Towards the middle of the eighth century before Christ, the kingdom of Israel was rich and prosperous. Small properties were disappearing and wealth was in the hands of a few rich people, while the poor increased in number. The luxury of the few was an insult to the destitute.
Unexpectedly, Yahweh roars from Zion. His voice thunders from Jerusalem through Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa, a little village located about nine kilometers south of Bethlehem, in the land of Judah.
God takes him from his flock and sends him to the neighboring land, to Israel in the north. So the prophet traveled through the cities of Israel, denouncing the social injustices and a religion which was satisfied with external practices only. He warned of God’s punishment and the deportation of Israel, and in the end, he predicted happy days.
Amos is the prophet of social justice. He reveals to us a God who defends the rights of the poor.
•1These are the words of Amos, one of the sheep-breeders of Tekoa, and the visions which he saw concerning Israel during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah and Jeroboam, son of Jehoash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. 2He said,
“Yahweh roars from Zion,
his voice thunders from Jerusalem.
The pastures of the shepherds are scorched
and the choicest farmland is dried up.”
3Yahweh says this, “Because Damascus has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron, 4I will send fire upon the people of Hazael that shall devour the strongholds of Benhadad. I will cut off the ruler from the Valley of Aven and him who holds the scepter from Betheden. 5I shall break the protective crossbar of Damascus.”
Condemnation of several nations
6Yahweh says this, “Because Gaza has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because they carried a whole people into captivity to deliver them over to Edom, 7I will send fire upon the wall of Gaza and it will devour her strongholds. 8I will cut off the ruler from Ashdod, and him that holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron and the remnant of the Philistines will perish,” says Yahweh.
9Yahweh says this, “Because Tyre has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because they delivered over to Edom a whole people and did not remember the Covenant of brotherhood, 10I will send fire upon the walls of Tyre and it shall devour her palaces.”
11Yahweh says this, “Because Edom has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, because his anger rages forever and his wrath is always wild, 12I will send fire upon Teman and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.”
13Yahweh says this, “Because the Amonites have sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border, 14I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah and it shall devour her strongholds. Then there will be war cry and battle; then storm winds will blow. 15Their king will go into exile, he and his princes with him,” says Yahweh.
1Yahweh says this, “Because Moab has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because they burned to a cinder the bones of the king of Edom, 2I will send fire on Moab and it shall be destroyed in the midst of the tumult, with war cries and the blast of the trumpet. 3I will do away with their ruler and all the princes with him,” says Yahweh.
4Yahweh says this, “Because Judah has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. Because they rejected the law of Yahweh and did not keep his statutes, but have been led astray by the falsehood after which their fathers walked, 5I will send fire upon Judah and it will devour the fortresses of Jerusalem.”
Judgment on Israel
•6Yahweh says this, “Because Israel has sinned, not once but three times and even more, I will not relent. They sell the just for money and the needy for a pair of sandals; 7they tread on the head of the poor and trample them upon the dust of the earth, while they silence the right of the afflicted; a man and his father go to the same woman to profane my holy name; 8they stretch out upon garments taken in pledge, beside every altar; they take the wine of those they swindle and are drunk in the House of their God.
9It was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, whose height was like the height of the cedar, a people as sturdy as an oak. I destroyed their fruit above and their roots below.
10It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness to take possession of the land of the Amorites.
11It was I who raised up prophets among your sons, and Nazirites among your young men. Is this not so, people of Israel?” says Yahweh. 12“But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.
13Behold, I will crush you to the ground, as a cart does when it is full of sheaves. 14The swift shall be unable to flee and the strong man shall lose his strength. The warrior shall not save himself nor the bowman stand his ground. 15The swift of foot shall not escape nor the horseman save himself. 16Even the most stout-hearted among the warriors shall flee away naked on that day,” says Yahweh.
Punishment is near
1Hear this word which Yahweh speaks against you, people of Israel, against the whole family which he brought up from the land of Egypt.
2“Only you have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will call you to account for all your wrongdoings.”
•3Do two walk together unless they have agreed?
4Does a lion roar in the forest when it has no prey? Does a young lion growl in its den unless it has seized something?
5Does a bird get caught in a snare if the snare has not been baited?
Does a tiger spring up from the ground unless it has caught something?
6If a trumpet sounds in a city, will the people not be frightened?
If disaster strikes a city, has not Yahweh caused it? 7Yet Yahweh does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants, the prophets. 8If the lion roars, who will not be afraid? If Yahweh speaks, who will not prophesy?
9Call on the people living in the palaces of Ashur and in the palaces of Egypt, “Come together against the hill of Samaria and see the many scandals and the oppression that is there.
10These people do not know how to do what is right, says Yahweh, storing in strongholds what they have taken through violence and extortion. 11Therefore this is the word of Yahweh: The enemy shall surround the land; your strength shall be broken down and your strongholds plundered.”
12Yahweh says this, “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion a pair of legs or the tip of an ear, so shall some of you be saved, O Israelites of Samaria who loll on comfortable couches and rest on pillows of Damascus.”
13“Hear and accuse the nation of Jacob,” says Yahweh, God of Hosts, 14“On the day that I call Israel to account for his crimes, I will punish as well the altars of Bethel. The horns of the altar will be broken off and fall to the ground. 15Then I will strike the winter house and the summerhouse. The palaces of ivory shall be ruined, and the great house destroyed.”
•1Listen to this word, you cows of Bashan, you women who live on the hills of Samaria, who oppress the weak and abuse the needy, who order your husbands, “Bring us something to drink quickly!”
2Yahweh has sworn by his holiness, “The time is coming upon you when you will be dragged away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. 3Through the breaks in the wall you will go out, straight ahead, driven out all the way to Hermon.” It is Yahweh who speaks.
Prepare to meet your God
•4“Come, sinners, to the Sanctuary in Bethel, go down to Gilgal and sin even more!
Each morning bring your sacrifices and on the third day your tithes. Burn leavened food for thanksgiving. 5Proclaim in public your freewill offering, for this is what makes you happy, people of Israel,” says Yahweh.
6“Though I have made your teeth clean of food in every city, though I have made your bread in all your dwellings scarce, yet you did not return to me,” says Yahweh.
7“Though I withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away, though I sent rain upon one town and withheld it from another, 8though people staggered from town to town, and found no water to quench their thirst, yet you never returned to me,” says Yahweh.
9“Though with blight and calamities I have stricken your garden and vineyard, though your fig and olive trees were devoured by the locusts, yet you never returned to me,” says Yahweh.
10“Though as in Egypt I sent you a plague, though I slew your young men with the sword along with your captured horses, and nauseated you with stench from your own dead, yet you never returned to me,” says Yahweh.
11“I overthrew you, a divine punishment, as happened to Sodom and Gomorrah; you were like a brand snatched from the blaze, yet you never returned to me,” says Yahweh.
12“Therefore I will deal with you in my own way, Israel, and since I will do this to you, prepare, Israel, to meet your God!”
13For it is he who makes the thunder and creates the winds, and makes people know why he did, who turns dawn to twilight, who strides upon the heights of the earth—Yahweh, God of Hosts, is his name.
Seek me and you shall live
1Listen to these words, this lament I pronounce over you, nation of Israel, 2“Virgin Israel is fallen, never to rise again! With none to help her up, abandoned, she lies upon her own land.”
3For Yahweh says this, “The city that went forth to war a thousand strong shall be left with a hundred, and that which went forth with a hundred shall be left with ten in Israel.”
4For Yahweh says this to the nation of Israel, “Seek me, that you may live, 5but not in Bethel nor come to Gilgal, nor pass through to Beersheba. For Gilgal shall be led into exile and Bethel brought to nothing.”
6Seek Yahweh, that you may live, or he will rush like fire on the nation of Joseph and no one will be at Bethel to quench the blaze.
8He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns dusk to dawn and darkens the day into night, who summons the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the earth—Yahweh is his name. 9He makes destruction flash forth against the strong, and brings ruin upon the fortified city.
7Woe to those whose decrees are bitterness, not justice, who trample on the rights!
10You hate him who reproves in court; you despise him who speaks the truth.
11Because you have trampled on the poor and extorted levies on their grain, though you have built mansions of hewn stones you will not dwell in them; though you have planted choice grapevines, you shall not drink of their wine.
12For I know the number of your crimes and how grievous are your sins: persecuting the just, taking bribes, turning away the needy at the gates. 13See, how the prudent keep silent at this time, for it is an evil time.
The day of the Lord will be darkness
•14Seek good and shun evil, that you may live. Then Yahweh, the God of Hosts, as you have claimed, will be with you.
15Hate wickedness and love virtue, and let justice prevail in the courts; perhaps Yahweh, the God of Hosts, will take pity on the remnant of Joseph.
16Yahweh, God of Hosts thus says: “In every square, wailing will be heard, in every street, cries of anguish. Farmers will be summoned to lament and professional mourners to weep noisily. 17There will be lamentation in every vineyard, for I will pass through your midst, says the Lord.”
18Woe to you who long for Yahweh’s day! Why should you long for that day? It is a day of darkness, not of dawn, 19as if a man fled from a lion only to run into a bear; or as if he entered his home, rested his hand against the wall, only to be bitten by a viper.
20The day of Yahweh will be darkness, not light, gloom without a glow of brightness.
21“I hate, I reject your feasts, I take no pleasure when you assemble 22to offer me your burnt offerings. Your cereal offerings, I will not accept! Your offerings of fattened beasts, I will not look upon!
23Away with the noise of your chanting, away with your strumming on harps. 24But let justice run its course like water, and righteousness be like an ever-flowing river.
25Did you, Israel, bring me offerings and sacrifices for forty years, in the wilderness?
26Yet now you lift up king Sikkuth and Kiyun, your idols, which you made yourselves. 27Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says Yahweh whose name is God of Hosts.
1Woe to those proud people who live, overconfident on the hill of Samaria!
Woe to you, men of renown, from the first among the nations, to whom the people of Israel come!
2Pass through Kalneh and see; from there go to Hamath the great, then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms were? Is your territory greater than theirs? 3You hope to postpone the evil day; in fact you bring about a year of violence.
4You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and sprawl on your couches; you eat lamb from the flock and veal from calves fattened in the stall.
5You strum on your harps, and like David, try out new musical instruments.
6You drink wine by the bowlful and anoint yourselves with the finest oils, but you do not grieve over the ruins of Joseph.
7Therefore you will be the first to go into exile; and the feast of sprawlers will be over.
8Yahweh has sworn by his life, “I hate the proud city of Jacob, I hate its palaces. I will hand over the city and all that fills it.”
9In those days, if ten people are left in one house, they shall die. 10Their kinsman will lift the corpses and bring the bones from the house; when he will say to his comrade at the back part of the house, “Are there any more?” the other will say, “No, but hush! We must not mention the name of Yahweh.”
11For this is Yahweh’s command,
“The great house shall crumble, and the small house fall to pieces.”
12Do horses run on craggy cliffs? Does anyone plow the sea with oxen? Well, you have turned the rights into a poisonous plant and the sentences of the court into wormwood.
13You rejoice about unimportant matters when you say, “Are we not winners once more?” 14Yet am I stirring up against you, Israel, a nation that will oppress you from the pass of Hamath to the brook of the Arabah.
•1This is what Yahweh showed me. He was forming a swarm of locusts just as the late sowing began to come up. It was the second growth which follows the king’s mowing. 2When they were about to finish devouring all the crops of the land, I said, “Yahweh, forgive Israel! How shall Jacob survive, small as he is?” 3Yahweh relented and said, “It shall not happen.”
4This is what Yahweh showed me: he was calling for burning heat. It consumed the great deep and was consuming the land. 5I said, “Yahweh, stop! How shall Jacob survive small as he is?” 6Yahweh relented and said, “This too shall not happen.”
7This is what Yahweh showed me. He was standing beside a wall with a plumb line in his hand. 8The Lord asked me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I answered, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am measuring my people Israel with a plumb line. I will forgive them no more. 9The high places of Isaac are to be made desolate, and the Sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. For I will arise, sword in hand, against the family of Jeroboam.”
Conflict with the priest Amaziah
•10Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, then sent word to king Jeroboam of Israel, “Amos is conspiring against you in the very center of Israel; what he says goes too far. 11These are his very words: Jeroboam shall die by the sword and Israel shall be exiled from its land.”
12Amaziah then said to Amos, “Off with you, seer, go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there by prophesying. 13But never again prophesy at Bethel for it is a king’s Sanctuary and a national shrine.”
14Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet or one of the fellow-prophets. I am a breeder of sheep and a dresser of sycamore trees. 15But Yahweh took me from shepherding the flock and said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel.
16Now hear the word of Yahweh, you who say: No more prophecy against Israel, no more insults against the family of Isaac! 17This is what Yahweh says:
Your wife shall be made a harlot in the city, your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, your land shall be divided up and given to others, and you yourself shall die in a foreign land, for Israel shall be driven far from its land.”
Fourth vision: the basket of ripe fruit
•1Yahweh showed me a basket of ripe fruit 2and asked, “Amos, what do you see?” I replied, “A basket of ripe fruit.”
Then Yahweh said to me, “My people Israel is ripe for destruction; I will no longer forgive them. 3The songs of the palace will become wailings on that day, says the Lord. Heaps of corpses everywhere, all cast out in silence.”
4Hear this, you who trample on the needy to do away with the weak of the land. 5You who say, “When will the new moon or the sabbath feast be over that we may open the store and sell our grain? Let us lower the measure and raise the price; let us cheat and tamper with the scales, 6and even sell the refuse with the whole grain. We will buy up the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals.”
7Yahweh, the pride of Jacob, has sworn by himself, “I shall never forget their deeds.”
8Shall not the land tremble because of this, and all who dwell in it mourn, while it rises up and heaves like the Nile and settles back again like the river of Egypt?
9Yahweh says, “On that day I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10I will turn your festivals into mourning and all your singing into wailing. Everyone will mourn, covered with sackcloth and every head will be shaved. I will make them mourn as for an only son and bring their day to a bitter end.”
11Yahweh says, “Days are coming when I will send famine upon the land, not hunger for bread or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of Yahweh.
12Men will stagger from sea to sea, wander to and fro, from north to east, searching for the word of Yahweh, but they will not find it.
13On that day, fair virgins and strong young men will faint from thirst, 14all the young people who swore by the god of Samaria and said: Long life to the god of Dan, long life to the god of Bersheba! They shall fall, never to rise again.”
Fifth vision: fall of the Sanctuary
1I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said, “Strike the top of the columns, so that the beams shake and the roof falls down on the heads of them all. Those who are left I will slay with the sword; not one shall flee, not one shall escape.
2Though they dig down to the netherworld, my hand will take them from there; though they climb up to heaven, I will bring them down from there;
3Though they hide on the top of Carmel, I will search them out there and take them; though they hide from me in the depths of the sea, I will bid the sea serpent bite them.
4When they are led into captivity by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them.
For I have set my eye upon them, not for help but for harm.”
5When Yahweh of Hosts touches the earth, it melts and all who dwell on it mourn. The earth rises up and heaves like the Nile and settles back again like the river of Egypt.
6He has built heaven, his upper room, and established the dome of the sky over the earth. He summons the waters of the sea and pours them upon the face of the earth: Yahweh is his name.
7And now Yahweh says, “Are you Israelites more to me than the Ethiopians? Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt as I brought the Philistines from Caphtor and Aram from Kir?
•8My eyes are upon your sinful kingdom. I wanted to destroy it from the face of the earth, but I cannot do away completely with the nation of Jacob,” says Yahweh.
9“This is what I have ordered: I will sift the nation of Israel among the nations as one sifts with a sieve, letting no pebble pass through. 10All sinners among my people shall die, those who say, ‘Evil will not reach or overtake us.’
•11On that day I shall restore the fallen hut of David and wall up its breaches and raise its ruined walls and so build it as in days of old.
12They shall conquer the remnant of Edom and the neighboring nations upon which my name has been called.” Thus says Yahweh, the one who will do this.
13Yahweh says also, “The days are coming when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes overtake the sower. The mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall melt.
14I shall bring back the exiles of my people Israel; they will rebuild the desolate cities and dwell in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will have orchards and eat their fruit. 15I shall plant them in their own country and they shall never again be rooted up from the land which I have given them,” says Yahweh your God.
• 1.1 Chapters 1 and 2 announce the judgment of God which is coming soon. Amos severely attacks the pagan nations which have drifted away from universal morality and from the rules of human life. Judah, a nation of believers, bears the sin of having forgotten the law of God (2:4).
• 2.6 He reproaches Israel for always trampling on the rights of the poor and, by so doing, falsifying religion. They keep up the religious rituals which are a pretext for drunkenness and prostitution. They silence the prophets who proclaim the word of God the source of authentic religion.
You gave the Nazirites wine to drink (v. 12): see Numbers 6. The followers of a corrupted religion make fun of those men whose lifestyle, even externally, is different from their own and expresses the personal aspect of their religious commitment: let them drink! let them be like everyone else because their lifestyle disturbs our consciences.
• 3.3 Those listening to Amos do not understand why this man, who is not a priest, nor a member of the “fellow prophets,” came to preach to them. They are scandalized because he sticks his nose into things which, according to them, have nothing to do with religion. The images which Amos uses in these verses have a clear message: he speaks because God forces him to speak.
In verses 9-15, Amos calls on Assyria and Egypt to come and level a society without faith and without law. Let them destroy temples and palaces since all are maintained through exploitation and promote sin.
• 4.1 It is worth noting how Amos deals with rich and selfish women. He compares them with nothing less than the cows of Bashan. Bashan is on the other side of the Jordan and is famous in the Old Testament for its fattened flocks.
These women are getting fat at the expense of the poor and all they know is how to make cocktails. Amos announces the day when they will be taken from the conquered capital and exiled with as little consideration as that given to a herd of cattle.
• 4. Amos recalls the many hardships and trials which gave the people of Israel an opportunity for reflection.
He notes the contrast between the luxury, the frequency of religious celebrations and the evil behavior of the people. They think that if they go through the rituals and offer sacrifices, God will not pay attention to their evil ways. But that is not the way it is.
• 5.14 God’s complaints about his people sound like those of another time expressed through Isaiah: This people approached me in words; they honor me with lip-service, while their hearts stay afar (Is 29:13).
Since the previous disasters were not enough to teach Israel to straighten its ways, Amos announces another disaster. Its nature is not specified since what is unknown usually causes greater fear.
Amos speaks extensively of the Day of Yahweh. When the Israelites spoke of the Day of Yahweh, they meant the day of their triumph when God would come to crush the enemy nations. Amos turns its meaning around. From then on, when used by the prophets, the Day of the Lord will mean God coming to make his people accountable (see Zep 1:14). Even in the Gospel and in other books of the New Testament, the Day of the Lord will mean the Day of universal Judgment (see Rom 1:18); but then it will have a more specific meaning: the coming of Christ. He will judge those who rejected his Word and will fulfill the hopes of those who put their faith in him.
Perhaps Yahweh, the God of Hosts, will take pity on the remnant of Joseph (v. 15). This is the first time the word remnant appears in the Bible. The people of Israel were formed by the descendants of Abraham, the man of faith. The prophets realize that they are heading for ruin because of their lack of faith; their provinces are taken away from them, their children die. Yet, God will reserve a small group, the Remnant of Israel. They will return to an authentic faith and will be the “shoot” of the New People of God.
Ephraim, Joseph, Jacob, Israel: all these names refer to the same nation.
• 7.1 The prophets are never content with simply threatening their people. They always intercede for them before God (see Ezk 33 and 22:30). In the first two visions, Amos tries to stop God’s anger. In the third, he runs into God’s firm purpose to destroy Israel.
• 10. Notice the boldness of Amos’ action. He goes to preach in the national Temple, or to put it another way, in the country’s cathedral. He does so though he has no title, nor the priest’s permission and begins to denounce the false order which allows the accumulation of so much private wealth. Naturally Amaziah, the king’s chaplain, is scandalized. In our days, Amos would have been arrested, beaten and perhaps killed.
For Amaziah, his priesthood is a well-paid position and he is convinced that Amos is preaching against his way of earning a living. In those days, there were many prophets who made a living from giving advice without having been called directly by God as the great prophets were, (and as Amos was as well).
Amos is not a prophet in the ordinary sense. He is a lay person to whom God entrusted a mission when called personally. Apparently he loses out in the meeting with the religious authorities. It is not said that he used any other weapons than God’s word and God knows how to judge his envoys. We do not know if Amaziah succeeded in throwing him out of the country or if he only forbade him to preach in well-attended places.
• 8.1 This fourth vision continues the vision of chapter 7:1-9.
Amos describes the greed of the merchants and of the rich, the exploitation of the needy, the luxury of the wealthy, the bribing of judges, etc.
Not hunger for bread or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of Yahweh (v. 11), in a little while those who refuse to listen, because they lack nothing, will be so afflicted that they will long to hear a word of consolation from God, and that word will not come. The prophet’s words were to be fulfilled in several ways. We can read into them the prediction of the hunger and thirst for God’s word, which in later times would be the hallmark of the believer.
• 9.8 Following the threats of verses 1-6, verses 9-10 give the assurance which is never lacking in the prophet’s words: God will not completely destroy Israel, but will leave a remnant to fulfill his promises.
• 11. In verses 11-14—written after the exile of Israel—we have the promise of the future re-uniting of the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, into a single people of God. The apostle James will refer to this promise to show that God wills to extend the salvation earned by Jesus to all the nations and not only to Israel (see Acts 15:16). Notice that James quotes this text in a different form from what it is here. This is due to the fact that the apostles were using the Greek translation of the bible, which many times changed the meaning, not to be unfaithful to the primitive text but rather because, in the course of time, the Jews had a better understanding of the will of God. For example, here Amos is speaking about Israel “conquering the nations” which, at the time, seemed to be a great favor from God. The Jews who later translated the Bible into other languages spoke of the “nations seeking God” because, in the meantime, the prophets had meditated deeply on God’s plan.