The prophet and his message: Chapter 3 as a whole

Although the elements that comprise this chapter are diverse comprising:
judgment oracles with various content:
1-2 Israel's election,
9-11 calling foreign witnesses, citadels,
12 remnants of Israel's riches,
13-15 Bethel's altars and fancy houses,
and a disputation speech (3-8),
there is one message which pervades the whole chapter.

Most interpreters recognize that verses 3-8 are concerned with the prophet's authority to transmit his message (e.g. Gitay, 294 and Jeremias, 222) . However few go on to explore the relation of this theme to the rest of the chapter.

De Waard and Smalley found this to be the unifying feature of the larger unit.

I have argued above that vv.1-2 is shaped to both introduce the chapter and to stress that the prophet's speech is Adonai's message. The unusual use of messenger formulae in 9-15 also serves to draw attention to this claim.

Ways with words: Lexical Features of the Chapter

It is interesting to look at the vocabulary used in this chapter. As Gitay (p.293) noted, words characterizing speech are frequent in prophetic texts. Yet such vocabulary seems particularly frequent in Amos 3.

To test this impression a list was compiled of words in the semantic field of communication: speaking, hearing, and the like, and of each word's frequency. Communication vocabulary is indeed unusually frequent, in Am 3, as the resulting table shows.

These words are roughly twice as frequent in chapter three as they are in the rest of Amos or in the prophetic corpus as a whole.

Only the common root אמר is less frequent here. On their own, it is true, these figures would prove little. The sample is small (only 207 words). However, in the light of the other factors presented above, they reinforce the notion that the chapter as a whole is intended to transmit a message about messages.

Repetition, cohesion and the message of chapter 3

The first word of the chapter, the imperative שִׁמְעו marks a prophetic call to listen (Aufforderung zum Hören).

When the word is repeated at the start of v.13 however it is linked to another imperative: "Hear and testify", so that there it forms part of the "call to witnesses" in a lawsuit. This in turn echoes v.9, where the hiphil imperative of שׁמע is used to instruct the prophet to summon the "strongholds" of Ashdod and Egypt as witnesses.

The chapter begins with the words, "Hear .. against you descendants of Israel", its last section begins "Hear and bear witness against the family of Jacob". Thus the imperative "hear!" stands at the beginning and the end of the chapter and in each case the content will concern the descendants of Jacob/Israel.

During the chapter, however, there has been a change of hearer, for at the start Israel is addressed, while at the end the hearers must bear witness against Israel.

The change of addressee took place in v.9 at the beginning of the oracles. The people of Ashdod and the land of Egypt were to hear and see the wrong in Samaria.

The land of Egypt however was present already in verse one, but there those who being called to hear were Israelites freed from the "land of Egypt".

This chapter offers a clear sense of closure, its last unit opens with echoes of its first. The reversal in the second half of the chapter is signaled by the use of the imperative of "hear".

In the first verse also, Israel is called to hear a "message that Adonai has spoken". While the conclusion of the "disputation speech" in v.8 refers to the fact that "Adonai has spoken". This echo aids the cohesion of the chapter by linking these two sections.

In verse 2 as in verse 14 the judgment is the same, the LORD "punishes" פקד.

At a less noticeable level, the bird falling into a snare on the ground of v.5, is echoed by the falling to the ground of the horns of the altar in v.14. Also of course "the land of Egypt" recurs in vv.1 & 9 but with dramatically changed significance - at the start Egypt is the land of ancestral bondage, in v.9 the Egyptians become Adonai's witnesses against Israel.

The lion roaring which recurs in v.4 and 8 sums up the motif of this section. However, the "lion" is echoed in the lion from whose mouth the shepherd rescues only fragments (v.12), thus repeating the motif, and suggesting that the terrifying lion's roar is a motif of the whole chapter and an image for Adonai's fearsome message.


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

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