In Amos’s third vision, found in Amos 7:7-9, God is described as standing next to a [blank] wall, holding a [blank] in his hand. He then declares that he is setting the [blank] in the midst of the people, and that destruction will be coming.

The problem, as I briefly mentioned in my post on Amos 7, is that we don’t know what this [blank] actually is. The word, which I’ve seen transliterated as ‘anak, isn’t found anywhere in the Bible aside from this one passage, and its meaning seems to be a hot point of contention.

My RSV translates it as “plumb line.” As I noted in my reading of Amos 7:

A plumb line is used for ensuring that a vertical line is straight (in the way that a level is used for horizontal lines), so the implication is – as my study Bible puts it – that “the people are found warped beyond correction.” This is why they will be – must be – destroyed.

That seemed satisfying enough for me, so I didn’t look into it much further. But Jim Linville shared his paper, “Visions and Voices: Amos 7-9” (published in Biblical Studies on the Web, vol.80), with me, and I found his treatment of the issue too interesting not to bring up again.

It seems that some have drawn a parallel to the Akkadian word for “tin,” and this leads to the alternative that Linville suggests. He points to the wordplay in the fourth vision (Amos 8:1-2), in which: “Amos identifies a basket of קיץ qays summer fruit only to have YHWH announce the end קץ qes of Israel” (p.30). Drawing a parallel, Linville argues that we can reasonably assume that a similar wordplay is going on with ‘anak – whatever that may be.

A possibility he provides is:

The pronunciation of אנך is similar to both אנה ‘anah “to sigh in grief” and אנק ‘anaq “to cry in distress”. By simply repeating the word uttered by Amos, YHWH plays on both other terms. The tin, then, stands as a metaphor of the suffering YHWH will inflict on Israel. Amos sees an object of tin, and YHWH declares that he will create cries of misery in the midst of Israel. (p.30)

So while I was trying to find a symbolic meaning in the object itself, Linville proposes that perhaps the symbolism is in the sound of the object’s name, instead. Cool!