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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Amos - Introduction

Amos is Israel's prophet * of social justice, proclaiming that true religion consists not just of ritual observances but in a moral life based on fair and equitable treatment of all members of society, powerful and powerless alike. This concern for justice lies at the heart of Israel's prophetic movement, but no other prophet expresses it with more passion and substance. Amos demands justice in all areas of society—political ( 6.10 ), judicial ( 5.10, 12 ), and economic ( 8.4–6 )—and mercilessly attacks Israel's elite for their abuse of power ( 4.1, 6.1 ). He believes Israel's religious assemblies, sacred music, and elaborate sacrifices are pointless without principled and ethical behavior in daily affairs ( 5.21–24 ). And he regards the demise of Israelite society as the inevitable outcome of its internal corruption and injustices ( 5.6–7 ). The power of social justice in the imagination of Western society derives in large part from Israel's prophets and from Amos's passionate appeals in particular.

The book of Amos contains one brief narrative * about an event in his career ( 7.10–17 ) and several reports of his visions ( 7.1–9; 8.1–3; 9.1–4 ), but the book is primarily made up of short judgment speeches with a simple two-part structure: an indictment listing Israel's sins, and a sentence of judgment prescribing God's punishment for these sins. This structure is clearly visible, for example, in Amos's speech to the priest Amaziah at Bethel, in which Amos indicts Amaziah for restricting prophetic speech ( 7.16 ) and announces the divine sentence punishing Amaziah and his family ( 7.17 ). While judgment speeches against Israel predominate, the book of Amos actually begins with a series of judgment speeches, with this same two-part structure, directed against Israel's neighbors ( 1.3–2.5 ).

Although Amos reports his visions in the first person ( 8.1–3 ), the narrative about Amos's career ( 7.10–17 ) and the book's title ( 1.1 ) describe Amos in the third person, indicating that Amos's speeches were collected and passed down by his followers. Some contend that almost everything in Amos should be traced back to the prophet himself, while others think that Amos's followers have edited the collection of his speeches and added to them. Such additions are identified in particular with those texts that appear to update Amos's speeches against the northern kingdom of Israel with speeches that reflect the perspective of the southern kingdom of Judah, such as those that name Jerusalem and Judah ( 1.2; 2.4–5 ) and that predict the fall of the northern sanctuary of Bethel ( 3.13–14 ), which rivaled Judah's sanctuary in Jerusalem. Almost all scholars maintain that the oracle * of salvation for the royal family of David with which the book concludes ( 9.11–15 ) is a later addition, since it contrasts so strongly with the atmosphere of judgment that pervades the rest of the book.

Amos preached against the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II ( 1.1, 7.11 ) and is the first of Israel's prophets to have his speeches preserved in a collection bearing his name. Jeroboam's long 41-year reign (786–746 BCE) is presented in the accounts of Israel's history as a time of strength and expansion for Israel (2 Kings 14.23–29 ), a favorable portrait confirmed by Amos's repeated references to the prodigious wealth in its capital, Samaria ( 3.15; 5.11; 6.1, 4–6 ). Indeed, archaeologists have recovered from the ancient city of Samaria in this period examples of the fine ivory carvings of which Amos spoke ( 3.15; 6.4 ). During such an era of political and economic stability and growth, Amos's harsh criticism of Israelite society and his expectation that its injustices would soon bring it down must have seemed exaggerated and outlandish to his audience ( 5.18; 6.6 ). A mere 25 years after Jeroboam's death, however, Amos's predictions came true when Samaria fell to Assyrian armies.

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