notes on 4:13

Form

This verse is poetry with strong rhythm and parallelism.

In this verse each stich in Hebrew (except the phrase "Adonai, the God of armies, is his name!") begins with a participle. This feature and the contents make this piece strongly similar to two others in Amos (5:8-9; 9:5-6).

These verses (together with 1:2) are like the content of hymns. However they do not have the typical structure of hymns, so we call them "hymnic fragments".

Language and Imagery

"So, look!" כִּי ki (rendered "so") is a particle with varied meanings. Here it serves to link the hymn to the preceding text. We are not to imagine that a new unit starts with this change of style and genre. The praise continues the discourse of the rest of the chapter.

Judean foothills near Kiryat Ye'arim

"Maker of mountains": the "mountains" of Israel are not particularly high. The highest points along the spine of the country are about 1,000m above sea level, while Edom is about twice this, and Mt Hermon north of Israel is around 3,000m. They are steep, particularly to the east where they drop to the rift valley, well below sea level. That Adonai was "maker of mountains" is an impressive and powerful statement, yet more human scaled and imaginable than "maker of sea and sky".

Is God "creator of wind" or of (the human) "spirit"? רוּחַ ruach can mean both. There is no way to capture this ambiguity in English, though these fragments are full of ambiguity. Those who prefer neat solutions may prefer "spirit" here, and then read "his" in the line below as a reference to "humanity".

Whose "thoughts" does God make known, his own or those of humanity? "His" here could refer to either. Interpreters need to decide if this is another example of the ambiguity so frequent in the hymnic fragments of Amos, or whether as "creator of [the human] spirit" God "reveals to humanity its inmost thoughts".

The pairing of שַׁחַר "dawn" with the rare עֵיפָה "darkness" may carry mythic echoes, Shachar was a god in Ugarit and other Accadian texts (spelt Shachru) and Ephah may be related similarly to a female demon known in the Ancient Near East (Andersen & Freedman, 456).

In the sister passage in Am 5:8 the thought is (at first sight) less menacing, for "deathly darkness" turns to "dawn".

Again, when Adonai "treads the high places of the land" are we to picture the God of Armies striding the strategic locations, or is the reference to Adonai marching though the local sanctuaries across the land (cf. 9:1ff.)?

"Adonai, God of armies" yhwh 'elohe-sebaot יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי־צְבָאוֹת is a common epithet. Sebaot צְבָאוֹת is often rendered "Almighty" which indeed captures much of the feel of the original without introducing theological questions.

Sebaot was used in naming God from the earliest times. Since the word means "armies" at times it seems to refer to Israel's forces marshaled in holy war, and elsewhere to the stars as the army (host) of heaven marching across the sky.

See also 5:8-9 and its commentary.

Function

Verse12 threatened: "prepare to meet your God, Israel!" What can follow this? The prophet has no encouragement to begin a prayer of confession. Most other human words are irrelevant, and God has finished warning and therefore speaking. The only appropriate continuation for the text is a hymn of praise to the mighty but mysterious God who has spoken.

The list of warnings that Israel has ignored reveal a God who controls creation (4:6-7, 8), and history (4:10) both for Israel's liberation in the past, but also more recent defeats, who has limited tolerance for wrong yet who offers the possibility of rescue (4:11). The hymn now declares this God, following the warning of 4:12, ending with the ominous note that this God of Armies "prepares war against his own people - his arrogant enemy - in just the same way as he had once led Israel out to defeat their enemies." (Browning)


 

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.