Amos 3

Scholars assure me that we change voice here, back to ‘the words of Amos’ rather than ‘Thus says the Lord’ chants of formal traditional oracles against enemies over centuries. The bridge verse 3.1 connects the ‘don’t you remember’ of the end of chapter 2, but the rhythm of the poetry that follows is still apparent even in English translation:

Of all the families of the earth, God knew our family and loved us and made covenant with us, and we broke God’s heart. God will punish according to the way we were shown and then ignored.

There’s a set of signifiers and signified, of signs and their meaning, that look credible to me as the memorable mashals of an original oral prophet, maybe even a guy called Amos, or at least of an old school of followers of Amos. It’s practical wisdom – like Jesus saying we can read the weather, but not the signs of the times. If this – then surely that!

The comeuppance of Israel (and Judah in turn) will not be supernatural, but in God permitting the vulnerability of the consequences of infidelity and injustice. Go up north, get up Mount Samaria, overlooking Bethel, and you’ll see – bad news is coming – ‘the Assyrian swept down like a wolf on the fold’ (Byron)

Even the note of mercy for some salvageable remnant in Samaria is bleak, and likely a very late addition. After exile, during restoration, Samaria was the name for the mid-north and the people who remained in the land when first Israel were exiled by Assyrians, then Judahite elite to Babylon. Those salvaged remnants are likened to body parts of road kill.

Enemies will wreak the greatest destruction on the fanciest houses, the rich homes, summer and winter palaces, and their ivory and precious metals. The cultic centre of the north will be desecrated, the horns ripped off its altar in Bethel, leaving only Jerusalem (and in a century and a half, not even that)

1 Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

2 You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

3 Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?

4 Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from its den, if it has caught nothing?

5 Does a bird fall into a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?

6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster befall a city, unless the LORD has done it?

7 Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

8 The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?

9 Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on Mount* Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.’

10 They do not know how to do right, says the LORD, those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.

11 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD: An adversary shall surround the land, and strip you of your defence; and your strongholds shall be plundered.

12 Thus says the LORD: As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who live in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part* of a bed.

13 Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob, says the Lord GOD, the God of hosts:

14 On the day I punish Israel for its transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.

15 I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses* shall come to an end, says the LORD.