Grieving for Joseph
Apparently a significant figure in Israel or Judah had died, thus prompting a number of dignitaries from both nations to come together at Bethel for a social gathering. Such a party at Bethel is still another reason for its judgment (Amos 3:14; 7:9; 9:1) and rejection (4:4–5; 5:5). Amos 6:4–6 calls this upper class to task for their pampered prosperity and boisterous banquets, for greed and arrogant security, and a life of carpe diem. Lying on beds and couches, eating meat from the best cattle and singing idle songs are activities of people who indulge themselves in luxury and leisure. The self-gratifying upper class had no concern for the perilous state of Israel (Joseph). Isaiah 22:13 captures the thrust of this laissez-faire attitude, “But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! ‘Let us eat and drink,’ you say, ‘for tomorrow we die!’ ” Because this kind of self-indulgence and self-confidence are rampant, Amos announces that “the first ones” in luxury (Amos 6:1, 6) will be the “first ones” to go into exile (6:7). Unbeknownst to the revelers, their banquet is preparing them for the grave.
Questions and Answers
(Note: Questions only are found in the student section.)
Q1. Both Mount Zion and Mount Samaria (Amos 6:1) were separately obtained and governed outside of standard tribal administrations (cf. 2 Samuel 5:6–9; 1 Kings 16:24), and so both were in a privileged position from their inception. See Amos 6:3 and 9:10. How does the prophet depict these entitled aristocrats? What do Psalm 37:5 and Proverbs 3:5–6 say about trust?
A1. According to Amos 6:3 and 9:10, ignorance and/or denial of reality only brings on demise and destruction. The only certain support for life rests in Yahweh, only in Him is trust rightly grounded (Psalm 37:5; Proverbs 3:5–6). Note that in Numbers 24:20 Balaam states, “First among the nations was Amalek, but its end is to perish forever.”The leaders of Amos’s day ignored this destiny of those who position themselves as “king of the hill.” Both groups from the north and south are the chosen of the chosen, but they will soon become the least of the least (see Amos 6:7). But Israel’s leaders would have none of this kind of preaching. Living in denial, the only music the nation wanted to face was its own (6:5).
Q2. Amos asks his audience to consider Calneh, Hamath, and Gath of the Philistines and consider if these city-states were better than those controlled by Israel, or if Israel’s borders were greater than theirs (Amos 6:2). The obvious answer was “no.” Why does Amos single out these three city-states? Perhaps it was because the geographical line of an Assyrian conquest from the north would run through Calneh, continue to Hamath, and conclude with Gath. See Amos 6:13. What were Israelites boasting in? Look at Psalm 22:7. What is much more dependable?
A2. Israel’s aristocrats needed to stop relying on their military might under Jeroboam ben Joash. This boasting was an illusion (Amos 6:13). Calneh, Hamath, and Gath of the Philistines were no different than Israel and Judah. If they were vulnerable against Assyria, so were Israel and Judah. Amos wanted his hearers to trust in Yahweh’s name (Psalm 20:7), which “is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
Q3. “The day of evil” is described in Amos 5:19 as a person fleeing from a lion only to meet a bear; he then enters his house (what is normally a safe haven), only to lean his hand against the wall (while no doubt taking a sigh of relief), only to be bitten by a snake. This day points to the 721 BC Assyrian onslaught against the Northern Kingdom. What else does Amos say about this day? See Amos 1:14; 2:16; 8:9, 13; 4:2, 8:11; 5:18, 20; 8:10.
A3. The “day of evil” in Amos 6:3 is equivalent to “the day of storm and tempest” (1:14), “on that day” (2:16; 8:9, 13), “days are coming” (4:2, 8:11), “the day of Yahweh” (5:18, 20), and the “bitter day” (8:10). These expressions refer initially to the onslaught of the Assyrian army against Samaria in 721 BC. The day also points to the Father’s judgment of His Son, Jesus, on Good Friday, baptismal judgment and killing of the old Adam, the Christian’s confession of sins, and the absolution granted by the pastor, as well as the Last Day, when all who have lived apart from Christ will be cast into outer darkness forever.
Q4. Read Amos 6:4–6 and describe this “party hearty” scene.
A4. The first item to head the list is “ivory beds.” These status symbols were uncovered in an archaeological excavation of the city of Samaria (cf. “ivory houses” in 3:15). Next, the prophet rebukes the people for eating the choicest meat. Meat was rarely eaten in everyday meals. For the rank-and-file it was probably consumed only three times a year at the major festivals (cf. Deuteronomy 12:17–18). The presence of meat indicates wealth and gluttony. Amos moves from lounging, eating, and musical-merrymaking to excessive drinking. A modern analogy might put it this way; these partiers were forgoing cups and drinking straight from the bottle. “Their god is their belly” (Philippians 3:19). They did not serve God; they served their own appetites (Romans 16:18). Amos promises these leaders that they will continue in their preference for the finest and the best—for they will be at the head of the exile! They will maintain their elite status all right; Yahweh has reserved for them first place. They will be “honored” as the first to leave their homeland, for good! The noise of the party’s music and revelry will give way to a sober silence when the merrymakers are marched into exile. This will be the day the music died (cf. Psalm 137). The Assyrian exile—hinted at in Amos 6:14—took place after a three-year siege of Samaria (2 Kings 17:5) that ended in 721 BC (2 Kings 17:6). The Assyrian strategy was to exile a country’s leadership so that destabilization would occur, thus making it easier for them to exert their control. It also prevented the possibility of revolt. Sargon II—who finished the siege of Samaria that was started by Shalmaneser V—writes in an inscription that he exiled 27,290 Samarian inhabitants.
Q5. Those “at ease on Mount Zion” and “trusting in Mount Samaria” demonstrated a ruthless disregard for the repeated exploitation of the poor, as the main focus of this section demonstrates (Amos 6:6c). They were indulging in unbridled pleasure, completely self-absorbed in their “have no cares” world. See Jeremiah 22:16 for the proper response to the marginalized in our world. What does this mean for you?
A5. In Jeremiah 22:16 Yahweh describes King Josiah with these words, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know Me?” (cf. James 1:26–27). Knowing Yahweh is demonstrated in the vigilant observance of justice for the weakest people in the community. Amos laments the lack of concern for the marginal people (e.g., Amos 5:11; 6:6c). There was no justice and righteousness (5:7, 24: 6:12).
Q6. At the end Amos 6:6—in characteristic style—the prophet drops another verbal missile in his attempt to arouse the leaders from their spiritual lethargy. Who does “Joseph” stand for?
A6. “Joseph” is a cipher for the poor and oppressed people throughout the Book of Amos (e.g., 2:6, 7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4) who were, together with the elite, in the same family called Israel. Yahweh rescued the nation so that, among other things, it could be a community of brothers. Deuteronomy 12–26 is replete with this idea (cf. e.g., 15:2, 3, 7). Many of the laws, such as those dealing with indebtedness, slavery, and the poor demand specific treatment for members of the community based on the fact that Israel was a community bound by ties of brotherhood. The king was to be a “brother Israelite” (17:15), and the prophet like Moses was to “be from among your own brothers” (18:15). Yahweh promises a future for “the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:15; 9:11–15), for his promises are always to care for the hungry with good things but to send the rich away empty (cf. Luke 1:53).
Q7. Today there was a global tragedy of horrific proportions. Today 35,000 people died. All of the victims were children. But worst of all, this disaster will happen again and again and again. Every day 35,000 poverty-stricken children die of malnutrition and starvation in our world. How would Amos respond to this? And how would he address the lack of education and health services in the two-thirds world, the AIDS crisis, unjust laws, slavery, corrupt governments, child prostitution, or countless other ethical issues facing today’s world?
A7. Like Israel at the time of Amos, the Church is called upon to address these kinds of sins. However, the Church is not called primarily to be a political actor, a social transformer, or an aggressive interest group. If it acts primarily as any one of these it loses its own integrity and reason for being. The Church is called to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. But this does not imply that we ignore the moral issues of our day. Jesus not only offers the free gift of life after death, He also empowers the baptized for life before death. And this life is to intercede and assist orphans, widows, the diseased, the disenfranchised, all of the “small people” (cf. Amos 7:2, 5) for whom our Lord was so concerned about during His earthly ministry (i.e., Mark 10:46–52—Blind Bartimaeus; Matthew 15:22–28—the Canaanite woman’s sick daughter; Luke 8:41–56—Jairus’s deceased daughter and the woman with the flow of blood).
Leaders in Israel and Judah were enjoying the best lifestyle that money could buy. They were “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4) as they sought to please eye, ear, touch, taste, and smell. These elites preferred the cushion as opposed to the cross. The prophet rebukes those who attended this party because of its immoral excess. But his main concern is stated in Amos 6:6c, “the ruin of Joseph,” which was the breakdown of covenantal regulations affecting the most vulnerable in Israel’s society. After Amos’s sequence of seven verbs (lie, stretch, eat, sing, invent, drink, and anoint) comes his climax: “but [you] are not sick over the ruin of Joseph.” There is nothing said about the partygoers’ faith, and any mention of Yahweh is noticeable by its absence. Judah’s and Israel’s leaders might have gained the whole world, but in the process they forfeited their own souls (cf. Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25).