notes on 9:7-10

Form

V.7 comprises two rhetorical questions (cf. 3:3-8; 5:20; 6:2, 12; 8:8), here they begin (with the word הֲלוֹא) in a way typical of disputes (cf. 5:20). Here Adonai questions the nature of Israel's status as chosen people.

Verses 8 & 9 both start הִנֵּה "look!" this interjection is most used in prophets and narrative. Amos has one of the highest frequencies. Wolff (142-3) recognized this as worthy of an excursus. It occurs:

introducing the report of a vision (4 times): 7:1478:1;
introducing third person reports of Adonai's action (3 times): 4:136:119:8;
introducing something Adonai says (6 times): 4:26:147:8; 8:119:9; 9:13.

In v.8 it serves to mark the change of speaker, v.8 begins with Amos' warning following Adonai's questions. The second half announces that the consequence of Adonai's watching Israel will be destruction.

In v.9 הִנֵּה is introduced by כִּי "so" marking this section as following from what has been said.

V.10 concludes this threat with Adonai citing the words of the guilty (הָאֹמְרִים "those who say").

The speech moves from undermining false confidence in divine favor to a discriminating judgment. (Because of this new element many scholars do not see these verses as coming from Amos.)

Language and Imagery

v.7

"Kushites" translating Kush and its related terms is not easy. The terms clearly refer first to Upper Egypt and its population, so today Sudan or even Ethiopia, and beyond that probably it includes other African people. The problem is that either we exaggerate their closeness to Israel "people from Upper Egypt", or we identify them with some particular contemporary group "Sudanese" or "Ethiopian", or by using some term like "Black" suggest a racial distinction that seems to have been (largely?) foreign to the Bible's writers.

However, here, the Kushites come from a distant land (though one with which Israel had significant contact, not least because people in "Upper Egypt" also spoke a Semitic language). The saying opens with a rhetorical question that suggests that the "Children of Israel" are just like Kushites to Adonai.  The focus then shifts to two more local peoples.The "Philistines" and the "Arameans" are presumably selected as Israel's neighbours and traditional enemies from the time of the foundation of the kingdom and more recently.

"Caphtor" is also associated with Philistine origins in Jer 47:4 and Dt 2:23. The location is unknown, the most popular guesses are Crete and the southern coast of Turkey.

"Kir" is also difficult to locate, here it is the place from which the Arameans came, in 1:5 it will be their place of exile - as the prophets sometimes see Egypt as place of exile for Israel (e.g. Hos 9:3, 6).

v.8

Aside from vv.3-4 most biblical talk of Adonai's "eyes" being "on" or directed "towards" someone concern blessing and favorable intervention. Here however what God sees is "the guilty kingdom" so his notice leads to destruction.

The choice of מַמְלָכָה "kingdom" (rather than עַם "people" or even גּוֹי "nation") is probably significant. It can suggest a contrast in the next lines: the "guilty kingdom" will be destroyed, but the "house of Jacob" (= Israelite people) will not be totally destroyed.

Likewise the selection of הָאֲדָמָה "the earth" (or soil) rather than הָאָרֶץ "the land" (or country) is interesting. On the one hand it makes a link to v.9. On the other it strengthens the connection to 1 Kgs 13:34 (and Dt 6:15), the sin of Jeroboam's kingdom is as serious as that of the first Jeroboam.

"Jacob's house" is a rare phrase (Ps 114:1; Is 2:5,6; 10:20; 14:1; 29:22; 46:3; 48:1; Jer 2:4; Ez 20:5; Obad 1:17, 18; Mic 2:7; 3:9) most at home in Isaiah. It contrasts nicely with the other construct chain in Amos using Jacob's name, the "pride of Jacob" at 6:8; 8:7. Near the beginning of the book too Jacob's house is called to judgment at 3:13.

v.9

The introduction כִּי "so" links this verse to what has just been said.

The combination "I am giving the order" with "I will shake" is awkward in English, De Waard & Smalley (182) usefully suggest identifying - "to the enemy".

The image is problematic to the extent that both key words, כְּבָרָה "sieve" and צְרוֹר "pebble", are hapax legomena.

Commentators (see e.g. Paul [286] or Wolff [349] for lists and references) have long been divided whether the picture envisages separating grain (so LXX) from useless dust and chaff using a fine mesh, or pebbles from sand (for building), or grain from straw and pebbles with a coarse mesh. Either way this passage speaks of a judgment that discriminates between guilty (see v.10) and innocent.

v.10

Here the "guilty" are also those who believe ("who say...") that they are protected from disaster. A peasant farmer living in an unwalled village, could hardly say this, the forces of "evil" over which they had no control were too numerous: drought, blight, disease, war... By contrast the rich in the citadels behind strong walls with full granaries might believe they had ensured that "evil will not come near us".

Death by "sword" suggests fighting and in Amos usually seems to be shorthand for war.

The verbs "come near" (cf. v.13) and "catch" suggest pursuit, for both verbs can carry this notion, that is why I have rendered קדם by "catch" and have not reversed their order as some translations seem to (e.g. NRSV & NIV). The combination of these verbs with the word "sword" means that the judgments in Amos end with the vivid picture of the rich and privileged of Israel fleeing enemy soldiers, their towns and citadels in ruins behind them.

 


 

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, 1996-2010, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.