Amos – An Introduction, pt.1

This Tuesday we are gathering to begin our five-week study of Amos. This week we will begin with a brief overview of the prophets generally and look at the specific background of Amos himself.  Please read chapter one of Abraham Heschel’s book The Prophets.  This chapter will guide the first part of our discussions.  Also attached is Heschel’s overview of Amos where his understanding of the prophets is specifically applied to Amos. As background material on Amos, I have attached the introduction for Dr. Robert Baker’s Study Guide to Amos as well as the introduction to Amos from the ESV and NIV study bibles. The readings are from longest to shortest, and please read at least one.

As to prophets generally, the Hebrew word for prophet is derived from a verb signifying “to bubble forth” like a fountain; hence the word means one who announces or pours forth the declarations of God.  Within the Old Testament, the prophets fulfilled different functions, many of which were not unique to Israel.  For example, the prophets were often members of the king’s court and would be consulted, like oracles, to determine matters of state. In 1 Kings 22, we read of the 400 prophets who were to inquire of the Lord as to the question of whether Judah and Israel should go to battle against Ramoth-Gilead, or forbear.  These were paid professionals.  Likewise, prophets were used to curse enemies to weaken them before a battle. In Numbers 22 we read that Balak, the king of Moab, hires Balam, the prophet, to go and curse the Israelites so that he could defeat them.  In other instances, prophets were also roving bands of men who were touched by the Spirit of God.  As described in Samuel, they would roam the high places playing the “harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them” (1 Sam. 10:4) often having stripped off their clothes (1 Sam. 19:24).  These types of prophets from the somewhat insane to courtly advisors were common throughout the ancient near east.

But the prophet also performed a unique function in ancient Judah and Israel which was to directly confront the people of God, especially the elites, on behalf of God and call them back to God and to repentance.  For example, in 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts King David over the seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah confronts Ahab over the latter’s apostasy. In Malachi 2, the eponymous prophet upbraids the priests for having corrupted and abased the people. In Amos 5-6, the prophet condemns the rich and powerful who revel in luxuries obtained by taxes and bribery exacted from the poor. According to Heschel, the prophet is not a mouthpiece of God but has that unique experience of being in sympathy with the divine pathos so that the prophet’s emotions are assimilated to the divine. The prophet sees as God sees, and experiences that same anger and frustration as God does when met with apostasy and injustice.  The divine ire doesn’t arise when a rule has been broken but whenever the relationship between God and his people or the interpersonal relationship between God’s people is violated.  When the people cease to love God or to love their neighbor, the prophet speaks.  

Dinner is at 6. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

Seek good and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Amos 5:14-15

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