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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Amos

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Judgement on Nations, including Judah and Israel ( 1:1–2:16 )

( 1:1 ) Title

Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah reigned (including coreigns) c.783–735 BCE; Jeroboam 11 of Israel c.786–746 (Soggin 1987: 1; King 1988: 8). Uzziah's literary priority indicates a Judean perspective: Amos's prophecy ‘concerning Israel’ involves both kingdoms. The referent for ‘Israel’ is often unclear; alone, ‘Israel’ properly refers to the northern kingdom, but wider usage, denoting all descendants of Jacob/Israel, means that Judah is often included, or intended (Andersen and Freedman 1989: 98–139). NRSV's ‘shepherd’ is a guess; MT's nōqēd perhaps means ‘sheep-farmer’ (cf. 2 Kings 3:4 ). Effectively, Amos is presented as a Judean countryman (cf. 7:14–15 ). ‘Saw’ (ḥāzâ) is a technical term in prophecy (cf. 7:12 , ‘seer’ ḥōzeh). Formally, visions occur only in chs. 7–9; chs. 1–6 consist of speeches (‘words’): both are prophetic. Zech 14:5 echoes this verse, but there is no firm external evidence for dating the earthquake. Earthquake imagery is, however, important throughout Amos, symbolizing YHWH's judgement.

( 1:2 ) Epigraph

Amos's first ‘word’, a hymnic couplet, is partly shared with Joel 4:16 , melding the two books and setting Amos's theme: YHWH's supremacy. YHWH's ‘roar’ is lion-like (cf. 3:8 ); ‘utters his voice’ suggests thunder (cf. Ps 29 ). Emanating from Jerusalem, this ‘voice’ reinforces the Judean perspective. The effect is devastation of naturally fertile countryside; ‘the top of Carmel’ (cf. 9:3 ) is explicitly contrasted with Zion/Jerusalem, YHWH's power-base.

( 1:3–2:16 ) Oracles against the Nations

(cf. Num 21:27–30; Isa 13–23; Jer 46–51; Ezek 25–32; Zeph 2 ). 1:3 initiates a collection of eight quasi-legal arraignments for war-crimes (Barton 1980 ); six nearby nations are accused (see map), then Judah and Israel. The numerical expression is idiomatic, probably indicating an unspecified, cumulative number. The composition-history of this passage is disputed; the judgements on Tyre, Edom, and Judah are often thought to be later than the rest. Literary features, however, show that the whole poem is carefully constructed. Even if individual oracles were composed at different times, starting in the eighth century, the passage can be read as an integrated whole where Tyre, Edom, and Judah play significant roles. The historical allusions are obscure, as are reasons for geographic and ethnic sequence (Andersen and Freedman 1989: 208–10; Paul 1991: 11–15), but the Oracles against the Nations significantly shape what follows: YHWH's control of historical destinies.

( 1:3–5 ) Damascus

Capital of Israel's traditional enemy Aram, Damascus represents the whole country (v. 5 ). Its crime, real or metaphorical, is an atrocity against the fertile Transjordanian territory fought over by Israel and Aram in the ninth/eighth centuries BCE, and prominent again in Maccabean times. ‘Threshing sledges’ symbolize military victory also in Isa 41:15 , where Israel is to do what Am 1:3 condemns! Punishment is imprecise; ‘fire’ may be metaphorical for warfare, or suggest supernatural intervention (cf. 1:7, 10, 12, 14; 2:2, 5 ). ‘House of Hazael’ is a double entendre: ‘house’ represents both building and dynasty (cf. 7:9 ). Hazael and Ben-Hadad were ninth/eighth century Aramean kings. The ‘strongholds’ (a recurring term in chs. 1–6 ), belong to powerful leaders in Israel and abroad; they are special targets for YHWH's anger. The word translated ‘inhabitants’ could also mean ‘ruler’, matching ‘the one who holds the sceptre’ (cf. 1:8 ). ‘Valley of Awen’ (lit. of nothingness, futility) and ‘Beth-eden’ (House of Pleasure) are sarcastic punning allusions, perhaps to real places. ‘Awen’ appears again ( 5:5 ) describing Bethel (NRSV: nothing). ‘Eden’ perhaps hints at luxurious living (cf. 4:1; 6:1–7 ). The threat of mass deportation (‘go into exile’) introduces an important theme. In 9:7 Kir (location unknown, probably in Mesopotamia) is Aram's place of origin (cf. 2 Kings 16:9; Ezek 21:30 ).

( 1:6–8 ) Gaza

‘Carried into exile’ links vv. 6–8 with 1:3–5 : the reference is probably to Philistine slave-raids (cf. NJB). Ironically, what YHWH does to punish Aram ( 1:5 ) is Gaza's cause of punishment! The unidentified victims are destined for Edom, the nation traditionally descended from Esau (Gen 36 ). In pre-exilic times Edom lay south-east of the Dead Sea (slavers used the port of Ezion-Geber on the Gulf of Aqaba); but later Edom/Idumea occupied the south of erstwhile Judah, close to the Philistine cities. Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron are other Philistine city-states; Gath is not mentioned till 6:2 . Philistia's punishment is severer than Aram's. A remnant which itself is devastated recurs elsewhere (esp. 9:4; cf. Isa 6:11–13 ).

( 1:9–10 ) Tyre

Of the Phoenician cities, only Tyre is mentioned; by implication all are probably covered. The crime resembles Gaza's; in addition, some contract or treaty has been broken; the word bĕrît (covenant) occurs, but not theologically of a ‘contract’ between God and Israel. The deportees are not explicitly Israelites, though Judeans might remember dealings between Solomon and Hiram (1 Kings 5; 9:11–14 ). Historically, Tyre survived until Alexander's conquest. If this is ex eventu prophecy, it dates from after 332 BCE at the earliest. Otherwise, it may express traditional convictions about national enemies, as with the rest of the Oracles against the Nations, and could be earlier.

( 1:11–12 ) Edom

Twice implicated in others' crimes, Edom now faces judgement. The catchword is ‘brother’, but the atrocity does not refer to dealings with Gaza and Tyre; nor do traditions in Gen 27:41 or Num 20:14–21 really fit. Edomite expansion during the sixth century (Ezek 25:12–14; Ob 10–14; Ps 137:7 ) provides a likely context, if ‘brother’ means ‘Israel’ (i.e. Judah, cf. 9:12 ); v. 11b underlines Edom's continuing aggression. ‘Cast off’ is literally ‘destroyed’; the word translated ‘pity’ possibly means ‘womenfolk’ (Paul 1991: 64–5; cf. LXX), which would create a link with 1:13 (cf. 1:3 LXX; 5Q Amos). ‘Anger’ and ‘wrath’ (virtually personified) are better taken as subjects; the verb rendered ‘maintained’ (ṭārap) is used of wild beasts tearing their prey (cf. 3:4 ). Teman (N) and Bosra (S) represent the whole of Edom/Idumea.

( 1:13–15 ) Ammon

‘Gilead’ knits Ammon's crime with 1:3 , so Israelites are victims. For Ammon's kinship with Israel, see Gen 19:30–8 . The motive is territorial gain, through a form of genocide (cf. 2 Kings 8:12; 15:16; Hos 13:16 ), doing to Gilead what YHWH threatens to do to the Philistines. Military action becomes a tempest (suggesting YHWH as the epiphanic warrior), a merging of themes typical of Amos. ‘Says the Lord’, and ‘exile’ constitute an inclusio with 1:5 , tying 1:3–15 together.

( 2:1–3 ) Moab

(cf. Gen 19:30–7 ); despite this literary closure, the poem continues, suggesting a larger pattern (‘sound’, v. 2 , is qôl, cf. 1:2 ). The catchword is ‘king’; surprisingly, Edom is victim of an atrocity. The crime probably hinges on sacrilege (cf. Jer 8:1–3; cf. 2 Kings 23:16–20 ). Bones figure again in 6:9–10 (also obscure). Burning the bones ‘to lime’ (NJB: ash) precludes burial, or suggests savagery. v. 2b echoes 1:14b . The trumpet reappears in 3:6 , in a similar context (cf. Ex 19:13, 16, 19 ).

( 2:4–5 ) Judah

Little links this oracle with what precedes but, as it separates two blocks ( 1:3–2:3; 2:6–16 ), it may reflect the post-exilic writer's central interest (Bovati and Meynet 1994: 59–62). Formally, it follows the standard pattern. Judah's sin, however, is religious not political. ‘Lies’ suggest idolatry; ‘ancestors’ extend it backwards in time (cf. 1:11 ).

( 2:6–16 ) Israel

Finally, Israel is accused like the rest (v. 6 ). The mention of Judah ( 2:4–5 ) defines Israel as the northern kingdom, though the distinction soon blurs. This ‘transgression’ too differs from that of the foreigners; it is primarily social. The ‘righteous’ (ṣaddîq) is either ‘an honest man’ (cf. REB), sold into debt-slavery, or the ‘innocent’ party (Soggin 1987: 47–8), unjustly convicted. The reference to ‘sandals’ is obscure (see Andersen and Freedman 1989: 310–13 for suggestions). vv. 7–8 , instead of sentence immediately being passed, Israel's crimes are elaborated. The verdict comes in vv. 13–16 , but from v. 7 on, the form of the Oracles against the Nations dissolves. There are difficulties in v. 7a , but the link between economic poverty and corrupt legal practice seems to be maintained (cf. NJB; 8:4 ). v. 7b is obscure (lit. a man and his father go to a/the girl), but the accusation appears to be sexual. The juxtaposition with v. 7a perhaps suggests exploitation. The result is profanation of YHWH's name: there is a religious dimension (cf. 2:4 ). ‘On garments taken in pledge’ (v. 8; cf. Deut 24:12–13; Ex 22:26–7 ) implies a night-time setting and a wrong done to the poor. Drinking the proceeds of fines is not obviously illegal; the objection is presumably to callousness. ‘House of their God/god/gods’ (᾽ĕlōhêhem permits all three interpretations) indicates a sanctuary setting; the accused are wealthy and powerful over against those from whose plight they profit. vv. 9–10 , YHWH reminds Israel of his benefits when they entered the land. ‘Amorites’ is a blanket term for the original inhabitants of Canaan who, under many names, are often described as giants (e.g. Deut 2:10, 20–1; 9:2; Num 13:32–3 ); though only here are the Amorites in general so described. As in the Oracles against the Nations YHWH controls the destinies of all. The past annihilation of the Amorites balances 1:8 , the future annihilation of the Philistines. History is extended even further back, to the Exodus (v. 10, cf. 3:1; 9:7 ) and the Wilderness Period (cf. 5:25 ). ‘Inheriting’ recurs in 9:12 , where the restored Davidic kingdom will ‘inherit’ the ‘remnant of Edom’. There is no mention of the lawgiving at Sinai/Horeb (evoked only in 2:4 ).

vv. 11–12 , prophets and nazirites were further divine gifts (cf. Deut 18:15–19 ; the same verb, ‘raise up’, occurs). They are the central element in vv. 6–16 (Bovati and Meynet 1994: 45). For the nazirite vow, see Num 6:1–21 . The rhetorical question leads the addressees to condemn their own actions (cf. 5:14; 9:10 ): Israelites (the inclusive ‘people of Israel’ occurs for the first time) stand accused of corrupting nazirites and silencing prophets (the two groups are linked only here), i.e. neutralizing potential saviours. Nazirites are not mentioned again; prophets are central to chs. 3 and 7 . vv. 13–16 , YHWH's verdict, expected since v. 6 , is of a new kind: instead of fire, an obscure picture involving a wagon. The verb (NRSV: press down) may mean ‘tremble’ or ‘split’, and refer to an earthquake (Soggin 1987: 49); if so, this resembles the Oracles against the Nations' supernatural fire. An ominous use of apparently positive imagery is typical (cf. 8:1 ). What impresses is the initial vagueness of Israel's punishment. The image of a defeated army (vv. 14–16 ) is clearer: no escape, no survival (cf. 9:2–4 ). The situation is, however, quite general: many historical events could fit. Nor is the victor named: perhaps Assyria, perhaps Babylon, certainly YHWH. MT contains much assonance and wordplay: repetitions create a sense of inexorable doom, dramatically ending 1:3–2:16 .

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