Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The picture above is Jeroboam sacrificing to the golden calf.

Amos starts off with a brief introduction, and then moves into a series of judgements. Damascus, Gaza and Philistia, Tyre and Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel are to be punished for their crimes. Amos uses the formula, “For the three crimes, the four crimes, of…,” which is footnoted as meaning an indefinite number. This is similar to the way in which someone might say, “I only had a couple of drinks,” which could mean “I know that I had more than one shot of Jose Cuervo, but it might have been 10.”

At 3 Amos says that the prophetic call cannot be resisted (3:3-8), and then proclaims prophecies against Samaria and Bethel.

At 4 he prophesies against the Samaritan women, and at 4:4 begins a description of the obstinacy of Israel. Israel has been punished by drought, locusts, plague, earthquake (4:11 may refer to 1:1), and has not returned to Yahweh. At 4:13 we have a statement of God’s creative power.

Chapter 5 begins with a lament for Israel. 5:4 is the beginning of a passage about the need for repentance. “Seek me and you shall live” (5:4). Failure to repent will be disastrous:

Seek Yahweh and you shall live,
or else he will rush like fire on the House of Joseph
and burn it up, with none at Bethel able to put out the flames (5:6).

I’ve argued previously that forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance. In my interpretation of the Prodigal son parable the father is ready to forgive the son before he appears, but he does not perform the act of forgiveness until the son reappears. Amos appears to take a similar view. Repentance, and then forgiveness.

At 5:8 we have another doxology. Amos praises God as the creator of the Pleiades and Orion. Yahweh calls the waters of the seas and “pours them over the land.” Oddly enough that seems to show some understanding of meteorology, but that’s not something to stress too much.

The editors/translators of the Jerusalem Bible have moved verse 7 so that it comes before 10, and starts a section of threats. Amos calls down curses on those who have perverted justice. At 14 he exhorts Israel “Seek good and not evil.”

5:21 is a rejection of formalism:

I hate and despise your feasts,
I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals.

At 5:24 we are urged to:

let justice flow like water,
and integrity like an unfailing stream.

6 is an imprecation against the self-indulgent, and recounts the horrors of the punishment to be visited on Israel

7 is a series of visions. In the third one it is stated that “the high places of Isaac are going to be ruined.” These are presumably altars to strange gods. At verse 10 we have Amaziah trying to expel Amos from Bethel. Amos identifies himself as a shepherd and dresser of sycamores. (How does one dress a sycamore? The JB says “looked after syscamores,” but it’s not clear to me why sycamores. (I just checked both Wikipedia and Britannica. The sycamore of the Bible is a fig, ficus sycomorus, in Britain and Ireland it’s acer pseudoplatanus, in the U.S. a sycamore is a member of the genus Platanus. So why isn’t the word translated as fig?))

8 starts off with a vision that Israel is ripe for destruction. *;4 is an invective against swindlers and exploiters.

9 begins with a vision of the destruction of the sanctuary, and includes another doxology. At 7 Amos indicates that there are no special privileges for Israel. 9 and 10 indicate that only the sinners will perish. Verses 11-15 are a prophecy of restoration.

Next up is a great fish story, Jonah.