Amos, Book of
AMOS, BOOK OF
The third in the series of the 12 minor prophets, though actually the earliest one. Although the institution of prophecy was already ancient in the days of Amos, the book bearing his name represents the first written collection of a prophet's oracles, thus ushering in a new epoch in the literature of Israel [see prophecy (in the bible)]. The book is composed almost wholly of oracles pronounced by Amos in the middle of the 8th century b.c.
primarily predicting doom for the Northern Kingdom because of social injustice and perversion of cult, emphasizing as it does Yahweh's ethical demands. It also holds some promise of hope, although this is not elaborated on by the prophet. This article will treat of the book in Israel's history, its division, composition, content, and doctrine.
Historical Setting. About midway in the reign of Jeroboam II (783–743), when Israel had reached the zenith of its recovered prosperity, the spirit of the Lord summoned the shepherd Amos from Thecua, an obscure village on the margin of the desert of Judah, to pronounce impending doom upon the Northern Kingdom (Am 1.1; 7.14). Like the roaring of a lion, as described in 3.8, the message of the prophet resounded through the sanctuary at Bethel and in the gates of the capital. The response was an angry rejection of Amos by officialdom in the person of Amasia, priest of the sanctuary (7.13), as had happened on previous occasions (2.12). Yet the call of Amos to the office of prophet was the providential work of Yahweh; it was neither by reason of personal choice nor inheritance that Amos prophesied at the sanctuary of Bethel. He emphatically denied that he was a prophet by profession, i.e., a member of the prophetic guilds that ministered at the sanctuaries (7.14; see H. H. Rowley, 114–115). Rather, his call was immediately from Yahweh, who had taken him from following the flock and from dressing sycamore trees to prophesy to Israel (7.15). The oracles of Amos were soon written down, probably by a disciple, and, for the first time in Israel, the force of the written word was effectively carrying the prophetic message. The prophetic faith had found a new instrument to convey its message, and succeeding prophets built upon the solid foundation set by Amos.
Division. In an introduction (1.1–2), the editor identifies the prophet and the general period of his ministry, and with a single verse characterizes the tenor of the entire prophecy.
In the first part (1.3–2.16) is presented a series of oracles, all of the same literary construction and directed against the hostile neighbors of Israel. This reaches a dramatic climax in the judgment of the Lord against the Northern Kingdom itself (2.6–16).
The second part (3.1–6.14) contains a collection of oracles that elaborate upon the sinfulness of Israel and the determination of Yahweh to chastise these transgressions. A third group of minatory oracles (8.4–14) logically pertains to this section, but they apparently have been misplaced, since they interrupt the continuity of the passage in which they now stand.
The last part (7–9) is taken up with a succession of visions, each of which depicts a dire punishment about to overtake the people. Inserted after the third vision is a brief biographical account of Amos (7.10–17). A messianic epilogue concludes the book (9.8–15).
Composition. Modern scholarship attributes the bulk of the prophecy to Amos (see W. S. McCullough, 247–248). There is evidence of certain later additions, e.g., the references to Judah (1.2; 2.4–5) and several lyrical passages that may be fragments of a hymn glorifying Yahweh as Lord of the physical universe (4.13; 5.8; 8.9; 9.5–6). The messianic promise of restoration of the "fallen hut of David" at the end of the prophecy (9.8c–15) breathes an optimism difficult to harmonize with what precedes it, which seems to presuppose the destruction of both kingdoms. This messianic part was perhaps added during the Exile. Thus the work as we now possess it comes from the hands of a redactor, probably a disciple of the prophet, who collected the oracles and arranged them in an order that is not necessarily chronological. This work was very likely done in the Southern Kingdom after the fall of Samaria. The text of Amos has been preserved in good condition with a few minor exceptions.
Content and Doctrine. Amos exposes with rustic candor the sins of the wealthy of Samaria, particularly their avarice and greed (2.6; 8.5–6), the perversion of judgment (5.7, 12), oppression of the weak (2.7; 3.10; 5.11), and sensuality (2.7; 6.4–6). These excesses outrage Amos's sense of justice because they are enjoyed at the expense of the defenseless poor of the land.
The sanctuaries of bethel, Galgal, and the city of Dan are objects of God's displeasure (4.4–5; 5.5, 21–23; 7.9; 8.10, 14). Here cult is offered to foreign deities (5.26; 8.14) in a kind of syncretism with the religion of Moses. The priests are guilty of fostering formalism in worship rather than a true religion of the heart (5.21–24). Indeed, they have become so self-complacent in their privilege as the chosen people that they have forgotten the obligations that election carries with it (3.2).
Jeroboam II shares this guilt (6.13) and his dynasty will fall (7.9); so too, will the lives of his officials be forfeited (6.1, 7). The whole nation must suffer for the sins of its leaders at the hands of an unnamed oppressor (6.14), which is clearly Assyria (7.17).
A sincere repentance and return to Yahweh could save them (4.6–11). "Seek me, that you may live" is the plaintive refrain of God's last desperate plea (5.4, 6, 14–15). But amidst a people enamoured of luxury, these overtures fall upon deaf ears. Amos, abandoning hope of any true conversion, proclaims a punishment approaching with inexorable certainty (4.12; 5.26–27; 8.3; 9.1–4). In this context, the "day of the lord," longed for by the Israelites as a glorious event, is given a new and terrifying meaning by Amos (5.18, 20). It is henceforth to be a day of wrath when Yahweh will visit just retribution upon all sinners (8.9–14). Intimately allied with this is the inchoate theme of the Remnant of Israel to be spared (3.12; 5.15; 9.8).
The leitmotif of Amos's prophecy is "righteousness," the necessary condition for worship that is acceptable to God (5.24). Amos in insisting upon justice contrasts with his contemporary, Hosea, who extols God's steadfast love (Heb. hesed ), a term that never occurs in Amos [See N. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the OT (Philadelphia 1946) 65–69].
Amos professes strict monotheism. Yahweh is the sole ruler of the universe (4.13; 5.8; 8.9, 11). He requites evil among the pagans (1–2), directs the course of the history of Israel as well as the nations (9.7), and uses the Assyrians as His instrument (6.14). His wonderful deeds in behalf of His people, especially in the Exodus (2.10; 3.1; 4.10; 5.25; 9.7), increase the responsibility of the Israelites to observe the moral precepts of the covenant.
Bibliography: g. a. buttrick, ed. The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, 4 v. (Nashville 1962) 1:116–121. w. r. harper, Amos and Hosea in International Critical Commentary (New York 1905). r. s. cripps, The Book of Amos in ibid. t. h. sutcliffe, The Book of Amos (London 1955). j. morgenstern, Amos Studies, 3 v. (Cincinnati 1941—). h. h. rowley, "The Nature of Old Testament Prophecy in the Light of Recent Study," The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the O. T. (London 1952). a. neher, Amos: Contribution à l'étude du prophétisme (Paris 1950). w. s. mccullough, "Some Suggestions about Amos," Journal of Biblical Literature 72 (1953) 247–254. j. d. w. watts, "The Origin of the Book of Amos," Expository Times 66 (1954–55) 109–112. a. s. kapelrud, Central Ideas in Amos (Oslo 1961). b. vawter, The Conscience of Israel (New York 1961) 61–97.
[j. k. solari]