The Book of Amos
The Book of Amos is part of the group of twelve Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. The twelve Minor Prophets were not less significant than the Major Prophets. Their expressions of prophecies were just shorter than the longer and more detailed prophecies of the Major Prophecies (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) (Keathley, III, 2016, n.p). One could call Amos a pastoral prophet, since he was not in the courts of the kings and of priestly lineage (such as Jeremiah). He was a herdsman, and spent time caring for the sycamore trees as well (Amos 7:14). It is important to note that the prophet was well versed in God’s Word, and was able to present a sincere narrative of the prediction to the people of Israel regarding their sin and sinfulness.
He was thoroughly knowledgeable with regard to the political state of Israel, and addressed the problems to the both parts of the “states” even though Israel and Judah were separate. He does use Israel in his address meaning the entire nation though. He also included the surrounding nations as he saw their immorality as part of transgression of God’s laws. God’s power extended to all these nations as well (Day, 2010, p. 189). It is important to firstly understand the audience to whom the author (Amos) wrote the book, and whether the prophecies have any relevance today. Secondly, we need to see what role prophets played, and the nature of the prophecies in ancient Israel, as the Book of Amos reveals.
The Purpose of the Book of Amos
The purpose of the Book of Amos would refer directly to audience of the book, as this was the purpose of the Old Testament prophecies. It should answer the question as to why the book exists today. Thus, God placed Amos in a position to address the sin committed by the Israelites during his time, and to predict the consequences of this. Burchard clarifies the fact that prophecy is not to tell the future, but is a means of analyzing the situation and dealing with the consequences of the continued sinfulness especially (Burchard, 2014, n.p). This is exactly the case with the prophecies of Amos. His teachings were not simply a matter of negating the though patterns of his audience, he did stand in for them, and the belief is that God will not severe his relationship with them, even though he would punish their iniquities ((Day, 2010, p. 191). The intention of the contents of the book was not so much the sinfulness of the Israelites at the time, but more so, the fact that one could use the words of Matthew who said that: “because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). It is as the Book of Revelation also states: “So then, because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16). Thus, the essence of the content of Amos was addressed at those who continued to sin. Hence, Amos revealed to those who were “luke-warm,” pointing out the various things the have done, and announcing to them the consequences of their deeds (Burchard, 2014, n.p).
Furthermore, he addresses his prophecies specifically to the rich who had no regard for the poor. The prophet particularly aimed his concern at the “well-being of the poor, the purity of heart, and how the hypocrites of the day treated them (Newworldencyclopedia.org, 2016, n.p). This is no different to the current society, and the relevance of Amos is still extremely reflective in society today. People forget about God, and yet expect Him to bless them even though they were involved in dishonest business dealings as well (Amos 8:5-6).
The Relevance of the Book of Amos for today
Amos pointed out the fact that, consequently, through the “coldness” of the wealthy towards God, God cannot accept their so-called religious performances. Amos revealed the fact that God hated their religious festivals, as it is all pretense, hypocrisy, and has no meaning, since they have not taken action to service those who are suffering in terms of lack (Amos 5:21). All of the rituals, festivals, and praises are worth nothing at all to God, as long as the wickedness and coldness of heart prevails. For the current life of the Christian, the requirements are the same. However, an important note here is that, contrary to popular belief today, God does not punish people for being sinful in the now, since it has to wait for judgment day (1 Corinthians 4:5). The prophets, including Amos, prophesied of the Day of the Lord (Van Belkum, 2016, n.p). Included in these prophecies is also the fact that the period describes the end-times. Whether the prophesies of Amos was meant for the period in which he lived, it has relevance to society today as well. It would seem that it is man’s nemesis to live unholy, selfish lives, and needs the reprimand in some way or another. During the period of Amos, the prophets reprimanded the Israelites for their sin and evil. During this time too, Amos also clarified the reason for God’s warnings to the fact that prosperity blinded the people (the wealthy specifically). Today prosperity blind people as much as it did during the time of Amos (Van Belkum, 2016, n.p).
However, the same principles that Amos prophesied about are applicable today, especially within churches that are earning millions in dollars. It is also in terms of the fact that they are not looking after what James suggested, that: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” James 1:27). Globalization is also an issue in society today. Amos revealed that the Lord is not only concerned with His own people, but that He has His eye on all nations, as see in Amos – Philistines (1:6-8), Moab (2:1-3), Tyre (1:9-10), Edom (1:11-12), Judah (2:4-5), Ammon (1:13-15), and Syria (1:3-5). Hence, the sin and judgment is meted out to all who sin and become disrespectful the poor. God often revoked prophecies on the condition that people turned back to Him, but also when prophets, such as Amos stood in for the condemned (the Israelites). One such prophecy occurred when “Amos begged for God’s mercy and God responded to Amos’ plea” (Van Belkum, 2016, n.p).
The Role of a Prophet in Ancient Israel
The most valid aspect of a prophet is that he can stand in for the people. This was the reason why there were prophets. Many of the prophets also had to live through situations to demonstrate their prophecies to the nation of Israel. An example of such a prophet was Hosea whom God instructed to marry a whore (Hosea 1:2). This indicated the adulterous ways of Israel. However, according to Blenkinsopp, “from the eight century on,” the importance shifted to what the prophet said as opposed to what he did. The prophet also directed his prophecies at the entire nation, and not to the individuals as before (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 73).
Before Christ arrived on the scene, the prophets were God’s way of speaking to the nation, and warning them to turn to Him. Further roles were that they would be in political positions where they would support the government of the day, or they would criticize them profusely (Bandstra, 2016, p. 187). In this way, Bandstra’s research confirms that the prophets were not “mavericks of morality,” but they were rather there to affirm “Israel’s historical traditions” (Bandstra, 2016, p. 189). Amos is one of the Minor Prophets that established these traditions by addressing the issues, and by including the neighboring nations at the time (as discussed earlier). According to Blenkinsopp, Amos gave out “eight sayings against various nations, the last being Israel, condemning them for the different atrocities and crimes.” Amos 1:3-2:16 recorded the following as well: “short sayings attributed to [(him)] Amos,” “five vision reports with expansions and interpolations” (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 74).
God called prophets out to address the issues of the day. They were mere humans from different social classes and regularly felt like giving up on their tasks (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 34). Elijah wanted to die as he felt he was a failure, as nothing he said made an impact on the nation (1 Kings 18:17-40). It is important to note, though, that prophets such as Amos would be uncompromising in their demands for “justice and righteousness in Israel” (Hayes et al, 2006, p. 132). It did not matter whether he (Amos) was not of prophetic stock. God called him for a specific reason and purpose. He too, however, was a prophet not welcome in his own country (Amos 7:12-13). Amos 7:10-17 records the arrest of Amos “on a charge of sedition” (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 79). Day suggested that Amos spoke to all nations as these nations were under the power of God as well. It is suggested in Amos 9:7, and the implication is that God did not really have such a special relationship with Israel (Day, 2010, p. 191).
It vital to understand that the prophets, particularly Amos in this discussion, received his instructions of what God requires from his knowledge of God’s Word. The prophet’s role, therefore, is in God’s hand, and the messages cannot be “opposed to his nature” (that is the prophet’s nature). In light of his own nature, the prophet would take God’s character and nature into consideration when he prophesies. Thus, the predictions (or reprimand) have to be a “mutual agreement” between God and the prophet (Kuenen, 1969, p. 346). It is within these “traditional ethos” that the prophets were able to pass judgment “on their contemporaries and elaborated their ethical teaching” (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 35). The latter (ethical teaching) was of particularly importance, and not so much on giving the nation over to punishment.
The prophets, such as Amos, were the catalysts for purity, honesty, and righteousness especially in conduct to the weak, vulnerable and poor (Kuenen, 1969, p. 348). This is exactly what this essay reiterated numerous times so far. Amos, and the other prophets, needed to be an example, morally and ethically, in order for their message to have an impact. Amos was one of the few who recorded that God called him in a very simplistic way. He mentions that God singled him out (Amos 7:14-15). What is even more significant about the prophets is that God often compels them to deliver the messages, and they cannot otherwise than prophesy, especially if they are knowledgeable about His Word. (Amos 3:8). They were also in a privileged position to see visions, and interpret these to the audience at the given time. Amos was in such a privileged position (Amos 8:2). The opening chapter of Amos also revealed that Amos gave essence to his prophecies thorough visions (Amos 1:1).
The Nature of Prophecy in Ancient Israel
The nature of prophecy can be confusing for those who do not have an insight into the role of the prophets in the context of the Israeli nation of Biblical times. Bandstra is clear on this matter as he specifies that prophecy of the ancient times was not prediction of the future. Others have suggested that prophecy falls under “apocalyptic and sectarian movements.” However, in terms of the Old Testament prophecy, this does not ring true. Blenkinsopp stated that the Greek prophets would give out their prophecies in a trance-like state or in a normal rational state. The Old Testament prophecies in the trans-like state were associated with the cult of Dionysos (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 27). The nature of the prophecies of the Old Testament encapsulated what Bandstra states as the analysis of “political policies and social conditions in light of Yhwh’s demands of justice, loyalty, and faith in him” (Bandstra, 2016, p. 195). It had nothing to do with future happenings, but with the state of affairs as it was in the day, and in particular the moral an ethical decay of the day. As said, the prophecies addressed the moral and ethical decay, and how it affected the lives and actions of the nation.
If these types of prophets where around today they would address the freedom of people, the injustices to the poor, social injustices, and the dignity of humans in terms of this decay. This was especially the role that Amos played in his society. Amos revealed that, “Yahweh is the God of Israel, and Israel is the people of Yahweh.” There were no “ifs and buts that the prophet introduced into this simple scheme” since, according to Day, God has power over all nations, and that is why Amos also addressed al the neighboring nations in his prophecies. The prophecies also reach to all nations, as God’s power reaches over all nations. This is a repeat of the statement above as it is what Day reflects on as popular eschatology (Day, 2010, p. 189).
God meted out prophecies during the time of Amos, as with the other prophets, in visions that would give the prophet a visual idea of what was happening in the land of Israel. As said before, Amos, as well as the other prophets, was also there to stand in for the people, pleading with God not let certain things occur (Kelle & Moore eds., 2006, p. 132). It is within this realm that Amos averted two of his visionary prophecies through his pleas and intercessions to God for the people. As a prophet with a pastoral background, Amos was well versed in the Word of God, and knew exactly what the requirements were for Israel. He, therefore, had ample knowledge of the Israeli history, and how they were supposed to live their lives in God’s presence. Even though the nation was divided into two “states” at the time, Amos directed his prophecies at the entire nation that belonged to God. It is for this reason that he used the name Israel. Israel meant the entire nation and not only the separated Northern part called Israel (Kelle & Moore eds., 2006, p. 133). Thus, the nature of his mission was more important than the politics, even if this was also a part of the moral fracture of the nation, and needed the attention. Day, however, also revealed that the other nations needed to hear the messages (prophecies) from Amos, as Israel’s downfall also meant the downfall of the surrounding nations (Day, 2010, p. 191).
Referring back on the role of the prophet it is important to note that the nature of the prophecy is indeed a divine revelation (Niditch ed., 2016, p. 322). What this meant, according to Niditch, is that it is the message received by the Prophet to impart to the intended audience. The intended message is that of the “purification of religious ideas and the development of ethical monotheism” (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 24). This is clearly seen in the way that the prophecies were presented by Amos. Amos had particular locations, and issues to tend to, and regardless of the interpretation, Amos spoke and acted in that context (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 32). However, Amos has also given the current world something to mull over, and understand, especially with the continued Middle East conflict even though his work is “open to more than one interpretation” as Blenkinsopp says (Blenkinsopp, 1983, p. 33).
The Book of Amos is an intricate part of the Prophets in the Old Testament. One could call Amos a pastoral prophet, since he was not in the courts of the kings and of priestly lineage, as some of the other prophets were. He was a herdsman, and cared for the sycamore fig trees. The purpose of the Book of Amos is a direct reflection of the audience of the book. The purpose of the Old Testament prophecies was to address a specific audience, as was the case with Amos. This should answer the question as to why the book exists today. God placed prophets in a position to address issues of immorality and unethical behavior in the hands of the prophets to resolve. This was the position in which Amos addressed the sin committed by the Israelites during his time, and to predict the consequences of this. In answer to the question of the role of the prophet, therefore, the answer is in the way in which Amos dealt with the entire nation of Israel, as well as the surrounding nations. This indicated the fact that the belief was that God was a power over all nations.
Amos dealt with the issues of the nations in terms of the visions he received form God. He also ensured that his role as a prophet was within its intentions. That is, he interceded for the nations, which led to the fact that God retracted two of the five visions he had. The possible reasoning behind his calling was that he had intense knowledge of God’s Word, and that he had particular knowledge of the history of Israel as well as the surrounding states. He, thus, addressed the moral and ethical decay with greater insight than any other person could. It is for this reason that his narration and predictions to the people of Israel regarding their sin and sinfulness was sincere and knowledgeable.
Even though Israel and Judah were separate nations at the time, he used the term Israel in his address meaning the entire nation though. The state of the morality of the Israeli nation as well as the surrounding nations compelled Amos to include the surrounding nations, as he saw their immorality as part of the transgression of God’s laws. The understanding was that God’s power extended to all nations, and not just Israel. It is for this reason that the audience to whom the author (Amos) wrote the book covers a number of varied nations. It is also for that reason that the prophecies have relevance today. It speaks to the social injustice and in particular the inequality between the wealthy and the poor. The role the prophets played then, were not of charismatic, trans-like state prophecies, as some would believe. Instead, the nature of the prophecies in ancient Israel, as the Book of Amos reveals, is of an instructional and reprimanding nature. This is why it is applicable to the current society as well.
The prophecies, according to Amos, would address the freedom of people, the injustices to the poor, social injustices, and the dignity of humans in terms of this decay. This was especially the role that Amos played in his society. Amos revealed that, “Yahweh is the God of Israel, and Israel is the people of Yahweh.”
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