Israel: One of the Nations

maps-bible-archeology-exodus-route-overviewAmos 1–2 belongs to the genre “Amos’s Oracles Against the Nations (Society for Old Testament Study Monographs).”[1] Something of this genre is found in every The Old Testament Prophetic Books: An Introduction except Hosea. These oracles invoke curse or punishment of Yahweh on those surrounding nations who have interacted oppressively or negatively with God’s people. What is noticeable here is the people of God (Israel and secondarily Judah) have been included[2] within the listing that traditionally names peoples deemed to be enemies of Yahweh. In the mind of Amos, Israel stands before Yahweh on the same level as other nations. Further, Israel is more deserving of punishment when it does injustice[3] (Amos 3,2).

Amos was the first person to transform the genre of Oracles against the Nations by turning it against Israel itself.[4] The genre castigated the nations for crime against God’s people and invoked punishment on them. God was meant to punish them as a token of salvation for Israel. But in Amos the nations are not punished for crimes against Israel or for the sake of Israel; rather because they have become guilty before Yahweh. Except for Judah (Amos 2,4-5), where specific torah transgressions are named; all the crimes are on the level of injustice and unrighteousness in human relations and against a weaker party. All through the ancient Near East of the time, the protection of this category of people was vested in the local deity. Amos, thus, depicts Yahweh as God of the defenceless everywhere – among the nations and even in Israel herself.

The issue of Amos was thus mispat usedaqah (justice and righteousness),[5] the equivalent of the modern term ‘social justice.’ Sedaqah is not conformity to any norm, nor is it even legal justice. It is rather the fulfilment of the demands of a relationship. The relationship is one of covenant, and then righteousness is fulfilled when the expectations of these are fulfilled. The behaviour of the Israelites against dependent fellow nationals upsets the basic righteousness that cements society together. The crime is made worse when compared with Yahweh‘s compassion on them and Yahweh’s intervention on their behalf in their time of helplessness (Amos 2,9-10). Israel is not free to organize its society as it likes,[6] for its history with Yahweh binds it to a fraternal covenant with the poor and the weak. Compassion in human relations is thus part of Israel’s identity. A socio-economic re-organisation without compassion is a denial of that identity and merits the radical no of Yahweh and calls for a corrective intervention by Him (Amos 8,2). It is significant that the expression “God of Israel” does not occur in the Book of Amos. God is, for Amos, not God of Israel, but God of righteousness. Hence, when Israel fails in righteousness it merits the same retribution as other nations.

[1] Cf. P. Trible, The Book of Jonah: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, NIB, Vol. VII, Abingdon Press, Nashville, (1996), 353.

[2] Cf. P. Trible, The Book of Jonah: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, NIB, Vol. VII, Abingdon Press, Nashville, (1996), 354.

[3] Cf. D. Stuart, Hosea – Jonah, WBC, Vol. 31, Word Books Publishers, Texas, (1987), 321-322.

[4] Cf. L. Legrand, Unity and Plurality: Mission in the Bible, (E. Tr. R. R. Barr), Ishvani Publication, Pune, (1992), 11.

[5] Cf. D. E. Gowan, The Book of Amos: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, NIB, Vol. VII, Abingdon Press, Nashville, (1996), 345-346.

[6] Cf. J. A. Soggin, The Prophet Amos: A Translation and Commentary, SCM Press, London, (1987), 51.

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