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KD Old Testament Lesson 35: Amos

Posted by Karl D. on September 13, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Amos
Reading: Amos 3,7-9; Joel 2-3

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Background

2.1 What Do We Know about Amos?

The book of Amos does give us some information about Amos, the person. For example, in the the superscription (1:1) we learn the following:

1 The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Amos is from Tekoa which is a town about 10 miles south of Jerusalem1. Despite living in the Kingdom of Judah, his preaching is generally directed to the Northern Kingdom (or Judah and Israel together).

Amos was active during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (786-747 BCE), and during the reign of Uzziah of Judah (he vacated the throne in 759 because of Illness and died in 733).2. Many scholar consider Amos to slightly predate both Hosea and Isaiah and hence Amos is often called the first “writing” prophet.3

Amos was a herdsman of some kind. Michael Coogan suggests he was more than just a shepherd:4.

Amos was a sheep and cattle herder (1.1,7:14-15). The word used to describe him in 1.1 means not just a shepherd, but a wealthy owner of a large number of sheep. The same word is used in this sense in Ugaritic … Amos was also a farmer, raising sycamore figs (7:14). Although the sycamore fig is inferior to the true fig, it could be cultivated on a large scale (see 1 Chr 27.28). Thus, the older view that Amos sympathized with the needy because of this own impoverished background no longer seems likely.

2.2 Background: The Northern Kingdom During Amos’ Time

During the reign of Jeroboam II Israel was largely free from external conflict. Additionally, Israel restored its territorial boundaries (Amos actually mentions this is a mocking way (Amos 5:13-14)). Additionally, the Northern Kingdom benefited from economic trade, developed a leisured upper class, and saw an increase in the degree of urbanization. Edward Campbell suggests the following economic backdrop:5

The proposal of sociologists that Israelite society in the time of Jeroboam II and his successors be analyzed as an “advanced agrarian society” is convincing. The principle of patrimonial inheritance had largely given way to a system in which gifts (prebends) of land from the throne had produced estates held by people who lived most of the time at the court. As part of the same development, lands in the hands of common folk were acquired by the large landowners when small landholders could no longer survive economically. A system of “rent capitalism” is likely to have come into play whereby the landed peasantry had to sell land in bad seasons in order to buy seed to plant what land they retained, and a cycle began that ended in peasantry operating as tenant farmers … A economic elite came to possess most of the land …

2.3 Themes in the Book of Amos

  • Covenant breaking
  • Idolatry
  • Exploitation of the poor
  • Injustice of the legal system

3 Israel’s Covenant With God

3.1 A Judgment Oracle

Read Amos 3:1-2:

(1) Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

(2) You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;

therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.

  • What is the point of this oracle? Do you find the parallelism in verse 2 to be powerful?

    The context in this pericope is about Israel’s covenant with God. Specifically, it is a judgment oracle. The verse certainly emphasizes the exclusiveness of the relationship and I think this speaks to the intimacy of the relationship. The antithetical parallelism is powerful as it contrasts the Lord’s grace (favor) with his justice and seems to suggest that the two cannot be separated. The covenant brings favor and faithfulness from the Lord but it also involves covenantal accountability.

  • Why is the Exodus mentioned? Does referring to Israel as the “whole” family and mentioning the Exodus reveal the intended audience of this revelation?

    It immediately connects us to the covenant. We know this is about covenant breaking and the consequences. Also, it makes the message for all of Israel. Remember, this follows a revelation where 8 nations mentioned (informed of punishments) seperately. Here the LORD reemphasizes His special relationship with all of Israel.

  • Why did Israel need this reminder?
  • I think Amos 5:18-20 provides some insight into how some Israelites viewed their covenant relationship?

(18) Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light. (19) As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. (20) Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?

  • What were some Israelites expecting?
  • Do some Israelites believe that God would only protect and provide help for them?
  • In the context of the book of Amos, what is the “day of the LORD?”
  • Explain the metaphors. The lion and the bear? The snake?
  • Is this part of Amos’ message timely or applicable today?

3.2 Walking, a Lion, and a Snare

Verses 3-6 lead to a rhetorical or revelatory climax in verses 7-8:

(3) Can two walk together,
except they be agreed?

(4) Will a lion roar in the forest,
when he hath no prey?
will a young lion cry out of his den,
if he have taken nothing?

(5) Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth,
where no gin is for him?
shall one take up a snare from the earth,
and have taken nothing at all?

  • What is the meaning of verse 3? Let’s read verse 3 from an Tanakh translation:

(3) Do two people travel together
Without having met?

  • What about verse 4? What is that about?

    First notice the parallelism involving the lion roaring and young lion crying. Lions hunt quickly and roar only after taking prey.

  • What about verse 5? What is going on?
  • Notice the parallelism involving the snare. Let’s read from the NRSV for verse 5:

Does a bird fall into a snare on the earth,
when there is no trap for it?

Does a snare spring up from the ground,
when it has taken nothing?

  • What is the point of this list of things in verses 3 to 5?
    What is it a list of?

    A list of cause and effect. A list of inseparables.6 Things that necessarily go together.

  • Do these verses amplify or help us understand verse 2?

    The Lord’s favor and justice cannot be separated. You cannot have one without the other. It belongs with this list of inseparables.

  • Do you see anyone commonalities in the list of inseparables?

    Well, most of the list exudes power (e.g., the lion does not cry out if it hasn’t taken prey). But, this does not hold for the first example. It seems rather unremarkable.

3.3 The Oracle Turns Darker: More Inseparables

In verse 6 we are introduced to more inseparables. Read Amos 3:6:

(6) Shall a trumpet be blown in the city,
and the people not be afraid
shall there be evil in a city,
and the LORD hath not done it?

3.3.1 A Trumpet

Now we are getting to Amos’ point. Let’s take the first couplet:

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city,
and the people not be afraid

  • What is this about? How does the list change here?
  • Is this part much more personal to the audience than the examples that came before?

3.3.2 The JST and verse 6

Verse (6) does have a JST. Read JST Amos 3:6:

(6) Shall a trumpet be blown in the city,
and the people not be afraid?
shall there be evil in a city,
and the Lord hath not known it?

  • Clearly Joseph Smith makes a theological correction. The LORD does not do evil; Joseph Smith corrects this problem.
  • Robert J. Matthews, the foremost LDS scholar of the JST, takes the position that the JST/IV can do one (or more) of four different things:7
    1. Restoration of the original text that is lost or missing from the King James Version of the Bible.
    2. Revelation or restoration of historical events that were never part of the original text.
    3. Inspired commentary that elaborated or adapted passages to a latter-day situation.
    4. Harmonization with latter-day doctrinal concepts or other scriptures.

    The revision process was very dynamic, and not a word for word restoration. For example, there are two passages that Joseph Smith translated independently twice (Matthew 26 and 2 Peter 2:4-6). The translations are not the same. They are similar, but there are substantial differences. The changes are similar in the sense that they frequently reflect similar matters or concerns. However, the changes usually do not use the same words and sometimes are not inserted in the same locations.8

3.3.3 Modern Translations and Verse 6

None of the modern translations (at least those that I read) have the LORD doing evil. Let’s read what they say (NRSV Amos 3:6)?

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster befall a city,
unless the Lord has done it?

Suppose disaster is what Amos really told the people (i.e., Joseph Smith corrected a theological problem but did not make an original restoration of the text)? Does the LORD ever cause disaster in a city? Does the context support the idea the LORD might do it in this case?

  • “People who hoped that Yahweh would bring only help and never harm were forgetting that his covenant provided for curses as well as blessings.”9
  • Read Amos 3:13-15:

(13) Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,
Says the Lord God, the God of hosts,

(14) “That in the day I punish Israel for their transgressions,
I will also visit destruction on the altars of Bethel;
And the horns of the altar shall be cut off And fall to the ground.

(15) I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house;
The houses of ivory shall perish,
And the great houses shall have an end,”
Says the Lord.

  • What does this revelation tell the people of Israel?

3.4 Surely the Lord God Does Nothing, Unless

Read Amos 3:7-8:

(7) Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret
to His servants the prophets.

(8) A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?

  • Verse (7) we are all very familiar with, but what about verse (8)? What does this tell us? about God? about prophets?
  • I think the climax here is beautiful. Verse 8 is really beautiful: “The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” The parallelism with the lion roaring is magnificient. You can just feel the power of the LORD’s voice. Is this how Amos feels in the presence of God?

3.4.1 A Roaring Lion

Read Amos 1:2:

(2) And he said:
“The Lord roars from Zion,
And utters His voice from Jerusalem;
The pastures of the shepherds mourn,
And the top of Carmel withers.”

  • Both Amos and Jeremiah use this metaphor to describe the LORD’s voice (his communication with man). Why? How does this fit in with the notion of a still small voice?
  • Such different imagery than something like the still small voice. I can’t help but agree with Douglas Stuart: 10 The true prophet cannot ignore Jehovah’s voice any more than sensible people can ignore the roar of a loan.
  • Also, does verse 8 give some hope?
  • The lion has roared but the list of inseparables stated that this occurs after the taking of the prey. The capture of the prey (destruction of Israel) hasn’t happened yet. Israel has a chance to return to covenantal faithfulness because prophets get a chance to hear the lion roaring before it takes its prey.

3.4.2 Amos 3:7 in Context

Amos 3:7 is a widely used scripture in the church. It is on the Seminary scripture master list and at, least when I served, in the missionary discussion.

  • How does paying attention to the context affect or maybe even enhance your understanding of this scripture?
  • Does the context suggest narrower implications than the way traditionally use this verse or do we have it about right?

4 God’s Relationship

Read Amos 7:1-6

A locust swarm

(1) Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms at the beginning of the late crop; indeed it was the late crop after the king’s mowings. (2) And so it was, when they had finished eating the grass of the land, that I said: “O Lord God, forgive, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, For he is small!” (3) So the Lord relented concerning this. “It shall not be,” said the Lord.

Fire

(4) Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, the Lord God called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory. (5) Then I said: “O Lord God, cease, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, For he is small!” (6) So the Lord relented concerning this. “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.

  • What is meant by the phrase: “after the king’s mowings?”

    It seems to indicate the first harvest went to the King.

  • Why is “Jacob” instead of Israel used? What does the use of Jacob emphasize or bring to your mind?
  • What do we learn from the fact that the LORD hears Amos’ cry for forgiveness?

    We are reminded once again of the LORD mercy and grace. The LORD’s mercy and grace contrast beautifully with Jacob and the use of the word “small.”

  • Does this situation, particularly Amos’ reaction, remind you of any others?
    1. Abraham with regard to Sodom and Gomorrah?
    2. Brother of Jared?
    3. Enos?

5 A Plumbline

Read Amos 7:7-9:

(7) Thus He showed me: Behold, the Lord stood on a wall made with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand. (8) And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said: “Behold, I am setting a plumb line In the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.

(9) The high places of Isaac shall be desolate,
And the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste.
I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam.”

  • What is the LORD telling Amos?
  • What is a plumbline? A plumbline is a device for determining the true vertical line of the structure.11
  • The LORD does not relent here. Why won’t the LORD show mercy in this situation? What does it have to do with verse 9?

Footnotes:

1 Coogan, Miichael D., 2006, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, Oxford University Press, 312

2 Coogan, Michael D., 2006, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, Oxford University Press,
312

3 Dines, Jennifer ., 2001, “Amos” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds. Oxford University Press Inc. 581.

4 Coogan, Miichael D., 2006, /The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures/, Oxford University Press, 312

5 Campbell, Edward F., 1998, “A Land Divided” Oxford history of the biblical World, Oxford University Press, 310-311.

6 Stuart, Douglas, 1987, “Amos” in Word Bible Commentary, Word Books, 322.

7 Millet, Robert, 1985, Joseph Smith and the Gospel of Matthew, BYU Studies, 25:3, 68-69.

8 Jackson, Kent P., and Peter M. Jasinski, 2003, The Process of
Inspired Translation: Two Passages Translated Twice in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, <i>BYU Studies</i>, 42:2,
35-64.

9 Stuart, Douglas, 1987, “Amos” in Word Bible Commentary, Word Books, 325.

10 Stuart, Douglas, 1987, “Amos” in Word Bible Commentary, Word Books, 325.

11 The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 1313.

4 Responses to “KD Old Testament Lesson 35: Amos”

  1. Gammaeileen said

    Thanks so much for posting this each week. I anxiously await your comments. Do you have comments regarding the remainder of the lesson? More of Amos and Joel?

    • Karl D. said

      Thanks, Eileen. I haven’t written up any another notes for the reading. I mostly work on the notes until I run out of steam and don’t worry too much about how much I cover. I would like to add to my notes here but it just isn’t going to happen this time around.

      • Gammaeileen said

        Well, that’s too bad for me, Karl, because I sincerely appreciate your wisdom and insights. I teach Gospel Doctrine and have found your comments invaluable. The time and energy constraint is, however, understandable. Do you know of any othe sites that could be helpful in studying the Sunday School Lessons?

      • Karl D. said

        LDSGospeldoctrine.net does have links up for lesson 35 notes and lesson plans. I haven’t read through the different material linked there but there are about 10 links for this lesson.

        Joel’s Monastery blog has lesson 35 notes posted and it looks like the notes focus on Joel and Amos 8 so you might find those very useful.

        And, of course, don’t forget Jim F’s reading notes on this site.

        Finally, Ben Spackman has been doing a gospel doctrine podcast but, unfortunately, the last podcast posted is lesson 33 (Jonah).

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