Bible blog 2183

Listen to this word which Adonai has spoken against you, people of Isra’el, against the entire family that I brought up from the land of Egypt:

“Of all the families on earth,
only you have I intimately known.
This is why I will punish you
for all your crimes.”
Do two people travel together
without having so agreed?
Does a lion roar in the forest
when it has no prey?
Does a young lion growl in his lair
if it has caught nothing?
Does a bird get caught in a trap on the ground
if it hasn’t been baited?
Does a trap spring up from the ground
when it has taken nothing?
When the trumpet is blown in the city,
don’t the people tremble?
Can disaster befall a city
without Adonai’s having done it?
Adonai, God, does nothing without
revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared. Who will not fear?
Adonai, God, has spoken. Who will not prophesy?

As can be seen in my previous two blogs, I am interpreting this book as the result of an editor using material by Amos (8th cent BCE) to guide his own contemporaries (5th/4th cents BCE), a time when Israel was a small kingdom menaced by great powers. The editor is convinced that the faith of Amos can inspire his people to genuine trust in God and the creation of a just society.

In the dramatic passage above, Amos gives a glimpse of the passionate engagement with events which has made him a prophet, a nabi, someone who announces the will of God to the people. Amos suggests that the prophet, unlike most people, is not content merely with what he sees and hears. Events for him have a hidden connection with their causes. The lion’s roar is connected with the fact the it has cornered its prey. The bird falling into the trap is connected with the fact that a hunter has baited it. Those who only notice the lion’s roar or the trapped bird are only seeing half the story. The culminating example scorns the idea that the misfortunes which hit cities are simple accidents: they are the judgement of God.

The fact that all the other examples are of hunters and their prey suggests that God the hunter is ceaselessly and quietly prowling after societies that have turned to evil. The justice of God is woven into the structure of worldly events, and only the prophet, who keeps his appointments with God, knows how to interpret them.

Can two people travel together

Without having so agreed?

The hidden God needs his prophet as much as the prophet needs his God.

God’s announcement that Israel is specially close to him, is of course the taken -for -granted faith of all its people. But the devastating corollary must have been new: that is why I will punish you for all your crimes! Surely a people’s God is meant to favour them whatever they do. Amos uses the Hebrew verb yada’, which is also used of sexual intercourse between man and woman. The translation “intimately known” is therefore right, pointing to the passionate engagement of Adonai with his people. God travels with them, suffering and punishing their betrayals, rescuing them from disaster, always the hidden partner of their history. The prophet trembles before his experience of this God:

The lion has roared; who will not fear?

Adonai God has spoken; who will not prophesy?

The editor has chosen to transmit the authentic experience of the ancient prophet to his readers in their time, hoping that its truth will not be lost, thus doing a service to all subsequent readers of this astonishing text.

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