Bible blog 2184

AMOS 3: 10

Proclaim it on the palaces in Ashdod
and on the palaces in the land of Egypt; say:
‘Assemble yourselves on the hills of Shomron!
See what great tumult is seething within it,
how much oppression is being done there.’
10 For they don’t know how to do right,” says Adonai.
“They store up violence and robbery in their palaces.”

11 Therefore, here is what Adonai God says:

An enemy will surround the land.
He will strip you of your strength,
and plunder your palaces.”

12 This is what Adonai says:

13 “As a shepherd rescues from the mouth of a lion
a couple of leg bones or a piece of an ear;
so the people of Isra’el in Shomron will be rescued,
Who now loll upon cushions in the corners of their beds.

“Hear, and testify against the house of Ya‘akov,”
says Adonai God the Lord of armies
14 “For when I punish Isra’el’s crimes,
I will also punish the altars of Beit-El.
The horns of the altar will be cut off,
and they will fall to the ground.

15 I will tear down winter houses
as well as summer houses;
houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed;
the mansions will be no more,” says Adonai. 

Listen, you lovely cows of Bashan,
who live on Mount Shomron,
who oppress the poor and grind down the needy,
who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink’:
Adonai God has sworn by his holiness
that your time is surely coming.

You will be dragged away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks.
You will leave through breaks in the wall,
each woman right behind the next,
and be sent off to Harmonah,” says Adonai.

“Come to Beit-El, and commit crimes;
to Gilgal, and commit more crimes!
Bring your sacrifices in the morning
and your tithes after three days;
burn leavened bread as a thank offering;
brag in public about your voluntary offerings;
because that’s what you love to do, Isra’el!”
says Adonai God,

I made your teeth clean of food in all your cities,
left you nothing to eat in all your villages;
still you haven’t returned to me,” says Adonai.

I withheld the rain from you
three months before the harvest.
I made it rain on one city
and not on another —
one field had rain,
while another with no rain dried up;
from two or three cities they would stagger to one city
for water to drink, but there wasn’t enough;
still you haven’t returned to me,” says Adonai.

I struck your crops with hot winds and blight,
your many gardens and vineyards;
the cutter-worms devoured
your fig and olive trees;
still you haven’t returned to me,” says Adonai.

10 “I sent a plague on you like that of Egypt,
put your young men to death with the sword;
let your horses be captured;
and filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps;
still you haven’t returned to me,” says Adonai.
11 “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gamorra;
you were like a burning stick snatched from the fire;
still you haven’t returned to me,” says Adonai.

12 “This is why I will deal with you in this way, Isra’el;
and because I will deal with you in this way,
prepare to meet your God, Isra’el —
13 him who forms mountains and creates wind,
who declares to humankind his thoughts,
who turns the morning to darkness
and strides on the heights of the earth —
Adonai God of armies is his name.”

Again, as I read this aloud, I am reminded what a splendid rant it is, even in English – strong, vivid, passionate, angry: this is the response of a spurned God as heard / imagined by Amos, with probably some additions from the editor who lived some centuries later. Most scholars see verse 13 as an addition, which however suits its context very well.

The prophet is told by God to summon the powerful people of Assyria and Egypt to look down from the hills of Shomron (Samaria) on the riots and acts of oppression in what was then part of Israel. In the editor’s day it was perhaps seen as almost foreign (Samaritans) and certainly as heretical. Their crimes are laconically summarised as “ they don’t know how to do right” (where the Hebrew translated “right” means “straight” as of a road) because they deal in violence and robbery. These words should be taken together to describe the kind of society where the powerful prey on the weak. Even gentile nations will be able to see their corruption.

God’s punishment will be carried out by foreign armies whose conquest of Israel is sarcastically described as leaving behind a tattered remnant like the scraps of a animal left by a lion after its meal. Adonai’s anger is especially directed at the great sanctaury of Beit El, associated with Jacob, which was in the editor’s time however viewed as a centre of idolatry. It shall be destroyed along with the elegant houses of the affluent classes.

The prophet then turns to the affluent women of Shomron, calling them cows. This gross insult is not lessened if we add the word lovely, because the cattle of Bashan were considered excellently sleek. Their luxurious lifestyle will be ended when they are dragged away by the conquereors to be slaves, which was the usual fate of the women of a defeated enemy. It”s hard to deny that there is a certain glee evident in this prophecy.

The next target is the religious cult of Beit-El and Gilgal which may have been orthodox centres of worship in the time of Amos, but were seen as idolatrous by the editor for whom there was only one centre, Jerusalem. The prophet ironically equates religious duties with crimes, so that the more the people crowd into these centres the more they add to their crimes. Amos is targetting formal religion which has no ethical or social entailments. We should note that the formalites include faithful tithing and other offerings which were not without cost. These worshippers would have indignantly rejected Amos’s criticism.

God boasts that he has already brought minor and not so minor disasters on Israel by way of warning, and all to no avail: famine, drought, blight, mildew, locusts, disease, defeat in battle, and volcanic eruption, all these have been the gentle promptings of God but people have not turned to him! We might wonder if anyone would want such a God, but Israel is not given the choice. If they will make no move towards their God, he, in his terrible anger, will move towards them. A later hand, perhaps that of the editor, has added words which depict the cosmic power of the “God of armies”, a phrase which depicts the original function of this God as One who led his people in battle.

Probably we should note that this chapter in the KJV contains the phrase most beloved of miserable street evangelists, “Prepare to meet thy God!”

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