Amos isn’t quite as short as Joel but it’s still pretty short and we’re going to do it all in one post too. Amos is prophesying during the time of Uzziah from back in 2 Chronicles when the people as a whole seemed to be prospering, but only because they were oppressing others and generally not being good neighbors in the way that God instructed them to do. They thought they were doing well on account of the wealth building but it turned out that God was pretty unhappy with them.
This is entirely about prophecies against the countries that had taken action against Israel and that God is now going to punish. They’re all places we’ve heard about the demise of in other books as well. There’s this one verse that talks about women and it’s gruesome but that’s what the punishment is for so it’s not an indictment on those women.
13Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
that they might enlarge their border.
I have to admit that the image of a baby being ripped out is awful and I totally appreciate God’s judgement on this.
There is one more other country to be judged and then the chapter moves on to Judah and Israel. Among the reasons already given for why Israel and Judah need judgement is an addition that father and son are sleeping with the same women. This isn’t solely a thing about virginity or shaming women. There had been a specific law about the “nakedness” of family and having sexual relations with the same person is listed as an equivolent. There’s also a king or two that takes over his father’s concubines, so it’s not an abstract thought that they would be doing this.
Here are more reasons for punishment. Israel is given a masculine pronoun here, which is a little odd. On top of that, there’s a point where He talks about rescuing parts of a sheep from a lion instead of the whole sheep and makes a comparison to the people of Israel being similarly rescued, which is a little weird.
This chapter opens with this verse, clearly directed at the women:
1“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
This is another inclusion of women as a part of the problem with Israel and Judah but there is also quite a few places where it is obvious that they are not the only problem with Israel and Judah. It goes on to explain other ways that God had tried to make it through to Israel. Most of these attempts are what we would now call “negative reinforcement” and didn’t work.
So I’m not really sure what this is supposed to mean:
2“Fallen, no more to rise,
is the virgin Israel;
forsaken on her land,
with none to raise her up.”
I looked to see if any of the other translations say it a little differently, but not really. It’s not so much that I don’t get that Israel is about to be taken out or has lost her virtue somehow, but what about Israel is virgin?
By definition, a virgin is someone or something that is untouched or pure or hasn’t had sex, right? Not quite according to Bible Study Tools, virgin in the Bible and in the use of the root word from Hebrew actually just means an unmarried maiden or a young woman who is living apart from men in some other way, such as for religious reasons. Virgin Israel isn’t untouched Israel, but set aside Israel. This understanding actually made better sense of the study note I had found in my Bible which just said that the “virgin” was there to denote a special value that God has for Israel. Thinking back on other places when the word has been used, would this definition change everything?
That’s going to take a little more study and we’ll revisit it some other time.
Later in the chapter there is a point where God is talking about what He wants from Israel in order to straighten everything out and it follows an interesting thought process that I wish we could employ today in the US. We’re filled with churches singing praises and worshipping and enjoying their prosper but God specifies here that this won’t do anything when people behave as Israel has been (oppressing and wronging people). He includes all the things He’s prepared to ignore and then says:
24But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
That He’ll listen to. If they could manage it. Which we know they won’t and I’m pretty sure we won’t either.
This chapter is mostly a warning of things to come. God promises destruction in spite of man-made protections and forewarns them of just how bad it’s going to be, even citing other fortified cities that have been overtaken at His command. I found it interesting to again see God admonishing their wealth and lack of desire to distribute it justly.
So Amos is doing his thing, repeated the words of God and letting people know they aren’t as safe as they thing they are and then Amaziah comes along and tries to get him to stop, even telling him to just take his message somewhere else. For that Amaziah’s life is about to go upside down, but it’s also interesting that his warning for Amos has to do with his being in Israel. I could see a similar sentiment espoused to anyone trying to preach such a message in the US during a time of prosperity too.
No one wants to hear that we could fall any day now because we aren’t living up to what God wants us to do. No one wants to let anyone talking that way continue to shout about it either. Amaziah is looking out for himself, but it becomes obvious that his tactic is not the right one. He should have turned around and done what God wanted, what Amos had been warning about. But that’s not how this turned out.
This chapter returns to the message that the people are being oppressive and not good neighbors and that God is not happy about that. I’m not quite sure what the “basket of summer fruit” is for, though.
This serves as a final warning of what’s to come and who it is that will come back from it and who it is that won’t.