Amos 1 (day 880) 29 May 2012
1: Uzziah was king of Judah from 783 to 742 B.C., and Jeroboam king of Israel from 785 to 745 B.C. Thus we have a fairly narrow date for the prophecies of Amos. He introduces himself as a shepherd from Tekoa, a region 10 or so miles south of Jerusalem. Later, however, we will find him in Israel defending himself to king Jeroboam, declaring that he is merely a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees, and protesting that he is not a prophet even though God has called him to prophesy (7:14-16). He seems then to have been active in both Judah and Israel before the fall of Israel, and the book that bears his name is therefore the earliest among all the prophetic books.
2: Amos pronounces an oracle of judgment: God roars from Zion, so it is obvious that whether he is an Israelite or a Judean he is a worshiper of the God whose temple is in Jerusalem.
3-5: Now he launches into a series of seven oracles, beginning with Damascus and ending with Judah and Israel, saving the lengthiest one for Israel (2:6-16). Each oracle begins with an indictment for four transgressions, introduced by the formula, “for three transgressions and for four I will …” Hazael and Ben-hadad were kings of Damascus and enemies of both Israel and Judah. The valley of Aven and Beth-eden are unknown and the location of Kir is uncertain but king Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria did exile the people of Damascus there in 732 B.C.
6-8: The Philistine confederation is next, and four of the five Philistine cities are mentioned, omitting only Gath which may have been part of Ashdod by Amos’ time. The reference to exiling communities to Edom is undocumented elsewhere, and may refer to a brief alliance between the Philistines and the Edomites – two peoples between whom Judah was located.
9-10: Tyre is condemned also for “delivering entire communities” to the Edomites. Some scholars speculate that there may have been an active slave trade to provide labor for Edom’s famous copper mines. If so, the slave trade may have involved the Philistines and Tyreans raiding towns in Judah and Israel to supply slaves to Edom.
11-12: Edom is next. Tradition has it that Edom was settled by Jacob’s brother Esau (see Genesis 36:8), but after the destruction of Jerusalem the Edomites mounted raids to plunder the Judeans at will; thus the charge that Edom “pursued his brother with the sword.”
13-15: Ammon shared the Jordan River as a border with both Israel and Judah. They had originally occupied Gilead, the territory east of the Jordan River just below the Sea of Galilee but were expelled by King Saul (1 Samuel 1:1-11). Amos denounces them here for the particularly horrible crime of murdering pregnant women. It is a bit curious that only the king and his officials are said to be going into exile.
Amos 2 (day 881) 30 May 2012
1-3: The Moabites are next, but it is strange that their condemnation is not for making Israel suffer, but rather Edom. There was a time (see 2 Kings 3) when Israel and Edom were allied together against Moab. The reference to the Moabites burning the bones of a king of Edom is an otherwise unknown event. The important thing in this paragraph is that God is apparently standing up for Edom. We mentioned before that Edom was the land occupied by Jacob’s brother Saul, so maybe the idea here is that God is honoring that relationship even though Edom “pursued his brother with the sword” (1:11) and will be judged for it.
4-5: Now Amos turns to Jerusalem and Judah and prophesies that God will punish them as well because of the sins in “which their ancestors walked,” which could be taken as a reference to most any period in Judah’s history.
6-16: By far the longest diatribe, however, Amos reserves for his own country, Israel. The wrongdoing he describes can only be the witness of a citizen who lives among them and sees what goes on in the background: the poor are cheated out of what little they have and sexual immorality abounds even at the so-called sacred sites. They behave wickedly even though God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, gave them the land of the Amorites to occupy, gave some of their children (remember Samuel?) the gift of prophecy and inspired some of their young people to take sacred vows. Even the strongest, fastest, bravest and most skilled warriors among them will be easily dispatched.
Amos 3 (day 882) 31 May 2012
1-2: These verses actually belong to the previous section, for they continue the judgment against Israel.
3-8: In a series of questions that recall the style of Proverbs, Amos seeks to defend his prophetic office. God made an appointment with him, and so he and God have been “walking” together. God (the lion) has spoken (roared) to the people (the forest) because they have sinned (and are thus the lion’s prey). Israel (the bird) has fallen into God’s hands (the snare). God would not be announcing their punishment (a snare springing up from the ground) if there were no cause (if there is no game for the snare to catch). Verse 6 is more direct. The warning trumpet is being sounded and the people ought to be afraid. The coming disaster is God’s doing. The job of God’s prophets is to announce God’s plans; they can do no other.
9-11: Israel’s ancient enemies, the Philistines (Ashdod) and Egyptians, are called to witness what God is doing to Israel (Samaria). They are being invaded and conquered because of their iniquity.
12: As a shepherd might find only a small part of a lamb torn by a lion, so only a small part of Israel will be recognizable when God is finished with them.
13-15: A picture is drawn of the destruction that will take place in Israel, and the emphasis is on the destruction of the religious shrines and the houses of the wealthy, perhaps specifically the king and his family.
Amos 4 (day 883) 1 June 2012
1-5: The “cows of Bashan” is likely a reference to the rich women in the capital city of Samaria. Bashan was region known for its cattle. The reference is not intended to be insulting, as it would be to women today, but rather to bring attention to their opulence and to their part in oppressing the poor to keep themselves in luxury. Amos says they will be drug out of the city and throne into Harmon. Here is my claim to fame! My surname is in the Bible! Of course, Harmon is probably a reference to the city dump, but you take whatever recognition you can get, you know. Amos goes on to condemn them for worshiping at the pagan shrines in Bethel and Gilgal.
6-11: Amos says that God was the one who sent drought to them so that they did not have enough to eat. “Cleanness of teeth” means they haven’t chewed on anything. Even with that sign, however, they would not return to God. Indeed, the phrase “yet you did not return to me” is uttered 5 times from verse 6 to verse 11, as if God just can’t quite get over it. He sent blight, mildew, locusts, pestilence and the sword, but they wouldn’t turn back to God. Even total destruction of some of them didn’t nudge the others in God’s direction.
12-13: So, says Amos, prepare to meet the LORD, the one who “forms the mountains, creates the wind … makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth.” You get the distinct feeling the meeting isn’t going to be a pleasant one for Israel.
Amos 5 (day 884) 2 June 2012
1-3: Amos begins the predictable prophetic lament over Israel, mourning their destruction before the fact. All the cities, large and small, will be decimated, with only 10% of the people remaining.
4-5: Amos bids them to seek the LORD; but not at Bethel and Gilgal and Beer-sheba where their pagan shrines are.
6-7: Now the plea indicates that the disaster might still be avoided if they will only see the LORD. He directs his plea toward both the judicial leaders and the religious leaders.
8-9: This is a common feature of the prophetic lament, a description of God’s sovereignty over the heavens and the earth and the seas.
10-13: Amos charges the wealthy and the powerful with cheating and stealing.
14-15: Again, he begs them to turn back to the ways approved by God.
16-17: The coming punishment will visit all of Israelite society, city and country, field and vineyard.
18-20: The “day of the LORD” has apparently become a misappropriated term by (probably) the priests in charge of the religious life of the people. Amos and his ilk warn the people about the coming day of the LORD and the unfaithful priests pretend it will be a time of life and light. Amos sets them straight.
21-24: His accusations continue and escalate. Now he is denouncing the ritual practices in which the people engage; the solemn assemblies, the offerings, the singing and the musical instruments. Instead, he says, justice and righteousness are what God wants from them, and pictures these qualities as a sweeping flood that will cleanse the land.
25-27: No one knows what Kaiwan and Sakkuth mean, whether they are the names of Assyrian deities (Assyria is never directly mentioned in Amos) or should be translated as nouns that mean “pedestal” and “shrine.” It is clear, however, that their worship of other gods is at the heart of the judgment against them.
Amos 6 (day 885) 3 June 2012
1-3: Amos goes after the well-to-do in Samaria who think everything is fine. He tells them to visit some of the larger cities in adjacent countries: Calneh, Hamath and Gath; Samaria will suffer from the comparisons, he says.
4-7: The wealthy are oblivious to what is happening in the country. All they care about is enjoying their lives of ease. As was the case when populations were taken into exile, the rich and the powerful are the first to be taken because that further destabilizes the population.
8-11: Amos describes the punishment of the city in a rather curious exchange. God delivers up the city in verse 8, and then he describes a gruesome scene within the city. Ten people die in one house, and a relative whose job as next-of-kin is to dispose of the bodies comes to carry them out. Apparently there is but one survivor in the house. The horror of it is such that they are afraid to mention the name of the LORD, fearing that the mention of God’s name might bring about even greater disaster since it is God who is behind the attack. Indeed, God is determined that all the houses, big and small, will be shattered.
12-14: The deliberate misuse of justice is like trying to run a horse on rocks, he says. Justice has been corrupted by those who “rejoice in Lo-debar” and “have taken Karnaim.” These are slight misspellings of towns in Gilead; Amos is using them as a play on words, “nothingness,” and “horns” – a reference to the grasping of authority. God is raising up a nation, he says, which we know will be Assyria even though Amos never mentions them.
Amos 7 (day 886) 4 June 2012
1-9: Amos sees God approaching the land three times to destroy it. The first destruction is by locusts and the second is by fire. Amos begs God to forgive and to cease, protesting that Jacob (Israel) is too small and weak to withstand such onslaughts. The effect of his plea is to paint God as a bully, and God relents. The third vision, though, simply has God standing with a plumb line as if to measure how “out of plumb” Israel is. This time God only threatens the pagan worship sites and the ruling family, and Amos does not protest.
10-17: Finally Amos’ pronouncements stir up an official complaint. The priest of Bethel, which is perhaps the primary pagan shrine, complains to the king about Amos’ statements. There was, of course, no constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, and Amos’ life truly would be threatened by this development. When Amaziah tells him to never prophesy at Bethel again but to flee to Judah it is for the two-fold purpose of getting rid of him and avoiding the risk of making him a martyr to his cause. Amos responds by distancing himself from the priest by reminding him that he, Amos, is not of the priestly caste from which prophets usually come. Then he proceeds to prophesy against Amaziah. His wife will become a prostitute, he says, an all too common fate for women in those days who were thrust into the difficult situation of being in a city that has been conquered and being stranded there without her children who were killed and without her husband who has been carried into exile and has died in “an unclean land” where most of her neighbors have also been taken.
Amos 8 (day 887) 5 June 2012
1-3: We are reminded of Jeremiah’s vision of the baskets of good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24) which foretold God’s pleasure for the people of Judah and God’s displeasure with King Zedekiah and his officials. In this case there is one basket of summer fruit which God explains is a sign of the end of Israel. The Hebrew has a play on words not carried over into English so that the English translation makes little sense. Why would a basket of summer fruit be such a terrible sign? What we don’t see is that the words for “fruit” and “end,” as in “end of life,” are very much alike in Hebrew.
4-8: The verdict is in: Israel has become the kind of nation that allows and enables the wealthy to prey on the poor, the Sabbath to be ignored, and the use of honest weights and measures cavalierly disregarded.
9-10: Since they will not mourn their iniquity, God will bring mourning upon them.
11-12: The worst sentence of all: God will be absent from the land.
13-14: The worshipers of pagan gods are particularly targeted, represented by the “beautiful young women and the young men,” a reference to the emphasis on sexual prowess and permissiveness.
Amos 9 (day 888) 6 June 2012
1: A description of divine punishment: the pagan altar is broken and so are the people.
2-4: Psalm 139:7-12 is recalled. We cannot hide from God. In the psalm that was a good thing; here it is a threat.
5-6: We are again reminded that the authority behind the sentence is the God who rules the heavens and the earth and the sea.
7-8: God takes responsibility for the displacement and resettlement of Israel, Philistia and Aram, and there is no doubt God can do it again. However, there is once more the promise that the destruction of Israel, though seemingly complete, will not be forever.
9-10: It is, in the end, the wicked people who are the target of God’s wrath.
11-12: The line of David will be restored. This is the fervent and nearly universal hope of all the prophets. It smacks, just a little, of longing for the “good old days.”
13-15: The restoration of Israel will be dramatic. The land will become so fertile that the harvest season will last so long it will be time for the next planting season before the harvest is ended. Cities will be rebuilt, fields and vineyards will be restored – all of this symbolic of the fruitfulness and prosperity of the people, planted to “never again be plucked up.”
Thus we reach the apparently inevitable and happy ending of sayings from yet another prophet of doom.