Saturday, September 04, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (31)

In the New Testament, fruit is used to symbolize the inevitable consequences of human choice. The outcome of any set of actions reflects favorably or unfavorably on the person who engages in them. As the Lord put it, “Each tree is known by its own fruit.” You do not find figs growing on thorn bushes or grapes among brambles.

The production of fruit is usually a positive thing, but fruit may be either good or bad. In Matthew’s gospel, the Lord tells his disciples false prophets may be recognized by the fruit they produce, which is diseased rather than healthy.

In Amos too, the image of fruit has to do with outcomes.

Amos 8:1-3 — The Fourth Vision

“This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me,

‘The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,’ declares the Lord God.

‘So many dead bodies! They are thrown everywhere!’

‘Silence!’ ”

Amos, What Do You See?

As in chapter 7, the Lord addresses Amos by name and asks him, “What do you see?” Jeremiah was asked the same question three times (1:11, 1:13 and 24:3) and Zechariah twice (4:2 and 5:2). This is Amos’s fourth vision (chapter 7 contained visions of locusts, judgment by fire and a plumb line), but it is only the second time God has asked him for a comment, possibly because the first two visions were of judgments from which God relented, and Amos had been so appalled by them that he could not restrain himself from intervening on Israel’s behalf.

To be addressed by name by God is a rare privilege. If Isaiah, Ezekiel and most of the “minor” prophets experienced it, they didn’t tell us. It is one thing to be compelled to speak on God’s behalf, but quite another to be taken into God’s counsels in a personal way. It reminds us that God’s prophets were not merely servants with a mission to his people, but also individuals with whom the Lord entered into complex ongoing relationships that deepened over time.

The End Has Come

There is a pun going on here in the underlying Hebrew. The word for “summer fruit” is qayiṣ, while the word for “end” is qēṣ. The pronunciation is similar. So the basket of fruit implies the consequences of Israel’s actions will be seen in the immediate future rather than in the long term. Ripe summer fruit doesn’t keep long. Israel’s sin had reached the point where it had to be dealt with. Judgment could wait no longer.

When God speaks of the end coming upon Israel, it is not the first time he has used the word. In Genesis 6 he says, “I have determined to make an end [qēṣ] of all flesh.” The connotation is similar here; the statement “I will never again pass by them” is repeated word for word from chapter 7, and indicates God is unwilling to overlook Israel’s offenses against him any longer. There will be no further delay.

God’s time is not the same as man’s, but this is an accurate statement by any reckoning. Amos’s prophecy dates to approximately 752 B.C. Samaria fell to the Assyrian army in 722 B.C., only thirty years later. Many who lived to see Israel go into exile were alive when Amos prophesied about it.

The Songs of the Temple

Much has been said in previous chapters in condemnation of the temple in Bethel, Jeroboam I’s sad imitation of God’s house in Jerusalem, its services and its priest. It seems obvious the same place is in view here in the phrase “the songs of the temple”. The word used is hêḵāl, which may also be translated “palace”. Some translators have done so in this instance, perhaps in order to distinguish the false sanctuary services of Israel from those of Judah, which were ordained by God, but since the same word is used of the temple in Jerusalem many times, there really is no need to make a distinction in English that does not exist in Hebrew. Singing may occur in king’s palaces from time to time, but it does not generally characterize them.

When we read it in context, it is impossible to imagine the reference is to the true temple in Jerusalem. Amos is simply continuing a theme we find in verses 9 and 13 of the previous chapter. The offensive noise of Israel’s mimicry of worship would be replaced by the wails of the temple’s mourners.


A number of translators view this single Hebrew word as an imperative. The ESV gives it an exclamation mark for this reason.

Now, a single Hebrew word often carries more complex shades of meaning than a single English word, so it is possible something more is intended, perhaps along the lines of The Berean Bible’s “Many will be the corpses, strewn in silence everywhere!” or the English Revised Version’s “the dead bodies shall be many; in every place shall they cast them forth with silence”. But if the word is indeed intended as a command, it is probably out of concern that the wails of mourning might attract unwanted attention.

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