Amos 8:4-6 HCSB
4 Hear this, you who trample on the needy and do away with the poor of the land, 5 asking, "When will the New Moon be over so we may sell grain, and the Sabbath, so we may market wheat? We can reduce the measure while increasing the price and cheat with dishonest scales. 6 We can buy the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and even sell the wheat husks!"
I watched a video once where a teacher made some comments on this text, saying that new moon should be translated month and sabbath should be understood as sabbath year rather than sabbath day. In other words, "When will this [last] month [of the] sabbath [year] be over?" His main point is that the greedy traders were anticipating the end of the sabbatical year so that they could get back to selling grain to the poor of the land. He comments that the poor of the land were allowed to eat from the volunteer crop that grew of itself in the fields during the sabbath year.
I do not believe this is the best understanding of the text. Traders were not forbidden to sell grain during the sabbatical year, and the poor of the land would still be buying grain during the sabbatical year; grain that was stored up on the 6th year, prior to the 7th. So buying and selling would continue.
On top of this, even in non-sabbatical years, the poor of land were still allowed to glean the fields (after harvest) and eat from the borders of the fields (see Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:21). My point is that the poor people would often not have to buy any grain during non-sabbatical years too. They weren't just getting free grain during a sabbatical year. They got free grain all the time, but they also would have to buy grain, because there is only so much free grain to glean. So on a regular planting year, you would still have poor people getting free grain from the borders of the field, and from gleaning after harvest. I'd say that there was much more FREE grain for the poor during planting years. Think about it. Planting years yield MORE grain; sabbatical years only yield sparse volunteer "crops."
Furthermore, I don't see where these greedy traders in Israel were interested in following sabbath to begin with, whether yearly or weekly. The point is (rather) that the poor and needy would not purchase grain on new moon or sabbath. That's why the greedy traders wanted these days to be over with. It was the poor and needy that were faithful to Yahweh (Torah observers) here, not the greedy traders. The greedy traders wanted the sabbath and new moon to be over. They cared not about Yahweh's law.
If the Amos passage is saying, "When will this month be over, and this sabbatical year - that we can sell grain and market wheat," the passage makes no sense. The greedy traders COULD sell stored grain and market stored wheat during the sabbatical year. Poor people COULD buy grain during the sabbatical year. There was only so much to glean from a volunteer crop in the field.
It makes more sense for the Amos passage to have the greedy traders asking, "When will the new moon [festival] be over, and the sabbath [day], so that we can get back to our dishonest gain." With lunar sabbaths this makes even more sense because at the end of the each moon/month you will have at least 2 days, back-to-back, sabbath and new moon (I personally believe there were 3 days in a row kept on 30 day months). The greedy traders were getting restless on these consecutive worship days, because the faithful Israelites weren't interested in buying grain, they were concerned with Torah study, fellowship, worship, praise, and rest.
It would be like if your home town went by Yahweh's law and everything was shut down on the sabbath and new moon festival. There would inevitably be some greedy traders thinking, "I'll be glad when these days are over so we can get back to making money,” but the faithful in your town wouldn't be concerned with commerce. They would be focused upon Yahweh and His set apart days.
I think it's best to see the Amos passage as related to 2 Kings 4:23, Isaiah 66:22-23, and Ezekiel 46:1, 3 - all which mention the new moon WITH the sabbath as being a special, set-apart time on Yahweh's calendar. We shouldn't say, "Well we can't find anything in the Torah that specifies this." Remember, both Ezekiel and Amos passage are Torah, because Yahweh is the speaker in both texts. It is Yahweh that separates the new moon from the 6 working days (right along with the Sabbath). We should also realize that the ancient Israelites knew more about the Torah than we do, and it's obvious that they understood the new moon to NOT be a regular working day like the 6 working days.
“The new moon, the first of the month, was observed as a popular holiday (2 Kings 4:23; cf. 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:24), and marked by religious services Isaiah 1:13-14; Hosea 2:11; and often in later writings: cf. Numbers 28:11-15). From the present passage, it is apparent that, like the sabbath, it was a day on which trade was suspended, and which accordingly was viewed by the grasping Israelitish merchants with impatience, on account of the interruption which it occasioned in their unjust practices.” (Cambridge Bibles for Schools and Colleges, note on Amos 8:5)
“The rich and powerful of the land were the most guilty of oppression, as well as the foremost in idolatry. They were weary of the restraints of the sabbaths and the new moons, and wished them over, because no common work might be done therein.” (Matthew Henry, note on Amos 8:5)
“Amos 8:5 and Amos 8:6 show how they expect to accomplish their purpose. Like covetous usurers, they cannot even wait for the end of the feast-days to pursue their trade still further. Chōdēsh, the new moon, was a holiday on which all trade was suspended, just as it was on the Sabbath (see at Numbers 28:11 and 2 Kings 4:23).” (Keil and Delitzch, note on Amos 8:5)
Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.