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COMMENTARY ON THE TWELVE PROPHETS
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESSCopyright © 2008 THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS
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Chapter OneCOMMENTARY ON AMOS, CHAPTER ONE
The words of Amos, which came in Akkarim from Tekoa, which he saw on Jerusalem (v.1).
BE IS SAYING that these are the words of prophecy of Amos from Tekoa, which came in Akkarim. Now, it should be realized that the Hebrew has no knowledge at all of this reading, in Akkarim, saying only, "The words of Amos from Tekoa." For their part the other translators put "cattlemen" for in Akkarim. So he is saying that these are the words of Amos from Tekoa, which came at the time when there was still grazing, and in the actual sheep pens. The words on Jerusalem he says he did not so much hear as see; God made the events obvious to the holy prophets together with revelations as though they were actually taking place, the result being that the words even seemed visible in a way, the vision of the future perhaps being concurrent with what God said.
That item is worth questioning, however, of the possibility of anyone's believing the words came on Jerusalem only, despite God's accusing Judah and Israel in the statement of the same prophet. He said, remember, "Thus says the Lord: For three (369) transgressions of Judah and for four I shall not turn my back on them, because they have repudiated the Law of the Lord and have not observed his commandments. They have deceived themselves with the futile things they have done, which their fathers adopted. I shall send fire on Judah, and it will consume the foundations of Jerusalem." He went on, "Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions and for four I shall not turn away from him." He criticized the forms of sin and threatened dire punishment and stated that the message involved the most severe retribution for both. So how are the words to be understood as then directed at Jerusalem, despite God's saying, "I shall send fire on Judah, and it will consume the foundations of Jerusalem"? The form the explanation will take, therefore, come now, let us examine. We claim, then, that it is customary with the holy prophets at one time to refer without distinction to the two tribes in Jerusalem, Judah and Benjamin, as Israel, and at another to call the ten tribes in Samaria Israel, or Ephraim. Frequently, however, they make no such distinction: since they are all of the line of Israel, this is the name they give to the twelve tribes. If, on the other hand, they wanted to suggest to us perhaps the whole community of the Jews, we would find them no longer using the name Jerusalem to distinguish them.
The words of the prophecy of Amos, therefore, were delivered on the whole populace of the Jews, both in Jerusalem and in Samaria; but there is need to explain how it would be on them. (370) Accordingly the explanation is twofold: on the one hand, he first introduced the God of all outlining the sins of the community of the Jews, then forecasting what would happen to them, and, on the other hand, he proceeded to mention the kindly manifestations of his clemency and the fact that in due course there would be generous pardon of them and restoration to their original condition. Amos himself in turn said as much, in fact, on the part of God: "Except that I shall finally not remove the house of Jacob, says the Lord. Because, lo, I shall give the command, and I shall scatter the house of Israel among all the nations in the way grain is scattered with a winnowing fan, and no fragment will fall to the ground."
Of necessity, however, he also foretells the future redemption through Christ, and the fact that they would move to a restoration and enjoy the benevolence of a compassionate God. He spoke further in these terms: "On that day I shall raise up the tent of David that has fallen, rebuild its breaches, raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old." The words, therefore, are on Jerusalem. And in another sense they could be understood to be on it: Syria, the kings of Damascus, and not a few of the neighboring nations caused damage to the country of the Jews, different ones at different times invading and devastating it, driving the people hither and yon, committing crimes of implacable wrath to the point of reducing it to extreme hardship. The prophet therefore has introduced God threatening all these people with desolation, and said they would be called to account for their sacrilegious exploits. So (371) the words of Amos are on Jerusalem, or on the whole community of the Jews; we shall grasp this clearly as we traverse the times of the prophecy. It proceeds as follows, in fact.
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam king of Israel two years before the earthquake (v.1). I think someone will ask, however, what benefit it is to the readers to investigate in detail the dates of the reign of those just cited, namely, Uzziah and also Jeroboam. In response we claim that it is necessary, containing as it does, so to speak, the whole of the circumstances of the prophecy; he threatens destruction, invasions, and incineration to Syria, Damascus, and the barbarous neighbors of Judea, and the divine oracles have begun at that point. It is therefore necessary to learn the reasons for inserting the dates of the kingdom, what and how great were the achievements in each case, how they lived, and what was worth hearing in both cases. After deviating into apostasy, therefore, Israel and Judah were chastised in various ways; when the leaders of Damascus and Syria overran them and mounted a siege, they devastated the country; and when the Moabites and Idumeans, Girgashites and Elamites, and inhabitants of Ashdod and Ekron did damage to Samaria and as well the kingdom of Judah, venting unchecked anger and implacable hostility, they went to the extremes of rage like wild bulls.
We shall find them guilty of this in various ways, for (372) example, when Ahab reigned over Samaria and Israel. It is recorded this way in the first book of Kings: "Ben-hadad gathered all his forces, and went up and besieged Samaria; thirty-two kings were with him, along with horses and chariots. They went up and besieged Samaria and waged war on it." Consider, therefore, how the king of Damascus-namely, Hadad-enlisted as allies against Israel thirty-two other leaders of neighboring nations, and thus made war on the land. In the time of Jehoash king of Judah, Hazael the Syrian made war on Jerusalem. It is recorded likewise in the second book of Kings, "At that time Hazael king of Syria went up and made war on Gath, and took it. Hazael set his face to go up to Jerusalem. Jehoash king of Judah took all the holy things dedicated by Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah, his ancestors, kings of Judah, his holy things, and all the gold found in the treasuries of the house of the Lord and the house of the king, and sent it to Hazael king of Syria, and he withdrew from Syria." They did such things, in fact, in defiance of divine wrath, when Israel had offended as a result of their severe decline and baleful involvement in worship of the idols.
In being victorious, however, the foreigners undermined the glory of God; the wretches believed (373) that the hand aiding them had grown limp, and they presumed to infringe the glory of God. The Syrians, for instance, were weak, since Hadad was besieging Samaria, and they made it an occasion for slander, saying, "The God of Israel is a God of the mountains, not a God of the valleys," believing that the people of Israel were victorious because God was able to save them only on the mountains and on the hills. We were beaten, they said, therefore, because the God of Israel is a God of the mountains; but if we engaged them in battle on the level countryside, we would doubtless prevail over them, since the God of Israel is powerless in valleys. Now, these were the crimes of pagan persiflage, the vile babbling of people who have no knowledge of the one who is God in truth and by nature. The God who has power over all, therefore, was angry with the foreigners, and very rightly so, because in conquering Israel they made thanksgiving offerings to their own gods, and in their folly they thought they had prevailed also over its God.
With the passage of time, after the reign of Ahab and some others in the meantime, there emerged as king over Israel in Samaria a certain Jeroboam different from the first, the son of Nebat, but sharing with him his name, attitude, and impiety. In the years of his reign, however, the compassionate God then had mercy on Israel in its depths of adversity, and freed it from hardship by the hand of Jeroboam, despite his being wicked and unfaithful. He so worsted the foreigners, in fact, as to recover even cities snatched by them in the time of kings in the past, to subject them to his own (374) rule, and to bring numerous troubles on those who were formerly victorious. It is written of him in the second book of Kings, remember, "In the fifteenth year of King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash began his reign of forty-one years over Israel in Samaria. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. He it was, in fact, who established the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of Arabah, according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which he spoke through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, who was from Gath-hepher. Because the Lord saw the very bitter distress of Israel, with very few survivors remaining, and no one to help Israel. The Lord had not said he would blot out the offspring of Israel from under heaven; and he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash. The rest of the acts of Jeroboam and all that he did, his might, all his battles, and his recovery for Israel of Damascus and Hamath from Judah, lo, is it not all written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?" See, he clearly says that the people of Israel suffered tribulation, with no one to save them, and that the survivors were few, though saved through Jeroboam. He said "through" in the sense of "by"; he was not one to crush Israel, instead fighting for it as its protector, recovering Damascus, extending the borders of Israel, and performing many mighty deeds. (375) During Jeroboam's reign Azariah, or Uzziah, was anointed king of Judah in Jerusalem; he was no less troublesome to the nations, and was vigorously opposed to those ravaging Judea. While he was a pious and godly man, and prevailed over the foe with divine permission to conquer, he suffered from arrogance; of his own volition he attempted to perform priestly functions, even presuming to ascend the divine altar itself and offer incense. Immediately, however, God rebuked him: he was struck with leprosy, a dire and incurable disease, the purpose being for him to be expelled from Jerusalem by Law as one unclean, and to cease acting as a priest for God, since priestly functions were unlawfully undertaken by him, and cease defiling the divine Temple. The sacred text speaks this way of him in the second book of Kings: "In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah came to the throne. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as Amaziah his father had done. Yet the high places were not taken away, for the people kept sacrificing and offering incense on the high places. The Lord struck the king, and he was leprous to the day of his death." Now, while this is the account in Kings, in the second book of Chronicles (376) there occurs a more succinct version of it, as follows: "The people of the land took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king to succeed his father Amaziah. It was he who rebuilt Eloth and restored it to Judah after the king slept with his ancestors. Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem; his mother's name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He was a searcher after the Lord in the days of Zechariah, who was wise in the fear of the Lord; in his days he sought the Lord, and the Lord made him prosper. He went out and made war on the Philistines, and broke down the walls of Gath, the walls of Jabneh, and the walls of Ashdod; he built cities in Ashdod, and the Lord gave him strength among the Philistines, against the Philistines, against the Arabs dwelling on the rock, and against the Meunites. The Meunites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the entrance to Egypt, for he became very strong." Then it went on about him, "He offended against the Lord his God, entering the Temple of the Lord to make an offering on the altar of incense. The priest Azariah went in after him, and with him eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor. They withstood King Uzziah and said to him, It is not for you, Uzziah, (377) to make offerings to the Lord, but for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who are consecrated to make an offering. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful to the Lord; it will bring you no honor from the Lord God. Uzziah grew angry; in his hand was the censer to make an offering in the Temple. When he grew angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the sight of the priests in the house of the Lord by the altar of incense. The chief priest and the priests looked at him and, lo, he was leprous on his forehead; they hurried him out of there, and he himself hurried to get out, because the Lord had rebuked him." So much for Uzziah's becoming leprous, therefore. The fact of his being a mighty warrior, on the other hand, invading the country of the Philistines, and reaching such a degree of might as even to build cities in their midst, impose taxes, and subdue them to his regime despite their being conceited, the sacred text conveyed adequately. Since the prophetic verse introduced at the outset the devastation affecting the Philistines, therefore, it was necessary to mention the reign of both Uzziah and Jeroboam, for it was by them that they were conquered, as we began by saying. So we are aware that Damascus was put to the torch at the hand of the Assyrians, and the Philistines were also no less devastated. But since one happened before the other, we shall necessarily address what happened to the Philistines in the time of both Jeroboam and Uzziah, and no less to the actual leaders of the Assyrians. Since the prophet added the further detail two years before the earthquake, (378) we should make mention also of Uzziah's becoming leprous; when in defiance of Law he presumed to act as a priest, Jerusalem was hit by an earthquake, God clearly showing his wrath through this to the people of the time.
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