The Book of Amos begins with a reference to an earthquake (Amos 1:1), and the effects of this shaking are evident throughout his oracles (e.g., 3:15; 4:11; 8:8; 9:5). The climactic fifth vision (9:1–4) begins with a depiction of the Lord standing by the altar and saying, “Strike the pillars so that the thresholds shake.” The chief agent of this shaking was the Assyrian invasion of 721 BC (e.g., 5:27; 6:14), but it was triggered by Yahweh’s word (3:7–8). The shaking of every false pretense in Israel (e.g., 4:4–5; 5:21–24; 6:1–7) continues here in 7:10–17. Amaziah—just as Ahab viewed Elijah—sees Amos as a “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17). Amaziah was like the priests Eli (1 Samuel 3:1–10, 12–13) and Caiaphas (John 11:50) who also appear to be the last people on earth to know the mind of God. As a representative of the Northern Kingdom, Amaziah could not tolerate Amos’s anti-Israel rhetoric. He sought to ban the prophet from the official established place of worship and send him back home to Tekoa. Amos’s refusal to knuckle under evokes bitter opposition and earns him the label of communal pariah.
Questions and Answers
(Note: Questions only are found in the student section.)
Q1. How do you understand Amaziah’s words, “For thus says Amos”? (Amos 7:11)
A1. Amaziah denies that Yahweh is speaking. In this way the priest makes it appear that Amos is speaking on his own accord rather than as a spokesman for Yahweh. Amaziah wants Amos to appear like a political threat and not a spokesman for the living God. This explains, in part, why the prophet provides his defense in Amos 3:3–8. He has been in Yahweh’s counsel (3:7) and has heard the Lion roar (1:2; 3:8). As a symbol for the status quo, in Amos 7:10–11 Amaziah also “conveniently” forgets to mention the reason for the prophet’s threats; the leadership’s economic, sexual, ethical, spiritual, and legal crimes. Amaziah also omits Amos’s words about the destruction of Israel’s sanctuaries in Amos 7:9, as well as the prophet’s threat of imminent exile, which is a covenant curse (cf. Deuteronomy 28:27). Amaziah places a “gag order” upon Amos (cf. Amos 2:12). Jesus warns that people will speak “all kinds of evil falsely” (Matthew 5:11) against those who stand up for the truth. One instance of this is Amaziah’s twisting of Amos’s words.
Q2. How does Amos 7:10–17 present Amaziah?
A2. Amaziah appears as an expert in diplomacy. Such skills helped him attain his position as the head of Israel’s chief religious establishment. Everything about him reeks with a veneered, cosmetic faith. He is enmeshed in public relations, image building, and salesmanship. The priest is the consummate religious leader, who has reduced Yahweh’s call to “job efficiency and security.” He does not recognize that he had been visited by a prophet (cf. Luke 19:42–44). Amaziah is self-serving, self-legitimating, and in the end, self-destroying.
Q3. Is there anything in the Book of Amos suggesting that he is involved in an organized revolt?
A3. Amaziah has ample cause for suspicion. Prophets had instigated rebellion against previous Israelite dynasties (cf. 1 Kings 11:29–40; 19:15–18; 2 Kings 8:7–15; 9:1–37). Amos predicts a violent end to the reigning dynasty (Amos 7:9), and he also challenges the efficacy of Israel’s worship life (4:4–5; 5:5, 21–23), thereby undercutting the two mainstays of national existence. Were that not enough, Amos has also announced that Israel’s armies would be defeated (5:3), its cities looted (6:8), its holy places destroyed (7:9a), and its people sent into exile (6:7). But the prophet never incites revolt; he only lets the Lion roar.
Q4. The “sending” in Amos 7:10 assumes that Amaziah sent a letter to the king. A messenger from Bethel carrying the note would travel over 40 miles to reach Jeroboam ben Joash, who would presumably be living in Samaria, the nation’s capital. The king’s response would have taken days to receive. In the meantime, therefore, it is best to conceive that Amaziah takes matters into his own hands and commands Amos to cross the border and return back to Tekoa in Judah. His admonition to Amos, “Eat your bread there” (Amos 7:12) implies that Amos is a “professional prophet.” Is this the case?
A4. Prophets were sometimes remunerated for their work (e.g., 1 Samuel 9:7–8; 1 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 4:42). However, within the time frame of the writings prophets, only false prophets accepted payment for their oracles (cf. Ezekiel 13:19; Micah 3:5, 11). Amos does not need to make his living by means of being a prophet; he is a cattleman from Tekoa. In Amos 7:14–15 the prophet essentially says to Amaziah, “I’m not prophesying because it is my job, so raising the issue of earning a living back in Judah is not pertinent to the discussion in your attempt to get rid of me.” A “hireling” (cf. John 10:13) may flee because he does not care for the sheep. But a true shepherd will remain and faithfully speak on behalf of the sheep that are being harassed and helpless. Amos is this kind of shepherd; he speaks up for the poor, the crushed, and the needy in Israel. He will not leave; here he stands!
Q5. What does the term “son of a prophet” indicate? See 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1.
A5. “Son of a prophet” indicates a professional status rather than biological descent; it appears in texts that designate prophetic guilds (e.g., 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1). Amos rejects the traditional title of “a son of a prophet” because from his perspective such institutional association was a sell-out to the corrupt state. These “sons” did not receive direct independent oracles from Yahweh; rather they were beholden to their master to carry out his commission (e.g., 2 Kings 9:1–3). Perhaps Micah had these types of “prophets” in mind in Micah 3:5–7 (cf. Jeremiah 28).
Q6. The phrase “and Yahweh took me from tending sheep” is similar to Yahweh’s call of Moses (Exodus 3:1). What other characteristics does Amos share with Moses?
A6. Like Amos (Amos 7:4), Moses had a vision of fire (Exodus 3:2), and both prophets were on missions that were accompanied by plagues (Exodus 7:14–12:42; Amos 4:6–11). Both were intercessors (Exodus 32:11–14; Amos 7:1–6), and both also oversaw the death of one era and the dawn of another. Just as Israel was led by Moses and now Amos, so the new Israel is led by the greatest shepherd, Jesus the Christ (John 10:11, 14). Like Moses and Amos, Jesus rejected the power structures of His day and instead denounced them for their lack of compassion and greed (e.g., Matthew 23).
Q7. This narrative (Amos 7:10) began abruptly, “And Amaziah said,” and it ends just as suddenly. The scene appears to end at its climax just when the tension is at its height. Did Amaziah repent or did Amos cave in? When Jeremiah was accused of treason, he was arrested and thrown in jail (Jeremiah 37:11–38:6). Micaiah ben Imlah was held in custody to await a final verdict from the king (1 Kings 22:27–28). It is difficult to conceive of a free Amos, allowed to wander around the Northern Kingdom. He may have been martyred or placed under house arrest. Perhaps there was even something like a border guard to prohibit his reentrance after the dismissal to Tekoa. Why does the book leave the story unresolved?
A7. The narrative places us into the story and as such employs the “rhetoric of entrapment.” This same literary strategy is used in Amos 1:3–2:5 where the prophet addresses the people of Israel by initially focusing on the sins and afflictions of other nations (1:3–2:5). Israel’s response to Yahweh’s word through Amos 2:5 was to assume that the nation’s prosperity was a sign of divine blessing and that its considerable religiosity was sufficient evidence of its total well-being. As the people sat comfortable in their sins—not grieving over the ruin of Joseph (6:6c)—the prophet had them in the palm of his hand. In Amos 2:6–16 he hits the unsuspecting Israelites with Yahweh’s judgment against them. The prophet uses the same technique after Amos 7:17. We find ourselves asking, “What happened to Amaziah? What did Amos’s future entail?” But these are the wrong questions. The narrative includes all readers and asks this question, “What will your future be like? Will you live like Amos or Amaziah?” Amos shocks us with Yahweh’s question to us.
Q8. Define the different perspectives of Amos and Amaziah.
|A8. Amaziah’s Perspective||Amos’s Perspective|
|Jeroboam ben Joash is King||Yahweh is King|
|“Thus Amos has said . . . ” (v. 11)||“Thus says Yahweh . . . ” (v. 17)|
|“Jeroboam will die by the sword.” (v. 11)||Yahweh will kill Jeroboam by the sword (v. 9)|
|“Amos has conspired . . . ” (v. 10)||“Yahweh took me . . . ” (v. 15)|
|Amos should prophecy in Judah (v. 12)||“Go . . . to my people Israel” (v. 15)|
|Amaziah says to Amos, “Go!” (v. 12)||Yahweh says to Amos, “Go!” (v. 15)|
Q9. Which way will Israel’s leadership choose? Do they see themselves as part of a typical ancient Near Eastern city/state or as the covenant people of Yahweh? Should the aristocrats seek to preserve their own safety, or should they be concerned with the will and ways of Yahweh? Are they going to remain as comfortable consumers fleecing the poor? Will they opt for the “boat-rocker” Amos or the “status-quo-loving” Amaziah?
A9. Answers will vary.
Behind Amos stands Yahweh; behind Amaziah stands Jeroboam ben Joash. The prophet is commissioned by the God of Israel. The priest is commissioned by the highest authority in the land. Amos and Amaziah represent two perspectives, two commitments, and two different ways of living. To say that the priest and prophet “crossed paths” is to understate the force of the narrative. According to a fundamental law of physics, the force of impact depends upon speed and direction. Amos and Amaziah were both moving fast, from totally opposite directions. One was bent on promotion, the other on devotion. One was a tyrant, the other a servant. One was consumed with self-interest, the other consumed with loving small people. One manipulated, slandered and coerced; the other preached, prayed, and interceded. Amaziah’s reaction to Amos is expected; the darkness is never able to stand in the light (cf. John 3:19–20). His rejection of the divine word explains why Yahweh says in visions three and four, “I will not pass over it [Israel’s transgression] again” (7:8; 8:2).