Amos: Prophet to Israel

Last week’s first readings were like an introduction to the Kings and Prophets. This week, the first reading begins to focus, not on the Books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, but on the individual books of various prophets. Here is the “lineup” of first readings in the week to come:

  • Week of June 29 – Amos
  • Week of July 6 – Hosea
  • Week of July 13 – Isaiah
  • Week of July 20 – Micah & Jeremiah
  • Week of July 27 – Jeremiah

There are some breaks for the celebration of feast days, e.g., July 29, Sts Peter and Paul and July 3rd, St. Thomas the Apostle, but otherwise, it is a deep dive into the works and words of the prophets.

So… I thought it might be useful and helpful to post some introductory materials about the “prophet of the week.” This week we look at the Prophet Amos.

Last Monday, the first reading was about the last king of Israel, the 10 Northern tribes, King Hoshea who reign was ended by the Assyrian king in 722 BCE (before the Christian era) marking the end of the Kingdom of Israel. Amos was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) about 30 years before the end. He was the last of the prophets to the North proclaiming God’s word and call to covenant during the reign of Jeroboam II. The 40 year reign of the king was largely a peaceful one without wars or extended conflicts with neighbors. It was a time when there was nothing to distract the king from the prophetic proclamations.

The whole northern empire had enjoyed a long period of peace and security marked by a revival of artistic and commercial development. Social corruption and the oppression of the poor and helpless were prevalent. Others, carried away by the free association with heathen peoples which resulted from conquest or commercial contact, went so far as to fuse with the Lord’s worship that of pagan deities in the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan.

Amos prophesied in the North at the great cult center of Bethel, from which he was finally expelled by the priest in charge of this royal sanctuary (7:10–17). The poetry of Amos, who denounces the hollow prosperity of the Northern Kingdom, is filled with imagery and language taken from his own pastoral background. The book is an anthology of his oracles.

The prophecy begins with a sweeping indictment of Damascus, Philistia, Tyre, and Edom; but the forthright herdsman saves his climactic denunciation for Israel, whose injustice and idolatry are sins against the light granted to her. Israel could indeed expect the day of the Lord, but it would be a day of darkness and not light (5:18). When Amos prophesied the overthrow of the sanctuary at Bethel, the fall of the northern royal house, and the captivity of the people, it was more than Israelite officialdom could bear. The priest of Bethel drove Amos from the shrine—but not before hearing a terrible sentence pronounced upon himself.

Amos is a prophet of divine judgment, and the sovereignty of the Lord in nature and history dominates his thought. But he was no innovator; his conservatism was in keeping with the whole prophetic tradition calling the people back to the high moral and religious demands of the Lord’s revelation. Amos’s message stands as one of the most powerful voices ever to challenge hypocrisy and injustice.

  • He boldly indicts kings, priests, and leaders (6:1; 7:9, 1617).
  • He stresses the importance and the divine origin of the prophetic word (3:38); one must either heed that word in its entirety or suffer its disappearance (8:1112).
  • Religion without justice is an affront to the God of Israel and, far from appeasing God, can only provoke divine wrath (5:2127; 8:410).
  • The Lord is not some petty national god but the sovereign creator of the cosmos (4:13; 5:8; 9:56).
  • Amos alludes to historical forces at work through which God would exercise judgment on Israel (6:14).
  • Several times he mentions deportation as the fate that awaits the people and their corrupt leaders (4:3; 5:5, 27; 7:17), a standard tactic of Assyrian foreign policy during this period.
  • Through the prophetic word and various natural disasters (4:612) the Lord has tried to bring Israel to repentance, but to no avail.
  • Israel’s rebelliousness has exhausted the divine patience and the destruction of Israel as a nation and as God’s people is inevitable (2:4, 1316; 7:89).
  • As it is presented in this book, Amos’s message is one of almost unrelieved gloom (but see 5:1415).
  • A later appendix (9:1115), however, ends the book on a hopeful note, looking beyond the judgment that had already taken place in fulfillment of Amos’s word.

In short, Amos reminds the king, the royalty, the priests, and the people that they are called back to the true Covenant with God.

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