TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction and Historical Background of the Eighth Century 3
Historical Background of Seventh/Sixth Centuries 110
Selected Bibliography 269
Works Cited in Notes 285
There are a number of difficulties in interpreting OT prophecy. The reasons for this are several. The first is the question of the type of literature. Much of the prophetic literature is in poetic form, and one is always struggling to sort out what is to be taken literally (normal, expected meaning) and what is figurative. We will try to stay as literal as possible in the interpretative process. Even where symbols, metaphors, and parables are employed, there is not too much difficulty understanding the literal meaning behind the figure.
An even larger difficulty is ascertaining when the prophecy will be fulfilled. As a rule of thumb, we should look back into history to see if an event has happened. If so it may well be that was the fulfillment. If the language of the prophecy is such that it has never been fulfilled, we should look to the eschatological future for its fulfillment. (Cf. Chapter 20 of Isaiah which is a prophecy concerning Egypt. The first part was no doubt fulfilled in the attack and conquering of Assyria. The language of the second part is stereotypical and eschatological. A similar pattern is found in Matthew 10. There Jesus sends out the seventy. The first part of the chapter pertains to that time, but the second part is eschatological.)
Historical Background of the Eighth Century Five writing prophets ministered during this important century: Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah. This century was dominated politically by the Assyrians, but the far reaching spiritual impact came from little known men from fairly obscure kingdoms called Israel and Judah.
Historical background is essential for a proper understanding of the setting and message of these prophets. There are times when that background cannot be ascertained, but to the extent that it can be known, the understanding of the prophet’s message is enhanced. Amos is the first writing prophet who directs his message to Israel. Hosea follows on his heels; then the great statesman-prophet Isaiah and his contemporary, Micah.
The upper Euphrates valley has a very complex history. Many different peoples over many centuries intruded, settled, mixed and fought with whoever preceded them. These people came to have a very important influence on God’s covenant people. To better understand the events affecting the OT people and the prophets who spoke to them for God, two major groups will be discussed: the Arameans and the Assyrians.
The period of the transition from judges to kings in the history of Israel (c. 1100 B.C.) was a significant period in the entire Mediterranean area. Smith says of this period:
“The last two centuries of the second millennium B.C. [1200 1000] had witnessed in western Asia and the Levant ubiquitous disturbances which caused a new distribution of political power. The Egyptian empire had declined, the Hittite had collapsed. Troy had fallen, the days of Cnossus and of Mycenae were over. When things have settled down and the scene shifting is complete, we find Assyria (which had relapsed into obscurity after a brief emergence) occupying the centre of the stage. Phrygia, and Lydia, and Greek Ionia become the important powers in western Asia Minor. In European Greece the Achaeans have ceased to be the principal power; they have been replaced by the Dorians. In Syria and Palestine we meet with a number of minor peoples and states—Phoenicia, Damascus, Israel, Judah, Moab, Edom, and others.”1
The new Assyrian power that came to “occupy center stage” arose again about 1000 BC. This new kingdom period of Assyrian history (900 600) dramatically affected the eighth century Israel/Judah and the message of the prophets.
Before going on with Assyrian history, it is necessary to examine a group that began to show up in the North West about this same period of time. These people were called Arameans by Semites but the Greeks referred to them as Syrians (perhaps from the Semitic word for Tyre, Tsur, hence Tsuria). (Likewise the languages will be referred to as Aramaic and Syriac.)
The presence of Aramaic names for rivers and mountains argues for their presence north of Syria from early times. Sometime at the beginning of the first millennium, they began to move in large numbers into the NW area of the Euphrates and even made their way down to the Persian gulf. This was not a cohesive movement, but a drifting of nomadic tribes with a similar dialect and religion. They posed a large threat to the Assyrians and probably should be credited with bringing the Middle Assyrian period to a close. They settled around the Khabur river, as far south as the border of Babylonia, and the Chaldean tribes (Bit Yakin), who are also Aramean, settled in the marsh lands north of the Persian Gulf (see map, p. 3). These Chaldeans eventually infiltrated the Babylonian peoples and founded the Neo Babylonian Empire in 625 B.C.
One group of Arameans consolidated their power and made Damascus their capital. These are the ever present Syrians in the Bible. David conquered the Aramean coalition that came against him, placed garrisons in Damascus, and probably thereby unwittingly contributed to the ability of Assyria to rise again. The Aramaic language became the lingua franca (trade language) from about the eighth century because the people were so widely spread throughout the area (Cf. Isa. 36:11). Even during the Indo European Persian period, Aramaic was the official language of the empire (hence, sections of Daniel and Ezra are Aramaic, and the script used for the Hebrew Bible is Aramaic).
As the Aramaic groups settled down and formed solid political entities, the Assyrians began to reassert their control of the west. During the ninth century, they conducted almost yearly campaigns over a period of sixty years and established dominance around the Khabur and Balikh rivers.
Biblical contact with the Assyrians came in the ninth century when a coalition of kings (Arameans and others) which Ahab joined fought Assyria. This coalition was an effort to assert independence in the west from the Assyrian overlordship. The account of this battle is found in Shalmaneser III’s annals and is dated at 853 B.C. The Assyrians claimed victory, but they did not return for some time and it took several battles before they were completely triumphant. This happened in 841 B.C. and Jehu, king of Israel, and other kings were forced to come to Nahr el Kelb to pay tribute. This event was recorded on Shalmaneser’s black obelisk.2 Assyria declined somewhat at the end of the ninth century, but Adad Nirari III (810 783 B.C.) marched west in his fifth year and defeated Damascus.3 This removed for a time the pressure of Syria on Israel. Later, the Assyrians were too occupied to keep up the pressure, but Damascus and Hamath were battling for control of their area allowing Israel and Judah a respite for new growth.4 The mighty Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727) brought his country back to great heights. He campaigned in the west from 743-738. There he encountered a certain Azariah in Syria, defeated him and destroyed much of his territory.5 Some scholars have a problem accepting Azariah as the biblical one, but Bright says that it would be exceptional to have two kings and two territories with the same name in the same period of time.6 The devastation spoken of in Isaiah 1 is therefore probably the result of this attack from Assyria, and so, early on, Judah came under the shadow of this eastern scourge.7 Tiglath Pileser III put pressure on the northern kingdom of Israel as well. Of King Menahem, the Bible says, “There came against the land Pul [Tiglath Pileser, Pul was his Babylonian name],8the King of Assyria, and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand” (2 Kings 15:19). Tiglath Pileser III’s annals say, “[As for Menahem, I ov]erwhelmed him [like a snowstorm] and he . . . fled like a bird, alone, [and bowed to my feet(?)]. I returned him to his place [and imposed tribute upon him, to wit:] gold, silver, etc. Israel [Omri land], all its inhabitants (and) their possessions I led to Assyria.”9 When Pekah allied himself with Rezin, King of Syria, against Ahaz of Judah, Ahaz sent to Tiglath Pileser for help (2 Kings 16:5 8). Another deportation of Israel is mentioned in 1 Chron. 5:5,6. Apparently a number of incursions were made against Samaria and people were carried off each time.
Tiglath Pileser had put Hoshea on the throne,10 but Shalmaneser V (726 722 B.C.) “found conspiracy in Hoshea; for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and offered no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year” (2 Kings 17:3 4). “And it came to pass . . . that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it . . . and the king of Assyria carried Israel away unto Assyria, and put them in Halah . . . and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 18:9 11).
Sargon II (722 705 B.C.), in his inscriptions at Khorsabad, claims to have captured Samaria and led off the captives of Israel. “I besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it. I formed from among them a contingent of 50 chariots and made remaining [inhabitants] assume their [social] positions. I installed over them an officer of mine and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king.”11 This does not agree either with the biblical data or Shalmaneser V’s annals quoted above. As Finegan suggests, Sargon may have come to the throne on the heels of the defeat of Samaria and carried out the deportation begun by Shalmaneser.12 Sennacherib (705 681 B.C.) came west and conquered the fortified cities of Judah and besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 18). Hezekiah paid him tribute. It was in preparation for this kind of attack that Hezekiah had the tunnel dug which bears the famous Siloam inscription (2 Chron. 32:1 8). “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered [them] by means of well stamped [earth]-ramps, and battering rams . . . Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city’s gate. His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them [over] to Mitinti, king of Ashdod.”13 This is part of an extended account found on a prism inscription. Sennacherib fails to note that he did not conquer Jerusalem. Hezekiah entertained ambassadors from the newly arising neo Babylonian empire as part of an anti Assyrian conspiracy.
The decline of Assyria was swift and decisive. The Babylonians, under Nabopolassar, joined with the Medes and Scythians. After a series of victories, they invested Nineveh, the great capital, and it fell in 612 B.C. The Assyrians fled to Haran in the west where the Egyptians joined them in an effort to prop them up against the Babylonians. The Babylonians won this battle under Nebuchadnezzar in 609 and began to take over the southern half of the Assyrian empire.
Historical Summary Adad-Nirari III (805 B.C.) defeated Damascus.
Jeroboam II; Uzziah (Azariah)
Tiglath-Pileser III (732) defeated Damascus (Isaiah 7; Ahaz).
Shalmaneser V (722 B.C.) defeated and began to deport Samaria.
Sargon II (722 B.C.) completed the deportation of Samaria.
Notes on the Book of Amos The Prophet: Little is known about Amos. He has a rural background and comes from Judah (hence is viewed as an interloper by the priests of Bethel). He was not a member of the “prophetic guild” but was a prophet nevertheless.
The Time: The general time frame is given in 1:1 as the reigns of Jeroboam II (793-753) in the north and Uzziah in the south (792-740), hence a period of some 50 years. However, Amos’ message was probably preached over a fairly short time (perhaps one year?). Consequently, it is difficult to place him in the longer period.
The Kings: Israel—Jeroboam II (793-753)
Assyria—Adad Nirari III (810-783)
Events: Adad Nirari sacked Damascus in 805. This took the previously relentless pressure of the Syrians off the Israelites. Consequently, there is a time of unprecedented prosperity in the north as the boundaries (both north and south) are restored to that which David and Solomon held (2 Kings 14:21-29).
Synthesis Amos’ primary message is to the covenant people of God. When he preaches to Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab, he deals primarily in horizontal sins: unjust actions against others. But when he turns to Judah and Israel, the indictment is that they have rejected the Torah of Yahweh (2:4).
The keeping of this law is indeed worked out in social justice, but the basis for the action is the holiness of God. Israel has apostatized from the living and true God (4:4 5), their ritual is empty (5:21 27), they have become dissolute in their daily conduct (6:1 7), and they oppress the needy (8:4 6). Because of this a holy God must discipline them (4:11 13). In spite of a series of messages full of doom, however, God’s covenant with His people cannot be broken. The last section of the book (9:7 15) is a message of hope. The “booth of David” is in the process of falling (participle). It is not yet down (that will happen in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem falls). God will raise up the “booth” when He restores Israel and Judah.
Structure Rhetorical indictment of eight nations (1-2).
Oracle #1 (Hear) seven questions—judgment (3:1-11).
Oracle #2 (Hear) cows of Bashan—judgment (4:1-13).
Oracle #3 (Hear) call to repentance in midst of sin (5:1-17).
Woe #1 to those longing for the Day of Yahweh (5:18-27).
Woe #2 to those who are at ease in Zion (6:1-14).
Vision #1 Locust swarm (7:1-3).
Vision #2 Fire (7:4-6).
Vision #3 Plumb line (7:7-9).
[Historical interlude—Amaziah the priest confronts Amos and orders him to return to the south (7:10-17)]
Vision #4 Summer fruit (kaytz/ketz) (8:1-3).
Oracle #4 (Hear) you who trample the needy (8:4-14).
Vision #5 the Lord by the Altar (9:1-6).
Concluding section of hope (9:7-15).
I. Historical Background.
Amos ministered for a period of time (perhaps a short period) during the reigns of two powerful and long lived monarchs.14 Jeroboam II ruled in Israel from 793 to 753 B.C. or forty one years.15 Uzziah (Azariah) ruled in Judah from 792 to 740 B.C.16 The Assyrian King, Adad Nirari III (810 783 B.C.) marched west in his fifth year (805 B.C.) and defeated Damascus.17 This removed for a time the pressure of Syria on Israel.18 Later, the Assyrians were too occupied to keep up the pressure, but Damascus and Hamath were battling for control of their area.19 As a result Israel was able to extend her borders apparently to the original boundaries of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:25). Jonah was used to prophesy regarding the extended borders of Israel. Judah likewise conquered the Philistines, the Arabians, and the Ammonites. Elath at the Gulf of Aqaba was restored by Uzziah’s father (2 Chron. 26:2).20 The vacuum created by the political situation and the filling of that vacuum by Israel brought great prosperity. With the increase in wealth came an increase in religious apostasy. The poor were oppressed, and the rich languished in large houses in a perpetual party atmosphere (Amos 4:6 8; 5:10 13; 6:4 7). The cult center established by Jeroboam I fifty years earlier was in full swing, and Amos inveighed against it21 (7:10-17).
II. The Prophet Amos.
Amos had the difficult task of leaving his country and going to Israel. Consequently, his message was unpopular not only because of its content, but because it was being delivered by a “foreigner.” Amos’ village was located a few miles southeast of Bethlehem. A good view of the area can be had from the heights of the Herodium. The area is fairly barren, and the Bedouin graze their sheep there.22 Amos was a shepherd (1:1) as well as a tender of sycamore figs (7:14). The word for shepherd is noqed (dqeno) which refers to a type of spotted sheep and then the caretaker of such sheep. The word translated sycamore figs is from shiqmim (~ymiq.vi).23 The work of Amos in connection with the fig trees was to prick the figs, “a fruit that must be punctured or slit shortly before ripening to be edible.”24 Thus we can see that Amos was of humble origins and probably a fairly poor farmer.25 Whereas his later contemporary, Isaiah, seems to be at home in upper class circles, Amos came into the wealthy community of Israel as an interloper.
Amos’ statement about not being a prophet has provoked a lot of discussion (7:14). Is he saying that he is not a prophet? The verbless clause (“I not a prophet”) can only be given a time from the context. It should probably be translated in the past: “I was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet.” The latter phrase does not mean that his father was not a prophet, but that he did not belong to a guild of prophets called “sons of prophets” (~yaiybiN>h; ynEB. bene hanevi’im) (2 Kings 2:3ff). Amos is most assuredly a prophet at the time. He himself says: “The Lord has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (3:8).
III. The Outline of Amos.
A. Amos gives an introduction and the theme of his repeated message (1:1 2).
Amos was apparently a peripatetic prophet who kept repeating a basic message, the summary for which is given by Amaziah in 7:10 11. Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh must have been similar.
Amos must have subsequently returned to Tekoa where he assembled and edited his messages as we now see them in the book. The final chapter of hope was probably written at that time (note the reference to David=Judah).
The introduction likens Yahweh to a lion who roars with devastating results. He roars from Jerusalem to the northern kingdom.26 The Carmel range was very fertile, and a judgment resulting in its drying up would be very severe.27 B. Amos speaks of God’s judgment of all the nations surrounding Israel and Israel herself (1:3 2:16).
The pedagogical device is to condemn other nations before coming to Israel. He begins with Damascus, crosses south to Gaza, goes back north to Tyre, crosses southeast to Edom, north to Ammon, back south to Moab, westward to Judah and finally comes to Israel. Each message is introduced with the phrase “Thus says Yahweh” (hwhy rm;a' hKo koh amar Yahweh).
1. Yahweh indicts Damascus (1:3 5).
The Hebrew idiom “for three + one” is a way of saying “enough is enough.”28 The Arameans were enemies of Israel most of the time. Because of their abuse of Gilead (northeast section of Israel, cf. 2 Kings 13:1-9), God is going to judge Damascus (their capital) and send them into the Assyrian exile to the city of Kir (2 Kings 16:9).
2. Yahweh indicts Philistia (1:6 8).
Gaza was instrumental in sending a complete captivity into Edom where they would be sold as slaves. This represents border raids on Judah when the captives would be sold into slavery. Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron are mentioned as three other cities in the Philistine grouping.29
3. Yahweh indicts Tyre (1:9 10).
Tyre, the great maritime merchant power, was also involved in the slave trade. The covenant of brotherhood may hearken back to the relationship between David and Hiram.
4. Yahweh indicts Edom (1:11 12).
The Edomites were “brothers” to Israel and Judah, yet they were implacable enemies. They are condemned by most of the prophets. The little prophecy of Obadiah is devoted exclusively to the Edomites.
5. Yahweh indicts Ammon (1:13 15).
The Ammonites were also distant relatives of Israel through Lot living on the east side of the Jordan. The modern capital of Amman retains the ancient designation. Because of Ammon’s attack on Gilead (Israelite territory), God would send them into exile.
6. Yahweh indicts Moab (2:1 3).
Moab apparently defeated Edom at some point and burned the king into lime. This heinous deed (among others, no doubt) brings the judgment of God upon Moab.
7. Yahweh indicts Judah (2:4 5).
The edict of judgment is circling ever closer and now alights on Judah. Judah’s sin is in rejecting the law of God and failure to keep His statutes. As noted earlier Judah and Israel hold unique positions as God’s chosen people. They are more accountable than other nations as a result.
8. Yahweh indicts Israel (2:6 16).
The circle has now closed on the object of Amos’ message: Israel. Up to this point, the Israelite could say, “Amen!” Now, however, the shoe is being placed on their foot, and Amaziah’s reaction was probably typical (7:10 15).
This sin is threefold (2:6 8). They oppress the poor, commit sexually lewd acts, and sleep on pledged garments by pagan altars and drink wine. Pusey says, “By a sort of economy in the toil of sinning, they blended many sins into one.”30 God reminds them that they are in the land by His grace (2:9 16). Because He is lord and His lordship has been flouted, He will judge them. God raised up prophets and Nazirites, but the people abused them.
C. Three messages are delivered against Israel (3:1—6:14). The key phrase is “hear this word.”
1. Judgment is coming on the chosen people of Israel (3:1 15).
a. Israel is God’s chosen people, and yet she has sinned against her Lord. Other nations do not enjoy that position, and therefore Israel’s judgment is harsher (3:1 2).
b. Through a series of proverbs (two men, lions, bird, trap, trumpets, and finally a calamity caused by God) God says that He has spoken through His servants and they must prophesy (3:3 8).
c. God calls on surrounding pagans to witness Israel’s sin and proclaims her devastation (3:9 15).
2. Judgment is coming on the “cows of Bashan” (4:1 13).
a. Women are involved in the same sinful practices as the men, and they will go into judgment (4:1 3).31 You will go out through breeches in the wall, each one straight before her (4:3). (Cf. Josh. 6:5, 20).32 b. The idolatrous, futile practices of the northern kingdom are set out next. Bethel is the cult center with ancient connections, but was made the southern religious cult center in Jeroboam I’s day. The Israelites are bringing tithes, sacrifices and offerings, but they are insincere as they bring them (4:4 5).
c. God sent a series of judgments to try to turn them to Himself, “yet you have not turned to Me, declares the Lord.”
Drought (4:7 8).
Crop failure (4:9).
Consequently, even more severe punishment awaits them as He tells them to “prepare to meet your God, O Israel . . . the Lord of Hosts is His name” (4:6 13).
3. God predicts defeat and captivity for Israel and urges her to turn to Him (5:1 6:14).
a. Gilgal and Bethel were cult centers and Beersheba may have been the object of pilgrimages. Only Yahweh can bring salvation because He is the creator of the universe (5:1 9).
b. Israel’s transgressions are obvious in their social sins, and God admonishes them to seek good (5:10 15).
c. God promises them judgment and tells them the Day of the Lord will be disastrous for them (5:16 20).33
d. Amos condemns their empty religious activity. He wants instead obedient lives. Amos is not against sacrifice or the priesthood, he is against hypocrisy. Even in the wilderness, Israel was disobedient. Her history was one of disobedience. Therefore, God will send them into exile beyond Damascus (5:21 27).34
e. He pronounces woe on their luxurious and sinful lifestyle (6:1-3), first by saying that they are no better than other cities God has judged (Calneh, Hamath and Gath—Gath is missing from the Philistine pentapolis in the judgment promised in 1:6 8).35 They hope to postpone the Day of the Lord (calamity), but they practice violence themselves (6:1 3). The second reason God pronounces woe on the Samarians is that their immoral practices will cause them to go first into the exile (6:4-7). Exile (golah, hl'AG or hl'G") appears nine times in Amos (1:5; 5:5,5,27;6:7; 7:11,11,17,17). The exile of 722 B.C. is in view, but it has not yet taken place as the critics would have it.
f. The suffering from the siege is depicted in 6:8 11. People die from the plague, but no one calls on God’s name. This may be out of superstition, fear, or a sense of futility.36
Because of Israel’s perverse rejection of God, He promises to bring Assyria (not mentioned by name) on them (6:12 14). Hamath to Arabah are the areas recovered by Jeroboam II.
D. Amos predicts God’s judgment on Israel through a series of visions (7:1—9:6).
The prophecy began with “For three transgressions, yea upon four.” Perhaps a link is being made with the opening three + one indictment with these visions. There are three visions of judgment interrupted by Amaziah’s criticism as an example of religious Israel’s refusal to hear the Word of God, followed by the fourth vision.
1. Vision #1: Yahweh God shows Amos a locust horde (7:1 3).
The locusts eat the spring crop. Amos pleads for clemency, and Yahweh listens to him (7:2 3).37 2. Vision #2: Yahweh God shows Amos a devastating fire (7:4 6).
It consumes the deep and the farmland. Amos pleads again and Yahweh relents.38 3. Vision #3: Yahweh God shows Amos a plumb line (7:7 9).
The plumb line is a builder’s tool to show what is straight and, here, morally right. Israel is “crooked” because of idolatry. As a result, judgment is going to come.
4. Interlude: Amos’ messages are interrupted by the priest of Bethel (7:10 17).
a. Amaziah charges Amos with disturbing the peace (7:10 13).
He argues that Amos has conspired against Jeroboam and that the land cannot hold all his words. The treason charge comes because Amos predicts Jeroboam’s death and the exile of the people (7:10 11).
Amaziah demands that Amos go back to his own country and earn his bread from his own people. In the process he indicates that Bethel is a royal sanctuary (%l,m, vD"q.mi miqdash melek) and a royal residence (hk'l'm.m; tyBe beth mamlakah) (7:12 13).
b. Amos responds by saying that he is there by God’s appointment (7:14 17).
His own origins are humble, and he was not a part of the official prophetic movement (7:14 15).
He prophesies against Amaziah, his family and his land. Amaziah will go into exile as will all Israel.
5. Vision #4 (3 + 1): Yahweh God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit (8:1 14).
a. He shows Amos the fruit: qayitz (#yIq;). He gives its meaning: the end qetz, (#qe) has come for Israel. By a pun he indicates that judgment will come on the palace as in other places.
b. He shows the reason for the judgment (8:4 14).
They cheat with shekel size and scales and thus take advantage of the poor (8:4 6).
Because of this God will judge Israel (8:7 10).
God’s word will be withheld from those who refuse to hear it (8:11 14).
6. Vision #5: Amos sees Yahweh standing beside the altar (9:1 6).
a. The religious system will be broken, and the people will be judged and sent into exile (9:1 4).
b. Yahweh shows his sovereignty and power in creation (9:5 6).
E. A final covenantal promise is made to restore Israel (9:7 15).39 1. God shows His sovereign control over the nations of the world (9:1 7).
Israel, boasting that she was God’s chosen nation, was really no better than far off Cush because of her disobedience.
2. Israel judged but not destroyed (9:8 12).
Scattered as grain through a sieve
Sown not scattered
3. There will be a time of great prosperity (9:13 15).