Amos and Micah Compared

About: this paper was presented to Dr. John Goldingay at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class on the Prophets.

 

Amos and Micah share a great deal of similarities. Yet, they are different in several respects. Dealing with a small period of overlap within the 8th Century B.C., both books address issues of judgment as a result of wickedness. We will examine how the two books are similar, then we will examine how the two books are similar though different, and finally we will examine how the books are different altogether. To the similarities of Amos and Micah we now turn.

Amos and Micah are similar in seven areas. First, both books focus on the wealthy people who were oppressing the poor. Second, both books understand that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings. Third, both Amos and Micah understand that desolation was going to come upon the land as a result of the wickedness. Fourth, both books understand that the people would be made desperate. Fifth, the Lord in both identifies the various wicked deeds of the people and then holds them responsible for them. Sixth, the time following the exodus from Egypt is seen in both as ideal for Israel. Finally, both books determine that Israel will come out of punishment on top of the nations.

Both books focus on the wealthy people who were oppressing the poor. In Amos, the Lord charges Israel for profaning his name by oppressing the poor (2:7-8). He identifies one of their major transgressions was that the rich were oppressing the poor and needy (4:1). The Lord identified that the rich were those who were at ease and secure in their lives (6:1), and they were those who lived in luxury, sleeping on ivory beds, lounging on couches, eating lambs of the flock, and singing idle songs (6:4-5). In Micah, the Lord saw the wicked—those who plotted evil deeds on their beds and did their plans since they had the power to do it, and they were also those who coveted fields, homes, and inheritances and took them from their rightful owners (2:1-2). These wicked ones described seem to be rich. If this reference is not clear enough, then this next one will be of help to us. The wicked were prosperous ones who obtained prosperity through dishonest means (6:9-11). These wealthy ones were full of violence (6:12). The idea is that the wealthy ones were oppressive through force. Both Amos and Micah focus on the wealthy people who were unjust, corrupt, and oppressive towards the poor.

Amos and Micah understand that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings. In Micah, someone wonders if they could approach the Lord with burnt offerings and if they could please the Lord with ram and oil offerings (6:6-7). They wonder if they could offer up their firstborn for appeasement (6:7). But Micah responds, saying that the Lord has already told them what he desires and requires—to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him (6:8). In Amos, the Lord despises the sacrifices and offerings of the people (4:4-5), and he charges them to seek and love good, hate evil, and establish justice (5:14-15). Again, the Lord says that he will not accept their offerings (5:22), but instead he wants justice and righteousness (5:24). Both books understand that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings.

Both Amos and Micah understand that desolation was going to come upon the land as a result of the wickedness. In Amos, several visions show the desolation of the land. The first one was a vision of locusts eating up the grass (7:1). The second one was a vision of fire eating up the land (7:4). The third one was a vision of a plumb line, and the Lord said as he held a plumb line that he would make the high places desolate (7:7-9). In Micah, the Lord says that he will strike Jerusalem down and make them desolate (6:13). The Lord was going to lay Samaria bare so that it would be fallow (1:6-7). Both books understand that the Lord would lay the land desolate because of the people’s wickedness.

Both books understand that the people would be made desperate. Micah seems to feel desperate like one without food at the end of summer (7:1). The Lord declared that they would eat and not be filled, they would save but would not have provisions, and they will work but not see the fruit of their labor (6:14-15). Micah comments that the faithful and upright are gone, only the violent remain, and the violent are also corrupt and oppress the weak (7:2-3). The idea seems to be representative of the familiar saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Micah even says that given the times, it is important to protect yourself (7:5-6). Amos has another vision in which he sees a basket of summer fruit (8:1). The Lord declares that there was going to much wailing and vast amounts of dead bodies (8:3). Furthermore, the Lord said there would be a famine, a drought of the word of the Lord (8:11-14). The people would be laid to waste, but they would also not hear the word of the Lord. Both Micah and Amos understand that the people would be made desperate.

Micah and Amos both show how the Lord identifies the various wicked deeds of the people and then holds them responsible for them. In Amos, the Lord charges Israel for selling people for goods (2:6). He charges them with profaning his name (2:7-8). He charges them for forsaking Him and for turning their backs on Him (2:9-12). He identifies their transgressions—oppressing the poor and needy and offering up unacceptable sacrifices, tithes, and offerings (4:2-5). The Lord identifies the rich and their deeds (6:1-5). And the Lord holds the people accountable for their ways by bringing exile (6:7). In Micah, the Lord charges Samaria for plotting evil deeds and doing it out of their power and for coveting fields and houses and taking them from their rightful owners (2:1-2). The Lord identifies how they became prosperous through dishonest means (6:9-11). He charges them with being full of violence, lies, and deceit (6:12). And the Lord holds them accountable for their ways by bringing exile (2:3) and destruction (6:13). Both books show the Lord as the one who identifies the wickedness of the people and judges them accordingly.

The time following the exodus from Egypt is seen in both books as the ideal condition for Israel. In Micah, the people plea for the Lord to return Israel, as the familiar saying has it, to “the good ol’ days” (7:14-15). They look at the time after they came out of Egypt, a time when they were in the wilderness, which was a time of renewal for the people and of utter dependence on the Lord. Earlier in the book, the Lord looks back to the same event as an explicit marker that He had chosen them to be His own people (6:4). It was a time of redemption. In Amos, the Lord marks Israel’s special condition as being the people that He had brought out of the land of Egypt and led into the wilderness for forty years (2:10). Later in the book, the Lord says that sacrifices were neither necessary nor desired during the time in the wilderness, nor are they desired now (5:25). The wilderness, that is, the time after the exodus from Egypt, was representative of what was ideal for Israel both in Micah and Amos.

Both books determine that Israel will come out of punishment on top of the nations. Amos concludes in the end that Israel will be restored. The Lord will rise up the booth of David and rebuilt the land, in order that the people may possess it and the nations (9:11-12). In Micah, Jerusalem will be the place that all the nations of the world will look to and travel to (7:11-13). It will also be the place from which the Lord will rule (4:3). The Lord will cause Jerusalem to prosper (4:11-13). He will rise up a new leader over Israel that will come out of Bethlehem in Judah (5:2). In the new age, Israel will be protected and will be victorious over all the nations (5:7-9). Amos and Micah both determine that Israel will come out of the punishment on top of the nations.

We have seen that both books are similar in more than a handful of ways. But Amos and Micah do share some similarities with their own distinctive touch in four areas. One, both books have judgment as the key theme. Two, both books proclaim exile as the result of the wickedness of the people. Three, both books demonstrate that the prophets received opposition. Last, both used Israel as a means for communicating to the nations. Although Amos and Micah share these similar areas, each of them has their own distinct uses. In this sense, we can say that they are similar though different.

Both Amos and Micah have judgment as the key theme. However, they are not quite the same in the way that judgment is portrayed. Judgment in Micah is primarily for Israel and Judah, and only by extension the rest of the nations (1:4-5). In Amos, judgment is coming to all the nations for their wickedness (1:3-2:16). Judgment is portrayed in Amos as destruction by fire (1:3-2:5). Israel is the only nation in Amos that is not punished with destruction by fire. Instead, the Lord decides to press and shame Israel (2:13-16). In Micah, judgment is portrayed as desolation and destruction (1:6-9). The similarity is evident; judgment is the key theme in both. The difference between the two books is the scope of judgment. Micah views judgment for Israel and Judah, while Amos views judgment for all the nations. In this way, they are similar though different.

Both books proclaim exile as the result of the wickedness of the people. However, they do not have precisely the same view about the exile. Micah seems to have the idea that the exile is most certainly going to happen (2:3) and that it is in the midst of happening (5:1). Yet, they would be rescued eventually from their exile (4:9-10). Amos seems to have the idea that the exile was dependent on the people. If only they would love good and hate evil, and if they would only seek God, then they would be saved (5:4, 6, 14-15). Amos also seems to have the idea that they would return from their exile (9:14-15). The similarity is plain: exile is a main punishment in both books. The difference between the two is the nature of the exile. Micah thought it was inevitable and nothing could stop it. Amos thought something could still be done. In this way, the books are similar though different.

Both books demonstrate that the prophets received opposition. However, the prophets respond to their criticisms in different ways. Amos is opposed by Amaziah (7:10-11). Amaziah charges Amos with conspiracy, and he tells Amos to leave and never again prophesy (7:10-13). Amos responds that he is not a prophet, but rather, a herdsman who was chosen by the Lord to speak (7:14-15). Then Amos reports the Lord’s judgment to Amaziah concerning him. He told Amaziah that his wife will become a prostitute, his sons and daughters will die by the sword, his land will be distributed out, he will die in exile and in shame, and Israel will go into exile because of his opposition to Amos (7:16-17). Micah is opposed by a preacher who tells him not to preach for disgrace would not come upon the people (2:6). Micah retorts back by saying that his words are helpful while the opposing preacher’s are not, for the preacher was the people’s enemy, saying that he (or she?) did not keep the peace, that he (or she?) drove women out and robbed their children (2:7-9). Micah summarizes the people that the opposing preacher represented by saying (possibly) that he should leave the people for it is not a place of rest and it is a place of folly (2:10-11). Amos and Micah are similar in the sense that they both received opposition as prophets. Yet, they are different in their responses. Micah retorts back and charges his accuser with being an enemy of the people, and then he seems reflect on the condition of his people. Amos responds by saying God chose him to speak and so his authority comes from the Lord, and the Lord will deal with Amaziah for his opposition. In this way, Amos and Micah are similar though different.

Both books used Israel as a means for communicating to the nations. Yet, they have different ways of using Israel to communicate to the nations. In Amos, Israel is stripped and plundered, and the nations, i.e., Ashdod and Egypt, are called to look at what was happening in Samaria (3:9-12). The Lord seems to be communicating to the nations when he tells Ashdod and Egypt to look upon the destruction and shame of Israel. What precisely is being communicated I am uncertain, but I would posit that the Lord is using Israel as an example for the nations, saying in effect that the rest of the nations should take what He was doing to Israel to heart, so that it would not happen to them. In Micah, the nations would look upon Israel and fall on their face in fear (7:16-17). It seems that Israel in this case is being used to communicate the glory of God, which would lead the nations to turn to the Lord in fear and respect. Both books demonstrate that Israel is a means for communication. However, Israel communicates in different ways. Amos uses Israel negatively to communicate to the nations; do not do as they do or you will become like them. Micah uses Israel positively to communicate to the nations; they are the result of God’s glory, so recognize the Lord for who he is. In this sense, Micah and Amos are similar though different.

We have seen how Micah and Amos are similar, and we have also seen how they are similar though different. Now we will see how they are each unique apart from each other. There are five areas in which Amos and Micah are different from each other. First, they are different in their post-exilic vision of a new age and a new ruler. Second, they are different in the way the Lord confronts Israel. Third, they are different in the reason for the Lord giving judgment. Fourth, they are different in their view of the Day of the Lord. Finally, they are different in view of the Lord’s rule.

Micah and Amos are different in their post-exilic vision of a new age and a new ruler. Micah has a vision of a new age and a new ruler, whereas Amos has no such vision. Micah has a vision of a new ruler of Israel that will come forth out of Bethlehem in Judah (5:2). This ruler will be “from ancient days” (5:2). The ruler will give the people over to oppressors, but when the exile is over he will reign (5:3). He will be the shepherd over the flock, that is, Israel (5:4). This ruler will stand in the strength of the Lord bringing security and peace (5:4-5). The new age would be a prosperous time for the people, and they would give all glory to the Lord (4:11-13). They would have leaders in the new age that would protect them from Assyrian invasion (5:5-6). And in the new age they would have victory over all the other nations (5:7-9). This vision of a new age and a new ruler is unique to Micah. Amos has no such vision.

Micah and Amos are different in the way they portray the Lord’s confrontation of the people. In Amos the Lord laments over Israel, but in Micah the Lord takes Israel to court. Amos highlights the relationship aspect between the Lord and Israel. The Lord said to Israel, “I know you, I will punish you” (3:2). He speaks in covenantal terms, saying that he tried to get their attention and draw them back to Him by taking away their food and bread, by not providing rain, by giving them blight and mildew, by wasting their gardens, by giving them a pestilence like what he did in Egypt, by killing their young men with the sword, by taking away their horses, and by overthrowing some of them like Sodom and Gomorrah (4:6-11). He is making a charge against Israel, but it is done in more covenantal and relational terms. However, the Lord takes Israel to court. He officially declares before all of creation that He made them His people when He brought them out of Egypt and slavery and saved them from Moab (6:4-5). He officially charges them before all of creation for forsaking him and taking on dishonest prosperity, violence, and deceit (6:9-12). Then he officially declares their judgment before all of creation, which was destruction and futility (6:13-16). Micah has no indication of a pursuit before judgment, whereas Amos does. The Lord, in Amos, attempted to get their attention before bringing judgment. This attempt is absent in Micah.

Micah and Amos give different reasons for the Lord’s judgment. In Amos, the Lord brings judgment on the earth as a result of the sins of the nations. In Micah, the Lord brings judgment on the earth as a result of the transgressions of Israel and Judah, and the nations would suffer by extension. Micah says that the judgment was against the whole earth as a result of the sins of Israel and Judah (1:4-5). But Amos identifies the wickedness of the nations, and the Lord deals with them accordingly. Damascus is given to destruction and exile for threshing Gilead (1:3-5). Gaza is given over to destruction and desolation for exiling communities to Edom (1:6-8). Tyre again is given to destruction for delivering communities to Edom (1:9-10). Edom is given to destruction for going after Israel with the sword (1:11-12). The Ammonites are given to destruction for ripping open pregnant women in Gilead (1:13-15). Moab is given to destruction for burning the king of Edom (2:1-3). Judah is given to destruction for rejecting the law of the Lord (2:4-5). Israel is given to pressing and shame for profaning the name of the Lord, selling people for goods, and oppressing the poor (2:6-16). Micah does not have the idea that the nations are being judged for their wickedness alone, but rather, that the nations are feeling the effects of the punishment of Israel and Judah for their evil deeds. Amos has the idea that the nations are being punished for their own wretchedness apart from Israel and Judah.

Micah and Amos are different in their view of the Day of the Lord. In Amos, the Day of the Lord is gloomy. But in Micah, the Day of the Lord is gloomy, yet it will usher in a new age. The Day of the Lord in Amos’ view was going to be a time of harsh judgment on the nations, including Israel (5:18-20). It would be dark and gloomy, and it would be frightening and scary (5:18-20). In Micah, “day” signals what the Lord would do in a similar way as “day of the Lord” functions in Amos. The Lord will remove the inheritance from the wicked (2:4-5). He will assemble the lame and those driven away and make them into a remnant and a strong nation, and he will reign over them (4:6-7). He will cut off their horses and chariots from them, he will cut their cities off, he will cut off their evil practices, and he will show them His vengeance (5:10-14). The walls of Jerusalem will be extended and built, and all of the nations between Assyria and Egypt, Egypt and the River (Euphrates?) would come to the Lord, and the earth will be desolate because of the wickedness of the inhabitants (7:11-13). The Day of the Lord in Micah, although not explicitly mentioned, is a time of judgment, destruction, and renewal. In Amos, it is only a gloomy and harsh judgment with no view of renewal on the horizon.

Micah and Amos are different in the way they view the Lord’s rule. Amos sees God ruling from the throne in the heavens, whereas Micah sees God setting up his throne on Zion and ruling the earth from there. Micah views God as ruling not from heaven but on earth (1:3). Micah envisions the Lord setting up his thrown upon Zion. From Zion the peoples will stream to him (4:1). From Zion the nations will come to worship him (4:2). Zion would be a place from which the Lord’s instruction would come forth and his word would come out from (4:2). Jerusalem being synonymous in understanding with Zion, the Lord will also judge the nations from Jerusalem (4:3). As a result of his ruling on earth and from his throne in Jerusalem and on Zion, there will be no war and there will be peace (4:3-4). Amos has a different way of talking about the Lord’s reign. He does open by saying that the Lord roars from Zion and speaks from Jerusalem (1:2), but he closes with God ruling from the heavens (9:6). The Lord builds his chambers in the heavens and his vault on the earth (9:6). All of creation, from heaven to earth, is the Lord’s place, and he reigns from any portion of it. Micah’s vision is different in the sense that it does not have the element of reigning from any portion of creation that Amos has.

As we have seen, Amos and Micah share a great deal of similarities, but they do have their differences. Amos and Micah share several features, such as the focus is on the wealthy who oppress the poor, the understanding that the Lord desires justice and not sacrificial offerings, and the understandings that the people would be made desperate and the land desolate. Amos and Micah are similar though different in several aspects, such as in the way they approach, use, or view judgment, exile, or opposition. Finally, we have seen how Amos and Micah are unique with respect to each other in several ways, such as Micah’s post-exilic vision of a new age and a new ruler, Amos’ description of the Lord’s attempt to gain the attention of Israel, Micah’s creation court scene, and Amos’ creation aspect of the Lord’s reign.

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