John T. Willis

Friday, December 04, 2009

Oracles concerning non-Israelite nations--Amos 1:3-2:3

Here we will make several observations concerning the first six [of the eight] nations in the series of oracles reported in Amos 1:3-2:16. Hence, here we will deal with Amos 1:3-2:3.

I. Introductory Considerations.
A. The introductory expression in each oracle, "Thus says the Lord," is a common messenger formula in the Hebrew Bible. It was normal in the ancient Near East that a king or high official would send one or more messengers to a designated audience, and declare that message to that audience. Here, Yahweh sends Amos to the audiences stated in Amos 1:3-2:3.
B. Every oracles begins with the statement:
"For three transgressions of xxx,
and for four, I will not revoke it [probably, the punishment]." The Hebrew contains many graduated numerical sayings=x, x+1: (1) one and two (Ps. 62:11); (2) two and three (Hos. 6:2); (3) three and four (Prov. 30:15-33); (4) six and seven (Job 5:19); (5) seven and eight (Mic. 5:5).
In Amos 1:3-2:3, there are five possible explanations: (1) innumerable crimes;
(2) again and again; (3) 3+4=7, hence completeness; (4) 3 sins might be forgiven, but not 4; (5) a limit had been passed. All these possibilities indicate that the text does not refer to 3 or 4 literal sins, but to a situation beyond which Yahweh refuses to tolerate.
C. Each oracle names a specific sin. Each is different, but they all have to do with mistreating or oppressing others.
D. Each oracle announces an impending punishment, which has to do with Yahweh's bringing some type of calamity on the sinners named.
E. 4 of the 6 oracles conclude with the statement, "says the Lord."

II. Let us walk through each oracle.
A. Oracle concerning Damascus, the capital of Aram [Syria], located north of Israel east of the Jordan River. 1:3-5. Gilead is the territory in Israel east of the Jordan in the northern region. The Arameans oppressed the Israelites in Gilead. Hazael and Ben-hadad were kings of Aram. According to Amos 9:7, Yahweh brought the Arameans from Kir to their present country. Now, in 1:5, Yahweh announces that he will cause the Arameans to go into exile to Kir. [One thinks of Yahweh bringing the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, then later causes the Israelites to go into Babylonian exile].
B. Oracle concerning Gaza, one of the five city-states of the Philistines.
1:6-8. The Philistines carried entire communities into exile to Edom. Yahweh announces that he will punish the Philistines.
C. Oracle concerning Tyre, one of the major city-states of Phoenicia. 1:9-10. The Phoenicians carried entire communities into exile to Edom and thus broke their covenant with the Israelites. [This calls to mind the alliances between Hiram of Tyre and David and Solomon]. Yahweh will overthrow the Phoenician cities.
D. Oracle concerning Edom. 1:11-12. The Edomites fought against their brothers the Israelites. [Think of 1 Kings 11:14-25; 2 Kings 8:16-22]. Yahweh will overthrow the Edomite cities.
E. Oracle concerning Ammon. 1:13-15. The Ammonites defeated the Israelites in Gilead and "ripped up pregnant women" in the land. Genesis 19:30-38 connects the Israelites with the Ammonites and the Moabites. Some scholars think "their king" in verse 15 is Milcom, the god of the Ammonites. But this is questionable. Yahweh will overthrow the Ammonite cities.
F. Oracle concerning Moab. 2:1-3. The Moabites overthrew the Edomites and burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. Mesha, the king of Moab, is famous in biblical studies. The Mesha inscription is a remarkable ancient archaeological discovery. You might want to read an English translation of this inscription in J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pages 320-321. Yahweh will overthrow the Moabites.

It is possible that Amos or one of his associates actually sent each of these oracles to these various nations at some time in history, or that Amos delivered these oracles to small groups of travelers from these various nations as they passed through the land of Israel. But it seems obvious that Amos delivered all of these oracles on one occasion to communicate an important message to a specific audience, and that audience was in North Israel, as the concluding oracle in 2:6-16 indicates. Each oracle is linked to the previous one leading to a great finale. Amos 1:3-2:16 contains a powerful rhetorical message. In the first six oracles, the point is that all these nations are very sinful, and their common sin is mistreating or oppressing other people. This sound like people mistreating people in modern times. Amos 1-2 proclaims a very relevant to modern people. Can and will we listen to this message?

Share YOUR insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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