Amos 7:1-8:3 — Dark Navi Rises

Our current section provides some qualitatively new material to contend with. Breaking from the textually dominant rebuking speech, a series of four prophetic visions comprises the bulk of this section. A short narrative offers the only recorded portrayal of Amos directly interacting with his audience, inserted between the third and fourth visions. The entire section is remarkably illustrative of the Prophet’s self-perspective as well as the dynamic between prophet and audience.

4 Visions

We will utilize the same methodology we employed upon the Seven Nations List to analyze the series of visions, while examining the narrative portion separately in order to explain its seemingly interruptive placement.

The four visions are in actuality two groups of two, with escalation occurring between each group as well as within each group. The structure and much of the wording between the coupled visions are largely identical. Our forthcoming analysis will therefore focus on the significant discrepancies between and within the pairs.

Locusts and Fire: The First Set

Amos 7:1-9:

א כֹּה הִרְאַנִי, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, וְהִנֵּה יוֹצֵר גֹּבַי, בִּתְחִלַּת עֲלוֹת הַלָּקֶשׁ; וְהִנֵּה-לֶקֶשׁ--אַחַר, גִּזֵּי הַמֶּלֶךְ. ב וְהָיָה, אִם-כִּלָּה לֶאֱכוֹל אֶת-עֵשֶׂב הָאָרֶץ, וָאֹמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה סְלַח-נָא, מִי יָקוּם יַעֲקֹב: כִּי קָטֹן, הוּא. ג נִחַם יְהוָה, עַל-זֹאת: לֹא תִהְיֶה, אָמַר יְהוָה ד כֹּה הִרְאַנִי אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, וְהִנֵּה קֹרֵא לָרִב בָּאֵשׁ אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה; וַתֹּאכַל אֶת-תְּהוֹם רַבָּה, וְאָכְלָה אֶת-הַחֵלֶק. ה וָאֹמַר, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה חֲדַל-נָא--מִי יָקוּם, יַעֲקֹב: כִּי קָטֹן, הוּא. ו נִחַם יְהוָה, עַל-זֹאת; גַּם-הִיא לֹא תִהְיֶה, אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה

1 Thus the Lord GOD showed me; and, behold, He formed locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king's mowings. 2 And if it had come to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land--so I said: O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech Thee; how shall Jacob stand? for he is small. 3 The LORD repented concerning this; 'It shall not be', saith the LORD. 4 Thus the Lord GOD showed me; and, behold, the Lord GOD called to contend by fire; and it devoured the great deep, and would have eaten up the land. 5 Then said I: O Lord GOD, cease, I beseech Thee; how shall Jacob stand? for he is small. 6 The LORD repented concerning this; 'This also shall not be', saith the Lord GOD.

Let us begin our analysis with an examination of the general structure of each pair. The first two visions (“P1”) are presented in the same way:

  1. God shows Amos a vision of encroaching danger.
  2. The danger destructively take effect, “consuming” its target(s)
  3. Amos entreats God to relent or Yaakov will be annihilated
  4. God relents

Within P1 God presents Amos with existential threats to the nation’s existence. Both the threat of a locust infestation and the “Contending Fire” are assuaged when Amos pleads his case, speaking on behalf of the nation he has spent his career rebuking as corrupt. In this regard Amos is fulfilling a prophetic role initiated by Moshe, the paragon prophet, who both harshly chastises and defends the nation in a similar manner.

The target of the first vision is the yield of crops grown towards the end of the rainy season which, if consumed by locusts, would take a full season to replace, during which the nation would starve. Both the threat and consequence of the first vision are inherently non-miraculous, natural occurrences, while in the second vision a supernatural “contending fire” consumes the “Tehom Rabbah” and the “Chelek”. Tehom Rabbah is a cosmogony term meaning the primordial depths. The chelek here may mean the land of Israel, similar to terminology used in the Torah. Alternatively, in light of Tehom Rabbah, the chelek means the land from a creation perspective, meaning the entire world. The second vision, then, has shifted into the supernatural and the cosmological.

The second vision has escalated from the first vision in a few significant ways: One, in its escalation from the natural to the supernatural. Two, from the creation of an undirected and haphazard locust swarm to the specifically prosecuting fires of “Riv”, a legal term meaning to bring a lawsuit1. These qualitative escalations bespeak a greater degree of God’s direct, purposeful, and judicial involvement. The third and fourth are the quantitative escalations from one target to multiple targets, and the extent of the destruction.

Measuring Lines and Edible Assortments: The Second Set

Amos 8:1-3:

ז כֹּה הִרְאַנִי, וְהִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי נִצָּב עַל-חוֹמַת אֲנָךְ; וּבְיָדוֹ, אֲנָךְ. ח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי, מָה-אַתָּה רֹאֶה עָמוֹס, וָאֹמַר, אֲנָךְ; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲדֹנָי, הִנְנִי שָׂם אֲנָךְ בְּקֶרֶב עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לֹא-אוֹסִיף עוֹד, עֲבוֹר לוֹ. ט וְנָשַׁמּוּ בָּמוֹת יִשְׂחָק, וּמִקְדְּשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל יֶחֱרָבוּ; וְקַמְתִּי עַל-בֵּית יָרָבְעָם, בֶּחָרֶב א כֹּה הִרְאַנִי, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה; וְהִנֵּה, כְּלוּב קָיִץ. ב וַיֹּאמֶר, מָה-אַתָּה רֹאֶה עָמוֹס, וָאֹמַר, כְּלוּב קָיִץ; וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי, בָּא הַקֵּץ אֶל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לֹא-אוֹסִיף עוֹד, עֲבוֹר לוֹ. ג וְהֵילִילוּ שִׁירוֹת הֵיכָל, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא--נְאֻם, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה: רַב הַפֶּגֶר, בְּכָל-מָקוֹם הִשְׁלִיךְ הָס

7 Thus He showed me; and, behold, the Lord stood beside a wall checked by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand. 8 And the LORD said unto me: 'Amos, what seest thou?' And I said: 'A plumbline.' Then said the Lord: Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of My people Israel; I will not again pardon them any more; 9 And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword 1 Thus the Lord GOD showed me; and behold a basket of summer fruit. 2 And He said: 'Amos, what seest thou?' And I said: 'A basket of summer fruit.' Then said the LORD unto me: The end is come upon My people Israel; I will not again pardon them any more. 3 And the songs of the palace shall be wailings in that day, saith the Lord GOD; the dead bodies shall be many; in every place silence shall be cast.

The second set of visions (“P2”) are also presented with identical structures:

  1. God shows Amos an unassuming object
  2. God asks Amos what he sees; Amos answers
  3. God interprets the vision, and will no longer tolerate sin
  4. God elaborates on the details of the foretold destruction

In the third vision God shows Amos a measuring line set in the midst of the nation, measuring their transgressions with exactitude. The prognosis of the measurement does not bode well, and the fourth vision reveals that the end has come to the Northern kingdom. The proceedings of P2 differ from P1 in some significant ways:

While the meted destructions in P1 are unmeasured and all-consuming — and thus provide grounds for the prophet to debate their justness — the consequences of P2 are inherently just, being the result of literal measurement, leaving the prophet no leeway to respond and argue for abatement. Additionally, the measurement of transgression leads to specific retributive targets, absent from P1 which is non-specifically national/universal in retributive scope. In this case P2 primarily condemns the temples and holy sites of the Northern Kingdom. While P1 reads as God impulsively lashing out at the entire nation and world, P2 illustrates a judicially minded God meticulously accounting for measured transgression. This discrepancy of tone explains why P1 presents Amos with visions of terror and disasters already occurring, while P2 shows unassuming objects and informs of disaster yet to come. God in P2 employs the fatigued expression “לֹא-אוֹסִיף עוֹד, עֲבוֹר לוֹ”, as the tolerance Amos encourages in P1 becomes impossible to sustain. This also explains why Amos does most of the speaking in P1 while God does most of the speaking in P2. God in P1 can be mitigated and calmed, while the God of P2 provides no room for argument.

The idea of measured justice actually permeates the entire series of visions in a linear escalation. Vision one contains no aspect of justice, while vision two, though punishing the entire universe, is put within the framework of “קֹרֵא לָרִב”, which as we explained above is a legal term meaning to bring a claim to court. Now that the litigants are in court, the crimes are measured in vision three, and the verdict and sentence given in vision four.

Another escalation throughout the visions pertains to God’s involvement in the scene. Vision one portrays God creating a locust swarm that attacks the nations crops, while in vision two God brings a persecuting fire to directly contend with the nation as a litigant. Vision three illustrates God actively measuring the nation from within, and in vision four God targets the heichal of his own temple, what would be considered an intimately self-destructive action2.

The fourth vision employs a pun to announce the capital verdict on the nation. The basket of summer fruit might be a reference to first fruit offerings which would be brought to the temple, thematically aligning with the decrees of P2. Vision four negates the supposed holiness of Northern temples by foretelling the reversal of temple singing into an active silence, and the strewing of corpses — the ultimate impurity — throughout the holy site3.

Dark Navi Rises

Amos 7:10-17:

י וַיִּשְׁלַח, אֲמַצְיָה כֹּהֵן בֵּית-אֵל, אֶל-יָרָבְעָם מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר: קָשַׁר עָלֶיךָ עָמוֹס, בְּקֶרֶב בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל--לֹא-תוּכַל הָאָרֶץ, לְהָכִיל אֶת-כָּל-דְּבָרָיו. יא כִּי-כֹה אָמַר עָמוֹס, בַּחֶרֶב יָמוּת יָרָבְעָם; וְיִשְׂרָאֵל--גָּלֹה יִגְלֶה, מֵעַל אַדְמָתוֹ. {ס} יב וַיֹּאמֶר אֲמַצְיָה, אֶל-עָמוֹס, חֹזֶה, לֵךְ בְּרַח-לְךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ יְהוּדָה; וֶאֱכָל-שָׁם לֶחֶם, וְשָׁם תִּנָּבֵא. יג וּבֵית-אֵל, לֹא-תוֹסִיף עוֹד לְהִנָּבֵא: כִּי מִקְדַּשׁ-מֶלֶךְ הוּא, וּבֵית מַמְלָכָה הוּא. יד וַיַּעַן עָמוֹס, וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֲמַצְיָה, לֹא-נָבִיא אָנֹכִי, וְלֹא בֶן-נָבִיא אָנֹכִי: כִּי-בוֹקֵר אָנֹכִי, וּבוֹלֵס שִׁקְמִים. טו וַיִּקָּחֵנִי יְהוָה, מֵאַחֲרֵי הַצֹּאן; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי יְהוָה, לֵךְ הִנָּבֵא אֶל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל. טז וְעַתָּה, שְׁמַע דְּבַר-יְהוָה: אַתָּה אֹמֵר, לֹא תִנָּבֵא עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְלֹא תַטִּיף, עַל-בֵּית יִשְׂחָק. יז לָכֵן כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, אִשְׁתְּךָ בָּעִיר תִּזְנֶה וּבָנֶיךָ וּבְנֹתֶיךָ בַּחֶרֶב יִפֹּלוּ, וְאַדְמָתְךָ, בַּחֶבֶל תְּחֻלָּק; וְאַתָּה, עַל-אֲדָמָה טְמֵאָה תָּמוּת, וְיִשְׂרָאֵל, גָּלֹה יִגְלֶה מֵעַל אַדְמָתוֹ.

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying: 'Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos saith: Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land.' {S} 12 Amaziah said unto Amos: 'O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there; 13 but prophesy not again any more at Beth-el, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a royal house.' 14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah: 'I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was a herdman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees; 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said unto me: Go, prophesy unto My people Israel. 16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest: Prophesy not against Israel, and preach not against the house of Isaac; 17 Therefore thus saith the LORD: Thy wife shall be a harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou thyself shalt die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land.'

The inserted narrative portrays Amos in a tense and dramatic interaction with a member of the priestly aristocracy, his career’s primary target of rebuke. The silencing of Neviim reported in 2:12 is illustrated here, as Amatziah first reports Amos’s words of insurrection to Yeravam the king before proceeding to directly confront the navi in an attempt to silence him. Amatzia’s report includes the content of 7:9b, the fall of the Yeravam Dynasty, and the decreed exile of the North, which we have been hearing about since Chapter 5.

The scene is set outside the temple of Beit-El, the center of ritual in the North, where Amos has been preaching against the culture of the temple, as we have been reading up until now. Amatziah believes that Amos is a prophet by trade, something akin to Shmuel:

Shmuel 1 9:7-9.:

ז וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל לְנַעֲרוֹ, וְהִנֵּה נֵלֵךְ וּמַה-נָּבִיא לָאִישׁ--כִּי הַלֶּחֶם אָזַל מִכֵּלֵינוּ, וּתְשׁוּרָה אֵין-לְהָבִיא לְאִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים: מָה, אִתָּנוּ. ח וַיֹּסֶף הַנַּעַר, לַעֲנוֹת אֶת-שָׁאוּל, וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה נִמְצָא בְיָדִי רֶבַע שֶׁקֶל כָּסֶף; וְנָתַתִּי לְאִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים, וְהִגִּיד לָנוּ אֶת-דַּרְכֵּנוּ. ט לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, כֹּה-אָמַר הָאִישׁ בְּלֶכְתּוֹ לִדְרוֹשׁ אֱלֹהִים, לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה, עַד-הָרֹאֶה: כִּי לַנָּבִיא הַיּוֹם, יִקָּרֵא לְפָנִים הָרֹאֶה.

7 Then said Saul to his servant: 'But, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God; what have we?' 8 And the servant answered Saul again, and said: 'Behold, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver, that will I give to the man of God, to tell us our way.'-- 9 Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he said: 'Come and let us go to the seer'; for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer4.

Amatziah dismisses the Navi to take his trade and words south to Yehuda. Amos vehemently responds that he is “not a Navi”, but a simple shepherd called to speak for God. Powerfully driving this point home is the striking contrast between this statement of “not a Navi” and our immediate context wherein Amos is shown visions and engages in direct prophetic dialogue with God, the undisputed pinnacle of Amos’s authentically prophetic communication. Similarly striking is the contrast between Amos’s emotional defense of the nation to God in P1 and his vitriolic encounter with a paradigmatic member of that very nation within this narrative. In this manner the Navi is illustrated as acting within a dichotomy. Amos stands with the nation while speaking with God, despite their detestable treatment of him, while he stands with God when speaking to the nation, holding the nation to his impeccable standards of righteous truth and religious morality for the nation’s own sake. The Navi’s insistence on speaking in 7:14-17 in the face of rejection and suppression serves to reaffirm the entire role and nature of the Navi, similar to the way 3:3-8 reacted to 2:12. As a defiant reversal, subsequently in 8:3 the Navi proclaims aloud the forthcoming silence to be cast upon the temple and its adherents.

The affirmation of identities is a pivotal idea permeating this entire section, and explains why P2 has the Navi being asked to identify a vision before receiving an interpretation. As we explained above, P2, unlike P1, does now allow the Navi any room for entreatment. This is because the Navi is first shown something he cannot argue with, the simple identity of an object, followed by a similarly sensible extension of that undisputed identification, namely the measuring of sin and consequential punishments. This disallows any chance for argument, because the foretold events hinge on the undisputed identities of the objects themselves. One can argue whether a universe-consuming fire is just or not, but one cannot argue that a measuring line does not measure. While the dialogue prompted in P2 serves to affirm an object’s functional identity, Amos’s corrective response to Amatziah serves to negate a functional identity which Amatziah incorrectly presupposed. In this manner Amos affirms his own functional identity as he does for the measuring line and fruit basket, while Amatziah stands in contrast to Amos by incorrectly identifying him as a “Navi”5.

The placement of the narrative between the visions of P2 preserves an uninterrupted thematic flow. Amatziah in 7:11 references the content of Vision three, and his interaction with the king also connects to the final decree of Vision three against the Dynasty in 7:9b. The remaining bulk of the narrative contends thematically with its setting — the temple of Beit El — implicitly the exact temple condemned in Vision four to hushed silence and impurity. Thus, the narrative effectively flows out of Vision three and into Vision four. The idea is that the explicit rejection of the Navi’s word in the narrative serves as the nail in the coffin, prompting the final verdict in Vision four.

Encouraging this perspective, the narrative and the P2 visions share much in the way of language and style:

  • As mentioned, Amatziah quotes 7:9 in his report in 7:11.
  • As mentioned (Footnote 5), Amatziah’s line “לֹא-תוּכַל הָאָרֶץ, לְהָכִיל אֶת-כָּל-דְּבָרָיו” reflects the refrains of Amos (7:2, 5) and God (7:8, 8:2).
  • בָּמוֹת יִשְׂחָק in 7:16 reflects בֵּית יִשְׂחָק in 7:9.
  • בַּחֶבֶל תְּחֻלָּק in 7:17 reflects אֲנָךְ in 7:7-8 and הַחֵלֶק in 7:4, respectively.
  • אֲדָמָה טְמֵאָה in 7:17 reflects רַב הַפֶּגֶר in 8:3.

I think the Batman title thematically worked out much better than I initially thought it would. Batman in The Dark Knight Rises reaffirms his own identity as The Batman opposite Bane in a manner similar to Amos vis-à-vis Amatziah, after both Prophet and Dark Knight are rejected by the people they work to protect. The distinction lies in the notion that Batman was reaffirming his identity for the benefit of himself, while Amos reaffirms his role for the benefit of his audience, as the text provides no explicit reason to believe that Amos has ever faltered as a Navi the way Bruce Wayne did as the Dark Knight. However, in the significant interest of humanizing the man behind the text, despite the neglect of the text itself to do so, one should not dismiss the potential challenges of personal conflict and uncertainty which a Navi might endure as a result of the constant rejection and opposition that naturally comes with the job. If, as one could compellingly argue, the episode under examination was not an isolated incident but paradigmatic of vitriolic encounters Amos faced throughout his career, it would be unsurprising if the reaffirmation of identity we witnessed was for the benefit of the Navi himself as much, if not more than, his contentious audience.

1. Yeshaya 3:13

2. This indicates an escalation of specificity between the P2 visions. Vision Three condemns all holy sites in a broad way, whereas Vision Four portrays the specific temple at Beit El, as we shall show.

3. The great quantity of corpses and the hushed silence “הָס” remind us of similar circumstances in 6:9-10 .

4. Prophets need to eat too.

5. Amatziah stands in contrast in another similar way. His line “לֹא-תוּכַל הָאָרֶץ, לְהָכִיל אֶת-כָּל-דְּבָרָיו” reflects God’s refrain in P2, “לֹא-אוֹסִיף עוֹד, עֲבוֹר לוֹ”, and Amos’s refrain in P1, “סְלַח-נָא, מִי יָקוּם יַעֲקֹב: כִּי קָטֹן, הוּא”. However, unlike God and Amos who engage in dialogue with each other, the king does not respond to Amatziah’s initiative.

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No Fear Biblical Criticism: Introduction