Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Reading Through Amos

Hosea to MicahWe are reading Amos, the 3rd book of the Minor Prophets, accompanied by The Minor Prophets vol. 1, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Harold Shank. Amos, according to some scholars may be the first of the OT writing prophets. His message is one of impending judgment on the prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The book of Amos is a series of sermons and visions about judgment on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. These were people who were very rich and very religious, but their worship of God did not lead them to help the poor and needy. They were not concerned with the things that concerned God and this would lead to devastating judgment.

The prophet was also upset about the people’s lack of concern. Amos gave attention to the way people paid no attention. God regarded what they disregarded. God looked into what they overlooked. What they ignored, God investigated. What they despised, God prized. What they disrespected, God respected...They sang with laughter at the oppression of others; God cried with sorrow at the plight of the oppressed. Amos is the expression of God’s concern for his people.  Amos, 204

Amos begins his prophecy with the crimes of the nations around Israel and the resulting sure judgment of God that is coming upon them. His point will be: how much more then will Judah and Israel, God's people, be judged for similar crimes. God judges the nations for violations of international law and custom. He judges Israel and Judah for failure to keep the covenant. with Judah God focuses on idolatry. To Israel, Amos expands his condemnation to 7 sins and 7 punishments for their oppression of their own people in disobedience to the torah of Moses.

The first six speeches concern nations outside Israel and Judah. The LORD’s sovereignty is not limited to his covenant people. Nor is his willingness to punish always connected to his law. The offensiveness of the burning of the Edomite king pressed the LORD to stronger punishment. He is a global God with global focus. Amos 1.1-2.3, 221

The next section 3.1-5.18 contain 3 speeches in which Amos calls Israel to "hear this word" of warning that the covenant curses are about to overwhelm the nation. In chapter 3 Amos calls their attention to the warning signs that are already there, including his presence and the warnings of previous prophets. In chapter 4 he reminds them that the prophets have warned them many times about how they have perverted the worship of YHWH into an immoral, oppressive religious system. Finally chapter 5 is a dirge announcing the death of Israel. There is nothing they can do except "seek God and live" and show it by their actions. They have been playing a dangerous game with the God who created the universe by mixing his worship with that of the idols of the nations.

The wealthy are not condemned for being wealthy, but for ignoring the plight of others and for the responsibility they have in causing poverty. The warning is for anybody who lives in luxury: be aware of how others live and do not burden the poor by extravagance. Amos 4, 237

The idol they worship is their own self-satisfaction. Worship has become an end, not a means to an end. The critique is not about wrong methods of worship but about wrong goals for worship...True worship leads to a focus on God and what God wants, not on self and boastingAmos 4.1-2, 238

Justice and righteousness are like the army and navy, both protecting a nation in their proper sphere. Deuteronomy 15:1–15 explains how helping the unfortunate is not just a matter of law and of paying back what has been given, but of open hearts and open hands. Israelite society failed the Deuteronomy 15 test. Amos 5.7, 247

The speeches of 5.18-6.14 are meant to overturn Israel's false expectations. They expect the Day of the LORD to be a day of vindication (light) but instead it will be a day of devastation and darkness. They expect their worship to make them acceptable to God, but instead their lack of care for their fellow human beings and love of luxurious indulgence causes God to reject their worship. They expect their power and wealth to keep them safe, but they have forgotten that it is God and the covenant that keep them safe. They have failed to evaluate themselves by God's covenant or by listening to his prophet and they will pay the price.

People who cheated in court (5:10), trampled on the poor (5:11), and oppressed the righteous (5:12) would have their sacrifices rejected and their sacred music turned off (5:21–23). What God wanted from his people was justice and righteousness, fairness in court and in the marketplace, and kindheartedness toward one another in every area of life. Amos 5.24, 257

By the mid-eighth century the dimensions of Israel and Judah together lacked but little of being as great as those of the empire of Solomon. Being in the seat of political power made them forget who had real power. Amos 6.1-14 260

Chapter 7 (to 8.3) contains 4 visions and story of judgment. In the first two visions (locusts and fire) Amos intercedes and God relents from judgment. In the final two (plumb line and ripe fruit) Amos serves as the witness that judgment is deserved and is impending on the entire nation of Israel.

Events can be changed by God in response to human pleas. The LORD is not immovable and unresponsive. There is no need to call for anthropomorphism here. God is not like humanity in changing his mind; humanity is like God when it relents and moves in a different direction. Amos 7.1-6, 271–272

The disaster coming to the whole nation would include two of its leaders, Jeroboam the king and Amaziah the priest. The one who failed to lead the people properly will lead them to destruction. The one who attempted to silence the voice of God will himself be silenced by God. Amos 7.1-8.3, 280

The last two chapters describe the devastating judgment that will overtake the Northern Kingdom. They kept the religious regulations but they failed to love God or love their neighbor and instead used the blessings of God to live in luxury and oppress the poor. They would now receive the curses of the covenant as God allowed the Assyrians to totally devastate the land. The book ends with a brief prophecy of restoration for a small remnant who would be part of a future restored Davidic kingdom.

The current section addresses religious hypocrisy that insisted on keeping the religious rules but ignored the principles of social equity. Amos states that the offenders will soon lose the things they enjoy, their secure existence will face upheaval, their celebrations will become times of mourning, their religious sources will fail to supply them with direction, and even the most robust among them will stumble, fall, and never get up again. Amos 8.4-14, 281–282

People who ignored the word of God by oppressing the poor would find themselves oppressed by their fruitless search for what they had earlier spurned. Amos 8.11-12, 286

The God, who had brought them out of Egypt (2:10; 3:1; 9:7), who had chosen them out of all the families of the earth (3:2), who urged them to “seek me and live” (5:4), who even in disaster calls them “my people” (9:10), sees beyond their wickedness. The LORD sees a day, not when they change, but on which he will restore the divided kingdoms (9:11) and offer them unprecedented bounty (9:13–15). Amos 9.11-15, 295

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