Posts Tagged ‘Amos’

The Life and Career of the Prophet Amos

May 2, 2013

Another set of Old Testament readings a little while ago were from the Book of Amos. This was written sometime during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam, c. 760 -750 BC.

Israelite Military Revival and Conquests at the Time of Amos

This was a time when Assyria had crushed Syria as a threat to Israel, but had not attempted to conquer the Palestinian states. This only began with Tiglath-Pileser in 745 BC. King Jehoash (802-786) had reconquered all the cities lost by his father, and recovered lost Israelite territory west and possibly east of the Jordan from the Aramaeans. His successor, Jeroboam II, completely defeated Damascus, and further recovered Israelite territories in Syria. He placed the frontier near Hamath where it had been during Solomon’s reign. He also conquered Aramaean territory in the Transjordan, establishing the frontier with Ammon and Moab by the Brook of Arabah near the Dead Sea. King Uzziah of Judah repaired Jerusalem’s defences, reorganised and outfitted the army and introduced new siege devices. He also imposed his control on the Edomite and north-western Arabian tribes. He rebuilt the port of Ezion-Geber (Elath). A seal belonging to his son and co-regent, Jotham, has been found there. He also took Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod from the Philistines and established a series of forts in the Negeb. Archaeological investigation has revealed that Arad, Hurvat Uza and Tell Beer-Sheba were fortified during this period. Arad had been a small village in the 10th century. During the 9th and 8th centuries it became a royal fortress and a military and administrative centre protecting the road from the Judean hills to the Arabah and Moab. Judah established another fortress at Hurvat Uza, which guarded the road to the Dead Sea and Transjordan. The defences were also built around the settlement of Tell Beer-Sheba. Archaeological evidence also suggests that Tell el-Kheleifah was also possibly a Judean fortress, which in the 7th century passed in Edomite possession. A seal belonging to Jeroboam’s servant, Shema’, was found in 1904. This was engraved with the image of a roaring lion and the inscription lshm’ ‘bdyrhm ‘Belonging to Shema”. The seals of two of King Uzziah’s servants, Abiyau – Abiah, and Shebniyau – Shebnaiah, have also been found. These were both inscribed ‘servant of Uzziyau – Uzziah’.

Material Prosperity at Time of Amos

It was a period of great prosperity. The 8th century was the period when the population of Israel and Judah reached its greatest density. The trade routes through Israel and Judah revived. Apart from the fortresses, the Negeb was extensively settled and developed agriculturally. Some industries, such as weaving and dyeing at Debir, also flourished.

Life and Teaching of Prophet Amos

Amos himself was the first of the great reforming prophets. He was a herdsman and a grower of figs in Tekoa. His prophetic career may only have lasted a few months. He attacked Israel’s enemies for seizing and enslaving Israelites and Judeans. He also condemned the increasing decadence and injustice in Israelite society. Rich merchants were making loans to the poor, who used the money to buy seed. When they were unable to repay the loan, their children were seized and forced in slavery. The merchants also seized part of the peasants’ land, when they were unable to repay the debt. The result was that a class of previously independent independent peasants became tenant farmers. Amos not only condemned this, but also denounced the way the merchants were using false weights and measure to defraud their customers, and bribery and corruption in the courts. He also attacked the dishonest merchants for the way they made lavish sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal, despite their corruption and exploitation of the poor. Amos declared that the privilege of being God’s people also carried with it the consequence of more certain and severe judgement. There was no distinction between crime and sins against God. Wrongs to fellow humans were also an infringement of the Lord’s Law. He believed that a false, hypocritical observance of religion led to social decadence. God did not want large and expensive sacrifices, but justice and good deeds. Amos contrasted Israel’s poor moral state with that of the Covenant Law. Israel’s privileged status as God’s chosen people did not carry with it a guarantee of protection. Indeed, Israel’s moral decline was so great that even the Egyptians and the Philistines at Gath were morally superior. No sanctuary would be found at the horned altars used at the time, for their horns would fall off.

Luxury, Pagan Revival and Growing Gap between Rich and Poor

There was a revival in the worship of Baal at this time. Examination of the names recorded on ostraca in Samaria show almost as many people with names that included Baal as those, whose names included Yahweh. It appears to have been an age when the gap between rich and poor was increasing. Excavation at Tell el Far’ah has uncovered both a rich and a poor quarter. The rich quarter consisted of a group of large houses. These were composed of a courtyard surrounded by buildings on three sides. A long, straight wall divided these from a group of smaller houses huddled together. The types of houses in Hazor also show evidence of a rigid social hierarchy. The larger and more elaborate houses were located close to the city, while the smaller, poorer homes were more to the south. In his attack on the luxury of the upper classes, Amos mentions ‘houses of ivory’. A building excavated in the acropolis at Samaria contained a hoard of carved ivory. These were probably inlaid in furniture, as described by Amos when he referred to ‘those who recline on ivory beds’.

A large stone altar, similar to that described by Amos, was also discovered at Beersheba by Yohanan Aharoni in 1973. This had been demolished and its sandstones blocks used for the construction of a store room wall. When the stones were removed and placed together, they formed a horned altar five feet high. One of the levels excavated at Hazor –stratum VI – had been destroyed by an earthquake, which was probably the same as that described by Amos and Zechariah.

The period of Amos’ ministry was therefore a time of Israelite military strength and regional power. This led to growing material prosperity for the wealthy, who, although generously giving to the temples and shrines, nevertheless exploited the poor. Some sections of Israelite society were even turning to Baal and paganism. All this was against Israel’s covenant with the Almight, and it was Amos’ mission to call Israel and Judah to return to the Lord and warn them of Israel’s destruction for its sins.

Advertisements