Amos is not only the first prophet whose sayings have been collected in his own book, he is also the first one to have said what no one else in Israel before him, had dared to say.
His words were heard around 750 B.C.E. –a period of peace and prosperity, after Jeroboam II, king of Israel (786- 746), inflicted a decisive defeat on the Arameans of Damascus (II Kings 14:25-27).
This prosperity, however, led to various forms of social injustice, whereby the relatively small class of rich landowners and government officials oppressed the poor.
Compounding this situation the people indulged in degrading pagan practices while using the covenant they had entered with the God of Israel as a security blanket.
Amos’ critique is directed to too common misunderstandings regarding what God wants, what is the function of worship, and the meaning of the covenant. Chapter 9 addresses particularly this last issue.
Though both the concept of the “chosen people,” and the “people of the covenant,” evoke similar ideas, they are in fact two different concepts, with an inherent tension existing between them.
The prophets of Israel, and in this particular case, Amos, are fast at reminding the people that while the assumption of being God’s chosen people- at first merely a way of expressing Israel’s self- awareness as a distinct and unique people- became part of who Israel is, by virtue of Israel’s covenant with God. In other words, without fulfillment of the covenant terms, there’s no choseness.
According to the prophetic message, God’s support is not unconditional. Israel cannot claim God’s protection while at the same time breaking its obligations under the covenanted terms. To be sure, the prophets remind us, these terms are not about “proper religious protocol” for worship, but about how people behave toward each other.
To Me, O Israelites, you are
Just like the Ethiopians
— declares the Lord —
True, I brought Israel up
From the land of Egypt,
But also the Philistines from Caphtor
And the Arameans from Kir. (Amos 9: 7)
This verse, as the late biblical scholar Umberto Cassuto commented:
“warns the Israelites not to imagine that they are better in the Lord’s sight than the Ethiopians, and to remember that just as God had brought them out of Egypt, so He brought forth the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir.”
In a position that undoubtedly expresses a radical departure from the beliefs of his time, Amos denies any exclusivity to Israel because it is Israel. If there is any special relationship it is due to the recognition and commitment of Israel’s obligations towards God’s wish for human mutual respect and care.
In the words of Claus Koch
Amos 9:7 “is undoubtedly intended to shake Israel’s sense of being an élite.”
To Amos the people of Israel is unique only when it behaves in a brotherly manner, not because its origin is different from the one of other nations. It is not.
In a sense, this also impinges on the false idea that peoplehood is a genetical concept rather than the consequence of a confluence of understandings and behaviors.
Israel is chosen by virtue of its concern and care for human beings who behave as such. That is, when Israel becomes a partner in sustaining creation.
The God with whom Amos communicated was the Lord of righteousness and justice, liberator, leader and judge of the peoples of the earth, demanding from those who had covenanted with Him to abide to their responsibilities. Nobody before in human history, so far as we know, had understood such a demanding and binding relationship before Amos.
Rabbi Moshe Pitchon