THE LORD says, I destroyed the Emori before them;
though tall as cedars and strong as oaks,
I destroyed their fruit above
and their root below.
10 More than that, I brought you up from Egypt,
led you forty years in the desert,
so that you could have the Emori’s land.
11 I raised up some of your sons to be prophets,
other young men of yours to be nazareem.
People of Isra’el!
Isn’t that true?” asks Adonai.
12 But you gave the nazareem wine to drink
and ordered the prophets, ‘Don’t prophesy!’
13 “Enough! I will make all this crush you,
just as a cart overloaded with grain
crushes what’s under it.
14 Even the swift won’t be able to flee;
the strong won’t be able to use their strength,
the warriors won’t defend themselves.
15 Archers won’t be able to stand,
the fastest runners won’t outrun disaster,
those on horses won’t rescue themselves.
16 On that day even the bravest warriors
will throw off their weapons and run,” says Adonai.
From the Complete Jewish Bible, altered by me
This passage continues the opening diatribe, in which the editor has used possibly ancient prophecies of Amos (8th century BCE) to confront the Israel of his own time 5/4 century BCE. Adonai has acted like a good Mafia don in giving Israel lands which originally belonged to others, having liberated them from slavery in Egypt. Adonai has also provided prophets to communcate his wishes, and nazareem, guilds of young men devoted to his service by vowing not to cut their hair, or drink alcohol. Naturally, these benefits should have bound Israelites to Adonai’s worship and laws. But they had treated their benefactor with contempt, piling up a load of transgressions under which their kindly God will crush them.
The supernatural force of God’s revenge will be seen in the fact that all natural means of defence will be rendered useless: all warlike skills will count for nothing against the anger of the slighted boss man.
Again, we should marvel at the characterisation of Adonai, through his words. The bad- tempered benefactor remembers his own favours and his people’s lack of gratitude all too clearly. No one should mess with the God of Amos, or imagine that their disobedience will will go unpunished.
It’s worth asking how this prophetic characterisation of God arose. Doubtless the people of Israel believed that God was a giver of gifts, most importantly the gift of their land, and that he should be honoured by temple worship. Probably their faith went no further than that. How did the more severe prophetic faith arise? Doubtless some noticed that things didn’t always go well for Israel/ Judah. Sometimes the enemy won the battle, sometimes the harvest failed. How could Adonai let this happen? The prophet’s answer, which preserved the reputation of God, was that the people had sinned and were being punished. They had worshipped idols and failed to maintain the social justice that Adonai required.
Even those originally tongue-lashed by Amos might have preferred to believe him rather than to think that Adonai was unreliable or non-existent. It’s only later in books like Job or Ecclesiates that the notion of an unreliable God is seriously examined by the Jewish people. The editor of the book of Amos, who knew of the terrible years of exile in Babylon, may have been responding to popular doubts of God, by making Amos’s punitive certainties available to his people: God has not failed Israel, but Israel has failed God. The people should stick to simple faith and obedience rather than asking fancy questions. It’s a message which may have popular appeal in our own times.