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2. Amos

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Notes on the Book of Amos

The Prophet:

Little is known about Amos. He has a rural background and comes from Judah (hence is viewed as an interloper by the priests of Bethel). He was not a member of the “prophetic guild” but was a prophet nevertheless.

The Time:

The general time frame is given in 1:1 as the reigns of Jeroboam II (793-753) in the north and Uzziah in the south (792-740), hence a period of some 50 years. However, Amos’ message was probably preached over a fairly short time (perhaps one year?). Consequently, it is difficult to place him in the longer period.

The Kings:

Israel—Jeroboam II (793-753)

Judah—Uzziah (792-740)

Assyria—Adad Nirari III (810-783)

Syria—Hazael

Events:

Adad Nirari sacked Damascus in 805. This took the previously relentless pressure of the Syrians off the Israelites. Consequently, there is a time of unprecedented prosperity in the north as the boundaries (both north and south) are restored to that which David and Solomon held (2 Kings 14:21-29).

Synthesis

Amos’ primary message is to the covenant people of God. When he preaches to Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab, he deals primarily in horizontal sins: unjust actions against others. But when he turns to Judah and Israel, the indictment is that they have rejected the Torah of Yahweh (2:4).

The keeping of this law is indeed worked out in social justice, but the basis for the action is the holiness of God. Israel has apostatized from the living and true God (4:4‑5), their ritual is empty (5:21‑27), they have become dissolute in their daily conduct (6:1‑7), and they oppress the needy (8:4‑6). Because of this a holy God must discipline them (4:11‑13). In spite of a series of messages full of doom, however, God’s covenant with His people cannot be broken. The last section of the book (9:7‑15) is a message of hope. The “booth of David” is in the process of falling (participle). It is not yet down (that will happen in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem falls). God will raise up the “booth” when He restores Israel and Judah.

Structure

Rhetorical indictment of eight nations (1-2).

Oracle #1 (Hear) seven questions—judgment (3:1-11).

Oracle #2 (Hear) cows of Bashan—judgment (4:1-13).

Oracle #3 (Hear) call to repentance in midst of sin (5:1-17).

Woe #1 to those longing for the Day of Yahweh (5:18-27).

Woe #2 to those who are at ease in Zion (6:1-14).

Vision #1 Locust swarm (7:1-3).

Vision #2 Fire (7:4-6).

Vision #3 Plumb line (7:7-9).

[Historical interlude—Amaziah the priest confronts Amos and orders him to return to the south (7:10-17)]

Vision #4 Summer fruit (kaytz/ketz) (8:1-3).

Oracle #4 (Hear) you who trample the needy (8:4-14).

Vision #5 the Lord by the Altar (9:1-6).

Concluding section of hope (9:7-15).

I. Historical Background.

Amos ministered for a period of time (perhaps a short period) during the reigns of two powerful and long‑lived monarchs.1 Jeroboam II ruled in Israel from 793 to 753 B.C. or forty‑one years.2 Uzziah (Azariah) ruled in Judah from 792 to 740 B.C.3

The Assyrian King, Adad Nirari III (810‑783 B.C.) marched west in his fifth year (805 B.C.) and defeated Damascus.4 This removed for a time the pressure of Syria on Israel.5 Later, the Assyrians were too occupied to keep up the pressure, but Damascus and Hamath were battling for control of their area.6 As a result Israel was able to extend her borders apparently to the original boundaries of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah was used to prophesy regarding the extended borders of Israel. Judah likewise conquered the Philistines, the Arabians, and the Ammonites. Elath at the Gulf of Aqaba was restored by Uzziah’s father (2 Chron. 26:2).7

The vacuum created by the political situation and the filling of that vacuum by Israel brought great prosperity. With the increase in wealth came an increase in religious apostasy. The poor were oppressed, and the rich languished in large houses in a perpetual party atmosphere (Amos 4:6‑8; 5:10‑13; 6:4‑7). The cult center established by Jeroboam I fifty years earlier was in full swing, and Amos inveighed against it8 (7:10-17). 

II. The Prophet Amos.

Amos had the difficult task of leaving his country and going to Israel. Consequently, his message was unpopular not only because of its content, but because it was being delivered by a “foreigner.” Amos’ village was located a few miles southeast of Bethlehem. A good view of the area can be had from the heights of the Herodium. The area is fairly barren, and the Bedouin graze their sheep there.9 Amos was a shepherd (1:1) as well as a tender of sycamore figs (7:14). The word for shepherd is noqed (נקֵד) which refers to a type of spotted sheep and then the caretaker of such sheep. The word translated sycamore figs is from shiqmim (שִׁקְמִים).10 The work of Amos in connection with the fig trees was to prick the figs, “a fruit that must be punctured or slit shortly before ripening to be edible.”11

Thus we can see that Amos was of humble origins and probably a fairly poor farmer.12 Whereas his later contemporary, Isaiah, seems to be at home in upper class circles, Amos came into the wealthy community of Israel as an interloper.

Amos’ statement about not being a prophet has provoked a lot of discussion (7:14). Is he saying that he is not a prophet? The verbless clause (“I not a prophet”) can only be given a time from the context. It should probably be translated in the past: “I was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet.” The latter phrase does not mean that his father was not a prophet, but that he did not belong to a guild of prophets called “sons of prophets” (בְּנֵי הַנְּבִיאִים bene haneviim) (2 Kings 2:3ff). Amos is most assuredly a prophet at the time. He himself says: “The Lord has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (3:8).

III. The Outline of Amos.

A. Amos gives an introduction and the theme of his repeated message (1:1‑2).

Amos was apparently a peripatetic prophet who kept repeating a basic message, the summary for which is given by Amaziah in 7:10‑11. Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh must have been similar.

Amos must have subsequently returned to Tekoa where he assembled and edited his messages as we now see them in the book. The final chapter of hope was probably written at that time (note the reference to David=Judah).

The introduction likens Yahweh to a lion who roars with devastating results. He roars from Jerusalem to the northern kingdom.13 The Carmel range was very fertile, and a judgment resulting in its drying up would be very severe.14

B. Amos speaks of God’s judgment of all the nations surrounding Israel and Israel herself (1:3‑2:16).

The pedagogical device is to condemn other nations before coming to Israel. He begins with Damascus, crosses south to Gaza, goes back north to Tyre, crosses southeast to Edom, north to Ammon, back south to Moab, westward to Judah and finally comes to Israel. Each message is introduced with the phrase “Thus says Yahweh” (כּה אָמַר יהוה koh amar Yahweh).

1. Yahweh indicts Damascus (1:3‑5).

The Hebrew idiom “for three + one” is a way of saying “enough is enough.”15 The Arameans were enemies of Israel most of the time. Because of their abuse of Gilead (northeast section of Israel, cf. 2 Kings 13:1-9), God is going to judge Damascus (their capital) and send them into the Assyrian exile to the city of Kir (2 Kings 16:9).

2. Yahweh indicts Philistia (1:6‑8).

Gaza was instrumental in sending a complete captivity into Edom where they would be sold as slaves. This represents border raids on Judah when the captives would be sold into slavery. Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron are mentioned as three other cities in the Philistine grouping.16

3. Yahweh indicts Tyre (1:9‑10).

Tyre, the great maritime merchant power, was also involved in the slave trade. The covenant of brotherhood may hearken back to the relationship between David and Hiram.

4. Yahweh indicts Edom (1:11‑12).

The Edomites were “brothers” to Israel and Judah, yet they were implacable enemies. They are condemned by most of the prophets. The little prophecy of Obadiah is devoted exclusively to the Edomites.

5. Yahweh indicts Ammon (1:13‑15).

The Ammonites were also distant relatives of Israel, through Lot, living on the east side of the Jordan. The modern capital of Amman retains the ancient designation. Because of Ammon’s attack on Gilead (Israelite territory), God would send them into exile.

6. Yahweh indicts Moab (2:1‑3).

Moab apparently defeated Edom at some point and burned the king into lime. This heinous deed (among others, no doubt) brings the judgment of God upon Moab.

7. Yahweh indicts Judah (2:4‑5).

The edict of judgment is circling ever closer and now alights on Judah. Judah’s sin is in rejecting the law of God and failure to keep His statutes. As noted earlier, Judah and Israel hold unique positions as God’s chosen people. They are more accountable than other nations as a result.

8. Yahweh indicts Israel (2:6‑16).

The circle has now closed on the object of Amos’ message: Israel. Up to this point, the Israelite could say, “Amen!” Now, however, the shoe is being placed on their foot, and Amaziah’s reaction was probably typical (7:10‑15).

This sin is threefold (2:6‑8). They oppress the poor, commit sexually lewd acts, and sleep on pledged garments by pagan altars and drink wine. Pusey says, “By a sort of economy in the toil of sinning, they blended many sins into one.”17

God reminds them that they are in the land by His grace (2:9‑16). Because He is lord and His lordship has been flouted, He will judge them. God raised up prophets and Nazirites, but the people abused them.

C. Three messages are delivered against Israel (3:1—6:14). The key phrase is “hear this word.”

1. Judgment is coming on the chosen people of Israel (Oracle #1) (3:1‑15).

a. Israel is God’s chosen people, and yet she has sinned against her Lord. Other nations do not enjoy that position, and therefore Israel’s judgment is harsher (3:1‑2).

b. Through a series of five proverbs (two men, lions, bird, trap, trumpets, and finally a calamity caused by God), pointing to the certainty that God has spoken, God says that He has spoken through His servants and they must prophesy (3:3‑8).

c. God calls on surrounding pagans to witness Israel’s sin and proclaims her devastation (3:9‑15).

Judgment will come through “an adversary.” We know this is Assyria. They will plunder their land and their buildings. Through a beautiful, but violent, metaphor, he compares Israel’s destruction to a shepherd, tearing a lamb from a lion’s mouth, only to find a few pieces left. So God will deal with Israel. The idolatry of Bethel and the luxury of fine homes will disappear.

2. Judgment is coming on the “cows of Bashan” (Oracle #2) (4:1‑13).

a. Women are involved in the same sinful practices as the men, and they will go into judgment (4:1‑3).18 You will go out through breeches in the wall, each one straight before her (4:3). (Cf. Josh. 6:5, 20).19

b. The idolatrous, futile practices of the northern kingdom are set out next. Bethel is the cult center with ancient connections, but was made the southern religious cult center in Jeroboam I’s day. The Israelites are bringing tithes, sacrifices and offerings, but they are insincere as they bring them (4:4‑5).

c. God sent a series of five judgments to try to turn them to Himself, “yet you have not turned to Me, declares the Lord” (4:6-11).

Famine (4:6).

Drought (4:7‑8).

Crop failure (4:9).

Plague (4:10).

Judgment (4:11).

3. Consequently, even more severe punishment awaits them as He tells them to “prepare to meet your God, O Israel . . . the Lord of Hosts is His name” (4:6‑13).

4. God predicts defeat and captivity for Israel and urges her to turn to Him (Oracle #3) (5:1‑6:14).

a. Gilgal and Bethel were cult centers and Beersheba may have been the object of pilgrimages. Only Yahweh can bring salvation because He is the creator of the universe (5:1‑9).

b. Israel’s transgressions are obvious in their social sins, and God admonishes them to seek good (5:10‑15).

Hate good judges (5:10)
Tread down the poor (5:11)
Afflicting the just; taking bribes (5:12)

c. God promises them judgment and tells them the Day of the Lord will be disastrous for them (Woe #1) (5:16‑20).20

d. Amos condemns their empty religious activity. He wants instead obedient lives. Amos is not against sacrifice or the priesthood, he is against hypocrisy. Even in the wilderness, Israel was disobedient. Her history was one of disobedience. Therefore, God will send them into exile beyond Damascus (5:21‑27).21

e. He pronounces woe on their luxurious and sinful lifestyle (6:1-3), first by saying that they are no better than other cities God has judged (Calneh, Hamath and Gath—Gath is missing from the Philistine pentapolis in the judgment promised in 1:6‑8) (Woe #2).22

They hope to postpone the Day of the Lord (calamity), but they practice violence themselves (6:1‑3).23 The second reason God pronounces woe on the Samarians is that their immoral practices will cause them to go first into the exile (6:4-7). Exile (golah, גּוֹלָה or גָּלָה) appears nine times in Amos (1:5; 5:5,5,27;6:7; 7:11,11,17,17). The exile of 722 B.C. is in view, but it has not yet taken place as the critics would have it.

f. The suffering from the siege is depicted in 6:8‑11. People die from the plague, but no one calls on God’s name. This may be out of superstition, fear, or a sense of futility.24

g. Because of Israel’s perverse rejection of God, He promises to bring Assyria (not mentioned by name) on them (6:12‑14). Hamath to Arabah are the areas recovered by Jeroboam II.25

D. Amos predicts God’s judgment on Israel through a series of visions (7:1—9:6).

The prophecy began with “For three transgressions, yea upon four.” Perhaps a link is being made with the opening three + one indictment with these visions. There are three visions of judgment interrupted by Amaziah’s criticism as an example of religious Israel’s refusal to hear the Word of God, followed by the fourth vision. (There is another vision at 9:1-6. It has a different introductory formula, but it may be the fifth vision.)

1. Vision #1: Yahweh God shows Amos a locust horde (7:1‑3).

The locusts eat the spring crop. Amos pleads for clemency, and Yahweh listens to him (7:2‑3).26

2. Vision #2: Yahweh God shows Amos a devastating fire (7:4‑6).

It consumes the deep and the farmland. Amos pleads again and Yahweh relents.27

3. Vision #3: Yahweh God shows Amos a plumb line (7:7‑9).

The plumb line is a builder’s tool to show what is straight and, here, morally right. Israel is “crooked” because of idolatry. As a result, judgment is going to come. In this vision, Amos does not plead for mercy and so none is given.

4. Interlude: Amos’ messages are interrupted by the priest of Bethel (7:10‑17).

a. Amaziah charges Amos with disturbing the peace (7:10‑13).

He argues that Amos has conspired against Jeroboam and that the land cannot hold all his words. (Cf. 7:9: “sword . . .” The treason charge comes because Amos predicts Jeroboam’s death and the exile of the people (7:10‑11).

Amaziah demands that Amos go back to his own country and earn his bread from his own people. In the process he indicates that Bethel is a royal sanctuary (מִקְדָּשׁ מֶלֶךְ miqdash melek) and a royal residence (בֵּית מַמְלָכָה beth mamlakah) (7:12‑13).

b. Amos responds by saying that he is there by God’s appointment (7:14‑17).

His own origins are humble, and he was not a part of the official prophetic movement (7:14‑15).

He prophesies against Amaziah, his family and his land. Amaziah will go into exile as will all Israel.

5. Vision #4 (3 + 1): Yahweh God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit (8:1‑14).

a. He shows Amos the fruit: qayitz (קַיִץ). He gives its meaning: the end qetz, (קֵץ) has come for Israel.

By a pun he indicates that judgment will come on the palace as in other places.

b. He shows the reason for the judgment (8:4‑14).

They cheat with shekel size and scales and thus take advantage of the poor (8:4‑6).

Because of this God will judge Israel (8:7‑10).28

God’s word will be withheld from those who refuse to hear it (8:11‑14).

6. Vision #5: Amos sees Yahweh standing beside the altar (9:1‑6).

a. The religious system will be broken, and the people will be judged and sent into exile (9:1‑4).

b. Yahweh shows his sovereignty and power in creation (9:5‑6).29

E. A final covenantal promise is made to restore Israel (9:7‑15).30

1. God shows His sovereign control over the nations of the world (9:1‑7).

Israel, boasting that she was God’s chosen nation, was really no better than far off Cush because of her disobedience.

2. Israel judged but not destroyed (9:8‑12).

Scattered as grain through a sieve

Sown not scattered

Sinners judged

Tabernacle restored31

3. There will be a time of great prosperity (9:13‑15).

Historical Recap

Assyria (Adad-Nirari III) attacked Syria—805 B.C.

This took pressure off Israel

Assyria then fell into decline (Jonah’s preaching?)

Israel/Judah expanded

Jonah prophesied in the north (2 Kings 14)

Jeroboam II 793-53 (40 years)

Uzziah 792-40 (52 years)

Assyria becomes strong again

Tiglath-Pileser III 743-38 campaigned in west (contact with Judah?)

He defeated Damascus in 732

He put Hoshea on the throne 732

Shalmaneser V, Sargon II defeat Samaria 722

Sargon II against Philistia 711

Sennacherib against Hezekiah 701


1See Simon Cohen, “The Political Background of the Words of Amos,” HUCA 36 (1965): 153‑160. “Two years before the earthquake (1:1).” K. Kitchen, OROT, p. 53, says Hazor was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century.

2Fourteen of these years must have been as co‑regent, otherwise the synchronism does not work (see Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 106‑7).

3Again there must have been a co‑regency of twenty‑five years—Thiele, MNHK, 111.

4ANET, 281‑282.

52 Kings 13:7 indicates the desperate straits in which Israel found herself because of Syrian pressure.

6Lasor, et al., OT Survey, 321 and J. Bright, History of Israel, 238‑240.

7See Schedl, History of the OT, 4:133‑149, for a good, fairly conservative discussion by a Roman Catholic scholar.

8See T. E. McComiskey, “Amos,” EBC, 7:269-331. Ed. F. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978). See S. Cohen, “The Political Background of the Words of Amos,” HUCA 36 (1965): 153-160, for a different perspective. He argues that chapters 1-2 indicate a tailing off of the prosperity.

9There is a modern Jewish town called Tekoa, an Arab village called El Tuk, and a ruin that was probably Amos’ town.

10“Sycamore” is Greek for “black fig.” I am not sure why the American sycamore is called that since our sycamore is quite different from the middle eastern sycamore.

11Lasor, et al., OT Survey, 319.

12But see Wolff, “Joel and Amos,” p. 90, who argues that he was a sheep breeder and hence better off than a lowly shepherd.

13.See McComiskey, “Amos,” EBC.

14For a continuation of the roaring lion theme, see 3:8.

15Numerical parallelism. Parallelism in which a number is used in one line, then the next higher number in the second line. (As Watson explains, “Since no number can have a synonym the only way to provide a corresponding component is to use a digit which is higher in value than the original” [Classical Hebrew Poetry, p. 144]).

16M. Haran, “Observations on the Historical Background of Amos 1:2‑-2:6,” IEJ 18 (1968): 201‑212, argues for “Aram” rather than “Edom.”  The mistake between “d” and “r” in Hebrew (ר ד) is easily made, but we should stick with Edom since they could have sold the slaves to the Arabians.

17Pusey, Minor Prophets, I: 262.

18.Freedman and Anderson, “Harmon in Amos 4:3,” BASOR 198 (1970): 41, connect Harmon with Ugaritic hrnm in northern Syria. One hundred fifty years later Zedekiah was brought to Riblah to be sentenced by Nebuchadnezzar. This is only a few miles from Harnam/Harmon.

19Cf. Wolff, “Joel and Amos,” p. 207.

20The Day of the Lord was looked upon as good because it is a time when God makes all things right. However, in the process of rectifying all things, judgment must come on sinners. Therefore, they are told not to look forward to it. For an excellent technical discussion on this topic, see Weiss, “The Origin of the ‘Day of the Lord’ Reconsidered,” HUCA 37 (1966): 29‑71. Cf. also Wolff, “Joel and Amos,” pp. 255-56 for an excellent discussion of this passage.

21Verse 25 is a contrast: “For forty years in the wilderness you brought sacrifices and grain offerings, but you carried Sikkuth, etc.” In other words, they offered sacrifice in the wilderness but still sinned, and thus it was not really to God (so Acts 7:42). They are doing the same thing in Amos’ day. See Wolff for a discussion of the view that Israel did not offer sacrifice in the wilderness.

22On one of his expeditions, Adad Nirari III says that the Medians, Persians, Hittites, Tyre, Sidon, Israel, and Edom, Palestine submitted to him. One must wonder if the mention of these cities in Amos might not represent one of those Assyrian forays to the west.

23Smith, New American Commentary, loc. cit., says, “‘Violence’ is the usual word selected to render into English the idea in the term translated ‘terror’ . . . The word rendered ‘reign’ . . . means “sitting” or “seat.” To dismiss the concept of punishment for evil tends to promote the practice of violence. Israel’s leaders precipitated and accelerated ‘the very misfortune that they claim will never overtake them.’”

24Cf. the siege of Samaria—2 Kings 6:24ff.

25 Smith, New American Commentary, loc. cit., says, “The two rhetorical questions expect negative answers. No one in their right mind runs horses on rocky crags. The second question is literally, “Does he plow with oxen?” Either the object is understood to be the “rocky crags” mentioned in the first question or the word translated ‘with oxen’ (בבקרים) may be divided into two words (בבקר ים), which would mean ‘with oxen the sea.’ The prophet’s audience would have understood the absurdity of either scenario. What Israel had done in turning justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness was equally absurd (see 5:7). Such perversion of right relationships and of justice in the courts was self-destructive.”

26The king’s mowing was probably the royal portion taken first.

27The great deep (תְּהוֹם רַבָּה tehom rabbah) refers to the sea and is used here as a symbol of the extent of God’s judgment. The “farmland” is the Hebrew word “portion” (הַחֵלֶק haheleq) and refers more probably to the people as God’s “portion.”

28See New American Commentary, loc. cit., for dates of solar eclipses.

29Cf. Psalm 139.

30See Lasor, et al., OT Survey, 319‑329 for an excellent discussion of this passage and a rebuttal of the position that it does not belong to Amos.

31James seems to be using the idea of Gentile inclusion, not the time frame. Longenecker (EBC) argues that James is saying in the Eschaton Gentiles will be included without losing their identity. Thus in the church, the same thing should prevail. Cf. also, Heater, “Amos,” in The Case for Premillennialism. Pp.   . The interpretation of a previous text even using a different text is sanctioned by the Holy Spirit.

Related Topics: History, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Prophets