Amos 7:7-17

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Amos 7:7-17


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 7:7-17

Amos pronounces judgement on Israel for both cultic and ethical sins. There are a number of texts deriding the oppression of the poor and cultic worship is condemned also by Amos 5:21-24. Judgement passed on nations is comparable with what the nations inflicted on others. After severe judgement is pronounced in 9:9-10 there is the only proclamation of hope in Amos 9:11-15.
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.

The lectionary reading deals with the third vision and the confrontation between Amaziah and Amos before it returns to another 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. It is only in the last five verses of chapter 9 we have the suggestion of any hope which appears to apply to Judah and not Israel. This is the reason why many scholars suggest the final compilation of Amos was in the time of exile.
Insights/Message Amos 7:7-17
  In vv.7-9, God begins conversation with Amos as opposed to the two previous visions in which Amos begins conversation. An unusual word "anak" translated as plumb line is used four times in vv 7-8. This word is not used anywhere else in the Old Testament and one of the closest comparisons is the Akkadian word which translates as "tin". Some scholars suggest " a wall built of tin" which may be a play on 2 words for sigh (anah, anaq), so it becomes "I am setting/sighing in …" (Gowan: 407). The word doesn't actually mean plumb line, but has been retained by most translations. "My people" in v.8 demonstrates the close relationship between God and Israel. Verse 9, is different from the two previous visions, because instead of repentance, God pronounces the punishment for Israel.

Verses 10-17 are the only place which contain both historical biography and two oracles against an individual (vv.10-11, 16-17). One is against Jeroboam and the other against Amaziah. Bethel was set up by Jeroboam 1 and it is interesting that Jeroboam 11 (the king at the time of Amos) is not given his full status. It assumes the reader knows to whom the oracle refers. In v.10 Amaziah first has conversation with the King, in v.12 Amaziah continues his conversation, but now with Amos. Vv. 14-17 are Amos' response to Amaziah's threats. Amos begins his response to Amaziah by presenting his credentials (vv.14-15) and the crucial aspect of his words are in v.15. God is the one who initiated his sojourn into the Northern Kingdom away from his southern home in Judah. This biographical material is placed between the third and fourth vision oracles which makes the judgement very personal against Jeroboam 11 with God as the adversary.


We have to keep the context in mind when discussing the message of Amos 7:7-17. The chapter begins with two oracles which initially convey judgement on the people because of the unjust behaviour cited in Amos 3-6, but when Amos intercedes the mind of God is changed. The third vision has no such intercession by Amos and the judgement names the high places and the house of Jeroboam as the focus. There are a couple of very important theological points in these oracles. The role of intercessor is very important and challenges the idea of an immutable God whose mind is never changed by prayers of intercession. Repentance is not demanded as a condition for God to change and the second chance given to Israel is by the pure grace of God.

The interchange between Amos and Amaziah shows that Amaziah does not deny that Amos is a seer who prophesies, but his calling is to Judah and not Israel. He is not welcome in the Northern Kingdom. Amos in response appears to want to distance himself from any formal band of prophets. The word for seer in 7:12 and for prophet in 7:14 are quite different Hebrew words. "Seer" has its root, hozeh, which is to do with visions and "nabi" in 7:14 is associated with messenger. Amos is much keener to show that is was God who called him to go and prophesy in the Northern Kingdom rather than any association with a band or school of prophets. He will not be silenced by Amaziah. In fact Amos takes the words of Amaziah from v.13 and turns them against Amaziah by immediately in v.17 pronouncing the defeat and exile of the house of Israel.

It is as true today as it was then, that God calls people from their ordinary lives to preach in new situations. They may be people who have had no formal links with the church - as indeed was my experience. I think this reading confirms the role of intercessory prayer and there are those who find this is their special ministry. We continue to oppress the poor and behave in unjust ways to all sorts of people. Sometimes this oppressive behaviour is on a global level, sometimes within the local community. As followers of Christ we need to hear both the prophet's word to us and that of the gospel of Jesus Christ who proclaimed the equality of all people whether slave or free.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 10:25-37. Luke 10: 27 picks up the quotations from Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18 in a very clever manner and then Luke uses this as his introduction to the question of who is one's neighbour by telling the story of the good Samaraitan. By using these quotes from the OT Luke is challenging the narrow interpretation of one's neighbour by the present Jewish authorities and pointing to the inclusive nature of the gospel.


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: