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The Remnant of Israel | Amos 3:10-12

The book of the prophet Amos addresses a crisis, but it is not entirely clear which crisis it addresses. Towards the end of the eighth century BCE, during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, the crisis took the form of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s westward expansion into the Levant. This is the historical context in which the prophecy of Amos is set, but there are a number of problems assuming this Assyrian crisis to be the crisis addressed by the book. Amos presupposes, for example, the destruction of Samaria and the exile of Israel, and the oracle against Judah (Amos 2:4–5) — if indeed it is a later insertion — undermines this assumption. The presupposition of the fall of Samaria and the possible Judah insertion point to a later crisis — the Babylonian crisis of the late sixth century.

The Words of Amos | Amos 1:1

Amos, we are told, was ‘among the shepherds of Tekoa.’ Tekoa is a village 14 kilometres almost due south of Jerusalem in the Judean highlands, and the area would have been associated with oviculture in the eighth century BCE. It is entirely plausible then that Amos is intended to be read as a simple shepherd called by Yahweh to a prophetic mission in the northern kingdom. The content of his prophecy, however, is simply too sophisticated for this to be reasonable. Unless it can be established that Tekoa was a centre for sheep-rearing and dealing — which it may have been, then Amos as a נֹקֵדּ (‘shepherd’ or ‘sheep trader’) in a community of shepherds or sheep traders is as likely to signify some type of prophetic guild. The ‘shepherds of Tekoa’ reads very much like the designation of an organised society or guild in and around the village of Tekoa, and we know that such guilds did exist.

Yahweh Roars from Zion | Amos 1:2

What we have in Amos 1:2 is not a simple statement of divine authority; that these judgements come from Yahweh, but an ideological statement of Judah and Jerusalem that they come from the correct Yahweh — the Yahweh of Jerusalem. We can thus imagine that it was somewhere in this clash of Yahwistic symbols that the germ was planted of the aniconic Yahweh of later Judaism. Where both Samaria and Jerusalem — and many other Yahwistic temples in Israel and Judah — had visual representations of their god, this conflict between the bull-Yahweh of Samaria and the lion-Yahweh of Judah ultimately assisted in the process which ended with the complete prohibition of graven images of Yahweh or any other god (Deuteronomy 5:8–9).