Summary: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 30, 2001 Year C Amos 6 : 1a, 4-7 Title: “Danger of prosperity being placed before God.”
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 30, 2001 Year C
Amos 6 : 1a, 4-7
Title: “Danger of prosperity being placed before God.”
Amos is prophesying in the northern kingdom, whose capital is Samaria, shortly before its fall to the Assyrians. Many Israelites, certainly the prominent ones, will be exiled. Although this doom looms on the horizon, the prominent people of the land fail to see it. Their focus is on enjoying the present prosperity. Amos preaches pretty much to deaf ears as well as blind eyes. He warns them that their behavior has consequences; their neglect and exploitation of the poor will be the cause of their downfall and that of the nation.
In verse one, Alas for those who are at ease, “Alas” is a warning, not a wish for calamity or a curse.
In Zion: Zion is the mountain in the southern kingdom, Judah, on which Jerusalem, its capital, is built. This is a poetic way of addressing the whole southern kingdom by reference to its capital mount. Whether Amos so addressed the south or whether this was later adjusted to apply to the south at the time of the Babylonian exile, what is said of the northern kingdom, Israel, is also true of the south.
Mount of Samaria: Samaria was the capital of Israel, the northern kingdom, and, like all cities, was built on a mountain for defensive purposes. So, the complacent and over-confident of both north and south are addressed through their mountainous capitals. The height, prominence or preeminence of these mounts gives a false sense of being protected from the foe.
Leaders of a nation favored from the first: The Hebrew has “the notable men of the first of the nations to whom the house of Israel come.” Israel was the “first” or “head” of the nations because God had chosen her. So she was preeminent among the nations, high like the mountain her capital was built on. The notable men, the ones the rest of the people looked to and came to for just dealings, were doubly preeminent since they ruled as first or head in a nation that was herself first.
In verse two, Calneh…Hamath…Gath! Are you better than these kingdoms? : Calneh is probably a city-state in the north of Syria. Hamath was on the Orontes River and was in Amos’ day the capital of a Syrian kingdom bordering on Israel’s northern frontier. Gath was a Philistine city-state west of Judah. Exactly what is the prophet’s point is not clear. Some think this is a later insertion addressed to Judah by a later prophet citing examples of kingdoms already destroyed by Assyria. If so, the point would be that Judah should not expect to escape destruction when all the kingdoms around her have fallen. She will be no exception. If, however, this verse is pre-722BC and these city-state, petty kingdoms are being cited to say that Israel is indeed bigger and better than they, then the point would be that the people erroneously thought they would be exempt from destruction by Assyria because of her divine election as well as her being larger in size than all the surrounding kingdoms. Whichever the case, the prophet warns that nothing will stop the inevitable.
In verse three, you would put off the evil day, yet you hasten the reign of violence: The Hebrew has “seat of violence.” The idea is that the leaders, the judges, the prominent men, ignore the external threats from Assyria foolishly thinking that if they do so they will go away. In fact, they are hastening the day of judgment and destruction by their unjust rulings at the seat or bench of justice. There is more “violence” in the kind of injustice the poor suffer every day at the hands of the rich and famous than all the violence suffered on the one day when the city will be captured by force. In ignoring the daily violence they do to the poor they are, in fact, unwittingly hastening their own “day in court.”
In verses four to six, these verses paint a picture of the self-indulgence, opulent living, and hardy partying on the part of the prominent and preeminent in Israel’s society. Just as the women of Samaria were bashed by the prophet in Chapter four verses one to three, calling them “cows of Bashan,” so now the men are similarly painted as overeating, overdrinking couch potatoes.
In verse six, yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph: “Joseph” is a poetic way of referring to the northern tribes of Israel, and so, Israel. Many in the north claimed descent from Joseph through his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. The prophet condemns the prominent and preeminent who might get sick from overeating and be grieved the next day from overdrinking, but are unaffected by the present and future condition of “Joseph.” The political judgment- of invasion and destruction- is but a future expression of the present divine judgment upon the situation as it now exists. The social fabric is stretched thin by the rich’s ignorance of the poor, then torn by their neglect of them and, finally, totally ruined by their exploitation of them. In God’s eyes this is an intolerable disconnect that cannot continue for long. The core of Israel’s society is already rotten long before the Assyrians arrive on the scene to expose it.