Haftarah Discussions: Vayeishev: The Original OWS?
The disaster that befell Israel and Achav at Ramot Gilead was at the beginning of a long period of depression. In the days of Yehu, Damascus seems to have had its own way with Israel. “In those days God began to cut Israel short; from Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the The Gadites, and the And the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, even Gilead and Bashan (II Kings 10:32).”
Not only so, but the armies of Assyria were frequent visitors in the West. Shalmaneser III invaded this region 3 times and fought with its allied forces., Indeed Yehu was forced to pay tribute to Shalmaneser, as we learn from Shalmaneser’s Obelisk Inscription, where he pictures Jews kneeling before him and says: Tribute of “Iaua, son of Omri. Silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden beaker, golden goblets, pitchers of gold, lead, staves for the hand of the king, javelins, I received from him (Ancient Records of Assyria).” Shalmaneser again attacked Damascus and defeated Hazael, receiving tribute also from Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos.
The depths to which Israel had sunk in the days of Yehoachaz are reflected in the verse, “Neither did he leave of the people to Yehoachaz but 50 horsemen, and 10 chariots, and 10,000 footmen; for the king of Assyria had destroyed them and had made them like the dust by threshing (II Kings 13:7).”
But, finally, “God gave Israel a Savior, so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians (Verse 5).” This “Savior” was none other than the Assyrian king Adad-nirari IV, an energetic sovereign.
This meant the end to all trouble for Israel from Syria; and for the next half-century Assyria was quiescent in the West. It was a period of weakness and internal strife in Assyria herself, and consequently, as she was unable to push her conquests, the West was left undisturbed. Yoash, of Israel, and Jeroboam utilized this opportunity to recover Israel’s lost territory. The result was that by the latter part of Jeroboam’s reign, Israel was in a highly prosperous and supremely confident condition.
“He restored the border of Israel from the entering of Hamas onto the sea of the plain, according to the word of God, Lord of Israel, which he spoke through his servant Jonah, the son of Amitai, the prophet, who was from Gat-hefer. For God saw the affliction of Israel that it was very severe; for there was not any restrained nor any released, nor any help for Israel. But God had not said that He would blot out the name of Israel from under the heavens; so He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Yoash (II Kings 14:25–27).”
Jeroboam is here thought of as the “savior” mentioned earlier; but he could have done little had it not been for Adad-nirari, who cleared Assyria out of his way.
Into the midst of this blazing sunshine of prosperity came Amos thundering forth denunciation and disaster. Amos was a shepherd who watched his flocks as they grazed on the sunny slopes of the hills just south of Jerusalem. It is likely he spent many days in sight of the Dead Sea with all its waste and desolation, so suggestive and burdened with so terrible tradition from the distant past. He also describes himself as a dresser of sycamore trees (Amos 7:14). His occupations afforded him much time and food for thought. As an owner of sheep, he had occasion from time to time to visit the great markets of Judah and Israel in order to sell his products. From such excursions into the great commercial centers he returned to the solitude of his mountain home, his mind filled with new and strange sights and his heart burdened with a heavy load of grief over what he saw.
It is significant that Amos refused to allow himself to be called a prophet. He clearly realized that the “prophets” of his day were in bad repute and that he must separate himself sharply from them if he would not be misunderstood. The nature of the misunderstanding is quite clear from the slur of Amaziah, the chief priest at Bethel, when he urged Amos to return home, saying: “Go away; flee to the land of Judah; eat bread there, and there prophecy! But at Bethel do not prophecy again; for the king’s sanctuary, and the Royal Palace are here!”
The implication of this was that Amos was like the rest of the prophets of the day, who were for prophets for profit. Amaziah told Amos that he was in the wrong place to make money for that kind of a message; he should go back home and preach it to the people of Judah; they would be glad to hear such threats against Israel and would pay him well for his message.
Amos indignantly repudiated the implied charge and declared himself a genuine prophet. He began to speak with a vengeance, saying to Amaziah: “Your wife will play the harlot in the city;
Your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword;
Your land will be distributed by measure;
And you yourself will die upon an unclean soil;
And Israel will be entirely carried into exile (Amos 7:17).”
Amos was haunted by the social wrongs that he witnessed so rampant in Israel. The rich were becoming richer and the poor, poorer. He insisted upon fundamental morality as the supreme quality in human relations with God. There was no lack of religious splendor in Israel; but in the eyes of Amos this was little better than an insult to God as long as justice was not operative between man and man.
Amos was himself a poor man, or at most, a man of moderate means. He understood the trials of the poor, and he felt their burdens. It was out of a deep sympathy with men of his own kind that he spoke words of indignation and scorn against the rich oppressor. He returns to this subject repeatedly, never tiring of denouncing the conscienceless rich:
“Thus says God
for three transgressions of Israel,
For four, I will not turn it aside;
Because they sell the righteous for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals
Those trampling upon the head of the poor
And they turn aside the way of the lowly;
And father and son walk in collusion;
So that they profane My holy Name.
And they spread out pawned garments beside every altar;
And they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god (Amos 2:6–8).”
He not only found fault with the social order in Israel saying that the rich were using all kinds of devious methods to get the better of the poor, but he also denounced the type of worship prevalent in his day. There was no lack of rich ceremonial worship in the way of sacrifices and offerings and splendid accoutrements. But the spirit of true worship was entirely lacking.
The difficulty was not that the worshipers were not sincere and devout in the practice of the ritual, such as it was; but that, while zealous in the practice of the ceremonial, they were living lives that lacked the fundamental moral qualities without which no worship, however elaborate, could be pleasing to God.