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Citation for The Visions

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Collins, John J. . "Amos." In The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. May 26, 2015. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195282801/obso-9780195282801-div1-104>.


Collins, John J. . "Amos." In The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195282801/obso-9780195282801-div1-104 (accessed May 26, 2015).

The Visions

Chapters 7 through 9 are primarily visions of the destruction of Israel. At first the prophet is moved by the enormity of the destruction and intercedes with God on behalf of Israel. After the vision of the locusts and of the fire, God relents, but the time for forgiveness runs out. The message is summed up in the vision of a basket of ripe fruit. The Hebrew here involves another pun. The word for “ripe fruit” is very similar to the word for “end.” Amos 8, 2 “the time is ripe” can also be translated “the end has come.” This was the first time the idea of an “end” was proclaimed in ancient Israel. The end in question was the end of Israel as an independent nation. Later biblical writers would extend the idea and envisage an end of history or of the world. (The technical theological term “eschatology,” which refers to the doctrine of the last things, is derived from the Greek word for “end.”) Amos, however, was not speaking of the end of the world. The end of Israel in the eighth century BC, which he predicted, was final, in the sense that the political entity that had existed for two hundred years was wiped off the map and never restored. The influence of Amos on later tradition was undoubtedly increased by the fact that his prophecy was so completely fulfilled.

The Israel whose end Amos announced was primarily the Israel of the upper classes, who held political power. They were the ones who identified themselves as Israel in the cult and in international political relations. The peasants would undoubtedly suffer during the Assyrian invasion, but ultimately it may not have made much difference whether one paid taxes to a foreign power or to predatory Israelite landlords. From the viewpoint of the peasants, and of Amos, the survival of Israel as a nation was not of great importance. What mattered was not political identity but the living conditions of the poor within the society.

The Epilogue

Much of the force of Amos's prophecy derived from its finality. When he said that God would destroy the kingdom of Israel off the face of the earth ( 9, 8 ), that was his last word. A later editor felt that this stark conclusion did not do justice to history. Israel in the broader sense of the people of the Lord, north and south, was not terminated. The message of the prophetic corpus as a whole is ultimately not one of destruction but of hope. What the epilogue does, then, is put the prophecy of Amos in a broader perspective. Death and destruction have their time and place, but there remains the hope for an ideal future, as we have seen in the prophecy of Joel. This ultimate optimism is an essential ingredient of biblical faith.

Three points in the epilogue deserve special attention.

  • 1. Amos 9, 9f suggests that God's judgment on Israel will be selective, so that only the sinners will die. Obviously the Assyrians were not so selective, nor were the Babylonians after them. The preexilic prophets spoke of the fate of the whole nation, not of individuals, and this was realistic if divine judgment was executed through warfare. In the postexilic period, however, there is increasing sensitivity to individual responsibility. (See the great reflection on this subject in Ez 18 .) In the apocalyptic literature (for example, Daniel) the problem is resolved by the belief that just and wicked receive their appropriate retribution after death.

  • 2. The hope for the future is focused on “the fallen hut of David.” This oracle probably comes from the period after the exile when there was no longer a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem. The hope expressed here is messianic, but should not be confused with the later Christian understanding of the Messiah. The hope here is that the native Jewish kingship will be restored.

  • 3. Finally, the ideal state of the end‐time is decidedly earthly in character. The hope is for peace and prosperity, with an abundance of wine and fruit. One of the major points that the Hebrew Bible can contribute to Christian spirituality is a healthy appreciation of the good things of this world.

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