Few Old Testament books connect more with the contemporary realities of our world than Amos. The book begins by pronouncing divine judgment on nations for what we today call human rights abuses and crimes against humanity, certainly not issues limited to ancient times. Then the spotlight shifts to God's people as Amos delivers a blistering attack on Israel for five interrelated failures. This "Israel" is the Northern Kingdom of the divided nation that includes "Judah" in the south. The wealthy and powerful blatantly exploit and oppress the poor and vulnerable (2:6-8; 4:1; 8:4-6). This elite class also benefits from the "normal" functioning of an economic system that "naturally" channels wealth into their pockets, enabling them to live a selfish life of conspicuous consumption while caring little for the less fortunate (3:15; 6:1, 4-6). Besides controlling the economy, the elite class also co-opts the legal system in its own favor, making it is impossible for weak and marginalized persons to get justice (5:10-12, 15). Israel's religion focuses on spectacles of public worship rather than calling for just and righteous living, thereby lending divine legitimation to this entire corrupt system (5:21-24). God has attempted various means to confront Israel with her shortcomings and call for a reorientation of life, all to no avail (4:6-11; 5:4, 14-15, 24). Hence, Israelite society stands under harsh divine judgment.
The book of Amos stresses that as sovereign Lord of the universe God holds even secular and non-Christian nations accountable to basic principles of human decency in the arena of international affairs and even warfare. Amos reminds us that because of the grace and revelation God has showered upon the community of faith, God holds us accountable to even higher standards of righteousness (2:9-11; 3:2). Amos challenges contemporary Western Christians, many of whom belong to the world's elite class, to confront the abusive tactics used to oppress weaker members of the community, whether these be poor immigrants, or dispossessed indigenous peoples, or the descendants of former slaves, or persons with various social and physical disadvantages. Amos challenges us to analyze how economic and political structures that we take for granted may systematically siphon wealth and resources out of the pockets of the poor in both our own society and in other parts of the globe, making possible the wasteful, self-indulgent lifestyle of a western society that consumes far more than its fair share of the wealth and resources of God's good creation. Amos challenges us to examine how our legal systems, both domestic and international, protect the interests of the world's upper classes and sometimes stand in the way of justice for the poor. Amos challenges us to ask whether Christian faith and worship serve to legitimate existing injustices or if they call us to a life of discipleship that seeks just social structures and radical sharing of wealth and resources. Amos challenges us to discern and heed the prophetic voices that God may be using to convict us of the particular routes to judgment that we may be following.
Throughout most of church history the book of Amos was largely ignored because it does not predict the coming of Jesus or other events of the Christian era. Such prediction is what many commentators were looking for in Old Testament prophetic books. With the growing conviction beginning in the late nineteenth century that God calls Christians to embody justice and righteousness in social, political, and economic life, the book of Amos has become a valuable and popular resource for Christians committed to social justice as an essential component of Christian discipleship.
Date, Author, Setting
The book of Amos begins with a typical introduction to a prophetic book, linking the prophet's ministry to the kings ruling at the time: Jeroboam II (c. 786–746 BCE) in the Northern Kingdom and Uzziah (c. 792–740 BCE) in Judah. Amos prophecies the utter destruction of the nation, carried out all too thoroughly by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. But the book references none of the political chaos that characterized the final years of the Northern Kingdom such as we see in the book of Hosea, for example (7:1-11). Therefore, Amos's ministry is generally dated to somewhere between 760–750 BCE, when the Assyrian threat is already on the horizon but not yet evident to everyone. While the book contains little evidence regarding the length of Amos's ministry, the book provides more of a snapshot of conditions in Israel than a documentary of events and circumstances over a period of time, such as we see in the much longer book of Jeremiah, for example. Hence, it is often speculated that Amos's ministry was brief, perhaps lasting as little as a few months, though there is minimal evidence on which to base any claim.
Because of contemporary interest in biography and human psychology, commentators often seek to glean information from the book about the historical Amos, even though such information carries minimal theological significance. Prophetic books typically obscure the life of the prophet, lest the light shine on the life of the prophet rather than on God's Word communicated by that prophet. The book's introduction informs us that Amos was a sheep-breeder from Tekoa (1:1), a village in Judah some ten miles south of Jerusalem. Amos's geographic roots make it odd that he would prophesy to the Northern Kingdom, a separate political entity since the death of Solomon some one hundred and sixty years earlier (922 BCE). This anomaly indicates how, despite political boundaries, God and God's prophets consider both Judah and the Northern Kingdom to be one single people under God.
The only time Amos speaks about himself in the book he denies being a professional prophet who earns his living by prophesying. Rather, he refers to himself as a herdsman and caretaker of sycamore figs (7:14-15). Apparently, Amos was a farmer engaged in caring for small livestock and fig trees and perhaps also the grains, fruits, and vegetables characteristic of subsistence farming. Amos's agricultural background and livelihood mean that he was not trained as a professional prophet in the employ of a king or religious sanctuary. Therefore, he must have had a very significant call experience that compelled him to leave his home and take up the challenging role of prophet (7:15). The brevity of this call account indicates that it is not the prophet's experience that is significant but what he speaks on God's behalf. However, Amos's agricultural background does play a significant role in that the book is permeated with rural and farming images. It displays both a deep sympathy for the struggles of rural peasants and an equally deep outrage at how the urban elite oppress this peasantry. It seems that when God calls a prophet, God utilizes the raw materials of the prophet's life to communicate the divine message.
Some commentators claim that the entire book of Amos reflects the words and ministry of the historical Amos. However, a more common view is that the collection of Amos materials was supplemented and updated by the later community of faith in Judah, which claimed to hear God speaking through these materials and sought to make them more relevant to changed circumstances. There are numerous theories as to which sections of the book derive from Amos and which have been added by later disciples and editors. The lack of scholarly consensus indicates that the book lacks sufficient information to compile a history of its composition, as simple or complex as this process may have been. Theologically, the issue of authorship is often overemphasized. The church and synagogue do not claim that they regard as authoritative the words of the historical Amos. Rather, church and synagogue declare that the book of Amos in its current form is authoritative Scripture. Hence, interpretation should focus on the meaning of the words rather than their reputed origins.
It is generally believed that Amos prophesied at a time of relative peace and prosperity for the Northern Kingdom. After more than a century of conflict with the Arameans (Syrians) to the northeast that had sapped Israel's resources, Syria was occupied with other threats. This allowed Jeroboam II to expand his nation's territory and benefit from controlling valuable trade routes. Thriving trade and commerce contributed to the rise of an urban wealthy class that enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle and dwellings (3:15; 5:11; 6:4-6). Religious zeal expressed itself in impressive ritual and sacrifice (4:4-5; 5:21-23). The wealth and prosperity of ruling elite are often built on the backs of the poor, and it is precisely this dynamic of oppression and unequal distribution of wealth that Amos unflinchingly exposes and condemns.
Form and Rhetoric
The book of Amos is composed of short, hard-hitting oracles (prophetic speeches in the form of poetry), placed one after the other without comment or historical context provided. This makes it challenging for readers to know exactly what situations or events are referred to by specific texts. The book contains repeated references to God speaking, and the "I" of most of the oracles is God, indicating how the book portrays Amos as speaking directly for God. Even when the voice in the text is that of the prophet, the implication is still that Amos is delivering God's message not his own opinions.
For a short book, Amos displays a variety of forms of communication. The book opens with oracles concerning the nations framed in a "For three and for four" format, typically characteristic of wisdom literature (Proverbs 30:18-31). A series of prophetic judgment speeches follow, using harsh language to portray both the nation's sin and its devastating destruction. The transition from description of the sin to description of the punishment is sometimes marked by the word "therefore," communicating that the punishment fits the crime (3:11; 4:12; 5:11, 16; 6:7; 7:17). A series of rhetorical questions lead to the conclusion that God has roared and therefore Amos has no option but to prophesy (3:3-8). At one point, Amos utters a funeral dirge over Israel (5:1-2), which functions like the Mafia publishing a living person's obituary in the newspaper. Several woe oracles, probably associated with rituals of mourning, add to the atmosphere of death (5:18-20; 6:1-3; 6:4-7). A series of vision reports, all portraying terrifying destruction, form the core of 7:1–9:10. The book contains one narrative that reports how the priest Amaziah at the royal shrine seeks to silence Amos (7:10-17). This story demonstrates Israel's negative response to God's message, the utter failure of its religious system, and the fact that God's prophetic word will not be silenced. The book concludes with an oracle of deliverance (9:11-15), which stands in stark contrast to everything else in the book, but which is enormously significant theologically (as will be discussed below).
Scholars have devised various outlines of the book's content, a common one being:
- 1:1-2 Introduction
- 1:3–2:16 Punishment of the nations and Israel
- 3:1–6:14 Hear (3:1; 4:1; 5:1) God's words of judgment on Israel
- 7:1-9:10 Visions of Israel's destruction
- 9:11-15 Restoration
Summary and Comment
The book's introduction anchors the message of Amos to a particular historical context, namely the reigns of King Jeroboam II in northern Israel and King Uzziah in Judah. Prophets did not voice timeless philosophy or theology but spoke concretely about what God was about to in a particular hour of history in response to a particular set of historical circumstances. On the other hand, there is also a process of dehistoricization at work in the book of Amos and other prophetic books, as much of the message is no longer directly linked to particular historical circumstances as was originally true of the prophetic oracles. For example, when Amos threatens conquest by a foreign enemy, the name "Assyria" never appears, even though historically that enemy was obviously Assyria. The effect of omitting "Assyria" is to declare that Assyrian conquest is not the real issue. The point is that whenever God's people are unfaithful in the ways that Amos identifies, then "prepare to meet your God" (4:12). The editors and compilers of the prophetic books were convinced that God's Word spoken through a prophet into a specific historical context never lost its relevance but accompanied Israel on its journey of faith. Thus, the prophetic books are anchored to history, often by their introductions, but the message is also somewhat dehistoricized so that it can more easily be appropriated by the faith community in an ongoing way.
Amos's opening words set a terrifying tone for the rest of the book. The God who once offered protection to Israel through his "inhabiting" of Mount Zion becomes an enraged lion roaring (cf. 3:4, 8, 12; 5:19) from the Jerusalem temple. This sets in motion a devastating drought that withers even the pastures on the slopes of Mount Carmel, one of the last places to be affected by drought because of its elevation and location beside the Mediterranean Sea (1:2). The rest of the book will demonstrate what God's roaring sounds like.
Punishment of the Nations and Israel, 1:3–2:16
Typically, prophetic oracles pronouncing punishment upon the nations function to reassure Israel that God will ultimately remove the threat of foreign enemies. In Amos, however, they function to portray an overwhelming military devastation that will engulf both neighboring peoples and Israel. Perhaps the order of the oracles is meant to make the reader imagine an Israelite audience applauding as Amos pronounces judgment upon enemy after enemy, thereby seducing the audience into self-condemnation as Amos turns the tables and aims the longest and climactic oracle of judgment at Israel.
The series of eight oracles use a numerical format typical of wisdom literature, "For three transgressions…, and for four . . ." The rhetorical point is that punishment comes only after the nation's multitude of sins has exhausted God's patience, the particular sin named being the one that puts the nation's offenses over the top (Guenther: 245). Each oracle has a similar structure.
Introductory numerical refrain Reason for punishment Description of punishment (military destruction, usually depicted using fire imagery) Says the LORD (not always present)
Amos accuses the neighboring nations of a variety of offenses, but in the words of Allan Guenther, all violate "the UN charter of human rights" (257). The crimes against humanity committed by the nations include conquest of a neighboring people's territory (1:3), selling entire communities into slavery (1:6, 9), military aggression against a related nation (1:11), war atrocities against women (1:13), and desecrating the body of a dead king (2:1), thereby dishonoring the entire nation, similar to the effect of robbing an American president's grave and burning the body. The oracles concerning the nations make two significant implicit claims. The first is that Israel's God is the sovereign Lord of the universe and as such holds all peoples accountable for their actions. The second is that even though the nations are not in a covenant relationship with God that includes revelation of God's will for human life, God expects them to live up to some basic "universal" standards of human decency that ought to prevent atrocities against fellow human beings.
The oracle against Judah (2:4-5) is unique in that it contains only the general accusation that the people have rejected God's Torah (teaching, guidance, instruction). Three factors lead many scholars to suggest that this Judah oracle comes from later than the time of Amos: the generality of the oracle, the fact that Amos was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom not Judah, and the fact that the series now contains eight oracles instead of seven, the Hebrew number of completion and perfection. The oracle may represent an editorial attempt to include Judah in the target audience of the book at a time when the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed and editors wanted the people of Judah to embrace the book.
The length of the Israel oracle, its much longer list of offences, and its climactic position at the end of the entire series, indicate that Israel is where Amos wants to shine the spotlight. Whereas the sins of the nations are national and military, Israel's sins are domestic and social. The exact nature of her offences is not always clear, but it is obvious that they concern social injustice, including the wealthy selling poor folks into slavery for inability to repay minor debts (2:6), general oppression of the poor (2:7), male abuse of vulnerable women (2:7), and unjust extortion of money and clothes from the poor (2:8). The reason Israel is held accountable to a higher set of standards than the nations is the same reason that makes her sins so reprehensible. God has singled out Israel for a unique relationship and showered her with grace (2:9-11; see also 3:2). Amos spells out Israel's punishment by describing how seven different types of warriors will be unable to escape the enemy (2:14-16). If the entire military apparatus will be destroyed and not even the elite forces escape, what hope is there for ordinary Israelites?
Besides the absolute sovereignty of God, two other key assumptions underlie Amos 1–2. God has a deep concern for the weak, poor, and vulnerable, wherever they may be. Therefore, within the sphere of international politics and even warfare, humans must conduct themselves with basic decency, and respect something like what we today call human rights. Because Israel is God's chosen people who should therefore know the character and will of God, Israel must create a society whose institutions, economy, worship, and everyday social practices embody God's passion for social justice, sharing of economic resources, and desire to create a caring community where the wealthy and powerful do not exploit the weak and vulnerable.
Hear God's Words of Judgment on Israel, 3:1–6:14
Most of the materials in this section oscillate between prophetic accusations and announcements of judgment, and are loosely held together by rubrics like "Hear this word" (3:1; 4:1; 5:1) or "Woe/Alas" (5:18; 6:1, 4). The section opens by addressing the entire people of Israel, emphasizing that their chosenness is the reason God is holding them accountable (3:1-2), the idea being similar to Luke 12:48, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required." Then a series of rhetorical questions affirm the authority of Amos by concluding that the divine lion has roared and therefore Amos has no option but to prophesy (3:3-8) of horrifying invasion, conquest, and plunder (3:9-11), messages that render Israel like a piece of broken furniture or like the remains of a sheep mangled by a lion (3:12).
The wealthy and powerful are singled out as cause of the catastrophe. God will destroy their winter homes (ski chalets), summer homes (cottages at the lake), and mansions (4:15; 5:11), and send into exile the wealthy urban women portrayed as fat cows whose lifestyle of conspicuous consumption requires extraction of wealth from the poor (4:1-3). Later Amos becomes even harsher in condemning the urban elite for their rapacious lifestyle, consuming luxuries while not caring about the welfare of ordinary members of the community (6:1, 4-7). These same elite have co-opted the legal system or "the gate," the open area just inside walled towns where local elders convened to hear and settle community disputes. Power and money ensure that the poor get little justice when they come to the gate with legitimate complaints against powerful persons who are pushing them off their ancestral land or burdening them with an unfair share of local taxation (5:10-12). Amos assumes that if God's people do not structure their society in ways that ensure a relatively equal sharing of material resources, then the community is not worth preserving. There is no evidence that the Israel of Amos's time was any more unjust than other ancient (or contemporary?) societies. The uniqueness of prophets like Amos is that they look beneath a society's apparent wealth and prosperity at the cost, at who is prospering and who is not, and what are the economic, legal, political, and religious dynamics that entrench inequality and injustice.
Amos also delivers a blistering critique of Israel's religious life. Readers sometimes assume that Amos condemns his people for insincere worship, going through the outward motions but lacking inward passion for a relationship with God. However, Amos's critique is that if anything, Israel is too passionate, but its passion is misdirected, focusing on the sacramental aspects of faith such as sacrifice and elaborate worship services. In 4:4-5 he utters a sarcastic imitation of the priestly invitation to come worship and offer sacrifices at the shrines, as the Israelites love to do, but he calls such sacrifices a multiplication of transgressions. In 5:21-24 he gives voice to God's hatred for Israel's energetic worship and generous sacrifices, even calling for an end to what in our day would be worship bands or organ music (5:23). He concludes that what God most desires is justice and righteousness.
Commentators typically, and correctly in my view, claim that Amos could not have opposed all public worship. Biblical faith from beginning to end assumes that corporate worship of God, with the necessary rituals and practices, is both a basic human obligation and essential for a healthy relationship to God. The problem Amos is identifying is a religious life that separates worship from ethics, that separates the quest for a right relationship with God from the quest for right and just social relationships. God despises worship that does not lead to passion for a just, caring, and peaceful society.
Linking a right relationship to God with a right relationship to fellow humans is a biblical theme. This is illustrated already in Old Testament law collections, including the Ten Commandments, which pay close attention to both. When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus cannot give a single answer but feels compelled to cite two Old Testament texts: Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which calls humans to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and Leviticus 19:18, which calls humans to love neighbor as self (Mark 12:28-34). This link between love of God and love of neighbor inspired the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement and sometimes led Anabaptists to critique other Christian traditions for insufficient attention to the relationship between proper worship and faithful discipleship. A hymn by Menno Simons links the two beautifully and profoundly (HWB: 407).
- We are people of God's peace as a new creation.
- Love unites and strengthens us at this celebration.
- Sons and daughters of the Lord, serving one another,
- A new covenant of peace binds us all together.
- We are children of God's peace in this new creation,
- Spreading joy and happiness, through God's great salvation.
- Hope we bring in spirit meek, in our daily living.
- Peace with ev-'ry one we seek, good for evil giving.
- We are servants of God's peace, of the new creation.
- Choosing peace, we faithfully serve with heart's devotion.
- Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace, confidence will give us.
- Christ the Lord is our defense; Christ will never leave us.
Stanza one speaks of "this celebration," which must designate a worship service, and references to the divine-human relationship pervade the hymn. The hymn is also infused with references to the loving, peaceful, serving, caring way of life made possible by a healthy relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
According to Amos, Israel's religion was generating an overly optimistic view of the future. In 5:18-20 he pronounces woe on Israelites who are looking forward to the Day of the Lord. This text is probably the earliest biblical reference to hopes for such a day. This does not designate a literal twenty-four hour period but some indefinite time in the future when God will intervene in human affairs, exercise sovereignty as cosmic king, and set earthly matters right. According to 5:18-20, Israelites were expecting God to intervene on their behalf, perhaps defeating their enemies and granting prosperity and well-being. Amos turns these hopes on their head, stressing that the time of God's intervention will be a day of utter gloom. After Amos, the Day of the Lord, often abbreviated to "that day," becomes an important prophetic theme. Some texts stress that the Day of the Lord brings judgment, as God's intervention sets things right by putting an end to evil and evildoers, while other texts stress that the Day of the Lord brings salvation, as God sets things right by delivering God's people (see 9:11). Hopes for the Day of the Lord eventually evolve into hopes for what the New Testament calls the kingdom or reign of God.
In the middle of his critique of Israel, Amos lists a number of mini-judgments that God has already sent (4:6-11). This passage comes from a time when people assumed divine causality for natural events in a way that is no longer possible or appropriate for us. We must be careful how we use such passages, lest we begin pointing to typhoons, earthquakes, epidemics, and military defeats as acts of divine judgment on specific peoples. But for Amos, because these punishments have not inspired repentance, Israel must now prepare to meet its God, the awesome Creator and Lord of the universe (4:12-13). At the prospect of this meeting Amos can only utter a funeral lament over dead Israel (5:1-2).
The book of Amos is pervaded by the conviction that Israel will not change, and so destruction is inevitable. However, in 5:4-5, 6, 14-15, 24 Amos calls for a genuine seeking of God and God's righteous and just ways, even holding out a faint hope of averting catastrophe (5:15). Some scholars believe that Amos would never have prophesied at all had he not believed that repentance and averting disaster were at least remotely possible (cf. Jonah). Whatever may have been the opinion of the historical Amos, from the perspective of the completed book, there is no possibility of avoiding disaster. Amos's primary mission is to announce God's punishment and the reasons for it rather than calling for repentance as a way to avoid judgment. On the other hand, after the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the formation of the book, the entire book begins to function as a call to repentance. Israel's destruction becomes a vivid object lesson of what can also happen to later generations of the covenant community if they commit the kinds of sins that Amos condemns. Thus, the entire book becomes a call to "Seek good and not evil" (5:14), "establish justice in the gate" (5:15), "let justice roll down like waters" (5:24), and "Seek the LORD and live" (5:6).
Visions of Israel's Destruction, 7:1–9:10
This section is built around a series of five visions. First Amos sees a horrifying locust plague (7:1-3) and then a cosmic fire (7:4-6), both threatening to wipe out the source of Israel's sustenance. But his intercession persuades God to relent. However, in vision three Amos sees God destroy Israel's shrines and royal establishment (7:7-9). Inserted at this point, because of the reference to King Jeroboam (7:9 & 7:10), is the story of the priest Amaziah's attempt to silence Amos for his treasonous words (7:10-17). Such resistance to God on the part of Israel's establishment only calls forth more words of judgment, this time placing the horrible fate of Amaziah and his family squarely in the midst of Israel's equally horrible fate. Two more vision reports (8:1-3; 9:1-4), supplemented by several other judgment speeches, emphasize the destruction of Israel's shrines (8:3; 9:1), the cosmic scope of the disaster (8:8-9; 9:5-6), the withdrawal of God's life-giving Word (8:11-12), and the completeness of Israel's annihilation (8:3; 9:1-4, 9-10).
Because the concluding oracle of deliverance is so unlike anything else in the book, and because it portrays restoration in terms of a revived Davidic kingdom that has already been destroyed (9:11), most commentators ascribe this passage to later editors of the book living in Judah after the destruction of their nation and the Davidic dynasty by the Babylonians. The final shape of the book transcends the vision of the historical Amos and places his message of destruction into a larger theological framework that emphasizes that God's final purpose for God's people is their deliverance and healing (Childs: 407–8). Historical Israel has failed miserably, but hope can be found in the saving ways and purposes of God that will ultimately overpower God's punishment. The conclusion in no way nullifies or even softens the book's message of judgment, nor does it weaken God's demands upon the community of faith to live a just and righteous life, but the conclusion declares that judgment is not God's final Word. Beyond the catastrophe God will re-establish the Davidic dynasty (9:11-12), restore the fortunes of the people, plant them firmly in their land so that they can rebuild (9:14-15), and grant them miraculous agricultural abundance (9:13).
There is a growing awareness that prophecy as a written phenomenon is survival literature (Stulman and Kim: 9-23). It attends to the survivors of the imperial conquests by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and even later Greeks. For a community that had over a period of centuries been invaded, conquered, plundered, exiled, and lost key symbols of its identity such as temple, kingship, land, and political independence, the prophetic literature "seeks to generate hope and a sense of identity in people whose world has collapsed" (Stulman and Kim: 10). The words of the historical Amos were collected, supplemented, and edited into a book that provides meaning for the disaster and addresses survivors' needs for hope, dignity, agency, and forgiveness.
Amos provides a theodicy, a defense of God's goodness and power in the face of massive evil. The book explains why Israel was destroyed while at the same time protecting the absolute sovereignty of God. Typically in the ancient world, a nation's defeat signaled the weakness of its God, but Amos affirms the absolute power of Israel's God (4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6). The sovereignty of God ensures a source of hope and makes ongoing faith possible. If Israel's destruction was due simply to the superior power of the Assyrian military machine, then God's people will always be at the mercy of geo-political forces. The sovereignty of God ensures that Israel must deal first and foremost with God ("prepare to meet your God" 4:12), a God who may temporarily punish, but who is ultimately committed to deliverance (9:11-15). A second feature of Amos's theodicy is self-blame. Catastrophe struck, not primarily because Assyria was an imperialistic power bent on brutal conquest, but because Israel had been unfaithful and therefore deserved God's harsh but just punishment. From modern psychological and theological perspectives, such self-blame is dangerous and unhealthy. We should not blame survivors of physical or sexual abuse for the abuse inflicted on them, and we should be horrified by any suggestion that Auschwitz was generated by the unfaithfulness of European Jews. Yet, Amos and the other prophets do not shrink from such kinds of bold claims. By asserting that the community's suffering is deserved punishment, Amos claims that history is not meaningless, nor is it shaped primarily by empires. History is firmly in the hands of Israel's sovereign God whose purposes both embrace suffering and extend beyond it to a time of future deliverance.
Whether we consider it helpful or unhelpful, self-blame may contribute to a shattered community's empowerment by engendering a sense of agency (Stulman and Kim: 15). If Israel's defeat is due merely to Assyrian military might, then survivors are at the mercy of imperial forces and have little power to impact their situation. If the catastrophe represents God's punishment, then survivors can heed the words of Amos, repent, and reorient their lives in the directions Amos points to. The fate of Amos's initial audience was sealed, but the book of Amos offers a new opportunity for faithful living under the favor of God. In the midst of imperial domination prophetic books like Amos "provide the community a script of nonviolent resistance" (Stulman and Kim: 20). The way to carve out a positive future is not through armed resistance to empire, which would surely be suicidal for a tiny group of Jews. The way forward is to create healthy community in the midst of empire, community centered on loyalty to God, on faithfulness to the ways of this God, and on genuine justice and concern for neighbor.
Recommended Essays in the Commentary
Ba‘al: From Common Noun to Divine Name
Justice and Righteousness
Israelite Religion, Distinctive Features of
Marriage Laws and Customs, Ancient Near East Sources
Prostitution as Sacred Act and Metaphor
The Yahweh-Baal Conflict and the Prophetic Polemic
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|—Published BCBC commentary by Allen R. Guenther|