Amos 9: Shaking Things Up

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Amos 9 begins with Amos’s fifth vision, in which he sees God standing beside the altar. Which altar is not specified, but the the implies that Amos had a specific altar in mind (accepting the limitations of finding linguistic clues in a translation, obviously). Given the focus of Amos’s prophecies, it seems reasonable that he means Bethel.

There, God issues a command: Smash the capitals (the uppermost part of a column – these are load-bearing structures) until the thresholds shake; shatter them on the heads of the people. If anyone survives, God will clean them up with the sword. No one will escape.

The fact that God is standing by his own altar is significant – Amos has been clear that God’s beef is with Israel’s crappy social justice record, and that it is for this reason that they will be destroyed (we saw this just recently, in Amos 8:5-6).

When we talk about the religion of God as Amos saw it, passages like Amos 5:21-24 make it clear that he wasn’t talking about showing up to church at the correct times and diligently paying tithes. For Amos, social justice is a core feature of the religion, and any version that does not include it (or views it as some nice but optional extra) is loathed by God.

Amos driven from Israel, by Doré

Amos driven from Israel, by Doré

According to Amos’s God, the people deserve to be destroyed because they have marginalized the role of social justice in their faith. It is their religion that condemns them, and so it is their temple collapsing down upon their heads that will kill them.

We can also tie this back to the idea that God will no longer speak to the people, as expressed in Amos 8:11-12. The altar will be destroyed because the people have lost the privilege of access to it.

The image also lends an immediacy to the vision. When Amos’s audience hear his words, they know the capitals he’s talking about, they know what they look like, they can visualize them falling. It contextualizes and personalizes the vision, so that the destruction is not merely something that will happen, but something that will happen right here.

The last thing I wanted to touch on with this verse is that God is speaking a command: “Smite the capitals” (Amos 9:1), he says. Who is this command being issued to? Is it Amos himself? Is the point that Amos will destroy the people (psychologically? or condemn them because now they have no “they know not what they do” excuse?) by revealing the Truth of his visions to them?

Is the command issued to the Israelites? Is it even a command, or merely a rhetorical way of describing what the people are already doing to themselves?

In the RSV, the word “command” appears a number of other times in Amos, such as when God commands “the sword” (Amos 9:4) to slay the Israelites (he does not command the wielders of the swords, but the concept of swords – or violence – more generally). So perhaps God is commanding the capitals themselves to shake.

And with that, I think we can conclude our discussion of the first verse.

Next, God explains that there can be no escape for Israel:

  • Though they dig into Sheol, God will pull them up. Sheol being the place of the dead (as we saw in places like Gen. 37:35), typically imagined under the ground. I interpreted this to mean that the people will find no rest in death.
  • Though they climb to heaven, God will knock them down.
  • Though they hide themselves on the top of Mount Carmel (apparently a sacred site, and seems to have been associated with the prophet Elijah, as in 1 Kgs 18), God will find and take them.
  • Though they “hide from my sight” (Amos 9:3) at the bottom of the sea, God will command the serpent to bite them. On the kind of serpent meant, my study Bible refers me to the Leviathan in Job 41.
  • Though they go into captivity, God will still command the sword to slay them.

God has set his eyes on them with evil intent.

Jim Linville sees a progression as we move through these five visions, and the way in which Amos seems to fade as a presence: “The mediating role of the locusts and fire, and the ensnaring ambiguity of the אנך and the fruit basket are replaced with the direct order that the temple is to be destroyed” (“Visions and Voices”, Biblical Studies on the Web, vol.80, p.39).

Doxologies

My study Bible refers to Amos 9:5-6 as the “third doxology” – a doxology being a liturgical formula of praise to a deity. The other two are Amos 4:13 and Amos 5:8-9.

In it, God is described as the one who touches the earth and causes it to melt. This is a cause for mourning, but we also seem to have some hint of hope. As in Amos 8:8, we are told that the land, under God’s touch, rises and sinks like the Nile. As I noted in my post about Amos 8, the rising and sinking is a reference to the annual flooding of the Nile, and may be meant to evoke “the symbolic expectation of subsequent renewal, as the Nile’s flooding brings silt that makes the river’s watershed fertile.” This will be especially relevant soon.

God is described as having built his upper chambers in the heavens, and his vaults on the earth. Typically, the upper chambers are where the family lives in two-story architecture, since they have the benefit of being both the coolest in hot climates (being aired out more easily, being more removed from the dust of the street, etc) and warmest in cold climates (benefiting from the body heat rising from any cattle kept below). Essentially, this makes the whole (known) universe into God’s personal home.

As in Amos 5:8-9, God is described almost as a nature deity. Here, he is the one who calls waters up from the sea and pours them down over the earth.

Moral Superiority

In much of our readings, there has been a sense that the Israelite people are special – chosen and nurtured and guided by God, entitled (through their specialness, if not their worthiness) to his unique focus. In Amos 9:7-10, however, Amos sets the record straight.

God begins by asking, “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me?” (Amos 9:7). I’m not sure Ethiopians are important here, except that they are an example of a fairly distant group of people. We have a very similar conception here in North America, and “Are people in Africa not at least as important to me as you?” would work just effectively for us today.

God admits that he did bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but then adds that he did the same for the Philistines (out of Caphtor) and Syrians (out of Kir). On this passage, Collins writes:

The significance of the exodus was that it marked Israel as a special people YHWH. Amos does not deny that God brought Israel out of Egypt, but he radically questions its significance. It was the same God who brought the Philistines from Caphtor (Crete) and the Arameans from Kir (location unknown, but cf. Amos 1:5; 2 Kgs 16:9). For Amos, YHWH is the God of all peoples and responsible for everything that happens, good and bad. The movements of the Arameans and Philistines were just as providential as those of the Israelites. In the eyes of God, Israel is no different than the Ethiopians. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.158)

Regarding Caphtor, Claude Mariottini describes it as “a possible reference to Crete.” In the same post, he writes: “The origin of the Philistines is debated. Egyptian records include them as one of the groups of people known as the Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples invaded Egypt during the reign of Ramses III. Archaeologists believe that the Sea Peoples originated in the Aegean area.”

As for Kir, it is elsewhere associated not with the place the Syrians are from, but as the place to which they are exiled (Amos 1:5 and 2 Kgs 16:9).

God tells the speaker to “behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom” (Amos 9:8). The sudden switch to the third person when he has, up until this point, been speaking directly to the audience, is rather jarring. But I suspect that “Lord God” is being used in a way similar to the royal “we” – emphasizing importance (though with very different implications), and perhaps even using “Lord God” as if it were a title. He then switches back into the first person to say that “I” will destroy that sinful kingdom, but not completely.

What is meant by this is illustrated in the next passage. When God shakes up Israel (echoing the shaking of the capitals in Amos 9:1), he will do so “as one shakes with a sieve” (Amos 9:9) – in other words, to sift out impurities. In this case, the impurities are pebbles, and none of them will pass through.

In addition to the idea of culling, the image also invokes a scattering. Instead of having a single clump of – say – ground wheat, the individual particles will be separated from each other, and scattered “among all the nations.”

And now for something completely different

After all of that, Amos 9:11-15 sounds downright hopeful. Instead of focusing on all the destruction, we are suddenly given a vision of restoration, and even of comfort!

So it’s not surprising that many argue against the authenticity of this section. And there certainly are aspects of this section that seem difficult to interpret in a way that would allow for authenticity. The easiest example is the reference to the return of a Davidic dynasty – a dynasty that had not, in Amos’s time, fallen.

As I was reading through my notes in preparation for this chapter, it seemed like a fairly obvious conclusion. Now, though, I’m not so sure. The greatest argument against authenticity is that hope seems to be absent throughout the rest of Amos, so this sudden twist is out of character. But as I’ve already pointed out, there are two instances where the destruction of Israel is compared to the flooding of the Nile (Amos 8:8 and Amos 9:5) – a predictable flooding that recedes, leaving behind silt that makes the Nile watershed renowned for its fertility. So without looking any further, we already have two instances in which Amos’s vision of Israel’s destruction promises an After (and, perhaps just as importantly, an After that is particularly fertile).

That doesn’t mean that the section isn’t a later addition, but I’m not seeing it as nearly so obvious as many commentaries make it seem.

Amos has frequently referred to a day, a day in which judgement and destruction will come. But that day is two-sided. In that day, God will also raise up the “booth” (Amos 9:11) of David that had fallen. He will repair its branches and rebuild it as in the old days.

This is, obviously, the most difficult verse to explain away if we want to argue for the section’s authenticity. I’m not sure it’s impossible, though. While the dynasty of David was still in power at this time (and wouldn’t fall for a fair while), it was not ruling over Israel. In that sense, it had indeed fallen from its old status, and controlled a much smaller portion of the Israelite population. Perhaps the point isn’t that it would be restored from nothing, but that it would be rebuilt from what was left.

I was intrigued by the reference to a “booth” of David, while all our other readings have called it the “house” of David. A booth part of a nomadic tent structure. It feels meaningful that David is associated with tents (which evokes imagery of nomadic life) while God talks about destroying the capitals (which are part of settled architecture).

It evokes an image of raising all that has been built and starting over from scratching, coming in to Israel in booths as in the time of the exodus.

In addition to being rebuilt, Israel will come to possess what is left of Edom, as well as all the nations “who are called by my name” (Amos 9:12).

In these coming days, says God:

  • The plowman will overtake the reaper;
  • The trader of grapes will overtake the one who sows the seed;
  • The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with it.

These promised blessings may be a reference to Lev. 26:5: “And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the time of sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.”

God will restore Israel’s fortunes, and the Israelites will rebuilt their ruined cities. They will be replanted in the land (as the banks of the Nile must be replanted after every flood), and they will never again be plucked up.

And with that, we come to the end of Amos.

2 Chronicles 21: Falling Bowels

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After Jehoshaphat’s death, his son Jehoram takes over. To avoid confusion between the kings of Judah and Israel, both named Jehoram, Kings refers to the northern monarch as Joram.

Jehoshaphat also had some other sons, who are named for poignancy: Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariah, Michael, and Shephatiah. Jehoshaphat made sure that they were all well-provided for with riches and cities to control, but Jehoram got the crown for being the eldest.

This seems to have been a poor time to select an heir through primogeniture, because Jehoram is pretty awful. So awful, in fact, that he murders all of his brothers “and also some of the princes of Israel” (2 Chron. 21:4 – likely referring to the leaders of Judah, rather than the royal offspring of the northern kingdom) as soon as his power is established enough to get away with it.

This mass murder, which seems like it would be rather memorable, escapes mention in Kings. We did, however, see Solomon doing similar things in 1 Kgs 2, which the Chronicler forgot to mention.

Jehoram also undid the work of his predecessors, building high places around the hill country and leading the people into false faith. This was, it seems, because he was married to Ahab’s daughter. Though not exactly explicit, it’s implied that this marriage corrupted him, like some kind of religious contagion.

Enemies At The Gates

Jehoram’s brutal ways failed to buy him peace. During his tenure, Edom seceded, declaring their own king. The writing is a little unclear, but it seems that Jehoram was surrounded, possibly in a fortified town under siege by the Edomites. He seems to have waited until nightfall, then made a sortie, likely hoping to catch the Edomites unprepared.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

In the 2 Kgs 8:20-22 version, the attempt fails when his army flees, and because of this he was unable to bring the Edomites back under heel and they remained free “to this day.” Here, however, he succeeds in defeating the Edomites, and yet we get the same sentence about them remaining free “to this day” (2 Chron. 21:10). The change makes the story nonsensical, and it’s hard to imagine why the Chronicler would have wanted to give Jehoram the victory anyway, especially when his last addition is have Jehoram murder all of his brothers.

Libnah also revolted, which is mentioned in 2 Kgs 8:22, but the Chronicler adds an explanation: It’s because Jehoram had abandoned God.

For good measure, God raised the Philistines and Arabians against Judah. They loot the country, taking Jehoram’s stuff, his sons, and his wives, leaving him only his youngest son, Jehoahaz. I couldn’t help but note the order in which this list is presented: Stuff, sons, and wives.

In English, the usual convention is to list items in order of descending importance, rather insultingly making Jehoram’s stuff as the most important item taken from him. Another possibility is that the list saves the best for last, building up to the most important item, Jehoram’s wives. It seems odd, given the value placed on sons and how infrequently wives are mentioned, let alone named. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it just struck me as odd to bury Jehoram’s sons in the middle.

This pillaging and murder/kidnapping also escapes mention in Kings. Again, you’d think the elimination of most of the royal family would be a memorable event.

The Punishment

The Chronicler can’t let anyone’s sins pass without comment, so Elijah writes a nasty letter to Jehoram, giving him the usual godly message (though seeming to condemn Jehoram’s multiple fratricide only in afterthought). Incidentally, John J. Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that the “reference to a letter is anachronistic. The use of letters only becomes common in Israel after the Babylonian exile” (p.233).

As punishment, God will bring a plague on Judah. This plague is rather special, as it will affect Judah’s people, its children and wives (mentioned as separate categories from people, which I choose to overlook as a possible translation issue), as well as its possessions. Even Jehoram himself will contract it, his bowels becoming diseased “until your bowels come out” (2 Chron. 21:15).

The inclusion of Elijah here seems unlikely. Commentaries all seem to agree that he would almost certainly have already ascended by this point (since, in 2 Kgs 3, we see Elisha prophesying during Jehoshaphat’s reign, and he would have been unlikely to be active on his own until after Elijah had left the scene).

This gives us a new perspective on the mention of Jehu son of Hanani in 2 Chron. 19:2. While I found ways to explain that anachronistic inclusion, seeing it happen a second time makes it all rather suspicious. It seems likely that the Chronicler is pulling in names of known prophets into whose mouths he can place his own condemnations.

In any case, the plague Elijah predicted never makes an appearance, but we do see God attack Jehoram’s bowels. Though never mentioned in Kings, the Chronicler tells us that Jehoram’s bowels finally came out after two years, killing him in agony.

On that horrifying note…

We learn that Jehoram “departed with no one’s regret” (2 Chron. 21:20), and his people didn’t even bother to light a fire in his honour. When they buried him, they didn’t put him in the tomb of the kings.

Jehoram was 32 years old when he became king, and he ruled for 8 years. He was pretty awful, but God spared his destiny for David’s sake.

2 Chronicles 11-12: The Life and Times of Rehoboam

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In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam split the nation of Israel in two, and Rehoboam rushed immediately to Jerusalem to assemble his armies and try to subdue the seceding northern kingdom. n 2 Chron. 10:18, however, Rehoboam first fled from Jerusalem, and only then did he return to muster soldiers from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

From then on, 2 Chron. 11:1-4 largely matches the account found in 1 Kgs 12:21-24. In both cases, he manages to gather 180,000 warriors, but is stopped when God, speaking through the prophet Shemaiah, commands him to turn back rather than fight against his own brethren.

The Chronicler does change one detail. While Shemaiah addresses “King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people” in 1 Kgs 12:23, the address is to “King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin” in 2 Chron. 11:3. We see that the Chronicler refuses to allow the name of Israel to belong exclusively to the northern kingdom, instead emphasizing that it is the southern kingdom that remains the true kingdom, the true Israel.

The Bubastite Portal at Karnak, depicting a list of city states conquered by Shoshenq I

The Bubastite Portal at Karnak, depicting a list of city states conquered by Shoshenq I

Though this passages implies that the two kingdoms were able to amicably split, or at least to split without bloodshed, this doesn’t seem to have been the case. We have to wait until 2 Chron. 12:15 to hear of it, but it seems that there was near-constant conflict between the two kingdoms.

Of his reign, we learn that Rehoboam built up Judah’s defenses, particularly in the cities of Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Bethzur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron. He also made sure that the fortresses were strong and well supplied (likely in event of a siege). We are told that this allowed him to keep hold of Judah and Benjamin, even if he wasn’t able to retake Israel.

Complicating matters a little, the New Bible Commentary notes that all the cities mentioned are in the south, and proposes that the Chronicler was mistaken – that the fortifications were not defenses against northern Israel, but rather either in anticipation of Shishak’s invasion (which we will discuss shortly) or rebuilding after it (p.386). The details of Rehoboam’s fortifications are absent in Kings, so it could be that the Chronicler was using a different source and simply guessed at Rehoboam’s motivations.

The Chronicler isn’t particularly interested in the goings on of the northern kingdom, but we do learn of Jeroboam’s idolatry. It seems that he cast out all the priests and Levites from his territory, so they and other faithful came as refugees to Rehoboam (enough refugees to strengthen Judah and secure Rehoboam’s hold over the remnant of his country for three years). Meanwhile, Jeroboam appointed priests of his own (which we see him doing in 1 Kgs 12:31 and 1 Kgs 13:33) to tend to the high places and idols.

Of the idols, we earn that there were calves and satyrs (or goats, or goat-demons, depending on the translation).We already knew of Jeroboam’s calves, of course, from 1 Kgs 12:25-33, but the satyrs are new. James Bradford Pate notes that “there is no evidence in Syro-Palestine that Israelites worshiped deities who had the form of animals”. Rather, the calves were seen as seats on which god might sit, not worshiped as gods themselves. So how do the goats fit in? Pate proposes that Jeroboam may have been introducing a new faith of an Egyptian flavour, having spent some time there. But I can’t help but wonder if it might be a reference to the same folk religion that gave us the scapegoat ritual from Leviticus 16:8.

Family Life

Of his family life, we learn that Rehoboam married Mahalath, who was the daughter of Jerimoth, who was the son of David and Abihail. This Abihail was the daughter of Eliab, who was the son of Jesse. Confused? That’s understandable, because we’re getting into “I’m my own grandpa” territory. Using 1 Chron. 2:13-16, I made this to illustrate:

Rehoboam's Genealogy

With Mahalath, Rehoboam had three sons: Jeush, Shemariah, and Zaham.

Rehoboam also married Maacah, daughter of Absalom (so, another cousin). 2 Sam. 14:27 says that Absalom had only one daughter, named Tamar, though it’s possible that Tamara was the only one that the author of Samuel felt was worth mentioning (due to her name being significant). In any case, they had the following sons” Abijah, Attai, Ziza, and Shelomith.

Of all his wives and concubines (of which he had 18 and 60, respectively), Rehoboam loved Maacah the most.

Altogether, Rehoboam had 28 sons and 60 daughters. Likely due to his affection for Maacah, he placed her eldest son Abijah, as his chief prince and heir. We’ve seen this circumventing of primogeniture for the sake of a favoured wife before. On example is with Bathsheba, and the conspiracy between herself and Nathan to have Solomon crowned, versus Abiathar in the pro-Adonijah faction.

We are told that Rehoboam dealt wisely, and that he distributed his sons through all the districts of Judah and Benjamin, and provided them with wives. The idea could have been to give them each a little power, keep them content, so that they don’t rise up like David’s sons. Or perhaps the idea was to maintain his hold on what little nation was left to him by making local rulers of his own dynasty.

A Stumble

Returning to Kings as a source material (specifically, 1 Kgs 14:21-31), we learn that, once Rehoboam felt like his rule was firmly established, he forsook God, and “all Israel with him” (2 Chron. 12:1). It doesn’t seem that he left the YHWH cult so much as that he wasn’t seen to be paying as much attention to it as he should, having grown complacent.

The mention of “all Israel” here is interesting. It could be that the Chronicler is using the term, as above, to underline that Judah and Benjamin are the true Israel. I think that’s much more likely than the idea that Rehoboam had managed to maintain so much influence in the northern kingdom.

In any case, the description of Rehoboam’s indiscretion lacks much of the detail from 1 Kgs 14:22-24.

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, King Shishak of Egypt (almost certainly the pharaoh Shoshenq I) invaded Judah. He came with 1,200 chariots, 60,000 horsemen, and countless others. He swept through Rehoboam’s fortified cities, and made it as far as the walls of Jerusalem.

Judah’s leadership fled to the city. While they are gathered, God addresses them through the prophet Shemaiah, saying that this has all happened because they have strayed from God. The princes humble themselves and, as a result, God decides not to obliterate them. Instead, he will merely make them serve Shishak (likely as vassals), “that they may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (2 Chron. 12:8). I think the idea is that they found the worship of God too onerous to bother with, so he will show them the alternative.

Shishak plundered Jerusalem, taking the Temple and palace treasures back to Egypt. Specifically, he took Solomon’s golden shields, which Rehoboam had to replace with shields of bronze. Rehoboam gave these ersatz shields to his officers of the guard, and had them bear the shields whenever they accompanied him to the Temple.

I’m not sure why the shields are mentioned, out of all the treasures that must have been take, but I quite like the Artscroll’s explanation, as given by James Bradford Pate: That Rehoboam’s sin had been not to take God’s worship seriously enough. So now he has this visual reminder of his failing every time he goes to the Temple to keep him in line.

Conclusion

With the end of 2 Chron. 12, we learn that Rehoboam was 41 years old at his coronation, and that he ruled for 17 years. Throughout that time, he was in conflict with Jeroboam.

His mother’s ame was Naamah the Ammonite, and he was succeeded by his son, Abijah. For more information, the Chronicler directs us to the Chronicles of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer.