Book of Amos

The full question:

How strongly does the theme of exile for Israel feature in Amos’ prophecy?

ABSTRACT

The exile of Israel is an important feature in Biblical history. By examining the background and major themes of the book of Amos, it is possible to accurately diagnose the strength of this theme presented in Amos’ writings. A significant theme in Amos’ prophecy is judgment. Amos declares the why and how of judgment. The exile of Israel is seen in the how of judgment but is not all-prevailing in its extent. The other two themes of hope and Amos’ God appear to be more significant than the motif of exile, especially Amos’ God. Each of these factors assists in determining the strength of the theme of exile in the book of Amos which appears to be a minor motif rather than a major theme.

1. Introduction

The Book of Amos is compact and elegant. It appears connected and organised.[1] This book, ‘anticipates in smaller compass the great prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah.’[2] In accordance with this observation there are multiple themes contained in this short prophecy. The exile of Israel is evident within its pages but how strongly it features may be a surprising answer. To ascertain how strongly the theme of exile for Israel is featured in Amos’ prophecy it is necessary to grasp a greater understanding of the book itself and the major themes contained within its pages. This essay will consider the background of the times of Amos to understand the themes within, then contemplate three major themes found throughout and finally diagnose the strength of the theme of exile based on these findings. By approaching the question at hand with this method, it will be seen more clearly how dominant the motif of exile is in comparison to the other broader themes. This will assist in diagnosing the strength of the exile theme within Amos’ writings.

2. Background

For the purposes of this essay question it is only necessary to briefly outline the background of Amos’ prophecy. This will assist in obtaining a clearer picture of the themes within these writings. The background will touch briefly on the author, the date of writing and the context of the times before we dive into discovering more specific and major themes.

2.1 Author

The book begins with an introduction of who the author is, where he is from and the time of his prophecy (Amos 1:1). It is clear that the prophecy is the words of Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa[3]. Amos was not always a prophet (7:14-15) and it appears as though he was more than a peasant ‘rather a member of those wealthier social classes against which he delivered his indictments’.[4] This man was called by God to speak the words of God (3:8).

2.2 Date

It seems clear that the book of Amos was composed ‘in the mid-eighth century B.C.’[5] The very first verse indicates that it was two years before the earthquake, approximately 760 B.C., which is still referred to two centuries later[6] (Zech 14:5). In the end it is difficult to ascertain an exact year as the precise dating of the earthquake, although conjectured, is unbeknownst.

2.3 Context

Although Jeroboam ‘did what was evil in the sight of the Lord’ (2 Kings 14:24) it is clear that under his reign there was ‘prosperity and peace’[7] ‘virtually comparable to the Davidic-Solomonic age’[8] (14:25, 28). As Moore points out ‘Amos ministered to a nation of ironies’[9]. He says, ‘the nation knew both wealth and poverty, stability and instability, high attendance at the Temple but spiritual drought, and a seemingly bright future but in reality imminent darkness and death’.[10] Craig Loscalzo puts it well by saying that Amos was sent to preach ‘not to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable’[11] and notes that it would sound ‘like sour grapes’[12] for those listening. With this background knowledge in mind, the themes within the book of Amos are grounded more completely in a time, place and context that allows for a greater understanding of the words inside. It seems clear that Amos’ task to preach condemnation to a people that consider themselves blessed is difficult from the outset. Especially as we now turn our attention to the first of the three major themes, judgment.

3. Judgment

With an introduction of ‘the Lord roars from Zion’ (Amos 1:2) the book opens with a clear sense of doom. It continues throughout and this theme ‘that runs like a silver thread through the Book of Amos’[13] is irrevocably clear. Whether it be the oracles against the nations that are a ‘whirlpool of judgement drawing ever closer to Israel as the approaching thunder of God’s anger consumes one nation after another’[14] (1:3-2:5) or the two visions in chapters seven and eight which ‘demonstrate that judgment against the nation for its continued rebellion was imminent’[15] this theme can be seen throughout the book. Yet to discover how strongly the theme of exile for Israel in the Book of Amos is, first it is necessary to consider why judgment is coming and then comprehend from Amos’ prophecy how this judgment will come about. The motif of exile is seen within the how of judgment yet, as it will be observed, exile is not the exclusive way God brings judgment.

3.1 Why

It is quite clear throughout the prophecy that the reason for judgment is sin.[16] They have failed in a multitude of ways particularly a failure to worship God in sincerity. Their worship ‘centres were apparently thronged’[17] (Amos 4:4-5; 5:5, 21-23; 8:3, 10) and they treated Yahweh with ‘presumptuous arrogance’[18] (5:14, 18; 6:3). They failed to comprehend ‘to whom much is given, much is required’.[19] They understood God’s choosing (3:2a) to be a guarantee of favour and blessing rather than a great responsibility (3:2b).[20] It seems as though the rich blessings which they are enjoying, as seen in the context above, has a significant role to play in their complacency. Unfortunately it appears as though Israel took every blessing from God for granted. In accordance with this ignorant understanding of God they failed to bring justice and righteousness for the weak and oppressed (2:6-7; 3:9-10; 4:1; 5:11-12; 6:6; 8:4-6).[21] Furthermore they were involved in religious prostitution and drunken orgies (2:7-8) [22] and outright idolatry (5:26-27)[23]. The very people who God covenanted with broke the covenant and ‘destruction is inevitable’.[24] How is this destruction to come about?

3.2 How

Here is where the theme of exile so prominently reveals itself in Amos’ prophecy yet some scholars such as Dumbrell[25] appear to miss the two-pronged judgment that Amos prophesies merely focussing on the exile. Firstly it is clear that the exile of Israel is predicted. Twelve verses specifically reference the exile that is to come. These verses briefly touch on various details about the exile within the context of the surrounding verses. Amos’ prophecy predicts that the enemy will: ‘besiege them on every side’[26] (Amos 3:11); take away the women who oppress the poor ‘in complete disgrace’[27] (4:2-3); destroy the Israelite’s army[28] (5:3); come and take the Israelites into captivity[29] (5:5); be caused by God to take the Israelites into, ‘captivity beyond Damascus’ (5:27); take away, first, those who abused God’s ‘forbearance’[30] (6:7); be raised up by God (6:14); bring the judgment of God with a sword[31] (7:9; 9:4); take Israel ‘into exile away from his land’ (7:11, 17). These verses are quite clear concerning the exile. From these verses it is seen that Amos presents such details as those who will be first to go into exile and how utter the devastation will be. Although Amos does not refer to Assyria directly, chapter five verse twenty-seven could be an example of ‘oblique oracular style.’[32] Regardless it seems as though ‘Amos does have Assyria specifically in mind, and his hearers know this very well.’[33] These verses also present God as the ultimate controller of the enemy who will take them into exile. This concept will be further developed when considering the final theme of Amos’ God.

The second prong of judgment is in the very opening of the book, an earthquake. The earthquake ‘imagery introduced runs throughout the book’[34] (3:14-15; 6:9, 11; 8:8; 9:1, 5) and, as stated above, this event is mentioned two centuries later (Zech 14:5). Along with these references of how judgment will occur are a number of prophecies that ‘portray scenes of death, mourning, and gloom whose cause is not specified’[35] (Amos 5:16-17; 8:3, 9-10). These references could be connotations to the exile, the earthquake, another judgment or a proclamation of certain doom without referring to any judgment in particular. It is clear that Amos contains a theme of exile as the most dominant form of judgment for Israel, yet it still appears Amos prophesies judgment to be more than merely exile. Also, how dominant is the motif of exile in comparison to the other broader themes? This is the question that will be further answered as the paper continues to explore two other major themes, beginning with hope.

4. Hope

A contentious theme within the book of Amos is the possibility of hope. Is this part of the original prophecy or is this a later addition during the postexilic period? Is this a theme at all? Many scholars such as Mays[36] and Jeremias[37] are adamant that hope is such a contradictory message to what Amos is declaring that chapter nine verses eleven to fifteen can only be part of a later addition. Yet as Anderson and Freedman point out ‘it would require a very audacious person’ to apparently change the message of Amos ‘and he would have to have a fairly low estimate of the authority and finality of the prophet’s genuine words’.[38] They also logically point out that ‘after execution there would be revival and restoration: this message was delivered by all of the great prophets’.[39] Dumbrell also sees the link between Amos’ prophecy moving ‘from the Lord “roaring” from Zion, to the restoration of Zion’.[40] Hope is an integral part of the book and as such it assists in the overall discovery of the strength of the theme of exile within Amos on a relative scale to this theme and other motifs. The theme of restoration must be evident in Amos’ preaching because as it will be clear in the next major theme, this is part of the character of God that Amos knows so well.

5 God

Finally this paper comes to the theme that dominates the entire book and that is Amos’ God.[41] Watts declares that ‘no single characteristic so completely stamps the personality and message of Amos as his sense of the reality of God’.[42] Amos emphasises the undeniable sovereignty of God who brings both judgment and grace.

5.1 Sovereignty

Amos’ God is inescapable (Amos 9:2-4). Not only Israel but all nations are ‘within his realm of power, and the destiny of all peoples is determined by their relationship to him’[43] (1:3-2:3). God is so sovereign that he not only judges other nations but is in charge of their very existence (9:7)[44] and God can cause them to ‘do his bidding in bringing judgment on Israel’[45] (3:11; 4:2-3; 5:3, 27), specifically via the exile, as seen above. He is also sovereign over ‘natural phenomena’[46] (4:6-10) and Creator who has ‘control over creation’[47] (4:13). Amos points out that God’s omnipotence ‘is able to shake the very fabric of the universe’.[48] Yahweh in Amos is all powerful and the great theme that pervades everything. It is because of Amos’ comprehension of God that judgment and grace can be contained in the same prophecy without contradiction.

5.2 Judgment and Grace

In the Book of Amos there is the emphasis of ‘the wrath of the righteous God who demands obedience and holiness from Israel’[49] yet at the same time ‘Amos understands that the deepest nature of God is rooted in grace’.[50] God’s judgment has been seen above in many references yet throughout Amos there is evidence of the grace that exudes from God’s character. This grace is seen in how ‘God brought Israel up out of Egypt (2:10; 3:1; 9:7)’[51] and brought up other nations (9:7). He chose Israel ‘of all the families of the earth’ (3:2), he led them through the wilderness and gave them the land (2:9-10), he raised up prophets (2:11) who warn of what is to come (3:7).[52] His grace is also clearly evident in the first two visions (7:1-6) when all Amos has to plea on Israel’s behalf is God’s grace and ‘the Lord relented’ (7:3, 6). Finally God’s grace can be seen ‘squarely in the middle of his denunciations of the crimes of the people and his announcements of the inevitable judgment of God that must follow’[53] in verse fifteen of chapter five. Here Amos states, ‘hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph’ (5:15). The God of Amos who rightly judges and condemns continually radiates grace.

6. Strength of Exile Theme

Upon consideration of the background of the Book of Amos that assisted in the comprehension of three major themes it is now possible to more clearly ascertain the strength of the theme of exile for Israel. Both Fyall[54] and Motyer[55] consider it to be a key motif throughout and understandably so as it does pervade many sections of Amos’ prophecy as seen above. Yet in comparison to the overall picture and in light of the earthquake being another possible ramification of judgment, it appears as though the theme of exile in Amos is merely a consequence of the greater theme of judgment and fails to compare with the overall theme of judgement. It also appears less prominent than the theme of hope and Amos’ God. Perhaps the theme of exile in this book can be overemphasised due to the reality of what comes to pass in Israel’s history. This in turn has the potential to belittle the judgment of God in other possible ways, like an earthquake, and lose the focus of other key motifs in Amos’ prophecy. It is still important to remember that the exile is part of God’s judgment and a significant factor in the wider biblical ramifications particularly the curses in Deuteronomy (Deut 28:64-65). The theme of exile in Amos is clearly evident yet it is a minor motif coming out of the more prevalent theme of judgment.

7. Conclusion

The Book of Amos is a grand prophecy that contains in a nutshell many of the major themes found in later prophetic books. The theme of exile in Amos is evident along with the theme of an earthquake and both are under the greater umbrella of judgment because of the great God who offers hope and whom Amos knows so well. Hence the strength of the theme of exile in this book is comparatively small yet the event itself in the history of Israel is significant.

      1. Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (1st ed.; The Anchor Bible v. 24A; New York: Doubleday, 1989).

      2. Bob Fyall, Teaching Amos: Unlocking the Prophecy of Amos for the Bible Teacher (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland; London: Christian Focus, 2006), 7.

      3. Tekoa is most probably a village in Judah, the Southern Kingdom, although as Jörg Jeremias has noted in The Book of Amos (1998) some scholars ‘have often without justification tried to…search for an (unknown) Tekoa in the Northern Kingdom’ (p. 2).

      4. Tremper Longman and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006), 424.

      5. Duane A. Garrett, Amos: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2008), 1.

      6. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. J. D. Barry and L. Wentz, editors. Belligham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. As found in the Logos Bible study software program. Although, Dumbrell in The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (2002) considers Amos to have prophesied around 750 B. C. yet does not appear to take into account the possible dating of the earthquake and his three reasons for this date could also be applied to a few years earlier.

      7. James Mays L., Amos (Great Britian: W & J Mackay Limited, 1969), 2.

      8. Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2011), 430.

      9. R. Kelvin Moore, ‘Amos: An Introduction’, The Theological Educator 52/ (September 1995): 31.

      10. Moore, “Amos,” 31.

      11. Craig Loscalzo, ‘Preaching Themes From Amos’, Review & Expositor 92/2 (January 1995): 195.

      12. Loscalzo, “Preaching Themes From Amos,” 195.

      13. Moore, “Amos,” 33.

      14. Gordon J Keddie, The Lord Is His Name (Welwyn: Evangelical Press, 1986), 21.

      15. R. Dennis Cole, ‘The Visions of Amos 7-9’, The Theological Educator 52/ (September 1995): 22.

      16. Gary V. Smith, Amos: A Commentary (Library of Biblical Interpretation; Grand Rapids, Mich: Regency Reference Library, 1989).

      17. Alec Motyer, The Message of Amos: The Day of the Lion (The Bible Speaks Today; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 15.

      18. Mays, Amos, 3.

      19. Harold R. Mosley, ‘The Oracles Against the Nations’, The Theological Educator 52/ (September 1995): 45.

      20. D. Waylon Bailey, ‘Theological Themes in the Prophecy of Amos’, The Theological Educator 52/ (September 1995), 79–85.

      21. Mays, Amos.

      22. Although verse eight is not clear on drunken orgies Ray Beeley (1970) Amos points out that Hosea 7:5-6 makes this point clearer.

      23. Walter E. Brown, ‘Amos 5:26: A Challenge to Reading and Interpretation’, The Theological Educator 52/ (September 1995), 27–85.

      24. John D. W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos (Expanded anniversary ed.; Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press, 1997), 111. This can also be seen in the reflection of chapter four in comparison to Deuteronomy chapter twenty-eight.

      25. William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (2nd ed ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002).

      26. John Calvin, The Minor Prophets: Joel, Amos & Obadiah (trans. by John Owen; The Geneva Series of Commentaries; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 2:216.

      27. Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah (The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary; Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 198.

      28. John Marsh, Amos and Micah (London: SCM Press, 1959).

      29. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah.

      30. Calvin, The Minor Prophets, 2:312.

      31. Jeffrey Niehaus, The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1992).

      32. Henry McKeating (ed.), The Books of Amos, Hosea and Micah (The Cambridge Bible Commentary New English Bible; Cambridge: Univ. Press, 1971), 47.

      33. McKeating, Amos, Hosea and Micah, 47.

      34. Ray Beeley, Amos (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), 14.

      35. Mays, Amos, 9.

      36. Mays, Amos.

      37. Jörg Jeremias, The Book of Amos (1st American ed ed.; The Old Testament Library; Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).

      38. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 863.

      39. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 82.

      40. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 199.

      41. Fyall, Teaching Amos.

      42. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos, 112.

      43. Smith, Amos, 13.

      44. Moore, “Amos.”

      45. Longman and Dillard, Introduction to the OT, 431.

      46. Merrill, Rooker, and Grisanti, The World and the Word, 437.

      47. Rick W. Byargeon, ‘The Doxologies of Amos: A Study of Their Structure and Theology’, The Theological Educator 52/ (September 1995): 56.

      48. Beeley, Amos, 15.

      49. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos, 113.

      50. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos, 114.

      51. Smith, Amos, 1.

      52. Smith, Amos.

      53. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos, 114.

      54. Fyall, Teaching Amos.

      55. Motyer, The Message of Amos.

       

       

       

       

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