Tag Archives: Amos

Shines through the gloom

Amos, By 18 cen. icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi Monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Amos, By 18 cen. icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi Monastery, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For the most part, Amos’ words are full of gloom, but not quite all. There are times and places where his preaching strikes a different note and God’s mercy shines through the gloom. True to our understanding of God’s design for us – there is no demand from Him without an accompanying promise. We see it in the closing chapter of the Book of Amos, a chapter of extreme contrasts which has become, over time, a passage of special interest to biblical scholars. In the first part Amos still hammers home his strong and urgent warning. It speaks of the punishment a disobedient and unrighteous nation brings upon itself. The second part of this final chapter is so different that some scholars conclude those verses have been added to the text at a later date to make it more palatable. Verses which glowingly promise that God will rescue, save/redeem and restore the potential for good in folk. Whether or not those verses are an addition is a matter of conjecture. (Editors have a considerable impact on Scripture.)

What cannot be denied is the great contrast! With great courage, Amos spoke in the boldest terms of God’s absolute rule which allows no escape from an awesome judgement. In a land where a rich man sold a slave for the price of a pair of sandals, Amos could not be more scathing. But this does not preclude God from holding out his hand to save where there is repentance. The evidence of Amos’ faith is not only in the righteousness of God, but in the broad mercy of God. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, God promises. The mountains will run with fresh wine and every hill will flow with it. Looked like Israel’s day had come and gone; looked like she missed her opportunity. Is it ever too late??

Our conclusion to this brief exploration of the life, times and message of our man from Tekoa is that Amos was a man of simple convictions, deeply held. God had spoken to him and through him. God had spoken and he must speak. Amos denounced and condemned, spoke bluntly of judgement, could not relax when he saw immorality or pseudo piety, corruption and injustice around him and this is but part of the story. In an age like ours, of moral uncertainties, of social injustice, of material greed, here is a voice from the distant past to remind us that God in the midst is real; to remind us of the serious ramifications of ungodly behaviour. But most of all and best of all – of the wideness in God’s mercy – like the wideness of the sea!

The blog is taking a few weeks off for its summer holidays. Back in August!

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The name is Amos

The Prophet Amos: Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Prophet Amos: Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What about the message of the man from Tekoa? The words of Amos, a shepherd from the town of Tekoa which God revealed about Israel. (Given to him in a vision) – Amos 1:1

Ranked with the great Old Testament prophets, Amos’ entire ministry and message are set in the context of imminent disaster. Those lesser prophets to whom we referred last time, those wild men who roamed the land, proclaimed Peace! Peace! when there was no peace. Amos saw it differently and warned: There is no peace for the wicked – only those whose minds are fixed on God can hope for perfect peace.

When God took Amos away from his figs and his sheep, all seemed well for Israel and prosperity abounded. Money was to be made by princes and merchants as the great trade caravans made their way through from Egypt to the coast. Those in a position to exploit the market lived in ivory panelled houses with their winter and summer residences. Instead of the old-fashioned clay brick, they built their homes with stone hewn from the quarries in the North. Instead of local sycamore wood they used the cedar wood of Lebanon. In their homes, luxury was in evidence in every apartment. The occupiers and beneficiaries of such luxury lolled on silken cushions and feasted on veal and lamb washed down with wines by the bowl-full. So eager were they to feather nests that they could scarcely wait for the Sabbath and Holy Days to be over to get back to business, to their scheming and cheating. Wives stayed at home, encouraging this selfish rat race by demanding more and more to improve their life-style. As for the poor, life for them – totally different; their circumstances – abysmal. Into this kind of situation Amos was thrust with a message which never could be popular. Undaunted, he could not compromise either the message or his soul. Material prosperity, when abused and uncontrolled, undermines spiritual and moral values. And in God’s world spiritual values count. Hence our prophet’s warning, the time is at hand! A day of reckoning, not only promised, but imminent and inescapable; a time to sort out where you stand before God. A voice that had to be silenced – so prophecy was forbidden.

A second element in Amos’ preaching, a corollary to the warning note he sounded, is the declaration that God is a God of Righteousness. And righteousness is the hallmark of the people of God. It is not that there were no signs of religion about, this is not Amos’ complaint. He protests at the lack of justice and righteousness. It could never be said that Amos was economical with the truth. He is eloquent, powerful and uncompromising in his opposition to the people’s misconduct. He condemns them because they ignore the ancient laws of humanity (as he puts it), by grinding the heads of the helpless into the dust, pushing the humble out of the way, and profaning God’s holy name. They may be God’s people, but that does not exonerate them, he tells them: privilege carries with it responsibility. What they must learn is that ritual and ceremony (how they love it!) if divorced from just and honest dealings and respect for one’s neighbour is a sham in the sight of God. I spurn with loathing your pilgrim feasts; I take no pleasure in your sacred ceremonies. Strong words and God continues to speak through his prophet. Instead, let justice flow on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing torrent. No wonder Amos was expelled by the government at the request of Amaziah, the High Priest, his a voice to be feared. The spotlight may be focussed by us on the 8th century BC as we peep into the life and circumstances of this man of God, but there is a message here for the 21st century AD. Compare the social conditions of our own day and those of Amos’ day and it is as though history was being rewritten.

To be concluded ………

Man from Tekoa

The temptation is to ignore the Old Testament in our reading of the Bible, even the passages set to be read at worship. We concentrate on the New Testament, deeming it to be the more interesting and relevant for our purposes and the Old Testament the duller and less apposite part. How mistaken we are and what neglect! The Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible and He is recognised to be the fulfilment of its prophecy. The two belong together. They complement one another and the Old Testament, or a good part of it, continues to be paramount to our understanding of Christian faith. After all, it tells the story of Amos, one of the great Old Testament prophets; to miss out on him would be a great pity. We will have a look at the message of Amos later, but first a thumbnail sketch of the man himself.

Prophet Amos: Jörg Syrlin the Younger [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Andreas Praefcke

Prophet Amos: Jörg Syrlin the Younger [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons]. Photo: Andreas Praefcke

To meet Amos in person we would need to go back to the 8th century BC to a time when there were two great Hebraic kingdoms: Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Amos belonged to the town of Tekoa in the South: his occupation – he took care of fig trees; his specific task – to scrape or pinch the fruit to make them ripen for human consumption. A seasonal job, so he had a second string to his bow. He was shepherd of a breed of sheep that produced very fine wool. It was a hard life, a dangerous job. The territory he roamed with his flock was a wild, desolate wilderness. Amos speaks intimately of the lion and the bear, enemies of the flock. To use an Americanism, he was a tough cookie, shaped and moulded by the hazards, rigours and poverty of the desert. A man more at home there than amid the ease and comfort of the city. As the story of Amos unfolds, this tough, stern character becomes a vigorous fighter for right, a champion of the poor. And, like most desert men, Amos had a way with words. His education did not come from books but from observation and the long silent hours of reflection for which the desert so amply provided. He knew the history of his people and of surrounding countries, acquired most probably as he mixed with travelling caravans in the market where he sold his wool.

Sometimes to do business it was necessary to leave Tekoa, about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, and make his way north to Bethel, the principal religious centre of the northern state about which the Old Testament has little good to say. However the OT can be a little unfair in its treatment of Israel. Not everyone was bad. It was served by a number of good kings and developed a rigorous life of its own. Jeroboam the 2nd was on the throne in Amos’s time and the circumstances of the day would have justified the claim made in our own post-war history when Harold McMillan the then prime minister boasted We’ve never had it so good. But Amos saw the other side of the picture and was appalled by it. Morally and spiritually the nation was rotten. On one side was great wealth, on the other abject poverty. The more fortunate their circumstances, the more self-indulgent the rich became and the less concerned were they for the poor.

Those were the conditions and issues that compelled Amos to respond to God’s call and embark upon his new “career”. Amos was not the only prophet around then, many roamed at large in those days chanting weird and unintelligible sounds which purported to be the message none other than God had given them to proclaim. They were a peculiar breed; a laughing-stock of the people. Amos was not one of that motley crew; he stood alongside a great line of new prophets. Unlike those others, Amos and company were in full possession of their senses, clear-sighted and able to cut a clear line between good and evil. No beating about the bush; no soft pedalling; given a Word to preach, they were fearless in its delivery.

More next time………