Good morning! The prophet Amos’ critique of wealth and ease, with its foretelling of divine judgment, continues today with the remainder of the book (chapters 6-9). Amos uses a variety of visuals to describe the military conquest, plague, famine and death which await the unrepentant people. In addition to these visuals, I also find interesting the prophet’s self-disclosure about where his power comes from, as well as how he undermines the idea that Jews are the only “chosen people”.
I’m struck by the wide array of metaphors Amos uses to convey his understand of what’s about to come. Chapter 7 includes three in quick succession: locusts, fire and a plumb-line. God forms locusts and sends them against the land to eat up even its most tender shoots. With Amos’ cry that the punishment is too great, God relents and says “It shall not be.” This is followed by an Apocalypse Now visual of fire raining down from heaven, with a similar prophetic protest and divine relent. I don’t really understand the third visual, of a plumb-line against a wall. But even the best preaching doesn’t always land every metaphor. Summer fruit reveals something about the end of all things in chapter 8, perhaps because its ripeness so swiftly turns rotten. (This is a poignant chapter to be reading in the northern hemisphere, as our gardens are dying and the leaves have already begun falling from the trees.) Just as summer gives way to winter, God will turn everything upside down in a great cataclysm, where nothing will be as it once was. Amos’ description of the coming famine of God’s word evokes deep lament. For all that we’ve read about no food or water in times of great suffering, the lack of divine inspiration is yet more grievous still.
Amos gets into a fight against the powerful and institutionally-entrenched priest of Bethel, named Amaziah. The priest tells Amos to go prophesy and make trouble in Judah rather than Israel, accusing him of making trouble for the sake of his prophetic vocation. Amos’ response reveals his disinterested power, a conviction that relies not on his own energy, but on God’s call. Amos didn’t ask to be a prophet; God drafted him for this purpose when he was just making his living off the land. One can accomplish things beyond imagination if there’s certainty about a greater, divine purpose for one’s life.
How ironic, then, that in the last chapter Amos undermines the idea that Israel is the only nation that God has chosen. God did bring Israel out of Egypt, but God has also led Philistines, Ethiopians and Arameans as well! There is an openness to this understanding of God in the world (even in one’s enemies), that reminds me of what will later be called the Holy Spirit. One never knows where God will be at work in the world, and Amos tells the complacent residents of Israel not to assume that God will be always on their side. But while most of the book is dedicated to coming judgment on Israel, Amos closes with final verses of promised restoration. God will raise up and rebuild what has been destroyed. This is the sort of sweet balm I need to hear when the weight of judgment gets to be too much. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The reading for tomorrow is Obadiah and Jonah. Thanks for reading!