notes on 9:1-4

Form

(See on 7:1-3, and on the whole series of visions).

Language and Imagery

v.1

"I saw" is used elsewhere both in prophets' vision accounts and in more general contexts (1 Kgs 22:17, 19; Hos 6:10; 9:10, 13; Hab 3:7; Zech 1:8 cf. 4:2).

One could translate "standing by the altar" (as NRSV,NIV, REV etc. do). I have preferred "on" which is more in keeping with other visions of Adonai enthroned above the altar, never standing beside it - as a priest might! Altars were of course quite large enough to stand on, and not like the small communion table in modern churches (cf. the photo [right] of the altar from the small Israelite temple at Arad).

The command "strike!" causes some to ask whom Adonai is ordering, yet since the rest of the piece is strongly marked by his first person action this question seems pedantic.

The word "capitals" was already subject to emendation by the LXX, however the combination "capitals" and "threshold" is used also in Zeph 2:14 as synecdoche for the whole temple complex. If this is so, then whether the pillars are at the entrance (associated closely with the "threshold"), or whether the use of the singular "capital" in Hebrew indicates one particular pillar holding up the roof, is irrelevant.

That this "breaking on all their heads" involves the destruction of both Adonai's temple and its worshipers is shocking. There is no indication that this passage views the temple as false. It is as if a modern prophet were to announce "I saw Jesus standing on the communion table, and he said: "Smash the church and destroy those gathered there!"

The second half of v.1 echoes (both content and language of) the oracle against Israel in 2:14-16.

v.2

"Sheol", as well as ending human relationships, the shadow existence that follows death ends ones ability to communicate with God: Ps 6:5; Is 38:18 even so Adonai will take them from there.

v.3

The Carmel ridge was renowned for its fertility, at the beginning of the book the epigraph warns of Carmel's crest withering, here in the last vision this is one of the places that will not provide sanctuary for fleeing Israelites.

The "sea bed" like Sheol (v.2) is traditionally far from God, in Canaanite mythology Yam (the sea) fights with the Lord (Ba`al).

The "serpent" also often pictures the enemy of both God and humanity (Gen 3:1ff.; 49:17; Is 14:29; 27:1).

v.4

"Captivity" is usually seen as disaster, rather than as is suggested here as a possible escape! However even Israel's powerful imperial "enemies" cannot provide shelter from Adonai.

Even in exile war ("the sword") will kill the survivors - this vision is indeed shocking in the totality of the obliteration it envisages.

"I will fix my eye on them" is an unusual expression, the only close parallel is Jer 24:6. However, it is very close (even down to the untranslatable conjunction beginning the phrase): "I will fix my eyes on them for good" - what in Jeremiah reads as a promise of return is in Amos reversed and undone!

 


 

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.