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Background and Literary Considerations

  • The nature of “Woe!” oracles is to startle and call for change. Of the three such speeches in Amos, two appear in chapter 6 and form the basis of our lesson for this week. They both have to do with wealth gained at the expense of the poor. Does this say anything about the message Amos wishes to convey?
  • “To the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions…. They speak and act as if the sky were about to collapse because Israel has become unfaithful to God” (Heschel, The Prophets, p. 4).
  • “… the incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused by our own failures, is a fact which no subterfuge can elude…. God is raging in the prophet’s words” (Heschel, p. 5).

Relevant Biblical Passages

    • Amos 6:1-3 (“Woe!” Oracle #2)
      To those who are at ease in Zion and who feel secure in Samaria, a blast from heaven! Israelites of high social standing are asked to compare themselves with surrounding pagan peoples to see if they are better or worse
      an extremely low blow to those claiming Yahweh as their God. They “bring near the seat of violence” which they have perpetuated on the poor. What does this mean for feeling secure? For being comfortable? For obtaining wealth? Are these always wrong?
    • Amos 6:4-7 (“Woe!” Oracle #3)
      To those who rest easy, stretch out in comfort, eat well, enjoy celebrative songs and drink vintage wine from bowls, the raging words of the prophet! Are these activities somehow wrong in themselves? Are there inherent problems with eating and drinking well, resting securely, celebrating success? Why has Amos come unglued about this? Do the last lines of verse 6 have anything to do with an answer to these questions?

Archaeology has illuminated this passage with discoveries in Samaria of exquisite ivory carvings used as inlays in wooden furniture. Only the upper crust could afford these. We also know a lot about musical instruments and pottery bowls from recent finds. Archaeology has also revealed how most of the people lived and there was a great gulf between the wealthy and the masses of the poor.

  • Amos 6:8
    God goes to the extent of swearing an oath that he will not allow this kind of injustice to continue without his intervention. In this regard he plays the role of go’el (kinsman redeemer), although the word is not used of God in the book. He stands up for the oppressed among his clan and promises justice.
  • Amos 6:9-10
    Another remnant passage, this one picking up on the leftover number of soldiers from Amos 5:3 (ten left from an army of 1,000) in order to create an amazing picture of ten survivors who die in a house, but there is still someone in there who eerily speaks! What should we expect from this remnant? And what does it mean to avoid using the name of God?
  • Amos 6:11-14
    Because Israel has “turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (words found at the center of the passage), it can expect international reaction and retribution. How important to Amos was social injustice?

Contributions to Study of Amos and the Bible

  • How have these verses contributed to Amos’ major concern about social justice? About the appropriate place of wealth? About poverty and its causes?

Lessons for Life

    • What can we make of Amos’ message in chapter 6 for our time? Should we give everything we have to the poor? Should we live in poverty ourselves?

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