This reflection is part of the ongoing Forest Hills Haftorah Series. The rest of the content can be found here: .

Amos is most likely the very first of the four greats of the 8th century; Which also means that his collected oracles might very well be the earliest "book" written out of the entirety of the collected works in the TaNaKh!

And if so, then the rich tradition of the literary prophets of ancient Israel and Judah would start out with a bang; A big one:

A humble shepherd

(א) דִּבְרֵ֣י עָמ֔וֹס אֲשֶׁר־הָיָ֥ה בַנֹּקְדִ֖ים מִתְּק֑וֹעַ אֲשֶׁר֩ חָזָ֨ה עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בִּימֵ֣י ׀ עֻזִיָּ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־יְהוּדָ֗ה וּבִימֵ֞י יָרָבְעָ֤ם בֶּן־יוֹאָשׁ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שְׁנָתַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י הָרָֽעַשׁ׃ (ב) וַיֹּאמַ֓ר ׀ יְהוָה֙ מִצִיּ֣וֹן יִשְׁאָ֔ג וּמִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם יִתֵּ֣ן קוֹל֑וֹ וְאָֽבְלוּ֙ נְא֣וֹת הָרֹעִ֔ים וְיָבֵ֖שׁ רֹ֥אשׁ הַכַּרְמֶֽל׃ (פ)

(1-2) The words of Amos, a sheep-breeder from Tekoa, who prophesied concerning Israel in the reigns of Kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

He proclaimed:

YHWH roars from Zion, Shouts aloud from Jerusalem; And the pastures of the shepherds shall languish, And the summit of Carmel shall wither.

The point deserves repeating; This might be the first thing that any of the literary prophets that we have to us today, have ever spoken in the name of YHWH! And what does he say?

YHWH ROARS from Zion!!!!

And when YHWH roars, the world shall tremble. Or, languish and wither, as Amos puts it.

There's something really masterful about this opening. The very first thing we learn about Amos is that he was a shepherd. But so what? Why does that matter?

Well, in the ancient near east, to be a shepherd was a very common metaphor for the relationship between a king and his people, or between a god and his people. And this idea is ancient - even by the standards of the writers of the works in the TaNaKh!

How ancient? Well, it stretches all the way back to the dawn of civilization itself; To the Sumerians.

Sumer is the earliest-known civilization throughout all of Mesopotamia, and is one of the first civilizations of humankind, alongside Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, and a select few others. It emerged at some point between the 5th and 6th millenium BCE. Yes, you heard that right. Between 4,000 and 5000 years BCE!

To put things into perspective, Amos lived approximately 2,750 years go. Well, the Sumerians emerged on the scene upwards of 3,000 years before that!!!! (See wikipedia for more info:

And it was the Sumerians who came up with the idea of the Shepherd-King. This idea was of such importance that on Sumerian Shakespeare, a website dedicated to Sumerian scholarship (link below), an article claims that "you cannot understand Sumerian civilization until you understand the shepherd kings."

So what is there to understand?

Well, much of it is intuitive once you start thinking about it. Here is how they put it:

There is a symbiotic relationship between a shepherd and his flock. A shepherd is a herder of sheep, leading them to greener pastures. He tends to the flock, he makes sure the sheep are well fed and he protects them from predators. That is why the sheep willingly obey him. A king is a herder of men. He tends to their many needs, makes sure they have plenty of food, and he protects them from hostile foreign powers. In return they willingly give him their allegiance and their obedience.


There is actually so much fascinating scholarship about the Sumerian Shepherd Kings, which go all the way back to the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk. You might have heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian epic poem about the quest of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian King, attempting to gain for himself immortality.

Well, Gilgamesh ruled Uruk 27 centuries BCE!!! (Compared to these eras, we really should not be speaking of "Ancient Israel." Compared to Sumer, Israel is just now barely reaching adulthood!)

The very earliest carvings and statues we have of the kings of Sumer portray them as Shepherds in a number of ways. Here's a really neat example:

I love this statue. I see this figure as presenting itself so warmly and humbly. I'm drawn first to its eyes, which look so inviting. And note the young calf that it is clutching to its chest, and the "shepherds hat" on his head. (I'm not sure how it is known that this is a king, but the Sumerian Shakespeare article presented it as such without any doubt.)

This idea, of the king-as-shepherd, would be one of the several invaluable gifts that the Sumerian people would bestow upon humankind. (Another one is writing, in the form of cuneiform.)

This concept would be, for very good reason, quite compelling to many different ancient peoples. Inhabitants of Canaan were very well-aware of much of what was going on in Mesopotamia; and so it is unsurprising that it would have huge prominence in the Israelite and Judean texts.

I'll give you three examples:

A shepherd chooses a shepherd

(נב) וַיַּסַּ֣ע כַּצֹּ֣אן עַמּ֑וֹ וַֽיְנַהֲגֵ֥ם כַּ֝עֵ֗דֶר בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃ (נג) וַיַּנְחֵ֣ם לָ֭בֶטַח וְלֹ֣א פָחָ֑דוּ וְאֶת־א֝וֹיְבֵיהֶ֗ם כִּסָּ֥ה הַיָּֽם׃


(סט) וַיִּ֣בֶן כְּמוֹ־רָ֭מִים מִקְדָּשׁ֑וֹ כְּ֝אֶ֗רֶץ יְסָדָ֥הּ לְעוֹלָֽם׃ (ע) וַ֭יִּבְחַר בְּדָוִ֣ד עַבְדּ֑וֹ וַ֝יִּקָּחֵ֗הוּ מִֽמִּכְלְאֹ֥ת צֹֽאן׃ (עא) מֵאַחַ֥ר עָל֗וֹת הֱ֫בִיא֥וֹ לִ֭רְעוֹת בְּיַעֲקֹ֣ב עַמּ֑וֹ וּ֝בְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל נַחֲלָתֽוֹ׃ (עב) וַ֭יִּרְעֵם כְּתֹ֣ם לְבָב֑וֹ וּבִתְבוּנ֖וֹת כַּפָּ֣יו יַנְחֵֽם׃

(52) [YHWH] set His people moving like sheep, drove them like a flock in the wilderness. (53) He led them in safety; they were unafraid; as for their enemies, the sea covered them.


(69) He built His Sanctuary like the heavens, like the earth that He established forever. (70) He chose David, His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds. (71) He brought him from minding the nursing ewes to tend His people Jacob, Israel, His very own. (72) He tended them with blameless heart; with skillful hands he led them.

In this one, we first see YHWH-himself acting as Israel's shepherd, bringing them forth from Egypt and "shepherding" them for 40 years.

And then ultimately, whom does YHWH choose to serve as the earthly King of Israel? Another shepherd... David!

In fact, David's shepherding background is the very first thing we learn about him! Let's look back at the moment where we, together with the Kingmaker Samuel, meet him for the first time as Samuel is searching for the next king:

8th time's a charm

(יא) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֣ל אֶל־יִשַׁי֮ הֲתַ֣מּוּ הַנְּעָרִים֒ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר ע֚וֹד שָׁאַ֣ר הַקָּטָ֔ן וְהִנֵּ֥ה רֹעֶ֖ה בַּצֹּ֑אן וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֤ל אֶל־יִשַׁי֙ שִׁלְחָ֣ה וְקָחֶ֔נּוּ כִּ֥י לֹא־נָסֹ֖ב עַד־בֹּא֥וֹ פֹֽה׃ (יב) וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח וַיְבִיאֵ֙הוּ֙ וְה֣וּא אַדְמוֹנִ֔י עִם־יְפֵ֥ה עֵינַ֖יִם וְט֣וֹב רֹ֑אִי (פ)

(11) Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the boys you have?”

He replied, “There is still the youngest; he is tending the flock.”

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send someone to bring him, for we will not sit down to eat until he gets here.”

(12) So they sent and brought him. He was ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed, and handsome. And YHWH said, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.”

There is a reason that at some point, an unknown time later, an Israelite poet would reflect back fondly on David's role as shepherd in the prayer-poem of Psalm 78 above; For this is most definitely not a throw-away detail. It will resurface at what might be the most important and defining moment of David's life.

The context is the face-off between the Israelites and the Philistines at the Elah Valley, with David, a young shepherd-boy, volunteering to act as Israel's champion against the the Philistine-hero Goliath.


Only a boy

(לב) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר דָּוִד֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל אַל־יִפֹּ֥ל לֵב־אָדָ֖ם עָלָ֑יו עַבְדְּךָ֣ יֵלֵ֔ךְ וְנִלְחַ֖ם עִם־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֥י הַזֶּֽה׃ (לג) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שָׁא֜וּל אֶל־דָּוִ֗ד לֹ֤א תוּכַל֙ לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אֶל־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֣י הַזֶּ֔ה לְהִלָּחֵ֖ם עִמּ֑וֹ כִּֽי־נַ֣עַר אַ֔תָּה וְה֛וּא אִ֥ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֖ה מִנְּעֻרָֽיו׃ (ס) (לד) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר דָּוִד֙ אֶל־שָׁא֔וּל רֹעֶ֨ה הָיָ֧ה עַבְדְּךָ֛ לְאָבִ֖יו בַּצֹּ֑אן וּבָ֤א הָֽאֲרִי֙ וְאֶת־הַדּ֔וֹב וְנָשָׂ֥א שֶׂ֖ה מֵהָעֵֽדֶר׃ (לה) וְיָצָ֧אתִי אַחֲרָ֛יו וְהִכִּתִ֖יו וְהִצַּ֣לְתִּי מִפִּ֑יו וַיָּ֣קָם עָלַ֔י וְהֶחֱזַ֙קְתִּי֙ בִּזְקָנ֔וֹ וְהִכִּתִ֖יו וַהֲמִיתִּֽיו׃ (לו) גַּ֧ם אֶֽת־הָאֲרִ֛י גַּם־הַדּ֖וֹב הִכָּ֣ה עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ וְֽ֠הָיָה הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֨י הֶעָרֵ֤ל הַזֶּה֙ כְּאַחַ֣ד מֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֣י חֵרֵ֔ף מַעַרְכֹ֖ת אֱלֹהִ֥ים חַיִּֽים׃ (ס) (לז) וַיֹּאמֶר֮ דָּוִד֒ יְהוָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצִּלַ֜נִי מִיַּ֤ד הָֽאֲרִי֙ וּמִיַּ֣ד הַדֹּ֔ב ה֣וּא יַצִּילֵ֔נִי מִיַּ֥ד הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֖י הַזֶּ֑ה (ס)

(32) David said to Saul, “Let no man’s courage fail him. Your servant will go and fight that Philistine!”

(33) But Saul said to David, “You cannot go to that Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth!”

(34) David replied to Saul, “Your servant has been tending his father’s sheep, and if a lion or a bear came and carried off an animal from the flock, (35) I would go after it and fight it and rescue it from its mouth. And if it attacked me, I would seize it by the beard and strike it down and kill it. (36) Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and that uncircumcised Philistine shall end up like one of them, for he has defied the ranks of the living-elohim."

(37) David went on: "YHWH, who saved me from lion and bear will also save me from that Philistine.”

What happens next is also note-worthy. Saul adorns David in Saul's own armor, gives him his own weapons; But David ends up refusing them, opting instead for the weapon with which he had become so familiar; The sling with which he would fight off bear and lion, and went forth against Goliath to victory.

What an amazing coming-of-age story of the founder of the Judean-Royal dynasty!

My takeaway from all of this is that the Israelites, like the Sumerians (or, more probably, because of them), recognized the beauty in drawing on shepherd-imagery to celebrate their kings.

Shepherds had to be compassionate for their flock; They had to be able to provide them with sustenance, with water, with shade; And they had to be courageous, to be willing and able to stand in-between his flock and any threats, ready to put his life on the line if need be.

We see from David that his career as a shepherd primed him to succeed against Goliath; Just as it would prime him to succeed in shepherding the flock of the people of Israel.

Now with all this in mind, the very first utterance we saw coming forth from Amos's mouth is a complete shocker!:

YHWH ROARS from Zion!!!!

For those of us reading in English, we might miss an important point. We are not speaking about just any roar.

The specific word for "roars" here, ש-א-ג, is one that is readily recognized to the ancient Israelite as a word associated with the roar of a lion specifically. This is evident in numerous passages, here are few examples across different books:

Here is YHWH's roar serving as a signal of the moment of redmption:

(י) אַחֲרֵ֧י יְהוָ֛ה יֵלְכ֖וּ כְּאַרְיֵ֣ה יִשְׁאָ֑ג כִּֽי־ה֣וּא יִשְׁאַ֔ג וְיֶחֶרְד֥וּ בָנִ֖ים מִיָּֽם׃

(10) They shall march behind YHWH, and like a lion he shall roar. When He roars, his children shall come fluttering out of the west.

Here's one of the Babylonians roaring like lions, but in frustration as YHWH orchestrates their downfall:

(לז) וְהָיְתָה֩ בָבֶ֨ל ׀ לְגַלִּ֧ים ׀ מְעוֹן־תַּנִּ֛ים שַׁמָּ֥ה וּשְׁרֵקָ֖ה מֵאֵ֥ין יוֹשֵֽׁב׃ (לח) יַחְדָּ֖ו כַּכְּפִרִ֣ים יִשְׁאָ֑גוּ נָעֲר֖וּ כְּגוֹרֵ֥י אֲרָיֽוֹת׃

(37) Babylon shall become rubble, A den for jackals, An object of horror and hissing, Without inhabitant.

(38) Like lions, they roar together, They growl like lion cubs.

And finally, here is a criticism of Jerusalem from within Jerusalem by Zephania, a contemporary of Jeremiah, ministering in the 7th century.

(א) ה֥וֹי מֹרְאָ֖ה וְנִגְאָלָ֑ה הָעִ֖יר הַיּוֹנָֽה׃ (ב) לֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעָה֙ בְּק֔וֹל לֹ֥א לָקְחָ֖ה מוּסָ֑ר בַּֽיהוָה֙ לֹ֣א בָטָ֔חָה אֶל־אֱלֹהֶ֖יהָ לֹ֥א קָרֵֽבָה׃ (ג) שָׂרֶ֣יהָ בְקִרְבָּ֔הּ אֲרָי֖וֹת שֹֽׁאֲגִ֑ים שֹׁפְטֶ֙יהָ֙ זְאֵ֣בֵי עֶ֔רֶב לֹ֥א גָרְמ֖וּ לַבֹּֽקֶר׃

(1) Ah, sullied, polluted, Overbearing city!

(2) She has been disobedient, Has learned no lesson; She has not trusted in YHWH, Has not drawn near to her elohim.

(3) The officials within her are roaring lions; Her judges are wolves of the steppe, They leave no bone until morning.

I think you're getting the point, though believe me that there are more examples where those came from.

So with all that, there is great irony in the beginning of the collected works of Amos. Here is is again:

The words of Amos, a sheep-breeder from Tekoa, who prophesied concerning Israel in the reigns of Kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

He proclaimed:

YHWH roars from Zion, Shouts aloud from Jerusalem; And the pastures of the shepherds shall languish, And the summit of Carmel shall wither.

Remember what was so significant about David's shepherd background during the battle of the Elah Valley? It meant that he was able to stand up to lions, who would try to come prey on his flock. And he, as a shepherd, would fight them off; Kill them, if need be.

Well now we have Amos, a prophet of YHWH, introduced as a shepherd; But rather than fulfill his duty as a shepherd protecting the flock of Israel against evildoers, the first thing that happens when Amos opens his mouth is that his persona has flipped. He brings not the comfort of the shepherd, but the sound and fury of the lion.

And when the shepherd has himself become the lion against whom the shepherd was supposed to stand, the future is grim indeed.

Just to drive this point home a little further, I want to share two powerful verses with you that should further help to appreciate the intended impact of of Amos's move here.

In the first one, yet again we are seeing shepherd-imagery for YHWH, but now it's shepherd-as-warrior against, yup, lions.

(ד) כִּ֣י כֹ֣ה אָֽמַר־יְהוָ֣ה ׀ אֵלַ֡י כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר יֶהְגֶּה֩ הָאַרְיֵ֨ה וְהַכְּפִ֜יר עַל־טַרְפּ֗וֹ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִקָּרֵ֤א עָלָיו֙ מְלֹ֣א רֹעִ֔ים מִקּוֹלָם֙ לֹ֣א יֵחָ֔ת וּמֵֽהֲמוֹנָ֖ם לֹ֣א יַֽעֲנֶ֑ה כֵּ֗ן יֵרֵד֙ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת לִצְבֹּ֥א עַל־הַר־צִיּ֖וֹן וְעַל־גִּבְעָתָֽהּ׃

(4) For thus YHWH has said to me:

As a lion—a great beast— Growls over its prey And, when the shepherds gather In force against him, Is not dismayed by their cries Nor cowed by their noise— So YHWH-of-Legions will descend to make war Against the mount and the hill of Zion.

In the next one, we see YHWH as the lion, ready to pounce on Edom, boasting that there is no shepherd who would be able to stand against him.

(יט) הִ֠נֵּה כְּאַרְיֵ֞ה יַעֲלֶ֨ה מִגְּא֣וֹן הַיַּרְדֵּן֮ אֶל־נְוֵ֣ה אֵיתָן֒ כִּֽי־אַרְגִּ֤יעָה אֲרִיצֶ֨נּוּ מֵֽעָלֶ֔יהָ וּמִ֥י בָח֖וּר אֵלֶ֣יהָ אֶפְקֹ֑ד כִּ֣י מִ֤י כָמ֙וֹנִי֙ וּמִ֣י יֹעִידֶ֔נִּי וּמִי־זֶ֣ה רֹעֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲמֹ֖ד לְפָנָֽי׃ (ס)

(19) It shall be as when a lion comes up out of the jungle of the Jordan against a secure pasture: in a moment I can harry him out of it and appoint over it anyone I choose. Then who is like Me? Who can summon Me? Who is the shepherd that can stand up against Me?

It is for good reason that Amos is known as the prophet of doom-and-gloom, as we're seeing. He had a lot to say, as did his three contemporaries, Micah Isaiah and Hosea. Which means YHWH had a lot to say. And in Israelite history, whenever YHWH had much to say, it probably meant "uh-oh!"

But then when Amos goes on, what happens next catches us off-guard:

Down with Damascus

(ג) כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה֙ פִּשְׁעֵ֣י דַמֶּ֔שֶׂק וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָ֖ה לֹ֣א אֲשִׁיבֶ֑נּוּ עַל־דּוּשָׁ֛ם בַּחֲרֻצ֥וֹת הַבַּרְזֶ֖ל אֶת־הַגִּלְעָֽד׃ (ד) וְשִׁלַּ֥חְתִּי אֵ֖שׁ בְּבֵ֣ית חֲזָאֵ֑ל וְאָכְלָ֖ה אַרְמְנ֥וֹת בֶּן־הֲדָֽד׃ (ה) וְשָֽׁבַרְתִּי֙ בְּרִ֣יחַ דַּמֶּ֔שֶׂק וְהִכְרַתִּ֤י יוֹשֵׁב֙ מִבִּקְעַת־אָ֔וֶן וְתוֹמֵ֥ךְ שֵׁ֖בֶט מִבֵּ֣ית עֶ֑דֶן וְגָל֧וּ עַם־אֲרָ֛ם קִ֖ירָה אָמַ֥ר יְהוָֽה׃ (פ)

(3) Thus said YHWH!

For three transgressions of Damascus, For four, I will not turn it back:

Because they threshed Gilead With threshing boards of iron. (4) I will send down fire upon the palace of Hazael, And it shall devour the fortresses of Ben-hadad. (5) I will break the gate bars of Damascus, And wipe out the inhabitants from the Vale of Aven And the sceptered ruler of Beth-eden; And the people of Aram shall be exiled to Kir —said YHWH.

Huh. YHWH here is proclaiming a punishment for... Damascus? But the introduction stated that Amos is bearing the word-of-YHWH against Israel.

Strange. And then yet again:

Good-riddance to Gaza

(ו) כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה֙ פִּשְׁעֵ֣י עַזָּ֔ה וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָ֖ה לֹ֣א אֲשִׁיבֶ֑נּוּ עַל־הַגְלוֹתָ֛ם גָּל֥וּת שְׁלֵמָ֖ה לְהַסְגִּ֥יר לֶאֱדֽוֹם׃ (ז) וְשִׁלַּ֥חְתִּי אֵ֖שׁ בְּחוֹמַ֣ת עַזָּ֑ה וְאָכְלָ֖ה אַרְמְנֹתֶֽיהָ׃ (ח) וְהִכְרַתִּ֤י יוֹשֵׁב֙ מֵֽאַשְׁדּ֔וֹד וְתוֹמֵ֥ךְ שֵׁ֖בֶט מֵֽאַשְׁקְל֑וֹן וַהֲשִׁיב֨וֹתִי יָדִ֜י עַל־עֶקְר֗וֹן וְאָֽבְדוּ֙ שְׁאֵרִ֣ית פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים אָמַ֖ר אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהוִֽה׃ (פ)

(6) Thus said YHWH: For three transgressions of Gaza, For four, I will not turn it back: Because they exiled an entire population, Which they delivered to Edom. (7) I will send down fire upon the wall of Gaza, And it shall devour its fortresses; (8) And I will wipe out the inhabitants of Ashdod And the sceptered ruler of Ashkelon; And I will turn My hand against Ekron, And the Philistines shall perish to the last man —said the Lord YHWH.

No sooner is YHWH finished with Damascus that he turns to Gaza!

Did the narrator who added the superscription not even read the darned prophecies? It says These are the words of Amos regarding Israel!

Well, Damascus and Gaza are just the beginning. In fact, the whole first section of Amos's oracles is a collection of proclamations about the wickedness of Israel's neighbors, and how they will be punished accordingly. Each proclamation follows the same pattern:

Thus says YHWH! For three transgressions of ______; For four, I will not turn it back. Because he did ____, I will do _____ . (And it ain't going to be good.)

In order, here are the various cities/regions which are listed through chapter 2 verse 6:

(1)Damascus; (2) Gaza; (3) Tyre; (4) Ammon; (5) Moab; (6) Judah

Now take a look at this map and follow the trajectory:

The rhetorical effect here is stunning. Every place surrounding Israel gets nailed.

Imagine the effect this would have on his listeners.

First of all, for us as readers, given that we have the introductory sentence "These are the words against Israel," well the buildup is therefore quite ominous. We know Amos's real target (Israel). And so given that, it's now almost as if YHWH is playing around, slowly drawing a circle over the whole of the near-east, with Israel right smack-dab in the middle. In the crosshairs.

But how about Amos's listeners, if this was originally delivered orally? Of course, Israel never had the most pleasant of relationships with these neighbors, as the ancient near east was not the most friendly place. And so, I imagine that Israelites listening to Amos's opener would stop to listen with glee.

And that is what would make the impact so much stronger when we get midway through the second chapter. Because suddenly, Amos will redirect all of his fury at Israel and just unload.

It's a very long proclamation. Here is a part of it:

(ו) כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה עַל־שְׁלֹשָׁה֙ פִּשְׁעֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְעַל־אַרְבָּעָ֖ה לֹ֣א אֲשִׁיבֶ֑נּוּ עַל־מִכְרָ֤ם בַּכֶּ֙סֶף֙ צַדִּ֔יק וְאֶבְי֖וֹן בַּעֲב֥וּר נַעֲלָֽיִם׃ (ז) הַשֹּׁאֲפִ֤ים עַל־עֲפַר־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ בְּרֹ֣אשׁ דַּלִּ֔ים וְדֶ֥רֶךְ עֲנָוִ֖ים יַטּ֑וּ וְאִ֣ישׁ וְאָבִ֗יו יֵֽלְכוּ֙ אֶל־הַֽנַּעֲרָ֔ה לְמַ֥עַן חַלֵּ֖ל אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם קָדְשִֽׁי׃ (ח) וְעַל־בְּגָדִ֤ים חֲבֻלִים֙ יַטּ֔וּ אֵ֖צֶל כָּל־מִזְבֵּ֑חַ וְיֵ֤ין עֲנוּשִׁים֙ יִשְׁתּ֔וּ בֵּ֖ית אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם׃ (ט) וְאָ֨נֹכִ֜י הִשְׁמַ֤דְתִּי אֶת־הָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר כְּגֹ֤בַהּ אֲרָזִים֙ גָּבְה֔וֹ וְחָסֹ֥ן ה֖וּא כָּֽאַלּוֹנִ֑ים וָאַשְׁמִ֤יד פִּרְיוֹ֙ מִמַּ֔עַל וְשָׁרָשָׁ֖יו מִתָּֽחַת׃ (י) וְאָנֹכִ֛י הֶעֱלֵ֥יתִי אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם וָאוֹלֵ֨ךְ אֶתְכֶ֤ם בַּמִּדְבָּר֙ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה לָרֶ֖שֶׁת אֶת־אֶ֥רֶץ הָאֱמֹרִֽי׃ (יא) וָאָקִ֤ים מִבְּנֵיכֶם֙ לִנְבִיאִ֔ים וּמִבַּחוּרֵיכֶ֖ם לִנְזִרִ֑ים הַאַ֥ף אֵֽין־זֹ֛את בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נְאֻם־יְהוָֽה׃ (יב) וַתַּשְׁק֥וּ אֶת־הַנְּזִרִ֖ים יָ֑יִן וְעַל־הַנְּבִיאִים֙ צִוִּיתֶ֣ם לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֖א תִּנָּבְאֽוּ׃

(6) Thus said YHWH:

For three transgressions of Israel, For four, I will not turn it back:

Because they have sold for silver Those whose cause was just, And the needy for a pair of sandals. (7) [Ah,] you who trample the heads of the poor Into the dust of the ground, And make the humble walk a twisted course!


(10) And I Brought you up from the land of Egypt And led you through the wilderness forty years, To possess the land of the Amorite! (11) And I raised up prophets from among your sons And nazirites from among your young men.

Is that not so, O people of Israel? —says YHWH.

(12) But you made the nazirites drink wine And ordered the prophets not to prophesy.

Note the structure of the passage above. It starts out exactly the same. For three... For four...

However, while in all the other cases YHWH mentioned just one transgression and a line of punishment, For Israel, once he begins, he does not stop. YHWH even pauses to remind Israel what he had done, uniquely, for her as her shepherd:

I even brought you up from the desert and personally sheltered you for 4 decades! And then I gave you this land!

We then get to the consequences:

(יג) הִנֵּ֛ה אָנֹכִ֥י מֵעִ֖יק תַּחְתֵּיכֶ֑ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּעִיק֙ הָעֲגָלָ֔ה הַֽמְלֵאָ֥ה לָ֖הּ עָמִֽיר׃ (יד) וְאָבַ֤ד מָנוֹס֙ מִקָּ֔ל וְחָזָ֖ק לֹא־יְאַמֵּ֣ץ כֹּח֑וֹ וְגִבּ֖וֹר לֹא־יְמַלֵּ֥ט נַפְשֽׁוֹ׃ (טו) וְתֹפֵ֤שׂ הַקֶּ֙שֶׁת֙ לֹ֣א יַעֲמֹ֔ד וְקַ֥ל בְּרַגְלָ֖יו לֹ֣א יְמַלֵּ֑ט וְרֹכֵ֣ב הַסּ֔וּס לֹ֥א יְמַלֵּ֖ט נַפְשֽׁוֹ׃ (טז) וְאַמִּ֥יץ לִבּ֖וֹ בַּגִּבּוֹרִ֑ים עָר֛וֹם יָנ֥וּס בַּיּוֹם־הַה֖וּא נְאֻם־יְהוָֽה׃ (פ)

(13-16) Ah, I will slow your movements As a wagon is slowed When it is full of cut grain:

  • Flight shall fail the swift;
  • The strong shall find no strength;
  • And the warrior shall not save his life;
  • The bowman shall not hold his ground;
  • And the fleet-footed shall not escape;
  • Nor the horseman save his life;
  • Even the most stouthearted warrior shall run away naked on that very day

—declares YHWH.

What vivid imagery. All of the bravest of what Israel had produced will be reduced to sheer, blind panic; Flinging off their armor and tossing aside their weapons, allowing them to flee all the faster.

Things don't particularly pick up as we move into chapter 3:

(א) שִׁמְע֞וּ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֧ר יְהוָ֛ה עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל עַ֚ל כָּל־הַמִּשְׁפָּחָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר הֶעֱלֵ֛יתִי מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ב) רַ֚ק אֶתְכֶ֣ם יָדַ֔עְתִּי מִכֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּח֣וֹת הָאֲדָמָ֑ה עַל־כֵּן֙ אֶפְקֹ֣ד עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת כָּל־עֲוֺנֹֽתֵיכֶֽם׃

(1) Hear this word, O people of Israel, That YHWH has spoken concerning you, Concerning the whole family that I brought up from the land of Egypt:

(2) You alone have I singled out Of all the families of the earth— That is why I will call you to account For all your iniquities.

YHWH reminds Israel, yet again, of what he had done for her; And that once upon a time, she had enjoyed a privileged position in YHWH's heart; The apple of his eye. With this position came responsibilities, expectations. And it is by virtue of those failed expectations that YHWH is now compelled to punish.

Take a look at what Amos does next; It is one of the most memorable and evocative of all of his passages.

I'm going to give it to you all at once. Try to read slowly, really picturing the imagery, and thinking about where he might be going with this; Doing so will enable you to savor the build-up, and to then really feel it when he hits the punchline:

(ג) הֲיֵלְכ֥וּ שְׁנַ֖יִם יַחְדָּ֑ו בִּלְתִּ֖י אִם־נוֹעָֽדוּ׃ (ד) הֲיִשְׁאַ֤ג אַרְיֵה֙ בַּיַּ֔עַר וְטֶ֖רֶף אֵ֣ין ל֑וֹ הֲיִתֵּ֨ן כְּפִ֤יר קוֹלוֹ֙ מִמְּעֹ֣נָת֔וֹ בִּלְתִּ֖י אִם־לָכָֽד׃ (ה) הֲתִפֹּ֤ל צִפּוֹר֙ עַל־פַּ֣ח הָאָ֔רֶץ וּמוֹקֵ֖שׁ אֵ֣ין לָ֑הּ הֲיַֽעֲלֶה־פַּח֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וְלָכ֖וֹד לֹ֥א יִלְכּֽוֹד׃ (ו) אִם־יִתָּקַ֤ע שׁוֹפָר֙ בְּעִ֔יר וְעָ֖ם לֹ֣א יֶחֱרָ֑דוּ אִם־תִּהְיֶ֤ה רָעָה֙ בְּעִ֔יר וַיהוָ֖ה לֹ֥א עָשָֽׂה׃ (ז) כִּ֣י לֹ֧א יַעֲשֶׂ֛ה אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהוִ֖ה דָּבָ֑ר כִּ֚י אִם־גָּלָ֣ה סוֹד֔וֹ אֶל־עֲבָדָ֖יו הַנְּבִיאִֽים׃ (ח) אַרְיֵ֥ה שָׁאָ֖ג מִ֣י לֹ֣א יִירָ֑א אֲדֹנָ֤י יְהוִה֙ דִּבֶּ֔ר מִ֖י לֹ֥א יִנָּבֵֽא׃


  • Do two walk together without having planned?
  • Does a lion (aryeh) roar in the forest when he has no prey?
  • Does a lion (kephir) let out a cry from its den without having made a capture?
  • Does a bird drop on the ground—in a trap— with no snare there?
  • Does a trap spring up from the soil unless it has caught something?
  • When a shofar is sounded in a town, do the people not take alarm?
  • Can misfortune come to a town if YHWH has not caused it?

(7) Indeed, my Lord YHWH does nothing Without having revealed His purpose To His servants the prophets!

(8) A lion has roared, Who can but fear? My Lord YHWH has spoken; Who can but prophesy?

Amos here is speaking about inevitability. In observing the natural world around him, he sees that everything is based on contingencies, everything has a direct cause, everything has an explanation. This is true for the lion's roar, for the springing of a trap, for the reaction of human beings to the call of the shofar;

And it is true for the proclamation of prophecy. When YHWH roars, when YHWH wants to be heard and summons his prophets to witness; there is no refusing.

I think what Amos is doing here is daring anyone to challenge him on his claim to be authentically speaking in the name of YHWH. He is not choosing to do this. He is called. Compelled.

Amos's main message throughout his oracles is against the social injustices he witnesses around him, and the same is true here. If you read the chapter in full, you will see that he wants even Egypt to bear witness that Israel will fall because of the oppressed in her midst, that Israel continuously fails to do what is right.

For Amos, it sometimes seems that Israel's failure to care for the oppressed was as urgent as the very cosmos coming to a catastrophic end.

There's one more line I want to share with you from this chapter, one in which yet again, he goes back to the shepherd and lion imagery:

כֹּה֮ אָמַ֣ר יְהוָה֒ כַּאֲשֶׁר֩ יַצִּ֨יל הָרֹעֶ֜ה מִפִּ֧י הָאֲרִ֛י שְׁתֵּ֥י כְרָעַ֖יִם א֣וֹ בְדַל־אֹ֑זֶן כֵּ֣ן יִנָּצְל֞וּ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל הַיֹּֽשְׁבִים֙ בְּשֹׁ֣מְר֔וֹן בִּפְאַ֥ת מִטָּ֖ה וּבִדְמֶ֥שֶׁק עָֽרֶשׂ׃ (ס)

(12) Thus said YHWH:

As a shepherd rescues from the lion’s jaws two shank bones or an earlobe, So shall the Israelites escape Who dwell in Samaria.

This is one of those lines where it's uncertain whether a prophet intends to strike fear, or plant hope; Probably both. A remnant will remain. It will be bloody, it will be scraps; But it will remain. Despite any and all hardships, and even if this remnant is unworthy in Amos's, or YHWH's eyes.

There is another way of seeing this entirely, though, one much more grim.

To prepare you for that explanation, take a look at the following legal passage from the book Exodus:

(ט) כִּֽי־יִתֵּן֩ אִ֨ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֜הוּ חֲמ֨וֹר אוֹ־שׁ֥וֹר אוֹ־שֶׂ֛ה וְכָל־בְּהֵמָ֖ה לִשְׁמֹ֑ר וּמֵ֛ת אוֹ־נִשְׁבַּ֥ר אוֹ־נִשְׁבָּ֖ה אֵ֥ין רֹאֶֽה׃ (י) שְׁבֻעַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה תִּהְיֶה֙ בֵּ֣ין שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם אִם־לֹ֥א שָׁלַ֛ח יָד֖וֹ בִּמְלֶ֣אכֶת רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְלָקַ֥ח בְּעָלָ֖יו וְלֹ֥א יְשַׁלֵּֽם׃ (יא) וְאִם־גָּנֹ֥ב יִגָּנֵ֖ב מֵעִמּ֑וֹ יְשַׁלֵּ֖ם לִבְעָלָֽיו׃ (יב) אִם־טָרֹ֥ף יִטָּרֵ֖ף יְבִאֵ֣הוּ עֵ֑ד הַטְּרֵפָ֖ה לֹ֥א יְשַׁלֵּֽם׃ (פ)

(9) When a man gives to another an ass, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to guard, and it dies or is injured or is carried off, with no witness about ... If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring the mangled carcass as evidence; he need not replace what has been torn by beasts.

Do you see where this is going?

Here are the words of David Guzik (quoting Hubbard) in his Enduring Word Commentary (2014):

As a shepherd takes from the mouth of the lion: Exo_22:10-13 says that if an animal dies in the care of another man - such as a shepherd - that the shepherd must make restitution to the owner of the animal, unless he can bring remains that demonstrate the animal was attacked by a predator. “Amos’ comparison, then, makes the sarcastic point that when invasion strikes Israel’s devastation will be so complete that all that will be rescued is proof of death in the form of scraps of furniture.”

below: Bonus points if you can figure out what the picture is, and it's connection to the material. (Hint: It is from a story in the book Genesis.)

Yikes. Doom-and-gloom indeed.

However, if we jump ahead to the very end of Amos's oracles, we will finally find some positivity, which is not an insignificant point. After pages and pages of doom, Amos leaves us with optimism and hope! And it will also result in the grim reading of Guzik above being undermined, even if he does bring a brilliant point.

Here is how Amos's collected oracles finish:

(יג) הִנֵּ֨ה יָמִ֤ים בָּאִים֙ נְאֻם־יְהוָ֔ה וְנִגַּ֤שׁ חוֹרֵשׁ֙ בַּקֹּצֵ֔ר וְדֹרֵ֥ךְ עֲנָבִ֖ים בְּמֹשֵׁ֣ךְ הַזָּ֑רַע וְהִטִּ֤יפוּ הֶֽהָרִים֙ עָסִ֔יס וְכָל־הַגְּבָע֖וֹת תִּתְמוֹגַֽגְנָה׃ (יד) וְשַׁבְתִּי֮ אֶת־שְׁב֣וּת עַמִּ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וּבָנ֞וּ עָרִ֤ים נְשַׁמּוֹת֙ וְיָשָׁ֔בוּ וְנָטְע֣וּ כְרָמִ֔ים וְשָׁת֖וּ אֶת־יֵינָ֑ם וְעָשׂ֣וּ גַנּ֔וֹת וְאָכְל֖וּ אֶת־פְּרִיהֶֽם׃ (טו) וּנְטַעְתִּ֖ים עַל־אַדְמָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֨א יִנָּתְשׁ֜וּ ע֗וֹד מֵעַ֤ל אַדְמָתָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָתַ֣תִּי לָהֶ֔ם אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

(13) A time is coming —declares the YHWH— When the plowman shall meet the reaper, And the treader of grapes Him who holds the [bag of] seed; When the mountains shall drip wine And all the hills shall wave [with grain].

(14) I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; They shall till gardens and eat their fruits. (15) And I will plant them upon their soil, Nevermore to be uprooted From the soil I have given them —said YHWH your elohim.

Wow; Beautiful.

For those of you who have been on the journey with us for the long-run already, you might remember this passage, for we looked at it way back in Mountains Dripping Wine: .

May we conduct ourselves in such a way so as to allow YHWH-Almighty to play the role of the shepherd, and never the lion. May he delight in guiding us along, defending us, bestowing upon us abundant blessings, bringing us to green pastures, to running waters, and to mountains dripping wine.