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3. The Prophet and his Ministry.

Amos vii., viii. 1-4.

We have seen the preparation of the Man for the Word; we have sought to trace to its source the Word which came to the Man. It now remains for us to follow the Prophet, Man and Word combined, upon his Ministry to the people.

For reasons given in a previous chapter,186186   Chap. V., p. 71. there must107 always be some doubt as to the actual course of the ministry of Amos before his appearance at Bethel. Most authorities, however, agree that the visions recounted in the beginning of the seventh chapter form the substance of his address at Bethel, which was interrupted by the priest Amaziah. These visions furnish a probable summary of the prophet's experience up to that point. While they follow the same course, which we trace in the two series of oracles that now precede them in the book, the ideas in them are less elaborate. At the same time it is evident that Amos must have already spoken upon other points than those which he puts into the first three visions. For instance, Amaziah reports to the king that Amos had explicitly predicted the exile of the whole people187187   vii. 11.—a conviction which, as we have seen, the prophet reached only after some length of experience. It is equally certain that Amos must have already exposed the sins of the people in the light of the Divine righteousness. Some of the sections of the book which deal with this subject appear to have been originally spoken; and it is unnatural to suppose that the prophet announced the chastisements of God without having previously justified these to the consciences of men.

If this view be correct, Amos, having preached for some time to Israel concerning the evil state of society, appeared at a great religious festival in Bethel, determined to bring matters to a crisis, and to announce the doom which his preaching threatened and the people's continued impenitence made inevitable. Mark his choice of place and of audience. It was no mere king he aimed at. Nathan had dealt with David,108 Gad with Solomon, Elijah with Ahab and Jezebel. But Amos sought the people, them with whom resided the real forces and responsibilities of life: the wealth, the social fashions, the treatment of the poor, the spirit of worship, the ideals of religion.188188   On the ministry of eighth-century prophets to the people see the author's Isaiah, I., p. 119. And Amos sought the people upon what was not only a great popular occasion, but one on which was arrayed, in all pomp and lavishness, the very system he essayed to overthrow. The religion of his time—religion as mere ritual and sacrifice—was what God had sent him to beat down, and he faced it at its headquarters, and upon one of its high days, in the royal and popular sanctuary where it enjoyed at once the patronage of the crown, the lavish gifts of the rich and the thronged devotion of the multitude. As Savonarola at the Duomo in Florence, as Luther at the Diet of Worms, as our Lord Himself at the feast in Jerusalem, so was Amos at the feast in Bethel. Perhaps he was still more lonely. He speaks nowhere of having made a disciple, and in the sea of faces which turned on him when he spoke, it is probable that he could not welcome a single ally. They were officials, or interested traders, or devotees; he was a foreigner and a wild man, with a word that spared the popular dogma as little as the royal prerogative. Well for him was it that over all those serried ranks of authority, those fanatic crowds, that lavish splendour, another vision commanded his eyes. I saw the Lord standing over the altar, and He said, Smite.

Amos told the pilgrims at Bethel that the first events of his time in which he felt a purpose of God in109 harmony with his convictions about Israel's need of punishment were certain calamities of a physical kind. Of these, which in chapter iv. he describes as successively drought, blasting, locusts, pestilence and earthquake, he selected at Bethel only two—locusts and drought—and he began with the locusts. It may have been either the same visitation as he specifies in chapter iv., or a previous one; for of all the plagues of Palestine locusts have been the most frequent, occurring every six or seven years. Thus the Lord Jehovah caused me to see: and, behold, a brood189189   So LXX., followed by Hitzig and Wellhausen, by reading יֵצֶר for יֹוצֵר. of locusts at the beginning of the coming up of the spring crops. In the Syrian year there are practically two tides of verdure: one which starts after the early rains of October and continues through the winter, checked by the cold; and one which comes away with greater force under the influence of the latter rains and more genial airs of spring.190190   Cf. Hist. Geography of the Holy Land, pp. 64 ff. The word translated spring crop above is לקש, and from the same root as the name of the latter rain, מַלְקֹושׁ, which falls in the end of March or beginning of April. Cf. Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins, IV. 83; VIII. 62. Of these it was the later and richer which the locusts had attacked. And, behold, it was after the king's mowings. These seem to have been a tribute which the kings of Israel levied on the spring herbage, and which the Roman governors of Syria used annually to impose in the month Nisan.191191   Cf. 1 Kings xviii. 5 with 1 Sam. vii. 15, 17; 1 Kings iv. 7 ff. See Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 228. After the king's mowings would be a phrase to mark the time when everybody else might turn to reap their green110 stuff. It was thus the very crisis of the year when the locusts appeared; the April crops devoured, there was no hope of further fodder till December. Still, the calamity had happened before, and had been survived; a nation so vigorous and wealthy as Israel was under Jeroboam II. need not have been frightened to death. But Amos felt it with a conscience. To him it was the beginning of that destruction of his people which the spirit within him knew that their sin had earned. So it came to pass, when the locusts had made an end of devouring the verdure of the earth, that I said, Remit, I pray Thee, or pardon—a proof that there already weighed on the prophet's spirit something more awful than loss of grass—how shall Jacob rise again? for he is little.192192   LXX.: Who shall raise up Jacob again? The prayer was heard. Jehovah repented for this: It shall not be, said Jehovah. The unnameable it must be the same as in the frequent phrase of the first chapter: I will not turn It back—namely, the final execution of doom on the people's sin. The reserve with which this is mentioned, both while there is still chance for the people to repent and after it has become irrevocable, is very impressive.

The next example which Amos gave at Bethel of his permitted insight into God's purpose was a great drought. Thus the Lord Jehovah made me to see: and, behold, the Lord Jehovah was calling fire into the quarrel.193193   So Professor A. B. Davidson. But the grammar might equally well afford the rendering one calling that the Lord will punish with the fire, the ל of לריב marking the introduction of indirect speech (cf. Ewald, § 338a). But Hitzig for קרא reads קרה (Deut. xxv. 18), to occur, happen. So similarly Wellhausen, es nahte sich zu strafen mit Feuer der Herr Jahve. All these renderings yield practically the same meaning. There was, then, already a quarrel between Jehovah111 and His people—another sign that the prophet's moral conviction of Israel's sin preceded the rise of the events in which he recognised its punishment. And the fire devoured the Great Deep, yea, it was about to devour the land.194194   A. B. Davidson, Syntax, § 57, Rem. 1. Severe drought in Palestine might well be described as fire, even when it was not accompanied by the flame and smoke of those forest and prairie fires which Joel describes as its consequences.195195   i. 19 f. But to have the full fear of such a drought, we should need to feel beneath us the curious world which the men of those days felt. To them the earth rested in a great deep, from whose stores all her springs and fountains burst. When these failed it meant that the unfathomed floods below were burnt up. But how fierce the flame that could effect this! And how certainly able to devour next the solid land which rested above the deep—the very Portion196196   Cf. Micah ii. 3. חֵלֶק is the word used, and according to the motive given above stands well for the climax of the fire's destructive work. This meets the objection of Wellhausen, who proposes to omit חֵלֶק, because the heat does not dry up first the great deep and then the fields (Ackerflur). This is to mistake the obvious point of the sentence. The drought was so great that, after the fountains were exhausted, it seemed as if the solid framework of the land, described with very apt pathos as the Portion, would be the next to disappear. Some take הלק as divided, therefore cultivated, ground. assigned by God to His people. Again Amos interceded: Lord Jehovah, I pray Thee forbear: how shall Jacob rise? for he is little. And for the second time Jacob was reprieved. Jehovah repented for this: It also shall not come to pass, said the Lord Jehovah.

We have treated these visions, not as the imagination or prospect of possible disasters,197197   So for instance, Von Orelli. but as insight into the meaning of actual plagues. Such a treatment is112 justified, not only by the invariable habit of Amos to deal with real facts, but also by the occurrence of these same plagues among the series by which, as we are told, God had already sought to move the people to repentance.198198   Chap. iv. The general question of sympathy between such purely physical disasters and the moral evil of a people we may postpone to another chapter, confining ourselves here to the part played in the events by the prophet himself.

Surely there is something wonderful in the attitude of this shepherd to the fires and plagues that Nature sweeps upon his land. He is ready for them. And he is ready not only by the general feeling of his time that such things happen of the wrath of God. His sovereign and predictive conscience recognises them as her ministers. They are sent to punish a people whom she has already condemned. Yet, unlike Elijah, Amos does not summon the drought, nor even welcome its arrival. How far has prophecy travelled since the violent Tishbite! With all his conscience of Israel's sin, Amos yet prays that their doom may be turned. We have here some evidence of the struggle through which these later prophets passed, before they accepted their awful messages to men. Even Amos, desert-bred and living aloof from Israel, shrank from the judgment which it was his call to publish. For two moments—they would appear to be the only two in his ministry—his heart contended with his conscience, and twice he entreated God to forgive. At Bethel he told the people all this, in order to show how unwillingly he took up his duty against them, and how inevitable he found that duty to be. But still more shall we learn from his tale, if we feel in his words about the smallness of113 Jacob, not pity only, but sympathy. We shall learn that prophets are never made solely by the bare word of God, but that even the most objective and judicial of them has to earn his title to proclaim judgment by suffering with men the agony of the judgment he proclaims. Never to a people came there a true prophet who had not first prayed for them. To have entreated for men, to have represented them in the highest courts of Being, is to have deserved also supreme judicial rights upon them. And thus it is that our Judge at the Last Day shall be none other than our great Advocate who continually maketh intercession for us. It is prayer, let us repeat, which, while it gives us all power with God, endows us at the same time with moral rights over men. Upon his mission of judgment we shall follow Amos with the greater sympathy that he thus comes forth to it from the mercy-seat and the ministry of intercession.

The first two visions which Amos told at Bethel were of disasters in the sphere of nature, but his third lay in the sphere of politics. The two former were, in their completeness at least, averted; and the language Amos used of them seems to imply that he had not even then faced the possibility of a final overthrow. He took for granted Jacob was to rise again: he only feared as to how this should be. But the third vision is so final that the prophet does not even try to intercede. Israel is measured, found wanting and doomed. Assyria is not named, but is obviously intended; and the fact that the prophet arrives at certainty with regard to the doom of Israel, just when he thus comes within sight of Assyria, is instructive as to the influence exerted on prophecy by the rise of that empire.199199   See Chap. IV., p. 51.

114

Thus He gave me to see: and, behold, the Lord had taken His station—'tis a more solemn word than the stood of our versions—upon a city wall built to the plummet,200200   Literally of the plummet, an obscure expression. It cannot mean plumb-straight, for the wall is condemned. and in His hand a plummet. And Jehovah said unto me, What art thou seeing, Amos? The question surely betrays some astonishment shown by the prophet at the vision or some difficulty he felt in making it out. He evidently does not feel it at once, as the natural result of his own thinking: it is objective and strange to him; he needs time to see into it. And I said, A plummet. And the Lord said, Behold, I am setting a plummet in the midst of My people Israel. I will not again pass them over. To set a measuring line or a line with weights attached to any building means to devote it to destruction;201201   2 Kings xxi. 13: I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the plummet or weight (מִשְׁקֹלֶת) of the house of Ahab. Isa. xxxiv. 11: He shall stretch over it the cord of confusion, and the weights (literally stones) of emptiness. but here it is uncertain whether the plummet threatens destruction, or means that Jehovah will at last clearly prove to the prophet the insufferable obliquity of the fabric of the nation's life, originally set straight by Himself—originally a wall of a plummet. For God's judgments are never arbitrary: by a standard we men can read He shows us their necessity. Conscience itself is no mere voice of authority: it is a convincing plummet, and plainly lets us see why we should be punished. But whichever interpretation we choose, the result is the same. The high places of Israel shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Isaac laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. A declaration of war! Israel is to be115 invaded, her dynasty overthrown. Every one who heard the prophet would know, though he named them not, that the Assyrians were meant.

It was apparently at this point that Amos was interrupted by Amaziah. The priest, who was conscious of no spiritual power with which to oppose the prophet, gladly grasped the opportunity afforded him by the mention of the king, and fell back on the invariable resource of a barren and envious sacerdotalism: He speaketh against Cæsar.202202   John xix. 12. There follows one of the great scenes of history—the scene which, however fast the ages and the languages, the ideals and the deities may change, repeats itself with the same two actors. Priest and Man face each other—Priest with King behind, Man with God—and wage that debate in which the whole warfare and progress of religion consist. But the story is only typical by being real. Many subtle traits of human nature prove that we have here an exact narrative of fact. Take Amaziah's report to Jeroboam. He gives to the words of the prophet just that exaggeration and innuendo which betray the wily courtier, who knows how to accentuate a general denunciation till it feels like a personal attack. And yet, like every Caiaphas of his tribe, the priest in his exaggerations expresses a deeper meaning than he is conscious of. Amos—note how the mere mention of the name without description proves that the prophet was already known in Israel, perhaps was one on whom the authorities had long kept their eye—Amos hath conspired against thee—yet God was his only fellow-conspirator!—in the midst of the house of Israel—this royal temple at Bethel. The land is not able to hold his words—it116 must burst; yes, but in another sense than thou meanest, O Caiaphas-Amaziah! For thus hath Amos said, By the sword shall Jeroboam die—Amos had spoken only of the dynasty, but the twist which Amaziah lends to the words is calculated—and Israel going shall go into captivity from off his own land. This was the one unvarnished spot in the report.

Having fortified himself, as little men will do, by his duty to the powers that be, Amaziah dares to turn upon the prophet; and he does so, it is amusing to observe, with that tone of intellectual and moral superiority which it is extraordinary to see some men derive from a merely official station or touch with royalty. Visionary,203203   The word seer is here used in a contemptuous sense, and has therefore to be translated by some such word as visionary. begone! Get thee off to the land of Judah; and earn204204   Literally eat. thy bread there, and there play the prophet. But at Bethel—mark the rising accent of the voice—thou shalt not again prophesy. The King's Sanctuary it is, and the House of the Kingdom.205205   בֵּית מַמְלָכָה—that is, a central or capital sanctuary. Cf. הַמַּמְלָכָה עִיר (1 Sam. xxvii. 5), city of the kingdom, i.e. chief or capital town. With the official mind this is more conclusive than that it is the House of God! In fact the speech of Amaziah justifies the hardest terms which Amos uses of the religion of his day. In all this priest says there is no trace of the spiritual—only fear, pride and privilege. Divine truth is challenged by human law, and the Word of God silenced in the name of the king.

We have here a conception of religion, which is not merely due to the unspiritual character of the priest who utters it, but has its roots in the far back origins of Israel's religion. The Pagan Semite identified absolutely117 State and Church; and on that identification was based the religious practice of early Israel. It had many healthy results: it kept religion in touch with public life; order, justice, patriotism, self-sacrifice for the common weal, were devoutly held to be matters of religion. So long, therefore, as the system was inspired by truly spiritual ideals, nothing for those times could be better. But we see in it an almost inevitable tendency to harden to the sheerest officialism. That it was more apt to do so in Israel than in Judah, is intelligible from the political origin of the Northern Schism, and the erection of the national sanctuaries from motives of mere statecraft.206206   1 Kings xii. 26, 27. Erastianism could hardly be more flagrant or more ludicrous in its opposition to true religion than at Bethel. And yet how often have the ludicrousness and the flagrancy been repeated, with far less temptation! Ever since Christianity became a state religion, she that needed least to use the weapons of this world has done so again and again in a thoroughly Pagan fashion. The attempts of Churches by law established, to stamp out by law all religious dissent; or where such attempts were no longer possible, the charges now of fanaticism and now of sordidness and religious shopkeeping, which have been so frequently made against dissent by little men who fancied their state connection, or their higher social position, to mean an intellectual and moral superiority; the absurd claims which many a minister of religion makes upon the homes and the souls of a parish, by virtue not of his calling in Christ, but of his position as official priest of the parish,—all these are the sins of Amaziah, priest of Bethel. But they are not118 confined to an established Church. The Amaziahs of dissent are also very many. Wherever the official masters the spiritual; wherever mere dogma or tradition is made the standard of preaching; wherever new doctrine is silenced, or programmes of reform condemned, as of late years in Free Churches they have sometimes been, not by spiritual argument, but by the ipse dixit of the dogmatist, or by ecclesiastical rule or expediency,—there you have the same spirit. The dissenter who checks the Word of God in the name of some denominational law or dogma is as Erastian as the churchman who would crush it, like Amaziah, by invoking the state. These things in all the Churches are the beggarly rudiments of Paganism; and religious reform is achieved, as it was that day at Bethel, by the abjuring of officialism.

But Amos answered and said unto Amaziah, No prophet I, nor prophet's son. But a herdsman207207   Prophet and prophet's son are equivalent terms, the latter meaning one of the professional guilds of prophets. There is no need to change herdsman, בוקר, as Wellhausen does, into נוקד, shepherd, the word used in i. 1. I, and a dresser of sycomores; and Jehovah took me from behind the flock, and Jehovah said unto me, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.

On such words we do not comment; we give them homage. The answer of this shepherd to this priest is no mere claim of personal disinterestedness. It is the protest of a new order of prophecy,208208   Cf. Wellhausen, Hist., Eng. Ed., § 6: "Amos was the founder and the purest type of a new order of prophecy." the charter of a spiritual religion. As we have seen, the sons of the prophets were guilds of men who had taken to prophesying because of certain gifts of temper and natural disposition, and they earned their bread by the119 exercise of these. Among such abstract craftsmen Amos will not be reckoned. He is a prophet, but not of the kind with which his generation was familiar. An ordinary member of society, he has been suddenly called by Jehovah from his civil occupation for a special purpose and by a call which has not necessarily to do with either gifts or a profession. This was something new, not only in itself, but in its consequences upon the general relations of God to men. What we see in this dialogue at Bethel is, therefore, not merely the triumph of a character, however heroic, but rather a step forward—and that one of the greatest and most indispensable—in the history of religion.

There follows a denunciation of the man who sought to silence this fresh voice of God. Now therefore hearken to the word of Jehovah thou that sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, nor let drop thy words against the house of Israel; therefore thus saith Jehovah.... Thou hast presumed to say; Hear what God will say. Thou hast dared to set thine office and system against His word and purpose. See how they must be swept away. In defiance of its own rules the grammar flings forward to the beginnings of its clauses, each detail of the priest's estate along with the scene of its desecration. Thy wife in the city—shall play the harlot; and thy sons and thy daughters by the sword—shall fall; and thy land by the measuring rope—shall be divided; and thou in an unclean land—shalt die. Do not let us blame the prophet for a coarse cruelty in the first of these details. He did not invent it. With all the rest it formed an ordinary consequence of defeat in the warfare of the times—an inevitable item of that general overthrow which, with bitter emphasis, the prophet describes in Amaziah's own120 words: Israel going shall go into captivity from off his own land.

There is added a vision in line with the three which preceded the priest's interruption. We are therefore justified in supposing that Amos spoke it also on this occasion, and in taking it as the close of his address at Bethel. Then the Lord Jehovah gave me to see: and, behold, a basket of Ḳaits, that is, summer fruit. And He said, What art thou seeing, Amos? And I said, A basket of Ḳaits. And Jehovah said unto me, The Ḳets—the End—has come upon My people Israel. I will not again pass them over. This does not carry the prospect beyond the third vision, but it stamps its finality, and there is therefore added a vivid realisation of the result. By four disjointed lamentations, howls the prophet calls them, we are made to feel the last shocks of the final collapse, and in the utter end an awful silence. And the songs of the temple shall be changed into howls in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah. Multitude of corpses! In every place! He hath cast out! Hush!

These then were probably the last words which Amos spoke to Israel. If so, they form a curious echo of what was enforced upon himself, and he may have meant them as such. He was cast out; he was silenced. They might almost be the verbal repetition of the priest's orders. In any case the silence is appropriate. But Amaziah little knew what power he had given to prophecy the day he forbade it to speak. The gagged prophet began to write; and those accents which, humanly speaking, might have died out with the songs of the temple of Bethel were clothed upon with the immortality of literature. Amos silenced wrote a book—first of prophets to do so—and this is the book we have now to study.


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