Guests: Alden Thompson and Zdravko Stefanovic
Background and Literary Considerations
- The fourth vision report in Amos brings us to another literary feature of the prophet’s preaching: puns. While we miss most of these in English translations, the Bible is replete with plays on words which sound alike. Scholars write articles and books about these nifty little catchwords which the ancient listeners and readers would have picked up quickly and enjoyed, even if the message were a serious one as in Amos. The Bible writers likely used puns because they contributed to remembering the message they wanted to convey. The prophets in particular seemed to like them. Isaiah’s love song about the vineyard (Isa 5:1-7) ends with puns in Hebrew on justice (mishpat) and bloodshed (mispach) as well as on righteousness (tsedekah) and a cry of despair (tseëaqah). In the Aramaic language Jesus used, the words about scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:24 sound alike: the people strain out gnats (qalma) and swallow camels (gamla). As noted below, Amos add some of his own in his fourth vision report. Why go to this trouble? Why this literary finesse and creativity?
- Any additions to the first three vision reports with this one? How does it fit into the flow of the others? Is the message of this one more ominous than those which precede? Can it get any worse?!
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Amos 8:1-3 (Vision Report #4) – In this report, God shows Amos a basket of ripe summer fruit (qayits), which if left alone for another day will be rotten. On Amos’ recognition of this interesting basket, God announces the end (qets) on his people Israel. Not only does the word for summer fruit signal the end of its taste and usefulness, but a pun brings the conclusion of an “end” crashing down on Israel. This is it! There is nothing beyond an end (see how some bring the poor to an end in 8:4). Israel’s fruit is past its prime and will be tossed. God will never again pass by them. Compare this use of God’s passing by Israel with Amos 5:17 and 7:8. Does Amos mean here that God will not pass by Israel again without punishing them or that he simply will not be by this way again–ever? And we thought it couldn’t get worse (but we have yet one more vision report to go)! What does it mean that Israel will be without its God? That the covenant with God is over? That rottenness has brought an end to the nation? Is this a foreshadowing of the end of the nation in 722, just a few short decades from the time of Amos’ ministry, when Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and dispersed almost 50,000 of its citizens? How did Amos expect the people would understand him? Is there room for hyperbole and exaggeration in a prophet’s speech?
- Amos 8:4-6 – We have returned again to Amos’ concern about how we treat others. Consider the scenario: the privileged trample the needy and bring to an end the poor by 1) awaiting the end of festivals and the Sabbath in order to sell grain to the poor (who likely grew it in the first place); 2) diminishing the amount sold; 3) increasing the price; 4) using false balances; 5) forcing the poor to trade in their only sandals; 6) exchanging moldy wheat. Do we know what bothers Amos about how life was lived in ancient Israel?
- Amos 8:7-8; 9-10; 11-12; 13-14 – The remaining doublets of Amos 8 lay out in drastic fashion what Israel can expect for its treatment of the poor and marginalized: mourning, darkness, lamentation with sackcloth, famine of God’s words in the land, complete exhaustion of everyone.
Contributions to Study of Amos and the Bible
- Is there any doubt for hearers/readers of Amos’ message about what drives him crazy? How significant is the connection between the judgment of an end for Israel because Israel has brought the poor to an end?
Lessons for Life
- The abuses listed in Amos 8:4-6 read like an accusation sheet. In what ways, however seemingly insignificant, do we abuse or marginalize people around us? Treat people without respect and dignity?