July 18, 2019
Francisco-fact: Tracey talked about the prophet Amos last week, his pessimism, his criticism, and his judgment of the morals of Israel. I thought prophets told the future?
In June, this blog foretold (pun-intended) that the semi-continuous readings would spend a fair amount of the summer and the season up to Advent 2019 dealing with Prophets. Amos is the earliest of the literary prophets, those whose visions were written down and who are also known from Jewish categorization as the Latter Prophets. These prophets, who as far as we know are men, include the Major Prophets (because we have more of their sayings written down): Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; and the Minor Prophets (small books of writings): Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Malachi.
As the earliest prophet, Amos was active starting around 760 BCE. The latest of the prophets, Malachi was active around 420 BCE. The greatest concentration of the proclamations occurs between Amos' work in the Mid-eighth Century BCE until just after the return from the Babylonian Exile in 520 BCE.
There were Prophets before the Major and Minor Prophets. Elijah and Elisha, who the lectionary included just before the readings from Amos, are among them. There were other named and unnamed prophets of the Kings, like Nathan, who worked for King David. The primary concern of these prophets appears to be faithfulness to YHWH-God.
What changes with the Major and Minor Prophets is that they come to understand that faithfulness to YHWH-God is not simply about personal piety and cultic sacrificial practices. Their sayings focus on faithfulness as doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (see Micah 6:8).
It is curious that as civilizations on the Eurasian Continent developed and matured, this period of two hundred or so years, from the Eighth through the Sixth Centuries BCE saw the teachings of Confucius, the Buddha, and the Classical Greek Philosophers as well. Yes, the code of Hammurabi and the Decalogue had been around since about 1200 BCE, but it seems that true humanity required more. In developing Judaism that meant God was speaking justice and mercy to his people.
Amos is a prime example of what the Minor Prophets were all about. He called the Northern Kingdom of YHWH-God worshippers to this more rigorous standard for Israel. They were to care for the widow, the orphan, and the homeless. Their concern was not to be simply for commerce and wealth accumulation, it was for each other and to make certain that the people of God all might enjoy the goodness of God's creation.
The fact that by mistreatment and immorality Amos could see the destruction of the Kingdom, well, that was not so much fortune telling as understanding of the consequences of not following the ways of God.