Covenant in Amos

The Prophet Amos. Engraving by Gustave Doré, 19th century.

Amos (active c.765-760 B.C.)

Amos is a simple shepherd and gatherer of figs to whom the word of the LORD (dabar YHWH) comes. He cries against both Israel (2:6) and Judah (2:4; 3:1). A major concern of his is social justice. Amos certainly has much to say by way of reproof to “the whole house of Israel,” and most of the first seven chapters concern themselves with the moral resistance of Israel to their covenant God. However, despite the strong current of moral justice in the Book, when the prophet’s task is spoken of it is mainly in terms of prediction.

Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets (NASB, Amos 3:7)

The “counsel” that follows is a forecast of doom and captivity for the northern tribes. But in chapter nine the prophecy begins to extend out beyond the time of the prophet.

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says the LORD (Amos 9:8)

The sins of Israel will be dealt with through punishment, but the nation itself will not be completely destroyed. This will be a permanent refrain coming from the prophetic literature: judgment followed by restoration and blessing. The big question is, when will this occur?

Just three verses later we find this promise:

On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God. (Amos 9:11-15)

Everybody knows that a portion of this passage (i.e. 9:11-12) is cited by James from the LXX in Acts 15:15-18. I shall of course deal with James’s use of Amos in the proper place, but in this context it seems pretty clear what is being set forth. When put into the mouths of the prophets as Seers and foretellers, the phrase “on that day”or “in that day,” (which is especially common in Ezekiel), seems to indicate the future Day of Divine interposing; that is, the future “Day of the Lord” or its wonderful aftermath. 1

For the prophet Amos and his contemporaries; indeed, for Jews in Old Testament times, the raising up of the booth of David would have had only one meaning: the restoration of the Davidic line and kingdom in right relationship to and pursuance of God, enjoying the covenant blessings of God.

The reference to those among Edom and the Gentiles who are God’s (“called by my name”) would remind hearers of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations in Genesis 12:3; 22:18; and in the case of the former, Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19 would come to mind.2 It does not mean that these people groups will be included in some expanded “Israel.” There is a demarcation in the text which should not be trammeled by preferential kinds of eschatology – the kinds that have no place for a restored Israelite nation.

Later Obadiah would speak of “saviors” who would come into Edom once it became incorporated into Yahweh’s kingdom (Obad. 21). Amos 9:11 comfortably embraces both Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal expectations.

What comes next involves several concepts which will be repeated in the prophets: (1) the unusual productivity and blessing upon the land (“the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” – Amos 9:13); (2) the return of Israel’s captives and the rebuilding of cities to dwell in; and (3) guaranteed perpetuity in the land that God gave them.3 Indeed, Amos records God’s pledge that the land of Israel is “their land” (Amos 9:15).4 So even though much of Amos is concerned with societal woes and short-term prophecy, the very end of the Book looks to the great hope of a united Israel in right relationship to God dwelling in its own land. This would come to pass in the last days.5

Notes

1 I will have to examine “The Day of the Lord” in another place.

2 See John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 250-251

3 E.g. Isa. 35:1-2, 6-7; 55:13; Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:26-27; 36:33-38; 37:21-28; 47:12; Joel 2:18-19, 21-27; Zech. 8:11-13; cf. Lev. 26:40-45.

4 In Ezekiel we read of God calling Israel “my land” (Ezek. 34:5) but then calling it “their own land” in settings both of rebellion (Ezek. 34:17), and of final restoration (Ezek. 37:21). For Amos, it is still Israel’s land even when their sins have absented them from it (Amos. 7:17)

5 See Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 76; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching the Last Things, 87; even William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 79. Although lying within the critical tradition, the assessment of Brevard Childs is that in Amos 9:11, “The discourse moves into the realm of eschatology (11, 13). It turns on the possibility of a new existence after the end has come. The promise concerns the raising up of the shattered ‘booth of David’ – that is, David’s larger kingdom, which can again lay claim on the land. No human ruler can achieve this feat; the initiative lies solely with God. The hope is miraculous and logically incomprehensible. It is placed within the eschatological framework of the last days.” (Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 407.)

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