Thursday, May 8, 2014

Amos 1:1-5:27


Dating from the first half of the 8th century BCE, the book of Amos may be the earliest of prophetic writings in the Hebrew Bible. Amos was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. He came from Tekoa, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom, Judah. But he preached in the northern kingdom Israel. According to the introduction to Amos in the Harper Collins Study Bible:

The message of Amos is direct and uncompromising. Over and over he announces to the people of Israel that, because of their social injustice and religious arrogance, the Lord will punish them by means of a total military disaster.
Amos opens with a series of oracles against Israel's neighbors. Damascus, Gaza, Tyre. Edom, Ammon, and Moab are each in turn condemned for their warlike ways (1:3-2:3). One can almost imagine the prophet's audience in full sympathy with this message. "Yeah, you tell those dirty Syrians! Stick it to those lousy Philistines!" When the prophet turns his attention to Judah (2:4-5), preaching against their idolatry, he might be getting a little close to home. But then when he starts in on Israel itself (2:6 ff) his audience must have been shocked. Amos lights into the northerners for their injustice, idolatry, and immorality.

Chapter 3 opens with a series of questions, the implied answers to which establish a pattern of cause and effect. The punchline to these questions is that when disaster befalls Israel's capital, Samaria, it will be because YHWH caused it.

Beginning at 3:9, YHWH calls the Philistines and Egyptians to serve as witnesses to his punishment of Israel. Verse 12 intimates that very little will be left when YHWH gets done with Israel:

This is what the Lord says:
"As a shepherd rescues from the lion's mouth
   only two leg bones or a piece of an ear,
so will the Israelites living in Samaria be rescued,
   with only the head of a bed
   and a piece of fabric from a couch."
      (Amos 3:12, NIV)

Chapter 4:1-3 addresses the women of Israel, rudely, as "cows of Bashan." Verses 4-5 tell the Israelites to go to their shrines at Bethel and Gilgal, but not for worship:

"Go to Bethel and sin;
   go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
   your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
   and brag about your freewill offerings —
   boast about them, you Israelites,
   for this is what you love to do,"
      declares the Sovereign Lord.
         (Amos 4:4-5, NIV)

The rest of the chapter describes how YHWH has chastened Israel with droughts, plagues, and destruction, but Israel paid no heed.

Chapter 5 begins with a call for Israel to turn to YHWH, not by worshiping at the unauthorized shrines at Gilgal and Bethel, but by practicing social justice.From verse 18 on the prophet warns that the expected "Day of the Lord" will not bring the vindication for which the people hope, but judgment and exile.

Next: Amos 6-9

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