the hills are terraced up to their summits;” and every place full of the richest, most beautiful, vegetation; “grain is poured out into the lap of man, and wine into his cup without measure.” “The slopes of the valleys, one mass of verdure, are yet more productive than the hills; the springs of Lebanon gushing down, fresh, cool and melodious in every direction .” The wealthier families of Tripoli still resort there for summer, “the climate being tempered by the proximity of the snow-mountains, the most luxuriant vegetation favored by the soft airs from the sea . “It is still counted” the Paradise of Lebanon.”

2. Beit-el-Janne, literally, “house of Paradise,” is an Arabic translation of Beth-Eden. It “lies under the root of Libanus, (Hermon) gushing forth clear water, whence,” says WilIiam of Tyre , “it is called ‘house of pleasure.’” It lies in a narrow valley, where it widens a little, about 34 of an hour from the plain of Damascus , and about 27 miles from that city on the way from Banias. : “Numerous rock-tombs, above and around, bear testimony to the antiquity of the site.” It gives its name to the Jennani (Paradise River), one of two streams which form the second great river near Damascus, the Awadj.

3. The third, the Paradisus of the Greeks, one of the three towns of Laodicene , agrees only accidentally with the Scripture name, since their Paradisus signifies not an earthly Paradise, but a “hunting-park.” For this the site is well suited; but in that country so abounding in water, and of soil so rich that the earth seems ready, on even slight pains of man, to don itself in luxuriant beauty, what probably is the site of the old Paradisus, is hopelessly barren Beth-Eden may have been the residence of one of the subordinate kings under the king of Damascus, who was to be involved in the ruin of his suzerain; or it may have been a summer-residence of the king of Damascus himself, where, in the midst of his trust in his false gods, and in a Paradise, as it were, of delight, God would cut him off altogether. Neither wealth nor any of a man’s idols protect against God. As Adam, for sin, was expelled from Paradise, so the rulers of Damascus from the place of their pleasure and their sin.

And the people of Syria shall go into captivity - Syria or Aram perhaps already included, under the rule of Damascus, all the little kingdoms on this side of the Euphrates, into which it had been formerly sub-divided. At least, it is spoken of as a whole, without any of the additions which occur in the earlier history, Aram-beth-rehob, Aramzobah, Aram-Maachah. Before its captivity Damascus is spoken of as “the head of Syria” Isaiah 7:8.

Into Kir - Kir has been identified:

(1) with the part of Iberia near the River Kur which unites with the Araxes, not far from the Caspian, to the north of Armenia;

(2) a city called by the Greeks Kourena or Kourna on the River Mardus in southern Media;

(3) a city, Karine , the modern Kerend .

The first is the most likely, as the most known; the Kur is part probably of the present name Kurgistan, our “Georgia.” Armenia at least which lay on the south of the River Kur, is frequently mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions, as a country where the kings of Assyria warred and conquered . The two parricide sons of Sennacherib are as likely to have fled Isaiah 37:38 to a distant portion of their father’s empire, as beyond it. Their flight there may have been the ground of Esarhaddon’s war against it . It has at all times afforded a shelter to those expelled from others’ lands . The domestic, though late, traditions of the Armenians count as their first inhabitants some who had fled out of Mesopotamia to escape the yoke of Bel, king of Babylon . Whatever be the value of particular traditions, its mountain-valleys form a natural refuge to fugitives.

On occasion of some such oppression, as that from which Asshur fled before Nimrod , Aram may have been the first of those who took shelter in the mountains of Armenia and Georgia, and thence spread themselves, where we afterward find them, in the lowlands of Mesopotamia. The name Aram, however, is in no way connected with Armenia, which is itself no indigenous name of that country, but was probably formed by the Greeks, from a name which they heard . The name Aram, “lofty,” obviously describes some quality of the son of Shem, as of others who bore the name . Contrariwise, Canaan, (whether or no anticipating his future degraded character as partaking in the sin of Ham) may signify “crouching.” But neither has Aram any meaning of “highland,” nor Canaan of “lowland,” as has of late been imagined. .

From Kir the forefathers of the Syrians had, of their own will, been brought by the good all-disposing Providence of God; to Kir should the Syrians, against their will, be carried back. Aram of Damascus had been led to a land which, for its fertility and beauty, has been and is still praised as a sort of Paradise. Now, softened as they were by luxury, they were to be transported back to the austere though healthy climate, from where they had come. They had abused the might given to them by God, in the endeavor to uproot Israel; now they were themselves to be utterly uprooted. The captivity which Amos foretells is complete; a captivity by which (as the word means) the land should be bared of its inhabitants. Such a captivity he foretells of no other, except the ten tribes. He foretells it absolutely of these two nations alone , of the king and princes of Ammon Amos 1:15, not of Tyre, or the cities of Philistia, or Edom, or Ammon, or Moab. The punishment did not reach Syria in those days, but in those of Rezin who also oppressed Judah. The sin not being cut off; the punishment too was handed down.

Tiglath-pileser carried them away, about 50 years after this, and killed Rezin 2 Kings 16:9. In regard to these two nations, Amos foretells the captivity absolutely. Yet at this time, there was no human likelihood, no ground, except of a divine knowledge, to predict it of these two nations especially. They went into captivity too long after this for human foresight to predict it; yet long enough before the captivity of Judah for the fulfillment to have impressed Judah if they would. The transportation of whole populations, which subsequently became part of the standing policy of the Persian and of the later Assyrian Empires, was not, as far as we know, any part of Eastern policy at the time of the prophet. Sesostris, the Egyptian conqueror, some centuries before Amos, is related to have brought together “many men,” “a crowd,” from the nations whom he had subdued, and to have employed them on his buildings and canals.

Even this account has received no support from the Egyptian monuments, and the deeds ascribed by the Greeks to Sesostris have been supposed to be a blending of those of two monarchs of the xix. Dynasty, Sethos I and Raamses II, interwoven with those of Ousartesen III (Dynasty xii.) and Tothmosis III (Dyn. xviii). But the carrying away of tiny number of prisoners from fields of battle is something altogether different from the political removal of a nation. It had in it nothing systematic or designed. It was but the employment of those whom war had thrown into their hands, as slaves. The Egyptian monarchs availed themselves of this resource, to spare the labor of their native subjects in their great works of utility or of vanity. But the prisoners so employed were but a slave population, analogous to those who, in other nations, labored in the mines or in agriculture.

They employed in the like way the Israelites, whom they had received peacefully. Their earlier works were carried on by native labor . After Tothmosis III, in whose reign is the first representation of prisoners employed in forced labor , they could, during their greatness, spare their subjects. They imported labor, not by slave trade, but through war. Nubia was incorporated with Egypt , and Nubian prisoners were, of course, employed, not in their own country but in the north of Egypt; Asiatic prisoners in Nubia . But they were prisoners made in a campaign, not a population; a foreign element in Egyptian soil, not an interchange of subject-populations. Doubtless, “the mixed multitude” Exodus 12:38, which “went up with” Israel from Egypt, were in part these Asiatic captives, who had been subjected to the same hard bondage.

The object and extent of those forced transportations by the later Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were altogether different. Here the intention was to remove the people from their original seat, or at most to leave those only who, from their fewness or poverty, would be in no condition to rebel. The cuneiform inscriptions have brought before us, to a great extent, the records of the Assyrian conquests, as given by their kings. But whereas the later inscriptions of Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, mention repeatedly the deportation of populations, the earlier annals of Asshurdanipal or Asshurakhbal relate the carrying off of soldiers only as prisoners, and women as captives . They mention also receiving slaves as tributes, the number of oxen and sheep, the goods and possessions and the gods of the people which they carry off .

Else the king relates, how he crucified or impaled or put to death men at arms or the people generally, but in no one of his expeditions does he mention any deportation. Often as modern writers assume, that the transportation of nations was part of the hereditary policy of the Monarchs of Asia, no instances before this period have been found. It appears to have been a later policy, first adopted by Tiglath-pileser toward Damascus and east and north Palestine, but foretold by the prophet long before it was adopted. It was the result probably of experience, that they could not keep these nations in dependence upon themselves while they left them in their old abodes. As far as our knowledge reaches, the prophet foretold the removal of these people, at a time when no instance of any such removal had occurred.

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