notes on 4:12


The expression of the first part of the verse is difficult. The biggest problem is the referent of "this". If the verbs are (as is usually supposed) future, it cannot refer to the past warnings of the previous verses.

Several writers suggest "this" refers to an action that accompanied the words. However, that proposal would leave readers in the dark, and after being perhaps spoken, biblical books were certainly written to be read.

Wolff (214-5, 222-3) makes the boldest suggestion associating the piece, not with Amos, but with the destruction of the Bethel sanctuary by Josiah. This provides a dramatic reading of the passage. For, at the word "this", the iconoclast leader points to the very altar of God that is about to be destroyed. Sadly however there is little in the text or in history to help demonstrate this reconstruction.

Many exegetes (see Paul, 150, nn.105-110 for references) remove the problem by textual surgery, for the repetition of a phrase suggests a copyist's error.

However, the logic of the whole is clear:

because all this has happened
and because "you did not return to me"
"prepare to meet your God!"

So, an alternative solution is to read the verbs as speaking of a repeated, and unfinished series of actions. This is a regular use of the wayyiqtol form in Hebrew, and leads to my translation:

"So, this is what I was doing to you, Israel..." where the "was doing" is almost habitual, which is exactly the feeling Amos' series of disasters has created.

Language and Imagery

"Prepare" (כון) and "meet" (קרא) both suggest either a military encounter (for כון see Ps 7:13-14; Pr 21:31; Is 14:21; Jer 46:14; 51:12; Ez 7:14; 38:7) or sacrifice. The two notions occur together notably in Zeph 1:7 where we read:

"Be silent before the Lord God!
  For the day of the Lord is at hand;
 the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
  he has consecrated his guests."

The unit continues as Zephaniah announces punishment. The time of Adonai's sacrifice is the time when he purifies by selective punishment. Ex 19:11-15 and 16ff. hardly adds a more positive note, any creature that merely touches the mountain of Adonai's appearing "shall not live".


Following a series of reminders of the past fulfillment of the curses involved in breaking faith with Adonai, this verse announces the only recourse left open to God. Just as in Jesus' parable (Mt 21:33-46; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20:9-19), when other "messengers" fail, personal attention is required. So, if in view of all these warnings "you did not return to me", then: "Israel, prepare to face up to your God!"



This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.