notes on 8:4-14

Form

The material in these verses does not break up neatly into brief oracles. It is difficult to decide where one section starts and another stops.
Is v.7 a beginning or a conclusion?
To what does the "this" of v.8 refer?
V.9 is more clearly a beginning, but to what day, or days, do the introductions to vv.9, 11, 13 refer?

Such questions, together with some stylistic features not common elsewhere in Amos, led Wolff (324-326) to suggest a later redactional origin for this material. However, others have questioned this conclusion (see Paul, 256, n.1).

The difference in approach is illustrated when Wolff (324) finds "announcing punishment by means of a rhetorical question" (v.8) "atypical" of Amos; while Paul (256) refers to such questions as "one of his favorite stylistic devices".

Watts (68ff.) argued for a coherent view of this section in a way which links it to the preceding vision, and his approach will largely be followed here.

The section comprises a number of elements of judgment oracle, and it is difficult to be sure of how best to split it into parts.

Language and Imagery

v.4

The command to "Hear this" is similar to the beginning of Amos 3:1; 4:1; 5:1 (cf. 3:13).

The verb rendered persecuting is problematic. Here the construction and the parallel with destroying seems to require some such sense.

Those called needy and afflicted are the poor who are most at risk from the predatory actions of Israelite merchants.

v.5

Another quotation from the accused is introduced here by "saying" (as at 2:12; cf. 4:1; 5:16; 6:13; 7:16; 8:14; 9:10 and indirectly 5:14).

Both New Moon (Num 10:10; 28:11-15 cf. 29:6) and Sabbath were regular days of religious observance (2 Kgs 4:23; Ez 46:3). They are accused of thinking only of selling their stock.

Even this was not a straightforward goal, for they used false measures.

Stone weight from Iron Age Palestine

Before standard coins were common the price would be measured against standard weights. If these had been tampered with the purchaser might pay too much.

Such practices, though no doubt common, hit at the basis of trade by undermining trust.

These merchants want to win three ways:
measures too small
weights (for the silver) too big
scales that have been biased.

Condemnation of false measures and crooked scales were not unique to the prophets. The wise too shared this concern (Pr 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23).

v.6

The words these merchants choose to describe their buying and selling are nice euphemisms. They are not crudely "buying slaves", they are "acquiring the services of the poor"! (For the mention of "sandals" as price see comment on 2:6.)

Likewise they use a word for sell that means to sell grain (as food). By this choice they nicely claim that their motive is to "provide a service" not mere financial gain.

Sadly though what they sell is mere husks (the most likely meaning of the phrase here).

v.7

Adonai swears oaths three times in Amos. Each time swearing "by himself" in some way, for there is no one greater by whom God may swear. So here one assumes that "the pride of Jacob" refers to Adonai.

Each time the oath concerns the inevitability of judgment because of the enormity or consistency of Israel's sin. Here Adonai will never forget. Their actions remain, cf. v.14 where those who swear by the gods of Samaria, Dan or Beer-sheba fall.

Why does Amos choose the mundane ordinary word ma`aseh "action" rather than some more expressive word to speak of their sins? Perhaps because their way of life is so steeped in oppression that its most ordinary parts are sinful.

v.8

This verse opens as a rhetorical question "because of this will not...?" 'This' recalls the beginning of the speech (v.4). Between the two occurrences of 'this' we have heard the catalog of oppression and greed that culminated in Adonai's oath (v.7).

The punishment is often thought to be an earthquake, but the language is poetic and not specific: tremble, rise, be driven away and collapse. These last three lines of the verse are very similar to the hymnic fragment in 9:5. The most significant difference, the addition here of "be driven away", has no equivalent in the LXX of either verse, but may here serve to make the verse echo the effect of Amos' speech (according to Amaziah cf. 7:10) .

Wadi Mujib in flood, from Kartique

Most translations render כִּיאוֹר as "like the Nile, but the term may mean either that particular river or simple "river". The wording here seems odd if the annual flooding of the Nile is in view. How can an annual event of this sort be compared to the sudden shock of an earthquake? Some suggest that גרשׁ grsh "be driven away"  (rendered as "tossed about" cf. NRSV) may have been added to explain the picture. However, Amos from Tekoa would be well aware of the unpredictable dangerous flash floods of Palestinian wadis. Sudden, life-threatening danger and instability seems a good image for both the turbulence of invasion and exile or of an earthquake!

Mention of earthquakes brings 1:1 to mind. While earlier generations of scholarship tended to read 8:8 as a later addition (added after the earthquake mentioned in 1:1 had already happened), one can also understand the mention in 1:1 as indicating that the earthquake two years later was seen as confirming the prophet's words.

v.9

"It will come about on that day" is not a common opening formula (occurring only 37 times in the Bible) and often introducing something astonishing.

Here the sun sets at noon. A similar phenomenon is prominent in the hymnic fragments.

The expression בְּיוֹם אוֹר is unparalleled, though Paul (262, n.6) cites evidence for an Akkadian parallel. Literally it means "on a day of light" or "on a bright day".

v.10

Continues the theme of this "day" (the word occurs three times in the two verses) of reversals, telling of the divine transformation of their religious feasts till they are like the funeral of an only son. Cf. 5:21 where following mention of Adonai's "day" religious practice is rejected by God.

The pilgrim festivals were the nearest ancient people got to a holiday, no work, interesting food, and often drink (cf. 1 Sam 1 esp. vv. 9 & 13), the joy of such occasions will be changed into mourning. This means that:
joyful songs (the word is used of love-songs in the title of Song of Songs) will become funeral chants;
party clothes are exchanged for the traditional mourning sacking
heads too are shaved in sign of deep sadness
Not only will the joyful holiday feast become a deathwatch, but the sadness will be stronger as if the one mounded were an only son.

No wonder the festival becomes a "bitter day"!

v.11-12

The introductory formula "days are surely coming" is used with both promise and judgment (e.g. cf.: Am 4:2; 9:13). Here it serves to further strengthen the motif of the "day" which is now compared to coming "days".

Hunger and drought are viewed as divine punishments, as in 4:6-9. This time the lack is not merely physical but spiritual. Needy Israel will seek, but not hear, Adonai's word. In a dry land which knew the reality of famine, this was a potent picture of desperate need.

"From sea to sea" and "from north to east" are unexpected descriptions of the range of the search. These words do not suggest a quest merely across the whole of the promised land, rather across the world (cf. the other two occurrences of the phrase "from sea to sea": Ps 72:8; Zech 9:10).

The verbs used in v.12 are striking, speaking of frenzied activity lacking any sense of purpose.

v.13

"In that day" is a common introductory formula, used in narrative texts as well as by prophets. In the prophets it is most often associated with talk of the distant future. (It is most frequent in ch 12ff of Zechariah).

The rest of v.13 reads literally: "They will faint, the young women, and the young men of thirst". The verb is feminine and so would not normally include the young men. There are very few other places where this happens: Gen 33:6 (assuming the children to include males); Num 12:1; Jdg 5:1 (where the verb is also singular despite two subjects).

We should not ask if the "thirsting" is literal or whether it continues the theme of thirsting for the divine word, both are likely!

v.14

"Swearing" by something greater or which one loves or respects is a common feature of human societies.

"by Samaria's guilt": by what or whom do they swear? The quotations that follow presumably continue to describe this, in which case they swear by the god of Samaria.

Hosea refers to the official idols of Adonai at Bethel and Dan as "Samaria's calf" (Hos 8:6) and as "Israel's sin" (Hos 10:8). Amos has a strong association with and interest in Bethel.

It is unnecessary to repoint the Hebrew and find here a reference to the Assyrian goddess, Ashima (as e.g.. Cripps, 253, 316-7 cf. Andersen & Freedman, 706ff.) Indeed, her cult is only attested in Israel after the destruction of Samaria in 721, and this would anyway loose the nice contrast with the "Pride of Jacob" in v.7).

The third oath, by the road to Beersheba, is presumably a reference to the pilgrimage apparently made by (northern) Israelites to this place associated with the patriarchs (cf. 5:4).

In this case all three are references not to other gods, but to the localized worship of Adonai. Canaanite religion localized the gods and goddesses so that they became multiple and linked to particular places. This tendency in religious practice perhaps finds expression in popular Catholicism in the difference perceived by the devout between the Blessed Virgin of Guadaloupe and other representations of Jesus' mother.

Wolff, and most other historico-critical commentators, doubt the originality of this verse. However unless one "corrects" (see just above) the first line, there is little evidence for this, except as part of a wider scheme of reconstructed redaction history for the book.

The concluding phrase "they will fall and not rise again" is very close to the lament in 5:2, and echoed in the restoration in 9:11.

 


 

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