4) Hear this, you who walk all over the needy and bring to destruction the poor of the land!
5) You say, “when will the new moon be past, so that we may sell our crops? When will the sabbath be done, so that we may market the wheat and make the ephah small while making great the shekel; and so that we might weigh with false scales.
6) So that we might by the lowly for silver, and the poor for the price of a pair of sandals. And so that we may sell even the refuse of the wheat. (My translation)
The oracle opens with a typical prophetic “call to attention” formula: Hear this. The oracle is directed against those who abuse those of lowly means and recalls the prophet’s original indictment of Israel (see Am 2:6-16). It also recalls the sarcastic remarks God made concerning their hypocritical worship in Am 4:4-5. Here the two elements of greed and hypocritical worship are combined. Whether or not the subjects of the oracle were actually thinking the thoughts attributed to them is irrelevant. By their practices they were showing contempt for God and right worship regardless of what their intentions were.
The new moon marked the first day of the month on the Hebrew calendar and a special temple sacrifice was to be done for it (Numbers 28:11-15). The text suggests that the people of the Northern Kingdom did no work or commerce on this day though the law of Moses nowhere legislated such a thing. All forms of work and commerce were forbidden on the sabbath except, apparently, in the case of dire necessity. The subjects of the oracle are shown adhering to the devotions only grudgingly, anxiously waiting for the special days to be over so that they can begin their cheating business as usual. The purpose of Sabbath and the worship of God is lost upon them. The ephah was a very ancient standard of measurement for dry good, particularly grain. It is equal to slightly more than twenty and three-quarter quarts. How exactly the ephah was to be made small is unknown. Presumably the grain was mixed with the refuse of the wheat to attain the ephah measure. The shekel was a standard for weighing out silver and gold. Making great the shekel is something of an ironic term. A shekel was a standard of weight by which gold and silver were measured out. One made the shekel great by diminishing its weight. A business man could then weigh out what appeared to be the agreed upon price for a poor man’s wholesale goods. Since the shekel was made “greater” by becoming lighter, the poor man’s profit was less since it took less gold on the balance scale to equal a shekel that had been tampered with. Thus from the cheating businessman’s perspective, a lighter shekel is a greater shekel. False scales and the cheating of people in the area of commerce was strongly condemned in the Bible, suggesting that it was a common abuse . Deuteronomy calls those who engage in such practice “an abomination in the sight of the Lord” (see Dt 25:13-16). Priests and kings were responsible for ensuring that these practices not take place.
8:7 By the pride of Jacob has the Lord sworn: “Surely, none of their deeds will I forget.” (My translation)
The Lord is usually shown swearing an oath in reference to himself or his holiness since there is nothing greater than him. Here, ironically, he swears by the pride of Jacob. Men swear oaths by things that are greater than themselves (such as God’s name); here the implication is that Jacob (the northern kingdom) thinks itself greater than God because by its deeds it flaunts his commands. By swearing an oath in their name to punish them for their deeds God is sarcastically criticizing their presumed greatness (pride).