Amos 8:1-12

   Print this page

Amos 8:1-12


The Book of Amos is set out in the following structure:

1:1 Superscription

1:2 Detached oracle

1:3-2:16 Oracles against the nations: Damascus; Philistines; Tyre; Edom; Ammon: Moab; Judah; Israel;

3-6 Words of Amos: Israel is Yahweh's chosen; Yahweh speaks against Israel; condemns Bethel, rich women, cult, injustice, consumer society;

7:1-8:3, 9:1-6 Visions of Amos: Locusts; fire; plumb-line; ripe fruit; Yahweh at the altar

7:10-17 Incident at Bethel: Amos v Amaziah

8:4-14, 9:7-10 Further injustice: Dishonest traders; solar eclipse; hunger for God's word; end of idolaters; election of Israel

9:11-15 Epilogue: Restoration of house of David

The Book is regarded by most scholars as the earliest of the prophetic books (Gowan: 339). However, its final composition, probably after the loss of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, has the units put together around certain themes as can be seen above. The formula, "thus says the Lord" which is used at the beginning of what is referred to as prophetic oracles can also be at the end of the oracle (Amos 2:6-11). The form proclaims to the people that this person has an important message which comes from the Lord and needs to be heard and taken seriously. Visions are also a means of divine communication and there are several examples of these in Amos (7:1-9, 8:1-3, 9:1-4). One of the literary features which is quite common among prophetic writers is what I call "an oxymoron" i.e. some familiar idea turned against them in order to shock and obtain a response. Dr Dell calls this a misuse of form. An example is `The Day of the Lord', which normally meant judgement for other nations. However, in the case of Amos he used it against Israel. This would have shocked and startled them to hear the 'Day of the Lord' meant judgement day for them, not just the other nations.

History within the Text:

We know from the text that Amos came from Tekoa in Judah and he was referred to as a seer in 7:12 (hozeh). He denies being part of a group of prophets which uses the Hebrew word "nabi" as it root in 7:14. A "noqued" is rare word, which indicates that he was no ordinary shepherd but a person of means. Interestingly, the Greek translations move Amos into the realms of an ordinary shepherd without the same status implied by the Hebrew text. He appears to have had only a short ministry in the north at Bethel mainly, probably around 2 years. Amos appears to have good knowledge of Samaria and of its cultic places. He was a prophet who knew the traditions of the past(Amos 3:10-11).

Historical Context for this prophetic period shared by the following prophets:

750 - 700 BCE =, Amos, Hosea (Israel) Micah, Isaiah (Judah)
750-700 BCE

Jeroboam 11 was King in Israel from 786-746 which was a long reign in those days. It was a time of relative peace because both Assyria and Egypt were quite weak, which meant people were prosperous and wealthy. Jeroboam was condemned by literature as leading people astray and especially promoting the worship of idols. After he died in 746/5 BCE there was a period of rapid turnover and internal strife. First, Zechariah (Jeroboam's son) was assassinated in 745 BCE was followed by a period of chaos (745-722) in which there was 5 kings, 3 of whom were assassinated. Assyria rose to ascendancy under Tiglath-Pileser. Menahem paid tribute to Assyria, Pekah on the other hand became involved in revolts along with Syria & Edom and they tried to get Judah involved. Tiglath-Pileser lead campaigns against these revolts in 734-732 with the result that these countries all became vassals of Assyria. Later Hoshea rebelled against Shalmaneser and appealed to Egypt for help. Consequently first Shalmaneser and alter Sargon instituted swift retribution against Israel. This lead to the downfall of Israel and the loss of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom forever in 721 BCE.  Texts from Assyria confirm the dates and happenings around this period stating that 27,290 were deported (ANET).

Context of Amos 8:1-12

The visions in Amos 7 take place after a number of "woe" oracles which condemn the social injustices which were prevalent in the society at the time. People have forsaken God and while they might still be offering sacrifices they are not living out their relationship appropriately within the community. Worship without it being lived out in practise is unacceptable to God. The exhortation is to seek God and live (Amos 4:6), otherwise they will end in exile because they have reduced justice to wormwood. Very graphic images are used to describe the actions of the Israelites. The first two visions in Amos 7:1-6 describe the judgement of God because of the behaviour of the Israelites in the previous chapters. In each vision (vv.1-3, 4-6) Amos has sought God's repentance (change of heart and mind) and God has changed his mind. The judgement is not carried out.

Last week's lectionary reading dealt with the third vision and the confrontation between Amaziah and Amos before it returned to the fourth vision in Amos 8 which pronounces the finality of judgement by Yahweh on Israel. Again the reason for punishment is the constant refrain that Israel has oppressed and trodden down the needy. Furthermore, judgement involves the land which in this case will experience a famine for the people. The trouble is that all the people will suffer including those who are suffering already because of the injustice by the wealthy classes. The pronouncement of judgement continues in Amos before the last five verses which have the suggestion of hope. This prophecy of hope applies only to Judah and not Israel. This is the reason why many scholars suggest the final compilation of Amos was in the time of exile.x

Insights/Message Amos 8:1-12
Literary: V.1 begins with the classic prophetic oracle phrase which indicates the importance of what is to follow. The literary structure of this vision is identical to the one in 7:7-9 in which God begins the conversation by questioning Amos on what he sees. Again there is a play on the Hebrew words which in this instance the words for "summer fruit" (qayis) and "end" (qes). Gowan thinks v.2b "is the most extreme statement in the book of Amos" because it forecasts the end of a people not simply referring to some eschatological term (Gowan: 414). The same pattern as in 7:7-9 continues here with 8:3 expanding the meaning of the judgement in 8:2. The end is death and silence will reign. A number of scholars (for example, Soggin, Jeremias) rearrange the chapters and deal with all four visions together. I think it is important to deal with the text as we receive it and try to understand why the last authors chose to have the interchange between Amos and Amaziah between the third and fourth vision.

Further explanations are given for the judgement pronounced in 8:1-3. The exhortation begins with the command to hear this (v.4). "This" is their appalling behaviour of abuse and the promise that God will not forget. The literary structure for the next three units (vv.9-10, 11-12, 13-14) have a reference to time: "And on that day", "Behold the days are coming", "In that day". Each of these units describe a particular aspect of the judgement and God speaks in vv.9-11 in the first person - I will. In Amos 2:6 the people were selling the poor, now they are buying them: in each situation the people are commodities to be bought and sold to help pay debt. The practice of selling grain on the Sabbath has been condemned from the earliest time in Israel and even the influence and greed of the wealthy classes to change this practice has failed. The fourth commandment is to be obeyed (Anderson & Freedman: 814).


We have to keep the context in mind when discussing the message of Amos 8:1-12. The vision in 7:7-9 which proclaims judgement on the house of Jeroboam is followed by the exchange of words between Amos and Amaziah. Amaziah seems to think Amos doesn't have the authority to pronounce judgement on the king of the Northern Kingdom. Amos quickly dispels any such illusion. The fourth vision expands the judgement to include all Israel as Amos declares in 7:17. Images are reversed so that songs which would normally be praise will now be songs of lamentation. Images of death are present in vv.3, 8-10, and 14. Then we have the extraordinary claim that the word of God will be sought by the people because it is as indispensable as food and water (Soggin: 139). They shall seek it but not find it - the imagery of running back and forward in vain. This word which the people of Israel failed to heed and Amaziah declared was null and void because Amos was from the south. The consequence was exile, carried off by the Assyrians. These verses are beautifully compiled to relate back and forward, with many nuances we have lost.

There is a call here to remind us that we need to hear the word of God: like the people of the Old Testament we cannot survive without the word. Like the people of the Old Testament we continue supporting, either on a global or local scale, abuse of people. We don't believe the gospel of Jesus Christ brings the sort of punitive action which the people of 9th BCE believed their God was capable of carrying out. However, if we fail to respond to the gospel and its call to care for the people and world around us there are consequences. Sometimes the conscious is challenged and we can feel a personal guilt because of our lack of appropriate action. Sometimes, our abuse and knowledge bring suffering to others - as in the terrible mud slides because of forests which have been logged and there is no protection to stop the earth sliding, sometimes with ghastly consequences. We bring judgement on the world around us because of our greed and the need for commodities at cheap rates.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 10:38-42 has no clear allusions to any story in the OT.


This reading is set out well in the Dramatised Bible for a number of people to read the characters and the story comes alive in new ways.
It is one of those readings which could have some movement which would increase its drama.

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, Francis I., and David Noel Freedman. Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
Coggins, Richard J. Joel and Amos. NCB. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.
Fosbroke, Hughell E. W., and Sidney Lovett. "The Book of Amos." In IB. 6:763-853. New York: Abingdon, 1956.
Gowan, Donald E. "The Book of Amos: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In NIB. 7:337-431. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Harper, William Rainey. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1905
Hayes, John H. Amos: The Eighth Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching. Nashville Abingdon, 1988.
Limburg, James. Hosea-Micah. Int. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
Mays, John L. Amos: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1969.
Paul, Shalom M. Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos. Herm. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991.
Soggin, John A. The Prophet Amos: A Translation and Commentary. London: SCM, 1987.
Stuart, Douglas K. Hosea-Jonah. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1987.
Wolff, Hans Walter. Joel & Amos: A Commentary on the Books of the Prophets Joel and Amos. Herm. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: