Hebrew and You with Lee M. Fields — Summer Fruit a Bad Omen? Amos 8:1-3
Koinonia Blog would like to welcome the newest contributor to our community, Dr. Lee M. Fields, a Hebrew scholar, Professor of Bible and Chairman of the Department of Biblical Studies at Mid-Atlantic Christian University. Today we are pleased to launch a monthly column by Fields that will serve as a guide to biblical Hebrew as Dr. William Mounce's weekly Monday column has to biblical Greek. Enjoy!
Welcome to the new blog series, Hebrew and You. For now this will be a monthly blog appearing on the first Tuesday of each month. I [Lee M. Fields] hope to accomplish a number of things: to share some basic insights into the language, text, and translation of the Hebrew Bible; to inspire people to maintain use of and to continue growing in their knowledge of Hebrew language; to serve preachers and teachers; and to include some devotional aspect. Each blog may not accomplish all of these, but they will always be in my mind as I write. I pray we can grow together in knowledge and faith.
Summer Fruit a Bad Omen? Amos 8:1-3
Summer fruit! A good thing; something we look forward to. The Israelites looked forward to summer fruit, too. The harvest of grapes, olives, dates, and the second harvest of figs marked the end of the season of hard work and resulted in the celebration of the Feast of Ingathering or Booths (Exod 23:16; Deut 16:13).
In Amos 8:1-2a, God shows Amos a vision that consists of this summer fruit. It should be a symbol of joy. But then, the passage takes an unexpected turn.
This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, a basket of summer fruit. And he said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them” (ESV).
How did this positive image of summer fruit lead into a prophecy of destruction? The Hebrew word for summer or summer fruit is קַיִץ (qayiṣ); the word for end is קֵץ (qēṣ). Many versions (e.g., ESV) have a footnote that the word for summer fruit sounds like the word for end. The ESV renderings “summer fruit” and “the end” requires a footnote of explanation to make the link. The NIV renders “ripe fruit” and “the time is ripe,” in order bring out the link in the translation.
Why the word play? The Lord is getting the prophet involved in prophetic proclamation. He showed Amos a vision and asked Amos what he saw. God takes the word that Amos utters and uses it as a prompt for the proclamation of judgment. The irony of the joyful image of summer fruit becoming a proclamation of doom is powerful.
Then the Lord describes the severity of the judgment in v. 3 (ESV):
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” declares the Lord God. “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!”
Wailings are cries of agony. I suspect there is another word play here. The verb “shall become wailings” is הֵילִילוּ (hêlîlû). There is a similar sounding word, though, known around the world by people that do not even know Hebrew, the command הַלְּלוּ (hallelû), “praise.” This verb is used 89 times in the book of Psalms alone. Though הַלְּלוּ is not expressed in the verse, the songs in the temple are. The Lord says that these temple songs are not going to be praises, but cries of agony.
The Lord shocks the readers with the gruesome detail of mass death. The text does not specify who threw the corpses everywhere, but it seems to be the Lord himself. Then the command: הַס (has), “Silence!” The vision is over.
What's Going On Behind the Scene?
Amos lived during the period of the divided kingdom. This was a time when the northern kingdom was prospering under the capable, but ungodly, rule of Jereboam II and the southern kingdom was also prospering under the rule of righteous Uzziah. Amos was a prophet from Judah sent to the northern kingdom, Israel. In spite of their apparent prosperity, they were not in God’s favor. Israel looked like summer fruit. But in reality, their end was near. In fact, within 30 years, Israel would be destroyed, never to be reformed into a physical nation.
After this vision follows a disaster speech (Amos 8:4-14), in which the Lord recounts the sins of Israel: the oppression of the poor and the violation of the Sabbath due to greed, dishonesty, and just plain meanness. The Lord promises to make an end of the nation and describes their complete ruin.
The nation of Israel was chosen to bring the Messiah into the world. In order to carry out that mission, the Israelites were to be a nation separate from all the others in their worship of the Lord. Their continued disobedience led to their destruction. The punishment of the Northern Kingdom lay in the sad fact that as a nation they were not going to be allowed to participate in fulfilling God’s purpose.
This is the principle: to be used in God’s purpose, his people must remain faithful to their calling.
Similarly to OT Israel, the Lord’s church is also called to ethical and theological separation from the world. When we put our faith in Christ, our faith has content: we recognize him as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). As our Lord, we separate from the world in our ethics and we submit to his authority. As our Messiah, we separate from the world theologically and pledge allegiance to his atoning sacrifice. The church as a body and as individuals must remain faithful to what God has called us, or we will miss out on the blessing of being used by him.
Lee M. Fields writes about the biblical Hebrew language, exegesis, Hebrew translation, and related topics at Koinonia. A trained Hebrew scholar, his education includes a Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College. He is the author of Hebrew for the Rest of Us (Zondervan, 2008) and An Anonymous Dialogue with a Jew (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012). He currently serves as Professor of Bible and Chairman of the Department of Biblical Studies at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, NC.
Learn more about Lee's innovative work in biblical languages and instruction.
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