Archive for the ‘Tanakh’ Category

Amos Five

February 12, 2010

Here is Amos’ lament for Israel, which seems to me to be more than anything a cry of anguish on the part of God, anguish at Israel’s wickedness, at the impending judgments that will come upon them.  Amos’ lament is the powerful keening cry of true loss.

And what’s the message of this cry?  What is the message the Lord has given Amos to give to Israel?  “Seek me and live” (v. 4).  The Lord is saying, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way.  I do not desire destruction.’  Amos’ prophetic call is to shock Israel into an awareness of the consequences of their brutality and injustice, their dishonesty and decadence.

We can only imagine how strange this prophecy must have seemed to the Israelites.  Was Amos standing in the streets of Bethel, calling to them with this lament from the heavens?  And how must it have seemed, the prophecy that “Bethel will be reduced to nothing” (v. 5) and that “there will be wailing in all the streets, and cries of anguish in every public square” (v. 16).  This was a time of prosperity, and Bethel was a busy place.  The only cry of anguish was Amos’ own cry.

If his lament came as a surprise to those Amos was calling to repentance, I think the force of his anguish should surprise us as well, for a moment.  Why should a prophet calling down the just judgments of God on the wicked be so sorrowful?  I think it still surprises us to come face-to-face with the full force of God’s love for his people. Amos cries because God loves Israel, loves with a fierce force even those who “turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground” (v.7).

If we forget this love sometimes, the people of Israel did as well. Amos rebukes those who “long for the day of the Lord” because “that day will be darkness, not light” (v.18).  The NIV footnote suggests that this rebuke is aimed at the same crowd as the previous judgments are, that the wicked Israelites expected the judgments of the Lord to come upon their enemies but not upon them, and that Amos is reminding them that the Lord will judge all the wicked, including them.  But couldn’t this message also be for the poor and pious who had been oppressed?  Had some of them desired the judgments of the Lord to come upon their oppressors within Israel?  Had some of them rejoiced as Amos prophesied of the destruction to come?  I see Amos’ rebuke as a reminder to them as well:  Do not desire the destruction of those who have harmed you, desire their repentance.  Anyone’s destruction should be a cause of mourning, not of joy. The day of judgment is always “pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness” even when those being judged are your enemies (v. 20).

This is the message I take from Amos: a fervent desire for justice is not the same as a fervent desire to see the unjust perish, and a fervent love for God is not the same as fervent hatred for those who defile his ways.  In fact, for Amos, love for justice means mourning the destruction of the unjust, because their destruction means they never turned from injustice.  Love for God requires loving those who ignore him, because they are also loved by God, and so loving him means loving them.

Amos’ call to Israel, and to us, is to start living with that kind of all-consuming love.  He calls us to seek the Lord, because the Lord is life.  He calls us to make “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (v. 24) because we should thirst for justice the way we thirst for water, because justice is the only way we can have a life worth living.  He calls us to stop looking after our own houses, our own vineyards, and to remember the poor.  And if we don’t, he says, God mourns.

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