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

Thursday, December 03, 2009

There Is Sunshine in my Soul Today

The Bible contains some marvelous promises of God. One of these occurs in Isaiah 60:19-20:
The sun shall no longer be your light by day,
nor the brightness shall be moon
give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.

According to John 8:12, Jesus proclaimed:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

In 1887, Eliza E. Hewitt composed the words and John R. Sweney set the music of the song: "There Is Sunshine in My Soul." Reflect on this song:

Stanza 1: There is sunshine in my soul today,
More glorious and bright
Than glows in any earthly sky,
For Jesus is my light.

Stanza 2: There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King.
And Jesus, listening, can hear
The songs I cannot sing.

Stanza 3: There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,
For blessings which He gives me now,
For joys laid up above.

Refrain: O there's sunshine, blessed sunshine,
While the peaceful, happy moments roll;
When Jesus shows His smiling face,
There is sunshine in my soul.

Many days tend to be gloomy and fearful and anxious and depressing. When this happens, think of these biblical texts and this old song. It will give you new life and new energy.

Share YOUR songs with others. Let me hear from YOU. Have a glorious day.

John Willis

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Introducing the Book of Amos--Amos 1:1-2

As we begin the Book of Amos, there are several matters which call for discussion, so we will deal with only two verses in this blog. Look at Amos 1:1-2, and we will work through these two verses.

I. The expression "The words of Amos" in verse 1a is striking, and is identical to the expression "The words of Jeremiah" in Jeremiah 1:1. "The word of the Lord [Yahweh]" in Jeremiah 1:2 comes from Yahweh to Jeremiah, and then Jeremiah has the responsibility to declares his words to his audiences. Hence, "The words of Amos" means something like "The Story of Amos," "Amos' Record," "Amos' Report." (See F. I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos (Anchor Bible, Vol. 24A), pp. 184-185.

II. "Who WAS among the shepherds of Tekoa" indicates first that Amos was no longer there when he did his prophetic career. This was his roots, but now he is doing a different task. "Shepherds" here is a unique term, Hebrew noqedim, refers to one who takes care of "speckled" sheep and goats. Some scholars think this term means Amos was a rich shepherd of a high grade of sheep and goats. But the evidence for this is very scarce. This was simply a particular type of sheep and goats. In a previous blog, Tekoa is a village approximately 5 miles southeast of Bethlehem. So, Amos was apparently born and raised in Judah, not in North Israel.

III. The Hebrew word "saw" is hazah, which is cognate with the noun hazon, meaning "vision." Amos 7:12 indicates Amos was a "seer" or a "visionary." Amos 7:1,
4, 7; 8:1; 9:1 describe "visions" of Amos. This assumes that God revealed his messages to Amos in visions or dreams of the night, not by oral words. In other passages in the Bible, of course, God reveals his messages by oral words.

IV. Amos 1:1 states that Amos proclaimed his messages some to Israel and some to Judah, not to Israel alone. Hence, Amos 2:4-5 contains an oracle concerning Judah, while 2:6-16 contains an oracle concerning North Israel.

V. Amos 1:1 identifies Amos' prophetic work during the reigns of Jeroboam II king of North Israel (786-746 B. C.) and Uzziah of Judah (783-742 B. C.). During their reigns, North Israel and Judah enjoyed the wealthest and most powerful nations on North Israel and Judah in history, equivalent to the days of Solomon.

VI. Amos 1:1 mentions a significant "earthquake" in this time, and Zechariah 14:4-5 alludes to this event. Archaeologists and biblical scholars have not determined the date of this event for sure. Excavations at Hazor and Samaria indicate the earthquake in 760 B. C. Hence, it would seem reasonable to date the prophetic work of Amos between 760 and 750 B. C. This is close, but not exact.

VII. Turning to Amos 1:2, "And he said" refers to Amos in the third person. So some composer of the Book of Amos refers to the man Amos.

VIII. "The Lord roars" is lion language. God appears as a lion. The "roar" or "growl" of the lion symbolizes Yahweh "uttering his voice," as the second lines shows. As previously indicated, the metaphor of a "lion" and "sheep" and "shepherds" runs through the Book of Amos. "God's "roar" from heaven is thunder--Psalms 29;
68:33; 77:18; Jer. 25:30, and this causes earthquakes (see 2 Samuel 22:14; Psalms 18:13; 46:6; see Amos 8:8; 9:5, 9).

IX. Yahweh roars from "Zion," that is, "Jerusalem." This is extremely significant. Jerusalem is God's city, and thus God works from and speaks out of Jerusalem. Even though most of the oracles in the Book of Amos come from North Israel and perhaps some other nations, God speaks from Jerusalem.

X. The statement "the pastures of the shepherds wither
and the top of Carmel dries up"
may refer to the disasters described in Amos 4:6-11.
Mount Carmel is near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea well into North Israel. This is where Elijah made his conflict with the prophets of Jezebel--1 Kings 18. Isaiah 33:9; 35:2 mentions Carmel along with Sharon, Lebanon, and Bashan.

There is a great deal of information in these two verses. I hope this will be helpful as we work through the Book of Amos.

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

John Willis


In Greek [and later Roman] mythology, a cyclops is a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of its forehead. Ancient writers, including Hesiod, Euripides, Theocritus, and Virgil, wrote about cyclopes. Hesiod, for example, said Zeus released three Cyclopes, the sons of Uranus and Gaia, from the dark pit of Tartarus. They provide Zeus' thunderbolt, Hades' helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon's trident, and the goes use these weapons to defeat the Titans. Again, in a famous episode of Homer's Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and a nereid (Thoosa), who lives with his fellow Cyclopes in a distant country. The connection between the two groups has been debated in antiquity and by modern scholars. Again, Virgil, the Roman epic poet, said Aeneas and his crew landed on the island of the cyclopes after escaping from Troy at the end of the Trojah War. Aeneas and his crew land on the island, when they are approached by a desperate Greek man from Ithaca, Achaemenides, who was stranded on the island a few years previously with Odysseus' expedition.

Cyclops are fictitious beings, as all peoples have recognized throughout history. And yet, we ourselves present creatures that are "bigger than life" to entertain us, to teach us, to elevate our ego, to get away from the tragedies and boredoms of daily life, or whatever. We have Spider Man and Superman and Batman and Robin and King Kong and Star Trek and 007 and The Incredibles and Harry Potter, and the stories go on and on, and we love them.

The Bible does not refer to cyclopes. But it does refer to "giants," and some of them are still problematic for us. I think of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13;33; Goliath in 1 Samuel 17; four huge men who were descendants of the giants mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:15-22: Ishbi-benob, Saph, Goliath, and an unnamed man of great size, who had six fingers on each and six toes on each foot, a total of 24 fingers and toes.

What do YOU think about stories about giants, like Jack in the Beanstalk or Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox or Shrek? Share YOUR insights and thoughts. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Preaching Methods in Amos

I suppose every preacher or teacher uses various methods to communicate their thoughts and motivations and goals. A careful study of the Book of Amos reveals several "preaching or teaching" methods that Amos used to communicate his audiences. Here are some introductory suggestions.

I. Repetition. Repetition has always been a powerful means of communication. When the speaker or writer repeats certain words or expressions or ideas, the hearer or reader soon gets the thoughts the speaker or writer intends to emphasize. Here are a few examples of repetition in the Book of Amos.
a. All eight oracles concerning the nations in Amos 1-2 begin with the expression:
"Thus says the Lord:
For three transgression of xxx
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment." 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6. Further, several of these oracles conclude with the expression "says the Lord"--1:5, 8, 15; 2:3, 16.
b. The summons or call "Hear this word" starts 3:1; 4:1; and 5:1.
c. The statement: "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord" occurs five times in Amos 4:6-13 (verses 6, 8, 9, 10, 11).
d. "Seek" occurs three times in strategic places in 5:1-17 (verses 4, 6, 14).
e. The introductory statement, "This is what the Lord God showed me" or something very similar occurs five times in the visions recorded in Amos 7-9: see 7:1, 4, 7; 8:1; 8:1.
f. "I will never again pass by them" occurs significantly in 7:8 and 8:2.
g. "On that day" occurs often in the Book of Amos; for example, 8:2, 9; 9:11.
h. "Justice" and "righteousness" are a recurring theme throughout the Book of Amos.

II. Questions. Searching questions play a major role throughout the Book of Amos. Here are a few examples.
a. 3:3-6.
b. 5:20.
c. 6:2-3.
d. 6:13.
e. 7:2, 5.
f. 8:5, 8.
g. 9:7.

III. Sarcasm. The use of clever sarcasm brings out the wrongs of the hearers. Amos 4:4-5. Compare Job 12:2.

IV. Word Plays. Word plays are in Hebrew.
a. "Summer fruit" in the vision "Basket of summer fruit" is qayits in Hebrew. "End" in this same vision is qets. 8:1-2. The hearer cannot miss the slight difference of tone.
b. A modern English example might be: James says to Sue: "Your shirt is blue." Sue replies: "Yes, and I am blue, because I just blew the test I just took."

V. Recurring Themes. Here are a few.
a. Lion and sheep. God is the lion, and Israel is the sheep the lion will devour. 1:2; 3:7-8, 12; 5:18-20.
b. Trust in military strength rather than in God. 2:13-16; 6:13-14.
c. Corrupt commercial practices. 2:6-8; 5:10-12; 8:4-6.
d. Trust in rich houses and furniture and jewelry. 3:15; 5:11; 6:4-7.
e. Samaria. 3:9, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 8:14.
f. Recurring song or poem. 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6.

As we work through the Book of Amos, we will encounter with these and additional "preaching or teaching methods" of this prophet. By being aware of these methods, one hopefully will better understand the message and intention of Amos' proclamations.

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

John Willis

f. Bethel. 3:14; 4:4; 5:5-6; 7:13

Monday, November 30, 2009

Chiang Mai and Phayao

A few years ago, Evelyn and I went to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to participate in the annual Asiatic Mission Conference, where we spoke along with Paul Faulkner and Carl Brecheen and others. This was a wonderful experience with many pictures and memories. In addition to the conference, we traveled on the Ping River to eat wonderful fruits of all kind, rode on elephants, walked up the 365 steps of the Buddhist temple, and enjoyed many other marvelous occasions. I bought a couple of nice ties in the night market, which I still wear occasionally.

Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, and is the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is approximately 435 miles north of Bangkok. Chiang Mai has been a major trade center for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewelry (especially silver) and woodcarving. Technically the population of Chiang Mai proper is 150,000 people, but with all the surrounding villages and towns, it approaches a million people. The life is quite modern, and the food is excellent. One soon learns of significant cultural customs which challenge and inspire the visitor. Approximately a million people come through Chiang Mai each year.

Several of our missionaries are in Chiang Mai, and are doing a very significant work. Recently, Highland has placed a team nearby at Phayao. Derren Reese and his family and Ryan Binkley and his family are supported and have long time close ties with all of us at Highland.

Next summer, Evelyn and I will spend a month teaching and preaching in Tauranga, New Zealand, and are trying to make arrangements to visit our missionaries in Thailand. All these missionaries spend several years planning well for the work in Thailand. Most of these are our former students. We look forward to spending time with them if this works out. Some of our dear friends and former students and now colleagues at ACU: Larry and Pam Henderson, and Chris and Cara Flanders, have spent many years in Thailand and continue to do great work there, because they prepared themselves for this work properly. We are so proud of them, and salute them for their rewarding efforts.

The world is big--and it is small. I hope YOU travel often and appreciate all the different peoples throughout the world. Every person is created in the image of God. Each one is unique, and plays an important role in this world. Praise God for all his people, and for God's grace and blessings and works everywhere.

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

John Willis

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Structure and Types of Oracles in Amos

The oracles contained in the Book of Amos are apparently not in chronological order. The great German scholar Hans Walther Wolff reconstructs the history of the Book of Amos in six stages, and the reader can consult his work, Amos the Prophet: The Man and His Background (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), pp. 106-113. This or some other reconstruction is important, but it seems to be more fruitful to study the Book of Amos as a book in its present form. Here is one interpretation of the structure of this book.

I. Eight Oracles concerning the Nations. Amos 1-2.
a. Superscription. 1:1.
b. General introduction to the eight oracles. 1:2.
c. Oracle concerning Damascus [Aram; Syria]. 1:3-5.
d. Oracle concerning Philistia. 1:6-8.
e. Oracle concerning Phoenicia. 1:9-10.
f. Oracle concerning Edom. 1:11-12.
g. Oracle concerning Ammon. 1:13-15.
h. Oracle concerning Moab. 2:1-3.
i. Oracle concerning Judah. 2:4-5.
j. Oracle concerning North Israel. 2:6-16.

II. Oracles pertaining to Justice and Righteousness. Amos 3-6.
a. First Oracle beginning with "Hear this word" in 3:1a. 3.
b. Second Oracle beginning with "Hear this word" in 4:1a. 4.
c. Third Oracle beginning with "Hear this word" in 5:1a. 5:1-17.
d. Fourth Oracle beginning with "Woe" or "Alas" in 5:18a. 5:18-27.
e. Fifth Oracle beginning with "Woe" or "Alas" in 6:1a. 6.

III. Five Visions of Amos. Amos 7-9.
a. First Vision: Locusts. 7:1-3.
b. Second Vision: Shower of Fire. 7:4-6.
c. Third Vision: Plumb Line. 7:7-9.
*Dialogue between Amaziah priest of Bethel and Amos. 7:10-17.
d. Fourth Vision: Basket of Summer Fruit. 8:1-3.
*Oracle denouncing the wicked rich in North Israel. 8:4-14.
e. Fifth Vision: Yahweh standing before the altar [of Bethel?]. 9:1-10.
*Hope Oracle. 9:11-15.

We will attempt to deal with each passage as we work through the Book of Amos.

The Book of Amos contains several "types" or "genres" of oracles. Here is an introductory "sketch" of some of the main types or genres of oracles.
1. Oracles concerning the nations. Amos 1-2. [See similar oracles concerning the
nations in Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiah 25-32.
2. Questions--Amos 3:3-6.
3. Oracles of Doom--Amos 3:9-15; 4:1-3, 6-13; 8:4-14.
4. Sarcasm--4:4-5.
5. Lament--5:1-17.
6. Woe--5:18-27; 6:1-14.
7. Visions--7:1-9; 8:1-3; 9:1-10.
8. Hope Oracle--9:11-15.

We will delve into each of these genres as we work through the Book of Amos.

What is YOUR "outline" of the Book of Amos? I need YOUR insights. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis