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. Outwardly, the 8th century BC seemed a time of peace and prosperity for Israel and Judah. But all was not well. Before the century was over, the Assyrians would destroy the former, and all but destroy the latter.
Please read all of Amos, Isaiah 1-11, Isaiah 36-39, and as much as you can of Isaiah 40-66. Look especially for things that would have made the messages of these prophets a burden. Look also for passages that show that the burdens were worth bearing. Note especially passages that reflect hope, beauty, and faith in the triumph of justice.
Unfortunately, reading these books may be somewhat of a burden for you. Amos is bleak: the message he gives, necessary as it may be, is not a pleasant one. Isaiah, too, is filled with the stark message of God’s judgment. However, the book contains some of the most beautiful words ever written as well. The trick is organization. It is very difficulty, perhaps impossible, the figure out the overall structure of the book on your own at a first reading. It’s probably best to think of the book as a collection of prophetic texts or, perhaps, as a collection of prophetic poems. Read it as you would an anthology of poems rather than as a novel or epic, and you’ll probably have fewer difficulties.
1. What exactly is a prophet? How does one become a prophet? How is a prophet different from a priest? Why would prophecy be more difficult than priesthood?
2. 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?
3. How would other people know one was truly a prophet of God? Could they ever know for sure?
4. Amos is called to prophesy in Israel rather than his native Judah. Would this make his job easier or harder? Why?
5. Amos begins his message with a series of warnings to people around Israel: the Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, etc. Why do you suppose he does this?
6. What is the significance of the formula, “For three transgressions, and for four.., I will not turn away the punishment thereof”?
7. What are the specific sins Amos warns against?
8. Why does Israel want the Nazarites to drink wine, and why do they order the prophets not to prophecy?
9. What images does Amos use to get his message across? Are any of these images particularly disturbing? Are any of them particularly effective?
10. What does Bethel stand for in Amos’ message? What was Bethel originally? Why does Amos so strongly condemn a place of such historical importance to the Hebrew faith?
11. Does Amos seem to enjoy giving his message? Does he find any of it particularly troublesome?
12. Does the priest Amaziah have the right to send Amos packing back to Judah? Why, or why not? Would you think it right for a man who calls himself a prophet to visit your place of worship and say things your pastor/priest/rabbi doesn’t approve?
13. Is there anything at all pleasant or joyful in Amos’ message?
14. Read carefully Isaiah 1. What would be particularly burdensome in the message Isaiah preaches here?
15. What about Isaiah 2? What is particularly burdensome in this chapter?
16. What is Isaiah’s relationship to other religious and political leaders? What is there in these relationships that adds to his burden?
17. Notice Isaiah’s messages of woe, i.e., unhappiness. Who does he call unhappy? Why? What would these people typically have thought of themselves?
18. What do you make of Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 6? Is it a burden to deal with such visions? Why, or why not? How does it affect a man to see such things? Would it make life more difficult or easier? Would it make prophecy more difficult or easier?
19. What’s going on with all the strange names Isaiah gives his children? Shearjashub? Mahershalalhashbaz? Are these names you would choose for your kids? No? What names would you choose if you were a prophet?
20. What are the “Immanuel” passages about? What they have made sense to Ahaz? To Isaiah himself?
21. Why the messages to Babylon, Assyria, Moab, etc.?
22. What would the reign of Hezekiah been like for a man like Isaiah (cf. Chapters 36-39)? Are there still difficulties for a prophet during the reign of a good king?
23. As you read the final chapters of Isaiah, what themes/images
stand out to you as particular beautiful/particularly hopeful? What
do you find here that makes Isaiah’s message particularly worth bearing?