Study of the Prophets Class #6: Amos (Cont.)
After delving into the details of King Jeroboam’s life and his rebellion against G-d and His commands, we now turn back to Amos who was sent to prophecy to the Northern kingdom in which Jeroboam ruled. We pick up at Chapter 7 where G-d shows Amos a vision of what is to come as a series of calamities meant to motivate the people to repentance, thereby avoiding total destruction of the nation. Amos speaks of the preview he is given and how he beseeched HaShem to be merciful and limit the scope to prevent total destruction of the young nation.
G-d showed Amos a vision in which He was creating locusts at the same time of the second rainfall, when the second crop of the growing season sprouts. The first crop was cut while still grass, before the stalks appeared, in order to feed the king’s animals. Now, the stronger stalks were beginning to appear.
Another interesting perspective is that of Abarbanel who maintains that the word used for locusts is interpreted as the word for collectors. That is, the agents through which G-d will collect His debt from the people for their wickedness described in Chapter 4. This can be easily applied to contemporary society as evidenced by the information found in Revelation, just as the entire book of Amos is applicable to our “modern” world. The collectors include drought, blight, or an invading enemy who destroys the produce of the fields. G-d’s punishment is designed to maximize the people’s anguish and disappointment; hopefully to the point of repenting. He chose a time immediately after the king had taken the possessions of the people through exorbitant taxes, leaving them with only the hope that the new year would yield plenty of food to ward off famine. At that time, HaShem planned to devastate their crops and bring them to utter despair.
In verse 2, Amos sees the swarm devour the grass, signifying a total famine. At this time he Begs HaShem to forgive the nation/Jacob, because it is yet young and small. Why does Amos call the nation “Jacob?” Let’s explore this subject because it has great import in our understanding of the use of these titles throughout the Torah.
Throughout the Bible we see the use Jacob and Israel to describe G-d’s chosen people. Why are both names used when Jacob was renamed Israel? It is because it depends on the context of what is being said. The name Jacob means “supplanter.” Supplanter means, “to supersede (another) especially by force or treachery” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). Genesis 27:33-36 is a good example of that, and even brings up the meaning of Jacob’s name: “And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed. And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father. And he said, Thy brother came with subtlety, and hath taken away thy blessing. And he said, IS NOT HE RIGHTLY NAMED JACOB? FOR HE HATH SUPPLANTED ME THESE TWO TIMES: HE TOOK AWAY MY BIRTHRIGHT; AND, BEHOLD, NOW HE HATH TAKEN AWAY MY BLESSING. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?”
The name Israel means “prince with God, or, power with God.” Once again, Genesis 32:28 says, “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
Why are the two names used in Numbers 23:23? (“Surely there is no enchantment against JACOB, neither is there any divination against ISRAEL: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!”). The two different names of Jacob are used here, because of the words used in respect to each name. Look at the verse again: “Surely there is no ENCHANTMENT AGAINST JACOB, neither is there any DIVINATION AGAINST ISRAEL…” The word enchantment is used with the name Jacob, and it means, “the act of producing certain wonderful effects by the invocation or aid of demons” (Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). That would be something evil or wrong in nature — which is fitting with the word Jacob, which means, “to supersede (another) especially by force or treachery” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). But that word would not be fitting at all with the meaning of the name Israel, which means, “prince with God or power with God.” So the word divination was used in regard to that name, which means, “the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge (usually by the aid of supernatural powers)” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). That meaning could be applied to seeking wisdom from God. These are just a couple of examples to show that the use of either title is dependent on the context in which it is used.
The next sentence shows us that G-d sometimes relents; changes His mind, or lessens either blessings or punishments. In this case, the forgiveness was not a total one that Amos may have been asking for, and we will see the evidence in a moment. However, as Abarbanel suggests, only the decree of total destruction was abolished, just as Adonai granted partial forgiveness for the sins of the Israelites in the desert, honoring Moshe’s prayer. Yet, that generation of Israelites did not make it to the Land, indicating that sometimes G-d forgives for specific sins but knows that ultimately the people will not turn to Him and follow His ways, thus allowing them to follow their own path to destruction (Numbers 14:20-24). G-d allowed Pharaoh to do the same; Pharaoh hardened his own heart in spite of the plagues and judgements G-d exacted on the people of Egypt and Pharaoh, and G-d allowed him to go his own way. In our narrative, G-d foregoes total annihilation of the nation, but the majority of the crops were devoured nevertheless.
In verse 4, Amos is shown another vision in which HaShem called His heavenly hosts to battle with the nation of Israel by afflicting them with fire (Rashi; Ibn Ezra; Radak). The fire consumed the waters lying beneath the surface of the earth (Radak). It first wrought destruction beneath the earth’s surface, drying up the water of the depths, and then began to rise to the surface to continue its destructive path. At that point Amos begged HaShem for mercy and the fires receded once more below the earth (Alshich). In an interpretation by Ibn Ezra, this referees to the entire surface of the country. Radak refers to it as referring to the king’s fields because the king set the moral standards for the nation and was primarily responsible for its degradation. Therefore, he was singled out. We do not know for sure which interpretation is correct. However, the destruction was significant and we must not overlook the concept of these punishments in lieu of trying to sort out some of the details.
In verse 5 Amos begs HaShem for mercy but limits his request, seeking only that He limit the scope of His punishment. Amos knew by this time that total forgiveness was no longer an option. This is another very significant truth. There is a point of no return. This is addressed in the previous paragraphs, and I want to supplement the information with scripture from the Brit Chadashah for those who are under the erroneous impression that we can wait until we are on our deathbed and then ask for forgiveness for a sinful life (2 pet. 3:17; 1 Cor. 10-12; Mark 3:28-9; Prov. 28:13; Heb. 2:1-18; Lev. 18:18; Rev. 3:16).
In verse 6 HaShem relented and spared the Israelites the punishment they deserved; just as He sent Yahshua to die for us; sparing us the punishment we deserve.
In verse 7-9 Amos now describes G-d’s decree of invasions to be suffered by the kingdom of Israel, which would be conquered by successive waves of Assyrian forces. First, the tribes living east of the Jordan River were conquered and exiled by Pol, king of Assyria; then the provinces of Zebulun and Naphtali were overrun by Tiglath-pileser; and finally the entire nation was conquered by Sennacherib (Abarbanel).
Amos is shown a vision in which HaShem places a plumb line in the midst of the nation and tells Amos He will no longer forbear them. A plumbed wall is a wall that has been made perfectly straight according to the weighted plumb line. In this vision, Amos sees the splendor of HaShem atop the straight wall of justice (Rashi; Radak). He held the weights of strict justice within His hand in order to maintain control over them and thereby mitigate them with a measure of benevolence (Radak). Notice that HaShem refers to the high places of Isaac that will be made desolate and the sanctuaries of Israel destroyed; and then He will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. In verse 8, HaShem asks Amos what he sees and Amos responds that he sees a plumb line. Amos is aware of what a plumb line is and can discern that HaShem intends to judge the nation with caution and careful measurement rather than wiping them out totally as in earlier visions (Radak). Other commentators explain that G-d questions Amos in this case because this prophecy is not self-explanatory as in the previous ones (Abarbanel; Metzudos). The reference to Isaac in verse 9 speaks of the altars that the children of Isaac built to their idols that will be made desolate since everyone is too preoccupied with their afflictions to worship them (Metzudos). The nation is referred to as the children of Isaac, rather than of Israel, as throughout Scripture. This is to note the contrast between Isaac himself, who allowed himself to be placed on an altar to be offered to HaShem, and to his descendants, who used altars to rebel against HaShem (Radak). The cities of Beth-el, Gilgal, and Dan, which were the designated sanctuaries of the service of the idols, will be destroyed (Radak). Finally, Jeroboam’s dynasty will end by the sword. Although Jeroboam died a natural death (Malbim), his son Zechariah would be slain by Shallum the son of Joseph (Radak).
In verses10-13, Amos digresses in the midst of his prophecies to describe an event that happened while he was prophesying. An idolatrous priest named Amaziah heard Amos’ prophecies in Beth-el and conspired to silence him. First, he informed on him to the king of Israel, accusing him of inciting rebellion and treason. When the attempt failed, he tried to convince Amos himself to flee to Judah where his prophecies would be appreciated. Amos responds by refuting Amaziah’s arguments and foretelling the climax of the catastrophe about which he prophesied.
Verse 14: Amos responds to Amaziah’s reference to him as a “seer” which is a lesser level of prophecy than the word “prophet” indicates. Amos replies that Amaziah is correct in calling him a seer for he does not consider himself a prophet (although he is by G-d’s appointment). He further states that he is not the son of a prophet and the higher level of prophecy has remained something he has not achieved. Without any guile, he makes it known that he has been a cattle herder that provided his livelihood therefore not finding it necessary to receive income from any other profession or solicitation. He also referees to his experience with sycamore trees and informs Amaziah that he did not choose the role of a “seer” as Amaziah referred to him or as a prophet. He makes it clear that his role as a prophet was a calling from HaShem who filled him with the ability to prophecy and a heart to obey that calling. Amos makes it clear to Amaziah that he cannot stop him from doing that which G-d ordained/ordered him to do. T
The phrase “from behind the flock” refers to the fact that Amos herded sheep rather than cattle. Sheepherding takes less attention and effort, allowing ore time for solitude and introspection, which are conducive to spiritual ascension. This is another very important lesson for us. Solitude and introspection are necessary to internalize that which we read and study. Many times you may hear of someone “finding G-d” when they were in solitary confinement, or other situations in which they were alone. Sometimes G-d uses these types of situations to call people out or to strengthen their relationship to Him. Recall many of the major biblical figures that spent time in prison and grew in their relationship to G-d in the process; Joseph, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul, John the Apostle, just to name a few. We can never underestimate the options and situations G-d either chooses or uses to refine His people. Some of G-d’s greatest leaders were shepherds at one time such as Moshe and David. The process of leading and shepherding sheep is similar to leading and shepherding a nation (Abarbanel). Amos makes another point that G-d ordered him to prophecy to “My people, Israel” and not to Judah. Therefore he could not flee to Judah. Furthermore, he had nothing to fear from an earthly king as he understood he was an agent of HaShem (Alshich).
In verse 16, Amos describes that fate he has in store for Amaziah because of his efforts to dissuade Amos from doing what G-d has called him to do, namely prophecy to the nation (Radak).
Verse 17 lays out what is about to befall Amaziah. For encouraging the prostitution of the people to other gods, he will suffer the prostitution of his own wife in the city, even before being sent into exile. His children will be killed by the sword and his land will be divided by lots among the conquerors. He will be exiled to foreign soil and will die in a foreign land (Abarbanel; Alshich). The nation of Israel will surely be exiled.
Next week we will pick up at Chapter 8.
Again, my thanks to the authors and commentators of the Milstein edition of “The Twelve Prophets” for the vast amount of information provided by the Sages and others on these important books of the Bible that are no less applicable to contemporary society than they were during the times in which they were written.
Rabbi Tamah Davis