Messages about Messages

The Story
The Words
The Visions and the messenger
Chapter 7 and chapter 3


The Story

The only story in Amos, 7:10-17, could be titled "a message about messages". It begins with Amaziah the priest sending a message to king Jeroboam about Amos the prophet and his message. This is followed by speeches by priest and prophet.

Amos' speech first cites Adonai's call, then delivers his message. Adonai's message quotes Amaziah's words back to him, before pronouncing sentence. This nesting of quotation in the narrative is discussed elsewhere.

The Words

I will argue below that the whole chapter has a common purpose, so the paragraphs that follow will treat the chapter as a whole.

Words concerning prophesy and speech are frequent in this chapter:

root verses with word uses in Amos
אמר  'mr "say"  12  26%
דבר dbr "word"    2  17%
חזה chzh "see"    1  50%
נבא  nb' "prophesy"    4  67%
נטף  nTp "preach"    1  100%

The Visions and the Messenger

If we turn our attention from the story to the chapter in which it is set we find that it "breaks into" a series of visions. This series of five show both coherence and progression, so are clearly closely linked one to another.

The last vision stands apart in its shape and feel, while the others form two pairs. The story of 7:10-17 comes between vision III and IV, thus separating the second pair.

To many Western commentators this separation of the visions by other material seems unnatural. This should lead us to ask why. Since there is no obvious historical or other external factor ordering the material in Amos the reason is likely to be found in the material itself.

Striking in the first two visions is Amos plea to Adonai to remove the envisaged punishment, and perhaps even more striking Adonai's acceptance of this request!

Aside from the theological questions this raises, it also leads to a comparison between Amos and other successful intercessors in Israel's history. In these two accounts, therefore, Amos is authenticated (through Adonai's acceptance of his prayer) in the line of Israel's great prophets, with Abraham, Moses & Samuel.

In the third vision Adonai declares "I will not pass them by again" effectively ending Amos' intercessions. Thus by including this as well as the first two vision accounts before the story the reader is shown that Amos' message of destruction is also divinely sanctioned.

In this way vv.1-9 work with vv.10-17 to present the case that Amos is a true prophet of Adonai, that his message of destruction is God's word, and that he has no choice about delivering this message entrusted to him.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 3

In this, chapter 7 balances chapter 3, which shares its sense of coherence in diversity and its message. De Waard & Smalley argued that this similarity of purpose between chs 3 & 7 is part of a much more complex structuring of the book. Elsewhere I have extended their work, here I merely suggest that it is interesting both to read the two chapters as wholes and together, and to read each in the setting of what precedes it. For presumably this preceding material is the message which the book suggests needs to be defended.

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

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