So far in the course we’ve looked at two sections of the Bible. We looked at the Torah, and then at the books Christians call histories and Jews call the former prophets. We now look at the what the Jews call the latter prophets, the prophets who give their names to specific books of the Bible.
These latter prophets are in many ways like the former prophets, like Elijah and Elisha for instance. The latter prophets, however, seem to have been especially concerned with the preservation of their messages for later generations, taking care to record their messages on scrolls and to have these scrolls preserved for later generations. Elijah and Elisha, of course, may have done this as well, and there isn’t all that clear a break between prophets like Elijah and Elisha and prophets like Amos and Isaiah. But with the former, we have much of their lives and only fragments of their message: with the latter we have much of their message and only fragments on their lives.
As the latter prophets give their messages, they frequently refer to them as “burdens,” and it’s clear that, in many ways, these messages were burdens. But, as one looks closely at the messages, one sees that the prophetic burdens were burdens worth bearing. This is particularly clear when one looks at Amos and Isaiah.
Now being a prophet is probably not an easy thing even in the best of times. The prophets not is not a happy one.... Why?
*Well, what is exactly is a prophet?
Greek: "pro phemi"
Three Hebrew terms:
–Ish Elohim (man of God)
–Navi (call, proclaim)
*How does one become a prophet?
*How is a prophet different from a priest? Why would prophecy be more difficult than priesthood?
* How would one ever know for sure one was truly a prophet of God? Could one ever know for sure? Do the prophets seem to have doubts about their mission and message?
* How would other people know one was truly a prophet of God? Could they ever know for sure?
Being a prophet not easy in the best of times. In fact, it is especially not easy in the best of times, when things are apparently going well. And this is, I think, the beginning of what makes what Amos and Isaiah have to say burdensome.
Amos and Isaiah were contemporaries and they address the same problems. Both of them have the difficult task of bringing a message of judgment to people who are complacent in their sense of well-being and rightness before God.
Amos gave his message during the reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel (781-741 BC). Jeroboam had been enormously successful militarily. He had beaten the Syrians, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. Meanwhile, Judah had beaten the Edomites. And there was peace between Israel and Judah. Between them, Israel and Judah controlled virtually all the land controlled by David and Solomon. Happy days are here again!
And, furthermore, the reign of Jeroboam II was a time of unprecedented wealth. An agricultural revolution had made farmland much more profitable than ever before. Wine and oil for export much better than the old grain crops! And this stimulated trade as well.
Further, religious worship looked impressive as well. A regular system of splendid sacrifices made at places like Bethel, the place where Jacob hand seen God...well, no doubt that would assure God’s continued favor.
But, despite appearances, all was not really well. Politically, instability was just below the surface. Hostilities might break out with any of Israel’s neighbors. And then there was the growing threat of Assyria...the nation that would eventually destroy Israel and almost destroy Judah.
Further, there were all sorts of problems within Israel. The agricultural revolution had meant wealth for some, but it had left other impoverished: sold into debt slavery. And the legal system had been distorted in favor of the rich. Add to this moral deterioration, and, to anyone with eyes to see, Israel was headed to destruction.
Enter Amos. A herdsman of Tekoa in Judah. Told by God to go up to Israel. Easy to do? Or easier to prophesy at home?
Amos begins his message with a series of warnings to people around Israel: the Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, etc. For three transgressions, and for four.., I will not turn away the punishment thereof”?
*Why does he start with other nations?
*Why the formula, for three transgressions and four?
Note specific concerns:
–Righteous sold for silver
–Poor sold for pair of shoes
–Greed: dust on poor man’s head
–Sexual sin: prostitution (result, of course, of debt)
(Note, by the way, message of judgement in vineyards...A good reason for this: vineyards wealth built on exploitation.)
Note also reaction of Israel: They want the Nazarites to drink wine, and the prophets not to prophesy. *Why??
Notice that its going to be very hard to drive the message home, so like all prophets, Amos has to find very strong images to make sure his message can’t be forgotten. [In groups: find images]
4:4 Come to Bethel, and transgress (come to Sacred Heart, and transgress...)
5:4 Seek *me*, not Bethel
How does one seek God? Read 5:12-15.
Amos 6:1 Repeated theme: Woe unto those that are at ease
Now notice that Amos isn’t very happy with his message. In Chapter 7, he sees God’s judgment: Locusts. No, Lord. Not that. Fire. No, Lord, not that. And finally, a plumb line. A measure. Justice. And Amos has to accept.
But the people he’s listening to don’t have to accept! 7:12-17. Look at Amaziah–a priest! And what does he say? Don’t prophesy here...it’s the king’s chapel!! Well, that’s honest at least...it’s not God’s!
Note also the true attitude of the supposedly religious Israelites (Isaiah 8:4-6).
A bleak book...and yet, not without hope. Judgement has a purpose:
purification. See final chapter 9:8-15.