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Relationship to Amos. The relationship of Chapters 3-5a to the rest of Amos is discussed at Amos.
Story. Chapters 3-5 consist of a series of three calls for Israel to hear the word of the Lord and inviting Israel to return to him.
- Chapter 3: Hear this word: The Lord has loved only Israel, but it was wayward.
- Chapter 4: Hear this word: The Lord has chastised Israel, but it did not return.
- Chapter 5a: Hear this word: The Lord still invites Israel to seek him, otherwise it faces destruction.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 3-5a include:
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- Chapters 3-5a / Verses 3:1-5:17: Cohesive blocks of text. There is general scholarly consensus that Amos 1-2 and Amos 7-9 each constitute a large cohesive block of text in Amos. There is not much consensus, however, about the organization or structure of the chapters in between, Amos 3-6. The three speeches discussed here (3:1-15; 4:1-13; 5:1-17) can be seen as forming a second major division in Amos since they are tied together with the repeated introduction “Hear this word” (3:1; 4:1; 5:1) and since the first refers to the religious sanctuary at Bethel (3:14), the second to the sanctuaries at Bethel and Gilgal (4:4), and the third to the sanctuaries at Bethel, Gilgal and Bersheeba (5:4-5).
- Chapters 3-5a / Verses 3:1-5:17: Outline. Having identified Chapters 3-5a as a cohesive block of text, and having Chapters 3, 4, and 5a as it largest constituents, Chapters 3-5a can be outlines as follows:
- Hear word: Lord loved only Israel, but it was wayward (Chapter 3)
- a. Lord has loved only Israel, so will punish (3:1-2)
- a. adversary will destroy Israel, all but a remnant (3:13-15)
- Hear word: Lord chastised Israel, but it did not return (Chapter 4)
- Hear word: Lord still invites Israel to seek him, else destruction (Chapter 5a)
Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-15
- Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-15. In Amos the Lord is never the Lord of only Israel, he is the Lord God, the Lord of the entire earth. The title Lord God appears 20 times in Amos, which is a lot. But though he is Lord of all, he has loved only Israel (2:9-11). He cannot walk with Israel, however, unless they are both agreed, and Israel is not. Lions roar before taking prey, and all take heed. The book of Amos begins with the statement “the Lord will roar from Zion” (1:2]). Here Amos says that the Lord has roared through his prophets, with his prey in sight, and Israel should take heed as it would to the roaring of a lion (3:3-8).
- In fact, Israel is so wicked that the heathen gentile nations are called as witnesses against the oppression within Israel (3:9-10). The palaces built upon social injustice will be torn down by an adversary. The official religious capital of the Northern Kingdom at Bethel will be destroyed. The Northern Kingdom of Israel will be killed and consumed, and only a remnant will remain to be found (3:11-15).
- Verses 3:3-6. Seven questions are asked in these four verses, all preparatory to the logical conclusion Amos draws in verse 7. The questions are all carefully worded, and each deserves some detailed attention (see below). But perhaps they might all be considered broadly together first. It is of some importance that the series begins with a single question, and then this first is followed by three parallelisms, three sets of two closely-related questions. The first question, somehow separate from the others, seems as if it is to set the tone and work out a preliminary interpretation of the others. Taking the first as a guide, there is a clear theme that runs through all of the questions together: the question being asked is a question of "causality." But the situation is more complex: Amos seems to be working within a sort of Kantian logic. In other words, he is asking: what is necessary for the possibility of a given reality? If two simply are walking together (this is the reality), they must (this is the necessity) have set up a meeting place to start from, for otherwise it could not be that they are walking together (this is the possibility). All seven questions work with this sort of logic: if the lion roars (reality), it must (necessity) be the case that it has captured (for the possibility of the reality), etc. The logical pattern Amos is trying to make sure his listeners have down quite well is this question of the necessary conditions for a possible state of affairs: if the Lord GOD is doing something (verse 7), then He must have revealed His council (swd means "council," not "secret") to His prophets.
- Verse 3:3. The first question in verse 3 refers to the fact that most people travel alone, unless they have met and have arranged to travel together. This first question may be reminding Israel of the covenant they have entered into with God.
- Verse 3:4: Lion and young lion. "Lion" and "young lion" seem to be used as a standard pair in poetry (cf. Gen 49:9; Num 23:24; Job 4:10; Job 38:39; Ps 17:12; Ps 91:13; Isa 5:29; Isa 31:4; Jer 51:38; Hosea 5:14; Micah 5:8; Nahum 2:11). This is likely related to the covenant curses associated with harm from wild animals in Deut 32:24 and Deut 28:26 (cf. Hosea 13:7.)
- Will a lion roar? In Ps 104:21, "the young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God." It does not seem clear in either of these contexts whether lions roar before, during, or after they obtain their food, though it does seem the capturing of prey and roaring seem connected. In other contexts, the roaring of lion seems related to a lion that is hungry and on the prowl before devouring its prey (cf. Ps 22:13; Hosea 11:10; Zeph 3:3; 1 Pet 5:8; ). The roaring of the lion seems to be concurrent to devouring its prey in Prov 28:15; Isa 5:29; Isa 31:4; Ezek 21:25; Jer 2:15; 2 Ne 15:29. The roaring of lions seems more like a lament in Zech 11:3.
- The two rhetorical questions have to do with the idea that a lion will stalk its prey quietly and then roars only after capturing its prey. The reason this particular question is chosen is difficult to discern. The entire passage seems to be leading up to verse 7 where the prophetic call of Amos (and prophets in general) is justified. It may be then that the Lord has "caught" Israel in its sin and is now having the prophet function as the roar of the lion indicating this capture.
- Verse 3:5: Shall one take up a snare. Most translations interpret the "take up" in this verse as an action that the snare does rather than the setter of the snare as the KJV renders it. For example, the NRSV translates this "Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?"
- Snares. Bird traps (snares) seem to be common metaphors for calamities. The mobility, swiftness and general freedom that birds enjoy from the perspective of earth-bound humans may be the reason that snares for birds was commonly used as a powerful poetic metaphor. Cf. Josh 23:13; Job 18:9; Job 22:10; Ps 69:22; Ps 119:110; Ps 140:5; Ps 141:9; Ps 142:3; Prov 22:5; Eccl 9:12; Isa 8:14; Isa 24:17-18; Jer 18:22; Jer 48:43-44; Hosea 5:1; Hosea 9:8.
- The point of the two questions here regarding a bird being trapped also seems cryptic. It may be that the bird represents Israel and the gin (bait) represents the sins of Israel. On this reading, the judgment which the prophet is declaring on Israel is being related to the sins that Israel has committed—the judgment is not being declared against Israel for no reason, but has been precipitated by their springing of the trap, that is by their sins.
- Verse 3:6: Evil. The KJV of this verse appears problematic because its rendering suggests that God has caused the evil in the city. The JST retains the word "evil" but emends the word done to known. Most other translations render the word evil as calamity or disaster, thus the Lord is not the cause of the evil, but the cause of the destruction which comes upon the people (presumably as a result of their evil acts).
- The trumpet in this verse seems analogous to the voice of warning that Amos is declaring. The people should be afraid because the prophet is raising a warning voice, and the Lord's judgment against Israel is why the prophet is declaring this warning.
- Verse 3:7: Nothing. The word translated here as "nothing" is from the Hebrew dabar which means both "word" and "thing". In Old English, thing originally meant an assembly, meeting, or council.
- Secret. The word translated here as "secret" is the Hebrew cowd, which refers to a council or assembly.
- This verse states that the LORD will not do/make/prepare any word/thing without revealing/uncovering/showing his council/assembly to or with his prophets. The NIV translation renders this verse as "Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets." This is a reference to the Divine Assembly/Council in Heaven, which may be seen as more than a one-time meeting, but the ongoing business/doing/counseling/relating of the LORD.
Chapter 4 / Verses 4:1-13
- Chapter 4 / Verses 4:1-13: Why and why now. The substantive “why” reasons for the woes pronounced on Israel are social injustice and idolatry. The procedural "why now" reason for pronouncing these woes is that past chastisement has failed to cure those reasons.
Chapter 5a / Verses 5:1-17
- Chapter 5 / Verses 5:1-17. In the previous section (4:1-13) the Lord explained that his alternatives for Israel are exhausted. In this section (5:1-17) he states that his love for Israel, in contrast, is not exhausted. This section contains the only call to repentance in the entire book of Amos. But the placement of this call to seek the Lord and live at the center of Amos - to the extent that there is a center - gives great weight to this invitation. This invitation is the pivot point of the book as the emphasis will now shift from what Israel has done in the past to what will occur in the future if she fails to seek the Lord and live after the Lord has roared within sight of his prey.
- This section can be read as a chiasm from the outside edges toward the middle. The virgin of Israel will lament that she is fallen and has lost nine-tenths of her children (5:1-3). So seek good and not evil that ye may live, or else lament that a only a remnant survives (5:14-17). Israel is to do this by abandoning empty religious ceremony and social injustice. Seek ye me and ye shall live, not at the major religious sanctuaries, but impliedly through righteous living (5:4-5). Seek him who is omnipotent, you who enrich yourselves upon the poor and the just, or lose the fruits of your iniquity (5:7-13). And at the middle of this section, and of the entire book of Amos, seek the Lord and ye shall live, or else the house of Joseph that rules the Northern Kingdom will be devoured in spite of anything done at the Bethel sanctuary (5:6).
- Until here the train of thought has been: wicked nations deserve punishment (Amos 1-2); the Lord has been loyal to Israel and has loved only Israel (Amos 2-3); but Israel will not walk with the Lord because it oppresses the poor (Amos 2-3); the Lord has chastised Israel, but Israel responds only through empty religious ceremonies (Amos 4); and the Lord still invites Israel to seek him, not at religious sanctuaries, but through righteous daily living (Amos 5a). From here the emphasis shifts to what will happen if Israel does not accept the Lord’s invitation to seek him.
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Prompts for further study
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Translations and Lexicons.
- See "Does God Commit Evil? Some Quick Notes on Amos 3" from MormonMonastery.org
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