Amos: 1:3-2:5 — (3+1 [sins]) x 7 nations

(This one really needs a Tanach along with it.)

The following piece is a classic demonstration of the dramatic oratory skill with which neviim spoke in order to emotionally impact their audience. The speech consists of a litany of seven nations neighboring Yisrael, including Yehuda, who will all be divinely punished as a result of some particularly unforgivable degree of sin. The basic purpose of the list format is to build a sense of self-assured safety and superiority in the minds of his northern audience, which is abruptly shattered when Amos climactically lists Yisrael as the eighth condemned nation.

The entire speech continues until the end of Chapter 2, but for now we will only examine the setup before the punch line — the listing of the seven nations¹.

The Basic Outline

Each nation is listed formulaically as having committed three unnamed past sins which God was able to abide. But a recent fourth sin, however, demands a response by God, leading to a subsequent punishment.

Nation Verses Fourth Crime
1. Damesek 1:3-5 Threshing the Gillad with an iron thresher (attacking the Gillad region, presumably in a cruel manner)
2. Azah 1:6-8 Perpetrating an exile delivered to Edom
3. Tzor 1:9 Perpetrating an exile delivered to Edom, and not remembering a brother’s covenant
4. Edom 1:10-12 Mercilessly pursuing his brother with the sword and eternal anger
5. Ammon 1:13-15 Splitting open the pregnant women of Gillad in order to expand their borders
6. Moav 2:1-3 Burning the bones of the King of Edom into lime
7. Yehuda 2:4-5 Forsaking the Torah and its laws, and straying after the lies which their fathers followed

Every step of the list is structurally similar, but textually unique. Therefore in order to gain a more concrete and nuanced understanding of the content, as well as discern any embedded flow or patterns, we will need to break down every section into very specific structural and textual categories to determine if there are any underlying designs to the entire piece (there are).

Systematic Breakdown

Let us begin by using Damesek, the first nation listed, as a comparative paradigm:

ג כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי דַמֶּשֶׂק, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ: עַל-דּוּשָׁם בַּחֲרֻצוֹת הַבַּרְזֶל, אֶת-הַגִּלְעָד. ד וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי אֵשׁ, בְּבֵית חֲזָאֵל; וְאָכְלָה, אַרְמְנוֹת בֶּן-הֲדָד. ה וְשָׁבַרְתִּי, בְּרִיחַ דַּמֶּשֶׂק, וְהִכְרַתִּי יוֹשֵׁב מִבִּקְעַת-אָוֶן, וְתוֹמֵךְ שֵׁבֶט מִבֵּית עֶדֶן; וְגָלוּ עַם-אֲרָם קִירָה, אָמַר יְהוָה.

3 For thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Damascus, yea, for four, I will not reverse it: because they have threshed Gilead with sledges of iron. 4 So will I send a fire into the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the palaces of Ben-hadad; 5 And I will break the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from Bikath-Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Beth-eden; and the people of Aram shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the LORD.

Let us unpack this section relative to all the other sections. We find:

  1. The 3+1 sin formula, which exists as the formulaic opener for every nation.
  2. The fourth unforgivable sin, which exists categorically for every nation (though the sin itself varies).
  3. The punishment, which includes a fiery destruction and further destruction of specific locations and aspects of Damesek. While the fiery destruction line exists formulaically and identically for every single nation, some nations only have this fire formula, while others, like Damesek, also have an extended personalized punishment.
  4. This piece concludes with “אָמַר יְהוָה” Some nations conclude this this way, while others end with “__ אַרְמְנוֹת” or just ”אַרְמְנוֹתֶיהָ”.
  5. This section contains direct textual connections to other sections apart from the noted ubiquitous formulaic lines. Ammon is also accused of a Gillad-related crime, and is also punished in part through exile. In addition, some of the destruction language in 1:5 is transposed exactly to the next nation, Azah, in 1:8 — language unique to these two nations. Indeed, most nations contain some textual/thematic connection to content of other nations.

Now that we have identified the relevant categories, let us organize our data:

1. Damesek 2. Azah 3. Tzor 4. Edom 5. Ammon 6. Moav 7. Yehuda
Presence of 3+1 Formula Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
4th Crime Threshing the Gilad Exile to Edom Exile to Edom,brother's covenant Attacking his brother Pregnant women of the Gilad King of Edom Forsaking God’s laws
Presence of Fire Formula Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Individualized punishment Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No
Connections to other nations*: 2 and 5 1 and 3 2 and 4 3 1 and 6 5 None
Conclusion YKVK YKVK אַרְמְנֹתֶיהָ אַרְמְנוֹת בָּצְרָה YKVK YKVK אַרְמְנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם

*Numbers refer to connected nations. This will be fully explained below due to space constraints:

1. Damesek contains connections to Azah (2) and Ammon (5)

  • When comparing 1:5 of Damesek and 1:8 of Azah unique textual parallels emerge:

וְשָׁבַרְתִּי, בְּרִיחַ דַּמֶּשֶׂק,וְהִכְרַתִּי יוֹשֵׁב מִבִּקְעַת-אָוֶן, וְתוֹמֵךְ שֵׁבֶט מִבֵּית עֶדֶן; וְגָלוּ עַם-אֲרָם קִירָה, אָמַר יְהוָה

וְהִכְרַתִּי יוֹשֵׁב מֵאַשְׁדּוֹד, וְתוֹמֵךְ שֵׁבֶט מֵאַשְׁקְלוֹן; וַהֲשִׁיבוֹתִי יָדִי עַל-עֶקְרוֹן, וְאָבְדוּ שְׁאֵרִית פְּלִשְׁתִּים--אָמַר, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה

  • Both Damesek and Ammon are charged with Gilad-related crimes (1:3 and 1:13), and their punishments both include exile (1:5 and 1:15)

2. Azah contains connections to Damasek (1, noted above) and to Tzor (3)

  • Azah and Tzor are both charged with perpetrating an exile which is delivered to Edom (1:6 and 1:9)

3. Tzor contains connections to Azah (2, noted above) and to Edom (4)

  • Both Tzor and Edom are charged with some sort of betrayal or hostility towards their brothers (1:9 and 1:11).

4. Edom contains only a connection to Tzor (3, noted above)

5. Ammon contains connections to Damesek (1, noted above) and to Moav (6)

  • When comparing 1:15 (Ammon) to 2:1-3 (Moav) unique textual parallels emerge:

טו וְהָלַךְ מַלְכָּם, בַּגּוֹלָה; הוּא וְשָׂרָיו יַחְדָּו, אָמַר יְהוָה .תְרוּעָה בְּיוֹם מִלְחָמָה, בְּסַעַר בְּיוֹם סוּפָה

א כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי מוֹאָב, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ: עַל-שָׂרְפוֹ עַצְמוֹת מֶלֶךְ-אֱדוֹם, לַשִּׂיד

ב וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי-אֵשׁ בְּמוֹאָב, וְאָכְלָה אַרְמְנוֹת הַקְּרִיּוֹת; וּמֵת בְּשָׁאוֹן מוֹאָב, בִּתְרוּעָה בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר

ג וְהִכְרַתִּי שׁוֹפֵט, מִקִּרְבָּהּ; וְכָל-שָׂרֶיהָ אֶהֱרוֹג עִמּוֹ, אָמַר יְהוָה

6. Moav contains only a connection to Ammon (5, noted above)

7. Yehuda contains no connections.

Organizational Observations

What we will extrapolate from this data is that we are dealing with two distinct groupings of nations, Group 1 being comprised of the nations listed from Damesek to Edom (1-4), and Group 2 being comprised of the nations listed from Ammon to Yehuda (5-7).

A) The identities of the Groups are discerned by certain common denominators which naturally divide the nations. Each Group:

  • Contains a clear flow of textual/thematic connection between its nations. There is a clear flow from Damesek to Edom, after which the flow abruptly stops, to reappear between Ammon and Moav. (Yehuda is excluded from this category but is included in all other characteristics of Group 2, which follow²).
  • Begins with its nations’ sections ending with YKVK and shifts into endings of אַרְמְנוֹת
  • Begins with a Gilad related crime which is punished through exile
  • Continues with Edom related crimes
  • Begins with unique personalized punishments and ends with only the standard fire formula.

B) Further illustrating the identities of the 2 Groups:

  • Instead of beginning with the standard “וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי אֵשׁ”, as worded in all the other fire formulas, Ammon’s formula begins with “וְהִצַּתִּי אֵשׁ”, contributing to the idea of Ammon initiating something new.
  • The nations also seem to be divided based on familial connection. From Edom until Yehuda are all nations which are related to Yisrael through Avraham’s family: Edom from Eisuv, Ammon and Moav through Loht, and Yehuda from Yaakov. With this in mind Edom becomes a smooth transition between the two groups, as he is textually only connected to Group 1, but is now thematically connected to Group 2, which is emphasized further by Edom’s accused crime against family. In this regard there are three levels of increasing familial connection relative to Yisrael: Damesek to Tzor (1-3, none), Edom to Moav (4-6, Abrahamic non-Yaakov), and Yehuda (7, Yaakov)

C) Further observations:

  • Some of the listed crimes and punishments seem to correspond to each other well enough to propose a chronology of events :

    • Damesek and Ammon attack the Gillad in a cruel manner (1:3, 1:13) and are threatened with exile as punishment (1:5, 1:15).
    • Azah and Tzor carry out the exile, delivering captives to Edom (1:6, 1:9).
    • Edom is then attacked and its king killed by Moav (2:1)
  • Yehuda in some respects is treated as distinct from the other nations, despite its overall inclusion in Group 2:

    • Yehuda is the only nation to not connect textually/thematically to any other nation.
    • While all the other nations are charged with breaches of basic morality, Yehuda is accused of abandoning God’s laws.
    • Of all the nations, Yehuda is the closest familial connection to Yisrael, both being progeny of Yaakov.
    • Yehuda is the only nation not to be involved in any of the listed international events.
    • There is a chiasm embedded in the list of crimes which also illustrates this idea. The chiasm is based on the amount of textual actions which are the components of each fourth crime³:
      1. Damesek: 1 (1:3)
      2. Azah: 1 (1:6)
      3. Tzor: 2 (1:9)
      4. Edom: 4 (1:11)
      5. Ammon: 2 (1:13)
      6. Moav: 1 (2:1)
      7. Yehuda: 4 (2:4)
    • Yehuda ruins the chiasm, setting itself apart from the structure otherwise created by the other nations.
  • Edom is treated distinctly as well:

    • Edom acts as a transitional section between Group 1 and Group 2
    • Edom is the center of the ruined structural chiasm
    • Edom is the only nation mentioned by name in other nations’ sections.
    • Edom is the single closest relation to Yisrael after Yehuda, being progeny of Eisuv

Interpretation of Meaning

Perhaps Edom and Yehuda are being set as foils for each other, playing off their ancestral rivalry of Yaakov and Eisuv. Both are placed last in their groups, both are the only sections which end with “...אַרְמְנוֹת", and both are treated distinctly from the other nations. Additionally, both are the only sections whose crimes are not bound by a specific context of time, Yehuda’s sins being co-committed by previous generations (2:4), and Edom’s wrath said to burn forever (1:11)⁴. Furthermore, in the structural chiasm noted above, Yehuda’s breach of the structure allows it to correspond numerically with Edom. This Edom/Yehuda interplay could be a message embedded for the later southern Judean audience, to whom it would be a remark about the higher standard to which they are held relative to the other nations, and Edom in particular. While both Edom and Yehuda seems to be treated as distinct, Yehuda seems to be distinct in a more truly defined way then Edom. This is manifested in the fact that Yehuda is often contrasted by exclusion (i.e. No textual/thematic connections to other nations, no involvement in the event chronology), while Edom is included in every category which applies to the other nations, and its entire claim to distinctiveness relies on the possession of some additional distinct characteristics. Furthermore, the significance of some of Edom’s distinct characteristics stems from their “runner up” nature relative to Yehuda. The point of this would be that while Yehuda and Edom are being played against each other as distinct, Yehuda is still more uniquely distinct, being God’s nation, and charged with forsaking His law.

In addition, there may exist a critique inherent in being compared to Edom apart from the negative association with Eisuv, found in the comparison to Edom being charged with hostility towards its brother. Yehuda also has a history of hostility towards its brother Yisrael, and that attitude may have persisted even far after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. This entire section would then preach against this civil tension to its Judean audience, as well as the ideal returned unity of the entire nation (a common prophetic theme)⁵.

Similarly, Amos seems to be discussing higher standards for Yisrael as well. The speech holds Yisrael to a higher standard than any other nation, higher than the ones set for its distant Abrahamic relatives and even for Yehuda⁶. Perhaps this speech was in direct response to members of the nation attempting to rationalize their own problematic society by only measuring themselves relative to other nations. As we have explained in a previous post, Amos’s audience is largely oblivious to their own iniquity. This section could be a response to one manifestation of that state of self-delusion, which is one Amos later confronts explicitly.

Concerning the chronological interactions between the nations, the navi seems to be making the point that what would appear to be normal international affairs and entanglements are in truth God utilizing nations as weapons against other nations in order to allocate divine justice for national crimes. This is a common prophetic theme⁷.

If you have made it this far, your interest and participation is appreciated. Though our first two posts within the sefer have been rather extreme in their polarized extents, our next section will hopefully fall into a comfortable balance between the two which will be closer to the general model.

[1] It is important to remember throughout this post that the point of the list is to reach Yisrael, the true focus and culmination of the speech.
[2] The distinct character of Yehuda despite its clear overall inclusion in Group 2 will be dealt with later.
[3] For example, Tzor’s crime includes two components, its perpetrated exile and its forsaking of a brotherly covenant, as opposed to Damesek’s single textual action of threshing the Gilad.
[4] This corresponds with our previously noted trend within each Group to begin with personalized punishments and transition into only presenting the fire formula. The personalized punishments are foretelling specific events, and are thus bound by a specific context of time, while the standard fire formula is essentially timeless, not bound by a specific context. Thus, Edom and Yehuda, whose critiques are timeless, are placed at the ends of each Group with a timeless punishment, creating each Group’s transition into timelessness.
[5] The theory of later audience is summarized in the Introduction to the series.
[6] Overall, Yisrael is to Yehuda as Yehuda is to Edom. Both are relationships which significantly correspond, all three are distinct from other nations, but the former in both pairs, the subject of each relative message, is more singularly distinct then the latter, and thus the former is held to a higher standard.
[7] As always, the adjective “Prophetic” means “Navi-esque”, as opposed to necessarily/only implying something about the future. Interestingly, what we have uncovered here are parallel prophetic messages contextually specific for both the original and later audiences, as well as a timeless prophetic theme about God’s sovereignty and control.

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