Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Amos 5

The narrative lectionary, year 4, includes:  Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24.  In this post I focus on Amos 5.

I find the Hebrew beautiful in this section.  Is presents three couplets of rejection, each with a different image and sense (God will not smell, look or hear the people).  Yet it leaves me curious as to how to translate the imagery of vs 24.  Are the waters of justice a raging river or simply waters?  Is the stream of righteousness a torrent, gorging flood or a cool stream to refresh all life?  Of course, its both.  While this particular passage (and the balance of the book) speak of God's alien work of judgment, it also promises God's redemption (see the last few verses of the book!)

Key words:
 דרש ("seek" (darash); Amos 5:4, 5, 6, 14)):  This word only appears once in this week's narrative lectionary snippet.  But it is a reminder that at its heart, prophets are always calling for repentance more than announcing judgment.

סבאות ("army"/"hosts" (sabboth); Amos 5:14, 15, 16, 27)  I always thought this was Lord of the Sabbath as a kid.  I had no idea this meant Yahwah of the Army.  What to do with this term?  Two interesting things about this term.  First, it is found in its full fury in Amos 3:13, where God is announcing his militaristic judgment against the nation.  Yet, 4:13 also makes it clear that this word doesn't simply mean military might, but also his providence in creation.

"For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth -- the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!" (NRSV)

In fact, the word in Greek (LXX) is not "army" or "military" but παντοκρατωρ, which means, almighty or literally "all holding."  The power of God's hand is not simply to kill but to make alive.  I think that ultimately a comparison of 4:13 and 3:13 reveals that even in this military image of God, even in this book of judgment, we find the two hands of God at work:
  The alien work - to destroy
  The proper hand - to make life
Restoring creation requires both

Sense words in vs 21-24:
ריח (Smell-21; Technically it means to open wide, as in the nostrils open wide)
-I will not smell your religious assemblies
נבת (Look-22);
-I will not look at your peace offerings
-I will not hear the music of your stringed instruments

Most translations  cover this up, but is a beautiful, crescendoing three pronged couplet of images.  (In Hebrew, rhymes are not based on sound, but on meaning; each vs 21, 22 and 23 is therefore a rhyme).

מימ ("waters" (mayim), 5:24)  The only thing modifying water is "of justice."  In short, there are waters of justice.  But what kind of waters? 
 ("wadi; torrent" (nahal); 5:24).  While TWOT indicates:  "This noun usually refers to a dry river bed or ravine which in the rainy season becomes a raging torrent, and/or the resulting torrent," there are many examples in the Bible where it simply means a stream.  Most importantly for us, Elijah (the narrative lectionary star last week), drank water from a Nahal; it nourished him.

I think within this particular context of Amos, a more violent translation makes sense, but I think one cannot deny the canonical understanding of what kind of waters God pictures of justice and righteousness.  I think finally the flood will give way to waters of life around the tree of life, the cross.

Technical note:  The verb in 23 switches to the singular second person (you instead of all of you).  The NET Bible notes this might mean that the prophet is attacking one individual.  I think a better understanding is simply that as the prophet levels the accusations, it becomes clear that ultimately, all the nation is guilty as one.

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