Andersen & Freedman have chosen here to translate the consonants but to emend the vowels to read kemo yam "like the ocean" instead of kamayim "like water". They feel this is less "pedestrian" and fits better with "roll" which suggests the waves of the sea. They provide a good parallel in Ps 36:6 (MT v.7) which reads:
"your righteousness is like the mountains of God, your justice [like] the great deep"
Clearly this psalm provides an indication of the linguistic background of Amos phrasing, and their suggestion is attractive. However, as Alter has shown Hebrew poetry often strengthens the expression in the second line. Their suggestion would actually make the second stich weaker than the first. I have therefore retained "waters".
The two lines are closely parallel, with 3 word-units each. The word pair "justice and righteousness" provides a link between the lines:
"But let it roll like water, justice,
and righteousness as a permanent torrent."
The ellipsis of the verb in the second line reinforces this unity.
Wadi Mujib, from Kartique
As discussed above, some feel that "water" provides a rather weak picture in the first line, however, the notion of water "rolling" is sufficiently puzzling that we are ready for the powerful notion of a wadi whose flood never ceases.
In a dry land, with little vegetation to provide matted roots to trap rainfall, run-off from the hills gathers swiftly. After a storm a steep-sided, sharply descending wadi soon fills with a torrent of water. Such a flood can sweep away humans or animals remaining in the river bed.
Amos' here offers the picture of righteousness, not as a somewhat dull virtue, but as an irresistible force of nature.
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos , if you have reached it as a standalone
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© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.