Amos 1

The outer wrapping of a scroll is easiest to adjust, eh? The opening couple of verses are loaded here. Sure, let’s assume a guy called Amos from Tekoa, just south of Bethlehem in Judah. You might make him a humble shepherd, but I like the spin from the JPS translation to ‘sheep-breeder,’ which in any age suggests a bigger business, often into international trade to improve livestock.

It’s the early 700’s – King Joash had won big fights on the north frontier as the neighbours (our Lebanon) were distracted by the Assyrians to their north (our Syria) – so his son King Jeroboam had it pretty good, with some elbow room for trading. By the way, adds perhaps a later editor, that’s when Uzziah was king in Jerusalem for Judah, which was prospering all century.

We know that an earthquake is coming, and so does the earliest compiler of the words of the original prophet. We also know, as does any complier in Josianic or exilic time, that bigger trouble was coming from Assyria by mid-century. When Amos spoke, how specific was his foresight? God knows, not me – but the rest of chapter 1 and 2 sure read like a collection of oracles, not one guy.

Let the big voice rip: God (not Amos) speaks from Zion – and grazing meadows wither, and the top of Mount Carmel, way up north on the border, fries. Keep looking north, beyond Israel’s border, for a few verses trash-talking Lebanon and Damascus. They abused Gilead, the far (east) side of the Jordan, and those Aram folks get pushed farther east into Arabian deserts. Gotcha says God.

Now look west to the Gaza strip, the Philistine traditional enemies. They abused Judah’s neighbours and exiled them south into Edom, trade routes on the way to the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba, but mountainous with poor read soil. Their comeuppance will be as sweet, as God denies them their best coastal ports. The remnant of Philistines will perish. Gotcha says God.

The next one’s a bit confusing, likely adding Tyre onto an oracle against Edom in the original structure. Tyre is also accused of exiling enemies from its northern frontier port, implausibly south to Edom. More likely, the original oracle continued the rant against the southern neighbours who disrupted trade with competing tariffs. Over centuries, allies become enemies, like Tyre did.

Once we complete the counter-clockwise swivel from Zion’s point of view, Ammon is in the sights, for their abuse in the Transjordan of Gilead. Ammonites will get theirs in the desert to the east, in whirlwinds like the sandstorms the caravans tried to avoid, just as the Edomites were to be exiled south into the Saudi Arabian desert to the south.

So far, if you’re a local in Judah or in Israel, you’re cheering along with the rhetoric of trash-talking insults to the neighbours all around. Imagine a populist politician – it’s not hard – or an NHL fan in the east trashing the western conference, or the AL trashing the NL during World Series in this season. The crowd stays with the speaker and joins the cheer: ‘Thus says the Lord!’

1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years* before the earthquake.

2 And he said: The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.

3 Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;* because they have threshed Gilead with threshing-sledges of iron.

4 So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.

5 I will break the gatebars of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and the one who holds the sceptre from Betheden; and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir, says the LORD.

6 Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;* because they carried into exile entire communities, to hand them over to Edom.

7 So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, fire that shall devour its strongholds.

8 I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and the one who holds the sceptre from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says the Lord GOD.

9 Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;* because they delivered entire communities over to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of kinship.

10 So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, fire that shall devour its strongholds.

11 Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;* because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity; he maintained his anger perpetually,* and kept his wrath* for ever.

12 So I will send a fire on Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah. 13 Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;* because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory.

14 So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah, fire that shall devour its strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a storm on the day of the whirlwind;

15 then their king shall go into exile, he and his officials together, says the LORD.