notes on 3:3-8

Form

These verses are largely comprised of a series of nine rhetorical questions.
Only v.7 stands apart, containing a negative assertion followed by an exceptive clause, rather than a question followed by such a clause and so even in its difference it is still syntactically similar to the series. It is also notably longer than the others of the series.

The questions are paired in two ways. In terms of syntax:

3   ||  4b     ? / "unless"
4a ||  5a     ? / "but"
6a ||  6b     ? / "not"
8a ||  8b     ! / "who will not"

They form pairs also in terms of content (semantic parallelism):

4a and b concern an animal and its prey;
5a and b speak of traps;
6a and b concern the fate of a city;
and 8a and b concern a terrible "voice" and the appropriate response;

These effects serve to "pull" the reader forward. The formal parallelism "leapfrogs" (jumps over one line each time, 3 to 4b, 4a to 5a). This effect is reinforced by certain verbal repetitions and echoes, which also serve to enhance cohesion.

From v.6 onwards we are slowed down, for both formal and semantic parallelism are internal to the pair. At v.6 also, the monotheist reader begins to feel unsettled. The second line speaks of evil as coming from God. This notion, though inevitable in monotheist theology, invariably raises objections and discussion among readers of the text. This disquietude is not dispelled by the complex statement of v.7, which does not easily "fit". Verses six and seven, read together, suggest that the message which the prophet will have to announce, may be "evil".

The lines of v.8 again combine formal with thematic parallelism and so once more slow down the reading process. This directs attention to the verse, which in any case is the last of the unit, thus enforcing the notion that, once the LORD has spoken, the one who hears has no choice but to repeat the message.

Language and Imagery

There is a rather dramatic development between the somewhat neutral picture of v.3 "do two walk together unless they are agreed?"  and talk of lions and their prey in v.4. One explanation for this may be Gitay's suggestion that the "two" referred to in v.3 are Adonai and Israel whose covenant bond has been the focus of vv.1-2.

Lions Ancient Palestine harbored a number of carnivores. There is evidence of bears, cheetahs, jackals, leopards and wolves, as well as lions.

Very early (Chalcolithic) leopard traps have been found, and it seems likely that they had more impact on the human communities and their flocks. However it is the lion which captured the imagination of the Bible's poets. There are six mentions of "leopards", usually alongside lions or other carnivores (Cant 4:8, Is 11:6, Jer 5:6, Jer 13:23, Hos 13:7, Hab 1:8) while "lions" occur in over 100 verses!

The lion conjured notions of danger and of ferocity and strength. Royalty hunted lion for sport, and some kings kept pet lions.

Nets and traps lead the thought from the world of animals to that of human action.

Both nets and other kinds of trap were most often used to catch birds and fish, though sometimes such methods were employed to trap gazelle (hunting of larger animals was a pastime of the powerful not a food source for the poor).

The common Hebrew words for "trap", פה (and מוקשׁ which is used in parallel meaning the "bait"), refers to bird traps. Snaring birds and fish in nets was often pictured in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The "trumpet" of verse 6 is a shophar, a musical instrument made from a horn, in Jewish tradition a "ram's horn". It was a sacred instrument, blown to produce sound in the context of worship and war. The shophar was used primarily as signal or warning. Its eerie sound provoked disquiet and fear (eg. Ex 19:16). More rarely in the biblical text, and only combined with other instruments, they featured in the noise of celebration.

God's plan suggests the picture of the heavenly king in council. The word sod (which I have rendered "plan") can mean either "council" or "counsel" in English. The Bible pictures God like a human king surrounded by his court of advisors and ministers (Job 1-2). Adonai's courtiers are heavenly beings, usually angels but Ps 82 calls them "gods". The notion that the prophets are privy to this heavenly court is striking and indicates the high standing that they claimed (Jer 23:18, 22 cf. Job 15:8). The assertion that they were "Adonai's messengers" relates to this (Hag 1:13; Mal 3:1). Similar phrases were used at Ugarit to describe the heavenly personnel who transmitted the decisions of the divine council.

Function

This series of questions (and statements v.7) is highly structured and progresses leading the hearer towards the desired conclusion. First agreement becomes habit:
 Do two...? No.
 Does a lion...? No.
 Does a bird...? No.
 Is a trumpet...? No.
Then, in 6b the first potentially problematic question: Does disaster happen to a city and Adonai has not done it? The monotheist answer is again: No.

However, though not all of Amos' hearers would have been wholehearted monotheists, they are drawn by the sweep of rhetoric into agreement.

The knife goes in in verse 7. "Adonai has revealed this "disaster" through his prophets.

Almost before this thought can sink in, another question, with its unavoidable answer:

The lion has roared who does not fear?       Only the terminally stupid!

My Lord Adonai has spoken...
      who will fail to prophesy!

The function of this section is clear, prophets (like Amos) have a warning message from the lord Adonai, they must deliver that message.


Comment on the whole chapter.


 

This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos , if you have reached it as a standalone page, to view it in context, go to www.bible.gen.nz
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.