The Book of Amos is a point of departure for social criticism in the Old Testament. It presents a remarkably comprehensive (one might even say holistic) prophetic view of both corporate and individual moral, religious and political responsibilities that are incumbent upon man in covenantal relationship with God, and the devastating effects for the Chosen People of God, as well as “the nations,” for failure to observe them. This paper reflects on the essentials of the social message of God through Amos, and how those essentials of Amos can properly “aim us” in the right directions for relationship between God and man, between nations, and between men. THE PROPHET, HIS CONTEXT, AND HIS TARGET AUDIENCE
The prophetic figure and the context of the Book of Amos are important for understanding its social criticism and ground-breaking lessons. While the Book of Amos may have been a product of at least three authors or editors over three different time periods (see below), the original purported figure and inspiration was a cattle herd breeder and cultivator of sycamore fruit from Tekoa, a little village on a hill in rural Judea, about six miles from Bethlehem and 18 miles from Jerusalem. He lived during the pre-exilic reigns of Uzziah from 791-740 B.C. (coregent and later King of Judah), and Jeroboam from 793-753 B.C. (King of Israel from). Tekoa was a rugged and desert-like area. Amos would have spent substantial time in the wide-open spaces of the Judean outdoors in the relatively harsh arid environment. From Tekoa, on a hill at about 2500 feet, one could see part of the dead Sea and a vista of arid, rugged limestone hills and mountains. As with John the Baptist, the wide-open spaces of the desert are somewhat naturally associated with spiritual vision. The starkness and danger of the wilderness may at times starve the senses, but excite the inner faculties. This period of time was on the back end of a transition in Israel from rural agrarian society with a decentralized structure to a monarchial structure to meet the political, economic and military realities of the heterogynous groups of Israelites. That process had led to substantial growth of urban centers and commerce that follows. Archaeological evidence from 8th century B.C. settlements in Israel and Judah is indicative of increasing control over the economy by the monarchy and its supporters, of the development of royal herds and large-scale production of grain and olive oil. In the time when the man Amos lived Israel was at the summit of its material power, the “Silver Age” of Israelite history. This economic boom, also caused by territorial expansion and new fields of commerce, disrupted communities and led to development that outstripped social adjustment and led to a two-tier class structure. It was also a time when there was little awareness of sin. The pre-monarchial society and institutions probably worked better for the people of the agrarian highlands like those in Judea where Amos resided. It was a period of transition in which many of the poor families had forfeited their inherited lands to creditors, and had been left in a somewhat feudal-like state of working what had been their property for commercial crops (like wine or olive oil) for their creditors. There were few in what we would call the middle class. Most were peasants or of humble means, and there was a comparatively thin layer of aristocracy and wealthy merchants or land owners. The city-states like Jerusalem and Samaria contained many of the rich and powerful. Many of the rural residents in the region in which Amos lived had been reduced to a position similar to the Hebrews in Egypt before the Exodus (though Amos makes no mention of the Exodus). A new justice system had developed, moving from the hands fo rural elders to the courts of the urban rich to whom the judges were beholden and subject to bribes. Interestingly, while the old prevailing view...
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