Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Amos, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, was active c. 750 BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II, making the Book of Amos the first biblical prophetic book written. Amos lived in the kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes of social justice, God's omnipotence and role as creator, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy. Amos was the first prophet to use the phrase ‘the day of the Lord’.


Amos is a sheepbreeder of Tekoa – a simple farmer with no prophetic or theological training. He lived in the days of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. The Lord roars from Zion; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and top of Carmel (in Israel, where Elijah confronted the priests of Baal) withers. The people of Damascus shall go captive to Kir in Assyria, because they have threshed Gilead with iron. Judgment against Gaza and Tyre, because they delivered God’s people to the Edomites. Edom will be punished because of its pitiless anger. Ammon will be punished, because it killed pregnant women in Gilead. The king of the Ammonites will be taken captive. In each instance, the rhetorical formula that introduces judgment is ‘For three transgressions of [x], and for four, I will not turn away its punishment.’


Moab will be destroyed with fire, and its princes slain, because it burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime. Judah will be sent fire, because their lies have led them astray. Israel will be punished for its sins against the righteous, poor and humble. The Lord vanquished the Amorites so the Israelites could occupy their Canaanite land, and the Israelites responded by giving wine to Nazirites and forbidding people from prophesying. The most courageous of men shall flee naked in the day of judgment.


The children of Israel have not fulfilled their responsibilities as God’s chosen people. A calamity in a city will be undeniably the doing of the Lord. The Egyptians and Philistines are invited to the mountains of Samaria as witnesses of the punishment of Israel. Israel will be conquered and exiled. The altars of Bethel will be destroyed.


Women referred to as ‘the cows of Bashan’ oppress the needy and demand wine from their husbands. They will be taken away with fishhooks (the Assyrians used to lead people by hooks driven through the lower lip). Sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal are in vain. Rain will be withheld. All teeth shall be bread because of lack of bread. Israel will suffer blight and mildew. God asserts himself the former of mountains and the creator of winds.


The virgin of Israel has fallen, ie, its people will be taken captive. The Lord who made the stars invites Israel to seek Him, but not in the vain places of sacrifice such as Gilgal, Bathel and Beersheba. Israel perverts justice and treads down the poor. There will be wailing and woe in the day of the Lord. Feast days, sacred assemblies and sacrifices are dismissed.


Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria! Woe to those who live lives of luxury, lying on beds if ivory. When a relative of one of the dead comes to burn the corpses, should he find one person still alive, that person will not permit him to mention the name of the Lord for fear that the Lord will turn his wrath on him. Justice has been turned to gall, and righteousness to wormwood.


Amos sees a vision of locusts, and a vision of fire; in both instances, the Lord is deaf to Amos’ entreaties that Jacob may be spared. There is a further vision of a plumb line (to see if Israel are ‘straight’ by God’s standard). Amaziah, a priest of Bethel, speaks against Amos. Amos replies that he is a mere sheepbreeder. The Lord decrees Amaziah’s punishment – his wife shall be a harlot, your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, you shall die in a defiled land.


Amos has a vision of summer fruit – the end has come on Israel. (The time for summer fruit is short, and so presumably is the time left for Israel.) Dishonesty and cheating the poor is rebuked. The sky will be darkened, and feasts turned to mourning. A famine shall afflict the land.


Amos has a vision of the Lord at the temple, supervising the work of destruction. Judgment is totally inescapable. The Lord will sift the house of Israel, as grain is sifted in a sieve. Those who think they will be unaffected by the calamity will die by the sword. The tabernacle of David will be repaired and restored, however. The captives of Israel will be restored, and fruit and wine shall be abundant. Israel will be planted in the land, and no longer pulled up.

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