Content Essay: Amos 1–2
Updated: Jul 5
Amos, a sheep breeder from Judah, is plucked away to travel north to Israel and address the idolatry and social injustice committed by eight nations. Jorg Jeremias writes, “No other prophetic book in the Bible begins, as does the book of Amos, with oracles of judgment against foreign nations.” According to Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, Amos was “not a professional prophet” and after accomplishing his God-appointed task, Amos returned to sheep breeding and tending sycamore fruit. The purpose of this essay is to address similarities and differences of eight oracles against the nations surrounding and including Israel, and those relationships in the broad scheme in the book of Amos and to the indictment of Israel. “YHWH is the God of all the world and not particularly the God of Israel.”
There are some similarities or repetitions between the six oracles against the nations, as well as the 7th oracle against Judah, and the 8th oracle against Israel. Unlike the 7th and 8th oracles, none of the six oracles against the nations are for “sins” committed or acts of rebellion against Moses. However, the Noahic mandate, recorded in Genesis 9:6, prohibits murder, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” One of the similarities in this mandate, according to Robert Chisholm, is that “Each of the nations indicted in Amos 1-2 had violated this mandate, at least in principle, by committing atrocities in conjunction with their imperialistic wars against their neighbors.” All of the nations in question will be judged for crimes against humanity, such as physical violence and oppression against other people. Another striking similarity is the absence of any request for repentance. Chisholm writes, “The Lord skipped over the formal announcement of divine intervention and moved right to a description of the effects of judgment.”
One of the differences or points of distinction between the oracles against the nations and the oracle against Israel, according to Jorg Jeremias, “is that the Israel-strophe with its formal variations should be understood in every respect as a heightening of the preceding strophes.” Another point of distinction is the ordering of pairs in a rather artistic fashion. For example, the first two oracle pairs, Damascus, and Gaza share a common “cut off the inhabitant” and “the one who holds the scepter” in Amos 1:5 and verse 8. The next pair, Tyre, and Edom, share “I will send a fire” and “which will devour” in Amos 1:10 and verse 12. The third pair, Ammon and Moab, share a plethora of formal features which include fire (1:14a; 2:2a), shouting (1:14b; 2:2b), and the inclusion of officials (king, 1:15a; judge, 2:3a). Jeremias summarizes, “It is certain that the oracles against the nations are ordered in literary pairs and this should be interpreted from the perspective of these pairs.”
The function of the oracles of Amos 1–2 in the broad scheme of the book begins with the summary oracle, Amos 1:2, “the Lord roars from Zion, And utters His voice from Jerusalem; The pastures of the shepherds mourn, And the top of Carmel withers.” According to Daniel Carroll, “This second verse is linked grammatically with 1:1 by means of the waw-consecutive (lit. “and he said”) . . . Few scholars take this initial declaration as the introduction to the Oracles against the Nations (OAN)” Carroll explains, “Most importantly, 1:2 brings special attention to God . . . He is the primary actor in the oracles and visions; the hymnic passages [throughout Amos] highlight God’s power, and the visions reveal his demanding relationship with Israel.” The function of the oracles in Amos 1–2 presents the God who is the Creator of human beings in His image throughout the book of Amos. There is no other God, and He does not tolerate idolatry or social injustice, further evidenced in the divine judgment, chapters 3-6, and the divine retribution, chapters 7-9. John Barton writes, “In the oracles against the nations, YHWH is famously concerned even with the relations between non-Israelite nations (Amos 2:1) . . . YHWH is the God of all the world and not specifically the God of Israel (9:7) . . . he has a means of acting within world history that implies a kind of all-pervasive presence and concern.”
Israel is ultimately the primary addressee of Amos, although this is not readily apparent. Initially, the oracles were against the nations surrounding Israel. Judah, as the seventh nation mentioned, seemed to have completed the list. The oracles culminate to form an indictment against Israel. Chisholm writes, “Rather than being the beneficiary of the Lord’s judgment on the surrounding nations, Israel would be the focal point of the Lord’s anger.” This is made apparent in Amos 3:2 and exceedingly apparent in Amos 8:2b, “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.”
Amos never refers to Yahweh as Israel’s God but makes it apparent that God is God of all. Israel rejected its calling, has joined the other nations in idolatry and social injustice, and Amos, as a prophet with purpose, addresses not individuals but nations. The overriding theme in the oracles of Amos 1–2 is that God is sovereign, and disobedience, especially that of Israel, will be judged.
Barton, John. The Theology of the Book of Amos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Carroll, M. Daniel R. The Book of Amos. Chicago, IL: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2020.
Chisholm, Robert B. Handbook On The Prophets. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2018.
Hadjiev, Tchavdar S. Joel and Amos: An Introduction and Commentary. Westmont, NJ: Intervarsity Press, 2020.
Jorg, Jeremias. The Book of Amos: A Commentary. Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing, 1998.
 Jorg Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing, 1998), 40.  Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, Joel and Amos: An Introduction and Commentary (Wesmont, NJ: Intervarsity Press, 2020), 91.  Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets I (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2021), 236.  Unless otherwise noted, all biblical references are in the New King James Version (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016).  Robert B. Chisholm, Handbook On The Prophets (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), 381.  Chisholm, Handbook, 386.  Jorg Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing, 1998), 20.  Ibid., 25.  M. Daniel R. Carroll, The Book of Amos (Chicago, IL: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2020), 125.  Idib., 127.  John Barton, The Theology of the Book of Amos (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 184.  Chisholm, Handbook, 378.