[Note: This portion of the course is seminar style, not lecture.  Being in class an interacting with students on the class blog are as important/more important than the material here in preparing for the final exam.]
 
Amos

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.  Note that "former" and "latter" aren't strictly chronological terms.  II Kings took us down to around 600 BC, and as we look at the "latter" prophts, we're going back to earlier events.

The 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 (781-745) and Isaiah (740-698). But in the "former prophets" we tend to get more on the prophets lives and on their interaction with others, and with the "latter prophets" we tend to get the reverse.  Isaiah, of course appears in II Kings, so his life and teaching are part of the "former prophets."  The book of Isaiah, though, is in the "latter prophets."  Nice and confusing, yes?  Something of a burden?  Well, that's our next theme, the burden of the prophets.  We'll focus on the way the prophets's messages are burdens to us, i.e., the way they present us with some difficulties.  But will look more at the way these messages  were burdens for the prophets and for the people interacting with them.

As the latter prophets give their messages, they often refer to them directly 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?  That specific term comes from the Greek words  "pro" and "phemi," which together mean, "to speak forth."

There are three Hebrew terms for such men

–Ish Elohim (man of God)
–Ra’a (seer)
–Navi (call, proclaim)

Some basic questions point to the difficulty of the prophet's lot:

  1. How does one become a prophet?
  2. How is a prophet different from a priest?  Why would prophecy be more difficult than priesthood?
  3. 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?
  4. 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, whose name, by the way, translates to "burden"!  He is old by God to go up to Israel.  Is this easy to do?  Or would it have been 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" Questions:

  1. Why does he start with other nations?
  2. Why the formula, for three transgressions and four?

Note his specific concerns:

  1. The righteous sold for silver
  2. The poor sold for pair of shoes 
  3. Greed: for even the dust on poor man’s head 
  4. Sexual sin, especially prostitution (the result, of course, of debt) 
  5. Alcohol

Note, by the way, message of judgement in vineyards.  There's a good reason for this: the wealth coming from possession of vineyards came through exploitation.

Note also the reaction of the people 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 class, we'll spend a lot of time looking at the images and playing a "What do you see?" theater game.]

Amos gift for language helps a lot in helping him get people to see what they don' want to see.  Some especially striking passages:

In 4:4, Amost tells the people of Israel to  "come to Bethel, and transgress" and to "multiply your transgressions at Gilgal."  Why is this so striking?  Well, Gilgal and Bethel were traditional holy sites.  It's Bethel where Jacob sees the ladder.  Joshua's monument was at Gilgal.  Both Bethel and Gilgal were on Samuel's route--and Gilgal was the place Elijah had ascended into heaven.  This is like saying "Come to Sacred Heart and transgress,"  or "come to Bethlehem Lutheran and sin a whole lot." 

In 5:4, Amos calls for a more difficult approach to religion.   Seek *me*, not Bethel, says God.  But how does one seek God?  Read 5:12-15.

1For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.
13 Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.
14 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.

Also a burden, for Amos and those that here him, a theme in Amos 6:1 and repeated elswhere.  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.  First locusts.  No, Lord.  Not that.  Fire.  No, Lord, not that.  And finally, a plumb line.  A measure.  Justice.  And Amos has to accept that.

But the people he’s listening to don’t have to accept the message, as we see in  7:12-17.  Amaziah–a priest--steps forward to confront Amos.  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!

11 For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.
12 Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:
13 But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court.
14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:
15 And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.
16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the Lord: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac.
17 Therefore thus saith the Lord; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.

Note also the true attitude of the supposedly religious Israelites (Amos 8:4-6).

Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,
Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.
Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.

Amos is a bleak book, and yet, it's not a book without hope.  Judgement has a purpose: purification.  See the final chapter 9:8-15.

For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.
11 In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:
12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this.
13 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.
14 And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
15 And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.