The questions asked in Amos 3:3-6 appear to be ones of obviousness, like the expression: “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

But right off the bat, the first question tripped me up: “Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment?” (Amos 3:3). After scratching my head for a bit, I took this to mean that two people don’t walk together unless they are going to the same place. After looking through some commentaries, it seems that it might mean that two people don’t walk together unless they’ve already met each other. It seems probable that the phrase was a common proverb, perhaps luring the audience in with its obviousness (something like our “birds of a feather flock together”).

Jim Linville raises the possibility that the two who walk together are meant to allegorically represent God and Israel, referring to language like that found in Lev. 26:12: “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” There may be a hint to this much closer by, as God tells us in Amos 3:2 that: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (“Amos Among The ‘Dead Prophets Society’: Re-Reading The Lion’s Roar”, p.68. Published in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, vol. 25 no. 90, p.55-77). In other words, God and Israel walk together, and therefore they must know one another. Perhaps this is why God takes it so hard when Israel silences its prophets in Amos 2:12; if God can no longer speak to Israel, then Israel can no longer know God, and therefore they can no longer walk together.

Linville also links this to Amos 4:12, in which “a different verb is employed,” but “Israel, at the moment of its punishment, is told to prepare to meet their god” (“Dead Prophets Society”, p.69).

The Roaring Lion

The section contains two questions that involve lions: “Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing?” (Amos 3:4). In both questions, a lion is making noise because it has caught prey – dark imagery in a book that opens with “the Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). The lion has roared, and Israel is its prey. It’s telling that Amos reinforces the connection just a few verses later: “The lion has roared; who will not fear?” (Amos 3:8).

Linville explains it thusly:

There is also a trap in Amos 3,3-8. The reader (along with the implied audience) is asked a number of rhetorical questions which are easy to answer, although there is a growing morbidity to the different scenarios. In V. 8, the reader must agree that the roaring lion causes one to fear. But then the trap is revealed. The lion’s roar becomes a metaphor for divine speech and fear turns into prophecy.” (“Visions and Voices”, p.25).

This is followed by more questions of traps and snares, then asks: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?” (Amos 3:6). The trumpet, of course, would be the alarm, sounded if an enemy approaches. And yet the lion has already roared, the prey is already taken. The city watch has fallen asleep on the job, and they’ve failed to sound the alarm in time for it to serve as a proper warning (“Dead Prophets Society”, p.70).

In the same paragraph, Linville points back to Amos 2:2, where the Moabites are slaughtered to the sound of their trumpets. The city watch is no match for the wrath of God.

Linville points out another possible connection:

It is not, in my view, coincidental that in v. 6, the citizens ‘tremble’ at the sound of the shofar in the face of an unknown threat, but in v. 8, one is asked who will not ‘fear’ the divine lion. ‘Tremble’ has been replaced with a term which often has connotations of ‘to revere’. Verse 8 draws a distinction between those who, on the one hand, understand enough to fear a lion but perhaps still scoff at Amos and, on the other, those who revere the divine lion and are led to prophesy.” (“Dead Prophets Society”, p.73)

The Structure

The seven questions of Amos 3:3-6 are followed by the statement: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). The number seems significant, as it may have been in the oracles against the nations in Amos 1-2. As Linville points out: “as is well known in Amos scholarship, numbers of completion, like seven, are sometimes the bait” (“Dead Prophets Society”, p.71). This would make the statement into the snapping of a trap.

When I wrote about the oracles of the nations, I concluded by wondering if the central theme of Amos is the voice of God. If we interpret these rhetorical questions in that light, then the questions serve to underline and add exclamation marks to the statement: God reveals his acts through the prophets, God’s voice is present. This provides a context for the withdrawal punishment to come, as well as to imply Amos’s credibility in making such a prediction.