Amos: 3:1-15 — Between Wisdom and Prophecy

This particularly substantial piece contends with what has persisted as an intellectual religious issue: The balance between what we can ascertain based on rational thought, and what lies beyond our rational and observational faculties. Through the employment of this mystery, the Navi in this piece conceptually vindicates his role as a necessary intermediary between the knowable and the unknowable.

Heading and Opener

Amos 3:1-2:

א שִׁמְעוּ אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה עֲלֵיכֶם--בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: עַל כָּל-הַמִּשְׁפָּחָה, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתִי מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר. ב רַק אֶתְכֶם יָדַעְתִּי, מִכֹּל מִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאֲדָמָה; עַל-כֵּן אֶפְקֹד עֲלֵיכֶם, אֵת כָּל-עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵיכֶם.

1 Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying: 2 You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities.

Before transitioning into the body of the speech, Amos begins with an explanation of why, in the previous speech, the sins of the Jewish Nation were enumerated in detail, while the sins of the foreign nations were succinct and glossed, and why his audience in this current piece will continue to be berated and exhorted. The special chosen relationship established between God and the nation holds the nation to a higher standard than other nations, as the entire idea is to be a model nation representing God to the world, much like a Navi does for the nation itself.

Wisdom and Prophecy

Amos 3:3-8:

ג הֲיֵלְכוּ שְׁנַיִם, יַחְדָּו, בִּלְתִּי, אִם-נוֹעָדוּ. ד הֲיִשְׁאַג אַרְיֵה בַּיַּעַר, וְטֶרֶף אֵין לוֹ; הֲיִתֵּן כְּפִיר קוֹלוֹ מִמְּעֹנָתוֹ, בִּלְתִּי אִם-לָכָד. ה הֲתִפֹּל צִפּוֹר עַל-פַּח הָאָרֶץ, וּמוֹקֵשׁ אֵין לָהּ; הֲיַעֲלֶה-פַּח, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וְלָכוֹד, לֹא יִלְכּוֹד. ו אִם-יִתָּקַע שׁוֹפָר בְּעִיר, וְעָם לֹא יֶחֱרָדוּ; אִם-תִּהְיֶה רָעָה בְּעִיר, וַיהוָה לֹא עָשָׂה. ז כִּי לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, דָּבָר, כִּי אִם-גָּלָה סוֹדוֹ, אֶל-עֲבָדָיו הַנְּבִיאִים. ח אַרְיֵה שָׁאָג, מִי לֹא יִירָא; אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה דִּבֶּר, מִי לֹא יִנָּבֵא.

3 Will two walk together, without having met? 4 Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? Will a young lion give forth his voice out of his den, if he have caught nothing? 5 Will a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where there is no trap for it? Will a snare spring up from the ground, and have caught nothing at all? 6 Shall the horn be blown in a city, and the people not tremble? Shall evil befall a city, and the LORD hath not done it? 7 For the Lord GOD will do nothing, but He revealeth His counsel unto His servants the prophets. 8 The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?

This section comprises the primary substance of the speech. There is an initial series of seven rhetorical questions, the first six concerning common knowledge and a seventh question serving as the theological culmination. The basic argument of the questions is whether there can be an effect without a cause that caused it, with God ultimately being the ultimate Causer. The latter two questions about Nevuah, as well as the sixth question, are posed employing the reverse logic of such a compelling cause necessarily causing an effect.

(The shorthand “C w/o E” — Cause without Effect — and “E w/o C” — Effect without Cause — will be employed in the following breakdown.)

# Verse Question Rhetorical Logic Employed: "Can there be a/an…"
1. 3 Can two people walk together without having met? E w/o C
2. 4a Will a lion roar in the forest without having caught prey? E w/o C
3. 4b Will a lion roar in his den without having caught prey? E w/o C
4. 5a Will a bird fall entrapped without there being a trap? E w/o C
5. 5b Would a trap have sprung without having caught something? E w/o C
6. 6a Does a shofar sound in a city and the people are not afraid? C w/o E
7. 6b Does evil occur in a city that is not caused by God? E w/o C
8. 8a When a lion roars who does not fear? C w/o E
9. 8b When God speaks who does not prophesy? C w/o E

The first five questions are relatively straightforward: Can something have possibly occurred without a cause to cause it to be?, with the obvious answer being no. This culminates in question 7, where the same question is asked about disastrous nationwide occurrences being caused by God. To the Navi, just as obvious as the existence of preliminary causes in questions 1-5, is the existence of a God-cause for the evil disasters in question 7. Seemingly, a certain degree of the foretold punishment from the first speech of the sefer has already begun to take effect, and the Navi is ensuring that the people understand that these occurrences are being caused by God, the ultimate Causer.

Question 6 refers to the Navi himself and possesses a different form and function from the questions which surround it. The Navi portrays himself as a sentry using a shofar to announce the sighting of the enemy to the entire city. This would obviously cause a fear to take hold of the city’s inhabitants and they would be forced to quickly react in order to save themselves. The Navi is equating his message with the shofar blast, entreating his audience to react to the sound with fear and haste the way any city would. Moreover, the question significantly occurs just before the culminating God-question, demanding at the most rhetorically critical moment that the audience listen and heed. The line employs the reverse C w/o E logic, and thus its placement and purpose is interruptive to the logical flow established above.

Verses 7-8 as a whole discuss Nevuah and the Navi conceptually. In a significantly unbroken flow from the seventh God-question, the Navi directly asserts, without the employment of rhetorical question, the reliability of his foretelling in that God does not act without first revealing his intentions to the Neviim. v8 is the Navi relating an experiential and mechanical aspect of Nevuah: its insistent nature, in that a Navi cannot refuse to prophesy when God speaks, just as a man cannot refuse to fear when a lion roars¹. The roaring lion as compared to God’s word harkens back to 1:2 in the preamble of the sefer. In light of this verse in Chapter 3, seemingly that verse in the Preamble is indicating the need to read the entire sefer in light of this now elaborated aspect of prophetic compulsion.

The significance of that last point is found when examining all three of the Nevuah verses in this piece together as a process. In v7 we learn that God always reveals his intentions to Neviim, and in v8 we learn that Neviim are always compelled to preach this word as spoken Nevuah. This manifests itself in verse 6a, wherein the Navi in action acts as a shofar blast warning of imminent divine disaster. This process, then, explains the entire nature and role of Neviim to act as forbearers of divine intent. Divine action (punishment) as reaction to sin loses its potential to turn the nation back towards God if the nation is unaware of its divine origin. Therefore, the Navi is compelled ahead of, or following, every divine action to inform the people of the divine nature of past events (as is the case here, with the people unaware that the רָעָה in the city was caused by God), inevitable events to come, or how to avoid foretold events entirely². Thus, Neviim like Amos play a crucial role in the sustaining of the God/nation relationship. The preamble is declaring that we need to read this entire sefer (in reality all the Sifrei Nevuah) in light of this idea, because, as we’ve seen, Neviim during this time have been questioned and silenced (2:11-12³, and we’ll see 7:12-13). These verses reaffirm the idea, purpose, and reliability of Neviim as divine interlocutors and metaphysical intermediaries.

There is an interesting balance throughout this section between the ideas of Wisdom and Prophecy. As we’ll see more explicitly later, Amos’s audience believe themselves to be very knowledgeable regarding divine intent and their own religious standing, an idea which Amos tries to derail and reveal as deluded. This section, then, serves to counter this mindset by demonstrating that one’s own wisdom and common sense can only advance one so far. Common wisdom can answer the questions in v3-5, but those of v6-8 in essence need to have come through the Navi himself in order to be known. This demonstrates the necessity of Nevuah and exhorts the audience to question what they believe to be self-evident based on their own wisdom, or at the very least listen to the Navi as a source of otherwise unreachable knowledge.

This contrast between Wisdom and Prophecy is demonstrated within the choice of logic for each concept’s questions. Questions 8-9 concerning the compulsory nature of Nevuah employ the C w/o E logic. This is reasonable because the logic of the Nevuah questions are questioning the idea of a compelling enough Cause failing to produce an Effect, and the Cause in those questions is God, who can never fail to effect. However, this logic is one which can only be employed by the Navi himself, as he is the only one who understands these unknowable inner workings of God. Question 6 has the luxury of using the same C w/o E logic because it also in essence deals with unknowable aspects of Nevuah. However, unlike questions 8-9, question 6 is meant to be answerable by the audience, employing the imagery of the mundane shofar in order to make the unknowable concept of Nevuah understandable to the masses. Making the unknowable knowable is the entire point of the speech, culminating in the revealing of God causing the evil in question 7⁴.

Other Observations

  • Throughout this section there exists a clear pattern of pairs. In the single line of v3, two people are meeting, followed by two lion lines in v4, two bird/trap lines in v5, two city lines in v6, and two compulsory Nevuah lines in v8. I have no idea what to make of this, because while we could explain away v4 and v8 as simple parallelisms and arguably (weakly) v5 and v6 as well, v3 in any case is obviously not an example of this classic structure.

  • There also seems to be a pattern covering the initial series of seven questions concerning the impossibility or improbability of the rhetorical prompts. While some are impossible logical fallacies, others are merely highly improbable yet qualitatively possible outcomes:

Question Impossible or Possible
1. Can two people walk together without having met? Impossible
2. Will a lion roar in the forest without having caught prey? Possible
3. Will a lion roar in his den without having caught prey? Possible
4. Will a bird fall entrapped without there being a trap? Impossible
5. Would a trap have sprung without having caught something? Possible
6. Does a shofar sound in a city and the people are not afraid? Possible
7. Does evil occur in a city that is not caused by God? Impossible
  • (cont.) The flow of the pattern from the obvious questions of 1-5 serves to supply the natures of questions 6-7, which are less obvious. This implied classification of question 6 as possible and question 7 as impossible subtly asserts that the people in v6a do not necessarily need to heed the shofar blast, the warning of the Navi. However, their obstinacy does not change the fact of question 7 that all past disasters are necessarily originated from God, who will bring yet more disasters as elaborated on later in v11-15, perhaps hinging on the people’s acceptance of v6a.

  • v2, though clearly apart from the section at hand, serves to quietly introduce the theme of postulated logic before its outright usage in v3. Its formulation is fundamentally a Cause and Effect logic:

    רַק אֶתְכֶם יָדַעְתִּי, מִכֹּל מִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאֲדָמָה; עַל-כֵּן אֶפְקֹד עֲלֵיכֶם אֵת כָּל-עֲו‍ֹנֹתֵיכֶם

Stage Directions

Amos 3:9-10:

ט הַשְׁמִיעוּ עַל-אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאַשְׁדּוֹד, וְעַל-אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְאִמְרוּ, הֵאָסְפוּ עַל-הָרֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן, וּרְאוּ מְהוּמֹת רַבּוֹת בְּתוֹכָהּ, וַעֲשׁוּקִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ. י וְלֹא-יָדְעוּ עֲשׂוֹת-נְכֹחָה, נְאֻם-יְהוָה; הָאוֹצְרִים חָמָס וָשֹׁד, בְּאַרְמְנוֹתֵיהֶם.

9 Proclaim it upon the palaces at Ashdod, and upon the palaces in the land of Egypt, and say: 'Assemble yourselves upon the mountains of Samaria, and behold the great confusions therein, and the oppressions in the midst thereof.' 10 For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.

Following the reaffirmation of the prophetic role, we transition into a more standard prophetic message. These two verses serve as God’s “stage directions” to the Navi which set the requisite players in the correct positions for the message itself in v11-15. The Navi is told to proclaim to foreign nations to gather for the great spectacle that is the chaotic depravity of the Northern society. The Navi is told to direct this invitation to the foreign “אַרְמְנוֹת”, textually balancing with the northern אַרְמְנוֹת in v10 being filled with crime. These foreign nations are being gathered to invade and plunder the North in the subsequent section.

Foretold Accounting

Amos 3:11-15:

יא לָכֵן, כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, צַר, וּסְבִיב הָאָרֶץ; וְהוֹרִיד מִמֵּךְ עֻזֵּךְ, וְנָבֹזּוּ אַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ. יב כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, כַּאֲשֶׁר יַצִּיל הָרֹעֶה מִפִּי הָאֲרִי שְׁתֵּי כְרָעַיִם, אוֹ בְדַל-אֹזֶן--כֵּן יִנָּצְלוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַיֹּשְׁבִים בְּשֹׁמְרוֹן, בִּפְאַת מִטָּה, וּבִדְמֶשֶׁק עָרֶשׂ. יג שִׁמְעוּ וְהָעִידוּ, בְּבֵית יַעֲקֹב--נְאֻם-אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, אֱלֹהֵי הַצְּבָאוֹת. יד כִּי, בְּיוֹם פָּקְדִי פִשְׁעֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל--עָלָיו: וּפָקַדְתִּי, עַל-מִזְבְּחוֹת בֵּית-אֵל, וְנִגְדְּעוּ קַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וְנָפְלוּ לָאָרֶץ. טו וְהִכֵּיתִי בֵית-הַחֹרֶף, עַל-בֵּית הַקָּיִץ; וְאָבְדוּ בָּתֵּי הַשֵּׁן, וְסָפוּ בָּתִּים רַבִּים--נְאֻם-יְהוָה.

11 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD: An adversary, even round about the land! And he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be plundered. 12 Thus saith the LORD: As the shepherd rescueth out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel that dwell in Samaria escape with the corner of a couch, and the leg of a bed. 13 Hear ye, and testify against the house of Jacob, saith the Lord GOD, the God of hosts. 14 For in the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him, I will also punish the altars of Beth-el, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off, and fall to the ground. 15 And I will smite the winter-house with the summer-house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the LORD.

This concluding section denotes some future destruction to be wreaked on the North, leaving only a remnant remaining⁵. Similar to what we saw demonstrated in v2:6-8, the overlying ideas here are subtly interwoven and suffused with themes of the economic, the implication being economic crime/oppression. In v11 the אַרְמְנוֹת which are filled with crime in v10 are themselves ironically plundered and robbed by the nations of v9. In v12, the remnant of the North will be compared to “בִּפְאַת מִטָּה, וּבִדְמֶשֶׁק עָרֶשׂ”, clearly harkening back to the reclining wealthy in v2:8. In v14 the alters of Beit El in conjunction with v12 and v15 also harken back to the alters in v2:8, continuing the synthesis of the religious and the economic themes begun there⁶. This synthesis continues in v15 with the destruction of palaces and many “בָּתִּים”, also a term for houses of worship in v2:8. This economic theme is accentuated with the choice of both אַרְמְנוֹת and בֵית as Buzzwords (my personal term for Leitwurt / מילה מנחה) throughout this section, both appearing four times from v9-15⁷.

The imagery employed in the questions of v3-6 are reflected here in the prophetic message itself. Inviting both Egypt and Ashdod to the North is akin to the two people meeting and walking together in v3. The lions in v4 reappear in v12, and the entire state of the North in v11-15 harkens back to the trapped birds in v5, here the inescapable trap being the foreign nations and the hunter being God. The warning shofar used to announce an approaching enemy in v6 is reflected in the actual invading armies in this section. This overall reemployment of imagery connotes the realization of Nevuah, purely conceptual in v3-6, but terrifyingly real in v11-15. This is significant following the reaffirmation of Nevuah in v3-8, and is a demonstration of such.

The language “וְהוֹרִיד מִמֵּךְ עֻזֵּךְ” in reference with invasion harkens back to v2:13-16, although this section is more specific and the destruction is more defined then in v2:13-16. This will be the first of many points we will make regarding the chronology of the chapters. Based off the fact that the punishment in this section is parallel to 2:13-16, but more specifically defined we can argue that it came after v2:13-16 went unheeded and the foretold destruction moved closer to reality. It is significant that while God is the lion in v8, here he is the shepherd saving what remains of the nation from the lion, which represents the foreign nations. Ultimately, God does not wish to completely erase the North at this point in time, the development of which we will follow closely as we move chronologically and textually forward.

Before we conclude I believe it is important that we delineate the persona of the speaker as it shifts throughout the piece. The identity of the physical speaker is always the Navi, but the text frequently switches between the Navi speaking for himself, the Navi quoting God, and possibly the Navi speaking for God without relating an exact quote:

1-2: An unusual blend of the Navi and God. Usually the Navi himself will begin with an opener, exhorting his audience to listen to the word of God before beginning the word of God itself. This, as well as the third person YKVK in v1a, would indicate it is the Navi speaking for himself here. This perspective switches, however, by v1b where God, in the first person, brings the nation up from Egypt.

v3-8: The Navi speaks for himself, indicated by third person references to God throughout.

v9-10: The Navi quotes Gods instructions.

v11a: Navi’s introduction to God’s word.

v11b: God’s word.

v12a: Navi’s introduction to God’s word.

v12b: God’s word.

v13: Navi’s introduction to God’s word.

v14-15: God’s quoted first person word.

This breakdown shows an unusually high number of perspective switches throughout this piece as well as a similarly rare “blended” perspective in v1-2. Arguably, this piece contains this blend and so many switches in order to merge the word of the Navi and the word of God in the mind of the reader. This would serve to strengthen the points made in v3-8 about the validity of the Navi as an authentic speaker for God and his role as his human representative here on earth.

As promised so supplied was some fun prophetic logic. Stay tuned for next episode where we will contend with old-school old-testament Cosmological God, and the old JPS translation gets to rise to the fire and brimstone occasion.

[1] The roaring lion and the shofar blast are interpretatively speaking the same thing, God’s word, the former being spoken by God to the Navi and the latter the subsequent retelling by the Navi to the nation. The point is that the same fear that exists for a man/Navi in v8 when a lion roars/God speaks should be prompted by the Navi in v6 in his audience, as it’s the same word of God being transmitted.
[2] Playing off this variety, this entire speech (more so then most speeches) actually serves as a demonstration of the various areas covered by the rhetoric of the Navi. v1-8 deals with past events and explaining their theological significance. v9-10 is a direction to the Navi regarding the present, and v11-15 is a foretelling of what still will/might be.
[3] The idea in Chapter 2 of Neviim being a method by which God attempts to distance the nation from sin corroborates and accentuates what we have said here. This section practically acts as a footnote to v2:11a.
[4] Why does Question 7 employs a E w/o C logic though it deals with the unknowable God-cause like in questions 8-9? This is due to the diverging purposes of each question. Questions 8-9 wish to teach something about God’s actions, so the logical starting point is God, the ultimate Cause, using a C w/o E logic. However question 7 is fundamentally teaching something not about unknowable God, but about the knowable ָר ָעה in the city. Therefore an E w/o C logic is employed, in order to teach the cause of the knowable ָר ָעה , the true subject of the line.
[5] The פְּקִדי in v14 realizes the ֶאְפקֹד of v2.
[6] The Up/Down motif noted in Chapter 2 continues here as well. God in v2 brings the nation up from Egypt and brings the nations in v9 up to the mountains of the North. In contrast, the strength of the North descends from it in v11, the remnant of the North is compared to a recliner, and the karnot hamizbeach fall in v14.
[7] Discounting the proper noun “Beit El” in v14. This count is admittedly arguable, though the significant status of the words themselves stand regardless.

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