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Mangum, Douglas. Amos, Book of. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D.

Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham


Press, 2016).

AMOS, BOOK OF Part of the Book of the Twelve or Minor Prophets. The books superscription
identifies the contents as the words of Amos who was among the shepherds of Tekoa (Amos
1:1). The book is primarily a condemnation of Israel for their injustice and false piety.
Date
Amos ministry is typically dated to the eighth century BC, making him contemporary with Hosea,
Isaiah, and Micah. However, Amos is likely the earliest of these eighth-century prophets, as his
condemnation of the social inequality and injustice in Israel fits best with the prosperity Israel and
Judah experienced during the roughly contemporaneous reigns of Uzziah of Judah (ca. 790740
BC) and Jeroboam II of Israel (ca. 786746 BC) in the first half of the century. The superscription
in Amos 1:1 places his ministry during the reigns of these two kings and adds that he prophesied
two years before the earthquake, a detail that would be more helpful for dating if we knew the
date of the earthquake.
Amos the Prophet
The Prophet Amos is known only from the book bearing his name. He was from the village of
Tekoa (1:1), about 10 miles south of Jerusalem in the territory of Judah, but his ministry was to
the northern kingdom, where he visited the Israelite shrine at Bethel (7:10).
Amos may have been a poor shepherd or migrant worker. His own descriptions of himself as a
shepherd, a cattleman, and a dresser of figs point to his agricultural background, and his harsh
criticism of injustice of the wealthy add weight to the assumption that Amos was among the poor.
However, the terminology used for Amos agricultural work suggests he may not fit the popular
image of Amos the poor farmer and laborer called out of the fields to prophesy against Israel
Amos is likely no ordinary shepherd. The term used for his occupation in Amos 1:1 is
(noqed), not the typical word for shepherd ( , ro'eh; e.g., 1 Sam 16:11). The only other time
that ( noqed) is used in the Old Testament is a reference to Mesha, the king of Moab, as a
sheep breeder (2 Kgs 3:4). The status of Mesha as king lends itself to the image of a wealthy
breeder of flocks and herds, not a lowly poor shepherd (Auld, Amos, 39).
Structure and Outline
Structure
The book of Amos can be divided into three major sections. These divisions interweave the
themes of Amos message: condemning false piety and social injustice, and promising pending
judgment and future restoration. Although such an outline oversimplifies the book, the three-part
division is a common starting point for discussions of the books structure (see Blenkinsopp,
History of Prophecy, 74; Auld, Amos, 5456).
1. Introduction (Amos 12)
2. Words (Amos 36)
3. Visions (Amos 79)
Outline
Part 1: Introduction (Amos 1:12:16)
Superscription (Amos 1:1)
Introductory oracle of judgment (Amos 1:22:16)
1

Mangum, Douglas. Amos, Book of. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham
Press, 2016).

Condemnation of Israels Neighbors (Amos 1:32:3)


Against Damascus (Amos 1:35)
Against the Philistines (Amos 1:68)
Against Tyre (Amos 1:910)
Against Edom (Amos 1:1112)
Against Ammon (Amos 1:1315)
Against Moab (Amos 2:13)
Condemnation of Israel and Judah (Amos 2:42:16)
Against Judah (Amos 2:45)
Against Israel (Amos 2:616)
Part 2: Words of Condemnation and Judgment against Israel (Amos 3:16:14)
Announcement of inevitable punishment (Amos 3:115)
Oracle criticizing oppression, false piety, and unrepentance (Amos 4:113)
Doxology 1 (Amos 4:13)
Lament over Israels plight (Amos 5:117)
Doxology 2 (Amos 5:89)
Woe speeches decrying Israels injustice (Amos 5:186:14)
Woe for religious offenses (Amos 5:1827)
Woe for social and political offenses (Amos 6:114)
Part 3: Visions and Oracles (Amos 7:19:15)
Vision 1: The locusts (Amos 7:13)
Vision 2: A consuming fire (Amos 7:46)
Vision 3: The plumb line (Amos 7:79)
Encounter between priest and prophet (Amos 7:1017)
Vision 4: The summer fruit (Amos 8:13)
Oracle of judgment for injustice (Amos 8:414)
Vision 5: Yahweh appears for judgment (Amos 9:16)
Doxology 3 (Amos 9:56)
Oracle of judgment (Amos 9:710)
Oracle of restoration (Amos 9:1115)
Content Overview
Amos message follows the typical pattern of Old Testament prophets: condemning sin,
threatening judgment, calling for repentance, and promising salvation. He condemns society
especially the upper classes for their excess and injusticeand Israels empty religiosity. Their
outward piety is meaningless if it is not motivated by an inward commitment to justice and
righteousness. Israels preference for injustice and oppression in both social and religious matters
invites Yahwehs judgment (Amos 3:115; 4:13), and the prophet repeatedly appeals to them to
repent (Amos 5:4, 1415). For Amos, these social and religious issues are interrelated and
inextricably linked (Auld, Amos, 60). The text shifts easily between social and religious
condemnation, frequently blurring the distinction between social and religious offenses (e.g.,
Amos 2:68; 3:915; 4:15; 5:47).
Three doxologies are placed strategically throughout the book (Amos 4:13; 5:89; 9:56).
These hymn-like passages emphasize Yahweh as the sovereign Creator, the master of all things,
the supreme God. The hymns all reinforce that Yahweh has the power and the right to mete out
judgment as described by the prophet. Despite the emphasis on impending judgment throughout
the book, it ends with a promise of future restoration (Amos 9:1115).

Mangum, Douglas. Amos, Book of. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham
Press, 2016).

Part 1: Introduction (Amos 1:12:16)


Superscription (1:1). The superscription identifies the book as the words of Amos and dates
Amos ministry to the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel (mid-8th century BC).
The superscription also indicates that Amos was among the shepherds from Tekoa and that the
book records the words which he saw ( , chazah), perhaps in a state of prophetic ecstasy
(compare Isa 13:1; Hab 1:1).
Introductory Oracle (Amos 1:22:16). Amos 1:2 is often not considered part of the introductory
oracle, which is held to begin in 1:3 with the formula thus says Yahweh ( , koh
amar yehwah). Rather, 1:2 is identified as the books mottoYahweh pronounces judgment from
Jerusalem (Blenkinsopp, History of Prophecy, 74; Mller, Amos, 6). Along with the
superscription, this motto is treated structurally as a unit independent of what follows. Sweeney
understands 1:2 as the narrators or editors introduction to all of Amos statements in the book
(Sweeney Twelve Prophets, 198). It may be the case that 1:2 serves as an opening statement for
the entire book of Amos, as Sweeney suggests. However, the oracles of judgment against the
nations that immediately follow in 1:32:3 suggest this verse presents Yahweh as divine warrior,
moving against Israels enemies. As such, it serves to introduce the oracle of judgment in 1:3
2:16.
The image of Yahweh battling against Israels enemies would have been reassuring to Amos
audience. The prophets regularly use oracles against the nations to emphasize that Yahwehs
judgment is descending on Israels enemies. These oracles typically appear only after the prophet
has made emphatic and repeated pronouncements of impending doom coming to Israel and Judah.
Following oracles of judgment on Israel, these oracles against the nations serve to reassure Israel
that although the nations may be used by Yahweh to judge them, they will also be judged when
the Day of Yahweh comes. Amos, however, uses this rhetoric of judgment against the nations to
the opposite effect: He pronounces judgment on Israels closest neighbors, moving geographically
in a counterclockwise circle around Israel. As he transitions from place to place, introducing each
new section with the refrain for three transgressions of X and for four, I will not revoke [it] (1:6,
9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6), his Israelite audience would have been lulled into complacent agreement with
his criticisms of their neighbors and shocked when it culminated in an announcement of doom first
against their kindred in the south (Judah) and then against them, all while using the same
formulaic imagery (2:48).
The surrounding nations are condemned for brutality, violence, oppression, aggression, and
treachery (for more details, see Amos, Book of, Critical Issues. Some of the accusations consist of
war crimes against Israel, such as Ammons crime of ripping open pregnant women (1:13), but the
nations are also condemned for atrocities committed against each other, such as Moabs act of
burning the bones of the king of Edom to lime (2:1).
By contrast, Judah is condemned for religious reasons (2:45)i.e., rejecting the law of
Yahweh ( , torath yehwah). The accusation is couched in typical Deuteronomic
language (Blenkinsopp, History of Prophecy, 75; compare Wolff, Joel and Amos, 16364). This
is sometimes considered to be justification for arguing that the oracle is a later Deuteronomistic
insertion (see Wolff, Joel and Amos, 13941; Wolff argues that the oracles against Tyre, Edom,
and Judah are all secondary). Shalom Paul admits the language has affinity with Deuteronomistic
style but that it need not necessarily have originated there nor be limited to that genre (Paul,
Amos, 75; for his argument for the oracles authenticity, see 2024).

Mangum, Douglas. Amos, Book of. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham
Press, 2016).

Israel is condemned in 2:616 for moral reasonsgreed, oppression of the needy, and
exploitation of the weak. The offenses outlined in this passage allude to a number of prohibitions
from biblical law:

Perversion of justice (compare Amos 2:67a; Exod 23:3, 67)


Abuse of debt slavery (compare Amos 2:6; Deut 15:111)
Sexual immorality (compare Amos 2:7b8a; Lev 20:1112)
Unlawful confiscation of property (compare Amos 2:8; Exod 22:2627)
Violation of Nazirite vows (compare Amos 2:12; Num 6:2)

These offenses show that Israel is subject to divine judgment, just as all the other nations are.
Yahweh asserts that He has been faithful to Israel (2:911) even while they have been unfaithful
(2:12). Their unfaithfulness invites Yahwehs judgment (2:1316).
Part 2: Words (Amos 3:16:14)
Amos 36 contain three judgment speeches, each beginning with the phrase, Hear this word
(3:1; 4:1; 5:1). Amos alternates between detailing Israels specific sins and revealing the divine
plan for judgment. Sweeney sees Amos 34 as a sermon condemning abuse of the poor and
announcing punishment (The Twelve, 194, 218). Amos 56 served as a call to actionIsrael must
repent and seek Yahweh to avoid the judgment. The call to repent is in 5:117. The people must
seek Yahweh, but they must not seek him at Bethel, the northern sanctuary. The structure of 5:1
17 is complicated, but a good case has been made that it is a palistrophe, a sort of chiasm, that
turns on the doxology in 5:89 (see Auld, Amos, 5054):
A:
A:
Introductory
Summons to
lament (5:1
mourn
3)
(5:1617)
B: Call to

B: Call to

seek
Yahweh
(5:46)

seek good
and not evil
(5:1415)
C:

C:

Complaint
about
injustice
(5:7)

Protesting
injustice
(5:1013)
D:

Doxology
(5:89)
Sweeney, however, argues that 5:1617 serve to introduce the next unit of woe sayings, not to
conclude the first unit (The Twelve, 23132). The woe speeches in 5:186:14 condemn Israel for
injustice and false worship and promise divine judgment. According to Sweeney, Verses 1617
play an especially important role in that they point to the consequences of the failure to heed the

Mangum, Douglas. Amos, Book of. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham
Press, 2016).

prophets warnings in verses 115, and thereby introduce the two woe speeches in Amos 5:1827
and 6:114 that describe the consequences in detail (The Twelve, 237). While 5:1617 clearly
play this role, highlighting the consequences if the people do not heed the call to repent, they can
serve this function as the conclusion of the unit in 5:117. Therefore, Sweeneys decision to attach
them to the following unit seems unnecessary, and the chiastic structure may be maintained. Verse
17 also ends with the short messenger formula

( amar yehwah, says Yahweh) that


seems to conclude the unit since the longer messenger formula is used in 5:16 with
( lakhen,
therefore), marking a logical transition to the statement of the consequences if the prophets
warning is not heeded (on the use of the messenger formula and the structure of prophetic
judgment speech, see Sweeney, Isaiah 139, 535, 547).
The two woe speeches in 5:1827 and 6:114 address the religious and sociopolitical
consequences of Israels offenses against Yahweh. The first speech focuses on religious issues,
noting Yahwehs rejection of their sacrifices and worship. The second speech criticizes the ruling
elite of Israel, who live in luxury with a false sense of security. Exile is coming as judgment for
both religious and social sins.
Part 3: Visions and Oracles (Amos 7:19:15)
This section is shaped by reports of five visions that symbolize judgment on Israel (7:13, 46; 7
9; 8:13; 9:16). At first, Amos intercedes on behalf of the people, and the judgment is delayed.
The vision reports are supplemented by judgment oracles (8:414; 9:710), a narrative describing
the confrontation between Amos and Amaziah, the priest at Bethel (7:1017), and a prophetic
announcement of salvation (9:1115).
In the first vision, Amos sees locusts destroying the crops and begs God to have mercy (7:1
3). In the second vision, Amos sees a consuming fire and again asks God to relent (7:46). In the
third vision, Amos sees Yahweh standing beside a lead wall (

, chomath anakh) and

holding lead ( , anakh). The rare Hebrew word ( anakh) (used four times in 7:78, but
nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible) is traditionally understood to mean lead with the phrase

( chomath anakh) referring to a wall made with a lead plumb line or plummet (Auld,
Amos, 19). However, Auld endorses more recent scholarship arguing that ( anakh) refers to
tin, not lead, and that Yahwehs possession of a large amount of tin represents military potential
since tin was still used to make bronze weapons in the Assyrian period (Auld, Amos, 1920). This
interpretation of the vision as representing Assyrian military power as Gods agent of judgment
(compare Isa 10:56) makes better sense of the threat Amos envisions, since a plumb line was a
tool used in construction, not destruction.
Between the third and fourth visions comes an account of a confrontation between Amos and
the priest at Bethel, Amaziah (7:1017). The priest objects to Amos message of doom and
destruction and accuses him of conspiring against Jeroboam, king of Israel. Amaziah orders Amos
to leave Bethel and return to Judah. Amos answers that Yahweh was the one who told him to
prophesy to Israeland, accordingly, announces judgment on Amaziah and his family because he
had ordered him not to prophesy against Israel. In response to Amaziah calling him a
(chozeh, seer; 7:12), Amos asserts (7:14), Not a prophet, I, and not a son of a prophet, I
(

, lo-navi' anokhiy welo' ven-navi' anokhiy). He then


identifies himself as a herdsman ( , boqer) and a dresser of sycamore figs ( ,
5

Mangum, Douglas. Amos, Book of. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry (Bellingham, WA: Lexham
Press, 2016).

shiqmim boles), distancing himself from Amaziahs assumption that Amos was a professional
prophet (see Auld, Amos, 2627).
In the fourth vision, Amos sees a basket of summer fruit ( , qayits), and Yahweh explains
that the end ( , qets) has come to my people Israel (8:13). The assonance between the term
for what is seen and the term for what it symbolizes is a similar wordplay as that found in Jer
1:1112. But the wordplay reinforces the message of the vision since the basket itself suggests
the gathering of the fruit-harvest: harvest with its associations of judgment and of death the reaper.
Here too it is what is seen that carries the symbolic meaning, before it is ever put into words. The
naming simply underlines, and draws attention to the complementarity of fact and language
(Auld, Amos, 19). The judgment oracle in 8:414 reiterates the reasons Yahweh has decided to
punish Israel and can be seen as building on the message of the first four vision reports (Sweeney,
Twelve Prophets, 251).
The fifth vision depicts Yahweh standing beside the altar (generally understood to be the altar
at Bethel) and giving orders for the destruction of the sanctuary (Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 269).
The sanctuary is to be destroyed, and all who worshiped there are to be hunted down and
slaughtered (9:14). Yahwehs right to carry out this act of judgment is supported by the doxology
in 9:56. The last oracle of judgment in 9:710 returns to the theme of universal judgment from
the introductory oracle (Amos 12). Israel stands under Yahwehs judgment, just like all the other
nations. The book concludes with a salvation oracle that looks ahead to the time when Yahweh
will restore the house of David and the people of Israel (9:1115).
Bibliography
Andersen, Francis I., and David Noel Freedman. Amos. Anchor Bible 24. New York: Doubleday,
1989.
Auld, A. Graeme. Amos. London: T&T Clark, 1995.
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. A History of Prophecy in Israel. Rev. enl. ed. Louisville: Westminster John
Knox, 1996.
Harper, William Rainey. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea.
International Critical Commentary. New York: Scribners, 1905.
Hays, J. Daniel. Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the
Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Mller, Karl. A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in the Book of Amos. London:
Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.
. Amos, Book of. Pages 516 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets. Edited by
Mark Boda and J. Gordon McConville. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2012.
Paul, Shalom M. Amos. Edited by Frank Moore Cross. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991.
Stuart, Douglas. HoseaJonah. Word Biblical Commentary 31. Dallas: Word, 2002.
Sweeney, Marvin A. The Twelve Prophets. 2 vols. Edited by David W. Cotter. Berit Olam Studies
in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2000.
. Isaiah 139: With an Introduction to Prophetic Literature. Forms of Old Testament
Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.
Wolff, Hans Walter. Joel and Amos. Edited by S. Dean McBride. Hermeneia. Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1977.
Wood, Joyce Rilett. Amos in Song and Book Culture. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.
DOUGLAS MANGUM
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