LECTURES ON THE BOOK OF AMOS
The historical background
The prophet Amos is the first on the list of classical prophets, who included Hosea, Isaiah as well as Jeremiah. He is the first among the prophets whose oracles have come down to us in the form of a whole book, according to M.L. Barre, the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. It goes without saying that Amos inaugurated a movement which left an indelible mark on Israelite religious land scape, as seen in the new dimensions of the 8thcentury prophetic movement, where ecstasy, which has been cited by many scholars as illustrating the borrowed phenomenon, has been replaced or fundamentally undermined by a more rationalistic approach to problems bedevilling Israel. Amos, it can be argued, seems to have inaugurated a movement of rationalist who made sense out of the word of Yahweh.
It is in this light that a critical analysis of the book of Amos will reveal even the relevance of Amos’ thought patterns to the Africans and Zimbabweans in particular. In Zimbabwean societies, issues regarding dishonest dealings, capitalistic mind-sets and a general moral bankruptcy have become too prevalent, that a revisiting Amos for the benefit of Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole has become more than necessary. As already noted above, Amos is believed to have operated during the 8thcentury BCE. Various arguments have been raised by scholars to sustain this dating of Amos’ period and some of the arguments are: The superscription Amos 1:1
The superscription is a redactional introduction, which is inserted at the beginning of a piece of literature and it has two main functions, to introduce the author of the work and to date the piece of the literature. Bythe nature of the aim of the superscription itself, it can then be argued that it is much later in origin than the work it seeks to introduce, yet it is one of the most important aspects we consider in dating different pieces of literature especially prophetic books. The superscription in the book of Amos offers a synchronistic dating to the period of Amos, in which case Amos’ period is dated with two parallel events and these are: the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel and the reign of Uzziah of Judah.
A cursory survey of the history of Israel and Judah suggests that these two kings reigned from the first half of the 8thcentury to the period around the middle of the same century. Jeroboam the II, a descendant of Jehu reigned Israel from around 786 to 746 BCE while Uzziah reigned Judah from around 783 to 742 BCE. From these two parallel dates it can be inferred that Amos ministered during the first half of the 8thcentury. Another important piece of information but which has not been used effectively is the idea that Amos prophesied two years before the earthquake, it is argued by many scholars such as C. Westermann, that the earthquake referred to in Amos might be the same earthquake mentioned in Zechariah 14:5. If as implied, it is correct that the earthquake is the same, it could be that it is the one, which occurred around 752BCE suggesting that Amos could have ministered during the 750s. It has also been argued that Amos’ prophetic ministry was a short one meaning it did not spun over a long period of time.
It is important to consider the historical background of the era of Jeroboam II and Uzziah in order to evaluate whether the contents of the book of Amos tally with the general environment of the time. The oracles of Amos suggest aperiod of extreme individualism which was a result of an unfair distribution of resources (4:1-2), that women of Samaria are accused of demanding more from their husbands resulting in the oppression of the poor seems to suggest a period when the economy was benefiting only a few. Another point of interest is the idea that some in Israel were tithing after every three days (4:4) this seem to suggest a period of extreme extravagance among the rich as they sought to publicise their religiosity as noted in Amos 4:5 “…proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel.” Amos also seems to suggest that there were people in Israel who were filthy rich as can be seen from the example he gives in 6:4-7. In this text, Amos cites the existence of beds of ivory…singing of idle songs…drinking wine in bowls…anointing themselves with the finest oils.
All these are believed to be signs of wealthy and these coupled many feasts during Amos’ time (5:21), it can hardly be doubted that Amos prophesied during a time of ‘economic prosperity’ even though it was not national in the strict sense of the word. According to G. Von Rad, the era of Jeroboam II should be seen as the era in which Amos prophesied, especially towards the end of the era. Jeroboam II the fourth descendant of Jehu benefited from the political and economic motions introduced by Omri. It is noted here that Omri was responsible for inviting the Phoenicians to run the Israelite economy and it is assumed that their policies started bearing fruit and continued to do so during the reign of Jeroboam II. It is in this light that we can appreciate the capitalistic tendencies that could be detected in Israelite economy during the time of Amos.
National ideology in Israel
It appears that Israel was not a doctrinaire nation like Judah, which was guided by the Davidic Royal Ideology. The openness in Israel was introduced by Jeroboam I and from the time of the division of the monarchy Israel was steadily moving toward becoming one and the same with her ANE neighbours. One area where the lack of national ideology became a real problem was in the area of Land Tenure. By the time of Amos, the Israelite society could be divided into three social classes: Upper Class (rulers, and some soldiers), Middle Class (merchants, professionals and semi-professionals, most of them made their life by hook and crook); Lower Class (peasants). In terms of percentage points, the upper class accounted for 1-3% of the total population with an access to around 60-80% of the national resources, while the Lower Class accounted for 80-90% of the total population and had access to 3-5% of the national resources. This ideally seems to be what Amos saw as highly disturbing as it made the poor poorer while the rich became richer by the day. Thishappens to be the African problem especially post-colonial Africa, as some policies of African governments have been seen to favour only a few Africans at the expense of the majority. A case in the point relates to Black empowerment in Zimbabwe which seems to have benefited only a few blacks thereby entrenching capitalism and the imbalances which the black majority fought to dislodge.
Many African countries are facing serious economic problems owing to policies whichentrenched a system that favours a few against the general African understanding of the extended family system and its communal way of life, where possessions are in essence, communal. We argue here that by the time of Jeroboam II, there was now bias towards state owned land. Ultimate ownership of the land belonged to the state, tendencies towards this system can be traced back to the time of the Omrides, especially with reference to the story of Ahab and Naboath, where rulers want exclusive rights to all the land (1Kings 21:1ff). In the same text, we detect the tension that exists between this new land tenure system and the traditional system as Naboath argues on the strength of tradition for an inheritance cannot be sold. Yet, as the ruling class in Israel continued to enjoy the spoils of excess wealth, land became a commodity that could be used as security and a sign of power. With this development, the rich kept adding one field to another while the poor continued to be dispossessed for failure to service debts and some other obligations like tax. It is implied in 7:17 that the rulers were in the habit of doing as they pleased with the land in Israel as Amos says to Amaziah…and your land shall be parcelled out by line… Politically, economically and socially, Israel remainedan open state with no proper ideology influencing the policies. It is important, however, to note that these developments in Israel can then be linked to the D-history.
D-History as sustaining the status quo
In the light of the imbalances that existed glaringly in Israel, some possibly, beneficiaries of the status quo decided to legitimise it by coining a theology. The idea of legitimising political misfits, dubious policies, seems to remain an integral part of modern day politics, as suggested by P.H Gifford, who argues …the gospel of prosperitywas developed to sustain capitalism by giving it a religious face, hence extreme wealth for individuals is now seen not in the context of the socio-economic and political system but rather as religious consequence. Such a gospel, is therefore seen as diverting the people’ attention form the real cause of their poverty to some imagined causes hence the real culprits who are causing this untold suffering are now seen as the epitome of homo-religiosus. Due to extreme poverty, the D-history propounded the theory that ‘poverty is a sign of curse from Yahweh, while wealth is a sign of Yahweh’s blessings’. Due to the impact of this theological propaganda, people nolonger sought to address the ills of the existing system, as their poverty could be explained easily.
It therefore seems that this was the scenario during this time that Amos prophesied especially bearing in mind that Amos makes it very clear that the rich were and considered themselves to be highly religious as can be seen in their frequenting the religious shrines (…come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply the transgression…4:4). The African problem cannot be ignored in this light for we need to consider the causes of untold suffering in African in the light of religious levels exhibited in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular. Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole, now seems to be a continent of two extremes: the filthy rich black Africans who are,Christians or Muslims, as well as filthy poor black Africans who are also Christians, Muslims or Traditionalists. The book of Amos can serve as a manual in diagnosing the Zimbabwean problem despite the time difference. What is important therefore from this analysis is how the era of Jeroboam II creates a fertile and breeding ground for the use and/or abuse of power in social relationship due to the conflicts that permeates the book of Amos, especially no more than two occasions Amos explicitly divides the nation into two dialoguing groups, i.e., the rich and the poor. The prophecies of Amos therefore seem to have been dated properly during the reign of Jeroboam II.
Amos and the ANE developments
Most OT scholars seem to agree that Amos only implies the foe, which will be used by Yahweh in punishing Israel. “…An adversary shall surround the land, and bring down your defences from you, and your stronghold shall be plundered.” (3:11). It appears that Amos could have prophesied at a time when Assyria was re-establishing herself in the middle of the 8thcentury under Tiglath-pileser III and Amos being the social and political analyst hat he was could have seen the dangers posed by Assyria. It also seems that Amos’ perception of doom was correctly contextualised, due to internal hostilities Israel would not be in a position to defend herself if any enemy was to attack. The emergence of Assyria under Tiglath-pileser culminated in the destruction of Israel in 722/721 BCE. Hence Amos prophesied towards the last years of Israelas a nation in the ANE, a time when the threat of Assyria seemed far away yet those with a discerning mind could tell as Amos did that the leadership at the time was not paying attention can be seen from the lack of any reference by Amos of the evils of political treaties, suggesting Israel was not yet looking threatened by ANE developments.
The identity and profession of Amos
Two broad sources of information have been cited by scholars in an attempt to solve the question pertaining to the identity and profession of the prophet Amos, these are biblical sources: the superscription and the confrontation with Amaziah as well as Extra-biblical source. From the superscription we learn that Amos was among the shepherds of Tekoa. It is not immediately clear from the above phrase whether he was a shepherd or he was simply an ordinary man among shepherds. The phrase raises at least three problems: That Amos was ‘among’ the shepherd of Tekoa is a vague statement, does it mean he was also a shepherd? If he was, why is it not stated explicitly that he was a shepherd? Assuming that he was a shepherd, did he own his own flock or he took care of someone’s flock? If he owned his own flock, it would mean that he was of high social standing thereby dismissing the claims of Hyatt above. Assuming that he was a shepherd from Tekoa, where was Tekoa? Was Tekoa in the south or north?
These problems become more acute when we consider three other factors: Amos’ confrontation with Amaziah (7:12-14). In his confrontation with Amaziah (7:14a), Amos identifies himself as a herdsman (boqer) not a shepherd. In 7:14b, Amos identifies himself as one who was called from following the flock (hatsoan). What animals was Amos tending? JP Hyatt suggests the amendment of boqer to nokedim (shepherd breeder). Further he argued that the latter can be found in also in II Kings 3:4 where it is translated as sheep breeder with reference to Mesha king of Moab. It is in this light that Hyatt concludes that Amos was a sheep breeder hence of a high social status. J.H. Hayes subscribes to this view citing that Amos was also a dresser of sycamore trees hence a mixed farmer. This, however, seems to be too simplistic insolving the problem of Amos’ profession. It is in this light that A. Holder has argued against the amendment of the term herdsman to shepherd; rather he argues that it was common in the ANE to meet cultic figures who tended both cattle and sheep. The Akkadian term naqids is translated as keeper of either temple herd or temple flock or both.
Holder and other scholars, therefore, see the rational of Amos as tending both cattle and sheep. This should be enough ground for us to appreciate why Amos if referred to as a seer by Amaziah. If Amos was looking after temple animals, then he should have been a cultic functionary, and a seer was one such. Another example is the Ugarit texts, in which there is reference to a ‘rbknm’ translated as ‘Chief of Priests’. The same person is referred to as ‘rbnqdm’translated as Chief of Sheep and understood to be one who looked after temple flock. Chances are that Amos was a cultic figure whose duties besides being a seer involved him looking after the temple animals and such a practice was common throughout the ANE as illustrated above. The conclusion by Holder has been challenged by scholars, especially when we move to consider Amos the man, because in his confrontation with Amaziah, Amos refuted any links that he was given to the cult. In Amos 7:14 Amos says ‘I am no prophet, nor prophet’s son…’ and this seeming denial has found several explanations from the scholars. For Hyatt and others, Amos reacted to this designation since it seemed to involve the idea of remuneration as most prophets had turned out to be professionals who were now involved in the complicity of corruption hence he did not want to be associated with such prophets whose acts he sought to undermine. Some of these prophets were now even receiving favours from the rulers as they assisted them to achieve political mileage. This again calls for special attention considering that most problems that are afflicting Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole today involve the conspiracy between politicians and some religious leaders.
It is in the light of carrying out extensive analysis of the prophet Amos that it becomes apparent that some religious leaders can be corrupted and hence they cease to be Yahweh’s reason. In many instances in Africa, we have witnessed religious leaders being co-opted in regime change movements on the one hand while on the other hand religious leaders from the same faith based organisation as the former being enlisted in defending the sitting regimes. The result of this conspiracy in Africa has been disastrous as can be seen from a number of conflicts zones that currently exist in Africa; for instance the case in Nigeria, Egypt and most of the north African countries. Consider also the rift that is there between the two Anglican churches in Zimbabwe on a political level, i.e. that of Bakari and Kunonga. Note also how some white robed churches (mapostori) have side-lined with some political movements and leaders. It may be very reasonable that Amos rejected to be called a prophet for this and other reasons especially the centrality that was given to ecstasy by scholars who subscribe to the borrowed theory. It is my submission that Amos realised that the type of prophecy he was inaugurating was and could not therefore be equated to his predecessors whose moral blameworthiness and social integrity was now questionable.
It is important to note that Amos was bringing to the fore a new type of prophecy, which was to change the whole religious landscape in Israel of which some of the traits are: Ecstasy in the prophecy of Amos was no longer central if ever it existed in his ministry. In that regard, Amos was a man of reason who by observing the society and its function could diagnose the ills of that society. Amos was therefore more of a social analyst than the conventional prophet of his time. In essence what Amos was doing was to make sense of the situation obtaining on the ground either by observation or by experience. The nature of the accusations raised by Amos suggests one who was up to date with the goings on in Israel (6:1…woe…and to those who fell secure on the mountain of Samaria…). Amos was challenging traditional perceptions on the basis of reason. Traditions which did not meet the standard of reason were redefined by Amos, like the D-historian’s thesis of poverty being equal to curse while wealth was equated to blessing.
This was challenged on the basis of reason alone because for Amos it was clear that some laws were being flouted in order to acquire riches and some religious leaders were assisting those bent on oppressing others by adopting dubious theological stands, which did not comply with reason and principles of natural justice. (6:12 ‘but you have turned justice into poison and…’). In an attempt to dismiss the assertion that Amos refused to be called a prophet, H.H Rowley raises a grammatical argument. It is agreed that Hebrew language does not have a copula verb or the verb ‘tobe’i.e., is. Therefore, the literal translation of the verse according to Rowley, should be, ‘Not a prophet I,not a prophet’sson I. the translator then had to supply the verb ‘to be’, and they supplied the verb to be in the present tense hence the verse now reads, I am not a prophet, nor a prophet’s son. Instead, since all the other verses are in the past tense, the translator should have supplied the verb to be in the past continuous tense.
Therefore the correct reading should be, I was not a prophet, nor was I a prophet’s son. In this case Amos accepted to be a prophet who was not initiated; he had a profession before he was called to be a prophet. It is almost impossible to be certain about Amos, prophet-hood yet there is little doubt among scholars that he pioneered a new brand of prophecy which completely changed the face of Israelite religion. But another question begs for answer, where did Amos come from? This is so, because as noted above, the superscription does not identify Amos’ place of origin explicitly. The origins of Amos
A cursory survey of some of the biblical prophets seems to suggest that they ministered in their home areas and to their own people. Hosea, a northern, ministered to the northerners, while Isaiah a southerner also ministered to the southerners. This is important because Amos gives the impression of being a trans-frontier prophet an unprecedented move among Israelite and Judahite prophets. Scholars have therefore been arguing in two camps with one group arguing that he was a southerner while the other is of the view that he was a northerner. Southern origins theory
Basically four arguments have been raised in sustaining this theory and these are: The geographical argument: scholars who subscribe to this theory have note that the geographical location of Tekoa has always favoured a southern origin for Amos. Tekoa is believed to be a small town 12miles south of Jerusalem, and it was 3000 fit above sea level. It was to the west of the jungle later to be called the wilderness of Judaea. Considering its location geographically, these scholars argue that Amos was therefore a southerner. Amos’ language: On the basis of language Amos used in his oracles, the scholars argue that it was too strong to be a language of a citizen against his own people. In Amos 5:2 Amos sings a funeral dirge suggesting that Israel was dead and had no hope. ‘Fallen no more to rise is the virgin Israel…’ on the basis of such language, M. Polley argues that Amos was a Judean propagandist who south to kill off any hopes among the northerners such that in their state of hopelessness, they would turn to the house of David for their survival. This is strengthened by a comparison by Hosea who was undoubtedly a northerner and whose language was more sympathetic to his fellow citizens. Therefore Amos was a southerner. Amos’ confrontation with Amaziah:it is accepted by most scholars that prophets, in both Israel and Judea, were called and ministered in their home areas where they were also paid. It is also suggested that such prophets werenormally associated with a particular shrine or cultic centre, even though in some instances some prophets donot seem to be cultic figures. But at Bethel, we are told Amos did make some public announcements (7:10), a priest-prophet called Amaziah was in charge and being in charge there, he also earned his bread there. It
is possible then that Amos get crashed his way into Bethel and a conflict with Amaziah then ensued. It is believed that knowing Amos to be a southerner, Amaziah then redirected Amos the back to Judah hence he was a southerner. Davidic bias in Amos’ message (9:11-15): Citing the epilogue, these scholars argue that there is an apparent bias towards the house of David. Judging by the animosity that existed between the north and the south from the time of the division of the monarchy such a bias can only come from a southerner. Having raised these arguments, some scholars realised there were some major loopholes from the arguments hence a rival theory was raised to counter the arguments raised so far. The northern origins theory
This theory sought to rebut the arguments raised by their predecessors to show instead that Amos was a northerner. Below are the rebuttals (claims that something is false). The geographical argument: According to scholars who subscribe to this theory, the idea of Tekoa has to be taken form its rightful context. If indeed Amos came from Tekoa, and he was a dresser of sycamore tree, then there should be another Tekoa in the north. This is based in the observation that sycamore trees only grew in areas with an altitude of less than 2800 feet above the sea level. In this case, the known Tekoa was 3000 feet above the sea level hence sycamore trees could not grow there. It has also been established that sycamore trees grew in areas around Bethel, hence Amos was a northerner. Amos’ language: It is too simplistic to determine one’s citizenship on the basis of language used. It has been noted that even citizens can use the most unpalatable language when speaking against their own people. In fact, this argument seems to suggest that is the only criterion of patriotism. The language of Amos seem to equal the venom of social injustice that he was facing. A closer look at the world events seem to suggest that citizens can be as harsh against their own people especially when confronted with a thoughtless upper class. The Zimbabwean case serves agood example here. For example, if the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Makandiwas and other prophets should speak against Murambatsvina, Gukurahundi, and the inhuman acts perpetrated during and after the 2008 Zimbabwean election be considered unpatriotic or foreigners? Consider also the coups world over and the conflicts in Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, etc., in
all these citizens are very much included. Thus, they have not only uttered unbearable words about their own people, but have carried out nasty atrocities. Hence, if it is true that citizens can even wage fatal wars against their own people, it becomes too simplistic to argue that simply because of language which was unsympathetic, Amos was a southerner;hence in this regard Amos was a northerner. Confrontation with Amaziah: Two main arguments have been raised by this school of thought citing the confrontation with Amaziah. First, Amos is accused of conspiracy, which according to this school is a crime normally associated with citizens or permanent residents. What Ammos was accused of is in modern day legal language, treason. If Amos was a foreigner he was supposed to be accused of being a terrorist. This distinction between terrorism and treason was confirmed by professor Pheltoe (Faculty of Law, UZ). Secondly Amos is told by Amaziah to flee away to the land of Judah… If he was a southerner he would have been asked to return to the land of Judah but to flee seems to suggest that he was going to seek refuge in Judah, therefore Amos was a northerner. The Davidic bias: On the epilogue, despite arguing differently, both schools seem to agree that the author was a southerner. But it is important to note that this school argues that the epilogue was the work of an editor who originated from the south and was therefore influenced by the Davidic traditions. In fact it is suggested that the epilogue was written after Judah was taken into exile, in order to give hope to the exiles. It is clear therefore that Amos was not the author of the epilogue hence to conclude that he was a southerner on the basis of what he did not write s unacceptable. Therefore Amos was a northerner. It is therefore imperative that we admit to the observation that Amos was and remains an enigma whose origins are difficulty to establish especially if it is noted that the linguistic arguments raised above seem to depend heavily on contemporary word meanings as if words have inherent and fixed meanings. Further, Amos seems to have been involved with some wisdom groups particularly if one considers his numerical combinations, ‘for three transgressions… and for four…’ (1:1ff). These combinations were common among wisdom groups as can be seen in Job 33:14, ‘for God speak in one way and in two…’ The actual identity, profession and place of origin of Amos remains shrouded in mystery as the sources for a reconstruction are not conclusive. Composition of the
The book of Amos has been divided into various categories, and the divisions are as follows: Superscription 1:1, as already noted above, the superscription is believed to be an editorial interpolation with a two-pronged purpose: first, it seeks to identify the author of the literary work, i.e., Amos. Problems have been noted in this regard because of the phrase ‘who was among the shepherds of Tekoa.’ The family line of Amos is not give, leading some scholars notably J.P Hyatt to argue that he was of a poor background hence the father and other forebears are not mentioned. The second was to date the era when the piece of literature was written, as already highlighted above. Oracles against foreign nations 1:3-2:5, the authenticity of these oracles is debatable, especially considering that Amos to be a prophet sent to prophesy to the people of Israel. Why Amos deviates from his commission has led some scholars to doubt these oracles. According to H. Wolff, the oracles against Tyre, Edom, and Judah are to be dismissed because they do not follow the pattern of the other oracles, i.e., they are not concluded by the saying ‘… says the Lord.’ However, most contemporary scholars seem to agree with J Barton who argues that these oracles should be taken as introductory to the punch-line, which is the oracle against Israel. In this case they acted as bait to Amos’ Israelite hearers. In this section a number of ANE states were indicted for committing various crimes against humanity and they served to pronounce judgment against these nations. Oracles against Israel 2:6-6:14, these oracles are generally divided into two categories, the first of these oracles are summons to hear Yahweh’s words 3:1-5:17. These consist of Amos’ diagnosis of the problems bedevilling Israel and the accusations of the rich classes of society who are seen as guilty of social injustice. The second group consist of the warnings and the new interpretation of traditions (5:18-6:14).According to J.M Roberts, these are non-woe oracles. Inthese oracles, there is a redefinition of popular traditions like the day of the Lord, election and also touches on corrupt worship and secure and idle riches. The visions 7:1-9:10 (visions of divine retribution),these are series of visions which are judgemental in as much as they illuminate the fate of Israel. Amos elucidates the plight of Israel in a series of four visions, that of the locusts 7:1, that of fire7:4, that of
the plumb line7:8, and finally that of the basket full of summer fruit 8:1. (When the iniquities have matured to such an extent that they were now ready for harvest). The epilogue 9:11-15, the epilogue is also strongly doubted to be authentic because of sudden hope that it posits. Further, it has been argued that it presupposes the fortunes of pre-exilic Israel (9:11) ‘Inthat day I will raise the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches’, it seems that this section was composed after the fall of the Davidic dynasty and it appears this was done after the time of Amos since the house of David remained in power in the south for almost two centuries after Amos; ‘I shall restore the fortunes of my people Israel…’ (9:14).these are some of the arguments raised in dismissing the authenticity of the epilogue section of the book of Amos, it has been note that the book might have been edited by some southerners who wanted to water down the tone of the book. The message of Amos
The message of Amos can best be understood in the light of the socio-economic and political conditions obtaining in Israel then. The message is directed to people living under conditions where social injustice has become an acceptable reality of society and among his audience were foreigners, merchants, judiciary, priests and also rulers. It is also important to note that the nature of the problems that Amos addresses makes him a prophet of all times, since the world over the problem of social injustice is as old as humanity itself. In this presentation, we shall look at the message to foreign nation on the one hand and the message to Israel on the other hand. The oracles against foreign nations (1:3-2:5): These oracles seem to give the impression that all four cardinal points of the campus were addressed hence giving the impression that Yahweh is a sovereign and universal God. The oracles are oracles of judgement, the judgement of Yahweh over all nations.It appears, according to Von Rad, the nations, which were indicated by Amos, had committed crimes against humanity. They had broken an unwritten International Code of Ethics, which in modern day designations would be understood as International Law. This could best be understood in the light of interventions by modern states where if it is considered in the best interests of a society’s people, foreign countries can intervene in the affair of a sovereign state and examples are many: whether justified or not,
the Zimbabwean case is a point that shows how some countries can act if a state is accused of acting against the interest of its people, Syria is another example so is Egypt where Hassan Mubarak was standing trial for crimes against humanity and was finally sentenced to life in prison. In some instances other countries are accused of violating a people’s rights by invading a sovereign state hence other states come to the rescue of the invaded state, such as the case in Sudan (north and south), Kenya, and the 1991 Gulf war, DRC where Zimbabwe and her allies come to the rescue of the DRC government. All these interventions are made possible because of some international statutes to which most countries are signatories. It is in this light that Amos indicated foreign nations, who had committed crimes against humanity. For Amos, therefore, all citizens have acceptable minimum standards by which their dignity can be measured; human beings should enjoy certain rights whether they are under their own governments in their own countries or they are under foreign powers. Damascus 1:3-5, Damascus is accused of wiping the entire population of Gilead in a war, yet it was considered unethical to do so in the event that two countries went to war. That was unwanted cruelty in time of war. A remnant must remain, and women and children were not supposed to be taken into war. Gaza 1:6-8 and Tyre 1:9-10, Gaza and Tyre were accused of taking a whole people into exile after they had won a war. In the ANE it is clear that the sates were somewhat made up of people of the same ethnic group hence the idea of taking all into exile was a threat to the ethnic group concerned hence it was a crime to order everyone into exile. Edom 1:11-12. It is unacceptable in most societies to turn against one’s own brother and that was the crime committed by the Edomites as they turned their swords against Israel. The Edomites were the descendent of Esau while Israel came from Jacob. Because of that animosity, Edom had committed a crime in the eyes of Yahweh. In the same vein, many African wars would be condemned under this piece of moral standard as we have witnessed many wars being waged among brothers. Consider here the civil wars. Much could be said about political violence in most African countries where even blood brother have turned against each other due to political differences, yet in Amos’ words no amount of differences can ever replace the strong bond of brotherhood. Consider here the 2008 political violence in Zimbabwe that witnessed a husband turning against his
wife, daughter turning against mother brother against brother. Ammon 1:13-15. Traditionally war was seen as a man’s game, hence women were overly protected and in some instances women were countered as part of the spoils of a war. There was also an ethical demand, which made pregnant women an exception, such that killing women in war was a crime but it was even worse to kill pregnant women and Ammon was guilty of ripping upon pregnant women of Gilead. It is this act of madness that leads to the indictment of Ammon. Worse still the crime was committed with the intention of enlarging their border. In other words such an act was a result of border disputes and within the Zimbabwean context such acts have occurred. And, several border disputes have been reordered in Africa with the bloodiest resulting in the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which claimed several thousands of lives. Of recent consider also the war between North Sudan and South Sudan. Moab 2:1-3. Moab was indicted because she failed to abide by the general ethical standard of according a King killed in combat decent burial. It was unethical to murder a King in a battle, worse still to deny him a decent burial. This has to be understood in the light of the general understandingthat kings were appointed by gods hence they were legates of their respective gods, and refusing a King a decent burial was tantamount to desecrating the god. Moab burned the King to ashes. Judah 2:4-5. When we consider the crime committed by Judah things take a different twist, because unlike other nations indicted on moral grounds, Judah has the Law of Yahweh and the crime is not to follow the Law. ‘…they have rejected the law of the Lord…’ Their crime is therefore much more serious because theycannothide behind the excuse of ignorance. For Judah it was like a nation that ratifies an international law and wilfully decides to violate such law, and in such circumstances there can be no excuse. Owing to the crimes committed by these nations, Yahweh the sovereign God was going to judge all the offenders and it is in this light that scholars argue that the numerical combinations being used by Amos were meant to show the gravity of the offences hence cannot be taken literally, like using the phrase, the umpteenth time. Amos does not see any hope for these nations hence he is sometimes called the prophet of doom. Yahweh, therefore, is seen as a God whose interest lie in defending the wronged and assuring that justice prevails in and among all nations. While the contemporary world is characterised by superpowers, whose
interest are self-serving, Yahweh is understood as a superpower, which is only interested in seeing justice prevail. Oracles against Israel
In Israel, Amos focuses on different social groups who are indicted on specific charges suggesting was indeed dealing with a society whose people had been completely corrupted by the system. Among the groups were the rich, the rulers, the merchants, the priests, and the judiciary (partisan judiciary system). Wealthy as a corruptive element
In 2:6-8, Amos lists the general unethical behaviour of most of the aforementioned groups, suggesting that if ever morality still existed in Israel, it was confined to a few people. In this text, he cites examples of the kind of life that was now common in Israel. They sell the righteous for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals, a man and his father go in to the same maiden, lay themselves down besides every altar upon garment taken in pledge, they drink the wine of those who have been finedin the house of the Lord. From Amos rendition of what was happening then it is clear that Israel no longer had any moral fabric upon which her people’s action could be judged. The love for economic power made Israelites heartless even to the extent of selling anything they could, including even the righteous and the poor. In this case Amos seem to accept that power corrupts and when one searches for power in a society one has to learn to be corrupt and to be heartless. The nature of the crimes and immoral activities are normally associated with those with wealth and power. In some instances these immoral are committed by the poor at the instigation of the rich suggesting the rich are more often behind all dirty power games and the rich people of Israel were certainly behind the abuse of power in Amos’ time. The Zimbabwean example does very well here. During the 2003 and 2008 food shortages, those who were in the forefront of selling commodities illegally were the poor in high density suburbs yet most of the commodities were supplied by those who had the muscle to grab them where they originated. It is also surprising that those who were selling cash then are still struggling to make ends meet, but they created an air of importance around themselves then, the reason being they were being used. Several problem cases on the African continent have been ascribed to the mechanisations of the world’s big boys,
with super powers being implicated in the DRC, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria as well as the old-age conflict between Israel and Palestine. It is clear therefore that economic power can be abused and in most cases those who abuse economic and political power are those who have gotten such powers by fraudulent means. In some cases the few who have amassed economic power become so ruthless in their attempt to sustain it hence the idea of manmade economic problems as those faced by Zimbabwe in 2003 and2008; even up to the present day. It is in this light that we can best understand the D-theology of curse and blessing as it seems more logical to argue that it was bankrolled by these economic moguls who sought to legitimise their riches. It is a theology that Amos seems to challenge on the basis that it was legitimising riches which had been gotten through unethical means and was developed to sway the attention of the people from the real causes of their poverty. For Amos the poor are ontheir position because the rich trample upon the poor and take from him exactions of wheat (5:11), in other words the poverty was induced by manmade factors rather than the religious standing of the poor. The women of the rich are also accused of fanning poverty by continuously demanding more from their husbands, who oppress and crash the poor (4:1), in their quest to provide for the insatiable appetites of their wives, hence the wives and their husbands are guilty of inducing poverty among the peasants. Because of their insatiable appetite, these women are now compared to cows of Bashan; Bashan known for the production of the best fodder for cattle. Such tendencies for exploiting the poor for individual gains are prevalent in the contemporary world of capitalism such that during the time of Amos we can detect a shift towards capitalism away from communalism, which had sustained the Israelites from her earliest history. Another aspect that Amos deals with can be summed up as the idea of excess riches. Here we are governed by the generally acceptable list of basic necessities of life, which are: food, shelter, and clothing. With these as the basics of life, Amos notes with concern that in Israel at that time, there were some among the population who could not afford a decent meal, shelter nor clothing yet some, though few, could afford to have everything in excess. It is important that we note that Amos does not dismiss riches but his main concern is that the playing field is not level for all to search for wealth, rather there was a deliberate policy side-line the poor and in some instances to
dispossess the poor of their resources especially land. (Uneven distribution of natural resources) As happened in Africa before most nations won their independence, the poor were forced out of their land so they could get a job in order to be able to pay their taxes, but in essence what that did was to condemn Africans to perpetual poverty. It is in this light that African governments need to carry out land reform exercises so as to address such colonial imbalances. It is morally acceptable to address such imbalances basing on the assertions of Amos, where a deliberate policy to empower the poor is seen as the solution to curtailing the poverty that bedevils most developing nations. For Amos the rich were adding field upon field, while the poor continued to lose their small fields to the rich. In a similar way, any redress of such a situation requires policies that make it morally reprehensible if not criminal to seek to acquire land that makes the majority peasants. The concept of multiple farm ownership has to be understood in this light and should not be encouraged as it seeks to replace personalities rather than the system. Other forms of excess riches that Amos addresses are; beds of ivory, idle songs (idolatry), drinking in bowls, anointing themselves with the finest oils (6:4-6), he also cites the idea of summer houses, winter houses and houses of ivory (3:15). All these are seen as signs of filthy riches, which according to Amos are gotten through illegal means hence should not be construed as blessings. In 5:21-23, it is clear that Israel was characterised festivals despite biting hunger among the majority. ‘…I despise your feasts…’ It is clear therefore that Amos’ prophecy was meant to address the practical problems that were affecting the people of Israel by proposing practical solutions as seen in what Amos thought to should be condemned. The use or abuse of religious ideologies in sustaining evil practices should be discouraged especially in Africa and of particular interest, in Zimbabwe, where according to P Gifford, the gospel of prosperity was established to draw the people’s attention away form the policies of the IMF and the World Bank, by emphasizing a theological concept that makes people blame themselves as being victims (as does Makandiwa and other pastors who preach the gospel of prosperity). Unethical market practices
It is agreed among scholars that Amos’ observation of two extremes: filthy
rich people on one hand and filthy poor on the other was a correct assessment of the situation on the ground. In most cases such dichotomies are sustained by a concerted and well calculated system that makes it impossible for the under-privileged to improve themselves regardless of their religious standing. It is in this light that Amos assumes the place of a business ethics consultant. The theological explanations which had been used to justify evil systems were now being challenged by a set of ethical standards from which one could judge those considered just people. The need for proper business ethics for Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole can never be understated considering that more often than not African peasants have been pawns in a world that seems to have perfected the art of economic cannibalism. During Amos’ time like in most contemporary African and indeed the universe, ethics have been substituted by the insatiable need to maximise profits, people wanting to reap so much from so little. Amos therefore prescribes a set of ethics that are practical in an attempt to bring back good old days. The ethics that Amos prescribed were not completely new but he sought to re-establish the ideal society that Israel had always wanted to be. Various unethical elements which are now endemic in Israel needed to be reversed and these include: bribery, profiteering, prostitution and indulgence. Bribery: Almost all the influential offices in Israel had become corrupt, accepting bribes and thereby disadvantaging those who could not pay those bribes without regard to the merits of one’s case or demerits thereof. Especially indicted on this charge was the judiciary which was accused of …turning justice into poison… righteousness into wormwood… (5:12). Amos accuses of the judges of not dispensing justice and showing an indifference attitude toward the plight of the poor since they could not bribe them. The judges were also accused of not conniving with the rich people to deny the poor justice. The message of Amos for them was simple, justice must be seen to be done hence he writes’…let justice role like waters, and righteousness like ever-flowing stream (5:24). Profiteering: The merchants and business people were making unreasonable profit margins; it seems the contemporary capitalism was rearing its head during this time. The merchants, especially, were dealing dishonestly and such dealing practices were seen as one of the reasons why the poor were becoming poorer the by day. In 8:5, Amos noted the traders were deliberately tampering with the
ephah making it small, and pricing it high hence maximising their profits, they were also dealing deceitfully with false scales and balances, while selling refuse wheat. These practices had become endemic in Israel that the merchants became economically powerful that the poor could not challenged them since they could afford to bribe the judges hence perverting justice in Israel. It is worrying to note how African merchants have perfected the art of profiteering in the contemporary economic system of capitalism as can be seen within events in Zimbabwe and other African nations. Consider the situation that was there in Zimbabwe in 2008 how the haves tampered with the buckets of maize, how a ten kilogram of mealy-meal was exchanged for a got and two ten kilograms were exchanged for a beast. Even now at the markets, it is clear that all the unethical practices cited by Amos seem to be the order as scales are defective, measuring buckets for grains are tampered with, and yet the prices continue to rise. What is even more worrying is the fact that the poor masses, who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet, are the ones funding these corrupt and unethical practices hence those making money keep making more while those with little keep losing more. A cursory survey of other sectors of the economy seem to suggest similar trends, an example being the financial sector where saving little money has become an expensive endeavour as little deposits attract less interest as compared to bank charges meaning if one deposit one million dollars with a bank and ignore the money for two years, that person is most likely to receive a letter that s/he owes the bank some money instead of that person getting some interest. Is it not time to make some aggressive implementation of strict business ethics, as advocated by Amos, to safeguard the poor and making the play field level? Further, if someone then borrowed from the bank, they are charged lending rates of more than 100% while deposit rates are pegged at an average of 10%. Can such a difference be justified other than calling it economic cannibalism? For Amos such practices are the major causes of poverty among many nations and the only way to alleviate poverty will involve reversing such practices. Immorality: The situation obtaining in 8th century Israel was a cause of concern to people who wished good for the human species. Immorality had become rife that even the despicable was now common and almost acceptable. The rise in immoral practise cannot be understood outside the conditions we have been noting, i.e. where people are
only concerned about reaping so much for so little resulting in many people becoming desperately poor. It is under such circumstances that human beings look at whatever they possess and make it an asset; A disturbing example being of that of ‘a father and a son going into a same maiden’ (2:7). It is considered morally unacceptable that a father and a son can share the same woman, among the Africans it is not allowed for father and son to marry in the same family. This suggests a nation that had become morally bankrupt such that wealth and poverty had now blinded both the rich and the poor hence the moral fabric had been broken. Also worrying in Israel was the prevalence of cultic prostitution which was spearheaded by the priest and ritual women. Such abominable acts were being done besides all the holy alters of Yahweh. (2:8). It is in this light that we can understand the majority of prostitution cases in the third world where the poor are being made sexual objects by the rich by the rich because they need to survive and they no longer have an assert to dispense for their survival hence they turn to the only thing left on them and make use of it to guarantee their survival. Who is to blame under such circumstances? Can such acts be solved without addressing the economic plight that makes the poor vulnerable and prone to becoming immoral? Is it enough to round up women of the night and throw them into cells where they should pay a fine to be released? Where do they get the money to pay the fine? It is clear that immorality is closely connected to the concentration of economic power in the hands of few people. Until such a time that economic cannibalism is addressed fully cases of immorality are here to stay. The African case is different from the Western case because Africans are believed to be highly moral yet at present Africans have turned out to be highly immoral. The African case is best understood in the light of Western influence, which has destroyed the African solidarity with an individualism that has little if anything towards establishing Africa as an equal partner to the West. Concept of the small houses can best be understood in this context because it started and remains dominated by the rich who can afford to run several families without feeling the financial constraints of such immoral acts. Hence even the so-called professional women who find themselves as small houses are on paper professionals but in essence they can hardly afford a decent life from their earnings. Religious formalism as the worst sin in Israel
Amos is of the opinion that all the problems we cited above are a result of the formalisation of religion. Religion which is believed to be something that one gets an attachment to has become a formal practice hence the outward association with it is now considered more important. Amos noted that religion in Israel had become empty and meaningless because there was no correspondence between what the people where doing outside the synagogue and what they claimed within the synagogue. Formal religion is pre-occupied with outward religious practices, those that can be seen by people such as rituals, tithing and pledges. Consistent attendance to prayer meetings is also one of such pre-occupations. There is ample evidence from the book of Amos that such things had become the order of the day in Israel ‘…I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… your burnt offerings, I will not accept them… take away from me the noise of your songs…’ (5:21-23). It is suggested here that the Israelites continued to observe the outward demands of Yahwism yet their lifestyle did not match what they believed. They were even tithing after every three days… and proclaiming freewill offerings… (4:4-5), which they then publicized to show the people how much they were paying suggesting that the poor might have felt completely useless in an assembly where the rich always got all the attention. Such a religion can only sustain economic cannibalism and more can be said about such practices in Africa where some religious organisations have developed ideologies that encourage economic cannibalism in order to safeguard the interest of their cash cows. Religion in Amos’ views is supposed to transform one’s life for the better of the community of believers, prophets like Amos’ call for social justice. In Africa, religion has to a greater extent been hijacked by the West so that it now works to sustain the policies of the West at the expense of the majority of Africans. As we discuss, according to Dr. L. Togarasei, there are some churches which are now exclusively playing fields of who-is-who in Harare’s business circles, where people pledge and tithe simply to show their economic muscle. Is such a religion contributing positively in the development of Africa? In Israel this economic cannibalism was sustained by the religious ideology of the Deuteronomists who gave the rich the impression that they were righteous since the Lord blessed people according to their righteous standing. Yet as Amos observed most of these
rich people were getting rich by hook or crook or both hence such a theology which sustained evil had to be discarded. In the same vain, I am tempted to agree with P Gifford that the gospel of prosperity, which has found its way into Africa, may be an attempt to justify and exonerate those spearheading economic cannibalism. In essence therefore, Amos is of the view that religion should be a social phenomenon, which should make society more compact, where people live honestly and acquire wealth by honest means. It should also transform the people’s lives such that people become more tolerant to each other irrespective of economic muscle. For as long as economic power is abused, religion loses its essence and conflict is the order of the day. Yet it is also very important to note how religion can easily be used to sustain unethical practices, which only benefit the few on the pretext that righteousness is difficult to attain hence only a few can be blessed. The following concepts were also reversed as they had been corrupted by the rich people in Israel: The Day of the Lord, it had a long history in the ANE but generally came to mean a day when the Lord would intervene on behalf of Israel against her enemies. It was a day when Israel was going to celebrate the demise of her adversaries but for Amos, it was going to be the opposite. Woe to you who desire the Day of the Lord… it is darkness, not light (5:18). The concept was reversed because the Israelites had made a mockery of Yahweh’s word hence to expect his day was like celebrating one’s own downfall. The day of the Lord was going to be disastrous for Israel because she had corrupted the concept of divine election, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (3:2). Divine election is therefore understood as entailing greater responsibility on Israel rather than privilege as was commonly believed by those who thought religion was an unconditional commitment by God. Hence, for Amos all other nations were considered to be in better state than Israel since others could appeal to ignorance. It is with the conviction that Israelites could not change their ways easily that Amos foresaw total destruction of the people because there was no eternal coherence among the people such that if a foreigner come to attack them some of them could even side with the with the invaders as can be observed with Iraq war of 2004 which has completely decimated Iraq as a unified state, since the people are divided owing to problems that were
perpetrated by Iraqis on fellow citizens hence those who were oppressed feel the alien will make a better devil. It is in the light of economic cannibalism that we can understand why even some Africans would compare an independence era with the colonial era. The personnel was changed but unfortunately the system was retained hence the problems continued.