Christianity 201

November 16, 2012

Defining ‘Israel’ in Amos

A friend once explained to me the complications that can arise when reading prophecy can be simplified if envision the prophet seeing the events in the distance as what happens when you skip a stone across the water. The stone touches down in various places, and we can think in terms of each skip as representing a time in which the prophecy sees fulfillment.

For example, the words spoken by Joel — that your sons and daughters will prophesy and your old men dream dreams — finds fulfillment both in the book of Acts at Pentecost and also in the ‘last days’ in which we are now living.

Acts 2:15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

There are various references in prophetic literature that find apparent fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem but also in the apocalypse described in the New Testament’s final book.

Time doesn’t permit a full examination of this — though if you submit one, we’ll use it — because I wanted to focus instead on what happens when the prophetic writing includes the use of a proper noun, such as Israel. Is this referring to modern-day Israel, or Israel at the time of writing, or even spiritual Israel?

Luke Wisely delved into this at the blog Secondum Scripturas, which some of you will want to explore further.  Here’s the link to today’s reading which is also what follows; and a link to the first of the three chapters under consideration, Amos 7.

WHO IS ISRAEL?: A PERSPECTIVE FROM AMOS 7-9

Defining who “Israel” is can prove to be a difficult task because of the ambiguity of the term. In the book of the Twelve, “Israel” can refer to the restored covenantal people (Amos 9:7-10), the Northern Kingdom (Amos 5:1-3), Southern Kingdom (Mal 2:11), or an idealised future community of faith (Zech. 12:1-14:21).[1] The ambiguity does not just occur in different books of the Hebrew Bible, but even occurs within books.

In Amos 7-9 there are multiple ways to refer to Israel: Jacob, my people Israel, Isaac, House of Jeroboam, House of Israel, Booth of David. The remainder of this essay will describe how Amos 7-9 presents Israel and how this may impact the identity of God’s people.

Beginning in the first two visions (Amos 7:1-3, 4-6) the term “Jacob” is used in conjunction with “small” echoing Gen. 27:15, 42 connoting the historic people of Israel.[2] Thus, Amos’ first two visions are concerned with the longevity of the historic, covenant people of Israel.

Amos’ third vision (Amos 7:7-9) moves beyond historical Israel (7:8) and progresses to the present day divided nation with Yahweh’s claim that he will rise against the house of Jeroboam–the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:9).

In verses 10-17, the narrative of Amaziah and Amos shows the issue of the Northern Kingdom and the question of Israel. In this narrative, Amaziah distinguishes between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and makes the claim that the north is the rightful heir of the land and designates Amos, a “seer of Judah”only.[3] Amos’ reply is that his prophetic authority rests beyond the north and south and rests with all of Israel: “my people Israel (7:15).”[4]

After the vision that both the north and the south fill face judgment (8:1-3), Amos 9:11-15 asserts the restoration for all of Israel–the Booth of David. 9:7-8 deconstructs the idea of assuredness resting in election as Amaziah did. Anyone claiming to embody all of “Israel” as God’s people based on election and covenant will be subject to judgment[5] and will die by the sword (9:10). “Israel” as the restored people of God as presented in chapter 9 will be those who renew their vocation as God’s people.[6]

Amos presents “Israel” in its past, present, and future.   Thus, in Amos, “Israel” is presented in transition to identify with their past, their present split nation, and hope in a restored community of faith.[7] The description of “Israel” as found in Amos 7-9 may prove to describe that although “Israel” may represent a people’s historic roots through to a split kingdom, “Israel” as the eschatological people of God, will only be those who renew their calling as the people of God.

 


[1]          Heath A. Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,” in Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, ed. Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., (Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012).: 365.

[2]          J. Gordon McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,” in Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, ed. Brad E. and Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore, Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies 446 (New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006).: 139-143.

[3]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 145-146.

[4]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 147.

[5]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[6]          McConville, “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel,”: 151.

[7]          Thomas, “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address,”: 365-366. Thomas applies this to the presentation of “Israel” in the Twelve. It also addresses “Israel” within Amos 7-9.

 

Bibliography

McConville, J. Gordon. “How Can Jacob Stand? He is So Small!” (Amos 7:2): The Prophetic Word and the Re-Imagining of Israel.” In Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes, edited by Brad E. and Moore Kelle, Megan Bishop, 132-151. New York / London: T&T Clark, 2006.

Thomas, Heath A. “Hearing the Minor Prophets: The Book of the Twelve and God’s Address.” In Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address, edited by Craig G. and Beldman Bartholomew, David J.H., 356-379. Grand Rapids / Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012.

 

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