The Divine Lamp

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Archive for the ‘NOTES ON AMOS’ Category

My Notes on Amos 6

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 28, 2016

Am 6:1 Woe to those who dwell in ease at Zion, and to the ones who think themselves secure on the mountain of Samaria, leaders of the first of th nations to whom the people of Israel come!
Am 6:2 Go over to Calneh and see, pass on from there to Hamath the great, and from there go down to Gath of the Philistines! Are you superior to these kingdoms? Are your borders greater than their borders?
Am 6:3 You would put far from you the evil day, yet you bring on quickly the reign of violence. (My Translation)

This is the beginning of the third woe oracle (see Am 5:1, 7) and is directed to the leaders of the people. Here the oracle is directed not only to the leaders of Israel but to the leaders of Judah as well. At this time Judah was in vassalage to the Israel which is described somewhat sarcastically as the first of nations, and it appears that the primary focus of the oracle is Israel. The fact is that both Judah and Israel were small, neither being much bigger than the nations and peoples they had subjugated. Their presumed military might seems silly in the face of rising Assyrian power but the leaders were unconcerned, trusting in their armies. In their carelessness and unconcern for the growing threat of Assyria they have, put far from themselves the evil day, yet their slovenly luxury will be their downfall for it brings on quickly the reign of violence.

Am 6:4 Woe to you who recline on beds of ivory and stretch out in comfort upon couches to dine upon lambs from the flock and calves from the stall
Am 6:5 as you compose songs to the tune of a harp and, like David, improvise the accompaniment;
Am 6:6 all the while drinking wine from bowls and anointing yourselves with fine oil, not at all sickened by the demise of Joseph!
Am 6:7 For this reason, you will be the first to go into exile, your unseemly celebrations shall come to an end. (My Translation)

The prophet now shows us how the people have put far from themselves the evil day (vs 3). It would appear that they were engaging in escapism through luxury, giving no thought, paying no heed to the moral decay in their own lives and in their nation. Food, finery, and freedom from manual labor would be their undoing. The reference to beds of ivory reminds us of what was said about the destruction of the houses of ivory in  Am 3:15. The reference to couches is a reminder of what was said in Am 3:12: “Thus says the Lord: As a shepherd grabs from the lion’s mouth two legs, or a portion of an ear, so shall the sons of Israel be saved with a corner of a couch, or a portion of a bed” (my translation).

The attitude of these people reminds one of our Lord’s description of the people in Noah’s day as the flood approached (see Matt 24: 37-39).

Am 6:8 The Lord God has sworn by his own self, ‘I the Lord, the God of hosts say, the arrogance of Jacob I loathe, his strongholds I detest, and his city I shall deliver up with all that it contains.
Am 6:9 If ten men remain in a single house, then surely these shall die too.
Am 6:10 A handful will remain to dispose of the dead that are in the houses, and if one these should say to a survivor in a house “is anyone in there with you?” he shall respond “not one;” and he shall say “Quiet! The name of the Lord we must not speak.” (My translation)

Once again the prophet returns to the theme of the military invasion and defeat of Israel (see Am 2:13-16; and Am 3:11-15). Israel, under Jeroboam the second had grown strong militarily and had expanded its borders, but without God it would be no match for the might of the Assyrian empire, the nu-named but obvious threat the prophet has in mind. Once again we see that the devastation will be immense.

A relative fulfilling his familial obligations is portrayed as calling into a house for possible survivors and finds that only one is alive. The command not to speak the Lord’s name is probably connected to the fact that contact with the dead constituted ritual impurity.

Am 6:11 Because the Lord commands it, the great house shall be struck into fragments, and the small house into rubble
Am 6:12 Do horses run across the rocky heights? Does a man furrow the sea with his oxen? Yet you have turned justice into something toxic. You have made the fruit of righteousness sour.

Verse 8 attributed the judgement described in verses 9 and 10 to the arrogance of Jacob. Verses 11 reiterates that such judgement is commanded by the Lord, and verse 12 attributes the judgement to the perversion of righteousness, surely a sign of the arrogance of Jacob. Just as it is unthinkable that horses would run across rocky heights, or that a man would furrow the sea with oxen, so too is the perversion of justice unthinkable, but the people have done it.

Am 6:13 Yet you glorify yourselves over Lodebar, saying, ‘did we not, by virtue of our own strength, take to ourselves Karnaim?’
Am 6:14 Look out! I will raise against you a people, O house of Israel, says the the Lord, the God of hosts, and they will oppress you from the opening of Hamath to the brook of Arabah. (My translation) 

Lodebar and karnaim were two Ammonite cities. The name of the first means “nothing,” and that of the second means “two horns,” a symbol of strength. In other words, the people are glorifying themselves with the taking of “nothing.” They are celebrating their strength by the taking of “two horns.” Horns were not only a symbol of strength, they were also found on altars. If one whose life was in danger could seize these horns he would be safe (see 1 Kings 2:28). The people trust that their own strength, by which they took Karnaim (two horns) will be their protection and salvation, but such is not the case. the opening of Hamath and the brook of Arabah defined the borders of the kingdom. The entire nation will be afflicted.

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My Notes on Amos 9:11-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 4, 2014

Quotations are from the RSVCE which is under copyright. “The Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”.

Amos 9:11 “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old;

In that day.  The Day of the Lord. A day that could be either one of judgment or blessing, depending on one’s status with God. Most of the people in the corrupt Northern Kingdom of Israel (recall the Kingdom of David had split in two) were under the delusion that by merely being a part of the chosen people was enough to make this Day a day of blessing for them. The Prophet, preaching nearly unrestrained, coming punishment, sought to disabuse them of this notion. If God would punish the Pagan peoples for their crimes (Am 1:3-2:3), he would also certainly punish his own people; both what was left to the line of David (i.e., Judah, Am 2:4-5), and the newer Northern Kingdom of Israel where Amos preached (Am 2:6-16, and passim). For sinners in both these kingdoms that constituted God’s chosen people the Day of the Lord would be a day of darkness, not light (Am 5:18-20). That day was, for the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the day of the Assyrian conquest which brought the northern kingdom to and end (see 2 Kings 17:1-41). Once the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel have been shaken among the nations by exile (Am 9:1-10), a day will come in which the fortunes of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the booth of David that is fallen as a result of the Babylonian exile and its aftermath (2 Chron 36:15-21), will begin to be restored. This “day” has already begun and is working towards its fulfillment (Acts 15:13-18).

Amos 9:12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” says the LORD who does this.

Hints at the incorporation of Gentile peoples into God’s chosen peopel under the Davidic King

Amos 9:13 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.
Amos 9:14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
Amos 9:15 I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land which I have given them,” says the LORD your God.

These things were often associated with covenant fidelity (Deut 28:1-14). Lack of covenant fidelity meant that the blessings would be taken away (Deut 28:15-69; Hosea 2:10-14; Joel 1:2-12, 15-20; Amos 1:2, 4:6-11). An abundance of grain and wine often symbolized the restoration of the people’s relationship to God and/or the Messianic Age (Hosea 2:20-24; Joel 2:12-14, 19-27; Isa 25:6-7).

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My Notes on Amos 3:1-8, 4:11-12.

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 29, 2014

Here begins another major section of the Prophet’s Book (3:1-4:13). It is in the form of a sermon which has combined many elements. The basic point of the sermon is that punishment is coming necessarily, and this necessity is due to Israel’s sins. It opens with a “call to attention” formula typical of the prophetic literature. 

AMOS 3:1-2 Attention! Punishment is Coming!

Amos 3:1. Hear this word that the Lord has spoken concerning you, O sons of Israel, concerning the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 
Amos 3:2. “Only you have I known among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.”

“Hear this word” is a common biblical address meant to get an audience’s attention. It is found at the beginning of hymns of praise (Judges 5:3), it (or a similar formula) is also used in wisdom teaching (Prov 7:1, 24), and in military and political negotiations as well (2 Kings 18:28-29). But it was very common in prophetic speeches, especially those taking the form of a warning (Hosea 4:1; Isaiah 1:10; Ezekiel 6:3). 

The actual  word that the Lord has spoken concerning Israel is quoted beginning in verse 2: “only you have I known among all the families of the earth; therefore (i.e. for this reason, because of this) I will punish you for your iniquities.”

God chose to know Israel in a way not enjoyed by the other peoples of the world. Know, as used in Scripture, implies a special, intimate relationship of experience (see Gen 4:1; Jer1:5).

The wording of verses 1 and 2 would have called to the people’s minds the covenant of Moses which was itself a partial fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (also named Israel, Gen 35:10).

God had chosen Abraham so that in his descendents “all the families of the earth might find blessing (see Gen 12:3; 18:18;). A promise repeated after the near sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:18), and repeated again to Jacob (Israel) in Genesis 28:10-15.

In Exodus 19, as God prepares to make his covenant with the people under Moses, he says to Moses: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all the peoples; for all the earth is mine.” (Ex 19:3-5, RSV). And as he makes the covenant he begins with these words: “I am the Lord, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

The words then of Amos 3:1-2 would have reminded the people of their founding traditions and their privileges as the Chosen People. A privilege Paul describes memorably: “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.” (Rom 9:4-5, NAB). But with privilege and blessing comes responsibilities (see Luke 12:48) which the people had not fulfilled: Therefore, God says in Amos 3:2, I will punish you for your iniquities. In punishing the people God is showing himself to be what he was, the father of Israel, His firstborn son (Exodus 4:22-23); “for whom the Lord loves he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” (see Hebrews 12:1-12). 

Background to Amos 3:3-8, 4:11-12

After calling the people to attention and announcing that punishment is coming for their failure to live as God’s covenanted children, God, through the prophet, asks a series of rhetorical questions which are meant to justify the action God is taking. Every effect [in this case the impending punishment from God] has a cause (Am 3:3-6). Then a reference is made to prophecy (Am 3:7-8). We are, I believe, to understand that Israel’s sins has caused God to send Amos to prophecy. Thus far the people have rejected God’s prophets and prophecies (Am 2:11-12), showing themselves unafraid (Am 3:8), and by this willful ignorance setting themselves up for great punishment (Am 3:9-15, 4:2-3). Only some will escape, and just barely at that (Am 3:12). The primary sin highlighted in this section is oppression of those without financial, social, political, or legal clout (Am 3:9-10, 4:1), increasing the pious fraud of their already tainted worship (Am 4:4-5). These are issues previously highlighted by the prophet (Am 2:6-8),and though God has already undertaken to punish them for it (Am 4:6-10), treating them as no better than Sodom and Gomorrah (Am 4:11), he will have to do more (Am 4:12).

Amos 3:3. Do two go about together unless they belong together? 

The answer to this and the following questions is, quite obviously, no. A lamb and a lion do not go about together. In Amos’ day people of differing social classes or sexes did not associate together unless there was some cause for them to do so.

Amos 3:4. Does a lion ROAR in the forest even though he is without prey. Does a young lion GIVE OUT HIS VOICE from his habitation if he has caught nothing?

Recall that Amos was a herdsman from the wilderness of Tekoa (Am1:1), he would certainly know that a lion’s roar is often caused by its pursuit or capture of prey. Notice that this verse calls to mind the keynote verse of the Book of Amos(i.e., Am 1:2)

“The Lord ROARS from Zion GIVES OUT HIS VOICE from Jerusalem…the height of Carmel withers.” The importance of this will be seen later. [note that the CAPITALIZED words refers to the sound/voice of God/lion; and the italicised words refer to where God/ a lion dwells]

Amos 3:5. Does a bird fall victim to a snare upon the earth if their is no bait to lure it? Does a snare spring up from the ground if there is no prey to capture? 

Again, the answer is no; effects have there causes.

Amos 3:6. Does a trumpet sound in a city and the people do not tremble? Does affliction come upon a city and the Lord has not been the cause of it?

Trumpet is a reference to the shofar, the rams horn that was blown to signal the approach of an enemy. Its sound would definitely cause the people to tremble.

God had warned the people as they were about to enter the promised land that if they refused to obey his covenant he would punish them by causing foreign armies to invade their land and sack their cities (see Deut 28:49-52).

Notice the progression of these verses. Verse 3 asked, very generically, “do two walk together?” The question was so vague that it could refer to animals or people. Verse 4 focused on the theme of animals against animals; a lion roars because it has captured its prey. Verse 5 focuses on the theme of man against animals, for only men lay snares. Verse 6a focuses upon the theme of men against men, for only men war with men. verse 6b focuses upon the theme of God against men; implicitly, the focus is upon his relationship with his people. Every effect in the world has its cause.

Amos 3:7.  Certainly the Lord God does nothing without revealing his plans to his servants the prophets.

In order to keep the people on the straight and narrow, and to ensure that they did not forget him and commit idolatry, God had, through Moses, promised the people that he would raise up prophets to guide and instruct them (see Deut 18:9-22). Recall, however, that the people of the Northern Kingdom had rejected the prophets sent to them (see Amos 2:11-12). The people therefore are without excuse: “for if any man will not listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.” (Deut 18:19). 

Amos 3:8. A lion has roared-who does not fear? The Lord God has spoken-who does not prophecy? 

As previously noted the reference to a lion roaring recalls the keynote verse in Amos 1:2. There we saw that God, the shepherd of his flock, Israel, had become their worst nightmare. Like a lion with its prey he had roared (see Am3:4) and there was drought upon the land. Not only was he “roaring” through natural calamities, but also through his prophets-who will not be afraid? As will be seen in Amos 4:6-11, the people were apparently not afraid. As will be seen in Amos 7:12-13, they will seek to silence the prophecies of Amos, but to no avail.

Amos 4:11. “I have overturned you” (says God), as he overturned Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like an ember plucked from the inferno, “yet you have not returned unto me,” says the Lord.

God’s punishment of his rebellious people, which was narrated in Amos 4:6-10, is here compared to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but with one important difference. The cities of the plain were completely destroyed by fire (Gen 19:24-25), becoming only a smoking ruin (Gen 19:28), but the people of Israel are here compared to an ember pulled from burning, saved, but barely. Their continued hypocrisy of worship and sinfulness demands and even greater response from God, as the ominous words of verse 12 indicate.

Amos 4:12. Therefore I will do more unto you, O Israel; and because this I will do unto thee, prepare to meet you God, O Israel.

The nature of the impending further punishment is left unstated. St Jerome: “When He has said, ‘This will I do to thee,’ He is silent as to what He will do, in order that, whilst Israel is left in uncertainty as to the particular kind of punishment (which is all the more terrible because all kinds of things are imagined), it may repent of its sins, and so avert the things which God threatens here”

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Some Brief Notes on Amos 5:1-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 28, 2014

PLEASE NOTE: placing your cursor on a scripture link (e.g., Gen 1:1) will cause the text to appear in a box on your screen. To read longer references (e.g., Gen 1:1-31) you will need to click on the link. The link will open a new window and the site will allow you to view the text in several different versions. The default setting is the RSVCE.

Building upon the sarcastic and ironic statements of Amos 4:4-14, a new section of the book opens in Amos 5:1-6:14. We will examine the section in three major blocks: Amos 5:1-15 (the subject of this current post); Amos 5:16-27; and Amos 6:1-14.

Basically, the text calls upon the people to seek God rather than the temples at Bethel and Gilgal. This stands in Marked contrast to the 4 where the people were told come to Gilgal and sin; to Bethel and sin even more. The Point there was that their false and formalistic worship was not a true “seeking after” God.

Read Amos 5:1.  The word hear is, as we have seen before, prophetic call to attention. What the people are called to attend to is the impending doom of their kingdom. This doom is announced in the form of lamentation; a funeral dirge or death song which is given in vs 2.

Read Amos 5:2.  Consists of the actual lamentation announced in the previous verse. It is, in the Hebrew text, written in the poetic “Qinah” meter, a term derived from the Hebrew word for lamentation. In other words, in verse 2 we are to understand that the prophet is singing the words: Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel; forsaken on her land, with none to raise her up. The lamentation is recorded in the present tense as if the state of affairs it concerns has already taken place. In fact, the event is still future, as verses 3-5 make clear. The present tense serves a two-fold purpose; (1) it highlights its function as a prediction and (2) it makes clear that what is predicted will come to pass. The Northern Kingdom, virgin Israel, will indeed fall, the only recourse the people have in the face of this impending calamnity is repentance, returning to the Lord (Amos 5:5-6), which includes living righteously (Amos 5:14-15). Their repentance, however, will not save the Northern Kingdom, for the kingdom is marked for destruction as a political/religious entity. As the prophet will make clear later, the people must not only return to the right worship of God, but they must also once again subject themselves to the leadship of the Davidic kings of Judah (Amos 9:8b-15).

Read Amos 5:3.  Notice the combination of past and future tenses here. What is being predicted will surely happen.

For. This word introduces the reason for the lamentation and its meaning. Virgin Israel will fall and be forsaken as the result of a terrible military defeat (see Amos 2:13-16). Her Armies will literally be decimated. A thousand will be reduced to a hundred; a hundred will be reduced to ten. The ancient Jewish military was arraigned in companies of tens, hundreds, thousands.

Read Amos 5:4. This is the only valid solution to their impending predicament.

Read Amos 5:5.  (see Amos 3:14-15) All three of these sites loom large in the history of the patriarchs who set up shrines and memorials to God at them. But during the time of David and Solomon God had chosen to dwell in Jerusalem and receive sacrifice there (Deut 12:1-14). Turning these other sites into rival places of sacrificial worship was an offense against God. Compounding this was the fact that the worship taking place was tainted with paganism. These places would indeed be destroyed and the people taken into exile by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC.

Read Amos 5:6.  The beginning of the verse basically repeats the call to seek God made in vs 4. The rest of the verse again reiterates the impending doom of the Kingdom by military defeat. Notice that the language is similar to what was found in the oracles of Amos 1:3-25. In those oracles we saw that a number of nations, including Judah, and/or their cities were threatened with fire. In the oracle made against the Northern Kingdom of Israel in Amos 2:6-16 no such threat is given. Why was it delayed till here?

Read Amos 5:7. Reintroduces the theme of sins against righteousness and justice which are manifested in mistreatment of the poor (see Amos 2:6-8; 3:9-10; 4:1).

Wormwood is a small bush which lies close to the ground and has an extremely bitter taste to it. The people have made Justice and righteousness bitter and insignificant, like the wormwood plant.

Read Amos 5:8-9. These verses are a liturgical acclamation similar to the one found in Amos 4:13. As the true source of all that is made and happens in creation God cannot be mocked; for as he is the source of creation, he is also the source of righteousness and justice among men. He who has the power to control creation certainly has the power to bring judgement against those who turn justice into wormwood.

Read Amos 5:10. Legal cases were heard and legal decisions were made in public, usually at the city gate. As we saw in Amos 2:6-8, the wealthy were corrupting the legal system in order to cheat the poor. A Judge who reproves honestly, or a witness who speaks truthfully are hated by such people.

Read Amos 5:11. The wealthy in the kingdom who have increased their abundance wrongly will not enjoy the fruits of their wrongdoing (see Amos 3:15 and Amos 4:9).

Read Amos 5:12. As Amos 5:7-10 made clear, God is not ignorant of what is taking place, it is precisely his knowledge of what is happening which motivates the coming punishment.

Read Amos 5:13. The prudent man will remain silent concerning the evil being done because things have become so evil.

Read Amos 5:14. The Hebrew word used for seek is dirsu, the root of which is often used to denote seeking God thru prophetic oracles or worship. One can only seek good and worship according to God’s will which was manifested and made known thru the gift of prophecy (see Deut 18:9-20). Though the people were claiming God was with them their actions showed otherwise.

Read Amos 5:15. Ultimately, one can only have a right relationship with God if one has a right relationship with his fellow humans (or is trying to establish or maintain such relations). If the wealthy and pwerful want to escape the coming wrath they have to begin acting in an upright manner and not, for example, continue corrupting the courts.

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Haydock Bible Commentary on Amos 7:12-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 10, 2012

The Haydock Commentary was very basic; today we might call it a study bible.

Amo 7:12  And Amasias said to Amos: Thou seer, go, flee away into the land of Juda: and eat bread there, and prophesy there.

Seer.  This was the ancient title of prophets; (1 Sam 9:9; Calmet) but it is here used contumeliously.  (Haydock) — We know not whether Amasias acted by the king’s order or not.  He was less afraid of the predictions than of  losing his employment.  (Calmet)

Amo 7:13  But prophesy not again any more in Bethel: because it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the house of the kingdom.

Sanctuary, or “palace.”  (Kimchi) — The kings resided commonly in Samaria; but they came hither to practise their religion, and had a palace.  (Calmet) — The king’s choice was all that Amasias regarded, as many seem still to do, without examining whether the religion be true or false!  Will the king screen them from the indignation of the just Judge at the hour of death?  (Haydock)

Amo 7:14  And Amos answered and said to Amasias: I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet: but I am a herdsman plucking wild figs.

I am not a prophet.  That is, I am not a prophet by education: nor is prophesying my calling or profession: but I am a herdsman, whom God was pleased to send hither to prophesy to Israel.  (Challoner) — He speaks with the like humility as [John] the baptist, John 1:21., and Luke 7:26.  It seems the prophets usually left their trade, and applied to meditation, Zechariah 8:5.  Septuagint, “I was not a prophet, nor,” &c. — Plucking.  Septuagint (Theodotion), “pricking.”  (Calmet) — This was requisite to make the fruit ripen in four days’ time.  (Pliny, [Natural History?] xiii. 7., and xvi. 27. — Wild fig-trees have three sorts of fruits.  The flies which proceed from some of them, prick the sweet figs, and make them ripen.  (Tourefort i. let. 8.) — Amos probably conveyed such wild figs to be near those of the garden, while at other times he fed his cattle.

Amo 7:15  And the Lord took me when I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel.

The Haydock Comm. Offers no note.

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My Notes on Amos 7:12-15 for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 10, 2012

Today’s readings focus upon the theme of mission by the will and choice of God. Amos 7:12-15 ends with the prophet’s insistence that the Lord took me when I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel.  The second reading, taken from Ephesians 1:3-14, is about God’s choosing us in Christ to be holy and unblemished (Eph 1:4); to exist unto the praise of his glory (Eph 1:11). This is the favor of his salvific will (Eph 1:5). In the Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) Jesus calls twelve men and gives them authority for a mission.

Background~Amos 7:1-8:3 contains four prophetic visions recounted by the prophet. The first two visions (locust plague; fire Amos 7:1-6) have the same basic format: The Lord shows Amos a vision which he, Amos, begins to describe with the word ”behold. ” The vision is then recounted, followed by the prophet’s intercession that the impending punishment not take place. To this intercession the Lord responds favorably.

The second two visions (Amos 7:7-9 and Amos 8:1-3) likewise are formatted similar to one another. As in the first two visions the prophet is shown something by God, however, unlike the first two visions God is the first to speak. This effectively prevents the prophet from interceding on behalf of the people. When God speaks, he asks the prophet a question concerning the vision and the prophet responds by describing what he sees. The two visions in and of themselves do not suggest the idea of divine punishment but are interpreted by God as such after the prophet’’s response.

It appears to me that the first two visions recount things that have already taken place. Twice God punished the people with agricultural disasters (locust, fire) but brought such punishment to an end in response to the prophet’’s plea. No doubt this combination of punishment and mercy was meant to bring the people to their senses and lead them to repentance, but this failed. This is why the third and fourth visions announce punishment without any remittance.

The third and fourth visions are separated by the dispute between Amos and Amazaiah (Amos 7:10-17), priest of the Temple of Bethel. The fact that this dispute is sandwiched between the final two visions is not accidental. The priest is to be seen as a paradigm representative of the people. His desire not to hear prophecy while maintaining the false worship of Bethel is characteristic of most of the people of the northern kingdom (Amos 2:10-12; Amos 4:4-5). It is this attitude that motivates God to bring the northern kingdom to and end, which is the message of visions three and four.

Notes On Amos 7:12-15~In this exchange we get some idea of the sorry state into which prophecy had fallen. There were in ancient times prophetic guilds of professional prophets whose disciples were known as sons of the prophets. Professional prophetism is an acceptable practice in the bible, however, like all offices it was open to abuse. Amaziah readily assumes not only that Amos is a member of the guild prophets, but also that he is a dishonest one who prophecies to eat bread. In other words, he believes that Amos tells people what they want to hear in order to earn money, rather than telling them what they need to hear.

Vs 12 Also Amaziah said unto Amos, “O you seer, go, flee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophecy there:

Amaziah. The priest who had charge over the royal sanctuary at Bethel. He has just heard Amos’ vision of the plummet (plumb-line) with its announcement of the destruction of the shrines and sanctuaries in the kingdom, and that the house (dynasty) of king Jeroboam will be attacked with the sword (Amos 7:7-9). No doubt he sees both his livelihood and his patron being attacked (Amos 7:13). He probably assumes that Amos is teaching things which (he) ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake (Titus 1:11).

Flee away into the land of Judah. Amos was from Tekoa, in Judah (Amos 1:1), but had been sent into the northern kingdom to prophecy.

Vs 13 but prophecy no more at Bethel; for it is the kings sanctuary, and it is a royal house.”

It is the King’s sanctuary, and it is a royal house. Jeroboam I (who should not be confused with Jeroboam II, the king in Amos’ day) was granted authority by God to form a new political kingdom over against the kingdom of David (1 Kings 11:26-39). God still expected the people in the new kingdom to travel to the Jerusalem Temple for the purpose of worship on the great feasts, a fact that did not sit well with Jeroboam I. He feared that the religious unity between his subjects and those of the Davidic Kingdom (Judah) would threaten his status as king, if not his life, and so he instituted a religious rebellion, essentially establishing a state religion by his own authority (1 Kings 12:26-32). See note on the following verses

Vs 14 Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees:
Vs 15 And the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, “Go, prophecy unto my people Israel.”

Amos insists that he is not acting on his own authority but by the will of God. His very mission is in complete contradiction to the state religion he is prophesying against.

Dresser of sycamore trees. The tree being referred to here is known technically as ficus sycomorus;  it produces a fruit similar to a fig, but is much less sweet. It is sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s fig.”  To make the fruit more palatable a “dresser” would poke (or pinch) a small whole in the fruit just before it began to ripen, this would slow down the ripening process, making the fruit a bit sweeter.

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My Notes on Amos 8:4-6, 9-12

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 1, 2012

Amos 8:4 Hear this, you who walk all over the needy and bring to destruction the poor of the land!
Amos 8:5 You say, “when will the new moon be past, so that we may sell our crops? When will the sabbath be done, so that we may market the wheat and make the ephah small while making great the shekel; and so that we might weigh with false scales.
Amos 8:6 So that we might by the lowly for silver, and the poor for the price of a pair of sandals. And so that we may sell even the refuse of the wheat. (My translation)

The oracle opens with a typical prophetic “call to attention” formula: Hear this. The oracle is directed against those who abuse those of lowly means and recalls the prophet’s original indictment of Israel (Am 2:6-16). It also recalls the sarcastic remarks God made concerning their hypocritical worship in Am 4:4-5. Here the two elements of greed and hypocritical worship are combined. Whether or not the subjects of the oracle were actually thinking the thoughts attributed to them is irrelevant. By their practices they were showing contempt for God and right worship regardless of what their intentions were.

The new moon marked the first day of the month on the Hebrew calendar and a special temple sacrifice was to be done for it (Numbers 28:11-15). The text suggests that the people of the Northern Kingdom did no work or commerce on this day though the law of Moses nowhere legislated such a thing. All forms of work and commerce were forbidden on the sabbath except, apparently, in the case of dire necessity. The subjects of the oracle are shown adhering to the devotions only grudgingly, anxiously waiting for the special days to be over so that they can begin their cheating business as usual. The purpose of Sabbath and the worship of God is lost upon them. The ephah was a very ancient standard of measurement for dry good, particularly grain. It is equal to slightly more than twenty and three-quarter quarts. How exactly the ephah was to be made small is unknown. Presumably the grain was mixed with the refuse of the wheat to attain the ephah measure. The shekel was a standard for weighing out silver and gold. Making great the shekel is something of an ironic term. A shekel was a standard of weight by which gold and silver were measured out. One made the shekel great by diminishing its weight. A business man could then weigh out what appeared to be the agreed upon price for a poor man’s wholesale goods. Since the shekel was made “greater” by becoming lighter, the poor man’s profit was less since it took less gold on the balance scale to equal a shekel that had been tampered with. Thus from the cheating businessman’s perspective, a lighter shekel is a greater shekel. False scales and the cheating of people in the area of commerce was strongly condemned in the Bible, suggesting that it was a common abuse . Deuteronomy calls those who engage in such practice “an abomination in the sight of the Lord” (see Dt 25:13-16). Priests and kings were responsible for ensuring that these practices not take place.

Amos 8:9 And it shall come to pass on that day, says the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear of day.
Amos 8:10 And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentations; and I will bring sackcloth onto all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning for an only son, and bring them to the end of a bitter day.

The comparison of the earthquake to the river Nile in Egypt was no mistake. God had promised Israel that if it did not obey him he would afflict them with the plagues of Egypt (see Deut 28:60). One of those plagues (the ninth) was darkness (Exodus 10:21-29). The tenth was the death of the firstborn and the mourning that accompanied it (Ex 11:1-8; 12:29-30). The wearing of sackcloth was a traditional sign of mourning (1 Kings 20:31), as was the shaving of the head (Micah 1:16). As has already become clear, the worship of the northern kingdom is tainted. False feasts and songs of worship, if not repented of, can only lead to mourning and lamentation. It should also be remembered that the vision of the fruit basket with which chapter 8 began was explained as signifying that the temple songs would be turned to mourning as the land became littered with bodies (Am 8:2-3).

Amos 8:11 Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine upon the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord.
Amos 8:12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord and not find it. (ASV. I’ve changed the translation somewhat)

Behold, days are coming is a formulaic prophetic expression announcing a coming event. The event announced here is calamitous, an absence of the word of God, here meaning prophecy. This absence is compared to famine and drought, two major punishments God had promised the people they could avoid by heeding his word (see Deut 28:1-69). The drought and famine which the people were apparently already experiencing as a warning (Amos 1:1; 4:6-7) did not lead to the heeding of the prophetic call to repentance (Amos 2:11-12). God’s patience is nearing its end and too late the people will realize their folly. The Chroniclers judgement concerning Judah in 587 BC could just as easily been directed against Israel in Amos’ day (see 2 Chron 36:15-16).

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My Notes on Amos 7:10-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 30, 2012

This reading is used on Thursday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time, cycle 2 of the daily Lectionary. It is coupled with Matthew 9:1-8. The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 19:8-11 (according to the NAB verse numbering). The psalm response, as usual, establishes the primary theme for the Mass: “The judgements of the Lord are true, and all of them just.” Since both the prophet Amos (Amos 7:12-14), and the Son of Man (Matt 9:3) are judged falsely, it seems to me that the judgements of God in contrast to the judgements of man would be an obvious subject for a homily.

I’m using here the text of the RSV which is under the following copyright restrictions: The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” (source)

Vs 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.

Vs 11 for thus Amos says ‘ Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land.’”

Here begins the conflict between Amos, the prophet, and Amaziah, the priest. The conflict is very ironic since it was the duty of a king to insure right worship. As we saw in the introduction, the first of the northern kings, Jeroboam, son of Nebat (i.e., Jeroboam I), had established false worship and sanctuaries, along with a false priesthood. None of the kings who followed him, including Jeroboam, son of Joash (i.e., Jeroboam II), did anything to bring this situation to an end. So a (probably) illegitimate priest is whining to a rebellious king about a prophet’s denunciation of false worship and the dynasty which was allowing it to continue.

Vs 12 Also Amaziah said unto Amos, “O you seer, go, flee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophecy there:

Vs 13 but prophecy no more at Bethel; for it is the kings sanctuary, and it is a royal house.”

Vs 14 Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees:

Vs 15 And the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, “Go, prophecy unto my people Israel.”

In this exchange we get some idea of the sorry state into which prophecy had fallen. There were in ancient times professional prophetic guilds of professional prophets whose disciples were known as sons of the prophets. Professional prophetism is an acceptable practice in the bible, however, like all offices it was open to abuse. Amaziah readily assumes not only that Amos is a member of the guild prophets, but also that he is a dishonest one who prophecies to eat bread. In other words, he believes that Amos tells people what they want to hear in order to earn money, rather than telling them what they need to hear.

Vs 16 Now therefore hear the word of the Lord: “you say, ‘prophecy not against Israel, and drop not your word against the house of Isaac;’”Vs 17 therefore, thus says the Lord: “Your wife shall be a harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line; and you shall die in a land that is unclean, and Israel will surely be led away captive out of his land.”

For his defiance of the prophetic word Amaziah will suffer greatly, His wife shall be a harlot in the city. The condemnation of Amaziah is clearly related to military catastrophe. When cities were conquered the women often were at the mercy of the victors who were not above rape or the use of death threats to get what they wanted. When the kingdom falls, Amaziah’s wife will suffer such a fate. His sons and daughters will fall by the sword. This may mean that they are young, and therefore, at least as far as the victors are concerned, more burden than booty. The priest himself will go into exile among the gentiles with most of the nation.

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My Notes on Amos 5:14-15, 21-24

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 24, 2012

Background~The northern kingdom of Israel is under prophetic indictment because of its many sins (Amos 2:6-16); sins which have made it no better than the pagan nations surrounding it (Amos 1:3-2:3), or its sister kingdom, Judah (Amos 2:4-5). Because it has been so favored above others more is expected, and more will be exacted (Amos 3:1-2; also Luke 12:48). It is a matter of cause and effect (Amos 3:3-8). Israel (i.e., the northern kingdom) has done evil, and this will cause an effective response from God who will bring about a military conquest by a foreign people (Amos 3:9-11), and only a remnant will survive (Amos 3:12). The idolatrous national shrine at Bethel will be destroyed (Amos 3:13-15), and those who lived in luxury while oppressing others will suffer greatly (Amos 4:1-3).

Apparently, a certain class of people in Amos’ day put their trust in a false form of worship, and a slovenly worship at that (Amos 4:4-5). The kingdom was already suffering some of the covenant curses for infidelity, but the people refused to repent and return to the Lord (Amos 4:6-11, compare with  Deut 28:15-62). Since they would not return to Him, He would come against them in an even stronger manner: “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (see Amos 4:12-13). All of this leads the prophet to give lamentation, a funeral dirge over the impending demise of the kingdom (Amos 5:1-9). Within this lamentation there is hope: “Seek ye the Lord, and live” (Amos 5:6). This means ceasing to act unjustly (Amos 5:7).

Amos 5:14  Seek ye good, and not evil, that you may live: and the Lord the God of hosts will be with you, as you have said.

Seek ye good, and not evil, that you may live. The exhortation here should be seen as closely paralleling the call to seek ye the Lord, and live (Amos 5:6).  The Hebrew word used for seek is dirsu, the root of which is often used to denote seeking God through prophetic oracles or worship; the very things they have been ignoring or abusing (Amos 2:11-12; Amos 2:8-9; Amos 4:4-5).

And the Lord the God of hosts will be with you, as you have said. The promise of the Divine presence is not a license for sin, rather, it is a responsibility: Hear the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning you, O ye children of Israel: concerning the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying: You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities (Amos 3:1-2). It is precisely because God is present that He visits the iniquities  of his people upon them: judgement should begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

Amos 5:15  Hate evil, and love good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be the Lord the God of hosts may have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

Establish justice at the gate. It was at the city gates that public trials were held and grievances  were heard by those in authority (Deut 21:19; Deut 25:7; Ruth 4:11). These proceedings had become corrupted by bribery (Amos 5:10-12); an offense against the covenant (Exodus 23:6-8). Ultimately, one can only have a right relationship with God if one has a right relationship with his fellow humans. If the wealthy and powerful want to escape the coming wrath they have to begin acting in an upright manner and not, for example, continue to corrupt the courts (Amos 5:7; Amos 5:10-11).

Amos 5:21  I hate, and have rejected your festivities: and I will not receive the odour of your assemblies.
Amos 5:22  And if you offer me holocausts, and your gifts, I will not receive them: neither will I regard the vows of your fat beasts.

Amos 5:23  Take away from me the tumult of thy songs: and I will not hear the canticles of thy harp.
Amos 5:24  But judgment shall be revealed as water, and justice as a mighty torrent.

In ancient Israel, as in our own day, the place of worship (temple, church) was also to be the place for instruction concerning justice, and one could not embrace or practice one while ignoring the other. The same God who taught the necessity of worship is also the One who taught justice. There is a relationship between worship and justice which cannot be broken, and hypocrisy and and cult are to be mutually exclusive.

Justice, mercy, and faith are far better sacrifices than mechanical actions: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt 23:23). Nonetheless, worship and sacrifice are not repudiated in themselves:  If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift (Matt 5:23-24)


 

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My Notes on Amos 2:6-16

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 24, 2012

Please Note: placing your cursor on biblical reference links will cause a dialog box to appear, allowing you to read the cited text, provided that the reference is brief (e.g., Amos 2:6).  For longer references (e.g., Amos 2:6-16) click on the link. This will open a new window where you can view the cited text in full, and in several different versions. The default setting if the RSVCE.

Having spoken judgement oracles against seven nations, including Judah (Amos 1:3-2:5), the prophet begins his eighth and longest oracle against Israel itself. 

Amos 2:6-8 ECONOMIC INJUSTICE

Amos 2:6. Thus says the Lord: For the three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not call it back; because for silver they have sold the righteous, and for a pair of sandals the destitute.

As we have seen already, transgression means deliberate rebellion against God. In Israel’s case, however, the trangression is more deplorable than it was with the pagan nations because it, unlike those nations, was privileged with the law, the revealed will of God (see Deut 4:5-8). Judah too, in a short, two sentence statement, was condemned for its infidelity to the law (Am 2:1-5), but Amos sees Israel’s sins as much worse.

In the first reason given for the condemnation, the operative words are the righteous and the destitute, not “silver” or “sandals”. The sin of Israel, its rebellion against the revealed will of God, is injustice toward men which manifests itself in greed. This brings to mind a famous Biblical text:
He (Jesus) said to him: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: you mst love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of the law and of the prophets rests on these two commands. (see Mt 22:34-40. Also Lev 19:18)

As will be seen later, the righteous are sold and the needy are cheated by bribery in the law courts.

Amos 2:7 They lust for the very dust of the land that has settled on the head of the poor. They pervert the way of the poor; a man and his father go to the same servant, so as to profane my holy name.

Their greed, the manifestation of their unrighteousness, shows itself as greed for land. This greed is here described as so intense that it is a lusting after the very dust of the land that has settled on the poor man’s head!  They want every speck of land the poor man has.

They pervert the way of the poor. The Hebrew word for way is derek, like its Greek counterpart hodos, it refers literally to a path or road (highway, freeway, pathway). In the Bible, both words are used to denote moral activity (see psalm 1). The sense here could be that the action of the unrighteous leads the poor man into unrighteousness. Another possible interpretation is that the word poor is being used here in the sense of meek or humble. They pervert the way of the meek would then mean that they have left the right road, the right course of moral activity. Since it is precisely the meek who will inherit the land (Matt 5:5; Ps 37:11), this people deserves nothing more than to be dragged from their homes and cities(Am 4:2-3) and exiled in a foreign land (Am 5:27).  They no longer walk the road of the humble. (Again, see the metaphor of “the way” in psalm 1). 

A man and his father go into the same servant: The law in Leviticus 18:8 and Lev 20:11-12 forbid a father and son from having sexual relations with the same woman. Such an act was considered a form of incest and a gross perversion of the moral order, thus a profaning of the holy name of God.

The word I translated as servant could also be translated as prostitute. But given the economic context of vss 6-8 I think servant is better. A man could put his daughter into servitude to pay off a debt, alleviate a desperate financial situation, or simply because he could not take proper care of her. The law provided protection for such women (see Exodus 21:7-11). It may be that the wealthy men of Isarel were cheating and taking advantage of the poor to gain their daughters as “sexual” servants. (This is the view of Marvin Sweeney in THE TWELVE PROPHETS, Vol. 1).

Amos 2:8 And on garments taken in pledge they stretch themselves out beside every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the place of their gods.

If a person owed a debt, certain of his garments could be taken in pledge ((Ex 22:25-26), but these had to be returned to him at night for humanitarian reasons. According to Deuteronomy 24:12-13, a man who took the garment of someone else as a debt pledge was forbidden to sleep on it since it had to be returned to the debtor for him to sleep in. Apparently, Amos is accusing the wealthy of breaking the law of Deuteronomy. However, not simply content to break this law, they compound it by drinking the wine of the condemned as they recline on the garment of a debtor. Condemned here means those who have had a legal judgement go against them. Fines could be paid with agricultural commodities such as wine. As we have already noted, the courts in Israel were perverted by bribes. The prophet is here condemning people for enjoying ill-gotten wine on ill-gotten garments. Worse still, they are enjoying these things beside every altar in the place of their gods. They enjoy the fruits of their perversion of justice beside the altars of the “high places” so often condemned by the prophets (see Hosea 10:8; Amos 7:9). 

Amos 2:9-11 WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR HIS PEOPLE

Amos 2:9 Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, who were as high as the heights of the cedars, and who were as strong as the oaks; I destroyed the fruit that was above and the roots that were beneath.

The opening of verse 9 is emphatic. It highlights the marked contrast between what God has done for Israel and how they have responded.

Amorites refers to a Semetic speaking people who migrated into the Holy Land, Syria, and Mesopotamia (Iraq) early in the second millenium BC. The Bible identifies them , along with Canaanites and Hittites, as possessing the Holy Land before the advent of the twelve tribes. The Bible presents the Amorites as idolaters and as exceedingly sinful and this is given as the reason for God’s action against them (see Leviticus 18:24-30).

Their height is compared to that of the cedar tree and their strength is compared to that of an oak. In the bible, trees are often used as a symbol of might, but also of pride and arrogance (see Ezekiel 31:1-18; Isaiah 2:13; and my notes on Isaiah 2:13-16). The Amorites were too strong and powerful for the People of God to defeat without God’s help (see Numbers 13:25-14:45). For the sake of his people God destroyed the tree-like Amorites completely: their fruit above and their root beneath.

Amos 2:10 And it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and who led you in the wilderness for forty years, so that you might take possession of the land of the Amorites.

The forty years in the wilderness was a result of the people’s lack of trust in God, manifested in their refusal to trust that he could conquer the Amorites (see the Numbers link above). Yet, although God did punish the people for this sin he did not reject them, he thus manifested both his justice and his mercy. Even in the midst of their forty year punishment God took care of them (Deut 8:1-5). The purpose of all they experienced those forty years was so that they might take possession of the land. 

Amos 2:11 From among your sons I raised up prophets; and from among your young men (I raised up) Nazarites. Is this not so, O sons of Israel? says the Lord.

Once the people had come into the Holy Land God raised up prophets for them, to ensure that they stayed on the straight and narrow in their relations with him, for a prime duty of the prophet was to oversee the right worship of God and the eradication of idolatry (Deut 18:9-22). 

Nazarites The law regarding Nazarites can be found in Numbers 6:1-7. The exact significance of Nazarites is unknown. The term means “dedicated”, this may imply that they were meant to be examples to the people of holiness and commitment to God since things were made holy when they were dedicated to the service of the Lord. 

Amos 2:12-16 A FURTHER SIN AND GOD’S RESPONSE

Amos 2:12  But you caused the Nazarites to drink wine, and demanded of the prophet: “Do not prophecy.”

By rejecting both the prophets and the nazarites the people had, for all practical purposes, made themselves like the Amorites. They probably find commitment to the Lord a burden on their own guilty consciences, and so they force the Nazarite to abandon his commitment in order to feel better about themselves. Some things never change. For the same reason, prophets calling for right morality and a commitment to God are silenced, the call usually being spearheaded by members of God’s own people: “Why should I listen to a celibate in Rome talk about sex and marriage?” “Don’t impose your morality on me!” Like I said, some things never change. 

Amos 2:13  Behold, I will press down upon you as sheaves press down upon a cart.

Having found God’s moral will a burden, the people will now be burdened by the the Lord’s punishment, which will weigh upon them like produce in an overloaded cart. 

Amos 2:14 Flight will perish from the fleet, the strong will not hold onto his strengh, and the mighty one will not deliver himself.
Amos 2:15 The skilled bowman will not stand, and the fleet of foot shall not deliver himself, and the one who rides a horse shall not save his life.
Amos 2:16 The stoutest heart among the mighty shall run away naked on that day, says the Lord.

The self-reliant, the “free moral agents”, will not be so fast, strong, or mighty, to save themselves from God’s wrath (Vs 14). This wrath will apparently manifest it self in the form of an invading army (Vss 15-16); the Assyrians, who would destroy the Northern Kingdom in 722/21 BC.

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