Amos 5:1-17: It’s All In The Past

This following section serves as a convenient methodological demonstration of establishing the perspective and chronological contours of a prophetic speech. We have already dealt with the challenges of establishing a chronology between different speeches, but it sometimes occurs that even within a single speech the chronological perspective of different material is difficult to discern and bifurcate, as the Navi shifts the spoken scene to accommodate his rhetorical needs.

The Breakdown

v1-17: Kinah

  • v1–3: A Kinah (Dirge) is raised for the present dilapidated state of the North, owing to God’s decimating decrees.
    • v4–9: The Religious
      • v4–6: A chance for life is offered in the entreatment to seek God instead of ritual centers.
        • v7: A “misplaced” line of special note.
      • v8–9: Another Cosmological God piece, similar to 4:12–13.
    • v10–15: The Socioeconomic
      • v10–13: Delineation of socioeconomic sin and punishment.
      • v14–15: an entreatment to seek God instead.
  • v16–17: Concluding woe over the present state of affairs.

Raising the Kinah

Amos 5:1-3:

א שִׁמְעוּ אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי נֹשֵׂא עֲלֵיכֶם קִינָה--בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. ב נָפְלָה לֹא-תוֹסִיף קוּם, בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל; נִטְּשָׁה עַל-אַדְמָתָהּ, אֵין מְקִימָהּ. ג כִּי כֹה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, הָעִיר הַיֹּצֵאת אֶלֶף תַּשְׁאִיר מֵאָה; וְהַיּוֹצֵאת מֵאָה תַּשְׁאִיר עֲשָׂרָה, לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל

1 Hear ye this word which I take up for a lamentation over you, O house of Israel: 2 The virgin of Israel is fallen, she shall no more rise; she is cast down upon her land, there is none to raise her up. 3 For thus saith the Lord GOD: The city that went forth a thousand shall have a hundred left, and that which went forth a hundred shall have ten left, of the house of Israel.

The speech opens with the Navi composing a kinah for the presently decimated north, a result of the quoted decree issued by God in v3. The kinah’s employment of the sympathetic language “betulah” in reference to the nation expresses the genuine distress the navi feels over what has transpired. v2 seems to indicate that God has no intention of ever allowing the North to regain its previously held national status, but the question remains for the reader regarding its future fate.

When Will It End?

Amos 5:4-9:

ד כִּי כֹה אָמַר יְהוָה, לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל: דִּרְשׁוּנִי, וִחְיוּ. ה וְאַל-תִּדְרְשׁוּ, בֵּית-אֵל, וְהַגִּלְגָּל לֹא תָבֹאוּ, וּבְאֵר שֶׁבַע לֹא תַעֲבֹרוּ: כִּי הַגִּלְגָּל גָּלֹה יִגְלֶה, וּבֵית-אֵל יִהְיֶה לְאָוֶן. ו דִּרְשׁוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, וִחְיוּ: פֶּן-יִצְלַח כָּאֵשׁ בֵּית יוֹסֵף, וְאָכְלָה וְאֵין-מְכַבֶּה לְבֵית-אֵל. ז הַהֹפְכִים לְלַעֲנָה, מִשְׁפָּט; וּצְדָקָה, לָאָרֶץ הִנִּיחוּ. ח עֹשֵׂה כִימָה וּכְסִיל, וְהֹפֵךְ לַבֹּקֶר צַלְמָוֶת, וְיוֹם, לַיְלָה הֶחְשִׁיךְ; הַקּוֹרֵא לְמֵי-הַיָּם, וַיִּשְׁפְּכֵם עַל-פְּנֵי הָאָרֶץ--יְהוָה שְׁמוֹ. ט הַמַּבְלִיג שֹׁד, עַל-עָז; וְשֹׁד, עַל-מִבְצָר יָבוֹא

4 For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel: Seek ye Me, and live; 5 But seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Beth-el shall come to nought. 6 Seek the LORD, and live--lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, and there be none to quench it in Bethel-- 7 Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and cast righteousness to the ground; 8 Him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and bringeth on the shadow of death in the morning, and darkeneth the day into night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth; the LORD is His name; 9 That causeth destruction to flash upon the strong, so that destruction cometh upon the fortress.

The first issue which arises when examining the rest of the speech is the theoretical extent of the “Kinah” header in the opening verse. Does the kinah only extend to the very next verse, with v3 acting as a prophetic explanation of the subject of the kinah, similar to the Navi explaining events in 3:6? This would imply that the calls to return to God and the salvation offered thereof in the subsequent sections are present and valid, and the nation still has a chance to redeem and save itself. Alternatively, the Kinah could potentially extend to the entire speech, meaning that all the material from v4-v15 is mournful reflection of missed chances and lost opportunities, and the nation at this point is truly condemned.

Unfortunately for our heroes, there is compelling evidence for the latter.

The primary indication is this section’s placement relative to our previous chapter, which displayed tones of defeatism and hopeless finality in its listing of assorted missed opportunities to return to God, as we there elaborated on. As a result of this, exile was already decreed as early as 4:2-3, most likely as a (relative to Chapter 4) newly issued irredeemable decree chronologically following the past missed opportunities which cover most of that chapter. Our own chapter in v2 continues this tone of finality, and the decree of exile is repeated in 5:5, 5:27, and 6:7. Furthermore, v16 beginning “lachein” and the subsequent mourning in v16-17 make little sense if the offer of redemption in the previous verses was still valid. If we assume the entire speech is a kinah, then v16-17 serve as an effectively balanced conclusion to the tone set in v1-3, with everything in between serving as the bulk of the somber retrospection. As an aside, both subsequent speeches, 5:18-27 and 6:1-14, begin with “הוֹי“, meaning “Woe unto…”, potentially extending the kinah theme into those sections as well. As in 4:6-11, our speech would be a mournful reflection on these missed redemptive opportunities and a lament over the coming inevitable fate.

With all that in mind, we begin our local analysis of the substance of the speech.

The first of the two major sections of the speech deals with the religious/theological. The nation was entreated to seek God instead of their own cultic centers, with redemption and destruction in the balance of their decision. v4-6 sets the conditions of the offer, while v8-9 describe the cosmological majesty of the true God which they were entreated to seek, who stands in eternal contrast to the doomed cultic centers in v5b. We will return in the following section to the seemingly disjointed v7.

The refrains in v4-6 are assorted combinations of “דִּרְשׁוּ” and “וִחְיוּ”. We begin in v4b with an entreatment to seek God and live, and conclude with the same entreatment in v6a. This balances the negative entreatment found in v5a to not seek the doomed cultic centers¹. The complete flow is as follows:

  • v4: A positive entreatment.
  • v5: A negative entreatment with a negative foretelling.
  • v6: A positive entreatment with a negative foretelling.

The design emerges as a balanced escalation of positive, then negative, then positive/negative.

The description of God in v8-9 hearkens back to 4:12-13, and is in fact exactly parallel to it while employing darker and harsher imagery in every category of description.

The more severe descriptions of God and his actions would correspond with our assumption that chapter 5 is chronologically closer to the final decreed fate of the North than is Chapter 4. The tone reflects the imminence of divine doom and God’s retribution. Thus, while the redemptive offer in v4-6 is essentially retrospective, this description of God is not, being painted by the Navi now to illustrate the terrifying magnitude of having neglected God’s exhortations.

The fiery destruction presented here in v6b harkens back to the fiery destruction formula which consumed the fortresses of the various nations in the first speech of the sefer. I’m not sure what to conclude from this interpretively, if anything.

The Messy Redactor, Sefer Devarim, and Communal Self-Delusion (Wait, It’s Not What You Think!)

Amos 5:10-15:

י שָׂנְאוּ בַשַּׁעַר, מוֹכִיחַ; וְדֹבֵר תָּמִים, יְתָעֵבוּ. יא לָכֵן יַעַן בּוֹשַׁסְכֶם עַל-דָּל, וּמַשְׂאַת-בַּר תִּקְחוּ מִמֶּנּוּ--בָּתֵּי גָזִית בְּנִיתֶם, וְלֹא-תֵשְׁבוּ בָם; כַּרְמֵי-חֶמֶד נְטַעְתֶּם, וְלֹא תִשְׁתּוּ אֶת-יֵינָם. יב כִּי יָדַעְתִּי רַבִּים פִּשְׁעֵיכֶם, וַעֲצֻמִים חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם; צֹרְרֵי צַדִּיק לֹקְחֵי כֹפֶר, וְאֶבְיוֹנִים בַּשַּׁעַר הִטּוּ. יג לָכֵן, הַמַּשְׂכִּיל בָּעֵת הַהִיא--יִדֹּם: כִּי עֵת רָעָה, הִיא. יד דִּרְשׁוּ-טוֹב וְאַל-רָע, לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּ; וִיהִי-כֵן יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי-צְבָאוֹת, אִתְּכֶם--כַּאֲשֶׁר אֲמַרְתֶּם. טו שִׂנְאוּ-רָע וְאֶהֱבוּ טוֹב, וְהַצִּיגוּ בַשַּׁעַר מִשְׁפָּט; אוּלַי, יֶחֱנַן יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי-צְבָאוֹת--שְׁאֵרִית יוֹסֵף.

10 They hate him that reproveth in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly. 11 Therefore, because ye trample upon the poor, and take from him exactions of wheat; ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them, ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine thereof. 12 For I know how manifold are your transgressions, and how mighty are your sins; ye that afflict the just, that take a ransom, and that turn aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore the prudent doth keep silence in such a time; for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as ye say. 15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.

v7: Messy Redactor

The second major retrospective subsection of the speech contends with the socioeconomic. The section divides between v10-12 and v13-15, the former reproving/punishing and the latter exhorting/enlightening. We begin with our “misplaced” v7, which abruptly mentions a socioeconomic reprove in the midst of its otherwise purely religious section. In addition, its distinct poetic structure relative to its immediate environment contributes to its obtuseness. Interestingly enough, v7 would perfectly fit either immediately before or immediately after v10, which it resembles exactly both in terms of content and structure:

ז הַהֹפְכִים לְלַעֲנָה מִשְׁפָּט; וּצְדָקָה לָאָרֶץ הִנִּיחוּ: י שָׂנְאוּ בַשַּׁעַר מוֹכִיחַ; וְדֹבֵר תָּמִים יְתָעֵבוּ

These verses together would serve as a fitting introduction to the socioeconomic punishments in v11-12. Assuming that we have made a compelling case for the “original” location of v7 to have been spoken in the vicinity of v10, why has it been so awkwardly misplaced? While some, I imagine, will reflexively assert this is simply an instance of historical accident, I would argue that there exists a compelling enough interpretation to lend the placement a deliberate purpose. Arguably, the highly noticeable abrupt and obtuse placement of v7 continues a theme we have often seen before — the synthesis of the prophetic critique of the religious and the socioeconomic, here illustrated through the physical rearrangement of text.

In that case, there are in truth three logically ordered subsections to this section, which, we must keep in mind, like v4-9, is entirely retrospective. v7 and v10 bespeak the “present” state of societal corruption; v11-12 delineate appropriate “forthcoming” punishments; and v13-15 are exhortations for a possibly redemptive “future”, which the reader is aware were ultimately ignored.

The active spite directed towards figures of justice in v10, and the misdirecting in v12b, hearken back to similar problems in v2:7b and v2:12 (the sabotaging of the righteous) sometimes without any material gain for the saboteur. The accusation in v11a of an unjust tax hearkens back to 2:8b. There apparently has been no reform since Chapter 2.

Houses and Vineyards

The socioeconomic punishment in v11b foretells the confiscation of valued and invested property from the oppressive rich, specifically houses and vineyards. Both of these properties have been condemned before, the former in v3:15 and the latter in v4:9. In addition, these hallmarks of wealth and privilege hearken back to similar formulations found in Sefer Devarim:

Devarim 20:5-6:

ה וְדִבְּרוּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים, אֶל-הָעָם לֵאמֹר, מִי-הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה בַיִת-חָדָשׁ וְלֹא חֲנָכוֹ, יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתוֹ: פֶּן-יָמוּת, בַּמִּלְחָמָה, וְאִישׁ אַחֵר, יַחְנְכֶנּוּ. ו וּמִי-הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-נָטַע כֶּרֶם, וְלֹא חִלְּלוֹ--יֵלֵךְ, וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתוֹ: פֶּן-יָמוּת, בַּמִּלְחָמָה, וְאִישׁ אַחֵר, יְחַלְּלֶנּוּ.

5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying: 'What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.6 And what man is there that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not used the fruit thereof? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man use the fruit thereof.

Within the context of preparations for war, the officers are to filter out certain categories of people and exempt them from military service, including those who have recently built a new house or planted a new vineyard. This is due to the risk of someone else inheriting his efforts while the true owner never lived to enjoy the fruits of his labors. These verses imply that optimally one should be enjoying the material profits of his labors, as they are rightfully due to him.

Chapter 8 in Devarim deals with the challenge of maintaining the nation’s degree of awareness and dependency on God after they enter and settle the land. In the desert this was not a concern, as the divine life support was obvious to all (8:3-4). However, this concern is exacerbated upon entering the agriculturally fertile land, illustrated in detail:

Devarim 8:8:

אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה, וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן; אֶרֶץ-זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ.

a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey

The nation is warned to not forget in their wealth that their sustenance still depends on maintaining God’s laws:

Devarim 8:11-12:

יא הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. יב פֶּן-תֹּאכַל, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ; וּבָתִּים טֹבִים תִּבְנֶה, וְיָשָׁבְתָּ.

Beware lest thou forget the LORD thy God, in not keeping His commandments, and His ordinances, and His statutes, which I command thee this day; lest when thou hast eaten and art satisfied, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;

Both our hallmarks of wealth, agriculture and houses, are found in this section. Here, an abundance of these forms of wealth are acknowledged to contain the risks of fermenting arrogance and forgetting God.

Within the context of the lengthy Tochacha, the curses opposite the blessings, our particular imagery again resurfaces:

Devarim 28:30:

ל אִשָּׁה תְאָרֵשׂ, וְאִישׁ אַחֵר ישגלנה (יִשְׁכָּבֶנָּה)--בַּיִת תִּבְנֶה, וְלֹא-תֵשֵׁב בּוֹ; כֶּרֶם תִּטַּע, וְלֹא תְחַלְּלֶנּוּ.

30 Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her; thou shalt build a house, and thou shalt not dwell therein; thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not use the fruit thereof.

The nature of these blessings and curses are fundamentally conditional. Repeated emphasis is placed on the notion of the nation’s actions bringing either divinely wrought prosperity or destruction.

Through considering all these passages we can illustrate a linear theological thought process and its direct impact on the events of our sefer. Optimally, as is clear from Devarim 20, God believes the nation should be enjoying the physical benefits of the land they will invest in. However, based on Devarim 28, we know these benefits are fundamentally conditional, meaning their consistency will depend directly on the nation’s religious behavior. Devarim also acknowledges that, practically speaking, wealth and abundance can quickly lead the nation astray. In Amos we see the scales of this conditionality tipping as a result of this precise concern. The nation, having established a society, have forgotten God as a result of their corrupting wealth, which in v11 is taken and given to others. This is the exact consequence found in Devarim 28:30, and exactly what optimally would be avoided in Devarim 20. The common employment of the “houses and vineyards” imagery throughout Devarim and Amos helps to connect this entire, essentially linear, scheme.

To make it clearer let’s outline the entire process:

Theory: Devarim

  • 20:5-6: Optimal enjoyment of houses and vineyards.
  • 8: Potential corrupting influence of houses and vineyards.
  • 28:30: Conditionality of retaining houses and vineyards. Potential consequences include others taking your houses and vineyards.

Practice: Amos (thus far)

  • 2:6-8, 4:1, 5:7, 10-12: Corrupting influence of general wealth.
  • 3:9-10: Corrupted houses (“palaces”).
  • 2:8, 12, 4:1: Corrupted vineyards/wine.
  • 3:11, 15: Removal of houses.
  • 4:9: Removal of vineyards.
  • 5:11: Others will take and enjoy your houses and vineyards.
  • 5:16-17: Mourning replaces merriment in the houses and vineyards.

Common Issues

In v13-15 the Navi rebuffs a mindset which has always inhibited potential reform: the misconception that the nation is in fact acting correctly and on good terms with God. v14b paraphrases this response from Amos’s audience who truly believe that God is with them. The Navi stresses that if the people desire this to actually be true they should initiate socioeconomic and judicial reforms, and the wisdom to remain silent about their beliefs concerning God’s affections since the “present” situation is in truth a dangerously precarious one.

Let us now perform a closer comparative examination of the two major sections of entreatment, v4-6 and v(7)10-15. Both sections discuss what is, what should be, and what instead might be. Both sections begin from the first-person perspective of God, and then shift to the Navi speaking from his own perspective. While both sections encourage the audience to “dirshu”, the objects of their seeking are distinct. In the former section dealing with the religious, the object of the seeking is God and not the ritual centers. In the latter socioeconomic section, however, the object of the seeking is Good and not Evil. This is because the Navi in the latter section is contending with his audience’s response proclaiming their self confidence in the health of their divine relationship. It would make little sense to direct an audience who have just vocalized their belief that they are seeking God, to seek God. Instead, the Navi redirects them to seek Good and hate Evil, wherein they would actually find God.

Only in the latter section is the situation called an “עֵת רָעָה”, and an active emotional command to Hate and Love (v15a) surpasses in degree the prior commands to seek and passively not seek (v4-5). These discrepancies might also be credited to the occurrence of articulated self-delusion in the latter section, which requires a harsher and more decisive response in order to disrupt. In addition, the emotional response is required to counter the emotional problem in v10, wherein the people exhibit hatred towards the righteous judges. This hate in v15 is redirected to its correct target, Evil².

Though we have been using the phrase as necessary, what exactly are the connotations of the entreatment to “דִּרְשׁוּ” in reference to God? We again return to the Torah, this time to Shemot 18, wherein Yitro advises Moshe to expand and sophisticate the administration of his judicial system. Yitro asks Moshe why he sits alone to judge the multitude of people, to which Moshe responds:

טו וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, לְחֹתְנוֹ: כִּי-יָבֹא אֵלַי הָעָם, לִדְרֹשׁ אֱלֹהִים. טז כִּי-יִהְיֶה לָהֶם דָּבָר, בָּא אֵלַי, וְשָׁפַטְתִּי, בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ; וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת-חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים, וְאֶת-תּוֹרֹתָיו.

15 And Moses said unto his father-in-law: 'Because the people come unto me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws.'

Here, the action of “דרש אלוהים” denotes seeking a legal solution within the corpus of divine law, meaning the people are seeking God through upholding and acting within His legal system. Later in the chapter, Moshe inaugurates his new system of judicial hierarchy, and the people are then able to seek God and His law through local judges and their judicial proceedings. In Amos, this loyalty has unraveled, as in v10, wherein these judges, previously viewed as bridges towards seeking God, are now spurned and hated. The corrupting of the divinely based judicial system has burned this bridge, and the people are thus entreated by the Navi to return to a state of “דרש אלוהים” through the reestablishment of the judicial system, as elaborated on in v15³.

Closing Lament and Overview

Amos 5:16-17:

טז לָכֵן כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת, אֲדֹנָי, בְּכָל-רְחֹבוֹת מִסְפֵּד, וּבְכָל-חוּצוֹת יֹאמְרוּ הוֹ-הוֹ; וְקָרְאוּ אִכָּר אֶל-אֵבֶל, וּמִסְפֵּד אֶל-יוֹדְעֵי נֶהִי. יז וּבְכָל-כְּרָמִים, מִסְפֵּד: כִּי-אֶעֱבֹר בְּקִרְבְּךָ, אָמַר יְהוָה.

16 Therefore thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: Lamentation shall be in all the squares, and they shall say in all the streets: 'Alas! alas!' and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and proclaim lamentation to such as are skillful of wailing. 17 And in all vineyards shall be lamentation; for I will pass through the midst of thee, saith the LORD.

The speech concludes with a return to the present perspective of the opening lament, thus thematically balancing the entire speech. The dwellings and vineyards noted in v11 have turned to mourning because the opportunity for mercy offered to the nation in v15b had been rejected (or at least not actively seized). Now that the nation has allowed itself to topple off the precipice, the prophetic tone shifts from exhortation to mourning. The closing threat, wherein God will pass through the midst of the nation, is a stark and important reversal of the conventional usage of that phrase, which is known from the Torah as a distinctly and pivotal positive occurrence.

To conclude with a crowd-pleaser, this entire speech arguably exhibits a chiastic structure:

A) v1-3 Present lament
B) v4-6 Religious entreatment/critique
C) v7 Stand-alone socioeconomic line
D) v8-9 Cosmological God
C) v10 Stand-alone socioeconomic line
B) v11-15 Socioeconomic entreatment/critique
A) v16-17 Present lament

The center focus of the structure, not shockingly, is God.

Speaking of forgetting God, I have little to quip about this post besides for its length, which runs significantly further than any single final essay I will be writing this semester, an encouraging thought as I temporarily leave the Prophets to critically evaluate medieval historiography, compare scholarly approaches to Othello and Oedipus, and analyze various mediums of Shakespearean interpretation.

[1] There is a neat pun in v5b on “כִּי הַגִּלְגָּל גָּלֹה יִגְלֶה”.
[2] Interestingly, the culminating entreatment in the first section is a threat, while in the latter it is an extended opportunity. I’m not sure why.
[3] Also see Devarim 11:12 and its context for God’s reciprocal דרש.

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