Bible Blog 2187

AMOS CHAPTER 7 Complete Jewish Bible Version altered by me

“Your wife will become a prostitute”

Here is what Adonai God showed me: he was forming a swarm of locusts as the late crop was starting to come up, the late crop after the hay had been cut to pay the king’s tribute. While they were finishing up eating all the vegetation in the land, I said,

Adonai God, be gentle please!
How will Ya‘akov survive? He’s so small!”

So Adonai was grieved about this. “It won’t happen,” Adonai said.

Next Adonai God showed me this: Adonai God was summoning a judgement by fire. And it consumed the great abyss, and was consuming the land too. But I said,

Adonai God, be gentle, please!
How will Ya‘akov survive? He is so small!”

Adonai was grieved about it. “This too won’t happen,” said Adonai God.

Then he showed me this: Adonai was standing by a wall made with a plumbline, and he had a plumbline in his hand. Adonai asked me, “‘Amos, what do you see?” I answered, “A plumbline.” Then Adonai said,

“I am going to put a plumbline in
among my people Isra’el;
I will never again overlook their offenses.
The high places of Yitz’chak will be desolate,
Isra’el’s sanctuaries will be destroyed,
and I will attack the house
of Yarov‘am with the sword.”

10 Then Amatzyah the priest of Beit-El sent this message to Yarov‘am king of Isra’el, “‘Amos is conspiring against you there among the people of Isra’el, and the land can’t bear all that he’s saying. 11 For ‘Amos says: ‘Yarov‘am will die by the sword, and Isra’el will be led away from their land into exile.’” 12 Amatzyah also said to ‘Amos, “Go away, seer! Go back to the land of Y’hudah! Earn your living there; and prophesy there; 13 but don’t prophesy any more at Beit-El; for this is the king’s sanctuary, a royal temple.”

14 ‘Amos gave this answer to Amatzyah: “I am not trained as a prophet, and I’m not one of the guild prophets — I herd sheep and grow figs. 15 But Adonai took me away from following the flock, and Adonai said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Isra’el.’ 16 So now, hear what Adonai says: ‘You say, “Don’t prophesy against Isra’el, don’t lecture the people of Yitz’chak.”’ 17 Therefore Adonai says this:

‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
your sons and daughters will die by the sword,
your land will be parcelled out with a measuring line,
you yourself will die on unclean soil,
and Isra’el will certainly be exiled from their land.’”

We do not know what materials from the 8th BCE century Amos were in the possession of his 5th century editor; but given the confused editing of some other prophetic books, we can be grateful for the way this one selected clear self-contained episodes from whatever he had, with an eye on his own small, restored, nation of Israel, and especially on those Israelites who were unconvinced about the need to exclude “foreign” Gods and customs. There may have been many offering sacrifices to Adonai God who saw nothing wrong in sacrificing to other Gods also.

We could imagine Amos making his dramatic speech to worshippers at the great shrine of Beit-El, detailing his own interventions against Adonai’s destructive intentions. The threat of locusts was always feared but in this case it would have come after the other “locust” the royal household had taken the first growth. The second vision is of the sort of judgement said to have destroyed the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah, an irruption from the depths, terrible enough to consume the waters under the earth, and the earth itself. The Hebrew word translated “land” has the special sense of “inherited portion or possession” a reminder of that the land has been given by God to his people. In both cases the prophet appeals to Adonai’s compassion, and is rewarded by the grief or compunction of his God, who resolves not to proceed with his punishments. The prophet’s protective tenderness towards the small nation, and God’s responsive mercy, would have been especially cherished by those who lived in the tiny 5th century state of Israel.

But then all tenderness is banished in the next vision. It may surprise the ordinary reader that there is no certainty about the “plumb line” which is confidently present in all translations. The Hebrew word so translated “anak” is not present anyhwere else in the Bible or any ancient Hebrew text. Scholars say tentatively that it means lead or tin, but these are just educated guesses. The Septuagint, the ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek has ‘adamas, which means “something impenetrable”, as in the derived English word adamantine. It could suggest that God is standing in the midst of Jerusalem wielding the divine equivalent of a wrecking ball.

If, on the other hand, we accept the translation “plumbline” the suggestion is that God will notice any and every deviation of Israel from his law and will punish accordingly without any compunction. The concluding judgement is very clear: the shrines and holy places of Israel, which had permitted a casual religion, would be destroyed and Adonai God would wage war on the King.

It’s easy to see why the official priesthood of Israel didn’t take to this man. That’s why the editor departs from visions to include some evidence of their immediate response to his message. The official priest at Beit-El reports to the king about Amos’s activity. He uses the Hebrew verb qashar, which suggests plotting along with others, designating Amos as a political agent. His complaint that “the land can’t bear” what he’s saying, is a polite way of telling the king that people may side with Amos, as he has said what perhaps many think in their hearts – that the King will be defeated and Israel’s population depleted by exile. Amatzyah expresses his scorn for Amos by calling him a chozeh, a seer of visions, probably paid by people for fortune-telling. He tells him to go back to his own nation of Judah and ply his trade there, but never again to interrupt the solemnities at Bethel which is a royal sanctuary. The passage manages to convey the priest’s sense of effortless superiority along with the sort of prissiness which I have only observed in high-ranking ministers of the church.

Amos’s reply begins softly enough. He is not a prophet, nor a member of a prophetic family or guild, nor is prophecy his trade. He, unlike Amatzyah has a useful trade as a herdsman and tender of fig trees. He has not chosen to be a prophet, but been chosen (literally “taken”) by God and commanded to prophesy to Israel. But quickly the words become vehicles of fury: the priest has forbidden him to prophesy against Israel so here’s a prophecy specially for him, “Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, children will be killed, your land sold off, and you will die on foreign (unclean) soil while Israel’s people will go into exile!” It’s a pretty comprehensive reply to the priest of Bethel.

But it raises questions, not only about the faith of Amos, but also about that of the editor. Is the savage anger expressed in this and other utterances of Amos appropriate to God? We know historically, that the defeat of Israel was brought about partly by the policies of its ruler, and even more by the empire-building of the Assyrians, so what is gained by attributing it to God? Does that express anything more than faith in a monster deity who excuses his viciousness by his so-called love for his people, like the USA Vietnam General who said,”To save the city, we had to destroy it.”

We might also hazard a guess that the editor finds it convenient to transmit this wrath of God to his own Israel, to bring them into line, and increase obedience to the Teaching of God.

The prophets turn the theology of the chosen people against the people themselves. “With you only, out of all the nations have I been intimate, says God, THEREFORE YOU ONLY SHALL I PUNISH…” (Amos 1). This theology seems to make perfect sense to Amos. The later prophet Hosea on the other hand, sees the divine lover as unable to reject his people, forgiving and restoring, time and again. It all depends how you use the metaphor of God’s love. I prefer Hosea’s way, but there’s something in me hankers after a God who ensures that the disobedient get seriously stuffed.

You wouldn’t get exposed to this undignified discussion in a proper commentary on Amos.

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