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Welcome to Bible Fiber where we are encountering the textures and shades of the prophetic tapestry in a year-long study of the twelve minor prophets, one prophet each month. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel.
Last week we studied the hardest part of Amos, the Oracles Against the Nations. Amos spent those first two chapters calling out the injustices of Israel’s enemies and neighbors, but his last and longest oracle was a formal accusation on his listening audience, the people of the Northern Kingdom. Today, we are studying chapters 3, 4 and 5, the middle section of Amos. These three chapters are a collage of literary styles—lists, poems, hymns, and speeches. They connect in that they are all expressions of Yahweh’s judgment against Israel and her leaders. All three chapters open with the phrase “Hear this word.” There is an urgency to the prophetic message, and the sense that there still may be time for the people of God to repent and avert disaster. Amos uses satire, rhetorical questions, sarcasm, laments, and a doxology to expose Israel’s guilt and delusional thinking, warn of her punishment, and plead for her restoration. Amos is clear that above all else, Yahweh’s name must be exalted. Because of the righteousness of Yahweh, He cannot accept the moral failure of Israel.
At the outset of the judgement oracle, Amos 3:2 reminds Israel that they are chosen by God: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” The first time the Bible uses this phrase is when Yahweh promised Abraham, a thousand years earlier, that through his descendants “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The election of Israel and the responsibilities they incur through the covenant relationship is a recurring theme in Amos. But as we know from the last two episodes, Israel is far from being a blessing or righteous example. Instead, they are an object of judgement.
Amos 3 asks a series of rhetorical questions. Each question has a quality of cause-and-effect. They start off as mundane encounters. For example, Amos asks, “do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?” and “does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey?” The list of encounters builds up to the inevitability of an encounter between Israel and Yahweh. Yahweh is warning them that the encounter will end badly. In this same passage, Amos also aims to establish the authority of all God’s prophets, the messengers entrusted to act as the mouthpiece of God as recipients of His revelation. Amos says, “surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (3:7). Like the other prophets, Amos is dutybound to blast the trumpet on the walls of the city, as the last warning before the arrival of the advancing army.
Yahweh invites two of Israel’s enemies, Philistia and Egypt, to come observe the deprivations of Samaria. Samaria was Israel’s capital city. During the reign of Jeroboam II, it was at its height of wealth and power but the prophet Amos sees the fortifications and strongholds as the institutions of corruption and violence. The invitation of two idolatrous nations, Philistia and Egypt, hardly known for championing human rights, is meant to be both shaming and ironic. Amos, in his own poetic way, calls out all of Israel’s wrongdoers. He first indicts the military and political leaders for “stor[ing] up violence and robbery in their strongholds” (3:9-10). He then denounces the religious leaders of Israel, specifically pointing to the coming destruction of the sanctuary in Bethel (3:14). Bethel was the chief sanctuary for the Northern Kingdom, and a center of brazen idolatry since its establishment by the evil king Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12). Lastly, Amos ridicules the opulent lifestyles of the ruling class with their seasonal properties and collections of luxury goods. Yah