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Asbury Bible Commentary – III. The Structure of The Book
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III. The Structure of The Book

III. The Structure of The Book

The material in Amos, for the most part, was originally delivered orally and later written down and preserved by an ongoing group of disciples. Narratives about prophets, such as Elijah, present prophets as speakers rather than as writers. Thus there is every reason to assume the same for Amos. The written text of Amos, however, is far more than a random collection of originally oral sayings. It exhibits a definite structure.

Section I of the book (see outline below) begins with a superscription (1:1) that provides information about Amos's origin, his vocation, and the date of his prophetic activity. Prophetic books often begin with superscriptions (Isa 1:1; Jer 1:1-3; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Am 1:1; Mic 1:1; Na 1:1; Hab 1:1; Zep 1:1; Mal 1:1). Then comes a report of Yahweh's roaring from Zion (1:2).

The main body of the book (section II) consists of A (1:3-4:13), in which Israel is often called “people of Israel” (2:11; 3:1, 12; 4:5); and B (5:1-9:6), which uses “house of Israel” more consistently than any other name (5:1, 4, 25; 6:14). Parts A and B are characterized by “repetitional compositions” (1:3-2:16 for A; 7:1-9:4 for B). Each of these compositions exhibits considerable repetition in form and language: 1:3-2:16 (A) contains a series of similarly worded oracles against various nations, e.g., “for three crimes of X and for four I will not cause it to return” (see 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6) and “I will send a fire” (1:4, 7, 10, 12; 2:2, 5; cf. 1:14). The vision reports in part B (7:1-9:4) also exhibit a series of similarly worded units, e.g., “This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me” (see 7:1, 4, 7; 8:1); “I said, ‘forgive/cease, how can Jacob stand’” (see 7:2, 5); and “What do you see?” (7:8; 8:2).

Not only are repetitional compositions shared by both A and B, but also both contain compositions introduced by “Hear this word” (3:1; 5:1). Neither of these compositions (3:1-4:12 for A; 5:1-6:14 for B) exhibits the structural and linguistic homogeneity of the repetitional compositions. Finally, A and B close with hymnlike doxologies that praise Yahweh for his power as Creator (4:13; 9:5-6).

The repetitional compositions are placed in reversed sequence in A and B. In A the repetitional composition comes first (II.A.1.a), while in B it appears in second place II.B.1.b). A similar reversal may be observed for the compositions beginning with “Hear this word.” In B it comes first (II.B.1.a), but in A it comes second (II.A.1.b).

The postscript (section III [9:7-15]) moves from announcement of judgment (v. 8a) to qualification of the scope of the judgment (vv. 8b-10) to outright announcement of salvation (vv. 11-15). And the spotlight has shifted from Israel to Judah. Exactly what this signifies remains to be seen, but for now we observe the book closing as it began, with focus on Jerusalem and Judah in sections I and III and on Israel in section II.