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Amos

Amos was contemporary with Isaiah. His main message was that those who abuse their power make their sacrifices unacceptable to God.

Amos was the first classical prophet in the sense that he was independent of schools of prophets and the court. He pronounced against abuse of wealth and power and its effect on the acceptability of sacrifices. This shows that he was speaking before conditions in Israel became so bad that wealth and sacrifices were mere memories. He made the curious claim to be "not a prophet nor the son of a prophet" distancing himself from the schools and their hereditary roles, though the way he is mentioned to the king as a conspiratorial nuisance (Amos 7:10) implies that he was well known and not alone, suggesting that he may have been an "official" prophet who resigned and went independent. His prophecies became increasingly grim. In Amos 7:2 he was able to change God's mind by asking forgiveness; in Amos 7:5 he had to plead for Israel to be spared; but then God made it clear he would punish regardless. There are some passages offering light relief from the "doom and gloom" but some scholars consider these later additions.

The text of Amos follows on from the end of Joel, in that Joel 3:16 leads into Amos 1:2, and also Amos 9:11 leads into Obadiah 1:1–12.[1 p.38]

Commentary

1–2

God judges non-believers on moral matters rather than religious ones. Judah was supposed to be religious and was judged on its observance. See also Romans 2:12f, Romans 9:15.

2:6–16

The preceding prophecies of God's judgment on Israel's enemies probably seemed appropriate to Amos's hearers, and they may have thought that their privileged position as God's chosen people would give them a more favourable result. However, "Man's inhumanity to man, Amos proclaims to be the cardinal sin ... because Israel is God's people, the higher must be its standard of life; and the greater its guilt and punishment, if and when it falls away from righteousness." [2 p.152].

2:7

"Their life and actions ... constitute a profanation of the Name of God and Israel—​an unpardonable sin; cf. Lev. xxii, 2; Ezek. xx, 9, 14." [2 p.152]. See also comment on Matthew 12:31–31.

3:2

This verse is surprising but Hebrews 12:7f explains it.

4:7–8

See Deuteronomy 11:11.

5:1–3

The prophecy of Israel's fall was fulfilled about thirty years later.

5:11

A time of frustration is prophesied: hard work and no pleasure. Perhaps we are supposed to ask ourselves whether this means we are out of touch with God the giver. The Law had been telling the people for centuries "be fair, and look after the poor". The Prophets had been complaining for years that they weren't doing it. God was about to send the people into exile to shake them out of complacency, in fulfilment of the warnings in the Law, which speak of the land "vomiting them out" (e.g. Leviticus 18:28, and Jonah delivered up by the whale). Those carried off to a foreign land leave their farms and wealth to be enjoyed by others.

5:12

This is a consequence of failure to honour good people, being unfair, and an attitude of "might is right". The Town Gate was where legal decisions were made, for example, where Boaz sought permission to marry Ruth and get her inheritance (Ruth 4:1f).

5:13

Godly wisdom is unwelcome in a sinful society.

5:14

The people are offered an opportunity to repent before it is too late; then God will be apparent among his people, which they thought he was anyway.

5:15

The offer is repeated, apparently for emphasis.

5:16

The alternative is awful, like a living death, so funeral laments would be in order.

5:17

As a sign of being out of touch with God the giver of all good things, where there should be joy (promised in Deuteronomy 15:10) there would be despair (which should sound an alarm of failure to keep the covenant).

5:18

The Jews longed for God to show his power on their behalf, but the prophet announces that God will take the side of the oppressed, that is, he will act against the hearers; cf. Joel 1:15.

5:19

The destruction will be inescapable, like a nightmare of continually running away from terrors.

5:20

(verse 18 again). Was the prophecy of darkness was fulfilled in Matthew 27:45 when Jesus was crucified? cf. Amos 8:9–10.

5:21

The people were trying to obey Exodus 12:14 but not Leviticus 19:18. The usual ways of getting into God's good books, by worship and sacrifice, are no longer effective, because they are too tainted with injustice to please him...

5:22

...so he rejects them... (with the results described in Amos 8:7). cf. Isaiah 1:11–15, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6–7.

5:23

...to the point where he would rather they faced the problem and stopped worshipping as if nothing was wrong...

5:24

...and concentrate on putting their lives right. The words "rolling" and "ever-flowing" implies that God's infinite resources are available to achieve justice. Justice might satisfy God; it is the very minimum he requires; he actually asked for generosity, both to Jews (Deuteronomy 15:7) and foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19). God's requirements are spelled out in more detail in Jeremiah 22:3.

7

This passage shows God's patience being exhausted by continual sin. In Amos 7:2 Amos is able to change God's mind by asking forgiveness; in Amos 7:5 he has to simply plead for Israel to be spared; but then God makes it clear he will punish regardless, so Amos shuts up.

7:12

Amos 1:1 suggests that Amos was from Judah but received prophecies while he was working in Israel.

7:14

Apparently at this time there were both official and unofficial prophets[1 p.65].

8:2

The mention of "ripe fruit" is a pun (ripe = qaits, end = qets) which is comprehensible in English if we consider that ripe fruit is at the end of its shelf-life.

8:5b

The Ephah was the measure of grain (Leviticus 5:11) and the shekel was the unit of money (Leviticus 5:15) so this verse describes merchants who swindle their customers by overcharging for under-weight goods. These merchants were breaking the law in Deuteronomy 25:15.

8:6b

It might appear that the problem here is the poor quality of the dregs of crop, but the more serious fault is the failure to obey Leviticus 23:22.

8:7b

The people's sins were no longer overlooked because their sacrifices were not acceptable—​Amos 5:22.

8:9–10

cf. Amos 5:20. This prophecy was fulfilled at the crucifixion, according to Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44.

9:4

This verse illustrates the two outcomes that represent the two-edged sword in Revelation 1:16 for example.

References:

  1. Coggins, R Introducing the Old Testament Oxford University Press, 2nd edition 2001
  2. Hertz, Dr J. The Soncino Edition of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs (2nd Edition 1970)

© David Billin 2002–2021