WHAT IS “CLEANNESS OF TEETH” IN AMOS 4:6?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What could “cleanness of teeth” possibly denote in Amos 4:6? “And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.”
One clue is the phrase “want of bread”—that is, famine or lack of food. Clean teeth here is therefore not suggestive of proper dental hygiene! It is a euphemism for hunger or starvation. Consumption of food obviously soils the teeth, so having cleanness of teeth indicates the person has not been eating. The LORD God has brought famine upon Israel for her persistent disobedience (pagan idolatry), so the food shortage has rendered the Jewish people’s teeth clean. All of chapter 4 of Amos should be read, noting Israel’s habitual sins (verses 1-5) and the punishments incurred (verses 6-12).
“ Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.  The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.  And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.  Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:  And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
“ And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.  And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.  So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.  I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
“ I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.  I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.  Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.  For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.”
As touching the “cleanness of teeth,” hunger and famine were some of the curses for failing to obey the Law of Moses. Read Leviticus chapter 26: “ And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.  And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:  And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.”
Also, Deuteronomy chapter 28: “ But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:  Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.  Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.  Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.  Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out….
“ Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it.  Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.  Thou shalt have olive trees throughout all thy coasts, but thou shalt not anoint thyself with the oil; for thine olive shall cast his fruit.  Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity.  All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume.”
Re-read Amos 4:6-12. God has harshly judged wicked Israel, but she has not reformed. The discipline has not led her back to the LORD; she simply continues her sinful habits, worshipping and serving pagan idols. She refuses correction. Verse 12 thus looks forward to Christ’s Second Coming, when the ultimate wrath falls to cleanse the Earth of all idolaters! “Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”