Once upon a time, there was a prophet named Amos. He baked some cookies, and then he got famous.
O.k. fine, the idiocy of that joke is indicative of how hard it’s been for me to start writing this review even though I finished reading Amos over a week ago. I just don’t know how many times I can review the same story over and over and over again. We’ve been through 3 major prophets and 3 minor prophets now and it’s always essentially the same thing. Israel and/or Judah are misbehaving. God angry. God angry, god SMASH. God smash, God smash a lot. O.k. ohhhh k, God sorry God smash. God make things better again for God’s people.
So what’s different or interesting about Amos vs. everything else we’ve read so far? Per usual let’s start off with the setting and we’ll go from there. “1:1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoasha was king of Israel.” You may recall that both Hosea and Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Azariah (a.k.a. Uzziah), Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. They had been the earliest prophets of the bunch so far. Well Amos, it seems, actually slightly preceded both of those dudes (with some overlap). His active years were somewhere around the 765-753 BC timeframe, according to the estimates listed on Wikipedia. Those years are estimated based on the years of the reigns of Jeroboam and Uzziah, plus a historically verifiable earthquake that happened early on in this timeframe, which according to this verse, happened 2 years after Amos began to prophecy.
Take a look at the Succession of kings again and you’ll recall that this timeframe is before Israel (the northern kingdom) has even been defeated/overtaken, let alone Judah (the southern kingdom), which doesn’t get overtaken till a good number of years after Israel. Wikipedia also gives some other interesting historical info about the setting as well, noting that both kingdoms were actually thriving at this point in history. “Leading up to this time, Assyrian armies battled against Damascus for a number of years, which greatly diminished Syria’s threat to Israel. As a result of the fighting amongst its neighbors, Israel had the benefit of increasing its borders almost to those of the time of David and Solomon.” O.k. then. So things are going peachy for the peeps of both Israel and Judah, and no one seems to be worried about it all coming crashing down on them due to their debaucherous ways. They are too busy partying it up like it’s 1999. Or rather, like it’s … 1? They are partying like it’s 1 BC. God, you say? Uhhh … God who?? Who needs God when you’ve got sex drugs and some rollicking flutes and harps to keep you entertained?
Ehh, sorry to break the news to you guys but, you got another thing coming. Our buddy Amos knows what’s up … because, well, God is specifically telling him.
1:2 He said: “The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.” 1:3 This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent. Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth, 1:4 I will send fire on the house of Hazael that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad. 1:5 I will break down the gate of Damascus; I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden. The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,” says the Lord. (This chapter starts with Damascus and then moves onto several more cities/regions that God plans to destroy for their respective sins as well: Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and then Moab at the start of chapter 2.)
Eh, o.k. … but none of these places are Israel. It’s just Israel’s neighbors. How much do we reeaally care about them, when push comes to shove? Let’s be honest here.
2:4 This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not relent. Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, 2:5 I will send fire on Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”
Uhhh … uh oh. :gulp: Now it’s starting to hit a tad too close for comfort. Judah is the Southern Kingdom … we used to be one and the same until we broke off from each other back in 1st Kings.
2:6 This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 2:7 They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. 2:8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.
2:13 “Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain. 2:14 The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life. 2:15 The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life. 2:16 Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,”
Shit. Guess we shoulda known he’d get to us eventually. Saving the best for last, I suppose.
God continues his rant against Israel in chapter 3, where he specifies that “An enemy will overrun [Israel]’s land, pull down [its] strongholds and plunder [its] fortresses.” In chapter 4, he ponders why it is that no matter how much he has punished Israel already for its sins – drought, famine, locusts, war, plagues – they still seem completely uninterested in returning to him. One could argue that … per chance … he might want to try a more constructive tactic next time, but this is the Old Testament God we’re talking about here. Therefore this is a ridiculous suggestion, and if it even crossed your mind, you are a class A fool.
Chapter 5 is where God tells Israel that all this terrible shit is about to happen to them, so, if they want to make it through the mayhem, their only choice is to seek him. They must turn to him so that he can save them from all the atrocious things that … he is about to do to them. “Come with me, so I can save you from … me!!”
In chapter 6, God complains about the people of Zion who are the most complacent in their sinful way of life – The ones who just lounge around guzzling wine, strumming harps, shoving meat down their gullets. He says that they will be the first to go into exile. He then complains about the pride of Israel: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.”
Chapters 7 starts off with God pontificating to Amos about exactly how he’s gonna jack Israel, and then Amos trying, and actually succeeding, in talking him out of it. “Locusts, Amos, I’m gonna send locusts!!” “God nooo no they can’t survive that!!” “O.k. o.k. fine, I won’t do that. FIRE!!” “Nnooooooo God slow down slow down dude, let’s not get crazy here …” “Fiinne fine, I won’t do the fire thing. Uggh. But I’m gonna do something bad. It’s gonna involve swords and death and destruction. WOOT!!”
At some point during this charming banter, it seems that some dude names Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, somehow gets wind of what’s going on. He freaks out and tells King Jeroboam that Amos is conspiring against him. He then tells Amos to get the hell out of Israel and go back where he came from (Tekoa which seems to be in Judah). Amos answers him as follows, “Don’t FUCK with me dude. I’m just a lil’ shepherd I ain’t nobody, but GOD is telling me this shit o.k.?? You know what he’s telling me to tell you?? ‘Your wife’s gonna become a prostitute, your kids will die in war, your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’ Take THAT, bitch.” Yikes. You’ve really gone and done it now, Amaziah.
Chapter 8 is all the gory details of what God is gonna do to Israel. Chapter 9 continues those details.
Hulk God SMASH. It’s then just in the last few verses of chapter 9 (last chapter of Amos) that God gets back into his “but don’t worry I’ll restore everything and make everything better for y’alls in the end!!” routine. “9:14 ‘…and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 9:15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God.” Amen.
And that’s Amos. Now let’s get to Good Stuff and Bad Stuff.
There is exactly one full sentence in this book that is purely good without suddenly turning bad at some point halfway through: “9:15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.” (Note: verse 14 essentially says the same thing, but has a slightly more ominous tone to it.) Oh my gosh, what a great book Amos is!! It has such an awesome message. This is the type of verse your aunt will post out of context on Facebook and then feel very proud of both herself and the Bible. What she won’t realize is what’s contained in the rest of the book.
This section frankly just seems unnecessary for this book, for 2 reasons:
1) I already gave some good examples in my synopsis
2) It’s exactly the same as the bad stuff in the last 17+ books.
O.k. fine, just a couple more examples:
5:18 Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. 5:19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 5:20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light— pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
Wow, The Day of the Lord sounds like a real hoot.
9:1 I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: “Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people; those who are left I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape. 9:2 Though they dig down to the depths below, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens above, from there I will bring them down. 9:3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them.
Yeah yeah … if you’ve heard one “I will command the serpent to bite you” story, you’ve heard ’em all.
The “It Coulda Been Good if it Wasn’t so Terrible” Stuff
I don’t think this is a section I’ve done before. I think I’ve talked a bit in past reviews about verses and passages that could be good, if they didn’t suddenly take a turn for the worse halfway through, or if the threats of punishments for disobeying the good/logical commandments wasn’t so ridiculously heavy-handed. Amos has some perfect examples of this, as it gets pretty specific at several points throughout the book about what not only Israel’s exact sins are, but the sins of Judah, Damascus, and Israel’s other neighbors as well.
So what exactly is it that all these peeps have done that has pissed off God so much? Well first off, from most of the other books so far, it seems like the thing God gets most angry about is when his people (Israel and Judah) turn away from him, and “cheat” on him with other gods. And that’s mentioned here too, but a lot of other sins are brought up as well. Here are the other sins that God hates, according to Amos:
- Taking people captive and selling them to other nations
- Disregarding treaties of brotherhood
- Killing pregnant women while attacking other cities/nations to extend your borders
- Killing someone else’s king
- Selling “innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.”
- Screwing over poor people, denying justice to the oppressed
- Father and son banging the same chick (I’m dead serious: It’s verse 2:7)
- Drinking “wine taken as fines in the house of [your] god”
- Commanding God’s prophets not to prophecy
- Forcing the Nazirites to drink wine
- Plundering and looting other cities/nations
- Being prideful and boastful
- Not upholding justice in the courts
- “Skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales”
I’d say a good 11 of these are perfectly reasonable, and if the point of The Bible was to simply talk about how to live your life in such a way that you avoid those particular sins, it would be an awesome book. Be honest, maintain justice, help the needy, don’t oppress others, etc. etc. … terrific!!
But the problem is that this is NOT what Amos – or The Bible so far – is. God has proven himself time and time again to be perfectly fine with committing several of these sins (the violent ones) when it’s for the purpose of punishing his people. How does he punish his people for being dishonest? Murder, mayhem, famine, disease. How does he punish his people for committing violence? With lots more violence. Why can’t God’s punishments be a bit more reasonable?? And don’t get me wrong, this is by NO means the only problematic element of The Bible thus far, but it’s definitely one of the major ones.
Anywho, that’s Amos for ya. Let’s get to my rating:
A 1/10 may be generous at this point, considering the scores I’ve given to the books leading into this, but I’m giving Amos a tad bit of extra pointage for specificity and variety in its “Why God is Pissed” list. Next book up, Obadiah. It’s ONE CHAPTER!! YEEESSSSSSSSS see ya soon.