The study of the text itself: 2/6-16
1. If we read closely we can see that this text has three units. Verses 6-8 then verses9-12 and finally verses13-16. Before you even start work verse-by-verse, look at these three units. Identify the general theme of each unit.
2. In v.6 we see the expression “three crimes of Israel, and now four”. The New American Bible explains the meaning of this expression. The Lord God is in a “bad mood”. The nations around Israel have been violating external and international relationships. But when it comes to Israel (and Judah) The Lord God is angry against internal relationships—relationships inside the society. The people of Israel have been violating the Covenant. The Covenant is about the people being people of The Lord God and The Lord God being the Lord God of the people. Inside the Covenant are laws that are meant to avoid returning to the conditions in Egypt and the life of slavery. People inside society should life fraternally with justice and respect. That is the mark of a people of the Lord God.
3. The “just person” is described in Dt 7/11. But now, in verse 6, we see that the just falls into debt. The poor also falls into debt. Look at how the poor, is valued—as “a pair of sandals”. See the verses proposed by the NAB: Am 8:6; Sir 46:19. How do these verses help explain verse 6?
4. What is the problem with falling in debt? Let us see. Debt leads to slavery. The inability to pay forces a person to accept becoming a slave to the debtor. Inside Israel is still the presence of slavery. What is wrong in this situation presented by verse 6?
5. In v.7 we read about trampling the head of the weak and destitute. In another part of Amos a similar phrase is mentioned, see Am 8/4.
· Do you see anything more wrong (note: more) with trampling the head of the weak and poor?
· Ok, if there is something done to the destitute, poor and weak, what does the verse say about those who do the trampling? Note then that there is a social relationship between those who step on the weak and the “trampled”.
· Look at this: “into the dust of the earth”. Think Biblically. Remember what “dust” could mean in the Bible. (Try if this hint can help: The human is from earth but also…see Gen. 2/7). So what do you think could it mean to trample someone “into the dust of the earth”?
6. Then, still in verse 7, we read about the father and the son. They sleep with the same girl. Look at what the NAB says about it.
· If the father and the son sleep with the same girl, this act makes The Lord God’s name dirty. Why? Think Biblically. Let us do a kind of “theology” of name. Think of “name of The Lord God”. See, for example, Ex.3/8; Ex 3/14-15; Jer 1/19. The “name of The Lord God” tells us, therefore, about who The Lord God is. Who is this The Lord God according to the name he has given?
7. In v.8 we read about garments of the poor “taken in pledge”. The NAB gives a footnote to this and also suggests that we look at Dt 24/12–13. (If you read the verses you will notice that the NAB also proposes other verses for Dt.24/13.) Check them out. Note that in the tradition of the people is a law about pledges. It is part of the Covenant! The rule about garment in pledge is violated. But there is something else, a further problem.
· Those who hold the garments lie on them and “recline beside any altar”. What does this tell you—this “any altar”? The injustice is connected with what?
8. Next is the mention of wine. It is wine “at treasury expense”. This wine is drank “in their temples”.
· Wine is associated with “temples”. So this is about what? (It is not just about ordinary drinking). See if the following can help:
Ø Wine, in this verse, is confiscated wine. It belongs to its real owner…the “treasury”. Wine is associated with many things…like with love: “I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; drink! Drink deeply, lovers!” (Song of Sg 5/1). It can symbolize life (see Pr. 32/6). It is also associated with the blessings of The Lord God (see Gn 27/28); symbolizing the Covenant between The Lord God and people. During sacrifices, wine is offered to the Lord The Lord God on the altar (see Ex 29/40). To have wine is therefore to have something of great value. To lose it—and have it confiscated—is a sad thing to happen. Now those who take the confiscated wine do not recognize the value.
9. So we see that the poor and the just and the weak are crushed miserably. The treatment towards them are proofs of violation of the Covenant with the Lord God.
10. Now we shift gears. Let us look at verses 9-12.
Verses 9 to 11:
11. The Lord the Lord God will remind the people about the good things done to them. There is, here, is history of the Lord God with the people. The NAB proposes verses to supplement verse 9.
· Now, why mention the Amorites? Think Biblically. The NAB suggests some other passages to look at. The Amorites have been occupying Palestine before the arrival of the Hebrews. At one point when the Hebrews, under Moses, tried to enter Palestine, they were blocked by Amorites. Well, the story tells us that the Hebrews overthrew the Amorites (see Nm.21/21-31). Then in the Joshua story there was a battle against the coalition of Amorites, in Joshua 10 and 11. Thanks to the battle the Amorites were exterminated and the Hebrews were able to start occupation of Canaan. So in this verse of Amos we see how God prepared the land for the Hebrews.
· In verse 9, the Lord God “destroyed” them by getting rid of fruits and roots. How do you understand this?
12. In verse 10 The Lord God says he has brought the people out of Egypt. He had them pass through the desert to later occupy the land of the Amorites. Notice that The Lord God is emphasizing that it is him who liberated the people from Egypt.
13. Inverse 11 there is the presence of “prophets” and “nazirites”. Check the footnotes of the NAB.
· What is so important with the presence of “prophets” and “nazirites”?
14. Notice that at the end of verse 11 The Lord God is even asking: “Is this not so”. In other words the Lord God is saying “You, Israel, you know this”. This is “divine speech”—an “oracle”—as the NAB explains in the footnote.
15. Verses 9-11 is a kind of “prelude” to verse 12. Notice how verses 9-11 are inter-connected. Notice: “destroy” (or prepare) in v.9, “occupy” in verse 10 and “presence of prophets and nazirites” in v.11. Something is wrong with the way the prophets and nazirites are treated. With the treatment…what is the deep social problem?
16. We have seen verses 6-8, verses 9-12. Now we read that the Lord The Lord God is “fed up”. Verse 13 tells us about the mood of the Lord God and his plan to do something. Verse 13 will prepare for verses 14-16. What exactly does the Lord God want to do, as verse 13 indicates?
17. This verse is about the swift, the strong and the warrior. What happens to each of them? They cannot flee and escape from what The Lord God will do to them.
18. This is about the archer, the swift of foot and the horseman. What happens to each of them? There is no escape!
19. Here we see that even the most courageous (“stouthearted”) will be completely empty and naked. No clothes and no weapons! Ok, maybe here the feeling is possible. But is it successful? In the Bible nakedness is not strictly sexual. It is associated more with poverty, limit, weakness, shame. In Hosea we read: “Now I will lay bare her shame in full view of her lovers….” (Hos.2/11). In Isaiah we read that “the king of Assyria lead away captives from Egypt, and exiles from Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the shame of Egypt” (Is 20/4). Note that in nakedness there is shame. Can you connect this with the Adam and Eve story?
20. Let us conclude. Verses 13-16 talks of fleeing, of trying to escape a penalty. Amos is indicating the Assyrian occupation and destruction of the Northern Kingdom.
21. Israel will be penalized. Israel will do many things to escape this penalty but to no success. Can you summarize in a few words the core penalty that the Lord God wants to apply?
22. A final work: After having looked at the verses—all from 6 to 16—do you see a general flow? Look back: vv 6-8, then vv 9-12, then vv 13-16. See if a “sandwich” (or “chasm”) is possible: vv6-8 and vv13-16 enclose vv9-12. In other words vv9-12 is “sandwiched”.
23. Is there any theme or topic disturbing you as you work through Amos 2/6-16? Share it with others.